Track Talk: Can-Am 500(k) at Phoenix International Raceway

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 Can-Am 500(k) at Phoenix International Raceway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley analyze Matt DiBenedetto’s situation with the concussion protocol, the big win at Texas for Carl Edwards, races going the distance during The Chase, and if today’s race is a make or break moment for Kevin Harvick’s title chances!

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Question 1
Matt DiBenedetto is back in the saddle this weekend but did NASCAR make the right call last Sunday at Texas?

Matt DiBenedetto is back in the saddle this weekend but did NASCAR make the right call last Sunday at Texas?

Matt DiBenedetto wasn’t cleared to race last Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway following a hard crash during the XFINITY Series race last Saturday. Did NASCAR make the right call to have DiBenedetto clear any concerns by going through the concussion protocol?

Cassidy :  Concussions are always a very touchy topic.  Clearly, the most relatable case is Dale Jr, who did not know there was a problem until weeks later.  However, I think NASCAR is smart to have a type of proto-call system in place.  If we look at other sports, for example hockey, they have a ‘quite room’ that a player must go in for a certain amount of time following a large hit.  I agree NASCAR had the right to step in, however I think he should have been cleared in time for the race.

Shoppe :  NASCAR made the right choice in the interest of safety.  You cannot take any chances with concussions especially when you consider recent events involving Dale Earnhardt Jr as well as John Wes Townley and Sarah Cornett Ching in ARCA.

Matt DiBenedetto didn’t agree with the decision to sit him out because he said he felt fine.  Well Earnhardt said he was feeling fine at first too and look at look how serious that turned out to be.  I’m glad NASCAR made this call and hopefully Matt will be able to thank them for looking out for his safety.

Hull :  Absolutely.  Racing with a concussion can be very dangerous, and it could have injured him even worse.  I don’t want another Dale Jr. incident to happen.  The safety of drivers should be the number one goal.  I think that it was for his best interest to have to sit out.  Thankfully, he only had to sit out this one race.  This is something that should be kept in place.

Copple :  Yes.  Any driver who has or could possibly have a concussion should be taken out of the racecar.  It’s not worth the risk to the driver or the others in the track.  Kudos to NASCAR for sticking to their protocol.  A driver’s life and well being is more important than seat time.

Conley :  Without question. No need to risk career ending injury for what is a “non career making race.”

Concussions can’t be messed around with, and if there is the slightest hint of one, it has to be addressed.  NASCAR has some of the best medical staff on the road and they did right with this decision.  Can’t question this one.

Question 2
Carl's reaction when he didn't have to do up a cartwheel last Sunday.

Carl’s reaction when he didn’t have to do up a cartwheel last Sunday.

Carl Edwards scored a big win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, earning an automatic bid to compete in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Is the No. 19 team truly the best bet for Joe Gibbs Racing to score yet another Cup championship in 2016?

Cassidy :  I think I can speak for a large amount of the NASCAR fan base when I say the 19 team was the last Gibbs car we expected to move on to the championship round.  Not saying that Carl Edwards and his team have not been strong throughout the season; the other three Gibbs teams have shown greater aspirations all year long.

Shoppe :  I don’t see any of the four JGR cars standing out as a strong favorite between them. But with Carl Edwards and his No. 19 team, they will have one week of relaxation compared to their teammates who have to fight it out for the final spots.  With Carl’s prior title contention experience and his determination to make up for his tough tie-breaker loss in 2011, he is my pick as the best Joe Gibbs Toyota to win the title this year.

Hull :  I think they have a really good shot at doing so.  He would have the best average finish of all of them, and he also has a couple of wins.  He is really good at Homestead, and is with a championship team, so he really has a shot, especially if he gets some secrets from Kyle Busch.

Copple :  Joe Gibbs Racing is struggling this season but yes, Carl Edwards and his No. 19 team are easily the strongest.  Does he have a good shot at winning the championship?  Well, yes and no.  He essentially has a 25% chance but you have to look at who he will be competing with next weekend.  As of now, a six-time Cup champion is one of them.  Edwards is going to have to have the best race of his life at Homestead if he wants to come home with the trophy.

Conley :  Absolutely.  Carl Edwards has shown the ability to be there when it matters and he knows how to create havoc for some championship contenders.

Mile and a half tracks have been good for JGR this year and no reason Cousin Carl isn’t standing with two trophies on Sunday night.

Denny, Kyle, and Matt seem to be just a bit off at the wrong time this year.

Question 3
Raindrops kept falling on their heads.

Raindrops kept falling on their heads.

