Welcome to my breakdown of today’s Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway in California! It’s time to head out west in search of some DFS gold on DraftKings with contests scheduled to lock today at 3:45 PM EST. This afternoon promises to be a fun one, with a multi-groove race track featuring a worn down surface. The track is going to be completely green with the Xfinity race being rained out yesterday. Going to be a ton of fun watching it test these drivers. However, it’s also a bittersweet moment as this is the last race on the 2-mile configuration before they tear it down and turn it into a short track. It’s disappointing, but I take solace in the fact that the track was going away one way or the other. At the very least a repave was coming and the character that makes Auto Club fun would have been lost anyway. So let’s enjoy the show while we have it and hope that the rain in the forecast holds off so we can get a complete 400 miles to close out this fun racetrack.
Auto Club Speedway’s high tire wear nature means that tire management and strategy will be crucial factors in today’s Pala Casino 400 race. This type of track appears only four times during the 2023 NASCAR season, bringing its own unique nuances to the table. Looking back at driver’s overall performance on high tire wear intermediates in 2022, as well as recent track history at Auto Club, can give us a good idea of who to target when building line ups today.
To build successful lineups for high tire wear tracks and Auto Club, focusing on position differential and dominator points is generally the key. In the last five races at Auto Club, 44% of the Top 10 scorers on DraftKings made it there via position differential. This wide, multi-grove race track provides plenty of opportunities for drivers to move through the field and score big on DraftKings as a result. Today’s race will be even more weighted towards position differential with qualifying and practice being rained out, offering massive points up for grabs from the back of the field.
However, dominator points will still be important today with a scheduled distance of 200 laps. In that same sample of the last 5 Auto Club races mentioned above, we saw 9 drivers score more than 20 Dominator points. 20 Dom points is about what I think a potential dominator will need to score today to compete with the position differential upside on the slate.
The good news is it doesn’t have to always be either/or with Dom points and PD. High tire wear tracks provide more of a chance for “Combo” performances, where drivers score both Dom and PD points. These types of performances were more common on high tire wear tracks than any other track type in 2022. Don’t box yourself into a corner today where you think those dominator points have to come from inside a specific starting range. Starting order is basically random today and means nothing in terms of who ends up with the most Dom points at the end of 400 miles.
Drivers with 10+ Dom points last 5 Auto Club races
With qualifying being rained out, we have what I see to be about 10 guys that could be considered chalky plays starting 15th and back. Those guys are Larson, Elliott, Busch, Reddick, Byron, A Dillon, Jones, Briscoe, Haley and T Dillon, with the first 8 listed capable of providing massive upside. The good news as my buddy Ryan Larkin pointed out is that, “When there are this many chalky options then no one is really that chalky.” Ownership on these guys will be high, but it’s likely to be spread out in that 30% range as opposed to seeing too much massive 50% chalk. It’s hard to imagine even half of these guys busting so it is clear that some combination of these drivers will likely be optimal today. Going to have to eat some of it.
There are a lot of unknowns going in to today with it being a new season and with the fact that NONE of these cars have been on track this weekend prior to the green flag being waved. Who knows who really is going to show up with the best car? How much can we actually trust last years race with all the tire issues and caution flags we saw? Will we see issues early with the green race track and tire pressures? This presents us with a great opportunity to get different when targeting potential dominators on the slate today. Many DFS players today will look towards Larson getting to the front after his win here in 2022 and Kyle Busch will also be a popular option, justifiably of course. Both of these guys will NEED to score Dom points to compete with the guys starting from further back in the field. Pivoting to a lower owned option with potential Dom upside is a great strategy to get different in GPP contests today while still being able to cram in those heavy PD options.
Below is my Cheat Sheet for today’s race at Auto Club Speedway. I have included the compiled data from all 4 High Tire wear races in 2022, 2 Darlington, Homestead, and Auto Club, as well as the compiled data from the last 5 Auto Club races. Drivers in green are drivers I like today, pink are drivers I like as potentially lower owned options.
Top of the board here we have the man that won this race last year, Kyle Larson. Larson was the man on High Tire wear tracks last year with 2 wins combined with the most fast laps and laps led. He is the odds on favorite at most sports book. It should be noted though, Larson hasn’t had a true dominating performance at Auto Club since 2017. Even in last year’s victory he only scored 14 Dom points, anything short of a victory with only 14 Dom points today will likely underwhelm in comparison to all the PD options on the slate.
Kyle Busch is another driver that fits the mold as a potential Combo type play, similar to Larson. Race winning upside and dominator potential from a starting position of P22. This is statistically one of Busch’s best tracks with 4 wins and 11 top 5s in his career. This year he comes to the track in the RCR #8 car which DOMINATED this race last year, providing even more reason to go Kyle. I personally prefer Busch today between the 2 Kyles and will have more of him. Fading both and opting for lower owned options that have dominator upside is also a great approach for tourneys. But I also see the logic behind these guys being the best options and just looking to get different else where in your builds.
