Driver Picks: Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Here we are, back for another week of action at Auto Club Speedway. Last week we saw a series of events that totally changed the outcome at Phoenix. Blown tires, speeding penalties, and late race gambles seem to be the trend this season. Let’s see if that continues at Auto Club this week. Last year in this race was saw a number of major issues. Tire problems, aggressive driving leading to accidents, and driver flat out taking each other out. I have a feeling we will see much of the same today.

If you all haven’t had a chance yet, please take the time and subscribe to our very new DFSDash over at DFSFDash.com. It is an absolutely AMAZING product and is going to be a game changer going forward. It makes multi-entering a breeze and provides even deeper content than ever before. Going ahead you will see slight format changes to my articles. I will always provide the picks, but I will now be adding tags to the drivers to help you implement them into the dash and set exposures. If you have not seen what the Dash is all about, see the tutorial here.

Let’s get to some picks and win some money this week!

Jimmie Johnson – Dash Tags: Mover, Chalk – $9,800

This pick should come as a no-brainer. After spinning in the first practice, JJ did not make a qualifying run after going to a backup car. Johnson will roll off 37th and should be the first driver you plug in. Jimmie’s success here is second to none, and look for him to contend for the win tomorrow.

In the last 17 races at Auto Club, JJ boats a very impressive 29,4% win percentage, far and away the best in the field. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are second and third with win percentages of 18.8% and 17.6% respectively. Out of all of the drivers who have 10 or more races here, no one has a better Top 5 percentage than Johnson. His Top 5 percentage of 64.7% blows the field away. The next closest driver is Kyle Busch at 50.0% in 16 races.

The impressive stats just keep coming for JJ. If you happened to read Adam Jazdewski’s ‘Data Mining’ article again this week, you will have seen one of these stats. Jimmie is once again the best in the field in terms of Average Running Position. If you missed the article, here’s what Jaz wrote up about JJ.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jimmie Johnson is really good here. The most decorated driver in NASCAR has been dominant in Fontana just like he has been at so many other tracks on the circuit. Even if we scale the results down to just the last seven years, it’s still all Jimmie. He has three wins and five Top-5’s in the last nine years. Outside of a 24th place finish back in 2014 he hasn’t finished worse than 12th since 2005.

Jimmie has been lurking the last few races, finishing 9th in Vegas and 11th in Phoenix but hasn’t yet had a real chance to win; and he will likely be in contention again this weekend. He’s the top driver in the field in average running position at just 5.8. Two other drivers have an average running position under 10.0 but nobody can touch Jimmie. His price is still stubbornly high at $9,800, although justified, I’d like to see him a little lower. Jimmie will be in play regardless of where he qualifies; and this is a track where you can win starting outside the Top-10.

If you had not realized by now, Jimmie is VERY good here at Auto Club. Starting 37th is not any sort of worry for me whatsoever. In the six races here where JJ has started outside of the Top 10, he has never recorded a DNF. In those races; he has one win, three Top 5’s, four Top 10’s, and has never finished worse than 12th.

While his final practice speeds may seem worrisome, I promise you that there is nothing to worry about. Time and time again we have seen JJ and Chad Knaus face adverse conditions, only to come away with a win. They had a ton of time to tinker and work on the setup in practice and will only get better before the race on Sunday. With the way the stages are setup, this falls right into the strengths of the 48 team. Fresh tires will allow Johnson to work his way through the field incredibly quick. His fall off will not be nearly as great as other drivers and I fully expect him to nose into the Top 10 early in the race.

Do yourself a favor and don’t even think twice about this. Plug in JJ and go from there, cash or GPP. If you do not, you are going to miss the train on a shot at cashing or taking down a GPP.

