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

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ISM Raceway will look different this weekend than it did in the spring. Major capital improvements were implemented between this year’s two races, including the relocation of the start/finish line. While that could make a difference in who wins this week, the track itself has not been changed since it was reconfigured and repaved in 2011.

That alteration was substantial with the addition of a run-off area on what was formerly the backstretch. This week, it will be a wide part of the road near where the checkered flag waves. If there is a late-race restart, it could be exciting as three-, four- or even five-wide racing breaks out and the driver with the most momentum off Turn 4 will triumph.

At its core, ISM is still Phoenix International Raceway, however – a track that rewards consistency and rhythm. Chose this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster from among the drivers who have excelled there in the past.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.40) Playoff
Harvick’s last trip to Phoenix came after he was hit with a penalty for an illegal back window at Las Vegas in March. Undaunted, he dominated and won his seventh race there in his last 12 attempts and there is no reason to think this week will be any different.

2. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 3.60) Playoff
Busch has not won at Phoenix since his rookie season of 2005, but he has finished outside the top five only one time in his last six attempts. With a substantial points lead over the cutoff line and the promise that at least two playoff contenders will advance on points, he will likely settle for a solid performance without risking much for the win. 

3. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 6.80) Playoff
Last year Elliott held the lead late at Phoenix before he was overhauled by Matt Kenseth. He has learned a lot since then and will not be as easy to pass if he is in a position to win and advance to the championship four. In five starts on this track, he has never finished worse than 12th.

4. Erik Jones (three-year average: 7.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
Since joining the Cup series last year, Jones has swept the top 10 at Phoenix. He finished fourth in this race last year and is coming off a fourth-place finish at Texas. He was also fourth the last time the series visited a 1-mile track at Dover. There are a lot of “fours” in his record this week, so fantasy players can expect him to finish near there again. 

5. Alex Bowman (three-year average: 9.50 in two starts) Non-Playoff
Bowman’s best Phoenix result before joining Hendrick Motorsports was a 30th earned in 2015. In fall 2016, he qualified Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s No. 88 on the pole and finished sixth. The feel of that car must have stuck with him because he qualified fourth there in the spring and finished 13th.

MORE: Rotoworld Fantasy Power Rankings

6. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 11.00 in three starts) Non-Playoff
It is official that Suarez will give up his ride to Martin Truex Jr. in 2019 and that puts some pressure on the sophomore driver to perform this week. Luckily for him, this is a track that has been mostly kind since he joined Cup. Suarez’s three attempts at Phoenix netted two of his 21 career top 10s. His worst result of 18th came in this race last year. 

7. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 11.80) Non-Playoff
Hamlin may well be the best driver currently racing on minimally banked tracks. His three-year average at Phoenix is skewed by last year’s race when he was pinched in the wall by a determined Elliott. Without that, Hamlin would have a perfect record of top 10s and an average somewhere around sixth.  

8. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 13.40) Playoff
If one looks at the totality of Busch’s career with Stewart-Haas Racing at Phoenix, his numbers are much better than 13th. In nine attempts with that team, he has six top 10s. Unfortunately, two of the three times he missed that mark came last year and a pair of 20-something results have hurt his average. Busch has consistently earned top 10s on every track type this year and should easily record another. 

9. Aric Almirola (three-year average: 13.60) Playoff
While he has only three top 10s during his career at Phoenix, this has still been one of his better tracks with a career average finish of 18.1 in 15 starts. That places the flat 1-miler fourth on his list. Equally impressive, he has finished on the lead lap in 12 of the last 13 races there. Almirola needs a win this week, but his best finish to date has been a seventh this spring.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 14.60) Playoff
Before last fall, Truex had only one top five in 23 Phoenix attempts. He qualified fifth and finished third in that race. This spring, he started on the pole and finished fifth. He also has top fives in his last three New Hampshire races – which shows an affinity for the flat one-mile ovals. 

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Never underestimate the power of determination. Harvick is in the news for all the wrong reasons this week, but one need only flash back to the spring Phoenix race for an image of him tapping the back window in defiance of all the haters that came out after his Vegas penalty. Harvick has only one previous pole on this track from spring 2015 but he has started on one of the first five rows six times in his last eight attempts.

Segment Winners: Finishing first in the opening stages at Phoenix has not been a particularly good omen so far. Last spring, Joey Logano won Stage 1 (after scoring the pole) and finished 31st. Elliott won Stage 2 and finished 12th. Last fall, Kyle Larson started third and won Stage 1 before finishing 40th. Stage 2 winner Hamlin finished 35th with crash damage. This spring, Kyle Busch defied those odds by finishing second after winning Stage 1, but his brother Kurt Busch finished only 10th after winning Stage 2. Pick a top five qualified driver, but don’t use that same racer as your overall winner pick.

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.