Track Talk: 2017 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis

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 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Christina Bowman, Kathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley muse about Denny Hamlin’s win at New Hampshire, VHT substance on track surfaces, the target on Kyle Larson’s back, and the prestige with Sunday’s Brickyard 400!

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Question 1
Don't fear the lobster.

Don’t fear the lobster.

Denny Hamlin snapped Joe Gibbs Racing’s long dryspell from Victory Lane with a win at Loudon. Does this open the floodgates for the rest of JGR with winning and scoring playoff spots this summer?

Hobbs :  Once a win comes, more typically follow. And with Kyle Busch, the two-time defending winner this weekend at Indy, it is very likely that Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) goes back-to-back.

Strum :  I honestly think it will, and the fact that Kyle Busch is pretty dominant at Indy kind of makes it even more of a guarantee. I think the organization has their confidence back, especially considering how well they all performed in New Hampshire so definitely be looking for the Joe Gibbs drivers to be on a mission this second half of the season to secure their playoff spot.

Hull :  I am not sure if it will open the floodgates for JGR or not, but it certainly helps them out some. They have had a rough year this year, and that was their first win of the season. Hopefully, their bad luck is behind them and we will see great things out of them before the playoffs roll around.

Conley :  Floodgates? No. This team is certainly showing signs of improvement. Is this because of the test at Indy they took part in, possibly, but they still have to beat the 78 and it doesn’t seem like anyone has that kind of speed. JGR is certainly making a statement that they will contenders, but that doesn’t mean victory lane.

Bowman :  The momentum will certainly help Hamlin in the upcoming weeks. What the Gibbs organization can take with them is the knowledge that they had numerous cars in the field with a shot at the win at Loudon.

Kyle Busch probably would have been in contention, had he not been caught speeding on pit road – twice. Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez both finished in the top-six with strong cars as well. I think we will see at least one more JGR car snag a playoff spot, it will just be a matter of which driver and which track.

Lucas :  No, I do not believe it will open a floodgate for the rest of the team. JGR has been in a slump this season, showing minimal success, and somewhat questionable reliability.

I honestly thought Kyle Busch would have been the driver to breakthrough first for the organization. If not for two late race penalties, it more than likely would have gone his way. Now with all that being said, it may seem that I’m being blunt about the team not being back. Indianapolis is a strong track for the team.

It could go to a JGR driver. But after this coming weekend, I’m unsure if the momentum will follow through.

Cassidy :  Any race fan should know never to leave Joe Gibbs Racing out of the playoffs. I think Hamlin’s win gives the whole organization momentum to finish the regular season strong.

Question 2
"We're in a sticky situation!" - Bon Jovi (1986)

“We’re in a sticky situation!” – Bon Jovi (1986)

New Hampshire Motor Speedway utilized the PJ1 substance used at various venues like Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Should other tracks utilize this to promote competitive racing?

Hobbs :  I think tracks are looking into it since this is the third race it has been used. It appears that the circular sport on NASCAR is tapping into the linear sport that is NHRA for some way to improve racing. If this sticky stuff is what gives more side-by-side racing, get it down!

Strum :  Some tracks already have extremely competitive racing without the VHT substance, so those particular tracks don’t need it. However, if the tracks that are known to be the “boring” tracks on the NASCAR circuit are able to utilize the VHT, I think they should.

We’ve seen the substance play a huge role and give us some extremely exciting and competitive racing this year which is what fans want, so I think it would be a good call on NASCAR’s part to use it when able to.

Hull :  I am definitely not a crew chief, nor a technical NASCAR whiz, but I think that the surface hasn’t really made that much of a difference. It was the same style of racing prevalent at NHMS. But it works for Bristol.

Bristol actually has better racing because of the new surface. But not all tracks are the same. So I think that maybe they should look into it with caution.

Conley :  Absolutely not. I believe the PJ1 or “sticky stuff” as it’s called in more simpler terms, is modifying the racing and giving a sense of fixed results.

The race isn’t playing out the way it should as it’s not making showing the true difference in teams as far as the good and bad. In addition, I believe the compound may have had something to do with the enhanced issues New Hampshire had with the track surface, especially with all of the racing.

Let the race play out naturally. I’m not a fan of the traction compound.

Bowman :  If a track is notorious for only having one groove to race in, absolutely NASCAR should be utilizing this more! The racing on Sunday was some of the best I can remember in years at Loudon. Whether that was completely due to the use of the PJ1 compound is debatable. However, if it had any sort of positive effect, I would like to see it utilized more on tracks of this kind.

