Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Race Preview (3:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN)

Auto Club 400

TRACK: Auto Club Speedway (2-Mile, D-Shaped Oval)DISTANCE: 200 Laps – STAGE 1/2 60 LAPS, FINAL STAGE 80 LAPS (400 MILES)
WEATHER: RAIN 0% CHANCE SATURDAY 72 and Sunny, SUN RAIN 40% 53 DEGREES

Favorites

Kyle Busch (+500)

Busch, has five top three finishes in his last seven Cup Series starts in Fontana. In Xfinity Series competition at Fontana, Busch has nine straight top eight finishes and 13 top three finishes in his last 14 tries. He’s a six time winner (2008, 2009, 2010, 2010, 2011, 2013) at that. His car didn’t have much short run speed on Friday but was second and third respectively on the 15 and 20 lap averages.

Kevin Harvick (+500)

While he hasn’t led a single lap in his last three Fontana starts, he does have three top four finishes in his last five starts there though. Harvick, was fourth last year and runner-up in back-to-back years (2015, 2016). Worth a gamble. He’s one of two drivers with a top 10 finish in each race so far this season. He was third (10 lap), sixth (15 lap) and fifth (20 lap) on the long run speed charts on Friday.

Joey Logano (+600)

Logano has five straight top five finishes in Fontana including a runner-up last year. He won last weekend in Vegas. He was also 5th (10 lap) on the long run speeds.

Brad Keselowski (+700)

He’s been good of late in Fontana. Keselowski, has five straight top 10 finishes on this track including a win in 2015. Four of his last five finishes have been inside the top five. Also, he was 10th and seventh on single lap speeds, seventh and fourth (5 lap), sixth (10 lap), fourth (15 lap) and fourth (20 lap) respectively.

Martin Truex Jr. (+750)

Truex, has three straight top eight finishes and four top eight’s in his last five tries. He’s led 25 laps, 21 laps, 73 laps and 125 laps in four of his last five Fontana starts. Like Harvick and Logano, he doesn’t have good short run speed but his long run pace was pretty good.

Kyle Larson (+750)

Larson has three top two finishes in six career Fontana tries including a win in 2017 and a runner-up in 2018. While he was only 12th last year, he didn’t quite have a handle on the new racing package yet. He’s the other driver with a top 10 finishes in both races this season. Larson, was second and eighth (1 lap), 11th and 16th (5 laps), 10th (10 lap), ninth (15 lap) and sixth (20 lap) himself.

Ryan Blaney (+1300)

His stats keep getting better and better in Fontana. He was ninth in 2017, eighth in 2018 and fifth last year. A top three finish is on the horizon. Blaney, was ninth and second respectively in the two sessions on single lap speeds on Friday to go along with being third in both sessions on the five lap chart, second on the 10 lap and quickest on the 15 and 20 lap averages.

Alex Bowman (+2000)

Right now, Alex Bowman is the overall favorite. Bowman, had a great long run car last weekend in Vegas and if not for a late race caution, he likely would have won.

Bowman, set quick time in both practice sessions on Friday to go along with having the time speeds in five lap as well as 10 lap averages too. His No. 88 Chevrolet sure looks quick.

Kurt Busch (+2500)

The 2004 series champion has five top 10 finishes in his last eight starts at Fontana including a sixth place run last year. He also has four top six finishes in his last seven too. Busch, was fourth in both sessions on single lap averages, sixth and second on five laps, second and eighth on 10 laps, fifth on 15 laps and second on 20 lap runs.

Matt DiBenedetto (+5000)

He finished P2 last week. DiBenedetto had the third best car on Friday in having his No. 21 Ford fifth and ninth on single lap speeds, second and fifth on the 5-lap charts, fourth on the 10 lap and third in both the 15 and 20 lap averages.

Austin Dillon (+5000)

Fontana has been very kind to him in the past. Dillon, has three straight top 11 finishes on the 2-mile, D-shaped oval including two straight 10th place results.

