Some drivers stuck after pre-qualifying inspection trouble

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

Auto Club Speedway located in Fontana, Calif., is a fast two-mile track with several racing grooves. The wide surface and high speeds provide many opportunities for an outstanding race. We can expect long green runs and relatively few caution flags tomorrow. This race could easily come down to pit stop times and we have learned that Kevin Harvick’s over-the-wall crew has been outstanding this season.

Another area of consideration that has developed this weekend was the inability of many teams to pass pre-qualifying inspection. Several good drivers will be stuck near the rear of the field to begin the race. To make matters worse for those drivers, NASCAR said today that due to the inspection issues, ALL cars will be allowed to start the race on Sticker tires. This will play a huge advantage for drivers who are starting near the front as their tires will not have any wear on them. This will negate what would have been a video game like advantage for the drivers who are starting 25th-32nd.

Below are the weekend profiles for some of the main contenders at Auto Club Speedway.

Kevin Harvick (plus 250): Harvick is still the driver to beat, and has been strong as the weekend has progressed. Harvick had the fastest speeds in the field on the long runs during the practice sessions. Based on everything we have learned, he deserves to be the favorite this week again. If I had to make a wager to win the race, it would be on Harvick. However, I would not bet on Harvick unless he is 4-1 or better.

Kyle Larson (plus 250): Larson, the defending champion of this race, does not appear to be as strong as Harvick so far this weekend. Larson has been a touch off the entire year and lacks value at anything under 5-1. Larson is overvalued based on his win last year. By evaluating his car this weekend, it certainly does not warrant these miniscule odds

Kyle Busch (plus 250): While still not worthy of these low odds, Busch appears to be the second- or third-best car at the track. He had very good speed on long runs during happy hour. He may have the best chance to beat Harvick but at his current odds there is really no value.

Martin Truex Jr. (5-1): Starting on the pole with good weekend progression makes Truex a solid challenger. However, like everyone else, he is a tick off Harvick. Truex has an excellent chance to improve his car tomorrow during the race. It appears that Truex is in a better situation than Larson at double the odds.

Brad Keselowski (10-1): He has a good starting position but in terms of speed he has not been amongst the top contenders so far this weekend. At his current odds, Keselowski is not considered to be a viable play to win. If the race were to break down, he could have a chance, but that chance is certainly not worth 10-1 odds. 

Joey Logano (12-1): Logano has a strong history at California Speedway. But despite his good starting spot, he has not progressed on the track this weekend as expected. Logano appears to be on the outskirts of the top 5 entering the race.

Chase Elliott (15-1): Chase was expected to be stronger this weekend. He was 20th during the long runs of happy hour. Additionally, there is the manufacturer aspect that hurts Elliott from what we have learned this year so far. Chase is starting deep in the field and simply has too many cars in front of him that have out performed him this weekend.

Denny Hamlin (15-1): Hamlin is likely to move up quickly in the early portion of the race. He has been solid this weekend, but does not appear to have the sustained speed of the top contenders. If his odds floated closer to 20-1 or more, he could garner some value to win.

Clint Bowyer (30-1): Bowyer not being able to pass inspection and therefore unable to qualify has hurt his chances this weekend. Additionally, he has displayed inverse practice progression, which removes him from consideration as a race winner even at deep odds. Bowyer’s situation exemplifies why it’s so critical to evaluate a driver’s chances over the course of the weekend.

Austin Dillon (150-1): These odds are out of line. While Austin has not been stellar at California, he has displayed significant progression this weekend. He is starting near the front and was the second best over a 15-lap run during happy hour. Great opportunity to take a driver at massive odds who is expected to run in the top 10. If he is in a top position late in the race, a caution flag could open a path to victory. There is a lack of top contenders this weekend and that makes Dillon’s value even better. Again, he is 150-1, so if he makes your cut, wager accordingly.

Listed below are the matchups that are in play for tomorrow. As you can see we are playing against the deep starting Hendrick Chevys.

Chase Elliott (Even):

Joey Logano (-120): Logano has been better in terms of head-to-head progression this weekend. Additionally he has both the manufacture and successful track experience.


Chase Elliott (-110):

Ryan Blaney (-110): For many of the same reasons as above, plus better odds, make Blaney the selection.


Jimmie Johnson (-110):

Erik Jones (-110): Jones has been well tuned this weekend to look very strong, and he will benefit from a manufacture advantage. The Gibb’s Toyota’s look to be very formidable at California Speedway.


Jimmie Johnson (-145):

Kurt Busch (plus 125): Stewart-Haas as a team has been much better than Hendrick, not only this weekend but for the entire year. Until Johnson and Hendrick can show improvement, we will continue to fade them in matchups where they are being outperformed.

Top #25 Power Ranking for California Speedway - Auto Club 400

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Martin Truex Jr.
  4. Brad Keselowski
  5. Kyle Larson
  6. Erik Jones
  7. Joey Logano
  8. Austin Dillon
  9. Clint Bowyer
  10. Kurt Busch
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Ryan Blaney
  13. Jamie McMurray
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Ryan Newman
  16. Jimmie Johnson
  17. Aric Almirola
  18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  19. Alex Bowman
  20. Daniel Suarez
  21. Paul Menard
  22. Bubba Wallace Jr.
  23. William Byron
  24. Chris Buescher
  25. Kasey Kahne
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