Track Talk: A Preview of the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway

AJ Allmendinger is all about getting a top-10 today.

Who here on The Podium Finish absolutely dislikes math and trigonometry?  Not that we’re turning into an educational website, but let’s just say that mathematics will come to TPF is with calculating lap times into speed, tabulating points for Track Talk, and with our annual Chase previews!  OK, now that Ashley Hobbs, our resident statistician is likely to be unhappy with that, let’s talk about The Tricky Triangle otherwise known as the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, site of today’s Windows 10 400.

Firstly, the thought of Microsoft sponsoring a NASCAR Sprint Cup event seems cool even 20 years after yours truly thought about that idea.  Anyways, NASCAR returns to this giant beast of a track and fans might be wondering, weren’t we just here in early June?  Why, yes, we were but track conditions are always a bit different between late spring to the dog days of summer.  For one, drivers’ intensities are a lot higher now than they were nearly two months ago.  Some racers, notably Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Kyle Busch, are working diligently towards making their Chase Grid prospects into reality.

While the road ahead for Kyle Busch might be a bit simpler thanks to four victories (Sonoma, Loudon, Kentucky, and Indianapolis), he still has to work his way into the top-30 points standings.  Once Busch has raced his No. 18 team into the top-30, it’s about maintaining that spot to lock up a postseason spot, a remarkable feat considering the much often documented auspicious start to the year.

As for the likes of McMurray, Gordon, and Bowyer, once Busch makes his way into the top-30, the margin for error of being in the Chase or being “elated” for 17th in the points standings becomes much more narrow.  McMurray might have thought about points racing his way into the Chase but for Gordon, it’s been a year of absolute frustration.  At times, the No. 24 team has shown that they’re just a few notches from their stellar 2014 strength but in other occasions, a top-15 seems like a moral victory.  Top-10’s or bust must be the mentality for Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson, as they cannot afford to surrender potential points that gets them into their last title fight with the four-time Cup champion.

Bowyer might be in a tough situation in which the fate of Michael Waltrip Racing is so uncertain that the usually candid racer has been hush about his team’s plans beyond this year.  Still, in a difficult 2015 season, the 2012 season runner-up has a shot to make the Chase Grid and that’s incredible considering the fact that he’s also in the midst of a crew chief swap that took place this summer.  The Emporia, KS native won’t cave in despite the uncertainty surrounding the Nos. 15 and 55 teams, as he’s focused as ever to at least making his first postseason appearance since 2013.

Ashley Hull hosts this weekend’s edition of Track Talk Trending Topics after her brilliant choice of Kyle Busch last weekend for the Brickyard 400.   As both won, Busch gets to ponder about a Chase Grid spot while Hull hosts the TPF panelists of Ashley HobbsCourtney ClementJessica BusheeJessica TowKim Melton, and yours truly (Rob Tiongson).  Without further ado, let’s get to this weekend’s four topics now by left clicking on Start…yea, I had to do that.

Trending Topics by Ashley Hull

Question 1
I'm pretty sure these cars looked a bit IROC last weekend, eh?

I’m pretty sure these cars looked a bit IROC last weekend, eh?

It has been said that the Indy rules package didn’t deliver anything more different than Indy races in the past. What did you think about the rules package? 

Melton :  I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Indy rules package, but who was? Kevin Harvick said it best when he referred to it as “a huge science project”. I don’t think it is just Indy, that’s how this whole season has felt so far. Drivers just seem to be getting more and more frustrated with all of these changes. I understand NASCAR wants diversity and wants to see different outcomes, but all of these changes are making drivers, teams, and fans sour. I think NASCAR is just trying to figure out what works, and unfortunately that does take time. 

Bushee :  I’m not sure if the rules package they used for Indy is for all tracks or something new to that specific track, but I’ll agree that it didn’t do anything spectacular for the racing. I’m not much of a fan for racing at Indy anyway, but it seems those huge spoilers spoiled the racing.

Clement :  Throughout the years, Indy has not changed much. It’s been the same kind of racing for as long as I can remember. There are some minor tweaks here and there but nothing as major as NASCAR. I personally like the rules package with Indy, and I don’t think it needs to be changed. It’s been doing just fine how it is for a very long time, and Indy fans are very loyal no matter what changes!

Hobbs :  Well, sadly, I missed the Indy race for a 2nd time in 4 years.  However, good reasons; 1st time I was on my honeymoon and this time, I was moving into my first home. I have only heard what fans are saying, as well as the experts, and from what I have heard, it was not very good. It sounded like passing was not there and there was no side-by-side action. Sounds like NASCAR still has work to do here.

