The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Auto Club Speedway this week. NASCAR will have their normal three practice sessions schedule for the weekend. There was one practice Friday (Mostly qualifying runs) and two practices Saturday (Cars will be in race trim).
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Auto Club…
The weather for final practice was partly cloudy and 55 degrees. The forecast for the race is sunny and 65. The track will be hotter and slicker on Sunday, so there may be drivers who did not post fast times in practice that will be fast in the race.
13 cars failed inspection before qualifying so they will start in the back Sunday. Denny Hamlin (start 25th), Clint Bowyer (start 26th), Aric Almirola (start 27th), Alex Bowman (start 28th), William Byron (start 29th), Daniel Suarez (start 30th), Chase Elliott (start 31st), AJ Allmendinger (start 32nd), Jimmie Johnson (start 33rd), Kasey Kahne (start 34th) will all be great choices in games which allow position differential points.
** NASCAR made a rule change following qualifying Friday. The 21 teams who did make a qualifying run will be able to put new tires on their cars to start the race. Lap times fall off more at Auto Club then almost any other track so NASCAR did not want the teams who did not pass inspection to have an unfair advantage. This will make it more difficult for the drivers who start in the back to make their way to the front.
All of the cars that failed inspection Friday (listed above) had to serve a 15-minute penalty in final practice.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has a series-best 112.2 driver rating and series-best average finishing position (5th) in the last 6 races on the 2-mile ovals. His car did not pass inspection so he will start 31st Sunday. Elliott made a short run and asked Allan Gustafon, “It is really comfortable over the bumps. How are the times?” They told Chase, “We are 17th on the board.” Elliott has a lot of ling run speed but it takes the car a while to get going fast.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has an average finishing position of 22nd this season and a best finish of 12th (Las Vegas). His car did not pass inspection so Johnson will start 33rd Sunday. Johnson looked fast in final practice. Chad Knuas made a lot of changes between the practice sessions. Johnson made a long run to start final practice and he said, “We hit on something. She is pretty good now.” Johnson was 3rd on the speed chart at the time. Johnson will have a lot of cars to pass on his way to the front.
Alex Bowman: Bowman finished 20th at Atlanta and 16th at Las Vegas. He has been running around the 18th position in most of the races. His car did not pass inspection so Bowman will start 28th Sunday. Bowman made a long run to start final practice and he said, “I am not sure what we did but the car is much better.” He was 12th on the speed chart at the time. At the end of practice Bowman had to shot his car off. He said the engine was sputtering and the gages where flickering.
William Byron: Byron will be making his first start in the MENCS at Auto Club. He finished 5th at the track in his only Xfinity Series start at the track. The No. 24 car did not pass inspection so Byron will start 29th Sunday. Byron made a long run and he said, “It needs to turn a little better… especially the front.” They worked to get the splitter out of the track and the adjustments seemed to be working.
Kyle Larson: Larson won this race last year and he has won the last four races on 2-mile ovals. Auto Club ranks as his 3rd-best track behind Michigan and Homestead. The No. 42 car will start 3rd Sunday. Larson was working on running the bottom and the top of the track. The team thought they were the fastest at the top. They wanted to make it a little better at the bottom.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray ranks 4th in average finishing position on the 2-mile ovals in the last 6 races. Auto Club ranks as his 2nd-best track, so he should be fast. McMurray has the same setup as the No. 42 car (Laron). He had good speed but McMurray could not run the top as well at his teammate.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has won 3 races in a row and he is very good at Auto Club. Harvick leads the series in laps led at Auto Club in the last 3 seasons. Harvick was fastest in the morning practice and he was on scuff tires. Most of the field was on new tires. Any questions who has the best car? Everyone in the garage is asking how they are going to beat the No. 4 car. Harvick had the best 5, 10, 15 and 20 consecutive lap average speed.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer had his best race of the season at Auto Club when he finished 3rd. He also finished 3rd at Atlanta this year and there are a lot of similarities with the track surfaces. The No. 14 car did not pass inspection so Bowyer will start 26th Sunday. He was 2nd-fastest in Friday’s practice. The No. 14 car was consistently at the top of the leaderboard in all practices. Bowyer should easily make his way through the field. Bowyer told his team, “We have a really really good piece this week.” Mike Bugwivtz told him, “We are as fast as the No. 4 in clean air.”
