Track Talk: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky

Kentucky…home of a famous horse race, a baseball bat manufacturer, a fried chicken chain that said writer enjoys, and oh yes, a famed 1.5-mile speedway in Sparta.  Since 2011, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has tackled the Kentucky Speedway which was notoriously known as a bumpy, teeth grinding track that promoted unique racing action.  Today, it is a repaved and somewhat refitted race course with 17 degree banked corners in turns 1 and 2 which tends to promote a somewhat faster yet narrower style of racing than in years prior.

Those who figured out this speedway, primarily the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske efforts, will still excel at this speedway while Roush Fenway Racing looks to stage an upset (of sorts) this weekend with their steadily improving trio of Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne could be factors in this 267 lap event as they’ve found some speed with their intermediate track program.

The Quaker State 400 will be an interesting test of the proposed 2017 aero package that was put to the test at Michigan International Speedway last month.  This package tends to slow the cars down in the corners while retaining the insanely fast straightaway speeds for the drivers.  With Goodyear bringing a harder tire compound, it may give some confidence to the drivers to charge hard in the corners although it may not be the best of ideas given how treacherous and unstable the cars get in a double wide formation.

Then again, that’s why we’re writers and ultimately don’t sit in the driver’s seat.  It’s not going to be a Saturday night party of sorts for the drivers and the pit crews will likely be put to the test to adjust on those cars all evening long.  As this is the last intermediate race until Chicagoland Speedway in September, it’s perhaps the best time possible to gather as much notes this weekend to excel for a run in the Chase.

As we prepare for what should be an exciting race at Kentucky Speedway, let’s get to work on this weekend’s Trending Topics with our Track Talk team of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullCody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie CoppleSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley!

Trending Topics
Question 1
Yes, we got a little off track...

Yes, we got a little off track…

It’s time to bring this question up again. There was the perception, per Tadd Haislop’s report on Sporting News, that there were more commercials that aired during the Coke Zero 400 telecast on NBC than in most races. Did you find this to be the case and if so, what are some ways that NASCAR and its TV broadcasters in NBC and FOX could attenuate this issue while pleasing the sponsors?

Fesko :  I didn’t watch the race until the final 10 laps, so I can’t speak to the increase of commercials; however, I understand the need to pay the bills. Networks must absolutely use caution periods for commercials, and I think that TNT’s Wide Open experiment in this race a few years back was really cool. I actually paid attention to the commercials on the bottom of the screen and found it much easier to keep up with the action that today’s side-by-side box. I’d like to see more of that in the future.

Hull :  NASCAR fans can be some of the hardest people to please on the planet. They complain about FOX, and how much listening to DW is a pain. And then they complain about NBC having commercials. Having said that, I thought that there were a lot more commercials than normal. This is the first race of the year that they are broadcasting, so that could have everything to do with how they played too many commercials. Also, NASCAR relies on a lot of sponsors to make the airing of races possible. So one solution would be to do a dual screen. On one side, continue airing the race; and on the other side, air the commercials. That way, both parties would be pleased. That said, I think the NBC broadcasting booth did a great job. It was nice hearing another perspective this year.

Hobbs :  Our friends at Jayski have put together a nice comparison. Before looking at it, I too felt there were an increased number of commercials. Then again, NBC did use side-by-side as well. Now, to the figures. Last year, there were 96 commercials; this year, there were 124 which is an increase of 29.2%! Last year’s Coke Zero 400 also went a lot longer and had more race coverage (203 minutes, minus rain delays to 190 this year). For a shorter race and to increase the commercials by 30%, how did that translate to commercials of total air time? 2015 had 17.2% commercial time to 2016’s 24.7%. If anything, the racing action should have been longer because it was less (and no rain delays). NBC also decreased their side-by-side by 1 slot (5 down to 4) yet maintained the same number of commercials in that time period. All that said, this is not a good start to the coverage season by NBC. I know how this industry works and without the advertisements, there is no money; no money means no coverage, but I do not think FOX was this bad. Is NBC hurting that much that they decided to make up for it with NASCAR? Not cool NBC; not cool.

