NASCAR’s ‘Young Elvis’ is more comfortable with the mic at Michigan

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BROOKLYN, Mich. – He’s officially a Cup Series winner, but Chase Elliott is rebuffing attempts to be crowned as greatness yet.

Particularly as it relates to an Elvis Presley comparison that Dale Earnhardt Jr. made about his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate during his Dale Jr. Download podcast.

“I think he needs to retire from giving nicknames,” Elliott said with a laugh about being bestowed with the “Young Elvis” moniker by Earnhardt. “For some reason, he has always thought I looked like Elvis, and I really don’t know why. I know he has a little bit of an obsession with Elvis. He has an Elvis room in his house, which is kind of weird. I’ve been in that room before and you wake up and there is this Elvis man staring at you.”

While “The King” has left the building, Elliott’s reign in NASCAR’s premier series could be just beginning, especially considering he is locked into the playoffs earlier than he ever has been.

“I certainly can probably use a little more offense than what you would have if you weren’t locked in,” the No. 9 Chevrolet driver said. “I’ve been on the other end of the stick these past two years, and it’s such a nice feeling to come into these last few races and know that you’re locked into the deal.

“But I think more than that, playoff points are really important to get. And I think that’s our goal is to try to get as many of those as we can, whether it be winning stages or trying to put yourself in position to win. Obviously, you’re always trying to win. But those stage victories are big, and you can rack up those playoff points quickly. I know it’s only one per stage, but they add up. I think that’s our goal for these next few weeks to just try to get some more playoff points and kind of get to that next tier of guys in points with people you’re going to be racing against in the final 10.”

Elliott is on a streak of three consecutive races with stage wins (the only three stage victories for Hendrick this season), and his victory at Watkins Glen International showed how much he has improved on restarts.

Sunday could be another strong indicator. Elliott has finished second three times at Michigan International Speedway, and both times in 2016 he lost the lead on a late restart.

“I would like to think I could change the result for sure,” Elliott said about his improvement on restarts. “But until you are in those positions it’s hard to know. Some of it is circumstance, too. You could get a good restart and maybe not get a good push, and the guy next to you does get a good push and lose the lead that way. But I would like to think I would do a little better at it, but until you are in those spots you don’t really know.”

Elliott is on a streak of five consecutive top 10s at the 2-mile oval (his worst being a ninth in June) and will try to become the sixth Cup driver to win in his 100th start (the last being Carl Edwards at Michigan on June 17, 2007.

Beyond his history at the track, Elliott’s NASCAR history also suggests Sunday’s race at the 2-mile oval could be a good one.

After scoring his first Xfinity Series career victory April 4, 2014 at Texas Motor Speedway, Elliott won the following week at Darlington Raceway.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Elliott said when asked about history repeating in Cup. “This has been a pretty good track for us in general. That’s not to say this weekend will go good. I feel like we were better here my first two years than we were in the spring race this year, unfortunately.

“So, yeah, I don’t know. I hope this weekend goes good and I think this weekend will be kind of a gauge of where we stack-up for some of these race tracks that are coming up at Indy and Vegas and some of the 1.5-mile and 2-milers coming up. We didn’t stack up very well here in the spring race. I think we’ve gotten a little better at these style tracks since then, so hopefully. We’ll see.”

Chase Elliott heads to best track after first Cup win

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Chase Elliott couldn’t have asked for a better track to come immediately after he earned his first Cup win.

That track is Michigan International Speedway, the 2-mile facility that hosts Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has yet to have a bad race in five starts Michigan. He’s had winning runs ruined by bad restarts late in races, but no bad races.

His first three Michigan visits ended in runner-up finishes. That matches Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Martin Truex Jr.‘s number of second-place finishes at MIS before a win. Gordon is the only one of those who has a Michigan win.

Elliott has also yet to finish outside the top 10 at Michigan.

According to Racing Insights, Elliott is third on the list of drivers in number of Michigan starts prior to their first finish outside the top 10. Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker have the most with six.

Elliott has led 66 laps at Michigan, but those all came in his first two starts.

Elliott has the best all-time average finish at Michigan at 4.6. That’s ahead of Sam Sommers (sixth, two starts), Carl Edwards (9.4 in 25 starts) and Cale Yarborough (9.61 in 36 starts).

Among active drivers, Erik Jones has the second best average finish at 10.33 in three starts.

Sunday also marks Elliott’s 100th Cup Series start. Should he finally claim a Michigan win, he’d be the sixth driver to win in his 100th start.

Elliott would also be the fifth driver in Cup history to earn his first and second wins in consecutive races.

