Commentary

Good, Bad and Ugly: Pepsi 500

Updated: August 28, 2008, 10:58 PM ET
By Mark Garrow | Jayski.com

Mark Garrow provides driver trends for Sunday's Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif..

* Driver needs to qualify for the race based on time.
# Driver is eligible for the champion's provisional.

• Allmendinger has one start here, starting and finishing 18th in this race last year.
• I jumped off the AJ bandwagon last week at Bristol, but I might be ready to climb right back on at California. He could wind up being my first or second choice for the best budget pick Sunday. His 13.2 value will be very enticing for a car that can finish from 14th to 18th.

• Almirola has one start here, finishing 31st in this race last year.
• Almirola did a nice job last week at Bristol with a top-15, but I don't see that happening again Sunday. DEI's short-track program is pretty competitive, but the deal for 2-mile tracks is not. Even Mark Martin couldn't finish top-15 in the car back in February. We'll keep an eye on him, but I see myself putting a "sell" sign on Aric.

• Ambrose is making his first Cup start at Fontana this weekend, but he did start this year at Michigan, a track similar to this one.
• However, he blew an engine at Michigan so didn't get enough experience that will help him this weekend. I don't see much happening here for the Wood Brothers.

• In addition to Biffle's Cup win at California in 2005, he also has three Nationwide Series wins at the 2-mile oval.
• He has an average finish in the Sprint Cup Series races here of 19.6 with two DNFs. He is driving the same car that finished 20th at Michigan in June.
• I think Biffle will challenge for a top-5 this weekend and come close to finishing fourth like he did at Michigan. With a 22.0 value, Biffle could be squeezed onto your team as a solid budget pick, even if you have Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch on the roster.

• Blaney is driving the same car that finished 23rd at Chicagoland. Blaney has made 11 Cup series starts on the 2-mile speedway, finishing as high as ninth (2002) and picking up two top-15 finishes.
• Blaney has had some pretty good runs lately but few top finishes to show for it. I have a hunch he might be able to pull off a top-20 this weekend, but it's a tough sell since his best finish in the past five races is 31st.

• Bowyer is driving the same car he took to top-10 finishes at Atlanta and Texas earlier this year.
• In five Sprint Cup starts at Auto Club Speedway, Bowyer has one top-5 and a pair of top-10 finishes, including a career-best third-place effort in September 2006. His average finish here is 12.4.
• These types of tracks are not a strong suit of RCR. Bowyer was 19th at Michigan and might be able to do a little better than that Sunday. I just don't see a top-10 finish, and that's the kind of potential you need to have before you spend 21.0 on a driver.

• Burton is driving the same car that finished 11th at Michigan earlier this month.
• In 16 Cup starts at Auto Club Speedway, Burton has earned five top-5s and six top-10s.
• Burton will be OK but not spectacular come Sunday night. I can see a finish from ninth to 14th, which makes him way overpriced for this event at 22.3.

• Busch is driving the same car that finished 11th at Atlanta.
• In 12 career starts here, Kurt has one win, three top-5 finishes and five top-10s. He also has an 11.4 average finish for the 12 races and has completed 99.9 percent of the laps.
• At 18.2 and with the stats he has here, Kurt is going to get a lot of attention this weekend. I can see him finishing, like Burton, ninth to 14th, but the price is much better and a little more enticing. If I get the feel Kurt could finish in the top-10, I might pull the trigger on him.

• Including his win in 2005, Busch has six consecutive top-10 finishes at Auto Club Speedway. Kyle has led 229 laps in eight starts and also has led a total of 1,580 laps in the Sprint Cup Series this season. He is driving the same car that finished 25th at Loudon earlier this season.
• In five of the past seven races, Busch has three wins and two runner-ups, and he remains one of the circuit's hottest drivers -- right there with Edwards. That's where the problem lies with Kyle. You can't fit both on your team because of their high values, so it comes down to which you like the best. Last week at Richmond, I picked Edwards, and I probably will do that again.

• Carpentier is driving the same car that finished 18th at Indy. He is making his first Cup series start here.

• In 13 Cup starts at Fontana, Earnhardt has three top-5 finishes and four top-10s.
• Junior is the driving the same car he took to the winner's circle at Michigan.
• I think Dale Jr. has a shot to run top-5 here this weekend. He had a very fast car in February, but was caught up in the Casey Mears wreck. His value, though, might be a little high at 22.6 if you also have Edwards or Busch.

• In his previous eight starts, Edwards has one win, six top-5s and seven top-10s. Edwards' average finish is 6.8, and he picked up that first Fontana win earlier this season.
• Edwards is driving the same car this weekend that won at Las Vegas.
• Edwards is my No. 1 choice again this week. He's almost a lock for a top-5. He's red-hot and a good horse to be riding now. I got him back on my team last week, and he won't be sold anytime soon.

