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

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NASCAR’s Big 3 have dominated every track type this season. Martin Truex Jr. won both stages of the Auto Club 400 en route to victory; Kevin Harvick won Segment 2 of the spring Michigan race and would likely have taken the checkers if the race had not been shortened by rain.

Kyle Busch has top-five finishes in both races on 2-mile tracks this year and a victory at Auto Club as recently as 2014. There is no reason to believe they will not dominate again and all three should be on this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster – even though Truex is ranked ninth in regard to his three-season average and Busch is all the way down in 16th (with an average of 16.0).

There will be some interesting challengers, however, and players looking to gain an advantage over the competition have a lot of choices.

1. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 4.60)
In five career races at Michigan, Elliott has a perfect record of top 10 finishes. His first three attempts ended in runner-up finishes and if not for some missteps on restarts, he would almost certainly have scored that first Cup victory in his rookie season. Coming off last week’s victory at Watkins Glen, he now knows how to win.

2. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 6.80)
Larson was Truex’s closest competition this spring at Auto Club. When the series came to Michigan in June, many believed he would challenge the Big 3 for the win. He might have been a bigger factor in the finish if he had not spun while trying a little too hard. He swept victory lane in 2017 as part of a three-race winning streak and should be part of this week’s battle for the top spot.

3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 7.80)
There are several reasons to expect Harvick to win this week, but perhaps the most compelling is that he is tired of finishing second at Michigan. When he crossed under the checkers behind Bowyer this spring, it was the sixth time in the last 11 races that he was the runner-up, so players can expect Harvick to do whatever it takes to get that final spot.

4. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 8.20)
If a player is confident in his or her core roster, McMurray makes an excellent garage pick in this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live game. He is in the midst of an anemic season, but managed to finish 10th in this spring’s Michigan race. That was his fifth consecutive top 10 there and that makes him a safe pick in case one of the superstars experiences trouble in the first two segments.

5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 9.20)
In fantasy NASCAR, players constantly have to decide if a driver’s track record or his recent momentum during the season carries more weight. Keselowski has been struggling in recent weeks, but Michigan is a track on which he’s been nearly perfect in the past five seasons with seven top 10s in nine races.

MORE: Rotoworld Consumers Energy 400 Cheat Sheets

6. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.60)
Busch has a reputation for consistency on most tracks. Michigan is no exception with a current streak of five consecutive top-12 finishes to his credit. Only one of these was better than 10th, but he was one of the game’s best values this spring with a third-place finish.

7. Joey Logano (three-year average: 9.80)
Like his teammate Keselowski, Logano needs to be watched closely in practice. At the start of the year, Team Penske was expected to challenge the leaders on a regular basis and while its three drivers have swept the top 10 three times in the last nine races, they have only three top fives in 27 starts. None of those belong to Logano

8. Erik Jones (three-year average: 10.33 in 3 starts)
The season began with expectations that the young guns would challenge the old guard. Harvick, Busch and Truex insured that didn’t happen, but with recent wins by Jones at Daytona and Elliott at the Glen, they have begun to make a lot more noise. It remains to be seen if they can challenge on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway, however.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 11.60)
For all the talk about the Big 3, Truex was a little late to the party. He did not run all that well at Michigan this spring and finished 18th. If not for a sweep of the top 10 last year, he wouldn’t make the list. In the last four seasons, he has either finished in the top 10 in both races or outside that mark twice.

10. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.80)
Newman deserves some special attention this week in games other than NASCAR Fantasy Live. His consistency at Michigan has been among the best with top-20 finishes in every race for seven years leading up to this spring’s Firekeepers Casino 400. He slipped to 22nd in June but should be able to rebound and score another result in the teens.

10. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 13.80)
Handicapping Blaney this week requires looking at his Auto Club effort as well as his success at Michigan. He finished eighth in the Auto Club 400 and again at Michigan. He also has a fourth-place finish in the second Michigan race of 2016, so he should be on the radar if he practices and qualifies well.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: The last three poles at Michigan were won by different drivers. Kurt Busch grabbed the top spot this spring with Larson and Keselowski showing success in 2017. Logano swept the pole in 2016, however, and there is a strong possibility that the driver of the No. 41 can do it this year. Kurt’s closest competitor may be his brother Kyle because they both have three poles so far in 2018.

