Track Talk: Bad Boy Off Road 300 at NHMS

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 Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley reflect on Martin Truex Jr.’s pivotal victory at Chicagoland, the sudden burst of speed from Hendrick Motorsports, the ever changing penalty system, and what one can expect today at Loudon!

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Question 1
Wins equals stickers which means smiles.

Wins equals stickers which means smiles.

Martin Truex Jr. flexed Furniture Row Racing’s muscles once more with their third win of 2016, taking the checkered flag at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday. Do they keep up their winning ways en route to their first Cup championship?

Copple :  I’m just going to come right out and say it: Martin Truex, Jr. and the Furniture Row Racing team are going to be in the final four at Homestead.  He has a real chance to win this championship.  He and his team have been strong all season and his appearance at Chicagoland was no different.  Although they are guaranteed a spot going in to the next round, I don’t see this team slowing down and taking it easy the next two weeks.

Hobbs :  Best in class is MTJ so I expect nothing less than amazing runs from this group!  The only thing that can hamper their awesome season is themselves.

Fesko :  Yes, I think they can do so.  Their Chicagoland win was due to a little good luck at the end of the race, something the team has largely lacked this season.  If they can keep that mojo up throughout the next nine races, they’ll be a factor for sure.

Shoppe :  I think that Martin Truex Jr and the No. 78 team will continue to perform well throughout the Chase and will contend for their first championship.  The 78 team has shown that they are one of the fastest every single week without much of any slumps.  I think that their bad luck is behind them and this single car team will prove to be one of the dominant players in this year’s Chase.

Hull :  Martin Truex Jr. has indeed peaked at the right time.  There are some people who will argue that he could very well win the Sprint Cup this year.  I am one of these people.  He has been having a strong showing here as of late, and could very well prevail as the Champion as long as they don’t have any more issues with inspections.  They need to quit pushing the envelope with that, and just be more conservative and follow the rules.  But it seems like their bad luck is finally behind them.

Cassidy :  I think the No. 78 team is strong.  However, they are not consistent enough in these 10 weeks to win the championship just yet.  When we look at the tracks in The Chase, Truex has finished in the top-five at a few, but most have resulted in a top-20 finish.  A team needs to be consistent throughout this whole playoff season, or they will not be there come the final round.

Conley :  This has been one of the best teams on the mile and a half tracks all season.  If they can manage a strong finish this weekend, albeit having the win already in tow, they don’t have to worry much.  This team could almost run away with this title if not for upcoming races at Martinsville and Talladega.  They have the team, car, and driver to do something special.  Momentum is certainly sleeping on a Denver Mattress.

Question 2
Might it be double trouble for the Chasers with the 48 and 24 cars finding speed?

Might it be double trouble for the Chasers with the 48 and 24 cars finding speed?

It was clear that the Hendrick Motorsports efforts found tremendous speed in Race 1 of The Chase, particularly with Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott.  Did this powerhouse team sandbag during the regular season or a case in which they did their homework in recent times to become formidable contenders for the title?

Copple :  And people were worried that Jimmie Johnson was struggling this season… psh… I wasn’t worried! Johnson and the No. 48 team were in The Chase early in the season so they didn’t need to worry about winning races.  They needed to focus on their Chase set-up and that is exactly what they did leading into Chicagoland.  Never count Johnson out.

As for Chase Elliott, I am more and more impressed with him every week.  I know I have said this before, but I can see him winning a race this season and even making it far into The Chase.  Chase might just be our youngest Sprint Cup Series Champion here soon.

Hobbs :  Sandbag might be a bit harsh, but HMS is known to start the season well, get into a slump in the summer, and then hit the Chase season with a bang.  With two very capable drivers in The Chase, we all know the money and power are behind the 48 and 24 camps for the remainder of the season.

In particular, the 48 camp knows this game very well and I never count them out and I do not know why people get so concerned when Johnson does not run well through the summer because they usually eat their words once the Chase starts.  Sure, Johnson might not have had the finish last weekend but he did that to himself; that is not to say the speed and power are not there because they are!  Power to the 48 crew!

