Track Talk: AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR. Additionally, we attempt to pick the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Amanda ParmeleeAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, Kathleen Cassidy, Katie CoppleKayla SturmKyle Magda, and Stephen Conley talk about the impact of Austin Dillon’s win for playoff contenders, Kyle Busch’s post-race demeanor following the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the possibility of an outsider racing in NASCAR, and the potential for familiar faces to contend at Dover!

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Question 1
The thrill of a first victory. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow)

The thrill of a first victory. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow)

Austin Dillon and his new crew chief Justin Alexander parlayed a fuel mileage strategy to score their first ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Might this victory prompt teams fighting for playoff positions to gamble in the summer races?

Magda :  There’s always the element of strategy involved, especially now with stage racing and playoff points having more meaning now than ever. As important it is to win stages, claiming the victory is the main prize to lock into the postseason.

Looking back at Phoenix, Ryan Newman was running in the top-10 as the No. 31 team decided to stay out. It proved to be the right call, snapping a three-and-a-half-year winless streak for Richard Childress Racing. It’s time to up the ante for those not locked into the playoffs to claw their way in during the dog days of summer.

Copple :  The Coca-Cola 600 is a fuel mileage race and teams knew that. It’s such a long race with many, many cautions that I don’t think it’s never not going to come down to fuel mileage. There are not too many races left before the playoffs start and there are still a good number of drivers who need a spot.

Will they gamble for spots? Maybe some. But is gambling for a win worth it if you end up losing your chance at making it in on points? For some, it might be.

Hobbs :  Fuel mileage is always a fun game to play when we enter the summer months. The master with the fuel mileage game is Brad Keselowski.

I do anticipate more teams to try something different for them so they can try and steal away a victory. Besides, we have road courses this summer to look forward to and that in itself will be an interesting time.

Sturm :  Absolutely. This was Austin Dillon’s first win not only this year but since he started running full time in the Cup series, so that’s one less spot open for the playoffs.

That makes teams/drivers that are on the bubble more desperate for a win/points to secure their spot as well. Dillon is 21st in points so drivers that are actually in the playoffs now without a win (in the top 16) are going to push harder in fear of losing that spot. I definitely think we’re going to see more aggressive racing coming up here soon between some of the top drivers that aren’t already promised a playoff spot.

Cassidy :  I think we are getting to that point in the season where teams are going to have to start gambling. Being almost halfway through the regular season means some teams will have to take chances if they want to see that playoff position.

Hull :  I think that now that we are getting closer to the season finale, we will see a lot more teams and drivers push the envelope a bit to ensure that they get that victory and playoff spot. And it will be dependent on what tracks we go to.

It could be big at Michigan where fuel mileage plays a huge role in victories there. I believe that Austin Dillion’s victory may prompt teams to try out the same strategy as well. Hopefully, it will have the same results.

Conley :  I don’t know if we’ll see as much during the summer months. However, those final handful of races prior to Richmond are another story. I think Charlotte was a perfect storm with that extra stage 100 laps from the end.

It almost forced a fuel mileage race. That said, this year has been finicky. We could see a lot of strange things happen, including way out of left field strategy wins.

Shoppe :  Austin Dillon’s fuel strategy luck has filled up one more playoff position come September, making this year’s cutoff situation even more interesting! This year ,we have some new names already winning their way into playoff contention meaning more pressure then ever is on the shoulders of the teams yet to score that win.

I think we will see teams that may not have been willing to gamble on fuel mileage or stay out when rain is coming. They may decide to roll the dice more after seeing guys like Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon get lucky already this year!

Parmelee :  I think when it comes down to racing for a win, you’re always going to have people who choose to gamble. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson are the prime example for an added element of excitement during races when teams are trying to get their first win like Dillon, or when teams have already notched a win and are just looking to say, “Why not?” It was exciting to see the gamble pay off for Dillon, though, especially in the first race with his new crew chief.

Question 2
Kyle Busch's post race reaction at Charlotte was quite polarizing. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Kyle Busch’s post race reaction at Charlotte was quite polarizing. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Kyle Busch had one of the strongest cars in the Coca-Cola 600 but wound up with a runner-up result.  His post race reaction resulted in some reaction on social media  Was his demeanor after the race understandable or acceptable or a bit questionable?

Magda :  I understand it was a long night for drivers, teams, fans, and media having to wait out a rain delay and then the race ending after midnight. Kyle Busch really came on strong in the closing laps and had it been a 401-lap race, he might’ve won it.

It’s also important to stay composed in frustrating situations like Sunday night where we saw a very disappointed All Star Race winner come so close to becoming the first driver to sweep the Charlotte races in seven years. The GIF around the world of Busch picking his nose, you have to watch your actions because everyone can see it.

