Track Talk: A Preview of the Pure Michigan 400

Jeff Gordon prepares for the battle ahead at Michigan International Speedway!

When race fans and competitors think of Michigan International Speedway, it might bring up places like the Irish Hills of Brooklyn, MI, the pretty happening 2-mile superspeedway that’s turned into one of the fastest NASCAR circuits, or even the great people at this venue from the enthusiastic crowd gathering during the race weekend to Elvis – or in this case, track president Roger Curtis.  Each of these and the fact that this NASCAR tradition since 1969 or basically the year in which The Beach Boys recorded the underrated LP 20/20 and The Beatles released Abbey Road.

For the past 45 years, Michigan International Speedway or MIS has crowned a “Who’s Who” of NASCAR race winners like David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, and the late Buddy Baker (rest in peace, “Leadfoot”). More recent winners include Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Greg Biffle.  These previous MIS victors are definitely contenders for today’s Pure Michigan 400 along with the likes of the Joe Gibbs Racing quartet of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Matt Kenseth.

It’s an often discussed element to Michigan but fuel mileage could be a pivotal factor determining who wins today’s race.  Who can maximize their fuel window as far as possible as Matt Kenseth was able to at Pocono earlier this month or like Joey Logano at Watkins Glen last weekend?

Perhaps as important as fuel is battling the heat.  Typically in the summertime races, it’s not uncommon to hear about drivers losing weight after a race or seeing them worn out after about three and a half hours in their stock cars. However, what’s uncommon is the extra amount of heat that they’ll contend with thanks partially to the configuration of the cars in the high drag package.  Thankfully, NASCAR has addressed this some but the end results after this race will be interesting to see.

So before we all watch and talk about this 200-lap/400-mile event, let’s get to this weekend’s Trending Topics while Track Talk panelists Ashley HobbsAshley HullCourtney ClementJessica BusheeJessica TowKatie Copple, and Kim Melton chime in about their thoughts here on The Podium Finish’s weekly roundtable discussion!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
"Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name." - Buddy Baker (1941-2015)

“Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name.” – Buddy Baker (1941-2015)

On Monday, Buddy Baker passed away from his brave battle with lung cancer at age 74.  What’s your favorite memories of Buddy Baker and do you think the sport should do more to honor our legends?

Hobbs :  I think the sport does quite well in honoring the legends. We are always reminded of those who have left this planet for a better place and we are always reminded of their legacy they left behind. Some races even have grandstands named after these legends. NASCAR is one of the best sports, if not the best, at acknowledging the great men who made this sport what it is.

Melton :  It’s hard to choose a favorite memory of Buddy, especially since I was fairly young when he was at his peak in racing. When I think of Buddy, I think of his caring eyes and genuine smile. He had one of those smiles that just made you happy to see. He was such an amazing racer and accomplished so many things in his lifetime. It is so difficult to keep losing so many people that have made NASCAR so special.

Copple :  “Buddy Baker’s life was one continuous racing story. And like and great story, Baker was larger than life.” Not I didn’t come up with that line, I came across it in one of the numerous articles writing about the great racer in the days after his passing. With every line in every story, that one stuck out the most. Drivers, fans, comrades and coworkers all have shared their stories about the time the met or raced against Baker. All I’ve ever known of Baker were the stories told from others. I don’t come from a family of race fans nor have a been a fan of the sport for more than a few years. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great Buddy Baker story. What I do have, are those stories from others. Those stories that live on long after the last checkered flag waves.

Clement :  Buddy Baker’s commentary is something that I will always remember. He is a NASCAR legend that will always be remembered. I think that everyone mourns differently, so when it comes to honoring our legends I think each person in the community can do it in their own special way.

Hull :  My most favorite memories were hearing him be a commentator with TNN. He was such a great commentator who had a lot of insightful things to say during the broadcasts. I also listened to him on SirusXM radio too, and he was such a fun guy to listen to. He was a great guy off of the air who was loved by all in the NASCAR community.  He will be sorely missed, and I think that he is having a good time with Dale Sr. and other great legends we have lost.


Question 2
I really wanted your hat, Ty!

I really wanted your hat, Ty!

Over in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, we’ve seen some tempers flare with Regan Smith and Ty Dillon having a little less conversation and a little more action with shoving at Watkins Glen. What’d you make of Dillon and Smith’s dust up and do you see retaliation coming soon from Smith with Dillon?

