NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Dover in last three years

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The Charlotte road course and Talladega get most of the attention when it comes to chaotic wildcards in the playoffs, but Dover deserves an equal measure of respect. Narrow front and back straightaways have been the site of several incidents in recent memory.

That can make this a difficult race to handicap.

When chaos doesn’t reign, Dover can be quite predictable at times.

With its high banks and tight radius in the corners, this is a track where drivers can establish a rhythm. Dover is a course where top 10s are rarely isolated. Over the past eight seasons, 23 active drivers entered this weekend having scored 123 top 10s. The vast majority of those were part of consecutive top 10s. Only 14 (11.4 percent) were earned in isolation.

For that reason, fantasy players will want to look closely at this spring’s top 10 finishers when setting this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

1. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 4.20) Playoff
After winning his first Cup race in 2007, Truex failed to score another top five at Dover until he won again in fall 2016. Since then, he has swept the top five in four starts. All of these have come after he qualified on one of the first two rows, so Truex’s speed on Friday will give fantasy owners a clue to his potential success on Sunday.

2. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 5.00) Playoff
Last fall, Elliott did not manage traffic very well at Dover. He allowed Kyle Busch to catch and pass him coming to the white flaf, but he is not the same driver in 2018 now that he has a win under his belt. This spring, Elliott failed to finish in the top five for the first time in his Dover career. That came at a time when Chevrolet was struggling nearly everywhere. The manufacturer also seems to have made some changes for the better since then.

3. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 5.67 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Drivers occasionally develop an immediate affinity for a track. Daniel Suarez swept the top 10 at Dover last year as a rookie and improved to third in May. He was the only driver to finish that well who did not become part of the playoff contenders in the Round of 16. Even if he misses the top 10 this week, he is likely to be one of the top point earners among non-playoff drivers.

4. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 7.50 in four starts) Non-Playoff
Kenseth has not been able to back up his pre-hiatus record on any track this year. Roush Fenway Racing still has a lot of work to do before one can assume the No. 6 will finish in the top 15 on a consistent basis, but Kenseth will make a difference if he can. In his last nine Dover attempts, he’s earned six top 10s and another pair of top 15s leaving only one bad result in 2015 when he had a mechanical issue.

5. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 8.80) Playoff
Larson has been almost perfect at Dover in regard to top-10 finishes. In nine starts, he has finished 11th or better eight times. The only time he finished poorly on this track was in fall 2016 when he developed a battery problem that dropped him off the lead lap. After almost failing to advance last week, Larson is going to be hyper-vigilant at Dover.

6. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 9.00) Non-Playoff
It has been two years since Johnson earned three consecutive top 10s. Coming off back-to-back eighth-place finishes at Richmond and the Charlotte road course, that is likely to change this week. Dover has always been one of his better tracks with his most recent of 11 wins coming last year. Even while he struggled elsewhere, Johnson was able to score a top 10 at Dover this spring, which gives him a current streak of four at this track.

7. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 12.80) Playoff
Keselowski’s three-year average finish is negatively affected by an accident on Lap 66 of last May’s AAA 400. Otherwise, he has been perfect in regard to top 10s with a best of fourth in fall 2016. Given his strength in the past several weeks, Keselowski could contend for the victory. He won at Dover in 2012 and finished second in both 2014 events.

8. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 13.20) Non-Playoff
Hamlin would not be a very good value if he was still in playoff contention, but since the NASCAR Fantasy Live game requires players to have two drivers that are not eligible for the championship, his four top 10s in the last five Dover races makes him relevant. Hamlin has not finished in the top five on this track since spring 2014.

9. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 15.00) Playoff
An average finish of 15th doesn’t look terribly impressive, but it is only half of Bowyer’s story. From 2011-15, he had a nine-race, top-10 streak going. He followed that up with a pair of top 15s. Bowyer stumbled in back-to-back races in fall 2016 and spring 2017, but he rekindled his top-10 streak last fall. Earlier this year, he finished second to teammate Kevin Harvick in the AAA 400.

9. Erik Jones (three-year average: 15.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Jones’ average finish of 15th is not a recommendation to start him. The sophomore driver has been consistent on this track, but with a best of 12th he has not shown a lot of speed.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: This week’s pole winner is going to be difficult to predict. Qualification was canceled for weather three times in the last 10 Dover races. The other seven were each won by a different driver and only one organization has earned multiple poles in that time. Joe Gibbs earned the pole with Hamlin in spring 2015 and Kyle Busch in spring 2017. Larson led the field to green earlier this year, so keep an eye on him as well.

