March 31, 2011
|Expert||Website||Pick to Win||Finish||Experts Avg|
|Josh Lobdel||Denny Hamlin||12||8.50|
|Jerry Lagger||One and Done Game Winner||Denny Hamlin||12||15.50|
|Dennis Michelsen||RaceTalkRadio.com||Denny Hamlin||12||15.50|
|Steve Wronkowicz||On Pit Row||Jamie McMurray||7||14.83|
|Eric McClung||KFFL||Denny Hamlin||12||9.83|
|Eric McGuire||free agent||Denny Hamlin||12||9.00|
|Dan Beaver||Fantasy Racing Games||Jeff Gordon||5||11.17|
|Matt Mercer||On Pit Row||A J Allmendinger||14||9.67|
|Adam Ansell||Roto Experts||Denny Hamlin||12||9.50|
|Chris Leone||On Pit Row||Joey Logano||13||19.67|
|Bob Ellis||NASCAR Ranting and Raving||Jeff Gordon||5||15.00|
|CharlieTurner||On Pit Row||Denny Hamlin||12||7.50|
|Jordan McAbee||On Pit Row||Jamie McMurray||7||6.67|
|Jon Rodgers||Gillette Young Guns Challenge Winner||Denny Hamlin||12||15.67|
|James Jones||On Pit Row||Jeff Gordon||5||10.33|
|Mike Wells||Racing4Glory.com||Denny Hamlin||12||8.33|
|Darren Fauth||FantasyRacingCheatSheet||Denny Hamlin||12||10.00|
|P J Walsh||FantasyNASCARPreview.com||Jeff Gordon||5||19.67|
|Charles Rantz||ifantasyrace.com||Jamie McMurray||7||11.17|
March 31, 2011
|Expert||Website||Pick to Win||Finish||Experts Avg|
|Josh Lobdell||Jimmie Johnson||11||15.67|
|Jerry Lagger||One and Done Game Winner||Jimmie Johnson||11||18.00|
|Dennis Michelsen||RaceTalkRadio.com||Jimmie Johnson||11||17.33|
|Steve Wronkowicz||On Pit Row||Denny Hamlin||12||17.83|
|Eric McClung||KFFL||Jimmie Johnson||11||17.33|
|Eric McGuire||free agent||Jimmie Johnson||11||22.00|
|Dan Beaver||Fantasy Racing Games||Jimmie Johnson||11||14.17|
|Matt Mercer||On Pit Row||Jeff Gordon||5||20.67|
|Adam Ansell||Roto Experts||Jimmie Johnson||11||11.83|
|Chris Leone||On Pit Row||Jeff Gordon||5||14.17|
|Bob Ellis||NASCAR Ranting and Raving||Denny Hamlin||12||13.33|
|CharlieTurner||On Pit Row||Jimmie Johnson||11||11.67|
|Jordan McAbee||On Pit Row||Denny Hamlin||12||16.33|
|Jon Rodgers||Gillette Young Guns Challenge Winner||Jimmie Johnson||11||13.33|
|James Jones||On Pit Row||Denny Hamlin||12||6.67|
|Mike Wells||Racing4Glory.com||Jimmie Johnson||11||10.17|
|Darren Fauth||FantasyRacingCheatSheet||Jimmie Johnson||11||10.17|
|P J Walsh||FantasyNASCARPreview.com||Jeff Gordon||5||13.83|
|Charles Rantz||ifantasyrace.com||Kevin Harvick||1||15.50|
March 30, 2011
After the checkered flag waved at Fontana, I had to sit back and rub my eyes; did Kevin Harvick just beat Jimmie Johnson at one of his best tracks? I think most NASCAR fans–myself included–breathed a sigh of relief that this could possibly be the year that Johnson gets knocked off of his throne. Of course, running second every race in the Chase will earn any driver a championship, but I think it was a good thing for NASCAR to see “The Champ” get beat (as well as have an exciting finish after an ultimately dull race).
This week the Sprint Cup series makes a stop at Martinsville Speedway in Virgina, commonly known as “The Paperclip“. This will be the first of two stops at the track this season, with the second coming in late October. Not many drivers have visited victory lane here recently, with Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon combining to win 14 of the last 16 races held at this 0.526-mile oval.
