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

Leave a comment

Drivers are constantly on the edge of control. On most tracks, there is a little room for error. If a car is too loose in the bottom groove, the driver has chance to catch it. That luxury does not exist at Darlington Raceway where the preferred line has always been about an inch from the retaining wall.

The Darlington Stripe is more than a badge of honor; often, it is a sign of speed because it means the car has hovered on that edge for most of the race. Drivers who lightly brush the wall are maximizing speed; those who hit the wall too hard risk doing damage, however, and the difference between those two is measured in tiny increments.

Only five drivers enter the Southern 500 with back-to-back top 10s at Darlington. By itself, that is a testament to how difficult this race is to navigate – and also how challenging it will be to set this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

1. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 2.67)
Bristol was the first time this season the Big 3 all experienced trouble in the same race. That opened the door for someone else to win. The same thing could happen at Darlington. Hamlin is the defending winner of this race and enters with three consecutive top fives at Darlington.

2. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 5.33)
Only three drivers enter the weekend with at least three consecutive top 10s. Harvick has the longest streak among active drivers with five. That includes a victory in 2014 and a second in 2016. He is also tied for the longest top-10 streak of 2018. Harvick and Kurt Busch have both finished that well in the last six races.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 6.00)
Truex won the 2016 Southern 500. That was a bit of a surprise because it was only the second time he’d finished in the top five there. Last year, he proved it wasn’t a fluke by winning both stages of the race before slipping to eighth at the checkers. With Harvick and Kyle Busch developing a points advantage, he needs to win and close the gap.

4. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 6.67)
When Busch won the Dodge Challenger 500 in 2008, he lacked consistency. In his first five attempts at Darlington, he finished outside the top 20 three times. Since 2010, he’s earned six top 10s in eight races and finished 11th twice. It won’t take long for players to forget all about what happened at Bristol where he was involved in three incidents.

5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 8.67)
Everyone keeps waiting for Keselowski and Joey Logano to snap out of their slump and challenge for more top fives. The time is running out on the regular season. If they want to develop some momentum before the playoffs, there are only two races remaining and that is a lot of pressure on a track as tough as Darlington.

MORE: Rotoworld’s Southern 500 Cheat Sheet

6. Joey Logano (three-year average: 9.00)
It took seven years for Logano to score a top five at Darlington, but on the heels of a fourth-place finish in 2015, he scored a fifth in 2016. That momentum might have been squandered with last year’s 18th. Logano was one of the biggest challengers to the Big 3 at the start of the year, but fantasy players want to see more from him before they risk an allocation.

6. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 9.00)
Darlington is not typically kind to rookies, so Larson’s eighth-place finish in the 2014 Southern 500 was notable. He followed that up with a 10th the following year and a third in 2016. Fantasy players need to take a moment and consider if his 14th in last year’s edition of this race foreshadows a turnaround or if it was simply an anomaly.

8. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 9.33)
Ryan Newman could well be the greatest differentiator this week. While he has not earned a top five at Darlington since 2011, his last five attempts there have been between seventh and 13th. He deserves a spot in the garage in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game because he’s going to be a safe pick if one your other drivers experiences trouble.

9. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 11.00)
This could be the week that Kenseth finally gets back inside the top 10. Trevor Bayne came within one position of that mark last week at Bristol and Kenseth has a stellar record at Darlington with a victory and five results of sixth or better in the last six races. If Kenseth can get in the top 10, the No. 6 will be this week’s most pleasant surprise.

10. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 12.67)
Dillon’s average finish is not as impressive as one would like, but he’s rapidly improved during the past three years at Darlington. He finished 22nd in 2015, scored a 12th the following year and then jumped all the way to fourth in 2017. Anything near the top 10 will be a successful outing for this team.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Harvick has led the field to green in three of the last four races. He earned the pole on speed last year and in 2014. He was awarded the pole by NASCAR’s rule book in 2016 and that has been part of his secret to success.

Segment Winners: Truex swept both stages of last year’s Southern 500 and he’s proven capable of repeating that accomplishment on a number of occasions – most recently this July at Kentucky. If he has fast 10-lap averages in this week’s practice, he is a good selection for the race. Hamlin scored 17 stage points last year and should also be considered.

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

Clint Bowyer, William Byron look to extend streak of first-time winners in playoffs

Leave a comment

In the 15-year-history of the NASCAR playoff era, only 16 times has a Cup Series playoff driver earned their first win of the season in the playoffs itself.

Two of those occurrences have happened in the last two weeks.

