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Who’s hot, who’s not heading into New Hampshire

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NASCAR heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for its only Cup race weekend of the year at the “Magic Mile.”

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at who is hot and not entering the 20th race of the season.

Who is Hot

Kevin Harvick
• Finished 5th at Kentucky (2nd in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2)
• Finished in Top 5 in 5 of last 6 races
• In 19 races in 2018, 15 finishes of 7th or better (including 5 wins) & 4 finishes of 19th or worse
• Finished in the Top 5 in 18 of last 22 races, dating back to last season
• Finished in Top 5 in 5 of the last 7 New Hampshire races, including win in Sept. 2016
• In last year’s race: Started 12th, 13th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, finished 5th.

Kyle Busch
• Finished 4th at Kentucky (3rd in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2)
• Finished in top 5 in 6 of last 7 races
• Finished in the top 10 in 7 of last 8 races
• Finished in the top 5 in 13 of 19 races this season
• Finished 8th or better in 8 of last 10 New Hampshire races
• Finished in top 3 in 6 of last 10 New Hampshire races, including wins in July 2015 & Sept. 2017
• Led 749 laps in last 12 New Hampshire races
• Last year’s race: Started 7th, 5th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 95 laps led, finished 12th after two speeding penalties

Erik Jones
• Finished 7th at Kentucky (11th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2)
• Finished top 10 in 4 straight races
• Finished 39th (July) and 6th (Sept.) at New Hampshire in 2017, his only starts at the track
• Last year’s race: Started 6th, 39th in Stages 1 & 2, finished 39th: DNF – lost left-rear tire on restart on Lap
41 while running 7th (cut due to contact on pit road under caution)

Martin Truex Jr.
• Won at Kentucky (1st in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 174 laps led)
• Won 3 of last 6 races
• Finished 4th or better in 4 straight races
• Finished in the top 5 in 8 of last 9 races
• Finished top 10 in 4 of last 5 New Hampshire races
• Led over 100 laps in the last four New Hampshire races
• Hasn’t finished worse than 17th in last 14 New Hampshire races
• Last year’s race: Started 1st, 1st in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2; 137 laps led, finished 3rd in this race one year ago; pit from lead with flat right-front tire on lap 218

Who is Not

Jamie McMurray
• Finished 17th at Kentucky (12th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2)
• Finished 12th or worse in 4 straight races
• Finished 15th or worse in 15 of 19 races this season
• One finish better than 14th in last 6 New Hampshire races (6th – July 2016)
• Last year’s race: Started 4th, 4th in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, finished 17th

Austin Dillon
• Finished 22nd at Kentucky (22nd in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2); pit on Lap 22 to address vibration
• Finished 12th or worse in 13 of last 14 races
• Finished outside top 10 in 16 of 18 races since Daytona 500 win
• One top 10 in 8 career starts at New Hampshire (8th – July 2015)
• Last year’s race: Started 26th, 23rd in Stage 1, 24th in Stage 2, finished 15th in this race one year ago; spun in Turn 4 after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 88 while running 15th

Matt Kenseth
• Finished 19th at Kentucky (16th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2)
• Finished 13th or worse in 5 starts in 2018
• Finished 6th or better in 6 straight New Hampshire races, including wins in Sept. 2015 & July 2016
• Finished in top 10 in 9 of last 10 New Hampshire races (all with JGR)
• Last year’s race: Started 3rd, 2nd in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, 4 laps led, finished 4th.

Chase Elliott
• Finished 13th at Kentucky (10th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2)
• Finished 13th or worse in last 3 races
• Finished 11th or worse in 6 of last 9 races
• Never finished better than 11th in 4 career starts at New Hampshire
• Last year’s race: Started 11th, 10th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 11th.

