Track Talk: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami

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 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, and Stephen Conley discuss Alex Bowman’s stellar performance at Phoenix, Brian Scott’s surprising retirement, a potential candidate for NASCAR’s Cup entitlement sponsor search, and Tony Stewart riding off into the sunset!

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Question 1
Alex Bowman: The Man Without a NASCAR Ride in 2017.

Alex Bowman: The Man Without a NASCAR Ride in 2017.

Alex Bowman absolutely made a statement last Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, as he led most of the Can-Am 500(k) before settling for a sixth place result.  Might that performance convince some Cup owners into hiring this wheelman to drive their entry in 2017?

Hobbs :  It should! He has been nothing but outstanding behind the wheel this season. In his 9 races this season, he has an average finish of 20.1; that puts  him about middle of the pack in terms of average finish. He has shown great poise this season and has shown he can wheel a great car around the track. It takes a great driver to drive a great car and that should be sending teams scattering to find some place for this kid.

Cassidy :  I have always been a fan of Bowman. I think this opportunity to drive for Hendrick Motorsports has shown a lot of people that this kid can handle good equipment and knows how to drive. I hope that some team will give Bowman a chance to race in the 2017 season. Due to the fact he no longer will be driving for Dale Jr. at JR Motorsports, I assume some owners have reached out to him!

Copple :  Alex Bowman is one hell of a young driver.  He has talent and so much potential and that was evident this past weekend. While he was driving for one of the top teams in the sport, there are some veteran drivers who could have been put behind the wheel of the No. 88 and not run as well as Bowman did. I hope teams took notice and keep an eye on him because if he keeps on the path that he is on now, he will be a championship driver in just a few years. Unfortunately, teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing don’t have openings for another driver so Bowman will just have to be patient and take any opportunities he can to get behind the wheel of a Cup car.

Hull :  I really hope so, because Alex Bowman has proven that he has talent in a better equipped car. I think that a lot of teams would be cheating themselves if they didn’t. If he cannot get a cup ride, I would hope that at least an XFINITY team would give him a shot. I could see JR Motorsport or the new Stewart-Haas Racing team giving him a shot. But I think it would be a disservice to both Bowman and these teams if they do not give him a shot.

Shoppe :  I certainly hope that the owners took notice of Alex Bowman’s amazing run in Phoenix last weekend! I can’t remember the last time someone without a ride lined up for the next year in Cup lead the most laps from the pole in a race late in the year like Bowman did.  Not only was his leading the most laps impressive, but the way he remained composed while The Chase situation unfolded around him last weekend was equally impressive! I would be shocked and very disappointed if Alex doesn’t have a good ride come 2017.

Conley :  I think Bowman has put his name on many owners radar the second half of this season.  He’s finished races, hasn’t made bad decisions and over the past handful of races, and he has consistently improved from week to week with his results.  I hope Hendrick holds on to Bowman, as he’d be a great fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr when he does decide to call it a career, which I think will be sooner than later.

Question 2
Say what you will, but Brian Scott's retirement is a bit of a surprise.

Say what you will, but Brian Scott’s retirement is a bit of a surprise.

Brian Scott announced that he will retire following the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, citing his desire to spend more time with his family, among other reasons.  What will be some of the takeaways from Scott’s career and might this prompt other races to reconsider their priorities with racing and their lives with their family?

Hobbs :  The decision that Brian Scott came to must have been difficult. He is doing what he loves and what he has dreamed of doing his entire life. Now, he has decided to re-evaluate his priorities and with a young family, he has chosen the family path. And there is nothing wrong with that. Each driver has their own paths and reasons for going down them, so Scott’s decision is mutually exclusive from all other scenarios. Every driver chooses their own path and what someone else does has no (or very minimal effect) on their decision.

Cassidy :  As a young driver, this was very unexpected.  Just getting his Sprint Cup ride last year, I did not see this coming. I feel like there may be other factors that are not being said to the media, such as not having a Cup right for next year.

Copple :  Hearing Brian Scott was retiring made me sad. He is a fantastic driver with a ton of talent and but the best opportunities didn’t quite come his way. I understand his reasoning to want to spend more time with his family and I hope we get to see him back behind the wheel again. Hopefully teams utilize him as a backup/fill in driver next year.

