Track Talk: Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway

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 Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway!

This weekend, we welcome dirt track racer Ariel Biggs to our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley, as they reflect on the surprise eliminations from the Round of 12, the scuffle between Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick last Sunday at Talladega, Greg Biffle’s NASCAR prospects beyond Roush Fenway Racing, and the potential of an emotional Martinsville win for Jeff Gordon.

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Question 1
Not sure if people like their beer all smoky.

Not sure if people like their beer all smoky.

Talladega resulted in some surprise eliminations from the Round of 12, including Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr.  Based on what took place in the most recent round of The Chase, should we expect more of the same in the Round of 8?

Copple :  Can I just put out a “help wanted” sign here for a second and get some assistance picking my jaw up off the ground?  I am still shocked that both Keslowski and Truex Jr. are out of The Chase.  I thought this was Truex’s year!  Bad luck and bad timing resulted in these two Championship quality drivers being eliminated in the Round of 12.  In the Round of 8, we have three very different tracks in Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix.  The remaining eight drivers have to excel at all three tracks and essentially win to move on to the final at Homestead.  They need to be on top of their game and even the smallest mistake can cost them their chance at the title.

Hobbs :  I do not really see any “surprises” coming out of the third round.  There are eight drivers left; some of which have made noise each round by winning while others have been more quiet and consistent.  With two of the favorites now out, that really does open up two spots in The Chase finale at Homestead.  Those drivers who have been pretty quiet and consistent will have to step it up and show they have the speed to survive with the drivers of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Fesko :  Yes and no.  Honestly, anyone that gets eliminated will be shocking because the remaining eight drivers have run well all season.  If Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson get eliminated, that will be more shocking, because everyone expects them to go all the way to Homestead.  I’d say only in those two cases, or if more than two Joe Gibbs Racing teams are eliminated, would I be truly surprised.

Biggs :  Bringing the Round of 8 to Martinsville, the shortest track on the circuit, with the remaining Chase drivers being stacked with the series most intense veterans, I think we are definitely in for some surprises this weekend. With only eight drivers left, I think we are really going to see a higher level of intensity coming from the Busch brothers, Johnson, and Kenseth, as they have a history of using high pressure to only elevate their on track performance.

With Martinsville being one of the most technical tracks Cup runs, team position strategy, aggressiveness in traffic, and survival will be key to being successful this weekend.  Martinsville always seems to bring surprises and some of my favorite racing of the season!

Cassidy :  With The Chase layout, you should always expect the unexpected.  No matter how strong a team was all season, that does not mean that they are safe.  Frustrating for some fans, brings excitement to others.

Hull :  As I have said many times before, the Chase is very, very unpredictable.  It has been proven many times that anything can happen, and no one really expected Martin Truex, Jr. to be eliminated this early.  Many people had thought that he was going to win the championship this year.  It will definitely be the same this round as well.

Shoppe :  I expect more surprises in the next elimination.  Seeing title contenders like Truex and Keselowski get knocked out last weekend just shows how nobody is safe.  At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the eight remaining drivers get knocked out of the final four.

Conley :  I think we are back to normal.  Truex was a big surprise with that engine failure.  If we see a surprise, it may come this weekend with a new winner, or Truex may just take his vengeance out on the field and win all three.

Question 2
He said don't hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself.

He said don’t hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself.

Kevin Harvick wasn’t too pleased with Kurt Busch following the Talladega race, going as far as going as punching him on pit road.  Is there trouble at Stewart-Haas Racing that must be addressed or much less, warrant NASCAR’s review for disciplinary action?

Copple :  These two may be teammates but they are competitors first and foremost.  Especially in The Chase where they are both in contention for the title, tempers are high and breaking points low.  Unless this continues through the next few races and into the off season, then it should be addressed but until then…don’t worry about it!

