Track Talk: A Preview of the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Call it the second race of the Eliminator Round of 8 of The Chase or Race 34 of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.  Honestly, this is the first of two races in the fall where cowboy hats and horses (or ponies for Jeff Gordon) come into play and U2’s “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” feels appropriate to listen to for this usually dramatic race.  Speaking of dramatic, hasn’t that been an appropriate word for NASCAR for the past month?

Perhaps you’ve been hiding underneath a rock and if you are, well, hello and enjoy the sunlight.  Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth perhaps tried to mimic some Days of Thunder moments with each other back at Kansas and Talladega before it came to a literal screeching halt last weekend at Martinsville Speedway.  Kenseth’s right front tire, or more like his frustration over being a human pinball on the track, contributed to the big payback crash that took out Logano from a possible win at Martinsville.

NASCAR doled out a two race suspension to Kenseth on Tuesday which was appealed twice on Thursday.  On both occasions, both appeals resulted in the penalties being upheld although the probation period was reduced from six months to being a good dude through New Year’s Eve next month.  The incident produced polarized reactions and words like driver code, fine line, retaliation, and WWE.  For TPF, it’s a topic that we’re going to talk about in a few moments!

Last Sunday’s race resulted in a feel good moment with Jeff Gordon scoring his 93rd NASCAR Sprint Cup victory (which is looked into in a spotlight article here!) at Martinsville, perhaps his finest track on the circuit.  After going nearly 13 months without a win, the win not resulted in Gordon’s epic “We’re going to Homestead” statement in Victory Lane, but it also resulted in his No. 24 team’s trip to the Championship Round of 4 in two weeks!  Perhaps the man formerly known as “The Wonderboy” will earn a new nickname: “Five-Time!”

Are you ready to see a good race at Texas Motor Speedway? Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, and Katie Copple are certainly prepared!  Might we see another Gordon-Brad Keselowski like incident with other drivers by race’s end?  Can Erik Jones, who’s substituting for Matt Kenseth at Texas and Phoenix, score his first Cup win? We’ll find out all of this and more today so let’s get to this week’s Track Talk’s Trending Topics right now here on TPF!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
I see red, I see red, I see red (and yellow).

I see red, I see red, I see red (and yellow).

It goes without saying that one of the biggest stories stemming from Martinsville and perhaps throughout the rest of this Chase is the Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth incident in which Kenseth intentionally took out race leader Logano from winning the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 last Sunday.  
NASCAR immediately dropped the hammer on Tuesday and as of press time, Kenseth will be serving a two race suspension with a probation that lasts until the end of the calendar year.  Was this the right call or do you think this was a case of an inconsistent call with all that’s happened in NASCAR lately?

Copple :  Was it the right call? I don’t know. NASCAR thinks so. The appeals boards think so. It’s a tough punishment but he intentionally wrecked a fellow driver. The only real problem I have with this is the inconsistency with NASCAR. Logano intentionally wrecked Kenseth in Kansas. NASCAR praised him.

Kenseth wrecks Logano at Martinsville. NASCAR suspends him. Danica wrecks Gilliland at Martinsville. NASCAR fines her. If NASCAR is going to praise one driver and then punish another for the same infraction, it sends mixed messages. NASCAR needs to be consistent.

Hobbs :  Well, let’s not forget that Miss Danica Patrick (finally) got a view of the book as well for her actions. 

Being an analyst, I try to observe all sides of the situation, and here is my take on Danica vs. Matt vs. the history vs. blah blah blah.
 
Kenseth: This battle involved another Chase contender, one who was still in the hunt. While Joey did “take out” Matt back at Kansas, it was not to this degree of intention. While Matt is out of the Chase, it was pretty damn obvious he was going to make sure he hindered Joey’s chances of having a shot at the title as well. By taking Matt out of the next 2 deciding races, NASCAR has taken away 2 more chances of potential, continually, payback from either driver. Does it suck? Yes. But I do agree with this situation.

Danica: Well, the poster person of NASCAR finally got what has been coming for some time now. She always seems finds a way to take a bump and run and turn it into “He’s been after me all race – I’m going to get him back!” This time, she said it and followed through. Granted, she did wrecked herself more so in the process than Gilliland so she may want to work on her retaliation efforts. By punishing her (finally!), it shows that NASCAR will do something for dangerous, bone-headed retaliations.

