It's a fast track this weekend in California, meaning the writers have to speed things up to win.
The 2013 season thus far has been one of many learning curves for the Sprint Cup Series. Each week there are new things going on with the Generation-6 car that are a new test for each team, each car, and also each driver.
It started with a plate track, then went to a flat, sweeping one. After that, it was the common 1.5-mile speedway, and last week it was a short track.
Now, the new car and every Sprint Cup team are set for the fifth different track style in as many weeks. There are sweeping corners, but this track without question will be the fastest every team has seen to this point. It's the 2-mile, D-shaped oval sitting just outside Hollywood that welcomes NASCAR this weekend.
Welcome to the Auto Club Speedway.
The speeds into the corners will be in excess of 200 mph, and passing lanes will be vast and the grooves will be multiple. This will make for a difficult race for those that have struggled on the big tracks in recent years, but much like each season, the cream will rise to the top.
The writers certainly know this, and despite only one having a victory to this point, the standings are close. Now, their picks are locked in for the fifth different track on the tour.
Here's who our baker's dozen have picked to triumph in the Auto Club 400:
Misan Akuya: Matt Kenseth
Matt "the brat" has arguably been the fastest driver in these first four races. Going into Auto Club, where he has won three times, certainly bodes well for him.
Rob Blount: Jimmie Johnson
There is no debating that he's the best there's ever been at Auto Club Speedway. He has five wins there.
Plus, he's gotten off to a great start to 2013 with the new SS. Only a melted bead has slowed down the 48 this year.
James Broomhead: Matt Kenseth
I think by now we can tell the drivers and teams that have the new car sorted, and those that are fighting to catch up. Kenseth-and the whole JGR mob-are defininitely in the camp that has been able to get the best out of the Gen-6 thus far, the driver already having one win to show for it.
I'll tip him to become the first man to take a second checkers and, if you had to pressure me, I'd quietly tip him for the title too.
Kelly Crandall: Matt Kenseth
No reason really, should be a wide range of picks this weekend. But, if I needed a reason, last time we were on a big, wide track - Vegas - he won.
Billy Fellin: Matt Kenseth
He's won 3 times in Fontana and had a shot at winning at Bristol had he not been taken out by Jeff Gordon's tire. He's been strong so far and I don't see that changing.
Michael Hirshbein: Kyle Busch
Christopher Leone: Jimmie Johnson
Is there really any other option at California?
Kara Martin: Jimmie Johnson
Ryan O'Hara: Greg Biffle
Goodyear ruined my week last week; this is a toss up.
Dustin Parks: Kevin Harvick
I figured now is the time to give the lame duck his due. He's not been really talked about that much since Daytona when he won the Unlimited and the Duel, only to wreck in the 500. But, he won here in 2011 when he passed Johnson on the last lap.
He goes by many nicknames these days, although "lame duck" doesn't roll off the tongue. But for me, I'm going with his most recent monicre...the Closer.
Patti Rodisch: Matt Kenseth
If it wasn't for Gordon who was leading the race cutting a tire in front of him the battle for the win would have once again came down to Kenseth and Kahne last week.
Kenseth is experiencing a rejuvenation of sorts with Joe Gibbs Racing this season. He is a weekly contender for the win and that will be no different on Sunday. Kenseth will notch win number two this season at ACS.
Sal Sigala Jr: Jimmie Johnson
How can you bet against the Cali-boy?
Rob Tiongson: Jimmie Johnson
Gotta think ole 5-Time is happy to be home and he loves the spotlight. He's the man in Fontana with those five wins, leading all active drivers at the 2-mile speedway.
Look for No. 48 to grab the checkered flag and feeling great!
Standings following Bristol:
Patti Rodisch (159) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd (0)
Rob Tiongson (157) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd (1)
Sal Sigala Jr. (132) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd (0)
Rob Blount (127) Kyle Busch finished 2nd (0)
Billy Fellin (125) Kyle Busch finished 2nd (0)
Kelly Crandall (121) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd (0)
Dustin Parks (116) Kyle Busch finished 2nd (0)
Michael Hirshbein (115) Kyle Busch finished 2nd (0)
Kara Martin (108) Kyle Busch finished 2nd (0)
James Broomhead (107) Kyle Busch finished 2nd (0)
Christopher Leone (106) Jimmie Johnson finished 22nd (0)
Ryan O'Hara (105) Matt Kenseth finished 35th (0)
Misan Akuya (102) Denny Hamlin finished 23rd (0)
Final Thoughts: Obviously by the picks, having momentum is extremely critical this year. Momentum is on the side of a few drivers already this season, and with an off-week on the horizon, being able to carry it into the bye is going to be key.
It will be fast action on FOX, with coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Summary of Picks: