Hendrick Motorsports splitting Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson after 2018 season

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Hendrick Motorsports will split one of the most successful driver-crew chief combinations in the sport’s history after this season.

The organization announced Wednesday that Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, who have been together since 2002 and won a record-tying seven championships, will not work together in 2019.

Knaus will be William Byron‘s crew chief next year.

MORE: A look at where things stand in Silly Season

MORE: NBC analysts debate who wins an 8th title first: Jimmie or Chad?

Johnson will have Kevin Meendering as his crew chief in 2019. Meendering is serving as Elliott Sadler‘s crew chief in the Xfinity Series this season at JR Motorsports.

Darian Grubb, who is Byron’s crew chief this season, will be promoted to technical director at Hendrick Motorsports.

“Chad and Jimmie will go down as one of the greatest combinations in sports history,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They defied the odds by performing at a championship level for longer than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. What they’ve accomplished together has been absolutely remarkable and will be celebrated for generations. This has been an incredible, storybook run.

“It’s no secret that Chad and Jimmie have experienced their ups and downs over the years. “They’re fierce competitors, great friends and have immense respect for one another. They also fight like brothers. All three of us agree it’s finally time for new challenges and that a change will benefit them and the organization.”

Knaus and Johnson have been together 17 seasons, the longest active streak. Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are the next longest driver-crew chief combination at eight years.

Johnson enters Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega SuperSpeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC) on a career-long 53-race winless streak.

[More: Johnson plays joke on No. 78 team with special gifts]

Since last season, Johnson has three wins, six top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes in 66 starts. That is the worst two-year period for Johnson and Knaus in their time together.

In their time together, they won one Daytona 500 (Johnson won a second while Knaus was suspended), two Southern 500s, four Brickyard 400s and four Coca-Cola 600s.

Pairing Meendering with Johnson next year brings Meendering back to Hendrick Motorsports. Meendering spent 16 years with the organization, becoming the lead engineer for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s team in 2011. Meendering has spent the past three seasons as Sadler’s crew chief in the Xfinity Series, leading Sadler to three wins and 38 top-five finishes.

On pairing Knaus with Byron, Hendrick said: “You can’t quantify how much Chad’s leadership and championship experience will benefit William, who is a special talent. The two of them are a great match, and I’m excited to see what they can do together. Chad has the Rainbow Warriors pedigree and truly appreciates the history of the No. 24. I’ve asked him to build another winner and given him the green light to put his stamp on the team and do it his way.”

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

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The Big 3 have not been as dominant during the playoffs as they were during the regular season. Then again, they haven’t needed to be with a massive bonus point advantage to ease their way through the first five races.

A quick glance at this week’s top 10 in terms of three-year averages reveals they are all once more at the top of the list. A case could be made for each of them to win this week’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Since only two playoff drivers can be active on a NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster plus one in the garage, this may be a good week to play it safe. After all, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have won all of the Kansas races in the past three seasons.

The competition has won four of the first five playoff races, however, and that opens up some great opportunities to differentiate one’s lineup from the others in the league. Joey Logano won back-to-back fall races in 2014/2015. His Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney have also been successful on this track in particular and 1.5-milers in general recently.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
The Big 3 may have lost some of their cache in recent weeks, but Harvick regained much of his at Talladega. Being able to separate from the field as they did, the Stewart-Haas crew served notice they would be a force with which to reckon and fantasy players cannot take that for granted. That dominant posture comes as NASCAR heads to a track where Harvick has two wins, a second and a third in his last five attempts.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 5.80) Playoff
No one has been better at Kansas in the past two seasons than Truex. He won both races last year and finished second this spring. The playoffs have not gone according to plan for the No. 78 who still have the specter of Furniture Row Racing closing hanging over their head. Truex spent most of last week’s Talladega race in jeopardy of failing to advance to Round 3, but he was strong the last time the series visited a 1.5-miler at Vegas. Truex finished fifth in that race.

3. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 6.20) Playoff
In eight races on 1.5-mile tracks this year, Busch has been perfect in regard to top-10 finishes. He has a seven-race streak of top 10s at Kansas – so what could go wrong? Unfortunately, Busch’s last two Kansas races barely qualified as a top 10 with back-to-back 10th-place results. His last attempt on a 1.5-miler was a seventh at Las Vegas, so the likelihood is that he will miss the top five this week.

4. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.20) Playoff
If Busch is having any lingering issues with his teammates after being raced hard earlier this season, they seem to have dissipated at Talladega. On most track types in 2018 he has been the king of consistency, but the 1.5-milers have been a little less so. In eight races on them, he has finished outside the top 10 three times and has not yet cracked the top five with a best of sixth at Kentucky. 

5. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 11.80) Non-Playoff
What Dillon has lacked in flat out speed has been made up for in consistency at Kansas. In the past three seasons, he has a worst finish of 17th and best of sixth. That suggests that a finish this week in the low teens is the most likely result. It can make him a solid contender in some games, but in the NASCAR Fantasy Live contest one hopes for a top 10 from their selection. Dillon has only three in 11 Kansas starts.

6. Alex Bowman (three-year average: 12.50 in two starts) Playoff
In order to advance to Round 3, Bowman needs to win. He’s not alone, Keselowski, Blaney and Kyle Larson are basically in the same situation, but they have the advantage over Bowman of at least scoring top-two finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this year. Bowman has a few top-10s on this track type and that simply will not get the job done. 

7. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 12.60) Playoff
The good news is this is one of Blaney’s best tracks – but is it good enough to give him an opportunity to win? He’s come close three times in the last two years and has more experience with each passing week. Blaney finished fifth in spring 2016 and swept the top five last year with a fourth and a third. He ran into trouble this spring when he crashed 20 laps short of the finish line.

8. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 15.00) Non-Playoff
No one knows when Jimmie Johnson will break his winless streak. It is going to be unexpected whenever it happens, but fantasy players who guess correctly are going to be able to make up significant ground on the competition. Johnson has won at Kansas recently. His spring 2015 win was part of a sweep of the top five that year. He finished fourth in 2016. Those numbers mean this might be a good week to gamble. 

9. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 15.40) Playoff
One reason the Vegas race was so chaotic was because the playoff contenders were nervous about the upcoming Charlotte Roval. They pressed the envelope and came up empty on a several occasions. The four drivers below the cutoff line are in a similarly desperate situation, so this is likely to be a race marked by strategy gambles and bold moves on the race track. One would do well to remember that it was Keselowski who visited Victory Lane in Las Vegas – another 1.5-mile track.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 16.60) Non-Playoff
Stenhouse makes the list his week with a modest three-year average. He has never scored a top 10 at Kansas in 12 starts, but he’s come close with 11th-place finishes in his first attempt in 2013 and again in the last two spring races. If he practices and qualifies well, Stenhouse could be one of this week’s best sleepers who is likely to escape the attention of the competition. 

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: The Big 3 have been almost as dominant in qualifying as in race trim at Kansas. Harvick and Truex each won from the pole in the last two races on this track, so even if a player fails to make the right selection in time trials, the pole winner should be on one’s roster for the race. Blaney won the pole in this race last spring and finished fourth. That should put the Penske racers on the radar screen as well.

Segment Winners: Wait until Friday to make this selection. On the 1.5-mile tracks in particular, momentum is built in practice and carried through to qualification and the race. The dominant driver is most likely to come from the front row and if past races on this track are an indication, Harvick or Truex could sweep both stages and the overall victory.

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

Premium Motorsports will cease Truck Series operation after 2018, auction equipment

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Five days after it earned its first top five in the series, Premium Motorsports announced Thursday it will not compete in the Camping World Truck Series next season.

The team, which has fielded entries in the series in 112 starts since 2015, is making the move “to be able to focus solely on their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing program in 2019.”

Premium will finish the season with its No. 49 Chevrolet, which is sponsored by Sobriety Nation. Wendell Chavous drove it for the first 19 races of the season. He retired from competition after last weekend’s Talladega race, where he earned his first career top five.

Nine other drivers have competed for the team throughout the season.

The team will auction off most of the its assets at the end of this month.

It has retained Gavel Auction Company NCAL6177 in Mooresville, North Carolina, for an auction to be held at 10 a.m. ET on Oct. 30.

 

Elliott Sadler begins final chapter with crew chief who revived career

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Elliott Sadler got his wish.

The 43-year-old JR Motorsports driver will end his NASCAR career racing “for all the marbles.”

Sadler, who announced the end of his full-time career in August, was determined to make the Round of 8 in the Xfinity playoffs. Then he could set out to fulfill the biggest wish of a career that began in 1995 – to be a NASCAR champion.

The final four races of Sadler’s career begins Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“It’s cool to know that my last four races that I’m running in are not just to fill the schedule,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot on the line. We want to go there and do a good job.”

These races are also Sadler’s final chance to win a championship with the man who helped resurrect his career in its twilight and who will try do the same for Jimmie Johnson.

I KNOW A GUY

Kevin Meendering’s name was first brought up to Sadler by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was October 2015 at Dover International Speedway and Sadler, then driving for Roush Fenway Racing, had just finished signing his deal to compete for JR Motorsports the next year.

Since returning to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2011, Sadler has won five times, but only once since 2013. He’d go winless in 2015.

Earnhardt thought the then 34-year-old Meendering was the solution to his friend’s problems.

The native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had been with Hendrick Motorsports since 1999 when he was a 17-year-old intern in the team’s chassis department. By 2015, he had risen to lead engineer on Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet, where the team earned eight wins, 52 top five and 96 top-10 finishes in 178 starts.

