FONTANA, Calif – Can Kevin Harvick win his unprecedented fourth straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway? He’s dominated the 2018 season thus far and is going for a clean sweep of the NASCAR west coast swing.
If he’s going to do so though, he’s going to have to win from the 10th starting position.
Also, there’s several big named drivers coming from the back. 13 cars failed pre qualifying inspection, meaning drivers like Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola will all have to come from 25th on back.
Luckily, starting position doesn’t matter too much in Fontana. Just three of the 28 Cup races on the 2-mile track has seen a winner come from the front row, all pole sitters. It only happened last year, 2008 and 2007. That’s bad news for second place starter Kyle Busch.
For the guys starting outside the top 20, 25-percent of the races have actually been won from a starting position outside the top 20 too.
Does this bode well for them? After all, they have much fresher tires at the start of the race.
He has to head this list. Harvick, has won three consecutive races and going for a fourth on Sunday afternoon. His No. 4 Ford has already led 433 laps this season. That’s 39-percent of the 1,111 overall laps run. There’s only two more drivers that have even led more than 100 laps all year. In Atlanta and Vegas, he dominated. At Phoenix, he was mad and hungry to prove NASCAR and his haters wrong. Now, he wants to keep that momentum going.
Plus, it’s not like Fontana is a bad track for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver. He led 142 laps in 2016 and finished second. In 2015, he also came home runner-up. Last year, he was 13th. But, since 2010, a span of nine races, Harvick has six top seven finishes in Fontana, four of which were in the top two.
On Friday, he picked up where he left off with topping the speed charts in the lone practice session of the day. While he qualified 10th, it’s not like he wasn’t strong. Harvick, was fastest in the first two rounds and even broke the track record.
Other than Harvick, no one has been better than Busch recently. He’s been runner-up to Harvick in each of the last two weeks. That makes his hunger to beat Harvick even greater. Maybe Fontana is the place for that.
In his last six Fontana starts, Busch has scored five top 10 finishes. From 2012 to 2015, he finished no worse than third, including back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015. Last year he faded to an eighth place run. I think he contends again in his No. 18 Toyota this weekend. After all, he’s starting second again.
The only multiple time pole winner in the field, Martin Truex Jr. has a fast No. 78 Toyota this weekend. With the pole, can he stay there? Truex, has an average finish in Fontana of 19th. He has just one career top five finish on the 2-mile track. History says stay away from the defending Cup champion this weekend.
But, Truex is on the pole and coming off of nabbing his lone career Fontana top five finish last season. In fact, not only did he finish fourth in 2017, he led 73 laps in the process. He led 21 laps the year prior.
Don’t count him out on Sunday.
This is a slippery slope to put Hamlin in the favorites category, but isn’t Fontana a track that owes him? On race morning in 2014, he had a developing eye condition that caused him to miss the actual race itself that day. The year prior, he was injured in a last lap crash with Joey Logano. Since 2009, Hamlin has had just two total top 10 finishes on the 2-mile, D-shaped track. But, one of those was a third place run in his No. 11 Toyota two years ago. I think Toyota’s will be fast again this weekend and Hamlin will shine.
Plus, Hamlin has finished fourth or better in three of the four races to start this season off. He’s due for a win and that could come Sunday.
He may start 25th, but with fresher tires, he will rise to the front.
Kyle Larson (+400)
I was skeptical on putting Larson on here. Yes, he’s won every 2-mile race he’s entered over the last two years. Yes, he swept both NASCAR races at Fontana last March. But, Larson and Chevrolet have struggled in 2018.
Then, I saw Larson’s practice and qualifying times.
Larson, was fifth, fourth and sixth respectively in single lap practice times and fourth and second on the 10-lap average chart.
I can’t count him out.