Auto Club 400

The last three races of the season have been important because the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and short, flat tracks dominate the schedule. Auto Club is longer in length than Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but it fits into the larger category of similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks. These courses require many of the same characteristics in terms of setups, horsepower, aerodynamics, and mechanical grip.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11:  Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 11, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

One way to parse the data is to look at the most recent results. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 and Kobalt 400 were held on more steeply-banked tracks and measure a half-mile less in length, but their close proximity to the Auto Club 400 is useful because it shows recent momentum. It is notable that many of the drivers had similar results on those two courses.

Another helpful exercise is to look at tracks that are more closely comparable.

Michigan and Auto Club are among the closest comparatives on the schedule of any two tracks and drivers who run well on one tend to run well on the other. Sometimes this is because of the dominance of certain teams like Roush-Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. On other occasions, it is because a certain driver has an affinity for the course like Paul Menard.

Both two-mile tracks are minimally-banked.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Camping World 500k

Short, flat tracks are rhythm courses.

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 04: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Going fast on one of these courses is counterintuitive. Most drivers like to carry as much speed as they can into the entry and then deal with the consequences in the center of the turn. To go fast on a short, flat track, drivers have to back the corner up and brake much earlier than feels natural.

That cadence does not begin overnight and it is not automatic. It takes years of experience to develop that kind of discipline, but once a driver finds the right balance, it becomes part of their long term memory.

Flat tracks in general and short ovals of one-mile or less in length in particular are prone to streaks. This week’s top-10 will be dominated by drivers like Kevin Harvick, who has the longest active streak at Phoenix and Kyle Busch, who has been the best on the combined short, flat tracks.

With little banking to lean on through the corners, finesse comes into play. That makes Phoenix, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, and Richmond International Raceway into drivers’ tracks.

Horsepower is important there as it is on all tracks, but it is a smaller percentage of the equation. Driver skill makes up the difference and there will be some interesting dark horses in the teens.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Kobalt 400

One of the solo cookies—Atlanta Motor Speedway—was on the schedule last week. The paucity of data from the single race in Nevada is offset somewhat by the juxtaposition of the Kobalt 400 with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 05:  Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Autotrader Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds Of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5, 2017 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Drivers can gain some momentum at this stage of the schedule. In a couple of weeks, they will visit the two-mile Auto Club Speedway. A couple of weeks after that, they will be on another “cookie-cutter” course: Texas Motor Speedway. Four of the first seven races of the season are on similarly-configured, 1.5- and two-mile tracks.

Last year, six drivers who scored top-10s at Atlanta, backed that up with another top-10 at Vegas. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch led the charge in 2016 with a pair of top-fives. Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came close to adding their name to the top-10 sweepers with a worst result of 12th in the two races.

Several of those drivers ran well again last week. Notably, Johnson and Busch did not and it will be interesting to see if the dark horses who stepped into their place in the QuikTrip 500 can also unseat them in this week’s contest.

The “cookie-cutter” promotors hate that description of their tracks. And to be fair, no two courses are alike. From their point of view, they have a right to bristle. Fantasy players have a different outlook and should find cookies quite tasty.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

The Daytona 500 was brutal for most fantasy players.

HAMPTON, GA - FEBRUARY 28: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Toyota, leads a pack of cars down pit road during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

Now the series rolls onto a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track. This course type has long been among the most predictable in the sport because 10 races are run at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway. Three more are run at Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.

Several of these get bunched up at the start of the season, which has typically allowed drivers to develop some momentum.

But, the segmentation comes into play again. Teams have to decide if they are going to forego the short term gains of up to 10 championship points at the end of each stage for the big picture of winning the race. Any driver who is not in contact with the top 10 near the end of the segment might chose to pit early if they think they can stay on the lead lap.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Daytona 500

There will have been 98 days between the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the green that will wave over Daytona International Speedway. There has been more time to study and prepare for this race than any on the calendar.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. Teams spend hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on finding speed for this single event. They have more practice time at their disposal than for another event.

Those two facts are important to the rank-and-file fan.

They don’t mean a thing for fantasy players. Restrictor-plate, superspeedway races are the most unpredictable during the year; nothing is predictive. While that is true, there are certain indicators that will allow fantasy players to make educated guesses. Drivers at the top and bottom of the order often have patterns that help in their handicaps.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Welcome to 2017 and the DanBeaver.com Fantasy Magazine

During the off-season NASCAR tossed a couple of curveballs.

Carl Edwards’ unexpected retirement promoted Daniel Suarez to what now promises to be one of the best Rookie of the Year battles since 2006. That comes on the heels of last year’s introduction of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon joined the series four years ago and the number of Young Guns with limited Cup experience is going to make fantasy handicapping difficult.

A few weeks later, NASCAR announced a major restructuring of the points’ system that makes every lap of every race matter. Well, perhaps not every lap, but certainly enough to insure that no one rides around in the back of the pack for any amount of time. Segment points will likely play a role in who wins and loses their fantasy lineup.

