Tires a Top Concern in Fontana
This week we’re at Auto Club Speedway and us fantasy racers have a couple of unfavorable variables going against us. One, the series only stops at Auto Club Speedway once a year, and two, we’ve only seen one intermediate track race thus far in 2014. My suggestion this week? Go with the fast cars and don’t rely as much on track history. There was a practice session on Friday afternoon followed by qualifying, where Matt Kenseth won the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. On Saturday morning, Practice #2 was held followed by Happy Hour in the afternoon. The track conditions at the start of Sunday’s race should be similar to how they were during Happy Hour. For the results of those final two practice sessions, click here: Practice #2 — Happy Hour. Also, be sure to check out Ryan’s notes for each practice: Practice #1 — Practice #2 — Happy Hour.
CONSIDER THIS: We saw a lot of tire issues in Happy Hour on Saturday. If those continue on into the race (it’s going to be warmer so it might get worse) we could have another wacky week. It might be advantageous to go with the cars that didn’t experience any problems in that final practice session. Also, Paul Menard, Martin Truex, Jr., and Joey Logano will all have to start Sunday’s Auto Club 400 from the rear of the field.
Final Top 15 Ranking For The Auto Club 400:
11. Joey Logano – Starts
7th 43rd – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
I had very high hopes for both Penske Fords after the on-track activity on Friday, and then the tire issues in Happy Hour had to happen and all of my confidence is shot. The #22 got the shorter end of the stick in that final practice session, as Logano will have to go to a backup car after blowing a tire and nailing the wall. That means he will forfeit his 7th-place starting position Sunday and will have to come up through the field once the green flag waves. This was no problem for Kyle Busch in the Nationwide race on Saturday but I can almost guarantee that Logano will not have that easy of a time on Sunday. Still, it’s a 400-mile race so there is time for him to get up there. Joey posted the 6th-best lap in Happy Hour (in his wrecked car) with the 7th-best ten-lap average. If it’s true that the backup cars are almost identical to the primary cars, then there’s no cause for concern regarding the speed of the #22 on Sunday. What I’m worried about is whether or not the Penske teams have the tire issue figured out, as well as the increased risk of Logano getting caught up in a wreck as he drives up through the pack. Most often in fantasy racing it pays to have a short memory, and that is the case this weekend with Joey Logano. The #22 team had power steering issues at Bristol last weekend but still managed to come home with a 20th-place finish. Although that undoubtedly disappointed more than a few fantasy owners, it’s not quite as bad as Kevin Harvick’s recent blunders over the last two weeks. Mechanical issues happen, and if Logano wouldn’t have had that problem last weekend he probably would have scored (at least) another top 10 finish. As far as Auto Club Speedway goes, Joey has an up-and-down history (four top 15s, three finishes outside the top 20) but keep in mind that he really didn’t emerge as a serious intermediate threat until last season. Now I personally consider him one of the best when the series stops at these big oval tracks. Logano finished 3rd in this race last year after his fight with Denny Hamlin. At Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, Logano started on the pole, led 44 laps and ended up finishing 4th.
12. Brian Vickers – Starts 19th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
The #55 Toyota was one of the best cars on the track during Happy Hour on Saturday, so now it’s just up to Brian Vickers and the team to put a whole race together and bring it home on Sunday. With all of the tire issues happening, I’m a little concerned, though, because doesn’t it seem like the #55 car is more often than not involved with problems of that nature? Maybe I’ve been burned by this car too much in the past. Brian will start the Auto Club 400 in 19th on Sunday, which gives us a solid option in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live because he should move up: he had the 5th-best ten-lap average in Happy Hour and posted the best lap. Vickers hasn’t ran a Sprint Cup race at Fontana since 2011 but I’m not really concerned about that. He has finished 12th or better in seven of his last eight Cup starts at this track and at Michigan (Auto Club’s sister venue) he has six top 10s in his last seven starts. Vickers has more speed in California this weekend than he did at Vegas a couple of weeks ago and this team was able to salvage a 13th-place finish there. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the #55 racing inside the top 10 at some point on Sunday, although whether or not Vickers will be able to stay up there until the end is the real question.
13. Clint Bowyer – Starts 5th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I had high hopes for this team in 2014, but so far the #15 crew has gotten off to quite a rocky start, as they have yet to post a top 10 finish in this young season. Clint had an engine failure here at Auto Club Speedway last season, resulting in a disappointing 35th-place finish. It should be noted, however, that the #15 Toyota was at least a top 10 car up until that point. A couple of weeks ago at Las Vegas, Bowyer qualified 3rd and, after Happy Hour, looked like he had one of the best cars going into Sunday’s race (I actually had him ranked 2nd). Disappointment struck again and Clint, who was mediocre for a lot of the race, hit the wall late and ended up finishing 23rd. See a trend forming here? Personally, I’m staying away from Bowyer until further notice, a.k.a. until this team can put together a string of good finishes. I’m all for picking fast cars but at some point you always have to take into account momentum. Clint got off to a good start this weekend, qualifying 5th, and he was 7th-fastest in Happy Hour with the 2nd-best ten-lap average. I’m still not completely sold on this guy, though. On a positive note, Bowyer does have five top 10s in the last eight Fontana races, and I have him just outside that mark going into Sunday’s event.
