Salaries are available at DraftKings for Sunday’s Auto Club 400, and it is time for a first look at the best and worst options across multiple pricing tiers with our weekly Salary Report.
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Auto Club Speedway will host this weekend’s event, and the first race of the season at a 2.0-mile oval is also the final race of NASCAR’s West Coast swing. When analyzing driver stats for Auto Club, I also like to look at results from Michigan International Speedway. The tracks aren’t identical, but they are similar. More importantly, results at Auto Club and be a good predictor of what to expect at Michigan and vice versa.
Recent trends at Auto Club suggest that the points in the hammer categories could be a little more spread out this weekend. It has been common for two or three drivers to each lead 30-plus laps in races here, and for the most part, these drivers have all started up in the top 10. In order to get a piece of the hammer stats, I’m going to be rostering multiple drivers starting up front, especially in GPPs.
Tier-1 Over $9,800
Green Flag – Harvick has a standing green flag at most of the tracks on the schedule, and Auto Club is no exception. Last year, he led a race-high 142 laps and ranked first with 50 fastest laps run. In 2015, he led 34 laps here and recorded 45 fastest laps. Harvick has been dominant at the 2.0-mile tracks in general, logging seven top-five finishes in nine starts with Stewart-Haas Racing. During the same stretch, his 350 laps led are the most in the series. You pretty much have to roster him in cash games, and you have to have plenty of exposure in GPPs, as well.
Red Flag – You can’t really write off any driver in this tier, but I’d be a little cautious with Keselowski. Yes, he has been a top-10 machine at the two-mile tracks recently, but he hasn’t dominated the hammer categories. He has eight straight top-10s at 2.0-mile ovals, but he has led just 37 laps combined in that span. In his last two starts at Auto Club, Keselowski had led a total of one lap and tallied 15 fastest laps. For $10,000, I want a driver who has shown a little higher ceiling in the hammer stats.
Green Flag – There has been no sophomore slump for Elliott, and he should stay hot this weekend in Fontana. He was a stud at the two-mile tracks as a rookie, finishing sixth at Auto Club and second in both races at Michigan. Elliott led a combined 67 laps and recorded 73 fastest laps in those races, so he has serious potential in the hammer categories. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if Elliott ends up being the top scorer at DraftKings this weekend. If you like fading the Tier 1 drivers, keep Elliott in mind as a contrarian option to build a lineup around.
Red Flag – His numbers at Auto Club is impressive, but the same could be said about his numbers at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix, and that didn’t mean a whole lot. Junior has been one of the biggest offenders in the place differential category, losing an average of 15.5 spots per race, and he hasn’t led any laps since Daytona. Last weekend at Phoenix, he qualified and practiced well, only to fade when the race started. I feel like he is a shot-in-the-dark play at this point, and that’s not a gamble I’m likely to take for $8,500.
Green Flag – While his teammate, Kyle Larson, has gotten off to a torrid start, McMurray hasn’t been too bad in his own right. He has cracked the top 15 in all three races since Daytona, and he has quietly been one of the steadier drivers at the two-mile ovals. Over the last three years, he has scored the fifth-most driver points, and he has an average place differential of +4.8 in nine races. Last year, he cracked the top 10 in all three races at 2.0-mile tracks. He offers a safe floor for just $7,500, and his value only goes up if he has some upside through place differential after qualifying.
Red Flag – Kahne sits 10th in points heading into Sunday’s race, but don’t mistake his mostly solid finishes for a return to his glory days. He is still providing next to nothing in the hammer categories, leading just seven laps and recording nine fastest laps run. He hasn’t exactly lit up at 2.0-mile tracks lately either. He has just one top-10 in nine races over the last three seasons, and he has finished outside the top 15 in all three starts at Auto Club in that stretch. Kahne’s value hinges almost entirely on his starting spot, and he will have to start deep in the field before I consider shelling out $8,100 for him.
Tier-4 Under $6,800
Green Flag – Cassill’s recent trends at Auto Club have made him an ideal source of cap relief, and I have my fingers crossed they continue this weekend. He has been terrible in qualifying here over the last three races, logging a 39.0 average starting position, but he has finished in the top 25 all three times. Cassill has gained at least 15 positions in every race in that span, gaining an average of 17 spots overall. If he starts in the back again, plug him in as a punt play.
Red Flag – His record at Auto Club isn’t terrible, and he actually logged a top-10 here last season. That being said, he just hasn’t shown much speed this season, finishing 24th or worse in all three races since Daytona. Allmendinger has always been a boom-or-bust fantasy option on the ovals, and it is even harder to take a chance on him when he is running poorly every week. I’d rather take a flier on a total punt play for near-minimum salary before paying $6,600 for Allmendinger.
Photo: Russell LaBounty NKP