Track Talk: Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire

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 Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody Shoppe, Kathleen CassidyKayla SturmKyle Magda, and Stephen Conley reflect on the dominating win by Martin Truex Jr at Kentucky, Brad Keselowski’s candid comments, the future of Matt Kenseth, and potential dark horses to watch starting at New Hampshire!

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Question 1
Can anyone stop Martin Truex Jr and his No. 78 team?

Can anyone stop Martin Truex Jr and his No. 78 team?

Martin Truex Jr dominated at Kentucky Speedway, sweeping all of the stages and scoring his third win of 2017. All things considered, are there any drivers and teams that have an answer for this powerful Toyota organization?

Lucas :  The 2017 campaign seems to be Martin Truex Jr’s to lose. He’s the all out, hands on favorite to win the championship this season. The only team I think that can challenge them will be that of old seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Both teams are capable of having an all out fight to the white flag in Homestead come November. Everyone has a chance to beat them. However, the battle will be tough. Remember, to finish first, first you must finish, and that could be MTJ’s downfall on his pursuit for a championship.

Shoppe :  Right now, no, there isn’t a team out there that can say they are stronger than the 78. When you look at the stage wins, laps led, race wins, and all season long as well, nothing tops the job that Truex, Cole Pearn, and the Furniture Row crew are doing so far this year. Now it’s time to see if they can break through with a win on a track other then the standard 1 1/2 mile tracks. I see MTJ having a good shot at shutting people up about that this weekend at one of his home tracks, NHMS!

Strum :  Honestly, I’m not quite sure. It would make sense to say that Joe Gibbs Racing has an idea because they have sort of that “open-door alliance” with Furniture Row Racing. Still, even JGR can’t hit on what FRR has been hitting on.

Also, I think FRR is taking info they’re getting from JGR and just running away with it somehow. They’ve found something that no one else has been able to find yet this year so kudos to them for doing it. If no one else finds it, Truex has the championship in the bag.

Magda :  Presently, Furniture Row Racing is schooling Gibbs at their own game. It’s hard to imagine JGR win-less this late in the season.

Kyle Busch came close on several occasions and losing the wins to pit strategy. Matt Kenseth showed speed at Richmond until completely dropping from the lead after such a strong start to the race. Daniel Suarez has four top-10s in his rookie season. Also, Denny Hamlin scored the organzation’s only “victory” in the Can-Am Duel at Daytona.

FRR is the best in the Toyota camp, as even rookie Erik Jones is starting to finish races. With the blockbuster announcement of Jones going to the 20 car next year, he might add a win before hopping into the JGR camp. FRR teammate Martin Truex Jr can coast most of the playoffs because of accruing so many playoff points.

Conley :  No. Currently, Martin Truex Jr and his Furniture Racing team are lined up perfectly for an easy playoff run. Kyle Larson is certainly not going to go down without a fight.

In all reality, once the bonus points take effect in the playoffs, along with the regular season champion bonus, Truex could have such an insurmountable lead, the field is racing for second in Chicagoland. But, that’s why we run the races. That 48 team still has a few wins and is no slouch when it comes to the playoffs either.

Hobbs :  One would think if anyone had an answer, it would be Joe Gibbs Racing. How frustrating must it be for the core Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to see their satellite teammate getting all these bonus points and more wins than they are? This must come down to the driver.

So, in short, no; Truex Jr. has something great figured out there and everyone should be scared.

Bowman :  Truex is really showing what that Furniture Row team is capable of. His dominance last weekend at Kentucky was a statement to the rest of field to step up their game. While you cannot count out any contender come playoff time, the only other team I see with similar momentum, consistency and solid week-to-week finishes is the No. 42 Target Chevy.

Hull :  Martin Truex Jr is truly one of the drivers that is dominant this year. He is really carrying Furniture Row Racing to glory. I would say that he is going to be one of the four contenders for the Championship 4 this year. I don’t think any other team besides Ganassi has anything on them this year.

Cassidy :  As far as teams go, I think any true NASCAR fan knows you can never leave the 48 out of the equation. I foresee a late season hike for Johnson once again this year.

Question 2
Can the No. 2 team get back on track?

Can the No. 2 team get back on track?

Brad Keselowski spoke candidly about the racing package following his early race accident at Kentucky Speedway. Were his points valid or more of him venting frustration in the heat of the moment?

Lucas :  He had some valid points, but I think his frustration boiled over a bit. It’s been a weird season to say the least for Brad Keselowski and the Blue Deuce.

