Cup Series: Garage Talk Notes for Auto Club

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The Cup Series will stay on the west coast this week as they compete in the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California. There were three races on the two-mile ovals last year so using the races at Auto Club and the two Michigan races and the race last week at Las Vegas will be the best way to analyze the data for this race.  I expect a lot of lead changes and a lot of passing this week so the racing should be pretty exciting. The Auto 400 can be seen Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

 

Track Notes

The cars will run the same aero package that was run at Las Vegas last week. The cars will have the 550 HP engines, with the 2” splitter, 8” spoiler and aero ducts. The surface at Auto Club wears tires a lot faster than last week. Managing your tires  and searching for grip will be the key to success at Auto Club.

 

Stats for the Auto Club 400

I am looking at the three races on the 2-mile ovals last year to figure out who should run up front Sunday. I will also factor in the speeds from the race last week at Las Vegas. Here are the top cars from those four races:

Stats from Three Races at 2-mile Tracks on 2019 + Las Vegas Race Last Week

Diver Avg. Finish Laps Led Stage Points

Driver Rating

1. Joey Logano

5.3

272 52

126.1

2. Kevin Harvick

5.0

129 40

118.7

3. Brad Keselowski

8.8

114 18

106.4

4. Martin Truex Jr.

8.8

44 49

102.5

5. Kyle Busch

6.8

137 36

101.6

6. Ryan Blaney

12.3

26 34

101.5

7. Denny Hamlin

9.3

29 9

92.3

8. Chase Elliott

16.5

71 31

91.9

9. Kurt Busch

14.0

5 24

90.9

10. Kyle Larson

9.5

11

90.6

11. Alex Bowman

13.5

19

88.7

12. William Byron

15.8

5 23

83.6

13. Aric Almirola

20.0

8 26

83.6

14. Austin Dillon

13.3

8 10

79.1

15. Erik Jones

22.8

23

73.4

16. Jimmie Johnson

16.8

10

72.9

17. Chris Buescher

15.0

1

69.0

18. Clint Bowyer

30.5

1 2

67.9

19. Tyler Reddick

25.0

67.7

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

16.0

31

66.1

21. Matt DiBenedetto

15.3

63.5

22. Ty Dillon

17.5

58.4

23. John H. Nemechek

24.0

57.6

24. Ryan Preece

23.0

56.7

25. Cole Custer

19.0

51.2

* Sorted by Driver Rating

** Two Mile Tracks Include Auto Club & Michigan

 

 

AVG. DK Points from 2-Mile Tracks in 2019 + Las Vegas Race (2020)

Driver Avg. DK Pts.   Driver

Avg. DK Pts.

1. Joey Logano

85.25

17. Ty Dillon

40.75

2. Kyle Busch

80.5

18. Corey Lajoie

40

3. Kevin Harvick

73.75

19. John H. Nemechek

35

4. Martin Truex Jr

67

20. Bubba Wallace

34

5. Brad Keselowski

66

21. Jimmie Johnson

33.75

6. Kyle Larson

56.75

22. Tyler Reddick

33

7. Denny Hamlin

55.25

23. Ryan Preece

31.75

8. Matt DiBenedetto

51.25

24. Brennan Poole

25.25

9. Chris Buescher

51

  25. Cole Custer

23.5

10. Ryan Blaney

49

26. Michael McDowell

21

11. Austin Dillon

48.75

27. Erik Jones

20.75

12. Alex Bowman

47.5

28. Aric Almirola

19.75

13. Chase Elliott

44.75

29. Ross Chastain

17

14. Kurt Busch

44

30. Clint Bowyer

3.75

15. William Byron

43.5

31. Christopher Bell

2

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr

40.75

32. Garrett Smithley

2

 

 

Driver Notes

Chase Elliott: The Chevy’s showed a lot of improvement last week. Elliott won both Stages, led the second-most laps (70) and scored the most fastest laps (48). Will there speed be the same in California? Elliott finished 9th, 11th and 20th in the three races on the 2-mile ovals last year. He should be a lot better than that this week. Elliott started practice with a tight car. They worked to free it up. Elliott made another run and said, “The speed feels really good.”