Martin Truex Jr – Dash Tags: Hammer, Star – $9,400

26-29 May, 2016, Concord, North Carolina USA
Martin Truex Jr, Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota Camry (78)
©2016, John Harrelson / LAT Photo USA

Kyle Larson – Dash Tags: Hammer, Chalk – $9,100

If you have read my articles before, you know that I absolutely LOVE writing about Kyle Larson. I am fully convinced this kid is a ninja and everything he does in life is in slow motion. The things he can do in a racecar are absolutely insane, I have seen it first hand more times than I can count. We are seeing it come to fruition this year, he is the real deal. He’s been the bridesmaid time and time again, but he’s been in contention for the win every week and has put himself in an amazing position going into the race today.

Let’s start with Larson’s history at 2 mile tracks over the last few years. After starting off hot, a Top 5 and two Top 10’s to start his career at 2 mile tracks, Kyle struggled mightily at 2 mile tracks for five races. In that five race span, he did not finish inside of the Top 10. That has changed recently as he recorded his first career win and has two straight Top 3 finishes at 2 mile tracks. His car is a rocket ship once again this weekend and he looks poised to collect a win in his home state of California.

Kyle finished the third and final practice session with the fifth fastest single lap time. What has my attention is his 10 lap average. He was third overall in the final practice session in 10 lap average behind Martin Truex Jr and Chase Elliott. Larson’s average came late in his run though, a full 11 laps later than both MTJ and Elliott, showing his car has less fall off and good long run speed.

We all know that Auto Club is a tire eating monster and can provide a ton of challenges, but that does not worry me all too much when it comes to Kyle today. I fully expect him to jump out to the lead early and lead a bunch of laps. Historically, the front row is not very friend here, but if anyone can change that it’s Larson. If you read Jaz’s ‘Data Mining’ article, he highlighted the young superstars of Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. These two kids are on their way to superstardom and have had great success at two mile tracks in the past.

The next wave of NASCAR talent is clearly here in Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Neither have hit their 25th birthday (Larson 24 and Elliott 21) but through four races this season they sit 1-2 in the standings. Elliott has a pair of Top-5 finishes and has led at Daytona and Phoenix. Larson has finished second in three straight races, leading laps at every track except Las Vegas. I’m very high on both of them, but not simply because of their fast start to the season.

Both drivers have already shown speed at Auto Club and it’s sister track Michigan. Elliott has two starts at Michigan and has finished second both times, leading 35 and 31 laps respectively. In his one start in Fontana he started 8th and finished 6th. So in only three races at these tracks with very similar footprints he has finished 2nd, 2nd and 6th.

Moving over to Larson, he has a few more starts under his belt. He’s started three races in Fontana. In his first career start, he started 11th and finished 2nd. Here in 2015 he was riding inside the Top-10 before hitting the wall on a late restart. Last year he moved up eight position on the track before behind knocked out in a crash. So while the results aren’t there, the speed is.

Larson’s results are Michigan are more impressive. His finishing position has improved each of the last four years, and last August he captured his first win by leading the final 41 laps with a pass on Chase Elliott. Not much will steer me off of this pair this week. Their prices (Elliott $9,600 and Larson $9,100) put them just under the elite plays but still easy to fit with the peculiar pricing this week by DraftKings.

Kyle is extremely confident and comfortable right now, more so than ever before. He is super hungry for a win after THREE straight second place finishes. In the last six races alone, he has an average finish of 3.83 and FIVE Top 5 finishes.  He is in his home state and looking to come through for his home town fans. We have seen in recent week how some of the guys up front have had their fair share of issues, crushing lineups. I firmly believe Larson changes that today. His price is only going to continue to go up, so get him ‘Cheap’ while you can.

Erik Jones – Dash Tags: Contrarian – $7,700

Erik’s price is slowly creeping up, and for good reason. He’s adjusting well to Cup competition and has put together a nice little string of strong finishes. He is coming off of his first career Top 10 last week at Phoenix, and has a VERY strong car again for today’s race. Jones has finished between 8th and 15th in each of the last three races, but is looking for a much stronger finish today. With the speed the car has, if he can stay clean and avoid any stupid luck, he is going to do just that. He is a legitimate Top 5 contender and is even a sleeper pick for the win today.

