The NASCAR season continues this weekend with the Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California. Race coverage begins at 3 p.m. Eastern Sunday on Fox. And for the fantasy NASCAR players among us, RotoExperts’ Adam Ansell ranks his top 30 drivers in advance of the race below. A familiar face tops the list.
1. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson finished 22nd at Bristol, failing to lead a lap for the first time this season. In 18 starts at The Auto Club Speedway, Johnson has five wins (2002, 2007, 2008, 2009-10), 12 Top 5s, 14 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 5.4. He’s led at least two laps in each of his last 10 starts. He’s qualified fourth-or-better seven times. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Johnson leads all competitors in Driver Rating (122.4), Average Running Position (5.4), Laps Led (751), Laps in the Top 15 (3,142), Fastest Laps Run (456) and Average Green Flag Speed (172.113 mph) at Fontana. This is yet another situation where Johnson is just so much more dominant at a site than any other driver. Fantasy owners that can spare a Johnson start in Tiered/Grouping format should do so.
2. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth was wrecked while running in second through no fault of his own and finished 35th at BMS. In 20 starts at ACS, Kenseth has three wins (2006, 2007, 2009), eight Top 5s and 13 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 10.3. He’s led at least 40 laps in each of his three wins. He’s qualified inside the Top Four on the grid twice. Kenseth ranks third in DR (105.2) and second in ARP (9.5). His two finishes outside the Top 10 this season have come via bad luck (engine failure and being wrecked). Aside from the lousy luck, Kenseth has transitioned to Joe Gibbs Racing better than anyone could have imagined. He’s been dominant in all four races this season and that trend will continue this weekend in California.
3. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski finished third at Bristol with a season-high 62 laps led. In four starts at Fontana, Keselowski has an Average Finish of 22.8. His best finish is 18 th (2012). He’s posted four Top 5s in his last five Nationwide appearances at the site. Keselowski ranks 26 th in DR (64.5) and 25thin ARP (21.3). Last weekend marked his fourth-straight Top 5 and if it wasn’t for a botched restart thanks to some drivers behind him, the No. 2 would’ve likely made an appearance in Victory Lane. No one is driving with more confidence and skill right now. Fantasy owners know the drill – ignore all previous stats and ride Keselowski’s hot streak.
4. Kyle Busch: Busch posted a second-place finish at BMS with a season-high 56 laps led. In 15 starts at ACS, Busch has one win (2005), six Top 5s, 10 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 11.3. He’s led at least 80 laps in each of his last two starts. He’s qualified fourth-or-better twice. Busch ranks second in DR (106.4), Laps Led (474) and Fastest Laps Run (195). He ranks third in ARP (9.6). That’s two Top 5s in a row. Now that Busch has found his footing he should be in all provisional Tiered/Grouping format lineups.
5. Kasey Kahne: Kahne started second on the grid and led 109 laps en route to his first win of 2013 at BMS. In 16 Fontana starts, Kahne has one win (2006), four Top 5s, nine Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 14.9. He led 130 laps in his lone victory at the site. He’s started fourth-or-better on the grid five times. Kahne ranks 10th in DR (92.6) and 11th in ARP (14.6). He’s had the best car back-to-back weeks now. As a bonus, he has an Average Starting Position of 3.5, his lowest being sixth. His stats don’t jump out at you, but he is very proficient at 2-mile tracks. He will come at a nice value in most formats.
6. Tony Stewart: Stewart finished 31st at Bristol, giving him two DNFs on the season. In 21 ACS starts, Stewart has two wins (2010, 2012), six Top 5s and 12 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 13.5. He’s led at least 11 laps in each of his last three starts. His besting starting position is third in the lineup (2003). Stewart ranks fourth in DR (102.4) and sixth in ARP (10.1). This ranking is more representative of Smoke’s recent successes at the site and his ability to bounce back at any time. He’s a boom-bust choice across the board.
7. Jeff Gordon: Gordon cut a tire while leading at Bristol and ended up with a 34th-place finish. In 23 starts at The Auto Club, Gordon has three wins (1997, 1999, 2004), 10 Top 5s, 11 Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 11.8. He’s led at least two laps in seven of his last eight starts. He’s qualified fourth-or-better five times. Gordon ranks seventh in DR (97.7) and fourth in ARP (9.8). Some of the 2012 bad luck seems to be creeping into this year. Despite that, Gordon has been quite fast and is obviously capable of overcoming his misfortunes on this track.
8. Denny Hamlin: Despite and ARP of 3.7, Hamlin limped to a 23rd-place finish at Bristol, barely running at the minimum speed. In 12 Fontana starts, Hamlin has one Top 5, four Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 18.5. He’s led at two laps in four of his last five starts. He qualified first (2011) and second (2012) in his last two starts. Hamlin ranks 12th in DR (89.8) and in ARP (14.6). The positive to take away from last week is Hamlin led a season-high 117 laps and continues to get stronger. He’s still flying under the Fantasy radar, but at some point he will catch fire and fly up the boards. Until then Fantasy owners would be wise to collect value on the No. 11 in all formats.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt Jr. overcame an ARP of 13.6 and finished in sixth at BMS. In 20 starts at ACS, Earnhardt Jr. has four Top 5s and five Top 10s with an Average Finish of 20.8. He led three laps in the 2010 event. His best start is fifth (2007). Earnhardt Jr. ranks 19 th in DR (75.8) and 21st in ARP (20.2). That’s a Top 10 in all four 2013 events for Junior. While bonus points via laps led and starts inside the Top Four have been limited this season, Earnhardt Jr. has been a place differential wizard with an Average Start of 21.0 and an Average Finish of 5.0.
10. Carl Edwards: Edwards finished one lap down in 18th-place at Bristol. In 15 Fontana starts, Edwards has one win (2008), seven Top 5s, 12 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 8.7. He’s led at least one lap in five starts. Edwards ranks sixth in DR (98.5) and seventh in ARP (12.3). A mediocre finish isn’t enough to deter Edwards’ momentum as of late. He remains a top-flight Tiered/Grouping format option.
11. Mark Martin: One win (1998), six Top 5s and 10 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 13.6 in 21 Fontana starts. 99.7 DR.
12. Greg Biffle: One win (2005), four Top 5s and six Top 10s with an Average Finish of 17.2 in 18 starts at ACS. 95.9 DR.
13. Kevin Harvick: One win (2011), four Top 5s and nine Top 10s with an Average Finish of 15.5 in 19 appearances at Fontana. 94.5 DR.
14. Clint Bowyer: Two Top 5s and seven Tops 10s with an Average Finish of 10.8 in 12 Auto Club starts. 91.7 DR.
15. Kurt Busch: One win (2003), four Top 5s, nine Top 10s and three poles with an Average Finish of 12.7 in 19 starts at the Auto Club. 89.2 DR.
16. Joey Logano: Finished 17th at Bristol despite a season-high ARP of 10.1. 70.9 DR.
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Has an Average Finish of 15.5 in 2013. DR N/A.
18. Ryan Newman: Has four Top 5s at Fontana. 80.9 DR.
19. Martin Truex Jr.: Has run 98.1% of Laps in the Top 15 over his last two Cup starts. 76.5 DR.
20. Paul Menard: Posted back-to-back Top 10s (Vegas and Bristol). 57.8 DR.
21. Aric Almirola: 44.3 DR.
22. A.J. Allmendinger: 69.1.
23. Marcos Ambrose: 55.1.
24. Juan Pablo Montoya: 80.0.
25. Jeff Burton: 84.3.
26. David Reutimann
27. Jamie McMurray
28. David Ragan
29. Bobby Labonte
30. Danica Patrick