The Frontstretch: Fantasy Insider: Left Coast The Place To Right Your NASCAR Ship by Jeff Wolfe -- Thursday March 21, 2013

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to California for the first time this season with Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway. It may be showing up on the schedule at just the right time for a couple of traditionally top drivers who are off to slow starts. The race on the two-mile D-shaped oval is scheduled for 200 laps and with high speeds that will reach in the 200s, meaning that engine durability will be a factor too. Then of course, there’s the more simple way of trying to predict who will do well, by just looking at who is hot at the moment. Don’t out-think yourself when it comes to these picks this week.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

Two drivers who desperately need a top five finish, if not a victory, are future teammates Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Harvick enters the race 17th in the points standings and Stewart hits the fifth race of the season mired 24th in points. But here is a bit of good news for these two guys: Both have won each of the last two races at the Fontana track. Stewart won last season and Harvick, a northern California native, won the race there in 2011. Stewart has two wins here throughout his career, including 12 top 10 finishes in 21 races. Harvick has the one victory and nine top 10 finishes in 19 races.

Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart have won the last three races at Auto Club Speedway, and are in desperate need of decent runs to get them back into the points picture. If you haven’t picked them yet, this wouldn’t be a bad weekend to do so.

Of course, if you’re on race pick limits, one of the questions is just when to pick Jimmie Johnson?. The California native has dominated at the track with five wins, including 12 top five finishes in 18 races. Sure you may want to save him for later, but he’s a tough no-pick in this case.

Two other top drivers with good records at California are Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon, each having three victories here. Gordon seems to have been bitten by bad luck early this season. And while he has shown that he can run up front, the question is can he avoid the tough break. Kenseth also has proven he can not only run up front, but win, this season.

So from these top drivers, you can take a bit of gamble on Stewart or Harvick, go super conservative and pick Johnson, or maybe compromise a bit and go with Kenseth or Gordon.

Either way, you’re covered. Just hope that Toyota’s engine issues don’t rear their ugly head, or Hendrick has a horrible day under the hood.

MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS

The only question here may be engine durability, or maybe avoiding speeding on pit road, but if there’s a driver who is clearly ready to win a race it has to be Kyle Busch. He’s been a bit snake bit this season with engine woes and then speeding on pit road penalties. In the last two races at Fontana, Busch has easily led the most laps at 231 and has two top five finishes. He’s my pick to win this week.

One name that pops up on both the most current and career top finishers at California is Carl Edwards. In the last two races there he has an average finish of 5.50, and then in his 15 career races there, he has an average finish of 8.73, second behind Johnson’s 5.39. Edwards has one win, including seven top five finishes and 12 top 10 finishes. And he’s in a bit of a rebound season in 2013, already with one victory, so he may be looking for No. 2 Sunday.

If you want to go with the hot car/driver theory, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne are also two guys to consider. Martin, and Brian Vickers last week, have driven the No. 55 car to the fourth spot in the owners points standings. Martin has one win, including six top five finishes in 21 career races at California. Kahne also has one win at California in 16 races, including nine top 10s, and he’s coming off the win at Bristol last week. So, you know that team is feeling good about itself.

“Oh you’re not going to pick me this week? Yeah, okay.”

DARK HORSES

Always the tough pick here. Certainly Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has established himself as the class of what is considered the C group in the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues on Yahoo. But with a nine-race limit, he can’t be picked every week. There is no Trevor Bayne or Austin Dillon entered this week either, so no luck there. That means the other two obvious choices are A.J. Allmendinger and Danica Patrick.

While Patrick had a good finish at Daytona to start the season, she has not been competitive in the other three races. The one case that can be made for her for this week is that she may be more comfortable on the bigger and faster tracks. She will be a definite alternative at the other three restrictor plate races this season, and while California isn’t a plate track, it is a fast track. She has competed here several times before, and had one of her best early runs in a stockcar going in a Nationwide race before James Buescher hooked her into the wall in the closing laps on the backstretch.

Looks like A.J. has his confidence up as well as his comfort level…just as he’s getting ready to leave for some open wheel action. Still a solid pick this week at Auto Club Speedway.

Allmendinger continues to impress when he drives the No. 51 car owned by James Finch. The car has had three different drivers this season and sits eighth in the owners points. Allmendinger’s NASCAR schedule will also be interrupted by his IndyCar Series commitment with Roger Penske. So, he’s not a bad choice to use when he’s available.

One other option in this category is Casey Mears. He finished 15th at Bristol, and while he doesn’t have a great track record at California with an average finish of 29th in the last two races, the No. 13 team seems to be on the upswing this season and has at least been somewhat competitive.

THE REARVIEW MIRROR

Bristol can be a bit of a tough place to pick, because one of your drivers could be having a good day, maybe ready to finish in the top 10, when all of sudden there is a bumping incident and then he or she is relegated to a 20-something finish.

However, the KwaK entry in our two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues had the best day with Kyle Busch in second, Brad Keselowsk*i in third, *Kurt Busch in fourth and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in 16th last week. That put the day’s total at 358 points.

The overall points leader in the two leagues remains the Hurtubise entry with an even 1,000 points. The next best score is the 6­_99RFR entry with 954.

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