Track Talk: Pocono 400 at Pocono

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 Axalta 400 at Pocono Raceway.

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen Cassidy, Kayla SturmKyle MagdaStephen Conley and special guest analyst Jim Noble of Sirius XM NASCAR Radio and Performance Racing Network reflect on Jimmie Johnson’s 83rd career Cup win, the health of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s NASCAR efforts, and the beloved overtime line!

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Question 1
Johnson shows us what it's like to beat the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers video game.

Johnson shows us what it’s like to beat the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers video game.

Jimmie Johnson scored his 11th victory at Dover International Speedway, tying Cale Yarborough for the sixth spot in the all-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins list. How significant was Johnson’s victory in a time when the sport’s going through a paradigm shift in terms of its leading stars between the veterans and young guns?

Noble :  Johnson’s win is significant but not in the way you describe. I don’t feel it is anything like a “last stand” for the veteran drivers. Instead, it speaks more to Johnson and the No. 48 team being able to stand on top of the sport for nearly two decades – through shifts in cars, rules, formats and everything that NASCAR has thrown at them. The great young drivers are here and here to stay – but none can hold a candle to driver 48.

Hobbs :  Those who deny the significance are not fans of the sport. We are talking about one of the greatest drivers of all time, and tying another one of the greatest of all time. This was an extraordinary day for Jimmie Johnson!

It was also a great day for young drivers. Kyle Larson had an outstanding day only to come up short. Chase Elliott rebounded nicely from his poor May and this could be a bad sign for the rest of the field. Most of the season has seen these young guns making a lot of noise. To see a veteran like Johnson come out on top is a statement to his amazingness.

Magda :  It’s something to celebrate at this time in NASCAR. Never again we will see this in racing history, a driver in the modern-era winning titles in two different formats. I know it’s not the same as Earnhardt or Petty but the No. 48 always finds a way to the front. Last year’s finale showed me Johnson still has it and winning a seventh-title alongside NASCAR’s all-time greats.

Sturm :  I love Jimmie Johnson. Indeed, I think he’s an amazing driver and definitely one of the greatest of this era.

However, with the way NASCAR has been suffering lately fan-wise, I don’t think Johnson winning necessarily helped the cause at all. People want to see the young guns winning, at least from what I’ve seen on Twitter, especially the younger generation, the future of NASCAR.

While I know a lot of people were saying Kyle Larson should have won, I’m personally glad it was Jimmie Johnson because like I said, he’s one of my favorites. Ultimately, I think people are thinking that Johnson has had his time in the limelight and it’s time for the young guns to take over.

Furthermore, I believe NASCAR needs to start marketing the younger guys more because they’re the future of the sport and the deciding factor in whether or not the sanctioning body will thrive or flop.

Conley :  Just another notch in the belt that continues building Jimmie Johnson’s resume as the “G.O.A.T.” It’s really significant if you look at the grandstands as he was taking the checkered flag.

Like Jeff Gordon at the end of his career, there were more cheers than boos directed at Johnson. Granted, he still has a large group of detractors and haters. However, we are beginning to see more and more respect at the level of greatness that Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have brought to this sport, especially with their longevity.

Hull :  Well, it proves that these young guns still have a long way to go to catch up to Jimmie Johnson. This proves that Johnson is still continuing to be in winning form. For Johnson, it is very significant.

Cassidy :  I think Jimmie Johnson’s victory was huge for fan bases both old and new. Through Johnson scoring so many wins within his time, it shows race fans that no matter the changes that NASCAR brings to the series, the best drivers are truly captured.

Lucas :  Before I give my answer, I would like to give a big thank you to Kyle Magda for introducing me to The Podium Finish last week.  I’d also like to Rob Tiongson for letting me join the group. This is going to be a lot of fun!

There is a major shift within the Cup series ranks and it’s very apparent. Kyle Larson, the kid dubbed “Young Money,” dominated at Dover.  However, he was outfoxed by a clever, wily, older seven-time champion named Jimmie Johnson.

Larson had every right to be a little miffed that he lost to another “old guard” member this season. I like the tenacity of the young drivers this year as it’s at an all-time high.

What Johnson is doing this season is extremely interesting. Usually, the No. 48 team gets its one regular season win out of the way early on in the season. Afterwards, they go straight-up R&D mode until playoffs time.

