NASCAR America Fantasy League: Forecasting the playoffs

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The key to success in Fantasy NASCAR is planning ahead. The final off-weekend on the NASCAR Cup schedule gives NASCAR America Fantasy Live players a chance to look back at the season and forward for the playoffs.

The final two races of the regular season each stand alone. There is no true comparative track to Darlington. While Indy favors drivers who were strong at Pocono, it marks the final 2.5-mile flat track race and cannot be used to help handicap any future race of 2018.

Two track types will dominate the playoffs. Three races will be contested on short, flat courses measuring a mile or less in length with three more on similarly configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Homestead is also 1.5 miles in length, but it lacks the dogleg or double dogleg configuration of Las Vegas (Round 1), Kansas (Round 2) and Texas (Round 3).

Short, flat tracks are represented by Richmond in Round 1 plus Martinsville and Phoenix in Round 3.

Those are the two track types that must be dominated in order to have an opportunity to advance through the elimination system and get to the finale.

There are two wild card races this year. The Roval at Charlotte and the restrictor-plate race at Talladega will play a significant role in who survives, but the eight drivers who survive into Round 3 are going to be the cream of the crop.

A driver’s overall ranking is a combination of their rank on 1.5-mile tracks and flat tracks measuring less than one mile in length (based on their average finish on those track types).

1. Kyle Busch (1.5-mile avg. rank: 1; Short, flat avg. rank: 1)
Busch has not been perfect in 2018. Last week’s race at Bristol proved as much when he was involved in three separate incidents, all of which could have been avoided with a little more patience. The fact remains that he has been perfect on the two track types that dominate the playoffs with three of his six wins coming on 1.5-mile tracks and another on a short, flat track.

2. Kevin Harvick (1.5-mile avg. rank: 2; Short, flat avg. rank: 2)
Harvick and Busch have been door-to-door for most of 2018. Victories at Phoenix and New Hampshire, plus another three on 1.5-mile tracks means that he will most likely advance to each round with a win. The only time he’s finished outside the top 10 on either of these two track types was when he cut a tire in the Coke 600.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (1.5-mile avg. rank: 3; Short, flat avg. rank: 4)
If Truex does not make it to Homestead with an opportunity to win the championship, it is going to be because of a mistake. In April, he sustained crash damage at Texas. He had trouble in the pits later that same month at Richmond, but those are the only times he has finished outside the top five all season at these types of tracks examined.

4. Joey Logano (1.5-mile avg. rank: 4; Short, flat avg. rank: 6)
Logano’s potential path to the Championship 4 will lie in consistency. In 11 races on 1.5-milers and short, flat tracks 1-mile or less in length, he has only two top fives but has finished outside the top 10 only twice. With an 11.5 career average, Richmond is his second-best track and that venue should provide him with and easy way through Round 1.

5. Denny Hamlin (1.5-mile avg. rank: 9; Short, flat avg. rank: 5)
Hamlin is going to be hard to predict. In 11 races run on 1.5-milers and short, flat tracks, he has finished outside the top 10 five times and in the top five on five occasions. He has not yet won. In fact, one of the tracks on which he should have dominated ended with a crash-induced 12th-place finish at Martinsville. If he makes it to Round 3, he has a good shot at advancing to Homestead – if he can beat Chase Elliott.

6. Chase Elliott (1.5-mile avg. rank: 12; Short, flat avg. rank: 3)
The good news is that if Elliott makes it to Round 3, he has great odds of being the fourth driver in the championship. He finished third in the spring race at Phoenix, was ninth at Martinsville, second at Richmond and fifth at New Hampshire. First, he will have to survive the wild card races and the 1.5-mile tracks where he has only the 12th-best average finish and only one top 10 in 2018.

7. Kurt Busch (1.5-mile avg. rank: 10; Short, flat avg. rank: 7)
Busch will easily advance out of Round 1 of the playoffs on points. He has shown consistency all season and the appropriate amount of power when necessary. In 11 races on the two track types that will dominate the playoffs, he has finished between sixth and 11th nine times. Like most of the field, his biggest challenge will come on the wild card road course and plate track.