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

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Flat tracks are among the most predictable in NASCAR and it seems that the shorter the distance, the more likely drivers are to find their rhythm. For the purpose of handicapping this week’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, the tracks used as a comparative for New Hampshire Motor Speedway include ISM Raceway (Phoenix), Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway.

Kyle Busch has been the master of those tracks in recent years with 12 top fives in his last 18 starts. He’s finished outside the top 10 only twice. In that same span, eight drivers have finished among the top 10 in more than half of their attempts. In terms of top 15s, 17 drivers have a better than .500 average since the beginning of 2016 and that allows fantasy players to narrow the field considerably.

1. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 2.83)
This week on NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman said that Roush Fenway Racing is using the No. 6 to test unproven parts and pieces in an effort to get Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the playoffs. If that is true, starting Kenseth comes with greater than average risk.

2. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 7.00 in two starts)
The short, flat tracks require rhythm to get around quickly. When a driver sweeps the top 10 on a minimally-banked course as rookie, it often means he is going to be strong there throughout his career. Suarez finished sixth in the spring and eighth in the fall at New Hampshire.

3. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 7.67)
It has been more than six years since Keselowski finished outside the top 15 at New Hampshire. If nothing goes wrong with his car, he is likely to extend that streak because all but three of his last 13 races ended inside the top 10 – including a victory in 2014.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 8.50)
Truex may still be looking for his first win at New Hampshire, but he has a better three-year average than Kevin Harvick or Busch. Along with Kenseth and Kyle Larson, he was one of three drivers last year to sweep the top five – and coming off a dominant win at Kentucky Speedway, he will challenge for the win this week in an effort to tie Harvick and Busch with five victories apiece.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.83)
Hamlin is one of the drivers that must be considered every time NASCAR goes to a flat track. At the height of his career, he would regularly string top fives together on this course type. Lately, he’s been a little more prone to scoring results in the high single digits and low-teens, but he’s still a good value if he fits the right niche on one’s roster.

6. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 10.03)
Busch’s three-year average is marred by an accident in 2015 that cost him 38 laps. If one removes that outlier from his results, he has a 4.33 average over the past five years with wins in spring 2015 and fall 2017. There is no sign that he will slow down this week and a top five is virtually assured.

7. Joey Logano (three-year average: 11.33)
From fall 2014 through spring 2016, Logano scored four consecutive top fives that included one win. In the three races since that streak ended, he has one top 10 and an 11th, but what really hurt his average was a broken transmission in this race last year.

8. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 11.67)
Harvick is another driver for whom his average can be deceiving. An accident midway through last year’s ISM Connect 300 and a mistake on fuel calculations in 2015 dropped him outside of the top 20 twice in the past three years, but his other four efforts have all been top fives with a victory in fall 2016.

9. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 12.00)
It is hard to tell because he is still finishing outside of the top 10, but Johnson is slowly improving. That is encouraging on a track like New Hampshire where the driver is a bigger part of the equation than he is on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. Johnson could be a great dark horse in the Foxwoods 301.

10. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 13.17)
Larson has been hit or miss at New Hampshire, but when he finds the target, he is close to the bullseye. In his rookie season, Laron finished third and second. Last year, he swept the runner-up position and with a car that is now set up to run the lower groove, he should challenge for the win.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Busch and Truex won last year’s poles at New Hampshire and the odds are good one of the Big 3 will lead the field to green this week as well. Suarez could be a surprising dark horse, however, because Carl Edwards swept the pole in 2015 in this car and grabbed another in 2016.

Segment Winners: In the past two years, four drivers have dominated the segment wins on minimally-banked flat tracks one mile or less in length. Busch, Truex and Logano have four stage wins apiece. Keselowski has three. The tiebreaker goes to Busch, however, because he has earned 146 points on short, flat tracks compared to Keselowski’s 114.

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

ISC president cites ‘issue with star power’ for attendance drop

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — International Speedway Corp. President John Saunders cites “an issue with star power” as a contributing factor to the company’s attendance decline.

“All in all, the attendance was a little softer than expected,” Saunders said Thursday morning during ISC’s conference call with investor analysts to discuss results from the second quarter. “We still have an issue with star power. Hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands.”

Ryan Blaney, 24, says he’s tiring of the discussion.

“This whole young guys need to win now thing is getting old,’’ Blaney said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “We’re trying. We’re trying our hardest. It’s not like I go out there and I’m happy for fifth every single week. Every other guy under the age of 25 I’ll just say is the same way.

“It’s not a competition here between young guys and old guys. It’s a competition between 39 other cars and yourself. No matter what your age is, experience level, everyone is trying to accomplish the same goal.