• Gilliland has an average starting position of 26.5 and an average finish of 24.8 at Fontana. He has completed 995 of 1,000 career laps at Fontana (99.5 percent).
• After he finished 17th at February's Fontana race, we'll be keeping a close eye on the California driver in practice and qualifying. With a value of 15.8, he is worth considering for our top budget picks. I can easily see him finishing top-20 again.

• In 16 career starts at Fontana, Gordon has three wins, eight top-5s and eight top-10s. He has led 525 laps in his career, more than any other driver. In the nine events when he has led at least one lap, Gordon has eight top-5s with an average finish of 3.55.
• Gordon has three top-5 finishes in his past four races at Fontana, but he was 22nd a year ago and everyone can agree this team is off-balance right now. But keep an eye on where Gordon qualifies. If it's somewhere in the top eight, Gordon will have the speed to keep up and is worth some consideration. With a value of 22.1, it'll be hard to wedge him in if you have Edwards or Kyle Busch.

• Gordon has 12 starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 25.8 with three DNFs. He finished this race 41st last year.
• Robby was 18th at Fontana in February, but I don't see his being a top-20 car again.

• Hamlin has five starts here, with one top-10 finish. He finished this race 19th last year and is bringing a brand-new car to the track for this race.
• This has not been one of Hamlin's better tracks, which is why I have him ranked 12th this weekend. I think he can run top-15, but I need more than that if I'm going to spend 22.3. For those of you who picked up Hamlin last week, it might be time to sell.

• Harvick is driving the car that recorded a top-10 finish at the Brickyard and top-5s at Chicagoland and Pocono.
• In 12 Cup starts at Fontana, Harvick has posted three top-10 finishes. Additionally, he has completed 99 percent of all laps attempted and has led 32 laps.
• I think Harvick will have a decent but unspectacular run. I can envision his finishing top-10, with a long shot potential at a top-5. Still, he should be the best of the RCR cars, and if you already have him, you might want to hold on to him to get a top-10 this week and challenge for the win next weekend at Richmond.

• In February's Fontana race, Hornish started seventh but finished 43rd after an accident. In his IndyCar career, he had four starts at Fontana with two wins (2002, 2003) and four top-5 finishes.
• Hornish actually had a pretty good run going earlier this year at Fontana but then spun himself out.

• He has collected more points here in the past 10 races than any other driver. Johnson has finished in the top-5 seven times in 11 starts. He's driving the same car he drove to a win at the Brickyard.
• Johnson will challenge for a top-5 finish and possibly a win. He's going to be very, very good. Here's the problem with Johnson: Do you take him over Edwards or Kyle Busch? I don't think so. After putting together a nice string, he has finished 17th and 33rd in the past two races.

• In nine starts at California, Kahne has one win, three top-5s and six top-10s, with an average finish of 13.7 In 2006, Kahne led 130 laps en route to victory.
• Which Kahne will we get? The one who has finished top-10 in five of the past six races at Fontana, or the one who lost his mojo and has finished 40th in his past two races. Unless Kahne is totally spectacular in practice, I'm leaving him alone.

• Kenseth has achieved two wins, five top-5s and nine top-10s at Fontana. He has completed 99.9 percent (3,253 of 3,255) of all laps attempted. Kenseth has led 383 laps at Fontana.
• He's driving the same car that finished fifth here in February.
• I like Kenseth a lot this weekend to run maybe as good as top-5, especially after seeing his fifth-place finish at Michigan a couple of weeks ago. I have him ranked fifth going in, and his value of 21.3 is cap-friendly for the results you'll get.

• Kvapil has an average starting position of 34.2 and an average finish of 31.8 at Fontana. He has completed 988 of 1,004 career laps at Fontana (98.4 percent).

• In 16 starts here, Labonte has five top-10s, four top-5s, an average finish of 17.9 and a DNF. He finished 11th in this race last year.
• Labonte has had four subpar performances in a row, including a 27th at Michigan, which doesn't bode well for Fontana.

• In 10 career Cup starts here, McMurray has five top-10 finishes, including three top-5s. McMurray has an average finishing position of 13.7. In the past five races, McMurray has averaged a 10.6 finish, marking his best string of the 2008 season.
• He's driving the same car that finished sixth at Indy earlier this season.
• He won't be talked about much this weekend, but McMurray is underrated at this track and has had five straight pretty strong performances, including a 10th at Michigan. The price is also nice at 19.1.

• Mears has two top-10 finishes in his previous 10 Cup starts at Fontana.
• He was 18th at Michigan and might be able to do that again here in Fontana. His 15.9 is a pretty decent value, but an average finish of nearly 24 this year scares me away.

• He has an average finish of 27th in three starts at Fontana.
• Menard was 24th at Michigan, and it feels as though he'll run somewhere in that territory this week. At 16.0, he's not that attractive because a couple of drivers cheaper than him will outrun the No. 15.