If not for Keselowski’s early season success, Team Penske would be winless this season.

The performance has been there –  just not the results. Many teams are still trying to figure out this 2017 spec car. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it may be too late.

Also, I wonder if Keselowski is frustrated by more than just his season. He is still waiting to find out where he’ll race next season. Is it his passion and the desire to win causing this anger, or shear frustration of not knowing what the future holds?

I never want Keselowski to mellow out though. His personality is unique to the sport (which we desperately need more of), and that’s fantastic. Don’t change Brad Keselowski – be opinionated!

Shoppe :  Keselowski’s comments were both valid and a way to vent frustration after a crash. Sure, when a driver says something critical about the race package right after they messed up and crashed out, you have to take it with a grain of salt.

However, the racing last Saturday night wasn’t exactly the best. The fans who dealt with the weather last weekend deserved more side by side racing, The thing is, it is a repave so what more can you expect? I think the racing was as good as it can be with these conditions considered.

Strum :  I know this was a controversial topic in the NASCAR community. However, I have to say I do agree with Brad Keselowski.

The Gen 6 has just been horrible. The racing hasn’t been near as good or exciting. Plus, I think it’s a combination of how aero-dependent the cars are now paired with the lack of downforce, especially with the new low downforce package that was implemented this year.

The drivers were fighting tooth and nail on that restart and quite frankly getting nowhere. Take the last restart for example. Truex was out there on old tires. While I know there’s minimal tire rub at Kentucky, you had every guy behind him with at least two fresh tires, and he just ran away from the pack. So long story short, I think Brad Keselowski’s rant was a heat of the moment type thing but I also think his statements hold a lot of validity.

Magda :  I think it was a little bit of both. Keselowski returned to a track where he’s been successful and spinning all by himself in the race had to be frustrating.

Drivers get fired up in the heat of the moment, whether it’s positive or negative. They’re all competing at such a high level, including Keselowski’s two victories at tracks he never won at until 2017 (Atlanta & Martinsville). There’s a lot of talk regarding his NASCAR future but still has to finish out this season before focusing on his next chapter.

Conley :  I think they were somewhat valid. At the same time, like Martin Truex Jr said following the race, “Brad is on the driver’s council that helped design the current car and package they run on it.”

This is a product of being careful of what you wish for – you might just get it. I’m sure there was plenty of frustration flowing after getting wrecked out of a race he won a year ago. However, they wanted to put more control back in the driver’s hands and get away from the aero dependent grip. With that said, a driver is never really happy unless he’s holding the checkered flag. Things will come back around and Brad Keselowski will like this car again.

Hobbs :  I think it was frustration on his part. However, if NASCAR always brought down the hammer of drivers for “bad comments” about their cars, Keselowski should fear a monetary penalty. However, I don’t think this will happen.  Either way, it think it is more frustration than anything; but he also has a point.

Bowman :  Undoubtedly, Brad Keselowski was the man everyone had their eyes on at Kentucky. His history of success at that track made him the favorite to win going into the weekend.  I’m sure the expectations that he placed on himself well out-weighed the 39th place finish that he came out with…so how could you not be disappointed? It was a moment of frustration and I’m sure he wanted better for himself, his team, and his fans.

Hull :  I honestly think he was just frustrated. He even admitted that what he said was purely out of frustration. He was having a bad night, and he decided to rant. We all do that. He did not have such a great car that night and he wrecked.

Cassidy :  I believe Keselowski’s comments expressed both valid points and frustration. Unfortunately it takes situations like that to bring the honest truth out, fans can take it as they choose.

Question 3
May the first dominoes of silly season fall.

May the first dominoes of silly season fall.

Matt Kenseth essentially declared his free agency status following this season. Will we see the 2013 Cup champion continue to race or might this be the final act for his stellar career?

Lucas :  If it truly is curtain calls for Kenseth, he has nothing to be ashamed of. Kenseth’s career has been brilliant with multiple wins and a championship. Also, his family is very young, which could be weighing on his mind at this point in life.

Ultimately, I hope it’s not the end for Kenseth.  However, I would fully understand why he’s calling it a career (for now). It’d almost be like a Carl Edwards/Tony Stewart move, meaning that Edwards retired out of nowhere and Stewart didn’t want a huge fan fared final season. Whatever happens, we must support and respect his decision.

