Auto Club 400 Preview
March 18, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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So far this NASCAR Sprint Cup season, we’ve had four different winners on four vastly different tracks through the first four weeks. Carl Edwards win last week paid out 25/1 (Bet $100 to win $2,500) at the LVH Super Book and vaulted him into third-place in points behind new leader Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While six-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson sits fifth in points, it’s his teammate, Jeff Gordon who is tied with Edwards in third-place. Gordon is the only driver to finish all four races within the top-10, and if thinking his consistency is a sign of things to come, the LVH is offering 12/1 odds to win his fifth Cup Championship.
As the series heads to Fontana, CA this week, which has been a major East Coast to West Coast travel schedule thus far for the haulers, we kind of have a little background on who might be good because of what we saw in Las Vegas.
In the last few years we have seen a good correlation between Fontana and Las Vegas where Edwards, Johnson and Tony Stewart all took checkered flags within weeks of each other. Keselowski won two weeks ago at Las Vegas with Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano all running well and leading at least 34 laps. Will they be good again this week? Probably.
The big variable in just transferring over who was good at Vegas’ 1.5-mile high banked track to Fontana’s 2-mile layout that has a moderate 14 degrees of banking is how much improved the Joe Gibbs Racing cars are from what we saw in Las Vegas. Last season, Kyle Busch won at Fontana, and between he, teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, they won on seven of the 11 1.5-mile tracks. Did the JGR teams learn enough in Las Vegas, especially with Kyle Busch‘s success, to help get a better read on the new aero package?
Chances are they all got a little better by studying Busch’s set-up, but I’m not so sure that they’ll be better than what the Penske Fords are bringing. And this doesn’t just mean Keselowski. His teammate Joey Logano has been strong and fast (currently sixth in points), with almost the exact same set-up and equipment as Keselowski. He was fourth at Las Vegas, and the last time he was on a 2-mile D-shaped oval, he won at Fontana’s sister track in Michigan last August.
How about Johnson, who grew up in nearby El Cajon, CA? They seem to still be figuring things out themselves, but when they get to Fontana, everything just seems to click for them. He holds track records for wins (5) and best average finish (5.7), and his worst finish in 19 career starts was 16th. Johnson always seems to find his way around Fontana well, and he could very well be the fifth different driver to win a race this season.
Edwards has also done well at Fontana over his career driving a Roush-Fenway Ford, sitting right behind Johnson with an 8.4 average finish. He’s finished seventh or better in eight of his past 10 starts there, including a win in 2008.
Matt Kenseth is a three-time winner, tied with Gordon for second most, and his finished seventh or better in 11 of his past 14 starts. There are still some doubts about whether his team has figured out how to blazing fast like they were on these type of tracks last season, but he should be able to cruise in for a top-10 finish.
And then we get to Gordon’s exploits at Fontana, the driver who christened the track as it’s first winner in 1997. His last win there was in 2004, but he’s been runner-up three times since, and with the way he’s been running, he looks to be a driver that could surprise everyone by winning in his home state, or one of two states that he claims as home.
Because of the way Junior ran at Vegas, we should expect him to be up front as well at Fontana, and it doesn’t hurt his chances that he was third there last year and second the year before. Before winning the Daytona 500, the only two wins he had in the previous six seasons were on Fontana’s sister track in Michigan. Vegas seems to correlate better with Fontana than Michigan for some reason, but if going to the window with a wager, you need all the ammunition you can to go up with confidence.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #22 Joey Logano (12/1)
2) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)