Dan Beaver

Bump & Run panel selects superlatives of 2018 season

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Who is your driver of the year?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick. It was his year in every way but the championship.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. While he won the same number of races (eight) as Kevin Harvick and had one less top five and top 10 than Harvick, the difference is that Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 of the sport’s four majors (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400) and Harvick won none this year.

Daniel McFadin: Brett Moffitt. It’s hard not to choose the driver who piloted an underfunded team – that had never won in the Truck Series before 2018 – through sponsor struggles and bested the elite teams in the series to claim the title. All 13 of his top-10 finishes were top fives. Also, he did it with a rad mustache.

Dan Beaver: Joey Logano was one of the few drivers able to stand up to the Big 3 on and off the track. Throughout the season, the other contenders seemed comfortable in their role as challengers to the dominators, but by declaring himself the favorite for the championship and backing it up, Logano set himself apart.

What is your race of the year?

Nate Ryan: Chicagoland. Probably the best finish of the season but also the most start-to-finish compelling action. (Honorable mentions: Daytona 500, Watkins Glen, Roval, Homestead-Miami Speedway.)

Dustin Long: The Roval. The final laps of that race were amazing and the last lap was mesmerizing with the contact between Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. allowing Ryan Blaney to win and then Kyle Larson’s dramatic effort by bouncing off the wall twice to beat Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car to the finish line to gain the spot he needed to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: The Cup race on the Charlotte Roval. It lived up to all the hype in a way a NASCAR race hasn’t (excluding the first Truck race at Eldora) since probably the 2011 finale with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. The last lap had everything — the contact and spins by Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney stealing the win, Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance to the next round on a tiebreaker and finally Kyle Larson somehow willing his demolished No. 42 Chevrolet across the finish line and into the Round of 12 after hitting the wall twice coming to the checkered flag.

Dan Beaver: Chicagoland. The level of physical aggression in the closing laps on the 1.5-mile track may well signal a change in how races on intermediate speedways will be contested in 2019.

What is your moment of the year?

Nate Ryan: The last lap of the Roval and its aftermath, which took several minutes for a full processing of everything that had just occurred and why.

Dustin Long: A number of fans booed Kyle Busch during his winner’s interview after his dramatic last-lap duel with Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway. As the booing persisted, Busch told fans: “I don’t know what you all are whining about, but if you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.” As fans want drivers to show more personality, they got it there with Busch telling off the haters.

Daniel McFadin: Ross Chastain earning his first career Xfinity win at Las Vegas. The series got a much-needed shot in the arm two weeks before when he led 90 laps at Darlington in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing but came up short after his run-in with Kevin Harvick. Chastain sealing the deal in Vegas provided a win for a sport that’s seen it become harder and harder for drivers to advance through the ranks on pure talent without thorough sponsor backing.

Dan Beaver: The ringing of the siren in Dawsonville, Georgia on August 5 following Chase Elliott’s Watkins Glen win. While it’s been rung before for Chase Elliott, this was the first time of many that it rang for a Cup victory. It took quite a while in 2018 for the young guns to make some noise, but they closed the season strong.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Miami

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Here is who NBC’s writers think will win today’s race at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch wins the race and the championship.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin continues his streak of seasons with at least one victory; Kevin Harvick wins the title.

Daniel McFadin

Erik Jones wins the race, but Martin Truex Jr. claims the title.

Dan Beaver

Joey Logano was my dark horse pick prior to practice, but the speed he showed on Saturday has made him a favorite.

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.

Bump & Run: Should Kyle Busch have let Aric Almirola by at Phoenix?

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Should Kyle Busch have allowed Aric Almriola to pass him for the lead late in Sunday’s race so that Almirola could have possibly won and bumped Kevin Harvick from the Championship 4 field?

Nate Ryan: This would be a much tougher question if there had been only a few laps remaining, but with 12 laps left, Almirola almost certainly wouldn’t have held on for the victory (as Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, noted afterward). It still raises an intriguing ethical conundrum about the playoff structure, and it was telling that Busch said on the NBCSN postrace show that the thought had crossed his mind. That might have been surprisingly for a star who is as driven to win as anyone currently in NASCAR, but letting Almirola go might have been the smarter play with the restart had it occurred with two laps to go.

Dustin Long: I wouldn’t do it in any circumstance. Not because of ethics or anything like that, but who is to say you aren’t helping the driver that beats you the next week? Sure, Kyle Busch likely would be a favorite over Aric Almirola but Almirola would have the full backing of Stewart-Haas Racing for that race and that team has been strong. Trying to do something like that often backfires in ways one can’t see at the time. Just race.

Daniel McFadin: No. That’s not in Kyle Busch’s DNA and it would just lead to a week of people complaining about Busch not racing at 100 percent and who wants that?

Dan Beaver: Absolutely not. NASCAR has big enough issues with mid-week penalties and the perception outside the sport that cheating is endemic without adding manufactured finishes.

Which is more surprising: William Byron has led more laps this season than Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson is winless this season or Matt Kenseth scored his first top 10 of the season Sunday in his 14th start for Roush Fenway Racing.

Nate Ryan: Johnson’s disappointing season still surprises, and it’ll still seem just as unfathomable that the season finale will end Sunday with either Johnson or Denny Hamlin – and very likely both – winless during a full season for the first time in their Cup careers.

Dustin Long: All of them are shocking but will have to admit I didn’t see Kyle Larson going winless, especially with how close he came early in the year to winning. 

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson not having a win. It’s almost unfathomable that he’s finished in the top two six times this season and led 737 laps and not been to Victory Lane. 

Dan Beaver: Kyle Larson’s winless streak. He seemed so dominant on 2-mile tracks in 2017 and was improving across the board. He ran well in a number of races this year and should have been able to capitalize on a mistake by the Big 3 at some point during the year.

Toyota is the only manufacturer with drivers in each of the three championship races this week: Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt in Trucks, Christopher Bell in Xfinity and Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in Cup. What odds do you give Toyota of sweeping all three driver titles?

Nate Ryan: With 42 percent of the aggregate championship field, let’s call it slightly less than 50-50. Though TRD has the fewest number of entries in Xfinity, I think that might be the manufacturer’s best shot at the championship.

Dustin Long: I agree with Nate in that Christopher Bell is the favorite in the Xfinity Series. I think it could be tough for the Toyotas to beat the Fords in the Cup race. Still, I give Toyota about a 40 percent chance of winning all three driver titles this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll put it at 50 percent. If Brett Moffitt doesn’t win in Trucks, it’ll probably be Johnny Sauter. Even though there’s two Toyotas in that series, I think they’re at a bigger disadvantage there.

Dan Beaver: Fairly high: 80%. Gragson and Bell have been dominant at times in their respective series. Busch is going to have a spirited battle with Kevin Harvick that will ultimately come down to track position on the final stop.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Phoenix

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Here is who NBC’s writers think will win today’s race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Dustin Long

Is there really any other choice? Kevin Harvick hands down.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick.

Daniel McFadin

Somebody has to pick against Kevin Harvick. I’ll take Chase Elliott.

Dan Beaver

The only one who can beat Kevin Harvick is Kevin Harvick. Of course, that has happened several times so far this year.