Track Talk: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

Jimmie Johnson has to be ecstatic to NOT be in Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

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 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Kerstin LewisKyle MagdaSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley reflect on Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 victory, the struggles of the rookie class at Daytona, the effect of the new race and points format, and the drivers and teams ready to get it done at Atlanta!

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Question 1
KB 41? More like KB 1.

KB 41? More like KB 1.

Kurt Busch overcame crash damage on lap 129 in the multicar crash in turn 3 to win this year’s Daytona 500. How impressive was his rally and does this somewhat complete his comeback story that started in 2012?

Fesko :  If I’m operating under the assumption from a decade ago that the smallest damage means you’re done at a plate race, the rally is amazing. Of course, the past few years have put that theory to rest. What’s more notable is that Busch had yet to win a points-paying plate race, and getting that monkey off his back is the real story here.

Magda :  I think the comeback started way before this. His move to Furniture Row Racing in 2013 sparked the re-birth of his racing career then Gene Haas adding him to Stewart-Haas Racing put the icing on the cake. Busch has made the playoffs each of the last four years and the Daytona 500 win adds to his already-impressive resume. At the end of the night, they had more fuel than the dominating cars and survived a grueling race in NASCAR’s first Cup race with the segment. Also glad for Tony Stewart getting his first win as an owner, I bet it made up for so many close times to winning the Great American race.  

Hull :  The ending of the race was amazing! Besides the finish last year, that was by far one of the best Daytona 500 finishes I have seen.  It was great to see someone like Kurt Busch score his first Daytona 500 victory. He has won a championship, so winning a huge crown jewel race was an amazing accomplishment, especially what he has been through the last six years. I must say, all of the adversity he has been through matured him, and this is really shows how hard he has worked to come back to his winning form.

Hobbs :  It has been a long, uphill battle for Kurt Busch. He has gone through a lot in the past 5 years but he kept his head high. His attitude has changed quite a bit over the past few years and I think that really helped him in his personal life and professional life. Joining Stewart-Haas is probably the best thing that could have happened to Kurt, and it shows. However, one race does a season not make – he has to keep going strong.  

Cassidy :  Kurt has had strong seasons since moving over to SHR. With this momentum, I think the 41 team has a good chance to comeback, allowing Kurt to show his true driving potential.

Shoppe :  The huge win by Kurt Busch in the Daytona 500 is a storybook capstone to a great comeback by the Las Vegas driver! When Busch was barely able to land the James Finch ride after being fired by Team Penske, I bet very few people thought he would be a Daytona 500 champion. Kurt’s comeback in the race itself was also impressive after being in that wreck on lap 129, swearing on the radio about Jimmie Johnson, and acting like it was over. This rebound is reminiscent of his first win with the No. 41 team in Martinsville after coming back from a pit lane crash with Brad Keselowski in 2014.

Conley :  I’m going to say it was quite impressive after hearing his radio communications. I thought he was going to come out of that car and turn Jimmie Johnson to a big pile of blue goo.

Kurt did exactly what champions of the past have done this win…overcome, and with the mirror issue, he raced and didn’t let things get to him. It’s almost as if it was another driver in the car. As for the full comeback, it’s certainly a major positive, maybe his new wife will help keep him reigned in this year. He will be fun to watch.

Copple : I think this win is a testament to Busch and his crew chief Tony Gibson. These two have great chemistry together as does the group of guys on the pit crew. A lot of these guys have been working with Gibson for years and it shows on race day. I don’t know if I would say that this win is a turn in the right direction for Busch but it’s definitely a start. If he can continue this success in the coming weeks, then we can revisit the question.

Question 2
Daniel Suarez will probably feel like Commander Riker in a few races.

Daniel Suarez will probably feel like Commander Riker in a few races.

This year’s rookie class didn’t fare too well in the Daytona 500.  With this weekend’s race being at Atlanta Motor Speedway, how do they fare at this track and which rookie will have a great race this weekend?

Fesko :  They’ll all fare better because they can run the race they want to run and not the race that’s necessary. Look for Erik Jones to make the biggest splash this weekend since he has the most Cup experience in competitive equipment.

Magda :  Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez both got caught up in crashes but that’s how unpredictable restrictor-plate racing. They both made rookie mistakes by missing their pit stalls which can leave them hung out to dry in the draft. Jones led some laps in the 2015 Truck race while Suarez scored his first top-five in a NASCAR-national series race for Kyle Busch Motrosports. I’ll give the upper edge to Jones because he ran well in last year’s XFINITY event at Atlanta. Goofed at the beginning of the race when he jumped the initial start but rebounded to a third-place finish behind the Kyle [Busch] and Kyle [Larson] show. Jones can rely on Furniture Row teammate Martin Truex Jr. who typically runs well at the 1.54-mile track.

