Alex Bowman has been the man on top of the scoring pole for both practices. Then it came time to qualify, and out of nowhere here came Clint Bowyer. Bowyer seems to have a fast car but race mistakes continue to be a bugaboo for him.
I think Bowyer has a good shot at getting a solid top ten for his team to start righting the track on the season, but I think a win is going to be out of reach for now. He still seems like he’s gotta get some internal issues worked out under race situations, and maybe by mid-season we’ll see the 14-team making major strides towards wins.
At one time, no matter when we came to Auto Club Speedway, Jimmie Johnson was the favorite no matter what. It didn’t matter if he had won yet that season or if he was in a dry spell. Now Johnson finds himself in such an underdog position, that he’s almost unrecognizable as one of the greatest drivers of all time.
This week, for the first time in a couple of years, I feel my confidence in Johnson starting to rise. I really wanted to put him on this list, and I struggled mightily to do it. In the end, I made a tough call but I will not be shocked if we see Jimmie Johnson making a career-capping day at his best track.
I’ll give three drivers names, and each will be classified differently. A Favorite, who is a big name driver who is my favorite to win. A Dark Horse, a driver who would be considered an underdog but has just as much chance as anyone to win. Lastly, a Longshot, a driver who nobody would ever guess would even be contending. Guys who are generally running in the twenties each week.
Favorite: Kurt Busch
It’s sad that we’re coming off of Las Vegas, the track that the Busch brothers call home and I didn’t pick either of them to win. Now we’re a week removed and I’d honestly put money on both of them.
The older Busch is who I think will bring home the checkered flag on Sunday over Kyle. He finished both practices and qualified all in the 4th position. His car seems consistently fast and I think that Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole is starting to put things together.
Fontana is a track that Kurt runs well at with an average finish of 13th and I think he will be the car to beat once the race officially begins.
Dark Horse: Alex Bowman
This is the spot I struggled hard to decide between Bowman and Johnson. In the end, I asked myself, who wants it more? Yes, Jimmie Johnson wants to snap his dry spell, but Johnson has made it clear that he’s satisfied with his career and feels he has nothing to prove. Bowman still has a lot to prove.
Last week before all of the pit stop debacles, Bowman seemed like he was going to run Ryan Blaney down for the win and it was the first time I’ve really seen Bowman drive the wheels off of a machine.
This positive momentum and as fast as his car clearly makes him a threat tomorrow. This could be the race that starts the breakout year that Bowman needs to keep himself planted in the 88-car.
Longshot: Bubba Wallace
Bubba has not faired well in his first two starts at Fontana with a 20th and then a 30th. I still believe Bubba has plenty to prove in Cup, and he’s coming off two great finishes of 15th and 6th. With a fast car in practice and starting in the top 15 to start the day is going to be a great opportunity for him.
While both finishes could be considered lucky breaks, Wallace has been slowly making strides with Richard Petty Motorsports. There is an opportunity for him to prove that these finishes were no fluke.