Tow :  I wasn’t actually able to watch the race due to other commitments but from what I can tell I think it’s both a blessing and a curse that NASCAR is making these changes to the rules package. Although the racing has appeared to be fantastic, I am a little hesitant. While I understand the importance behind moving ahead with new technologies to make the sport better, at the same time, I feel like there’s just too much change happening at once. Let’s sit with one rules package for a year or two and then debut the next one.

Tiongson :  The package had good intentions and up until last race weekend, I imagined that it would be similar to what we saw last year.  Instead, it looked more like a race where the cars were way too aero sensitive and the trailing cars were at a tremendous disadvantage.  Perhaps the taller spoiler needed to shrink by an inch and a half or based on the Goodyear tire test in April, perhaps leaving well enough alone would’ve been good.  Now with this package tentatively scheduled for the Michigan race in a couple of weeks, we’ll see if it helps or hurts the racing there.

Question 2
Oh hai, we might be teammates? #spoileralert2016

Oh hai, we might be teammates? #spoileralert2016

As we are getting closer to the Chase, who do you think will be a surprise driver that will make the Chase? Also, who will surprisingly NOT make the Chase?

Melton :  Surprise driver that will make the Chase – Austin Dillon

Surprise driver that will not make the Chase – That’s a hard one. I’m going to go on a limb and say Clint Bowyer.

Bushee :   At this point, I’m not sure how many will be surprised, but I definitely see Kyle Busch making the Chase. Let’s face it, he’s on a mission to prove that his accident wasn’t going to hold him back. On the flip side of that, I don’t see Tony making the Chase, because his season has been a complete bummer. But then again I’m terrible at making predictions, so I may be eating my words later.

Clement :  Honestly, I don’t think I could pick! These drivers always have something hidden under their sleeves. We’re always in for a surprise when the Chase starts up. Whoever does surprise us and makes it, will definitely be a driver to look out for next season!

Hobbs :  At this point, Kyle Busch will be the surprise, yet not the surprise as well. This is Kyle Busch we are talking about after all and when he has his mind set on something, he goes for it. As for a surprise who will not make the Chase, well, I would say Kyle Larson. from last season, I had high expectations for the 42 team, and thus far, they have not delivered.

Tow :  Hmm…Chase surprises and disappointments…if you asked me when Kyle Busch first returned back, I would say that he would be the biggest surprise but now I think it’s just a given.  Therefore I think the biggest surprise would be Clint Bowyer. The biggest disappointment would be Jeff Gordon since it is his final season in the Cup Series.

Tiongson :  I’ve been very impressed by Jamie McMurray.  He’s always been solidly quiet and it seems like he’s been in position to make the Chase only for some unfortunate circumstance to take him out.  However, the No. 1 team will make it into the postseason this year.  As for a driver who might miss the Chase Grid, Hendrick Motorsports might be in a really tough spot of seeing either Kasey Kahne or even Jeff Gordon potentially being on the outside looking in.   That said, today could very well be an opportunity race for the Nos. 5 and 24 teams to have breathing room if they’re points racing into the postseason.

Question 3
Seeing Michael Annett physically spent after Loudon, NH was scary, but he's proof of racers being athletes.

Seeing Michael Annett physically spent after Loudon, NH was scary, but he’s proof of racers being athletes.

Landon Cassill, who is known to be in excellent physical condition, lost 8 pounds during the Indy race on Sunday due to the heat. Do you think that this makes the case that NASCAR drivers are indeed athletes?

Melton : I don’t think it should take a situation like this to make the case that NASCAR drivers are athletes. These drivers don’t just get into a car and drive. Most drivers train outside of races to ensure they are in tip top shape for race day. They run marathons, they bike, they are so physically active. A regular person can’t just hop into a race car and drive 120+ mph for 3-4 hours, especially when you consider the conditions they are driving in. NASCAR on NBC showed how hot those cars were getting, it is intense. Also, you have to take a look at the pit crews. The guys who work on those pit crews are machines! They go through extremely rigorous training, similar to what football players go through. Hats off to them! I know I couldn’t do it. The fact that there are still people in the world that fail to recognize NASCAR drivers as athletes makes me laugh. All I have to say to those people is: Try it. Let me know how you feel after.

Bushee :  I’m so over hearing about whether or not NASCAR drivers are athletes. Getting into a car and driving hundreds of miles without AC or food isn’t something everyone can do. Add to that fighting handling conditions and 42 other drivers riding your bumper and most would have a nervous breakdown.

Clement :  I think it depends what you consider athletic. I have battled with the whole athlete/non athlete title with the activities I participated in growing up, so I have strong opinions regarding it. In my opinion, I consider anyone an athlete if they participate in something that causes them to break a sweat, lose weight, or gain muscle. Yes, drivers do need to be physically fit to be able to fit in the car and withstand long hours in the heat. But is the act of driving a car considered an athletic sport?

