NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Pocono in last three years

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Pocono Raceway is an oddity with three distinct corners and straightaways. Because it requires a lot of compromise to go fast, one might suppose experience would be a critical factor, but six drivers entered this week scored top fives in their first attempt.

Denny Hamlin was the best of these with victories from the pole in his first two tries in 2006, followed by Erik Jones (third in 2017), Jimmie Johnson (third in 2002), Chase Elliott (fourth in 2016), Kyle Busch (fourth in 2005) and Kyle Larson (fifth in 2014).

Notably, three of the six drivers who excelled in their Pocono debuts raced for Hendrick Motorsports at the time, so that suggests William Byron might be a good dark horse to include in this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

Pocono is also a track prone to streaks. Seven drivers swept the top 10 last year and three of them carried momentum over from the previous season. This is a track on which success is often predicted by success, so chose most of your lineup from the 10 drivers listed.

1. Erik Jones (three-year average: 5.50 in two starts)
Jones continued the tradition of strong rookies at Pocono in last year’s Pocono 400 with a third-place finish. He was eighth in the Overton’s 400 later in the year. It didn’t hurt matters any that Jones had the notes from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Busch as a jumping off point.

2. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 5.67)
Statistically, Keselowski is the best fantasy pick this week. He enters the week with five consecutive top-five finishes that includes a pair of runner-up finishes. He has struggled with three results outside the top 20 in the last seven weeks, but that means the competition is likely to ignore him – and an astute player can make up ground.

3. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 8.33)
It is not yet time to consider that Kenseth’s track record is more important than the obstacles currently faced at Roush Fenway Racing. But there are two factors that make the No. 6 a little more appealing this week. Kenseth came close to cracking the top 15 at Charlotte and may be getting closer to finding a good race setup. Secondly, he has a knack for Pocono with five top 10s in the last six races.

4. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 10.17)
Last week was a disappointment for NASCAR Fantasy Live players, but in all likelihood Harvick’s crash didn’t affect much since the majority of rosters had him activated. The key to success sat in the garage – if a player remembered to swap that driver before the end of the second segment. At Pocono, Harvick has a current three-race, top-five streak.

5. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 11.00 in two starts)
Suarez finished 15th in last year’s edition of this race at Pocono. He improved to seventh in the Overton’s 400. Since his record includes only two races on this track, fantasy players have to place more emphasis on his recent momentum and he has five top 15s in the last six races of 2018.

6. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 11.50)
Hamlin ran a clean race last week and was rewarded with a solid top-five finish. He needs to avoid mistakes for a little while longer before NASCAR fantasy players begin to trust him, but Pocono is a track he has dominated in the past. Hamlin should be watched closely in practice before making a final decision on whether to start him or place him in the garage.

7. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 11.67)
Busch’s Pocono record is actually a little better than it appears. If one disregards a crash-induced 37th in August 2015, he would have an average of 6.6 over the past three years – and he has not finished worse than 13th in five years. Busch’s appeal recently has been his consistency. The lack of a significant downside to starting him makes him a great selection for the garage this week.

8. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 11.67)
Pocono is not the type of track one usually associates with Larson since there is no high groove to manipulate in any of the corners, so a driver is left to fight and gouge at the bottom. Still, Larson had a perfect record of top-12 finishes to his credit before he developed a drivetrain problem last July and finished 33rd – 12 laps off the pace.

9. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 13.00 in four starts)
If one throws out the high and low for Blaney, it is easy to predict he will finish about 10th. His rookie season produced a 10th and 11th-place finish. When he won his first Cup race on this track last July, expectations were raised, however, and a 30th in July spoiled a lot of rosters.

10. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 13.33 in four starts)
Sometimes a switch flips for a driver on a given track. That may be what happened to Busch last July when he won from the pole after being shut out of the top five at Pocono since 2011. For the record, he was leading in August 2015 when he ran out of gas with two laps remaining.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Kyle Busch won both Pocono poles last year and has another in 2015. If he shows any speed at all in the first practice session, make certain he is activated

Segment Winners: Until their domination ends, the most obvious pick to win segment bonus points is Busch and Harvick. Keselowski demands a little attention as well, however, because he has been the third-most productive producer with four stage wins so far this year. If one wants a dark horse, last year’s winner Blaney has three stage wins to his credit in 2018.

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

NASCAR Cup Series to go dirt trackin’ at Bristol in 2021

Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway
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Cup teams will compete on a dirt track for the first time in more than 50 years when the series races March 28 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the track announced. 

The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

“Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted many historic events over the years and we will be adding to that resume,” Jerry Caldwell, general manager of  Bristol Motor Speedway, said on Wednesday. “We can’t wait to see how the stars of NASCAR take to the dirt.”

Said Austin Dillon of the race: “I’m super pumped. … I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”

Caldwell said the track will work with NASCAR on the race format for the dirt event.

“This is returning to our roots in racing,” Caldwell said. He noted that this concept has been talked about for “awhile.” He also said the track will “explore other options” on any other series that could race on dirt beyond NASCAR.

Caldwell said the change comes from feedback from fans.

Bristol hosted dirt races in 2000-01 with the World of Outlaws (see video below of 2001 race) and dirt late models. The track used 14,000 truckloads of dirt for the project.