8. Erik Jones (1.5-mile avg. rank: 4; Short, flat avg. rank: 14)
Jones is peaking at the right time. His last 10 races have ended in results of 16th or better including his Daytona victory and top fives at Pocono, Watkins Glen, and Bristol. And while notes from those courses won’t help him much in the playoffs, his average finish of 8.86 on 1.5-mile tracks ties him with Logano for fourth best. He will need to keep his composure, but that has not been difficult for the sophomore driver this year.

9. Kyle Larson (1.5-mile avg. rank: 6; Short, flat avg. rank: 13)
The Big 3 have skewed the numbers so much in 2018 that Larson’s record does not look impressive enough to make him a sure thing. In all likelihood, the other 13 drivers in the playoffs will battle for a single spot alongside Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and Larson needs more top five finishes to his credit than the three he’s scored to make him a favorite.

10. Clint Bowyer (1.5-mile avg. rank: 8; Short, flat avg. rank: 12)
Bowyer sustained crash damage at New Hampshire and failed to finish. That was one of only two times in 11 races on the 1.5-milers and short, flat tracks that he did not finish among the top 15. His victory this spring at Martinsville and a sixth at Phoenix makes him one of the more interesting choices on flat tracks in the playoffs.

11. Aric Almirola (1.5-mile avg. rank: 12; Short, flat avg. rank: 8)
Almirola lacks the overall performance to make him a good place-and-hold fantasy pick. He has been consistent most of the year on the two track types that will make up the majority of the playoff schedule, but with only one top five to his credit, it is unlikely that he will survive to Round 3.

12. Brad Keselowski (1.5-mile avg. rank: 6; Short, flat avg. rank: 17)
Keselowski’s rankings of seventh on the 1.5-mile tracks and 17th on short, flat courses are both marred by a bad finish. He failed to finish at Texas this spring and was slowed by a crash at New Hampshire last month. He finished in the low 30s both times. Otherwise, he has swept the top 15 on these two track types.

13. Ryan Blaney (1.5-mile avg. rank: 14; Short, flat avg. rank: 10)
Like his teammate Keselowski, Blaney’s numbers can be a little confusing. He suffered through a spate of misfortune in April and May that resulted in sub-20th-place results at Richmond, Kansas, and Charlotte. Blaney’s saving grace is that three results on 1.5-mile tracks landed in the top five, including a second at Kentucky and fifth place finishes at Las Vegas and Texas – two tracks that host playoff races.

14. Jimmie Johnson (1.5-mile avg. rank: 17; Short, flat avg. rank: 9)
Fantasy owners are in uncharted waters regarding Johnson. In the past, he has been able to flip a switch when the playoffs rolled around. It didn’t seem that any lack of momentum from the regular season affected him in the final 10 races – but he’s never suffered quite as badly as in 2018. The good news is that his last four attempts on the most relevant track types have all ended in top 15 finishes.

15. Alex Bowman (1.5-mile avg. rank: 19; Short, flat avg. rank: 11)
Bowman’s ability to advance out of Round 1 of the playoffs will most likely depend on the adversity of other drivers. If four competitors sustain damage in the first two races or if the Charlotte Roval has a lot of mayhem, Bowman’s consistent top-20 results will propel him forward. It’s unlikely that he can earn enough points to be part of the top eight, however.

16. Austin Dillon (1.5-mile avg. rank: 27; Short, flat avg. rank: 19)
In past seasons, the drivers in most jeopardy of being one of the first four eliminated are those with wins on wild card tracks. Dillon’s Daytona 500 victory locked him into the playoffs, but he has scored only one more top five and two other top 10s in the last 23 races.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Through the first 24 races of the season, Truex has earned the most poles. He’s earned the top spot four times and led the Martinsville field to green on another occasion when qualification was canceled. Most of these came at the beginning of the season, however. Joe Gibbs Racing has had the most recent success with Hamlin and Daniel Suarez winning three of the last four poles.