Hobbs :  It is great when the drivers get heated; it is what makes the sport great! Sure, talking it over with words is always better in the long run. However, when you are in the heat of the moment and all fired up, you are going to do things you might not normally do. Regan Smith had a right to be upset, and in this sport, those feelings never go away easily…

Melton :  I really didn’t think much of it. Tempers tend to flare during racing, especially when the racing gets intense. These things happen. You see disagreements in football, in hockey, in every other sport. I don’t see any retaliation coming. I think both drivers were just frustrated with the situation and I am sure they have both moved on from it. Even if they are still harboring ill feelings about Watkins Glen, I think they will be focused on winning the next race and not retaliation.

Copple :  Retaliation only works when you don’t get caught. I hope for their sake, and for the sake of their race teams, that they go out and do what they do best – race and win. Retaliation only costs teams money and in my opinion… Nothing good ever comes from it.

Clement :   I like the Elvis quote! I think that while tempers and rivalries should stay off the track/pit, it is better that they dealt with it physically off the track rather than on the track in their cars. Racing can become very dangerous, and when someone’s temper gets the best of them, there’s no saying in what they will do next. Hopefully we do not see much more from them.

Hull :  Well it was quite the drama, wasn’t it? I think that nowadays, we are seeing more drama on the road courses than we are all of the short tracks. Whatever the case, it’s racing, and it happens. I really didn’t follow the story after the incident, but it will be interesting to see how these two race today at Mid-Ohio. It’s another road course that will provide some more drama, I feel!

Tow :  Well…rubbing’s racing and I do not believe that this is something that is really going to last for much longer. Tempers flare and emotions are always high, that’s just the nature of our sport. I think in the next couple of weeks this situation between Ty Dillon and Regan Smith will simmer down and then it will be another couple of drivers who might find themselves in the thick of things.


Question 3
Brad Keselowski wants to be Rusty (Wallace) at Michigan today.

Brad Keselowski wants to be Rusty (Wallace) at Michigan today.

Brad Keselowski expressed concern that Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 could be one of the most challenging ones for the racers with the heat and for the equipment due to the high drag/high downforce package.  Is this a case where NASCAR should perhaps step in and make modifications to the cars to help with cooling/ventilation for the racers?

Hobbs :  Hey, if NASCAR can find a way to make the drivers inside the cars cooler without sacrificing safety or performance of the cars, I am all for that! A driver can condition forever and be as fit as Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, or Landon Cassill, but no human is a match for mother nature.

Melton :  I think that if there is an opportunity to make drivers more comfortable, why not? We have seen what happens when drivers suffer from heat exhaustion. Jimmie Johnson passed out last year at Richmond, and several other drivers mentioned the heat this year and how taxing it is on their bodies. For Jimmie Johnson to pass out after a race is huge, as this dude is the most physical person I have ever seen. Drivers will definitely need to focus on hydration, but like I said, if something can be done to the car to make it easier on the drivers, I am all for it.

Copple :  YES! YES! A MILLION TIMES YES!!! The first thing on NASCAR’s mind, before thinking about entertainment value, is the driver’s safety. Keeping the drivers cool, even if it’s just a few degrees, makes all the difference to those 43 drivers in the cars.

Clement :  As someone who grew up in the Midwest, what the weather forecast looks like on Monday, will definitely not be what the forecast looks like on Saturday! The weather is difficult to predict out here, so I think NASCAR should refrain from stepping in and making any large modifications, because they might not even be needed. And if it truly is going to be as hot as Keselowski predicts, that just makes for a bigger challenge for the drivers, and who doesn’t like a good challenge?

Hull :  First of all, if you don’t think that NASCAR drivers are not athletes, feel free to go out there and run a race when the car temperature gets up over 150 degrees, and then come back and say the same thing. I remember when Landon Cassill ran a race and lost a tremendous amount of weight during the race because of how hot it was. But you have seen drivers here lately who have had to go the infield care center due to heat exhaustion. I think that there does need to be some changes made before a driver becomes seriously ill due to this. I know that they are athletes, but this is the one thing that NASCAR doesn’t need to wait to fix. I hope that the drivers will be safe this weekend as it will be a grueling race.

Tow :  NASCAR should certainly continue seeking ways to improve the cooling systems in cars. We’ve seen a handful of drivers across all three national series be taken to Care Centers at the end of races due to dehydration. Maybe instead of focusing solely on rules packages, the sanctioning body could further examine how to improve and ensure that their drivers are taken care of while behind the wheel.


Question 4
Perhaps Jeff Gordon at age 44 can win today's race in his car with the No. 24.

Perhaps Jeff Gordon at age 44 can win today’s race in his car with the No. 24.