During The Last Race At Martinsville…Denny Hamlin held off a hard-charging Mark Martin for his seventh win of the 2010 season. Martin finished second that day with Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top five. In the first race at Martinsville last season, Hamlin led 172 laps and got the win on a green-white-checkered finish over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano. Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Martin Truex, Jr. followed those two to the checkers. Hamlin, Logano, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson were the only drivers to record top 10s in both races at “The Paperclip” in 2010. The results of the most recent race at Martinsville can be found by clicking here, and this will show you how drivers finished compared to how they were in practice.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers…Quite simply, load up on Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson this week. Those two have won the past nine races here and it seems like they are always up front. Some people may shy away from the Gibbs Toyotas, but I don’t see much of a problem with them at the short tracks; picking them at the intermediate ovals, though, is a different story. Last season, qualifying wasn’t very important. In October, Hamlin won from the pole but only one other person who finished in the top ten started there. During the spring race here, none of the top eight finishers started better than 11th. Also, most drivers are good here or bad here, and very rarely do you see the “bad” drivers having a good race.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
1. Denny Hamlin – This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Hamlin has won three of the last four races at “The Paperclip” with his other finish being 2nd. He’s made eleven starts at this track and has ten top 10s and an average finish of 6th. The only race that Denny hasn’t completed all of the laps was his second start here where he started 41st and got caught up in an accident. He’s led almost 36% of the laps ran here in the past two years and should be a lock for a top five this week. Don’t worry about the engine problems with the Gibbs cars this week because, as I said before, I don’t think they will have issues on short tracks.
2. Jimmie Johnson – For the first time since 2005, “Five Time” didn’t lead any laps in the two races held at Martinsville last season, but he still posted finishes of 9th and 5th. Jimmie has won here six times and is on a streak of seventeen straight top 10s at this track. Johnson looked good at Bristol a few weeks ago and I see no reason why he won’t challenge for the win on Sunday. He’s real hungry to break his winless streak, especially after getting beat by Harvick in California last week, and this is the perfect place for that to happen.
3. Kevin Harvick – I expect “Happy” to ride the momentum from his win at Fontana into Martinsville and be a factor once again this week. He started on the pole in the spring race last year and led 57 laps before he had problems and wound up finishing 35th. Harvick started 35th in the October race but still came away with a top five finish after leading 97 laps. Kevin has finished in the top twelve in eight of last ten races held at “The Paperclip” and has had great cars in almost every race this season (just not the best luck).
4. Jeff Gordon – Gordon isn’t as good as his teammate here, but he’s damn close. He’s made 36 starts at this track, coming away with 29 top tens and seven wins. He finished 20th in the fall race last season after being wrecked by Kurt Busch (possible payback from Sonoma) and that broke his streak of fifteen top 10s. I expect Gordon to start that streak again this week, and a top five is definitely within his grasps. I think Gordon has been average this season (except for his win in Phoenix) so keep an eye on him this weekend, but it’s real hard to go against his history at this track.
5. Carl Edwards – I’m really liking how smooth Carl’s season is going so far and I think he will have another strong run this weekend. He didn’t have an awesome-fast car in Fontana last week, but still came away with a 6th-place finish (which was higher than he ran all day). Edwards finished 8th in both Martinsville races in 2010 but has just four top 10s to his name in his thirteen starts here. He’s never led a lap here but that could change this weekend. He will be the best pick of the Roush-Fenway Racing camp this weekend.
6. Kyle Busch – Don’t make the mistake I have in the past two weeks and not pick Rowdy Busch in fantasy. He isn’t stellar at this track, but between him and Carl Edwards, there are no other drivers that are on as hot of streaks as these two. Kyle’s best finish at Martinsville is 4th (and he’s done that four times) and he has finished there in two of the past three races here. He’s a little hit-or-miss at this track, with five top 5s and five finishes worse than 20th in his twelve starts. Which Kyle Busch will show up this weekend? I’d bet on the “hit” one.
7. Ryan Newman – In case you didn’t realize this, Ryan Newman is 2nd in points and has as many top 10s and top 5s as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards (four and three, respectively). “The Rocketman” is a great qualifier at Martinsville–with an average start of 9th and three career poles–and has finished in the top five in 33% of his starts here. Over the past four races at “The Paperclip,” Newman has three finishes in the top seven, and I think it’s very possible he will end up right around there on Sunday. His average driver rating of 98.4 is seventh-best in the series at this track over the past two years.
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – If you’ve read anything from me over the past few weeks, you know I’ve been high on Junior, and that won’t change this week. He didn’t have a great race at Auto Club Speedway, but he still managed a 12th-place finish at one of his worst tracks. Martinsville is Dale Jr’s third-best track and I think he will have a similar race to last fall: lead some laps and get a solid top ten finish. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt has four top tens in six starts at “The Paperclip,” and in his career he averages right around a 14th-place finish.
