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Odds taken from DraftKings Sportsbook.
Kyle Larson to win the race at +650
Alex Bowman to beat William Byron head-to-head at +100
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Auto Club Speedway features one of the most scenic backdrops in motorsports. Fans in the grandstands have an excellent view of Mt. Baldy towering above the track.
In fact, now-part-time driver and full-time team owner Jimmie Johnson has been known to ride his bike 47 miles to the top of the mountain.
In a figurative sense, Johnson’s former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott has a tall mountain to climb at the Fontana track.
Before NASCAR introduced the Next Gen car into the Cup Series last year, Elliott had a respectable record at Auto Club. In the 2022 race, however, Elliott suffered multiple spins and a run-in with teammate Kyle Larson.
Elliott finished 26th, two laps down. We’re not convinced he has achieved mastery of the Next Gen car, even though he went on to win five races last season.
Accordingly, we recommend steering clear of Elliott on Sunday at +800 via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Kyle Busch has a checkered history at Auto Club Speedway—one that includes multiple checkered flags.
Busch is a four-time winner at the two-mile track. He has triumphed in three of the last nine races there. In 23 career starts at Fontana, he has posted 11 top fives and 16 top 10s, for an average finish of 9.8.
Busch got a later-than-planned start at Auto Club after attempting to race there in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2001 at age 16. He was dropped from the race because of his age and the tobacco sponsorship of the event.
But he has more than made up for that hiccup with his recent performances at the track. And he started the 2023 season on a high note, leading laps in the Daytona 500 before being swept up in a crash during overtime.
We think Busch will be a contender on Sunday, but we’re looking elsewhere for the race winner.
However, we’re not averse to backing Busch to beat Christopher Bell head-to-head at -110 via DraftKings. Our two bets on Bell paid off last week (to finish top-three and top-five), but we’re changing horses at Fontana.
There must be something about two-mile race tracks that excites Kyle Larson. There are only two such tracks on the NASCAR Cup schedule—Auto Club and Michigan.
Yet five of Larson’s 19 wins in NASCAR’s premier division have come on those tracks. In 2016, he picked up his first career victory at Michigan.
In 2017, Larson won the lone race at Auto Club and swept the two events at Michigan. Last year, he followed his 2021 series championship with a win at Fontana.
As one of the premier dirt racers in the history of motorsports, Larson loves the degraded nature of the pavement at Auto Club and the way the cars slip and slide through the corners.
For good reason, he’s the favorite to win Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 at +650 via DraftKings. We agree, and likewise, we’re picking him to take the checkered flag for the second straight year.
The two-mile circuit is scheduled to be razed after Sunday’s race, with plans to build a half-mile short track on the property. We expect Larson to be the last driver to win on the old pavement.
You may have noticed that we haven’t included Ford drivers in the discussion here. Only one Ford driver—Brad Keselowski in 2015—has won at Fontana in the last 14 Cup races there.
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· What: Pala Casino 400 NASCAR Cup Series Race
· Where: Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.)
· When: Sunday, Feb. 26, 3:30 p.m. ET
· How to Watch: FOX
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Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]More info on Reid Spencer
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