Lucas :  I think that only if the track has had a history of passing problems, then it should look to alternatives to create more racing lines. Charlotte Motor Speedway should have never applied PJ1 to its surface. It proved to have no effect on the racing throughout the race weeks this past Memorial Day weekend.

I believe that I made the suggestion that the track either try the “diamond grinding” again, or perhaps work with Goodyear to develop a tire that would wear out faster, causing potential for more side-by-side racing, or multiple grooves of racing. There is a multitude of things that could cause better racing at current tracks on the schedule. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone specific, but there are at least two large bodies to put part blame on. I’ll let you ponder on who those two are.  

Cassidy :  These substances seem to get very mixed reviews. Some drivers love it, others hate it. Same with fans. Either way, I applaud NASCAR and tracks for trying to give fans and drivers a better race. I think they should continue to use these substances and see how to improve them over time.

Question 3
"It seems like we have a target on our back." - Kyle Larson

“It seems like we have a target on our back.” – Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson’s been one of the strongest racers this season. Recently, they’ve encountered problems with the inspection process. Does the No. 42 team have the proverbial target on their backs with NASCAR officials?

Hobbs :  Kyle Larson has been the strongest racer this season. I would not say they have a target on their backs (though, literally, they do), but they have recently been under the microscope of the officials. They could be trying to try new things since they are comfortably in the playoffs. And, in doing so, they have gotten caught a few times. Earlier, it seemed that Kyle Busch’s crew was under the microscope, so I bet that he is happy the torch has passed.

Strum :  Well of course he has a target, but not on his back. It’s on his car. I know, bad joke.

Anyway, no. I don’t think they have a target per say. If they’re cheating or the car is illegal, then that’s that. There’s no “target” or no “NASCAR is out to get them.” Rules are rules. If you don’t follow them, you get penalized, and that’s what’s happened with Larson.

The team has been making illegal adjustments or whatever it may be, and NASCAR is catching them and penalizing them for it, which is how it should be. Plus, Larson already has two wins this season and runs at the very front every single race. If he had a target on his back, I don’t think that would be happening.

Hull :  Sadly, I think they do. It seems like they always get dinged for something every week. I guess that sadly, that is the downside of being a dominant team this year. It seems like the NASCAR officials are always hardest on the teams that are doing good. For example, they were super hard on Martin Truex Jr. last year as well because he was doing well. Perhaps, the No. 42 team is doing too well. But they still get the job done every week and place good finishes.

Conley :  They certainly are under the microscope, but in this playoff point system, the risk is worth the reward. As I watch this team continue to struggle with inspection then race from the rear, I wonder if it’s almost intentional.

Presently, they’re getting caught with a minor issue by testing the results of what can and can’t get through. They are locked in, so why worry?

It’s time to up the penalties to make the risk not worth it. Take tires away, eliminate a practice session all together, start the team a lap down, or make them not eligible for the free pass.

Bowman :  When you’re at the top of the point standings and contending for wins week after week after consecutive week, you’re bound to have the proverbial target on your back. These top teams are working tirelessly to get the most out of their cars each week and get an advantage on their competitors.

Sometimes, that advantage may get them a little too far into the grey area for the liking of NASCAR and they get burned. It may seem as though the 42 is getting the brunt of the scrutiny, but if you look back, you’ll see they are not the only team NASCAR has kept under a watchful eye.

Lucas :  I think that because of their consistency this season, NASCAR will be watching them like a hawk. It’s OK in my mind because I want the field to be level and all teams must play by the rules.

Remember when Furniture Row Racing was heavily scrutinized by NASCAR? Well, they somewhat had an issue with their shop templates. Still, the point is that NASCAR is keeping every team within a box.

Does it seem like the No. 42 has been the punching bag of inspection as of late? Yes. Are they pushing the limits of the box? Yes. Is that good for the team at this point in the season? Somewhat, but time is running out fast.

They have to get all the bugs out before Richmond. I would not want to be without my crew chief at the most critical part of the season.

Cassidy :  I believe officials always have their eyes set on certain teams. Clearly, the 42 has put that target on their backs this season.

Question 4
Still prestigious after all these years?

Still prestigious after all these years?

This Sunday’s Brickyard 400 will be the final time that the prestigious race takes place in late July. With this race becoming the regular season finale starting next year, how much importance and prestige does this race hold to this day?