Instead, they’ve been competitive week in and week out, and were able to pounce on a late race restart this past weekend. You can’t deny that Jimmie Johnson is this era’s Dale Earnhardt. He’s reached the peak of NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore and set up camp! I honestly think he will win another championship, and it could come as soon as this season.

Parmelee : There’s the leading stars, the rookies, and then there’s Jimmie Johnson. I think we’re at a point where the seven-time champ has earned a spot in a category all his own.

At a time when we’re counting down to the retirement of one of the sport’s biggest names, the similarities between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson — and the differences — seem to make what Johnson is doing even more of an outlier. There will always be people who remain unimpressed by Johnson and Knaus, but to do what they’ve done in a time when the sport is arguable the most competitive it’s ever been, is nothing short of ridiculous. Until a time that Johnson isn’t visiting Victory Lane every few races, the rookies will just be getting a closer seat than the rest of us to one of the best drivers the sport may ever see.

Question 2
Should the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series do more short track racing?

Should the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series do more short track racing?

Dustin Long of NBC Sports revealed some sobering information about the health of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in his article, where Brad Keselowski mentioned that operating a team in this division is a “money loser.” What should NASCAR do to revitalize this fledgling series for the competitors and fans?

Noble :  With only 26 or 27 trucks entered at Texas this weekend, we are very close to a tipping point as to the future of the NCWTS. The answer? It starts with a return to the Truck Series’ roots – short tracks, smaller markets where the Monster Cup and Xfinity series do not run, and a reduction in costs.

Red Horse Racing’s shutdown should send a chill down the spine of every owner, racer, and fan. If NASCAR can’t come up with a viable financial model, the Truck Series is doomed. Crate motors, lower sanctioning fees, a bigger piece of the TV pie….everything should be on the table.

Hobbs :  NASCAR already schedules the Truck Series with many fewer races than the other two series. Perhaps, they should look into optimizing the schedule further to keep costs of travel down.

I also am a fan of what Kyle Busch and Keselowski suggested; go back to their roots and run more short track races. The series needs an overhaul and sending them back to their roots is a starting point.

Also, bring them to places the others series do not go to. By separating them from the Cup or Xfinity cars, they can work on bringing in their own crowd that are not competing with the costs of attending the other series.

Magda :  The Truck Series ran mainly short tracks in the early years until expanding to the fast superspeedways. We don’t see the same out of the series anymore except for a bunch of 1.5-mile cookie-cutters, including this week at Texas.

I like the idea of having a standalone with IndyCar while the big boys are at Pocono. Above all, I’d like to see more standalones in that series. Trucks used to have boatloads of them in the early 2000s, racing at tracks like Mesa Marin and South Boston Speedway where some of NASCAR drivers began their racing careers.

Sturm :  Hmm. I think there’s really only two very strongly opinionated sides on what I’m about to say.

First, get Cup drivers out of the Truck Series. They have no business stealing wins from full time Truck guys that are trying to race their way into the playoffs, especially when they don’t benefit from it. No money, no playoff points, no anything at all.

I never have and never will understand why you have full-time, extremely talented Cup drivers like Kyle Busch racing against a bunch of teenagers and taking all their wins. For experience? No, I don’t agree with that. That’s why you work your way up to Cup and aren’t just thrown into it.

I’ve seen many, many people on Twitter saying that they don’t even bother watching the Truck (or Xfinity) Series anymore because it’s mostly guaranteed that a Cup driver will win. To be honest, I’m losing interest too.

It’s much more exciting to watch a Truck race when you can see the young guns battling it out and racing hard instead of watching a Cup driver dominate the whole thing. So yeah, that’s a big factor for me. Let the Truck guys race and be competitive on their own.

Conley :  I wish I had an answer for this. The Camping World Truck Series has always been a great series not only for on track action, but for the shortness of the races. It allows for fans, especially our younger ones, to take in a good competitive race.

The problem that I see is that we’ve gotten away from what made the truck series great – their venues. We need to get back to this being a short track series with a handful of companion events. It should not be the other way around. It’s time to pair this series up with our other “building block” series like ARCA, K&N Pro Series East or West, and modified cars.

Hull :  One thing that could be done is to run more races. They hardly every race these days. I am unsure whether it is because there is no money, but the fact that they aren’t running that many races can be a problem. They are also not bringing in a lot of fans right now. The stands are normally empty during these races. I am unsure whether it’s because no one is interested in this level of racing or not, but they need to do more to bring more fans in.

