Track Talk: A Preview of the Duck Commander 500 at Texas

Everything is apparently bigger in Texas which means the happiness factor, probability of high speed, and of course, physical rigors that’s a part of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing will be more prevalent at this 1.5-mile speedway.

Physical factor?  Yes, they just came off a physical race at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday, a short track that definitely brings out tempers at times for the finest of stock car competitors.  However, there’s always something about the spring Texas Motor Speedway race, whether it’s on its original Sunday afternoon time slot or its current place on Saturday night, where the action jumps up a notch or two.

Is it because of the fact that this is the first night race of the season?  Possibly.  Pre-race activities in practice sessions and qualifying are held at somewhat different times versus that of the actual race although the track schedule this time around would’ve pleased Star Trek‘s Spock in being logical.

Drivers actually got to work on their cars during similar race conditions at dusk.  Based on the happy hour practice speed charts, it could be a race where the usual favorites will battle with some surprises.

Does that sound a bit like last Sunday’s race at Martinsville?  If it does, that’s all the more reason to be excited about the Duck Commander 500 tonight!  With that said, it’s about time for us kick things off with Trending Topics here on Track Talk with our TPF team of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull,Cody Shoppe, Jessica TowKathleen Cassidy, Katie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley!

Trending Topics

Question 1
Bearded and tougher?

Bearded and tougher?

We saw some close quarters racing between Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Paul Menard during the STP 500 at Martinsville.  Following the race, Dillon expressed regret with what he said over the radio.  Would you consider this a situation brought on by short track racing or Dillon going through growing pains in his path towards becoming a consistent front running Cup racer?

Hobbs :  Por que no las dos?!

I think Dillion is finally hitting on something. After a few years of frustration, he is seeing the light and does not want anything to stop him. But on Sunday, what we saw, was good old fashion short track racing. We have seen teammates go at it before and words said that may not have been truly meant, but that is all a product of short track racing. We have seen the greats of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson ruffle fenders and feathers at Martinsville, but once the dust settles and the Monday meetings roll around, things are usually pretty much cleared up.

Conley :  We’ve seen Dillon have outbursts at his teammates before, so it’s not new, but I think it’s certainly enhanced at Martinsville. Dillon has one of those fiery attitudes that some fans a drawn towards and not taking anything off of teammates and racing them hard is a quality that is enjoyed and remembered vividly that specific car number. Dillon is certainly coming in to his own and if his teammates are racing him that hard, it’s only going to make him better to race at the front of the field.

Cassidy :  I think that Austin Dillion faces a lot of pressure within the Cup series. We have not seen Dillion as successful as many would have anticipated, and I assume this is very frustrating for him. Within the Truck and Nationwide/XFINITY series this young racer was used to being competitive and winning races. However, in the Cup series, we have not seen these results for Austin Dillion.  For this reason, I believe the altercations over the weekend with Paul Menard were pure frustration.

Fesko :  This is clearly a situation of short track racing. Tempers always flare at these kinds of tracks and Dillon found that he isn’t the exception to the rule. Plenty of drivers, front running of back-marker, get angry during these races, and as long as they don’t try to take matters into their own hands and ruin a driver’s chance at a title, NASCAR doesn’t care. In fact, the suits in Charlotte and Daytona probably love it, as it gives the sport some personality that it sorely lacks.

Shoppe :  I’m guessing Austin’s strategy for winning races is if he whines as much as Kyle Busch he’ll start winning like him too. It seems like each week Austin Dillon is going off about something new on the radio. It’s pretty simple to see that he has no argument in that run in at Martinsville with his RCR teammate Paul Menard. Regardless, a driver has a right to vent his frustration on the radio in the heat of competition so we can’t judge too harshly. Austin has some growing up to do in my opinion but I expect him to continue to perform well this season.

Hull :  Look, EVERY driver has been upset with another driver at some point in his/her career. This is nothing new, especially with short track racing. I think that everyone picks on Austin Dillon because they think he is nothing but a spoiled brat, and they feel that his career was given to him by his grandfather. I think no matter what, drivers get upset. He even expressed regret and possibly apologized for it. So I just chalk it up to nothing but good ole’ short track frustration. It doesn’t matter who you are, you would get upset too.

Copple :  I think it’s a little bit of both. You’re going to have close quarter racing and bumping and running at a track like Martinsville. That’s unavoidable! But also, Dillon is at a point in his Sprint Cup career where he needs to be showing improvement and he hasn’t always been consistent with that. He has a big legacy and name to live up to. Not only is he driving for a big name like Richard Childress, but Childress is his grandfather. Dillon has a lot on his shoulders just with those two things alone. I can see some great things coming from Dillon but he and his team need to work out the bugs and Dillon needs to get more comfortable racing with the best of the best. He is on the right track (no pun intended) and his frustration at Martinsville shows that he wants more and will work to get it.

