Track Talk: A Preview of the Bank of America 400 at CMS

I know – you are all wondering where your amazing EIC is this week with Track Talk, and who is this crazy person! Well, our EIC is away dealing with some personal things at the moment, but have no fear as I am here to attempt to do half as good of a job at this Track Talk thing as ol’ Rob. So please, be nice to me – I am a numbers person more than a writer. But enough of the boring stuff – let us jump into what we have going on this weekend in North Carolina.

The Challenger Round has ended its run and we are 4 drivers less than where it all began back at Chicagoland Speedway. Be it a shock or not, the 4 drivers who missed the cup for the Contender Round, and a shot at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship are Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson, and Jamie McMurray. Charlotte, Kansas, and Talladega await the remaining 12 drivers, with 4 more being eliminated after Talladega. With a clean slate and equal points, these 12 men will strap in for the night race of the Chase in their backyard of Charlotte Motor Speedway. We all know night racing will bring something special and unique, as it did a year ago, and all teams want to win in their backyard, so look for every team (Chasers and non-Chasers) to bring their A-game Saturday night’s Bank of America 400!

Matt Kenseth is starting the Contender Round off on the right foot by nabbing the pole for the BoA 400 on Saturday evening. Jeff Gordon is starting 22nd, the deepest in the field of the Chase drivers, the first 3 starting positions are Chasers, and 7 Chasers are starting within the top 10. With the field set and ready to being the next segment, your friends at TPF are ready as well! Let us jump right into this week’s Track Talk questions, following by some fun predictions! Rob TiongsonAshley HullCody Shoppe, and Katie Copple are going to get this train moving!

 

Trending Topics by Ashley Hobbs

Question 1

Challenger Round Statistics

Stats show that Matt Kenseth was the best in the Challenger round while Kevin Harvick was the worst. Will we see the same thing in the Contender round?

As you know by now, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, and Jimmie Johnson were eliminated from the Chase this past weekend. Which driver(s) surprised you the most in the first 3 races, and who do you think will surprise in the next 3?

Shoppe: Well obviously I was surprised by the elimination of Jimmie Johnson. Just goes to show how much luck you need to go along with a good team. I never would have guessed that it would take a must win for Kevin Harvick to advance but not surprised that he was able to pull it off. I’m not sure if it counts as a surprise but I expect Ryan Newman to continue his way through the rounds like last year.

Hull: The one big surprise out of the first round for me was seeing Jimmie Johnson get eliminated the FIRST round. This is the man who has won 6 championships. Everyone, including me, thought for sure that he would be out there trying to win his 7th championship. It really goes to show that anything can happen with this Chase format, and no one is safe. The other thing that surprised me from this Chase is how Kevin Harvick almost didn’t make the Chase. I knew that he could possibly pull off a win at Dover to secure himself into the 2nd round. The last driver that surprised me was Kyle Busch. I thought also that he wouldn’t make the Chase, and I thought he would be dominant as well. But he made it by doing well. 

I think that you can never really predict who will surprise you with this new Chase format. I think that the Gibbs drivers will continue to do well, and that maybe we will see someone like Jeff Gordon step it up. 

Copple: Jimmie Johnson, by far, surprised me. One small part on his car is bad, and his day, and chance for the championship, is ruined. This is why I don’t like this version of the Chase, you can be eliminated entirely with just one bad race. So, to look at who will be eliminated in the next round, I don’t know. It’s impossible to tell.

Tiongson: I have to say that I was very surprised with the elimination of Jimmie Johnson.  He had four wins heading into the Challenger Round of 16 and the 48 team looked like they were getting back to their strong, consistent selves until a $5.00 part knocked them out of the title race.  That’s the shocking driver of the Chase.  I have to say that Jamie McMurray looked great and that was somewhat surprising considering how the CGR cars were somewhat lacking speed.  Unfortunately, they got bested by a tiebreaker that benefited Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team.  As for a third driver and team, I guess I could say that the No. 24 team of Jeff Gordon surprised me particularly at Chicagoland. It seems like they found some speed and perhaps with some breaks and hopefully with some tweaking on the restarts, they could be a dark horse in the next round.  As for these next 3 races, I think Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, and Kurt Busch could show folks that they aren’t exactly drivers to write off after this round is done.  They’re heading to tracks that they’re historically strong at and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them thrive in this round.