Kyle Larson got the streak going with his dominating win in the Round of 12 opener at Dover International Speedway. That snapped a 75-race winless streak for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

It continued Monday when Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney barely beat Ryan Newman to win at Talladega Superspeedway. It snapped a 37-race winless streak for Blaney.

Can the first-time winner steak continue?

If it does, it will take place Sunday at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). But of the 16 instances a playoff driver earned their first win in the playoffs, it’s only happened once on the 1.5-mile track.

Jack Roush and Mark Martin celebrate winning the Banquet 400 on Oct. 9, 2005 at the Kansas Speedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Mark Martin was the winner on Oct. 9, 2005, a day that saw Roush Fenway Racing put four of its five cars in the top five.

It was Martin’s first win in 52 races. It was just the second time a playoff driver’s first win in a season came in the playoffs. The first was three races earlier at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Ryan Newman).

Ahead of Sunday’s race there are only two Cup Series playoff drivers left who could potentially extend the streak: William Byron and Clint Bowyer.

Aside from securing them spots in the Round of 8, wins by either would be notable in their own right.

A victory by Bowyer would be his first on his home track in 23 attempts in the Cup Series. Like Martin, a victory would end a 52-race winless streak.

Bowyer’s best finish at Kansas was a runner-up finish in his second start in 2007. Since then he has just two top fives at Kansas, including a fifth-place finish in this year’s spring race.

Bowyer enters this race 11th in the standings, 24 points back from the cutoff line.

“We know what we have to do this weekend,” Bowyer said in press release. said. “We need to get stage points, a great finish and maybe even a win. We finished fifth here in May, we just have to do a few spots better this weekend.”

A win by Byron would be significant because he’s yet to win a Cup Series race in 67 starts.

In his previous three Kansas starts Byron’s only managed to finish once. The Hendrick Motorsports driver placed 20th in the spring after starting third. He won in his lone Truck Series start there in 2016 and had a top five in his only Xfinity Series start at the track in 2017.

After he was eliminated in a wreck at Talladega, Byron enters Sunday last on the playoff grid, 27 points behind the cutoff and essentially in a must-win scenario.

“I think it will be interesting to see how things play out with how our mile-and-half packages have evolved just throughout the year,” Byron said in a press release. “Whether it continues that trend this weekend or whether it reverts back to how it was in the spring at Kansas. I’m just interested to see how that is since the cars have come a long way since that race. I’m also interested to see with it being an elimination race, I think it will open things up for different strategies. It’s a bit of an unknown at this point.”

NASCAR completes merger with International Speedway Corp.

Photo by David Becker/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR announced Friday morning it had closed on its merger with International Speedway Corp.

Jim France will serve as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer. Lesa France Kennedy will be the executive vice chair. Steve Phelps has been appointed president and will oversee all operations of the company.

“The merger of NASCAR and ISC represents a historic moment for our sport,” France said in a statement. “There is much work ahead of us, but we’re pleased with the progress made to position our sport for success. Delivering for our race fans and partners is job number one and we look forward to doing that better than ever for years to come.”

As part of the new organization, the Board of Directors will consist of France, France Kennedy, Mike Helton and Gary Crotty, chief legal officerPhelps’ direct reports will include Ed Bennett, executive vice president & chief administrative officer; Jill Gregory, executive vice president & chief marketing and content officer; Craig Neeb, executive vice president & chief innovation officer; Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president & chief racing development officer; and Daryl Wolfe, executive vice president & chief operations and sales officer.

Helton and John Saunders will serve as senior advisors under the new leadership structure.

“With great racing across all of our series, an exciting 2020 schedule on tap, and the Next Gen race car in development, we are better positioned than ever before to lead the sport into a new era of growth,” said Phelps in a statement. “We have a strong, experienced leadership team in place with incredibly dedicated employees at every level throughout our organization. Our best days are ahead of us and our new organization is going to allow us to better deliver great racing to our fans everywhere.”

NASCAR’s Friday schedule at Kansas Speedway

Leave a comment

The NASCAR playoff race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will each hold two practice sessions.

The wunderground.com forecast predicts a high of 74 degrees, partly sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain.

Here’s the day’s schedule.

(All times are Eastern)

Noon – 11 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m.  – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

5:05 – 5:55 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:05-7:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

Friday 5: Is this Kyle Busch’s time?

Leave a comment

Will this become the fall of Kyle Busch?

Not fall as in stumble but fall as in season — when he takes control of the Cup playoffs.