We’ve seen nine different August winners at Michigan in the form of Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, and Jeff Gordon.  While Vickers is on the mend, which of these previous winners has the best shot at repeating their summertime win at MIS?

Hobbs :  With the way Harvick has been running all season, clearly Harvick would have to be the favorite. He did say that the team is not finishing as well as they would hope, and not grabbing as many wins as they should be, but they ares still up front week after week. You can also never count out Jimmie Johnson, though he has really been go big or go home (mostly home) when it comes to Michigan. Personally, I am hoping Jeff Gordon can put together a fantastic race and finally grab a victory!

Melton :  This is a really good track for Biffle. He hasn’t been doing the hottest this year, but Michigan has always treated him nice. Another one to keep an eye on is Jeff Gordon. I say this week after week, but Jeff’s win is coming. He’s had too rough of a season to NOT get a win. I think both of those drivers have the best shot at winning MIS.

Copple :  Are you really making me choose? Any of those drivers could take home the win. They have all had, with the exception of Greg Biffle, very strong seasons. I would love to see Gordon come home with the win, just for nostalgia reasons.

Clement :   I think Matt Kenseth has a great shot! He finished well in qualifying and I believe he is due for a win!  

Hull :  JGR looks really strong here lately, and that was the case during yesterday’s practice and qualifying on Friday afternoon. All four drivers secured positions in the top ten during qualifying, so it is possible that we could see more of the JGR domination occur between any four of it’s drivers, especially the pole winner, Matt Kenseth. Kyle Busch has been on a mission here lately, so we shall see some good things from him.  Also, Stewart-Haas looks strong too this weekend. Kevin Harvick has compiled some great practice sessions as well.

Tow :  I can’t pick just one driver who I think would win this weekend, even though we make our actual race picks below. Of the past winners at Michigan I would say the odds are in favor of Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, or Kevin Harvick. Logano and Busch have been extremely dominant over the last few weeks but I wouldn’t put it past Harvick to rebound and secure himself another win.

Awesome stuff, team!  Before we reveal our race picks and hear music from MIS in the form of 43 stock cars, let’s take a look at the TPF Track Talk points standings heading into Round 23 of the 2015 season!
1) Ashley Hull – 722 points (3 wins) 
2) Rob Tiongson – 697 points (4 wins) 
3) Ashley Hobbs – 633 points (2 wins) 
4) Jessica Bushee – 610 points
5) Courtney Clement – 600 points (2 wins) 
6) Jessica Tow – 387 points (1 win) 
7) Kim Melton – 376 points (3 wins) 
8) Katie Copple – 3 points
9) Patrick Staropoli – 2 points
Hull enjoys a 25 point lead heading into today’s race.  Can yours truly catch up or can Hobbs and Bushee make up ground on the EIC?  How about Courtney climbing up the points standings or Kim and Jessica battling it out?  As for newcomer Katie Copple, she’s a win away from being a factor in our battle and perhaps Patrick will swing by soon!
Alright friends – let’s reveal our race picks for today’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway!
Vote for us to win today's race!

Vote for us to win today’s race!

Tiongson :  I’m thinking that Joey Logano is considering the prospects of becoming a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup race winner at Michigan International Speedway.  That 22 car will be fast and strong today.

Hobbs :  Carl Edwards, I choose you.

Melton :  My race pick for this weekend is going to be Kevin Harvick. I think “the hapster” is determined to win another race. Last weekend was such an unfortunate event, but I think it will only make him stronger this weekend.

Bushee :  I’m going with Kevin Harvick!

Copple :  Kyle Busch. He’s strong and more determined than ever to stay in Chase contention and won the Championship.

Tow :  Kyle Busch is my pick for today’s race.

Clement :  My pick is Matt Kenseth!  

Hull :   My pick for the Pure Michigan 400 is Matt Kenseth.

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.  How about you?  What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into today’s race and who is your favorite to win?
Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Thanks as always to the TPF team.  The opinions and thoughts express in Track Talk are solely of the authors and do not reflect on any organizations that we are affiliated with outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.
On behalf of the TPF team, we want to extend our prayers and condolences to Buddy Baker’s family and friends. We’ll miss the “Gentle Giant” and his presence at the races.  We’re also thinking of the family and friends of Jim Campbell Jr., a young racer who lost his life in a race this past weekend.  
Last but not least, we want to send our prayers and well wishes to Kevin Swindell on a speedy, full recovery as well as prayers and support to Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell as he battles lymphoma.  Stay strong.
Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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