DailyFanRacing NASCAR Preview - Auto Club Speedway
The Daytona 500 is in the books, and now we return to your regularly scheduled NASCAR programming. It’s Dustin Maybin (@CUPharmDFS) back again with your weekly DailyFanRacing newsletter!
Weekend in Review
Kyle Busch had the ever-elusive Daytona 500 victory slip out of his hands on the final lap of regulation when Daniel Suarez spun off of turn 4. That’s twice in a four-day span that Suarez has screwed the #8 team for anyone counting. In the end, underdog Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. reversed his recent superspeedway misfortunes and came away with the Harley J. Earl trophy.
It was a wild week in Daytona, both on the track and in our DailyFanRacing community. Check out a couple of the big wins from this past week by our members!
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NASCAR is heading out to the west coast for some fun in (hopefully) sunny southern California. Auto Club Speedway, also commonly referred to as Fontana, will host the Xfinity and Cup Series this weekend for likely its final time before being converted to a short track for future races. Though two miles in length, the style of racing we will see is going to be completely different than what we saw in Daytona.
Fontana is a 2.0-mile track with a rough surface that degrades tires quickly relative to most other tracks. When the first team comes to pit road, you can rest assured the rest of the field will dive onto it soon thereafter. Thus, short pitting (with the purpose of getting fresh tires before the competitors) can be a successful strategy. It is also often referred to as a “driver’s track” due to the vast amount of racing grooves available.
While it should provide more passing opportunities, the racing does get spread out at times with the most mayhem coming on restarts.
There are a few different angles to look at when researching Auto Club Speedway. Going solely off track history is inconclusive for several reasons. 2022 saw the debut of the Next Gen car, and there was no race here in 2021 due to California’s travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are we really going to trust the races from 2020 and before as our main data points? Fontana and Michigan are the only 2.0-mile “intermediate” tracks on the circuit. Michigan, however, has low tire wear, making it tough to compare.
The best perspective in my opinion is to look at other steep banked, high wear tracks. Comparable tracks include Homestead, Darlington, and the previous Atlanta configuration, all of which drivers could produce great lap times when riding the wall. Another track that could be analyzed for comparison is Richmond. Though it’s a short track where braking patterns and car setups are completely different, the amount of tire wear is similar. It’s not the best comparison, but data shows that drivers who perform well on a high tire wear track seem to be consistently good on the other comparable tracks as well.
Though every driver is different, those with a dirt track racing background tend to do well at tracks like Fontana. They are used to running close to the wall, as well as searching for different grooves throughout the race. The easiest examples of this are Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick, the two main dominators here last spring. Likewise, Chase Briscoe said after the race that he loves the track because it reminds him of being on the dirt. Other drivers with an extensive history on dirt include Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, and Daytona 500 champion, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Production Alliance Group 300 - Xfinity Series
Saturday, February 25, 2023
The Xfinity Series will race at 5:00pm ET on Saturday night. The race is scheduled for 150 laps (300 miles), yielding a maximum possible 102.3 dominator points. Unfortunately, same-day practice and qualifying are also back in effect. The time crunch makes it difficult from a DFS lineup building perspective, but that’s where DailyFanRacing has an edge. Our team of coaches will have you ready for more takedowns, while others make mistakes under pressure.
In last year’s race, Cole Custer dominated in his SHR-affiliated Bobby Dotter machine. He returned to the series full-time in 2023 after his demotion from the Cup Series in favor of Ryan Preece. After mediocre results in the premier series, many forget just how good Custer has been in the Xfinity Series, where he racked up 7 wins, 6 poles, and 24 top 10s in his final full-time season in 2019.
JR Motorsports also had all four teams finish in the top 8 last year and consistently dominated the intermediate tracks in 2022. Of course, other elite teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Kaulig Racing will still be in contention, but with their top drivers matriculating to the Cup Series, I’ll be taking a wait-and-see approach before choosing them to win anything.
Fun Fact: In each of the past 23 Xfinity Series races at Fontana, the race winner has started no worse than 8th.
Pala Casino 400 - Cup Series
Sunday, February 26, 2023
The green flag for Sunday’s race is scheduled to drop at 3:30 pm ET. The race length is set for 200 laps (400 miles), yielding a maximum 137.3 dominator points.
After a full season in the new car, we are more prepared to analyze and predict this race. Last year at Fontana was a bit of a different story, however. In the practice and qualifying sessions, past Cup Series champions like Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick among others lost control of their cars. This was somewhat expected given the tighter steering and change in body structure of the new “Next Gen” cars, but it was still odd to see veterans struggle so much in practice.
The race did not fare much better either as several drivers dealt with flat tires. While flat tires and loose wheels were a small issue all season, we must remember that they were even more significant at this time last year. I mean, drivers were going multiple laps down because they couldn’t make it to pit road after spinning out without assistance. It was exciting to see some unexpected names like Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones lead throughout the race, but as we’ve become accustomed to seeing in his home state, Kyle Larson found his way to the front, coming away with his first win of the season.
Given the variance seen last spring, it isn’t exactly the best data point, but for the most part, the same drivers rose to the top. I would prioritize performance near the end of 2022 since teams obviously improved as they became more comfortable with the new car, followed closely by overall history on high tire wear tracks and practice speed on Saturday.
Fun fact: Over the past 10 Cup Series races at Auto Club Speedway, only 8% of drivers achieving a top 10 DraftKings score started the race in 30th or worse. 7 of the 8 instances were by a prior Cup Series champion.
I love this track type, both from an entertainment perspective and DFS perspective. Tire fall-off makes it more difficult on the drivers, and we get a chance to see the best in the world with their hands full. The added component of tire wear also makes DFS analysis more challenging, but we’re always up for the challenge.
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