Question 2

Martin Truex Jr. found himself in a hole right before the green flag fell at Dover.

Martin Truex Jr. found himself in a hole right before the green flag fell at Dover.

Martin Truex Jr.’s team initially passed inspection at Dover only to be brought back after the car was on the starting grid because officials saw something fishy. It turns out that the side skirt had been manipulated and NASCAR officials wanted it fixed, and this caused the 78 team to start from the rear of the field. It was also said that the team would face no further sanctions from NASCAR. What is your take on the overall ruling by NASCAR?

Shoppe: Initially I wasn’t sure why NASCAR would take a car aside after they passed it during the inspection process. But in all fairness, it is a possibility a team could have touched the side skirt on the way to the grid. Not sure what else to make of it other than it is strange to see a car that passed inspection sent to the rear.

Hull: This is the problem that some people have with NASCAR. They are never consistent in their rulings. They did end up facing more sanctions. Crew Chief Cole Pearn got put on probation  for the rest of the season. If NASCAR is going to enforce their rulings, they need to be steadfast in doing so, and not say one thing and do another. Luckily, this will not have any implications for Truex, but it goes to show that NASCAR needs to be clearer in enforcing rules. 

Copple: This all makes no sense. So, he passes inspection but then NASCAR says something on his car is modified? If something is not to format, then the team should get fined whether they found it during inspection or after. Stick to the rule book people!!!

Tiongson: We need more consistency on this rule because NASCAR made it clear earlier in the season that any modification of the side skirt was going to result in a not so pleasant situation.  I have to say, comically speaking, engineers and teams, please, stop lifting these cars skirts up!  We ain’t no peeping toms!

Question 3

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Is there a price on safety?

Saturday night provided some night racing for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sadly, though at this point in time not all too shockingly, Austin Theriault slammed head-on into an SAFER Barrier-less portion of the outside wall. He suffered a lower back compound fracture and after returning home, tweeted a picture sporting a bruised forehead and a laceration above his eye. We all know this topic has been talked about numerous times, but what should NASCAR and the tracks do about these unprotected walls?

Shoppe: If there is a wall anywhere a car can hit at a NASCAR track, it needs to be a SAFER barrier period. Money should be no object over safety. Hopefully we see changes at least at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the March race and most tracks in the near future.

Hull: NASCAR needs to put more pressure on these tracks to step up their game and make sure the SAFER Barrier covers ALL of the walls. If not, then NASCAR should fine each track for failing to do so. Safety is very important when racing. Austin Theriault was VERY lucky to even be alive, as others have hit the same kind of walls and didn’t survive. It needs to be taken more seriously for sure before someone gets killed.

Copple: Same thing as we have been saying for years. SAFER Barriers need to be installed on all portions of the racing wall. Drivers are going to get hurt racing, that’s just a fact of the gig but if we can prevent it in any way, we should. I know SAFER Barriers are pricey but shouldn’t driver safety come before track and grandstand renovations and additions? 

Tiongson: Spend the time and money on investing SAFER barriers at every portion of the track where these unprotected old fashioned walls are located.  We are very lucky that Austin Theriault is at home and recovering after that savage crash.  Talladega recently spent time and money to cover most of the track with SAFER barriers which I applaud and I only hope other tracks stop coming up with excuses and work with NASCAR on making this an issue of the past.

Question 4

Throw back anyone?

Throw back anyone?

Back in 1992, the world saw Jeff Gordon come to the circuit with the rainbow warrior paint scheme sponsored by DuPont (now Axalta). It was recently announced that Axalta will be sticking around Hendrick Motorsports in the future, but this time as a sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr. What previous sponsors who have left the sport would you like to see come back?