Cassidy :  In cold-hearted truth, I expected the Truck Series to be gone by this point in time following the 2001 recession and its inability to recover. As much as fans do not like the big names racing in these series, I think that could be the only thing that saves it.

Lucas :  This is a tough spot for the sport. The Truck Series is one of the best in NASCAR and has produced a lot of the current rising stars (and a Hall of Famer too in Ron Hornaday) in the sport. NASCAR has made some headway in capping tire allotments, crew member restrictions, and short race weekends. There is still work that needs to be done.

Here’s where they need to start – overhaul the truck schedule. There’s no need to race on eight cookie cutter, aero dependent tracks in a season.

What the series should do is go back to its roots (i.e. short tracks). If you look at recent trends, short tracks tend to have a larger number of entries compared to a 1.5 mile oval. Cost caps across the board would help “mom-n-pop” type teams compete with the big teams of the series, a sort of leveling of the playing field.

Parmelee :  I think this could potentially be an easy fix which is something you don’t really hear these days. Think of the number of tracks that the trucks run that don’t also see Cup races — Gateway, Iowa, Eldora, Bowmanville. Chances are, there are quite a few attendees at truck races who have also purchased tickets to the Cup race.

Or rather, there are quite a few attendees at Cup races who have also purchased tickets to the Truck race. I think it would be interesting to take the Camping World Truck Series (CWTS) to more tracks that don’t host a Cup race, maybe even a majority. Give people who may otherwise not get to attend a NASCAR race the opportunity to see the Series without having to travel as long a distance and you may find that it’s exactly what officials have been looking for.

Question 3
It's sure been a whirlwind week for Bubba Wallace.

It’s sure been a whirlwind week for Bubba Wallace.

On this same topic, Bubba Wallace expressed his concerns about his No. 6 team not making it to Michigan International Speedway despite sitting fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings. Is this a case in which the sport should look into more cost effective measures to minimize the chances of a team having to cut their full-time season efforts short?

Noble :  Now that Bubba Wallace has gotten a temporary Cup ride and the No. 6 NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) program has announced they’ll suspend operations, everybody is off the hook on this one for a while. It gave Roush Fenway a way to cut the program and stop spending out of Jack’s pocket, while being able to save face.

The bigger question is — how does a guy like Bubba go unsponsored? He’s got the driver, personality, and certainly as much talent as many of his peers. He should be a sponsor’s dream. A lot of the problems mentioned above in relation to the NCWTS also apply to this situation.

Hobbs :  Drivers being underfunded has been a story for many years and it is sad. It is especially sad when some of the best drivers cannot find sponsorship.

NASCAR absolutely needs to look into cost saving measures without sacrificing the good of the sport. They have already restricted tires.

Like the Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR should look to better optimizing the schedule. For instance, why go East Coast to West coast, back to East Coast for a race, then travel back to the West for a race? By having a better schedule, teams won’t have to travel from coast to coast and it will certainly save money.

It also wouldn’t hurt to have more standalone races for the Xfinity Series too.

Magda :  What a situation we have on our hands. Darrell Wallace Jr. is filling in the No. 43 Cup for Aric Almriola for a while as his bid for the Xfinity Series title can come to a screeching halt at Michigan.

This happened with Trevor Bayne in 2012 when Roush was unable to continue fielding his No. 60 ride. Wallace and Roush have to make a decision here soon to plan out the rest of the season which might derail any title hopes.

Sturm :  Absolutely. It says a lot about the series when you have a driver sitting fourth in point standings and he can’t even get a full-time sponsor. It’s sad and disappointing, especially when you have drivers that run at the back of the pack every race with a full time sponsor. It’s all about money and who you know in my opinion and that’s quite sad.

Conley :  Well, now that we know, it’s no longer a concern. It’s happening. Bubba Wallace will lose his Xfinity ride due to lack of sponsorship. The Xfinity Series is in the same boat as the Truck Series or any companion races.

Cup regulars are taking a majority of the victories and the money. Outside of turning this in to something similar to the old IROC series, I’m not sure you aspects can be controlled in terms of cost. Tires are limited to save money and team members at the track are reduced. Two developmental series may be one too many for NASCAR any more.

Hull :  I think that during this day in age, the sport has become more expensive. Sadly, that has a lot of negative impacts across the board.

