Best Bets - Auto Club
March 13, 2019
By Dan Dobish
Be sure to follow VegasInsider.com on Twitter @TwitVI for the latest NASCAR updates and trends. Daniel E. Dobish, two-time FSWA Racing Writer of the Year, can be followed on Twitter at danieledobish. The drought continues for Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson (40/1) has some pretty long odds, which is a product of his 63-race winless drought heading into ACS rather than the Golde State native's dominance at the track in the past. He won at this track as recently as March 2016, working his way up to the front despite starting 19th, the worst starting position of any driver since 2011 to win in Fontana. Johnson has dominated this race in past years, posting six wins, 13 top-5s, 17 top-10s and 980 laps led while posting a 7.2 AFP to lead all drivers. He has never finished lower than 24th in his 24 starts, either. He has had some shaky results here lately, but he still checks in third among all active drivers in Driver Rating (103.7), according to NASCAR's Loop Data.
Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS stays out on the left coast, moving from Arizona to Auto Club Speedway for the 400-miler from Fontana, Calif. on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (19/4) arrives in California fresh off a victory at ISM Raceway last weekend in the TicketGuardian 500. For the haters of the driver of the No. 18 machine, you might not want to tune in this week, either. According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Busch has a 111.1 Driver Rating in four starts over the past five season at Auto Club. Remember, he missed the 2015 installment due to injuries suffered in Daytona earlier in that season. Rowdy won back-to-back stops at Auto Club in March 2013 and March 2014. He also took checkers in the Sony HD 500 back in 2005 for his only other win at the track in the Cup Series. He has managed a sparkling 10.4 Average-Finish Position (AFP) in 20 career starts in Fontana, posting nine top-5 finishes and just six outside of the Top 10. He has led 673 laps, second among all active drivers, and he has just one DNF. Over his past seven starts at Auto Club he has two wins, a runner-up, two third-place finishes, an eighth-place finish and the outlier, a 25th-place showing in 2016, his first race at the track after missing the 2015 version.
JGR's Martin Truex Jr. (7/1) had some rough results early in his career at ACS, but he is a quick study. He starting dominated with the Furniture Row Racing team, posting an eighth-place showing in 2015, a fourth-place run in 2017 and he took checkers at this race last March. As such, he checks in second in Driver Rating 103.7 over the past five years in Fontana, running 72.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, including a circuit-best 224 laps led. He has made 18 starts at the SoCal track, checking in 20th or higher in 11 of his 18 starts. His overall 18.2 AFP is rather marginal, but remember that a large chunk of that history was in inferior equipment. Since his alliance with JGR at Furniture Row he has really taken off.
JGR's Erik Jones (25/1) has been a quick study at Auto Club Speedway. He has made just two Cup starts at the track, finishing seventh and 12th last season, good for a 9.5 AFP. He didn't lead any laps, but he was right in the front pack all afternoon, running a ridiculous 97.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He also has three Xfinity starts under his belt at the track, posting a 7.3 AFP with two top-5s. His veteran teammate Denny Hamlin (15/1) is never a driver bettors or fantasy players should overlook, especially at ACS. He ranks sixth with a 99.3 Driver Rating over the past five years in Fontana, including a sixth-place showing last season, and a third-place run in 2016. This is a place where Hamlin has some bad memories, too. Remember, a last-lap dust-up in 2013 with Joey Logano (6/1) resulted in the No. 11 driver clapping the wall head on, suffering a fractured L1 vertabra in the process.
Speaking of Logano, the driver of the No. 22 car has had plenty of success at this track. He has four straight top-10 finishes, and consecutive top-5 showings while managing an outstanding 14.0 AFP in 12 career Cup starts. While he has never won in a Cup car, he has three victories at Auto Club Speedway on the Xfinity Series, while finishing inside the Top 5 in eight of his 10 career starts on that circuit with 547 laps led. He knows how to qualify well at this track, and he knows how to finish. Teammate Brad Keselowski (7/1) is also among the favorites for the ACS 400. He has just one win in 10 career starts with four top-10 finishes and 39 laps led, but he has a mediocre 15.6 AFP and half of his career Cup starts in California have found him finishing between 21st and 26th. He has learned over the years, though, and many of his marginal results came early in his career, as expected. His past four runs resulted in a win in 2015, a ninth-place finish in 2016, a runner-up in 2017 and a fourth-place showing in 2018.
Penske third-wheel Ryan Blaney (20/1) has three Cup starts under his belt, posting mixed results. He was 35th in his debut in 2016, but he was ninth in 2017 and eighth in 2018, Might we continues to see more improvement this season? Another young driver who has been a quick study in a Cup car is Hendrick's Chase Elliott (20/1). In three Cup runs at ACS he has managed a 95.2 Driver Rating with five laps led and a 10.7 AFP. Teammate William Byron (100/1) posted a 15th-place run in his Cup debut last March, and is one to watch at a very good price. He also has one start in Xfinity at ACS, running to a fifth-place showing in his only appearance on that circuit.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (19/4) is one of the co-favorites for this weekend's race, similar to last week's betting board. He wasn't terrible at ISM Raceway with another top-10 finish, but he stunningly didn't lead a lap in what is arguably his best track. He hasn't won at Auto Club since 2011, but he did have back-to-back runner-up runs in 2015 and 2016. In 25 career starts he has a won, six top-5s and 11 top-10s with a 15.8 AFP and 237 laps led. Teammate Clint Bowyer (20/1) has never won at California, but he has been good. In 18 career starts he has three top-5 finishes, eight top-10 showings and a solid 13.5 AFP. He was a runner-up in the fall race back in 2010 when this track hosted the series twice, and he was third in 2016.
SHR's Aric Almirola (20/1) hasn't had a good history at Fontana, although it can be argued he hasn't had very good equipment at his disposal, either. The 'Cuban Missile' has looked like an entirely new driver with the SHR crew. In 11 career starts he has just four top-20s with a dismal 25.8 AFP. That 11th-place run came in 2015, and he was 12th last season.
Other racers to watch include Ganassi's Kyle Larson (6/1), who has a win in March 2017 and two runner-ups in five career starts at the track. Teammate Kurt Busch (25/1) has fit in well with the Ganassi stable, and bettors and DFS players shouldn't sleep on him. The elder Busch has managed a win, seven top-5s and 12 top-10s in 25 career starts with a 12.8 AFP, fourt-best among drivers with at least four career starts at the track. Busch has also led 298 laps while capturing the pole four times, better than anyone in the history of the track.
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