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Kevin Harvick wins Cup pole at Richmond

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Kevin Harvick won the pole for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a top qualifying speed of 121.880 mph.

Harvick led 10 of the 16 playoff drivers in qualifying in the top 12.

It is Harvick’s third pole of the year.

“We ended our last race run (in practice), I was really happy with the car,” Harvick told NBCSN. “Didn’t know what we had for qualifying there. But just a huge credit to the race team for putting a qualifying setup underneath it. Obviously, Aric (Almirola) came here and tested and kind of had a baseline for where we needed to shoot for for targets.”

The top five was filled out by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez, a non-playoff driver.

The top 12 was completed by Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Cole Custer and Kyle Busch

Custer, driving Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford – in a car prepped by Stewart-Haas Racing, is making his third-career start. This is his last Cup race of the season.

Where the rest of the playoff field qualified:

Joey Logano (13th), Alex Bowman (14th), Chase Elliott (19th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd), Clint Bowyer (25th) and Austin Dillon (28th).

The starting lineup will be finalized tomorrow after inspection.

Click here for results.

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

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If Las Vegas proved anything, it’s that desperation can play havoc to a fantasy lineup. Well into Stage 2 of last weekend’s Cup race, the top 10 was filled with playoff contenders. But then Kevin Harvick cut a tire and Erik Jones couldn’t avoid Harvick’s car. From that point on, all bets were off.

Seven playoff contenders finished outside the top 20. That contributed to three non-playoff contenders earning top 10s and major points in the revamped NASCAR America Fantasy Live game that requires half of the lineup to come from their ilk.

Short tracks can become wild card events. Drivers are constantly in heavy traffic and small mistakes have major consequences. Add in the X-factor of several playoff hopefuls needing to win in order to get a good night’s sleep between Saturday and next week’s race on the Charlotte Roval and you have a recipe for disaster.

1. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 3.60) Playoff
Hamlin has seemingly been one of the best values several times this year. He hasn’t always lived up to that potential. In an uneven season, his statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, this is the one track he’d want to visit while needing to climb out of the hole he fell into at Las Vegas. He has six consecutive results of sixth or better at Richmond.

2. Joey Logano (three-year average: 5.00) Playoff
Logano has the longest top-10 streak among active drivers at Richmond this week. He has not finished outside that mark in the last nine races on this track. In that span, he has two wins. The most recent of these came in spring 2017 and he nearly added another last fall with a second to Kyle Larson.

3. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 7.00) Playoff
Harvick has not scored back-to-back results outside the top 10 since last October at Dover. That can be viewed two ways. The positive view is obvious: He should easily rebound. However, his 36th at New Hampshire and 17th at Dover came in back-to-back playoff races and no one expected him to stumble then either.

4. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 7.20) Playoff
It’s hard to argue with three consecutive wins, but each of Keselowski’s most recent triumphs came with an asterisk. Great pit stops and strategy contributed to each victory. That is not to say he cannot win again this week, however, because he grabbed a Richmond checkered flag in fall 2014.

5. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 7.40) Playoff
Busch’s victory this spring was his fifth at Richmond. Additionally, he has six more runner-up finishes – two of which came since 2015. He has not been perfect in recent seasons, however; three of his last four attempts on this short track ended ninth or worse. That is not what fantasy players have come to expect from the driver of the No. 18.

6. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 7.80) Playoff
In nine starts at Richmond, Larson has never finished worse than 16th. The biggest recommendation to start him this week comes from last year’s Federated Auto Parts 400 victory and a second in that race in 2016. Three top-fives in the last four races of 2018 certainly don’t hurt his odds any.

6. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 7.80) Playoff
Last week, Johnson was one of the drivers who might have benefited from the carnage among the playoff contenders. He climbed through the ranks as the competition was eliminated one by one – until he was also caught up in an incident late in the going. He’s on the outside looking in and hasn’t won at Richmond since 2008.

8. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 8.20) Playoff
All those sixth- to ninth-place finishes in the past couple of months have to look pretty good to Busch after last week’s crash-induced 21st at Vegas. He should be able to rebound nicely, however, because he has six top 10s and an 11th in his last eight Richmond starts.

9. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 9.67) Non-Playoff
Last week, Suarez was the highest finishing non-playoff driver at Vegas. He should be able to repeat at Richmond because he has not finished worse than 12th on this track in three starts. With some luck, he could earn a career-first top five if the attrition is heavy again.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 11.20) Playoff
No one is too worried about Truex fading during Round 1, but as the season progresses and if the No. 78 team loses crew members, he could become a risky proposition. The key to fantasy success is going to be knowing exactly when to jump off his bandwagon for the remainder of the season.

Other Notable non-Playoff Drivers

11. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.40) Non-Playoff
McMurray was prepared to play spoiler to the playoff hopefuls last week. He ran in the top 10 for much of the race until he had a tire go down that sent him into the wall. McMurray entered Vegas with back-to-back top 10s this season. He also has two top 10s in his last four Richmond attempts.

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 18.00) Non-Playoff
Stenhouse has been uneven at Richmond throughout his career. He finished fourth in the spring 2017 race there, which is one of only two career top 10s. That is enough to give him the third-best average finish on this track among non-playoff drivers. Fantasy players need to remember that he is not racing against Harvick, Busch or the other marquee picks this week and take whatever points they can.

16. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 18.60) Non-Playoff
Newman finished second in both of his rookie races at Richmond. He won there as a sophomore in 2003. This is a track that has been kind to him often during his career. Forget about his average finish at the moment and concentrate on the third-place he earned in last year’s edition of this race and the seventh he scored in spring 2017.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: The Richmond pole has been swept by a driver twice in the past three years. Matt Kenseth did so last year. Joey Logano swept the pole in 2015. The one year in which it was not swept, the spring race was set by the rule book when qualification was rained out; Hamlin won the fall pole. That suggests Truex is a driver to watch closely this weekend.

Segment Winners: Team Penske has been the dominant force in regard to segment wins at Richmond. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski split the stages in spring 2017. Logano swept the stages this spring. If those two drivers qualify well and have quick 10-lap averages in practice, they should be slotted into the Segment Winners bonus positions.

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

What drivers said after Las Vegas

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Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I didn’t think it was ever gonna end. I was worried about running out of gas there at the end. I know the fans can hear on this microphone and I want to say thank you to everyone who braved 100 degree heat all day. You guys are the real heroes. I get paid to do this. You guys pay to watch and thank you for doing that. Thank you for coming out today and tolerating the heat. We’re so glad to be able to win and get in Victory Lane again with the Autotrader Ford. What a special day for 500 wins for Penske, three in a row here, first win in the Playoffs. There are too many storylines for me to get it all right, but we’re very thankful and very proud for all of them.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, the restarts a couple of them worked out for me and a couple of them didn’t. But, was happy to end up second there. Didn’t really expect to get to second there on that final restart, but it was pretty hectic. Just glad we had a good day after the tire issue we had early in the race. So, yeah, good points day.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “(The late restart) took the race from us, no question. With 15 laps or so we could take the lead and drive away. We were actually a little too good on the long run, I wish maybe we could have gone the other direction a little bit and still been able to get the lead. If we were the leader, we could do okay, I could maintain, but when I was second or third or fourth, it just made me tight enough that I had to wait for the thing to come to me or wait for other guys to start getting off the bottom in front of me. All in all it was a great day for everybody on the Bass Pro/5-hour ENERGY Camry and all the guys did a phenomenal job this weekend. Thanks to all the guys back in Denver at the shop, it’s pretty cool to see the effort going into these last 10 – we’re going to get after them. We had a winning car, just didn’t work out for us today. Really proud of the effort.”

