Track Talk: A Preview of the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega

While most dread this race much like the polarized reaction to the finale of Life Is Strange (not hating on that game), it’s one where as Kyle Petty essentially remarked how there’s not much that can be done for something that’s going to happen.  Racing at Talladega Superspeedway defines the risks and rewards that comes with being a part of motorsports.  Whether you’re racing door to door on the high, middle, or low lane at over 200 mph for three and a half hours, working in the pits or standing atop the spotters’ stand, everyone’s roles are magnified in terms of being in Victory Lane or being back in the garage area after the race with either a car that’s got some war battle damage or has been wrecked far worse than a demolition derby entry.

For 11 of our remaining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship contenders, it’s a pretty frantic kind of race today at Talladega.  Points leader Joey Logano and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford team can enjoy this race somewhat and perhaps go for a third straight win to force his title rivals into points racing their way into the Eliminator Round of 8.  That same luxury is not in the offing for the rest of the field as they must avoid the perils of Talladega in terms of “The Big One” which translates into various race strategies that will be in play today.

Do you ride in the back for the early going and hope that trouble finds the big pack at some point before making that Hail Mary run through the field or do you race flat out at the front in anticipation of a calamity taking place behind you?  Is racing aggressively or quietly going to prove costly?  Until a race at Talladega is under way, you might as well ask similar questions to this racetrack that you would to a Magic 8 ball.

Ashley HobbsAshley HullCody ShoppeKatie Copple, and yours truly (Rob Tiongson) are ready to talk about ‘Dega and the four storylines heading into this weekend’s race.  Without further ado, let’s get to the action right now, shall we?

Question 1
Rest assured, these are qualified professionals on the track!

Rest assured, these are qualified professionals on the track!

NASCAR announced that we will only have a single green-white-checkered session should the race go past its advertised distance of 188 laps. Was this a great move from a safety aspect in trying to prevent the melee from Daytona in July or could more have been done prior to this Sunday’s race?

Hobbs :  This is absolutely a safety reason and I 100% agree with this. Talladega now is covered in SAFER Barriers and a GWC attempt only once makes more sense then sending the drivers loose up to 3 times. Everyone wants the race to end under the best circumstances possible, but sometimes, safety trumps everything else. Perhaps all restrictor plate tracks should adapt this 1 attempt rule now.

Shoppe :  I am in favor of this decision. At first, I questioned the call for two reasons. I think Talladega will be dangerous no matter how many restarts there are late. The pack will be on the edge of disaster every lap but the intensity will escalate to a high when the win is on the line at the end. Drivers will take so much risk at the end, so NASCAR limiting the GWC attempts to one can prevent thousands of dollars of damage and maybe an injury. If they made this choice based on the Austin Dillon accident from Daytona in July, then that would be a hastily knee-jerk reaction especially since that crash occurred during the first Green-White-Checkered finish.

Hull :  With or without the second green-white-checkered session, at the end, there is going to be hard racing, and possibly a huge wreck at the end. We don’t really know whether or not that would have prevented Austin Dillon’s incident at Daytona or not. That is just the product of racing at a super speedway. What NASCAR needs to focus on more is the safety aspect of the sport, instead of skirting the issue, and requiring the tracks to work on making sure that there are SAFER barriers around the ENTIRE track and the fences are more resistant to cars hitting them. The elimination of a second GWC may or may not prevent such incidents, but that’s not 100% guaranteed. We will see if that will be the case tomorrow or not.

Copple :  Safety wise, this was a smart move by NASCAR. Drivers get…I don’t know if careless is the right word here…but they get so determined to win or get those extra spots that they endanger themselves and their fellow drivers. So…pat on the back for NASCAR for this change!

Question 2
I guess we finally have a sort of Green Monster in NASCAR.

I guess we finally have a sort of Green Monster in NASCAR.

Kurt Busch extended his contract with Stewart-Haas Racing for multiple years with a new primary co-sponsor in Monster Energy.  Do you feel that Busch has finally found his place in NASCAR and mellowed over the past few years as a truly competitive but focused competitor?

Hobbs :  He has clearly been the number two driver at Stewart-Haas Racing and to have some solid backing, financially and personally, must make him feel pretty good about where he is at. He does truly seem to have found his home at Stewart-Haas Racing and he has Gene Haas to thank for all of this. As long as he keeps his attitude in check, I see no reasons for Kurt to finish out his career here and contend with Harvick for wins, championships, and the number one position on the team.

Shoppe :  Yes, Kurt Busch has found his home at Stewart Haas Racing. This is a great place for him to focus on being competitive and winning races. He always seems to mention in every interview how grateful he is for his team especially his crew chief Tony Gibson. I believe he will finish out his Sprint Cup career at SHR.

Hull :  I think that after he was let go from Penske four years ago, it changed his attitude more. He found out the hard way that he needed NASCAR more than they needed him. But yes, he has finally found his place at Stewart-Haas Racing, and Tony Stewart knows that he is a talented and more disciplined driver now. Picking up a co-sponsor has shown that he has become a more focused competitor. While he still remains a polarizing figure in the sport, he has matured and finally found his place.

Copple :  Stewart-Haas Racing is the PERFECT place for Kurt Busch!!! I’ve said that since the start and I still stand by it today. He finally found a place where he can be himself and he has also changed his attitude around immensely since coming to SHR.

Question 3
Insert Ludacris lyrics to this scenario.

Insert Ludacris lyrics to this scenario.

Joey Logano scored his fifth win of 2015 at Kansas Speedway last weekend in somewhat polarizing fashion.  Dueling with Matt Kenseth late in the race, was it a fair game move or a case of racing too hard for the win with a fellow title contender?

