NASCAR Auto Club 400

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Tim's NASCAR Auto Club 400 preview


By Tim Zimmer, NASCAR writer

Kevin Harvick. Kevin Harvick. Kevin Harvick. Those are the names of the past three winners in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The #4 Jimmy John’s car has led 423 combined laps in the past three races and has dominated the field. Harvick will try to go for the West Coast sweep this week when NASCAR travels to Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway in California. 

The Auto Club 400 features a 2-mile long, D-shaped track that includes three stages of 60, 60 and 80 laps for a combined 400 miles. Last year’s winner, Kyle Larson, will pose the biggest threat to Harvick’s win streak. Larson not only won last year’s race, but has won the past four races on 2-mile long tracks which also includes Michigan Speedway. If Larson’s luck continues it would give the Chevrolets their second victory of the season. Although, neither would have come from Hendrick Motorsports.

The other big contenders this week include the Penske teammates of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Both Ford drivers have three straight top-10 finishes in the past three California races, including a Keselowski win in 2015.  Add in Penske newcomer Ryan Blaney to the mix, who finished 9th here last year, this will be the team to beat on Sunday. 
Other drivers who I think will also challenge for their first win this season include the JGR cars of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. The #18 car of Kyle Busch has led the second most laps here of active drivers. He also has three career wins in California, most recently his back to back wins in 2013-2014. His teammate Denny Hamlin doesn’t have the best results here, but he does have three pole starts. His average starting position the past seven Auto Club races is 2.1, so if Hamlin can put a complete race together he should challenge for the win. 

Last week, I predicted a bounce back performance for the Hendrick cars, and it was a solid week for the team. All four Chevy drivers finished in the top 15 led by Chase Elliott who finished in 3rd place. The #48 of Jimmy Johnson has led the most career laps here of all active drivers with 980 total laps which includes six wins. I still think Johnson is an average driver early in the season until they can figure out the right package for the new Camero ZL1. If teammates Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron can finish in the top 15 again this week, I think that success will carry down the road. 

Finally, some sleepers this week that could possibly have a chance for win or finish in the top-10 include Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola. McMurray, who is teammates with Kyle Larson, has used that to his advantage especially when it comes to California. The McDonald’s #1 car will likely use the same setup as the #42 of Larson’s and the knowledge of the track between the two will benefit both drivers. 

Bowyer and Almirola, both drivers for Stewart-Haas, have benefited from Harvick’s success. If a Stewart-Haas driver wins this week, Clint Bowyer, not Kevin Harvick, may be the driver. Almirola was just two turns away from winning the Daytona 500 earlier this season, and he’s been consistent since then. A top-12 finish for the #10 seems likely this week.
Daniel Suarez was a rookie last season so this will be his second time at the California track. He finished in 7th last year so he could possibly end up top 10 again this Sunday. Green flag for the Auto Club 400 is Sunday at 2:30pm CT on FOX.

Tim’s Picks To Win:

  • 1) Kyle Larson (#42)
  • 2) Brad Keselowski (#2)
  • 3) Kyle Busch (#18)
  • 4) Kevin Harvick (#4)
  • 5) Denny Hamlin (#11)
  • Sleeper: Jamie McMurray (#1)
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