Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway
By Cody Smith
For the second season in a row, a first-time winner captured the crown at the coveted Daytona 500. Austin Cindric – a rookie from the Xfinity Series that steeped into the No. 2 car in place of Brad Keselowski – picked up the victory in what will be his true rookie season.
Cindric ran seven Cup Series races last season, making the Daytona 500 just his eight career Cup Series start. The victory is Team Penske’s third Daytona 500 victory as Cindric joins recently retired Ryan Newman (2008) and Joey Logano (2015) as the three drivers to collect Daytona 500 victories for The Captain – Roger Penske.
Cindric essentially locks himself into the playoffs with the win, making him the first rookie driver to make playoffs since Cole Custer in 2020 when he picked up a regular season victory at Texas Motor Speedway.
For week two of the season the series heads west to start its ‘west coast swing’. The series will stay out west for the next three weeks, waiting for the weather in the east coast to warm up. First on the list of tracks is Auto Club Speedway. Auto Club hasn’t been run since the COVID pandemic began, with the last race being run at the track on 3/1/2020. It was excluded from the schedule last season due to COVID restrictions in the state of California, and rumor had it the track was going to be transformed into a Bristol/Martinsville hybrid short track with long straightaways and high-banked corners. Those plans are on the back burner for now, but the track will likely race differently since the last trip out there two years ago.
NASCAR has stated this week that a resin to improve traction will be applied to the track and the tire dragon would be used to apply more rubber to the racing surface. The track has also attempted to grind down some bumps in the surface of the track to make it a smoother ride for drivers.
I’m not looking at these changes to the track to mix up who is going to be a threat to win the race. We may get our first decent look at which teams will be contenders and who will struggle a bit over the first stretch of the season.
This weekend’s race – The Wise Power 400 – is a 400-mile (200 lap) race around the roughly two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. After taking a year off from visiting the state of California, the data I typically use is limited. Since the 2019 season, just two races have been run at Auto Club Speedway. The most recent winner at the track is Alex Bowman, while the only other recent winner is Kyle Busch. Busch is the only active driver to win at Auto Club on more than one occasion, picking up four career wins at the track (2005, 2013, 2014, 2019.) Can he continue his career success at the track? I believe this weekend sets up nicely for him.
Drivers I Like
Kyle Busch (DK price: $10,400)
As mentioned above, Busch has won four times at Auto Club Speedway with three of those wins coming in the past eight trips to the track. I expect this to be a big year for Busch. He’s had speed to start the season, finishing second in the Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum and collecting a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500 despite being involved in the lap-62 incident that took out Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Alex Bowman and others. In the past, Busch has exceled at improving his car over the weekend during practices sessions. Practice returns this year following a two-season COVID hiatus. If Busch returns to the form he was in prior to the COVID shutdown, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with this season. I’m taking a shot on him to continue his strong start this weekend.
Alex Bowman ($9,000)
Auto Club’s most recent winner, Bowman sets up nicely for this weekend. Hendrick cars had crazy speed last season which was apparent when Kyle Larson won ten races and finished the season as 2021 champion. Hendrick Motorsports looks to have carried the speed over to 2022 as all four cars finished top-five in single-car qualifying last week at Daytona. If Hendrick remains fast, Bowman will be a serious threat this weekend. In the past two Auto Club races, Bowman joins Kyle Busch as the only driver to lead over 100 laps (110.)
Kurt Busch ($8,800)
Fellow Busch brother Kurt has had solid performances in the past two Auto Club races. Busch holds an average finish of 4.50 in the past two races, coming home third and sixth respectively. Busch has one career Auto Club victory, though it came all the way back in 2003 when he drove for RFK Racing (Formerly Roush Racing.) Busch’s career average finish at Auto Club is 12.22 over 27 career races at the track. In those 27 races he has collected 14 top-ten finishes, giving him a top-ten result over 50-percent of the time. He also trails just his brother Kyle in career laps led at Auto Club among active drivers (298.) Busch is on a new team this season (23XI Racing,) but it’s a team that has looked strong at times over the past season plus. I’m expecting both Busch brothers to contend this weekend.
Aric Almirola ($7,400)
Almirola is the lone driver in the $7k price range to card top-ten finishes in each of the past two Auto Club races. Almirola has finished eighth and ninth in the past two races and enters off a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500. His worst finish at Auto Club since joining Stewart-Haas Racing is 12th and he even carded an 11th-place finish at the track back in 2015 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola looks like a solid DraftKings buy this week at the low price of $7,400.
