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.

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.