Spinning my wheels: Auto Club Speedway

BY foxsports • February 17, 2010

Go ahead, make your pothole and delay jokes.

I, for one, am lobbying for a race to be added to the circuit that includes a drive along the I-405 in Los Angeles. Oh, and I want to see regular drivers added to the mix as a hazard.

Think about it. You get the road hazards of unending potholes along with a myriad of terrible drivers, dubious machinery (that is to say, beaters on the road) and the inevitable fender-bender in a battle for supremacy. Talk about skill. Talk about determination. Talk about drama and opportunity for ad sales.

“This quarter-mile brought to you by Westside Towing.”

Seriously, congratulations to Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and those who chugged away through the accidents and surface conditions to generate big runs in Daytona. It’s time to move the circuit cross-country and get ready for Auto Club Speedway.

Track Info

Located in Fontana (50 miles east of Los Angeles), Auto Club Speedway is a 2-mile, 75-foot wide oval with 14-degree banking in the turns. As a 500-mile race with a full weekend of prep work ahead of the checkered flag, these cars will be pushed to their breaking point. So, engine maintenance and performance will be one of the keys to a top-tier effort on Sunday.

The track boasts long straightaways (3,100 feet on the frontstretch and 2,500 on the backstretch) which allow drivers to hit top speeds and possible dangers as they downshift into the corners, particularly in crowds. The long straightaways allow for added side-by-side dueling and make for a good show for those attending and those watching at home.

History

One interesting note about past California Speedway races is that the polesitter is 0-for-19. That’s right. The polesitter has never won a race at the track. The leaders in the win column at Auto Club Speedway are Hendrick teammmates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon as well as Matt Kenseth. Johnson leads the pack with four wins, while Gordon and Kenseth have each claimed victory three times. Kenseth’s currently the clubhouse leader with 11 top 10s.

Can another driver join this group this weekend, or will the Hendrick tag-team partners rule the day once again?

The Contenders

Matt Kenseth

Longtime readers of my ramblings know about my love of the color purple. Suffice it to say those college colors run deep. As such, the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford driven by Kenseth is squarely on the radar. The former series champion is one of the favorites this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. He owns the second-best average running position in the past four years (9.03) while running inside the top 15 in 62.1 percent of all laps run. He’s the defending champion of this event and has rolled to victory on three occasions. He’s charged into the top 10 in eight of his past nine Auto Club Speedway events (13th in the second 2009 run) and is a rock-solid starter this week who anchors my lineup.

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson raced 35th at Daytona, a failed start because of a rear axle problem. He couldn't get on the plane headed toward Auto Club Speedway fast enough. The four-time defending series champion owns the circuit's best average running position at the track in the past four years (5.54) while racing inside the top 15 in an astounding 95 percent of all laps run. Additionally, he’s never finished worse than 16th in 14 career starts. He’s a four-time Auto Club Speedway champion who’s posted 10 top-10 finishes. Lock and load.

Carl Edwards

The No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford started the season with a strong effort. Edwards started from the 27th position at Daytona before charging through the pack to ninth place. That’s an encouraging start to 2010, and the team eagerly awaits the flag drop at Auto Club Speedway. Edwards has produced 10 top-10 finishes in 11 career starts at the track, all of which were seventh-place finishes or better. He's raced inside the top 15 in 79.2 percent of all laps run in the past four years with a 10.78-position average running slot, posting a spectacular 6.7-position average finish in the past four years. The No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford is clearly a favorite for this week’s Auto Club Speedway run.

Jeff Burton

Burton’s looking to rebound from a disappointing 2009 season. His 28-position charge-up from 39th to 11th place in the Daytona 500 provided a wonderful start to the turnaround, but can he keep it rolling at Auto Club Speedway? He’s raced to three top-five finishes in his past seven starts here (with 12th- and 17th-place finishes mixed in) while qualifying 15th or better in six of his past nine events. He’s also averaged a strong 15.1-position running slot the past four years with a tepid 17.4-position finish. I’m on the fence about him this week.

Tony Stewart

Stewart leapt behind the wheel and won his third straight Nationwide event at Daytona last week. Unfortunately, he was unable to replicate his efforts in the Sprint Cup headliner event, finishing a disappointing 22nd after qualifying sixth. Look for him to get things started this weekend. He’s raced to nine top 10s in 17 career starts with 11 top-16 finishes. In the past four years, he’s raced inside the top 15 in 74.1 percent of all laps run (11.27-position running slot) and a 13.9-position average finish. Interestingly, he’s never won an event here.