Overall, NASCAR does take into account the history of drivers and what their record shows. So it does go along a bit with what Kyle Busch said about the name above the door has an affect, but it also shows that NASCAR is doing something against those who think it is best to payback someone and put multiple parties in danger.

I will give a “BRAVO!” to NASCAR for doing something because they had to do something. I will say that NASCAR does need to put these sort of things in their rule book, even though they make that up as they go along. By having these actions in writing, it will be easier for everyone to know what could be coming down the pipeline. As was said after the suspension was upheld, these types of situations can never been truly foreseen. When Kyle Busch got his suspension, he got it by being involved in a different series. So, in a parallel universe, the penalties are consistent.

Shoppe :  The system of control that NASCAR has is broken. Matt Kenseth didn’t brake it yet he is being punished for it. The intentional wrecking of each other in the track lately is an unfortunate product of an over-the-top play-off format. Brian France and those around him have tried too hard to make the most exciting chase format possible. As intense and entertaining as it may be, it has caused an unintended ripple effect of mayhem that it detrimental to the sport we all love. Let’s go back to Kansas. Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 team have been one of the best teams of 2015.

At that point they had won four of the last 10 races. Without a doubt, they were among those worthy of contending for a title. In order to stay alive in this quest for a championship he absolutely had to win that race. Behind him was a guy who was invincible. Joey had won the previous race so whatever he did to Matt couldn’t hurt him because he was locked in. When Kenseth was blocking to keep his season alive, Logano decided to spin him out.

Fast forward to Martinsville. Kenseth’s title run has ended due to the events of Kansas. In Matt Kenseth’s mind, Logano took his title hopes away so he was in position to return the favor. He did what he felt was right in terms of evening a score. Drivers have a code they live by and an eye for an eye is Matt’s code.

You and I can debate weather that is right or wrong but it won’t change who a man is nor will an unprecedented penalty. I believe the decision NASCAR made towards Kenseth didn’t take these thoughts into account. They missed the point and just used their power to penalize as a way to show who the boss is. I think a one race suspension would be the max penalty for this infraction especially when you look at examples of this issue in the past.  This was a black eye for our sport we love so much and the faster we move on from it, the better.

Hull :  Honestly, this was an inconsistent call. I honestly feel like that NASCAR was trying to make an example out of Matt Kenseth. There have been other drivers (they shall remain nameless) that have done worse things, and just got slaps on the wrist. Also, Danica Patrick, made it evident that she was trying to retaliate against David Gilliland after an earlier incident, only got a slap on the wrist. I know that Joey Logano was a Chase driver, and it was hampered when Kenseth wrecked him, but the rules should be the same for EVERYONE. Danica should have had the same penalty that Kenseth had. Sadly, Kyle Busch was right, when it comes to penalties, it comes down to who’s name is on the door.

 

Question 2
Jeff Gordon's celebration last Sunday was as popular as it got in NASCAR.

Jeff Gordon’s celebration last Sunday was as popular as it got in NASCAR.

Jeff Gordon finally scored his first win of the year at perhaps a very clutch time last Sunday at Martinsville.  By taking the checkered flag at Martinsville, Gordon and his No. 24 team advance their way into the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Would you say this was surprising or were there some signs that this team making gains when it’s really mattered?

Copple :  I am happy that Gordon won at Martinsville. Going out of his final season with a win is awesome! But… this win, in no way, boosts his chances for the Championship. Yes, he is guaranteed to be in the final Chase race at Homestead. Yes, he is a former Champion.

Yes, all he has to do is finish ahead of the other three drivers left in the Chase. But we don’t know who those will be yet. Logano has been one of the strongest drivers this season. If he makes it to Homestead, he is more than likely going to be the one to beat. Gordon and his team are strong, but coming together and making gains this late in the season isn’t going to make much of a difference in my opinion.

Hobbs :  Yes and no. Jeff Gordon’s history at Martinsville is one for the history books. No other driver has done what he has done at Martinsville; the closest would be Jimmie Johnson. It does not surprise me at all that Gordon earned his 93rd career victory at Martinsville; what is surprising is how quietly he has marched his way through the 3 rounds of the Chase.