Shoppe :  I expect Matt Kenseth to be racing in 2018. As to what extent, I am far from sure. Still, I see Kenseth as a contender to win races since he surely hasn’t lost that edge just yet.

I also see Kenseth as a type of driver who would not continue racing after that edge is lost. Some are speculating that he has a shot at the No. 88 ride. I don’t see that panning out since Kenseth doesn’t have long to go in his career and Hendrick Motorsports wants someone to help take them into the future like Chase Elliott and William Byron.

Strum :  You know, I’m not quite sure. Recently, I predicted in a blog of mine that he would be retiring in the next few years, especially if he didn’t get a win here soon, which he hasn’t yet. He’s getting up there in age. I think he’s 45.

So, no, I’m not 100% sure that you will see him back in a Cup car next year. I know there’s been plenty of rumors of where he’ll go. However, in my opinion, none of them have really made quite a lot of sense to me. I think maybe if he can go out and do something in this last half of the season, someone might pick him up. So we’ll have to see.

Magda :  This is a tough question to answer. Erik Jones replaces him in the 20 next year, leaving a spot open over at Furniture Row Racing. 5-Hour Energy cannot join Jones at JGR because they’re grandfathered in through FRR due to Monster Energy’s sponsorship of the Cup Series. Second, it also conflicts with Kyle Busch’s NOS deal. There might not be any room somewhere else, unless the 2003 champ finds sponsorship to keep his NASCAR career afloat.

Conley :  When Kenseth said he would not return to JGR in the media center, there was a stunned silence, followed by a lot of “Did he really say that?” type of moments. When it comes down to it, it may not have been all “loose lips.”

I believe some of this was planned so that the Erik Jones announcement was out of the way. As for Kenseth’s future, I don’t think he’s done. He’s competitive, he wants to drive for a couple more years, and I see the perfect opportunity for that to happen at Hendrick Motorsports.

It won’t be in the 88. However, if Kasey Kahne is really not happy in the 5, I could see a release and a contract for Kenseth to fill that seat until William Byron is ready to move up. That would allow Kenseth to ride off on his terms, a lot like Mark Martin did.

Hobbs :  This is probably one most people did not see coming. However, we probably should have known since Erik Jones was only on a one-year deal with Furniture Row Racing. If Furniture Row Racing wants to stick with two teams, this might be an option for Kenseth. Ultimately, he did not seem to pleased to be the one given the boot.

This also threw his name into the 88 ring. And, there has been talks of the No. 10 car – which I think would be the ideal place for Kenseth.

I think Kenseth is still competitive and still has that drive (no pun – OK, pun intended) to race each week and the desire to win. He still has a few years left and he does not sound like he is ready for retirement.

The thing that is against him is his age. Teams are looking for young, fresh blood to put into the cars; so, it gets more difficult for veterans to prove their case.

Bowman :  I believe Matt Kenseth has many years left in his racing career. There are certainly options for 2018. However, we may see him join an organization with some younger drivers in place that he can mentor.  He has too much to offer a team in terms of knowledge, experience, and raw talent to not get picked up next year.

Hull :  Well, it wasn’t shocking to me that he was going to leave the 20 team this year. What does shock me though is that he is without a ride. He is a champion without a ride. The rumors that he is going to go to the 88 car next year are ramping up. While it’s not good that he’s out of the ride, the 88 car should be reserved for someone that is starting out. We will see where Kenseth ends up.

Cassidy :  With this season, who knows. There are so many talented drivers but only so many rides. Do you take a chance on a young gun or an experienced racer?

Question 4
Y'all didn't forget me, right?

Y’all didn’t forget me, right?

Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway marks the start to the second half of 2017. With the race to the playoffs heating up, which dark horse drivers and teams do you see sneaking into playoff field?

Lucas :  Even with no wins this season, I’m still optimistic that Daniel Suarez will sneak into the playoffs. The rookie has had a quiet but successful season, showing consistency and composure. He’s got a great relationship with his crew chief, which can be the difference from running 30th, five laps down, to running in the top ten, competing for a top five. Ever the model of consistency, and hopeful that he breaks Joe Gibbs Racing’s winless drought, I believe he has a shot of making it.

Shoppe :  Although I don’t see a dark horse winning their way into the postseason this weekend at Loudon, I do think we could see one or two do so before Richmond. Think of the Dinger at Watkins Glen, rookies like Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, and who knows, maybe Kasey Kahne could pull off that much needed win. The bubble drivers that even have a decent cushion over the cut line must still be worried.