• Montoya earned his best finish here in February, when he drove his Dodge to a 20th-place finish. In the 2007 Fontana races, he finished 28th in February and 33rd in September. With this weekend's chassis, Montoya finished 18th at Chicagoland and 39th at Pocono, after being involved in a midrace incident while running in the top 15.
• Take out the fourth-place run at the Glen, and Montoya really hasn't done much the past two or three months. He was 18th at Chicagoland and 19th last week at Bristol, so it seems to me at best he could barely finish inside the top 20, and that's if everything goes all right. That makes his value of 17.4 ridiculously too high.

• Nemechek has 16 starts here, with a top-10 and an average finish of 25.6 and three DNFs. He finished 43rd in this race last year.

• Newman has two top-5s and four top-10s in 11 Cup starts here. The primary car for this weekend's race has been driven by Newman in two other races this year. He piloted the car to a 21st-place finish at Charlotte in May's Coca-Cola 600. He also drove it to a 15th-place finish at the rain-shortened event at New Hampshire in June.
• Newman was just 21st at Michigan but finished 10th here in February, I split the difference and have him ranked 15th. He might be able to sneak into the top 10, but feels more like a guy who will finish 11th to 15th. There will be several drivers under his value who will outperform him this weekend, so he won't be a recommended "buy".

• Petty has 16 starts here, with an average finish of 30.4 and four DNFs. He finished 28th here in this race last year and was 38th in February.

• In three previous starts at Fontana, Ragan's best finish was in the night race last year, when he finished 12th. He's driving a new car this weekend.
• I was very high on Ragan at Michigan and think he'll come up big again this weekend. I have him seventh in the prerace rankings and can easily see him finishing in the top 10. His value, now 20.6, is creeping up, and he will outrun a number of guys with bigger values. So he is someone you could squeeze in with an Edwards or Kyle Busch.

• Raines has five starts here, with an average finish of 29.2. He finished this race 27th last year.

• Reutimann has three starts here, with an average finish of 29.3 and one DNF. He finished this race 32nd last year.
• His stats are junk here, but Reutimann could make some noise this weekend. He was 23rd here earlier this year, but his team is running much better now, and I was impressed by his 14th-place run at Michigan. He has the possibility of being my top "budget pick" this week at 15.6. He qualified seventh at Michigan, so keep an eye what starting position he captures. If he's anywhere near the top 10, he has a shot to go top-15 again, and that would be a nice payoff at his price.

• Riggs has eight starts here with a top-10 and an average finish of 24.9 and three DNFs. He did not qualify for this race last year but finished 21st in February.
• Riggs might be someone to watch for a budget pick this weekend, thanks to his value of 15.3. Still, I think Allmendinger, Reutimann and Gilliland likely will be the budget busters.

• Sadler raced this weekend's car to a season-best fourth place at the Brickyard, and a ninth-place finish at Michigan. One of his three career wins came at California in the 2004 fall race.
• This guy is on a roll, and last week's problems shouldn't carry over. At 17.5, he's a guy who can help you potentially get a top-10 and still squeeze in some high-priced talent.

• Sauter has three starts here, with an average finish of 23.0. He finished this race 30th last year.

• Schrader has 14 starts here, with an average finish of 26.9 and four DNFs. His most recent race here was the spring race of 2007, when he finished 36th.

• Skinner has six starts here, with two top-10s and an average finish of 22.2. His last Cup race here was in 2003, when he finished 20th.

• Smith has one previous start here, finishing 31st.

• Sorenson has five starts at Fontana with a best finish of 21st (three times). He has an average start of 27.4, average finish of 28.6 and has led a total of eight laps.

• Stewart has 14 starts here, with seven top-10s, three top-5s, an average finish of 16.0 and two DNFs.
• Stewart finished this race in 13th last year.
• He was seventh here earlier this year, and I have him ranked eighth going into the event. He should finish top-10 again, but his price of 22.7 might be too high to use him. If you take an Edwards or Kyle Busch, it will be close to impossible to add Stewart to the lineup. As good as he'll be, you can't take him over Kyle Busch or Edwards.

• Truex has five starts here, with two top-10s and an average finish of 17.4 and one DNF. He's driving the same car he drove to a ninth-place finish earlier this year at Chicagoland.
• He was sixth in February, but a 16th-place finish at Michigan proved, I think, that DEI has lost some ground on the 1.5- to 2.0-mile superspeedways. He might challenge for a top-10, but I see him as top-15 at best. Not a good buy this week at 20.0.

• In nine starts here, Vickers has three top-10s and a top-5 with an average finish of 17.1. He finished eighth in this race last year.
• I dropped Vickers from my wish list last week, but he might be back this week. I like that he can finish top-10 with a 19.2 value, which might allow you to do some additional maneuvering.

• In 15 career races here, Waltrip has earned two top-10 finishes, with an average finish of 26th.

Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.

Mark Garrow

Fantasy Racing
Mark Garrow covers fantasy racing for ESPN.com.