Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Friday 3/15/19
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By Micah Roberts
Sunday's Auto Club 400 on Auto Club Speedway's 2-mile layout in Fontana, California will end NASCAR's three-race West Coast swing. It'll be the fifth race of the season and the race package they'll be using with aero ducts and 550 horsepower that was used at Las Vegas, which is a good handicapping starting point. They used a similar package at Atlanta without the aero-ducts, but the Atlanta results might be just as telling because of the asphalt.
“Auto Club Speedway is by far one of my favorite tracks we go to," said Kevin Harvick who won there in 2011. "It’s top three on my list as far as tracks that I’m excited to go to, just for the fact that the asphalt is so worn out. It is very similar to Atlanta in a much different shape of a racetrack.
"The crowd has been great over the last few years since we went from two races down to one. It has changed the whole vibe at Auto Club Speedway. It’s in my home state. It’s a big week and I know, from a driver standpoint, Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway are right up there at the top of everybody’s list because there is so much falloff and the asphalt is so worn out.”
Are Fontana and Atlanta all that similar as Harvick suggests?
“I don’t know," said Kyle Larson, who also hails from California. "Auto Club is a totally different race track. It’s a worn-out surface, but it doesn’t race anything like Atlanta. Nothing really does. Atlanta is so unique. So, I don’t know. But, it’s been a place where I’ve ran well and I think the bigger the track, the more worn out it is, seems to suit me. So, I would hope that we can go there and be strong. We’re going to learn each and every week and get better every week, too. So, we’ll see how it goes.”
Larson and Harvick are both basically saying the same thing. Tires are going to be an issue this weekend like Atlanta.
Larson is going to be one of those drivers to watch closely this weekend during practices and one that you might want to include in your betting strategy because of his past history at Fontana and also what he did at Atlanta last month leading a race-high 142 laps. He finished 12th due to being penalized for speeding on pit road. However, he managed his tires very well.
Larson has some nice history at Fontana, which includes one of his four career Cup wins. His first Cup start there in 2014 saw him finish second. He won in 2017 and was second last season. He's also got two wins at Fontana's 2-mile sister track in Michigan. And for good measure to show how much he likes Fontana, he's also has won two Xfinity races there.
A Chevrolet has to step up at some point, right? NASCAR's new era of parity this season with the new package has produced four different winners in four races between two different organizations and two different manufacturers. Chip Ganassi Racing has looked the best so far for Chevrolet, especially Larson's teammate Kurt Busch who is one of three drivers to have top-five finishes between the two 1.5-mile tracks at Atlanta and Las Vegas.
And speaking of the elder Busch brother, he's been very good at Fontana at all stages of his career and he's 20-to-1 to win. In 2002, he finished second in perhaps the greatest duel ever at Fontana. The next season Busch won and he's averaged a 12th-place finish in 25 Cup starts and he's also got a Truck series trophy there in 2000.
Kyle Busch won his first career Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in 2005 as a rookie and between the three touring NASCAR Series, he's accumulated 199 career wins. What are his chances of winning No. 200 this weekend?
“I’d assess it is pretty good, I guess," said Busch. "It would certainly be nice to get it done on the West Coast swing, but it’s not a necessity. It will happen when it happens and you can’t push too hard and do stupid things or make mistakes in order to think too much about that number. You just have to let the race kind of play out and let it come to you and we’ll see where we are at. Really looking forward to Fontana, it’s been a great place for me over the years and would love to get the Interstate Batteries Toyota back to victory lane there again no matter what number win it ends up being.”
Kyle has been better than his brother at Fontana with three Cup wins in 20 starts while averaging a 10th-place average. He also has six Xfinity Series wins and two Truck Series wins there. He was sixth at Atlanta and then third at Las Vegas. He had a speeding penalty on pit road that kept him from being the likely winner at Las Vegas. Busch won at Phoenix last week and he gets greedy with wins after tasting victory. He's gone back-to-back Cup races with wins multiple times in his career including three straight, twice.
At this stage last season it was Harvick that was riding a three-race win streak. He finished 35th to end the incredible run, but he's been really good on his home track. But what makes him the Westgate SuperBook's 9/2 co-favorite with Kyle Busch is what he did at Atlanta and Las Vegas. He finished fourth-place in each leading 45 laps at Atlanta and a race-high 88 laps at Las Vegas.