Denny Hamlin
• Finished 16th at Kentucky (13th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2); started 36th after not making a qualifying
attempt (inspection issues); reported brake issues on Lap 30
• Finished 16th or worse in last two races
• Finished 12th or worse in 4 of last 6 races
• Finished 9th or better in 3 of last 5 New Hampshire races, including win in July 2017
• Finished in top 10 in 14 of 24 career starts at New Hampshire
• Last year’s race: Started 8th, 9th in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 54 laps led, won; went to a backup car after hitting inside wall in practice

Kyle Petty: NASCAR should ‘step into’ Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. feud

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NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty believes NASCAR should “step into” the Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. feud before it erupts into a repeat of the Matt Kenseth-Joey Logano feud from 2015.

Petty made his comments Saturday on NASCAR America prior to the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“Where is NASCAR?” Petty said. “They didn’t step in when Logano and Kenseth got in their scrap and we saw how that ended up at Martinsville. We heard Ricky say, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ That seems to be a little bit over the line. NASCAR needs to step into this before it ends up on the race track and these other 36, 37 guys are involved in something that’s not of their making. … I don’t care who it is. NASCAR needs to step into this.”

After Kenseth was spun by Logano in the closing laps of a playoff race at Kansas Speedway, the feud simmered for weeks until Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano in the playoff race at Martinsville Speedway while Logano was leading. Kenseth was punished with a two-race suspension.

Stenhouse and Busch have been at odds since last weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch and Stenhouse were running 2-3 in Stage 2 when Stenhouse attempted to side-draft off Busch’s car. The two made contact, sending Busch into the wall. The resulting incident collected six cars.

That was 10 laps after a 26-car incident that began when Brad Keselowski, who was in second and being pushed by Stenhouse, checked up due to a block from William Byron and spun off Stenhouse’s bumper.

On Friday, Busch said he was “disappointed” Stenhouse hadn’t reached out to apologize.

“He wiped out half the field,” Busch said. “Pretty sure there would be a pretty busy Monday for him but there wasn’t. So, apparently he just doesn’t care.”

Asked if he would race Stenhouse differently, Busch said: “I can’t worry about people that far back in the field.”

During qualifying later in the day, Stenhouse approached and spoke to Busch as he sat in his car.

“I told him that, I was like, ‘Hey, you’re right, you do run a lot further up front, but pick and choose your battles wisely because you will have to deal with me sometime whether you are lapping me or we get our cars better and we are up there racing with you,’” Stenhouse told NBC Sports. “So I told him if you want to keep running his mouth, he can come over and do it around me and I’ll stop it for him myself.”

Busch starts fifth in tonight’s race. Stenhouse starts 14th.

Before the race NBC Sports’ Marty Snider asked Stenhouse if he’ll race Busch differently.

“No, I won’t, unless he gives me another reason to,” Stenhouse said. “I don’t ever plan on getting into anybody on purpose or holding up a leader if they’re lapping me.”

Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Quaker State 400

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Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for Saturday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), claiming his series-best fourth pole of the season.

Truex, the defending winner of the Quaker State 400, posted a top speed of 188.890 mph. It’s his 19th career pole.

He is joined on the front row by Erik Jones (188.739 mph), who is coming off his first career Cup win last week.

The top five is completed by Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

“It’s Turn 3, man. That sucker will get you every time,” Truex told NBCSN. “If you want to go fast you’ve got to put it on the edge. I’m talkin’ a half a MPH going into (Turn) 3 from over rolling the speed and just missing the bottom. It’s a treacherous corner but it’s a lot of fun when you get it right.”

Austin Dillon qualified 13th and was followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson.

Larson has started 11th or worse in seven of the last nine races.

Bubba Wallace qualified 25th followed by AJ Allmendinger and Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson has started 27th or worse four times this season.

Four drivers, including Denny Hamlin, Jesse Little, Timmy Hill and Matt DiBenedetto, did not make qualifying attempts after their cars failed to pass inspection in time.