For example, the cost of tickets and other things have become too pricey for fans to attend. The cost of this sport has also had a negative impact on teams as well.

Additionally, I think that they should look into some cost effective measures. I know that due to things being expensive, a lot of sponsors have left the sport. I think that NASCAR should come up with a long term plan to cut the costs. This could be helpful in revitalizing the sport.

Cassidy :  It is crazy to me that a team sitting fourth in the points is unable to continue on. I hate it for Bubba Wallace because he is out of a championship run. However, I’m excited to see his efforts behind the wheel of the No. 43 Cup car. NASCAR needs to figure something out – fast.

Lucas :  I think that NASCAR has to look into major spending caps across the board. The health of the sport is up in the air again and that greatly concerns me. I truly thought we were going to see an influx of new companies sponsoring cars throughout the different series.

The problem is that the costs associated with running a team are majorly disproportional. I strongly dislike “pay to drive” drivers.

Remember Kevin Conway aka Mr. Extenze? Yeah, his sponsorship defaulted on several payments to Front Row Motorsports and eventually he was out of a ride. That’s a risk teams have been taking lately – “hope to be paid at a later date.”

There needs to be a simpler way of bringing sponsors on board for a single race or multiple ones and an industry spending cap. I hate that I’m about to admit this, but an owners’ union might be the way to go.

Teams would pay their dues to ensure that they would not have to depend on sponsorship dollars to race every weekend. It would be similar to the charter system in the Cup series, except instead of guaranteeing a starting spot, it would guarantee that your team could run all of the season. If a team failed to show up for a race, they could be penalized for voiding the union rules and face exclusion from it.

There’s a catch though. If your team falls outside of the top 30 in owner’s points, you’re not guaranteed a starting spot. There would be 10 open spots are available for any team including union teams.

Also, introduce a Formula One type 107% qualifying rule. If you are a union team and you fail to meet the minimum qualifying speed, you could face exclusion from the union. It is an interesting idea that could work, but for sure, NASCAR as a whole, needs a spending cap for its teams.

Parmelee :  I say every week that it baffles me that someone hasn’t given Bubba Wallace a Cup ride yet, but I never thought I would be looking at a situation where he may not even run a full Xfinity schedule. There is absolutely nothing else this kid can give you.

He’s as talented out of the car as he is behind the wheel. He’s well spoken, mature, witty, polite, and gracious. He checks the diversity box and let’s be real, he’s not exactly hard to look at. Bubba Wallace is the perfect example of what’s wrong with how NASCAR is running things from a cost management perspective.

Truly, it’s a shame that the team that’s running fourth in points is legitimately looking at having to miss a race because they can’t afford it. I don’t know what the solution is, but someone better find it. Quick.

Question 4
Overtime lines and finishes under caution?

Overtime lines and finishes under caution?

Following the race at Dover, Dale Earnhardt Jr said on his Periscope, “I think they should get rid of the overtime line at all the racetracks except for Daytona and Talladega.” Should NASCAR revisit this aspect and potentially revise the overtime procedure?

Noble :  Yes, but not until the end of the season. Rules changes in the middle of the year drive fans crazy – it’s the number one gripe for those who say they are disenchanted with the sport. I like Dale Earnhardt Jr’s idea – let’s go back to the three attempts at green/white/checkers, which I never had a problem with. But at restrictor plate tracks, we only need one attempt – too much potential for mayhem there.

Hobbs :  The idea of a green-white-checkered and the overtime line has always been a sticky situation. Fans want to see a race end under green.

As a result, that is when we got the GWC concept. That went from unlimited attempts to three attempts. As a consequence, they changed to this overtime line, which is a modified version of the GWC.

The question is – how does NASCAR please both the drivers and the fans in this case? I don’t think there is a way for them to do so. The concept works well at giving the chance of finishing under green, but the downside is what we have also seen many times – the carnage that it can cause.

If NASCAR is to revise the rules, I ask that they don’t do so until the offseason. The changing of rules during the season is not good.

Magda :  There’s never been an easy way to end and race. NASCAR has tried green-white-checkered with multiple attempts so races don’t end under caution.

I’ve never heard IndyCar fans complain of races finishing under yellow.  However, in this sport, fans like to see NASCAR do everything they can for a clean finish. I think an overtime line is needed for the plate tracks because those races end up as headaches for many teams.