Hobbs :  It is hard to answer this question without putting my personal feelings on the drivers into the mix, but I am going to give it a try. From a racing point of view, yes, Kenseth blocked Logano a few times. In Kenseth’s position, he had no choice but to block; he had to win the race. They were racing around lapped cars and things probably did not go the way Kenseth would have liked and he had to go high, where Logano was clearly better. Could Logano have backed off as to not get into Kenseth and spin him out? Yes, but under different circumstances.

If this was not a Chase race, I think Logano would have cut Kenseth slightly more room; but this is the Chase and Kenseth is absolutely a threat for the title if he moves on and Logano knew this. I believe it was not his intention to stay on his bumper so long as to spin him out, but I do believe it was his intention to not give Kenseth any room and not make it easy on him to win the race.

Logano wants to win just as badly as anyone out there and just because he already has his place secured in the Eliminator Round does not mean he is going to lay back. He is a driver and he is going to go out there and win; and he did have the best car.

Shoppe :  That was just a racing deal. Matt Kenseth knew that race was his season. There is no telling what will happen in Talladega so he had to win that race in Kansas. He had lead the whole race and had the best car throughout. When Joey Logano tried to make the passes for the win Kenseth had to do everything he could possibly do to block.

I see nothing wrong with that because it was what he had to do. Joey Logano on the other hand took exception to the way he was forced to the wall on two occasions by Kenseth. When the two went into turn one, Joey was no longer interested in giving Matt the room he had given him previously. I don’t think Joey intended to “wreck” Matt as he was just going for the win. Joey raced Matt the way he felt Matt raced him. He also had to be thinking how much of an advantage it would be to have a strong competitor like Kenseth out of the Eliminator 8.

Hull :  I don’t know if anyone will agree with me, but it was a case of racing. As I say many times, this is stock car racing, not ballet. And neither driver was innocent in this situation. Matt Kenseth had also been racing Joey Logano hard too by putting the block on him one too many times. Joey, while maybe wrecking Matt wasn’t the best thing to do, he did what he had to do to win. It was just a racing deal, nothing more, nothing less.

Copple :  I am all for moving someone over for the win…but wrecking them? That’s taking it a little too far. I think NASCAR was wrong to not punish him for it.

Question 4
Perhaps that haircut at Great Clips helped Kasey Kahne at Kansas.

Perhaps that haircut at Great Clips helped Kasey Kahne at Kansas.

Kasey Kahne and Keith Rodden finally got that well deserved top-10 finish last weekend at Kansas following a relatively rough stretch of races.  Is this a start of a positive trend or is there still work to be done for the No. 5 team to be a consistent front runner?

Hobbs :  It is always a great boost to the team when they finally get a good finish, especially if they have been in a drought for some time. Kahne and the 5 crew always seem to be a team that takes time to get things really moving, and that may not be the best situation for trying to contend for a championship.

If they can put consistent top 10s together, then they can aim for the top 5s, but the season is running out of time and this team, once Homestead is finished, will be poised to fall back into their old habits and have to start from the beginning again.

Be it on Kahne more than the team, or everyone equally, they need to figure out how to get off to a better start during the season and maintain that momentum going forward. Usually by now, the team is in a stride for a while, so they have a lot of work to do if they want to get into the Chase next year.

Shoppe :  I think Kasey Kahne and the Hendrick No. 5 team are finally turning a corner.  They have had constant speed for a few weeks in a row now just without the results to prove it. It has been a struggle all year for the team but now that the pressure to make the chase is off of them, they can focus on improving those Farmers Insurance Chevy’s and contend for wins in 2016.

Hull :  It’s no secret that Kasey Kahne has had a rough season. While it is nice that they finally got a good finish, there is still more work to be done. A lot of his tough season has been a product of bad luck, and some of it has been a result of their own doing.

It may be possible that his relationship with his crew chief may need work, or he needs to just shake the bad luck (every driver has a rough season every now and then). But to have a top 10 finish may build more confidence for the team, and may help them do better and know what to work on.

It certainly helped for drivers such as Carl Edwards, who prior to his win at the Coca Cola 600, had a rough start to the season. Maybe it will help boost their morale and know that they can get the job done.

Copple :  Lots and lots and lots and lots of work for the No.5 team. They are far from being where they need and should be. They need to take this year as a learning experience and make improvements for 2016.

Excellent job, y’all!  We got through the practice and qualifying rounds for Talladega.  Before we reveal our picks for today, let’s take a quick gander at the TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after 31 races into the season!
1) Ashley Hobbs – 2206 points (2 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 2173 points (5 wins)
3) Katie Copple – 2155 points (1 win)
4) Rob Tiongson – 2153 points (4 wins)
5) Cody Shoppe – 2102 points
6) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
8) Jessica Bushee – 2000 points
Alrighty, friends!  While we aren’t doing eliminations like the real Chase, today’s race could be a huge game changer for the field!  Let’s reveal our race picks for today’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega!
Evidently, Kevin Harvick likes screwing up the dimensions of this photo!

Evidently, Kevin Harvick likes screwing up the dimensions of this photo!

Hobbs :  Because, nl_images_fi_river_song_spoilers_10_12_2013! Clint Bowyer!

Hull :  My pick this weekend is obviously going to be the favorite going into the race, and that is Dale Earnhardt Jr. I see him winning this race and advancing to the next round.

Copple :  Kevin Harvick…because why not?

Tiongson :  

Shoppe :  My pick is Matt Kenseth!

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on this weekend’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway!  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.

 

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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