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Kentucky in last three seasons

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Fantasy owners will want to take a deep breath this week and shrug off the beating they took at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Before the race began, Denny Hamlin predicted a crash fest. Last week’s fantasy preview suggested avoiding the Big 3 because of the prevalence of accidents. Players who mostly avoided the marquee drivers are the one who moved up in their league.

Now, it’s time to go back to the drivers who have dominated all season to set this week’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are all in this week’s top five along with Hamlin and a surprising Jamie McMurray. There are other solid dark horse contenders in the bottom of the top 10.

As it has been all season, the secret to success is going to be selecting the right two drivers to pair with the Big 3 – and of course playing close attention during the race. Follow along with Rotoworld’s twitter account (@Rotoworld_Auto) [https://twitter.com/Rotoworld_Auto] for updates during the race to help decide who to move into or out of the garage.

1. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 6.00)
Busch’s numbers at Kentucky are even better than they would appear at first glance. With a career average of 5.1 in seven races, this is the best track on which he’s competed.

2. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 7.33)
Hamlin has been able to overcome pit road mistakes and he will challenge for wins as soon as those are eliminated. Two of his last three Kentucky attempts ended in top fives. He has also been consistently strong on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this season with three top fives and a seventh in six races.

3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 8.67)
While Harvick’s average is great at Kentucky, he has not yet scored a top five on this track. His best effort was a seventh in 2014, but that won’t matter Saturday night – he will still challenge for the win.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 9.33)
Eventually the remainder of the field is going to catch up to the Big 3, but this is not the week to bet against them. Truex’s victory in last year’s Quaker State 400 suggests he could become the first driver other than Busch or Harvick to win on a 1.5-mile track this season.

4. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 9.33)
His track records have not been predictive very many times this season, but that might change for McMurray at Kentucky. He came close to breaking into the top 10 on the most recent 1.5-mile track with a 12th at Chicagoland two weeks ago and enters the weekend with back-to-back seventh-place finishes in the 2016 and 2017 Quaker State 400s.

6. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 10.00)
Given how much the No. 6 has struggled this year, Kenseth cannot be considered a good value in fantasy racing – unless he posts speeds in the top 10 in practice. If that happens, he could be one of the best dark horses available and could help make the difference on the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

7. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 14.67)
Busch lost an engine with 10 laps remaining in this race last year. That snapped a four-race streak of results 12th or better. Given his consistently strong efforts for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, it is likely that he will get back into the top 10 this week.

8. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 15.00)
For Newman, Kentucky has been an all-or-nothing track. In the last four years, he has either finished third or in the 20s in alternating races. If the pattern holds, he should score a top five this week, but that is not something he has done on a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track in the past two seasons.

9. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 15.33)
Keselowski has won at Kentucky in every even-numbered year since the Cup series began coming to this track. It’s a quirky little stat that doesn’t necessarily predict another win, but top-10s in five of seven races suggest he will at least run well.

10. Aric Almirola (three-year average: 16.00 in two starts)
Almirola missed last year due to injury. That means his latest attempt on this track ended in a 20th in 2016. In five starts at Kentucky, he has scored only two top 15s and no top 10s, so fantasy players are going to want to wait until he gets through practice before deciding whether to roll the dice on the No. 10.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: The similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks have been egalitarian in regard to who has won poles, but the Busch brothers have managed to grab two apiece. Kurt took the top spot at Michigan and Texas; Kyle led the field to green at Charlotte and Atlanta, so they deserve special attention in the first practice session this week to gauge how fast they are in Q trim. Paul Menard (Chicagoland), Harvick (Kansas), Truex (Auto Club), and Ryan Blaney (Las Vegas) also bear watching.

Segment Winners: The two drivers who have combined to win every 1.5-mile race this year also have the most segment wins. Harvick has five to Busch’s four – and while it is hard to bet against them, four other drivers have been able to challenge them at the end of the stages. Kyle Larson, Keselowski, Blaney, and Almirola each have one segment win. With 65, Kurt Busch has the most segment points on 1.5-mile tracks without winning a stage.

