Track Talk: Bojangles’ Southern 500

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 Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway!

This week, our panel consisting of  Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley talk about Kyle Larson’s much anticipated inaugural win in the Cup series, Chase Elliott’s close calls to Victory Lane, Kasey Kahne’s make or break seasons, and the best throwback paint scheme for tonight’s NASCAR classic!

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Question 1
1 for 99...and a second win is now in pursuit!

1 for 99…and a second win is now in pursuit!

Kyle Larson finally scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win in his 99th career start when he took the checkered flag at Michigan International Speedway last Sunday. How much of a catalyst will this victory be for Larson and his 42 team heading into the Chase and for the immediate future with this racing effort?

Copple :  For one, this race win was huge.  There were many experts and fans who were expecting him to win in his first year and here he is nearly 100 races in to his Sprint Cup career and just getting his first win.  I’m glad he finally made it to Victory Lane because he has come close oh so many times only to have it slip away.

Secondly, he is going to have to win a few more racing before I consider him a weekly contender for race wins or even the championship but…if he stays consistent and has great finishes all 10 races in the Chase, he could take the championship.  The final race isn’t about who wins the race…it’s about who finishes the highest out of the final four.

Fesko :  It’s definitely the shot in the arm Larson needed. After a stellar rookie season, Larson hasn’t done all that much and people were starting to wonder if he would pull a Joey Logano and need a change of scenery to re-start his career. Well, Larson might leave CGR one day, but it won’t be because he’s under-performing. He’ll be a real wild card in the Chase. While I don’t expect him to win the title I could see him in the Round of 8 battling for a spot in the finale.

Hobbs :  The first win is always the hardest. Since his rookie season, I always said his first win would be on a super speedway, specifically calling out Atlanta and Michigan.  I am glad a race finally came together in full for Larson. Now that the monkey is off his back, I sense more wins rolling in.

Hull :  I am so glad that Kyle Larson finally won a Cup race, because he and his team have been working so hard to get that first win.  With the exception of a few incidents of bad luck, the 42 team has had a great season.  But this win will give them momentum into the Chase.  Winning and getting into the Chase will help motivate them to do greater things. If  they don’t get it done this year, Kyle Larson will at some point in the future, because he is truly a talented and rising star within the series!

Cassidy :  Michigan was a huge win for Larson and the 42 team!  That team has been consistent for many races both this and last year.  Now they are locked in the Chase which takes a lot of stress off the team!

Conley :  I think this win will be huge for Larson and maybe for CGR as a whole.  We’ve seen before when a driver gets that first win, the floodgates tend to open.  The pressure is finally off, he knows he can close the deal, and the way he did it on that final restart shows they have the speed and the cars to do it.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Larson or maybe even Jamie McMurray go on and take the win this weekend.

Question 2
Is Chase Elliott's heart on his sleeve approach good or bad for his racing efforts?

Is Chase Elliott’s heart on his sleeve approach good or bad for his racing efforts?

Chase Elliott and his No. 24 team put together a solid race effort that nearly netted them their first win together on Sunday.  Should Chase ease up on himself and realize he’s got the package to win on any given race day or is his frustration somewhat understandable?

Copple :  Chase Elliott is a rookie. I think a lot of people forget…himself included, but because he is so good and has come so close to winning this season, people assume he should be in Victory Lane. Elliott still has a lot to learn in the Sprint Cup Series and while it isn’t out of the question that he could grab that checkered flag before the season is over…he still has a lot to learn.

Fesko :  Elliott has two huge chips on his shoulder—being Bill’s son and serving as Jeff’s successor. That’s more pressure than most of us will ever face, so the frustration is understandable. What he needs to realize is that these things take time. Jeff Gordon didn’t win in his rookie season, and Elliott is knocking on the door. Take that as a good sign. But don’t lay off the frustration as that’s a key part of Elliott’s personality. It would be like Kyle Busch getting rid of his ultra-competitive spirit. It might be a detriment at times but he’d be worse off without it.