Kurt Busch: Busch has an average running position of 9.7 on the non-Superspeedways this year. Busch ran the morning practice on scuff tires and saved their new tires for the final practice. They were working on their long-run speed. They put new tires on and went to the top of the speed chart (until Harvick took the spot away from him).
Aric Almirola: Almirola has been one of the biggest surprises this season. He finished 13th at Atlanta, 10th at Las Vegas and 7th at Phoenix. The No. 10 car did not pass inspection so Almirola will start 27th Sunday. All of the Stewart-Haas cars have been fast this weekend and the No. 10 car was no exception. Almirola consistently ran around the 10th position in all practices. Almirola liked the speed his car had.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has finished 2 of the last 3 races at Auto Club in the top 2. Keselowski may be one of the overlooked drivers this week. The Stewart-Haas Racing Fords are getting all of the attention but Keselowski was not far from them on the speed chart. I expect Keselowski to be top 10 in the race and a sneaky good pick to win if this race comes down to strategy (which it usually does). Do not overlook the No. 2 car Sunday.
Joey Logano: Logano leads the series in average finishing position in the last two races at Auto Club. Logano finished 4th (2016) and 5th (2017). Logano spent all three practices in race trim. He decided not to make any qualifying runs so he could get his car more prepared for the race Sunday. The No. 22 car was quiet but fast in all practice. Logano consistently ran in the top 10 in practice. Logano will get a practice race in the Xfinity Series Saturday so he should be able to figure out the tire wear a lot better than the other drivers Sunday.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney does not have great stats at Auto Club, but the switch to Team Penske should help him. His teammates are very good here. Blaney really liked the balance of his car. “I feel I can drive it in pretty deep and still hold onto it. I need a bit of help on the roll-off (of the corner) but it is not bad overall.”
Paul Menard: Menard always runs well early in the season. Ignore his stats while with Richard Childress Racing at Auto Club. The Wood Brothers Racing Ford is much faster. Menard made a long run and said, “It is too tight in 1 and 2. I am having a hard time running it to the edge without spinning out.” Usually when the Team Penske cars are fast, the Wood Brothers Ford is fast as well. That is not the case this week. Menard only had top 25 speed.
Kyle Busch: Take out Busch’s 25th-place finish at Auto Club in 2016 and Busch would be the best driver at this track. Busch has an average finishing position of 3rd when you eliminate 2016. The No. 18 team worked on their long run speed. Busch had the fastest 15-lap and 20-lap average speed in the morning practice. His tires did not fall off as much as the other cars, so he should be really good Sunday. At the end of practice Busch said, “I think this is as good as we will get it. I do not see anyone being this good tomorrow.”
Erik Jones: Jones finished 12th in his first race at Auto Club. During the morning practice Saturday Jeff Gordon said, “The biggest competition to Kevin Harvick this week will be Erik Jones. His car really gets through the bumps well and it is smooth through the corners.” Jones looked really good in both practices Saturday.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has finished 6 of the last 7 races on tracks of 1.5-miles and 2-miles in length in the top 6. That is the best in the series. Hamlin did not make any qualifying runs in Friday’s practice. It is a good thing he didn’t. The No 11 car did not pass inspection for qualifying so Hamlin will start 25th Sunday. The No. 11 was not as fast as the No. 18 or No. 20 cars in the morning practice. Hamlin was having problems with his car being tight in the center of the corners. Hamlin worked on his pit road speed and was caught speeding twice. Hamlin has a problem with this.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez only has one race at Auto Club on his MENCS resume. Last year he finished 7th. Suarez hit the wall hard in Friday’s practice. He will go to a backup car and will start from the back Sunday. The No. 19 team spent the morning practice Saturday making long runs to dial in the car since it is a backup car. They had the same setup as the No. 11 car and he was 15th on the speed chart and Hamlin was 16th. I expect Suarez to be pretty good Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has finished the last 3 races on 2-mile ovals in the top 6, including a 4th-place finish at Auto Club last year. Truex won the pole for the race and really likes his car this week. Cole Pearn expects the track to be hotter and slicker Sunday so he was not concerned with the car being tight in practice Saturday. The No. 78 team is working on setting up their car for race conditions Sunday and they think their car is pretty close.
