Comments: Auto Club 400 Practice Recap: Drivers to Watch
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One of the good things about Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is that the 2.0-mile oval’s extra wide racing groove tends to keep wrecks at a minimum and allows the fastest cars to get to the front. A perfect example of this is the fact that only one driver has ever won a race at ACS from the front row, and even in the last six races, three drivers have won after starting outside the top 20. Again, fast cars get to the front, and the best way to tell which drivers have fast cars is to take a look at the practice times. Teams took to the track for a pair of practices in race trim Saturday afternoon, and here is a closer look at a few of the drivers that stood out during the sessions as potentially helpful options for fantasy owners this weekend.
1. Clint Bowyer: He opened Saturday’s practice sessions with the sixth-fastest lap, and he just got stronger from there. Bowyer jumped to second on the charts in Happy Hour, and he also posted the second-best 10-lap average speed in the final session. Bowyer has long been one of the more consistent drivers at Auto Club Speedway, posting a 10.8 average finish in 12 starts and never finishing outside the top 20. However, he only has two top-five finishes at the track entering Sunday’s race. Based on the practice times, Bowyer could be in line for a breakout performance at ACS. Considering he was already a safe bet for a top-10 finish, there is a lot to gain and not much to lose by adding Bowyer to fantasy rosters this weekend.
2. Greg Biffle: The bad news is that despite qualifying second for Sunday’s, Biffle will start at the rear of the field because of an engine change. On the bright side, he appears to have a car more than fast enough to get back to the front. Biffle recorded the fastest lap of Saturday’s first practice, and he was back in the top 10 in Happy Hour with the eighth-best lap. Biffle is also a former winner at ACS, and he has four career wins at 2.0-mile tracks. Throw in the fact that he has finished 11th or better in five of his last seven starts in Fontana, and even if he doesn’t come all the way from the back to win Sunday, he should still end up delivering a useful performance for fantasy owners.
3. Matt Kenseth: After a ranking a respectable 11th in the first practice Saturday, Kenseth soared to third on the charts in Happy Hour. Fast laps at ACS are nothing new for Kenseth. He has is a three-time winner at the track, and his 10.3 average finish is the third best in the series. That average jumps to 8.9 in the last 10 races, and during the stretch, he has finished seventh or better seven times. The fact that a notoriously poor qualifier like Kenseth is starting in the top five is just icing on the cake. He has been fast at every track the series had visited so far, and he is fast once again at a track that has been one of his best throughout his career. Plain and simple, Kenseth should be a factor for the win Sunday.
4. Mark Martin: Who says you get slower with age? The veteran continues to be a useful fantasy option most weeks, and Sunday’s race at ACS should be no exception. After all, Martin was stout in throughout Saturday’s practices. He opened the afternoon with the seventh-best lap, and he topped the charts in Happy Hour. He also recorded the top 10-lap average speed in the final session. Martin has finished 12th or better in four of his last five starts in Fontana, including a pair of fourth-place finishes. His practice times suggest a very strong run Sunday, and although he does have a tendency to underperform a bit compared to his practice speeds, he should still deliver a top-15 run. Martin may not carry a fantasy lineup this weekend, but he should make a solid addition.
5. A.J. Allmendinger: One of the biggest surprises of the young season has been the performance of Allmendinger. He has finished 11th and 13th in his two starts in the Phoenix Racing No. 51, and he flexed some muscle in practice Saturday. Allmendinger posted the second-fastest lap in the first practice, and he ranked seventh in the final session. He has actually finished in the top 15 in his last two starts at Auto Club Speedway, and given his practice times, a top-15 might even be a bit conservative. At any rate, Allmendinger is looking like an excellent sleeper option this weekend, and if you play in a Yahoo! league, consider him the answer to your C-List needs.
6. Jamie McMurray: Fantasy owners have likely written off McMurray after his lack of production in 2011 and 2012, but he has actually shown signs of life recently. He has finished 13th and 10th in the two races leading up to ACS, and he ranked 12th and ninth in the two practices at the track Saturday. On the flip side, McMurray has gone 12 straight starts at ACS without even cracking the top 15, but he did record five finishes of eighth or better in his first six starts at the track early in his career. Yes, McMurray is a risky option this weekend, but given his practice times and the fact that he has some momentum on his side, he is a risky option with upside. Fantasy owners looking to gamble a bit with an unconventional pick may want to take a chance on McMurray.