Track Talk: Pennsylvania 400

At first glance, the immediate thought with the second NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway is how close it is from its late spring date. With these races not so far apart from each other, drivers and teams can automatically use their setups from the race in June and apply it with today…right?

Absolutely incorrect. While those setups in June can be a baseline for the competitors, the actual 2.5-mile triangular shaped speed arena is actually quite a bit different in late July. For starters, the weather conditions are generally hotter, forcing teams to focus more on grip and handling than full out speed in the somewhat more ideal track conditions found in June.

Aside from weather, consider the fact that all 40 teams today have bolstered their efforts from the June race. They saw what worked and what didn’t just a month and a half ago. Different chassis, strategies in the pits and on the track, to something as simple as confidence are some factors that drivers and teams have likely worked on for today’s Pennsylvania 400.

Naturally, the focus has been on the dominant Joe Gibbs Racing quartet for a majority of the season. Whether it’s their incredible chemistry as a whole or the research and time that Toyota Racing Development has put forth with NASCAR racing, right now, they have the speed and package that has been the winning combination. Team Penske hasn’t been too far off with Brad Keselowski having a stronger season overall compared to even his fantastic 2014 campaign. It may not be a bad idea to consider a Blue Oval racer taking the win today.

Pocono Raceway may be “The Tricky Triangle” and we might have to shift gears throughout the race.  However, with our TPF team of  Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullCody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie CoppleSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley, around, we’re about ready for race day so let’s kick off this Track Talk with our Trending Topics for the race!

Trending Topics

Question 1
Will Ryan Newman return to the 31 or will Zimbio images show more of the actress Ryan Newman?

Will Ryan Newman return to the 31 or will Zimbio images show more of the actress Ryan Newman?

Longtime NASCAR car owner Richard Childress reportedly will know more about his driver line up for the Sprint Cup Series for next season in about two to three weeks. While it’s a given that Austin Dillon and Paul Menard will return to the team, does Ryan Newman have some concerns about his future with the organization as Ty Dillon appears to be Cup bound in 2017?

Fesko :   Ryan Newman definitely has to be worried, but it is important to note that Childress’ comments about Ty Dillon did not indicate that his younger grandson would be racing for RCR come 2017. “He may be with us” aren’t words one would use if there wasn’t a serious possibility that Dillon will race for another team – say, the No. 95.  If that’s the case, then Newman can expect to come back.  If not, perhaps Chip Ganassi Racing will snatch him up for that third team rumored since last season.

Hobbs :  Absolutely it is a concern for Ryan Newman!  RCR seems poised to want his blood in those seats so unless he wants to go to a fourth car, I hope Newman has been looking around for other options.

Cassidy :  I think one of two things could happen in this situation.  First, RCR may decide to open a fourth team.  I have always found it odd how one of the most powerful men in racing only has a three car team.  However, with the Charter twist, I am not sure if this is a gamble Childress is willing to take for Ty.  I believe he wants Ty in a much more permanent position for years to come.  With that being said, Ty might go into Newman’s car, and have Ryan start the fourth team, charterless.

Second situation would be Ty Dillon taking over the third ride for RCR and replacing Ryan Newman.  With the opening at HScott with Clint Bowyer leaving, I believe they would want an experienced drive in their seat to better educate the team.  With that being said, I do not see Ryan Newman retiring for a few more seasons.

Copple :  If I were Ryan Newman, I’d be shaking in my racing shoes…a bit.  The best thing for Richard Childress Racing would be to move to a four car team when Ty Dillon moves to the Sprint Cup Series full-time.  Newman is the strongest driver in the fleet; the one with the most on-track experience.  Removing him to make room for Ty would be foolish for the organization.  Moving to a four car team would be the way to go.  RCR wouldn’t need that fourth car for a part-time run if Ty Dillon is running Cup full time.  But, if RCR were to run a three car team, Newman would be the odd man out.

Hull :  Since Ryan Newman is indeed a free agent this year, it would be easy to assume that there might be concerns. But the thing is, Ryan Newman hasn’t had bad seasons since he has been at RCR. He has made the Chase every year that he has been there, and even made it into the Final Four in 2014. If anything, Richard Childress will keep Ryan Newman and make a fourth car for Ty. Unless something crazy happens, I don’t see Newman going anywhere.

Shoppe :  Sponsorship permitting, Richard Childress’s best option is to bring back the fourth team (likely the No. 33 car) in 2017.  If RCR decides to replace Ryan Newman with Ty Dillon, they are making a horrible decision that in my opinion could be the final nail in the coffin for the historic team.

Newman, although not the most successful competitor as far as contending for wins week in and week out, is by far the team’s most successful and consistent driver.  How quickly some of us forget that it was just two years ago that Ryan Newman and Luke Lambert came within one point of taking home the title.

The consistency, composure, and all around decent runs shown by Newman and the whole No. 31 team are something I don’t see out of the other RCR teams to this point.  It has taken many crew and personal changes thrown at both the Nos. 3 and 27 teams to get them close to where the teams leading No. 31 car is.  Despite this, it does look like Ryan Newman is in jeopardy of losing his ride in 2017, showing the sad state of affairs for this once dominant organization.