Tow :  I think this stems from a little bit of both. As Austin continues to run towards the front, I’m sure that it has changed his outlook and hunger for remaining competitive and trying to go for wins to secure his spot in the Chase. However, Martinsville is certainly a place where tempers flare and personalities come out. This whole situation was just simply a racing deal where Austin was caught in the heat of the moment due to the competitive nature of his environment.

Question 2
Win on Sunday...

Win on Sunday…

Who would you say is the top performing driver for each manufacturer so far this season?

Hobbs :  To the stats board!!!!! (http://thepodiumfinish.net/2016/04/crunching-the-numbers-duck-commander-500-at-texas/)

Chevrolet: Jimmie Johnson, no brainer
Toyota: Kyle Busch and his entire squad over at JGR (but Kyle leads the way)
Ford: Joey Logano edges out teammate Brad Keselowski when it comes to this battle of teammates

Conley :  Toyota: Even though he’s without a victory, he’s been the strongest so far not just manufacture, but overall. Matt Kenseth.  For Chevy it can only be Jimmie Johnson and the Ford lead goes to Joey Logano. I’d have to say those three will be the ones the field will be contending with all season long.

Cassidy :  Ford: With a win and ticket to the chase, no doubt Brad Keselowski!

Chevy: Although Kevin Harvick has a 4 point lead, I think I am going to have to go with Jimmie Johnson still. Jimmie has two wins already in the season and is well on his way to claiming a seventh Sprint Cup Championship.
Toyota: Kyle Busch hands down.

Fesko :  For Chevrolet, it’s got to be Jimmie Johnson. You could go with Harvick based on the amount of laps he’s led but Happy can’t seem to close the deal, even coming close to losing at his best track at Phoenix. Johnson, on the other hand has won twice, both historic wins coming at tracks that are tough to drive at. In the Ford camp, you’ve got to say it’s Brad Keselowski. A win and four top-10 finishes are solid numbers through six races. And for Toyota, it’s defending Cup champ Kyle Busch. He just picked up a Chase-qualifying win and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down the rest of the season.

Shoppe :  Chevrolet is pretty easy. Kevin Harvick is number one as far as the bow ties go. Despite his finish in Martinsville this past weekend, he’s been the most consistent driver period. The top Toyota driver has to be Kyle Busch. He’s not only the defending champ but number one in power rankings, third in overall points and seems to be the most consistent Toyota Driver. Ford is a tough one. Although Brad Keselowski is the only blue oval driver with a win, I’m going to say his teammate Joey Logano is the top Ford driver so far.

Hull :  Toyota: No question it’s Kyle Busch. He won last weekend, and has a great season with his consistency this year. Plus, he is the defending champion. So no question, he’s the face of Toyota!

Chevrolet: This is a toughy, and a toss up in my opinion between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is currently leading the points. However, Johnson already has two victories, and could win his 7th championship. So I will say both Harvick and Johnson.
Ford: Again, this is a hard one, simply because with the exception of the Penske boys, Ford hasn’t been all that consistent. However, I will say that Joey Logano is the top performing driver so far. He hasn’t won a race yet this season, but he is holding his own, and within the Top 5 in points. He has been very consistent as well.

Copple :  Jimmie Johnson: Chevrolet

Kyle Busch: Toyota

None: Ford

Ford really surprises me. They have one win this season in Brad Keslowski but other than that, their appearance at the races this season has been sub par at best. Rookie Ryan Blaney has shown some promise driving a Ford but there isn’t one stand-out driver who has really been up front this season.
As for as Chevrolet and Toyota, they have been leading the pack, so to speak, every weekend. They each have multiple wins so far this season and are fairly equal when it comes to drivers up front and battling for the win.
Needless to say, Ford needs to step up their game!

Tow :  Ford: Brad Keselowski – With four Top 10 finishes and one win at Las Vegas, Keselowski is the face of the Ford Racing stable so far this season. While teammate, Joey Logano, is close behind and rookie Ryan Blaney has continued to run consistently well during his first year campaign, Keselowski has shown that he is the frontrunner.

