Auto Club 400 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
The Cup Series visits Auto Club Speedway this weekend, and while the massive straightaways of the 2.0-mile oval do produce some high speeds, being able to handle through the corners is the biggest factor in whether a driver has a good day or not. After all, getting through the corners well is what allows a driver to carry a lot of speed down those long straightaways. Not to mention the fact that tire wear is also a concern during longer runs so being able to maintain consistent speed is often more important than being able to run a handful of really fast laps. With that in mind, identifying drivers that show a nice balance on the short and long runs is crucial when it comes to setting fantasy rosters this weekend, especially when it comes to picking some sleeper options. To help the process, here is a closer look at a few sleeper options worth considering for this weekend's Auto Club 400.
Brian Vickers, #55 Aaron's Dream Machine, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class B]
After a somewhat quiet opening practice at Auto Club Speedway, Vickers was dialed in during Happy Hour. He turned the fastest lap of any driver in the final session and logged the fifth-best 10-lap average speed. It would make sense that Vickers needed a few laps to find his rhythm at the track. After all, he hasn't been in a Cup race at ACS since 2011. However, he does have seven top-12s in his last eight starts at the track. Vickers appears to have a car capable of picking up where he left off and challenging for at least a top-10 Sunday.
Kyle Larson, #42 Target, Chip Ganassi Racing [Yahoo Class C]
The rookie will be making his Cup debut at Auto Club Speedway, be he was consistent throughout the practice sessions at the track Saturday. He ranked 16th on the charts in both sessions, and he also logged the fourth-best 10-lap average speed in the first practice. With his love for the high line, Larson's driving style should be a good fit for the 2.0-mile oval, as well. He will start 11th Sunday, and despite the lack of experience, a top-15 finish seems possible this weekend.
Ryan Newman, #31 Caterpillar, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Newman made some longer runs in the first practice session at Auto Club Speedway Saturday, and he showed the ability to maintain his speed. In fact, he finished with the third-best 10-lap average speed in the session. Newman also turned the 10th-fastest lap in the first practice so he should be able to hold his own during shorter runs, as well. Newman enters Sunday's race with four straight top-10s at ACS, and based on his practice times, he should finish around the top 10 once again. He should make a solid add in just about any format.
A.J. Allmendinger, #47 Kingsford/Clorox, JTG Daugherty Racing [Yahoo Class B]
While he didn't jump off the page in either practice at Auto Club Speedway Saturday, Allmendinger did turn decent laps. He cracked the top 20 in both sessions, sneaking into the top 15 in the opening practice. The top-20 speeds are consistent with how Allmendinger has performed at ACS throughout his career. He has six top-20s in his last eight starts at the track, including four straight. In fact, he actually has three straight finishes of 16th or better at ACS. Allmendinger isn't the flashy pick this weekend, and while his upside is limited, he should be a safe bet to crack the top 20.
Austin Dillon, #3 Dow Chemical/Cheerios, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class C]
After sneaking into the top 20 in the first practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway Saturday, the rookie jumped up into the top 10 in Happy Hour. Dillon is making his Cup debut at the 2.0-mile oval this weekend, but it wasn't a total surprise to see him in the top 10 in practice. After all, Dillon managed a pair of top-15s at Michigan International Speedway last year with two different teams, and MIS shares a very similar 2.0-mile layout with ACS. It is fairly common for drivers to put up similar numbers at both tracks, which means Dillon has legit top-15 potential this weekend.
Marcos Ambrose, #9 Stanley/Dewalt Power Tools, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
Despite a terrible record at Auto Club Speedway, he was very fast in the opening practice at the track Saturday afternoon, logging the sixth-fastest lap. The strong showing in practice comes on the heels of a top-10 effort in qualifying, and he also rolls into Sunday's race on the heels of scoring his first top-five in more than a year last weekend at Bristol. His 28.8 average finish at ACS obviously leaves a lot to be desired, but if you are willing to trust the speed he has showed all weekend, you could be rewarded with a great run.
Casey Mears, #13 GEICO, Germain Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He was one of the bigger surprises during practice Saturday at Auto Club Speedway, cracking the top 15 in the opening session. He wasn't quiet as fast in Happy Hour, but he did rank inside the top 25. Mears has also finished in the top 25 in his last two starts at ACS, finishing 15th at the track last year. He doesn't have a lot of upside, but it looks like he could challenge for a top-20 Sunday. At the very least, he makes a decent sleeper in decent leagues and a cheaper option to consider in salary cap formats.
FFToolbox Fantasy NASCAR Writer since 2011
I grew up in a racing family, and I spent my childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky. NASCAR became a passion of mine at an early age as well, and I have been following the sport ever since I can remember. While I earned my degree in journalism at Ohio State University, I began writing about NASCAR for several Web sites in 2005. I became head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com and FantasyCup.com in 2008 and was a finalist for the Fantasy Sports Writer's Association NASCAR Writer of the Year in 2009. My knowledge of NASCAR stems from my lifelong love of the sport, and I believe that passion shows through in every article I write.