Track Talk: A Preview of the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

Before we start off this weekend’s edition of Track Talk for today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, I wanted to thank my entire team for stepping up in my place last week.  Ashley Hobbs, our resident statistician and second-in-command here at TPF, did a wonderful job substituting as the host for this weekly segment.  I am very thankful for our great teammates like Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, and Katie Copple for truly bringing it last week be it on Track Talk or in their own segments here.  This portion would normally be reserved towards the end of the article but they deserve some props and praises so if you have a moment, please give them a follow on Twitter and be sure to thank them for their great efforts.  While on that note, please be sure wish Ashley Hull a very special birthday!

After a very interesting start to the Contender Round of 12 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Chase field heads into today’s race at Kansas with one thing in mind: please, don’t have us in a scenario where we have to depend on Talladega to advance into the Eliminator Round of 8.  Although some drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have expressed confidence in their teams and chances should they rely on next weekend’s race to continue their championship hopes, most of the field would rather punch their ticket into the next round by winning today’s race or at least scoring a solid finish to allow for wiggle room from the bubble spot.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are on somewhat opposite ends of the Chase scale as the former raced his way into the next round with a win last Sunday while Keselowski salvaged a top-10 finish despite contact with the wall.  Although Logano and his team can somewhat “relax,” and yea, that won’t be the case, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe realize that they cannot be complacent with four hungry racers ready to go for the same inch of real estate that they possess heading into this afternoon’s race.

Meanwhile, the bottom four of Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Matt Kenseth realize that they need to do their jobs in order to continually sport the yellow windshield tapes and rear spoilers next month at Martinsville.  Newman has relied on his usual quiet consistency while Busch, Earnhardt Jr., and Kenseth all ran into some kind of trouble last Sunday that cost them a shot to win the Bank of America 500.

Kansas isn’t exactly a normal Sunday drive around a 1.5-mile speedway.  Instead, this track has been something of a wild card for our Chasers with a notoriety of being unpredictable and tenacious with equipment.  Occasionally, she can throw competitors in for a loop like Talladega or Daytona as pristine stock cars can buffet around this track and gaining some interesting stripes from the wall.  Of course, the possibility of being collected in someone else’s mess is there and every Chaser wants to do everything in their power to avoid being swept up.

The TPF Track Talk team is ready and so am I so let’s get this weekend’s edition of our weekly segment going with Trending Topics!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
Kurt Busch and his peers hopefully enjoyed the races at Kentucky and Darlington because that's pretty much next year's package.

Kurt Busch and his peers hopefully enjoyed the races at Kentucky and Darlington because that’s pretty much next year’s package.

NASCAR recently announced the 2016 package which was previewed at the races at Kentucky and Darlington.  We will have a 3.5-inch high rear spoiler compared to the 6 inches we have today as well as a front splitter leading edge of 0.25 inches instead of 2 inches. Simply put, it’s a low downforce package which is said to put the drivers back in the equation on race weekends. Is this a good move by NASCAR or could other avenues have been explored?

Hobbs :  If my memory serves me right, and that would be a first, several drivers from Darlington race winner Carl Edwards to Brad Keselowski said they were fans of this package. All I gotta say is if the drivers are happy and feel it gives them more driving back in their hands as well as puts more passing and competition, I am on board with that. Passing and actual racing is what has been missing from this sport for a long time, and next year, hopefully, we will see that once again. NASCAR can explore every day if they want, and similar to buying a home, there will always be a “better one” out there, but what we have now may be good enough.

Shoppe :  I am excited and encouraged by the announced rules package for 2016! The races at Kentucky and Darlington were among the best races of the 2015 season. The reduction of downforce is a positive for sure. Making the cars handle worse makes the racing better because the best drivers will have to rise up to make the difference. The success of the new package will depend greatly on Goodyear’s ability to make a tire with adequate fall-off to go with the new rules.

