While qualifying up front is never a bad thing at any track, drivers have been able to win at Auto Club Speedway from a variety of starting spots lately. In the last six races at the 2.0-mile oval, three winners have started inside the top 10, but three winners have also started outside the top 20. Surprisingly, only one winner during the stretch has started in the top five, and since the Cup Series began coming to the track in 1997, only one driver has won from the front row. The moral of the story is that drivers with fast cars can usually get to the front.
Speaking of drivers with fast cars, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth powered their way to the top two spots in the final driver rankings after backing up their top-five efforts in qualifying with top-five speeds during Saturday's practices. Both drivers have also had success at ACS in the past. Busch is a former winner, and he has finished third and second in his last two starts. Meanwhile, Kenseth's 10.3 average finish in the third best among active drivers, and he has gone to Victory Lane three times at the track since 2007.
Another former winner that crept into the top 10 after the practices Saturday was Greg Biffle. In fact, he topped the charts in the first session of the afternoon and was back in the top 10 in Happy Hour. He also qualified second for Auto Club 400, but an engine change will drop him all the way to the rear of the field. Still, the numbers say that Biffle isn't out of the running because he is starting at the back, and with five finishes of 11th or better in his last seven starts at ACS, owners can expect solid production.
As far as sleeper options go, pre-race favorites Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger solidified themselves as the top options after both cracked the top five in the first session Saturday and both cracked the top 15 in Happy Hour. Keep in mind that Allmendinger has finished in the top 15 in his last two starts at Auto Club Speedway and in both his starts in so far in 2013. Meanwhile, Busch has a 12.3 average finish at ACS for his career, and he had one of his two top-10s with Phoenix Racing last season at the track. As a result, Busch slid into the top 15 and Allmendinger into the top 20 of the final rankings. Either driver is an excellent option for owners looking to round out their rosters this weekend.
On the flip side, Carl Edwards was one big name that saw his stock fall a bit after average times during both practice sessions Saturday. He failed to crack the top 10 in either practice, and although his 8.7 average finish at ACS is the second best in the series at ACS, he didn't really show enough speed to be considered a serious threat for the win. Given his track record, don't be surprised if he finds a way to sneak into the top 10 Sunday. However, Edwards did slide out of the top five in the driver rankings, and owners may want to temper expectations just a bit.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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