Questionable

Chase Elliott (+800)

While he does have three top 11 finishes in four Fontana tries, none of which have resulted in a top five. His best finish was sixth in his rookie campaign.

Denny Hamlin (+1600)

He’s scored just one top five finish at Fontana since 2009. That was a third place effort in 2016. He does have three top seven finishes in his last four Fontana starts though and has led at least one lap in eight straight races there including 10 of the last 11. He’s a wise fantasy play but not so sure about his race winning chances.y.

William Byron (+2000)

He’s finished 15th in each of his two Cup Series Fontana starts.

Erik Jones (+2000)

He’s never scored a top five finish in three Cup starts in Fontana with his best result being a seventh place run in 2018. He was 12th (2017) and 19th (2019) in his other two tries.

Aric Almirola (+4000)

He has just one top 10 (9th last year) in 12 career Fontana starts. That’s the reason his number is so low here.

Clint Bowyer (+5000)

He too hasn’t been very good at Fontana lately. Bowyer, has one top 10 (3rd in 2017) since 2012 and 11th and 38th the last two years.

Matchups

Ryan Blaney (-132) vs. Alex Bowman (+100)

Blaney, was ninth in 2017, eighth in 2018 and fifth last year. A top three finish is on the horizon. He is also the current Cup Series points leader. Bowman’s four Fontana finishes have been 22nd, 33rd, 13th and 21st respectively.

Advantage: Blaney (-132)

Ryan Blaney (-134) vs. Denny Hamlin (+100)

Blaney’s stats are above but Denny Hamlin has scored just one top five finish at Fontana since 2009.

Advantage: Blaney (-134)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 - Practice
FONTANA, CA – MARCH 15: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 15, 2019 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Key Trends To Know

Can Toyota Go 3 In-A-Row?

Martin Truex Jr. dominated the 2018 Fontana race in leading 125 of the 200 laps en route to an easy victory.

Last year, Kyle Busch dominated himself with earning his 200th career NASCAR win. Busch, led 134 of 200 laps that day.

Now, can Toyota go three straight in Fontana?

Busch, has five top three finishes in his last seven Cup Series starts in Fontana.

Truex, has three straight top eight finishes and four top eight’s in his last five tries. He’s led 25 laps, 21 laps, 73 laps and 125 laps in four of his last five Fontana starts.

Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin was third in this race in 2016 while Erik Jones was seventh in 2018.

It has been a big struggle for the Toyota teams in qualifying this season though. At Daytona, they started 14-15-17-21-28. A week later in Vegas, qualifying was rained out but three of the cars had to start from the rear due to inspection issues.

On Saturday in Fontana, they struggled. The top 8 Rows for Sunday’s race will feature all Ford’s and Chevy’s. The best Toyota driver was Kyle Busch in 17th. He’s the only Toyota driver to even qualify in the top 20 at that.

Rookie Christopher Bell will start 22nd while Denny Hamlin (28th), Erik Jones (29th) and Daniel Suarez (31st) all join him in the back half of the field. Martin Truex Jr. failed inspection three times, so he now starts last (38th) after not being able to qualify.

Toyota has won this race two years in-a-row but right now, that streak looks to be coming to an end.

Race Has Seen 5 Straight Different Winners

The last five races in Fontana have been won by five different drivers from five different teams: Brad Keselowski (2015), Jimmie Johnson (2016), Kyle Larson (2017), Martin Truex Jr. (2018) and Kyle Busch (2019).

Race Has Seen Dominance

Truex and Busch combined to lead 187 of the 200 laps in the 2018 edition. Busch and Brad Keselowski combined to lead 176 of 200 laps last year. Will we see a similar domination in this weekend’s race?

Truex, won by 11.685 seconds in 2018. Busch, won by 2.354-seconds last year. Will this race tighten up?

Few Cautions

We’ve only had nine combined caution flags fly in Fontana in each of the last two years. There were five in 2018 and four last year. Take out the four combined stage breaks and you only get five yellows in two years. Out of those five, two of which were for debris and three were for single car incidents.

