Track Talk: Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR. Additionally, we attempt to pick the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Christina BowmanKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Kayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley discuss the importance of Kyle Larson’s Michigan sweep, the emergence of Erik Jones, the struggles of Team Penske, and the realistic expectations for William Byron!

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Question 1
To be so young and so brave.

To be so young and so brave.

Kyle Larson swept the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Michigan by winning Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. How important was this victory for Larson and his No. 42 team, especially as they search for a new primary sponsor for 2018?

Conley :  Every win is important. But when you dominate a racetrack like Michigan International Speedway, right in the manufacturers’ backyard, it certainly is noticeable and makes an impression. The wins and the timing as we head into the playoffs may just make it a little easier for the marketing department to sell this team to a potential sponsor. Plus, the fact he beat Martin Truex Jr has to give the team a little extra boost heading into Monday morning meetings.

Hobbs :  This just shows how far Kyle Larson has come during his tenure at the Cup level. We all knew Larson would be the next generation and would be a weekly factor. Yes, it took him a few years to get to this point, but he is here now.

He has been flexing his muscles all season long and has been right there with Martin Truex Jr. all season long. As Larson said, it was an important victory for the team. And as a statement to how good he is, hopefully this was more than enough to bring some sponsorship to the table. This kid has talent and will for years to come.

Copple :  A win, any win, is good for a driver. But for someone who will lose a longtime sponsor at the end of the season, proving you can put the car and the sponsor in Victory Lane is important.

Larson is still a young driver. I think many people forget about that. He may be few years out of his rookie season but he is still one of the younger guys in the field.

I have no doubt he will pick up sponsorship for 2018 and beyond. But as it is with so many other teams and drivers, sponsorship is getting harder and harder to come by. A win, or multiple wins, will go a long way in getting that new sponsor to sign on the dotted line.

Lucas :  The win at Michigan proved that the No. 42 team is a snake in the grass, ready to attack at any moments notice. As long as they can stick around in the top 5 each week, they’ll be a threat for victories and the overall championship. Kyle Larson is willing to do anything for a win, even if it means going three wide on a final restart to steal a win away from another team.

As far as sponsorship goes for 2018, I think Chip Ganassi has an ace up his sleeve that he’s not showing. They’ll be alright, I can almost guarantee that. With his involvement across the motorsports globe, I think we can all agree that Chip is a smart business man and owner. His stock is rising in NASCAR.

Bowman :  In terms of sponsorship, I think the entire weekend truly said something about the talent that Larson has behind the wheel. Chip Ganassi took a risk in allowing his driver to compete in the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday, and it paid off in showmanship.

With Larson coming in second in Knoxville and then making that last restart work for him to win at Michigan, he showed just how much of a powerhouse he is. He is marketable across so many platforms from NASCAR to sprint cars and open wheel racing, and he is likable to boot! There is so much value in him and his team as a total package. The win at Michigan only did more to boost that.

Sturm :  A win is always a good thing. But Larson and the No. 42 team already have multiple wins this year and are consistently running up front. So if a sponsor is interested, I think they would have sponsored him regardless of whether or not he snagged the win at Michigan. I don’t doubt for a second that Larson will have a sponsor next year. The kid is too good not to.

Hull :  I think that they are showing that they are still at their winning ways. I think that no matter what though, Kyle Larson will have an easy time finding sponsorship because he is a young gun and very talented. But they are definitely showing that they are a championship worthy team this year. They are doing great and it’s showing.

Cassidy :  It is still crazy to think a driver as successful as Larson this season is losing sponsorship for 2018. Dominating the season the way he is should guarantee him sponsors moving forward. However, that is not how the sport works. I am confident that the 42 team will attract new companies for the 2018 season.

Parmelee :  The fact that Larson is looking for a primary sponsor is still just fascinating to me — almost as fascinating as Bubba Wallace not having a full-time ride (and yes, I’m still salty about that).

We’re talking about two guys who are at the top of their games professionally, clean cut personally, and can help carry NASCAR into the new era of post-Dale Earnhardt Jr racing. I think an organization that can latch on to the 42 team is going to be incredibly satisfied with the results this team puts up, especially if the last few months are any indication.

Magda :  Michigan felt like a playoff race with Larson and Truex factoring into the outcome, especially between the two best teams of 2017. Kyle Larson is a very marketable guy and a wheel-man so I don’t think Chip Ganassi Racing should have a hard time replacing Target. Credit One Bank stepped up this year in both XFINITY and Cup on the 42 and it’s only a matter of time the 25-year-old driver wins a MENCS race for them.

