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Long: A decision where the head won out over the heart

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LAS VEGAS — Car owner Barney Visser stood outside the Furniture Row Racing hauler Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and chatted with team members, some he had not had the chance to talk to personally since announcing that the team would cease after this season.

It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.

Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.

Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.

“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”

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The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension. 

“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”

Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.

It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.

Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.

“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”

Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.

He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.

Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.

“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”


Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?

The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.

“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”

Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.

He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.

“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.

“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”

Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.

When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”


When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.

Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.

After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?

It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.

At Indy, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had issues on pit road that kept them from leading much of the race.

At Las Vegas, Harvick crashed and Busch spun.

So in each of those races, Keselowski didn’t have to beat each of the Big 3 head-to-head on speed.

Still, Keselowski had to outrun others to win. He did it with restarts, short-run speed and pit stops.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski fended off the field on the final three restarts and was stronger on short runs than Truex, whose car was set for long runs there.

“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”

Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.

At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.

At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.

“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong. 

“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks. 

“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win. 

“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”


It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.

Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.

The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.

“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”

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NASCAR America: Brickyard 400 is barometer of success

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If one wants a good indicator of who is going to win the championship and who will eventually join NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, look to the Brickyard 400.

In 24 previous editions of this race, only five drivers have won multiple Brickyard 400s. Two of them are already in the Hall of Fame: Jeff Gordon with his five wins and Dale Jarrett with two. The other three multiple winners will almost certainly join them in the Hall. Jimmie Johnson has four Brickyard 400 wins with Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch at two each.

As Nate Ryan pointed out on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, it has also been a good way to determine who is going to win the championship.

“It’s been an excellent championship barometer,” Ryan said. “Nine times in 24 Brickyard 400s, the winner of this race has gone on to win the championship the same year.

“That tells you everything about how difficult it is to win. You have to be a team that is on its game in terms of horsepower, in terms of aerodynamics. The track is extremely difficult to drive … it’s not built for stock cars, you have to be very precise through every turn at extremely high rates of speed and that’s why the best drivers and the best teams win here.”

The list of multiple winners underscores the importance of winning a Brickyard 400. It is possible to win this race based on strategy, but repeating takes a special kind of driver.

“I think back to what Jeff Burton was saying about the Southern 500 this past weekend. … When you look at the Southern 500 winners list, there’s not a lot of flukes,” Parker Kligerman said. “And when you look at the Brickyard 400 – it’s not a lot of flukes. Yes, we’ve had some crazy one-offs here and there, but when you look at drivers like (the multiple winners) who are certain Hall of Famers … that tells you this race really allows drivers and teams to rise up. The cream is going to rise to the top in these bigger races.”

For more, watch the videos above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

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

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On the heels of one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races – the Southern 500 – the series heads to another of its marquee events: the Brickyard 400.

Last week, Brad Keselowski joined Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones as recent winners among those who are not generally considered one of the Big 3.

The Brickyard 400 is the final regular season race of the 2018 season, which means there is only one more opportunity to win and get into the playoffs – and that may be one of the biggest factors in who should be on a fantasy roster. This race has been won by some surprising contenders in the past, including Kasey Kahne last year and Paul Menard in 2011 when he employed a fuel mileage strategy.

The entire field is ready to roll the dice and take some risks. That could make for one of the most interesting and chaotic finishes of 2018 and it is going to keep fantasy owners second-guessing the makeup of their NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster until the checkered flag waves.

1. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.33)
Logano was happy to finish second at Darlington last week for more than one reason. That strong run gives him momentum entering a track on which he’s finished eighth or better in each of the last five years. He has not yet won at Indy, but a second-place finish to Kyle Busch in 2015 proves that he has a feel for the track.

2. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 4.67)
Kenseth has been unable to back up his previous numbers on any track since he re-entered the Cup series, but strong records typically predict a result in the teens. He enters this week with four top fives and a seventh in his last five starts at Indy. Depending on which game one is playing, Kenseth could be a great value.

