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.

Brandon Jones rallies late to earn first career Xfinity race at Kansas

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After starting from the front row next to pole sitter Christopher Bell, Brandon Jones fell backwards only to roar back late to win his first career Xfinity Series race Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

With the win, the 22-year-old Jones, who was knocked out of the playoffs after the Dover elimination race, still had an impact on how the Round of 8 began.

Jones was in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of late-race misfortune to Chase Briscoe and Bell, who were involved in a wreck with Garrett Smithley with 16 laps to go in the 200-lap event.

Equally as important was the great restart Jones got with four laps to go following another late caution that resulted from a crash that involved Joey Gase and Noah Gragson.

“This is incredible,” Jones told NBCSN. “I knew this would happen, we were going to come here and have an amazing run at the end of the day. … I’m not going to lie, my foot was literally shaking on the accelerator on the last lap, I’m not even sure I was wide open when I was doing it.

“There was a lot of nerve flow and emotion going through my mind but I saw it coming and I got pretty pumped.”

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

While Bell led 70 laps and Briscoe 33, their significant efforts were quickly derailed with 16 laps to go.

Briscoe was in the lead, with Bell right behind, when Briscoe tried to pass Garrett Smithley, who was five laps down at the time. But instead of yielding the high line on the track to Briscoe and Bell, Smithley washed up the track and Briscoe could not avoid contact, nor could Bell avoid contract with Briscoe.

Briscoe finished third, while Bell finished 12th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell (18th stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer (eighth stage win of season)

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Briscoe overcame the late contact with Smithley and Bell to finish third. Also having a strong outing was Michael Annett, who potentially might have had a chance at a win if the race had gone a few more laps.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Making just his sixth start of the season, Ryan Truex had his car blow up on him after just four laps. “It sucks, that was my last race in this car (this season) and probably the best car we’ve had since Phoenix at the start of the year,” Truex told NBC. “We had a top five car for sure. That really sucks that we don’t even have a chance to show what we’ve got. … To not even have a chance is really hard to swallow.” … Harrison Burton, who on Thursday was announced that he would race full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020, made contact with Austin Cindric on Lap 70. “To me, it just felt like I flat out got wrecked,” Burton said of Cindric to NBC Sports. “It’s unfortunate and frustrating. … I guess he didn’t want to race, he just wanted to wreck.” Burton finished 34th, while Cindric was 25th.

NOTABLE: Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick were involved in a pushing and shoving match for about 20 seconds after the race, but were separated.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity Series has next weekend off. It returns to action for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2 (8:30 p.m. ET start, on NBCSN).

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Kyle Larson injured ribs in ‘probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had’

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson says he plans to drive the full distance Sunday at Kansas Speedway despite injuring his ribs in “probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.”

Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet ran into the No. 88 Chevy of Alex Bowman near the end of the second stage of Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (video above).

Though the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hasn’t had an X-ray, Larson doesn’t think he broke his ribs, but they were hurting enough to require an icing after two Friday practices at Kansas. Larson posted a photo to his Instagram Story of his wrapped midsection with the caption, “Big fan of Super Speedways.”

Because everybody says there really is nothing you can do about ribs anyway,” Larson said when asked why he hadn’t gotten an X-ray. “It’s not broken. It definitely hurts to sneeze and cough, and when I’m in the seat, it’s tender. I’ve never broken a bone, but it’s definitely not broken.

Though he already has secured a spot in the third round of the Cup playoffs through his Oct. 6 victory at Dover International Speedway, Larson said he will run the 400 miles Sunday.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said after qualifying fifth Saturday, pausing to smile. “As long as I don’t hit the wall or anything. It should be fine.”

Larson also crashed in the April 28 race at Talladega, going airborne and rolling several times in a wreck that was reviewed by NASCAR.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

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Daniel Hemric will own prime real estate when the green flag drops for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Hemric, who it was announced Sept. 17 that he would not return to drive the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing next season, captured his first career Cup pole Saturday.

Cup veteran driver David Ragan, who announced August 14 that he will be retiring from full-time competition after this season, will start alongside Hemric on the front row.

The rest of the first five rows for Sunday’s race will be Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski in Row 2, Kyle Larson and Michael McDowell in Row 3, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez in Row 4 and Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace in Row 5.

Kevin Harvick failed pre-qualifying inspection and did not make a qualifying attempt. He will start Sunday’s race last in the 40-car field.

This will be the second elimination race of the 10-race playoffs. The playoff field will be reduced from 12 to eight drivers.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Kevin Harvick to start at the rear after team passes inspection, then fails

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick will start at the rear of Sunday’s Cup race after his team found an issue with its car and went though inspection after having passed it previously.

Harvick enters the race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 36 points ahead of Alex Bowman, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot. Sunday’s race will cut the playoff field from 12 to eight drivers.

Harvick’s No. 4 Ford failed its first attempt in inspection before qualifying Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The team passed the second time but then found an issue with the car and made an adjustment. By doing so, the team had to go back through inspection. That meant that the second attempt — which the team had passed — then counted as a failure. NASCAR ejected a crew member (the team’s car chief) and docked the team 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

The team then went through a third time and failed. Teams are not allowed to attempt to qualify after a third failure. Harvick’s team also lost an additional 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

Here’s how crew chief Rodney Childers explained to NBC Sports what happened:

“We went through tech the first time, the back of the decklid was like 10 (thousandths of an inch) too low, which that is on us. Everybody pushes that as much as they can at a place like this. We raised the decklid and went back through and passed and everything was fine.

“As we were pushing it back to the garage, you could feel something just barely, barely ticking … on the body as you were pushing it. We got back to the garage and looked up under the back and the weight on the driveshaft was just barely at the tunnel, the driveshaft tunnel. So we kind of stood around for 30 minutes trying to decide should we just kind of go for it and hope it doesn’t become a problem or should we just fix it. Looking back on it maybe we should have just went for it, but we voluntarily went back and through tech and fixed it and then failed right rear toe by .03.

“When you’re doing big changes like that … you’ve got to lengthen the track bar out a couple of rounds. When you lengthen the track bar out a couple of lengths, since the day I stated Cup racing, if you did the track bar two rounds, you did the slug an eighth of an inch. That’s what we did. Then we failed right rear toe.

“It’s disappointing. It was a decision we made to try to be safe and not  have a problem in the race or anything like that. The biggest disappointment is just having to start in the back over something we did voluntarily. That’s what is disappointing.

“I think everybody in this garage would vote for each other and have each other’s back so that if you found a problem on your car and you went back through voluntarily that’s on the team and not counted as a failure. I don’t think that’s right.”

Childers said starting at the rear will be a challenge.

“That’s what we didn’t want to do (start at the rear),” he said. “I hate that it turned out that way. Our car has been fast all weekend. We’ve just got to get back up there and get some stage points and do all the right things. I’m sure he can pass 20 of them in the first five laps and hopefully get up there and contend as best we can.”

Harvick didn’t express too much concern about his situation.

It’s like I’ve talked from the very beginning, you deal with the situations as they approach you,” Harvick said. “It doesn’t matter if it this is the first race or an elimination race. You go about the circumstances that you are dealt. This is why I always tell you guys you just never know what the circumstances are going to be and you have to adopt and adjust as they present themselves.”