Kasey Kahne

Kahne qualified in the fourth position at Daytona and appeared ready to open the year with a big run. Unfortunately, he was involved in an accident and finished a disappointing 30th. Shake it off, Kasey. He’ll surely rebound with a big effort this weekend. He's run to seven top 10s in 12 career starts here (nine top 13s) and routinely qualifies among the leaders, averaging a strong 13.8-position average running position the past four years while racing inside the top 15 in nearly two-thirds of all laps run. As always, there’s a bit of risk involved with his selection, as he’s lost two starts to accidents and one to a blown engine in his Auto Club Speedway career.

Kyle Busch

Busch didn’t dominate the field at Daytona, but he battled through the track issues to finish 14th. It’s a solid setup for Auto Club Speedway, where he’s been among the most dominant drivers in the field. He’s raced to eight top 10s in his past 10 starts here, including five top-fives and a win. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota owns the fourth-best average running position here the past four years (10.7) with a 9.7-position finish.

Jamie McMurray

How do you top McMurray’s phenomenal run to victory in the Daytona 500? He got through the brutal track conditions and held off a late charge from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to claim victory in The Great American Race, offering trusting fantasy participants (self included) a healthy return on their $1 investment. Despite the euphoria surrounding his victory, McMurray’s a difficult option this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, where he owns five top 10s (eight in the top 16) in his 13 career starts at the track, but hasn’t finished better than 16th in his past six entries. Celebrate your $1 win from last week and find another option.

Mark Martin

Martin remains without a victory at Daytona. He claimed the pole in qualifying, but was only able to finish 12th in the big race. That’s not a terrible start to the 2010 season, but you could tell that he and his team anticipated a better finish in the opener. He’s finished 17th or better in 14 of his 17 Auto Club Speedway starts, including a win back in 1998, and possesses the sixth-best average running position in the past four years (10.96) while racing inside the top 15 in 74.3 percent of all laps run. He’s yet again a safe bet for a strong run this weekend.

Kurt Busch

Busch was running brilliantly in the strange season opener at Daytona, sitting in the third position as the field came toward the finish line. He then made a pit stop and slid back to a 23rd-place finish. Look for another strong run and better finish this week at Auto Club Speedway, where he and his team have enjoyed great success in the past. He owns the ninth-best average running slot here in the past four years (13.4), having raced inside the top 15 in 72.2 percent of all laps run with a 13.9-position finish. He’s claimed the pole on three occasions and has raced inside the top 16 in 12 of 15 career starts, including a win in 2003.

Jeff Gordon

It was a disappointing start to the 2010 season for Gordon and his No. 24 Hendrick Chevy team. He qualified in the 21st position before racing to a 26th-place finish. Look for him to right the ship and get back on track this week at Auto Club Speedway. Gordon owns the second-most wins in track history (three) and is tied for the second-most top-10 finishes on the circuit (10), including a current run of four top threes in his past six starts. He possesses the third-best average running position here in the past four years (9.26) while averaging a 9.2-position finish. Do you need more? He’s raced inside the top 15 in nearly 80 percent of the laps run the past four years.

Clint Bowyer

Once again, Bowyer avoided all trouble and produced a strong run toward the top of the pack. He finished fourth at Daytona for the second straight season and should be set to roll to another big ride this weekend. He’s raced inside the top 20 in each of his eight career starts at the track, including four top 10s and a top five. He's averaged a solid 15.57-position running slot with a 12.5-position finish. He may not charge to the top of the heap each week, but you know you’re going to receive a consistent effort and that he rarely flames out.

Quick Hits

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior made a phenomenal run in the final laps of the Daytona 500 to open the season with a bang. He nearly caught Jamie McMurray ahead of the wire and finished second. Like the Daytona 500 winner, Earnhardt’s a tough call for fantasy participants this weekend. He owns the 23rd-best average running position here in the past four years (21.41) while claiming a pathetic 24.3-position average finish. Additionally, Junior’s raced inside the top 15 in only 40.8 percent of the laps run during this period. He’s produced three top fives and seven top 16s in his 16 career starts at the track. Unfortunately, he’s also run 25th or worse in four of his past six Auto Club Speedway starts (two blown engines). I’m intrigued by him, to be sure, but I’ll hold back for another run.

