DraftKings NASCAR picks for Las Vegas

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission.

Last week’s results: Played the $1 entry “Happy Hour” $20,000 payout game and finished around 15,600th out of 23,500. Won $0.

Season results: $1 wagered, $0 won in two contests.

This week’s contest: Welp…I was going to play a $3 contest, but it wouldn’t allow me to do that since I’m in Nevada (and DraftKings isn’t allowed here). So I’m playing a free contest where I can’t win any money. Edit: Still playing a free contest, but @Kid67y told me about one that has prize money. Link is here if you’re in my situation.

My picks for Las Vegas ($50,000 salary cap):

— Kevin Harvick ($10,700). He’s my pick to win after dominating Atlanta and starts 19th — giving him a high ceiling for positions differential.

 — Brad Keselowski ($10,400). You all gave me feedback last week that said I needed a “dominator” in my lineup — and you were right. That would have been Harvick. I think it could be Keselowski this time, so he’s in.

— Ryan Newman ($7,800). Newman starts 21st but was 10th-fastest in 10-lap average for final practice, so I like his chances of being able to move up for a top-15 finish.

— Ryan Blaney ($7,400). What’s not to like here? Starts third, fastest in 10-lap average for final practice and a good value overall. Yes, please.

Erik Jones ($7,100). The rookie was the class of the Toyotas last week before fading at the end. After qualifying eighth and finishing 12th in 10-lap average for final practice, he could have another good run — and is pretty cheap, to boot.

— Ty Dillon ($6,500). I needed a value pick to make this lineup work. The Richard Childress Racing-related cars haven’t looked as fast as they did at Atlanta, but he starts 24th and might be able to improve on that.

NASCAR vs. EDC: Photos comparing setups at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

I’ve had the biggest smile on my face while walking around Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend — and not just because I’m happy to be covering another NASCAR race.

There’s another reason why I’m so pumped: It’s the first time I’ve been back to the track since attending Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) with my wife last year.

EDC was one of the most fun experiences of my life. We’ve become huge dance music fans, and many of our favorites played EDC last June — Martin Garrix, Zedd, Marshmello, Alesso, etc. And really, the whole atmosphere — the lights, lasers, fireworks, confetti and 135,000 happy people — was really something to see. Take it from me: You don’t need to be on drugs or whatever to enjoy it.

But wow, it looks SO different for NASCAR weekend. I’ve been coming to LVMS for races since 2006, and seeing how it was set up for EDC compared to how it looks normally was really wild.

If you ever get a chance and like EDM even a little bit, do whatever you can to attend EDC.

Here’s a few pictures comparing how the track looked for EDC and how it looks during NASCAR weekend (all photos were taken by me):

The Cup garage was completely transformed into a rest area — complete with turf and bean bags to relax.

 

The Circuit Grounds were an open area surrounded by giant columns, tucked into Turn 2.

 

kineticFIELD, EDC’s biggest stage, was 450 feet wide and 100 feet tall last year and could hold 70,000 people. It was built between Turns 3 and 4.

 

A look at part of the LVMS infield during EDC, featuring the Cosmic Meadow stage (a 40,000-capacity stage built on pit road that used the infield grass and stands for fans to watch).

 

A big part of EDC is the ‘C’ — the carnival. Here’s an overlook from the Neon Garage (looking toward the backstretch).

 

There were rides and concession stands located where the Cup haulers park now.

 

Vendors set up outside where the Cup cars would park nine months later.

 

Need a break from the heat? This cooling center was a popular place during EDC — now it’s the Xfinity Series garage.

Erik Jones shares difficult story of father’s loss

Imagine this: You’re on a rocket ship to NASCAR stardom. After years of your family sacrificing time and money to help you make it, you’re finally close to racing’s big leagues. You’re on top of the world; your dream is within reach.

And then, just when things could hardly be better, you suffer a loss that takes away part of you — the type of loss that can never truly be healed.

That’s what Erik Jones went through last year and is still going through now — at only 20 years old.

Nothing has been easy in the past year for Jones, who lost his father, Dave, at age 53 last June.

