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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.

Podcast: Despite ‘epic failure’ in Vegas, Christopher Bell bullish about dirt tracks for Xfinity, Cup

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NASCAR’s latest foray onto dirt might have been an “epic failure,” but Christopher Bell believes the Xfinity and Cup series can successfully slide around those surfaces in the future.

“I think there would be no problem at all,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said this week during an episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “No challenges at all going to the right dirt track with the right people in place.”

That apparently wasn’t the case last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, whose dirt track played host to a K&N West race Sept. 13. It received less than flattering reviews, namely from a two-time defending winner of the prestigious Chili Bowl.

“Vegas was an epic failure,” said Bell, who has been racing midgets and sprint cars for much of his career. “Total epic disaster.

“But it was because they didn’t have the right people in place taking care of the racetrack. Dirt racing is 100 percent dependent upon track preparation. It doesn’t matter what dirt track you go to, some nights are awesome, and some nights are awful, and it’s just due to the preparation, and that’s just the name of the game in dirt racing. So I think you take Cup cars and Xfinity cars to the right place, and it would be a great show.”

What tracks would be best suited for stock cars? Bell listed several:

–Eldora Speedway, which has been a candidate for more NASCAR races  after playing host to the Camping World Truck Series since 2013 (Bell, the 2017 truck champion, won the series’ race there in ’15);

–Knoxville Raceway in Iowa;

–Calistoga Speedway in California (“I don’t know about the facility itself, but the track would be an excellent place.”)

–The dirt tracks at Las Vegas and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“There are racetracks all over that could do it,” he said.

Running Cup or Xfinity on dirt might require some modifications – possibly a slightly softer tire (trucks and K&N ran an “extremely hard” tire that has limited grip, “but if they wanted to, they could do it tomorrow and have no issues with it.”) and a unique suggestion from Bell to remove the windshields.

“The biggest thing is the windshields,” he said. “That’s a huge problem running stock cars on dirt. At Eldora, (track owner) Tony (Stewart) does a really good job of getting the surface prepared, but we all want a racetrack that has moisture in it, right?

“But you can’t have moisture in it because the windshields get too mudded up, and then you can’t see. Well, the extreme opposite happened at Vegas, where we had no moisture in the racetrack, and not only could the fans not see, the drivers couldn’t see, either. They went out there, they watered it a little bit to calm the dust down, but still you get so much dust that sits on the inside and outside of the windshields, that it’s really hard to see. The windshields are the biggest problem (for) dirt racing (with) stock cars.”

Bell has stayed true to his roots this season, running 52 races between NASCAR and dirt tracks. He has four victories as an Xfinity Series rookie, entering Friday’s playoff opener as one of the championship favorites.

“I do like my chances,” Bell said. “The schedule is right up my alley. I love 1.5-mile racing. It’s my favorite. It’s just awesome.”

During the podcast, Bell also discussed:

–Why he left his native state of Oklahoma to further his sprint car career;

–The similarities with Kyle Larson in his path to NASCAR;

–His desire to stay out of the limelight.

To listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, click on the embed above, or you can download the episodes at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

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.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson’s job is to drive fast, not work on his car

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There are drivers who have a deep understanding of every part and piece of their car. They can crawl underneath and work on the chassis or tune the engine.

Kyle Larson is not that kind of driver.

“I remember one time I put the gears in upside down,” Larson said in Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “We went to Placerville (Speedway). It was like bogging really bad in hot laps, and I’m like ‘I know what I did wrong.’ “

Larson’s ability to work on the car has not improved since that race.

Larson sees value in both types of drivers – those who know the intricacies of the car and how the mechanical parts are affecting the handling, and those who trust their engineers and crew to make right changes based on their feedback.

“I’ve probably looked underneath a stock car maybe two or three times,” Larson said. “In the shop, I’ll get under there and they’ll show me this new trick aero thing or whatever. … I don’t really know what I’m looking at. I don’t really care.”

While running sprint cars, Larson’s team would find little things he could work on. Nothing major – change some gears (after that early Placerville race, presumably always right side up), grease some parts, do a little maintenance. But as his career progressed and the cars became more complicated, his effort was best concentrated on finding the fastest way around the track.

“Once I started driving for people and driving was my job … any team owner I raced for, all they cared about was just driving … the best you can,” Larson said.

What truly makes a driver “is different for a lot of people. … For me, I feel like I don’t work that hard at it. … It just comes natural to me. But then there’s guys like Jimmie Johnson who’s got the natural talent, but also works way harder than anyone else that makes him the driver that he is.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Racing the high line has been good to Kyle Larson

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Larson will both race at Richmond this weekend. That gave them the opportunity to discuss racing the high line at Richmond and other tracks.

“I’ve got a one-day show, which I’m kind of excited about,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

Earnhardt will compete in Friday’s Xfinity race in one of his cars (7:30 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN). Since Cup regulars are excluded from racing in that series during their playoffs, Larson will have to wait until Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN).

Since both will compete this weekend, it gave them a chance to compare racing lines.

“Richmond is a track that I enjoy. Sometimes it gets multiple grooves, not every time, but sometimes. I don’t know what really controls that. What do you think controls that?” Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Kyle Larson.

“I think it depends on the drivers in the field maybe that get it to widen out some,” Larson answered. “Xfinity racing gets about halfway up … and then creeps back down. The Cup race, it gets all the way up to the wall and works its way back down too. It’s become one of my more favorite tracks to go to the last couple of times.”

Larson won last year’s Federated Auto Parts 400 and finished seventh this spring.

Earnhardt has seven combined wins at Richmond in the Cup (three wins) and Xfinity series (four) – including the most recent of his 24 career Xfinity wins in April 2016.

Larson has a reputation for running the high line and explained why on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

Driving close to the wall allows him to use the air bouncing off it to create more side force on his car.

“Early in a race, I take my time getting up there, but once it rubbers up then I’m committed to it,” Larson said. “Like this week, we moved to the top in Vegas and you’re trying to move the rubber up to the wall so you can get to the wall and kind of use the air.”

Simply popping up to the outside groove is not successful, however. Larson says that it is the angle of entry that matters most.

“To me, it all comes down to committing on entry. … You can’t drive up to the wall. You kill a lot of speed once you get to it. The wider you can make your entry the more speed you make through the corner. And you need to get close to the wall to kind of feel the air working.”

That is one of the reasons Larson has been so successful at Homestead.

“(At) Homestead (it’s) super easy to run the wall because you’re already committed on entry … the way the shape of the corner is. You can feel it down the straightaway when you get close to the wall. I just kind of stay within that pocket.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter