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Austin Dillon
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Statistically Speaking

Weekend Update: Auto Club 400

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: March 16, 2019, 11:43 pm ET

Qualification may or may not be an important handicapping tool, depending on how one views this race. At 400 miles, it is a sprint and it pays to get good track position from the very beginning. On the other hand, the corners of Auto Club Speedway are wide and fast, feature multiple grooves, and often drivers can get around the competition with relatively ease.

That is good news because fantasy owners will be hard-pressed to determine who is going to be fast based on Friday and Saturday's preliminary events. 

Qualification was more akin to a game of chicken than a representative time trial. In Rounds 2 and 3, drivers sat on pit road until time was almost off the clock and then attempted to get one fast lap in the draft. That worked in Round 2, but once they mistimed the final session and not a single car posted a timed lap.


Qualification

Austin Dillon won his third career pole with a lap of 180.081 mph. As he sat on pit road during Round 3, the team noted that if everyone waited too long, it would play into their favor - and that is precisely what happened. While he has not been great on this track, the driver of the No. 3 has not been terrible either with two 11th-place finishes in his first four attempts and a 10th in last year's 400. That is closer to where he ended practice on Saturday, so players should expect a finish on the cusp of 10th.

Kevin Harvick lines up on the outside of the front row. Last year, he had an uncharacteristically bad run in the Auto Club 400, but he went to the sister track of Michigan International Speedway and almost swept Victory Lane. There is some niggling doubt about his ability to dominate races this year as opposed to 2018, but the season is still young and Harvick has ample opportunity to get his fair share of wins. Without committing all of your resources, he is a good option. 

In seventh on the grid, Ryan Newman may finally be coming into his own. He has slowly improved this team even if he has not yet earned a top-10. Three of the first four races have ended in top-15s and that means he has been earning a lot of fantasy points. In salary cap games, he has been one of the best values. In allocation management games, his consistency has allowed players to keep some starts in reserve for the marquee drivers. This week could be his first top -10 of the season with a little luck and that will make him one of the best differentiators. 

Practice

Brad Keselowski had a consistently strong practice on Saturday. In the morning session, he posted the fastest 10-lap average and had the third-fastest lap. In Happy Hour, he topped the leaderboard in terms of single fastest speed and landed third on the average chart. About the only thing he did wrong all weekend was in qualification when he misjudged Round 2 and wound up .043 seconds behind 12th. He has enough time to get to the front and apparently a car capable of doing so. 

Daniel Hemric continues to be extremely tempting. He posted the quickest 10-lap average in Happy Hour and was second-fastest in that session. We want to have faith in the rookie contender, but we've seen this too often already in the first four races of the season. Hemric's fast times before the race rarely reward players with a solid finish. We are willing to predict a top-15, but don't expect a top-10 from the No. 8 unless there are unusual (and unpredictable) circumstances at the end of the race. 

Kyle Busch had the second-quickest 10-lap average in Happy Hour. No one doubts his ability to win, especially now that he has been shut out of Victory Lane in what has become his personal playground. On Saturday, he was denied his 200th combined win in NASCAR's top tiers and he will be highly motivated to grab the checkers in the the Auto Club 400. He has back to back victories on this track in 2013/2014 and finished third last year. 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 15 years with a little help from his >600,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.