“He was really my best friend,” Jones said Friday. “I didn’t have anybody I felt closer with or felt like I could share more with at any time.”

Cancer, that cruel and despicable disease, robbed Jones of being able to share his life’s greatest accomplishment with his father. So you’ll have to forgive him if it’s taken the better part of a year to discuss what he’s dealt with.

Before qualifying Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Jones sat in a room with a small group of reporters and shared his story, baring his soul to strangers.

The pain was so severe after his father died that Jones honestly worried if he’d ever win another race.

“I didn’t know if I’d even be the same person after going through something like that,” he said.

Getting the news

It was roughly a year ago when Dave Jones lost feeling in his arm one day. He went to the doctor, figuring it was a pinched nerve.

It wasn’t. Doctors told him it was lung cancer that would later spread to his brain.

Erik, then a 19-year-old Xfinity Series driver, took the news hard. Shortly thereafter, doctors told Dave he had only a year to live — at best.

Dave had been a central part of Erik’s career despite not having a racing background. After his son began moving up through the ranks, Dave handled the finances so Erik could focus on driving — this after once selling his ’65 Corvette to help fund Erik’s racing.

When Erik had a question or needed advice, Dave “always had the answer,” he said. He leaned on his father’s wisdom and guidance heavily, as any young son would.

One of the most important lessons Dave taught Erik: Never be afraid to see someone. If you’re afraid to see someone, it likely means you have an enemy; don’t have enemies and you won’t have to worry.

“He lived his life and he was never scared to run into anybody,” Erik said. “I always try to live by that same piece of advice.”

After the diagnosis, Erik started spending all his free time in Michigan. He needed to be with his family as much as possible. But hardly anyone outside the family were aware of what was going on.

“I holed up in my house and didn’t go anywhere,” Erik said. “I didn’t talk about it at the time to anybody. Most of my friends didn’t even know he was sick at the time.”

By April, when Jones won the Xfinity race at Bristol, things looked grim. The cancer had spread faster than doctors expected, and Dave was quite sick. Erik placed an emotional phone call to his father from Bristol’s victory lane, then told reporters about his dad’s condition.

Dave lived to see Erik win one more race — a month later, at Dover. Erik returned home after the race and can vividly recall their conversation.

“He was pretty sick, but he was still able to watch the race, and we got to talk about the race,” Erik said, breaking into a smile. “He was just pumped. It was a Dash 4 Cash race, so he thought that was cool we’d won a second one.”

Dave lived only a few more weeks. He passed away four days before Erik’s home race at Michigan International Speedway.

Dealing with a loss

The rest of 2016 was somewhat of a blur for Erik. He was numb at first, then closed himself off. He ignored some things he probably shouldn’t have. There were weekends he didn’t want to be at the track, but went anyway and — to his relief — won two more races.

It’s not like Erik has dealt with the loss and moved on. That’s not how these things work. As his career continues to take off, Erik thinks about his father daily and often sees him in dreams. He feels the absence frequently — like during the holidays and on pit road prior to the Daytona 500.

“I wish he could have been there to take it all in,” Erik said of Daytona.

A gesture from team owner Joe Gibbs helped give Erik some peace of mind. When Dave was ill, Gibbs unexpectedly dropped by the family’s home. Though the deal hadn’t been finalized yet, Gibbs told Dave that Erik would likely become a Cup Series driver in 2017 with affiliate Furniture Row Racing.

That allowed father and son to have a moment of celebration.

“I’m just really happy for you,” Dave told his son. “It’s going to be a great year.”

“It was cool in that moment to be able to sit down with him and say, ‘Hey, we did it. Next year, we’re going to be at the peak, man. That’s it,'” Erik said. “It was special to be able to share that moment; at least he knew it was all going to work out.”

Looking ahead

Though just a rookie, Erik was perhaps the best Toyota driver throughout last week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He ultimately finished 14th, but it showed once again there’s a bright future ahead.

“There’s definitely times in the last few weeks I would have loved to call him and talk to him about racing in general and life,” Erik said. “I definitely think he’s proud.”

These days, Erik’s most cherished possession is a silver Shinola watch with a leather band, proudly made in Detroit. It’s the one his Michigan-loving dad wore every day after getting it one year as a Christmas present.