Sturm :  Yes, I think NASCAR should definitely look further into the overtime line. Nobody likes it from what I’ve gathered. As far as this past Sunday at Dover went, I believe Jimmie Johnson won fair and square.

However, I know the overtime line has caused a ton of mess in the past and fans would much rather just see the race finish under green, even if it’s a GWC.

Conley :  This is something the drivers asked for via the NASCAR Cup Drivers Council. For the most part, these races end under green. We have to take our medicine and stop asking for a change the moment something doesn’t benefit someone.

Additionally, this was implemented for safety so that we can get emergency crews on scene immediately. If drivers don’t want it to end under yellow, don’t turn the guy in front of you to gain a spot. Since it’s Earnhardt, it will probably get looked at and removed or looked at.

Hull :  Yes, because when you are at a smaller track than Daytona or Talladega, it takes a lot less more time to get to the overtime line. I just think it is another rule that is unnecessary.

Also, I think that the sport already has too many procedures, and that is what is keeping the fans away from the sport as well. So yes, they either need to do away with it altogether, or revisit it.

Cassidy :  At this point in time, I feel like NASCAR has too many rules. Each year, the sport adds new formats, playoff rules, etc. and so on, it’s getting to be too much. Even as someone who has followed NASCAR all my life, there are too many times to count where I do not even know what it happening anymore.

Lucas :  Oh boy! Where do I begin?

First off, the old Green-White-Checkered rule was what made a late race caution great. Then a certain driver decided to use it to its advantage in late 2015. The move was ill received by fans and NASCAR, leading to the creation of this goofy overtime line rule.

What should have happened that day is that NASCAR should have penalized the driver by dropping their finish to the rear of the field. Instead, we have the current overtime format.

I don’t like the rule. I want to see a return to the three attempts. The race fan needs to be number one, and if that means we have three attempts, then so be it. It’s like a balancing act between sport and entertainment.

Take the NFL for example. The league decided a while back that there would be no over the top touchdown celebrations of any kind. Fans reacted negatively for years, and finally got their wish, a return to elaborate gyrations of splendor and cheer for the upcoming season. If the fans want the old rule, bring it back.

Another point that Dale Earnhardt Jr made was the possibility of doing single file restarts on plate tracks only in an attempt to break the pack up. I personally would be OK with that, even though I love seeing four wide with two laps to go, on the verge of wreckers and checkers. It also sounds safer and practical for teams.

In conclusion, yes, I believe the overtime line has got to go. No more gimmicks like the caution clock experiment!

Parmelee :  No one wants to see a race end under caution. The excitement prevalent during a door-to-door battle to the checkered flag is understandably higher than seeing a caution come out with three to go.  At that point, one wonders how that changes the outcome of the race.

However, a harsh dose of reality would serve a few people well who believe that every single race should be a photo finish. Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

I fully support throwing a red flag to avoid running lap after lap under caution while officials work on cleaning up debris or solving whatever problem they find themselves facing as the scheduled distance passes by.

Will it be perfect every time? Of course not. But I think the system in place now is just a tad too much.

Sure, Pocono is “The Tricky Triangle,” but the Track Talk panelists reeled off four solid laps at this track!  Before it’s winning time, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Dover!
...points shuffled more than at the dance floor!

…points shuffled more than at the dance floor!

It’s the moment of truth for this weekend’s edition of Track Talk! Let’s reveal our winning picks for Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway!
Who'll be tricking the triangle at Pocono?

Who’ll be tricking the triangle at Pocono?

Tiongson :  If there was one driver who nearly tricked this triangular conundrum of Pocono last year, it was Chase Elliott. I look for most of the same for the sophomore racer as he finally scores his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win.

Conley :  This driver led the most laps in last June’s race at Pocono. Our third first time winner in 2017 will be Chase Elliott.

TPF Stats :  TPF is thinking Chase Elliott can have a good day in the Northeast.

Sturm :  I’m going to have to pick Martin Truex Jr.

Lucas :  My pick for this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. Hopefully they can carry over their 1.5 mile success to the tricky triangle.

Hobbs :  I think Kyle Larson can have a great showing.

Magda :  Erik Jones will take the checkered flag on Sunday.

Hull :  My pick for Pocono is Denny Hamlin.

Cassidy :  The race winner for Sunday will be Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Noble :  I’ll be going with Kevin Harvick for Pocono.

Parmelee :  My race pick will be Jimmie Johnson.

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 and special thanks to Jim Noble for joining us this week! 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

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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