On the heels of last weekend’s race at Las Vegas, the West Coast swing of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season takes us to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The two-mile oval is known for having some of the most aggressive tire wear of any track on the schedule, and it joins Michigan International Speedway as the only tracks to feature 2.0-mile layouts.
This early in the year, any bit of information we can gain is valuable, and while we don’t want to overreact to the Vegas race, we certainly don’t want to ignore it either. Among the biggest takeaways were the lack of speed from the Toyota teams as a whole and the impressive speed shown by the Hendrick Motorsports camp. The Team Penske Fords also showed some serious muscle, although they have historically been successful at Vegas.
Again, we are still too early in the 2020 season to call anything a trend, but if the Hendrick Motorsports cars top the practice sheets and the Toyotas continue to struggle this weekend, it is definitely going to impact my roster decisions in all of my Fantasy NASCAR leagues.
In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to try to lean on drivers who have been strong at the two-mile tracks in the past and ran well last weekend. Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and the Team Penske camp are among the guys who fall into this group, but if you don’t want to load up on high-floor options, you need to pay close attention to the practice sheets if you want to roll the dice on any sleepers.
1. Joey Logano
He’s coming off a win at Vegas, and Logano has been the model of consistency a the 2.0-mile ovals, piling up eight Top 10s and five Top 5s in the last 10 races. Last year, he led a series-best 218 laps over the three races, picking up a win at Michigan in June. Logano also has four straight Top 5 finishes at Auto Club, and he was the runner-up here last year.
2. Kevin Harvick
Harvick has finished seventh or better in the last five races at two-mile ovals, winning twice in that span and posting a 3.0 average finish. Harvick also has three Top 5s in the last five races at Auto Club, logging a pair of runner-up efforts and finishing fourth last season. This early in the season, I don’t think it is a bad idea to lean on a high-floor option like Harvick.
3. Martin Truex Jr.
He was basically the only Toyota driver who showed elite speed at Vegas, and Truex has been a force at the two-mile ovals the last couple of years, scoring the second-most points of any driver over the last 10 races while posting an 8.0 average finish. He has also led a series-best 392 laps in that same span, leading 40-plus laps five times and winning at Auto Club in 2018.
4. Brad Keselowski
The two-mile tracks have typically been kind to Keselowski, and he has as a 7.8 average finish in the last 10 races, logging seven finishes of sixth or better. Keselowski has also finished fourth or better in his last three starts at Fontana, leading 42 laps and finishing third in last year’s race.
5. Kyle Busch
Busch dominated this race a year ago, leading 134 of the 200 laps on his way to a win. He has also reeled off nine straight Top 10s at the two-mile ovals, finishing sixth or better in six straight starts. No, he didn’t have a great showing at Vegas, but I expect a much stronger showing out of Busch this weekend.
6. Ryan Blaney
Team Penske has been excellent at the two-mile tracks in general, and Blaney has cracked the Top 10 in five of his six starts since joining the organization. He has finished fifth and eighth in two starts at Auto Club for Penske, and last year, he led laps in all three races at the 2.0-mile ovals. He should be on your radar in all season-long formats.
7. Chase Elliott
Elliott has been rock solid at the two-mile ovals, notching eight finishes of 11th or better in his last 10 starts. He has shown more upside at Michigan than at Auto Club up to this point, but he looked to have a ton of speed last weekend at Las Vegas. Worst-case scenario, he’s a Top 10 play this weekend.
8. Denny Hamlin
While he hasn’t shown as much upside as the other big names at the two-mile ovals, Hamlin has been one of the steadiest performers. He has finished 16th or better in each of the last 10 races, reeling off six straight finishes of 12th or better and finishing eighth or better in three of his last four starts. He’s probably a bit of a reach as a Group A option in the DGG, but Hamlin should contend for a Top 10.
9. Kyle Larson
There was a brief stretch a few years ago when Larson was unstoppable at the two-mile tracks, reeling off four straight wins. He hasn’t been able to recapture that dominance, but he did crack the Top 15 in all three races last year, finishing third at Michigan in August. Now that he is a Group B option in the Driver Group Game, it’s a lot easier to roll the dice on his Top 5 upside.
10. William Byron
Byron has shown some potential at the two-mile ovals, finishing in the Top 15 in both of his starts at Auto Club and in four of his six starts overall. Granted, he has never finished better than eighth in any of those starts, but after showing a ton of speed at Las Vegas last weekend, I think Byron could be a sneaky Top 10 play at Fontana.
11. Kurt Busch
Busch has been an underrated option at the two-mile tracks throughout his career, picking up a combined four wins at Michigan and Fontana. He has cracked the Top 15 in eight of his last 10 starts at the 2.0-mile ovals, finishing sixth or better in four of his last five. Busch should be a strong Group B option in the DGG and a potential sleeper for Fantasy Live.
12. Alex Bowman
After a pedestrian start to his career at the two-mile ovals, Bowman closed last season with Top 10s in both races at Michigan. Perhaps more importantly, he was part of the impressive display from Hendrick Motorsports last weekend at Las Vegas. This may not be the best track to use Bowman, but after what I saw from HMS at Vegas, a Top 10 is a definite possibility.
13. Clint Bowyer
He had miserable showings at the 2.0-mile ovals last year, finishing outside the Top 30 in all three races after crashing twice and suffering a pair of engine failures. On the flip side, Bowyer finished 12th or better in all three races in 2018, winning the June race at Michigan. He’s a high-risk, high-reward option, best suited for GPP contests at the DFS sites.
14. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson’s numbers at the two-mile ovals have slipped recently, and he has a 22.8 average finish in his last five starts. That being said, Johnson showed some serious muscle at Vegas, and Auto Club has been a great track for him. He is a six-time winner here, and he has three Top 10s in his last five starts. I think Johnson has some sleeper potential in the DGG this weekend.
15. Aric Almirola
He has been good but not great at the two-mile ovals since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has four finishes of 12th or better in six starts, finishing 12th and ninth in two starts at Auto Club. Almirola is a safe bet to crack the Top 15, making him a decent safety net to have available in the Driver Group Game.
16. Austin Dillon
He toils in the middle of the pack most weeks, but Dillon has actually been solid at the two-mile ovals. He has a 13.8 average finish in the last 10 races, cracking the Top 15 in six of his last seven starts. Dillon has finished 11th or better in all three starts at Auto Club in that same span, and outside of the superspeedways, this is one of the only tracks where you can steal a decent finish from Dillon.
17. Matt DiBenedetto
Fresh off a runner-up effort at Las Vegas, DiBenedetto will try to keep the momentum going at Auto Club. He finished 18th, 21st and 20th in the three races at two-mile ovals last year, but the Penske Fords have been excellent at the 2.0-mile tracks, and the organization showed as a whole was fast at Vegas. DiBenedetto is a sleeper Top 10 candidate. Keep an eye on him during practice.
18. Erik Jones
While Joe Gibbs Racing has had plenty of success at the two-mile tracks as an organization, Jones’ numbers have left lot to be desired. He has finished outside the Top 10 in his last five starts, and he failed to crack the Top 15 in any of the three races last year. Jones certainly has the talent and equipment to pop up in the Top 10, but this isn’t the spot to use him in the Driver Group Game.
19. Ross Chastain
I think it is safe to assume that Newman won’t be back in the No. 6 machine this weekend as he recovers from a head injury, and the plan appears to be for Ross Chastain to hold the seat in the meantime. He flashed Top 10 upside at Vegas before his day started to unravel, but he should at least have Top 15 potential. Pricing will go a long way to determining his value at the DFS sites, but I suggest using him in the Driver Group Game while you have the chance.
20. Chris Buescher
He held his own at the two-mile ovals in 2019, finishing 16th, 16th and 14th in the three races and gaining at least nine spots in two of those starts. It remains to be seen if that speed will carry over to Roush Fenway Racing, but if Buescher starts deeper in the field, he’ll be worth a look at the DFS sites.
21. Tyler Reddick
Reddick wasn’t dominant at Las Vegas by any means, but he did finish in the Top 20 while ranking in the Top 20 in green flag speed. He’s also driving for a Richard Childress Racing organization that has been solid at the two-mile ovals, and Reddick himself has had success at these tracks. He had four Top 10s in five starts at the XFINITY level, winning a race at Michigan and posting a 5.5 average finish at Auto Club. I like him as a Group C option for the Driver Group Game this weekend.
22. Christopher Bell
He is coming off a rough outing at Las Vegas, and given the lack of speed in the Toyota camp overall last weekend, we may need to temper expectations for Bell a bit, at least early in the year. I still think he has the potential to pop up in the Top 15 as soon as this weekend, but fantasy owners may wan to take a wait-and-see approach to ensure they maximize Bell’s value.
23. Cole Custer
Custer snuck into the Top 20 at Las Vegas when all was said and done, but he didn’t show much muscle in the race overall. He did enjoy some success at the two-mile ovals at the XFINITY level, logging four Top 10s in six starts at winning at Auto Club last year. Another Top 20 could be on the table, and Custer is definitely in play as a Group C option for the Driver Group Game.
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
A timely caution led to a great day at Vegas for Stenhouse, but I wouldn’t count on lightning striking twice in as many weeks. He did finish 14th at Fontana last year, but he has a 20.1 average finish in the last 10 races at two-mile ovals and just two Top 15s in that span. Expect a mid-pack finish out of Stenhouse Sunday.
25. Ty Dillon
Dillon stole a Top 10 at Las Vegas after the wild restart at the end of the race, but I wouldn’t expect a repeat performance this weekend. He has a 22.8 average finish in nine career Cup starts at two-mile ovals, finishing outside the Top 25 in two of his three starts at Fontana. Dillon is fringe Group C option in the DGG, at best.
26. Ryan Preece
He had a forgettable debut at Auto Club last year, starting 26th and finishing 23rd. He posted an 18.3 average finish across the three races at two-mile ovals overall, and I think a Top 20 is the best-case scenario Sunday. Unless he starts way in the back, I don’t see chancing Preece in any fantasy format.
27. John Hunter Nemechek
A late spin ruined a Top 20 finish for Nemechek last weekend, but he still came away with a Top 25. He has now cracked the Top 25 in four of his five Cup starts, and as long as he qualifies around the 30th spot, he has decent potential as a DFS punt play.
28. Bubba Wallace
Add Wallace to the list of drivers who came away with great finishes at Las Vegas thanks to the two-lap shootout to close things out. He will probably need another wild finish to deliver a decent result this weekend. Wallace has finished 19th or worse in all seven starts at two-mile ovals, finishing 27th or worse in all three races last year.
29. Corey LaJoie
LaJoie is coming off a 16th-place finish at Las Vegas thanks to some savvy pit strategy late in the race, but while you can’t expect him to run in the Top 20, he could crack the Top 25 Sunday. LaJoie finished 23rd and 21st in the two Michigan races last year, giving him some potential as a source of cap relief at DraftKings if he starts in the back.
30. Michael McDowell
McDowell is coming off a rough outing at Las Vegas, and I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel this weekend. He has a 26.3 average finish in the last 10 races at two-mile ovals, finishing 22nd or worse in every start in that stretch. Even in DFS contests, he is going to be a reach in any scenario.