It's hard betting the favorites even though knowing they're the best, but taking long shots to win at Fontana has been a bad investment over the years with most being elite drivers winning. In 2002, the 25-to-1 long shot winner was a rookie named Jimmie Johnson. It was his first career win and it was impressive how he outraced Kurt Busch for the win. He's racked up a track record six wins since then, the other five coming at 7-to-1 or less.
But when looking at the odds board, I always want to make a case for a couple of drivers at 50-to-1 or higher based on seeing a few signs they're capable of running with the lite. How about Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (50/1) with a revived Roush Fenway Racing program excelling with the new package.
“Auto Club is a rough two-mile track and is different than any track we’ve raced at so far this season," Stenhouse said. "We had a strong weekend at Las Vegas with the new package so I’m looking for that to translate to this weekend. We’ve been showing up each weekend with fast cars as soon as we roll them off the truck. Last year, we had a loose wheel which caused us a decent finish so if we can execute on pit-road and keep dialing our Fastenal Ford in, I’m certain we will end this west coast swing on a strong note.”
The confidence of a driver is always nice to hear when betting. But the substance and cause for a wager is his sixth-place finish at Las Vegas three weeks ago.
Another longshot I expect to run well is Austin Dillon because they're using the same package they tested in the preseason at Las Vegas that was fast in all three sessions. And then he was fast at Las Vegas three weeks ago but finished 21st after getting a penalty putting him a lap down that he could never recover from with no cautions other than between stages. His 10th-place finish at Fontana last season was a career-best and he won a 2016 Xfinity Series race there as well.
Dillon is 80-to-1 to win this week so take away the money from just one of your expected beers purchased on the Las Vegas strip -- about $9 -- and throw it on an option that has a legitimate shot to cash. And then take the rest of your allotted beer money and head over to the Stage Door Casino (across from Bally's) or Casino Royale (next to Harrah's) to get the most beer bang for your buck. If he doesn't win, at least you have a souvenir for him to sign someday and you have also saved a couple $20 spots on beer. It's a win-win situation!
Atlanta and Las Vegas are the focal points to review more so than past history at Fontana, and it's important to note that a Penske Mustang won both of those in the past month. But in each case, they didn't qualify well and took over the race late and took advantage of mistakes made by cars almost as good as theirs. Or at least that's the way I see it.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (9/2)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (9/2)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
5) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (7/1)
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By Dan Dobish
Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS stays out on the left coast, moving from Arizona to Auto Club Speedway for the 400-miler from Fontana, Calif. on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (19/4) arrives in California fresh off a victory at ISM Raceway last weekend in the TicketGuardian 500. For the haters of the driver of the No. 18 machine, you might not want to tune in this week, either. According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Busch has a 111.1 Driver Rating in four starts over the past five season at Auto Club. Remember, he missed the 2015 installment due to injuries suffered in Daytona earlier in that season. Rowdy won back-to-back stops at Auto Club in March 2013 and March 2014. He also took checkers in the Sony HD 500 back in 2005 for his only other win at the track in the Cup Series. He has managed a sparkling 10.4 Average-Finish Position (AFP) in 20 career starts in Fontana, posting nine top-5 finishes and just six outside of the Top 10. He has led 673 laps, second among all active drivers, and he has just one DNF. Over his past seven starts at Auto Club he has two wins, a runner-up, two third-place finishes, an eighth-place finish and the outlier, a 25th-place showing in 2016, his first race at the track after missing the 2015 version.
The drought continues for Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson (40/1) has some pretty long odds, which is a product of his 63-race winless drought heading into ACS rather than the Golde State native's dominance at the track in the past. He won at this track as recently as March 2016, working his way up to the front despite starting 19th, the worst starting position of any driver since 2011 to win in Fontana. Johnson has dominated this race in past years, posting six wins, 13 top-5s, 17 top-10s and 980 laps led while posting a 7.2 AFP to lead all drivers. He has never finished lower than 24th in his 24 starts, either. He has had some shaky results here lately, but he still checks in third among all active drivers in Driver Rating (103.7), according to NASCAR's Loop Data.
