The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series polishes off a three-race West Coast swing this weekend with a trip to Auto Club Speedway. The 2.0-mile track will host Sunday’s Auto Club 400, the first of three races that will be held at two-mile tracks this season.
The bigger track provides a wide racing surface, and you will see a lot of drivers riding up by the wall to keep their momentum going down the long straightaways. The bigger track also means a few less laps and fewer points in the dominator categories, and Sunday’s race is scheduled for 200 laps.
Despite all the room to pass, there has been a direct correlation between starting up front Auto Club Speedway and leading laps. Over the last five races at the track, nine different drivers have led 40-plus laps in a single race. All nine of those drivers qualified sixth or better. Four drivers have led more than 100 laps in a race in that span, and all four of those drivers started in the Top 5.
Even with fewer laps on tap than we have seen in recent weeks, you still need to make the dominator categories, and that likely means paying up for a couple of studs starting up front.
I’ll probably have a lot of two-dominator lineups this weekend, but if I’m confident in one particular driver, I may try to go all in with one dominator and load up on what is an intriguing crop of mid-priced drivers this weekend. I may also do a one-dominator lineup a couple of stronger options happen to start deep in the field.
Kevin Harvick ($11,500)
He’s led 30-plus laps in two of his last three starts at Auto Club, including a race-high 142 in 2016. He’s also the hottest driver in the series by a wide margin, and he’ll be gunning for his fourth straight win this weekend. Harvick seems like a lock for dominator points at any track right now.
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,800)
Truex hasn’t been as dominant as he was last season, but he has finished in the Top 5 in every race except the Daytona 500, and he has led at least one lap in every race. He has also been excellent at the 2.0-mile tracks recently. He has led at least seven laps in all six races over the past two years, finishing sixth or better and leading 50-plus in all three races last year.
Kyle Larson ($10,000)
He led a race-high 110 laps on his way to a win at Auto Club last year, and Larson has been the man to beat at the two-mile tracks recently. He swept all three races last year, and he has won four in a row dating back to 2016. Larson has led at least 41 laps in three of his four wins, and he could be the best value among the dominators this weekend.
Chase Elliott ($9,700)
Since joining the Cup Series full time, Elliott has finished inside the Top 10 in all six of his starts at 2.0-mile tracks, finishing second three times and leading 30-plus laps twice. Elliott clearly has a great feel for the two-mile ovals, and he could be a great way to grab some exposure to the dominator categories at a bit of a discounted price.
Erik Jones ($8,200)
Jones is surging in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, finishing 11th or better in all three races since Daytona. He also showed a great feel for the 2.0-mile tracks, cracking the Top 15 in all three races as a rookie and finishing third at Michigan in August. No matter how Jones qualifies, this is a nice price for a driver with legitimate Top 5 potential.
Clint Bowyer ($8,000)
He’s still been a little boom or bust this year, but with two finishes of sixth or better in the first four races, Bowyer is showing more upside in his second season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Now, he heads to Auto Club Speedway, a track where he finished third last year. The Stewart-Haas Racing teams are rolling right now, and Bowyer is your cheapest way to gain exposure to the top team in the sport.
Ryan Newman ($7,800)
If not for his tire issue at Atlanta, Newman would be off to one of the strongest starts of any driver. He’s finished 11th or better in the other three races, and he’s finished in the Top 15 in four of his last five starts at Auto Club and in five of his last six starts at 2.0-mile tracks. He’ll be a great cash play if he qualifies somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Jamie McMurray ($7,200)
Don’t let McMurray’s numbers so far this season full you. Back-to-back tire issues robbed him of Top 10s at Las Vegas and ISM, and his luck is going to turn eventually. It might happen this weekend at Auto Club. After all, he has finished in the Top 10 in all six races at 2.0-mile tracks over the past two seasons. For this price, I’ll consider McMurray regardless of how qualifying plays out.
Paul Menard ($6,800)
His wreck at ISM sent his price tag crashing back down, but Menard could end up being one of the best bargains of the weekend. The offseason move to Wood Brothers Racing has given him a bit of a boost, and he has four Top 15s and three Top 10s in his last five starts at Auto Club. I’ll be all over him if he has any differential upside after qualifying.
William Byron ($6,600)
It’s been a rough start to his rookie year, but his 12th-place finish at ISM might get Byron going. More importantly, his price tag has dropped a bit. He’s still going to be a riskier play, but at this price, it’s a lot easier to roll the dice on his upside, especially if he struggles in qualifying.
Trevor Bayne ($5,800)
I usually write off Bayne completely because he just starts and finishes in the middle of the pack almost every week, but he’s so cheap for Sunday’s race that he has to be on your radar. He has a 17.3 average finish at the 2.0-mile tracks over the last two years, and as long as he finishes around the Top 20, he’ll end up being a decent play at this price. Bayne should be particularly useful as a source of cap relief in cash games.