Fantasy NASCAR preview: Pepsi 500
by C.J. Radune
on October 7, 2009 @ 00:00:00
Opening in 1997, Auto Club Speedway, formerly California Speedway, is one of NASCAR's newer tracks, but has become a regular feature. The track features fast straight-aways and comparatively flat corners. Handling is key at Fontana, but the wide track allows drivers to search for the perfect line. Engine attrition can also be an issue. Long green flag runs are common, making fuel strategy a factor, as well. Tire wear is usually not a factor here, so taking two or no tires for track position is a common tactic. Auto Club Speedway is very similar in configuration to Michigan International Speedway. The two tracks are often considered sister tracks, with teams that perform well at one track usually performing well at the other.
Historically, Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway has been the home of Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. The two teams have taken eight of the last 10 victories at the track. Matt Kenseth (Roush) and Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick) have been particularly good, scoring five of those eight victories. As the Chase for the Sprint Cup rolls on, many teams will be looking to unseat those two powerhouses in the Pepsi 500.
Location: Fontana, Calif.
Drivers to keep an eye on
Kenseth has been one of the dominating drivers at Auto Club Speedway. He has won three times at the track and also has seven top-fives and 11 top-10s in just 15 starts at the track. Since the track became Auto Club Speedway in 2008, his average finish is 3.7. Any time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to Auto Club Speedway fantasy owners can expect Roush Fenway Racing to challenge for the win, and Kenseth has consistently been one of the best there.
One driver that might be able to take a bite out of the Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports domination of the Auto Club Speedway is Bowyer. He has a decent average finish in the last three races there: 16.0. He also scored a top-10 in that span along with two others prior to the name change for a total of one top-five and three top-10s in seven total races at the track. That is a strong average, and since Bowyer has been the better of the Richard Childress racing drivers this year, he ranks highly for fantasy owners this weekend.
If fantasy owners want to play the Roush Fenway Racing card at Auto Club Speedway and Matt Kenseth isn't available as a fantasy option, Ragan might be an excellent alternative. Ragan has the benefit of his teammate's experience and setup at the track, which should help planning out a pit strategy and with in-race tweaks. His average finish in the last five starts at the track is 14.4, which is pretty good for a second or third driver in most fantasy rosters. Ragan isn't as attractive of an option as some of his teammates, but he might be the solid top-15 runner fantasy owners need out of their "B" stable in the Pepsi 500.
Reutimann scored his eighth top-10 finish of the year in the Price Chopper 400 last week. His career at Auto Club Speedway endured a rocky start. His first two races there resulted in 33nd- and 32rd-place finishes, though the former was because of an accident. His last three races at the track have tallied an average finish of 15.3. He scored a top-10 in the 2008 Pepsi 500 and there isn't any reason he couldn't do it again a year later. Reutimann has been producing some strong finishes the second half of this season and this year's Pepsi 500 could give him a chance to produce one more before the year closes.
Allmendinger has just turned in two decent finishes including a top-10 in the Price Chopper 400. In his first two tries at the Auto Club Speedway, Allmendinger hasn't fared too badly, either. He holds only a 20.3 average finish from his three career starts there, but he has been awfully quick. In two of the three races at the track he has started from inside the top 10 with an average qualifying position of 9.3. Allmendinger is fast in California, and he has recently shown that he can drive intelligently and finish a long race strong.
Temper your expectations
Montoya, the first foreign-born driver to make the Chase, has proven he deserves his spot in the running. In the first three Chase races Montoya has yet to finish outside of the top-five. All good things must end, though, and this could be the week. While he may be strong and consistent, fantasy owners shouldn't be looking for yet another top-five. In the last three Auto Club Speedway races, Montoya's average finish is 17.0 and doesn't include any top-10 results. In fact, he has just an average finish of 22.0 at the track in five races.
While his boss makes a run at the championship, Newman languishes near the end of the Chase field. He has scored some strong results, but not enough to place him further up the standings than ninth. Newman also hasn't been the strongest driver in the field at Auto Club Speedway in the past. In the last three races at the track Newman has only averaged a finish of 18.0, scoring one top-10. Prior to the track's name change Newman wasn't overly competitive, either. His average finish in the five starts before the track became Auto Club Speedway was 24.4. Regardless of what the track is named, Newman isn't a viable fantasy option weekend.
Burton has been struggling the second half of this season. He hasn't scored a top-10 finish since the Pocono 500 in June. Auto Club Speedway doesn't promise to be a beacon of hope for struggling Burton, either. His past three attempts at the track have averaged a finish of 20.3. Not since 2007 has he scored a top-five finish at the track, but that season produced back-to-back fourth-place results for him. Given Burton's struggles as the season winds down, fantasy owners shouldn't rest a lot of faith in his performance in the Pepsi 500.
Despite Stewart's win last weekend in the Price Chopper 400, the likelihood of him scoring another in this weekend's Pepsi 500 is a bit suspect. Stewart will look for a solid run considering he stands fourth in the Chase standings, but he has struggled at times at Auto Club Speedway. In his last three races at the track his average finish is 12.3, with a 22nd-place finish and two top-10s. Prior to renaming the track, his average finish in 12 career starts was 17.8. Auto Club Speedway is a track where Stewart has never found Victory Lane. Were it not for the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, perhaps Stewart would be higher up the fantasy pecking order.
Martin has been on a hot streak since July. He also hasn't finished outside of the top 10 since August, a run that covers six races. His last finish outside the top 10 came at Michigan, which is very similar to Fontana. While Martin is arguably the hottest and most consistent driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit right now, fantasy owners probably shouldn't be expecting a win from him this weekend. Martin hasn't scored a top-10 or top-five finish at Auto Club Speedway since 2007. He has only competed in two races at the track since that time, but those races were both poor finishes by Martin's lofty standards.
About C.J. Radune
Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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