He topped the speed charts in the second practice session and was fourth overall in the final practice session. What has continued to impress me is his 10 and 15 lap averages. I know I hound on this category all the time, but long run speed is so important. In the third and final practice session, Erik had the fastest 15 lap average by over a tenth of a second. He posted the fourth fastest 10 lap average behind MTJ, Chase Elliott, and Larson. What is crazy is that of those three drivers just mentioned, none of them posted a 15 lap average that was fast enough to be in the Top 10 overall, while Jones had the fastest. This goes to show that Erik has a VERY strong long run car and will be able to pick his way through the Top 10 without a lot of fall off.

Starting 14th is somewhat risky, but could pay off in a huge way. Jones is most likely going to go overlooked due to his increased price and starting position. I am totally okay with this. He is more likely than not going to be low owned once again and I want to hop all over this. Like Larson, Erik’s price is only going to continue to go up throughout the season. He is on an incredibly strong team and is a superstar in the making. Take advantage of this situation while you can and get yourself some Erik Jones.

Aric Almirola – Dash Tags: Value, Contrarian – $6,500

Almirola is my pivot play from Trevor Bayne. If you are looking to save $700 in salary, this is the way to do it. I know Bayne is in a great spot starting 36th, but so is Almirola at 31st. Let’s start with Trevor Bayne’s stats here at Auto Club. His sample size is small, I will fully admit that, but it is still terrible. In three races here, Trevor has never finished better than 20th. Outside of that finish, he has a 29th and a 30th place finish.

You may be led to believe that Bayne had a DNF in those three races, but he has not. He has finished each and every race he has ran in at Auto Club. Trevor was not overwhelmingly fast in either of the last two practice sessions. He recorded a lap only good enough for 26th in the second session, while he did improve to 15th in the third and final session, I am still not impressed. If you are rolling multiple line-ups, you can get away without 100% exposure to Bayne. If you are running a single bullet, I would recommend using him. Today is one of the weird days where I will run multiple lineups, something I rarely do. Full disclosure, IF I were running one lineup, I would still not have Bayne.

Now let’s talk about Aric. In six career races here, Aric has finished 21st or better three times. Which is all I am looking for out of him today. In that same stretch, he finished inside of the Top 15 twice. I have been impressed with Almirola all weekend long. While his qualifying run was not impressive to say the least, the team seems to have found speed in the last two practice sessions. He was seventh overall in 15 lap averages in the final practice session and 17th overall in 10 lap averages. The car seems to have pretty solid long run speed and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Aric crack the Top 20 early on on the race.

Almirola has an average finish of 22 compared to Bayne’s 26.3 here at Auto club. If you want to dig into how well a driver moves through the field, looking at quality passes is a good way to do so. In his six career races here, Aric has averaged 20.8 quality passes per race. That is in comparison to Bayne’s 9 quality passes per race in three career appearances at Auto Club. One of the last statistics I want to dig is average DK scores. In his six career races at here, Aric has averaged 24.8 DK points per race. That is in comparison to Bayne’s 15 DK points per race. If you remove the single race where Aric fell back through the field and recorded a negative DK score, his average jumps to 31 DK points per race.

I have a good feeling Aric will come in LOW owned heading into lock. Everyone seems to be all in on Bayne, which is why I am all in on Almirola. The $700 in salary savings and expected ownership on Bayne is too much to pass up. I will give credit where credit is due, Roush Fenway has found some speed in the offseason, but I do not see that translating into a great finish for Bayne today. If he proves me wrong, I will eat my words, but I am sticking to my guns and will roll the dice.

Tyler Salisbury

I am the Lead NASCAR Analyst at DFS Datalytics. I have played daily fantasy sports for over 3 years, but have focused on NASCAR DFS since its introduction last year. Outside of NASCAR, I enjoy playing in NFL, MLB, and NBA contests. I use my experience in racing and the accounting and finance fields to provide excellent NASCAR stats and content. Follow me on Twitter @tsals23

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