Jimmie Johnson: Johnson won his first race at his home track (Auto Club). He has a series-high six wins at the track. The No. 48 team is trending up, but is it enough to have fantasy value this week? Johnson scored Stage points in both Stages last week and finished 5th. Johnson has run 25 races at Auto Club and he has completed every lap. He never had a DNF or been a lap down. Johnson reported, “The car feels similar to what we had in Vegas. Just need it to cut the corners a little better.”

Alex Bowman: Bowman may be the most underrated driver in Fantasy NASCAR. He has the best average finishing position in the last 8 races using the 550 HP aero package. The No. 88 car struggled at Auto Club last year but they found some speed over the summer. Bowman finished both races at Michigan in the top 10. Bowman said, “I took off wide open. It was fine for about 7 laps and then gets a little free.”

William Byron: Byron will be driving the No. 24 Kobe Bryant car outside of L.A. this week. That is cool. Will the car have speed though? Byron finished 15th (Auto Club), 18th (Michigan) and 8th (Michigan) on the 2-mile ovals last year. He led laps in 2 of the 3 races. The No. 24 car had the 6th-best Driver Rating at Las Vegas so the team found some speed. Byron started the practice to tight. Chad Knaus loosened the car up and Byron said, “That change was good but I need a lot more of it.” He was P14 at the time.

Kyle Larson: Larson has 6 wins in the Cup Series and 4 of them came on the 2-mile ovals (1 at Auto Club and 3 at Michigan). He has finished half of his starts at Auto Club in either 1st or 2nd place. Larson showed decent speed last week. He had the 8th-best Driver Rating (95.9) and the 7th-best average running position (9.9). Larson made some long runs and said, “The car is hopping over the seams and ruins my runs. I can miss them but that is not my preferred line. I rather have that fixed.” They were working to fix the problem.

Kurt Busch: Busch looked horrible last week. His 16.9 average running position was 18th best and he finished 25th. He should be much better this week. Busch finished 6th at Auto Club last year and 2nd at Michigan. He is usually one of the best drivers on tracks that wear out tires quickly. Busch said, “The car is not bad. It starts tight and builds loose but I do not have a lot of confidence after about 10 laps.”

Kevin Harvick: Harvick has a lot going for him this week. He led the most laps last week (92) and had a series-best 125.8 Driver Rating. He also ran well on the 2-mile ovals last year. The No. 4 car finished 4th at Auto Club and 1st and 7th at Michigan. Harvick went out to make a long run and reported the power-steering felt like it was going out. The team had to change the power-steering pump. Harvick went back out and made some long runs. He liked the way the car went over the seams and hugged the bottom of the track.

Clint Bowyer: Has anyone seen Clint Bowyer? He was lost last week in Las Vegas. His average running position was 15.5 but a late caution allowed him to finish 12th. It may not get much better for Bowyer this week. He ranked as the worst driver on the 2-mile ovals last year. He finished 38th at Auto Club and 35th and 37th in the two races at Michigan. Not good! Bowyer made some long runs and said, “If I try to drive it wide open through turn 3 I will go right through the wall. She does not like that corner at all.” They changed shocks, tire pressures and everything else they could between the practice sessions and Bowyer said the car was much better.

Cole Custer: Custer took his lumps in his first race in the Cup Series on a down-force track. Custer had a 26.7 average running position and finished 19th at Las Vegas. A trip to his home track in California should help him this week. He outraced Kyle Busch in the Xfinity Series race at Auto Club to score the win last year. Custer had a lot of success at this track in the lower-series. We will see how it translates to the Cup car. Custer was fighting a tight racecar. He said, “I feel like I am getting murdered in 1 and 2. We are not even close.” The team made major changes and sent Custer out for a 20-lap run. He said, “That is a lot closer to what I need.”