9. Mark Martin – Mark “The Kid” Martin has made 46 starts at Martinsville and has come away with 24 top tens as a result. He has two wins here and has finished in the top eight in three of the past four races here. Martin once again showed his inconsistency in Fontana and that is the reason he is ranked 9th for my preview. He was super fast in practice last week and had many people thinking he had a shot at a top five, only to finish 20th. Like teammate Jeff Gordon, I don’t think Martin is running as well as he should this season. Over the past two years, Mark has the sixth-best average driver rating at this track, but I would consider him a risky pick this week.
10. Jeff Burton – The #31 team has gotten off to a slow start this season, but their finishes have been getting progressively better and I think this is the week that they get their first top ten of the 2011 season. In the two races at Martinsville last year, Burton led 140 and 134 laps but had disappointing finishes of 20th and 9th. He has just one win at this track (in 1997) but hasn’t finished outside of the top twenty since 2006. Burton’s career average finish at “The Paperclip” is 13.8 and he has had the fifth-best average driver rating over the past four races here.
11. Clint Bowyer – Bowyer finally got a top ten last week and I think he could challenge for a second this week at Martinsville. He has just one top five finish in ten starts at this track, but he’s recorded top ten finishes in five of the last seven races here. Clint has never led a lap at “The Paperclip,” so don’t expect him to challenge for a win, but a top ten won’t be out of the question. His last four spring races here have given Bowyer finishes of 7th, 5th, 10th, and 11th.
12. Tony Stewart - Last year was an off-year for “Smoke” at Martinsville, with finishes of 26th and 24th, but he has won here twice and his career average finish is a respectable 13.1. In his past eleven starts at Martinsville, Stewart has just three finishes outside of the top fifteen and none worse than 26th. Over the past two seasons, Tony has the ninth-best average driver rating at this track.
13. Juan Montoya – Believe it or not, Montoya actually hasn’t been terrible at “The Paperclip.” He’s made eight starts at this track and seven of them have ended in top 20 finishes, although only two have been in the top ten. Juan has been in the top ten in points all season thus far and I don’t think that will change this week. His finishes of 36th and 19th in 2010 at Martinsville are the two worst in Montoya’s Sprint Cup career.
14. Joey Logano – “Sliced Bread” nearly won the race here last March and was one of only four drivers to score top tens in both trips to Martinsville in 2010. His first trip to “The Paperclip” gave him a 32nd-place finish but he backed that up with a 12-place effort later in 2009. Logano hasn’t been stellar this year, so proceed with caution, but statistically this is Joey’s fourth-best track. He needs a good run to get his season back on track and this could be the week that Logano breaks through.
15. Paul Menard – Paul continued his great start to the season at Fontana with yet another career-best finish, but for him to accomplish that this week it may be a bit tougher. Last season, while running for Richard Petty Motorsports, Menard collected finishes of 14th and 13th. This season he has Richard Childress Racing power under the hood, and they have had success here in the past. Will we see another career-best finish for Paul Menard this week? His worst finish at Martinsville has been 27th in his seven starts here.
Underdogs Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Jamie McMurray – McMurray has finished in the top eleven in three of the past four races here and he has nine top 10s in his sixteen career starts. Word of caution: because he hasn’t ran well this season at all, Jamie will be a risky pick this week, but he’s not terrible at this track: statistically this is McMurray’s fifth-best venue.
Brian Vickers – Dang was Vickers and his Red Bull Toyota fast in Fontana. Will they be able to turn that into a good run at Martinsville? We will find out. Vickers has three finishes of 11th or better in his past four starts here and finished 6th in the spring race in 2010. Kasey Kahne drove this car to a 14th-place finish last October at this track.
Brad Keselowski – He’s made just two starts at this track but Keselowski has finishes of 12th and 10th to his name. This year, BK finished 15th at Phoenix and 18th at Bristol, so a top 15 isn’t out of the question this week, but I doubt he will be able to score another top ten.
David Ragan – I usually only use Ragan on oval tracks but he hasn’t been terrible at Martinsville. Last year he finished 16th and 17th and in 2008 he posted finishes of 11th and 13th. He finished 16th at Bristol a few weeks ago, the first short track race of the season.
Those To Avoid Entering The Goody’s Fast Relief 500:
Regan Smith – Smith finished 14th here in 2008 but that is his only finish inside the top 20 in his career at this track. Darrell Waltrip keeps saying how good of a season this guy is having, but I just don’t see it: he’s 30th in points and the only race he looked impressive was Daytona. Regan’s cumulative driver ratings over the past three races don’t even add up to Denny Hamlin’s driver rating in the fall race last year.
David Reutimann - Reutty hasn’t even looked good on the tracks where he is expected to perform well so there’s no reason to think he will have a good run on a track that he has an average finish around 26th at. Last year at this track Reutimann finished 27th and 28th. Save him for the intermediates.
