Pepsi 500 fantasy NASCAR preview

by Bob Frykholm on August 28, 2008 @ 14:25:53 PDT


Auto Club Speedway is a two-mile track that is a challenge for engines. The cars carry quite a bit of speed going into the turns mostly because of the long straightaways. The other factors that will keep the engineers up late this week are the added weight on the right side of the new cars and the higher center of gravity. This prevents the cars from turning and rolling into the corners. This is not an easy track to keep the cars in tune.

The race after the Pepsi 500 sets the field for the Chase. Last year's race had 11 cautions as drivers raced aggressively hoping to qualify for the Chase. You can expect to see more of the same this year as many top drivers sit in uncertainty.

Location: Fontana, Calif.

Shape: D-shaped oval

Length: 2.0 miles

Laps: 250

Banking: 14-degree turns; 11-degree front stretch; 3-degree back stretch

Table: Do not bench

Leading the Pack

Ryan Newman | No. 12 Kodak Dodge | Penske Racing

Newman gained two positions in his NASCAR Sprint Series Cup standings, moving up to 15th with his sixth-place finish last week. That race marked a much needed top-10 finish. The good news is that he ran well at his last visit to Auto Club, finishing 10th. In his 11 trips he has an average finish of 18.6 without a win. He does have four top-10 and two top-five finishes. Newman is one of the drivers who could still qualify so look for him to run a strong race. It's tough to call Newman a favorite given his erratic season, but it would be a mistake to sit him.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Gillett Evernham Motorsports

Auto Club is a track that Kahne has won at. His average finish of 13.7 in nine starts compares fairly well with the other analyzed drivers. He has six top-10 and three top-five finishes there. In his last running at Auto Club he placed ninth in this year's Auto Club 500 race. Kahne sits in 14th position in the standings. His last two finishes of 40th were potentially disastrous (engine failure and an accident), but he has run hot at times this season. Kahne has proven he can win, but he can be streaky. Still, selecting Kahne looks to be a wise choice given his positive history at Fontana.

Clint Bowyer | No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

A slow beginning to the season had many experts wondering if Bowyer was a one-year wonder. He sat well out of the Chase standings and was struggling on the track. He currently resides in 12th place in the standings, square on the Chase bubble. He has run only five times at Auto Club with two top-10 finishes, one top-five and no victories. His record has been very consistent, having not finished below 20th. In his last race he came in 19th. He has the talent and resources to stay in the Chase. Selecting a driver with Bowyer's consistent history at California makes sense, and he could be aggressive this week since he needs to maintain his position in the standings.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Vickers has proven that he can run competitively this season, but it will be tough to qualify for the Chase with his 16th-place standing. At Auto Club he has a fair amount of experience having run nine times with an average finish of 17.1. He has improved his record for the last three visits as he has competed with an average result of 9.7 along with two top-10 finishes. He finished 20th in his last race, failing to make up ground for the Chase. Racing Vickers this week does merit some consideration when you consider his strong record in the last three races there.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Truex currently sits in 17th position in the Cup standings and has yet to establish himself. Auto Club appears to be an excellent opportunity for him to make a statement. He has run only five times at Auto Club but has performed well there. His average finish doesn't appear to be very good at 17.4, but it is skewed with a 42nd-place finish due to an engine failure. He has two straight sixth-place showings at this track. Based on track momentum, Truex appears poised for a top-10 finish and is a sneaky choice for your team this week.

Drivers to Keep an Eye On

Bobby Labonte | No. 43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker/Totino's Dodge | Petty Enterprises

Auto Club is a track that Labonte has had some success with. In his last six races Labonte's average finish was only 23.5, compared to his career average of 17.9. His last run at Auto Club netted him a 25th-place finish. However, he has five top-10 finishes and a wealth of experience. Labonte is a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He is a thinking man's driver who makes very few mistakes on the track and is a driver to consider this week if you need one from a lower driver pool.

David Ragan | No. 6 AAA Insurance Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Ragan's history at Auto Club has shown some consistent results. He has run only three times at the track, but he has shown competitive finishes with an average finish of 14.0. He finished in 14th position the last time he ran at Auto Club. Running only three times does not give him a great deal amount of experience, but he sits one position away from qualifying for the Chase. He has nine top-10 finishes this season, and there is some historical indication that he will be able to run a strong race this week at Auto Club. Ragan looks to be a solid choice.

Jamie McMurray | No. 26 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

McMurray was counted on to be a serious contender for Chase qualification. He races for one of the top teams and has the experience to be a top driver on the circuit. He currently sits well out of competition in 18th place but has shown some glimpses of dominant driving this season. His record at Auto Club is fairly good with an average finish of 13.7 with five top-10 finishes in his 10 starts. However, in his last four races there he has averaged 23.75 in his finishes. McMurray's record shows that he can run competitively there, though. Select him if you have a spot for him as a deep driver.

Casey Mears | No. 5 Cheez-It/CARQUEST Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Mears has 10 starts at Auto Club; he has compiled two top-10 finishes without a win. In those outings, Mears has an average finish of 23.4. In his last race there he finished 42nd, due to an accident, but he came in 15th in his previous run at Fontana. Currently he sits in a disappointing 24th place in the standings. Mears is a talented racer who races for arguably the best team in NASCAR but just hasn't been able to showcase his abilities. He's a wild card for this week, but if you need a boom-or-bust driver, he could be your choice.

Joe Nemechek | No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing

Nemechek sits well outside qualifying for the Chase in 36th place. He has not had a top-10 finish this but has one pole to his credit. His average finish at Auto Club is 25.6 with one top-10 finish in 16 starts. His last visit at this track netted a 34th-place finish, but he came in 14th at the 2007 Auto Club 500 and recorded his only top-10 in the 2005 Sony HD 500. It would be difficult to select Nemechek based on his record this season or performance at this track, but desperate owners could take a look here. Nemechek needs a strong run to salvage a disappointing season. He is in a position to spoil the hopes of drivers who sit on the bubble for qualification.

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About Bob Frykholm

Frykholm has been a KFFL contributor since February 2008.

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