Aric Almirola: I expected a lot more than a 15.2 average running position and a 21st-place finish from Almitola in Las Vegas. The track was one of his best. Auto Club ranks as his 6th best track so maybe this will be the week when the No. 10 car finds speed. Almirola had a 5.7 average starting position and a 19.7 average finishing position in the 3 races on the 2-mile ovals last year. That is not good for games which reward place differential points. The No. 10 car was either leaking oil or bacon green from the Smithfield Ford. They spent a lot of time working on the car and not a lot of time on the track. The team said it was only overflow oil and not an issue.

Brad Keselowski: The stats for this race suggest that Keselowski will be one of the best picks in the field. I am concerned that the No. 2 car has become the 3rd-best car for Team Penske behind Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. Keselowski has finished 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 9th and 1st in his last 5 races at Auto Club so he does know his way around the track. He also had the 9th-best Driver Rating at Las Vegas so he is not too far off on speed. Keselowski made some long runs and said, “The back it sliding out halfway through the run.” The team worked on the car and Keselowski said, “Whatever you did worked. Give me more of that.”

Joey Logano: The stats suggest Logano will win this race Sunday. He won last week at Las Vegas and he had the 2nd-best Driver Rating and the 3rd-best average running position. The No. 22 car also finished 2nd in this race last year and won the race at Michigan. Logano has not finished outside the top 5 at Auto Club Speedway since 2014. Logano said, “It is really fast at the top. Decent in the middle and tight at the bottom.” He was P11 at the time.” Paul Wolfe told Logano, That No. 19 car (Martin Truex Jr.) looks really good.”

Ryan Blaney: Blaney could easily have two wins in two races this season but the No. 12 team has not had any luck. Blaney had the 3rd-best Driver Rating (114.1), the 2nd-best average running position (4.2) and led the 3rd-most laps (54) last week. He finished 5th in this race last year and he has the crew chief (Todd Gordon) who finished 2nd. The No. 12 car should be good Sunday. Blaney liked his car. He said, “The speed is good. The balance is just a tick free. Just need a little work getting over these seems.”

Matt DiBenedetto: It is better to be lucky than good. DiBenedetto fell into a 2nd place finish at Las Vegas. His average running position was 14.2 and his Driver Rating was 12th-best. DiBenedetto had a 19.7 average finishing position in the 3 races on the 2-mile ovals last year. His Wood Brothers Ford should be a lot faster than what he had in 2019 at these tracks. DiBenedetto made some long runs and said, “It feels realy good when I run the top and diamond the corners (go to the bottom). He was P2 at the time.

Kyle Busch: Busch put a beat down on the field in this race last year. He qualified 4th, won both Stages, led 134 of the 200 laps and went to Victory Lane. He followed it up with 5th and 6th place finishes at Michigan. Busch was asked about his poor performance at Las Vegas. He said, “I am not worried about it. I always suck at that track.” In his perfect sarcastic self, Busch said, “The car slides over the seams, it bounces all over the track and the backend is wagging all over the track. Other than that, it is perfect.” Adam Stevens made major changes and they liked their long-run speed. Busch got into the fence at the end of practice. They fixed the damage and sent him back on the track.

Erik Jones: The No. 20 Toyota was not very good last week. Jones had a 21.8 average running position and finished 23rd. It may not get much better in California. Jones finished 19th at Auto Club and 31st and 18th in the 2 races at Michigan last year. He has only finished in the top 10 one time at Auto Club Speedway. Jones began practice with the same setup as the No. 18 (Kyle Busch). Both cars were slow in the first practice. Jones was 22nd fastest and Busch was 23rd.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin had a Daytona 500 hangover in Las Vegas. He started in the back, had a 21st-place average running position and finished 17th. Las Vegas is his worst track so I would not worry too much about his poor performance. Hamlin finished 7th at Auto Club and 2nd at Michigan last year. He is typically pretty good on the 2-mile ovals. Hamlin said, “I am too free on entry and too tight on exit. If I correct the entry it totally ruins the exit.” He was P10 at the time. At the end of practice Hamlin really liked his car at the top of the track.