Kurt Busch – I expected a 25th-place finish at best last week out of Kurt but he somehow pulled off a 17th. He may do that again this week, but I’m not about to put him on my roster. Busch’s last top ten came in 2005, and while he has one win here, just 4 of Kurt’s 21 starts here have given him a top ten finish.
Martin Truex, Jr. – He finished 5th here last spring, but one good race doesn’t make you a great driver (I’m talking about you, too, Trevor Bayne). His average finish is 22.5 at this track and three of Truex’s last four starts here have given him finishes of either 28th or 29th. He looks like his 2010 self thus far, so don’t be surprised to see him near the top of the practice speed charts this weekend. Just don’t be fooled by him.
I’m just hoping for an enjoyable race this week, and I’m sure many others are as well. I nearly fell asleep multiple times during the race last week, but I must say, those last ten or so laps were intense. I will post my final predictions for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 over at ifantasyrace.com so be sure to check those out, and make sure you join NASCARNation if you haven’t already. Good luck to everyone’s fantasy rosters this week, and if you want my opinion between two drivers where you don’t know who to pick, feel free to send me a tweet.
March 29, 2011
Ten Drivers To Watch
1. Jimmie Johnson – Johnson has five career wins at NASCAR’s oldest track and the only time he finished outside the top ten was his first career start here.
2. Denny Hamlin – Won the last three Martinsville races and has led +170 laps in three out of the last four races. Drivers have break problems at this track, not engine problems.
3. Jeff Gordon – Has only finished outside the top ten once at Martinsville since 2002. The track has taken a chunk out of his car more than once so watch out.
4. Kevin Harvick – Last year he finished third in the fall and was extremely strong in the spring race (started on pole and led 57 laps before mechanical problems brought a swift end).
5. Kyle Busch – Two fourth place finishes in the last three Martinsville races.
6. Juan Pablo Montoya – Has had past success at Martinsville and had the car to beat in 2009′s fall race. Don’t overlook him.
7. Carl Edwards – Finished 8th in both races last year. He’s even better this year so I’ll bump him up one spot.
8. Ryan Newman – He’s finished in the top seven in three out of the last four Martinsville races. Ryan Newman is also a good qualifier at this venue.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – This is one of his better tracks. Last fall he was very strong and led 90 laps. Since 2002 he has ten top tens at Martinsville. He’s finished on the lead lap in all but one race since 2005.
10. Tony Stewart – Some risk here but Smoke is a former winner.
TheSpread.com odds to win: Denny Hamlin 3/1, Jimmie Johnson 9/2, Kyle Busch 8/1, Jeff Gordon 8/1, Kevin Harvick 8/1, Tony Stewart 10/1, Carl Edwards 12/1, Jeff Burton 15/1, Clint Bowyer 20/1, Mark Martin 25/1
How important is qualifying here…..
Pinch yourself because I think it’s a tad overrated. It’s certainly an advantage to start up front but in this race there will be tons of pit strategy and it will really shuffle up the field. In two of Denny Hamlin’s recent Martinsville wins he started in the high teens (19th and 17th).
How to approach the race…..
The best way to approach the race is to look at average finishes. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but that’s what really counts this week. This is a drivers track where the man behind the wheel in the difference maker.
