Coop’s Auto Club 400 Preview

Kevin Harvick continued his early season dominance last week as he won his third consecutive race and now heads to Fontana California for this weeks race were he has had success in the past. Auto Club Speedway is the host this week and it features a two mile oval track. This week we will be racing for 200 laps and as big of a NASCAR fan that I am I will say this is one race that I wouldn’t mind seeing removed as it has a tendency to see long green flag runs. Last year was one of the more exciting races at Auto Club as we saw a rash of accidents at the end of the race. Kyle Larson is the defending champion while Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski won the prior two years. This is a low attrition rate race as over the last three years we have seen all but 3,4,0 cars running at the end of the race. During the same time frame we have seen 6-7 caution flags for around 30 laps with most of the cautions being for debris. Looking at the results over those three years we have a tendency to see some cautions at the end of the race due to wrecks and also some cars that appeared to have pit road issues causing them to lose track position.

With only 200 laps available this week we will be looking for 1-2 dominators and the remaining spots on your roster will need to be focused on finishing position and place differential points. As I say that and you look at the info below we see three totally different outcomes for lap leaders.
200 laps means 50 dominator points available
170 green flag laps means around 85 fastest lap points available

Kyle Larson led 110 laps 38 fastest laps started 1st finished 1st
Martin Truex led led 73 laps 35 fastest laps started 4th finished 4th
Three other drivers had between 11 and 21 fastest laps

Kevin Harvick led 142 laps 50 fastest laps started 2nd finished 2nd
Jimmie Johnson led 25 laps 18 fastest laps started 19th finished 1st
Martin Truex led 21 laps 11 fastest laps started 17th finished 32nd
Three other drivers had fastest laps between 10-21

Kurt Busch led 65 laps 50 fastest laps started 1st finished 3rd
Denny Hamlin led 56 laps 16 fastest laps started 6th finished 28th
Matt Kenseth led 43 laps 13 fastest laps started 3rd finished 31st
Kevin Harvick led 34 laps 45 fastest laps started 2nd finished 2nd

Last year we saw six drivers gain ten positions or more in this race. It should be noted that two of those drivers were expected to gain these positions as they had pre race inspection issues and were forced to start in the back (Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson). We saw two mid tier drivers gain position points in Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney while we
had two lower tiered drivers gain ten positions in Aric Almirola and Trevor Bayne. It should be noted Bayne started all the way back in 36th so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see this. Matt Dibenedetto was the only cheap driver who gained any positions of note, 9, but again he started 39th and he was expected to gain positions. If we would have had a qualifying with no issues and the drivers start in there usual places only one driver Aric Almirola would have been a good bet to gain point differential as he often qualified in the late 20’s last year.

In 2016 we saw eight drivers gain at least ten positions mostly due to six drivers who you would think would have done well finish near the bottom. This opened the door for drivers like David Ragan, Landon Cassill and Cole Whitt to finish much better than expected. There were three good drivers who started poorly exceeded the the ten positions, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr and Ricky Stenhouse.

In 2015 we had seven drivers improve there position by ten or more spots. We saw drivers like Justin Allgaier, Aric Almirola and Chris Buescher accomplish this feat in sub par equipment as they were aided by four good drivers who you would think would have finished better.

So why do I bring this up? So far this year the lower tier drivers like AJ Allmendinger, Ty Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Bubba Wallace have struggled to improve there starting position as they have no speed in there cars. They have qualified in the upper twenties to mid late twenties and that is basically were they have stayed while sometimes they have went backwards from there starting position. Last year drivers like the ones mentioned above were the key to success because they would save you salary while paying there price off. In addition when a driver like the ones I am mentioning have qualified better than 15th they have become an auto fade as people see them with no upside. I think it’s time to change that thought process because those drivers have maintained or increased there position this year and even If they had just maintained there starting position they would have still scored more points than the drivers above. Two great examples over the last two weeks would be Paul Menard and William Byron. So moral of the story, play the cheap drivers who have speed in there cars and fade the drivers who don’t show speed while expecting them to gain positions off there starting position. When we get to tracks that have more attrition this will change but currently we have been racing on lower attrition tracks.

