The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series complete the west coast swing as they race at Auto Club Speedway. The first two races using the new aero package has seen a lot more passing than usual. This track is 8 lanes wide so there will be plenty of room for the drivers to move around and get a run on their competition. It should be exciting. The Auto Club 400 can be seen at 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox.
Goodyear brought a new right-side tire to the track this week. The left-side tire is the same tire-code used at Darlington last year (Brad Keselowski won that race). Tire management is very important at Auto Club. The fall-off is around three seconds a lap over a fuel run. Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez tested this tire at Auto Club in January. They should have an idea of how the tire will wear during the race. The same tire will be used in the MENCS and Xfinity Series race. Kyle Busch and Ryan Preece are competing in both races so they should have a good idea how the tire will race as well.
Teams received 3 sets of tires for practice, 1 for qualifying and 11 sets for the race. Goodyear warned the teams, “DO NOT under-inflate the tires because the softer sidewalls could cause them to be damaged.” I hope they listen to Goodyear.
Chase Elliott: Elliott is still trying to find the speed to compete up front. He has a 13.5 average starting position and a 14.8 place average finishing position this season. His best finish was 9th at Las Vegas. Elliott has competed in 3 races at Auto Club and he finished 8th, 31st and 13th. Elliott was having problems getting his car to run smooth. He said, “It is really hard over the bumps, especially in 3 and 4. It is like riding a pogo-stick.”
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is coming off his best race of the season (8th place finish in Phoenix). Auto Club is a lot different though so Johnson may struggle once again. He finished 24th at Atlanta and 19th at Las Vegas using the current aero package. Johnson made some long runs and he said, “I am too tight. Hitting the splitter and it is causing me to get off the throttle. It just will not turn in 3 and 4. Not sure if it is the wind or the setup.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman is off to an extremely slow start to the 2019 season. His average starting position is 8.8 and his average finishing position is 18th. He finished 11th at Las Vegas and 15th at Atlanta using this aero package. Bowman finished 13th in his first race in a Hendrick Motorsports car at Auto Club. Bowman was pretty happy with his car. He said, “I am really good at the top. The middle, I can still keep it wide open. The bottom, I lift in 3 and 4 but it is close.”
William Byron: Byron has one race at Auto Club on his MENCS resume. Last year he finished 15th. Byron has been a mid-pack driver in the current aero package. He finished 16th at Las Vegas and 17th at Atlanta. Byron told Chad Knaus, “We lifted it off the track and that helped it roll through the center. All I am lacking is rear grip.” After his final run he said, “It feels really good to start the run and then it flips a switch and gets really tight after about 12 laps.”
Kyle Larson: Auto Club is the best track for Larson. He has a series-high 128.9 driver ranking and a series-best 1.5 average finishing position since 2016. Larson had the most dominant car at Atlanta this year (same type of worn out track). Larson led 142 of the 325 laps. Larson was the “rabbit in qualifying. He went out first and did not have any help from the draft so he will start 15th. Larson was not happy with the car. He missed a shift in morning practice and the team had to check the transmission. He told his team, “It simply will not turn.” The team made some “big” adjustments between the practice sessions. Larson said, “It is definitely better. The speed is closer to where we need to be… I mean holy shit it is loose… but I can work with loose better then tight.”
Kurt Busch: Busch has been one of the most consistent drivers in 2019. He finished 3rd at Atlanta, 5th at Las Vegas and 7th at Phoenix. Busch will look to keep his momentum going this week at Auto Club. After a long run Busch said, “The car is a disaster in dirty air. I moved all over and nothing works.” Busch was 11th fastest at the time. They made some adjustments and Busch said, “The changes helped. The backend is still hanging out but it turns better.”
Kevin Harvick: Harvick will be looking to bounce back after a poor performance (by his standards) at Phoenix. Harvick has been good using this aero package. He finished 4th at Atlanta (led 45 laps) and 4th at Las Vegas (led 88 laps). Busch went out alone in qualifying and did not have any help from the draft. As a result Busch will start 21st. Harvick was running about 1 seam up from the apron while everyone else was running on the apron. At the end of practice, many teams said, “We need to run 1 seam up because that is where the No. 4 is beating us.” Rodney Childress told Harvick after his run, “The 2 looks like the best car on the long runs and the 18 is the most consistent car. Those are the cars we need to beat this week, but I think we stack up well with them.”