Segment Winners: Martin Truex Jr. has won three of the five segments run at Michigan in the past two years and if he shows speed in practice, he should be this week’s selection for those bonus points. He failed to earn any bonus points in Segment 2 in June, however. Harvick, Larson, Keselowski and Kyle Busch have been in the top 10 at the end of every Michigan stage and they should also be considered.

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

Mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller dies at 65

JR Motorsports
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Brenda Jackson, mother of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has died following a battle with cancer, JR Motorsports announced Monday. She was 65.

Formerly Brenda Gee, she married Dale Earnhardt in 1972. Together they had Kelley (1972) and Dale Jr. (1974) before separating.

Jackson was one of two daughters and four children to NASCAR fabricator Robert Gee, a Virginia native who built winning cars for racers, including Earnhardt.

After her separation from Earnhardt, the children stayed with her as Earnhardt tried to establish his racing career. After a fire claimed their home, Jackson moved back to Virginia while the children went to live with Earnhardt.

She remarried in 1985 to William M. Jackson Jr., a firefighter in Norfolk, Virginia. When he retired they moved back to North Carolina with step-daughter Meredith. Jackson joined JR Motorsports as an accounting specialist in 2004 and remained there through 2019.

Jackson is survived by her husband; her children Dale Earnhardt Jr. (wife Amy), Kelley Earnhardt Miller (husband L.W.), step-daughter Meredith Davis (husband Jonathan); her grandchildren Karsyn Elledge (18), Kennedy Elledge (13), Wyatt Miller (7), Callahan Davis (16), Claudia Davis (13), and Isla Rose Earnhardt (11 months); her brothers Robert Gee (wife Beverly) and Jimmy Gee; and her beloved Pekingese dog, Scully.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Piedmont Animal Rescue or Hospice and Palliative Care of Iredell.

Nashville Fairgrounds promoters respond to claims of contract breach

Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville
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Last week Claire Formosa, the VP of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and a lawyer representing Formosa Productions pushed back against allegations made by the Nashville Board of Fair Commissioners that the company had breached its contract to run the track.

On April 8, the Fair Board commission sent a letter to the Formosas informing them that it was exercising a breach clause in their contract over two items: the track breaking its designated curfew of 7 p.m. on a school night and unpaid concessions commission of $31,930 from last year.

A third issue had been resolved regarding late office rent payments for the first three months of the year.

The claims by the commission come as the Formosas and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. face obstacles in their attempts to bring NASCAR back to the short track.

“To suggest that Formosa Productions breached its contract … that’s a serious allegation and I don’t believe that’s well-founded,” said Jim Roberts, the Formosa’s attorney, during the monthly Fair Board meeting on April 16.

Roberts observed that the language of the contract does not state when the concession payments are due.

“So I would submit that it’s impossible to be in breach of a contract when there are no payment schedules to find,” Roberts said.

Roberts argued concession payments would not be due until the end of the contract on March 23, 2023.

“That’s not how things are normally done, but let’s just be honest, that’s what the contract as drafted says,” Roberts said. Roberts also claimed the Formosas were not aware the concessions payments were part of the contract and that they’d never received an invoice.

“There’s been no invoicing, I think the board needs to be aware of that, no invoicing of these concessions until last week,” Roberts said, who added the Formosas asked for the invoices and received them on April 9, but that the provided invoices totaled $28,430 and not the $31,930 referenced in the April 8 letter.

The Fair Board’s letter alleged that the track broke its 7 p.m. curfew on March 27 when Kyle Busch took part in a test session for the All-America 400.

The Board claimed this violation came after a verbal warning for curfew violation on May 10 of last year. Roberts said the Formosas have no idea what event was held on that date to warrant the warning.

Regarding Busch’s test date, Roberts claimed the Formosas understood that if they received permission from the principal of a nearby school and the neighborhood association, there would be “no objection or problem” with a late track running time.

Roberts said they have a letter from the principal and the permission from the neighborhood association allowing the test.