Hobbs :  To me, NASCAR drivers have always been athletes. Time and time again, other athletes have looked down on racers as not being athletes. Most of those are silenced when they go to a race and tag along with a driver. There will always, sadly, be those critics that all they do is drive around in circles, but to the fans, they will always be athletes.

Tow :  There is no argument when it comes to the classification of NASCAR drivers as athletes…because they are. These drivers participate in a major sport, must be in top physical condition and have a certain type of mentality to be able to handle hundreds of laps/miles behind the wheel of a 2500 horsepower stock car.  Add in factors like weather and track type and it’s a no brainer.

Tiongson :  Not only are the drivers athletes, but let’s give a call to the pit crew members, the engineers, crew chiefs, and spotters who definitely have an equally grueling time 2-3 times in a week at the track to focus on one goal: to win races.  Having watched the crews tackle the immense heat at Loudon, NH a couple of a weeks ago, these are well conditioned individuals who make that brave jump over the wall to bust off 11-12 second pit stops.  There are runners for the Sunoco fuel containers who run up and down behind pit road to make sure their driver can make it to the finish.  When I saw Michael Annett after the 5-HOUR Energy 301 looking like he just ran the Boston Marathon and laying with his back on his pit stall, I was concerned about his well being.  Then I realized that he and his peers are definitely great athletes but like the rest of us, hydration is what’s key to getting through the dog days of summer.

Question 4
Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are lovin' the momentum of Joe Gibbs Racing!

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are lovin’ the momentum of Joe Gibbs Racing!

So far, which teams do you think have stepped it up and delivered , and which ones need the most improvement?

Melton :  I am really impressed with Joe Gibbs Racing right now. I was not expecting the success they are having at the beginning of the season. I was confident this season would be Hendrick or Stewart-Haas ruled. The team that needs the most improvement would be RCR. I was expecting a little more from them this season, but its still early, so we will see what happens.

Bushee :   I won’t lie on this one, I haven’t been paying attention to teams as a whole as much as I have paid attention to specific drivers and what they’re doing. I don’t really have an answer here.

Clement :   I think that Stewart-Haas has really stepped it up and delivered this season. They may seem like the underdog at times but I think overall they’ve done really well. There’s always room for improvement from every team though!

Hobbs :  Joe Gibbs Racing appears to have stepped it up as the season has gone on, especially with the 18 team. Overall, they seem to have things together. On the opposite side of the fence, teams like Hendrick and Penske seemed to be off to a great start this season, but seem to have faded just a bit.

Tow :  Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), particularly Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team, has definitely stepped up and delivered. It’s interesting to see the shift in overall dominance between teams throughout the season so far; namely JGR, Hendrick Motorsports, and Stewart-Haas Racing.  However, at this particular moment, I think that all teams have something to seek out and improve upon when it comes to beating that No. 18 team.

Tiongson :  Like the rest of the group, Joe Gibbs Racing has definitely brought their A game thus far after 20 races. Hendrick, Penske, and Roush Fenway are a bit behind but they won’t be sitting idle hoping for things to change.

Alright team!  With our thoughts on those four trending storylines out of the way, let’s take a look at the TPF Track Talk points standings heading into Round 21 of 2015!

1) Ashley Hull – 679 points (3 wins) 
2) Rob Tiongson – 669 points (4 wins)
3) Ashley Hobbs – 606 points (2 wins)
4) Jessica Bushee – 534 points
5) Courtney Clement – 519 points (1 win)
6) Jessica Tow – 337 points
7) Kim Melton – 318 points (3 wins)
8) Patrick Staropoli – 2 points

Alright friends!  For those who struggled at Indianapolis, we can hit CTRL+ALT+DEL to start anew with Pocono.  With that, let’s reveal our race picks for today’s Windows 10 400!
Seven different picks means an interesting afternoon of points watching for the TPF Track Talk team!

Seven different picks means an interesting afternoon of points watching for the TPF Track Talk team!

Tiongson :  OK, so I didn’t go with Kyle Busch.  However, Kurt Busch seems to be knocking on the door for his third win of 2015 and it could very well happen at Pocono this Sunday!

Hull :  My pick for today’s race is Denny Hamlin.

Melton :  This weekend I am going to choose Jeff Gordon for Pocono. I think Jeff’s win is coming and this happens to be a great track for him. Last weekend was such a heartbreaking situation, but I do think that it pushed Gordon to try even harder. I have been saying its only a matter of time before we see Gordon get his win, and I think this weekend could be it.

Bushee :  As far as my pick for this weekend, I’m going to go with Jimmie Johnson. Let’s see how well this one does for me.

Clement :   My pick is Matt Kenseth!

Hobbs :  Because he is who he is, Kyle Busch will add another victory to his belt for this season.

Tow :  Kevin Harvick for the win!

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway.  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.​
Rob Tiongson

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

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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