Harrison Burton ($6,900)
The $6k and under section of DraftKings is loaded with this year’s rookie crop of drivers and some other good, young drivers. However, just one of these drivers has visited victory lane at Auto Club Speedway. That driver is Harrison Burton, who in one trip to the track started on the outside pole, led a race-high 40 laps and came home with an Xfinity Series victory. I’m rolling the dice on Burton and hoping his equipment is good enough to help him contend this weekend. He had a hot rod that ended up on its roof in Daytona.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Denny Hamlin ($10,700)
Its tough to fade the $10k and higher range, but Hamlin is the guy I’m doing it with. Of all the drivers in this range, Hamlin is the lone driver to not collect a top-ten finish in at least one of the last two Auto Club races. He also does not have a career victory at Auto Club in 19 career starts. He has just eight top-tens and two top-fives in that span as well. His three DNFs are tied for second-most among active drivers at the track.
William Byron ($9,600)
It’s tough to fade an HMS driver, but Byron seems like the choice from this range. Byron has been incredibly consistent over his career at Auto Club Speedway. In three trips to the track, Byron finished 15th all three times. Consistency is nice, but you like to see improvement over time, especially from mediocre results. Byron has led just five laps in those three races with an average starting position of 24th. I’m banking on Byron continuing to struggle to find speed at Auto Club Speedway this weekend.
Ross Chastain ($8,200)
I believe Chastain is a tad overpriced this weekend finding himself in the $8k range. Ross is over $2k more expensive than his Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez who enters his second season with the team while Chastain comes over from the now defunct Chip Ganassi Racing. Chastain has never finished above 17th in three attempts at Auto Club Speedway. His 17th-place finish came in a brief stint with RFK Racing (Previously Roush-Fenway Racing) while taking over for Ryan Newman following his scary Daytona 500 crash in 2020. He’s also struggled at the track in the Xfinity Series where he collected just a pair of top-tens in six attempts.
Chris Buescher ($7,700)
Buescher may be a bit overpriced following his victory in the second Dayton Duel race last week as he comes to a track where he’s never carded a finish better than 16th. Buescher’s last two races at Auto Club were both 16th-place finishes with no laps led. It’s also a bit deterring that Buescher’s average stating position over his career at Auto Club Speedway (17.70) is better than his average finishing position (23.33.) That stat does not bode well for potential DraftKings points.
Michael McDowell ($5,700)
Though the price tag is tempting, don’t fall into the McDowell trap this weekend. In the last two races McDowell has finished 22nd and 24th at Auto Club Speedway with the 22nd-place result being his career best in 11 career starts. The chances of McDowell turning it around this weekend are slim to none.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
Last week could have been worse. On the down side, our top two drivers were taken out of the race on lap 62 when some less-than-ideal drafting from Brad Keselowski caused Harrison Burton to crash and take out quite a few contenders. Despite Denny Hamlin and William Byron finishing with a combined -12.05 points, I still won a bit of money back. Playing in a one unit contest, we picked up a 1.5 unit return, just sneaking into the money. Hopefully we can keep it up this week.
Last week: 181.85 pts.
1. Denny Hamlin ($10,500): -2.55 pts.
2. William Byron ($9,400): -9.50 pts.
3. Austin Dillon ($8,400): 29.60 pts.
4. Aric Almirola ($8,000): 73.80 pts.
5. Daniel Hemric ($7,000): 55.15 pts.
6. Cole Custer ($6,400): 35.35 pts.
Remaining Budget: $200
Last week’s perfect lineup: 363.85 pts.
1. Aric Almirola ($8,000): 73.80 pts.
2. David Ragan ($5,100): 64.70 pts.
3. Bubba Wallace ($8,300): 62.15 pts.
4. Daniel Hemric ($7,000): 55.15 pts.
5. Austin Cindric ($7,500): 54.25 pts.
6. Ryan Blaney ($10,000): 53.35 pts.
Remaining Budget: $4,100
We struck out last week in the Daytona 500, but I kind of expected that. I only put 2.5 units on the race, all on some fairly long shots. The Daytona 500 is so unpredictable that it can be tough to find any solid locks to bet on. Hopefully that can change this week.
Kyle Busch to win (+800, 1.5 units)
Harrison Burton to win (+6000, 0.5 unit)
Chase Elliott Top-10 (-130, 1.5 units)
Featured Matchup: Alex Bowman over William Byron (-110, 2 units)
Featured Matchup: Ryan Blaney over Austin Cindric (-220, 5 units)
Group A Winner: Kyle Busch (+320, 0.5 unit)
Group D Winner: Kurt Busch (+240, 0.5 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
The Greg Biffle pick did not pan out last week as he left the race with mechanical issues early on. After spending the majority of the race in dead last, Biffle returned to the track – albeit over 60 laps down – and actually made some progress, passing the cars that were ruled out following the lap-62 crash.
This week: Kyle Busch
After the Biffle debacle I’m going to try to bounce back with a driver I know can win – the winningest active driver in the Cup Series and the winningest active driver at Auto Club Speedway. I don’t often hope Kyle Busch wins, but I could use one this week.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Greg Biffle 36th