March 24, 2011
|Expert||Website||Pick to Win||Finish||Experts Avg|
|Josh Lobdel||Matt Kenseth||4||7.80|
|Jerry Lagger||One and Done Game Winner||Matt Kenseth||4||16.20|
|Dennis Michelsen||RaceTalkRadio.com||Joey Logano||25||16.20|
|Steve Wronkowicz||On Pit Row||Jeff Gordon||18||16.40|
|Eric McClung||KFFL||Matt Kenseth||4||9.40|
|Eric McGuire||free agent||Matt Kenseth||4||8.40|
|Dan Beaver||Fantasy Racing Games||Matt Kenseth||4||12.40|
|Matt Mercer||On Pit Row||Juan Pablo Montoya||10||8.80|
|Adam Ansell||Roto Experts||Matt Kenseth||4||9.00|
|Chris Leone||On Pit Row||Juan Pablo Montoya||10||21.00|
|Bob Ellis||NASCAR Ranting and Raving||Matt Kenseth||4||17.00|
|CharlieTurner||On Pit Row||Kevin Harvick||1||6.60|
|Jordan McAbee||On Pit Row||Clint Bowyer||7||6.60|
|Jon Rodgers||Gillette Young Guns Challenge Winner||Denny Hamlin||39||16.40|
|James Jones||On Pit Row||Jeff Gordon||18||11.40|
|Mike Wells||Racing4Glory.com||Matt Kenseth||4||7.60|
|Darren Fauth||FantasyRacingCheatSheet||Matt Kenseth||4||9.60|
|P J Walsh||FantasyNASCARPreview.com||Greg Biffle||11||22.60|
|Charles Rantz||ifantasyrace.com||Greg Biffle||11||12.00|
March 24, 2011
|Expert||Website||Pick to Win||Finish||Experts Avg|
|Josh Lobdell||Jimmie Johnson||2||16.60|
|Jerry Lagger||One and Done Game Winner||Jimmie Johnson||2||19.40|
|Dennis Michelsen||RaceTalkRadio.com||Carl Edwards||6||18.60|
|Steve Wronkowicz||On Pit Row||Carl Edwards||6||19.00|
|Eric McClung||KFFL||Jimmie Johnson||2||18.60|
|Eric McGuire||free agent||Jimmie Johnson||2||24.20|
|Dan Beaver||Fantasy Racing Games||Carl Edwards||6||14.80|
|Matt Mercer||On Pit Row||Greg Biffle||11||23.80|
|Adam Ansell||Roto Experts||Jimmie Johnson||2||12.00|
|Chris Leone||On Pit Row||Carl Edwards||6||16.00|
|Bob Ellis||NASCAR Ranting and Raving||Jimmie Johnson||2||13.60|
|CharlieTurner||On Pit Row||Carl Edwards||6||11.80|
|Jordan McAbee||On Pit Row||Jimmie Johnson||2||17.20|
|Jon Rodgers||Gillette Young Guns Challenge Winner||Carl Edwards||6||13.80|
|James Jones||On Pit Row||Tony Stewart||13||5.60|
|Mike Wells||Racing4Glory.com||Jimmie Johnson||2||10.00|
|Darren Fauth||FantasyRacingCheatSheet||Jimmie Johnson||2||10.00|
|P J Walsh||FantasyNASCARPreview.com||Carl Edwards||6||15.60|
|Charles Rantz||ifantasyrace.com||Jimmie Johnson||2||18.40|
March 23, 2011
Ten Drivers to watch in the Auto Club 400
- Jimmie Johnson – In the last four California races he’s won twice, led 323 laps, and has an untouchable 134.4 driver rating.
- Tony Stewart – Stewart won last fall and after his strong performance at Las Vegas he’s the clear early favorite to take the checkered flag in the Auto Club 400.
- Carl Edwards – He’s a previous winner who has seven top seven finishes at Auto Club Speedway.
- Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch won his first race here and followed that up with nine straight top ten finishes.
- Kevin Harvick – Very impressive in both races last year. Only Jimmie Johnson’s “Golden Horseshoe” kept him out of victory lane in the spring race. Harvick also won at Michigan last year.
- Matt Kenseth – Since 2005 he’s only finished worse than 13th once. Kenseth has three career victories at this venue.
- Kurt Busch – Three straight top eight finishes at Auto Club Speedway when you disregard last falls race.
- Greg Biffle – Roush cars will be extremely strong this weekend and don’t look for him to have anymore fuel issues.
- Jeff Gordon – Since 2007 he’s finished 3rd or better four times. Last fall he finished ninth and led eleven laps.
- Denny Hamlin – Finished first and second at Michigan last year. At Las Vegas he finished 7th.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Knowing what happened in practice is a fantasy must for Auto Club Speedway. Look for long race runs and as a result the best cars will drive to the front with ease. If you pick a driver who struggled in practice then don’t expect good fantasy results. Practice is five times more important then qualifying at this track.
Current TheSpread.com Odds To Win:
- Jimmie Johnson 7/2
- Carl Edwards 6/1
- Kyle Busch 8/1
- Jeff Gordon 8/1
- Denny Hamlin 10/1
- Tony Stewart 10/1
- Kevin Harvick 12/1
- Kurt Busch 15/1
- Clint Bowyer 20/1
- Matt Kenseth 20/1
Auto Club Fantasy Notes: Expect a big Roush day with challenges for the win also coming from Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. However one very important thing to note is that last fall almost all of the Roush cars had engine problems. I don’t expect that to be an issue this time around.
March 23, 2011
Auto Club Speedway is a 2-mile “D-shaped” oval that is most similar to Michigan International Speedway. One difference between the two is that the track is Michigan has a little bit more banking than the one in California. Two hundred laps are set to be run on Sunday afternoon, making it just 400 miles from start to finish. The last fall race here in Fontana was the first that went just 200 laps (they usually go 250 when they visit Fontana). There is originally two races here during the Sprint Cup season, but schedule changes have taken away the October race in 2011–to the elation of many. The previous nine races held at this track have gone their scheduled distance.
During The Last Race At California…The lead changed hands many times last October (fourteen racers led) but it was Tony Stewart who crossed the finish line first. Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. In the spring race, Johnson started seventh and led 101 laps in route to his first victory of the season. Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton finished second and third, followed by Mark Martin and Joey Logano.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers…The time to take major chances was last week in Bristol. This week, you should go with the favorites and maybe sprinkle in a “surprise” pick if they look good on Friday and Saturday (like Marcos Ambrose at Las Vegas Motor Speedway). Qualifying is important, but don’t put a bunch of emphasis on it. In the two races at Auto Club Speedway in 2010, fourteen of the twenty top ten finishers started outside of the top ten. Last fall, average practice speeds weren’t too telling either. Click here for the results of the October race (they are sorted in order from fastest to slowest in average practice speed with their result underneath). During the last race here there were many pit road speeding violations, and those can mess up a roster real quick.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Auto Club 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone–Jimmie Johnson owns this track. He’s made sixteen career starts in Fontana and his worst finish is 16th. In those sixteen races, Johnson owns eleven top three finishes and his career average finish here is 5.3. Over the past two years, the 48 Chevrolet had had an astounding 134.4 average driver rating at California. With five career wins at California–two of them coming in the last three races–Johnson should be a lock this weekend for everyone.
2. Carl Edwards - Nobody has been on more of a hot streak lately as Cousin Carl. He finished off the 2010 season with two straight wins and has finished in the top two in three of the four races this season. If he wouldn’t have had the wreck in Phoenix, that number just may be four-for-four. Edwards wasn’t great in Fontana last season–posting finishes of 13th and 34th–but it’s hard to go against someone who is running as well as Carl is. In thirteen career races at California, Edwards owns ten top seven finishes, and that includes one win (coming in 2008).
3. Tony Stewart – Since Stewart-Haas Racing was formed in 2009, “Smoke” has finished in the top ten in every race at California. He is the most recent winner here and looked awesome at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (even though that isn’t exactly like Auto Club Speedway). In nineteen career starts at this track, Stewart has amassed eleven top 10s. He was running pretty good at Bristol until he ran into his teammate, Ryan Newman, and I think Tony will be back up front this week.
4. Matt Kenseth – Roush-Fenway Racing–as well as all Fords in general–have been so fast to start the season that it’s hard to go against them at their “bread and butter” tracks. Kenseth has an average finish of 10.3 at Auto Club Speedway and from 2005 to 2009 he rattled off eight straight top 10s. Over that span, he collected three wins and never finished worse than 7th. Most of the Roush cars had engine difficulties last time the series was at Fontana, but as long as that doesn’t happen this weekend, it should be a perfect race to load up on the Roushkateers.
5. Kyle Busch – “Rowdy” had a top ten car in Las Vegas but engine problems made him retire early that day. He also had an engine problem in the October race at California, but he knows how to get around this track when he has a good car. Busch won here in 2005 and went on to record seven straight top tens after that. He hasn’t led a bunch of laps here, though, so don’t expect to see Kyle fighting for the lead all day. I love picking Kyle Busch after a win and this week is no exception. Joe Gibbs Racing engines have been hit-or-miss this year, though, so proceed with caution when selecting Busch.
6. Jeff Gordon – It was a great recovery for Gordon last October at Auto Club Speedway: he had a speeding penalty late and rallied back for a 9th-place finish. Jeff has won here three times and over the course of his career (21 races) he has an average finish of around 11th. He’s a little hit-or-miss at Fontana lately, though: in the last nine races he has four top three finishes, but he also has three finishes outside of the top fifteen over that span. Gordon has led at least one lap in each of the past six races held at California.
7. Kurt Busch - The elder Busch brother hasn’t been as flashy as Carl Edwards this season, but he has been the most consistent driver in the series thus far, and he is coming into a track where he has one win and owns an average finish of 12.7. Three of the past four races in Fontana have ended with Kurt Busch in the top ten, and there’s no reason to think that won’t happen this weekend. He finished 21st here in April, but the entire Penske stable looked average at best all weekend. In 17 career starts at Auto Club Speedway, Kurt has finished on the lead lap in 14 of them.
8. Clint Bowyer – Bowyer has never finished outside of the top 20 at California, and he needs a good run to kick-start his season. He didn’t look great at Las Vegas, which is part of the reason I have him ranked a little low, but Clint has been solid at California lately. His last three starts have netted him finishes of 2nd, 8th, and 9th. Bowyer has led just 44 laps in ten starts at Fontana, so don’t expect a dominating performance, but he is capable of getting a top ten. With the way his luck has been going this year, some people will hold off for a while on picking the #33, but if he has a good run on Sunday, you can gain a bunch of points on the competition.
