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Optimism abounds that Monster Energy will sign extension with NASCAR

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An International Speedway Corp. executive says the company is “optimistic” that Monster Energy will extend its sponsorship of NASCAR’s Cup Series beyond this season.

John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., which owns several tracks that host NASCAR races, including Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, made the comment Tuesday morning during an earnings call with investor analysts.

NASCAR previously stated it is negotiating with Monster Energy and that the deadline for the company to decide was extended from Dec. 31.

Asked about Monster Energy’s status, Saunders said on the ISC earnings call:

“The initial term was 2017 through 2018. It’s our understanding that NASCAR is still engaged in negotiations for an extension. Don’t have a line of sight on how long that extension will be. Initial indications from NASCAR leave us feeling optimistic that there will be an extension.

“It’s been a great brand for our sport. It speaks to a younger demographic. By all metrics from their perspective we think it’s been successful. This is ISC’s position that we think it’s been a successful entitlement for them. So we’re optimistic.’’

NASCAR declined comment Tuesday to NBC Sports about Saunders’ comments and the status of negotiations with Monster Energy.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Eldora recap, Pete Pistone

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview this weekend’s racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Steve Letarte in Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

  • NASCAR’s shipping up to New Hampshire this weekend, and as of late, the Toyotas have had the clear edge at “The Magic Mile.” It’s just one of several storylines to follow as we prepare for Sunday’s 301-lap Monster Energy Series race. We’ll have a full preview!
  • Last night, the Camping World Truck Series put on another incredible show in the Dirt Derby at Eldora. We’ll have highlights from the race, including the paint-trading finish between Chase Briscoe and Grant Enfinger that will be remembered for years to come.
  • SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Pete Pistone will also call in live to talk fan reaction to last night’s Dirt Derby. Plus: Has the drivers’ mindset for New Hampshire changed now that they won’t be heading back there for the playoffs?
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Top three Xfinity drivers separated by three points entering New Hampshire

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Things have gotten pretty tight at the top of the food chain in the Xfinity Series.

Following last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, the point standings are not led by just one driver.

Through 17 races, the standings are led by both Elliott Sadler and Daniel Hemric, who are tied with 608 points.

To add to an already close situation, they have Cole Custer breathing down their necks is only three points behind them heading into Saturday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

How did this situation arise considering none of the drivers have claimed a win this year?

Consistency. It’s disappeared for Sadler while Hemric and Custer have used it to catch the JR Motorsports driver.

Following the June 2 race at Pocono Raceway, Sadler had a 62-point lead over second in the standings. His lead slipped away over the next five races thanks to finishing 12th or worst three times.

He placed 30th at Michigan, 28th at Iowa and 12th at Kentucky.

That was after entering Michigan with top-10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season.

In the five races since Pocono, Hemric hasn’t finished worse than eighth and has three top-three finishes. Custer has four top fives and a DNF (wreck, Daytona).

Compared to this point last year, Sadler has more top fives (10 to seven in 2017), the same number of top 10s (14) and his average finish is 7.9 compared to 8.8.

Sadler, is mired in a 56 race winless streak that began in October 2016. And this season he’s been the best finishing Xfinity regular just once and the best finishing JR Motorsports driver only seven times.

Hemric and Custer are each in their second full-time seasons in Xfinity and have shown significant improvement over this same point in their rookie campaigns.

Through 17 races, Hemric has two poles (one in 2017), nine top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (six in 2017) and no DNFs (three in 2017).

Custer has four poles (none in 2017), seven top fives (two in 2017), 13 top 10s (seven in 2017) and two DNFs (three in 2017).

Over the last eight races Hemric and Custer are tied for the most top fives with six. In that stretch, Hemric leads the series in top 10s (eight), average finish (4.13) and race points earned (311).

The point standings would be even narrower if not for two penalties dealt out by NASCAR this season to two of the three Xfinity regulars who have won races.

Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier enter New Hampshire in fourth (-17 points) and fifth (-39).

Bell lost 10 points after the Charlotte race for a post-race heights violation.

Allgaier was dealt a 25-point penalty following his win at Dover for a post-race inspection violation.

The two drivers would be in the same spot in the standings without the penalties.

Among Sadler, Hemric and Custer, it may be Custer who is the favorite to leave New Hampshire with points lead.

Custer is the only one of the trio with any success at the 1-mile track.

He’s won there in the K&N Pro Series East (2013) and in the Camping World Truck Series (2014).

He placed ninth in his first Xfinity start there last year.

“I think we’ve had really good cars in the past at short tracks and I think it’s more natural to me than a mile-and-a-half,” Custer said in a media release. “It’s probably like that for most guys. We just grew up running short tracks and didn’t have to deal with aero as much. We took a lot of good notes from New Hampshire last year that we’ll build on.”

Meanwhile, in 14 career starts at New Hampshire, Sadler has only led 26 laps and he hasn’t finished better than sixth since he returned to full-time Xfinity competition in 2011.

“We’re bringing the car we ran in Richmond, which is one of my favorites,” Sadler said in a media release. “We know it’s fast and is capable of a top-three finish. The end of the regular season isn’t too far away, so we’ve got to stick to our strategy, earn stage points and ultimately get ourselves and our partners a win.”

Sadler led 30 laps and finished third at Richmond.

Hemric placed 12th in his first Xfinity start in Loudon last year. In two Truck Series starts, he placed sixth and 28th (DNF).