Formosa said she had gone to the March neighborhood association meeting and was told she was cleared to go ahead with a late track rental, as long as she had the support of the school principal in the area.

Board member Jason Bergeron mentioned a series of emails from before March 27 where Formosa was told by Executive Director Laura Womack that they’d still be limited by the curfew and he noted that the principal’s permission was not part of the contract.

“She let me know and I told her ‘OK’,” Formosa said. “It was a complete miscommunication between myself and my office staff.”

With the test going beyond 8 p.m., Formosa, who was not on site, traveled to the track and shut it down by 8:17. p.m.

Bergeron said he’s heard from people in the neighborhood “that they don’t feel like they can count on that 7 o’clock curfew” when it comes to track rentals.

Formosa objected to this assertion.

“We have these monthly neighborhood meetings for this very reason,” Formosa said. “I can tell you that I never heard an issue raised by either one of the neighborhood associations. If there were issues raised, this is certainty the first time I’m hearing about them.”

K&N Series’ Jagger Jones, Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pair up for Baja race

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Jagger Jones is going to spend Spring Break not in Daytona Beach or Fort Lauderdale – but he’ll be seeing a lot of sand nonetheless.

About 1,300 miles worth.

The 16-year-old rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver will be taking part in his second consecutive National Off-Road Racing Association 1000 off-road race (also known as the Mexican 1000) from April 28 – May 2 in Baja California, Mexico.

Sitting alongside Jones and splitting driving duties will be legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme, who will also be competing in his second Mexican 1000.

It’s not an easy race, for sure,” Jones told NBC Sports. “It’s long, it’s five days, it’s hot, the end of April and the start of May. Don really liked being in last year’s race, but I could tell he was unsure if he was up to do it again. Then my dad and I threw out the deal where we split the race and Don was on-board with that. We both just jumped on that idea.”

MORE: Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pairs with Parnelli Jones’ grandson for Mexican 1000

While other teenagers may be intimidated to be paired with one of the most legendary names in motorsports, Jones isn’t. He’s used to being around iconic racers, most notably his grandfather, Parnelli Jones. And his father, P.J., is not only a noted racer himself, he also built the Polaris off-road buggy that his son and Prudhomme will drive in the 1000.

It’s really cool to be able to do a race with the one and only Snake, who has been such a legend in the drag racing community,” Jones said. “I’m only 16 years old, so I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve always been around the off-road scene and watched my dad do a lot of races off-road. I grew up around Robby Gordon and off-road places like Parker (Arizona), where we always go there every year and go camping. I’ve always wanted to do off-road racing. My brother and I both enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of different than the pavement stuff. It’s really fun when you’re sideways and stuff.”

Prudhomme is looking forward to racing with Jagger.

Doing it with Jagger, he’s a young, real aggressive driver and he’s really fast,” Prudhomme said. “I couldn’t think of a better kid to be my co-driver.”

Jones is able to take part in the Mexican 1000 because the K&N Series West is on a six-week hiatus, his next race not being until May 11 in Tucson.

He’s done well in his first two K&N races, finishing runner-up in his series debut at Las Vegas (was knocked out of the lead on the final lap) and fourth at Irwindale Speedway.

Jones sits tied for third in the K&N West standings, three points behind series frontrunner Hailie Deegan.

I think we’ve had a great start to the season,” Jones said. “It was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but … so far for a rookie season, I don’t think it’s too bad of a start.”

Jones competed in last year’s Mexican 1000 with younger brother Jace. The pair were in the lead when the transmission on their off-road buggy failed, ending their hopes of a win (their father won in another class in the same race). Prudhomme finished 95th in a field of more than 150 drivers in the same event.

Much like Prudhomme feels he has unfinished business in Baja, Jones feels the same way. Now paired with the “Snake,” Jagger is ready to go for the win.

We definitely have a shot at winning,” Jones said. “It’s like an endurance race. First, you have to finish to win. That’s probably going to be our biggest goal.

We want to do good, but if we can just finish, I think we’ll wind up in a good place. If we finish, anything else is a bonus. To win would be awesome. My dad won last year, so if we could follow that up this year, it’d be super cool.”

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Michael Annett feels like ‘I belong here’ after best start of Xfinity career

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If Michael Annett‘s dog could talk.

