Track Talk: Federated Auto Parts 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 Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway!

This week, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley talk about the controversial finish last Sunday at MoSport, Elliott Sadler’s emotional Darlington win, the last minute Chase seed battles, and the surprising stories of the regular season!

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Question 1
Two sides to a story.

Two sides to a story.

Perhaps the most talked about topic from last weekend was the finish for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park between John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer.  
Coming to the stripe, Nemechek bumped Custer in the corner, attempting to root him out of the way, before they wound up side-by-side towards the stripe, both off course, Nemechek nearest to the track while Custer was up against the wall.  Was Nemechek in the right or wrong with how he went about the final lap and is he a target in these upcoming races?

Shoppe :  John Hunter Nemecheck’s “rubbin’s racing” was too far on the last lap of the Truck race last weekend.  A bump and run is one thing, but multiple hard hits followed by running a driver off the track and into the wall is no longer racing.  When you decide to stop racing and run a fellow competitor off the track for a win there is no merit in that.

Much like what Kyle Larson said, that wasn’t big picture racing by Nemecheck.  With the first ever Truck Chase approaching, there is a lot to lose for Nemecheck and nothing to lose for Cole Custer should he not make the playoffs. Whether Custer decides to pull a Matt Kenseth or not, Nemechek will constantly be needing to watch his back on the race track with possibly many of his competitors losing respect for him.  I predict one way or another, this will haunt John Hunter Nemecheck for not only the Chase but for a long time to come.

Copple :  Can I answer “both” to this question?  Both were racing for the win and doing whatever it took to get that Victory but Nemechek took it a bit too far.  Bumping and banging is all fun and games but pushing someone into the grass and up against the wall is uncalled for, even for a win.

Hull :  While John Hunter Nemechek raced dirty, and was very disrespectful, people who are whining about this are kind of hypocritical.  When Dale Earnhardt spun out Terry Labonte to win the Bristol race, everyone applauded him. But people are quick to crucify John Hunter Nemechek for doing such a thing.

However, I am not going to defend what he did either.  He could have been a little more respectful towards Cole Custer.  Custer has every right to be angry for what Nemechek did, because there are Chase implications for him.  I am unsure whether or not he will be a target these next few races or not, but he won’t be looked at in a good light.

Cassidy :  Rubbin’s racin.  Easy as that.  I think as years go on, NASCAR gets stricter with the rules when it comes to bumping and banging on the track.  However, I feel like people often forget how NASCAR started and how it became popular.

Although it is not appropriate to purposely wreck someone, due to the safety precautions, I see no problem with giving people a tap, bang or holding a line and no giving.
With this situation, one could say it got a little out of hand, but that shows the passion these young talents have to win.  In addition, this is a highly talked about race because of this moment.

Fesko :  He’s absolutely a target, and he’s absolutely in the right – provided after the initial bump he really lost control of the truck as it appears on television.  When he slammed into Custer in the grass, he was sliding sideways—something I’m okay with attributing to so much eagerness to get to the line first he just mashed the pedal and slid.  If he purposefully hit Custer down the stretch then it’s a different story, but I think we need to give Nemechek the benefit of the doubt.

Conley :  Nemechek was dead wrong.  In fact, the way that he pushed Custer out of the way in the final corner, the 00 had no momentum to carry back to the stripe.  All Nemechek had to do was drive straight to the line.  Even after they bumped on track, it was bound to be an epic finish. But Nemechek thinks, and he said, “I have to do whatever I need to do to win.”

This is not OK, especially after you just pinned a guy against the wall.  Nemechek said in an interview on Monday with SB Nation Radio that after the two made contact that he got loose on the straightaway and that is what caused him to turn in to Custer.

Seriously?  You can’t even lie well enough to cover up a bad decision.  NASCAR may not have done anything about that dirty drive but pinning a guy against the wall for a win should certainly get him a few torn up trucks before the end of the season.

Question 2
No time to be sad for E-Sad.

No time to be sad for E-Sad.

Elliott Sadler about gave OneMain Financial one of the best “thank you” gifts in all of racing by taking his second win of the NASCAR XFINITY Series season at Darlington Raceway.  The emotions that he exhibited following the win were about as pure and powerful as could be.  How much does Sadler have left in the tank as a competitive threat for wins and titles?

Shoppe :  I was pleasantly surprised to see Elliott Sadler not only get the win at Darlington last Saturday but to do so convincingly by leading for much of the race and holding off Denny Hamlin on the last few laps!  He didn’t luck into a caution flag finish, fuel mileage, or anything like that.  He just outran the best of the XFINITY Series!