Practice this week will be important and on Saturday we have a practice that will be run at the same time the actual race will be happening on Sunday. Make sure you value practice two on Saturday higher than practice one as the practice starts at 3:30 and lasts until 4:20 while the race on Sunday starts at 3:45. This is rare and will give us a very good idea of what speeds will be like in actual race conditions as long as the weather is fairly similar both days. As far as pit stops goes, I am still searching the Internet with no success as to who is pitting well this year. For the most part the pit stops this year have been relatively quiet as we have seen few impactful penalties and or mistakes. With all that being said we are due for some pit stop miscues which will hurt the drivers race position.

I write the above part of my blog before qualifying throughout the week to save on time so you can now put everything I said about point differential in your memory bank as there are several drivers who have positive upside for point differential due to qualifying. Speaking of qualifying NASCAR needs to do something about all these teams that have issues getting there cars through pre qualifying inspection. Sure they are going to get penalized practice minutes on Saturday but since this is a continuing issue from last year the penalties need to become more severe. This does not help the fans who paid to watch qualifying or the sponsors who are spending millions of dollars to get there name on TV.

Martin Truex had the pole last week and did not spend much time leading laps as he was passed on lap one and only led two laps in the entire race. Truex was a easy fade for me last week as he didn’t have a top notch car. I feel this week Truex has a better car and will contend for laps led my only question is will it be 10 laps or 40 laps.

Kyle Busch has a good car this week and will be starting second behind Truex. Busch has shown over the last couple races he has perhaps the best car minus Kevin Harvick on long runs. Busch will be aggressive from the start and will try to get the lead quickly and if he does he could lead a large portion of laps in segment one.

I feel that of the three drivers up front Kyle Larson has the best car this weekend. Larson has been very good on two mile tracks over the last two years and this weekend should be no different. My biggest worry for Larson and I have mentioned this before is he does not have good long run speed as we have seen him drop off the last couple races after being dominant over the first ten to twenty laps.

It’s a very difficult decision up top this week because one of these drivers is going to lead the majority of the first stage while the other two fall behind. I am hoping that practice on Saturday will help determine a clear picture of how these three drivers rank this weekend.

There is no doubt that Kevin Harvick has the best car this weekend but he had a bad qualifying lap in round three and will start tenth, just like last week. So will this week play out just like last week were Harvick led minimal laps but ended up being the driver with the second most DK points as he put down several fastest laps. I feel it will take Harvick some time to get to the front just like last week unless we see early cautions. I will wait to see projected ownership on Harvick but going underweight is a distinct possibility but at this point I don’t feel as confident on the fade like last week. Harvick’s dominance can’t continue as it eventually will stop and when it happens and you are underweight it will pay huge dividends for you. With all the other drivers that have huge upside this week Harvick is almost in a must win must lead several laps position in order to pay off.

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson will all be popular drivers this weekend due to there starting position. Elliott starts 31st and will most likely be the most popular of the three as he has the most upside. Besides Kyle Larson, Elliott is the only Chevy driver that has adapted to the new Camaro so far this year although his finishes don’t support that statement due to some unfortunate luck. Elliott has back to back T10 finishes at Auto Club Speedway and should be in line for a third. Hamlin starts 25th and will most likely be the second most popular of the three drivers due to his price and the fact that Johnson has had a horrendous start to the season. Auto Club hasn’t been a great track for Hamlin the last couple years as he has qualified well but not finished great as he has finished 28th, 3rd and 14th. How much Hamlin I have will depend upon how he practices tomorrow as I feel confident he will improve his starting position but does he have a T10 car. A tenth place finish gets Hamlin 49 points but is that enough to outscore Harvick, Truex, Larson, Ky Busch and Elliott is the question as he will likely have limited laps led or fastest laps. Finally we have Johnson who is in a similar position as Hamlin but has more upside and will likely be lower owned due to the horrendous start of his season that I mentioned earlier. Johnson needs to finish 14th in order to get the points that Hamlin would receive for his tenth place finish and like Hamlin will most likely have no laps led and limited fastest laps. No different than Hamlin I will need to see how Johnson practices tomorrow because last year he started 37th but only finished 21st.

Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer are two of my favorite drivers this weekend. Both have similar upside as they start 27th and 26th but with Bowyer being $500 less he most likely draws the edge and higher ownership. I am hoping that the names of the drivers above bring there ownership down to a respectable amount. I feel both of these drivers may have better cars than the three drivers above as they have looked good all season driving in the Stewart Haas camp. Both have also had solid success over the last couple of years at Auto Club in inferior equipment to what they are driving now.

Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and William Byron are the next set of drivers who will be starting near the back as they didn’t attempt to qualify. Bowman will be the lowest owned as he has the highest price followed by Suarez and Byron depending upon who has the better practice. Suarez has the most upside as he starts farthest back and is in a Toyota which has shown more speed than Chevy this year which is what both Bowman and Byron run. No different than all other drivers I mentioned it will come down to practice on how much I own them. I can see one of these drivers finishing 8th-15th and another 12th-17th while the other finishes around 20th or worse but don’t expect all three of these drivers to perform well and hit value.

AJ Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne will most likely draw very high ownership as they are starting 32nd and 34th and people will see them as high point differential drivers. I will be paying close attention to there practices because if they don’t have speed a finish around 25th or worse may be in the works. 25th place pays 19 points so if you add the place differential you are looking at 26-28 points which may or may not be enough to get them in top lineups depending upon how Byron and Suarez finish.

Kurt Busch has been very solid this year as he is part of the Stewart Haas camp and with him starting 7th he will draw low ownership as he has limited upside. Busch is someone who could get up front and compete with Truex, Larson, and his brother. Busch would need to lead some laps to accumulate enough points to get in top lineups or he would need some bad luck for the drivers mentioned above.

Ryan Newman is in a similar situation to Kurt Busch but if he shows speed tomorrow during practice don’t completely write him off. Newman will need the same breaks as I mentioned for Busch and if he doesn’t get them then he probably will be a bad pick as I don’t think he has the car to lead laps unless he uses some alternative strategy that others drivers don’t use.

Ricky Stenhouse finished 5th at Auto Club two years ago and has had other solid results to go along with it. Stenhouse will be low owned as he falls in the same price range as Suarez, Bowman, Newman and McMurray. If Stenhouse shows speed tomorrow don’t discount him because if the drivers listed above have issues he could end up paying off his price with a solid T8 finish.

Jamie McMurray is in a similar situation to Stenhouse as he starts one position ahead in 15th. McMurray has finished in the T10 in the last two races at Auto Club but he will need help to be in a top lineup because if Suarez finishes T15 he will most likely outscore McMurray at similar prices.

It would appear based on qualifying that Chris Buescher has a fast car this weekend. Buescher will start 12th this weekend and will have little to no ownership as he has little upside and everyone will just assume he will fall back losing differential points. While I agree Buescher will fall back the question is how much and how much does Kahne and AJ improve from there starting position. If Buescher can hang on and finish in the T18 he will accumulate 20 points and if Kahne and AJ fizzle out he could outscore them. Buescher did finish in 20th back in 2015 so he does have the ability to do this. I won’t play much Buescher but I will have a little in case the scenario plays out.

No different than last week I will own some Ross Chastain as he starts 36th. With no issues Chastain will easily gain four spots which will give him 16 DK points and if there is some attrition involving good to mediocre drivers he could finish higher. Last week Chastain finished 27th netting him 26 points which is well worth his price while allowing you to basically play top notch high upside drivers.

That’s all for this week, make sure you watch practice on Saturday as it will be key in determining who and how much to play. Good luck to all this week. Thanks

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