Auto Club Speedway was literally built from the blueprint of Michigan International Speedway.
There are extreme differences in weather conditions from the Upper Midwest to sunny Southern California, but the two courses remain among the closest comparatives on the circuit – as close as the flat 2.5-mile oddities of Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Early in the season, it is often helpful to lump the 2-mile tracks in with the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile courses, but as the season progresses, Auto Club can be used to help handicap Michigan.
Last year three drivers swept the top 10 on the 2-mile tracks, but another few records were snapped when drivers attempted to stretch their fuel in the Consumers Energy 400.
Kevin Harvick was the most successful driver in the second Michigan race. He managed to get to the checkers first as others on the lead lap began falling by the wayside. It was his second victory in the August Michigan race and extended a top-10 streak to five consecutive races. All but one of these was a top five.
Harvick can be a streaky driver on 2-mile tracks. In 2014/2015 he had three consecutive second-place finishes there. In late 2015/2016, he logged four straight top-fives before dropping out of the top 10 in four races. Carrying this streak into 2020 is a good omen for how he will run in the Auto Club 400.
Kyle Busch won the Auto Club 400 last year and that propelled him to further success at Michigan. He finished the season with a worst result of sixth on a 2-miler, but that tells only half the story. Busch swept the top five in 2018 on this track type and the top 10 in 2017, which gives him a current streak of nine consecutive top-10s and the best three-year average finish in the field.
Martin Truex Jr. is the third and final driver to sweep the top 10 on 2-milers last year. He finished eighth at Auto Club and swept the top five at Michigan with a best of third in the Firekeepers Casino 400.
Truex has consistently been one of the top earners on the 1.5-mile tracks as well – making him a great overall value on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. But he is not infallible. Last year he won the Auto Cub 400 for his fourth top-six finish on a 2-mile track and then he failed to crack the top 10 at Michigan in their two races.
If not for an unsuccessful gamble at Michigan in the summer, Joey Logano would have joined the three drivers with top-10 streaks – and he would have certainly been the best driver on this course type. He came up three laps short on his fuel in the Consumers Energy 400 and was forced to pit from third. In his previous attempts at Auto Club and Michigan in 2019, he finished second and first respectively. Logano was highly regarded in August because he entered that race with a five-race, top-10 streak.
Ryan Blaney would also have been among the sweepers if not for an errant strategy. He was running fifth with one lap remaining – and looking to extend his current top-10 streak on the 2-milers to six consecutive. Team Penske has been solid on this course type throughout their history and Brad Keselowski has an equally impressive record, but he was slowed by crash damage last August to interrupt his five-race, top-10 steak.
After finishing second in the June race, Kurt Busch was also going for broke at the end of the Consumers Energy 400. He was eighth with a lap to go and coasted across the finish line outside the top 20 on fumes. That stopped a four-race streak of top-10s on this course type.
None of these drivers could be described as dark horses by any stretch of the imagination and frankly it can be difficult for fresh faces to find their way to the top of the order. It’s not impossible, however, and Daniel Suarez probably had the best cost per point ratio at Michigan. He swept the top five on the Midwestern track and was 13th at Auto Club.
At the beginning of the season, Suarez’s record will be used extensively to handicap Cole Custer until the rookie starts to show where he is going to differentiate from the previous records of the team. If a fantasy player finds himself stuck at Auto Club for a bargain, Custer should be used.
Clint Bowyer is an example of how one cannot automatically assume that a team will run consistently on a given track. He won last year’s June Michigan race by holding off a very fast Harvick with rain closing in on the track. In 2018 he swept the top 15 in the three races on 2-mile tracks, but his luck in 2019 was abysmal. Bowyer retired about 70 laps from the end of all three races with results in the mid- to high-30s.
3-Year Avg. Fin