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FANTASY: Getting Into the Auto Club

Thursday, March 21, 2013
Jimmie Johnson has good reason to feel at home at Auto Club Speedway. Photo: Getty

After a short-track at Bristol Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back west for a race on the two-mile D-oval of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.  The race marks the fifth time in five races that the series will race on a different size oval, and it will be the only race of the season in Southern California.

After this event, the Generation-6 car will have raced on a 0.5-mile oval, 1-mile oval, 1.5-mile oval, 2-mile oval and 2.5-mile oval (although not at all in that order).  Yes, indeed, if some drivers and teams were having trouble adapting to this new car, the start to the season certainly hasn't helped get in any sort of rhythm.  With the Easter break coming up next weekend, it will give teams the chance to take what they've learned at all the different track sizes and use the extra time to try and build a winner.

Here's a look this week's Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing preview for the more than 450 people playing in our "Fans of NHMS" league:

The Track

It's a long two miles around the Auto Club Speedway.  The track banks up to 14 degrees, which falls short of most standard 1.5-mile cookie cutters.  This means that despite the distance, the cars do need to keep their speed in check somewhat going into the corners, as the banking won't necessarily hold them.  Still, the length of the track gives a lot of area for the fastest cars to beat the best drivers, meaning the car is of more importance in this race.

X-Factor

Long green flag runs could be the determining factor in this event.  The Auto Club Speedway, and I know from experience as this is the first track I ever attended a race, doesn't have too many cautions or wrecks.  In fact, I remember in the race that I attended a few of the cautions were rain delays and the only caution-inducing damage was Kevin Harvick hitting the wall lightly enough to eventually get to the garage on his own.  Unlike Bristol, cars will not have as many chances to regroup with the leaders on restarts, so they'll need to be off and running from the green flag.

Fantasy Strategy

On a track like this, I recommend rolling with the drivers from the highest-funded teams.  A long track like this (without the use of a restrictor plate) makes it very difficult for a slower car to run up front.  The infrequency of cautions also means that many of the slower cars will probably end up a few laps down and unable to get back to the lead lap.

A-List

Start

  • #14 Tony Stewart - Stewart was up front last year when a race-ending red flag for rain sent him to victory lane.  He has six top-10s in the last eight races in Fontana, so the result from that flag wasn't just luck.
  • #20 Matt Kenseth - Bad luck at Daytona and worse luck at Bristol is the only thing between Matt Kenseth and three wins in the first four races.  Factor in that he has 13 top-10s in 20 Auto Club starts and a 10.2 average finish, and he's a great choice this weekend.
  • #48 Jimmie Johnson - The Southern California native definitely owns his hometrack.  In 18 starts at it, he has five wins and 12 top-fives, yes, top-fives.  His average finish is 5.4.  Wow!

Park

  • #11 Denny Hamlin - He's been running up front for much of the season, but with just four top-10s in 12 starts at the Auto Club, good only for an 18.5 average finish, this doesn't appear to be his track.  Save him for some of the shorter tracks where he's much better.

B-List

Start

  • #16 Greg Biffle - He only had two top-10s in his first 10 races at the Auto Club, but has registered four in the eight starts since.  He might not be the best swimmer in the pool this weekend, but at least he's more likely to float than to sink.
  • #18 Kyle Busch - With four top-fives in the last eight races in Fontana, Busch definitely seems to like this track.  He's also been improving each week and is slowly returning to the force he's been in the past.
  • #55 Mark Martin - Old reliable, quite literally, is a consistent option each week.  He might not dazzle, but at least you can bank on a finish above the B-list average.
  • #99 Carl Edwards - He's had a hot start, with the exception of last week, and an average finishing position of 8.7 at the Auto Club makes him a great option this weekend.

Park

  • #78 Kurt Busch - After his fourth-place finish at Bristol, some think Busch has turned a corner after three finishes in the 20s to start the season.  I'm slower to the bandwagon.  Bristol is a great track for a good driver (like Busch) in a lesser car; the Auto Club is better for a good car with a lesser driver.  Busch's inferior equipment will make it a tough week for him.
  • #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - He's clearly the class of the B-list, but with only five top-fives in 20 Auto Club starts, why would you even consider wasting one of his starts here?

C-List

Start

  • #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - He's the guy this week.  His Roush Fenway Racing Ford is far superior to anything else on this list.  That alone, before you factor in that he's the most talented, should make for a sizable gap to the rest of the C-list.
  • #51 AJ Allmendinger - For the sake of another option, I'll offer this California native.  With finishes of 11th and 13th so far this season, he's holding his own in the Phoenix Racing machine.

Park

  • #10 Danica Patrick - Despite her Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet being better than any C-list car save Stenhouse's, Danica is struggling mightily.  With no finish better than 37th in the past three races, everyone should wait for her to get more comfortable in the Sprint Cup Series before playing her.

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Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.

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