Hobbs :  I think this will be a case of, “sit down, talk it out, the end” – if this has not been done already half way through the week.  Both drivers are fiery and passionate, and if something happens that they are not too pleased with, they show it.  Maybe they do not show it in the best way, but they want to prove their point.  I was pleased with how calm Kurt Busch handled the situation, and while Kevin Harvick was pretty upset, I do not see this hampering either driver.

And this is absolutely not a situation which NASCAR needs to step in.  They did not do use their cars (minus the small bumping on the cool down lap) to “talk” and while Harvick may have thrown a punch, nothing really happened outside of that.  Both drivers walked away and I am sure their owners had a chat with them; that is all that is needed.

Fesko :  I have no idea what the squabble was about, and I don’t really think it will affect the team.  Look, SHR is a team of hotheads.  Harvick, Busch, Stewart, Patrick, even next year’s addition in Bowyer — all have been known to mix it up.  I think it’ll stay at Dega and not move on with them the rest of the season.

Biggs :  Harvick’s and Busch’s incident post race at Talladega was a bit confusing.  It was not a very hard rub and it happened after the checkered flag.  Nothing looked intentional or aggressive, so I am little baffled at how intense the emotions were on pit road.  Drivers, like any other top athletes, are fueled by passion and the emotional investment it takes to get to a top tier of any sport is more than most can imagine.

This being said, though it may not be easy to understand from the outside, in this circumstance, it’s not surprising to see tempers flare, even amongst teammates when these drivers have so much invested in this sport.  As for NASCAR’s disciplinary actions, I think a dispute like this should be left to the team.  The only damage that will be done is to the team dynamic itself and you can be sure that as a team they will ensure a solution is found.  Both drivers will do whatever it takes to win and being able to straighten out their emotions towards each and work together is a key part of that.  Whether they like it or not, these two will make it work for the sake of the win.

Cassidy :  This is not the first time we have seen issue between Stewart-Haas drivers.  Although each driver has a big name, and brings their own elements to the team, they must still work together.  It is important for teams to not only work together, but for drivers to come together on the track.

The most ironic part about this incident was the fact it happened at Talladega.  Talladega is one of the few tracks left where teammates still need to rely on others in order to contend for the win.  In most cases, you want that person to be a teammate.

Hull :  I think that they have probably patched things up by now.  While I don’t think Harvick should get any kind of discipline, he shouldn’t have done what he did.  He has proven that he acts out when things don’t go his way. He really needs to calm down and quit having problems with his temper.  I hope that both he and Kurt have both worked things out.

Shoppe :  I don’t think NASCAR needs to do anything about a little disagreement between two champion veterans. Stewart-Haas Racing certainly should have some kind of talk with them before Martinsville.  They don’t have to like each other, but teammates can’t be making a habit of  running into each other, especially when both of them are contending for a title.

Conley :  It’s Talladega and an elimination race so someone was bound to be mad at somebody else.  Nothing to see here.

Question 3
Greg Biffle has some thinking to do regarding his NASCAR future.

Greg Biffle has some thinking to do regarding his NASCAR future.

Greg Biffle stated that he ought to be doing something else if he doesn’t return to his competitive form, a reality that hasn’t been in the offing for the Vancouver, WA native since 2013.  Do you think Biffle rides the storm with Roush Fenway Racing or flocks elsewhere?

Copple :  RFR as an organization isn’t rising to the occasion and are not as competitive as they should be. I don’t think it’s Biffle and his talent but more the organization holding him back.  Hopefully, RFR makes some changes in the off season, but they have been struggling for a few seasons now.  If another ride were to open up on a more competitive team, it wouldn’t hurt Biffle to look elsewhere.

Hobbs :  Greg Biffle is a driver whose peak is behind him. Roush Fenway Racing is an organization who has not had their footing for a few years. The combination of that just leads to Biffle being a mid-pack driver with no upside to be seen. Unlike his younger teammates, there is still hope that they can turn the organization around and help them be competitive; but for Biffle, even the RFR turns around, his best days are behind him. He sees that and it appears the idea of retirement or at least looking elsewhere is an option. If he chooses to look elsewhere, at this point in his career, his resume does not bode well for a top team to consider him.

