Track Talk: Pure Michigan 400

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR as well as discussing their race pick to win the upcoming Sprint Cup race of the weekend.  In this edition of Track Talk, we preview the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway!

This week, our panel consisting of  Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullCody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley share their insights on NASCAR’s initiative for kids age 12 and under, Kyle Busch’s frustration at Bristol Motor Speedway, and the impact of William Byron’s signing with Hendrick Motorsports, among other topics!

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Question 1
More kids like that little fella during driver's introduction can enjoy going to XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races next season and beyond...for free!

More kids like that little fella during driver’s introduction can enjoy going to XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races next season and beyond…for free!

NASCAR announced on Monday that starting next season, children age 12 or under can be admitted into XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races for free.  How pivotal is this move in terms of attracting a new generation to our sport in a time when it’s working on engaging audiences of all levels?

Fesko :  This is a good move to help cut down ticket prices, but I’ll be interested to see if it brings new fans into the sport.  Right now, I’d expect existing fans with children to take advantage of this offer, but will potential fans consider the offer?  Based on the promo, it would have to be children – the ones getting in for free – making the push to get their potential fan parents through the gates.  It’s a great strategy for cereal marketing, but will it work in NASCAR?  Time will tell.

Copple :  Bravo NASCAR for finally doing this.  Charging admission for young kids into these races is pointless.  It’s already so expensive to go to a Sprint Cup Series race that parents and families can’t afford to attend a full race weekend.  Hopefully with this new change, it will help get younger fans to the tracks with their parents. Besides…more kids at the tracks means more money spent on food, drinks, and souvenirs!

Hull :  I think that this a great move on NASCAR’s part.  It is really hard for families to go to the races these days because of the expense of tickets and the total cost of going to the races.  This would be good for families and for kids to get more involved in the sport.  However, there are other expenses that need to be cut (i.e. the hotel room rates, concessions, etc.) to make things more affordable.  But NASCAR is attempting to move in the right direction with this.  I think it could possibly get kids more involved in the sport.

Cassidy :  I feel like this is strongly important. As a child, my family couldn’t afford to go to races because kids were an adult price at most race tracks.  Once we decided to go to a race for the first time, we could only afford the Cup race.  If this was around when I was younger, my passion for NASCAR would have grown stronger faster.

However, I am unsure how this will allow NASCAR to make money, which is currently a struggle.  Will they raise the price of adult tickets yet again?  On the bright side, more people will hopefully be in the stands because of this.

Hobbs :  I think this is a great idea.  For years, Dover had a similar plan in place and I think it works.  A lot of people stop going to races because the price of tickets adds up quickly.  By letting the young fans in, families can be able to afford a NASCAR race a lot easier.  Make the move to Cup and you have a golden plan!

Shoppe :  This decision to give free admission to kids 12 and under to XFINITY and Truck races is a great move by NASCAR!  This is a great incentive move to get more families to come out to the track and hopefully help with attendance for the XFINITY and Truck races.  It is very important for NASCAR to try to acquire as many young fans as possible to help set up a successful future for the sport.

Conley :  All I can say to this is, it’s about time.  Kids have been able to get in to R rated movies easier and at a lower cost than NASCAR for too long now.  This is big for the future of the sport.

Question 2
Making progress in the stands, now it's about making progress for the fans.

Making progress in the stands, now it’s about making progress for the fans.

On that same tangent, are there other initiatives that NASCAR can work on with its industry partners to catalyze attendance and perhaps lure fans into making cross country trips during the season?

Fesko :  Travelling costs a lot of time and money, so it’s very hard to get people to move cross country.  Perhaps starting a rewards program with a track passport you can get stamped will be a good way to entice fans to visit other places, but again money talks.  Maybe offering all-inclusive ticket packages with savings could be a good incentive rather than having the fan to figure out travel, hotels, food, tickets all by themselves.

Copple :  Getting more fans to races should be NASCAR’s number one priority for next season.  One thing they could do is offer more race packages, complete with hotel rooms, possible food options, transportation to and from the track and ticket packages, ones in varying price levels.  Make it easier for fans to get to the tracks without having to make separate purchases for everything.  Make it simple…and make it at a discount…and fans will come.

Hull :  As I alluded to in the first question, it’s not really on NASCAR’s end to fix; is the price of hotel rooms.  That is one reason that fans won’t come to race anymore. T hey have to make a choice to either make sure their family eats, or go to a race.  It’s sad.  I think that NASCAR taking the haulers away had a big impact on attendance too.  A lot of the fans loved going to the haulers and interacting with the people who worked at them.  That made it enjoyable for a lot of fans.  Maybe bringing them back wouldn’t be a bad idea.  It’s not that the racing has been bad at all.  It’s just things are too expensive and there isn’t a lot of accessibility for fans these days like there used to be.

