Track Talk: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 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 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway!

This week, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley talk about the heated tempers from last Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Speedway, the return of Matt Tifft, the young lions in the Chase Grid, and memorable moments at Chicagoland Speedway!

Trending Topics
Question 1
And you thought kids playing with Hot Wheels was tricky stuff.

And you thought kids playing with Hot Wheels was tricky stuff.

Richmond saw some tempers flaring last Saturday night, with Matt Kenseth expressing some displeasure towards Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman speaking harshly about Tony Stewart.  Is this a sign of things to come in The Chase with the stakes getting higher or short track frustration that’ll fade away in time?

Hobbs :  I think the Newman/Stewart issue will be resolved well before the Kenseth/Keselowski because that rivalry is old, never was resolved, and will never completely go away.  I think we will see another Kenseth/Team Penske tiff throughout The Chase this year.

Copple :  Matt Kenseth is not going to let things slide with Keslowski but will he retaliate?  I think The Chase means too much to either of them to risk wrecking each other and ruining their chances at a championship but this will be something that carries out over The Chase as a whole.  I think we will see a little extra bumping and banging between the two.

Same goes for Newman and Stewart although Newman isn’t in The Chase.  He theoretically has nothing to lose.  But it wouldn’t be The Chase if someone wasn’t going in to this 10-race championship run without some hostility!

Hull :  Tis the season for rising tempers…fa..la..la..la..la, la, la, la, la!

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, I believe the frustration and drama isn’t going to end anytime soon.  As we saw last year with Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth, we can see what happens when the pressure is mounting for these Chase teams.  Drivers will take some drastic measures to ensure their spots to move forward to the Championship round.  The stakes are high, and the drama will be even higher.  As a fan, I can’t wait to see what goes down this year.

Shoppe :  I absolutely think this is just a sample of things to come in The Chase!  With the pressure on these drivers to make it happen each round, I expect to see tempers flaring much like we have seen the last few years with this Chase format.  I predict more harsh words, paybacks, and post race altercations to come as the field of Chasers narrows.

Cassidy :  We’ve seen the Kenseth versus Keselowski battle or more recently, the Kenseth versus Penske conflict before.  I don’t think this issue is going to go away.  However, we have learned from past years that we can’t put it beside Kenseth to act on his anger with retaliation.

With the Stewart versus Newman situation, I was shocked by the interviews that followed.  These two have been noted for years as friends off the race track.  For this reason, I believe that this feud will not continue.
At the end of the day, this is what NASCAR wants and how they gain viewers.  Activities like this make last year’s Chase “successful” in many eyes.

Fesko :  It’s mostly short-track frustration.  That isn’t to say that the tempers won’t die down though—they’ll get hotter and hotter as the Chase continues.  Will anything come from this past weekend’s moods?  Probably not.  But drivers are already getting antsy.  Should be a good 10 weeks of racing.

Conley :  The incident with Stewart and Newman, I’d say, are just short track frustrations, as there was so much pressure on Newman with needing to win and get in, plus his job is on the line.  Those two are friends.  That is the definition of a heat of the moment incident.  Kenseth and Keselowski, I’d watch that one.  It could rage on.  Those two don’t take anything from anyone and they’ve had issues before.

Question 2
Welcome back, Matt!

Welcome back, Matt!

Matt Tifft will make his return to NASCAR competition when he gets the start in the No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra entry for this Friday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway.  How emotional will it be for Tifft to clamber back into the driver’s seat following his brain surgery procedure just a few months ago?

Hobbs :  I think this lad will get so much love and praise!  He might not realize the magnitude of coming back until he gets ready for driver intros and strapping in those belts.  To come back from brain surgery and get right back to what you love is just amazing.  I am sure many folks will be rooting for him to see a great return and show great strength.  He is definitely a feel good story of the year and hopefully some great things come for him.

Copple :  This will be an emotional weekend for sure for Matt Tifft.  He went through a terrifying and unexpected ordeal and came out on the other side.  Getting back in to the car has been his goal from the start and he is finally getting there this weekend.  But he needs to take it slow and worry about finishing the race and not just winning.  It’s his first time back in the car since the start of the season.

Hull :  Brain tumors are nothing to joke about.  This could have been cancerous and could have ended Matt Tifft’s career.  Thankfully, it wasn’t and could be removed.  A lot of people are amazed by his recovery, because it has been great so far.  It will be very nice to see this man get back into a race car.  He has been through so much, and he truly deserves to be out there racing again!

Shoppe :  It is so great to see Matt Tifft make such a quick recovery to return to the driver’s seat this weekend!  Just getting the chance to drive in a NASCAR race again will be like a win for the young driver.

Cassidy :  I think it will be great, not only for Tifft, but the NASCAR community as a whole.  To see someone overcome such a scary moment in their lives and find their way back to racing, it just shows how NASCAR can be a huge family.