Hull :  Finally, NASCAR has listened to the drivers and have adopted a package that they can all agree on. The races at Kentucky and Darlington had rave reviews, and was some of the best racing I have seen in a long time. It’s not going to be easy for the drivers to drive with this, but racing is not meant to be easy. It will give them the dirt track feel that many of them grew up racing on. So it will  provide greater racing and make things less boring for both the fans and drivers.

Copple :  It is great that Nascar is trying to improve the quality of racing and give the drivers more control. The few tracks that this package has been run at this season has been fairly successful. It should hopefully lead to some great on-track action in 2016. Great move by NASCAR!

Question 2
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has to overcome the odds in the next two weeks.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has to overcome the odds in the next two weeks.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch were very vocal about oil evidently on the track surface at Charlotte Motor Speedway after Justin Allgaier’s engine expired.  Despite the track cleanup, both drivers made contact with the wall as they apparently ran into oil on the track. In these situations, would you rather see the red flag thrown to ensure a clean racetrack or should track officials and NASCAR work better to clear up any debris/oil in a more organized, timely fashion?

Hobbs :  This falls under the safety category and safety should always be NASCAR’s #1 priority. Now, those who clean the track are just as professional as those driving around on the track. Brett Bodine is the driver of the pace car and he has been around this sport long enough to know if the track is good or not. It is a very slick topic to discuss because I trust the clean up crew, the pace car driver, and the drivers. However, I think I side slightly to the side of the drivers because their vehicles are different on there and several drivers said something over the radio, and that should have set alarms off to NASCAR that something may be off that drivers are not happy with.

Shoppe :  A red flag would help make sure the surface is race ready each time an engine expires or a crash leaves liquid debris on the track. Nobody wants to see accidents due to the track conditions being unsafe. The question is would fans rather have to wait through a lengthier delay to ensure a race ready track or hastily thrown down speedy dry.

Hull :  I feel that either way, there are going to be complaints. I don’t think that there should be a lengthy red flag to ensure that the track is clear. I think that honestly, that will annoy the drivers and fans a lot more than the actual debris. Secondly, the track officials do a great job and work very hard to make sure the track is clean. Maybe they should be more careful, but there shouldn’t be a long overall because of a couple of incidents.

Copple :  If one driver is complaining, they are more than likely just mad they hit the wall. But two different drivers, saying the same thing, and both hitting the wall? That might be a cause for concern. NASCAR needed to throw a caution to check for oil. Maybe they did miss some, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they did, just some bad luck on Busch’s and Junior’s part.  

Question 3
Martin Truex Jr. may feel unnoticed but he's certainly easy to see on the track...particularly towards the front of the field.

Martin Truex Jr. may feel unnoticed but he’s certainly easy to see on the track…particularly towards the front of the field.

Martin Truex Jr. seems to feel that his No. 78 team is a sleeper in this Chase, tweeting how some folks have not taken notice to them but that they’re still in the hunt. Is the speed and consistency still there for Furniture Row Racing to be a true dark horse down the stretch in the playoffs?
Courtesy of Ashley Hobbs, here's how our Chasers are faring after four races.

Courtesy of Ashley Hobbs, here’s how our Chasers are faring after four races.

Hobbs :  Stats don’t lie y’all! Why is Truex Jr. not being talked about!? There are 12 drivers alive in the Chase and he is ranked fourth on average finish. Like Logano and Edwards ahead of him, he has finished in the top 15 in every Chase race thus far. I absolutely believe the 78 team has it in them to stay alive for another round in the Chase. After the first race, the 78 team is only 7 points behind Logano and 13 points ahead of ninth place. If he can leave Kansas with a solid finish and come out of Talladega unharmed, he will continue to be the dark horse. If I were Truex Jr. I would relish the quiet because then I could continue to sneak around the field without a target on my back.

Shoppe :  Martin Truex Jr. is fresh off the best result he’s seen in the Chase so far. That tells me the speed is there like it has all year long. Overall, this 78 team has been one of the most consistent teams this season. If they can avoid trouble in these coming races, they have the speed to make it to the final four in Homestead.

