Track Talk: Camping World 500

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish will provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR as well as discussing their race pick to win the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the weekend, the Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKyle MagdaSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley discuss the post race skirmish between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr’s domination at Las Vegas, quieter stock cars, and when to expect Kyle Larson to sneeze, er, win his second MENCS race.

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Question 1

A last lap tangle between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano resulted in a post race, pit road fracas that saw Busch accost Logano at his pit stall, resulting in some punches thrown and the former eventually getting grabbed from the pile with a bloody gash on his forehead. Was this the return of “Boys, have at it,” is it good for our sport, and should NASCAR place any sanctions on the two drivers and teams?

Hobbs :  Let them fight!  They didn’t use the cars and didn’t bring anyone else into the mix.  Sure, it was a heated moment, but that is what makes the sport so entertaining!  Let the boys have at it; and no, NASCAR should just stop messing with the sport, including getting between a little fight.

Magda :  I don’t mind drivers going for the same piece of real estate on the final lap.  However, I thought the fight went a little too far when Joey Logano’s crew members got involved.  If the two were going to fight, leave it to the drivers to throw punches.  Something lost in this whole situation was Brad Keselowski coasting in the final laps of the race after something broke on his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.  He could’ve handled that better by staying inside of everyone else but I don’t see anyone at fault for the contact between Kyle Busch and Logano.

Fesko :  This is quintessential “Boys, have at it,” and an occurrence that will likely have new entitlement sponsor Monster Energy giddy with joy.  This is what the brand is known for—raw emotion, going for the win and not giving a you-know-what about how people perceive you.  I don’t see any NASCAR sanctions beyond probation (as I write this it’s Monday evening), but in the new era the sport is entering it might be unlikely that we’ll see even that.

Copple :  These are two guys with very short tempers and those tempers flared up at the end of the Vegas race.  Was Busch in the right to throw one at Logano?  Would Logano have done the same thing if roles were reversed? Probably.  I don’t think we need the “Boys, have at it” mantra come back, but letting them duke it out every once in a while won’t hurt anything.  Now, if it becomes a common act, then we may have an issue.  I’m fine with NASCAR not penalizing Busch or even Logano for the fight.  I think Busch’s public reprimand from Mars Inc. was embarrassing enough.

Conley :  I asked the same thing about the return of “Boys, have at it,” and my conclusion goes back to something Brian France has said all along: “Don’t use your race cars as weapons.”  There have been some sanctions before, but all of those involved some type of contact with the cars.  Both of these drivers got out, and went at it, or at least Kyle did.  I’m not sure how good it is for the sport, but it certainly made headlines on media outlets that wouldn’t otherwise mention the sport.  As far as penalties goes, NASCAR didn’t issue any, and I’m sure Monster Energy is grinning from ear to ear and I don’t mean “Miles” up in Dover.

Cassidy :  Clearly for ratings and online discussion side of the sport, this scuffle was great for spreading the word about the sport of NASCAR.  I am not saying that this is not a good image for NASCAR, but with no serious implications being given to both drivers, it is an interesting move.  In the real world, behaviour like that is frowned upon.  However, from an entertainment level, it seems to be acceptable.  That is what rubs me the wrong way about this situation.

Hull :  I think that fights and scuffles have always been a part of NASCAR.  As classless as it is sometimes, it brings a lot of fans in.  A great example is the fight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough during the 1979 Daytona 500.  There were people in the Northeast who had no real interest in NASCAR until that race.  When they were snowed in on that Sunday, little did they know that that one fight would soon change the way they viewed racing. More people soon got interested in it.  Therefore, I don’t think that anyone should be fined.  It is a part of racing.  As long as they don’t try to hurt each other with their cars, it’s okay.

Shoppe :  NASCAR got it right with issuing no penalties to either driver or team after what happened last weekend in Las Vegas.  The on-track contact was just hard racing on the last lap of the race.  I don’t see how that can be called intentional dirty racing.  It certainly doesn’t merit what happened on pit road.  What happened in the pits is just another example of Kyle Busch not being able to handle anger when something doesn’t go his way.  Whether you like like pit road altercations or not, it does add some interest to see how the rivalry progresses in the future.

Question 2
Martin Truex Jr scored a convincing, dominating victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, becoming the first MENCS driver to win all three stages in a points paying race.  Is it safe to say that the No. 78 team is picking up where they last left off for the past couple of years?

Hobbs :  Absolutely!  He is tied for the second best average finish this year, has a victory, is in the playoffs, and (so far) has those three stage wins.  He put on a show in Las Vegas and I do not expect it to stop any time soon.

Magda :  Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t missed a beat since his breakout year in 2015, even with Chevrolet.  The No. 78 team stayed consistent all year on their way with a shot at a title.  Truex has been the best driver on the circuit the past three years but bad luck has bitten the New Jersey native.  The speed they shown early last year made it evident they’d be a team to beat come playoff time.  He said it best that Sunday was a “gift” but how many times has he came close to picking up his first win with Furniture Row Racing before finally sealing the deal at Pocono in June 2015?

