Race: Auto Club 400 Preview and Picks to Win the Race
Date: Sunday March 26th, 2017
Track: Auto Club Speedway
Time: 3:30 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
Late race strategy paid off in a big way for Ryan Newman as he took the checkered flag in Sundays race at Phoenix. Several drivers tried a different strategy by taking 2 tires and trying to short pit, but Newmans strategy of staying out worked out well as Kyle Larson made a terminal error in thinking he was clear when he was not. He lost the momentum that he had, causing him to not be able to catch Newman when it mattered most. Given that lack of an error, I think that Larson wouldve caught Newman and taken his first win. Lord knows he and his team are tired of being second.
Larson will have another opportunity at a win this weekend as we head to Fontana. Hes going to have a lot of competition from these veterans and the intermediate superstars. Some of the first names that pop in my mind are Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. They managed to not have any issues at Phoenix. I thought it was crazy that NASCAR managed to not penalize these two drivers for their post-race shenanigans a few weeks ago. Any other season, itd be monetary penalties and loss of points. Im not sure if this is something new due to NASCARs new sponsorship with Monster, but I kind of like the fact that NASCAR didnt overreact to boys being boys.
Fontana tends to be a track of long green flag runs. There are not too many opportunities for drivers to wreck each other while the field spreads out pretty well throughout this larger track. What Auto Club Speedway offers is the definition of speed. Its a track where track position is key. Fuel strategy used to play quite a factor, but with these new segments, that doesnt seem to be the biggest issue anymore. I honestly still wish NASCAR would lose the mandatory cautions at the end of every segment. Let the drivers keep going. It leaves more up to the teams and still leaves the element of strategy in the hands of both the drivers and the teams. Regardless, Auto Club is the final intermediate track of the west coast swing. This place is a 2 mile D-shaped asphalt oval. Its a pretty cookie cutter track. It has 14 degrees of banking in the turns, 11 degrees in the frontstretch, and 3 degrees on the backstretch. That relative flatness of the track provides the perfect formulation for speed throughout the track, including into and out of the turns. Drivers can easily maintain momentum and get around this place pretty quickly. While tires definitely played a role in strategy previously, Im wondering with the mandatory cautions after the segments if they will play as large a role. Drivers will easily be able to change tires and not put the same amount of wear as they would on the super long green flag runs weve seen here before.
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The drivers who are going to excel are the ones who typically do on these intermediates with the exception of probably Jimmie Johnson. Hes really struggled since the start of the season. These are the tracks that he typically does very well on, but he definitely hasnt hit on much so far. Unless the team has found some speed somewhere since Phoenix, I dont anticipate him being much of a contender for the lead. The drivers who will do well are Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch. If Logano can manage to stop having tire issues, hes likely to be a strong force this weekend. Kyle Busch is thirsty for a win. Hes really pushed hard but had some rough luck and some attitude issues. That being said, this is a good opportunity for him to chill out and work on a solid run. Overall, though, I think that Kevin Harvick is going to be the one to beat. Hes been in a similar position as Logano and Busch in terms of having some bad luck. Hes also given himself some issues with that *ahem* speeding issue he had a few weeks back. If Harvick can manage to avoid penalties and also maintain some decent luck, I think that he will be the one to beat this weekend. Heres the rundown on your potential winners this weekend:
My Pick to Win: Kevin Harvick
Middle of the Road Pick: Kyle Larson
Dark Horse Prediction: Erik Jones
Jones is the best pick from the dark horse drivers. Hes had 3 straight top 15 finishes. As a rookie, hes showing promise in terms of consistency. Theres a lot to be said for that, especially as a young gun. Kyle Larson has really stepped up to the plate this year. Hes due for a win without a doubt. His biggest competition from his class will be Chase Elliott, who typically also runs well on these intermediate tracks. Larson has the advantage of running a strong high line, which is a good groove at Auto Club. In fact, this track offers a variety of different grooves. Its very wide and gives the drivers choices, helping tremendously for those drivers who might battle handling issues on Sunday.
Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Kyle Larson
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Chase Elliott
4. Martin Truex Jr.
5. Joey Logano
6. Ryan Blaney
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Kurt Busch
10. Kasey Kahne
11. Ryan Newman
12. Trevor Bayne
13. Kyle Busch
14. Denny Hamlin
15. Clint Bowyer
16. Jimmie Johnson
As you can see from the points, Johnson has quite a bit of work to do if he wants to stay in the top 16 grid. Lucky for him, theres plenty of season still left, but itd be nice to see a little more competitiveness from this guy. Speaking of Johnson, his Hendrick teammate Dale Jr. is nowhere to be found. Hes had his own struggles this season and really needs to makes some changes as well. The drivers that are doing it right are the rookies. We have Blaney, Larson, and Elliott all running solidly in the top six. Now, if were being honest, its still very early in the season and we havent even seen a short track. Theres plenty of time for the points to really switch up. After Auto Club, we head to the east coast for the shortest track in all of NASCAR! Until then, stay tuned for the last of the races on the west coast for now. Auto Club Speedway is set for some exciting racing this Sunday under the California sun! Bet your Autc Club 400 predictions FREE by taking advantage of a 50% sign up bonus at MyBookie!