I thought for sure that the best days of Sadler’s career were far behind him.  After playing musical chairs throughout most of his career with all of the top teams in the series over the last several years without finding a good match, the Virginian seemed like he be would be out of a ride altogether.  With the help of a very loyal sponsor in OneMain Financial, Sadler has made the most of this chance with JR Motorsports and I expect him to contend strongly in the playoffs this year!  I still doubt he has many wins left in him after that but but hopefully I’m proven wrong.

Copple :  Sadler is having one of his best seasons in a while.  He has some tough competition in the XFINITY Series and as one of the “veterans” of the series, he is falling behind.  This second win is huge for himself, his team, and his sponsors.  Hopefully this win at Darlington gives him the momentum he needs to finish the season on a high note and maybe even get the XFINITY championship.

Hull :  I think that this win shows that he still has a lot left in the tank to be competitive.  He is now currently leading the points and has two wins, and has had a solid year so far.  So even though he may not be one of the youngsters out there, he has proven that he is still motivated to go out there and win.  He is a very talented guy, and I think that he has a shot at this XFINITY Series championship this year.

Cassidy :  Being part of JR Motorsports has given Sadler the equipment to do well.  I think he will continue to be competitive as long as he stays driven.

Fesko :   I would’ve said nothing—even with his Talladega win—until now.  JR Motorsports is a strong team, and with the Chase, anything can happen.  It’ll be hard to beat Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez but I think Sadler might just have a real chance this season.

Conley :  Sadler is a lot like Jeff Gordon was in his final season.  Close but no cigar.  He may have a few, and I mean very few wins left in the tank.  However, there’s no way that he has a championship left in there.  It was great to see him win mainly because it’s been so long and he is a fan favorite.

NASCAR is a young mans game now and the only youth in the Sadler household are his kids.

Question 3
Elliott's quest for a Cup in his rookie season hinges on tonight's race.

Elliott’s quest for a Cup in his rookie season hinges on tonight’s race.

The battle for the final Chase spots has been one of our more frequent topics in Track Talk but it’s worth mentioning as the regular season comes to a close. Are Chase Elliott, Austin Dillion, and Jamie McMurray pretty safe or might we see some upsets happen come Saturday night at Richmond?

Shoppe :  I think this battle for the final Chase spots will go down to the last laps this weekend in Richmond. Unless Austin Dillon has some kind of issue, it will come down to a ultra-tight match-up between two consistent veterans in Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman.  These two guys always seem to find themselves in this same position year in and year out fighting to make the Chase cutoff.  While McMurray has the edge on points as of now, history shows that when it comes to making a last ditch effort to make it in, nobody is better at doing whatever it takes to pull off the upset than Ryan Newman!

Copple :  Richmond always throws some unexpected faces in to the Chase but I am confident in saying that Elliott and Dillon are safe in the Chase.  As a rookie, Chase making the Chase (see what I did there) is HUGE!  I can see him not only making the Chase the next few seasons, but winning a championship in the early stages of his Sprint Cup career.  But back on the topic of Richmond, anything can happen.  It’s the final chance to make the Chase and drivers will do almost anything to get in to the playoffs.

Hull :  That I think is to be determined.  But I do know that these guys will do everything they can to make sure that they secure their place in the field of 16 by the end of the race on Saturday night.  There will be a lot of pressure for them to make the chase.  I think that if Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon both continue to have a solid finish at Richmond, they will be able to secure their places in the Chase.  Jamie McMurray and others will have more work to do.  They need to finish better than the others trying to get in.

Cassidy :  I think upsets are always possible when it comes to the Chase.  One bad race for these drivers could mean they are out.  In addition, a win from an underdog could also be possible.  Eyes are still on Chris Buescher to see if he can get himself in the top-30 in points.

Fesko :  The first two are safe.  McMurray has to worry about a new winner knocking him out and Ryan Newman out-pointing him.  He’s usually solid on the flat tracks and has a nice streak of top 10’s going.  Unless someone surprises with a win, McMurray will qualify for his second-straight Chase.

Conley :  I’d say Chase Elliott is pretty secure as a 17th place finish gets him in.  Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray are certainly in trouble and need a lot of help.  Chris Buescher is the one everyone is watching because if he struggles or has issues, that will open up the door for a lot of the guys chasing those final spots.  With Ryan Newman’s penalty, he basically needs to win to get in and Kasey Kahne needs an act of God.