Fesko :  Elliott didn’t sandbag one bit as he had to fight his way into the Chase on points.  Johnson, like always, won early and had the rest of the regular season “off,” if you will.  It seems as though the No. 48 always loses speed over the summer only to get it back when The Chase comes.  Sandbagging?  Maybe.  Smart?  Sure.

Shoppe :  I don’t think that Hendrick was sandbagging this regular season at all.  When they struggled, they really struggled.  I think, especially with the 48 team of Jimmie Johnson, they were just trying things to prepare for The Chase for most of the season.

This is a team that locked themselves into the playoffs early on and had the rest of the year to try different things to be prepared for The Chase.  The 24 team of Chase Elliott have run well throughout the season so it’s not a surprise to me to see both these Hendrick Chevy teams performing well when it counts early in the playoffs.

Hull :  I think it’s safe to say that they have peaked at the right time.  Every Hendrick car had a strong showing at Chicagoland this weekend, even Alex Bowman.  If they can continue this momentum going forward in The Chase, they could have one or two of its drivers go to Homestead as the final four.  But they need to be consistent. Consistency is key to advancing along.  They can’t have any bad luck come their way.

Cassidy :  100 percent, I think this organization sandbagged during the regular season.  With the No. 48 team for sure, we saw them get their two wins, and then suddenly became less competitive as time went on.  With the No. 24 team, we saw a level of consistency with a few minor bumps but just enough wiggle room to slide into The Chase.

Conley :  I have to say absolutely, especially with the 48.  Chase Elliott has just been progressively getting better so I believe they were constantly working, and the 88 without Dale was in trial mode, no question.  When you have all four in the top-seven at one point and finish in the top-12 after not getting it done at during the regular season, if they weren’t sandbagging, they found luck that even a golden horseshoe couldn’t provide.

Question 3

Question 3
Da, da, da, da, da, inspect the Chasers, da, da, da, da, da, da....woo-hoo!

Da, da, da, da, da, inspect the Chasers, da, da, da, da, da, da….woo-hoo!

NASCAR made some adjustments to their penalty system prior to the start of The Chase.  Does this make some teams, particularly those in The Chase, opt to be more conservative in avoiding any penalties or suspensions or do they stay the course with pushing the envelope to maximize their chances of winning on race day?

Copple :  Why are we making changes?  What’s the point?  I don’t agree with NASCAR making changes to the rulebook just before The Chase.  Keep the rules the same as you have the entire regular season and just enforce them for once!

Hobbs :  NASCAR changes rules way too much and it is what is killing the sport.  They need to set the rule book at the start of the season and if they want to change, they can do so in the off season.  Period.  The Chase is not the time to start fiddling with rules.  It is their own fault they did not make the rules and think about everything at the start of the season.  To change the rules now just show a lack of, well, everything up the chain in NASCAR and they really need to get their act together and quit changing rules every few weeks.

Fesko :  Since this question was asked, NASCAR has again changed the penalty system to get rid of any penalty below a P3.  So Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, while illegal at the end of the race on Sunday, are no longer considered so.  This allows teams to push the envelope without fear of repercussions below a certain tolerance. Call it the new normal.

 Shoppe :  Honestly, I think they’re just trying to keep up with the penalty situation.  It seems like every week, NASCAR is going back and forth on what merits what penalty.  One week, a laser platform failure leads to the loss of a win bonus and the next week, there is no penalty at all.  Regardless of how you feel about the penalties, it’s getting hard to keep up with all the changes.  I know many race fans are getting quite confused with the constant changes lately.  Hopefully, this week’s changes are the last for a while and we can just focus on the great racing!

Hull :  If I were the crew chief, I would make sure that my team followed the rules.  You cannot afford to lose points and be set back now.  I would hope that they stay within the rules and try to think about their chances at a championship.  I think it does give a lot of teams some pause.  But there are going to be some teams that try to push the envelope and hope that they don’t get caught, in most cases, they will, but they probably won’t get penalized.  It did show this week when they weren’t consistent with their rulings in not penalizing Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex.  Some teams will see that and try to not get caught.  Hopefully people will follow the rules, because it looks like after this weekend, NASCAR will be more serious about it.

