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The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes a stop at Auto Club Speedway this weekend, and while Sunday’s Auto Club 400 isn’t typically a race a worry too much about from a fantasy standpoint, I am little curious to see how the new rules package impacts the action at a 2-mile track like Auto Club.
Yes, the potential impact of the package was overblown at Atlanta and Las Vegas, and aside from keeping the field a little closer on restarts, the racing didn’t change much. I think there is a chance that changes this weekend. We already saw how important the draft was in qualifying, and not a single driver even made an official lap in the final round because everyone waited too long to try to be the last car in line.
Depending on how soon cars are hitting top speed down the long straightaways, the draft could really come into play in the race, as well. If that happens, bump drafting, blocking and crashing could all be byproducts.
Given the question marks, I am taking a little more of a cautious approach in the season-long fantasy contests this weekend. This is a little easier to do in Slingshot Fantasy Auto because place differential is a category. I am going to be leaning on some of the better options starting deeper in the field because even if they don’t end up gaining me a ton of positions and points, I know they won’t cost me a bunch of points either.
Since there is no penalty for losing spots in Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game, I’m much more willing to roster bigger names and go after stage points. That being said, driver allocation is a lot tougher in the Driver Group Game because of the tiers and longer season, so I’m not going to run out a lineup filled with the top options in every group.
Hopefully, the rumors of the chaos this package could create remain just that. Worst-case scenario, Sunday’s race is a wild one and my approach limits that damage. Either way, we will be better prepared for the two races still to come at NASCAR’s other 2-mile oval, Michigan International Speedway. Check out this weekend’s picks.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
I was hoping to give Harvick a rest this weekend, but it’s hard to that when he is starting on the front row. Yes, he crashed out at Auto Club last year, but he came back and finished second and first in the two races at Michigan. He is also tied for the series lead with six Top 5s in the last 10 races at 2-mile ovals, and he has led the second-most laps in that stretch. He’s in great position to win Stage 1 and dominate this race. I can’t pass that up.
No driver has been better out of the gates in 2019, and when Busch is running this well, I don’t mind playing the hot hand. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he led 62 laps and finished third at Auto Club last year while also finishing in the Top 3 in both stages. Busch finished fourth or better in all three races at the 2-milers last year, and after qualifying fourth, he’s positioned for another strong run.
The 2-mile tracks have been his specialty, and Larson has finished third or better in six of the last eight races, picking up four wins in that stretch. He picked up a runner-up finish at Auto Club last year, and he led 110 laps in a win here in 2017. Larson starts back in 15th, but he’s still close enough to the front to earn a chunk of points in Stage 1.
He has three Top 5s and a 4.0 average finish over the last four races at Auto Club, and last year, he finished fourth and second in the two stages here on his way to a fourth-place finish. Keselowski just missed the final round of qualifying, but moving forward and earning stage points from the 13th shouldn’t be an issue.
I considered Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott for this spot, but I decided to roll the dice on Dillon. Not only did he “win” the pole, but he has three Top 10s in the last four races at 1.5-mile tracks and five in the last 10. Starting up front, I’m hoping he can at least grab a decent amount of points in Stage 1 and pick up another Top 10 while letting me save a start from one of the weekly studs.
Garage Driver – Martin Truex Jr.
Starting way back in 27th makes could make it tough to grab points in Stage 1, but he has been so strong at the 2-mile tracks that I still want him available in case he stroms to the front. After all, Truex dominated this race a year ago, sweeping both stages and leading a race-high 125 laps on his way to the win. He has also led at least 25 laps in five of the last six races at 2-mile ovals, leading 50-plus laps four times in that stretch.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Martin Truex Jr. (A)
I’ve been leaning on Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in the early weeks, so I went into qualifying with Truex and Kyle Larson as my Group A options. Neither driver secured a great starting spot, but despite Truex starting back in 27th, I’m going to stick with him. He led the most laps in a win here last year and led 73 laps and finished fourth in 2017. Truex has also led more laps than any other driver over the last 10 races at 2-mile tracks. By the end of the race, I think he will be battling at the front of the field.
Aric Almirola (B)
I was leaning towards Erik Jones coming into the weekend, but after Almirola qualified third, I decided to change gears. The Stewart-Haas Racing cars were all fast in qualifying, and they were all fast at the 2-mile tracks last year. Almirola finished 12th or better in all three races at the 2-milers a year ago, and I think he has Top 10 potential this weekend.
Austin Dillon (B)
Since I have a few doubts about how this race will play out, I don’t mind gambling a bit on one of my Group B options. Plus, Dillon has actually been solid at the 2-mile ovals, finishing 16th or better in eight of the last 10 races and cracking the Top 10 in three of the last four. After he won (?) the pole, I’m going to try to steal a solid run out of Dillon.
Matt DiBenedetto (C)
I thought about going with Bubba Wallace in this spot, but at best, that would likely net me a 20th-place finish. DiBenedetto has about the same floor as Wallace, and his performance at Phoenix was a reminder that he has a much higher ceiling. I’ll go for the upside.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,000)
He dominated this race a year ago from the pole, but this time around, Truex is starting back in 27th. He’s probably not going to lead the most laps again this weekend, but I just need him to get towards the front and pile up a bunch of place differential points. I think he can do that just fine.
Kyle Larson ($11,300)
Larson has been a force at the 2-mile tracks, logging six finishes of third or better in the last eight races and picking up four wins in that stretch. He should be a contender for the win Sunday, and after qualifying back in 15th, he should be able to gain 10-plus spots to further bolster his score.
Erik Jones ($10,900)
The 2-mile tracks have been some of his best, and Jones has cracked the Top 15 in all six of his starts, compiling a 10.5 average finish. Last year at Auto Club, Jones earned points in both stages on his way to a seventh-place finish. I think a Top 10 run and 10-plus spots gained are well within his reach.
Kurt Busch ($10,600)
He’s been a fantasy force for me in the early weeks, and Busch is up to his old tricks again at Auto Club. He will start back in 21st, but he has finished seventh or better in the three races since Daytona, gaining an average of 12.3 spots per race. Busch also has five straight Top 15s at the 2-mile ovals, including back-to-back finishes of sixth or better. I’m expecting him to pile up differential points again this weekend.
Ross Chastain ($5,000)
I got lightning in a bottle with Matt Tifft at Phoenix last weekend, and I am going to push my luck with another punt play at Auto Club. With certain drivers on my must-own list, it really came down to whether I wanted to pair someone like Daniel Suarez or Alex Bowman with either Ryan Preece or Matt DiBenedetto or go with Erik Jones and a punt play. This really depends on Jones delivering a solid run. I just need Chastain to finish in the Top 30.