Hull :  As much as it will be a bummer to see this personable young man leave the sport, I understand why he decided to take time out for his family. The downside of being a NASCAR driver is that most of the time is spent away from your families, even if you bring them to the track. They miss out on a lot from their children’s lives in this career. I think that once his kids get older though, he may return back to the sport. He isn’t a bad driver, even though he isn’t as good as the others. He hasn’t really been given a good chance in his career. I think taking this break for him may help him. So hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of him.

Shoppe :  Although I firmly believe that his decision to retire was more to do with his family-backed sponsorship package deciding not to return next year, I think Brian Scott bring up a good point about just how much of a toll this sport takes on a family. A NASCAR driver misses so much of the usual family experience. I have a lot of respect for Brian Scott for taking a good honest look at himself as a driver and assessing that things are not lining up for him to have much success in this sport so why not step aside and have a great life with a beautiful family.

Conley :  Brian Scott’s career will be remembered as a lost cause. So much potential coming out of the Truck Series and XFINITY Series, but his time in the Cup series has been less than stellar. He is making a good decision, leave the stress and frustration and make your focus on a great family. I certainly think this will be the way we see drivers act in years to come. If the performance isn’t there and you’ve had a few good years. Hang it up and live a good life. The time of 20+ year careers is over.

Question 3

Is there a monster in NASCAR's future?

Is there a monster in NASCAR’s future?

Motorsport.com published an article in which Monster Energy is a finalist to become the new entitlement sponsor for the Cup Series starting in 2017.  Does this come as a surprise and might this company be the catalyst in engaging that much needed demographic of fans between ages 18-30?

Hobbs :  I read this article and honestly, I was never following who the contenders were for the entitlement sponsor. But Monster Energy certainly caters to a younger crowd and that could be a great benefit to the sport. If they are the chosen sponsor in the end, I hope they will put plans together to get the younger crowd back. NASCAR has traditionally been an “older man’s sport”, but with younger drivers coming into the top series, things need to be done to grab the attention of the youth to  get them to want to come to events.

Cassidy :  I never thought that Monster would be in the final competition for the new Cup Series sponsor. I thought that an technology company would be more qualified to step up for the title, but Monster does have high involvement levels with racing sports. I am excited to see which company takes the title; however, I am a little worried that there has not been a decision made already.

Copple :  YES! YES! YES! YES! I am such a huge fan of Monster Energy so obviously I’m going to be excited! I think this would be a great title sponsor for the Cup Series. Monster Energy already has a great presence in NASCAR so they are familiar with fans and drivers so making the jump up to title sponsor just makes more sense than bringing in a new company that no one knows about.

Hull :  It will be weird calling this the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup. It sounds more like something that should be at a Motocross event or another extreme sport. While there are probably a lot of young people who consume Monster Energy beverages, I don’t think it would have as broad of an appeal as maybe something like Samsung or another technological company. NASCAR has a hard enough time bring sponsorship and money into the sport, and I don’t think Monster Energy will help with that. I think that a lot more young people use electronics than drink energy drinks, so hopefully, Monster Energy is only a finalist, and not going to be the sponsor.

Shoppe :  I think that Monster would be a great fit for the sport as a sponsor! NASCAR is very much in need of getting a boosted interest in that 18-30 demographic. When I think of brands that have huge loyalty shown by this group of younger adults, Monster is on the top of this list. I know so many people that buy Monster just simply because it’s Monster. You don’t see that with many brands. Take aside whatever thoughts you may have against the health aspects of energy drinks, this is a great business and marketing opportunity for NASCAR, should it happen, that they would not want to pass up.

Conley :  It is a surprise, especially with their marketing campaign they have ongoing with motorcross. Could this be a good fit for NASCAR to get that demographic? Possibly, but I don’t think it will bring what they hope. Kids today are not interested in cars like the fan base once was. A sponsor name I don’t believe will be the over the top grab they want. Plus personally, I really don’t want to see those flat billed Monster hats in Victory Lane. I have several other reasons this would not be my favorite choice, but if they put their money up, I’ll be more than happy to call it the Monster Cup Series.

Question 4
Thanks for the memories, Smoke!