Hull :  They proved last week at Charlotte that they are still in it to win it with that 3rd place finish. I think that because they are not one of the big dogs, they will get overlooked a little bit. But Ryan Newman also proved to us last year that consistency and speed is the key to making the final four.

Everyone thought that he would be out of the Chase early, and overlooked him as well. But he proved that staying consistent really pays off. I think that based on the results for Newman, this will prove fruitful for Truex. Although I picked him to be out after this round, I can definitely see him making the final four, and it would be big for this small team!

Copple :  I’m honestly surprised that the No. 78 is still in it. I expected them to be eliminated in the first round, but them again, I didn’t see Johnson not being in contention for the title after the first round either. Truex and his team has been fairly consistent this season and especially during the Chase. I could see him making it farther or even into the final four with as well as he has been running.

Question 4
Joey Logano sure loves raising that steering wheel after a win.

Joey Logano sure loves raising that steering wheel after a win.

We’ve seen how Joey Logano has won at a superspeedway (Daytona), road course Watkins Glen), short track (Bristol), and intermediate (Charlotte) this year.  How much of a dangerous threat is this youngster not only in the Chase but in the future for our sport in terms of wins and championship runs?

Hobbs :  I think he proved himself last year by making it to the final four, even though he finished fourth of the four drivers last year. He has proven himself on the track. His average finish of 8.13 is the best of the Chasers and the best period in the entire field. His four wins ties him for second best with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

Logano and Kevin Harvick are in a league of their own this season.  As long as Logano can come out of the third round just as well as he will the second (and even first round), he will once again really be a threat at Homestead, where I am sure everyone has learned from last year, and he will come out swinging for the fences.

Shoppe :  My pre-Chase championship pick was Joey Logano. I stand by that choice. That No. 22 team has been among the best teams all year and has been the only group to consistently go head-to-head against the No. 4 team and win. I think Logano could be the favorite at this point in the playoffs.

Hull :  It’s safe to say that he has found his grove over at Penske. He has done great at all of these tracks, and he can be a force to be reckoned with. But let’s be honest here, Penske and the rest of the teams this year haven’t been as consistent and dominant as Joe Gibbs Racing in the latter half of the season. I think that if Penske works out all of the kinks, then they can go for another championship again this year.

Copple :  Joey Logano will win a championship – I’d put money on that. In my opinion, he could be the next Jimmie Johnson.

Excellent job, team!  We’ve talked about the four storylines from this past week that could be something to think about heading down the stretch.  Before we get to our race picks, let’s take a look at the TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after Race 30 of 36 in 2015!
1) Ashley Hobbs – 2164 points (2 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 2139 points (5 wins)
3) Rob Tiongson – 2124 points (4 wins)
4) Katie Copple – 2118 points (1 win)
5) Cody Shoppe – 2073 points
6) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
8) Jessica Bushee – 2000 points 
Clearly, the Ashley’s have been strong, almost as if they’re drafting in tandem past yours truly but not too far behind me is Katie, who correctly chose Joey Logano to win at Charlotte.  Who’s got the winning race pick and who’ll be the one picking the grapes off of the ground like Egoraptor?  Let’s find out by revealing our race picks for today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway!
Who's got the winning combination for Kansas today?

Who’s got the winning combination for Kansas today?

Hobbs :  Well, he may be out and down, but someone is looking for a little help from the Wizard of Oz. Maybe he will give Jimmie Johnson a shiny trophy this weekend!

Hull :  My pick for the Hollywood Casino 400 is Jeff Gordon.

Tiongson :  Martin Truex Jr., you might think we may not notice you but this writer has paid keen attention on what you and the 78 team have done all year long.  Remember how close y’all came to winning at Kansas in May?  Well, put all your chips in for a victory come Sunday afternoon. You’ll ghost ride that whip or car to the Eliminator Round of 8.

Copple :  I’ve got Carl Edwards this weekend at Kansas City.

Shoppe :  Kevin Harvick is my pick to win today.

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas 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!

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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