The Setup – Auto Club 400
By Tyler Miller

We are two races into the NASCAR Cup season and the west coast swing continues with Auto Club Speedway of Southern California and the Auto Club 400. This is the only race of the year at Auto Club Speedway. Auto Club had traditionally held the 5th race of the year since being cut down to a single race in 2011. Kyle Busch won at Auto Club last year leading 134 of 200 laps. The race winner in each of the last three years led over 100 laps and four years ago, Kevin Harvick led 142 laps but finished 2nd to Jimmie Johnson. Picking the right top end drivers will be critical this week if a single driver leads over half of the race en route to victory. Let’s get started.

Race Distance: 200 laps (400 miles). Stage 1 ends on lap 60, Stage 2 ends on lap 120.
Lineup Lock 3:30 pm eastern Sunday
2019 Winner: Kyle Busch (started 4th)
2019 Pole Sitter: Austin Dillon (finished 10th)

Past Winners: (Starting Position)
2018: Martin Truex Jr. (1st)
2017: Kyle Larson (1st)
2016: Jimmie Johnson (19th)
2015: Brad Keselowski (8th)

Las Vegas Recap:

What went right?
Las Vegas ended up being a mixed bag from a DFS perspective. Circumstances at the end of the race mixed up the running position with many of the better cars pitting under the final caution and mid-pack cars staying out. The gamble paid off for drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, and Bubba Wallace. These guys ran mid-pack all day but gambled by staying out of the pits under the last caution and were rewarded with great finishes. Jimmie Johnson was the highest scoring driver from Victory Lane with 69.2 points on Fan Duel. Kevin Harvick finished right behind Johnson in scoring with 66.4. Harvick performed exactly as I expected, leading 92 laps and running up front for most of the race until the decision to pit at the end of the race cost him a top 5 finish. Had the race stayed green, Alex Bowman would have finished 1st or 2nd. It seemed as though a battle for the win was shaping up with Bowman and Blaney but the late caution from Ross Chastain changed everything.

If you listened to Squealing Tires you will remember that I was off Ross Chastain. I thought he would run well but I didn’t trust him in a 400 mile race against top tier drivers. I was 100% right in that assessment. I was also high on John Hunter Nemechek and Daniel Suarez as value plays which both worked out, though Suarez was bad enough to make things interesting.

Overall, my Fan Duel lineup of Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, and Kurt Busch scored 269.6. I cashed in one contest but overall lost money on Fan Duel. My Quick Pick lineup did significantly better with Harvick, Larson, Johnson, Bowman, and Ty Dillon scoring 311.7 and winning 3x my entry fee.
My Draft Kings lineup of Harvick, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Johnson, Suarez, and Nemechek scored 220.5 and cashed in 90% of the contests I entered.

What went wrong?
The way I constructed my lineup was wrong. I needed to pair Kevin Harvick with another top tier driver to give myself another chance of having the winning driver. Had I paired Harvick with Logano and gone off of Almirola or Kurt Busch, I would have been much better off. A lineup of Harvick, Logano, Johnson, Bowman, Almirola, and Nemechek (57.7k in salary) would have scored 313.1 and cashed in all contests.

What to watch for in practice and qualifying:

How different will this be from Vegas? As you may know, these race teams are located in the Charlotte, North Carolina area and the cars are trucked across the country to race at places like Las Vegas, Auto Club, and Phoenix. That means that the cars they will race this weekend were likely finished before the previous cars were raced at Las Vegas. Teams will be able to make changes to the cars once the garage opens at Auto Club on Friday, but any fundamental changes will not be implemented until teams come back from Phoenix next weekend. Generally speaking the good cars at Las Vegas will be good again at Auto Club and the teams that struggled will likely continue to struggle, but to what extent?