Question 4
No surprise with the surprising story thus far in 2016.

No surprise with the surprising story thus far in 2016.

As we look back on the regular season in the Cup series, what has been the most surprising storyline and which driver and crew have the most to look forward to with the Chase reset coming up?
Shoppe :  My pick for the most surprising regular season storyline has to be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s situation. When the most popular driver is sidelined for nearly half the year and is replaced partially by the retired legend, Jeff Gordon, how can that not be the biggest story? We all can only hope that next year at this time that the storyline is along the lines of how great Jr’s recovery has gone and how he has made a comeback to be a title contender in 2017!
As for the driver that I am most excited to see chase for a championship, I have to go with Smoke!  I am very interested to see just how far Tony Stewart can go in the playoffs in his last year.  Going into his last year, I thought Stewart’s chances to make the Chase were slim so the fact that he could even make the Chase, let alone, go deep into it like Gordon did last year.  Not only has he won his way into the Chase, he has shown the ability to run decent enough to be a threat to make it to Homestead!
Copple :  I’m going back to Chase Elliott. As a rookie and taking over such an iconic ride with such a powerhouse team, I don’t know if anyone was expecting him to be as strong as he has been this season.  Although he hasn’t won a race yet, he has come pretty darned close and the season isn’t over yet!Hull :  The most surprising storyline thus far is obviously Dale Earnhardt Jr. having to sit out the rest of 2016 with concussion-like symptoms. I think that even though he had been suffering with the same thing about 4 years ago, no one would have expected it to happen again. Dale Jr. is one of the many reasons a lot of fans watch NASCAR. Also, with Dale Jr. having to sit out the rest of the year, no one expected Jeff Gordon to come out of retirement to fill in for him. I think that also surprised and made some people happy.

As far as the driver having the most to look forward to the Chase coming up, that is a tough pick. I think that it’s between two or three drivers at this point. Brad Keselowski has had a solid summer so far, and I can see him being one of the Championship 4, as well as Kyle Busch, who has also been unstoppable. I can also see someone like Carl Edwards doing well this time, and making it all the way there. He just needs to shake all the bad luck first.

Cassidy :  I think the success of Team Penske, specifically the 2 crew, is most impressive.  Last year, we saw Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team struggle throughout the season.  This year, we see them at the top of the Chase board with four wins!  I think this team has the speed and momentum to be successful at the end of 2016.

Fesko :  Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have the most to look forward to, as does Tony Stewart.  For the former, it’s a chance to reset and go out and win the whole thing, and for Stewart, he won’t be trailing too much in the points so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles his first Chase in this new format.  The most surprising storyline?  On track is Chase Elliott’s quick learning curve.  Off track is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Conley :  I think my biggest surprise is Jimmie Johnson.  In the first five races, Johnson had two wins.  In the last 20, he’s had zero wins and along with his first ever last place finish and and an average 18th place finish.  Oddly enough, that has all come since he went back to the yellow numbers on the Lowe’s No. 48 Chevy.  Coincidence or not, Jimmie Johnson was the odds on favorite going in to the season to win his seventh title.  If they don’t hit on something and do it quickly, we may be talking about a second round without ol’ Six-Time.

That’s a lap around “The Action Track” and a good prelude to the dramatic final 400 laps of the regular season!  Before we reveal our race picks, let’s review how we all fared at Darlington with our race and points report!
Canadian Cassidy claims another win...

Canadian Cassidy claims another win…

...and battles for positions get all kinds of crazy!

…and battles for positions get all kinds of crazy!

Alright, race fans!  Let’s get to it with our race picks for tonight’s Federated Auto Parts at Richmond International Raceway!
Will one of these fast five score a win tonight?

Will one of these fast five score a win tonight?

Tiongson :  Seems like Carl Edwards enjoys racing at “The Action Track.”  While he already has two wins this year, it couldn’t hurt to get a third victory and add bonus points, eh?

Shoppe :  Kevin Harvick is my pick!

Fesko :  Kevin Harvick’s pit crew comes through and they win together as a team.

Copple :  My pick is Kyle Busch.

Hull :  My pick for the race at RIR tonight will be Kyle Busch.

Hobbs :  TPF Stats declares Kevin Harvick as the race winning pick while I will choose Kyle Busch!

Cassidy :  Going with Kurt Busch.

Conley :  My pick for Richmond and the final race to the Chase will see a veteran securing his chase position along with having big momentum jumping to his side for a championship run.  Tony Stewart wins in Richmond.

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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