Strum :  It will be a driver we just talked about in the previous question – Matt Kenseth. I think he’ll get a win this year before playoffs and sneak his way in.

Also, I think people should keep their eyes on Jamie McMurray. He’s not on par with his CGR teammate Kyle Larson, but he has been performing consistently well. Additionally, I think he could very well pull off a win.

Lastly, I think Chase Elliott will get a win before playoffs. The dude has been close so many times, so it’s just bound to come soon.

Of course, I can’t forget Kyle Busch. I just really don’t see him missing playoffs, as there’s no way it happens.

Magda :  Every week, I keep saying it’s Joe Gibbs Racing’s best shot at winning but it hasn’t happened yet. Loudon’s been a Gibbs track, as they have the last two July wins there.

Kyle Busch is trying to solidify his playoff hopes while Matt Kenseth or Denny Hamlin are looking to get a win so those teams won’t be biting their fingernails come Richmond.

Another organization to look at for New Hampshire is Team Penske. They swept both Loudon events in 2014 and a win helps a desperate No. 22 team, even though they have a win already this season. Since the encumbered victory at Richmond, Joey Logano needs a win to make his way into the playoff-field and this weekend can help them out.

Conley :  I really believe our top 16 is the way it will stay right now, outside of Austin Dillon, who has that one win, which will move him up and likely Erik Jones out.

Stenhouse sits 16th in points with 2 wins, so that will move him up in playoff points. I still believe three wins for the Gibbs guys will happen before Richmond. I don’t see any major surprises over these final nine races leading up to the playoffs.

Hobbs :  Dark horses, eh? With one road course race left, you can never count out AJ Allmendinger. That is my choice for dark horse to make it into the playoffs.

Team wise, Joe Gibbs Racing should get at least half their field into the playoffs and hopefully on wins so they do not worry about Richmond (too much).

Bowman :  There is such an array of talent that has yet to win this season and a lot of contenders battling for a playoff position. How do you pick?! Chase Elliot? Dale Earnhardt Jr? Clint Bowyer? All of the JGR drivers? Don’t forget that Joey Logano’s encumbered win at Richmond does not lock him into the playoffs.

In the art of making assumptions based off of what I have seen and the upcoming races, I think Hamlin, Ky. Busch, Logano, and Elliott will be in based on points and/or wins. With how competitive the field has been this season, the last two spots could go to anyone.

Hull :  I think that you may see the JGR cars start to get back into the groove. New Hampshire is one of their tracks. So we will see Kyle Busch finally win one soon. But I think that the same ones who have been dominating will do their thing. We shall see how the rest of the season pans out.

Cassidy :  What is an injury without a comeback. I see the 43 making a come back within the next few races to lock himself into the playoffs.

That’s four magical trips around New Hampshire! Before winning time arrives for Track Talk, let’s review how we all fared last Saturday night at Kentucky!
Kentucky seemed middling for the Track Talk crew...

Kentucky seemed middling for the Track Talk crew…

...but the second half of the 2017 season awaits!

…but the second half of the 2017 season awaits!

It’s about that time on Track Talk! Let’s “bang a uey” by revealing our picks to win Sunday’s Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!
Which of these five find their way to Victory Lane at New Hampshire?

Which of these five find their way to Victory Lane at New Hampshire?

Tiongson :  It’s inevitable. This driver won’t go winless in 2017. If there’s a place where things can get Rowdy, it’s New Hampshire. Look for Kyle Busch to win on Sunday.

Lucas :  Kyle Busch finally breaks through this weekend. Boom, there goes the dynamite!

Magda :  My pick is Kyle Busch.

Bowman :  I’m looking for the No. 18 of Kyle Busch to get the first win for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Shoppe :  Martin Truex Jr wins it!

Hobbs :  The master of intermediate tracks (even though Loudon is a small-intermediate track), Martin Truex Jr will find his way to Victory Lane again!

Strum :  I’m going to have to pick Matt Kenseth and his history of domination at New Hampshire. He’s got confidence at this track, and pair that with his future in NASCAR possibly being in jeopardy, I think he’ll go out and show everyone what he’s got this weekend.

Cassidy :  Going with Matt Kenseth.

Conley :  Scoring his first win of the season and getting a Joe Gibbs Racing car to Victory Lane will be Denny Hamlin.

TPF Stats :  Denny Hamlin, the man with the best average, will get Joe Gibbs Racing to Victory Lane!

Hull :  My driver this week is Joey Logano.

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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