What do we do with Toyota? The Toyotas were terrible at Las Vegas. Truex led some laps but suffered damage from the wall and ended up finishing 20th. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Christopher Bell had to start at the back after an attempt to manipulate the nose of their race cars was found in inspection. I don’t anticipate the Toyotas to be that bad at Auto Club this weekend. It will be difficult for them to make fundamental changes to their race cars since the Auto Club cars were likely finished while the teams were in Daytona. Keep a close eye on the Toyota teams and see if they run faster speeds in practice compared to where they were last weekend.

Can Hendrick sustain the resurgence? Jimmie Johnson had a top 5, Chase Elliott had the best car until a flat tire ruined his day, Alex Bowman could have won the race if it stayed under green, and William Byron ran in the top 10 all day at Las Vegas. Can Hendrick Motorsports keep it up this weekend at Auto Club? I think it is likely that Hendrick will be strong again this weekend, but don’t take it for granted.

Don’t get caught up on emotion from Vegas. Don’t get caught up in the hype of Ricky Stenhouse and Matt DiBenedetto. Neither of these drivers had good cars at Las Vegas, but aggressive pit strategy worked in their favor and they finished well. The same goes for drivers like Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain, and Erik Jones. These drivers either finished well or poorly at Las Vegas due to circumstances that will not necessarily repeat themselves at Auto Club.

What Vegas thinks (Opening lines via Penn National Gaming)
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are the favorites for the second week in a row. This time they share 5-1 odds with Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski close behind. Alex Bowman creeps into the list with 20-1 odds and Chase Elliott moves up to 8-1.

Kevin Harvick 5-1
Kyle Busch 5-1
Joey Logano 6-1
Brad Keselowski 7-1
Kyle Larson 15-2
Martin Truex Jr. 15-2
Chase Elliott 8-1
Ryan Blaney 13-1
Denny Hamlin 16-1
Jimmie Johnson 16-1
Erik Jones 20-1
William Byron 20-1
Alex Bowman 20-1

Driver Ratings Auto Club:
1. Jimmie Johnson 114.0
2. Kyle Busch 111.5
3. Kevin Harvick 96.1
4. Erik Jones 93.6
5. Denny Hamlin 93.4
6. Chase Elliott 92.4
7. Ryan Blaney 90.9
8. Joey Logano 90.4
9. Kyle Larson 89.9
10. Kurt Busch 88.6
11. Clint Bowyer 87.8
12. Brad Keselowski 86.1
13. Martin Truex Jr. 85.4
14. Austin Dillon 81.9
15. Ryan Newman 79.0

Average Running Position:
1. Jimmie Johnson 7.271
2. Kyle Busch 8.144
3. Erik Jones 8.448
4. Chase Elliott 10.245
5. Ryan Blaney 12.360
6. Denny Hamlin 12.555
7. Kevin Harvick 12.757
8. Kyle Larson 13.848
9. Clint Bowyer 13.903
10. Joey Logano 14.114
11. Brad Keselowski 14.232
12. Kurt Busch 15.040
13. Austin Dillon 15.224
14. Daniel Suarez 16.114
15. Martin Truex Jr. 16.436

Laps Led
1. Jimmie Johnson 880 (18.7% of all laps run at Auto Club)
2. Kyle Busch 807 (17.9)
3. Martin Truex Jr. 233 (5.5)
4. Kevin Harvick 232 (4.9)
5. Kurt Busch 162 (3.4)
6. Denny Hamlin 147 (3.7)
7. Kyle Larson 110 (9.0)
8. Brad Keselowski 81 (3.7)
9. Joey Logano 57 (2.1)

2019 Top 10
1. Kyle Busch
2. Joey Logano
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Kurt Busch
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Martin Truex Jr.
9. Aric Almirola
10. Austin Dillon

2018 Top 10
1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kyle Larson
3. Kyle Busch
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Joey Logano
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Erik Jones
8. Ryan Blaney
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Austin Dillon

2017 Top 10
1. Kyle Larson
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Martin Truex Jr.
5. Joey Logano
6. Jamie McMurray
7. Daniel Suarez
8. Kyle Busch
9. Ryan Blaney
10. Chase Elliott

Stay Tuned for updated content Saturday night.

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