After Dave fell ill, he had it engraved for Erik. Now Erik never travels without it.

“It’s kind of the one thing I have that connects me back to him,” Erik said.

Actually, there’s one more thing.

Remember that ’65 Corvette his dad once sold to help Erik’s career? Well, Erik recently found the owner — and bought it back.

An All-Star Race Format Idea

I was scrolling through Twitter on Thursday afternoon Speedway Motorsports Inc. head honcho Marcus Smith dropped a funny tweet:

If you don’t know who Steve Luvender is, he’s the genius behind several NASCAR-related mini-sites — including the All-Star Race format generator. You can refresh the generator as much as you want and it will spit out unlimited (and mostly ridiculous) format ideas.

But there’s a little truth in everything, so I’m guessing this means Smith and NASCAR and whoever else decides on the All-Star format are in talks to determine how it will go this year.

If they’re open to ideas — maybe not to the extreme of Luvender’s generator — I have one to share.

How about a Battle Royal format?

Here’s how it would work:

— One driver is eliminated every five laps until there are two drivers left. So if there are 20 drivers in the field, it’s a 90 lap-race. The organizers can put mandatory caution breaks into the race if they want (caution laps won’t count), but the bottom line is the last-place car must pull off the track every five laps until there are two remaining.

— When there are two cars left, there will be a caution. The cars will start side-by-side (with the leader picking lane choice) for a two-lap shootout. The driver who was most recently eliminated (the third-place car at lap 90) will be allowed to participate in the shootout because NASCAR will need a backup plan in case the two remaining cars wreck each other. But that car must start the segment on pit road, ensuring it will be a half-lap behind and can only win if the leaders crash (which actually has a decent chance of happening).

So what do you think? It would be much simpler to explain than previous formats and would also be a lot of fun.

Yeah, some big names might go out early and not be around at the finish, but what race fan is going to turn off the TV when a driver is getting eliminated every five laps and there’s constant pressure to stay in front of the cutoff line?

 

Social Spotlight with Landon Cassill

The “Social Spotlight” series continues this week with Landon Cassill, who drives the No. 34 car for Front Row Motorsports. This interview is available in both podcast and written form.

How would you describe your social media philosophy?

I’m a child of the internet, as we all are, for the most part. I’m your typical Millennial, I think. I grew up doing school work on the internet, playing video games on the internet. I feel like internet culture is part of my life, so I kind of just live it out that way. It’s kind of an extension of me.

What was the first social media platform you used?

Xanga was my first social media platform.

What was Xanga?

Xanga was a blog site. Me and my friends had Xanga pages and we’d just post daily content, I guess. (Laughs) It’s all pretty similar — everything has kind of moved from one to the other.

Back then, you’d get home from school, log onto the internet on my computer at home — we had dial-up internet for the longest time — and log onto my Xanga account and make an update about something that happened at school. Then I’d check it every couple hours to see if anybody liked it. You could leave comments and things like that, customize your page. It was kind of cool.

You’re on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. But do you operate your own Facebook?

My Facebook is kind of a collaboration. The biggest thing I do on Facebook is Facebook Live. I scroll through my timeline a lot and see what people comment on pages. I don’t use a personal Facebook page, so it’s not in my habit to be logging onto Facebook a lot. But I love Facebook Live, I love that platform. So I do kind of go in spurts where I’ll be on Facebook an awful lot if I’m posting live content.

For Instagram, I don’t feel like I’m the best photographer and it’s not in me to always stop and take pictures. So my Instagram content is kind of intermittent. But the one thing I really like about Instagram right now is Instagram Live. The content disappears, so you catch it live. There’s no rewinding, you don’t get to see the beginning of the video. You’re just watching it live as it happens, and then once the person logs off the live feed, that’s it. It’s gone. As the host, you see how many people watch your video, and that’s pretty much it. I really like Instagram Live, because it’s a cheap and easy way to see what’s going on out there.

Snapchat is cool. Twitter is where I spend most of my time, mainly because I think it’s folded into my daily life. I spend probably 75% of my time on Twitter reading the news and other content, and less than 25% of my time actually engaging.