Hobbs :  Chase Elliott is his own worst enemy.  He clearly has set high standards for himself and he has since the Daytona 500.  When the team hit a rut in the summer, he still had those expectations.  I think he could ease up on himself a bit, but it is always great to set goals for yourself.  I just hope he knows how good he actually is. 

Hull :  First of all, all drivers are hard on themselves to some degree. Racing is a cutthroat sport and the pressure is on everyone to succeed and do well.  All drivers want to win and do well, so they are terribly hard on themselves.  But sadly, Chase Elliott is taking it to a whole other level.

While I admire that he doesn’t throw his team under the bus when he doesn’t win, and takes blame for everything, he is way too hard himself.  Aside for a few weeks of bad luck, he has had such a solid rookie year.  He has come close so many times, and he will get there.  If not, he will do well in the Chase (no pun intended, ha).  He is a definitely a rising star, and will succeed! So he  needs to have fun with it more.

Cassidy :  Although his frustration is understandable to a point, I think Chase Elliott needs to check his emotions if he wants to win.  Being at the race, Elliott’s behavior towards fans and media following the race was not acceptable, which makes his image look bad.  A driver or team will never win with a negative attitude and drama.

Conley :  He needs to talk to the guy that just beat him and find out what being hard on yourself and putting that much pressure will do to you.  Larson was so hard on himself after his initial close calls.  You have to get out of your own head to win in this series.  He has to realize that it will happen and just go back to that typically “calm Elliott” demeanor that he and his dad are known for.

Question 3
Kasey Kahne was quite candid about his racing future.

Kasey Kahne was quite candid about his racing future.

Kasey Kahne was candid about his Cup performance and how he needed to step up his performances or that he’d need to leave the 5 car in 2018 if he’s not improved.  Is next year a make or break season for the 2004 rookie winner?

Copple :  It seems like Kahne has been going downhill every season. His performance on track has not been impressive. He is rarely contending to race wins and running for a team like Hendrick Motorsports, that is unacceptable. He needs to step up his game, 100 percent! With the team and equipment and team he is running with, he should be contending for race wins more often than not and that isn’t happening. I’ve been fairly disappointed with his No. 5 team the last few seasons. I am glad he is giving himself this ultimatum. Hopefully, things take a turn for the better in 2017.

Fesko :  Sure, although I’d have said the past two seasons were make or break as well. Kahne has under-performed and with drivers like William Byron and even Larson wanting a shot at a top ride he needs to start winning races to prove he belongs in the car.

Hobbs :  Yes. In a multi-car organization, there is always a best and worst and sadly, Kahne is Hendrick’s worst driver. And sadly for him, it has been that way for a while. Is the chemistry not there any more with Kahne and Hendrick? Is there some crew misalignment? Whatever it is, the 5 crew is behind and if Kahne cannot step it up as a driver, he will be on his way out.

Hull :  Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much success from Kasey Kahne in the last couple of years. I am unsure whether it’s a performance issue, or just team issue, but Kasey and the 5 team need to pick things up. Kasey isn’t getting much younger, and there are other younger and talented drivers that could possibly replace him. For Kasey to be making a strong statement like that, he is really feeling the pressure. As I mentioned earlier, racing is a competitive sport, and if you don’t step up your game, you could be out of a ride. I think that maybe he needs a crew chief change as well, to help re-invigorate the team and his spirits. But the fact is, that things are looking troublesome for Kasey, unless he improves next year.

Cassidy :  100 percent, this and next year are make or break years for Kasey Kahne.  He has not performed well in the No. 5 car for the past two years and has sunk to a “behind the scenes” driver.  Although Hendrick has not been performing strongly this season, in past years, we still have seen the No. 5 car produce results until 2014.

Conley :  I think next year is just a formality.  Anything less than a championship for Kahne will see him out of the No. 5 ride.

Question 4
Which throwback wins it all...in design?

Which throwback wins it all…in design?

Let’s talk Darlington for a moment, particularly with the throwback paint schemes. Which one takes “Best in Show” in your opinion and why?