Copple :  I didn’t get to watch the TV broadcast so I can’t comment on how many commercials there were but the few times I could check in to social media, I saw a lot of complaints about it.  As someone who works in commercial television, I can see both sides.  As a fan, we want to see all of the action especially at a racetrack like Daytona. As a broadcast company, like NBC or FOX NASCAR, you want to give the fans what they want but you also need to sell enough advertising to make running the program on a national scale worth the money.  The amount of commercials that do or do not run are based on what it’ll cost to put the program on television.  As much as fans hate commercials and believe me, I hate them too, they are a necessity to keep the race on a network like NBC.

Cassidy :  To hop on the train here, yes, I found there were a lot more commercials during the Coke Zero 400. The time of commercials may not have been so bad.  However, not being able to really get into the race is what disappointment me.  The viewer was able to see a few laps at a time and that was about it.

If there is so much money to be made off of television spots, is it the fact that they are selling too many spots for a lower price?  Would it be possible to sell less spots for more money?

Shoppe :  The commercials are obviously a necessary evil. We would all like to see less of them getting in the way of the racing action. Unfortunately, we seem to be seeing more then ever before. FOX and NBC both do their best to break away from commercial breaks when a crash happens unless it is a “local break” where they aren’t able to do so. I am thankful that many of the partners have allowed the split screen ads along with the racing (NASCAR Non-Stop, or side-by-side). Unfortunately, I don’t see any real way to change things regarding commercial breaks. Without sponsors, there will be no broadcasts and we all can’t have that.

Conley :  There were more, no question, but the thing that NBC did was shortened their breaks. Instead of being three to five minutes, they were 90 seconds to two minutes.  With that being done, they had to run more, plus they had four fewer advertisers this year.  With that being said, they had to recoup their money from the others, and you’re not going to tell an advertiser last year you paid a million dollars for 50 or so 30 second commercials.  Now you are going to pay 1.5 times for the same amount and expect them to just say OK.  They were forced to run more spots to make up for the lack of number of advertisers.  It’s no fun to see those constant breaks in the action, but it’s business, and the money has to come from somewhere.  Otherwise, you’ll see 70 percent commercials and 30 percent race compared to the 32/68 percentage that we saw this past week.

Question 2
Muppets take over racing.

Muppets take over racing and Bubba Wallace’s topic of contention.

Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch’s crew chief Tony Gibson took their respective displeasure following their Daytona races on Twitter.  Wallace was nonetheless pleased with NASCAR officials’ handling of the final moments of the Subway Firecracker 250 while Gibson had not so kind words about Joey Logano’s contact with Busch on the final lap of the Coke Zero 400.  While both understandably had their reasons to be upset, is it necessarily a wise idea to take to social media with the risk of some kind of penalty doled out by NASCAR?

Fesko :  The same question was asked earlier in the year after Cole Pearn’s remarks about Joey Logano, and the answer for me is the same: social media is fair game and shouldn’t be used as the basis of a penalty. It might influence how people see you – your character is certainly open to interpretation – but I don’t think any sport has the right to penalize for speaking one’s mind in an out-of-game context. If it had been said on television during the event, perhaps – but not on a personal device after the fact.

Hull :  I think that NASCAR is going way too far in policing everything these drivers say. I think that more than everything else, they know what is going on, and have a right to say something about it. I think that NASCAR has stopped  listening to the drivers, and pretty much have been doing things their own way. I think that is what has drawn a lot of people away from the sport. They need to start listening to the drivers and let them have an opinion on things. This could help the sport if they did. Let them vent. Neither Bubba nor Tony Gibson said anything bad about NASCAR. They were both frustrated. Let them have their say and move on.

Hobbs :  I don’t think we should be putting these drivers and crew chiefs or anyone for that matter into a box. They have the right to speak their mind even though NASCAR loves to limit them speaking their mind about the sport. If someone says something bad about NASCAR in any way, the fan reaction is immediately “Oh, NASCAR is gonna fine them!” And sadly, that is true. These drivers, crew chiefs, pit crews, etc. have the right to voice their displeasure and concerns in anyway they seem fit. Do they make bad timing of certain things? Of course, but they are human. They probably go to social media because they know it will get a buzz going. NASCAR will catch wind of it and maybe, just maybe, they will listen.

Copple :  Don’t we all fall victim to this at some point?  We post or tweet something out that we probably shouldn’t in the heat of the moment and then it comes back and bites us later?  It’s bound to happen and this won’t be the last time.  It’s just a little more noticeable when you’re in the eyes of the public.  