Fesko :  I wouldn’t have ever said Biffle would leave RFR, but it looks like he actually might go somewhere else.  I’ve heard rumors to HScott Motorsports and JTG-Daugherty Racing, but I won’t believe it until I see it.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Biffle ran one last season with RFR and then retired if the team doesn’t pick up its pace.

Biggs :  Resilience through this period will be key to Biffle’s future success.  Every driver goes through rough patches and plateaus but its recognizing that which holds you back and taking quick action to change those circumstances that determines who moves forward and who does not.  Racing is a very team loyal sport, your team is your family, so it would not be surprising if Biffle rides out this storm and finds other ways to come back to his competitive form off season.  Regardless, Biffle has been in the industry quite a while and will without a doubt do whatever it takes in his mind to get to the top.

Cassidy :  I think that Greg Biffle is very close to retirement.  Clearly, it is frustrating for him to be in a position where he is not competitive anymore, and these attitudes do not help bring a driver to success.  Although he seems to lead the Roush Fenway Racing team as a veteran driver, as their team develops, his knowledge may not be needed.  I am unsure if any other “big name” team would pick up Biffle.  I think he should just go out where he is.

Hull :  This is a hard question, because Greg Biffle is nearing the time for retirement anyway, but he has proven that he still has some more years of racing left in him.  Roush Fenway isn’t really the organization that it used to be in the Cup series.  He could go elsewhere, but I think that he will stay because he is loyal to RFR.  He will probably continue to race there until he retires.  But we will see what happens.

Shoppe :  If I were Greg Biffle, I would look anywhere else.  He has been more then patient with his struggling Roush Fenway team over the last few awful years.  Greg Biffle is a great driver, one one of only two to win Truck and XFINITY titles.  For a while, I had thought he could be the first to win all three.  But you can’t showcase your talent with the products RFR puts on the track currently.

I applaud Biffle for sticking it out with them for as long as he has.  Former teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were not as patient.  It is now or never for Biffle to make a change.  The possibility of a second JTG car may be his best bet to be competitive again with an RCR alliance.  I hope to see that happen in 2017 and see if The Biff still has a win left in him.

Conley :  I expect him to jump ship.  He’s upset he didn’t do it when Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards did in 2012 and ’16.  As to where, my crystal ball says a second team at JTG/Daugherty. The writing is on the wall and Ryan Reed and Bubba Wallace are waiting to see who can sign their name on that Cup contract.

Question 4
"Never say never." - Jeff Gordon

“Never say never.” – Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon will be making what could potentially be his final NASCAR Sprint Cup start of his career as he concludes his relief driver effort for Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Does Gordon have a solid shot at potentially closing out his career in storybook fashion with a win this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway?

Copple :  Oh Gordon, here we thought you closed the door on your racing career last season, but nope!  Gordon still has a lot of good years left whether racing full-time or not.  I could definitely see him jumping back into a car as a relief driver next year or even the next few seasons if need be.  But back to the question at hand, could Gordon win at Martinsville?  Certainly!  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Victory Lane this weekend and it would be a good morale builder for the No. 88 team.

Hobbs :  Gordon closed out his story at Martinsville Speedway last year with a win; I do not see that playing out this year as the 88 just has not been as good as teammate Jimmie Johnson, who is fantastic at Martinsville like Gordon. Though Gordon is the master at Martinsville, being in a different ride could still be an issue to his adjustment behind the wheel.

I see Gordon being competitive behind the wheel and I would love nothing less than to see him challenge for the win, but I am keeping my expectations in check. It would do so much for that team to win, and more for Gordon. Either way, he went out on top of his game so no matter what happens this weekend, he is still the best there is in the business and at Martinsville.

Fesko :  I’d say so.  He’s a beast at Martinsville and unless Jimmie Johnson is in second behind him, I don’t think Gordon will give any thought to laying down for The Chase drivers in the field.  Remember that he won this race last season, and is working with the team that won it the season before.  Gordon is a very solid threat this weekend.

