NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best fantasy values of 2018

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The All-Star Race comes at the one-third mark of the season and affords the opportunity to take stock in who has been a good fantasy NASCAR value so far in 2018.

Kevin Harvick (with five wins and an average finish of 7.8) and Kyle Busch (three wins and an average of 8.5) have dominated the first 12 races like few have done in recent memory, but that does not make them good fantasy values. It is impossible to make up any ground on the competition when everyone has the same two drivers on the roster.

Their domination and popularity among fantasy players puts a premium on the other three active drivers as well as the garage pick.

Players also want to look at trends. Read the articles at Rotoworld.com, particularly the weekly Power Rankings and Cheat Sheets.

When setting the roster for the NASCAR America Fantasy Live game, click on the stats tab in the game’s navigation bar. There is sortable data that provides a wealth of information, such as the three-week average fantasy points earned by each driver.

The fantasy points, as reported on the stats tab, include points for the Gatorade Duels in Daytona and do not subtract any points lost to penalties during the year, but they are still highly reflective of a driver’s strength to this stage of the season.

1. Joey Logano (average finish in 2018: 6.91; stage points: 117)
Logano actually has a better average finish so far this year than either Harvick or Busch and is within striking distance of them in terms of fantasy points earned through the first 12 races (plus his Daytona Duel). Harvick leads with 553. Busch is second with 534, but Logano has earned 529 points on the strength of his average finish and 117 stage points. He has scored 10 top-10 finishes and a 13th so far this year.

2. Clint Bowyer (average finish in 2018: 10.67; stage points: 79)
Once one is past the top three drivers in terms of fantasy points, the difference becomes notable. Bowyer has scored 426 fantasy points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game because he has not been as productive in terms of stage points. He is also trending down with 31.3 points per game in the past three weeks, which is tied for only eighth best.

3. Kurt Busch (average finish in 2018: 13.25; stage points: 102)
Busch got off to a rocky start in 2018. His 26th-place finish in the Daytona 500 came after an accident on lap 198. He crashed two weeks later at Atlanta to finish 35th. His next six races featured only two top 10s. But in that span, he also had three more top 15s and that was enough to keep him fantasy relevant. In the last three races, he swept the top 10.

4. Brad Keselowski (average finish in 2018: 15.50; stage points: 138)
Keselowski actually has earned a few more fantasy points than Bowyer or Kurt Busch, but his tendency to fall back in the second half of the race has cost fantasy players. Much of Keselowski’s woes can be traced to a four-race period from Texas Motor Speedway through Talladega Superspeedway when he crashed three times. If he can stay out of trouble, he will rival his teammate Logano.

5. Denny Hamlin (average finish in 2018: 10.25; stage points: 57)
Because of a rash of penalties, Hamlin has struggled enough in the early stage of races that he was a recent topic of conversation on NASCAR America. His 57 stage points is the least among any other driver in this week’s top 10, but he has at least been able to overcome at the end of races to minimize that damage.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (average finish in 2018: 12.50; stage points: 77)
With only 412 fantasy points banked, it would be easy to say that Truex has been a bit of a disappointment this year, but that is not strictly true. Champions often have slumps after winning the Cup and Truex suffered through a four-race streak from Texas to Talladega without a single top 10. Seven of his 12 races this year have ended in top-five finishes, however, so he is only an adjustment or two away from challenging the No. 4 and 18.

7. Kyle Larson (average finish in 2018: 13.83; stage points: 74)
One thing fantasy players look for is consistency. Having a historically strong driver on the roster when he wrecks, like Larson did at Texas earlier this year, or when he simply fades is not helpful. For that reason, streaks are important. Unfortunately, Larson has managed to back up one top 10 with another only three times so far this year and has not yet had a three-race string.

8. Aric Almirola (average finish in 2018: 12.42; stage points: 47)
Ranked eighth on the list, Almirola might be even more valuable because he is still flying under the radar. He has been strong, but as the fourth-most productive driver in a four-car team it can be easy to overlook him. The biggest factor Almirola has in his favor is consistency. In 12 races this year, he has finished outside the top 15 only twice and one of those was a 17th at Richmond Raceway.

9. Ryan Blaney (average finish in 2018: 14.67; stage points: 86)
Last week’s late-race crash at Kansas Speedway was frustrating. Since the NASCAR Fantasy Live game allows players to change a driver before the end of stage two, one prefers any problems to come early. That has not typically been the case with Blaney as can be evidenced by the fact that nearly 23 percent of his 374 points have come at the end of stages while his average finish of 14.67 is the second-worst among this week’s top 10.

10. Chase Elliott (average finish in 2018: 14.50; stage points: 31)
Elliott is a victim of his popularity. Everyone keeps expecting him to win so he keeps popping up on rosters. The unfortunate fact is that he has been hampered by whatever problem the new Chevrolets are facing. So long as players keep their expectations in check, Elliott’s eight top-12 finishes this year have been enough to make him fantasy relevant, but no one wants to build a roster around the No. 9. Use him as a frequent garage pick.

