The Sprint Cup Series moves on to California Sunday with a 3:00pm start time onFOX. The Sprint Cup circuit visits this two-mile oval just once a year, with the 2013 event being a most memorable one.
Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin got into on the final lap, with Logano eventually winning out in the personal battle and sending Hamlin and his car into the inside wall. Hamlin took a hard head-on hit and suffered a back injury that caused him to miss the next four races. Even though Hamlin returned, he clearly wasn’t the same kind of driver he was before the accident — at least not until he won the final race of the season at Homestead.
One of the questions here is whether Hamlin, if the opportunity presents itself, will exact some type of revenge on Logano. It’s not uncommon at times that if one driver is trying to get revenge on another, the so-called innocent bystanders can get caught up in the drama and the wall as well. How that scenario might play out is just one thing to consider when making your picks for this week.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Just coming to California has been a good scenario for Kyle Busch in the last two races there. He has won and finished second in each of the last two visits and has led what is easily a series-high 205 laps in those races. At the beginning of the season with the new Chase format emphasizing wins, many thought it would benefit a driver like Busch who takes pride in running up front and has the capability of going on a winning streak or winning three of four races. That’s always possible with him.
In the first four races however, Busch has finished in the top 10 just once and sits 15th in the points standings. It’s not time for an all-out panic for Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing, but you know they don’t want to be biting their fingernails all summer just hoping he can get a win, or be in the top 16 in points to get into the Chase. If Busch races the way he has the last two years at California, the team’s Chase concerns may well be taken care of Sunday.
When it comes to Auto Club Speedway one driver who can’t be left out is home-state favorite Jimmie Johnson. While he hasn’t been at his best in the last two trips there, his overall history is just too good to ignore. Johnson has five wins in 19 races in Fontana, with a series-leading average finish of 5.74, and 851 laps led. Johnson has nine other top 10 finishes to go with those wins and his worst finish in those 19 races is 16th.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was a off last week after starting with a win and two second-place finishes. He could well get back on track this week in California. He has finished second and third in the last two races there and while he has yet to win, it would be a surprise not to see Junior running at least in the top 10 in this one.
Another top driver to look out for in his home state is Kevin Harvick. While he does have the win at Phoenix this season, his other final finishes aren’t really indicative of how fast he has been. Harvick has had some success at California in his career with one win and eight other top 10 finishes in 20 career races there. With the way he has run in the first four races and that little extra desire to win in his home state, Harvick has to be considered a serious contender too.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
A driver who has a tendency to get red hot when he and his team get things going isCarl Edwards. Edwards was impressive on the short track at Bristol last week and he’s been more than respectable in the last two years at California. Edwards has finished fourth and fifth in the last two races there. Overall he has one win and 12 other top 10 finishes in 16 career races. Edwards’ average finish in those races is 8.44, second among active drivers behind Johnson.
While Tony Stewart didn’t win at Bristol Sunday, he did finish fourth and seemed to get stronger as the race went on, particularly after the final rain delay. There have been questions about how healthy Stewart’s leg has been after missing almost the final four months of last season, following a sprint car accident. Stewart did win at California in 2012 and has two career wins at the track in 22 races. Stewart has also led 332 laps in those races with 11 other top 10 finishes.
In case you are wondering just how Hamlin and Logano fare at this track, they have been pretty much in the middle of the pack. For Logano, in seven career races there he has two top-five finishes and has led 41 laps with a best finish of third. For Hamlin, in 13 career races at California he has one top five and three other top 10 finishes. He also has led 76 laps there in his career and also has started on the pole once with a career average finish of 19th.
Two other drivers who have been more than respectable at California the last two years have been Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman. Biffle has finished sixth in each of the last two trips there, but did not lead a lap in either of those races. Newman has been seventh and 10th in the last two races there, but that was with Stewart-Haas Racing, not his current No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team.
THE DARK HORSES
There look to be five possible choices this week within this group. Of course you’ve got top Rookie of The Year candidates Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson along with fellow rookie Justin Allgaier. Also, for this week there is Brian Scott and yes, even though some of you hate to admit it, Danica Patrick is an option here, too.
Dillon and Larson stand out here and what they each did at Bristol last week was impressive, with Larson finishing 10th and Dillon 11th. Larson actually challenged for the lead a couple of times, before settling back and taking 10th. He’s showed without question he has the ability to drive up front and I’m saying now that he will win a race this year. I don’t know if it will be California or not, but he’s already shown he’s capable of winning at any track.
Dillon on the other hand found himself a lap down Saturday, and managed to get back on the lead lap and then took advantage of the break to end up 11th. That was impressive too as he and his crew didn’t give in and gradually made the car better for him.
Scott is an option because he is only running a partial Sprint Cup schedule and this is one of his races. And if you are on pick limits (for example Yahoo! gives you nine races per driver for the season) then this may be an opportunity to pick someone else and save Larson and Dillon for later in the season.
Patrick was pretty respectable last week at Bristol in 19th and she has definitely shown progress from last year in these early races. She finished 26th in this race last year and I am not predicting she is going to win. But the real question you have to ask is if she can finish in the top 20 and not kill your fantasy team the week you decide to choose her, and this may well be one of those weeks.
And lastly, too, don’t forget about Allgaier in the No. 51. While the team has not performed all that great yet, he did manage an 18th place finish at Bristol, so he too has shown the team capable of top 20 runs.
In the Frontstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo!, Team Stallknecht took the overall lead among the 70 entries at 1,091 points, just ahead of bundys bombers at 1,083, Migrainehead’s Chargers at 1,069 and Grid Dolls and Ace Racin’ at 1,035.
For the week , Team Stallknecht had the top score with 349 points with the picks of race winner Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin in sixth, Kasey Kahne in eighth and Justin Allgaier in 18th.
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