Fantasy NASCAR Sleepers and Busts: Auto Club 400

by Eric McClung on March 19, 2014 @ 10:15:39 PDT

 


Speed is often rewarded at Auto Club Speedway. It's a sweeping oval track with a wide racing surface that allows the leaders to break away with little resistance. 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 can lead to engine problems.

Fontana is configured most similarly to Michigan International Speedway. While MIS features slightly steeper banking, it is the only other 2-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 for two stops later in the schedule.

Practice sessions: Friday, March 21, at 3 p.m. EDT; Saturday, March 22, at 12:30 p.m. EDT, 3:30 p.m. EDT
Qualifying:
Friday, March 21, at 7:40 p.m. EDT
Race:
Sunday, March 23, at 3 p.m. EDT
Location:
Fontana, Calif.
Shape:
D-shaped oval
Length:
2.0 miles
Laps:
200
Turns 1-4:
14 degrees
Frontstretch:
11 degrees
Backstretch:
3 degrees

Sleepers

Ryan Newman | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski
Keselowski not keen on Cali

Despite managing only four top-10 finishes in his first 15 trips to Fontana, Newman has doubled that total with a top-10 in each of the last four ACS starts. During that series-best active streak at Auto Club, Newman scored a pair of top-fives and has bested his previous top average running position on three occasions. The move to RCR hasn't altered Newman's performance thus far. He's improved his qualifying performance each week and has scored two top-10s in four starts; perhaps he'd have challenged for a third last week if not for a tire issue.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. | No. 17 Ford Ecoboost Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Last year was Stenhouse's first go-round at Fontana in a Cup car and marked just his 10th career start in NASCAR's top series. He qualified a then career-worst 31st but got into the top 15 for just over 20 percent of the race before finishing 20th. Fast-forward to today and Stenhouse is coming off an impressive runner-up performance at Bristol Motor Speedway. During his Nationwide Series championship seasons of 2011 and 2012, Stenhouse placed fourth and second, respectively, at Fontana and spent all but four of the combined 300 laps running in the top 15.

Brian Vickers | No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Vickers hasn't competed at Fontana since placing eighth back in 2011 when he was the featured driver at the now defunct Red Bull Racing team. As a Red Bull driver from 2007 through 2011 he compiled seven finishes of 12th or better at ACS in eight starts. Vickers also had similar success at Michigan, the other 2-mile circuit on the schedule. Last week at Bristol, another one of the better tracks for Vickers, he rallied from the 38th starting position to finish inside the top 10.

Kyle Larson | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Chip Ganassi Racing

The 21-year-old Larson has driven Fontana only once, a sixth-place finish in last year's Nationwide race, but has already shown great poise early in his rookie campaign in the Cup. After starting 20th at Bristol, Larson matched a race-high average running position of seventh en route to a 10th-place result. The two drivers that tied with Larson had the benefit of starting on the first two rows.

Busts

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Wurth Ford | Team Penske

Fontana has been anything but a California dream for Keselowski. In five career starts he's yet to get a top-15 finish in the Blue Deuce. Last year, Keselowski qualified third but had to start from the rear of the field after changing engines. After overcoming a pit road speeding penalty, Keselowski made his way up to fifth late in the race only to suffer from overheating. The current points leader is more than capable of a big day on any track but has yet to get over the hump at AMS.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

In 13 career starts at Fontana, Hamlin owns just four top-10s and only one in the last six. The mindboggling part is the fact that Hamlin qualified on the front row for four of those races, including winning the pole each of the last two years. Hamlin actually ran quite well in those events. In 2012, he was burned after he pit out of the second spot right before a rainstorm ended the race early. Last year, Hamlin was sent to the hospital and missed four races with a back issue after a collision with Joey Logano on the final lap.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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