Clint Bowyer: Auto Club ranks as the third-best track for Bowyer. He finished 3rd and 11th in his 2 races with Stewart-Haas Racing at the track. Bowyer has been good in this aero package too. He finished 5th at Atlanta and 14th at Las Vegas. Bowyer said this week, “We know our cars (Stewart-Haas Racing) are behind on speed. The problem is that our west coast cars were made before the season. We know where we are off so we will make adjustments when we get back to North Carolina and be ready to rock at Texas.” Bowyer made some long runs and said, “Well…not very good. It doesn’t turn at all. I just feel slow.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has consistently had a top-12 car this season but pit road mistakes have cost the No. 41 team. Suarez finished 10th at Atlanta and 17th at Las Vegas (led 12 laps but had a speeding penalty). Suarez finished 7th at Auto Club in his rookie season so he has the ability to run up front if his car is fast. Suarez made some long runs and said, “It feels like the nose is sliding through the corners.” He was 23rd fastest at the time. They made some adjustments and Suarez jumped 14th on the speed chart.
Aric Almirola: Almirola is off to a great start in 2019. He finished 8th at Atlanta (led 36 laps), 7th at Las Vegas and 4th at Phoenix (led 26 laps). Almirola has not finished outside the top 10 on a 1.5-mile or 2-mile track since before the MENCS Playoffs started last year. Almirola was happy with his car. He asked his team, “What line is Larson running?” They told him, “The 42 is about a half-length off the wall.” Almirola ran the top and said, “It not very good. I am bringing it to ya.” They worked on it and Almirola said, “It is fine in clean air but it sucks in traffic.” He was 4th fastest at the time.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been the best driver in the series in the new aero package. He won the race at Atlanta and finished 2nd at Las Vegas. Auto Club ranks as his second-best track so he should run well Sunday. Keselowski has finished 1st, 9th, 2nd and 4th in his last 4 starts at the track. Keselowski was happy with his car. He said, “Paul it is pretty good. Other then helping the grip through the center, I do not think we need much. It will be mostly about track position.”
Joey Logano: The MENCS has only used the full aero package in one race this season and Logano won it (the race at Las Vegas). Auto Club ranks as the fourth-best track for Logano. He has not finished outside the top-5 at Auto Club since 2015. The Team Penske cars worked on racing in “Dirty Air”. They felt if their cars handled well in traffic, they could make it to the front Sunday. Logano asked his team, “How do I compare on the top?” The team replied, “You moved to P4 on the speed chart.” In final practice Logano had problems with the power steering and then problems with the temperature gauges. The team said the issues are fixed. Half-way through practice there must have been 4 teams on the radio stating, “The 22 is killing everyone in practice.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney had his best race of the season last week (won the pole and finished 3rd) and now he needs to build upon that momentum at Auto Club. Blaney has had a fast car in the current aero package but mistakes have cost him. He finished 22nd at both Atlanta and Las Vegas. Auto Club is a good track for Blaney. He finished 8th at the track last year and 9th in 2017. The No. 12 team was working on their long run speed. Blaney was complaining the car was “too tight.”
Paul Menard: Menard has been decent in the new aero package but he has yet to finish in the top 10. Menard finished 14th at Atlanta and 15th at Las Vegas. His average running position in both races was 18th. Auto Club ranks as the fourth-worst track for Menard so he may struggle Sunday. Menard was not happy with his car. He said, “The bumps are killing the entry and exit. We have some work some work to do.”
Kyle Busch: Busch has been the best driver in the MENCS this season. His average finishing position through the 4 races is 3rd. He will have a lot of momentum after dominating the race last week. Busch will have an advantage of knowing how the tires will wear since he competes in the Xfinity Series race this weekend. Busch made a lot of comments about his car as he always does. He said, “It is rolling over in the center… We are lacking rear grip on both ends… the straightaway speed is good… and it needs to suck up better in traffic.” Adam told him, “Bring it in. We have a plan.”
Erik Jones: Auto Club ranks as the third-best track for Jones. He has finished 7th and 12th in his 2 races at the track. Jones has been decent in the current aero package too. He finished 7th at Atlanta and 13th at Las Vegas. Jones told his team, “If I roll it easy through the corners I can get to the throttle a lot earlier on exit. Not sure if I should be holding it wide open through the corners or rolling it free? I will check with Kyle (Busch) to see what he is doing.”