Stage Winners
Picking stage winners has been challenging. Harvick has dominated the first stage with four victories, followed by Keselowski with two. No one else has more than one. Stage two has been just as mercurial. Harvick and Keselowski are joined by Blaney with two.

Stage Points
Stage points are a good way to determine who has potential even if their average finish is less than optimal. Jimmie Johnson has not had the season anyone expected with only five top 10s in the first 12 races, but he has managed to earn stage points on 10 occasions for a total of 39.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has is another driver to watch. With Matt Kenseth joining Roush Fenway Racing, expectations are high that its performance will rise. Stenhouse has earned 33 stage points by being up front seven times. Now he needs to figure out how to close the deal.

Erik Jones has also earned segment points on seven occasions this year. Sophomores often have erratic results, but Jones is a solid value as a garage pick.

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

Myatt Snider: It’s ‘game on’ if conflict with Noah Gragson continues

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The spat between Xfinity Series drivers Myatt Snider and Noah Gragson may not necessarily be over.

The pair tangled in Sunday night’s Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas. Gragson made contact with Snider’s car, sending it into a spin.

Snider discussed the incident Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” and where things stand between the two drivers.

“It, to me, just seemed like some impatience on Noah’s part,” Snider said of the incident. “I had gotten into a rut and was trying to figure out how to make the car faster but at that point in time, I didn’t. So he was running me down and he actually had a run on me going to the frontstretch.

“So I was, ‘Okay, he’s going to go by me.’ Then I felt a little yoink in the left rear quarter and around I was going. It’s kind of unfortunate it had to go down that way, that’s not racing to me. But I’m a big believer in karma and what goes around, comes around. We’ll be performing at our best over these next couple of weeks and I’m not worried about it.”

Snider also told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he hasn’t texted or talked to Gragson since Sunday, but Snider said he’s ready if the spat continues.

“I’m the kind of guy that believes in racing people how you’re raced,” Snider said. “I’m not going to take any kind of stuff like that. If (Gragson) wants to send that kind of message early, then game on.”

On Tuesday, here’s how Gragson explained what happened on “Sirius Speedway” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“It was just some hard racing between the two of us and we got into each other, so I think we both can look forward to the next couple of races and stay out of each other’s ways,” Gragson said. “I think we’re both at fault. It was a long race, none of us were going to give and we’re going to go on to California and run as good as possible and do as good as we can.”

Much has been made about the TV replays of Gragson and Snider meeting after the race to talk about the incident. Gragson tried to give Snider a fist bump only to have Snider walk away without fist bumping him.

“I told (Myatt) let’s play rock, paper, scissors,” Gragson quipped in part on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I went with rock and he still hasn’t gotten back to me if he wants scissors, paper or rock.”

Gragson won the season opener at Daytona and finished fourth at Las Vegas for JR Motorsports. Snider, who won the pole at Daytona, finished 33rd at Daytona and 16th at Las Vegas for Richard Childress Racing. Snider will race this weekend at Auto Club Speedway for RSS Racing.

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Ryan Newman gets standing ovation in visit to Roush Fenway Racing

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Exactly 10 months to the day when the country will celebrate Thanksgiving, the entire Roush Fenway Racing organization gave thanks and a warm welcome to driver Ryan Newman, who visited the team’s shop Wednesday.

Newman, who was involved in a horrific crash coming to the finish line of the Daytona 500 just nine days earlier, received a standing ovation from his colleagues and posed for a number of photos.

While there is still no timetable for Newman’s return behind the wheel of his No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang — Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive the car until Newman comes back — Wednesday’s appearance was yet another positive move in that direction.

“Just a good day,” RFR president Steve Newmark tweeted about Newman’s visit.

Newman said in a prior statement he suffered an undisclosed head injury in the crash but did not suffer any broken bones or internal injuries.

Tuesday he took part in one of his favorite pastimes:

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Hendrick focused on Jimmie Johnson’s success, not successor

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Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski. Ryan Blaney. Erik Jones.

No, we’re not talking about this week’s fantasy racing picks, but those four drivers have been among drivers mentioned most often when it comes time for Hendrick Motorsports to name a replacement for Jimmie Johnson, who will retire after this season.

Yet even though filling Johnson’s spot is important, it’s not as much a priority right now as it is for the entire organization to learn more about the nuances of the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, according to HMS vice president of competition Jeff Andrews.

“We don’t have a timetable for that, to be honest with you,” Andrews said of naming a replacement for Johnson on Wednesday “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Our focus has been getting better race cars under Jimmie Johnson and getting better race cars for (crew chief) Cliff Daniels and his race team to work with on the weekend.

“The focus right now immediately for the 48 is to get a win, get that car in the playoffs, get multiple wins through the season and then get Jimmie Johnson to Phoenix at the end of the year to battle for that championship.”

Andrews admits the vibe around Hendrick Motorsports’ campus is markedly different this year, knowing it’s Johnson’s final season in the No. 48.