9. Greg Biffle - As surprising as it may seem, “The Biff” actually isn’t as good at California as many would expect him to be. He has won here, but other than that he has been extremely hit-or-miss: in sixteen starts at Auto Club Speedway, Biffle has amassed four top fives but ten finishes 15th or worse. He had a dominant car at Las Vegas, though, which is really the only similar race you can go off of from this year, and all of the Fords have looked fast this season. It’s a risky pick, but it’s hard to go against the Roush-Fenway Fords at the intermediate tracks.
10. Kevin Harvick – “Happy” is on a streak of three top 10s at California and has finished outside of the top 20 just once in his past nine starts at this track. He’s not great by any means here, though: Harvick’s career average finish is 17.1 and he had just four top 10s in his first fourteen career starts at Fontana. He may continue his streak of good finishes here, but it is certainly possible that he ends up with a teens finish on Sunday like he did at Las Vegas.
11. Paul Menard – Okay, I’ll hop onto the Paul Menard bandwagon this week. He’s had career-best finishes in every single race this season (seriously), so why not another one at Auto Club Speedway? Menard finished 18th here in the spring last year and that is his top finish in eight starts at this track. Everything is going right for this young man this season and unless you see his luck running out this week, he should be a good darkhorse pick this week. These intermediate tracks were the ones he was best on last season. Menard had 11th and 12th-place runs at Michigan while driving for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
12. Kasey Kahne – Kasey was the surprise of the race for me in October at this track. He posted a fourth-place finish and a driver rating of 106.2. He’s had two 34th-place finishes at Fontana recently, but his other five races in that span have been top 12s. Kahne’s average finish at Auto Club Speedway is 15.4 and his average start is around 10th. He won here in 2006 while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. Scott Speed drove the #82 car (basically the #4 car that Kahne is in now) to an 11th-place finish here last season.
13. Mark Martin – I said don’t pick Martin last week and regretted that after he posted a 12th-place finish in “Thunder Valley”. He’s not having a terrible season (he sits 11th in points) but I don’t think his is racing up to potential yet. Martin has finished 6th, 4th, and 4th in his last three starts at Fontana, but I don’t expect him to finish there this weekend. Mark’s average finish here is 13.3 and I think that is closer to where he will end up on Sunday.
14. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior didn’t have a great race like I expected at Bristol last week, but he still posted a solid 11th-place finish. He’s not good at California by any means (22.3 career average finish) but I love picking him when he is on a roll, and he has been consistent every race after Daytona this year. He has won at Michigan–the track most similar to Fontana–and he had a 2nd-place finish here in 2006. I’m not going to guarantee a top ten finish this weekend, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Junior finished 8th at Las Vegas and ended up 16th at the last race here after starting 9th.
15. Denny Hamlin – It might just be me, but Hamlin has been quietly average this season. His best finish so far in 2011 came in Las Vegas when he drove from the back of the pack to grab a top ten. Other than that race, I haven’t been impressed by the driver that won eight races in 2010. Hamlin has been hit-or-miss at Auto Club Speedway lately with three top 10s in the past six races but also three finishes 29th or worse in that span. Be cautious when picking Hamlin this week. His career average finish here is 17.2.
Underdogs Entering The Auto Club 400:
Brian Vickers - Red Bull Racing seems like they either bring top ten cars to these intermediate tracks or 25th-place cars. Last spring at California, Vickers finished 12th–right behind his then-teammate, Scott Speed. Brian hasn’t looked overly impressive this season, but he finished 10th at Las Vegas and six finishes in the top 12 over his past seven starts at California.
David Ragan – Like I said, don’t go against the Roushkateers on intermediates. Ragan could have won the pole at Vegas but spun in qualifying and finished 22nd after starting in the back. In his first six starts at Auto Club Speedway, Ragan never finished worse than 17th, but last year he finished 32nd and 23rd. I expect him to get back on track this weekend and could pull off a surprise top ten.
Marcos Ambrose – The only reason I’m listing him as an underdog is because of how well he ran at Las Vegas. Ambrose has never finished better than 22nd at Auto Club Speedway, but Kasey Kahne drove this #9 Ford to a top five finish the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited this track. Keep your eye on Marcos this weekend.
David Reutimann – It seems like the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas are either great cars or they fall of during the race and finish around 20th. Reutimann finished 13th in Las Vegas and posted 10th and 15th-place efforts at Fontana in 2010. In eight career starts here, Reutty has four top 15s, with two of them being top 10s.