The last Cup race on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Richard Petty won a 200-lap race on the half-mile track. He earned $1,000. Petty was among one of five Hall of Famers in the 23-car field that day. Bobby Isaac finished third, Bobby Allison placed sixth, Benny Parsons was 14th, Wendell Scott placed 20th.

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series raced on dirt at Eldora Speedway from 2013-19. It was not held this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Bristol also will host a second race. That event again will be in the playoffs. The Sept. 18 race again will be an elimination race in the first round. The playoff race will be on the concrete track surface.

Road America to host 2021 Cup race on July 4

Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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Food, fireworks and road course racing will fill the July 4 calendar for NASCAR fans with Road America hosting the Cup series on that holiday weekend in 2021.

The track announced the race date Wednesday. The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

The 4.048-mile course has hosted Xfinity races since 2010. Among the current Cup drivers who won there in the Xfinity Series are Michael McDowell in 2016 and Christopher Bell in 2019.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

MORE: Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

The track takes the holiday date that had been held by Daytona International Speedway from 1959-2018 before Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the Cup Series that weekend last year.

“We certainly have been working very close with (Road America) not only how we bring this to life but, ultimately, where it was going to be located on the schedule,” Ben Kennedy, NASCAR vice president of racing operations, told NBC Sports, said of adding the Wisconsin track to the schedule. “We started to really toss around the idea of hey, what about July 4th weekend and what would that look like for the track?

“Just even the name, Road America, it feels like Americana and the July 4th weekend and everything. Fireworks, camping and cookout, everything that goes along with it. That track is almost synonymous with it. I think that’s where we really ended up kind of tying Road America to July 4th weekend. Working with NBC on that as well, they are certainly very bullish on it and excited about having Road America on that weekend.”

Tim Flock won the lone Cup race at Road America in 1956. Flock was among nine NASCAR Hall of Famers among the 26 drivers in that race. Others included Fireball Roberts (third), Herb Thomas (sixth), Buck Baker (eighth), Rex White (11th), Lee Petty (13th), Joe Weatherly (20th), Curtis Turner (24th) and Junior Johnson (26th).

Circuit of the Americas to host Cup for first time in 2021

R. Kevin Butts photo - Courtesy of COTA
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The Cup Series will do more road course racing in 2021 with the addition of the Circuit of the Americas to the schedule, the track announced Wednesday.

The Cup race will be held May 23.

The 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, has hosted Formula One and IndyCar races, among others since its debut in 2012. The track also has a 2.2-mile, 15-turn short course. Announcements regarding race length, course selection and the full weekend schedule will be made at a later date.

MORE: Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

A NASCAR event has never been held at Circuit of the Americas, but Tony Stewart piloted a Stewart-Haas Racing car there last year in a demonstration run.

COTA is located roughly 220 miles south of Texas Motor Speedway. Speedway Motorsports will be the event’s promoter.

“Our company is proud to have a 60-year history of fabulous firsts in motorsports entertainment, and we are honored to bring America’s premier racing series to one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues and cities for the very first time,” said Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith in a statement. “I’d like to thank COTA CEO Bobby Epstein as well as NASCAR’s executive leadership for supporting us in an endeavor to do something that we believe will be spectacular for race fans, not only in Texas but around the world. We work and challenge ourselves every day at Speedway Motorsports to create amazing experiences that will last a lifetime, and we know NASCAR at COTA will deliver in 2021.” 

“I’m grateful for Marcus Smith’s vision and determination to make this event possible,” said Circuit of the Americas CEO and Chairman, Bobby Epstein in a statement. “His teams in Charlotte and at Texas Motor Speedway have created a spirit of partnership that will make for a spectacular weekend of fun and competition. Speedway Motorsports, along with the leadership at NASCAR, have a ‘Fans First’ attitude and have responded to everyone who has long desired to see a Cup Series race at COTA. Fans who’ve been here before will witness stock car racing at its finest for the first time, and first-time visitors will be amazed at the views and friendly experience. It will be our pleasure to write another chapter of motorsports history alongside Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR in 2021.” 

The complete 2021 schedule will be announced this afternoon by NASCAR.

Cup to run on Indy road course in 2021

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The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021 but will race on the road course for the first time instead of the oval, track officials announced Wednesday.

Cup will race on the road course on Aug. 15. That race will be held a day after the NTT IndyCar Series races on the Indy road course.

“Our first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants involved,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and IndyCar together during this exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

MORE: Atlanta to have two Cup dates in 2021

MORE: Darlington to run Cup races on Mother’s Day, Labor Day weekend in 2021

The Cup Series has raced at Indy since 1994. But as the racing there has been questioned and the sport has made a push for more road course races, NASCAR moved the Xfinity Series to the road course this year as a trial. The event was well received, creating the opportunity to move next year’s Cup race to the road course as well.

“Indy is Indy, no matter if you’re on the road course or you’re on the oval,” Joey Logano said of what a win there would mean. “It doesn’t matter. If you’re on the dirt track, I don’t care, it’s Indy. It’s that big deal to win there. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a Cup car, IndyCar or a tricycle, you want to win at that race track.”

Indy’s road course is 2.439 miles and features 14 turns. Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race there after a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps.

The full Cup schedule will be announced Wednesday afternoon. The Xfinity schedule will be announced at a later date. Boles said on a media Zoom he was unsure of the Xfinity plans but talked with Logano about an interest Logano would have in running in a Xfinity race there to get more track time for the Cup race.