Martin Truex Jr.: How would the loss of Cole Pearn affect the No. 19 team? Not much. Truex had the best Toyota in the race last week. He led 11 laps, had an 8.8 average running position and the 4th-best Driver Rating (102.5) despite hitting the wall. Truex also has a history of running well at Auto Club. He led 125 of the 200 laps and won the race in California in 2018. The No. 19 team made some long runs. Truex was working on his long-run speed. He told his crew chief, “I am going to back it down and run it traffic for a bit.” He was happy with his car.

Christopher Bell: Bell looked like a rookie last week. He started in the back with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, had a 27.2 average running position and finished 33rd. It will get much better for Bell in the future but it may take some time. Bell did not like his car in the first practice. He said it was too tight on entry and exit. They used a qualifying setup to go to 2nd on the speed chart in final practice.

Tyler Reddick: Reddick was one of the rookies who had a decent run last week. His average running position was 18th and he finished 18th. Reddick has a similar driving style to Kyle Larson. He loves to be right up against the wall and that is not a bad place to be at Auto Club. Reddick could be the highest scoring rookie again this week. Reddick ran up against the wall in practice. He said, “It is a little free on takeoff but it is OK once the tire pressures build up.” He really liked his car.

Austin Dillon: Dillon could be the driver who wins people a lot of money in DFS this week. He is underrated and his ability to finish in the top 10 at Auto Club may be overlooked. Auto Club is his best track. He has finished 10th, 10th and 11th at the track over the last 3 seasons. His 4th-place finish last week suggests his No. 3 Chevy may have more speed than it had in previous years. Dillo made some long runs and said, “The car feels consistent (meaning the lap times do not fall off much).”

Ty Dillon: Dillon told reporters at Media Day in Daytona that he was excited for the season because the No. 13 team had a closer relationship with RCR this year. He looked pretty good last week. Dillon started 24th, had a 19.8 average running position and finished 10th at Las Vegas. He could be a good source of place differential points if he qualifies poorly Saturday. Dillon made some long runs and said, “Too tight on middle exit. It turns down good from the wall, but I have to lift on the throttle on exit.”

Chris Buescher: Buescher did his thing last week. He rode around the track in roughly 19th place and when the checkered flag was waived the No. 17 car was in 14th place. Buescher is one of the best at picking up spots at the end of the race. His average starting position on the 2-mile ovals last year was 23.3 and his average finishing position was 15.3. Buescher was tight in the first practice. They made some changes between the practice sessions and Buescher said, “We made gains on it for sure.” He was P12 at the time.

Ross Chastain: Chastain ran a lot better than his 27th-place finish might suggest last week. His average running position was 16.9 and most of the first two Stages were run in the top 12. Newman had a 14th-place average finishing position on the 2.-mile ovals last year. Chastian should compete for a top-15 finish too. Chastain was reporting that his car was too free. That team told him to try running a lane higher and Chastain said, “That felt better.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is the biggest surprise this season. He went out and won the pole for the Daytona 500 and then he used pit strategy to steal a 3rd-place finish at Las Vegas. Sometimes a good strategy is worth as much as a fast car in Fantasy NASCAR. Stenhouse will continue to be a boom or bust driver for your team. The No. 47 car started too loose. They tightened it up and Stenhouse went to P5 on the speed chart.

Ryan Preece: Whatever is working for Stenhouse in the No. 47 car has not rubbed off onto Preece in the No. 37 car. Preece had a 23.4 average running position and he finished 37th last week. Last year he finished 23rd at Auto Club and 25th and 7th in the two races at Michigan.

 

Favorites to win Sunday: Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch (I cannot count out Busch at Auto Club)

 

Good Sleeper Picks: Alex Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and John H. Nemechek

 

 

Auto Club 400 Final Practice Speeds

 

Auto Club 400 Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed

 

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