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

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At first glance, this stage of the schedule appears to have a lot of variety. Last week, the Cup series ran a short, 318-mile sprint on a 1-mile track. This week, the race is contested over 400 miles on a triangular-shaped 2.5-mile track. Next week will be the second road course race of the season.

There is actually more in common among these three tracks than meets the eye.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway are both flat tracks. They share a characteristic with Watkins Glen International in that drivers need to slow down before the corner and accelerate at the apex. Some of the driver who ran well in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 will repeat this week and should be watched closely at the Glen.

Flat tracks are rhythm courses and that means that the drivers on this list should dominate the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster for the Gander Outdoors 400.

1. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 4.00)
When looking for a driver to pair with the Big 3, Keselowski is the obvious choice at Pocono. He enters the weekend with a current six-race streak of top fives that includes second-place finishes in 2015 and 2016. His last three races on this track were fifth-place results.

2. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 4.20)
Harvick has not yet won at Pocono and that could prove to be a big motivating force this week. Along with Kentucky Speedway, this is the only active track on which he’s failed to find victory lane, but he’s finished second four times in the last eight races.

3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.40)
Busch won the 2016 Pocono 400 that was delayed by rain until Monday. He finished fourth the following year in the June Pocono race. Unfortunately, his other three races since his latest win have not been quite as strong as the drivers that surround him in this week’s top 10 with a best of 10th and a worst of 19th this spring. Use him only if he has great practice times.

4. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 10.60)
Busch was winless at Pocono until last July. He started on the pole, led the first 21 laps, won Segment 1 of the race, and then put himself in position to take the lead when it mattered most. He paced the field for the final 17 laps. This spring, he finished third for his fourth consecutive Pocono top 10.

5. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 10.60)
The Pocono 400 this June was one of Kenseth’s best runs in the No. 6. In his third start of the season, he cracked the top 15 for the first time in his new ride. He finished 13th. Last week, Kenseth got his second top 15 (15th) on another flat track. Those two factors combine to suggest he could finish that well again. That makes him a good value in salary cap games where he is moderately priced, but it’s not enough to add him to the Fantasy Live roster.

6. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 11.60)
In his rookie season, Blaney finished 11th and 10th. Last year, he won his first Cup race, but almost as if Fate demanded balance, he fell two laps off the pace in the second race and finished 30th. He was back inside the top 10 this spring with a sixth in the Pocono 400, but it remains to be seen if he can regain his consistency.

7. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 11.80)
Larson’s average is deceptive. It is skewed by a drive train failure last July that sent him behind the wall for 12 laps. If that is removed from his record, he has a career average of 7.75, which would make this his third best track. Larson is a driver who historically has run the high line, so such a great record on a track with a single groove at the bottom is exceptional.

8. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 13.00)
Like Larson, Elliott has only one bad finish during his Pocono career and that makes his average look worse than it should be. Crash damage in the second race of 2016 gave him a 33rd-place finish, but the remainder of his five career races ended in the top 10.

9. Erik Jones (three-year average: 13.33 in three starts)
Will Jones repeat the theme of the two drivers above him? He swept the top 10 in his rookie season before finishing 29th this spring with crash damage. If he follows true to form with Larson and Elliott, that might be his only poor result for quite some time.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 13.40)
Truex won the 2015 Pocono 400, but he had trouble on the 2.5-mile flat track in his next three attempts. From summer 2015 through the end of 2016, his best effort was 19th, which he scored twice. Last spring, he finished sixth and has steadily improved since until he won this spring’s race in dominant fashion.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Kyle Busch swept the pole last year at Pocono. He’s started on the front row five times in 2018 and among the top 10 on 14 occasions. Blaney won this spring and could be a long shot to sweep the season.

Segment Winners: Brad Keselowski has scored points in every stage of a Cup race at Pocono, but he has not yet won a segment. That could mean that he is due to win this week and if a player needs to roll the dice to move up in their league, he is an excellent choice. Make the final decision based on practice, however, and select the driver with the best 10-lap average who qualifies on the first three rows.

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

Brad Keselowski puts on driving clinic with convincing win at Martinsville

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Brad Keselowski put on a driving clinic Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, leading 446 of 500 laps to win the STP 500. It was Keselowski’s second win of the season (also won at Atlanta), and his fourth top-3 finish in the last five races.

It was also Keselowski’s 29th career Cup win and his second Cup Series triumph in 19 career starts at Martinsville. Starting with his first win there in April 2017 and including Sunday’s win, Keselowski has now led 712 total laps over the last five races at the southern Virginia short track. 

“The car was really good,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “Just a great day for our team. Awesome execution on pit road. … Just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you have a great car.

“(Runner-up) Chase Elliott was real strong. He passed me with about 200 laps to go. I watched him and studied and knew what I had to do to hold him off and really pulled it off.”

Elliott tried to mount a last lap surge — two of the previous three races at Martinsville have been won on last lap passes — but ran out of time and fell short.