Ryan Newman: Auto Club ranks as the 12th best track for Newman. He has one finish in the top 10 in the last 6 races at the track. Newman was complaining, “It is tight in the center and tight off.” They brought him in for adjustments but could not seem to free up the car. The car was able to get through the bumps a lot better than most of the other cars.
Austin Dillon: Dillon has competed in 4 races at Auto Club in the MENCS and he has never finished in the top 10. Dillon will compete in the Xfinity Series race so hopefully the extra seat time helps him on Sunday. Dillon had a tight racecar. It was the same problem that Newman had. It was too tight through the center. Dillon was 22nd fastest after his long run.
Ty Dillon: Dillon only has one start in the MENCS at Auto Club. He qualified 21st and finished 18th last year. Dillon is off to a horrible start to his season. His average finishing position is 29.8. Dillon was having problems with the car rotating through the corners and the splitter hitting the track. He was 26th on the speed chart after his long run.
Kasey Kahne: Kahne has been a mediocre driver with his new team. His average finishing position this year is 24.5. The No. 94 car did not pass qualifying inspection so Kahne will start 34th Sunday. While most of the field was fighting a tight race car, Kahne was too loose. He said, “It came to the green a lot better and I can get through 1 and 2 pretty good. The rear grip is not bad, but the exit off 3 and 4 is too free.” The car had decent speed though. Kahne was 9th on the speed chart at the time.
AJ Allmendinger: Auto Club ranks as the 3rd-best track for Allmendinger behind Watkins Glen and Daytona. The No. 47 car did not pass qualifying inspection so Allmendinger will start 32nd Sunday. The No. 47 team was fighting a tight race car but it had speed. Allmendinger said he had no front grip but the car consistently ran in top 15.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has 3 career starts in the MENCS at Auto Club. His average finishing position is 26th. Buescher qualified 12th so he has no value in any game which awards points for position differential. The team really liked their car but it is not fast enough to finish in the top 15.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace Jr. has never competed in a MENCS race at Auto Club. He has not been very good this season. Wallace finished 32nd at Atlanta, 21st at Las Vegas and 28th at Phoenix. Bubba made a long run and said, “It was on the right front a lot… the way I like it. We just need to find a little more front grip.”
Trevor Bayne: Auto Club ranks as the 15th-best track for Bayne. He has never finished inside the top 20 at the track and his average finishing position is 25.5. It was another quiet practice for Bayne. He ran between the 20th and 25th spots in practice and that is about where he should finish the race Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Auto Club ranks as the 4th-best track for Stenhouse. He has an average finishing position of 14th in the last 3 races at the track. Stenhouse likes a loose racecar and the No. 17 car is really tight this week. They said they will “throw the kitchen sink at it before the race Sunday to help it turn.”
David Ragan: Ragan finished 23rd at Atlanta, 23rd at Las Vegas and 23rd at Phoenix. He should probably finish around the 23rd position again this week. Ragan was fighting a tight race car in practice. After a long run he said, “It’s just really tight in the center and has no throttle on the exit.”
Michael McDowell: McDowell has been very good in qualifying but not very good in the race. His average starting position on the non-Superspeedway tracks is 21st and his average finishing position is 31st. . McDowell was not happy with his car. He said it was tight in the center of the corner and snappy loose on the exit. The team had a hard time getting a balance in the car. McDowell was 27th fastest after his long run.
Matt Dibenedetto: The No. 32 team made multiple short runs in the morning practice. The team was fighting a tight race car. Dibenedetto made some long runs in final practice. He said, “It is hard to hold onto. It is too much on the edge.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer
Good Sleeper Picks: Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon
Click here for Friday Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best 15-Lap Average Speed
- Kevin Harvick 40.22
- Austin Dillon 40.45
- Kyle Busch 40.52
- Kyle Larson 40.53
- Martin Truex Jr. 40.58
- Erik Jones 40.62
- Denny Hamlin 40.62
- Jamie McMurray 40.65
- Brad Keselowski 40.71
- Jimmie Johnson 40.79
- Ryan Blaney 40.81
- Clint Bower 40.82
- Kurt Busch 40.89
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 40.92
- Joey Logano 40.93
- Chase Elliott 40.99
- Aric Almirola 40.99
- Daniel Suarez 41.02
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