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

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Streaks are hard to come by on restrictor-plate superspeedways.

Since the 2010 season, 29 of the drivers entered this week have scored 127 top 10s. In those eight seasons, 13 drivers have managed to string together three or more consecutive top 10s. Of those, only four have a streak longer than four straight.

Clint Bowyer has a five-race streak from 2010 through 2012 plus another streak of three consecutive races and a pair of top 10s. And yet his three-year average at Talladega is not enough to include him in the list below.

Brad Keselowski has a three-race streak and a couple of back-to-back top-10 finishes. Keselowski is only 12th best in terms of his three-year average finish.

David Ragan enters the weekend with three top 10s in the past three races and another streak of four in 2012/2013. He also fails to make the list.

That makes this one of the most unpredictable tracks on which NASCAR competes. Setting this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster is going to come down to intuition and luck.

1. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 9.00) Playoff
From fall 2010 through spring 2014, Busch’s best result at Talladega was 18th. He was seventh in the fall 2014 race and has finished worse than 12th only one time in his last eight attempts. Whether he’s been lucky or has found a way to stay out of trouble, he is a solid anchor to this week’s roster.

2. Aric Almirola (three-year average: 10.20) Playoff
One never wants to go to Talladega with their playoff hopes on the line but Almirola could certainly pick a worse place based on his recent performance. With four consecutive top 10s, he has the best active streak. In 2017, he swept the top five. He is 10 points behind the cutoff and needs only a good finish this week to give him a solid chance to advance on his Kansas performance.

3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 10.60) Non-Playoff
Stenhouse took a lot of criticism for his performance at Daytona in July. He saw that race as his best opportunity to win and secure a spot in the playoffs and might have been a little too enthusiastic. That should not detract from his fantasy appeal on plate tracks, however; Stenhouse has one win and three top fives in his last four Talladega starts.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 12.60) Playoff
Logano won this spring’s Geico 500 at Talladega on the heels of a fourth-place finish there last fall. Before one gets overly excited about that, however, it should be noted that most of Logano’s results on this track have been feast or famine. Since the beginning of 2012, he has three wins, a fourth, and an 11th. Seven of his remaining eight races in that span ended 25th or worse.

5. Ty Dillon (three-year average: 13.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Talladega is filled with dark horse contenders. Dillon has made only three Cup starts on this 2.66-mile track and has swept the top 15. His best effort was one that does not impact his official record. Dillon finished sixth in relief of an injured Tony Stewart in 2016.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 13.00) Non-Playoff
Hamlin has shown consistency during his last four attempts at Talladega. Since fall 2016, he’s swept the top 15 with a best of third and an average of 8.5. He would be much higher on this list if not for a pair of accidents in spring 2016 that cost him 18 laps and relegated him to 31st.

7. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 13.20) Playoff
Elliott enters the weekend as the only driver who knows he will advance to Round 3 of the playoffs. That is good news because plate tracks have not been uniformly kind in the past. He crashed out of the 2017 spring Talladega race and has been running at the end of only two of the five plate races since.

8. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 13.80) Playoff
If these stats belonged to anyone but Harvick, he would be considered a solid value: Since fall 2013, he has earned five top 10s, three more top 15s and had a worst finish of 23rd in 10 races. He has only one top-five finish in that span, however. One expects a lot more from a driver who has dominated much of the season.

9. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 14.67 in three attempts) Non-Playoff
Young Cup drivers are not supposed to be strong on plate tracks. Conventional wisdom used to be that the veterans didn’t want to draft with them and would find a way to dump them. As young guns became more prevalent in the series, that changed. Suarez has gotten progressively better at Talladega. He finished 19th in the 2017 spring race, was 15th in the fall and 10th this spring.

10. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 15.00) Playoff
Like fellow Big 3 contender Harvick, Busch is less likely to challenge for a top five at Talladega than most tracks. He missed the spring 2015 to injury and since then has scored only two top 10s in six starts. For some reason, the fall races have been particularly unkind. Three of his last four attempts in this race ended outside of the top 25.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Poles can be almost as difficult to predict as race finishes on plate tracks. One driver who has been uniformly strong is Elliott, however. In 11 previous attempts at Talladega and Daytona, he has earned four poles (three at Daytona and one at Talladega) and qualified worse than eighth just one time.

Segment Winners: If picking a race winner is difficult, it’s even more difficult to predict who will be the segment winners. A little guesswork can be taken out of the equation by looking at the average running position, though. The three drivers with the best Talladega average running position as reported by NASCAR Statistical Services are three aggressive young guns. Elliott has an average place of 10.705, William Byron has a 12.460 and Bubba Wallace is third at 13.798.

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

Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.