Going back to the live stuff for a minute — I’ve never used Instagram Live because it disappears. Why do you like it better than Periscope or Facebook Live, which sticks around on your page?

I think it’s kind of a way for me to post unique, personal, native content on Instagram — but then not have to have that airing out for an extended period of time. That’s one purpose that it serves that I like about it. Because even as authentic as Facebook Live is, it’s still a little planned out.

For instance: After the Daytona 500, I did a recap where I stopped at Love’s Travel Stops (his sponsor) and got fuel on the way home from the Daytona 500. Which it was totally natural — there was nothing staged about that; I needed gas for my truck and there was a Love’s Travel Stop off the interstate. Like I was stopping there anyway.

I was like, “Man, I’ve kind of been wanting to do race recaps and talk to my fans, so what better way to do it than on Facebook?” So that was a very authentic post and it was a real thing that happened, but it was also something in the back of your mind, I know that content is going to stay on Facebook and get more views and for people to see it and follow up with that recap.

Where on Instagram, I can just pull my phone out walking out of the garage to the car and have literally no plan whatsoever and have no idea what I’m going to do, but just fire up Instagram Live and see who’s watching.

The other day, I was on Instagram Live and somebody I hadn’t talked to in five years who I went to high school with was like, “Hey, Landon!” And it was like, “Oh my gosh! Tyler, I haven’t seen you in five years! How’s it going, man?” And then it sparked a conversation, made you think of a story, you tell a quick story and then you get to your car and you log off and it’s gone.

It’s really just an authentic experience between you and your viewers and then I think it serves a value to Instagram because a lot of people have notifications turned on, and Instagram sends out a notification that says “Landon Cassill is live.” I think the platforms are thinking people can’t help themselves. They have to see what’s going on. I think it’s like free advertisement for your page. It’s a good way to drive people to your site.

You’re excellent at Snapchat, but it doesn’t seem like you love it as much as you love Twitter. Has your love affair with Snapchat cooled? And how many people do you follow on Snapchat?

I follow just a handful of people on Snapchat. Snapchat isn’t my primary source of news, and I feel like I’m super interested in news. Twitter is just a really good platform for that right now.

I do like watching people’s snaps. Snapchat is really cool because they have some neat technology none of the other platforms have. The facial recognition stuff and even the object recognition stuff that is in their platform, that’s probably what they’re going to be positioning themselves to really pop here in the next couple years. Especially since they’ve gone public, they’re injected with a crapload of money.

I follow NASCAR, Lewis Hamilton, a couple friends of mine, Jordan Anderson, Gary Vee (Vaynerchuk), Kim Kardashian, my sister Echo. And then I have a couple group messages with friends and some friends that send me snaps on a daily basis. I’ll probably be going in and out of Snapchat over the course of the year.

Let’s talk about Twitter, since you use that the most. Is it the first thing you check in the morning? Do you ever worry you’re looking at it too much? Because we hear about the Twitter vacuum.

Yeah, I’m probably stuck in the Twitter vacuum. It’s definitely the first thing I check in the morning. I don’t watch a lot of TV other than Netflix — my wife and I have shows we watch — so I get all of my news, my gossip, pretty much my social information from my Twitter timeline. Everything serious, everything humorous. I follow my favorite weatherman on Twitter. Political stuff. It’s pretty much Twitter for me.

If you have people who are giving you a hard time, do you block them, mute them or ignore them?

I don’t block people. Actually, if somebody is giving me a hard time, I take the time to try and win them over. (Laughs) Honestly, it works every time. I have won over fans that were talking so much crap and I would just engage with them. They just want attention. Now, I don’t get a lot of people hating on me on Twitter. When I do get someone, it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to see what’s crawled up this guy’s butt and just talk to him a little bit” and it always works.

But if you’re like Dale Jr. or Brad Keselowski or some really polarizing figure in the sport, they probably get hundreds of those a day. I wouldn’t be doing that at that point.

I don’t like blocking people. I don’t like silencing people. I don’t think that’s cool. But I do mute people — and that’s just if their timeline is annoying.

