Auto Club 400 Preview

The west coast swing heads to its final leg of the trip, this time to the eastern outskirts of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Kevin Harvick once again blah blah blah; I’ll spare you the increasingly redundant introduction this week. Suffice it to say, Auto Club is the closest thing to Kevin’s “home” track on the Monster Energy schedule, so surprise: he’s good here too. The last time a driver won 4 consecutive races was Jimmie Johnson in 2007, and the other 7 drivers to accomplish this are in Charlotte’s NASCAR Hall of Fame. Not literally, of course, I’m sure they’re permitted to live elsewhere…


For one weekend each year in San Bernardino County, traffic jams are welcomed, and televised car chases are legal. Auto Club Speedway is a 2.0 mile, D-shaped super-speedway located in Fontana, CA. It has hosted 28 NASCAR Cup Series events since its first race in 1997, and Jimmie Johnson has won 6 of them (Kyle Busch is the next active driver with 3 wins). Much like its counterpart Penske design in Michigan, the turns are wide and seemingly never-ending, with enough room to accommodate 5-wide buses on the restarts. I mention Michigan because the keys to success at both tracks are getting out of turns 2 and 4 with maximum momentum to carry down these long, 2500’+ straightaways. Any mistake on corner entry or exit will be amplified more than usual compared to shorter, intermediate tracks. Because of the strong similarities, the same drivers typically succeed or struggle at both places alike. Using the 2 annual races at Michigan is a good way to supplement inexperience for younger drivers at Auto Club, and support the annual visits for all. For these reasons, this week’s Pit Stall Rating statistics will factor both tracks into the mix.


This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Wins: 50%
Top-5: 55%
Top-10: 85%
Avg Finish: 7.6
Avg Points: 39.3

Kyle Larson (Pit Stall Rating 105.67, 3rd) – I like Elk Grove, CA native Kyle Larson to get back on track and go to victory lane this weekend. Kyle not only won the Monster Energy and Xfinity races at Auto Club last year, but has also won the last 3 MENCS races at Michigan as well. He looked like the car to beat early on at Phoenix, but never quite recovered from a mid-race spin, and spent the remainder of the afternoon mired in traffic with issues. Kyle is exceptionally skilled at searching around the track for grip. Though he gets stereotyped for wanting to hug the wall all the time, you can tell he is focused on becoming multidimensional in the bottom groove, and greatly improving. This will be a big test to see if the Camaros are ready to compete in terms of horsepower and aerodynamics. It’s taking all I got in the tank to bet against a Ford this weekend.

Kyle Busch (Pit Stall Rating 116.50, 3rd) – If not for Kevin Harvick, we’d be talking about Kyle Busch and his two consecutive victories. Instead, the #18 is flying comparatively under the radar heading into Fontana, but this is a track where I’ve always liked Kyle. As previously mentioned, Kyle has 3 wins at Auto Club, and for some reason fares a lot better here than Michigan. He has a 42% career top-5 percentage and 68% career top-10 percentage, including back-to-back wins in 2013-2014.

Chase Elliott (Pit Stall Rating 224.40, 1st) – Chase is still searching for his first victory in the Monster Energy series, but this is certainly a place where it could happen. In his last 6 races at Auto Club and Michigan combined, Chase has an average finish of 5th. He finished half of those races in the top-5, and all of them in the top-10. He only has two starts at Auto Club, and has finished 6th and 10th respectively. His 136.25 Pit Stall Rating at Auto Club alone would still rank first.

Penske Preference  – Whether Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano, you really can’t go wrong in the numbers for either Penske driver. Both are exceptional drivers at Michigan. Both drive Fords, who I expect to be the manufacturer du jour once again. Both have three straight top-10s at Auto Club, including two top-5s each. If you require a tie-breaker, Brad won here in 2015, while Joey is still searching for his first victory.

Kevin Harvick (Pit Stall Rating 118.74, 4th) – He’s good.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Jamie McMurray (Pit Stall Rating 111.92, 6th) – In the last 6 races at Auto Club and Michigan, only two drivers have finished all six events in the top-10. One is Chase Elliott, and the other is Jamie McMurray. The numbers and trust factor aren’t compelling enough to warrant a top pick, but if you’re in a deeper pool and need a spot start, I’d consider the #1. I’ve never been a huge fan of picking McMurray, but I can’t let my bias interfere with the data. What I can do, however, is mention how Clint Bowyer should also receive consideration, as he came home third last year in his first race with Stewart-Haas.

THE DRAG (avoid ’em)

Ryan Blaney (Pit Stall Rating 49.71, 13th) – Ryan Blaney is becoming one of my favorite drivers to watch, especially now as the third member of the Penske crew. However, I told you I was going to stay aggressive in this space, and that means I’m throwing a caution flag on the #12 this weekend. It’s another one of those situations where picks are limited in most formats, and the numbers suggest inconsistent performances from him, at best. Blaney has had 6 overall starts at Auto Club (2) and Michigan (4). He has (0) wins, (1) top-5, (2) top-10s, (3) top-15s, and (4) top-20s. He finished 9th in this race last year, with only 2 stage points. Not bad by any means, but nothing to write home about either. If you can use him 5 or more times this season, by all means, imbibe. If not, save him for a more reliable opportunity, and wait for his resume at the 2 milers to develop more. If it matters for your league’s context, I expect him to finish around +/- 30 pts on Sunday.


8.8, #18 Kyle Busch
11.6, #22 Joey Logano
12.2, #2 Brad Keselowski
12.4, #1 Jamie McMurray
12.8, #31 Ryan Newman


116.5, #18 Kyle Busch
109.0, #9 Chase Elliott
105.6, #4 Kevin Harvick
103.1, #22 Joey Logano
101.4, #48 Jimmie Johnson

MOMENTUM (last 4 overall races)

44.8, #4 Kevin Harvick
39.0, #78 Martin Truex Jr.
37.5, #18 Kyle Busch
35.8, #22 Joey Logano
35.5, #12 Ryan Blaney

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