Conley :  With Newman’s contract up at the end of 2016, he has to be sweating bullets right now. The performance of the team is lackluster…albeit, so is the rest of RCR.  A rookie Dillon will always trump anyone at RCR.  I’m not sure the performance will be much better.  I don’t think Newman’s career can handle another hit and loss of a ride.

Question 2
Tony Stewart is looking "Ford" to his XFINITY Series team in 2017.

Tony Stewart is looking “Ford” to his XFINITY Series team in 2017.

Stewart-Haas Racing announced plans for a new XFINITY Series team for 2017. While a driver and sponsor lineup has yet to be announced, is it likely that SHR leans towards a mix of drivers within their team or hire a full-time racer to compete for a full season schedule?

Fesko :  I feel that this will be a team that uses multiple drivers – Kevin Harvick comes to mind immediately – but the majority of the season will be run by those coming up the developmental ranks.  Cole Custer has done good things in limited NXS starts this season, and giving him more races in 2017 would be good not only for the youngster, but the team as well.  Remember, they don’t have a development pipeline.  This would be a good time to start one.

Hobbs :  I hope they hire some new talent and put some new kids in the cars.  Or if they are really devoted to keeping Danica Patrick and her marketing dollars, they should consider moving her down to the XFINITY Series where she has a better shot of better finishes and give that Cup ride to a driver who can run up front with that top equipment.

Cassidy :  I think you will see a bit of both come out of this time.  Similar to JR Motorsports, I think SHR will have a few drivers in full-time XFINITY rides, and a car of mixed drivers.  With so many long-running Cup drivers, young drivers are really having a hard time making a name for themselves.  Unlike Toyota’s development program, many other manufactures do not have this, resulting in the lack of drivers to take over in years to come.

With SHR switching over to Ford, I hope to see similar results as Joe Gibbs Racing’s XFINITY teams with a few regulars and a part-time car with Cup and other drivers.  Personally, I hope Alex Bowman is able to clinch a ride after turning many eyes filling in for Dale Jr.

Copple :  I’ve been waiting for Stewart-Haas Racing to field an XFINITY 5eam for years!  As one of the powerhouse teams in Sprint Cup, it was only a matter of time before they fielded an XFINITY car.  There are a handful of drivers who would be a great addition to the fleet.  The Decker sisters would be great drivers to consider.

Hull :  It will be awesome to see Stewart-Haas Racing venture into another part of NASCAR. With how Tony Stewart does business, I see him learning towards bringing in a mix of drivers, and giving them all a shot at a ride. It will be interesting to see who gets to drive for them. I think that Tony knows talent and he will pick some talented drivers to lead his team.

Shoppe :  It is great to hear the another top level Cup team is joining the XFINITY Series in 2017!  As long as they are planning to give opportunities to young talent and development drivers.  I don’t know about 2017, but I feel safe in saying that Cole Custer will find his way in the SHR fold sooner rather then later given his connections with the team making for a potent championship contending team should this happen.  If they decide to go with a rotation of drivers, I feel like Kevin Harvick would run a handful of races for them to help them start the team off with a good direction.  Maybe even Smoke himself could run a race or too?

Conley :  Kids of coaches always get the top position and in this case, the coach is SHR Executive Vice President Joe Custer.  I don’t see any way this isn’t a full-time ride for Joe’s son, Cole.

Question 3
Kyle Busch thanks you for continued support and he hopes you enjoyed last Sunday's broadcast.

Kyle Busch thanks you for continued support and he hopes you enjoyed last Sunday’s broadcast.

Sunday’s Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was essentially a one racer show as Kyle Busch led an all-time event high 149 of 170 laps (10 laps in overtime) en route to his second straight victory at this storied venue.  While impressive, was it a troubling sign to not see much on-track passing and battles for the lead at IMS?

Fesko :  I really don’t remember a time that IMS had tons of on-track passing and battles for the lead.  It’s just too fast, flat and narrow for super exciting racing.  It’s a historical race, for sure, but not one that people expect to be a barn-burner.  And that’s okay.

Hobbs :  This has been the case for many years now at IMS and it is sad.  This once great race has turned into a snooze fest.  I am giving all the props in the world to Kyle Busch on this win because he was unstoppable all weekend, but NASCAR has put the teams in such a box that THIS is the type of racing we now get at the bigger tracks.

Cassidy :  I feel like this new car package still has some bugs to work out!  This package seems to fit some tracks and not others, resulting in more tweaks to some tracks than others.  On one side, we could say that the 18 team set up the car better than the rest of the field.  However, considering fans’ opinions, the would rather see some competitive battles for the lead.

Copple :  Hasn’t this been the norm for Indianapolis for a while now?  Indy isn’t known for great racing with stock cars.  The fans know that, which is part of the reason there were so many empty seats in the stands.  The Brickyard 400 is an iconic race but the upgrades in these cars have made the racing stale.  Does something need to be done to make the race more exciting?  That’s for NASCAR to figure out.   