Segment Winners: Like everything else this season, segment wins have been dominated by the Big 3. Harvick has 12 segment wins, Truex has seven and Busch has six. Blaney (five segment wins) and Keselowski (four) are the closest competitors among the rest of the field. Bowyer has earned the most segment points (171) without winning a stage.

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

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”

 

Front Row Motorsports adds more Cup races to Zane Smith’s schedule

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Reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Zane Smith, who seeks to qualify for the Daytona 500, will do six additional Cup races for Front Row Motorsports this season, the team announced Tuesday. Centene Corporation’s brands will sponsor Smith.

The 23-year-old Smith will drive the No. 36 car in his attempt to make the Daytona 500 for Front Row Motorsports. That car does not have a charter. Chris Lawson will be the crew chief. 

Smith’s remaining six Cup races will be in the No. 38 car for Front Row Motorsports, which has a charter. Todd Gilliland will drive the remaining 30 points races and All-Star Open in that car. Ryan Bergenty will be the crew chief for both drivers this year.

Smith’s races in the No. 38 car will be Phoenix (March 12), Talladega (April 23), Coca-Cola 600 (May 28), Sonoma (June 11), Texas (Sept. 24) and the Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8). 

He also will run the full Truck season. 

Centene’s Wellcare, which offers a range of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans will be Smith’s sponsor for the Daytona 500, Phoenix, Talladega and Sonoma. Centene’s Ambetter, a provider of health insurance offerings on the Health Insurance Marketplace, will be Smith’s sponsor at Texas and the Charlotte Roval. 

Smith’s sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600 will be Boot Barn. 

The mix of tracks is something Smith said he is looking forward to this season.

“I wanted to run Phoenix just because the trucks only go to Phoenix once and it’s the biggest race of the year,” Smith told NBC Sports. “I wanted to get as much time and laps as I can at Phoenix even though it’s in a completely different car. I wanted to run road courses, as well, just because I felt road course racing suits me.”

Smith also will be back in the Truck Series. Ambetter Health will be the primary sponsor of Smith’s Truck at Homestead (Oct. 21). The partnership with Centene includes full season associate sponsorship of Smith’s Truck and full season associate sponsorship on the No. 38 Cup car. 

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150
Zane Smith holding the Truck series championship trophy last year at Phoenix. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Smith’s connection to Centene Corporation, a St. Louis-based company, goes back to last June’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Smith made his Cup debut that weekend, filling in for Chris Buescher, who was out with COVID-19. Smith finished 17th.

“It’s cool to see how into the sport they are,” Smith said of Centene Corporation. “It started out with an appearance I did for them (at World Wide Technology Raceway). I’ve gotten to know that group pretty well.”

Centene also is the healthcare partner of Speedway Motorsports and sponsors a Cup race at Atlanta and Xfinity race at New Hampshire. 

Smith’s opportunity to run select Cup races, including major events as the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600, is part of the fast trajectory he’s made.

In 2019, he made only 10 Xfinity starts with JR Motorsports and didn’t start racing full-time in NASCAR until the 2020 season. Since then, he’s won a Truck title, finished second two other times and scored seven Truck victories.

“I feel like I’ve lived about probably three lifetimes in these four years just with getting that part-time Xfinity schedule and running well and getting my name out there,” Smith said.

He was provided an extra Xfinity race at Phoenix in 2019 with JRM and that proved significant to his future.

“That happened to be probably one of my best runs,” he said of his fifth-place finish that day. “We ran top four, top five all day and (team owner) Maury Gallagher happened to be there. He watched that.”

He signed with Gallagher’s GMS Racing Truck truck.

“It was supposed to be a part-time Truck schedule and (then) I won at Michigan and it was like, ‘Oh man, we’re in the playoffs, we should probably be full-time racing.’ I won another one a couple of weeks later at Dover.”

His success led to second season with the team and he again finished second in the championship. That led to the drive to a title last year.

The championship trophy sits in his home office and serves as motivation every day.

“First thing you see is when you come through my front door is pretty much the trophy,” Smith said. “It drives me crazy now thinking I could have two more to go with it and how close I was. … Really just that much more hungrier to go capture more.”