Cassidy :  I feel like NASCAR needs to look at many ideas.  For example, maybe a discount price for people buying tickets to multiple races or some sort of package deal by speedway corporations.  Also, I think more fair hotel/ticket packages are needed for a number of tracks that have a bad reputations for expensive hotel rooms.

Hobbs :  One thing I think NASCAR needs to move on is partnering with hotel chains in getting great rates for fans. I work in an industry of revenue so I understand why hotels do what they do; but as a consumer, I am not a fan.  I always believe that if you make something affordable, you will get more people than making it really expensive.  So, if NASCAR can join forces with say, Best Western, Hilton, or anyone, that is a partnership that will be a success for NASCAR, the hotel chain, and really the fans!  By making a race more affordable and making the traveling more affordable to fans, I am sure more ears will perk up at the idea of getting back to the track.

Shoppe :  When I think about reasons why fans may choose not to make the trip out to the race, I look no further than the previous race weekend for both NASCAR and IndyCar!  Both Bristol and Pocono had rained out race days. The risk of spending all that hard earned money on a race and then having it rained out when you may not be in a position to stay until Monday (work or other commitments) is a big factor in a fan’s mind.  Although we cannot control the weather on race day, I like how some tracks like Texas and Atlanta have issued weather guarantees meaning discounts or money back if weather is bad. I think strategies similar to this would help all around with this issue.

Another idea I had while watching the rain delay was if tracks had some kind of full-field driver autograph session under the stands whenever the race is either going to be postponed or delayed indefinitely.  The drivers are all bored anyway so let’s do something to thank the fans who did stick it out with them through the rain!

Conley :  I think the biggest thing NASCAR has to do for attendance is work closer with the hotels.  It’s impossible to come to a race, try to stay anywhere close to the track, and leave with your butt intact.  The expense there has made many fans refuse to come.  Your couch is much cheaper plus I think they really need to work on the schedule. It used to be fans would attend multiple races in a row due to the proximity, a lot like the present day West Coast Swing.  If it was affordable for camping or hotel stay, then you would see more of the “regulars” at the race track.  For now, it’s one and done.

Question 3
Not part of the Kyle Busch Show.

Not part of the Kyle Busch Show.

It’s pretty evident that Kyle Busch was not a happy man following his less than stellar finishes last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Is this a sign of a man ready to succumb to the pressures of his recent struggles or just a blip in his championship season defense?

Fesko :  Kyle’s always worn his heart on his sleeve.  I don’t expect this to derail his momentum – in fact, he’ll use it as motivation.  He’s learnt a ton the past year or two, and it’s served him well.  Expect his emotions to return to normal by Michigan.

Copple :  Kyle Busch always seems to throw a fit when he doesn’t do well in a race.  Does he have a right to be upset?  Yes.  But, come on man…it’s going to happen!  Kyle and his team are one of the strongest groups in the Sprint Cup Series and he will be one of the championship contenders at the end of the season.  I understand being upset at a bad finish but lighten up a bit.  You’re in the Chase and this wasn’t a Chase race.  Chill.

Hull :  I don’t think that he is ready to succumb to the pressure.  It’s just a sign that the old Rowdy is back.  While I must say that he didn’t really act gracious nor very maturely, it is a sign that he has the fire in his belly.  I hope he chooses to channel it in a different way.  Instead of throwing tantrums, he needs to have that maturity that the possessed last year, and use it to his advantage.  He needs to realize that racing is feast or famine, and not every race is going to go your way.  He just needs to calm down and focus more in my opinion.

Cassidy :  I feel like Kyle Busch was unhappy at Bristol of a number of reasons.  Kyle made mistakes on his part all weekend, as his frustration did not allow him to take ownership of them.  In addition, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time in other events.

In order to defend his championship, he will need to own up to his mistakes and learn from them to come back with a vengeance.

Hobbs :  Nope.  This is the time of year when people start taking chances and things might not pan out.  I fully believe that Kyle Busch will be contending for the championship this year.  No matter how strong a team is, there is bound to be a time when things just do not come together (just ask anyone at Hendrick Motorsports).  A bad finish here or there should not indicate anything for Kyle Busch; he will bounce back quicker than a fresh rubber band!