It’s a question that we’ve discussed before but when it comes to races in The Chase, should NASCAR make every effort possible to get the full race in, no matter what time the race concludes, or was the right decision made to cut the race short due to the heavy rain late last Sunday?

Cassidy :  Again, from the views on social media, I feel like fans were upset the full race was not ran on Sunday evening.  NASCAR knew that it was highly unlikely to fit the full race in that evening, however tried to push through as much as possible.  Clearly, it is frustrating throughout the year to know that driver will advance to the Chase. However, when that driver is getting a pass into the final four, that could make or break a team from winning a championship.

Shoppe :  I think if you are going to change the rule for rain shortened races, you’d have to do it for all races not just chase races.  I think it is fair the way it is calling it an official race after halfway.  Everyone has the same opportunity to make their way to the front in half a race so its the same situation for all involved.  I don’t think they need to change it especially if they would have to stay for days to try to complete a full race.  Those guys and girls will want to get home eventually!

Hull :  It all depends on the forecast.  In this case, it would have been futile to try to get the full race in.  It was raining most of the day on Monday as well, and drying the track is a very long process.  I think that the right decision was made.  Some people might have complained about it, and thought that Carl Edwards didn’t win it fair and square, but there is nothing you can really do when it come to Mother Nature.  So, the right decision was made.

Copple :  NASCAR got most of the race in, well more than halfway, so I think NASCAR made the right call to end the race.  Now, if we were around the halfway mark and the rain wouldn’t have lasted long, then wait it out, it’s a Chase race.  But if you’re still running a race at 1 am, that’s not fair to the drivers, teams and fans who have to be at work on Monday.  It’s a tough call to make and I think each situation would warrant a different outcome.  But Texas was a Chase race.  They got in as much of the race as they could.  NASCAR made the right call in this instance.   

Conley :  Rain is part of the game in NASCAR.  You know this when buying a ticket.  The right call was absolutely made.  With the amount of moisture in the air, we would have been racing late Monday afternoon or even Tuesday to get that one in.

Another good call in year of questionable ones by NASCAR.

Question 4
Is Phoenix truly the home of Kevin Harvick?

Is Phoenix truly the home of Kevin Harvick?

Phoenix International Raceway is often considered Kevin Harvick’s best track but he enters this Sunday’s Can-Am 500(k) in a precarious position, does he have too much of a hill to climb to earn his third straight bid to compete in the championship race?

Cassidy :  Never underestimate the 4 team.  All I have to say.

Shoppe :  If there’s a track Kevin Harvick would pick to go to when he has to win his way into the final four, Phoenix certainly is the place.  Every time the No. 4 team is in a must win situation they seem to rise to the occasion and get that win.  This will be the toughest challenge yet for them to do that when you look at the competition against them.  It will be tough for Harvick to keep up his dominance at PIR this weekend.

Hull :  I think that this race is honestly Kevin Harvick’s time to shine here.  After all, he has an average finish here of 1.2.  Hopefully, he can do it.  As I have mentioned in previous Track Talks, Harvick really works best under pressure. I think that his desire to win another championship will help him win this race, and get locked into the Championship round.

Copple :  I think Harvick is in a must-win situation here but he could very well do that at Phoenix.  This is easily his best track and if his team does what they do best, and give his a great car, and he runs his best race, he could very well be in victory lane this weekend and on his way to another championship run at Homestead.

Conley :  If they loaded up the same car from last year with a few tweaks, let’s just call this a small anthill to climb up.

Harvick is better than anyone here and no reason he doesn’t get his name stenciled on another final four sheet.

Unless of course an act of God reaches down to steal the engine.

Amazing effort by the TPF team as we take on the Avondale, AZ desert!  Before we get past corner number four and get to the stripe, let’s see how we all fared last Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway!
Hull takes her second straight win...

Hull takes her second straight win…

...as a result, Hull retakes the points lead!

…as a result, Hull retakes the points lead!

As the field heads to the stripe, let’s see those race winning picks (potentially) for today’s Can-Am 500(k) at Phoenix International Raceway!
Can one of these funky fast five win today?

Can one of these funky fast five win today?

Tiongson :  It’s a big gamble…and yes, most people are going to select Kevin Harvick.  That said, why not?  Chase Elliott and the 24 team could pull off an upset at PIR.

Cassidy :  Gotta go with Kevin Harvick.  

Hull :  My pick for Phoenix is Kevin Harvick.

Copple :  Kevin Harvick gets the win today!

Shoppe :  Going with Carl Edwards!

Conley :  Call in the hand of God.  Harvick has issues and Martin Truex Jr steals Phoenix.

Hobbs :  Thinking Alex Bowman today.

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. 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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