Cassidy :  I think after week one, we saw teams ignoring the rules that they set into place before The Chase.  With violations already taking place after Race 1, and failing to give penalties to teams, I think NASCAR already has made a mistake.

It is argued that the 78 team did not pass inspection by an incredibly small amount.  However, it was still enough to be off by a bit.  If a sport where everything comes down to the smallest millimeters, seconds and so on, NASCAR already made a poor decision.  It shows that they are not willing to stick behind their rules in all causes, meaning teams will push the barrier and hope to have the same luck as the 78 team.  Moving forward, NASCAR now needs to ensure they are not picking favorites with teams or we can see some messy business.

Conley :  I think after the decision to get rid of the lower laser measurement and penalty opens up the opportunity to push the envelope now.  With the realization that teams were doing something ”hinky” after seeing all the swerving, I’d say that envelope has been opened and I’m all for it.  Crew chiefs are salivating.

Question 4
Will Kenseth three-peat at Loudon?

Will Kenseth three-peat at Loudon?

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has seen some unusual moments occur in its recent Chase races, such as Matt Kenseth’s win last year following Kevin Harvick’s late race fuel mileage snafu and Joey Logano’s victory in a crash marred fall event in 2014.  How do you see this race playing out and might we see a driver snag their first career Cup win at Loudon on Sunday?

Copple :  Loudon is such a fantastic race!  There is always excitement and wrecks and with it being a Chase race, the stakes are even higher.  I don’t if we will see a new winner but I think we will see some major contenders get into some trouble before the weekend is over.  I think, in general, we will see some upsets in these final nine races leading up to the Championship race.

Hobbs :  Let me look into my crystal ball to get this answer

Fesko :  The race will be a crazy one, that’s for sure.  Will we see a first-time winner?  Probably not, although Chase Elliott could play spoiler.  Will we see a surprise winner?  Perhaps, but teams will have to push past Matt Kenseth to get to Victory Lane.

Shoppe :  I definitely think that New Hampshire will produce another exciting Chase race this weekend.  Restarts especially will be exciting, as drivers like Kevin Harvick need to make up ground and Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart try to stay above the cut line.  After this race, we will know who is looking good to advance and who will be a dreaded must win situation.  As for a first time winner this weekend, I doubt it happens today.

Hull :  The Chase in itself contains a very unpredictable series of events.  With so much on the line, we see things we never thought we would see.  Yes, it’s very possible that we could see Chase Elliott win this weekend.  And if not this weekend, it will be sometime this year.  He has been too good not to have a win.  We will have an exciting race on Sunday, I believe.

Cassidy :  With New Hampshire, you never really know what you are going to get.  I think fans need to be prepared for a last lap lead change and know any driver up at the front has a chance!

Conley :  Fuel mileage.  Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” should be Loudon’s official theme song.  It seems like Sunoco fuel is always key in winning here.  I expect some good racing, but in the end, who is good to the last drop will reign supreme.

Four laps are in the books and we’ve yet to make the typical Boston reference yet!  While we still have your friendship, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Chicagoland with our race and points report!
A familiar points leader won another race...

A familiar points leader won another race…

...will Cassidy keep up her winning ways?

…will Cassidy keep up her winning ways?

We’ve reached this point of our weekly NASCAR preview so let’s cut to The Chase with our race picks for today’s Bad Boy (for life) Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!
Rest assured, Alex Bowman isn't as gigantic as he seems here.

Rest assured, Alex Bowman isn’t as gigantic as he seems here.

Tiongson :  Kyle Busch returns to Victory Lane and claims another lobster.

Fesko :  Alex Bowman for my pick…why not?  He had a good run going there in the summer.

Shoppe :  Going with Kevin Harvick today!

Hull :  My pick for today is Brad Keselowski.

Copple :  Matt Kenseth is my pick to win it!

Hobbs :  Matt Kenseth has been pretty lucky lately, so let’s go for three in a row! (TPF Stats projects Brad Keselowski is back on top (per tracking TPF, even though BK was the pick last week, it will remain this weekend’s pick as well).

Cassidy :  Matt Kenseth is my pick!

Conley :  Moving on to the Round of 12 will be Matt Kenseth as he wins his third race at “The Magic Mile.”

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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