Fesko :  Of course they are.  This is a team that consistently puts itself at the front of races.  The only difference between this season and the previous two is that they were able to seal the deal early on in the year.  Didn’t matter that Furniture Row expanded to two teams, or that they had a new Camry to shake down.  Truex and Co. mean business, and they got it done last Sunday.

Copple :  I really want to see Martin Truex Jr and the No. No. 78 crew have a successful 2017 season because let’s be honest, they got shafted in 2016.  This is a championship quality team who have just fallen short in recent seasons.  If they can take this momentum from the start of the season and carry it with them for the next 30 or so races, we could have a new champion on our hands in Miami.

Conley :  Truex was mentioned in a lot of the fans and media’s preseason short list of favorites for the title.  Now in his fourth year with FRR, and having a teammate for the first time with the Denver based team, it’s really no surprise that the No. 78 car is up front and now locked in to the playoffs.  I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t win a few more races and he is easily a title contender in the final round at Homestead.

Cassidy :  Since moving to the No. 78 team, Martin Truex Jr and team have been super successful.  Clearly, this year is nothing different.  From this dominating victory, hopefully, we can see the whole association bringing success to Erik Jones as well this season.

Hull :  There is no question that ever since Martin Truex Jr joined Furniture Row Racing, he has been a force to be reckoned with.  If his luck was a little better, he could have won a championship.  Also, besides the win last week, he has finished within the top 10 during the first two races.  So it is safe to say that Martin Truex Jr is enjoying some success right now and he is picking up where he left off last year.

Shoppe :  Truex and the No. 78 team proved me wrong last year when I thought that they would take some time to get used to the new manufacture change.  They have done so again as they haven’t skipped a beat with the addition of a second team.  I expect this to be another great year for the Furniture Row Racing team.

Question 3
Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal discussed about the possibility of “quieter” cars during NASCAR races, which has resulted in somewhat polarizing reactions from the insiders and fans of this sport.  Is it something that should be looked into or an extreme aspect that does not warrant any attention?

Hobbs :  No.  No.  No.  Auto sports quieter?!  What kind of hippies-sport does NASCAR want to become!?  The roar of the engines is what this sport is about.  You don’t see the folks on the NHRA side complaining about how loud John Force, or his car are now, do you?  This is a sport of power; and with power, comes noise.  Do not lay a finger of the roaring engines!

Magda :  This is a non-issue.  I don’t even know why it was brought up.  Growing up, I didn’t like the sound of loud racecars but got over it later in life.  You’re not at the race to talk.  Rather, you’re there just to watch and listen to the scanner to see what’s going on.  When the green flag drops, I’m in complete race mode.

Fesko :  I understand the mixed feelings on this — but what it really comes down to, as we’ve seen time and again, is money.  If the cars are too loud and keeping fans away from the races, then tuning them down a bit would be in everyone’s best interest.  And for those that do show up for the races now, a little less strain on the ears never hurt anybody.  There have been many safety innovations to keep drivers safe, and this is a good one to explore to keep fans’ long-term hearing safer as well.

Copple :  Should the cars be quieter?  Maybe a tad, but the noise at the track is part of the experience that race fans love.  Most race fans know that ear plugs and/or protection are needed especially on race day.  I can see why NASCAR would want to look into the noise but silencing the cars to where they barely make a sound would be a major detriment to the sport.

Conley :  I think all forms of motorsports have looked at this at one point in time or another and most have acted. Unless you are a professional audiologist or someone that suffers from hyperacusis (oversensitive hearing), you’re not going to notice the difference in a couple or so decibel changes.  Honestly, you will still feel the rumble and it’s still going to make your ears ring, just maybe not so much that it will make them bleed, and that is a good thing.  We want it done for the right reasons, and not so much so that people can sit on the fence at Bristol and talk to their buddy like they were sitting on the couch at home.

Cassidy :  In recent conversation about this with co-workers, I took a psychological approach to this aspect.  With lots of research online in the area, it is found that the sound of cars has a psychological connection to the experience as a full.  There are examples of making cars more economically, friends.  A prime example is with Ford.  Yet, these companies have created packages to make the car louder due to the psychological positives it brings consumers.  I think knowing these implications, NASCAR should further look into these ideas before making a decision.

Hull :  It astounds me that this is even being considered.  People should know that NASCAR races are loud, hot, and unlike any other experience you will ever have.  If you want to go somewhere to chat and have a conversation, DO NOT go to a NASCAR race.  Instead, go to a baseball game, or even better, Starbucks.  One of the things I love about going to a race in person is hearing those engines roar.  That is part of the experience.  If people do not like it, they don’t have to go to a race.  Just leave the cars alone, please.

