Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Auto Club 400
Speed is often rewarded at Auto Club Speedway, a sweeping, two-mile D-shaped oval track. The wide racing surface allows the leaders to break away easily. With so much room to operate, drivers rarely need to get out of the throttle. However, turning all those RPMs over extended green flag runs on a warm California day can lead to engine problems.
Fontana is configured very similarly to Michigan International Speedway. While MIS features slightly steeper banking, it is only other two-mile venue on the schedule and is also quite spacious. Remember to revisit the results of this week's race when NASCAR heads back to the Irish Hills in August.
Practice sessions: Friday, March 23 at 3:00 pm ET, Saturday, March 24 at 12:30 pm ET, 3:30 pm ET
Drivers to keep an eye on
Dating back to 2008, Harvick has collected six top-10 finishes in seven races at Auto Club and scored his first career win at the site last year, leading only the final lap by edging out Jimmie Johnson to the finish line. Four races into the new season Harvick has finished no worse than 11th and is qualifying much better than in years past. While he's not the flashiest option on the table in terms of overall history at Fontana, Harvick can be entrusted with another solid result.
Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Kenseth has won three races at Fontana with six top-fives and 10 top-10s over 13 starts. In that time he's put together a career average running position of 9.1 at the site, second among all drivers. Kenseth is off to a quick start this season, winning the Daytona 500 and coming off a runner-up performance last week at Bristol Motor Speedway. Among elite drivers Kenseth is very near the top of the short list at Auto Club.
It doesn't take much to talk yourself into starting Johnson at Fontana. In 17 career starts he's won five times with a dozen top-fives. To underscore Johnson's complete dominance under the California sun his career average running position of 5.4 is nearly four slots better than the nearest driver, the aforementioned Kenseth. After wrecking early in the Daytona 500, Johnson has rattled off three straight top-10s with a pair of top-fives. Crew chief Chad Knaus recently had a six-race suspension overturned so the No. 48 team won't miss a beat on a track it owns.
While Newman floundered at Auto Club for the bulk of his career he's finished fifth in each of the last two races there. In those races Newman set new career-best results in average running position at Fontana, 10th in October of 2010 prior to running eighth, on the average, last year. Newman has been solid over the last two weeks with a fourth-place result at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a 12th-place finish last week.
With three finishes of 11th or better this season Bowyer has been one of the pleasant early season surprises given his move away from superior equipment at Richard Childress Racing. With his old team he put together a streak of four straight top-10s at Fontana with an average running position of at least eighth in the last three. With the Silly Season concerns over Bowyer going bust with MWR quickly fading in the rear view you can start him this week with confidence.
After a miserable 2011 entered with a spark of optimism Burton has managed to carry the momentum into this season. Through four races he's finished inside the top-15 on three occasions with a pair of finishes sixth or better. At Fontana, Burton owns an average running position of 11th or better in two of the last three. Despite an uneven history in recent years at Auto Club, Burton is an intriguing middle-tier option thanks to his current rebound.
If qualifying counts in your format pay close attention to Montoya. Over the last four events at Fontana JPM has qualified in the first two rows each time out. In fact, between Montoya and teammate Jamie McMurray EGR has won the last three poles at Auto Club. While he carries a ton of risk, Montoya did finish 10th at the site a year ago.
Prior to finishing 20th last year, Martin scored a pair of fourth-place finishes and one sixth-place result at Fontana with an average running position of at least fifth. Martin plans to run 25 races this season and already has two top-10s in his three starts this season. Last week MWR cars, despite Martin taking the week off, finished third, fourth and fifth at Bristol. Given Martin's career average running position of 9.9a t Fontana, fourth-best among all drivers, the veteran could very well give his new team another strong finish.
Temper your expectations
After the much hyped move to HMS, Kahne has gotten off to a nightmare start to his tenure. In four starts he owns just one finish on the lead lap and has gotten into crashes in the other three races. Kahne won at Fontana back in the fall of 2006 and has two straight top-10s at the site. Until he finds some degree of positive consistency Kahne is better left alone.
Currently sitting fourth in points, Truex is undoubtedly the biggest surprise near the top of the standings. Things could come to a halt this week, however. Over the last five races at Fontana, Truex owns a single top-20 finish. However, he's held an average running position of 16th or better in three of the last four at Auto Club so a decent finish could materialize.
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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