Track Talk: Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR. Additionally, we make our predictions on who may win the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Amanda ParmeleeAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, Kathleen CassidyKayla SturmKyle Magda, and Stephen Conley muse about Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s better late than never win at Talladega, the inevitable “Big One” from last Sunday’s race, the emergence of Jamie McMurray, and the nuances of racing at Kansas in the spring and fall!

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Question 1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr produced this same reaction when he beat Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest!

Ricky Stenhouse Jr produced this same reaction when he beat Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest!

Ricky Stenhouse Jr scored his much anticipated first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.  Clinching Roush Fenway’s first win and playoff berth since 2014, how pivotal is this victory for the No. 17 team and Roush Fenway organization?

Cassidy :  Overall, I think Stenhouse capitalized this weekend. Moving forward, I do not see the No. 17 team staying consistent for the whole 2017 season.

Sturm :  I think this victory was extremely crucial for Roush Fenway Racing (RFR). We all know they’ve had quite a few stale years recently. This win could most definitely put them back on the map as contenders. Not to mention, Bayne is performing fairly well, ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in the point standings, having brought home eight top 15’s already this season (including the Duel at Daytona).

We also can’t forget about RFR’s Xfinity drivers like Ryan Reed and Bubba Wallace. Reed won the Daytona Xfinity race and is eighth in the point standings. Meanwhile, Wallace has seven sixth place finishes so far and is fourth in the point standings. Watch out JGR. RFR is here to take the spotlight.

Hobbs :  Roush Fenway Racing has stepped up their game this season for sure. With that win, RFR has the fourth best average of all teams this year. However, to me, it does not come as a surprise that Ricky Stenhouse Jr won his first race at a restrictor plate track.

They say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the “pied piper of Talladega” but Ricky Stenhouse Jr has been nothing but amazing at plate tracks. This weekend serves nothing but good things up for RFR and I hope their fortunes continue.

Hull :  I think that this is huge for both Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Roush Fenway Racing! This is the first time that a driver has won in this organization since 2014, and it’s obviously Stenhouse’s first win! So hopefully this helps the organization have some moral moving forward.

Conley :  It’s huge for the team, not only for confidence, but proof the direction the team is working in. It shows that they are heading in a direction that allows them to be competitive. In addition, it gives Jack Roush with hopes of putting that third car back on track.

Magda :  It’s a pretty big win for the RFR camp especially with how close Ricky Stenhouse Jr was to winning his first race. Roush has been better this year and the lower-downforce package seems to suit both RFR drivers. The Brian Pattie pairing on the No. 17 team looks to be working versus the combination with Greg Biffle last season.

Parmelee :  Seeing Ricky Stenhouse win was absolutely fantastic. For a driver who was so highly anticipated coming out of the Xfinity Series, it felt as though maybe Stenhouse just wasn’t going to make it as a Cup driver. However, he’s been running much closer to the front of the pack this season, already notching three top-fives and five top-10s in the first 10 races of the season in comparison with four and six respectively last season.

I was truly heartbroken for Stenhouse after the loss of his close friend Bryan Clauson last year.  On that tangent, seeing this season starting to look up for him and the Roush Fenway team may actually have me believing in guardian angels. Whether they’re real or not, Stenhouse earned his way to Victory Lane on Sunday, and brought his name to the table in terms of those challenging the competition for the checkered flag each weekend.

Question 2
Rest assured, one year old Francisco Carleo did not cause this incident.

Rest assured, one year old Francisco Carleo did not cause this incident.

Plate racing can bring close competition and the unfortunate but expected “Big One” as demonstrated in the 16 car pileup on lap 169 at Talladega.  Was there too much taking and a lack of patience that resulted in that melee?

Cassidy :  I do think the “Big One” could have been avoided. However, that is what happens at plate races. Although fans are always concerned for drivers who are involved in these high speed crashes, without them, the races would not match up to expectation.

Sturm :  Going into superspeedway race weeks, everyone is already anticipating “The Big One.” However, as the race wore on, people were starting to question if it was going to happen or not. But Dega didn’t let us down in terms of big wrecks. There were many drivers throughout the course of the race that were being aggressive, but that’s just restrictor plate racing for you. I do think A.J. Allmendinger was being aggressive riding up on Chase Elliott like that, which is what caused the wreck. But like I said, that’s restrictor plate racing. Stuff happens.

Hobbs :  If I was watching the race and not traveling home from Nashville, I could answer this more specifically. In general, there is a point in time at Talladega where enough is enough and all bets are off. Usually around 20 laps to go, things start picking up. It is no surprise with the carnage that came with 19 laps to go.

Hull :  I think that it was a prime example of how a lack of patience can really screw up a lot of people’s day. While he had no intention of wrecking Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger was impatient and tried to make a move that didn’t work out, and ending up costing a few drivers a win. But that is Talladega for you.

Conley :  Not at all. That was probably the most patient we had seen drivers at Talladega in a while. That was a bump draft gone wrong. I mean look at the overtime. They made it four wide for almost an entire lap, and didn’t wreck the rest of the field like we tend to see on G-W-C finishes at Talladega and Daytona. Lots of give and take Sunday.

Magda :  Typical plate-racing. I think we can do away with the stages for Daytona and Talladega because it’s shown to be a product of drivers being too aggressive towards the end of the early stages. With under 20 to go, in a restrictor-plate race, “The Big One” is bound to happen. I’m not the biggest fan of plate-racing as it is but just seeing drivers make smart moves throughout the race and avoiding to cause the big wreck early on like in the Xfinity race is something else.

Parmelee :  In my opinion, there’s always going to be a “Big One” at restrictor plate races. With cars going more than 200 mph, all it took was Chase Elliott getting a smidge loose coupled by a baby tap by AJ Allmendinger to put a dent — literally — in nearly half the field. According to NASCAR, 18 cars were officially involved, with nine being driven, or towed, to the garage to end their day. Thankfully, no one was injured.  

Question 3
You see, they're McDonald's. I'm McMurray.

You see, they’re McDonald’s. I’m McMurray.

Jamie McMurray scored his sixth top-10 finish and came within a position of scoring his first MENCS win since 2013.  With all of the talk focused on teammate Kyle Larson this season, is it time for the competition to take notice of the No. 1 team?

Cassidy :  Jamie McMurray has not had many successes in the No. 1 car. However, this season, fans are seeing a turnaround. I think the knowledge of this organization is coming together. Finally, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray seem to have a pretty good handle on working their way to success.

Sturm :  Chip Ganassi Racing has been outstanding this year in general. Larson is absolutely dominating the point standings in first place while McMurray actually isn’t far behind in fifth. It’s no doubt that McMurray is performing much better this season. I definitely think he could be a dark horse and contend for a win sometime in the near future. So to answer the question, yes. Don’t underestimate the No. 1 team.

Hobbs :  If the competition didn’t have the Ganassi duo on their radar for weeks now, that is their problem. McMurray has the eighth best average finish this year (removing Michael Waltrip from the equation), right below that of Jimmie Johnson. His teammate, Kyle Larson, has the best average finish this year.

Chip Ganassi Racing has the second best average finish as a team, right behind the other duo at Team Penske. In fact, four of the top five teams in average finish are all two-car teams; the other one is a single car team. Something is being said about these smaller teams this year, and Chip Ganassi Racing wants to make a bigger name for themselves.

Hull :  Yes. I believe as a whole, Chip Ganassi Racing is a top-notch team this year. As far as Jamie McMurray goes, I think that people need to start paying attention to him as well. Out of the first 10 races, he has scored one top five, and six top tens. He has also lead 13 laps this year as well, and is currently ranked sixth in points. We shall continue to see great things from McMurray and his teammate this year.

Conley :  Jamie McMurray has always flown under the radar and he’s doing it once again. Boasting an average finish of 13th this season, he’s fifth in points with two Did Not Finishes (DNFs). Consistency is the name of the game for McMurray. Certainly, the drive and determination must be there come Richmond.

Magda :  Not yet and only due to the fact that Jamie McMurray hasn’t competed for wins like Larson has in 2017. Historically, McMurray’s a good restrictor-plate racer so it doesn’t surprise me he ran well at Talladega. What he did do differently from the Daytona 500 was be more patient with the drafting. He caused a lot of headaches in the season opener but made some great moves to get up front at Talladega. The No. 1 team is close but these next few weeks can be the tell-tale sign of their performance close to playoff time.

Parmelee :  I think it’s interesting that so many people feel as though some teams are only competitive when they’re challenging for first or second every week. Personally, I think Jamie McMurray has done a great job so far this season, with 60% of his finishes in the top 10. I don’t think that it’s fair to assume that his teammate’s successes in any way diminish those of the No. 1 team.  