Another question is did something happen to Busch on his way to the media center after giving his TV interview. There’s still a lot of unknowns, especially with Busch on the cusp of Victory Lane. All told, the only person who knows what happened is Busch.

Copple :  Is anyone really surprised anymore when Kyle Busch goes on one of his rants after a race? It’s a fairly common occurrence during the racing season. And that is all I am going to say on that matter.

Hobbs :  It is 100 percent understandable. Kyle Busch drives with his heart on his sleeves. If he is disappointed, he lets you know it. If he is happy, he lets you know it.

Why should he hide his frustrations? He gets out of the car every week, gets a camera shoved in his face after hours of being in the car; you cannot expect him to always be 100 percent happy and content.

Kyle Busch is one of the best drivers out there today and the bad wrap he gets, I dislike it. I love when this driver wears everything on his sleeves and not giving a damn what anyone else thinks.

Sturm :  Oh, Kyle. Definitely not acceptable. He’s a passionate driver and he has that fire to win, I get that. But there’s a difference between expressing your emotions and disappointment in a mature way and expressing it in an immature way. Kyle Busch chose the latter.

I don’t blame him for being frustrated, I would be too if I fought that hard for 600 miles only to end up coming in second to a guy who won on fuel mileage. But it wasn’t a good look for him, and I think he needs to be careful with the things he does and says sometimes because it reflects badly on his sponsors as well.

Cassidy :  I believe Kyle Busch had a reason to be upset, yet carried himself very unprofessional in the media center. It is always nice to see the passion that drivers bring to the sport. However, Kyle Busch is always one to push that barrier over the edge.

Hull :  I totally understand Kyle Busch’s anger after losing. Every driver can tell you how disappointing and frustrating it is to lose. I understand that he has had a rough year so far, and that is frustrating him. I know plenty of drivers who have had dry spells like this, including his own teammates right now.

However, none of them have ever acted as childish as Kyle Busch. He needs to use that anger in a more positive and classy way. Truly, he needs to use that anger to drive him to greatness.

Busch does not need to act out in front of the reporters though. How would he feel if someone did that to him? I am sure he would not like it one bit. So he needs to tone things down. His attitude is not helping him at all.

Conley :  I support Kyle Busch completely with his reaction in the media center. His interviews on the grid were perfect. That said, the adrenaline was still flowing and he’s excited about how well he ran.

However, 10 minutes go by, Busch walks to the media center, has time to reflect on losing that race, not to mention it’s after 1 a.m., consider that he was close to winning. The first question out of a certain reporter’s mouth is not about him or his team. Instead it is about what he thinks how Austin Dillon feels like getting his first win.

That should set him off. I love that he fired off. Not to mention, he answered the question.

Was it “PC Jimmie Johnson”? No, it was perfect Kyle Busch. Fans complain when the drivers are too “vanilla,” then lose their minds when they get this.

Print t-shirts that say “I’m not surprised by anything.”

Shoppe :  Yet another example of Kyle Busch being a sore loser and setting a bad example for the kids who love to follow his colorful M&M’s car each week. Dale Earnhardt Jr put it best during his Periscope session, saying “he needs a Snickers.”

Unfortunately, a Snickers won’t be enough to cure Busch’s terrible attitude which continues to hurt his reputation with fans and competitors alike. Say what you want about freedom of speech and not having to provide a certain quality of response to the press, but when you are picking your nose and dropping microphones like a spoiled baby, you are not acting like the professional a champion should.  

Parmelee :  I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not Kyle Busch’s biggest fan. I respect him as a very talented racecar driver and I admire the things that he has done for his fans and through his work with the Kyle Busch Foundation. However, this is one of those situations that could have been handled so much better on his part. My biggest problem wasn’t that he was terse when answering Bob Pockrass’ question — it was the mic toss afterwards.

I was also incredibly disappointed that his actions were defended with the idea that, “He works hard and is disappointed when he loses.” Every single driver out there works hard, and I guarantee they’re all disappointed when they lose. The difference is that there are drivers who would kill to be in Kyle Busch’s shoes right now — driving a top-performing Cup car with incredible sponsors and finishing in the top 5. I think his actions were disrespectful, end of story.  

Question 3
If Fernando Alonso could challenge for the Indy 500 win, can the same happen for an outsider in NASCAR?

If Fernando Alonso could challenge for the Indy 500 win, can the same happen for an outsider in NASCAR?

The Indianapolis 500 had a Formula 1 international racing superstar Fernando Alonso forego his normal race, the Monaco Grand Prix, to participate in the May races at the Brickyard. Might we see something like this in NASCAR at a place like Daytona or Charlotte in the near future?

