NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 best at Martinsville in last three seasons

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Martinsville has been considered one of the biggest wild cards in the playoffs. With major shakeups occurring already at Las Vegas, the Charlotte Roval and Talladega already, this race promises to be just another in what is becoming a long list of unpredictable races in the 2018 playoffs.

In the NASCAR America Fantasy Live game, two active drivers need to be playoff eligible and two must come from the remainder of the field. The playoff field has shrunk to eight drivers. Five of them are listed among those with the 10 best average finishes during the past three seasons, but if the chaotic races that have already been run have taught us anything, it is that no one is immune to having a bad race regardless of their stats.

Players need to maximize points. So far during the playoffs, the better strategy has been to have a playoff eligible driver in the garage because the negative impact of an early retirement among them has been greater. With so many strong contenders outside the playoff drivers, it is time to change that strategy and place a non-playoff contender in the garage in order to hedge one’s bets.

1. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 2.20) Playoff
Busch has struggled during the playoffs and might not automatically be considered one of the top choices each week. Short tracks are an entirely different story, however, because he has been almost perfect on them in the past two seasons. Busch has five wins in the last eight short track races. One of these came in last year’s fall Martinsville race after he bumped teammate Denny Hamlin out of the lead on the final lap.

2. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 4.40) Non-Playoff
Contenders have won every playoff race this season. Keselowski has the potential to disrupt that because he enters the weekend with four top fives and a top 10 in the last five Martinsville races. Keselowski won last year’s spring race and finished second in fall 2016. Wait until practice is in the books before deciding to start him though. In five short track races this year, Keselowski has not yet cracked the top five. 

3. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 9.25 in four starts) Non-Playoff
Is this the week Kenseth finally gets another top 10? Probably not, but Martinsville is the type of track that rewards driver skill to a greater degree than horsepower. In his 12 starts this season, Kenseth has earned three top 15s. In his last four at Martinsville, he’s never failed to crack that mark.

4. Martin Truex, Jr. (three-year average: 9.40) Playoff
From 2012-17 Truex failed to produce a single top five at Martinsville in 10 starts. He only had a couple of those in earlier seasons, so he was completely under the radar last fall on this track. He finished second – in no small part because the front of the field was cleared out by Busch and Hamlin in separate incidents in the closing laps. He followed that with another top five (fourth) this spring.

5. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 10.40) Non-Playoff
Every time it seems to be safe to select Johnson, either he or the team makes a mistake. His 22nd-place finish at Kansas was certainly disappointing, but it came on the heels of three top 10s in the previous four races. Even while he has struggled elsewhere, Johnson has been strong at Martinsville with one of his most recent wins coming in 2016. It would take some wild circumstances for him to earn a 10th victory on this track, but NASCAR is filled with event wilder stories.

6. Joey Logano (three-year average: 10.80) Playoff
Before he left Kansas last week, Logano noted that consistency will no longer be good enough to advance in the playoffs. He knows he is going to have to challenge for the win in the next three weeks. Unfortunately, that is not something he has done often at Martinsville. His best finish of second was earned in 2010 and he has only one top five in the last three seasons.

7. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 12.80) Playoff
Bowyer’s three-season average can be a little misleading. He finished in the mid- to high-20s in both 2016 races, but he has been perfect in regard to top 10s since. Bowyer snapped a 190-race winless streak this spring at Martinsville and now counts this as one of his favorite tracks. He hasn’t scored a top five again on a short track, but he has swept the top 10 in 2018.

8. AJ Allmendinger (three-year average: 13.20) Non-Playoff
Allmendinger deserves a spot on the NASCAR Fantasy Live roster even if one choses to put him in the garage at the beginning of the weekend. There is something about this track that really suits his racing style. Perhaps it is the braking characteristics one must employ to get around the tight, flat corners. Whatever the reason, he has four top 10s in his last five starts at Martinsville and came within a position of winning in spring 2016.

9. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 13.40) Playoff
Martinsville has not always been kind to Harvick. From 2012 through spring 2017 he failed to crack the top five and had only a handful of top 10s (excluding the thumb). Last year he was elevated to fifth when a chaotic finish dropped Chase Elliott and Hamlin from the lead. This year he did not need any help to finish fifth for the second consecutive time.

9. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.40) Non-Playoff
Martinsville is exactly the type of track that suits Newman. It’s a bullring befitting a bulldog of his pedigree, and he earns top 10s occasionally by a sheer force of will. As his season comes to a close, however, and Newman starts to look toward 2019, he has been less consistent in recent weeks. That diminishes his appeal.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Rarely is there a clear-cut favorite to win the pole. Martinsville is different. One of the keys to Logano’s success on this track has been his ability to start up front. He has earned four poles in his last eight starts on this track and lined up on the outside of the front row on two other occasions.

Segment Winners: Drivers who start up front have the best opportunity to stay there on a tight, single-groove bullring like Martinsville. Expect Logano, Harvick and Kyle Busch to qualify on the first three rows this week and make your segment picks based on their performance in practice.

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

Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, lineup and more

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One of the first things Kyle Larson said after winning last weekend at Dover was that “everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing at Talladega … except me.”

Talladega is here and it’s time for many drivers to stress. Except Larson, of course.

The playoff standings could be jumbled by the time the 500-mile journey at Talladega Superspeedway ends. Who will be collected in a crash? Who will get through the carnage and contend for the win?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Edward Graham, assistant VP of Operation Christmas Child for Samaritan’s Purse, will give the command to start engines at 1:48 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:03 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:41 p.m. by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. The National Anthem will be performed at 1:42 p.m. by the 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Alabama.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500.08 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 110.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Chase Elliott led a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep in late April, finishing ahead of Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece. Aric Almirola won this playoff race a year ago, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep with Clint Bowyer second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Jagger Jones, grandson of Parnelli Jones, scores first NASCAR win

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Jagger Jones, the 17-year-old grandson of famed racer Parnelli Jones, scored his first NASCAR victory, taking the checkered flag in Saturday night’s K&N Pro Series West race at All American Speedway in Roseville, California.

In a statement to NBC Sports, the 86-year-old Parnelli Jones, who won the 1963 Indianapolis 500, said of his grandson’s achievement: “I just knew it was a matter of time until Jagger rose to the top and won at this level. I’m very proud of him. Jagger has worked hard on his racing skills this year and continues to improve and learn.

“Not only is Jagger a good driver but he’s a very good student. I’ve been impressed by both Jagger and Jace (his younger brother) – they continue to work hard and balance their driving with their work in the classroom. They’re outstanding young men on and off the track and I’m truly a very proud grandfather. Jagger and his team earned this win after a successful season and hopefully it’s a building block for the future.”

Hailie Deegan, who started on the pole, overcame an early spin and finished second.

This is Jones’ first season in the series. He had finished runner-up twice, scoring those finishes in his first career series race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track in March and at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon, in June.

Trevor Huddleston placed third Saturday night, points leader Derek Kraus was fourth and Todd Souza was fifth.

Race results