Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Auto Club 500
Speed is almost always rewarded at Auto Club Speedway, a sweeping, two-mile D-shaped oval track. The wide track surface allows the leaders to break away easily. Taking only two tires or no tires at all is a strategy often employed to gain track position at Fontana. Fuel mileage is typically a factor towards the end of the race due to long green flag runs.
Location: Fontana, Calif.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Since 2005, a Roush Fenway car has won all five of the February races at Auto Club Speedway. Kenseth has held the way with three of those wins including last year's Auto Club 500. Starting position has not been an issue for Kenseth has those wins came from the 24th position or further back. In the eight races at Fontana since 2006, Kenseth has only finished worse than seventh on one occasion, 13th in last year's October race. Last week, Kenseth finished eighth in the Daytona 500 after overcoming long pit stops and going under the hood. Assuming his typically reliable crew is on point this week, Kenseth should be among the leaders once again.
The only February race Kenseth did not win at Auto Club Speedway since 2006 was captured by Edwards, his teammate, in 2008. Dating back to 2005, Edwards has been inside the top 15 at least 79 percent of the time in eight of the 10 races at Fontana. In 11 career starts, Edwards has only one finish worse than seventh and is a very trustworthy fantasy option at Fontana. Edwards finished ninth at Daytona but had the top average speed at 188.9 mph. With much less traffic to contend with this week, having the top speed again could get Edwards back to Victory Lane.
Biffle won his only Fontana race in February of 2005. He was mediocre in the 2006 and 2007 races there but has been much better in the last two years. In that span of four races, Biffle held an average running position of 11th or better and a driver rating of at least 89.0 each time out. In just the last three, Biffle spent 94 percent or more of the race inside the top 15. With numbers like that, and given how strong the Roushketeers are at this track, Biffle is another name to consider.
With finishes of 11th in February and third in October, Montoya set new career-best finishes in each Fontana race of 2009. Montoya spent more than 98 percent of each race inside the top 15, a very impressive stat for one race let alone both. In 2008, Montoya's average running position in both races was 15th. JPM's sharp improvement at Auto Club Speedway is reminiscent of his emergence as a top-tier driver, and he can be leaned on this week.
In 12 career starts at Auto Club Speedway, Kahne has never finished worse than 13th aside from three DNFs. Back in 2008, his average finish at Fontana was 8.5, and he spent more than 97 percent of those races inside the top 15. His results at Fontana in 2009 were mixed (12th place in February and a crash in October), but Kahne also has a win in September of 2006 on his resume. Don't let the disappointment over Kahne's 30th-place finish in the Daytona 500 cause you to overlook him.
Temper your expectations
There has been very little fun under the California sun for Earnhardt. In five February races since 2005, Earnhardt has only one finish better than 32nd, although two were DNFs due to engine issues. Since joining Hendrick, Earnhardt has finished on the lead lap only once, an 11th place result in October of 2008, in four races at Auto Club Speedway. Earnhardt was having a mediocre day prior to a late surge at Daytona and should not allow him to be overvalued this week.
Newman has been painfully average at Fontana. His average finish since 2006 is only 21.6, with three top-15s in eight starts. Last year, Newman's average running position was only 23rd and had his fewest amount of laps in the top 15 since loop data was introduced in 2005. The list of drivers stronger than Newman at Auto Club Speedway is a pretty long one.
With an average finish of 8.9 from 2003 to 2006, McMurray used to be among better drivers at Fontana. His average finish since is just 25.2, without a top-15 finish. McMurray has two finishes in the 16th position, but his victory at Daytona may not carry enough momentum to warrant a lot of consideration.
With an average finish of 22.5 at Fontana and 33.0 in the two races at Michigan International Speedway, the other 2.0 mile D-shaped oval track, there's little reason to consider Ambrose. Keep Ambrose in mind for short tracks and road courses, but not this week.
Over the last three years, Burton's performance at Fontana has been a very clearly on the decline. In 2007, Burton finished fourth in both races, his best finishes since being the runner-up in 1999. His average finish was 14.5 in 2008 and 31.0 last year. The second race was a DNF (crash) after putting together an average running position of 15th - not good enough to upgrade his outlook for Sunday.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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