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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.

2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award finalists announced

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Comcast has announced the three finalists for this year’s Community Champion of the Year Award, which recognizes the philanthropic efforts of individuals within the NASCAR industry.

Through the award Comcast has donated $600,000 to 15 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and help further the impact of their causes.

The three finalists are:

  • Artie Kempner, NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director and Co-Founder of Autism Delaware
  • David Ragan, Cup Series driver and Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children
  • Mike Tatoian, President and CEO of Dover International Speedway and USO Delaware Chairman

The award winner will be selected by a panel composed of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. Comcast will award $60,000 to the winner’s affiliated charity, and $30,000 to each of the two remaining finalists’ selected charities.

The winner will be announced Nov. 14 at W. South Beach Hotel in Miami in conjunction with the NASCAR Championship Weekend.

Artie Kempner (Wilmington, Delaware) – In 1998, a small group of parents got together in the living room of Marcy and Artie Kempner’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. The Kempner’s had three boys and their middle son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier. All of the parents at the table had children on the autism spectrum. That gathering was the beginning of Autism Delaware and Artie became the group’s first president. The organization started as a simple support group, but 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency, fielding more than 1,500 calls from families annually, offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment.

Kempner’s work on the Drive for Autism Celebrity-Am Golf Outing, helped the group raise the necessary money to launch its critically acclaimed adult vocational and employment program known as POW&R, Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation. Now in its 11th year, POW&R assesses an individual’s strengths and vocational goals, and matches them with community-based employment, volunteer and recreational opportunities. Today, the program serves over 150 adults with autism in paid employment.

David Ragan (Unadilla, Georgia) – Since 2012, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events. Ragan’s passion for the hospital goes beyond just the bare-minimum appearance, he makes an effort to remember each patient’s name + story and will continue to stay in touch long after he meets them. Ragan knows the children and families he meets are likely struggling and wants to do what he can to put a smile on their face. His association with the Shriners, as well as being a Shriner himself, has not only brought attention to the hospitals and the great work they are doing, but has increased donations from race fans and team partners. Many people aren’t aware of the great work that the Shriners do, but Ragan has been a strong voice for them for the past 10 years and has changed countless lives because of his great work.

Mike Tatoian (Dover, Delaware) – Mike Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world. One-particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.

NASCAR America’s The MotorSports Hour live at 5 p.m. ET

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America’s The Motorsports Hour airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda is joined by Parker Kligerman and AJ Allmendinger as they discuss the major storylines in multiple racing disciplines, including NASCAR.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Clint Bowyer returning to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020

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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Thursday afternoon that it has extended its deal with Clint Bowyer through the 2020 season.

Bowyer, 40, will drive the No. 14 Ford for a fourth season after joining the team in 2017.

Bowyer joins teammate Aric Almirola in recently renewing deals with SHR.

The news comes after Bowyer made his 500th career Cup start last weekend at Talladega and ahead of the Cup Series playoff race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), which is Bowyer’s home track.

“I’m proud to be back with Stewart-Haas Racing next year and very happy to announce it the week leading into my home race,” Bowyer said in a press release. “This is a team filled with racers who love to compete, and as a racecar driver, it’s exactly where you want to be. Great equipment, great teammates, and we’re all backed by great people, which starts at the top with Tony and Gene. They know how to build some fast Ford Mustangs and I’m the lucky guy who gets to drive ‘em.”

Said team co-owner Tony Stewart: “Clint Bowyer is a racer to his core who brings passion and energy to our race team. He’s exactly who I wanted to drive my No. 14 car and we’re very happy to have him continue with Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Bowyer enter’s Sunday’s race facing elimination from the playoffs. He is 11th in the standings and 24 points behind the cutoff line to advance.

Through 31 races this year Bowyer has no wins, seven top fives and 15 top-10 finishes.

Xfinity Playoff primer for Kansas Speedway

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Did you miss the Xfinity Series last weekend?

While Cup and Truck Series teams battled it out at Talladega Superspeedway, Xfinity teams were enjoying a much deserved week off after 15 straight weekends of racing.

Now it’s time to go back to work this weekend at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC),as the Round of 8 begins. Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway complete the round.

Here’s how things looks for the eight remaining playoff drivers.

TOP GUNS

The second round begins with the “Big 3” of Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick still holding sizable points advantages over the rest of the field.

In the reseeded standings, Bell is 48 points above the cutline and leads Custer (+36 points) and Reddick (+30). Bell and Custer padded their playoff point totals (62 for Bell and 50 for Custer) with their respective first round wins at Richmond and Dover.

Reddick (44 playoff points) will try to rebound from a lackluster first round where he only had one top five (Charlotte Roval) and finishes of 10th and 12th.

Bell earned his first career Xfinity win at Kansas in 2017 but was eliminated in a wreck on the first lap of this race last year.

While Custer was also involved in the Lap 1 crash and finished 26th, he rebounded in the Texas race to earn his first win of the year. Entering this weekend he has finished 10th or better in the last seven races.

“I think we need to go in the same way we have all year and that mentality is that we will have one of the cars to beat when we unload,” Custer said in a press release. “All year we have had speed off the truck and that has shown in practice speeds along with our seven wins. If we keep our heads up at these tracks that haven’t been kind to us in the past, then our luck is sure to turn around at some point and our goal is for that to happen this weekend in Kansas.”

NEEDING A LITTLE MORE

Outside the prolific “Big 3”  – who have won 19 of 29 races so far – the most consistent drivers this season have been Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

Cindric (+3 points above cutline) remains the only non-“Big 3” Xfinity regular with more than one win this season. He earned the most points in the Round of 12 with 146.

Allgaier (-3 points from cutline) is winless in his last 37 starts. He earned the second most points in the first round with 145. In this round last year, his best result was fifth at Texas, sandwiched between a 38th at Kansas (Lap 1 wreck) and a 24th at ISM Raceway.

Briscoe (-4 points) enters Kansas with tops 10s in 12 of the last 13 races. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver finished ninth or better in all three first round races.

“We’ve been running pretty well recently and have really shown a lot of speed, so hopefully we are fast right out of the box when we get to Kansas,” Briscoe said in a press release. “We have had two straight poles (Charlotte and Dover) and probably should have had two wins in those races. It’s all about sealing the deal now and capitalizing on the speed that we have shown these last few weeks. I feel like Kansas and Texas are my two best tracks in this round and we’ll look to have a couple great runs, ideally a win, and get ourselves in solid position for the championship round.”

WORK TO DO

The last two spots in the Round of 8 are occupied by JR Motorsports’ Michael Annett and Noah Gragson.

This is the deepest in the playoffs that Annett (-8 points) has reached since returning to the Xfinity Series (two visits). He had two top 10s in the first round and has not finished worse than 15th in the last 13 races.

Outside of Allgaier, Gragson (-12 points) is the only other remaining playoff driver without a win this season.

He had one top five in the first round (fifth at Charlotte Roval) and two seventh-place finishes.

Playoff standings