Fesko :  I think if emotions play any roll in Tifft’s night, it’ll be from him thinking about how much differently things could have gone with his health.  To return from brain surgery just a few months later is amazing, and that won’t be lost on him.

Conley :  This is a story, I think, that needs to be covered more than it has been.  It’s an amazing story of fight and the will to overcome.  It’s going to be emotional for sure leading up to the race and after.  I for one am excited to watch him make this comeback.

Question 3
AD3 is pretty happy to be a part of The Chase party. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

AD3 is pretty happy to be a part of The Chase party. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

This year’s Chase field sees new faces like Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Kyle Larson making their debut in the postseason fight.  Of these four, which young driver stands the best shot at making a true championship run?

Hobbs :  Oh man, a true run, eh?  I am torn between veteran Kyle Larson and rookie Chase Elliott.

Chase Elliott has been outstanding in his rookie year, and Kyle Larson finally broke through with a victory and has shown great speed and momentum these past few weeks.

So, if I had to choose between these two, I give the edge to Larson because he is a veteran, he now has the taste of victory, and he has momentum going strong!

Copple :  Can I pick two on this one?  Elliott has been impressive this season.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him advancing pretty far into The Chase and maybe even capturing a win before the season is over.

Larson, on the other hand, finally got his first Sprint Cup series victory that he has been so desperately looking for.  If he can stay consistent, I think he too can make it a few rounds into The Chase.

Now, if I had to choose one of the young guns that could potentially make it to Homestead, that would be Chase Elliott.  He has been consistent throughout the season and he is running on Hendrick power.  Plus, he has six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson as well as Jeff Gordon in his corner.

Hull :  I see Kyle Larson having the best chance out of the quartet to have a good championship run.  Ever since his win in Michigan, he has had the fire in his veins.  He has gone out there and done a great job since that win.  I think that if he continues to have that drive and determination that he had these last three weeks, he could very well be a championship favorite.

Shoppe :  It is great to see some new faces in The Chase field this year for sure.  Of the four Chase rookies, I think Kyle Larson is really the only one that has the momentum to go far in these playoffs.  Larson has been running as well, as he and that No. 42 team have since they started together.  While Chris Buescher and Austin Dillon are lucky to make their first Chase appearances, Chase Elliott has been a easy contender to make it in all year.  As of late, Elliott hasn’t shown that he and the No. 24 team can make it to multiple rounds.  I believe that Larson is the only Chase rookie hitting on all cylinders heading into the final 10.

Cassidy :  I think Kyle Larson will be the young driver that goes the farthest in the Chase.  Larson and the No. 42 team are one of those teams that have been consistent since the start.  I believe this aspect will be important during The Chase.

Fesko :  Elliott and Larson have the cars and talent to make a deep run.  Dillon will be solid but unspectacular, and Buescher will be lucky to move beyond the first round.  I think Larson’s win a couple of weeks back gives him the confidence to go farther than Elliott.

Conley :  I don’t believe any of them will this year.  Once you get in to The Chase, you have to know how to play the game to perfection.  Strategy, both on pit road and on track, as well as decision making during the race has to be better than during the regular season.  I’d be surprised to see any of these four in the final eight this year.

Question 4
Was this really 10 years ago?

Was this really 10 years ago?

Let’s talk a bit about the Chicagoland Speedway and how they’re celebrating their 15th anniversary as a NASCAR racing staple.  Which race stands out to you from this 1.5-mile venue and what can we expect on track during Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400?

Hobbs :  There was that time that a legendary driver named Jeff Gordon won his first race in 2006 (wow, it was that long ago?).

As for this week, I am keeping my eye on Kenseth versus Keselowski and see if those bad feelings are going to resurface and make trouble for someone.

Copple :  I loved the 2013 race!  Rain delayed this race and it started later than scheduled and then it was red flagged for something like five hours because of rain.

The race ended under the lights which was something new for the first race of The Chase.  Other than the rain, nothing too exciting happened but the rain added a new element to the first race of The Chase in 2013.

Hull :  The one memory that stands out for me about Chicagoland Speedway goes all the way back to 2011.  Tony Stewart, who barely made The Chase that year, goes out and wins the Geico 400.  This not only was a huge win for him after barely making it into The Chase, but it was a catalyst for that huge comeback championship run he had against Carl Edwards.

He won the Ford Ecoboost 400, and won the championship despite having some early race troubles.  We could also expect the same out of someone else who had a troubling start to 2016…to go out and have a great championship run.  Chicagoland is a great place to start that run!

Shoppe :  Since 2011 when Chicagoland started to be the first race of The Chase, we have seen some great performances at this 1.5-mile track.  I think of Tony Stewart beginning his amazing championship run in 2011, or Brad Keselowski taking the fight to the seemingly unbeatable Jimmie Johnson in 2012.  I expect this weekend’s race to be exciting as well as we find out who has truly risen to the challenge as The Chase begins.

