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

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Last year’s championship finale was as predictable as any NASCAR race can be.

Seven of the top-10 finishers qualified among the top 10. Eight of them finished among the top 10 in both stages and only one – Ryan Newman in 10th – failed to finish that well at the two breaks.

The top-three finishers all led significant portions of the race with Martin Truex Jr. pacing the field four times for 78 laps, Kyle Busch leading four times for 43 laps and Kyle Larson up front four times for 145 laps.

For the most part, these were the same drivers who were fast in practice, so this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster should be heavily influenced by the drivers with the best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying will also be important, but there is no reason to automatically discount a driver who starts outside the top 10. Last year, Chase Elliott advance to fifth from 18th on the grid while Joey Logano finished sixth after starting 19th.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
Harvick has been as close to perfect as possible at Miami. Since the track went to its current configuration in 2003, Harvick has missed the top 10 only once (2007). In the 10 races since then, he has seven top fives, including the last four. He won the championship on the strength of his 2014 victory and is one of the best bets to do so again.

1. Kyle Busch  (three-year average: 3.00) Playoff
There are many signs pointing to this week being a two-man battle between Harvick and Busch. Las Vegas odds makers have had them as co-favorites most of the week at 2/1, they’ve dominated the 1.5-mile tracks with Harvick winning four times and Busch three. Their three-year average at Homestead are identical. Unless something happens to slow one of them down, the race and championship will come down to these two. 

3. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 3.33) Non-Playoff
It is unfortunate that Larson failed to make the Championship 4 because he will be part of the battle for the win this weekend. He enters with three consecutive top fives including a second in 2016 and a third last year. In four years of NASCAR’s current knockout format, a non-playoff driver has never won this race, so history could be made this week.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.67) Playoff
Logano is this week’s dark horse to win the championship. He has not been nearly as dominant on 1.5-milers as Harvick, Busch or Truex but he does have a couple of things in his favor. 1) He has had the luxury of preparing for Miami for three weeks since winning at Martinsville and 2) he has not finished worse than sixth in his last three starts at Miami. 

5. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 7.33) Non-Playoff
It has been easy to disregard Kenseth’s statistics in 2018. His most recent runs on a given track were with Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 6 at Roush Fenway Racing has struggled with both him and Trevor Bayne behind the wheel. Last week’s seventh-place finish at Phoenix changed that. Now that he knows how to get to the top 10, his Miami record of five consecutive results of eighth or better is suddenly meaningful.

MORE: Rotoworld Fantasy Power Rankings

6. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 8.00 in two starts) Non-Playoff
There is a old adage in racing that states drivers must first lose races in order to win them. The same is true of championships – and under NASCAR’s current rules, that also applies to simply making the Championship 4. Elliott has been eliminated in the Round of 8 in the past two seasons. Elliott knows he has been one of the strongest performers during the playoffs and if not for the poor start that Chevrolet endured at the beginning of the season, he might be one of the challengers if he had started winning earlier in the year. 

7. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 9.33) Non-Playoff
Hamlin will be on most fantasy radars because of his five race top-10 streak at Miami. He has not earned a top five there since 2013, but that year he won his second race on this track. His first came in 2009, so there is still some hope that he will keep his streak of winning every year since he was a rookie in 2006 alive.

8. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 10.33) Non-Playoff
McMurray is another driver who would like to close the season on a high note. He has not announced his plans for 2019, but he knows he will not be with Chip Ganassi Racing next year and with most of the major rides spoken for, he may not have another opportunity to win. Two of his last four attempts on this track ended in fifth-place finishes. The other two were a pair of 13ths. 

9. Austin Dillon (three-year average: 12.33) Non-Playoff
Dillon has come on strong in the last two weeks. His 10th at Texas and eighth at Phoenix is the first time this year that he has earned back-to-back top 10s. At Miami, he has a current streak of three top 15s without a top 10. With a little luck and some track position, he could close out the year with three consecutive strong runs.

9. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 12.33) Non-Playoff
Johnson has already shown what he will do for a win. It didn’t matter that he might miss the playoffs when he sailed into the final chicane at the Charlotte Roval and it won’t matter that the Championship 4 are battling for the Cup this week. If Johnson can sniff the lead, he is going to do everything he can to get to the checkers first. 

14. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 16.33) Playoff
Truex may have won last year, but he has not been overly impressive at Miami in recent years. That was his only top 10 in the past four seasons, which suggests he has his work cut out for him this week if he wants to beat Harvick and Busch.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Hamlin has won two of the last three poles at Miami. He will not be front-of-mind for most fantasy players this week and that could be a blessing in disguise. While most of the competition makes a safe pick like Harvick, Kyle Busch or Truex, someone willing to take a little risk could reap a huge benefit.

Segment Winners: Last year, the top-four finishers each swept the top five at the end of the stages. Meanwhile, there were only two drivers who earned stage points before falling out of the top 10 at the checkers (Clint Bowyer was 10th in Stage 1 before finishing 12th; Kurt Busch was seventh in Stage 1 and sixth in Stage 2 before losing two laps in the final segment and finishing 22nd). That suggests this week’s stage winners will come from among the drivers who impress the analysts most in practice.

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

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

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 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.