Segment Winners: Dover is one of many tracks dominated by the Big 3. Truex and Harvick have scored two stage wins apiece and amassed 41 and 36 points respectively. Kyle Busch has not yet won a stage, but has the most stage points with 42.

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

Friday 5: Could Jimmie Johnson score Most Popular Driver award in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It would be easy for some to expect that Chase Elliott’s second consecutive NMPA Most Popular Driver award marks the early stages of a streak that could rival, if not top, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s record run of 15 consecutive titles.

But that would be overlooking some challenges Elliott will face.

One could come from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who said 2020 will be his last full-time Cup season.

That gives him a final chance to win one of the few honors he’s never captured in his NASCAR career.

Johnson is the only seven-time champion not to win the Most Popular Driver award. Dale Earnhardt was awarded the honor posthumously in 2001. Richard Petty won it eight times, the last time in 1978.

If he couldn’t win an eighth championship, would there be a better sendoff for Johnson than to win the sport’s most popular driver award?

“There’s no award that Jimmie could or will ever win that he doesn’t deserve,” Elliott said Thursday night after the NASCAR Awards show at the Music City Center. “Whatever next year brings, I’m looking forward to spending it with him. It’s been an honor to be his teammate. If he gets the (most popular driver) honor next year, that’s great and I’ll be happy for him. There’s no doubt that he deserves it. You do what he’s done in this sport, my opinion, you can do whatever you want. Pulling for him. I’d love to see him get eight (championships). I’d also love to get one.

“Don’t write him off yet because I think he’s pretty fired up, and I could see him having a big year next year.”

Johnson had his fans early in his career but his success turned many off, who tired of the Californian winning so often.

Things changed before the 2016 championship race in Miami as Johnson prepared to go for his record-tying seventh title. He saw it as he went around the track in a pickup during driver intros.

“I usually get flipped off a lot,” Johnson said that day after winning his seventh title. “They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they’re shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All the way around the race track everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.”

Another key challenger for Elliott for Most Popular Driver is two-time champion Kyle Busch.

Yes, that is correct.

Busch finished second to Elliott in the voting for Most Popular Driver award this year.

It once seemed impossible that Busch would finish in the top five in any type of most popular driver voting, but his Rowdy Nation fan base continues to grow.

If not next year for Busch, there’s the chance his fan base could carry him to a Most Popular Driver award sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t that be something?

 

2. Gut-wrenching pain

The most emotional moment of Thursday’s awards show came when Kyle Busch turned to wife Samantha to thank her for her support and also console her for the multiple failures this year in trying for a second child.

The couple went through in-vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in 2015. They used that experience to create the Bundle of Joy fund to provide money to infertile couples.

Samantha Busch announced in Nov. 2018 that she was pregnant with their second child only to suffer a miscarriage eight days later.

Busch’s voice quivered as he revealed on stage the pain he and his wife went through this year.

“I read quote recently that hit home for me,” Busch said to Samantha. “It said: “The strongest people are not those that show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others don’t know anything about. I’m right here with you knowing how hard it has been to go through multiple … yes multiple failed attempts of (in-vitro fertilization) this year.

“To walk around and try to face people week after week is difficult for me always knowing in the back of my mind how helpless I feel in life knowing how much I wanted to answer your prayers and be able to give you a gift of our baby girl.”

Busch said he had talked briefly to his wife ahead of time about revealing their loss publicly.

“I think there was a lot of naysay and negative discussions about what my emotions where and who I was in the playoffs and things like that,” Busch said after Thursday’s ceremony. “Not everybody knows exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Focus on your own.”

Busch said he never felt the devastation from the miscarriages impacted his performance.

“There were certain times, maybe, in meetings and things like that that I wouldn’t say it affected but it obviously came across my mind,” he said. “As far as it comes to the race track, when I put my helmet on, I feel like I can zero that out and do a really good job of focusing what the task at hand is.”

 

3. Nashville momentum?

The fan reception in Nashville has those in the sport encouraged that this week can build momentum to have a race at Fairgrounds Speedway.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, continues to lead the efforts for Speedway Motorsports to return NASCAR racing to the historic track.

But to do so, Caldwell and SMI officials will have to navigate through the city’s politics from the mayor’s office to the metro council and the fair board.

“We understand that it’s a new administration,” Caldwell told NBC Sports about Mayor John Cooper, who was sworn into office in late September. “We’re encouraged with the conversations that we’ve had with them and look forward to continuing those. I think we all see a bright future there.

