This week the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to its final stop on the West Coast swing, Auto Club Speedway. Tire wear plays a key role, as drivers try to avoid cutting them. Due to the extremely wide corners and fast speeds, it’s easy for drivers to gain positions. This means that Place Differential and qualifying position is key to successful lineups, as it is common for some drivers that start high to drop through the field at this track.
SATURDAY POST FINAL PRACTICE UPDATE: Chase Elliott was the fastest car in final practice but scraped the wall. Elliott should still remain a strong pick. The No. 24 team is not going to a backup car, so he should still be pretty fast on Sunday. Martin Truex Jr. looked impressive as the second-fastest in final practice and had the best 10 Lap Consecutive Average Speed out of 29 drivers. Jimmie Johnson was 16th fastest in final practice and will be a good pick to take advantage of Place Differential from 37th. Brad Keselowski was 13th fastest in final practice, showing that he is likely going to fade from his third place starting position. Joey Logano was sixth-fastest in final practice and looks to be the best play to take advantage of PD from 35th. Kyle Larson was fifth-fastest in final practice and showed that he has the speed to lead laps early. David Ragan wrecked in second practice and will go to a backup car. DraftKings will honor his original starting position of 27th. Erik Jones was fourth-fastest in final practice, making him likely to have a Top 10 finish.
TOP PICKS FOR AUTO CLUB 400
Jimmie Johnson ($9,800) is the defending winner of the race. In 22 starts, “Seven-Time” has six wins (most all-time), 980 laps led (most all-time), and 16 Top 10 finishes.
Since 2005, Johnson has an Average Running Position of 6.0 (best of all drivers), 528 Fastest Laps, which is the most of all drivers, 93% of Laps in the Top 15, which is second-best of active drivers, and the best Driver rating of 119.7. In the past two races at the site, Johnson has an Average Finishing Position of 5.0, which is third-best. In the past three races, Johnson has the highest DR of 120.0. ACS is statistically one of Johnson’s best tracks, but he has not shown the speed expected of him so far this season. Despite any perceived negatives, Johnson will be starting 37th after going to a backup car because of wrecking in first practice. This will make Johnson hard to fade because the PD potential is too great to ignore with very little risk involved.
Kevin Harvick ($10,800) is looking for his first win of the season. In 23 starts at ACS, Harvick has one win, 11 Top 10 finishes, and 237 laps led (sixth-best of active drivers). Since 2005, Harvick has an ARP of 11.3, which is fifth-best, 814 Quality Passes (passes of cars inside the Top 15 under Green Flag conditions), which is third-most, and the fifth-best DR of 99.4. Harvick finished second in the last two ACS races. In the last three races, Harvick has the second-best DR of 118.7. Harvick starts seventh and was third fastest in first practice. Harvick leaves little cap flexibility, but statistically has been solid before at ACS, making him a tournament play worth strong consideration.
Joey Logano ($10,300) is vying for his first ACS win. In 10 starts at the site, Logano has four Top 10 finishes, an AFP of 15.8, which is eighth-best, 41 Fastest Laps, which is sixth-best, and the 10th-best DR of 84.0. In his last two starts, Logano has the fourth-best AFP of 5.5. In the last three seasons, Logano has the eighth-best DR of 95.7. Logano failed to pass inspection and was unable to qualify, which designates his starting position as 35th. Logano was fifth fastest in first practice, and like Johnson will be hard to fade based on PD.
Auto Club is the site of Kyle Busch’s ($10,500) very first Cup Series victory. In 18 starts at ACS, Kyle Busch has three victories, 12 Top 10 finishes, and 608 laps led (second-most behind Jimmie Johnson). Since 2005, “Rowdy” has an ARP of 8.9 (second-best of active drivers), 872 QPs, which is the most in the Cup Series, and a the second-highest DR of 109.0. Kyle Busch will start ninth and was ninth fastest in first practice. Kyle Busch has very favorable history at ACS, and with his performance improving as the season progresses, he is a high-quality pick to consider.
Logano’s Penske Racing Teammate, Brad Keselowski ($10,000), is hoping to continue a stellar start to the 2017 season. In eight starts at ACS, Keselowski has one win, two Top 10 finishes, an AFP of 18.8, which is 13th best, 27 Fastest Laps (best of active drivers), and a DR of 79.2, which is 13th-best. In the last two ACS races, Keselowski has the second-best AFP of 5.0. In the last three ACS races, Keselowski has the seventh-best DR of 99.7. Keselowski was 10th fastest in first practice and will start third. Keselowski’s overall history at ACS has been mixed in terms of performances, but his recent momentum has been favorable. He is worth consideration as a high-quality pick behind the other drivers if you choose to employ multiple lineups.
Chase Elliott ($9,600) had a solid day at Phoenix last week, finishing 12th and leading 83 laps. In his only start at ACS, Elliott started eighth and finished sixth with the second-best ARP of 7.5, 96 QPs (most of active drivers), and a DR of 105.1, which was third-best. Elliott will be starting 13th and was 12th fastest in first practice. Elliott’s recent momentum has been notable and hard to ignore. Considering that Elliott has done well at Michigan International Speedway, another track with a similar layout, he is a great pick that will likely earn a Top 5 finish.