Brian Vickers

Vickers avoided the wreckage and headlines he garnered following a disastrous turn at Daytona last season. It wasn’t an overwhelming run, but I believe the No. 83 Red Bull team has to be somewhat satisfied with a 15th-place finish in the opener. Vickers is a strong option for fantasy participants this weekend as he's raced to five top-12 finishes in his past six Auto Club Speedway entries. In the past four years, he’s averaged a 16.9-position running slot with a 16.3-position finish. As he’s earned only one top-five finish in 12 career starts, I can’t anticipate a charge to the finish line. However, I do expect to see another solid upper-tier run.

Martin Truex Jr.

Is it possible that both of the former DEI drivers find redemption and post huge turnarounds for their new teams in 2010? Dale Jr. raced second in the Daytona 500, while Truex gave his new team a strong sixth-place run. He’s eager to get back behind the wheel for Michael Waltrip Racing and have a go at Auto Club Speedway. Perhaps last week’s Daytona run is a sign of things to come, but I’m leaving him in the pits. He’s raced to two sixth-place finishes in his eight career starts at the track, but he’s also run 18th or worse in five of his other six rides (15th). He owns the 20th-best average running position in the past four years (19.7) while averaging a 19.4-position finish.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin and his team certainly came to race in Daytona this weekend. Unfortunately, he was unable to parlay his 117 laps led into anything more than a 17th-place finish. However, he's a strong candidate for a bounce-back effort this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, where he’s raced inside the top 12 in five of eight career starts (three top 10s). He owns the 12th-best average running position here in the past four years (15.08) while averaging a solid, but not imposing, 16.9-position finish. I’d look to him for the back-end of your lineup this weekend.

Greg Biffle

Biffle! Our “Fantasy FIX” hero charged to a tremendous third-place finish last weekend at Daytona, his second top-five finish in 15 career Daytona starts. Take that as a bonus. He’d never been a top-tier finisher at Daytona, so you have to feel even better about his team and its chances this week at Auto Club Speedway. He’s produced seven top-15 finishes in 14 career starts at the track, including a win and two second-place finishes. Additionally, he’s raced inside the top 20 in six consecutive Auto Club Speedway events. He owns the seventh-best average running position here in the past four years (10.96) with a 14.2-position average finish. We love some Biffle this weekend.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick and the No. 29 Chevy team enjoyed a tremendous start at Daytona for the second straight year. He finished second to Matt Kenseth in 2009 and raced seventh last week. He's a good candidate for a back-end roster spot this week, having produced the 10th-best average running position (13.41) in the past four years at ACS. He’s generated eight top-15 runs (five top 10s) in his 15 career starts at the track with a 15.5-position average finish the past four years.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya experienced his breakthrough season in 2009, producing twice as many top-10 finishes as he had in his previous two seasons combined, starting the follow-up campaign well with a 10th-place finish at Daytona. He raced 20th or worse in each of his first four career Auto Club Speedway races and finished third and 11th in last year’s races as part of his brilliant season. I’m apt to follow the results of his last two starts and the strong weekly performance we’ve seen since the start of 2009.

Ryan Newman

Newman enjoyed a tremendous first season in his new Stewart-Haas ride, but it got off to a slow start. His sophomore campaign has done the same as he finished a disappointing 34th at Daytona. He looks to leave that rough finish in the rearview as the circuit moves cross-country to Auto Club Speedway, a track at which he's experienced past success, with four top 10s and eight top 16s in 14 career starts. In the past four years, he’s averaged a strong 13.4-position running slot with a 15.5-position finish and has raced inside the top 15 in 70.4 percent of the laps run during this period.

David Reutimann

Reutimann was one of the great surprises of the 2009 season, producing 10 top-10 runs while averaging a 16th-place finish. He opened the 2010 campaign with a bang, charging through the pack and avoiding accidents to generate a fifth-place finish at Daytona. He’s a solid, albeit unspectacular, option for fantasy participants this week at Auto Club Speedway, where he’s produced only one top 10 and two top 15s in six career starts at the track (21.5-position average finish). Approach him with caution this weekend.

Longshot

David Ragan

Ragan would just like to forget his 2009 season. He was one of the top stories in 2008, but struggled miserably last year with just two top 10s. He hopes to rebound this season, and he got things started with a solid 16th-place effort at Daytona. I'm anticipating another big run this weekend at Auto Club Speedway, as he’s finished 17th or better in each of his six career starts at the track (one top 10) despite racing inside the top 15 in only 32.9 percent of laps run here. He's definitely worthy of a back-end roster slot this week.


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