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

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. always in motion whether at home or at track

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For a kid who liked to play in the dirt and later raced on it, the name of his property pays homage to dirt track racing and a move that has gained notoriety in NASCAR in the last week.

Slide Job Ranch.

This is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s home. His sister lives on the property. He has a spot for his parents to live when his mother retires.

Tucked near the woods in one section of the property near Mooresville, North Carolina, is a patch of land where grass grows in sections not run over by dirt bikes. There are mounds for jumping, banked corners and a path through the woods.

For the defending winner of tonight’s Daytona Cup race (7 p.m. ET on NBC), this is his place to relax, shed the pressures of trying to make the playoffs and get dirty.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after winning last July’s Daytona race. (Photo by Getty Images)

Stenhouse’s victory in this race is the last time he’s visited Victory Lane in Cup. He won two races last year, earned a spot in the playoffs and finished 13th in the points.

This season has been more challenging at Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has three top-10 finishes in the first 17 races. He enters tonight’s event 23 points out of a playoff spot. Teammate Trevor Bayne also has struggled. Roush Fenway Racing brought in Matt Kenseth to drive Bayne’s car in select races and help diagnose the team’s woes.

Kenseth has found that organization has much work to do, echoing comments Stenhouse has made throughout the season.

Stenhouse’s frustration grew during last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. He told his team on the radio: “It’s almost like we’re designing these cars to see how slow we can run.”

Stenhouse recovered to finish 16th. It was his best finish in the last three races.

“We’ve had some tough conversations these last few weeks,” Stenhouse said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “I think I’ve been pretty vocal in the shop and sometimes whether it be in an interview or on the radio probably when I shouldn’t, and I definitely need to respect all of our guys at the shop that are working hard and trying to provide new stuff for us. 

“We just haven’t got that new stuff as quick as what we wanted.  I think last week I got a little frustrated hearing other teams bringing new cars to the track and kind of seeing their performance have an uptick and then some of those cars we’re racing to get it the playoffs, so that’s kind of where the frustration comes in. 

“We got a better finish out of it than I thought, but we’re working hard. We’ve got some things in the works, it’s just not here right now. That’s a bummer. We’re hoping that we can get some new stuff soon.”

After days like those, time on his dirt bike can help him push such performances in the past.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at his dirt track. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Building this track and just drawing it on a piece of paper and then kind of trying to make it come to life out here was pretty fun,” Stenhouse told NBC Sports on a warm May day as he leaned against one of his bikes before joining Ryan Blaney on the course.

It takes him back to his youth. Stenhouse got his first dirt bike when he was 4 years old. His father had grown up riding dirt bikes.

“It was what we did when we weren’t racing,” Stenhouse said. “Sundays after church we would always go dirt bike riding with a group.”

Stenhouse’s path went in a different direction when he was 5 years old. His dad took him to a dirt go-kart track. Stenhouse spent half the day riding his dirt bike and the other half in a go-kart.

He was racing go-karts at age 6.

“I don’t know why I chose the go-kart,” Stenhouse said. “I guess for maybe one thing watching my dad race sprint cars. I knew that go-karts would probably lead more to that direction. To me sprint cars are probably the purest form of racing there is and something I’ll always love going to.”

Even so, dirt bikes have always remained something Stenhouse enjoyed.

“Growing up, I was a big fan of Jeremy McGrath,” Stenhouse said of the seven-time AMA Supercross champion. “Obviously, he was dominating every race at the time and then when I really got into the sport and met people, I became a huge fan of Ryan Dungey. He’s a big supporter of us and NASCAR and comes out to a lot of races. I just really admired how he went about racing and what he does on and off the track.”

While Stenhouse enjoys dirt bikes, he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on racing cars.

“I’m glad I choose the direction that I did because I want to be able to race for a long time and dirt bike careers are fairly short,” Stenhouse said.

Now, he can run his dirt bikes whenever he wants at the Slide Job Ranch.

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