Chevy: Jimmie Johnson – With five races complete Jimmie is our current points leader. He has secured five straight Top 12 finishes, with two wins coming at Daytona and Auto Club. He is no doubt face of Chevrolet’s on-track performance, at least for the time being.
Toyota: Kyle Busch – Sometimes drivers win Championships and slump the following year. But Kyle Busch does not fall under that category as he picked up right where he left off last year. Although he missed the first third of the racing season last year due to injuries, he has proved to himself and everyone else that he earned the right to be given the title of 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. Other than his tire issue towards the end of the race at Auto Club, Kyle has four top 5 finishes and one win from last weekend’s race at Martinsville. Kyle, and the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, are certainly forces to be reckoned with on a weekly basis.
Question 3
So will the real Danica Patrick please stand up?

So will the real Danica Patrick please stand up?

Danica Patrick had a competitive Sunday going before placing 16th in the STP 500. Can we expect more from her and crew chief Brian Scott in these upcoming events as a front running driver come race day?

Hobbs :  No. And I shall leave it short and sweet at that.

Conley :  No, Danica has always been strong at Martinsville because of the way it has to be raced. She’s able to keep the car under her and not pushing an extreme edge, it takes a little less “finesse” to get around Martinsville than some other tracks. We should be back to seeing “typical Danica” results this week at Texas. Fabricators got their week off – back to work on the 10 car.

Cassidy :  Although Danica Patrick had a 16th place finish on Sunday, I think she still has a long way to go before being competitive. It appears as though a black cloud of bad luck follows the 10 team around throughout race seasons. In order to be more successful, the team needs to see less crashes throughout the season.

Fesko :  I don’t think so. Patrick has always done well at Martinsville, so seeing her finish 16th was, honestly, expected. I think the more telling story of her day was falling from the mid-top 10 in the running order to 16th. That doesn’t bode well for her; if you run high on your best track and fall backwards for no apparent reason, there’s an issue. I don’t think you’ll see Patrick running well on tracks that she hasn’t already done well at.

Shoppe :  Danica did a great job at the paper clip last weekend. I think she had a car better then her finishing position showed. She always seems to surprise people at Martinsville. She has done a pretty decent job this year salvaging the weekend after a dismal qualifying run. If her Billy Scott led crew can find a decent qualifying setup for her Nature’s Bakery Chevy, I think she could continue to contend for top 15’s. She has a top 10 at Kansas in the past and if she ever has a shot at an upset win, Talladega is the place (coming right up)!

Hull :  Danica (like her or not), seems to be improving some, so we may see some good things out of her, especially if she exhibits a more positive attitude, which needs more work in my opinion. But she can be all over the board, so we shall see where things end up with her.

Copple :  I was so disappointed to see that Patrick had fallen back in the pack in the closing laps at Martinsville. Short tracks like that are her forte and she excels at them and that was evident for a good portion of the race. Patrick is a talented driver with the capability of being a top-15 driver every week. I think a big downfall for her is the constant switching and changing of her team.

Since Tony Gibson moved over to Kurt Busch’s team, Patrick’s progress and growth has stalled. But with Scott, I think that is going to change. These two seem to mesh really well together. Will we get the same dynamic as the Patrick/Gibson pairing? Hopefully.

I believe Patrick, if she still had Gibson, would be a top-15 driver every week. But that’s just my opinion. Looking at how she and Scott have worked so far, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Let’s just hope Stewart-Haas Racing doesn’t move him to a different team next season.

Tow :  Danica is well on her way toward becoming a front-runner, but I don’t think that her No. 10 team is there quite yet. They still have a lot of work to do, especially considering the obstacles that Danica has been challenged with so far this season between wrecks, fines, and the like. Don’t count Danica out, but don’t expect top finishes or runs on a consistent basis. Those will happen in time.

Question 4
Somebody was a high school senior during the 2004 season...

Somebody was a high school senior during the 2004 season…

Texas has played host to NASCAR Sprint Cup races for the past 19 years. What’s been one of the most defining moments at this 1.5-mile track that’s helped establish its reputation as the “Great American Speedway?”

Hobbs :  I think anything in the south loves  to establish itself as the “thing” of America. I would not call the Dallas Cowgirls, sorry Cowboys America’s Team, and most of the NFL loving community would agree to that statement. Would I call Texas Motor Speedway the Great American Speedway? No, I would not; come on, that title goes to Daytona International Speedway (which has many other names!).

But on the topic of what gives Texas Motor Speedway its reputation is the fact that it is a mile and a half in length yet it posts some of the fastest races we have seen to date. Do you remember Michael McDowell’s qualifying run in 2008 that left everyone with the jaws on the floor after he snapped loose and obliterated his car? That speed you normally find at your plate tracks and your super speedways, but it is not common for your cookie cutter mile and a half tracks. The way a driver can carry speed is insane, and sometimes the result of that is not pretty.