I expect this weekend to race the same, meaning track position is going to be so key here.

Starting Position Matters

In Fontana, starting position has mattered more recently than ever before. The 2018 races saw the top three qualifiers finish there too. Four of the top five starters that day came from a top six starting spot.

In 2019, three of the top four finishers came from a top five starting spot.

The worst spot that an eventual race winner came from over the last three years in Fontana is fourth with two of those three coming from the pole. Four of the last five came from the top 4 Rows.

Ford Could Struggle

While Team Penske and Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing) has been good in Fontana, they just have struggled to win. Since 2010, a Ford went to victory lane just once (2015) in 10 races).

2019 Winners 2-for-2 In 2020

Denny Hamlin won the 2019 Daytona 500. He’d win the rain delayed event this year too. Then, Joey Logano won the 2019 Pennzoil 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He won last Sunday’s race on the 1.5-mile track as well.

So far, the racing package hasn’t changed much between 2019 and 2020, so we can’t be too shocked at the winners so far. That bodes well for Kyle Busch on Sunday. He earned his 200th career NASCAR victory in Fontana last year. He also has five top three finishes in his last seven Fontana starts as well.

2 Drivers Left With Top 10’s In Both Races

We’ve had just two races run this season and only two drivers have top 10 finishes in each. Kevin Harvick was fifth in the Daytona 500 and eighth in the Pennzoil 400 while Kyle Larson was 10th in Daytona and ninth this week.

Elliott Has Won 3 Of 4 Stages In 2020

Chase won the first stage of the Daytona 500. He won both stages in last week’s race in Vegas. Can he win any of the stages this weekend in Fontana?

Who Has The Best Cars

Right now, Alex Bowman is the overall favorite. Bowman, had a great long run car last weekend in Vegas and if not for a late race caution, he likely would have won.

Bowman, set quick time in both practice sessions on Friday to go along with having the time speeds in five lap as well as 10 lap averages too. His No. 88 Chevrolet sure looks quick. He also starts second.

The second best car was the second best car last week too in Ryan Blaney. Bowman, was chasing Blaney down at the end of last Sunday’s Pennzoil 400. They duo would have came home 1-2 if not for that late race yellow.

Blaney, was ninth and second respectively in the two sessions on single lap speeds on Friday to go along with being third in both sessions on the five lap chart, second on the 10 lap and quickest on the 15 and 20 lap averages. He rolls off 16th though.

Matt DiBenedetto had the third best car on Friday in having his No. 21 Ford fifth and ninth on single lap speeds, second and fifth on the 5-lap charts, fourth on the 10 lap and third in both the 15 and 20 lap averages. He will start 12th.

His Team Penske counterparts were right there too. Blaney and DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers but Penske alliance) are 2-3 but you can make a case that Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were 4-5.

Keselowski, was 10th and seventh on single lap speeds, seventh and fourth (5 lap), sixth (10 lap), fourth (15 lap) and fourth (20 lap) respectively. He qualified 15th.

Logano, was a bit off on single lap runs (13th, 16th) but his speed increased as the laps went on 5 lap (15th 11th), 10 lap (5th). He was the top qualifier among them in seventh.

The Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson are to me the next best. Busch, was fourth in both sessions on single lap averages, sixth and second on five laps, second and eighth on 10 laps, fifth on 15 laps and second on 20 lap runs. He will come from fourth on Sunday.

Larson, was second and eighth (1 lap), 11th and 16th (5 laps), 10th (10 lap), ninth (15 lap) and sixth (20 lap) himself. He qualified his No. 42 Chevrolet ninth.

The Toyota’s didn’t have much short run speed but progressively got better as the runs went on. I don’t expect them to qualify well on Saturday but could run their ways towards the front on Sunday afternoon.

Fontana is a large, abrasive track, so long run speed means so much more than short run pace.

The best short run cars – 88,1,12,42,21,2

The best long run cars – 88,12,4,21,18,22,2,1,19,42

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