Denny Hamlin: After not winning a race in 2018, Hamlin is off to a hot start in 2019. He has a 4.8 average starting position and a 6.8 average finishing position through 4 races. Hamlin finished 11th at Atlanta and 10th at Las Vegas. He finished 6th in this race last year so he knows how to run up front at Auto Club. Hamlin made some long runs and he said, “It is 8 out of 10 to tight in both ends. I can run wide up through 1 and 2 pretty easily.” After his final laps he said, “It starts out tight and builds tighter about every 7 laps.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has dominated the last 2 races at Auto Club. He won the pole, led 125 of 200 laps and went to Victory Lane last year. In 2017 Truex qualified 4th, led 73 laps and finished 4th. So far this season Truex has finished 2nd at Atlanta, 8th at Las Vegas and 2nd at Phoenix so the No. 19 car has been consistently good. Truex was blocked by Cody Ware in qualifying so he will start 27th. Truex made some long runs and said, “It is a lot better than Friday. The tightness is gone but it just bounces all over the track.” Truex was 18th fastest at the time.
Matt DiBendetto: DiBenedetto has had a top 20 car in most races but he has had a tough time finishing inside the top 20. DiBenedetto finished 26th at Atlanta, 21st at Las Vegas and 28th at Phoenix. His average running position for the season is 18th so he needs to figure out how to finish races. Kurt Busch said on the radio, “WTF is the No. 95 car doing (DiBenedetto)? He is about to spin out?”
Daniel Hemric: Hemric has been fast while using this aero package but he has nothing to show for it. He was running in 4th place at the end of the race at Atlanta but a flat tire forced him to finish 20th. He qualified 5th at Las Vegas but could not keep the car in the top 20 (Hemric finished 23rd). He needs some luck and avoid mistakes to finish in the top 10. Hemric made some long runs in the morning practice and he said, “It has good balance. Maybe a tick loose in 3 and 4, but manageable. It feels a lot like the Atlanta car.” Hemric was 2nd fastest at the time.
Austin Dillon: Dillon has been consistently fast this season but the results are not there. He had one of the fastest cars at Atlanta and Las Vegas but he finished 21st at Atlanta and 20th at Las Vegas. Last week he was running third but ran out of gas at the end of the race. The No. 3 team needs better race management in order to score their first top 10 of the season. Dillon made some short runs and said, “It is too tight. Really bad in 3 and 4 and in 1 and 2 it is on the splitter.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has not been very good while using this aero package. He finished 25th at Atlanta and 29th at Las Vegas. His average running position has been outside the top 25. Dillon told his team, “Being loose is a lot better than being too tight. I need to be loosened up a lot.” After his final run he said, “I am really, really tight in 3 and 4.”
Ryan Preece: Preece was running in the top 10 at Atlanta using this aero package but a late race crash killed his day. Preece should receive some help this week since he is driving the No. 8 car for Junior Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has been one of the best cheap drivers (in salary cap games) while using this aero package. He qualified 30th and finished 9th at Atlanta and qualified 27th and finished 18th at Las Vegas. Buescher has finished every race (except Daytona) in the top 18. He should have a good chance to run well Sunday. Buescher was happy with his car. He said, “The consistency is really good. I feel laps at the start of the run are the same as the end. It rotates real good too. The gear temp is red though, so we need to check that out.” Buescher was 23rd fastest at the time.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Auto Club ranks as the fifth-best track for Wallace. He has a 19th place average starting position and a 20th place average finishing position at the track. Wallace has not been very good in the current aero package. He finished 27th at Atlanta and 26th at Las Vegas. The team told Wallace, Try running the middle and bottom. You are P15 at the top.” He said, “Wow it is tight in traffic. It just feels insecure in the center.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has been the driver who has received the most benefit from the change to the new aero package. Stenhouse qualified 2nd and ran in the top 10 at Atlanta and he finished 6th at Las Vegas. The draft should come into play even more this week so Stenhouse should run well Sunday. Stenhouse told his team, “I can run the top but if I drop down to the middle it is way too tight.”
Ryan Newman: Newman will need to build on the momentum he has after his strong run at Phoenix. Newman has been average in the current aero package. He finished 13th at Atlanta and 24th at Las Vegas. Newman told his team, “I am losing too much into 3. I almost have to stop to get it to turn into that corner.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson
Good Sleeper Picks: Kurt Busch, Eric Jones, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman, Daniel Hemric, William Byron and Jimmie Johnson
Click here for Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Afternoon Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice
Final Practice Speeds
Best 10-Lap Average Speed
20-Lap Average Speed
- Joey Logano 41.67
- Brad Keselowski 41.71
- Ryan Blaney 41.74
- Jimmie Johnson 41.79
- Aric Almirola 41.90
- Daniel Suarez 49.95
- Kurt Busch 41.97
- Erik Jones 41.98
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