Cassidy :  Brad Keselowski’s success at Chicagoland Speedway can not be overlooked here.  Winning in 2012 and 2014, even year end numbers may I add, and consistent finishes, show that he knows his way around this track.

As for this Sunday’s race, I hope to see some great racing with an even better finish.  The Chase is all about excitement and we need races to match this.  Thankfully, The Chase track lineup looks as though it can deliver this.

Fesko :  I’ve seen nearly every race at the track (didn’t realize the 2008 running was at night and was quite disappointed when I woke up Sunday morning with results already posted), and I don’t know exactly which one has been the best.  The first one that came to mind was the 2010 running, when David Reutimann ran down and passed Jeff Gordon for the race win.  Pretty cool for a driver who only had a couple years in Cup.

Conley :    Chicago has never been a standout type of race, but two are prominent in my mind and they both involve Jeff Gordon.  Gordon’s win in 2006 was memorable, as he spun Matt Kenseth late in the race when they were trying to lap Casey Mears in turn two.  Heading to the finish, he had to save fuel to hold off Jeff Burton.

My favorite had to be in 2010 when David Reutimann passed Gordon with 65 to go and held the lead through green flag stops to score his second career win, as he screamed on the radio when crossed the stripe, “No rain needed tonight!”

Four topics in and surprisingly not a reference yet to Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael…yet!  Before we delve into our race picks, let’s review how we all fared last Saturday night at Richmond with our race and points report from the regular season finale!
Fesko scores a long awaited victory...

Fesko, TPF Stats, and Shoppe score long awaited victories…

...while Canadian Cassidy concluded the regular season in the top spot!

…while Canadian Cassidy concluded the regular season in the top spot!

Much like the real life Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, here on TPF, we’re resetting points in a Chase Grid format with panelists reset according to their win total throughout the first 26 races!  As a result, we’re resetting the standings as follows:
Who will stand tall (or raise their mobile device or laptop) by season's end?

Who will stand tall (or raise their mobile device or laptop) by season’s end?

As this weekend kicks off the Round of 16 for The Chase, we’ll be doing things up a bit differently every third race of a playoff round here on Track Talk.  On this edition of Track Talk, we’re going to predict the bottom four drivers who’ll be eliminated following the third race of the opening round, which takes place at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, October 2nd!
Can Austin Dillon prove the TPF panelists wrong with his Chase run? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Can Austin Dillon prove the TPF panelists wrong with his Chase run? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

The Bottom Four following the Round of 16….

Tiongson :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Tony Stewart

Hobbs :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Tony Stewart

TPF Stats :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Tony Stewart

Copple :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Tony Stewart

Hull :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Tony Stewart

Shoppe :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Tony Stewart

Cassidy :  Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, and Chase Elliott

Fesko :  Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano

Conley :  Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, and Tony Stewart

Naturally, we also have our championship picks in mind!  With that said, let’s unveil who we believe will hoist that prized trophy at Homestead-Miami this November!
Can Jimmie Johnson score a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at last? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Can Jimmie Johnson score a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup championship at last? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Hull :  Kyle Busch repeats!

Hobbs :  No numbers here…going on feeling with Kevin Harvick!

Cassidy :  Going with Kevin Harvick. 

Fesko :  Kevin Harvick will nab his second championship.

Conley :  Your 2016 champion will be Denny Hamlin.

Copple :  Going with the underdog here and saying Martin Truex Jr.

Shoppe :  Martin Truex Jr. wins it in 2016!

Tiongson :  He didn’t show much speed after his second win of 2016 at Fontana.  However, Jimmie Johnson an Team 48 will be reminding their competition to not dismiss them so easily with their seventh Cup title.

TPF Stats projects Jimmie Johnson as this year’s champion.

Last but not least, it’s about that time on Track Talk!  Let’s say “Cowabunga” and talk about our race winning picks to defeat Shredder and Krang at Chicagoland Speedway!
Four race picks...only appropriate with it being the TMNT 400.

Four race picks…only appropriate with it being the TMNT 400.

Hobbs :  The force is strong with Brad Keselowski (same pick for TPF Stats)!

Copple :  Going with Brad Keselowski!

Cassidy :  My race pick is Brad Keselowski.

Tiongson :  This driver knows his way around Chicagoland Speedway and if he’s going to make a statement for this year’s Chase, it’s going to be in grand fashion on Sunday.  Watch for Brad Keselowski, a two-time winner at this venue, take another victory in “The Windy City.”  

Hull :  My race pick for Chicagoland is Denny Hamlin.

Fesko :  Denny Hamlin is my pick to win on Sunday!

Shoppe :  Kyle Busch wins it on Sunday!

Conley :  Kurt Busch will win at Chicagoland, becoming the first driver to lock up a spot for the Round of 12.

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!

We’d like to thank Jeremy Thompson for the incredible shots accompanying this weekend’s edition of Track Talk, including the featured image and those accompanying our Trending Topics segment whereas noted!

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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