3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 5.00)
For the past three weeks, Harvick has been the top performing driver among the Big 3. Even so, he has not shown the same dominant form that he had earlier in the year. He could be in a similar situation this week where a finish just outside the top five allows him to earn a lot of points without challenging for the victory. At Indy, he’s finished in the top 10 in the last four races, but has only one top five.

4. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.67)
Hamlin was a victim of the general chaos that defined last year’s Brickyard 400 when he crashed on the final lap and finished 17th. Prior to that, he had three consecutive top fives plus a sixth in 2012. The trick for this team is going to be in managing a smart race without making any mistakes. If that happens, they should be right back among the top five.

5. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 9.67)
Keselowski’s win last week came at an opportune time. Team Penske has been as strong as any organization without at Big 3 member, but that has been obscured by the supremacy of The Dominators. By finishing 1-2 last week in the Southern 500, Keselowski and Logano have become part of the conversation when it matters – as they are trying to create and maintain momentum.

MORE: Rotoworld Brickyard 400 Cheat Sheet

6. Chris Buescher (three-year average: 11.50 in two starts)
Like Pocono, Indy is a rhythm track. Buescher’s victory on the Tricky Triangle was aided by strategy, but he has had other strong runs there as well. The same is true of the Brickyard where he has a perfect record of top 15s in two starts. If one is looking for a solid dark horse, the No. 37 fits the bill.

7. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 12.00)
Busch’s numbers are not at all indicative of how he will run this week. He was racing Truex for the lead last year when he crashed and failed to finish. Before that, he had back-to-back wins in 2015/2016 plus runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2012. He is the best opportunity for the Big 3 to get back into victory lane after getting shutout in consecutive races at Bristol and Darlington.

8. Paul Menard (three-year average: 13.33)
Seven years ago, Menard’s crew chief made a great call and helped the driver win the 2011 Brickyard 400 on fuel mileage. That was Menard’s second top 15 in five starts on this track. He has not earned another top five since, but he has been perennially in the top half of the field with five results of 10th through 16th in the past six races.

9. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 14.00)
Larson was another strong contender last year who ran into trouble. He finished 28th, which was the first time in four Indy starts that he failed to crack the top 10. Last week’s dominant performance in the Southern 500 will give him a lot of confidence. It should even help him earn a third straight top five for the first time since last October.

10. Kasey Kahne (three-year average: 14.33)
Kahne survived the carnage marking last year’s Brickyard 400 and got a great restart during a green-white-checkered attempt to beat Keselowski to the overtime line as Hamlin crashed behind him. While that was a surprise, astute fantasy players would note that he started his Indy career with back-to-back top fives and had a third-place finish as recently as 2013.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Prior to last year’s Brickyard 400, five consecutive Brickyard 400s were won from a top 10 starting position. On three occasions, the race was won from the front row with Ryan Newman winning from the pole in 2013 and Kyle Busch doing so in 2016. Jeff Gordon won from the outside pole in 2014. Kyle Busch won the last two poles on this track, but that does not necessarily mean he’s a favorite because the previous 12 editions were all won by a different driver.

Segment Winners: Kyle Busch won both segments of last year’s Brickyard 400. Truex finished second in both with Ryan Blaney third in each. If not for accidents, they would almost certainly have been among the top five at the end of the race. If one wants to disregard last year’s Indy results because the multitude of accidents that altered the finish, the top segment points earners at Pocono in the past two years have been Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott.

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

Long: Enjoy a trip back in time tonight, but the future beckons

Photo: Dustin Long
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DARLINGTON, S.C. — For a few hours Sunday night, NASCAR transforms itself into the image many fans have from when they started following the sport.

For longtime fans, Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 reminds them of the car Ned Jarrett drove to his dominating 1965 Southern 500 win.  For others with less gray hair, William Byron’s No. 24 brings back memories of Jeff Gordon in a rainbow-colored car, and Austin Dillon’s ride recalls the time Dale Earnhardt shocked fans by driving a silver No. 3 in the 1995 All-Star Race. For new fans, there’s Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78, which harkens back to March when he won at Auto Club Speedway, as crew chief Cole Pearn explained in a tongue-in-cheek tweet.