“New Hampshire is always a place I look forward going to each year, especially how our company is on the short tracks right now,” Hemric said in a media release. “I feel like I know what I want in terms of speed when I get to a place like New Hampshire, it’s just a matter of getting our race car where we want it. I feel good headed to New Hampshire this weekend.”

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Joe Gibbs Racing returns to New Hampshire, where dominance began last July

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The 2017 Cup season was not too kind to Joe Gibbs Racing through its first 18 races.

Then the series went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

After entering last year’s July event at the 1-mile track winless, the race served as a launching pad for JGR, which leads the series in every major stat category in the 36 races since.

Counting Denny Hamlin‘s win in the July 16 race, the four-car team has won 14 times in the following year, which leads all other teams by five victories.

JGR closed out 2017 with eight wins in 19 races, compared to the Martin Truex Jr.‘s six wins in the same span.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at JGR’s success against the competition since last July’s race at New Hampshire.

Ten of JGR’s wins in the last year belong to Kyle Busch, including the September playoff race in New Hampshire.

The rest belong to Denny Hamlin (two wins), Matt Kenseth (one) and Erik Jones (one).

Busch is one of six active drivers who have three wins at New Hampshire, including Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kenseth.

Kyle Busch is the only one of those drivers with a win this season.

New Hampshire has been very kind to Busch and his fellow Toyota drivers.

In the last 11 races at the flat, 1-mile track, Toyota has won eight of them. In the last four races in Loudon, Toyota has led 1,168 laps (97.2 percent) out of a possible 1,202 laps. Chevrolet has led 31 and Ford has led 3.

Chevrolet has the only non-Toyota win in the last six New Hampshire races. That was won by Kevin Harvick in 2016 before Stewart-Haas Racing moved to Ford.

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NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 best at New Hampshire in last three seasons

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Flat tracks are among the most predictable in NASCAR and it seems that the shorter the distance, the more likely drivers are to find their rhythm. For the purpose of handicapping this week’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, the tracks used as a comparative for New Hampshire Motor Speedway include ISM Raceway (Phoenix), Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway.

Kyle Busch has been the master of those tracks in recent years with 12 top fives in his last 18 starts. He’s finished outside the top 10 only twice. In that same span, eight drivers have finished among the top 10 in more than half of their attempts. In terms of top 15s, 17 drivers have a better than .500 average since the beginning of 2016 and that allows fantasy players to narrow the field considerably.

1. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 2.83)
This week on NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman said that Roush Fenway Racing is using the No. 6 to test unproven parts and pieces in an effort to get Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the playoffs. If that is true, starting Kenseth comes with greater than average risk.

2. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 7.00 in two starts)
The short, flat tracks require rhythm to get around quickly. When a driver sweeps the top 10 on a minimally-banked course as rookie, it often means he is going to be strong there throughout his career. Suarez finished sixth in the spring and eighth in the fall at New Hampshire.

3. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 7.67)
It has been more than six years since Keselowski finished outside the top 15 at New Hampshire. If nothing goes wrong with his car, he is likely to extend that streak because all but three of his last 13 races ended inside the top 10 – including a victory in 2014.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 8.50)
Truex may still be looking for his first win at New Hampshire, but he has a better three-year average than Kevin Harvick or Busch. Along with Kenseth and Kyle Larson, he was one of three drivers last year to sweep the top five – and coming off a dominant win at Kentucky Speedway, he will challenge for the win this week in an effort to tie Harvick and Busch with five victories apiece.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.83)
Hamlin is one of the drivers that must be considered every time NASCAR goes to a flat track. At the height of his career, he would regularly string top fives together on this course type. Lately, he’s been a little more prone to scoring results in the high single digits and low-teens, but he’s still a good value if he fits the right niche on one’s roster.

6. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 10.03)
Busch’s three-year average is marred by an accident in 2015 that cost him 38 laps. If one removes that outlier from his results, he has a 4.33 average over the past five years with wins in spring 2015 and fall 2017. There is no sign that he will slow down this week and a top five is virtually assured.

7. Joey Logano (three-year average: 11.33)
From fall 2014 through spring 2016, Logano scored four consecutive top fives that included one win. In the three races since that streak ended, he has one top 10 and an 11th, but what really hurt his average was a broken transmission in this race last year.

8. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 11.67)
Harvick is another driver for whom his average can be deceiving. An accident midway through last year’s ISM Connect 300 and a mistake on fuel calculations in 2015 dropped him outside of the top 20 twice in the past three years, but his other four efforts have all been top fives with a victory in fall 2016.

9. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 12.00)
It is hard to tell because he is still finishing outside of the top 10, but Johnson is slowly improving. That is encouraging on a track like New Hampshire where the driver is a bigger part of the equation than he is on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. Johnson could be a great dark horse in the Foxwoods 301.

10. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 13.17)
Larson has been hit or miss at New Hampshire, but when he finds the target, he is close to the bullseye. In his rookie season, Laron finished third and second. Last year, he swept the runner-up position and with a car that is now set up to run the lower groove, he should challenge for the win.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Busch and Truex won last year’s poles at New Hampshire and the odds are good one of the Big 3 will lead the field to green this week as well. Suarez could be a surprising dark horse, however, because Carl Edwards swept the pole in 2015 in this car and grabbed another in 2016.

Segment Winners: In the past two years, four drivers have dominated the segment wins on minimally-banked flat tracks one mile or less in length. Busch, Truex and Logano have four stage wins apiece. Keselowski has three. The tiebreaker goes to Busch, however, because he has earned 146 points on short, flat tracks compared to Keselowski’s 114.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.