The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Auto Club Speedway on Sunday for the first time in over 700 days.
It has been 728 days since the NASCAR Cup Series took the green flag at the Auto Club Speedway. One of the biggest changes in the series since the last time they raced at Auto Club is the Next Gen car. Qualifying and practice this week has proven how steep the learning curve is with the Next Gen car. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and William Byron have all been involved in one-car spins as they try to gage how far they can push their cars. Given how eventful qualifying and practice have been this week, it’s hard to imagine the race itself won’t be just as eventful. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five drivers who are most likely to come out on top this weekend in the Wise Power 400.
"The cars are hard to drive and they're supposed to be that way … A lot of the drivers asked for it and we got what we wanted."@keselowski is prepping for an intense run for the #BuschLightPole. pic.twitter.com/hsV2KMrV3Q
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 26, 2022
5. Chase Elliott
Elliott is the only driver on this list that has never won at Auto Club Speedway. Despite not winning, he has the best average finishing position at Auto Club of any other driver in the field on Sunday (9.4). Elliott’s best finish at Auto Club is 4th, but he finished inside of the top-20 in all five of his starts at the track.
The Hendrick Motorsports crew has been fast all weekend. All four HMS cars will start in the top-14 on Sunday. If Elliot is able to continue his streak of consistency at this track, he should find himself in a position to be a threat towards the end of the race.
4. Kevin Harvick
It has been a long time since Kevin Harvick has made his way to victory lane. Harvick hasn’t won a race since September 2020, but all of that could change this weekend in California. Harvick is one of seven drivers in the field on Sunday that have won at Auto Club Speedway. Harvick is also the most experienced at the track, having run 27 Cup races (tied with Kurt Busch). In those 27 starts, Harvick has 13 top-10 finishes. Only the Busch brothers have more top-10 finishes at Auto Club than Harvick does.
Despite all of that, fans still have to wonder if Harvick is going to be able to snap his winless-streak early this season, or if it’s going to bleed on throughout 2022. If Harvick does win this weekend, he will have to drive from the back of the field to do so. Harvick will start outside of the top-30, which isn’t ideal. That being said, they don’t call him “The Closer” for nothing.
3. Brad Keselowski
Let’s be honest, it’s weird seeing Keselowski drive the No. 6 car. What wouldn’t be weird, is Keselowski getting his first win for his new team on Sunday. Keselowski has won at Auto Club before. In 12 starts, he has managed five top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes. On Sunday, he will roll off the grid in 9th-position.
Keselowski has been fast all weekend and will likely continue that trend during the race on Sunday. The last two times that he has raced at Auto Club Speedway, he finished inside of the top-five. Anyone who has heard Keselowski talking about his new team, knows how hungry he is to get that first win out of the way this season. If Keselowski is within striking distance towards the end of the race, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ramped up the aggressiveness a little bit.
2. Kyle Larson
For about a year now it has been Kyle Larson’s world in NASCAR, and we have all just been living in it. Larson will be looking for his first win of the 2022 season on Sunday. Larson has one win to his credit at Auto Club Speedway (2017), to go along with three top-five finishes in seven starts. Larson, like all of his HMS teammates, has shown a lot of speed this weekend. Last season, Larson and the No. 5 team were pretty good about fast cars during the week also being fast cars in the race on Sunday.
If you’re a betting man, Larson also happens to be the favorite to win this weekend, according to Las Vegas. At the time of this writing BetMGM has Larson at +350 on their board. Chase Elliott is next at +700, and joining him at +700 is the driver who tops our most likely to win this weekend list.
1. Kyle Busch
2021 was not the season that Kyle Busch was hoping for. 2022 did not start off much better as the driver of the No. 18 machine wrecked early on in the Daytona 500. Luckily for Busch and his team, they are at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. Of all the drivers in the field on Sunday, Busch is the only one who was won multiple times at Auto Club. In fact, Busch has won four times at Auto Club in 22 starts. In those 22 starts, Busch also has 16 top-10 finishes, the most of any other active driver.
It would be a mild understatement to say that Busch owns Auto Club, at least compared to anyone else on the track this weekend. Busch’s recent history at Auto Club also speaks volumes. Over his last to races at the track, he has averaged a 1.5 finishing spot with a win and a second-place finish. Kyle Larson might be the favorite in Vegas this weekend, but at the end of the day, Vegas might have picked the wrong Kyle.
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