“We all see that there’s a ton of potential at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to create something that the city can be proud of, race fans can embrace and love, we can protect the heritage and celebrate that but also turn it into a venue that can be used 365 days a year.”

With NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of April 1 to announce the 2021 Cup schedule, it would seem highly unlikely that negotiations can be completed in time for the track to be added to the schedule by then. Caldwell declined to speculate on timing “because we’re still in some conversations with the city to figure that out because there are a lot of moving pieces.”

Chase Elliott hopes this week shows city leaders the value of what a NASCAR race at Fairgrounds Speedway could be.

“Hopefully this sparks something in the city that allows the right people to make the right moves to come and race up here,” Elliott said, “because this place is too perfect not to.”

 

4. New cars for Bubba Wallace

Brian Moffitt, chief executive officer for Richard Petty Motorsports, says the team plans to have some sponsorship news in January. With the additional funding, the team will add new cars to its fleet for Bubba Wallace.

Even with the upcoming news, Moffitt said the team will still have some races available for sponsorships for the upcoming season.

Moffitt has high hopes entering the 2020 season.

“We’re going to be better right out of the gate this year in 2020,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be right there with our partner (Richard Childress Racing) working with them a lot closer.”

Moffitt said the team anticipates having about half a dozen new cars by the first quarter of the season.

“We are going to have a lot newer equipment than we started (2019) with,” Moffitt said.

The challenge with that is that all the equipment will be outdated by the end of the season with the Next Gen car debuting in 2021.

“It’s still important in 2020,” Moffitt said. “We still have to perform for our partners. We want to be up there. It will help you prepare for 2021 coming out of the gate.”

Moffitt said the team also plans to add engineers and mechanics this season.

“We’re going to have some track engineers we haven’t had,” Moffitt said.

Wallace finished 28th in points last year, matching his finish in the points in 2018 as a rookie.

 

5. Pit road woes

Kurt Busch said a key area of improvement for his Chip Ganassi Racing team will be its performance on pit road. Busch said the team lost 120 spots on pit road.

“You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ve got to try to break even. You’re supposed to have a plus on pit road as far as spots gained. That’s where you’re going to see Gibbs … all those guys at Gibbs gained spots on pit road. We can’t lose that many spots at Ganassi on pit road.”

Losing spots on pit road can be related to when a crew chief calls in the driver to pit road, how quickly the driver goes down pit road without speeding and how well the pit crew performs.

“It just seemed like one pit road penalty led to a bad restart, a bad restart led to now the pit crew has to pick it up and get those spots back,” Busch said.

He noted how his season mirrored another Chevrolet driver.

“Our season was real similar to Alex Bowman,” said Busch, whose one win last season came in July at Kentucky. “Alex Bowman won at Chicago (in June) and then they faded and they were right with us in points all the way through the playoffs.

“Some of it was team. Some of it was me overdriving. Some of it was pit crew mistakes. The Camaro was a bit behind that we saw now at the end of the year with all those Toyotas in the championship 4.”

JGR teammates prank Kyle Busch with 30,000 pennies

Photo: Denny Hamlin
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pranked Cup champion Kyle Busch by dumping 30,000 pennies on his bed as part of Truex’s payoff for losing a bet to Busch last month in New York City.

Hamlin, Truex, Busch and Kevin Harvick were all together in New York City promoting their appearance in the championship race in Miami. They were riding in traffic when Busch bet he could get to the hotel quicker by jogging. The other three took him up on it.

Busch arrived ahead of them and won.

Truex owed Busch $300 for losing the bet. Hamlin helped him come up with a creative way to pay it back.

Truex said on an Hamlin’s Instagram story: “It’s going to be fun to see his reaction. He’s going to be happy that he’s getting his money, I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to carry it home with him. We’ll see how this plays out.”

Busch didn’t know about the prank until Hamlin asked if he had seen Hamlin’s Instagram story.

“Took a look … and damn it,” Busch said after the banquet.

“I guess it’s in the pillow cases and everywhere. We’ll have to figure that out (how to remove them).

Asked if Truex was still good for paying off the bet that way, Busch joked: “He might get wrecked.”

 

 

What they wore on the red carpet …

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Before the show, drivers and their significant others walked the red carpet. Here’s a look at their outfits for the evening.

Kyle Busch, wife Samantha and son Brexton. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Kyle and Katelyn Larson. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Kevin and DeLana Harvick (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Clint and Lorra Bowyer. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Joey and Brittany Logano.(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Kurt and Ashley Busch. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott and Kaylie Green. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

 

Aric and Janice Almirola. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

Daniel and Kenzie Hemric. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.