Going from a driver entering Richmond not in a secured position for the Chase to being 1 of 4 drivers competing for the championship is surprising. I have never under estimated Gordon and it seems that everyone at Hendrick Motorsports is putting all they have into the 24 team and helping them earn that 5th championship. Oh and what a fairy tale ending it would be if it were to happen…

Shoppe :  Jeff Gordon’s 93rd career victory Sunday was a big surprise. It was a pleasant surprise but a surprise non the less. It will go down as one of the coolest moments I have experienced in watching racing to see him get that elusive win in his last year! I think a lot of us, Gordon fan or not, were rooting for him just a little more this year. Gordon has certainly peaked at the right time if he wants to win the title in his last year. The drive for five is still alive!

Hull :  It was a surprise to see them finally score their first win of the season, and at the right time. Jeff Gordon will be competing for a championship during his final season. At the same time, the 24 team finally got it together at the right time, and that was during the Chase. They have had consistent finishes, and that has helped them get to where they are now.

Question 3
Erik Jones says, "Michigan, I can make you proud too1"

Erik Jones says, “Michigan, I can make you proud too!”

It was a surprise to see them finally score their first win of the season, and at the right time. Jeff Gordon will be competing for a championship during his final season. At the same time, the 24 team finally got it together at the right time, and that was during the Chase. They have had consistent finishes, and that has helped them get to where they are now.

Erik Jones finds himself with a great opportunity to impress Joe Gibbs and the NASCAR scene in the No. 20 Cup ride at Texas, albeit not in the circumstances that he or his team could imagine.  What can we expect from the current Truck Series points leader?

Copple :  I think Texas is going to be a good track for him. He does have a little bit of Cup experience, which will help, but he is also coming in to the end of the Chase where those top drivers are going to do anything to win, including running right over the inexperienced Cup driver. He is going to have his hands full but this will be a great experience for him!

Hobbs :  Well, this would not be Jones’ first appearance this season in the Cup series for Joe Gibbs Racing. Be that it is different circumstances than his first ride this year, he is a very remarkable driver that has proven himself to be smart in these situations.

He takes care of the equipment while setting the bar high for himself and learning the entire way. What more could a young driver ask for than seat time? It may not be the way he wants the seat time in the Cup series, but you better believe that he is going to milk each opportunity for all it is worth!

Shoppe :  Erik Jones will certainly be a busy guy these next few weeks. Not many young drivers get a chance to make their first cup starts in the very best of equipment like he is. Even fewer make their first four races as a fill-in driver. It is a unique and challenging situation for him but nothing I don’t think he can handle. He is one of the most talented young drivers in NASCAR. Just hope this extracurricular activity won’t distract him from the Truck series championship he is so close to earning.

Hull :  Erik Jones is an incredibly talented driver. He won the NCWTS race on Friday night, and he is in good position to win the Championship for the Truck series. There is no doubt that running a Cup car is a little more challenging than a truck, but he can do it. He proved himself at Kansas, even though he smacked the wall. He was running in the top-five before it had happened. Yesterday, he also qualified Matt Kenseth’s car in the top 10. He has the potential to do well! I believe in him!

Sweet job, y’all!  We certainly know how to cowboy and cowgirl up, I guess you could say!  Now before we say “Yee-haw” about race picks, let’s take a look at the TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after Race 33 at Martinsville:
1) Ashley Hobbs – 2291 points (3 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 2257 points (5 wins)
3) Rob Tiongson – 2232 points (5 wins)
4) Katie Copple – 2186 points (1 win)
5) Cody Shoppe – 2163 points
6) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
8) Jessica Bushee – 2000 points
Hobbs continues her hold of the points lead in The Chase while Hull maintains her second spot.  Yours truly and Hobbs scored a win last Sunday as we chose Jeff Gordon.  Katie and Cody are waging in a battle for fourth spot!  
Instead of reflecting on how our all of our exes living in Texas, let’s reveal our race picks for today’s AAA Texas 500, shall we? 
Kevin Harvick is like, oh mang, I'm surrounded by JGR dudes.

Kevin Harvick is like, oh mang, I’m surrounded by JGR dudes.

Tiongson :  I’m thinking it’ll be about flipping time for a Carl Edwards win at Texas. What says you?

Hobbs :  Well, since I have used up my Jimmie Johnson pick, and since Matt Kenseth is elsewhere, might as well put Kevin Harvick on the spot and end his streak of being a bridesmaid at Texas and punch his ticket to the Final 4!

Copple :  Kyle Busch because…why not?!

Shoppe :  Going with Kyle Busch!

Hull :  My pick for the race on Sunday is Kyle Busch.

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

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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