So much upside at the top of the board today so what does it do with ownership on a guy like Chase Elliott? I don’t think he will come in low by any standards, but I do think ownership is spread out a bit at the top which could keep him lower than you would normally expect for the massive amount of upside he brings to the table from P33. He had 1 of the best cars in this race last year and drove to the front twice before Larson pinched him off in the wall in the closing laps, ruining his day. Love leaning in to Chase here and hoping the Kyle’s underwhelm with Dom points.
The next obvious plays when working down the price chart is the duo of Byron and Reddick. These drivers start 32nd and 35th respectively and provide a massive amount of upside at a $9k price tag. Reddick dominated this race last year and is always a contender at the high tire wear tracks. Byron had what looked like the best car last year before being taken out in accident and had the 2nd best Driver Rating on High Tire wear tracks in 2022. Both guys have potential for a combo performance here and a big day. A lot of people will play these two together, so you can get different by pivoting to a lower owned option in place of one of them in tourneys.
One of those potential lower owned options is Joey Logano. He will likely be the highest owned of my “lower owned options” in this range, but his ownership will still be massively suppressed from what it should be. He has 5 Top 5’s in the last 6 races here and he had the best driver rating on High Tire wear tracks in 2022 which includes a win a Darlington. There is trap potential here though, for all the Top 5s, he has never won here and has not led more than 41 laps once in a race here, and that was back in 2013. A solid run is not going to get it done today.
Another guy that will get overlooked by many today from the pole is Christopher Bell. Not a lot of track history here will point people towards Bell but no team was faster on Intermediates towards the end of the season last year than this 20 team. We didn’t really get to see anything the Toyotas had here last year due to a variety of issues, so all of them could be sneaky and overlooked today. We saw a lot of the dirt track guys have success here in last years race and Bell will be tough to beat on the start with a clean race track in front of him. Definitely worth a sprinkle today.
A Toyota teammate to Bell today that I LOVE is Martin Truex Jr. Hopefully many will overlook Truex here due to his mediocre performance in this race last year, but Toyota had some early season struggles. Toyota was much better towards the end of the year. Truex had the 3rd most fast laps on high tire wear tracks in 2022 and he is second in fast laps and laps led at Auto Club in the last 5 races. Only 3 drivers have scored 10+ Dom points in multiple Auto Club races the last 5 years, Larson, Busch and Truex.
Dropping down to the next range we have a few more, painfully obvious, chalk position differential plays. Both Austin Dillon and Erik Jones were lights out on high tire wear tracks in 2022 AND at this race last year. Hard to make any arguments against them today aside from them being chalk. Another driver that falls into this category that might be slightly less chalky with similar upside is Chase Briscoe. Not as much data will point people towards Briscoe, but he is a wheelman and this is a wheelman’s track, the opportunity is there for him to pass a lot of cars. I’m likely going to lean more Briscoe than Dillon in GPP today.
A lower owned pivot in this range is Alex Bowman. Alex comes in with true dominator potential at a relatively cheap price tag. Bowman won here in 2020 while leading 110 laps. In his return here last year, he was coming to the front late in the race and had just got inside the Top 4 before finding trouble. He also starts close enough to the front in 4th where he can take control of this race early and start racking up Dom points before the other contenders from the back get there.
Another guy in this range that no one will play is going to be Brad Keselowski starting 16th. Brad has 1 career Auto Club win and has Top 5 finishes in 4 of the last 5 Auto Club races. I know those were in his Penske #2 car, but even last year in his new RFK ride, Keselowski was making his way to the front and was running inside the Top 5 before he too found trouble, which resulted in a tow out of the grass. You are going to need a top 5 performance out of him to score with the PD guys in this range, but I will take the gamble on what will likely be 10% ownership.
When looking for value, most DFS players will likely gravitate to Haley. Haley is a solid option here starting 28th. He had success at another high tire wear track last year, Darlington, with finishes of 3rd and 19th. He also ran around the top 20 for much of this race last year, which is right where I think he will comfortably run today.
Other players will dip even further to a familiar name in Ty Dillon starting dead last. I think he is an OK option in cash today considering his floor and price tag, but I just don’t think there is a whole lot of room for upside in the #77 Spire Chevrolet. So I will likely be avoiding him in GPP.
One way I’m looking to get different in this range is by looking slightly up the price range at a guy like Aric Almirola. Aric starts 17th today and again will be a guy that many will overlook. He has great track history at Auto Club. Almirola has 3 Top 10’s in the last 5 races here which includes a 6th place finish last season. Going to need a repeat of that type of performance today to be optimal, and if he can do so you will have him at single digit ownership.
Last guy on my list that I went back and forth on is Ryan Preece. I ultimately do not think many people land on Preece as I think most will look to cheaper options to jam in the guys up top. This provides us an opportunity to pivot off some of the other higher owned PD options on the slate, without sacrificing the PD upside since he starts 27th. I’ll likely have more Preece and Almirola in my builds than Haley and T Dillon. Could sprinkle in a Gilliland if you really want to spice things up.
Below is my cash core for today’s slate. I don’t think you really need to chase dominator points in cash today but if I was then I would do it with one of the Kyles.
Below is my core for GPP contests. You can really mix in any of the lower owned dominator options I mentioned above in place of Truex, but Truex is my preference. Truex and Almirola together will already get you pretty different, so go as chalky or as crazy as you’d like with the rest of the build!