Biggs :  I definitely think Gordon has a very high chance of taking the win at Martinsville.  He has had quite a bit of success there throughout his career and I suspect this weekend will be no exception.  Coming from a dirt background as well the short, technical track, it will require a driving style that is definitely in his favor.  I do not think there is a fan out there who would be disappointed to see Gordon take the win!

Cassidy :  It is no hidden secret that Jeff Gordon knows his way around the Martinsville paperclip.  The driver has had much success at this track over the years.  Although not impossible, the way in which the No. 88 team’s luck has been going this season, I do not see a win coming from Gordon.  No matter what driver you seem to put into the car, something goes wrong.  Even last week, Bowman had a great car, did a great job handling the car, yet a late race mishap cost the team a good finish.  I think the poor 88 car is cursed this season.   

Hull :  While the 88 has had more than its fair share of bad luck, he could perform very well at Martinsville this weekend.  After all, it is one of this best tracks and he won last year as well.  Also, the 88 team is very good at Martinsville, so we could see a win from this team.  This could make up for the bad season that they have had.

Shoppe :  Gordon’s storybook ending to his career came last year in this race by winning his way into the final four for Homestead.  He was lucky to do so and I think that was his last Cup series win.  You just can’t put someone in a car for a few races without much preparation, especially someone who thought he was retired, and expect him to run like the Jeff Gordon of old. 

Conley :  No, Jeff hasn’t really shown that competitive fire in relief, plus knowing how important this race is for the Chasers, Jeff has enough class and professionalism to not interfere in that but try to give HMS, Dale and Nationwide the beat finish possible.  No sunset ride for Gordon.

Four laps into our trek at Martinsville Speedway and we didn’t get a scratch yet on our TPF car!  Well done.  Before dropping the hammer, let’s review how we all fared at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend!
Copple scored a pivotal victory...

Copple scored a pivotal victory…

...truly making the points race even more interesting!

…truly making the points race even more interesting!

As in the case with the prior rounds, bonus points were considered from our Charlotte edition of Track Talk when we made our race picks and predictions for those who would be eliminated following the Round of 12!  With that in mind, let’s take a look at who we predict will be our bottom four drivers following the Round of 8!

Might the trend for more surprising eliminations take place in the Round of 8?

Might the trend for more surprising eliminations take place in the Round of 8?

Tiongson :  Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch.

Copple :  Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Kurt Busch.

TPF Stats :  Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards.

Hobbs :  Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and Carl Edwards

Fesko :  Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano.

Biggs :  Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth.

Cassidy :  Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson.

Hull :  Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano,

Conley :  Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano.

Shoppe :  Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards.

Who'll be celebrating like Mary Tyler Moore after today?

Who’ll be celebrating like Mary Tyler Moore after today?

Alright, party people.  It’s time (no pun intended) to see who’ll be taking home one of those famous Martinsville grandfather clocks with our race picks for today’s Goody Fast Relief 500!

Tiongson :  Nothing can quite compare to last year’s amazing and emotional victory that landed this legendary driver with a guaranteed spot in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Still, I’ve got to think that Jeff Gordon will pilot that No. 88 Chevy to what might turn out to be his 94th and final Cup victory this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. What a moment it’ll be – a close second at least to that scene last year!

Hobbs :  While TPF Stats projects Jimmie Johnson as the winner, Jeff Gordon is just too good at Martinsville to truly count him out.

Fesko :  Jeff Gordon, a winner is you today.

Copple :  It’s Kyle Busch‘s day.

Biggs :  My pick today is Kyle Busch!

Cassidy :  Denny Hamlin will win it!

Hull :  I am going to go out on a limb as I’ll pick Jimmie Johnson.

Shoppe :  Going with Joey Logano today.

Conley :  Like one year ago, the 24 with Chase Elliott wins at Martinsville.

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, and thanks to Ariel Biggs for joining us this week!  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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