Those To Avoid Entering The Auto Club 400:
Jeff Burton – Not only is he having absolutely no luck this season but Burton is also decent at best at Auto Club Speedway. He finished 3rd here last February but that is his only top ten in the last five races here. Wait until the #31 Chevrolet has (at least) a decent run before even thinking about picking him.
Joey Logano – Joey’s average finish here is 14th but, like Burton, he seems to be having problems each week, whether it be an engine problem or a loose wheel. Go ahead and pick the #20 if you want, but he has burned me too many times in 2011 to recommend him right now.
Jamie McMurray – Jamie Mac is also having terrible luck this season, but even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t recommend him at Fontana. He won both poles last year but led only 14 laps and finished 17th in both races. He hasn’t had a top ten here since 2006 and his average finish since then has been 22.8.
Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex looked like his normal self last week, being hit-or-miss. He had a good run in the beginning of the race but fell back. Martin finished 6th at Las Vegas, which will make some people look at him this week, but his average finish at California is 21.2 and he hasn’t had a top fifteen finish here since 2008.
If you had a bad week at Bristol, don’t worry: so did I. Just shrug it off because that track is a tricky one to predict. This week should be easier. Be sure to check out my predictions after Happy Hour at ifantasyrace and check out NASCAR Nation–there are many great members there to chat about racing with!
March 16, 2011
|Expert||Website||Pick to Win||Finish||Experts Avg|
|Josh Lobdel||Kyle Busch||1||8.75|
|Jerry Lagger||One and Done Game Winner||Joey Logano||23||19.25|
|Dennis Michelsen||RaceTalkRadio.com||Greg Biffle||8||14.00|
|Steve Wronkowicz||On Pit Row||Kevin Harvick||6||16.00|
|Eric McClung||KFFL||Matt Kenseth||4||10.75|
|Eric McGuire||free agent||Kyle Busch||1||9.50|
|Dan Beaver||Fantasy Racing Games||Jeff Gordon||14||14.50|
|Matt Mercer||On Pit Row||Kyle Busch||1||8.50|
|Adam Ansell||Roto Experts||Kyle Busch||1||10.25|
|Chris Leone||On Pit Row||Jamie McMurray||21||23.75|
|Bob Ellis||NASCAR Ranting and Raving||Jeff Gordon||14||20.25|
|CharlieTurner||On Pit Row||Kyle Busch||1||8.00|
|Jordan McAbee||On Pit Row||Kyle Busch||1||6.50|
|Jon Rodgers||Gillette Young Guns Challenge Winner||Kyle Busch||1||10.75|
|James Jones||On Pit Row||Kyle Busch||1||9.75|
|Mike Wells||Racing4Glory.com||Kyle Busch||1||8.50|
|Darren Fauth||FantasyRacingCheatSheet||Kyle Busch||1||11.00|
|P J Walsh||FantasyNASCARPreview.com||Clint Bowyer||35||25.50|
|Charles Rantz||ifantasyrace.com||Jeff Burton||20||12.25|
March 16, 2011
|Expert||Website||Pick to Win||Finish||Experts Avg|
|Josh Lobdell||Carl Edwards||2||20.25|
|Jerry Lagger||One and Done Game Winner||Kyle Busch||1||23.75|
|Dennis Michelsen||RaceTalkRadio.com||Kyle Busch||1||21.75|
|Steve Wronkowicz||On Pit Row||Ryan Newman||10||22.25|
|Eric McClung||KFFL||Ryan Newman||10||22.75|
|Eric McGuire||free agent||Dale Earnhardt Jr||11||29.75|
|Dan Beaver||Fantasy Racing Games||Kyle Busch||1||17.00|
|Matt Mercer||On Pit Row||Denny Hamlin||33||27.00|
|Adam Ansell||Roto Experts||Carl Edwards||2||14.50|
|Chris Leone||On Pit Row||Kyle Busch||1||18.50|
|Bob Ellis||NASCAR Ranting and Raving||Kyle Busch||1||16.50|
|CharlieTurner||On Pit Row||Kurt Busch||7||13.25|
|Jordan McAbee||On Pit Row||Jimmie Johnson||3||21.00|
|Jon Rodgers||Gillette Young Guns Challenge Winner||Carl Edwards||2||15.75|
|James Jones||On Pit Row||Kurt Busch||7||3.75|
|Mike Wells||Racing4Glory.com||Carl Edwards||2||12.00|
|Darren Fauth||FantasyRacingCheatSheet||Carl Edwards||2||12.00|
|P J Walsh||FantasyNASCARPreview.com||Kyle Busch||1||18.00|
|Charles Rantz||ifantasyrace.com||Kurt Busch||7||22.50|