“I think it would be healthy for the sport if we see just more variation in general of winners. How many winners this year? Six. Come on now. You can’t just put that on the young guys for not winning. That’s a lot of other people that aren’t winning too.”

Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon said he’s not bothered by Saunders’ comment but raises a question himself.

“I just want to know what we do about it,” Dillon said Thursday. “How do you move forward with that because the guys that are in this sport are talented enough to win. We haven’t made any changes this year to the packages that we’re running. Each and every week you probably can guess … who the top three guys are probably going to be. I bet if everybody had to bet their house on it, they’d take between three guys right now, maybe four. I bet he would too.”

Bubba Wallace, 24, wasn’t thrilled with Saunders’ comment.

“There’s a lot of boring stuff that we still have that has been the same thing at ISC tracks that we could update to get more fans out,” Wallace said. “It kind of goes hand in hand from us behind the wheel to people that are here hosting us. It’s a group effort.”

ISC stated that attendance for its six Cup weekends in the second quarter was down about 10 percent. Those six events were races at Phoenix, Auto Club Speedway, Martinsville, Richmond, Talladega and Kansas. Other tracks operated by ISC include Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

ISC stated that it had an increase in attendance with the Richmond event.

ISC cited weather, construction at ISM Raceway (Phoenix) and “a general trend of lower sales at live sporting events” for impacting revenue.

Saunders said on the call that “these headwinds are further impacted by recent retirements of star drivers.”

Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are among drivers who have exited the car in recent years.

Only two of the first 17 Cup races this season has been won by a driver under the age of 30. Dillon (Daytona 500) and Joey Logano (Talladega) were both 27 when they won. They’ve since had birthdays.

Former champions Kevin Harvick (five wins), Kyle Busch (five) and Martin Truex Jr. (three) have combined to win 76.5 percent of the races this season. They’ve also combined to lead 47.2 percent of the laps this year and won 48.6 percent of the stages.

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Bump & Run: Our dream scenario for four-man race to Daytona checkers

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If you could bend time … regardless of eras, what four drivers would you like to see race for the win at Daytona?

Nate Ryan: Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. David Pearson and Richard Petty. When I think of winners in magical moments at Daytona, those are the four names that initially come to mind. The next question would be: Does the race happen with or without restrictor plates?

Dustin Long: Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Mario Andretti. All Daytona 500 winners and among the greats in racing.

Daniel McFadin: Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 2004, Dale Earnhardt Sr. from 1991, Bill Elliott from 1988 and Brad Keselowski from today. Give them some IROC cars from 1999 and let them loose for 25 laps.

Dan Beaver: Richard Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. I’m not sure who would win, but it would certainly be spectacular.

What driver currently outside a playoff spot is one you think has the best chance to win Saturday’s race at Daytona (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC)?

Nate Ryan: Jamie McMurray. The two-time winner at Daytona always is a solid driver in plate races if he can avoid the wrecks and getting antsy in the draft.

Dustin Long: Ryan Newman. He’s won at Daytona before and his teammate, Austin Dillon, won the Daytona 500 in February. Richard Childress Racing could make it two in a row there.

Daniel McFadin: I think Paul Menard could be a sleeper. He’s finished in the top six in his last three Daytona starts. He and AJ Allmendinger are the only drivers who have finished in the top 10 in the last three Daytona races.

Dan Beaver: The defending winner of this race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has a knack for plate racing and could get into the playoffs this week.

What’s the wildest finish you’ve witnessed?

Nate Ryan: The Oct. 7, 2012 race at Talladega Superspeedway. Tony Stewart attempted to throw a block off Turn 4 on the last lap, and 25 cars wrecked a few hundred yards from the finish line in a massive storm of dirt, sheet metal and smoke

Dustin Long: The finish to the 2007 Daytona 500. It has Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin side-by-side to the checkered flag, cars crashing behind them, Clint Bowyer crossing the finish line on his roof and fire coming from the engine.

Daniel McFadin: In person: Last fall’s Martinsville race. Sure, the Chase Elliott/Denny Hamlin incident was all anyone remembers. But don’t forget the massive pile-up on the frontstretch coming to the checkered flag. Even though it’s a short track, that was out of character for Martinsville. From home: I already used the 2012 Watkins Glen race for an answer a few weeks ago, so I’m going with the Xfinity Series here. The bizarre finish at Iowa in 2011 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost his engine hundreds of feet from the checkered flag and was rammed from behind by teammate Carl Edwards, which pushed him across the finish line for the win.

Dan Beaver: I have to go with one of the greatest finishes from earlier in the week. Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch crashing as they crossed the finish line – and providing a photo finish in the process – has to be one of the best finishes ever.