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “Once we lost our track position we went from first to third there and it was just hard to get it back. I thought I had a shot at it on the restart when I got to the outside of (Keselowski) but I just couldn’t clear him down into (Turn) 3. I don’t know. I wish I could re-run the race. Might be a little better. But everyone in the field is probably saying the same thing.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 5th: “We were all over the place. I was good on short runs and long runs I was really loose. We were trying to get it to where it would last. We got it a little better but definitely not where we need to be. It was a struggle. They worked really hard all day. I can’t thank them enough for that. I tried to stay out of trouble and just survive I guess. Congrats to Brad and the 2 team on their 500th win for Team Penske, that is pretty neat. We have to work on some stuff but salvaging a decent day is a good day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 6th: “I felt like our Ford was pretty good today. We got behind on qualifying and that kind of set the tone. That was my fault. I was trying to get too much and got in the fence and made another mistake and we were able to come down on pit road and get all the damage fixed and the car was back to being good again. I am proud of that effort. That was a really hard fought sixth place. Man, one of these races we will have it go smooth and we will be a contender. I am really proud of that effort. That was a really hard fought sixth.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 7th: “There was a lot of racing going on there at the end and the restarts here were very, very hectic with three-wide and everything kind of happening off of (Turn) 2 and guys banging into one another. You get really tight off of (Turn) 2 if you’re not careful so that’s where you saw a lot of carnage happen. With 20 (laps) to go, you’re probably going to see a lot more top runners finish farther up front.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 8th: “It was tough. We didn’t have the speed today. We had a 15 to 20th place car. We have to keep working hard for the rest of the season and hopefully keep improving for our next half-mile track.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “I’m proud of our guys. They brought a really fast race car. We gave up a lot of track position throughout the day, not just from starting in the back, but on pit stops we really struggled. But, you know, proud of the effort. I felt like I got out all I could out of it. Bummer at the end. We needed a top 10. Eleventh is good, but racing my teammate to the line there I thought we would get him, but we didn’t.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 19th: “That is the most speed we have had on a 1.5-mile all year. I was running 50 percent probably maybe 60 percent that first run towards the end and just mowing guys down. Our long run speed was so good. We were too tight to restart, but our long run speed was really good. So, that is super encouraging, unfortunately we don’t have another 1.5-mile for a while, but we can turn it around at Richmond too.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 22nd: “It helps, but we could have closed with a top-five finish that would have really helped and given us a cushion. Today was really a good day for the Lowe’s team. We had good speed in the car, good pit stops, everything was going well and unfortunately, cut a right-front tire when we touched the No. 41 off of Turn 2. I don’t know how next week is going to go, I really don’t and I sure as hell don’t know how the Roval is going to go. So, sure, we finished higher than some guys, but any cushion we could have gotten today would have been nice.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 32nd: “Trying to get more than the car was capable of. We should have just finished 15th or 10th or wherever we were at the time, but trying to get more and the car won’t handle it. No grip and just a bad day overall.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 34th: “Today was one that just didn’t go our way. I fired off tight on each run, but my GEICO Camaro ZL1 would come to me the longer we would run. It’s unfortunate to have our day ruined by a blown tire because we had a lot more than what we got to show everyone. The right-side damage was pretty significant to the nose of our car, but we didn’t give up. It could have completely ended our day, but my team worked hard in the garage to get everything fixed and get me back out there. None of us wanted to quit. We still wanted to get all that we could out of this race and gain as many spots as possible. All we can do is hold our heads up and regroup to be ready for them next week in Richmond.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 35th: “There was no smoke inside the car and the spotter said that he couldn’t see any smoke. So, typically it will run a while. But yeah, I’m assuming that the right rear tire must have rubbed a hole in it, and I don’t know why I chose to run the bottom on that lap. I wish I had stayed against the wall. But sometimes those look big but it actually didn’t hurt that bad.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 36th: “Yeah, I guess it just got caught in the wheel. But it popped really big and then I kind of got stopped and got to messing with it and it popped really big again. So, all good now and we’ll try to rebound next week. We had a really good car today and yeah, almost, just barely clipped him (Jamie McMurray). I just hate it. So many guys fell out today. I feel like half the top 16 has crashed. So, we’ve just got to finish, I guess.” – regarding a potential injury to his shoulder.

William Byron — Finished 37th: “I thought the beginning of our day went pretty good. Then in the wall the first time off (Turn) 2 and we were able to fix it after that and then pitted again, same spot, so just kind of ended our day after that.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 39th: It’s like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the race track. One time it’s tight, one time it’s loose, one time they’re blistered. We had a great car and then you put a set of tires on and you can’t even hardly make it through the field.”

ERICK JONES — Finished 40th: “It’s just unfortunate – we didn’t have the best-handling DeWalt Camry today and thought we were going to end up okay. We were going to finish top 10 no matter what. It’s unfortunate we had that happen, nothing Kevin (Harvick) could do and nothing I could do unfortunately. Not the situation we needed to be in, we didn’t have any bonus points and we’ve got some work to do now. I don’t think we have to win, but we definitely need to run really well here at Richmond and the Roval so we’ll keep at it, but it’s just unfortunate that had to happen.”