Copple :  I love McDowell’s throwback to the No. 3 Kansas Jack paint scheme!!! No real reason…I just love it!

Fesko :  You’re making me pick one!? Oh Rob, you rascal! Let’s go with … the Tide Ride of Matt Kenseth. I love Tony Stewart’s scheme, and Jamie McMurray’s is pretty sweet too—I’m also partial to Carl Edwards and Joey Logano’s rides (see what I’m doing here?), but the Tide colors are iconic and one that I’ve missed the past decade. Oh! Can’t forget Regan Smith’s No. 7. But yeah, the Tide Ride is my ultimate choice. Final answer.

Hobbs :  At first, I saw Kyle Busch and memories returned. Then I saw Kenseth’s and the nostalgia sank in!  For the nostalgia reason, I would say that Kenseth’s Tide paint scheme wins best in show with an honorable mention to Kyle Busch.

Hull :  This is the toughest question that I’ve had to answer in Track Talk history, because they are all awesome in their own way.  This is one of my favorite races of the year because we get to see all of these cool throwback paint schemes.  But I think my favorite out of all of those would either have to be the Tide car of Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards’ tribute to Tony Stewart’s 1999 Home Depot car.

For one, the Tide car looks pretty sweet and looks like Ricky Craven’s old car.  And since Carl Edwards is my favorite driver, I love his, but not for that reason alone.  I think it’s cool that he is paying tribute to Tony Stewart who is really a legend to this sport.  Not to mention, the car looks really sweet as well too.

Cassidy :  With a bias, I love Brad Keselowski’s throwback Miller Lite paint scheme.  In addition, Matt Kenseth’s Tide car is bringing back a classic paint scheme from DW.

Conley :  There are many great paint schemes this weekend.  It’s like memory overload.  A couple of them really stood out to me and I’m a little personally biased with Ryan Reed’s paint scheme, especially with the fact that Sam Bass did that one up and his connection with diabetes.  The tribute to Bobby Allison, a car run just before I was born, is a nice gesture by the No. 16 team.

Another neat throwback from the XFINITY Series is Dakoda Armstrong’s No. 28 Tribute to Davey Allison with the Texaco star on it.  If we hadn’t lost Davey Allison, I may have never cheered for Jeff Gordon.  This is an awesome tribute and seeing Larry Mac next to that car and Liz Allison’s comments about it just brought about a ton of emotions out.

As far as the Cup series, that’s like picking my favorite kid but I have to give it to Greg Biffle and the Hooters machine, even with the the Underbird logo on the front bumper.  My overall tops goes to the No. 28 for a tribute to Davey Allison.

That’s one lap around this 66-year-old NASCAR staple and we’ve yet to earn a Darlington Stripe!  Before we brush the wall or find our way into Victory Lane, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway with our race and points reports!
Yours truly netted the win at MIS...

Yours truly netted the win at MIS…

...while the battles for first and third are as close as the real on track action!

…while the battles for first and third are as close as the real on track action!

Alright, ladies and gentlemen!  Let’s get to it with our race picks for tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway!
We assure you these aren't Robot Masters in a new Mega Man game.

We assure you these aren’t Robot Masters in a new Mega Man game.

Tiongson :  It’s appropriate that the old yellow and blue colors that David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt drove in 1979 return to the track that’s “Too Tough To Tame.”  Jimmie Johnson snaps Hendrick Motorsports’ “long” dry spell from Victory Lane with a pivotal win at Darlington on Sunday night.

Copple :  My pick is Jimmie Johnson.

Fesko :  Tony Stewart gets that elusive Southern 500 race win.

Hobbs :  TPF Stats has Carl Edwards.  I’ll be going with Denny Hamlin for the win!

Hull :  I will have to go with Kevin Harvick for this race!

Cassidy :  Going with Martin Truex Jr!

Conley :  My pick for the Southern 500…since it’s a throwback weekend, let’s go with a throwback driver.  In the Gray Ghost, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon wins in a fill-in role.

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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