“I want him to come and be your crew chief,” Sadler recalled being told by Earnhardt. “He is one of the reasons we won the races we did later on in my career, he really changed my outlook on racing. He will do you a great job.'”

Three years later, Sadler can’t help but agree.

“Man, was he ever right.”

Together, Sadler and Meendering won three times in 2016 at Talladega, Darlington and Kentucky.

Along with 14 top fives and a series-leading 29 top 10s in 33 races that year, Sadler made it to the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But without Meendering due to a suspension, Sadler lost the title to Daniel Suarez.

In 2017, Sadler went winless, but again made it to the championship four with help from 12 top fives (tied with William Byron) and a series-leading 25 top 10s. But Sadler missed out on the title to Byron after late-race contact with Ryan Preece.

“Last year, just being so close it just makes you want to work that much harder,” Meendering said last week following the announcement he will work with Johnson next season. “Seeing the disappointment in the guys on the team and Elliott, you just want to get back there and do a little better. I don’t want to say try harder because you are putting everything you’ve got into it, but you just want to win that championship.”

Entering their final four races together, Sadler and Meendering have 38 top fives and 75 top 10s.

Those numbers boosted Meendering’s portfolio to help give him the nod to replace Chad Knaus as Johnson’s crew chief next year in the Cup Series.

“I’ve been doing this 23 years and he is by far, and I mean by far, the best crew chief I’ve ever worked with all the way across the board if you have a lot of boxes to check,” said Sadler, whose crew chiefs have included Mike Beam, Todd Parrott and 2014 Cup champion Rodney Childers. “He’s very well deserving of this opportunity and he’s showing you his loyalty. These last couple of years he’s had a ton of job offers to leave, but Hendrick is where’s he been since he started in high school and he wanted to stay in that program. His patience has paid off.”

But before Sadler walks off into the Florida sunset and Meendering begins his quest to give Johnson an eighth Cup title, they’ll make one final push to give Sadler his long sought after NASCAR title.

TUNNEL VISION

For Meendering, giving Sadler a championship is “100 percent of my focus” despite the announcement of his impending promotion.

Sadler enters the Round of 8 in fifth, tied with Cole Custer with 3,011 points. They trail Christopher Bell (3,044), Justin Allgaier (3,039) and Daniel Hemric (3,013).

Of the top five drivers remaining, only Bell and Allgaier have won this year.

“Those guys with the wins, they have distanced themselves obviously, but we are also coming around to some very good tracks for Elliott,” Meendering said. “Through that summer stretch with the road courses and stuff, that is not really our strong suit as a team, but now we get back to Kansas, Texas, those are really good tracks for Elliott and I don’t see any reason why we can’t make it to Homestead.”

In his seven starts at Kansas since 2011, Sadler has never finished worse than 12th and has three top fives, the most recent in 2016.

The race in Kansas, the series’ only visit to the 1.5-mile this season, is one that Sadler has viewed as pivotal even before the season.

“Always to me, the last couple of years (with how) our point system is, even before you go to Daytona in February, I know that Kansas is the second most important race of the whole entire season,” Sadler said. “Homestead by far is the most important. Kansas is by far the second most important because it’s how you dictate, start off that final round. That’s what my mindset is this week. I know how important Kansas is. …. That’s all I’m really focused on. I haven’t really let the outside stuff affect me yet.”

The “outside stuff” is that the next four races – 1,100 miles and 800 laps barring overtime finishes – are his last planned in NASCAR.

Sadler said he has a “mental block” about the races and they don’t feel any more special than previous seasons.

“I know deep down inside it’s my last ever shot at ever winning a NASCAR championship,” Sadler said. “I just haven’t got to that point for some reason.”

But that point will come and then it will be gone.

If he and Meendering are unable to make the championship race and win the title, how does Sadler want to be remembered?

“If not, I hope people know we did it the right way,” Sadler said. “We did it fair and we did it even and we did it like we were supposed to. I was just a small town boy from Southern Virginia that was able to make it in the sport that he loved and cherished the most and that we did it the right way.”

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NASCAR’s weekend schedule for Kansas Speedway

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend for the Cup and Xfinity Series as they visit Kansas Speedway.

Cup playoff teams will try to avoid elimination as Xfinity teams begin their second round.

Here’s this weekend’s full schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, Oct. 19

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

Noon – 8 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

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

5 – 5:50 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:10 p.m. – Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, Oct. 20

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m – Cup garage open

10:30 – 11:20 a.m. – Cup practice (CNBC, MRN)

11:40 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (CNBC)

12:45 a.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

2:25 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

2:55 p.m. – Kansas Lottery 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 21

9 a.m. – Cup garage opens

12:20 p.m. – Driver-crew chief meeting

1:40 p.m. – Driver introductions

2:20 p.m. – Hollywood Casino 400; 267 lap/400.5 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)