Hull :  Daytona is a crap shoot track, and sometimes, you get caught up in wrecks that is beyond your control. I believe that despite the finish he had, I think we will see some good things from Daniel Suarez. He looked good during the Clash and the Daytona 500, until he wrecked. He is a very talented driver, and he could have an impressive finish this Sunday.

Hobbs :  Do rookies ever really fare well at Daytona? No one wants to draft with them or be around them because, well, they are rookies. That is just how the sport works. Atlanta is a different beast, one where driver and car are working more and not relying on the draft. It is always difficult to answer a rookie question because you do not have enough data to say anything about them.

Cassidy :  Daytona isn’t always about skill, but about luck. Sadly, no rookies were lucky enough to make it through the multiple crashes. I see Erik Jones making his comeback this week and proving to the NASCAR fans he’s worthy of this ride.

Shoppe :  The Daytona 500 wasn’t very good to the rookies but it wasn’t much better for some veterans either, so I wouldn’t feel as bad if I were one of the first year drivers who finished poorly. For Suarez, it was his first official Cup start. For Erik Jones, it was a week to forget since day one of inspection. Ty Dillon was in some of the many wrecks, and Corey LaJoie, believe it or not, was the best finishing rookie despite the embarrassing pit entry fail. 

For Atlanta I think we are going to see the beginning of a great year-long rookie battle between Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. If I have to pick between the two, I’d say Jones will have an early edge for now until Suarez gets more accustomed to the Cup car. 

Conley :  A lot of veterans didn’t fare well at Daytona either, but moving on with the rookies, I think you have to give the edge to Suarez, only because of the team. Neither Erik or Daniel have the experience with the long race, and we’ve seen that take a toll on experienced drivers. The 19 is an established team and with the 77 being a new car and team, it could take a little longer to get up to speed.

Copple : Ah, rookies. Daytona is usually a tough track to start off the season with for those who have never raced in a Cup car before and Atlanta is an entirely different beast. I hope to see Daniel Suarez do well but with his only seat time in a Cup car coming at Daytona…I guess we will see.

Question 3
New stage formats certainly brought more spicier racing at Daytona.

New stage formats certainly brought more spicier racing at Daytona.

Did the new stage and points format add to the aggression factor that NASCAR fans clamored for and will this carry over consistently throughout this season?

Fesko :  I can’t say that it added tons of aggression, as Daytona is its own animal. Certainly as the stages wound down there was some more jockeying for position, but overall the racing seemed like quintessential plate racing. The real test will come this weekend at Atlanta where cars aren’t likely to be as close as they are at Daytona.

Magda :  There wasn’t much to see with the new stage format at Daytona. It’s nose-to-tail drafting all 500 miles and can’t formulate an opinion on it just yet. Atlanta will be a better benchmark for all three series with the worn-out surface and multiple grooves to choose from. Kasey Kahne said after the Daytona XFINITY race the stages didn’t make a difference so check back in next week for a better answer to see if the new race format is good-to-go.  

Hull :  Honestly, I think that it kind of factored into it. I think that adding this element of racing can invite some aggression. However, the wrecks were also a product of it being a plate race. This weekend will be the real test of how this format will really be. So, let’s actually see how this goes for the next couple of races before making a conclusion.

Hobbs :  I think the stage racing played into hard racing in the last five, 10 laps of each stage, but I do not think it was the (sole) reason for the carnage that was seen in all three series at Daytona. Everyone wants to win at Daytona, and that is also part of the reason. This weekend is truly when we will see how the stages affect the races and the aggression. I just wish they removed the caution flag and just kept the action going…  

Cassidy :  Last Sunday’s Daytona appeared to be one of the most aggressive ones yet. As the racing coverage stated, we saw drivers getting pushy very earlier. I think this was a result of the stages and new points format. However, it took away from the race overall. By only having a limited amount of cars there at the end, and our round winners out, it was interesting to see this concept play out. Moving forward, I think it will vary based on track, adding excitement to tracks such as Pocono or Michigan, where we see long green runs.

Shoppe :  Lots of people are blaming the new stage format for the amount of accidents in the Daytona 500. I just don’t see the stages being a factor in the wreaks or aggression. Nobody was wrecking, trying to get the points for a stage top ten. It was just after the last stage began. I am a fan of this new format and hope to see it add excitement to 1 1/2 mile tracks starting this weekend! 