JGR's Martin Truex Jr. (7/1) had some rough results early in his career at ACS, but he is a quick study. He starting dominated with the Furniture Row Racing team, posting an eighth-place showing in 2015, a fourth-place run in 2017 and he took checkers at this race last March. As such, he checks in second in Driver Rating 103.7 over the past five years in Fontana, running 72.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, including a circuit-best 224 laps led. He has made 18 starts at the SoCal track, checking in 20th or higher in 11 of his 18 starts. His overall 18.2 AFP is rather marginal, but remember that a large chunk of that history was in inferior equipment. Since his alliance with JGR at Furniture Row he has really taken off.
JGR's Erik Jones (25/1) has been a quick study at Auto Club Speedway. He has made just two Cup starts at the track, finishing seventh and 12th last season, good for a 9.5 AFP. He didn't lead any laps, but he was right in the front pack all afternoon, running a ridiculous 97.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He also has three Xfinity starts under his belt at the track, posting a 7.3 AFP with two top-5s. His veteran teammate Denny Hamlin (15/1) is never a driver bettors or fantasy players should overlook, especially at ACS. He ranks sixth with a 99.3 Driver Rating over the past five years in Fontana, including a sixth-place showing last season, and a third-place run in 2016. This is a place where Hamlin has some bad memories, too. Remember, a last-lap dust-up in 2013 with Joey Logano (6/1) resulted in the No. 11 driver clapping the wall head on, suffering a fractured L1 vertabra in the process.
Speaking of Logano, the driver of the No. 22 car has had plenty of success at this track. He has four straight top-10 finishes, and consecutive top-5 showings while managing an outstanding 14.0 AFP in 12 career Cup starts. While he has never won in a Cup car, he has three victories at Auto Club Speedway on the Xfinity Series, while finishing inside the Top 5 in eight of his 10 career starts on that circuit with 547 laps led. He knows how to qualify well at this track, and he knows how to finish. Teammate Brad Keselowski (7/1) is also among the favorites for the ACS 400. He has just one win in 10 career starts with four top-10 finishes and 39 laps led, but he has a mediocre 15.6 AFP and half of his career Cup starts in California have found him finishing between 21st and 26th. He has learned over the years, though, and many of his marginal results came early in his career, as expected. His past four runs resulted in a win in 2015, a ninth-place finish in 2016, a runner-up in 2017 and a fourth-place showing in 2018.
Penske third-wheel Ryan Blaney (20/1) has three Cup starts under his belt, posting mixed results. He was 35th in his debut in 2016, but he was ninth in 2017 and eighth in 2018, Might we continues to see more improvement this season? Another young driver who has been a quick study in a Cup car is Hendrick's Chase Elliott (20/1). In three Cup runs at ACS he has managed a 95.2 Driver Rating with five laps led and a 10.7 AFP. Teammate William Byron (100/1) posted a 15th-place run in his Cup debut last March, and is one to watch at a very good price. He also has one start in Xfinity at ACS, running to a fifth-place showing in his only appearance on that circuit.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (19/4) is one of the co-favorites for this weekend's race, similar to last week's betting board. He wasn't terrible at ISM Raceway with another top-10 finish, but he stunningly didn't lead a lap in what is arguably his best track. He hasn't won at Auto Club since 2011, but he did have back-to-back runner-up runs in 2015 and 2016. In 25 career starts he has a won, six top-5s and 11 top-10s with a 15.8 AFP and 237 laps led. Teammate Clint Bowyer (20/1) has never won at California, but he has been good. In 18 career starts he has three top-5 finishes, eight top-10 showings and a solid 13.5 AFP. He was a runner-up in the fall race back in 2010 when this track hosted the series twice, and he was third in 2016.
SHR's Aric Almirola (20/1) hasn't had a good history at Fontana, although it can be argued he hasn't had very good equipment at his disposal, either. The 'Cuban Missile' has looked like an entirely new driver with the SHR crew. In 11 career starts he has just four top-20s with a dismal 25.8 AFP. That 11th-place run came in 2015, and he was 12th last season.
Other racers to watch include Ganassi's Kyle Larson (6/1), who has a win in March 2017 and two runner-ups in five career starts at the track. Teammate Kurt Busch (25/1) has fit in well with the Ganassi stable, and bettors and DFS players shouldn't sleep on him. The elder Busch has managed a win, seven top-5s and 12 top-10s in 25 career starts with a 12.8 AFP, fourt-best among drivers with at least four career starts at the track. Busch has also led 298 laps while capturing the pole four times, better than anyone in the history of the track.
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