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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.

Long: A championship five seasons in the making for Joey Logano’s pit crew

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When the champagne bottles were passed out to Joey Logano’s team after he won the Cup championship Sunday night, Ray Gallahan found a place to sit at the back of the stage to watch his teammates spray each other.

“I’m not a heavy drinker, and I don’t like being too sticky,” Gallahan told NBC Sports. “I usually bow out for the champagne part.’’

Ray Gallahan (seated) watches his teammates spray each other with champagne after Joey Logano won the Cup title. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The celebration was poignant for Gallahan, who served his final race as Logano’s fueler Sunday. The 35-year-old Gallahan will move into a role as an assistant pit coach for Team Penske.

But this victory had extra meaning for Gallahan. He was Logano’s jackman in 2014 when the car fell off the jack with less than 20 laps to go in that championship race, all but ending Logano’s title hopes.

“That crumbled me up pretty hard because I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t mess up,” Gallahan said.

The team returned to the championship race in 2016. Logano’s title hopes faded when he went to pass Carl Edwards on a late restart and Edwards blocked, leading to contact that eliminated Edwards and damaged Logano’s car.

Sunday, Logano’s pit crew gained him two spots on the final pit stop, allowing him to restart third and charge to the win. It was pretty much the same unit that had been there in 2014 and ’16.

Front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, rear tire changer Zachary Price and tire carrier Dylan Dowell had been on the team since 2014. The only new member was jackman Graham Stoddard, who had been teammate Ryan Blaney’s jackman but moved to Logano’s team after Blaney was eliminated in the playoffs at Kansas.

That four of the five pit crew members remained since 2014 is a remarkable achievement in an era where changes to pit crews can be common. This unit excelled late in the playoffs, playing a key role in helping Logano win at Martinsville, and having a strong performance in the championship race.

“I think the longer you are together, the more you learn what to expect from the other guy, so it actually makes you faster,” Dowell told NBC Sports.

Having experienced the lows of the title race — and missing the playoffs last year — it allowed the team to appreciate its accomplishment.

“It definitely made it sweeter,” Hatcher told NBC Sports. “It definitely made it sweeter.”


Morgan Shepherd had Landon Cassill drive his Xfinity car for him last weekend in Miami, but Shepherd says he plans to be back.

“This is 51 years for us,” the 77-year-old Shepherd told NBC Sports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, “and I’ve started on my next. If I can get it in, I’ll only be 127 (years old). We’ll see where we land.”

Morgan Shepherd (Photo Getty Images)

Isn’t it time for retirement?

“Nah,” Shepherd said as he sat on the pit wall. “I’m just a servant. I might not be able to help myself but I can help other people with what we’re doing. Our charity is 32 years old. … We’ll go as long as the Lord wants me to go.”

Shepherd understands that change will come at some point.

“We definitely would be better with a younger driver and build it around him,” Shepherd said. “We’ll see where it goes. We haven’t quit yet.”


Crew chief Luke Lambert told NBC Sports he’s signed a new deal with Richard Childress Racing and will serve as rookie Daniel Hemric’s crew chief on the No. 31 car next season.

It will make the first time Lambert has worked with a young driver. He’s previously worked with veteran drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman. Lambert had been with Newman the past five seasons. Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019.

“It will be different in ways,” Lambert said of working with a rookie. “I’ve been around situations with young drivers a lot so I’m very familiar with what sort of things need to be done differently. Ultimately, it’s going to be about learning each other and what he needs different to be successful and for me to help figure out ways to provide that for him.”

Miami win gives Team Penske victories on all active Cup tracks

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Even before Joey Logano won Sunday’s Cup season finale and his first Cup title, 2018 had been a big year for Team Penske.

The organization fielded three full-time cars in Cup for the first time since 2010.

Brad Keselowski gave the organization its second Southern 500 win and first overall win at Darlington Raceway since 1975. He followed that up a week later with Penske’s first Brickyard 400 victory.

Keselowski’s third consecutive victory, in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, not only marked Penske’s 500th overall win in motorsports, but the first time the team had three drivers finish in the top five of a Cup race.

Logano capped the season off with Penske’s second Cup title after Keselowski won it in 2012.

But Logano also delivered Penske its first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 43 starts.

Combined with Keselowski’s Brickyard win and Ryan Blaney‘s triumph in the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval, Team Penske is now the only organization with wins on every active track on the Cup schedule.

Team Penske finished the year with 111 wins in Cup points races since 1972. 103 of those have come on the 24 tracks that currently make up the schedule.

At defunct tracks, the organization has wins at Rockingham (three), Riverside (two), North Wilkesboro (two) and Ontario (one).

Here’s a look at the tracks the other major Cup organizations have yet to win at.

Kentucky Speedway is notable, as a Chevrolet team has yet to win in eight races on the 1.5-mile track.

Hendrick Motorsports (252 Cup wins) – Winless at Kentucky and Charlotte Roval

Joe Gibbs Racing (157 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval

Roush Fenway Racing (137 Cup wins) – Winless at Indianapolis, Charlotte Roval, Chicagoland and Kentucky

Richard Childress Racing (108 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval, Kentucky, Miami and Las Vegas

Wood Brothers Racing (99 Cup wins) – Winless at Phoenix, Sonoma, Kentucky, Charlotte Roval, Auto Club Speedway, Chicago, Texas, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Kansas, Miami and Indianapolis.

Stewart-Haas Racing (51 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval and Kentucky

Chip Ganassi Racing (16 Cup wins) – Winless at Pocono, Phoenix, Martinsville, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Chicago, Dover, Texas, Miami, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Atlanta

 

NASCAR America: An emotional end to 2018 for Martin Truex Jr.

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The 2018 season was an emotional one for Martin Truex Jr.

Last year’s championship was a fairy tale for a team located in Denver, Colorado – far from NASCAR’s epicenter in North Carolina.

This season was much different. Furniture Row Racing found out midseason that its primary sponsor would not return after this year, which caused car owner Barney Visser to decide to shut down the team after the final race.

With that looming closure came the inevitable questions of if the No. 78 team would lose focus.

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?
MORE: Kevin Harvick failed to keep up with Miami

Then came late-race incidents at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville when Truex was knocked out of the lead on the final corner by Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano respectively. 

“They just didn’t have that short run speed to beat the 22 (of Logano at Miami), but they put up a heck of a fight,” NASCAR America analyst Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of the show. “They did all of this under the cloud of knowing that that organization was shutting down at the end of this last race.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Kevin Harvick’s team failed to keep up with Miami

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Under NASCAR’s current playoff format winning the most races means a lot. It doesn’t win the championship, however, unless one of those victories comes in the season finale.

After the race in Miami, Kevin Harvick was not ready to call his season a failure. He won eight times during the year, tying him for the lead with Kyle Busch. But he was noticeably disappointed by coming up two positions short of claiming his second Cup. Harvick finished behind the 2018 champion Joey Logano and last year’s champion Martin Truex Jr.

“When I look at the 4 team through the whole weekend, they just seemed a little bit off,” Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “You look at qualifying, it didn’t go well. And then Saturday practice, they had a short run to start off the first practice because he wasn’t happy with the car. He wasn’t able to find the feel in the car. It just seemed like they were searching a little bit.”

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

Harvick started the race strong, moving up to the lead on Lap 43 after starting 12th. He won the first stage. When the field pitted, the team did not make any significant changes to the car and Harvick was never quite the same.

Jeff Burton said that indicates the team failed to adjust to the changing characteristics of the track.

“In this kind of race when it all comes down to one race and you just get off that little bit at the wrong time, there’s no time to recover,” Burton said.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter