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Four Cup cars to be penalized practice time Friday at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Cup playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer are among four drivers who will be docked practice time Friday, NASCAR announced.

Bowyer and Jamie McMurray will be penalized 15 minutes of practice for being late to inspection before last weekend’s race at Las Vegas.

Busch will be docked 15 minutes of practice time because his car failed inspection twice before last weekend’s race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be penalized 30 minutes for failing inspection before last weekend’s race three times.

Cup teams practice is from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In the Xfinity Series, eight cars will be docked practice time in the opening session. Missing 30 minutes will be Matt Tifft and Brandon Jones for failing inspection three or more times before last weekend’s race at Las Vegas.

Missing 15 minutes for failing inspection twice last weekend will be Cole Custer, Michael Annett, Ryan Truex, Timmy Hill, Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric.

 

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 Fantasy League: 10 Best at Las Vegas in last three seasons

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NASCAR Fantasy Live will undergo some changes with the playoffs. Leagues will reset and with only 10 races remaining in the season, players do not need to worry about maximum usage.

The biggest curveball is that players must maintain a balance between the number of playoff contending drivers and those outside that mark. In the Round 1 of the playoffs, the challenge is going to be in finding the right two non-playoff contenders to compliment the favorites.

This week, in addition to the 10-best drivers based on their three-year average finishes, a couple of notable non-playoff drivers have been added to the bottom on the list. That should help set the NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster.

Since it first appeared on the NASCAR Cup schedule in 1998, Las Vegas has hosted 21 races in early spring. There have been a few warm days in the mix, but nothing like the triple digit forecast that is expected for this week’s South Point 400. For all intents and purposes, this will behave like a brand new racetrack and players can toss their notebook out the window.

1. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 4.00) Playoff
Keselowski is hitting his stride at the right time. Back-to-back marquee wins in the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 gives him momentum entering the playoffs. Most importantly, Vegas is a track on which he’s won two of the last five races and where he has a current six-race streak of finishes seventh or better.

2. Joey Logano (three-year average: 4.33) Playoff
One good gauge of a team’s strength is when they have multiple drivers at the top of the average finish chart. Logano joins Keselowski with Ryan Blaney in fourth. The Penske Pals need to get off to a strong start on the 1.5-mile course to insure they do not have to worry about the Charlotte Roval that will close out Round 1.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 5.33) Playoff
With the announcement that the No. 78 will shut down at the end of 2018 and a last-place finish in the regular season finale, people have been quick to discount Truex’s odds of continuing as part of the Big 3. The only way to quiet the critics is to challenge for the South Point 400 win and score a top-five finish.

4. Ryan Blaney (three-year average: 6.00) Playoff
Blaney enters the weekend with three consecutive top 10s at Vegas. A sixth in 2016 and seventh in 2017 says a lot about his ability to find the handle on this track quickly. He finished ahead of his two Penske teammates this spring and they should all be in contention again.

5. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 8.67) Playoff
About the best thing Johnson could say about making the playoffs in 2018 was that he was happy to be the only driver to have accomplished the feat every year since its inception. That is not a glowing recommendation for fantasy owners to place him on their roster. Neither is the fact that he has gone winless as a playoff contender in three of the last four years.

6. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 9.33) Playoff
Kyle Busch is aware that the Big 3 have become a little quiet in recent weeks and that it’s time to make some noise. No one is better suited to do so on 1.5-mile tracks. He is the only driver to sweep the top 10 on them in seven races this year with victories at Texas, Charlotte and Chicagoland.

7. Erik Jones (three-year average: 11.50 in two starts) Playoff
Jones is currently one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. He has a three-race, top-10 streak and finished that well in nine of the last 11 races. When he misses, it is not by much with a worst result of 16th in that span. This is his first time in the playoffs and that could be his Achilles’ Heel. He deserves notice based on his record.

8. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 13.00) Playoff
If not for an accident in 2016, Larson would probably enter this weekend with one of the best average finishes at Vegas and a four-race streak of top 10s. Ignore his 34th-place finish from that season and concentrate on back-to-back top threes. Larson is going to earn major points this week.

9. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 13.67) Non-Playoff
A surge in the final regular season races gave Newman fans hope that he would make the playoffs with a win at either Darlington or Indy. That did not happen, but a seven-race streak of top-20 finishes elevated him to 17th in the standings. With pressure off his shoulders, Newman could thrive in the role of spoiler to the playoff contenders in the next 10 weeks.

10. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 14.00) Playoff
Hamlin makes this week’s top 10 with a modest average of 14th. This is a track on which he has been hit or miss during his career with only three top 10s in his last 10 Vegas races. None of those have come in back-to-back attempts. In the past five years, he has alternated a single-digit result with one outside the top 10 and if that pattern holds, he should be in good shape this week.

Other Notable non-Playoff Drivers

11. Paul Menard (three-year average: 14.33) Non-Playoff
Menard was the only driver to finish in the top 10 this spring at Vegas who failed to make the playoffs. His ninth-place finish in that race was the fourth time in the last seven Vegas races that he scored a top 10 and it’s part of a nine-race streak of top 20s.

15. Trevor Bayne (three-year average: 16.67) Non-Playoff
Bayne is back behind the wheel of the No. 6 this week. It marks only his second attempt on a 1.5-mile track since he began sharing the ride with Matt Kenseth. His last attempt on this course type was inauspicious with a 26th at Chicagoland. With this week’s announcement that he will not return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019, he has limited opportunities to showcase his talent.

