The drivers of the Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series head to Fontana, California for the fifth race of the season and already there is big news as we head toward the green flag Sunday afternoon. Kyle Larson – $9,100 has finished well enough in the first four races to lead the field in the standings with 184 points. To make matters better the driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet has won the pole and will start at the front of the pack. The knock on Larson last year was that he could always qualify well but had trouble keeping up the pace as the race wore on. So far this season that doesn’t look to be an issue, which makes him one of the favorites to win today’s 21st Annual Auto Club 500.
The second big piece of news is that Jimmie Johnson – $9,800 will start from the 37th position as he crashed his #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet during the practice before qualifying. Instead of risking using their only back up car to qualify poorly, they opted out of that to get the back-up car race ready for the start of today’s race. This could be a very profitable angle as Johnson has racked up eight top 10 finishes and three wins over the last 10 races here in California. If you are worried about him not being able to catch up I would look to Joey Logano’s effort in yesterday’s Xfinity race. Twice he had to start from the rear of the field only to come up and be inside the top three as the race unfolded.
Speaking of Joey Logano – $10,300 he will also start from the rear of the field as he and his crew were unable to pass inspection in time to go out and run at least one qualifying lap. The #22 AAA Southern California Ford will start from the 35th position which could be detrimental as he has just four top 10 finishes in the last 10 starts here at the Auto Club Speedway. Even though he did well in the Xfinity race yesterday he will have to repeat the trick of coming from behind if he wants to have any part of a top 10 finish this afternoon.
Chase Elliott – $9,600 is another driver that will have to make a decision before the start of tomorrow’s race as his #24 NAPA Chevrolet hit the wall as well which pushed part of the right rear quarter panel up into the back deck. This happened shortly after he posted a hot lap of 187.480 miles per hour just before the end of the final practice. It was unclear whether the team will try to fix it and start 13th or take the back-up car option and start in the back of the field.
Kevin Harvick – $10,800 had his share of problems as the driver of the #4 Busch Beer Ford dinged the wall as well, but this was after qualifying. The team opted to fix the damage to the car that qualified 7th instead of using the back-up car and starting at the rear of the field. Harvick is another driver that has fared well here as his seven top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts is the second most of any other driver starting today’s race.
Okay, now that we have all of the news out of the way it’s time to look a few drivers that may be able to help you add to your bankroll this afternoon. Auto Club Speedway is an even two miles in length which means that the winner will have to complete at least 200 laps to take the checkered flag. This isn’t exactly a lot of laps so picking the drivers who can make up ground and finish in the top 10 may be the order of the day here. We already know of a few drivers who could turn that trick but we must keep looking for those diamonds in the rough that will put our team over the top. As with the last few races only 39 cars entered this race so no one had to go home because of a poor qualifying effort.
Kyle Busch – $10,500 – After three lackluster finishes Kyle Busch has been able to put them aside as he turned in a decent third place effort in Phoenix last weekend. Busch had won two in a row here prior to last year’s 25th place finish and could be a force to be reckoned with here this afternoon. In fact that 25th place finish was the first time in the last five races that he didn’t finish in the top three so if anyone has found a way around this track, it’s Kyle Busch. The #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota will start from the 9thposition in this afternoon’s race. His price is a bit high here but could pay off big dividends in the end.
Jamie McMurray – $7,500 – McMurray could make for a decent play here as the driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet made it to the third round of qualifying and will start from the 8th position when the green flag drops on this puppy this afternoon. McMurray has finished well in three of the four races this season that has earned him 119 points which is currently good enough for seventh in this year’s standings. If you look at his history here you will see that he has finished just twice in the top 10 over his last 10 starts. This is absolutely awful until you take a closer look. Those two top 10 finishes have come over the last three years which would seem to indicate that they have found something here to be a bit more competitive. His price is cheap enough to take a shot on here as a top 10 finish looks to be in his near future.
Paul Menard – $6,800 – The driver of the #27 Jack Links/ Menard’s Chevrolet is no stranger to starting outside of the top 20 and usually he comes out of it either holding his own or in better shape than he started. This has been the case here in California as six of the last nine starts here have come from the 20th position or lower and all six times he finished better than where he started. His best effort under this scenario was three years ago when he started in 30th position and finished up in 9th place. Over the last four years Menard has been able to register three top 10 finishes with his best effort being a 4th place finish just two years ago here at the Auto Club Speedway. He will start from the 23rd spot this afternoon.
Danica Patrick – $6,200 – Very rarely will I ever recommend the driver of the #10 Aspen Dental Ford but today I may have to. Looking for value is a tricky thing which is what we may have here with the circuit’s only female driver. Patrick has just four starts here which have seen finishes of 38th, 19th, 14th and 26th. Besides the 38th place finish in which she was collected up in a crash Patrick has been able to finish higher than she started in the other three races. She is easily a hit or miss option here as she starts from the 22nd position later this afternoon.
Aric Almirola – $6,500 – Almirola looks to be a safer play than the aforementioned Patrick as he has been able to register at least 38 fantasy points in three of the first four races this season. Starting from the 31st spot should almost guarantee him that minimum today as he surely can finish ahead of drivers like David Ragan, Landon Cassill, Corey LaJoie and Reed Sorenson. In his seven starts here the driver of the # 43 Smithfield Ford has finished 21st, 11th, 14th and 25th in the four races he didn’t either get into a wreck or had experienced engine troubles. If he can keep it on the track he should be able to get some positive points today.
That will about do it for another look into the world of Nascar for this weekend. Follow me on Twitter @elctrceye, check back for all of your daily fantasy needs and as always, good luck in your contests this afternoon.