So people you follow — you mute them?

I definitely have people I follow that I mute. And that’s just because I don’t really want to unfollow them. I have people I’m friends with that I just don’t like their regular content. But if they tweeted me, I want to see a notification so I can engage in conversation. So I mute them. That’s my solution. But blocking people? I’m not into that. I’m not into silencing people.

What do you think the future of Twitter is? We hear a lot about how Millennials don’t get on Twitter and they go straight to Snapchat. Is Twitter going to go the way of MySpace?

I’m not really sure. People said the same thing about Facebook, but Facebook had the strength of a billion users. Twitter has been up and down and the one thing that’s tough about Twitter are a lot of the bots that are on there.

Yeah, what’s up with the bots?

It’s just weird. You don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know if it’s a problem with Twitter. I feel like Twitter did a good job with one of their recent algorithms. They made an update where verified accounts or accounts with seemingly original content are higher up in the replies list of other verified accounts. So that got rid of a lot of the shit-posting, pretty much. But that still happens an awful lot.

Twitter is a cool thing, and for me, until I find a better place to get my news and a better place to get a constant stream of updates, it’s going to be hard to find another platform. I’ve got almost six or seven years of time invested in this one platform for all the people I follow.

Unlike a lot of drivers, you’ve built relationships and made friends with people through Twitter — fans of yours, people who have cool content. Why were you willing to do that? 

Man, why not? I’m just a regular person, and I like to get to know people and I like to learn from people who have different points of view and have different skills. So I’ve made a lot of friends online in all kinds of industries. In a lot of ways, those networking moves and relationships I’ve built have gotten me a lot of interesting media attention and opportunities on platforms outside of just NASCAR racing. I’ve built a lot of genuine friendships and I’ve learned a lot of cool things from people and I think that’s just natural for me. I don’t put myself on a pedestal or anything. I’m a NASCAR driver, but I’m kind of just like anybody else.

How many people you’ve met through Twitter have your personal cell phone number?

Probably quite a few. I mean, more than you could count on two hands.

So no problems with that?

Not really. I don’t just give it out to anybody. But how is it different letting someone have your cell phone number than letting them in your direct messages? Like, the notification comes through the same way. Shoot, with Snapchat you can call someone. You can video call with someone. You have the same capabilities. To me, it’s all the same thing.

Landon Cassill’s social accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

Thoughts on New Hampshire losing a race

In the brief time since it was made official this afternoon that New Hampshire Motor Speedway is losing its September race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2018, I’ve seen plenty of NASCAR fans grumbling on Twitter about the loss of a short track and the addition of another cookie cutter 1.5-mile track.

Usually I’d be right there with them (More short tracks!!!) but not in the case of New Hampshire. The truth is NHMS is not a very exciting track for stock cars.

When is the last great NHMS Cup race you’ve seen? I asked myself that as well, and I can’t remember one. The common refrain during New Hampshire weekend is the Modified race is the best event at the track, and that’s true — not only because it’s a good race, but because the Cup race is usually a bad one.

Last year, both New Hampshire races rated in the bottom seven points races of my weekly “Was it a good race?” Twitter poll. And that’s where they should have been, because they weren’t very good races.

Let’s just be honest here: As much as cookie cutter tracks are boring, Las Vegas had a better race than NHMS last year (71 percent of people liked that race as opposed to 50 percent and 48 percent for the two New Hampshire races, respectively). If you want to call NHMS a short track because it’s only 1 mile, then I guess that’s fine — but it certainly doesn’t race like one.

Plus, it’s not like NASCAR isn’t going there at all anymore — just one less time. Seriously, did NASCAR really need to visit New Hampshire twice in 10 weeks every year? I don’t think so.

Look, it would suck if this was going to add another 1.5-mile track to the playoffs and the overall schedule, but it’s not. As Nate Ryan reported yesterday, they’re likely going to take the Charlotte fall race and run it on the infield road course.

So what is NASCAR really trading here? The actual swap is a ho-hum flat track race in exchange for a road race — in the playoffs!

What’s so wrong with that?