Question 4
Workin' on our night moves, tryin' to make some front page, drive-in news...

Workin’ on our night moves, tryin’ to make some front page, drive-in news…

The first night race of the season is at Kansas Speedway, an intermediate track that’ll be revisited during the playoffs this fall.  How important is it for drivers and teams to get the optimum handle on this track with Charlotte awaiting in a few weeks plus the return trip in October?

Cassidy :  Kansas is an important track to get a solid grip on. With similar “sister” tracks on the NASCAR circuit, success here can project into other races such as the fall race or Charlotte. I look forward to seeing if drivers can succeed on all levels of the playing field in these upcoming weeks.

Sturm :  Well it’s extremely important, much like it was important for drivers to get the handle on Texas Motor Speedway after the big repave, considering they re-visit that track in November. It’s always vital for drivers to figure out what works for them at tracks like Kansas. This encompasses a wide range of things, such as pit strategy, what line works best for them, the style of racing, etc. Hopefully they can all get a feel of things this weekend.

Hobbs :  No two intermediate tracks are the same. With the Kansas and Charlotte races being at night in the spring and during the day in the fall, they are two different monsters of themselves. Sure, some notes might come in handy, but they are night and day (literally) of each other.

Hull :  It’s hard to tell because both Kansas and Charlotte are two different animals. Kansas is fast and hard to control. Charlotte is more cookie cutter. Plus, the strategies will be different. However, teams will need to learn some tricks before coming back in October. This will be crucial to them during the championship.

Conley :  I’d say it’s incredibly important. The problem is this is a rare two day show and all of the practice will be during the day and the race is at night. Albeit, the fall playoff race is a 3 p.m. start.  Meanwhile, they take information from practice that will benefit them come October. With that being an elimination race, any information that can be used may prove critical.

Magda :  The track time is important but two things come to mind. First is Saturday’s race is a night event compared to the playoff race in the daytime. There won’t be as much grip in October as the track has begun to age since the repave. Same thought goes for Charlotte with the fall race being in the daytime. The Coca-Cola 600 starts in the day and ends at night so the top contenders at the end of Saturday’s night race might be the same drivers you see up front come Memorial Day weekend.

Parmelee :  I think it’s always important for teams to get as much experience as they can on every track that they visit — something that’s not always easy or possible with the weather we’ve seen off and on this season. With Kansas appearing in the playoffs, it’s definitely one that flashes a bit brighter on teams’ radar screens as they head there this weekend. The same can be said for most of the tracks coming up in the next month or two, as well as the recent ones.

We’re going bowling, so don’t lose at Kansas or Solon!  Before it’s winning time on Saturday night, let’s rewind and see how everyone fared last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway!
While few escaped Talladega unscathed...

While few escaped Talladega unscathed…

...yours truly continues to lead the way!

…yours truly continues to lead the way!

Alright, race fans!  It’s time to go for a strike in the bowling alley.  Let’s do that up by revealing our picks to win Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway!
Which of these fantastic five will throw the big strike at Kansas?

Which of these fantastic five will throw the big strike at Kansas?

Tiongson : Kevin Harvick hasn’t won a race yet this season.  Ultimately, that winless streak ends at Kansas, where he duplicates that fall triumph with a big victory on Saturday night.

Hobbs :  It is hard to go against Matt Kenseth, who has the best numbers at Kansas in the spring.  However, I am going to reach a bit for Kevin Harvick this weekend.

Hull :  I am going to be bold and say that we will see Kevin Harvick have his first win of the year at Kansas.

Cassidy : Matt Kenseth, it’s winning time for you!

Sturm :  I’m going to risk it all here and pick Matt Kenseth. Having itched for that win lately, Kenseth can take heart with wins at Kansas in 2012 and ’13. 

Magda : Kyle Busch takes the win on Saturday night.

Parmelee :  I don’t think you all know how much it pains me to say this. Kyle Busch will triumph at Kansas.

TPF Stats :  With an average finish of eighth at Kansas, Brad Keselowski goes for his second career win at Kansas.

Conley :  Rolling out of the Go Bowling 400 with a trophy in hand will be Ryan Blaney.

That wraps it up, race fans!  Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk! We’re ready for some racing.  How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Saturday night’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. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the authors outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms and grandmas around the racing world!

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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