Cassidy :  Clearly now in Bubba’s case, we can see that his actions were not liked by NASCAR.  However, I would argue that NASCAR has no reason to step in and fine him for what he said.  Although Wallace and Gibson did not express their feelings in a mature way, it was done through their own, personal outlet.  By doing so, this is representing themselves. Although they are in the sport governed by NASCAR, I believe it is wrong to create further backlash in the way NASCAR does.  In addition, Tony Gibson made some harsh comments about Logano and as a Penske fan, this frustrated me. However, I would not go out of my way to associate these comments with NASCAR as a whole, but rather as an incident and Tony himself.

Shoppe :  I think things are getting out of hand with drivers and others getting penalized and/or fined for comments made in the heat of anger after a race. Freedom of speech apparently doesn’t mean anything in NASCAR. This is an American auto racing sport, not North Korea! NASCAR needs to learn to accept some criticism in order to improve. Instead of constantly taking such offense, maybe take a step back and say hey, someone is upset about this issue, let’s take a look at how we may be able to improve. We as race fans want to hear what the driver really thinks and how they feel about something that happened on track. The sport has wonderful, colorful characters in the garage. Let’s not make them feel like they have to be PC all the time in the hopes of not getting fined.

Conley :  I think that’s exactly why we have social media. Those shots fired by Bubba and Tony Gibson are exactly what the fans want to read. Now, Wallace got himself a nice $15,000 fine for calling the officials “muppets” (which I think is the quote of the year), but NASCAR has stood firm on making comments that bring the credibility of the sport in to question. Better on Twitter than on TV.

Question 3
Bumpdrafting like no tomorrow.

Bumpdrafting like no tomorrow.

Let’s also review another aspect about last weekend’s race at Daytona, particularly with the XFINITY Series. NASCAR has enforced a rule in which drivers aren’t allowed to lock bumpers in the draft in a tandem at the plate tracks. Is it time to revisit this rule and perhaps loosen up the reins on this to promote better racing and passing opportunities for the drivers?

Fesko :  I always like the tandems. It led to more passing and looser pack racing, both of which were great for the sport (more passing is obviously good and looser packs meant less chance of a huge pileup). I’ll admit that it does take some drivers’ chances to win away as they have to stay behind the lead car, but that’s just another part of the strategy. Push ‘em out far enough and settle it between the two drivers – the finishes will be just as good as today’s.

Hull :  I think that it is time to just loosen up the reigns and let them draft some again. I am not saying that we should go back completely to the tandem drafting that occurred in 2011, but some drafting is what makes plate races fun. And it’s also helpful for the drivers too. Drafting helps them get an advantage in passing and winning the race. Whatever makes for good racing, I am up for. Just let the drivers do their thing, NASCAR!!!

Hobbs :  Clearly, NASCAR is already loose on these terms because it is clear the drivers are doing it and all you hear is the threat from NASCAR. These men and women are professionals so let them do their job on the track. NASCAR needs to get their fans and the driers back to a good place and that needs to start by loosening the grip that NASCAR has put on the drivers and teams.

Copple :  I still believe that the decision to ban tandem drafting was one of NASCAR’s best decisions when it came to super speedway racing. Does it help with the racing and passing?  Yes.  Does it make the racing more dangerous then it already is?  I believe so.

I guess the bigger question here is…what’s more important, the on-track racing product or the safety of the drivers and fans?

Cassidy :  A lot of the rules over the last few years have been generated due to safety.  I am all for NASCAR trying to produce the safest cars and style of racing they believe is possible, but that takes away from the sport. NASCAR has gotten a reputation over many years and with these new changes being made, they are starting to receive backlash. Sadly, this results in many fans choosing to leave the sport.

Shoppe :  I understand why this rule is in place in XFINITY.  This is NASCAR’s best attempt to keep “The Big One” from happening like the one Friday night which was caused from a failed attempt to push. I feel it is good to discourage tandem racing but it is impossible to catch everyone doing it. We have seen in recent races where officials will penalize two drivers for locking bumpers while another couple do the same without a penalty. They do need to loosen the reins a little and just let these guys race!

Conley :  It’s hard to say for sure as the rule certainly adds to the potential for big wrecks.  At the same time, we know the experience level of most of the XFINITY Series would struggle with this and it could be just as big of an issue and the Cup regulars who perfected the tandem drafting would use that to their advantage. The logic behind the rule is sound.  Enforcement, like so many other things, is pretty limp.