Survivor Game Changers Power Rankings: Week 1

Ohhhhh yeah! It’s time for another season of Survivor (premieres tonight on CBS), so let’s rank which castaways have the best shot at winning it all.

This season is Survivor: Game Changersand 20 returning players (some of them game changers, some of them not really) will try to outwit, outplay and outlast a really fearsome and experienced group. It will be difficult to pull too many tricks or sneaky maneuvers this time around, but that just makes it all the more interesting.

If you haven’t watched Survivor in a few years — or ever — it’s not too late to jump in. Here’s my pitch from last season as to why people should give it another chance.

Here are my picks, in order of best chance to win Sole Survivor:

  1. Zeke. He won’t be viewed as a threat to the same degree as last season, when he stood out (along with David) as major strategists — in part because none of the players who are on this season got to watch him play before they filmed this. He can make friends with anyone, is very clever and won’t be targeted early. I like his chances of making it to the end.
  2. Aubrey. She should have won two seasons ago, and I think her game will be respected (but not feared). She’ll sharpen things up this time and play a calculated, measured game overall.
  3. Malcolm. He’s probably the favorite — but I think that only makes him a bigger target. If he’s around in the final eight, people are going to be whispering his name.
  4. Sandra. Is it possible a two-time winner could be underestimated? It feels like that’s the case for Sandra, which is probably how she’s already won twice. Clearly, she’s doing something right.
  5. Ciera. She’s always upset when people don’t want to play hard, so you know she’s going to be making huge moves. Maybe she’ll end up on the right side of things this time.
  6. Michaela. I could see this going either way for Michaela. If she doesn’t lose her temper, she could definitely make the final three. But I could also see her getting booted early.
  7. Tony. Oh, Tony. Could he pull off another season of Vlachos charm and ride it to a win? I think he’ll be too visible and too big of a target, and he won’t be able to sweet-talk veteran players like he did during Cagayan (C’mon, Woo).
  8. Varner. I hope he resists the urge to play too hard, too early this time. Patience, Varner, patience! Then go for the kill later in the game, after the merge.
  9. Cirie. She’s going to be a threat and the other players will recognize it right away. So that might not work very well long term, unless she’s able to fly under the radar somehow.
  10. Ozzy. You really think this group is going to let one of the all-time great players just skate his way to the merge? No way, if they’re smart (and they are). He’s going to be targeted as soon as he lands on the beach.
  11. J.T. I don’t really remember much about J.T.’s game, except for how he worked with Fishbach during his winning season. Is he able to adapt to the new-school game?
  12. Troyzan. He had the misfortune of going up against one of the smartest players ever, Kim Spradlin, who got the better of him. Let’s see how he does this go-round.
  13. Andrea. She has the experience, can fly under the radar and has been an avid follower of the game long enough to know what mistakes to avoid. That might work out for her if she can get with the right alliance.
  14. Sierra. I don’t love her chances, but she’s also no slouch. Maybe she can make the right moves and end up at final tribal, where anything can happen.
  15. Sarah. Why is she a game changer? I’m not sure. I don’t remember much of her game, except for both she and Tony being cops on their season. Maybe that will allow her avoid being targeted (why would they vote her out if she’s not a threat?) and make it far.
  16. Tai. Everyone loves Tai! Everyone wants to work with Tai! But here’s the thing: Does he play a strategic game? I don’t think so. And so when he’s sitting at final tribal, this group of vets won’t reward him — just like when he lost to Michele.
  17. Caleb. I’m thrilled he’s getting another chance. Really! We watched Beastmode Cowboy on Big Brother and felt bad for him when he got evacuated from Survivor. But is he a strategic player? I’ve never really seen that out of him, so I don’t think he can win.
  18. Hali. I don’t remember much about her, which is why she’s ranked so low. I know it’s only been a few years since she played, but her game just didn’t stand out to me. How is she going to defeat all these ace players?
  19. Debbie. Under no scenario can I see Debbie, who is great TV but not a good player, being rewarded by the jury with a $1 million prize. I just can’t picture that.
  20. Brad. He’s going to piss someone off and get himself voted out before the merge. I just don’t think he can make it very far with the style of game he plays.