Shoppe :  Kyle Busch continues to show the fact that he has little to no class or composure when it comes to handling disappointment in comparison to most other drivers.  While this is nothing new for Kyle, he really doesn’t have much to be upset about when looking forward to the Chase and his title defense.  He is in the best cars, driving for the best team right now, and he can go out and win on any weekend.  He was dominating the Bristol race on Sunday when the car broke.  Yes, Kyle Busch should be upset after his surefire win turned into a DNF, but his bad attitude and name calling towards Justin Allgaier just adds to the reasons he receives so many boos each weekend.

Conley :  It’s a blip and it happened on a short track with what can be considered his biggest foe.  He had a chance to win and was taken out.  Anything less than furious would have been a questionable response.

Question 4
Future's so bright...

Future’s so bright…

William Byron will join the Hendrick Motorsports outlet next year, starting off with JR Motorsports’ XFINITY Series operation full-time.  What will this young man bring to HMS that could benefit the organization in the long run and is this a sign that Rick Hendrick and his team are thinking big picture with their veteran lineup?

Fesko :  Hendrick is thinking big picture and this signing is a huge boon to the organization.  With Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting older and Kasey Kahne running mid-pack, the only future the team has right now is Chase Elliott and whoever it can poach from other Cup teams.  With Byron, it can build for the future in-house. Byron is just as talented as Erik Jones, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put up even better numbers in his XFINITY Season that Jones has this year.

Copple :  I think adding younger drivers to the HMS line up is a fantastic idea.  It brings in fresh faces and fresh fans and gives these young drivers the chance to learn from the very best drivers in the sport.  Add in the great equipment and the endless opportunities to learn and William Byron has a great future ahead of him.  If he grows with HMS and learns all he can from the four drivers in the fleet, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the coming seasons.

Hull :  William Byron is a very talented young man.  In the Truck series alone, he has five wins, and is leading the points.  He has proven that he is one heck of a wheelman, and can drive a race car.  He will be a good fit for this organization because they are all talented as well.  Eventually, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Dale Jr, will all retire, and Byron will take one of their seats.  He does have the potential to be the next Jimmie Johnson and he will bring both youth and talent to this organization.

Cassidy :  I think this is finally a sign that Chevy, or Hendrick at least, is thinking about a driver development program.  I believe this is in the best interest of every team to have backup drivers in case someone gets hurt.  This could ensure if drivers are hurt, they will be replaced with a person within the organization who deserves the chance.

Hobbs :  Bringing youth is great and hopefully this will be a great collaboration between HMS and Byron.  As a fan, I am always looking for fresh faces to get a shot at glory.  We all know I am also a fan of limiting the Cup drivers in the lower series (or eliminating them all together).  By seeing these young drivers get contracts, it gives me hope for the future of the sport.  And when Rick Hendrick signs someone, he is fully behind them.  Hendrick knows talent so you can be certain he is grooming this young lad for the major leagues in a few years.

Shoppe :  Signing William Byron is a great move for Hendrick Motorsports!  This shows how they are looking to the future and building a strong lineup for the years to come!  With young Byron joining Chase Elliott on the Cup team in a few years, HMS will be just as strong as ever, even if by that time, we see the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jimmie Johnson retired.

Conley :  It shows longevity.  Dale Earnhardt Jr is on his way out probably sooner than later.  Kasey Kahne has not performed up to any type of standard and Jimmie Johnson may just be on the downhill slide of his campaign.  It’s time for a youth movement and they’ve got one guy in camp that qualifies.  William Byron might just be the real life “sliced bread” and perform up to the standards that are expected at Hendrick.

That’s our opening lap around Michigan International Speedway!  Before we get to our race day picks, let’s review how we all fared at Bristol with our race and points reports!
O, Canada...

O, Canada…

..close points racing all around before the Chase reset!

…close points racing all around before the Chase reset!

Who shall make their manufacturer happy near De-troit City?

Who shall make their manufacturer happy near De-troit City?

It’s time!  Let’s do it to it with our race picks for today’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway!

Tiongson :  Chase Elliott was too hard on himself following his fantastic runner-up effort during the June race. He will win his share of races and contend for many titles with the Hendrick Motorsports outlet.  Today, he’ll redeem himself by driving his way to the winner’s circle.

Fesko :  Joey Logano for the win.

Copple :  Going with Joey Logano.

Hull : I pick Joey Logano for the win!

Cassidy :  Bad Brad Keselowski‘s first home track win, please.

Conley : Brad Keselowski takes Ford to Victory Lane in their backyard.

Hobbs :  TPF Stats is proud to choose Carl Edwards this weekend!

As for me, while Carl Edwards seems to be a solid pick, I am going with the guy was has finished second the past three visits to Michigan in August.  Kevin Harvick will improve his position by one this time!

Shoppe : Denny Hamlin is my pick.

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. 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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