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Cole Custer wins pole for Kentucky Xfinity race

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Cole Custer will start first in tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

He qualified on the pole, his fourth of the year, with a top speed of 181.458 mph.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is followed by Justin Allgaier (181.038 mph), Kyle Busch (181.026), Austin Cindric (180.880) and Daniel Hemric (180.578).

“It’s just getting the little things right, honestly,” Custer told NBCSN. “I was pretty down on myself yesterday when we were 15th in practice. We just made some adjustments and made good changes. I tried to look at some Dartfish for how Kyle (Busch) gets through Turn 3 and 4 and that helped me a lot.”

Christopher Bell finished the final round in 12th after he spun exiting Turn 4 while preparing to start his qualifying run.

Ryan Truex will start 13th and Paul Menard starts 14th.

Click here for the qualifying results.

 

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

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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.

Retro Rundown 2018: Paint schemes for the 69th Southern 500

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The 69th Southern 500 might seem like it’s a long way aways, but you only have to wait 53 days for the Sept. 2 race at Darlington Raceway, which will air on NBCSN.

That night, the latest batch of throwback paint schemes will race for our affections and the win.

Here’s a roundup of the nine paint schemes that have been announced so far.

No. 2 – Brad KeselowskiWill drive Rusty Wallace’s paint scheme from the 1990 Cup season.

Team Penske

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick: Will drive a scheme based on Busch Beer’s can design from 1996.

Stewart-Haas Racing

No. 9 – Chase Elliott: The Hendrick Motorsports driver will have a scheme based on one driven by his late cousin, Casey Elliott. He passed away from cancer in 1996.

Photo: Dustin Long

No. 12 – Ryan Blaney: Will drive a scheme based on the car his father, Dave Blaney, raced in the 2003 Cup season.

No. 14 – Clint BowyerBowyer will driver a paint scheme based on the car NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett drove to a win in the 1965 Southern 500.

No. 21 – Paul Menard: Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to Cale Yarborough’s win in the 1968 Southern 500, which was the first for the team and Yarborough.

No. 24 – William Byron: Will drive Jeff Gordon‘s iconic DuPont “Rainbow Warriors” scheme he raced full-time from 1993 -2000.

Hendrick Motorsports

 

No. 32 – Matt DiBenedetto: Will drive Jeff Burton‘s paint scheme from the 2000 Cup season.

 

No. 41 – Kurt BuschWill drive his own paint scheme from the 2003 season when he was part of one of the closest finishes in NASCAR history at Darlington Raceway, losing to Ricky Craven by 0.002 seconds. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the race.

 

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Wood Brothers Racing honoring Cale Yarborough with Southern 500 scheme

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Wood Brothers Racing announced Wednesday it will celebrate Cale Yarborough’s 1968 win in the Southern 500 in this year’s race at Darlington Raceway (Sept. 2 on NBCSN).

The paint scheme on Paul Menard‘s No. 21 Ford will be based on the 1968 Mercury Cyclone Yarborough drove to a win over David Pearson and Buddy Baker.

Yarborough’s win was his first of five in the Southern 500. The three-time Cup champion is from Timmonsville, South Carolina, located just 13 miles south of Darlington.

“He’s one of the original heroes of our sport,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in a press release. “He got his first Southern 500 victory in our car and had a great career winning 83 races and three championships.”

Yarborough’s victory was the first of eight for the Wood Brothers at Darlington and the first of four in the Southern 500.

Details on the car include “396 Cubic Inches” lettering on the hood. At the time, NASCAR required teams to prominently post the engine size on the car.

What drivers had to say after first Roval open test

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CONCORD, N.C. — Sixteen Cup teams hit Charlotte Motor Speedway Tuesday for the first open test on the track’s 2.28-mile, 17-turn road course that will host the Sept. 30 Bank of America Roval 400.

From 9 – 6 p.m. ET the teams tried to get familiar with the course that they will visit for the last race in the first round of the playoffs.

Drivers came away with different reactions to the track, which uses most of the 1.5-mile oval.

“You’re not comfortable anywhere,” Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports and ESPN. “You’re on pins and needles afraid you’re going to bust your butt. There’s not a calm place around here.”

The seven-time champion believes attrition during the 109-lap race is “going to be very high.”

“It’s very easy to make mistakes and have big problems when you make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Race time is going to be a handful.”

Asked where the best place to pass will be, Johnson answered simply, “pit lane.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace wrecks early in Roval test.

Kasey Kahne indicated miscues could be aplenty, saying “Basically if you make a mistake you hit something.”

But the Leavine Family Racing driver enjoyed his marathon experience on the new track.

“I actually kind of like all of it,” Kahne said. “I like all of it and I dislike all of it. It’s very unique and different and interesting to drive. Because of that I think it makes it technical and difficult at the same time.”

Kahne said the road course portion in the infield is a “completely different type of technical” than Sonoma Raceway, the road course the series visited last month.

Paul Menard took that view a step further.

“We can’t look at Sonoma notes, we can’t look at Watkins Glen notes,” Menard told NBC Sports. “We have to create our own, because we’re going 170 (mph) through the banking … We don’t see anything like that at Watkins Glen. And certainly not Sonoma.”

The main road course portion ends in Turn 8, where drivers return to the oval at the entrance of the oval’s Turn 1.

“You’re peddling it to not to run into the wall,” Kahne said. “Because of the lack of turn, the way you pick up the banking. It’s so flat right before that … you rely all on the car and you can only do so much I guess.”

Once on the backstretch, cars go through a chicane to slow them down before entering Turn 3.

The test was stopped for two hours in order to add two more sets of rumble strips to the chicane and a tire barrier at the chicane exit. Before their addition, drivers were blowing over the existing rumble strips as if they weren’t there.

“The changes on the backstretch were just to keep everybody honest, to keep everybody on the line that was defined,” Ryan Newman said. “I don’t know that it’s on its final iteration, but we’re making an attempt for it to be the final iteration.”

When it comes to the course overall, Chase Elliott said the “whole thing” presented problems for him.

“I feel like I struggled the worst leaving (Turn) 8 and then getting back on the frontstretch and entering the infield, that seems to be my bigger issues,” Elliott told NBC Sports.

Similar to Kahne, the Hendrick driver said “it’s all pretty fun, if you don’t crash.”

At the end of the day Elliott wasn’t sure where the best passing zones would materialize.

“I’d say you could pretty much root and gouge somebody out-of-the-way in a bunch of different places if you really wanted to,” Elliott said. “I would say your best opportunities are maybe getting back on the frontstretch there and maybe into Turn 5 (a right-hand turn across from the traditional Turn 2). I don’t know, until everybody kind of gets to racing, it’s hard to say.”

It wasn’t hard for Menard to say what could be in store for fans and drivers come Sept. 30.

“Should be a hell of a show.”