SHR owner Gene Haas says no driver has ‘intrigued us’ enough to sign yet

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LAS VEGAS — Stewart-Haas Racing owner Gene Haas said Sunday that the team continues to search for a driver for the No. 41 car and that he does not view moving up SHR Xfinity driver Cole Custer as a viable option at this time.

Haas said the team is not ready to sign any driver.

“We haven’t seen anybody that’s intrigued us enough to say, ‘OK we’re willing to sign you at the moment,’ ” Haas said before Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “We’re kind of hoping there is an undertow … where a driver or a sponsor, maybe that combination that didn’t exist a few weeks ago, maybe they come together and it’s something we can look at. But at the moment we don’t really have anything.

“As far as we know, Kurt Busch has signed up with Chip Ganassi. That’s the rumors we hear. But he hasn’t announced it yet, either. I think the only thing I’ve heard from him is he hasn’t signed anything.

“I think he’s out looking around and see what kind of a deal he can put together. I assume it’s over at Chip Ganassi Racing.”

It was Haas who expanded the organization to create room for Busch for the 2014 season. Busch has won six races for the team since joining it but has never finished better than seventh in the playoffs.

Still, could Busch find a way back to the No. 41 team?

“If he gets on a tear and wins five races and goes on to win the championship, we definitely would talk to him,” Haas quipped.

“That’s why we signed him to win a championship. As time went on, it became less probable that that would happen. That’s why we’re at where we’re at now. I think he’s kind of stated, too, that next year is going to be his last year.”

Haas said that Monster Energy, which is tied to Busch, “significantly cut down their sponsorship last year, and now they’re about the same money next year.”

As for other drivers, Haas said his team has had talks with Daniel Suarez’s camp.

“We’ve talked to him,” Haas said. “He brings a different group of sponsors. Like anything else, it comes down to the bottom line. How much sponsorship are we talking? How much money does SHR get? How much money does the driver get? Those are the kind of typical things that can take a while to iron out because everybody wants everything.”

Excluding a driver’s salary, Haas said it takes $20 million “to run a competitive Cup team.”

While some might view the 20-year-old Custer, who drives for SHR’s Xfinity team, as an option to move up to the team’s Cup ride, Haas is not convinced.

“We think Cole is a good talent,” Haas said. “I think he’s talented. He’s very marketable. I think a lot of things are positives, but he has to win in the Xfinity (Series) before he can really move up to Cup racing. If we were to push that, I think we might do more harm than good. He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”

Custer has one win in 64 career Xfinity starts and finished third in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas. He is winless this year. He is in the Xfinity playoffs for the second consecutive year. He finished fifth in the points last year.

Haas also said it is “not really an option” to downsize to three teams next year.

“We have Ford money per car, and the 41 car gets prize money, and prize money is based on previous years,” Haas said. “It wouldn’t be nearly as profitable not to run it as it would be to run it in some shape or form.”

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Silly Season: Ryan Newman latest driver on the move

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Ryan Newman joined the list of drivers who will be on the move in 2019 when he announced Saturday on Twitter that he will not return to the No. 31 car at Richard Childress Racing.

Newman is in his fifth season with RCR. He finished second in the championship in 2012, his first season with the team. Newman made the playoffs three times at RCR. He did not make the playoffs this season.

Newman stated he was not ready to announce his future plans in Cup. Childress also was not ready to announce who will drive the No. 31 after this season.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 6: Car owner Jack Roush said Sept. 12 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Trevor Bayne would not be back with Roush Fenway Racing after this season. Bayne, who has shared the No. 6 ride this season with Matt Kenseth, has driven in Cup for Roush since 2015.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal last December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Newman: He announced Sept. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he won’t be returning to Richard Childress Racing. He intends to remain in Cup for 2019 but has yet to reveal his destination.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel SuarezWith reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 9 at Indianapolis that “I’m not really allowed” to talk about his situation and then added: “Everything happens for a reason. I think we are going to be in good shape.”

Martin Truex Jr.Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.