Busch, the regular-season champion, has been many things this postseason — moody, controversial and mistake-prone — but he’s not been a dominant figure on the track.

His average finish in the first half of these playoffs is 16.6 — marking the fourth time since 2015 he’s had an average finish of 14th or worse halfway through the postseason.

Busch, though, made it to the championship race each of those four years, winning the title in 2015.

But with Busch, there’s always something more.

Instead of a streak of Championship 4 appearances, it is his winless streak that draws more attention. Busch has failed to win in the past 17 races, his longest drought since going 36 races between Cup victories in 2016-17.

Since Busch last won at Pocono in early June — before Justin Haley’s improbable win at Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. losing his ride at Roush Fenway Racing and then signing with JTG Daugherty Racing and Bubba Wallace and Busch beating and banging at Watkins Glen — he’s seen Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones all win.

Miscues have hindered Busch’s playoffs. He hit the wall on Lap 3 of the opener at Las Vegas. Busch rallied from two laps down to be back on the lead lap before running into the rear of Garrett Smithley’s car. After the race, Busch called out Smithley and Joey Gase, questioning their credentials to be in the Cup Series.

Busch’s Dover run was hurt by a speeding penalty. He had a flat tire after contact with Kyle Larson on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and had to pit. A suspension issue later led to his day ending. Several laps down and with nothing to gain, Busch drove the car back to the garage during a red flag. His Talladega race was impacted by an accident, just like about every other driver. The only playoff driver not involved in an incident in the race was winner Ryan Blaney.

But things could be changing for Busch.

For all his struggles, he’s finished second three times during his winless drought and had six top-five results. Only Hamlin (10 top fives), Truex (eight) and Kevin Harvick (seven) have had more top fives than Busch in this stretch.

Provided Busch advances — he is 41 points ahead of Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot — he’ll likely be the points leader heading into the Round of 8 after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway. Busch finished third there in the spring. He’s not placed worse than eighth in any of the five short-track races this season. He led 66 laps before finishing 10th at Texas and won at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, leading 177 of 312 laps.

Get Busch to Miami (again), and he could leave as a two-time champion.

2. Tough challenge for hopefuls 

The most likely way Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer or William Byron — the four drivers outside a playoff race — will advance to the next round will be to win Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Bowman trails Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot by 18 points. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points. Bowyer trails Logano by 24 points, and Byron trails Logano by 27 points.

The only time Byron and Bowyer outscored Logano in a race by as many points as they trail was at Dover in the playoffs when Logano spent the first 24 laps in the garage.

Bowman has outscored Logano by 18 points in three races this year: Dover playoff race, Talladega in April (Bowman was second) and Kansas in May (Bowman was second)

Elliott has had better results. He has outscored Logano by 22 or more points in a race five times this year: Martinsville in March (Elliott outscored Logano by 28 points), Talladega in April (22 points), Kansas in May (29 points), Watkins Glen (46 points) in August and the Bristol night race (25 points) in August. Elliott won at Talladega and Watkins Glen. He was second at Martinsville, fourth at Kansas and fifth at Bristol.

That’s the challenge those four drivers face this weekend trying to knock Logano out of the final playoff spot.

3. Looking to help 

Brad Keselowski expressed his concern about team members who will be or could be losing their jobs in the near future as the sport goes through change.

He recently sent this tweet:

So what can Keselowski do?

“I haven’t gotten an answer to it yet, but I’m looking at it, trying to think about what ideas there might be” Keselowski said. “I haven’t come up with a solution yet. I just wanted those people to know that are affected by it that I cared about it. I can’t employ the couple of hundred people that are probably going to get laid off in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I can do something for someone.”

4. Youth movement?

The last three races have been won by three of the five youngest drivers in the playoffs: Chase Elliott (Charlotte Roval), Kyle Larson (Dover) and Ryan Blaney (Talladega).

Elliott is 23, Larson is 27 and Blaney is 25. The playoffs also include William Byron (21 years old) and Alex Bowman (26). Erik Jones (23) was eliminated in the first round.

5. Drought busters

Five drivers have ended winless streaks of 30 or more races this season: Kyle Larson (75 races) Denny Hamlin (45), Erik Jones (42), Ryan Blaney (37) and Kurt Busch (30).

Among drivers with long winless droughts: Paul Menard (299 races), David Ragan (237), Chris Buescher (118), Ryan Newman (99), Jimmie Johnson (90), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (86), Austin Dillon (66), Clint Bowyer (52), Aric Almirola (36),

 and on Facebook