Auto Club Speedway Preview: By the Fantasy Numbers

Scott EngelCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2009

Listen LIVE to RotoRacing with Scott Engel, every Wednesday on from 3:30 to 4 pm ET. To hear the archived version of this week’s Fontana preview show with Kerry Murphey of THE FINAL LAP, click here.

The results of the Daytona 500 were not indicative of how the 2009 Fantasy NASCAR season should truly play out. It’s a long season, and it may be a long time before you see Michael Waltrip finish in the Top 10 again.

A handful of premier drivers were knocked out of the running for the win because of a big wreck, and it’s very questionable whether Matt Kenseth would have won a full event, not one that was called off early because of rain. Your standings may look out of whack after one week, but things should start returning to normal this week at Fontana.

Jimmie Johnson does his best work later in the schedule, but he should return to the top of the pack this week after another disappointing outing at Daytona. Johnson finished 31st in the 500, but Fontana is one of his best tracks, and he has rebounded from frustration at Daytona before.

He has three wins and eight Top-Five finishes in 12 California starts. He took the pole in both of last year’s races at the site, finishing second in the first event of 2008 there, and winning the second race in August with a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0. DR is the ultimate stat for fantasy NASCAR use.

A complete explanation and spotlight on the formula can be found here. All you need to do is register for a FREE account, with no strings attached. Johnson’s feat of achieving a perfect DR was only the seventh such instance since the stat was introduced in 2005.

Johnson leads the most important Loop Data categories since their inception in ’05 at Fontana, covering the past eight races at the site. He leads all drivers at Fontana since 2005 in Driver Rating (119.1), Average Running Position (6.3), Fastest Laps Run (262), Average Green-Flag Speed (171.977) and Laps in the Top 15 (1,880, or 93.8 percent).

Hendrick Motorsports leads all teams with seven wins at Fontana, three by Jeff Gordon. Yet, Gordon has not won at Fontana since 2004, and his DR of 94.0 is ninth among all current drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a DR of 77.3 at Fontana, which is 20th in the field. He has four DNFs and four Top 10s in 14 California starts, so he is the Hendrick Motorsports driver you should avoid in tiered and salary cap leagues this week.

Johnson may be the best single driver to pinpoint for this week’s event, but Roush-Fenway Racing can outdo HMS for overall performance and more quality picks. Kenseth ranks second in DR at Fontana (110.8), and there is already talk about him delivering back-to-back wins to open the 2009 season.

I wouldn’t bet against Johnson, but Kenseth can easily anchor many fantasy squads this time, even though he lucked out and didn’t have the best car at Daytona. Roush-Fenway has won the last four February events at Fontana, including two by Kenseth in 2006 and 2007.

Kenseth has seven consecutive finishes inside the Top 10 at Fontana, and in the past eight races there, he ranks second in Average Running Position (8.3) and Laps in the Top 15 (1,727 or 86.1 percent).

His teammate, Carl Edwards, will certainly push Kenseth for a top spot after finishing 18th at Daytona. Edwards has six Top Fives and eight Top 10s in nine California starts, and he won the February event at the site in 2008. His DR of 105.3 in the past eight races at Fontana ranks fourth, and he ranks second in Average Green Flag Speed (171.652) during that span.

Greg Biffle was a non-factor at Daytona, but he has a win at the site and finished second place in the second ’08 race at the site. Biffle’s DR of 98.1 ranks seventh, so he should vie for a Top 10 finish this week. He does have 160 of the Fastest Laps Run at Fontana since ’05.

Kyle Busch clearly had the best car at Daytona, and his DR of 107.6 ranks third in the past eight Fontana races, so look for him to finish inside the Top 5. He also ranks third in Average Running Position (9.4) and Laps in the Top 15 (1,657, or 82.6 percent) during that span.

Busch has seven consecutive Top 10 finishes at California. Among the middle-tier drivers, give strong consideration to Kasey Kahne, who has the fifth-best DR (99.2) in the field. He has seven Top-10 finishes in 10 Fontana starts. Kurt Busch (90.9) ranks 10th in DR and should come through with a respectable showing.

He has an average finish of 13.5 at Fontana.

Brian Vickers should bounce back from last week’s controversy to finish well. He ranks 14th in DR (85.9) and has finished in the Top 12 in his past four Fontana starts. Bargain choices include David Reutimann (71.3 DR, 21st), who finished ninth in the second California race last year, and Bobby Labonte, who has finished 11th, 25th and 21st in his past three Fontana starts.

A.J. Allmendinger comes off a third-place finish at Daytona to his “home” track, where he has finished 18th and 14th in two starts. He looks like the best of the Week Two value plays, even though his 500 finish may be a fluke.

For my full listing of the Top picks for this week's race, and other additional insights on the event from, click here.