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

0 Comments

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.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

0 Comments

AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

0 Comments

Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.

Safety key topic in meeting for drivers at Talladega

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council, and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Busch suffered his head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in accidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.

Two drivers injured in less than three months — and the series racing at a track where crashes are likely — raises tension in the Cup garage. 

Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for not addressing safety concerns drivers had with the car. Hamlin also said that the Next Gen vehicle needs to be redesigned.

Burton, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was lengthy because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into details on all the topics.

Safety was a key element of that meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the cooperation level with NASCAR.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car. 

“We want to see that come to conclusion as soon as possible. They have made commitments to us and are showing us what is happening, communicating with us in regard to timing, and we want to see it come to conclusion, as they do. 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get some changes done before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test stuff.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there’s not enough time for any such changes this season with five races left.

The frustration from drivers — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — has been that NASCAR was informed about issues with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a test in March 2020 at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right off the bat,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers needed to speak up about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career, and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either have to step way from the car or have to think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody getting injured and then you come into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliot said.

So what do drivers do?

“Do you just not show up?” Elliott said. “Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask. There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. 

“My frustration is … I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry. 

“That should have just never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that that we had years and time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we’re having to fix it. 

“I just hate that we did that. I think we’re smarter than that. I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Burton told NBC Sports that drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting running single-file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see single-file (racing Sunday) because of what happened at Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calmness. 

“There was not a discussion, a collaborated effort or any sort of thing of how you race (Sunday). That conversation did not come up in that meeting.”

Harvick said Saturday that he’ll continue to be vocal about safety issues.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good spot,” Harvick said. “Whatever I have to do.”

Harvick later said: “I don’t think any of us want to be in this position. We have to have the safety we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that. 

“Obviously, we all have taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it was a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is much different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think that the trust level is obviously not where it needs to be from getting it fixed. I think they’re going to have to earn the trust level back of reacting quick enough to do the things that it takes. The drivers’ opinion, especially when it comes to safety side of things, has to be more important than the data or more important than the cost. Safety can’t be a budget item.”

Corey LaJoie, who is a member of the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.

“Nothing happens quick in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and prickly when we have guys like Alex and Kurt out. You don’t ever want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Driver Council, is trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR making proactive changes and moving timelines up aggressively to try to implement these changes.”

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

1 Comment

Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: TalladeTalladega Truck results

MORE: Talladega Truck driver points

The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.