Conley :  We certainly saw a lot of “movin’ and shakin” at the end of the two stages, so I think it certainly was in the driver’s minds. Did it have an effect on the wrecks? Not at all, as the worst ones seem to come after the the second stage and second half of the race. I think it also had an effect on the Daytona 500 coming down to fuel mileage. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the unknowns play out the rest of the year.

Copple :  Frankly, I hated it. But then again, it’s Daytona. You can’t really judge a new format based off of a super speedway race. Ask me again after Atlanta. This could work for some tracks but for others, let’s stick with the usual please.  

Question 4
Jimmie Johnson has to be ecstatic to NOT be in Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

Jimmie Johnson has to be ecstatic to NOT be in Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

If Daytona Speedweeks felt like a season onto itself, most would say that the real racing season starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Which drivers and teams do you see capitalizing on this opportunity to gain points at this track?

Fesko :  Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Chase Elliott all look they’ll be poised to make noise this weekend.

Magda :  Two drivers come to mind for Atlanta. The home-state driver, Chase Elliott, nearly won his first cup race in the Daytona 500 but scored his first victory of any in the first Gatorade Duel. It’s also a big-home game for NAPA Auto Parts with them being headquartered in Atlanta. The Hendrick camp was strong at AMS last year as Jimmie Johnson made it back-to-back victories there and Dale Earnhardt Jr. nipped Kyle Busch at the last scoring loop for a runner-up finish. Hendrick holds the last three wins at Atlanta and the winning car can come from Hendrick power. Expect Kyle Larson running the high side in the race, looking to add another win to his first last August.

Hull :  I see both of the Penske cars having a strong showing here at Atlanta. They good showing at Daytona. The mile and a half tracks are really their specialty. I think that Chase Elliott can channel his dad and do really well here too. He did very well at Daytona despite running out of gas. We also cannot count the Gibbs cars out either. And of course, Jimmie Johnson, who is a beast at this track, could get it done too.

Hobbs :  Jimmie Johnson usually leaves Daytona with his head high or low and then goes on to Atlanta and hoists a trophy. This could be a quick turn around for the 48 group. It could also be a chance for young guns Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. The fast track that Hotlanta is pairs well with these young kids.

Cassidy :  I see some of our big names coming back for strong finishes at Atlanta. We saw drivers such as Dale Jr, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch struggle at Daytona. With a redirect in team emotion and a solid game plan, these drivers can be real contenders for this weeks race.

Shoppe :  When I look at the drivers who need to make up some lost ground from Daytona, first, I look at the Gibbs teams who all finished poorly despite Kyle Busch’s stage one win. Also, Jimmie Johnson looks to rebound after a more than forgettable Speedweeks!

Conley :  Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are at the top of that list as these two have won there and for Jimmie, he’s got back to back wins the last two years. He could go from the outhouse to the penthouse in just this one weekend, or at least a nice elevator ride towards the top. Don’t be surprised if he sweeps the points this weekend.

Copple :  I can see the Hendrick Motorsports clan running really well this weekend, especially with Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson. Daytona is a great race but the real fun starts this weekend in Atlanta. This is where we really get a taste of what the season will be about and who I’ll start off strong.

The opening laps at Atlanta are complete with the TPF Track Talk team bringing it, as usual! Before we drop the hammer for our Atlanta race picks, let’s review our Daytona 500 results!

Close racing action results in...

Close racing action results in…

...a very tight points battle to start 2017!

…a very tight points battle to start 2017!

Without further ado, let’s get to it and reveal our picks to win today’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway!
Who of these fantastic five find their way to Victory Lane?

Who of these fantastic five find their way to Victory Lane?

Tiongson :  Gosh, this is a tough one because Jimmie Johnson’s been the master at Atlanta Motor Speedway as of late. While the seven-time Cup champion will have a good day, Chase Elliott will have a great day at his home track and capture his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday!

Fesko :  Going with Jimmie Johnson.

Magda :  It’s Kevin Harvick time. 

Cassidy :  Dale Earnhardt Jr earns a redemption victory!

Shoppe :  It’ll be Kyle Busch‘s time to win!

Hull :  I pick Jimmie Johnson to win this race!

Hobbs :  It is very hard to go against Johnson, Jimmie Johnson, at Hotlanta….

TPF Stats :  TPF Stats projects Jimmie Johnson as the race winner.

 

Conley :  “The Dominator” Jimmie Johnson wins his third in a row at Atlanta.

Copple :  I’m picking Jimmie Johnson to win it!

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!

Special thanks to Jeremy Thompson of The Racing Experts for taking some of the photos accompanying this weekend’s race preview, including our featured image, and others, whereas acknowledged.

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

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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