On a weekend that celebrates NASCAR’s past, it is the future that carries the discussion in and around the garage.

Many are guessing what is in the future for Truex, the reigning series champion, and Furniture Row Racing after 5-hour Energy announced in July it would not remain in NASCAR beyond this season. Some are convinced the team won’t race next year, others are convinced the team will be competing. Some just don’t know.

Truex said little about his future after qualifying third for tonight’s Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“I’ve got no news,” Truex said.

What happens with the team and Truex likely will create a domino effect.

While many in the garage wait to see what happens, Kurt Busch says he’s got two offers for next season.

Those could be just the tip of a bevy of driver movements, with most of those happening with mid-tier teams or lower.

But those aren’t the only questions.

Jim France is again at the track this weekend. He’s the interim CEO and Chairman of NASCAR, but questions remain as to what NASCAR will do with its leadership and will it include Brian France.

NASCAR announced Aug. 6 that Brian France was taking a leave of absence after he was arrested by the Sag Harbor Village (New York) police and cited for aggravated driving while intoxicating and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. 

There also are questions about what next year will be like on the track. Rule discussions continue. NASCAR gave teams an outline of 2019 rules a month ago to ponder. There still seems to be an interest toward a package similar to what was run with at the All-Star Race but giving drivers greater throttle control.

Deals also are taking place in the garage as teams look to next year. Plans are being arranged for charters to switch teams after this season. Will anybody be left out in the movement or will somebody new move up to Cup and take a charter?

What will Toyota’s team lineup be next year? Yes, it will have Joe Gibbs Racing’s four Cup teams but who else? Will Leavine Family Racing join the fold as many expect? And, of course, there’s the status of Furniture Row Racing. A lot leads back to what car owner Barney Visser decides.

So enjoy tonight, the trip back to memory lane with the special paint schemes, crew uniforms and other stylish touches. The future – and answers to many of these questions – will be here soon enough.

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Bump & Run: Bold predictions, favorite Darlington throwbacks

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Give us a bold prediction for the rest of the Cup season.

Nate Ryan: The Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will return to prominence, winning 11 of the season’s final 12 races (only Talladega Superspeedway will go unclaimed).

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson will not win a race this year but will win the championship.

Daniel McFadin: A playoff driver seeded 12th or lower makes it to the final four and wins it all.

Dan Beaver: Someone other than the Big 3 will win the championship.

What is your favorite Darlington throwback scheme through the years?

Nate Ryan: It’s been done multiple times – this year appropriately by William Byron’s No. 24 – but the schemes that honor Jeff Gordon’s Rainbow Warriors era are striking because they evoke my first memories of following NASCAR closely and watching that car win many of the races I’d watched.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson’s Mello Yello car in 2015 that paid tribute to the car Kyle Petty once ran.

Daniel McFadin: Going to have to go with Kyle Larson’s Mello Yello scheme from the first year of throwbacks. It had the number, the sponsor and the scheme itself, which is really hard to nail down these days. The only downside to it was that a diecast was never made.

Dan Beaver: Hand’s down, it has to be the 2016 Germain Racing throwback to Smokey Yunick’s iconic black and gold livery. It brought back a flood of stories by one of NASCAR’s true characters.

Will anybody be knocked out of a playoff spot in the last two Cup races of the regular season?

Nate Ryan: Apologies for killing the suspense entirely, but the 16 drivers on the provisional playoff grid will remain the same entering Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Dustin Long: Ditto.

Daniel McFadin: I think the field is set.

Dan Beaver: It is unlikely that any of the drivers outside the cutoff mark will be able to climb up in points, but the contenders on the cusp will have to sweat until the checkers wave over Indy. That race has been decided by pit strategy on too many occasions for them to breathe easy.