Thanks for the memories, Smoke!

Tony Stewart’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career will come to an end in the driver’s seat this weekend at Homestead.  Along the way, he’s won 49 races, three championships, and he’s raced for Joe Gibbs Racing as well as for his own team co-owned by Gene Haas.  How would you evaluate his final Cup season in relation to his career?

Hobbs :  Tony Stewart is a champion. Three times. Sadly, his last season (and the few leading up to it) have not been what made him great. He has overcome great tragedy and obstacles these past few years, but the on track performance just has not been there. But that will not take away from all the great things he has done in his career, all the moments he has etched in history books, and all the stories that will be going around the garage. He is not going out on the high note that Jeff Gordon did just one year ago, but that does not take away from his accomplishments. He is a champion and has done so much for NASCAR and he will be missed on track.

Cassidy :  I really hope Tony will be able to end his career on a good note. Stewart has been through a lot throughout his career and everyone knows how hard it is to separate yourself from your racing career.  Going out with a good finish or even a win, would be perfect for his career end.

Copple :  Poor Smoke has had a rough few years, both in NASCAR and in racing in general. But this year, everything seemed to turn around. He ran fairly well and competed for race wins. He hasn’t been on top of his game for a few years but he is still and will always be one of the icons of the sport. While we won’t see him on the track after this weekend, we will be seeing him at the track and that hopefully means we will still be getting the iconic Smoke interviews! I think Stewart can step out of the No. 14 this weekend for the last time, look back on this year, and his career, and be proud. He changed this sport, and motorsports as a whole, for the better. We will miss you Smoke!

Hull :  Sadly, the last three years for Tony Stewart haven’t been the strongest of his career. He has had a lot of obstacles in these last few years that have really knocked him off of his game. However, he did make the Chase this year, and brought us an exciting finish to the Sonoma race this year. But even with the struggles he has had these last few years, he has had an amazing career. He is a three-time champion, and has won 49 races. That is nothing to be ashamed of at all. I will miss him, even though he is still going to be heavily involved with the sport.

Shoppe :  Although Smoke’s final year may not be the storybook ending of sorts that Jeff Gordon’s was last year, there was a lot to be happy about for Tony Stewart and his many loyal fans.  To see him get back into winning form with that huge win in Sonoma in June was a great story and great to see this legendary driver get a chance to visit Victory Lane one more time!  This year doesn’t show what kind of legend Tony Stewart is, but looking at his amazing career stats, he will go down as one of the best racers (not just NASCAR drivers, but racers) in history!

Conley :  His final season was truly just a walk in to the sunset.  So many off track distractions and issues have kept him from being the fan favorite champion that he’s wanted to be.  He managed to pull off that one win, but it’s not been the sendoff year he wanted.  Tony’s career will be remembered for everything prior to 2013.

Nice work as always, team!  We’re near the homestretch at a track called Homestead!  Before coming off the fourth corner and hoisting the trophy, let’s see how we all fared at Phoenix and who’s got a shot to win the fourth annual TPF Track Talk Cup Championship!
Hull captured her 14th win of 2016...

Hull captured her 14th win of 2016…

...leaving only five with a potential shot to win the title!

…leaving only five with a potential shot to win the title!

Before we all talk about the #Championship4, let’s see who we’ve all picked to win today’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway!
Anybody's guess today!

Anybody’s guess today!

Tiongson :  He’s been knocking on the door all season long.  If Ford hopes to end things on a positive note aside from a potential championship for Joey Logano, look for Ryan Blaney to take the checkered flag tonight!

Hobbs :  TPF Stats and I are both going with Kevin Harvick!

Cassidy :  What seems to be the most popular pick is the one I have a feeling with for my winning pick – Carl Edwards!

Copple :  Carl Edwards gets the win and the championship!

Hull :  My final pick of the season will be Chase Elliott.

Shoppe :  Kyle Larson takes the checkered flag today!

Conley :  He may not be in contention after a close battle last week for the title, but Denny Hamlin will spoil the championship celebration with one of his own in victory lane at Homestead.

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 special thanks to Jeremy Thompson of The Racing Experts for his shots, including the featured photo here and in our title contender features this weekend!

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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