Magda :  Alonso’s Indy 500 performance was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time for a rookie. It reminds me of watching the 1993 Indianapolis 500 broadcast with Formula 1 champ Nigel Mansell almost winning in his first Brickyard start.

I don’t really see anyone in open wheel coming over to NASCAR. However, one possibility I thought of was Lewis Hamilton leaving Mercedes to go to Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). There’s absolutely no truth in this, just throwing the idea out there.

A lot of uncertainty surrounds Danica Patrick’s future at SHR even with Nature’s Bakery and the organization settling their lawsuit. I can see Hamilton making the jump to NASCAR. It may happen in a time where Ferrari is the cream of the crop in F1 and Mercedes is slightly behind at this point of the year.

Copple :  We’ve seen it in the past but very infrequently. There is a big difference in jumping from an open-wheel car to a stock car, more so than jumping from Formula One to IndyCar. Getting drivers from different series would, in my opinion, help NASCAR by bringing in new faces both on track and on television.

Maybe we can get more running the double with the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600. More and more, we are seeing F1 drivers jumping to IndyCar. Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was a F1 driver between 2002 and 2008 before jumping over to IndyCar. Max Chilton is another one who made the jump.

Will we see them come to NASCAR? Maybe, but the last driver to make the open-wheel to stock car jump was Danica Patrick. None have had success in doing so besides Tony Stewart. They are two very different beasts.

Hobbs :  We have seen some try to do the double before but that is as far as it will go. A NASCAR driver’s job is in that Cup car. If they miss this race to drive in another, there is no way NASCAR will give them a pass and they are out of the championship.

Sturm :  I’m not 100% sure. Difficult question. I’m leaning more towards no. Alonso has had a pretty bad year in F1 so I can see why he would do that. When a better offer surfaces, you weigh the pros and cons. But as far as NASCAR goes, I think most drivers are pretty committed to the series and regardless of how they’re performing, it seems like for the most part, they stick with it.

Cassidy :  I could see something of this nature happening at Daytona, but not any other races. The Daytona 500 is the race in NASCAR that gets the most attention. However, the entry list is already big enough. I do not see any other superstars at this time trying to fight their way into NASCAR races.

Hull :  I know that Lewis Hamilton has been interested in running a Cup race before. If he still interested in doing it, that would be big. I could see him doing a road course race.

I remember how big it was to have Kimi Raikkonen in a truck race in 2011. While I am unsure how it would be received by NASCAR fans, seeing that Hamilton has an interest in it, it could happen!  

Conley :  It’s possible. Lewis Hamilton says he wants to run Daytona but our style of racing is so unlike anything they see. The distances, the communication, and the car itself are some factors to consider. I don’t want to see someone make a joke of it just because they have a big name, then jump in to the 500 and not know how to draft. It would turn our biggest race in to a junkyard. Ultimately, some of the best in this sport have done the same.

Shoppe :  Although I don’t see any current Formula 1 drivers making any plans anytime soon to skip a Grand Prix to run a Cup race, I would love to see some open-wheel NASCAR crossover! Romain Grosjean has talked about wanting to run a road course race with his connection with Gene Haas.

Verizon IndyCar Series racer James Hinchcliffe wants to run Watkins Glen. It would be great for other series involved, if on an off weekend, to try stock cars out, or a NASCAR driver trying their hand at an IndyCar or vice versa. Many fans miss the old days of drivers running any and all types of cars they could find just for the love of racing!

Parmelee :  This was an interesting situation because I think we see far more drivers choosing to run in other series — for example, Tony Stewart running double duty at Indianapolis and Charlotte — than we do open-wheel drivers competing in the Cup series.

While I think it would be interesting to see drivers in different series, there are so many drivers who are trying to make it in the Cup series that I almost feel as though it would be more discouraging to drivers competing for spots to see someone with little to no Cup experience come and compete against them.

Question 4
Might we see some Bristol favorites contend for the win at Dover?

Might we see some Bristol favorites contend for the win at Dover?

Kicking off the final races of the spring season is Dover International Speedway, otherwise known as “The Monster Mile.” Might we see some of the familiar faces who thrived at Bristol duplicate their efforts at this concrete beast in Delaware?

Magda :  The first driver that stands out is Jimmie Johnson. He’s only won 10 times there and ran such a strong race last fall at the Monster Mile until a speeding penalty cost him a shot at the win. Nevertheless, Johnson rebounded for a good finish en route to his seventh-title run.

Drivers like Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch could use a win this weekend by starting to show more speed in their Toyotas. It’s hard to believe JGR hasn’t won a Cup points race yet in 2017.

Two other names I’ll throw out there: Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott.  They both contended in last year’s Dover races and propelled themselves into the second round of the playoffs. This race acts as a wildcard especially with the massive wrecks we’ve seen over the years.

