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

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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.

Joey and Caitlin Gase welcome twin sons

Joey Gase
Joey Gase Twitter
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Xfinity Series driver Joey Gase and his wife Caitlin are now parents to twin boys

The babies were born on Wednesday. Their names are Jace and Carson.

More: Brad and Paige Keselowski welcome second daughter

Silly Season Scorecard: Front Row Motorsports adds John Hunter Nemechek

Front Row Motorsports
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Front Row Motorsports filled one of the last major vacancies in the NASCAR Cup Series when it announced Thursday John Hunter Nemechek will compete for the team full-time in the No. 38 Ford.

With the announcement also came the news the team is retracting to two cars after fielding three in 2019.

As a rookie, Nemechek will have Michael McDowell as a teammate.

Here’s how the rest of NASCAR’s Silly Season has played out so far.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 00: Quin Houff will race for Star Com Racing full-time. Announced Nov. 27.

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 15: Brennan Poole will make his Cup debut and will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time. Announced Dec 11.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves over from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek replaces the now retired David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports. Announced Dec. 12.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley will drive one of the team’s three full-time rides.

 

YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Daniel Suarez — The driver revealed Nov. 14  he would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2020 after one season driving the No. 41.

 

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Will field a part-time car in the No. 21, which will be shared by Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Stewart-Haas Racing – The team has not announced plans for the No. 00 Ford with Cole Custer moving to Cup or whether Chase Briscoe will return to the No. 98.

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team.

 

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota Trucks in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

Niece Motorsports: Ty Majeski will drive the No. 45 truck full-time, taking the place of Ross Chastain. Announced Dec. 10.

DGR-Crosley: Has not made any driver announcements, but will switch from Toyota to Ford. Announced Dec. 11.

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Felix Sabates to end tenure as NASCAR owner

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Felix Sabates, who has been a NASCAR owner in some form since his team SABCO Racing began competing in the Cup Series in 1989, will retire from ownership in 2020, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Thursday.

The Associated Press first reported the news.

Sabates, 74, is leaving his role as a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, which he sold controlling interest of SABCO Racing to in 2001.

Together they have earned 43 total wins in NASCAR’s top two series, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

In addition to NASCAR, Sabates and Ganassi fielded entries in IMSA, where they won seven championships, 64 races, including a record eight Rolex 24 At Daytona races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

The Cuba-native has experienced health problems in recent years. In 2016, he suffered from an illness that put him in intensive care for 73 days and in a coma for 29 days.

“I look back to the 1980s when I first started in this sport, and I can tell you that the landscape has really changed,” Sabates said in a press release. “It’s been challenging at times, and tremendously rewarding watching the sport grow. When I started the NASCAR team, it was just a different time —a smaller regional sport. Then NASCAR grew and grew into a big business and continued to grow after my partnership with Chip. I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 30 years. I have friendships that will last a lifetime.

“I hope that what I have tried to give back to the sport — whether it be bringing NASCAR to Mexico or being instrumental in starting the sports car program with Chip — will be equal to what the sport has taught and given me. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an old man walking around at the track; this is my way of honoring that commitment I made to myself years ago. I wish Chip and his teams all the success in the world and will be keeping a close eye on the sport from afar and maybe even make an appearance from time to time.”

Said Ganassi: “Where do you even begin to describe Felix Sabates? He’s done so much for the sport of racing. I teamed up with him almost 20 years ago, and he’s been a great business partner and an even better friend. In that time, the only thing we’ve had an argument over was who was picking up the tab at dinner. Felix helped me develop as an owner as well as an individual. His track record in this sport certainly sets the bar high for anyone that follows. I’m proud to call him a friend and wish him all the best.”

 

 

Natalie Decker recovering from gallbladder surgery

Natalie Decker
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Natalie Decker, a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver, is recovering after undergoing surgery to have her gallbladder removed.

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Decker, who raced for DGR-Crosley in 2019, posted on Instagram Wednesday about what led to the surgery, including problems with her gallbladder the kept her from taking arthritis medication.

“Hi everyone now that I have had the surgery to remove my gallbladder I will share the whole story!” Decker said. “I have been not being able to eat much food and have been in so much pain every time I eat we went through lots of testing like upper endoscopy and gallbladder function test! They finally figured it out and my gallbladder wasn’t functioning right! I had to get my gallbladder removed before I could go back on my Arthritis medication. I’m so thankful everything went very well!”

Decker, 22, made 19 starts in 2019. Her best finish was 13th in the spring Las Vegas race.