Question 4
Kevin Harvick is to Stewart-Haas Racing as Kevin Durant is possibly to the Golden State Warriors....maybe.

Kevin Harvick is to Stewart-Haas Racing as Kevin Durant is possibly to the Golden State Warriors….maybe.

We’ve seen the NBA have some blockbuster free agent signings in recent times like Al Horford going to the Boston Celtics and Kevin Durant taking his talents to the Golden State Warriors. From your perspective, what are a few “big free agent” signings that have taken place in NASCAR racing over the years?

Fesko :  Kevin Harvick’s signing by Stewart-Haas Racing immediately comes to mind. He was a big name before the change in scenery and he’s an even bigger name now. Likewise, Kyle Busch’s ouster from Hendrick Motorsports was a huge boon to Joe Gibbs Racing, and the reason that HMS had to let go of Busch? They signed Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most sought-after free agent in years.

Hull :  One of the biggest ones in the last couple of years has obviously been Carl Edwards going from Roush Fenway to Joe Gibbs Racing. He left an organization that helped start his career, and left for another team that would help him further his career. That move angered a lot of Ford and Roush Fenway loyalists, because they always felt like he would be at RFR for life. But sometimes, the need for better equipment to further one’s driving career is paramount to loyalty. The same with Matt Kenseth in 2013. He was a big free agent going off to another team as well.

And then there is also Kevin Harvick, who signed with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. His move paid off when he won the championship that same year. All of these guys were big free agents in that they were all expected to do well in their first years, and then succeeded. They are also the stars of the sport as well, so that makes them even more big.

Hobbs :  Of course Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards come to mind. Those are huge names now and they were huge name when they made a move. But sometimes your established team is not where you have the best chances and a change of scenery is good to have. Clearly it worked for Tony Stewart; heck it even worked for Kyle Busch (though it took a few years). With drivers like Jeff Gordon and Smoke retired/retiring, the question will always be there for other drivers in that age range as to when they are going to retire and what that will mean for their seats.

Cassidy :  The first one that comes to mind is clearly Kevin Harvick.  By making the choice to go over to Stewart-Hass Racing, Harvick has enjoyed so much more success. Next, I am currently thinking Clint Bowyer. This man will be juggled around for the next few years in order to secure himself a ride for 2017.  I think this situation goes to show that big names are valued in our sport and extreme situations may occur in order to keep them here.

Shoppe :  I feel like the biggest free agent signings have come in the past decade. The biggest has to be in 2007 when Dale Earnhardt Jr left DEI and went to Hendrick for 2008. The next biggest in my opinion was Carl Edwards when he left Roush Fenway. I think it adds a level of intrigue when a big name driver is a free agent and we are all wondering where he or she will end up!

Conley :  I’d go back to the Kasey Kahne move. That started a situation of bringing a driver into a camp without an open ride, parking a driver with a smaller team for a year and then moving them to where they want and need to be. It seems we’ve seen that happen nearly every year since then. As far as the biggest one, that has to be Kevin Harvick from RCR to SHR and a Cup championship.

Great Scott!  Sweet job as always, Team TPF!  Before we get to our Kentucky race picks, let’s recap how we all fared at Daytona with our race and points report!
Yours truly finally scored a win...

Yours truly finally scored a win…

...yet Kathleen continues to lead the way!

…yet Kathleen continues to lead the way!

Alright, race fans!  Let’s get to it with our race picks for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway!
Gibbs, Penske...or Hendrick?

Gibbs, Penske…or Hendrick?

Tiongson :  Why not?  It’s time to get Rowdy at Kentucky Fried Speedway with Kyle Busch taking the win.

Fesko :  Kyle Busch is my pick.

Hull :  My pick for this weekend’s race is Brad Keselowski going for a back-to-back weekend. He is awesome at this track, and can get it done!!!  

Hobbs :  Three winners at Kentucky in its history; only two teams. And those two teams have gone back and forth; so I will stick with the pattern, and the stats, and choose Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski to get back-to-back victories.

Copple :  My pick will be Brad Keselowski.

Cassidy :  I’ll go with Denny Hamlin!

Shoppe :  Joey Logano is my pick for Saturday night!

Conley :  This week in Kentucky, the home for single horsepower speed, the lucky horseshoe will return to its rightful owner and Jimmie Johnson powers to Victory Lane. (And yes, I’ve been waiting all year to use that line).

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

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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