Copple :  Jimmie Johnson is always a favorite to win at both tracks. He’s just that good at short tracks. Hell, he’s good almost anywhere. I think we are going to see some of the same faces run up front from Dover is a monster for a reason. It takes more than a good car to run well and win at Dover.

Hobbs :  I hope to see some young faces up front; I hope to see some great side-by-side racing. Also, I hope to see some veteran drivers like Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson flexing their muscles. Maybe, we will see someone we never thought of heat up for the summer stretch like Kasey Kahne.

Sturm :  I think so. One of Jimmie Johnson’s best tracks is Dover, and we know he won at Bristol this year. But then again, which track isn’t one of Johnson’s best tracks? The man is a beast everywhere. I also think Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth (both top 10 finishers at Bristol) could be strong contenders, seeing as they have past wins at Dover. As far as the rest goes, we’ll just have to wait and see!

Cassidy :  I think it is safe to say that Dover is a track where a few teams have mastered over the years. I think Dover is a little more predictable than Bristol. The tracks are similar enough to see drivers piggyback off their success Bristol for this weekend’s race.

Hull :  I know that Kyle Larson will probably do well at this track. He is great at Dover. Chase Elliott could also be a favorite as well. Dover is a bigger version of Bristol, so we shall see the concrete kings do well here this weekend. But out of all of them that did well at Bristol, I see Kyle Larson doing the best.

Conley :  If they put that traction compound down, I couldn’t tell you what we’ll see with a crystal ball. This is a great track for Jimmie Johnson. However, Matt Kenseth could be a factor in scoring his first win of the season. Keselowski has been strong here as well.

Last fall, Truex outlasted Kyle Busch at Dover. We’ll see if the Joe Gibbs Racing resurgence that we’ve seen the last two weeks is real at a track they’ve excelled at.

Shoppe :  Well, Jimmie Johnson did win Bristol earlier this year and as I recall, he is pretty darn good at the Monster Mile. I expect to see the No. 48 up front towards the end of the race. We have seen the monster be fairly tame in recent years with long green runs and less yellow flags. It is likely that the stages will change the way this Dover race will play out and could lead to a new concrete king!

Parmelee :  Personally, I am really hoping to see Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez duplicate their previous years’ successes at the Xfinity level with a win this weekend at Dover. With Jones taking home the trophy in May of last year and Suarez seeing Victory Lane in October, I don’t think it would be too big of a jump to see the two rookies fight for some lead laps this weekend.

I think we’ve seen many of the typical top finishers show up at Bristol and Dover — Martin Truex, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth specifically — the four drivers who placed in the top 8 at Bristol and have each notched a Victory Lane appearance at Dover in the last 4 races. Though I expect one of those drivers will most likely see Victory Lane again, I’m also excited to see the outcome for drivers like Kasey Kahne, Matt DiBenedetto, and Danica Patrick who have each run well at tracks like Dover and Bristol in the past.  

That’s four solid laps around this tricky beast in Delaware!  Before it’s winning time,  let’s review how we all fared during last Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte!
Conley and Parmelee enjoyed solid top-five results...

Conley and Parmelee enjoyed solid top-five results…

...which has resulted in a change with the points lead!

…which has resulted in a change with the points lead!

Alright, race fans!  Let’s reveal our picks to win Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway!
Which of these seven star racers takes the win at Dover?

Which of these seven star racers takes the win at Dover?

Tiongson :  This driver won here in about 33 percent of his 30 starts. When a seven-time Cup champion says they can’t wait to head to their favorite track, that’s confidence being expressed. It’s like Babe Ruth’s called shot in the 1932 World Series. On Sunday, it’ll be Jimmie Johnson scoring his 11th victory at Dover.

Magda :  My pick for Sunday is Jimmie Johnson.

Sturm :  My pick to win is the legend Jimmie Johnson. Like I said, Dover is one of his best tracks, and I don’t think that’s changing this year.

Hull :  My pick is Jimmie Johnson, because he has had a decent year, and you can’t argue with statistics.

Copple :  Martin Truex Jr has been strong in recent weeks and ran a great race at Charlotte. He also won the last race at Dover. It’s his time to make a trip in Victory Lane.

Cassidy :  The winner on Sunday will be Martin Truex Jr and the No. 78 crew!

TPF Stats :  The numbers favor a rebound for Chase Elliott this weekend.

Hobbs :  I want to see Kyle Busch silence the haters! Let’s get it done, Rowdy!

Conley :  Joey Logano rolls over the monster in Dover.

Shoppe :  My pick is Kevin Harvick.

Parmelee :  I’m going with Matt Kenseth!

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 Sunday’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 participants and author 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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