Kyle Larson ($9,100) is the current points leader of the Cup Series. In three starts at ACS, Larson has one Top 5 finish, an AFP of 22.3, which is 32nd best, and the 20th best DR of 67.3. Larson will start on the pole and was the fastest in first practice. Larson’s history is unfavorable at this site, but his recent momentum has been the best of any driver so far this season with three consecutive runner-up finishes. The recent finishes and fast practice speeds, combined with his decent salary, make him a must-play this week.
Dale Earnhardt Jr ($8,700) is trying to turn his season around after a lackluster start. In 24 starts, Earnhardt has seven Top 10 finishes, and an AFP of 18.6, which is 20th best of active drivers. Since 2005, Earnhardt has an ARP of 18.8 (13th best), 676 QPs (eighth-best), 114 Fastest Laps (second-best), and a DR of 79.4, which is 12th best, Earnhardt will be starting 18th and was 19th fastest in first practice. Earnhardt has mixed history at ACS with no momentum this season to date. Even though he has a chance to get PD points if he races into the Top 10, his performances so far this year dictate he should be avoided.
Kurt Busch ($8,200) is shooting for his second win this season. In 23 starts, Kurt Busch has one win, 12 Top 10 finishes, and 298 laps led (fourth-best of active drivers). Since 2005, “The Outlaw” has an ARP of 15.0, which is eighth-best, 148 Fastest Laps, which is eighth-best, 788 QPs (fourth-most), and a DR of 90.0, which is seventh-best. Kurt Busch will start 15th and was 16th fastest in first practice. He is likely to stay just outside the Top 10 and will be a high-quality choice for lineups this week.
Ryan Newman ($8,000) is gunning for back-to-back wins. In 22 ACS starts, Newman has nine Top 10 finishes, and an AFP of 16.6, which is 10th best of active drivers. Since 2005, Newman has an ARP of 15.8, which is ninth-best, 24 Fastest Laps (fifth-best), 743 QPs (seventh-most), and a DR of 82.1, which is 11th best. Newman is starting fifth and was 15th fastest in first practice. Newman starts a bit high, but it should be expected for him to finish around the Top 10. Newman’s salary is not too bad, but he could lose some PD points.
Erik Jones ($7,700) will be making his Cup Series debut at ACS this week and has three consecutive Top 15 finishes. Jones starts 14th and was 18th fastest in first practice. Jones’ salary based on performance over the last few weeks makes him a real value, and he continues to prove to be a reliable bargain pick that should be utilized again this week.
BARGAIN PICKS $7,500 OR LESS
Jamie McMurray ($7,500) has finished inside of the Top 10 in two of the last three races. In 21 starts at ACS, McMurray has an AFP of 17.0 (16th best), seven Top 10 finishes, and 57 Laps led. McMurray starts eighth and was fourth fastest in first practice. McMurray’s recent consistency and fast practice speeds combined with his nice salary makes him a fantastic bargain with a great chance of finishing around the Top 10.
Trevor Bayne ($7,200) will be starting 36th after failing to pass qualifying inspection. In three ACS starts, Bayne’s best finish was 20th last year. Bayne has an AFP of 26.6, which is 24th best. In first practice, Bayne was 23rd fastest. Bayne starts far back in the field and will easily gain PD without too much risk, and with his low salary, it’s hard not to ignore Bayne for this race.
Paul Menard ($6,800) will start 23rd at ACS. In 14 starts, Menard has an AFP of 20.2, which is 20th best of active drivers. In his last four starts, Menard finished no worse than 15th and placed inside the Top 10 three times. With Menard’s salary being under $7,000 and with his recent history at ACS, he is a top bargain pick.
Aric Almirola ($6,500) will start 31st at ACS. In nine starts, Almirola has an AFP of 28.1, which is 27th best of active drivers, and two Top 20 finishes. Almirola was 14th fastest in first practice. Almirola’s history isn’t favorable at this site, but he starts far back enough and has shown good speed in practice, meaning he is a great bargain pick for easy PD points.
Matt DiBenedetto ($5,500) starts 38th after failing to pass qualifying inspection. In two starts, his highest finish was 27th after starting 33rd last year. DiBenedetto has a good chance to gain PD points. The extremely low salary allows great cap flexibility while his starting position makes him a value to round out your lineup.
TOP 15 DRIVERS OVERALL FOR AUTO CLUB 400 – BASED ON COMBINATION OF PROJECTED PERFORMANCE AND VALUE
1: Jimmie Johnson ($9,800)
2: Joey Logano ($10,300)
3: Kyle Larson ($9,100)
4: Chase Elliott ($9,600)
5: Trevor Bayne ($7,200)
6: Jamie McMurray ($7,500)
7: Kurt Busch ($8,200)
8: Kyle Busch ($10,500)
9: Ryan Newman ($8,000)
10: Paul Menard ($6,800)
11: Erik Jones ($7,700)
12: Aric Almirola ($6,500)
13: Kevin Harvick ($10,800)
14: Ryan Blaney ($8,300)
15: Matt DiBenedetto ($5,500)