More than ever, players need to do their homework.  The DanBeaver.com newsletter returns for its second year as a standalone piece, but many of you have been reading this since it began in 2004 with Yahoo! Fantasy Games.  A few have followed me since 2002, when I became NASCAR.com’s handicapper and that means we are going on our 16th season together.

Thanks to everyone who showed their support last year and I hope you return for another season. We’ve kept the pricing the same for 2017. You can renew your subscription here:  http://danbeaver.com/register/purchase/

Look for the Daytona 500 preview to be available on about the 21st. Until then, we are leaving the 2016 previews up. If you have not downloaded all of them, take a minute to do so because the charts and graphs will be helpful in creating a plan of attack.

Please contact me or Victoria if you have any issues. We are truly grateful to have you as readers.

Ford EcoBoost 400

This is it.

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 22: The Sprint Cup Series Championship trophy (C), XFINITY Series Championship trophy (R) and Camping World Truck Series Championship trophy are displayed at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The last race of the season either represents one final opportunity to overtake the competition or one final chance to have fun. If you were skillful enough to maneuver into a position where you have a legitimate chance to win, the decisions this week are critical.

NASCAR implemented the current knockout-style format in 2014 and since then the four Chase contenders have been predictable in the final race. The cast of characters changed, but a Chaser won and finished second in both races, a third finished either sixth or seventh, while the worst playoff contender finished 16th in 2014 and 12th last year.

Odds are good that the Ford EcoBoost 400 winner will be the champion—and that the second-place driver in the standings will finish between at least second and fifth. A third driver will finish in the top 10 and the fourth will hover around the top 15.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Can-Am 500k

The rubber match of round three this week comes on one of NASCAR’s great venues. The one-mile flat tracks require a delicate balance of speed and skill. The straights are long enough to require exceptional horsepower and the corners are tight enough to necessitate strong brakes—and it takes a special driver to balance aggression and patience.

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 13: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Pennzoil Ford, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 13, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Twice the size of Martinsville, Phoenix International Raceway does not have the same challenges in regard to traffic, but there are still a lot of similarities. Drivers have to back up the corner and ease into the turn so they can maximize the exit. The difference between charging a turn or easing into it can be a matter of a few feet, but the momentum that either creates or destroys is felt all the way around the track. In NASCAR tenths of a second in clean air can make a huge difference in performance.

The Can-Am 500k is the third and final race during the Chase on a short, flat track, so fantasy owners have some recent records to consider. Look first to how drivers performed on the other one-miler of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. If a racer was strong there and at Martinsville two weeks ago, they should be highly regarded. Next, look to the fall Richmond International Raceway event and the rest of the short, flat track season on these four tracks. Then consider how well a driver performed in the Good Sam 500k this spring and their overall Phoenix record.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

AAA Texas 500

The AAA Texas 500 is the last of 10 races held on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this season.

DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 30: The new Checkered Past beer is unveiled during the Texas Motor Speedway Media Day at Gilley's Dallas on March 30, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Homestead-Miami Speedway is also a 1.5-miler, but its unique shape often keeps it from getting lumped in with the other, so-called “cookie-cutter” courses. For purposes of handicapping, we normally look at Texas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway as the doglegged or double-doglegged 1.5 milers/. We occasionally toss in the two-mile Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway for good measure.

Yes, yeah, yeah… Every track is unique, but that is a concern only for the drivers. These 1.5-milers are similar enough in terms of what they require from teams that the same cast of characters tends to dominate the front of the pack.

No one has swept the top 10 on this course type in 2016, but there are still some standouts. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have top-fives in more than half the first nine races, while a few others have top-10s in all but two events. These drivers are Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch. Martin Truex Jr. has perfect record of top-15s on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks—as does the elder Busch brother.

On this track type, it pays dividends to top load with talent. Lightly-funded teams do not have the resources for hours of wind tunnel testing or complicated simulations. They have good, but not always the best, engineers and a little loss here and there combine for a big deficit.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.

Goody’s Fast Relief 500

MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's 75th Anniversary Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Martinsville is one of the short, flat tracks. While they vary in length, Richmond International Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Phoenix International Raceway all share a similarity. In order to go fast on these tracks, drivers have to ease into the turns and accelerate at the apex. That was true last month in the Bad Boy Off Road 300 in New Hampshire and it will be the case two weeks from now in Arizona.

With three short, flat track races in the Chase, skill on this course type is imperative to winning the Championship on par with the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Round three is significant because two of the short, flat track events can be found there—just as round two had a pair of “cookie-cutter” races. In between Martinsville and Phoenix, NASCAR visits the final similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track of Texas Motor Speedway. Despite being 1.5-miles in length, Homestead-Miami Speedway’s shape is unique and makes the Ford 400 inimitable.

Martinsville is also a short track. Along with Richmond, fantasy owners can look for inspiration to Bristol Motor Speedway. The high, progressively contoured banks on that track are certainly different than the 12 degrees of banking faced this week, but on both courses racers have to navigate heavy traffic.

Subscribe!

Or head to the Previews Page to download if you have already subscribed.