The Great American Race is in the books and now it is time for the Cup Series team to pack up their haulers and make the long trip to Auto Club Speedway. This will be for first race of the “west coast swing” and the last race on the two-mile configurations in Fontana, California. Most teams say, “This is when the real season starts”. It is time for the Cup Series teams to lay down their cards and show us what they have for the 2023 season.
STRATEGY FOR AUTO CLUB
Each manufacture was able to make changes to the nose and hoods of their cars this year. It is tough to tell which teams will have the most speed Sunday, but the word in the garage is that the competition should be closer than it was last year (if that is even possible) and the Chevy’s should have a slight advantage on speed. If I had a tie between two drivers for my lineup, I took the driver with a bowtie on his hood.
Practice and qualifying were washed out for the Cup Series and that means many of the drivers I was planning to start this week start in the back of the pack. Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones and William Byron were three of my favorite plays Sunday. Each of these drivers start outside the top-30. I still think they will make their way to the front, but it will take some time. I am going to play the drivers who start up front, have the quality pit spots and have a history of running well at tracks similar to Auto Club.
Here are the picks for the Pala Casino 400 …
KYLE LARSON (10): Larson won the race at Auto Club last year. Can he win again in his home state? I think he can. Larson qualified 13th, led 28 laps, scored 12 Stages Points and went to Victory Lane in this race last year. The last race on a similar track to Auto Club is the race at Homestead last October. Larson won the race at Homestead too. Larson starts 15th Sunday. You may think that is too deep in the field for Larson to win from, but he won this race last year from the 13th position. Larson will be the top pick in the field Sunday.
JOEY LOGANO (10): Logano has been on a hot streak since the Round of Eight in the playoffs started last year and I will play the hot hand. Logano has a fifth-place average finishing position at Auto Club Speedway since 2015 and he finished fifth in this race last year. Logano starts third and he is my pick to get to the front early and lead a lot of laps. Logano should score a lot of Stage Points and be one of the top picks in the Fantasy Live game.
KYLE BUSCH (10): Busch was not very good on the two-mile ovals last year, but I am not too worried about what he did in 2022. Busch had a lot going on with his contract last year and he seems to be refocused with his new team. Busch will be driving for the team that completely dominated this race last year. Busch starts 21st, but I am not worried about his starting position. His Chevy should quickly make it inside the top-10 and Busch should be racing for the lead before the end of Stage 2. This is the best track for Rowdy so I will play him.
ALEX BOWMAN (10): I really like the Chevy’s for the race at Auto Club. Bowman completely dominated this race in 2020 when he led 110 laps, scored 19 Stage Points and went to Victory Lane. He came back to the track last year and dominated practice. His No. 48 car was running third in the race when Bowman had a tire go down and he hit the wall. Bowman is good at tracks where tire wear comes into play. He won at Las Vegas last year and he should have a good time to win Sunday. I will take a chance with Bowman from the fourth starting position.
KEVIN HARVICK (9): Harvick has been a beast on the two-mile oval tracks. Harvick has won four of the last five races at Michigan and his average finishing position at Auto Club Speedway since 2018 is sixth. This is the final season for Harvick. He is not going to be pushed around Sunday. I expect the No. 4 car to muscle his way to the front of the Pala Casino 400 and be a safe pick for a top-10 finish.
GARAGE DRIVER: ROSS CHASTAIN (10): You can take a chance with Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones or William Byron as your Garage pick. They start in the back, but they are three of the best drivers in the field at Auto Club. I am going to play it safe and use Chastain from the eighth starting position. Chastain was good at the high tire wear tracks in the playoffs last year. He finished second at Las Vegas and second at Homestead last October. Chastain was running sixth in this race last year in the final Stage when he had a tire go down. I will have Chastain in the Garage as an insurance policy Sunday.
Good luck and be sure to follow me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR. I will send out a Tweet during the race to let you know if I plan to swap out one of my drivers for my Garage pick.
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