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Statistically Speaking

Auto Club 400 Qualification Report

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: February 29, 2020, 7:15 pm ET

It was a close one. Clint Bowyer edged Jimmie Johnson by .0007 seconds and will lead the Auto Club 400 to the green flag on Sunday. If you don’t have a tape measure handy, that is less than two feet at these speeds.

Bowyer could not have been very comfortable during the session. He watched as Johnson kept pace with him on the tracker throughout most of the lap. Once the No. 48 hit the frontstretch, Johnson edged ahead slightly, but in the last 100 yards or so, he lost some momentum and gave up the advantage.

This is Bowyer’s first front row start on this track. He started third three times at Auto Club, with the most recent coming in 2010. Bowyer finished eighth that afternoon. Since then he has started among the top five only once in 10 starts, so fantasy players can be forgiven if he was not on their radar screen.

Bowyer’s three previous career poles ended in a victory at New Hampshire (2007), a ninth at Darlington (2007), and a 25th at Las Vegas (2019).


The front row start for Johnson is even more remarkable. He has not earned a top-10 start on this track since 2014, much less threatened for the pole. Despite starting deep in the pack on occasion, Johnson has always managed to finish on the lead lap. It is incredibly difficult to remain perfect over 25 starts.

Alex Bowman was fastest in Friday’s practice session and seemed like a good bet to win the pole. He didn’t miss by mush and will roll off the grid third. That is his first top-20 start on this track in five races. This has not been a good track for him in general. In addition to never earning a top-20 start, he has only one top-15 finish. The clock resets with each season, however.

Kurt Busch qualified fourth, but not before failing inspection twice. He will lose his car chief, but will keep his starting position. This is his best start since 2009 when he also qualified fourth. Busch finished fifth that year in what was then a 500-mile race.

Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five, which is his seventh consecutive top-10 start. He has been hit-or-miss in race trim, however, with two runner-up finishes and a fourth balanced out by a pair of 30-something results in the last five events. Harvick finished 36th in 2014 after developing a tire problem in the race. He sustained crash damage in 2018.

Michael McDowell was the top dark horse contender. He qualified eighth. Before one goes all in on the No. 34, however, they should recall that McDowell qualified among the top 10 on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks three times last year. He finished 20th after starting seventh in Chicagoland, 24th from 10th at Vegas, and 24th from sixth at Kansas. Expect a similar result on Sunday.

As we continue to keep an eye on the Ricky Stenhouse Jr. / Chris Buescher driver swap, it is notable they qualified within one position of one another. Stenhouse qualified 10th; Buescher is 11th.

Cole Custer in 18th was the highest qualified rookie. Tyler Reddick will start one position back in 19th.

Problems continue for Joe Gibbs Racing Last week they had three drivers fall to the back for inspection failures. They all struggled in race trim afterward. Notably, Martin Truex Jr. was not among the penalized drivers at Las Vegas. Perhaps the team took that as a sign that they were not trying hard enough. Truex was bit this week. He failed qualification inspection three times and will have to start from the back of the pack.

Because he was not allowed to take a time, his official starting position will be 38th, which means he is eligible to earn a lot of place-differential points. That makes him a great value in Draft Kings.

Ryan Preece had an engine issue last week. He had the same issue at Auto Club and the team was forced to change their power plant. Preece will have to give up his 20th-place position on the grid and fall to the back. His place-differential will be based on the 20th-place effort, however, since that is his official qualification position.

Top-10 starters, last year:

2019 Auto Club 400

Driver

Finish

Start

Austin Dillon

10

1

Kevin Harvick

4

2

Aric Almirola

9

3

Kyle Busch

1

4

Joey Logano

2

5

Denny Hamlin

7

6

Ryan Newman

22

7

Chase Elliott

11

8

Clint Bowyer

38

9

Ryan Blaney

5

10

 

Brad Keselowski

3

13

Kurt Busch

6

21

Martin Truex Jr./p>

8

27

 

Auto Club Coverage

Auto Club 400 Practice Report
Draft Kings: Auto Club 400
Fantasy Live: Auto Club 400
Auto Club 400 Cheat Sheet
Power Rankings after Las Vegas 1
Four to Watch at Auto Club: Martin Truex Jr.
Four to Watch at Auto Club: Ryan Blaney
Four to Watch at Auto Club: Kyle Larson
Four to Watch at Auto Club: Daniel Suarez

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.