Shoppe :  Isn’t the loudness kind of the point?  There is nothing quite like standing down by the fence as the cars go screaming by you as the noise becomes a feeling that goes right through you.  Regardless of the excitement level of the race you are watching, that experience is always there at a NASCAR race.  It would be a nail in NASCAR’s coffin if they did anything to take that away from the fans.

Question 4
Kyle Larson has to feel like someone who’s in desperate need of sneezing. Having come so close to winning the past four races (counting last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami), when does he score that second MENCS victory?

Hobbs :  Sneezing?

This kid likes hot, slick tracks, and trust me, there are plenty of stops of the circuit that cater to that need. Auto Club Speedway is just around the corner so keep an eye on Larson there.  He’ll continue to make noise this season, I think. Heck, all of the young guns are already doing that.

Magda :  Look no further than the fifth race of 2017 at Auto Club Speedway.  Larson loves worn-out tracks and picked up his first XFINITY victory there in 2014.  To add to that weekend, he nearly bested Kyle Busch by going from eighth to second in the final two laps of the Cup race.  He almost won at Atlanta a few weeks ago, hovering around the top-five all race.  He will get another Cup win, maybe more once the season progresses.

Fesko :  Auto Club Speedway gives Larson a solid chance.  Remember how he almost outran Kyle Busch late in the race a few years back.  With the way he’s been running this season, he could very well take the checkered.  Oh yeah, ACS is the sister track to Michigan…a track where Larson won at last season.

Copple :  Larson needs to take a page out of Kevin Harvick’s book and learn how to close the deal.  He has a strong race but he just can’t seem to figure out how to get that final push to take the checkered.  That will come with time. Will he make it into Victory Lane this season?  Probably.  When?  That’s hard to tell.  There are a lot of tracks on the circuit that you could say he excels at but it’s not necessarily consistent.  He is still a young driver with a lot to learn.

Conley :  It’s a question that was pondered many times before he scored that first win at Michigan.  It’s like surfing – some catch tons on small waves, others catch a mammoth 30 footer and ride it out once every couple of years. Larson is on the big ride.  He’ll catch a few more good ones.  That’s the way Ganassi drivers seem to be.  If I knew when, I’d be betting the mortgage in Vegas.

Cassidy :  Kyle Larson has proven himself for sure in the 2017 season as well as the end of last year.  I believe that he needs to push a little more in order to gain those wins.  We have seen that veteran drivers are aggressive early in the season.  I believe he needs to match that in order to pull off some wins!

Hull :  As close as he has come these last two races, it won’t surprise me if we see Kyle Larson win very soon.  Auto Club is actually a great track for Larson.  He is very good at tracks that show a lot speed like Auto Club.  If he doesn’t, he has the potential of scoring a good finish.  He has been doing great this year so far!

Shoppe :  Despite not capitalizing on the late race running position he’s had lately, Kyle Larson has been having the best season by far of his career.  You may wonder why he doesn’t seem so upset about letting these wins slip through his fingers, but I think it’s because he finally is living up to the expectations this year.  He will break through to Victory Lane multiple times this year and he may just be a title contender at the end of the year.

Four solid laps around PIR and we can see Rattlesnake Hill from our racecar!  Before we think about climbing up those hills around the track, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!
Kyle Magda hit a homerun with his race pick...

Kyle Magda hit a home run with his race pick…

...and he's tied things up in the points standings!

…and he’s tied things up in the points standings!

While there’s no neon lights in desert, it’s always good to avoid those mirages!  Without further ado, let’s head on track and reveal our race picks for Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway!
It just worked out that way.

It just worked out that way.

Tiongson : Young guns are starting to make their presence known in the MENCS.  Since Kyle Larson‘s magnificent victory at Michigan last August, it seems like the youth movement’s been in full swing.  Look for Larson to win at PIR this Sunday and finally sneeze.

TPF Stats : A young gun who is killing it this season is Chase Elliot.  Let’s see what he can do in the desert.

Hobbs : After crunching the numbers, and crossing fingers, let’s see if Jimmie Johnson can turn things around.

Magda : Erik Jones gets the job done at Phoenix.

Shoppe : Joey Logano will take the win on Sunday!

Conley : I’m torn between the two guys that finished in the top two last November and fought on Sunday.  Unlike Sunday, Kyle Busch will come out on top of the pile this time.

Cassidy : Kyle Busch comes back for redemption!

Fesko : Kevin Harvick doesn’t come undone at his best track and erases the heartaches of Atlanta and Las Vegas with a win in the desert.

Copple : He is a man who has won six of the last 10 races at Phoenix.  Kevin Harvick is my man this weekend.

Hull : After careful consideration, I choose Kevin Harvick, even though his luck hasn’t been great here lately. I still think that he could get it done at Phoenix though.

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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