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

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NASCAR Fantasy Live will undergo some changes with the playoffs. Leagues will reset and with only 10 races remaining in the season, players do not need to worry about maximum usage.

The biggest curveball is that players must maintain a balance between the number of playoff contending drivers and those outside that mark. In the Round 1 of the playoffs, the challenge is going to be in finding the right two non-playoff contenders to compliment the favorites.

This week, in addition to the 10-best drivers based on their three-year average finishes, a couple of notable non-playoff drivers have been added to the bottom on the list. That should help set the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

Since it first appeared on the NASCAR Cup schedule in 1998, Las Vegas has hosted 21 races in early spring. There have been a few warm days in the mix, but nothing like the triple digit forecast that is expected for this week’s South Point 400. For all intents and purposes, this will behave like a brand new racetrack and players can toss their notebook out the window.

1. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 4.00) Playoff
Keselowski is hitting his stride at the right time. Back-to-back marquee wins in the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 gives him momentum entering the playoffs. Most importantly, Vegas is a track on which he’s won two of the last five races and where he has a current six-race streak of finishes seventh or better.

2. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.33) Playoff
One good gauge of a team’s strength is when they have multiple drivers at the top of the average finish chart. Logano joins Keselowski with Ryan Blaney in fourth. The Penske Pals need to get off to a strong start on the 1.5-mile course to insure they do not have to worry about the Charlotte Roval that will close out Round 1.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 5.33) Playoff
With the announcement that the No. 78 will shut down at the end of 2018 and a last-place finish in the regular season finale, people have been quick to discount Truex’s odds of continuing as part of the Big 3. The only way to quiet the critics is to challenge for the South Point 400 win and score a top-five finish.

4. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 6.00) Playoff
Blaney enters the weekend with three consecutive top 10s at Vegas. A sixth in 2016 and seventh in 2017 says a lot about his ability to find the handle on this track quickly. He finished ahead of his two Penske teammates this spring and they should all be in contention again.

5. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 8.67) Playoff
About the best thing Johnson could say about making the playoffs in 2018 was that he was happy to be the only driver to have accomplished the feat every year since its inception. That is not a glowing recommendation for fantasy owners to place him on their roster. Neither is the fact that he has gone winless as a playoff contender in three of the last four years.

6. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 9.33) Playoff
Kyle Busch is aware that the Big 3 have become a little quiet in recent weeks and that it’s time to make some noise. No one is better suited to do so on 1.5-mile tracks. He is the only driver to sweep the top 10 on them in seven races this year with victories at Texas, Charlotte and Chicagoland.

7. Erik Jones (three-year average: 11.50 in two starts) Playoff
Jones is currently one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. He has a three-race, top-10 streak and finished that well in nine of the last 11 races. When he misses, it is not by much with a worst result of 16th in that span. This is his first time in the playoffs and that could be his Achilles’ Heel. He deserves notice based on his record.

8. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 13.00) Playoff
If not for an accident in 2016, Larson would probably enter this weekend with one of the best average finishes at Vegas and a four-race streak of top 10s. Ignore his 34th-place finish from that season and concentrate on back-to-back top threes. Larson is going to earn major points this week.

9. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.67) Non-Playoff
A surge in the final regular season races gave Newman fans hope that he would make the playoffs with a win at either Darlington or Indy. That did not happen, but a seven-race streak of top-20 finishes elevated him to 17th in the standings. With pressure off his shoulders, Newman could thrive in the role of spoiler to the playoff contenders in the next 10 weeks.

10. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 14.00) Playoff
Hamlin makes this week’s top 10 with a modest average of 14th. This is a track on which he has been hit or miss during his career with only three top 10s in his last 10 Vegas races. None of those have come in back-to-back attempts. In the past five years, he has alternated a single-digit result with one outside the top 10 and if that pattern holds, he should be in good shape this week.

Other Notable non-Playoff Drivers

11. Paul Menard (three-year average: 14.33) Non-Playoff
Menard was the only driver to finish in the top 10 this spring at Vegas who failed to make the playoffs. His ninth-place finish in that race was the fourth time in the last seven Vegas races that he scored a top 10 and it’s part of a nine-race streak of top 20s.

15. Trevor Bayne (three-year average: 16.67) Non-Playoff
Bayne is back behind the wheel of the No. 6 this week. It marks only his second attempt on a 1.5-mile track since he began sharing the ride with Matt Kenseth. His last attempt on this course type was inauspicious with a 26th at Chicagoland. With this week’s announcement that he will not return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019, he has limited opportunities to showcase his talent.

17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 19.67) Non-Playoff
In the past several weeks, the No. 17 has scored inconsistent results as they went for broke trying to make the playoffs. Now that they are on the outside looking in, they can focus on trying to find some consistency as preparations for 2019 begin.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Blaney won the pole this spring at Vegas; Keselowski earned it last year. With the momentum being gained by Team Penske in the past few weeks, they will ride that wave and one of their three drivers will lead the field to green.

Segment Winners: Last year, Truex won both segments of the Las Vegas race on his way to victory lane. This year, Kevin Harvick did the same thing, which allowed both drivers to earn maximum points in the game. The odds of that happening a third time are relatively low with volatile track conditions, but fantasy players will want to pick one of the Big 3 based on their practice speeds.

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

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)