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.

Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson to pursue $100K bounty in Truck Series

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The $100,000 bounty on Kyle Busch has its first contenders.

Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson each confirmed Thursday evening on Twitter that they’ll take a shot at the bounty placed by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis last week.

Elliott will compete in the March 14 Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the May 30 race at Kansas Speedway with GMS Racing. Larson will compete with GMS Racing in the March 20 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott will be sponsored by Hooters for the Atlanta race.

The declarations by the two drivers came the same day that Busch said he didn’t believe any full-time Cup Series drivers would go after the bounty.

Elliott has 12 career Truck Series starts. His last two, at Atlanta and Martinsville in 2017, came with GMS Racing. Elliott won the Martinsville race. Busch was not in that race.

“Once the word got out about the challenge, we were able to put this together with Mike Beam at GMS in just a couple of days,” Elliott said in a press release. “Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks, so I’m really looking forward to getting back into a GMS truck there with Hooters on the truck and make a run for a win.”

Larson has 13 career starts and his last three, including a win at Eldora and top five at Homestead in 2016, came with GMS Racing.

“When I heard about the $100,000 bounty I wanted in!” Larson said in a press release. “I’m thankful for GMS and Chevy giving me this opportunity, Homestead is one of my favorite tracks so looking for to the challenge!”

There’s a potential third bounty hunter waiting in the wings.

Not long after Larson’s announcement, Denny Hamlin, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, tweeted that he’s acquired the funding to field a ride. There’s just one hangup, and it’s Kyle Busch Motorsports:

The $100,000 bounty against Busch was proposed by Harvick and Lemonis, CEO of Gander RV & Outdoors, last week. It will go to any full-time Cup Series driver who beats Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year. Busch has won the last seven Truck Series races he’s entered.

If Elliott or no other Cup driver beats Busch in those four races, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

“We are blessed with this opportunity. To have an owner that is up for the challenge and a manufacturer that will support the extra effort necessary is really special,” said Mike Beam, President of GMS Racing, in a press release. “It’s great to have these two talented young men back behind the wheel for us and to have the extra attention on the Truck series is great.”

Kyle Busch: $100K Truck Series bounty is a losing proposition

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Kyle Busch doesn’t believe any full-time Cup Series driver will attempt to claim the $100,000 bounty placed on him last week by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis.

Harvick and Lemonis, the CEO of Truck Series sponsor Gander RV & Outdoors, said they’d award that bounty to any full-time Cup Series driver who is able to beat Busch in any of his four remaining Truck Series starts this year.

Busch, who has won the last seven Truck races he’s entered, sees the challenge as a losing investment, especially if someone attempted it in one of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Toyotas.

Thursday on the Barstool Sports’ “Rubbin’ is Racing” podcast, Busch said it costs $140,000 to rent one of his Trucks for a race.

“Right off the bat (it’s a losing proposition),” Busch said. “It’s not going to happen. Nobody is going to pay the 140 grand to rent a truck, whether it’s from me or from somebody else. (Show co-host Clint) Bowyer didn’t tell you the fact he can’t even rent a truck from me because I’m a Toyota team and he drives for a Ford team. So he has to go find a Ford truck in order to drive. So there’s those complications that fit into all of this, too.”

Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, expressed his interest in the bounty, as well Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, who said he was “working on” a deal.

After his win last Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch’s four remaining Truck Series starts are:

March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway

May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

If no one beats Busch, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan.

James Hinchliffe will call into the show to discuss his new role as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of IndyCar, Indy Lights, IMSA and NASCAR.

You can call into the show via 844-NASCAR-NBC or submit your questions/comments via Twitter using #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Auto Club Speedway’s old surface provides ‘moving target’ for drivers

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Auto Club Speedway has a lot of character.

It’s a character that comes from the 2-mile track’s racing surface being among the oldest on the NASCAR circuit.

The surface hasn’t been repaved since the track first opened in 1997. That’s the same year that the surface for Atlanta Motor Speedway was last resurfaced (a planned repave was put on hold indefinitely in 2017 after outcry from drivers).

In the 23 years since, races at the track in Fontana, California, have turned into producers of multi-groove spectacles (especially on restarts) that come at the cost of high levels of tire wear.

The aged surface provides a “moving target” to drivers throughout the race weekend, according to Tyler Reddick.

“During the start of the weekend, you have to watch for the seams since it’s so slick out there,” the rookie Cup driver said in a media release. “Normally, the Xfinity cars are the first ones on the track, so I’m normally very careful. Now that I’m in the Cup Series, it may be a little different. I think this weekend will be fairly similar to Las Vegas where we started out running wide open, and I’ll have to run like that until the handling starts to go away in our No. 8 I Am Second Chevrolet (and) you have to start lifting. Then it’ll be important to assess why the handling is changing and how to adjust our car correctly to battle that.”

Cup and Xfinity teams only visit Auto Club Speedway once a year and this will be the second year they’ll do so with the high downforce aero package.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones believes Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox) will be a “different race” from the one seen last year.

“Going into Fontana last year, no one really knew what we needed car-wise, balance-wise and this year we have a whole notebook to look back on to try to get better,” Jones, who finished 19th in last year’s race, said in a media release.

“I think there will be a lot more lifting, the cars will be faster. Everybody has just gotten their cars better and more efficient and faster on the straightaways and that makes for more lifting in the corners. It will probably be a little different race, but Fontana is always a good show.”

But that show depends on where a driver chooses to run around the track.

Racing along the top of the track compared to running in the bottom lane proves for “two completely different types of racing” according to defending race winner Kyle Busch.

“You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack,” Busch said in a media release. “You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”

When it comes to how rough the track is, Matt DiBenedetto cites how bumpy Turns 3 and 4 are, but said in a media release that traversing the “back straightaway is like going over jumps.”

But just like with the old surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are those who never want to see Auto Club’s surface actually improve.

“I did an appearance at Auto Club Speedway not too long ago and I told the track officials, ‘Whatever you do, don’t repave it!'” Austin Dillon said in a media release. “Or, wait to repave it until you can figure out how to make an asphalt that is very similar to what is on the track now.”

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