Hobbs :  I think the nostalgia on this race has worn off and that is sad. In fact, I think this race has fallen from its high after the tire debacle of 2008. Since then, the track has not appeared to be what it once was. And with the race now moving back a few weeks, this is NASCAR’s way to try and bring some glory back to this historic speedway. I hope it works.

Strum :  Indy will always hold a lot of prestige, just because it’s Indy and because of the Indy 500. However, the Brickyard 400 isn’t near as exciting as the Indy 500. On the topic of NASCAR making Indy the last race before playoffs starting next year, I think it was a good idea.

We all know that Indy is not good racing when it comes to NASCAR, and I think by making it the last regular season race, drivers will be amped up and competitive trying to secure their spot in the playoffs, which will in turn provide some exciting racing. So hopefully that move will warrant the prestige surrounding Indy.

Hull :  It will be big. I think that racing at IMS is a big enough event for these drivers. They are hyping it up to be as big as the Indy 500. But sadly, this isn’t one of the favorite tracks for a lot of fans.

Hopefully, this will help make Indy more exciting than ever and hopefully produce better racing. As of late, it’s one of the more boring races, in that there is hardly no passing allowed. That said, it being the regular season finale next year, it may bring a lot more excitement and drama.

Conley :  Prestige? I thought it was a scheduled nap. Indy has lost its luster as it’s not competitive and now you move it to next September? Talk about hot under the collar.

I don’t see fans showing up, even by making it the regular season finale race at a track you really can’t race at. This was not one of NASCAR’s finer moments. Until you have three or four actual crown jewel events like the Winston Million back in the day, then Indy will mean nothing more than another trip to the heartland.

Bowman :  Every driver wants to see their name on the list of winners at IMS. It’s not only a symbol of status or notoriety, it’s a symbol of greatness and legacy.

The greatest drivers of all time win here though sometimes, the win eludes even the greatest. The Brickyard 400 will always be a prestigious race, regardless of when it is run during the season.

Lucas :  It’s a dwindling prestige at best. The racing has been terrible with the Gen 6 specifications at Indy. Winning the Brickyard was a big deal back in the day. Now, it is more or less just getting through the weekend without heat exhaustion.

Furthermore, I have written at length in my personal blog about what alternatives Indianapolis Motor Speedway should do with its NASCAR date. People are afraid of change, but change is good for the most part. NASCAR is in the middle of big changes, and I truly believe that the Brickyard 400 needs a change. Perhaps the Brickyard Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2018?

Cassidy :  I think this race will always draw a crowd no matter time or date. Any track that can build a ritual around a race is sure to be successful. The action of “kissing the bricks’ is the moment fans wait all year for at the Brickyard.

Solid four laps around the Brickyard!  As the TPF Track Talk crew prepares for their winning picks, let’s review our efforts from last Sunday at New Hampshire!
Conley and TPF Stats enjoyed another victory in 2017...

Conley and TPF Stats enjoyed another victory in 2017…

...while the points race tightens up going to the Brickyard!

…while the points race tightens up going to the Brickyard!

As the field rounds turn four at the Brickyard, winning time has arrived!  Without further ado, let’s reveal our picks to win this Sunday’s Brickyard 400!
Will one of these formidable five win at the Brickyard?

Will one of these formidable five win at the Brickyard?

Tiongson :  After delivering the goods at Loudon, Denny Hamlin runs away from the lobster and kisses the bricks at Indianapolis.

Hobbs :  Two wins in two years? Let’s make in three wins in three years! Get it done (finally) Kyle Busch!

Strum :  My pick to win is Kyle Busch as long as he can avoid trouble. Winning the past two races at Indy, I think he’ll be a man on a mission this weekend.

Hull :  My pick is the king of Indy and that’s Kyle Busch.

Lucas : I’m going to go with Kyle Busch! What a toss up between him and Martin Truex Jr. I think I need to go lie down now.

Cassidy :  Sunday’s winner will be Kyle Busch!

TPF Stats :  The best driver this season shall win his first Brickyard – Kyle Larson!

Conley :  Only one driver has ever scored their first win at Indy. Daniel Suarez will become the second driver to earn his first career Cup win at the Brickyard.

Bowman : I have a feeling Jimmie Johnson may tie Jeff Gordon for most NASCAR wins at the Brickyard this weekend. 

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 for their amazing efforts each 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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