14. Ryan Newman – Starts 16th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
“The Rocketman” is currently quietly sitting 9th in points with two top 10s, one of which came in the first intermediate race of 2014 a couple of weeks ago. I’m just as surprised as you are. About 1/3rd of Yahoo! fantasy players have Newman on their roster this week, so you could consider him somewhat undervalued right now–especially when you look at the fact that he’s on a four-race streak of top 10s at Auto Club Speedway, including two top 5s. I don’t know whether Newman has figured out something at this track lately or what but results are results. It is worth noting that in the ten events here from 2005 to 2010, “The Rocketman” had just one top 10 and finished 20th or worse half of the time. He’s never one to show his hand in practice, and that held true this weekend. The #31 Chevrolet ended up 17th-fastest in Happy Hour and didn’t show up on the ten-lap average chart. Newman was 10th on the Practice #2 chart, through, and had the 3rd-best ten-lap average during that practice session. He’ll roll off the grid in 16th to start Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
15. Kasey Kahne – Starts 26th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
The season is still quite young and I’m not comfortable taking a whole lot of risk–although it would’ve paid off last weekend at Bristol–so really the only time I’m going to consider Kasey Kahne on my fantasy teams is when he can potentially get to victory lane. This isn’t the week for that to happen. Kahne must have just missed it in qualifying because he’ll start mid-pack in 26th. He improved a little bit in practice on Saturday, ending up 18th on the speed chart, although the #5 didn’t show up on the ten-lap average board. It’s just hard for me to believe that the other three Hendrick cars have that much speed and Kahne can’t quite figure it out. The story of Kasey’s career is that he is wildly inconsistent, and that is the case with him here at Fontana as well. Over the last six events at this track, KK has three top 10s to go along with two 34th-place results. Over 17 career starts here he owns an average finish of 14.5 with one victory but just four top 5s. On a positive note, the #5 team came home with a with a solid 8th-place finish at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, but going into this weekend’s Auto Club 400 I consider Kasey a top 15 choice at best. Even if he does surprise and finish top 10, it would be safer to go with other options that are at or near Kahne’s level this weekend.
A Few Words About Other Drivers:
A.J. Allmendinger has ran in each of the last three races here at Auto Club Speedway and has come away with finishes of 16th, 15th, and 14th despite running for a different organization each event (Phoenix, Penske, Richard Petty). This weekend he’ll add a fourth to the list with JTG Daugherty and could be looking at another teens finish; The Dinger started and finished 18th at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and will roll off the grid in that same spot for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. He was 20th-fastest in Happy Hour and can be counted on for a top 20 finish with the possibility of a top 15. Marcos Ambrose is one of our sleeper options this week as he qualified 8th on Friday. He posted the 6th-best lap in Practice #2 on Saturday but slowed down some once the track heated up, looking middle-of-the-road in Happy Hour. He’s never finished better than 21st at Auto Club Speedway in eight career starts but that could change this weekend. Ambrose has finishes of 6th, 5th, and 9th over the last two years at Michigan, which is Fontana’s sister track. Kyle Larson got a top 10 finish last weekend and is always one of those drivers who will “rim ride” the entire race at a track like Fontana. Yes, it provides added speed, but it also increases the possibility of contact with the wall. The #42 Chevrolet has decent speed this weekend, though, so if the rookie can keep it in once piece he could be looking at a top 15 on Sunday–and maybe a top 10 if everything goes right. Larson qualified 11th this week and, for what it’s worth, out-battled Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and won the Nationwide race on Saturday. This is his home track… Paul Menard is off of baby watch, so we don’t have to worry about him leaving the race on Sunday. However, because of the birth of his child, Paul didn’t qualify the #27 Chevrolet this weekend and will have to start from the rear of the field on Sunday. He was 8th-fastest in Happy Hour, but I don’t think Menard has a top 10 car. Then again, I didn’t think he had a top 5 car at Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago and he went out and ended up 3rd. Paul tends to under-perform where he should do well (Bristol last weekend) and exceed expectations when least expected (Las Vegas two weeks ago, his win at Indianapolis). The #27 is top 20 material to start the race on Sunday. Finally, Greg Biffle is struggling again this weekend, although not as bad as at Las Vegas, where he finished 22nd. The Biff qualified 24th for Sunday’s Auto Club 400, and although he posted decent lap times in both practice sessions on Saturday, only running 23 laps in Happy Hour isn’t overly encouraging when this team has been mediocre all season long thus far. I think Biffle will have a mid-teen car on Sunday but I won’t be picking him.