Hull :  I think that sadly, IMS is one of the more boring tracks on the circuit.  I honestly believe that since the Car of Tomorrow was introduced, racing has gone downhill.  It has been kind of a snorefest, and where one driver has dominated, or just won on pit strategy.  So it’s not that it’s a sign of trouble; it’s a sign that maybe IMS needs a new racing package, so that racing is improved.

Shoppe :  The Brickyard 400 has never exactly been an exciting race – just a prestigious one.  At this point, the fans know better than to waste their money on a show like stock cars at Indy and it is time NASCAR does something to stop this bleeding.  I say that there is nothing you can really do to improve this particular race so they should move the event to Lucas Oil Raceway down the road!

Conley :  Troubling, yes.  Surprising, no.  The lack of on track action has fans screaming for NASCAR to leave the famed speedway and with the attendance dwindling, it will one day become a loss for NASCAR to be there.  That in itself has to trouble the people in Daytona, but it’s not a surprise.  One car domination is becoming the norm at Indy. Maybe this time, the fans are right…

Question 4
Kurt Busch might be a monster to deal with at Pocono.

Kurt Busch might be a monster to deal with at Pocono.

The better late than never June race at Pocono saw a Chevrolet resurgence as Chase Elliott dominated while Kurt Busch snookered his way to Victory Lane.  Does this trend continue on Sunday especially during a time in which the Toyota teams have been the top manufacturer in this recent stretch of races?

Fesko :  Toyota has never been super great at Pocono in the past few years (Matt Kenseth’s win a noticeable aberration), but I fully expect them to make noise this upcoming weekend. Kyle Busch will be looking to make it two in a row and avenge last year’s fuel-mileage loss, while Kenseth will be a factor. Don’t count out Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, either – very strong at Pocono. Oh, and Martin Truex Jr. won here last season. Toyota will be just fine.

Hobbs :  For Chevrolet’s sake, they better hope guys like Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch can make some noise; heck, even Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon could help.  It is not like the Chevy drivers are slacking, it just appears that JGR has something better figured out than all of the Chevy teams.  But, this is a super speedway type track which we just saw Kyle Busch dominate at so would it be crazy to think he will not be a player in the Pocono game?

Cassidy :  Although Toyota has been super strong throughout this 2016 race season, I think that Ford has also been a strong competitor.  I would keep an eye out for them this week to be battling for the lead at Pocono.

Copple :  This will be another Chevrolet race weekend at Pocono.  It’ll be a Battle of the Bowtie all weekend long. Chase Elliott had a dominant car at Pocono and it wouldn’t surprise me if he has a strong car again this weekend. Toyota has had their run but this last half of the season is when Chevrolet comes to life.

Hull :  I am really hoping that Chase Elliott has learned from last time, and wins this race!  I want to take the bias off of me and say with the massive amount of talent this kid has, he is due to win a race.  I think that if he can learn from his mistakes, that he could potentially be in victory lane on Sunday.  He is having a very strong season, and it’s very possible.

Shoppe :  I think a few Chevys like Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Larson will be among those at the front of the field but for the most part, it will be a Toyota dominated day like usual.  They seem to have something nobody else has found yet and I don’t see the others bridging that gap just yet.

Conley :  This is where Chevy really needs to turn it around.  Consider that in the spring race, Matt Kenseth led the third most laps (31 of 160) and Toyota ran decent there with three in the top-14 and also how Pocono and Indy typically have similar results, especially when run back to back.  I wouldn’t jump off the Toyota train quite yet. Chevy and Ford have their hands full.

Great opening lap for the TPF team as we got through all three corners with the car intact!  Before we think about who’s driving our winning entry, let’s review how we all fared last weekend at Indianapolis!
As Stephen scores a win with Kyle Larson's top-five finish at Indy...

As Stephen scores a win with Kyle Larson’s top-five finish at Indy…

Kathleen continues to lead the way, making Canada proud again.

Kathleen continues to lead the way, making Canada proud again.

It’s about that time for our race fans to know who we’re going with for today’s Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway! Let’s see who we’ve got!
Double BK with a fury of drivers waiting to win today!

Double BK with a fury of drivers waiting to win today!

Tiongson :  Somehow, that blue numeral deuce finds its way back to Victory Lane.  Brad Keselowski will remind folks why he’s the odds on favorite to win the Cup with his win at Pocono.

Cassidy :  Last time he crashed in testing he came back to win the race that weekend – I’m going with Bad Brad! #2Crew

Fesko :  Chase Elliott, even though he’s not in a Toyota.

Copple :  Going with Chase Elliott!

Hobbs :  As for picks, TPF Stats is going Chase Elliott and I think I am gonna go to the best driver at Pocono and get some points with Jeff Gordon.

Hull :  I am going to go with Martin Truex Jr!

Shoppe :  Fresh off one of the best weekends of his NASCAR career at Indy (winning the Truck race at Eldora and top-five finishes in both XFINITY and Cup races), Kyle Larson is my pick to finally get the win this weekend.

Conley :  As much as I like Brad Keselowski to rebound from that hard wreck in testing, I think Toyota continues their dominance.  After a crash in the spring, Kyle Busch goes back to back.

That wraps it up, race fans! Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk!   We’re about ready for some racing.  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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