“I think the sense is pride here within Hendrick Motorsports, to just have been associated with someone like Jimmie,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “For those of us who have been here really throughout his career, we’re just incredibly proud that he chose to drive for Hendrick Motorsports throughout his whole career.

“But we’re also proud of all his accomplishments and what he’s done for this company. I think we would have an awful hard time of ever paying him back for all that. Our goal this year is giving him everything he needs for a multiple win season and to get to Phoenix. We owe him that at the least.”

The Hendrick organization has struggled in adapting to the new Chevrolet Camaro body style this year. In the season-opening Daytona 500, Chase Elliott (finished seventh) was the only HMS driver in the top 15.

Things were a bit better this past Sunday at Las Vegas. Johnson was the highest-finishing HMS driver (fifth), while Alex Bowman was 13th. But there was considerable sense of accomplishment overall for Chevrolet as a whole, with six of its Camaros in the top 10 (as opposed to only two Chevys in the top 10 at Daytona).

That leaves Andrews, the competition department at HMS and Chevrolet officials as a whole feeling optimistic as the series heads for the third race of the season this weekend at the two-mile track in Fontana, California.

“From a barometer perspective, we’re feeling good about where we’ve been,” Andrews said. “We haven’t had that finish, that win that we’re looking for, but certainly we’ve started off the year with some good speed in our cars.

“The one thing that all of our drivers were commenting on is we had more speed in our cars and just had a better platform in our cars and a better ability to run multiple lines on the racetrack, which is something we haven’t in recent years.”

Admittedly, it’s been a tough road for Hendrick drivers over the last three seasons. Since Johnson’s seventh Cup championship in 2016, no HMS driver has reached the Championship 4 round since.

Also during that time frame, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 overall in the last three seasons (Chase Elliott, fifth in 2017, sixth in 2018 and 10th in 2019; and Johnson, 10th in 2017).

These next five races, particularly the last two of that stretch at Homestead-Miami and Texas, will help give Andrews and his staff a better handle on where their adjustment to the Camaro goes from there.

“We know it’s a long season and have a long ways to go with this,” Andrews told SiriusXM. “We need to get through three or four more races.

“I think we’ve targeted as a company a better understanding of where we’re at after the Homestead/Texas timeframe to get some types of tracks and learn with this new car.

“Steep learning curve with the new car and we’ve got to act quick. We have just a year to work with this before we get to another generation of race cars. … We’re looking forward to going back to the track this weekend in Fontana and see where we go with it.”

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Joey Logano takes top spot from Denny Hamlin

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Move over Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano is coming through.

By virtue of his win Sunday in Las Vegas, Logano replaces Hamlin atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings.

Eightteen drivers received votes from NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Joey Logano (37 points out of 40): Bounced back from a DNF at Daytona to earn a gifted win at Las Vegas when the top two cars pitted late, allowing Logano to move to the lead and keep it. Last week’s ranking: unranked.

2. Kevin Harvick (34 points): Pitted before final restart, which likely cost him a chance at a top-five finish (he wound up eighth). Still, with top-10 finishes in the first two races (one of only two drivers to do so), Harvick is off to a strong start. Last week: 6th (tied).

3. Ryan Blaney (29 points): Late pit call cost him the win and a top 10 (finished 11th), but maybe there’s some solace in being atop the Cup standings heading to Fontana. Last week: 3rd.

4. Chase Elliott (24 points): Even though he finished 26th at Las Vegas, Elliott led 70 laps and won each of the first two stages. Including Daytona, he’s led nearly 100 laps in first two races. Now all he has to do is finish off a race with a win. Last week: 9th.

5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17 points): One of the biggest surprises this season. The move to JTG Daugherty Racing is agreeing with him. Led 24 laps at Daytona before late-race wreck and 30 laps at Vegas, finishing third. Definitely someone to keep an eye on. Last week: unranked.

(tie) 6. Denny Hamlin (15 points): After his win at Daytona, struggled through a rough day at Las Vegas, finishing 17th. Last week: 1st

(tie) 6. Kyle Larson (15 points): One of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of first two races. Looks to add to one win and two runner-ups in six Cup starts at Fontana on Sunday. Last week: 4th.

8. Matt DiBenedetto (14 points): Earned second-place finish in his second start for Wood Brothers Racing. Could he bring the organization it’s 100th Cup win at Fontana? Last week: unranked.

9. Jimmie Johnson (13 points): Finished fifth at Las Vegas (as well as being fastest in final Cup practice there). Has six career wins at his home track in Fontana. Can he make it seven on Sunday (which would break a 97-race winless streak)? Last week: unranked.

10. Alex Bowman (7 points): Showed some impressive speed late before being shuffled back to 13th place after last caution. Last week: unranked.

Others receiving votes: William Byron (3 points), Bubba Wallace (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Chris Buescher (2 points), Clint Bowyer (1 point), Chase Briscoe (1 point), Johnny Sauter (1 point).