17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (three-year average: 19.67) Non-Playoff
In the past several weeks, the No. 17 has scored inconsistent results as they went for broke trying to make the playoffs. Now that they are on the outside looking in, they can focus on trying to find some consistency as preparations for 2019 begin.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Blaney won the pole this spring at Vegas; Keselowski earned it last year. With the momentum being gained by Team Penske in the past few weeks, they will ride that wave and one of their three drivers will lead the field to green.

Segment Winners: Last year, Truex won both segments of the Las Vegas race on his way to victory lane. This year, Kevin Harvick did the same thing, which allowed both drivers to earn maximum points in the game. The odds of that happening a third time are relatively low with volatile track conditions, but fantasy players will want to pick one of the Big 3 based on their practice speeds.

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

Cup regular-season finale: What’s at stake at Indy

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. — With the final regular-season race for the Cup Series at Indianapolis, here’s a look at what is at stake:

PLAYOFF PICTURE

Fourteen of the 16 playoff spots have been filled. Already securing playoff spots are Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola.

Jimmie Johnson (605 points) and Alex Bowman (19 points behind Johnson) hold the final two playoff spots. If a playoff driver wins, both Johnson and Bowman make it.

If there is a first-time winner, then that person will knock either Johnson or Bowman — whoever has the fewest points — out of the playoffs.

It’s a pretty vulnerable spot coming to Indy with three guys (Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard) who have won here behind you in points that haven’t won yet, but you know, I think we can get the job done just as good as they can,” said Bowman, seeking his first playoff spot.

Among those trying to race their way in with a victory is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was in the playoffs last year.

“It’s clear-cut what we’ve got to do, so throughout the race we’re not really worried about each stage,” Stenhouse said. “We’re only worried about setting ourselves up for the end of the race because that’s all that really matters for us in this particular race.”

REGULAR-SEASON TITLE

Kyle Busch has a 39-point lead over Kevin Harvick for the regular-season title. No one else can overtake Busch.

Last year was the first time since the elimination format was created in 2014 that the regular-season won the championship. Martin Truex Jr. accomplished the feat.

“Being the regular-season champion … that’s kind of what we set out to do after about week eight or nine,” Kyle Busch said. “Earlier on in the season, we had a rough start to kind of fire off with Daytona not being so great and some other races not being so great. Once we got to the lead and … we started winning some races, then it kind of became a reality and that’s what we set our (goal) for the rest of the regular season. Hopefully we can see that through.”

The winner of the regular season collects 15 playoff points. Second place in the regular gets 10 playoff points, third gets eight playoff points and on down to 10th place in the regular-season standings getting one playoff point.

Drivers will face a challenge that they’ve never experienced in Cup

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Regan Smith was on a golf course Thursday afternoon when he got the call asking him to fill in this weekend for Kasey Kahne at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Smith will climb into the No. 95 car having run no laps in it after both practices and qualifying were rained out this weekend — marking the first time in at least 15 years (and possibly much longer, veteran observers say) that a Cup race will be run without any practice or qualifying.

That it comes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track known be tough on tires, makes the task all the more daunting for every driver, let alone Smith, who last raced in June 2017.

“Is this a pep talk?” Smith joked. “Is this your idea of a pep talk because I’m not feeling this is a pep talk.”

Smith understands what he faces.

“When I looked at the weather forecast after I committed to it, that’s when I said ‘oh …,” he said, realizing the chances that his first lap in a car in more than a year would be when the green flag waved. “It is a challenging situation and the weather is going to add to that.”

It will be a challenge for everyone.

Alex Bowman last raced at this track in 2015 and comes into the regular-season finale holding the last playoff spot. If there is a new winner, he could be bumped out of the playoffs.

But he has a bigger concern, at least early in the race.

From my point of view, I haven’t been here in so long that I’m just trying to put four corners together and not mess up,” said Bowman, who last drove on the track last year in a test.

Racing Insights confirmed that there has never been a Cup race run without a practice since at least 2003. Records about practice sessions are incomplete before then but anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s been much longer, meaning that no starter in today’s race likely has ever faced this situation in Cup.

Kurt Busch said he would like to have a warm-up session before the race to “shake the cars down and literally park them on pit road, have an hour or so break and go race.”

The forecast likely won’t allow for that. There is a 74 percent chance of rain up to 7 a.m. and then it falls to between 40-54 percent to the scheduled 1p.m. ET start.

Some drivers expect NASCAR to call at least two competition cautions for today’s race on NBCSN. Jamie McMurray suggested a competition caution at Lap 10 and another at Lap 25 for the 160-lap race. NASCAR has not announced when it will have a competition caution or how many it will have for this race.

The issue is that this track takes time to rubber in, meaning that the first set of tires wears quickly and can get to the cords in a short time. Once the track takes rubber, the tire wear improves significantly.

“You spend your first set of tires just laying rubber down,” Kyle Busch said. “That’s pretty much it. You’ve got to count on everybody laying rubber down on their first set of tires. After that, you can pretty much start to learn what you got going on.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who must win this race to make the playoffs, said he hopes the lack of practice time actually helps his team.

“I always tend to feel like sometimes we’re better off just if we lined them up and raced, so I’m OK with doing that,” he said.

Cup drivers won’t have to worry about history repeating next week. The forecast for next weekend’s playoff-opening race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway calls for sunny skies and a high of 102 degrees.