The owner of three dogs, Annett has had Paisley, a miniature golden doodle, for 13 years.

That’s more than the entirety of his full-time NASCAR career, which began in 2009.

Along with his girlfriend at the time, Paisley was a passenger in Annett’s car in February during the seven-hour drive back from Daytona International Speedway a day after Annett scored his first career Xfinity Series win.

“She’s seen it all,” Annett told NBC Sports. “I’m sure she was pinching herself, too. It was just pretty special to have that time in the car, honestly. It wasn’t a bad thing I drove because it gave me those seven hours to really digest everything we did the day before is pretty special.”

Annett’s win locked him into the Xfinity playoffs, which he was unable to take part in last year in his second season with JR Motorsports. Annett and what was then the No. 5 team finished 16th in a season that saw Annett work with two crew chiefs for most of the campaign’s 33 races.

The second crew chief, the man who leads Annett’s No. 1 team now, was Travis Mack.

A former car chief at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne’s crew chief at Leavine Family Racing, Mack joined Annett’s team after 19 races had been completed.

The change came as the series entered Annett’s worst stretch of races.

“He came in and we had three road courses (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Watkins Glen) and Bristol right away,” Annett said. “I told him leading up to it, ‘This is where I’m the worst, road courses. I’m sorry they’re throwing you to the wolves like this.'”

Annett didn’t finish better than 12th at the road courses, but he snagged a seventh-place finish at Bristol, his first top 10 through 22 races. He’d round out the season with three, including a ninth in the finale in Miami.

“We left Homestead everybody was just really pumped for February to come,” Annett said.

Annett approached the ensuing offseason differently than at any other point in his career.

“A lot of guys when you leave Homestead we kind of scatter,” Annett said. “Honestly, the whole offseason I was at the shop almost every day. Team lunches with guys, dinners with the guys. The crew chief, Travis Mack and I, working out every morning together. Just always bouncing ideas back and forth and if it wasn’t about racing it was team camaraderie and just building that relationship, wanting to make sure everyone on that 1 team’s going to hold the end of the rope for you if you’re hanging by it. That’s what you need, you gotta to have everybody bought into the same goal and I think just building that relationship and unity`has been a huge benefit for us.”

It didn’t just benefit Annett at Daytona.

After eight races, Annett is off to the best start of his NASCAR career. He has two top fives (Daytona and Las Vegas) and five top 10s, two shy of the seven total he had when he returned to Xfinity from Cup in 2017.

“Going to Atlanta and being fast in practice, didn’t have the best race, finished 12th. Last year at that point, man, we’d be high-fiving for a 12th,” Annett said. “Just continued to grow and it’s still continuing to grow. We’re not even close to where we want to be right now.”

Annett’s performance in 2018 came back to bite him early in the season when two of the first three races had qualifying rained out. That caused the field to be established by last year’s owner points. He started 16th at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

As a result Annett missed out on getting more stage points than he thought he was capable of.

“That put us in a pretty big hole right away,” Annett said. “But even those races, honestly is when we got the most (12 total). It’s hard to say. I’m not a genie or anything, but I feel like we’d have more bonus points at this point, but I still feel like those were some of our best races for some reason.”

With his Daytona win and being locked into the playoffs, Annett’s team has taken gambles he’s never been able to, like staying out on old tires in the middle of Stage 1 at Richmond. It didn’t work out and Annett finished the race in 13th.

“It took a little bit (of adjusting) just because I was hungry for those top fives and when you don’t have a top-five car you know if it doesn’t work out you’re going to be outside the top 10,” Annett said. “That part’s been tough. Really had to get in my head and figure out what’s going to help us go through rounds in the playoffs. Once I really got that in my head it was easy.”

What has Annett learned about himself as a driver in the months since Mack was brought on board?

“I think that just that I belong here,” Annett said. “At some point you beat yourself down long enough you start to wonder if you remember how to drive a race car or if you belong. But once you start to show that consistency and you’re passing cars that you know that could have a chance to win a race and you’re driving by them, it’s moments like that. When you’re driving past race-winning cars that’s when you start to get that confidence and ‘Yeah, you still remember how to do this.'”