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.

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”

NASCAR says it missed William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A senior NASCAR executive admitted that series officials did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution on the frontstretch of Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. 

The missed call could have major implications in the playoffs — even if series officials decide to penalize Byron later this week, as was hinted Sunday night. 

The issue occurred after Martin Truex Jr. blew a tire while leading and crashed in Turn 3 on Lap 269 of the 334-lap race.  

With the caution lights illuminated, Hamlin slowed. Byron hit him in retaliation for forcing him into the wall earlier. Hamlin spun across the infield grass. NASCAR did not put Hamlin back in his original spot before the contact and did not penalize Byron.

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition said after the race. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green. I’m not sure that that issue is completely resolved as of yet. We’ll be looking at that when we get back to work.”

Miller did not elaborate on what NASCAR could do this week.

Hamlin expressed his shock on social media at Miller’s comments:

Miller explained how officials missed the Byron-Hamlin incident: “The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them. By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

Had NASCAR seen the incident or video sooner, Miller said officials would have reacted.

“If we had seen that good enough to react to it real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” he said. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Race winner Tyler Reddick said NASCAR needs to address the situation to avoid other contact under caution in the future.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Byron said he hit Hamlin to show his dissatisfaction for being forced into the wall. 

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin didn’t see it that way.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin told NBC Sports’ Kim Coon. “I tried to wreck him back. I don’t think we touched. I’ve got to look. I don’t think we touched. Obviously he sent us through the infield under caution.”

Asked about having a conversation with Byron, Hamlin said: “I keep hearing these guys, but I’ll just add it to the list of guys when I get a chance they’re going to get it.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart both were frustrated with NASCAR not putting Hamlin back to second after the contact. Instead, NASCAR put him outside the top 15. After pitting, Hamlin restarted 19th. Byron, after pitting, restarted 10th. 

“The man wrecks you under caution and he gets no penalty?” Gabehart said on the team’s radio. “What are they doing?”

Said Hamlin after the race: “I can’t argue the rules with them inside the car and the team did everything they could to try to make a case but ultimately we went spinning through the infield under caution.”

The result is that Byron finished seventh. That puts him third in the playoff standings. He’s 17 points above the cutline going into next weekend’s race at Talladega.

Hamlin finished 10th and is sixth in the playoff standings. He’s eight points above the cutline.