“Our Camaro was good and felt we were about as even with him as we could be,” Elliott said. “I tried to move up there at the end, but I don’t know if I could have got to him, maybe if I had moved up a little sooner. Maybe next time.”

Kyle Busch, making the 1,000th overall start of his NASCAR career, finished third, snapping a two-race winning streak (Phoenix and Fontana). Busch and Keselowski are now the only two drivers to win more than one race thus far this season.

Ryan Blaney finished fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin. Sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez.

There were only three leaders in the race: Keselowski, Chase Elliott (49 laps) and Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate and pole sitter Joey Logano (6 laps).

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski (first stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 31 (Fox); green flag shortly after 3 p.m. ET.

We’ll be back with more information, including quotes, full results and updated standings. Please check back soon.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch has idea for NASCAR’s Xfinity, Truck limits

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch would entertain the opportunity to pursue the one NASCAR championship that has eluded him – in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series – when his Cup career is over.

But he’s got an idea that would allow him to run both series concurrently and address the limits on Cup drivers running in lower series.

“Why don’t you let us run as many races as we want to run and then once we miss one, we’re done?” Busch pondered after his victory Saturday in the TruNorth Global 250 truck race at Martinsville Speedway. “So if I go all the way to (the June 15 race at Iowa Speedway) in the trucks and run 10 races and can’t go to Iowa, I’m done.

“You can race for points or whatever and so if that ever came down to that, then maybe there’d be an opportunity years down the road that then you can run multiple series and try to go after a championship that way.”

What was NASCAR’s reaction to the plan?

“That’s probably the first time I’ve said that or thought about it,” Busch said with a laugh. “Now that it’s out there … there’s not a damn fan that’s ever going to let it happen.”

Indeed, Busch’s 201st career victory in a NASCAR national series drew the usual outrage on social media Saturday, both from his Rowdy Nation legion of fans and those who vehemently believe he should be limited beyond the NASCAR cap of five truck races and seven Xfinity races allowed for full-time Cup drivers.

Busch has won in seven of 11 starts in trucks, Xfinity and Cup this season.

“Could have been nine or 10 (victories) probably, that’s what the scary part is if it wasn’t for simple mistakes,” Busch said. “Overall, it’s been fun. It’s a damn shame I’m only allowed five and seven.”

Busch has two 2019 starts left in trucks: at Texas Motor Speedway next week and Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

He said the chances are solid for going 5 for 5.

“I’d like to think Texas is a good place,” he said. “I think our guys have a good baseline. Charlotte is always one of my best tracks, favorite tracks and enjoy running there with the trucks, especially. There’s a good opportunity.

“It’s kind of an expectation (to win every race). We just go out, work hard and smart, and today we let the race play itself out and come to us.”

Busch won the 2009 Xfinity championship in the last season in which he ran full time in NASCAR’s top two series. He has focused solely on Cup full time since then, and NASCAR has changed rules over the past eight years limiting the ability to run for more than one title.

Despite 148 starts (and 54 victories), he is yet to run a full truck season, but the 2015 Cup champion has said he’d like to become the first driver to win a championship in each of NASCAR’s top three series.

Three Cup cars fail prerace inspection at Martinsville Speedway

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The cars of William Byron, DJ Kennington and Jeb Burton failed inspection Sunday morning at Martinsville Speedway.

Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet failed mechanical measurements. His sixth-place qualifying time will be disallowed, and he will have to start from the rear.

Kennington failed the OSS. He qualified 34th.

Burton had qualified 33rd.

The three cars will officially start behind those that passed inspection. Cars that qualified behind them will move up one spot.

The No. 24 suffered a right-front tire problem in the opening minutes of first practice Saturday morning, and the team made repairs to put the car back on track.

Today’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway: Start time, lineup, more

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MARTINSVILLE — High downforce could bring hot tempers to Martinsville Speedway, where today’s STP 500 will mark the first short track of the 2019 Cup schedule.

In the last visit to the 0.526-mile oval, Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. aside entering the last two corners in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2018 season.

Here’s the pertinent information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Robert DeRidder, the senior vice president and general manager of Energizer Holdings Inc. (owners of STP), will give the command to start engines at 2:01 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:07 p.m.

PRERACE: The crew chief and drivers meeting is at noon. Driver introductions will begin at 1:20 p.m. The invocation will be given by track chaplain Mike Hatfield at 1:54 p.m. The 380th Army Band will perform the national anthem at 1:55 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (263 miles) around the 0.526-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 130. Stage 2 ends on Lap 260.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 1 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at MRN.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 63 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: In a race delayed to Monday by a snowstorm, Clint Bowyer scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kyle Busch finished second. Ryan Blaney placed third. Joey Logano won at Martinsville last fall. Denny Hamlin placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. 

TO THE REAR: William Byron (mechanical measurements), DJ Kennington (OSS) and Jeb Burton will start from the rear after failing inspection Sunday morning.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.