Shoppe: I’d love to see the Tide ride make a comeback in Cup racing. That was probably my favorite sponsor to see on a car growing up. Miss seeing Coors Light on a car as well as Home Depot, UPS and Tony the Tiger/Kellogg’s.

Hull: This is a toughie. I would have to say that for me, being a Carl Edwards fan, I wish that Aflac would come back to NASCAR and support him. Aflac was one of Carl’s best sponsors, and it also had some of the coolest paint schemes. Plus the Aflac duck is cute. I also wish Scotts would come back too. They were also a good Carl sponsor. 

Copple: I haven’t been around the sport long enough to see sponsors go and come back, but it is always great to see iconic brands and companies stay in NASCAR. I know, in this economy, sponsors have to really take a look at how they are spending their money and if it is worth the price. One big sponsor that won’t be returning next season in GoDaddy on the No.10., a sponsor who has been in the sport, not only with Danica Patrick, but with Mark Martin and Brad Keselowski as well. It’s sad to see sponsors leave but it also opens the doors for new ones to join our sport too.

Tiongson: Again, comically, why not bring Hooters back?  Titled Kilt Pub is in the Truck ranks so someone needs to tell the Hooters gals to come back.  Ok, now that my silly 30 year old mind is being scrutinized, if I had to be completely honest, I would love to see Best Buy come back.  After all, that’s where I get most of my electronics.  If I wanted to show my local colors, Friendly’s should reconsider their return to racing!

Big thanks to our amazing Track Talk team for their valuable insights this week! Like every week, we have TPF have our fun too with picking who we believe will be the victor when the night is all said and done. After last week’s Dover race, we have some movement in the points. Thanks to Kyle Busch, I was able to make a big leap in the points because our team suffered the same blow that the 48 team suffered. Also, bonus points have been factored in for choosing drivers who would not move on to the Contender Round.

1) Ashley Hobbs – 2124 points (2 wins)

2) Ashley Hull – 2104 points (5 wins)

3) Rob Tiongson – 2099 points (4 wins)

4) Katie Copple – 2070 points

5) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points

6) Cody Shoppe – 2034 points

7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)

8) Jessica Bushee – 2000 points 

Now it is time to reveal who this amazing bunch of people think will win the Bank of America 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday evening (7:00pm – EST on NBC)!

Will one of these drivers punch their ticket to the next round and have it easy come Talladega?

Will one of these drivers punch their ticket to the next round and have it easy come Talladega?

Hobbs: He may not have any victories here, but he has some great numbers – Denny Hamlin, time to strut your stuff!

Shoppe: Time for Carl Edwards to make some noise!

Hull: My pick for the winner of the Bank of America 400 is Brad Keselowski!

Copple: Joey Logano seems poised to get it done on Saturday!

Tiongson: My race pick is going to be Carl Edwards because I want to be flipping right this time about a win.

How many of these drivers will be eliminated after Talladega?

How many of these drivers will be eliminated after Talladega?

 

And since we into the new segment, here are the 4 drivers the team feels will miss the cut:

Hobbs: Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Ryan Newman

Shoppe: Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, and Martin Truex Jr.

Hull: Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Martin Truex Jr. 

Copple: Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon

Tiongson: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Brad Keselowski

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on this weekend’s Bank of America 400 at Charlotte Motor 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 expressed 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.  Now it’s time to celebrate my birthday with today’s race!

Ashley Hobbs

Birthday: 9 March 1989 (so I do not have to update my age each year)
Location: Florida (Jersey native, born and raised)

What better way to combine 2 of my favorite things, NASCAR and statistics, than providing y'all with an analytical report each weekend during the NASCAR season.

When I am not crunching the numbers, I spend time with my hubby, 3 black cats (Ninja, Daytona, and Chronos), and I watch too much TV, especially Doctor Who. Why yes, I am a geek and proud! So join forces with me and follow my weekly Crunching The Numbers segment. Who knows, I may surprise you!

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