Texas Motor Speedway can continue to be the fast track of the south (that does not require a restrictor plate), and it may be defined as American because of where it is located, but it is not quite the Great American Speedway in my books.

Conley :  Just surviving that first race. The weepers were a problem as that sent many contenders to the garage early, plus the nighmares of getting in and out of the track for fans. Texas has not been what I call the best “race.” It’s without question one of the best facilities for fans, but the racing hasn’t been the greatest. So the fact they managed to survive that first year, develop and turn in to a great place for fans to go with race cars has helped. I personally think the “Great American Speedway” is a little too hyped for this track.

Cassidy :  As much as I don’t want to admit it, one of the biggest moments for Texas Motor Speedway was the race being named after Duck Dynasty. This family has created an empire from a reality television show, and naming a race was just another aspect to add for them. I strongly believe that the Robertson family have attracted a larger fan base to Texas Motor Speedway through their track appearances and involvement with race weekend.   

Fesko :  I look back to Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler’s battle for the win in 2004. That was a fantastic finish for the track – the vet Sadler holding off the rookie Kahne for his second-career victory, and Kahne showing the current stars that he’d be a force to be reckoned with.

Shoppe :  My favorite Texas Motor Speedway moment has to be the nail-biting finish between Elliott Sadler and then rookie Kasey Kahne in the 2004 Samsung/Radio Shack 500. (Look it up on YouTube if you missed that one, its worth checking out.)

Hull :  There have been a lot of defining moments that Texas Motor Speedway has had. I think for me, one of the most defining moments was during the 2011 Chase when Tony Stewart won the race. Tony Stewart, who was struggling for the better part of the year, up until the Chase, which he miraculously made, solidified his chance even further to win the championship. So him turning his season around was one of the most defining jobs here at TMS.

Copple :  Texas is Jimmie Johnson’s track. Looking at track statistics, that’s the big, obvious, you really can’t miss it, fact. It’s a big track that puts on a great show every year and brig out some of the best NASCAR fans in country. It’s hard to pick just ONE moment in the history of Texas Motor Speedway, but I’ll just say this…

It should be renamed “Jimmie Johnson Motor Speedway.”

Tow :  In addition to the “Great American Speedway,” Texas is appropriately named the Wild Asphalt Circus and it never fails to live up to its moniker. Eddie Gossage and his team have gone way above and beyond to market and publicize elements that pertain exactly to the image that they have wanted the track to have.

My favorite defining moment comes from 2014 when Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon took advantage of “Boys, have at it” and got into it on pit road after Gordon (essentially) was eliminated from contention in the Chase for the Championship. That whole situation was absolutely insane but certainly something that most of us won’t forget for a very long time.

Sweet work, team!  Spring has truly sprung at TPF and we’re bringin’ it!  Before we reveal our race picks for tonight’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, let’s look back at the results from Martinsville and take a gander at the points standings heading into Round Seven of 2016.
Sean Fesko survived the carnage at Martinsville...

Sean Fesko survived the carnage at Martinsville…

...and that carnage shook things up with our points race!

…and that carnage shook things up with our points race!

Perhaps it’s redemption time for a lot of the TPF Track Talk team…so let’s look at our picks for tonight’s race at Texas Motor Speedway!
It comes down to a quartet.

It comes down to a quartet.

Conley :  My pick for this weekend at Texas…Brad Keselowski.

Hull :  My pick to win the race this weekend is Kyle Busch.

Cassidy :  I feel like I have to say Jimmie Johnson because of the amount of times he has won at Texas (why not).

Copple :  I’m going to go with the left field pick here and go with Jimmie Johnson!

Tiongson :  Yellow is back and in this case, Jimmie Johnson won’t turn into Marty McFly when that word is tossed at him.  Instead, he’ll be happy and likely in Victory Lane at Texas!

Fesko :   I can’t choose against Jimmie Johnson.

Shoppe :  I’ll be going with Jimmie Johnson.

Tow :  Jimmie Johnson is my pick tonight!

Hobbs :  TPF Stats points to another victory for Jimmie Johnson this season and extending his streak to four in a row at Texas Motor Speedway.  I am going to jump ship, again, from who is on top of the leaderboard when my stats all finish up and look just below who is ranked first; Carl Edwards might just find victory. I wonder if he can do a back flip while shooting off some six shooters. (Last weekend: Ashley’s stats had Jimmie Johnson as the favorite…however, she went with Denny Hamlin. Ultimately, the stats prevailed +32 over her pick….we will keep track of this to see if it’s instincts or numbers that win all!)

 

That wraps it up, race fans! Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk! 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. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, 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, you’ll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

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.

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