Question 2
Might the Mullet Man race into the playoffs?

Might the Mullet Man race into the playoffs?

Erik Jones came within a few laps of possibly winning his first MENCS race before settling for a third place result. Might we see this Byron, MI native sneak his way into the playoff field?

Conley :  I don’t think so, not with Bristol, Darlington, and Richmond being the tracks he needs to “sneak” in with. With a 17th in the spring race at Bristol and completing only four laps at Richmond en route to a 40th finish, it is not much of a resume when you’re selling hopes and dreams of a playoff spot. As for Darlington, she has shaken off the best that want to dance with her. Ultimately, it is not a place I’d expect the rookie to fare well.

Hobbs :  One race does not a season make.

Copple :  Will he get in to playoffs? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see Jones competing for wins in the final races of the season.

Jones is a talented young driver who can hold his own among the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. Heck, he may just be the next Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch in the coming years.

I don’t doubt for a second that he has the talent and the equipment to get to Victory Lane very soon. It’s just a matter of when.

Lucas :  It will be extremely hard for the No. 77 team. These next three tracks are unique and difficult for a rookie driver. Jones had a good qualifying run at Richmond, but was quickly out within the opening laps (due to a crash).

It’s hard to gauge talent and performance for a rookie. But Jones has been improving all season long and has shown maturity inside the cockpit. Plus that mullet he’s rocking is pretty sweet! I do not believe they will make the playoffs this season.

Bowman :  Furniture Row was so close to having a 1-2 finish at Michigan. As we heard in the post-race press conference, Martin Truex Jr was in no way going to give a win to his teammate. A win is the only way I think Erik Jones will make it into the playoffs. Richmond and Bristol were not some of his best finishes this year, but anything can happen.

It is possible that he will carry some momentum from finishing well at Michigan into the next few weeks. As a fellow Michigander and fan of seeing young drivers perform well, I do hope to see him give other drivers a run for their money when it comes to a playoff position.

Sturm :  I highly doubt it. Jones and the No. 77 crew haven’t been consistent enough throughout races this year to pull off a win in my opinion. Plus, it’s rare that you see a rookie win a race as means of securing a playoff spot. Give him a few years and he’ll definitely be in the playoffs.

Hull :  Erik Jones has come close. Bad luck has prevented him to finish really well. But the third place finish for him had to be awesome. I think that if his luck improves, we might see him sneak into the playoff field, but that is if others have worst luck than he does. We shall see how well he does in the coming weeks before Richmond.

Cassidy :  Erik Jones has been under the radar this season, but I think more attention needs to be placed on this rookie. By continuing to cash out with solid finishes, the 77 team could be on their way to the playoffs.

Parmelee :  I don’t know if we’ll see Erik Jones in the playoffs this year, simply because of just how new he is. Sure, crazier things have happened, but my money is still on one of the veterans over someone like Jones, Daniel Suarez, or even Chase Elliott, who is still looking for his first win.

Magda :  I don’t see it happening. Erik Jones has really underachieved this season. He’s had strong runs at Pocono in June and last week at Michigan, but Jones and the 77 team haven’t been able to seal the deal. I can see this team winning a race, just not in the next three weeks. Keep in mind, Jones is in the No. 20 car next year so this second Furniture Row Racing team may or may not exist after this season.

Question 3
Can Team Penske recapture their lost speed?

Can Team Penske recapture their lost speed?

Team Penske seems to be lacking their usual speed and power with their race day package in recent races. Can this organization rediscover their swagger prior to the playoffs?

Conley :  This is ironic considering Brad Keselowski’s comments about Toyota and their engine package. This is the time of year when we talk about teams that have wins experimenting for the playoffs, if that is the case. Are they phoning in the No. 22 team’s season in the hopes of an overall championship with the No. 2? I still think the penalty to Logano and the work that Penske was doing with the rear skew impacted the team overall.

Hobbs :  If they cannot discover it before the playoffs, what makes one think they will find it once the playoffs begin? Could they be experimenting with Keselowski’s car to find this missing speed? Yes.

But they cannot experiment with Joey Logano because he is not yet in the playoffs. If Penske does not have it figured out now, they will be left in the dust that is MTJ and Larson.

Copple :  This is a team, a usually competitive team, who has been struggling all season. There is something that is not quite clicking within that organization. I don’t know if that’s within the race teams themselves or within the higher ups.

If they want a chance to bring home the title with Keselowski or Logano, they need to figure out what needs to be changed and change it fast. But I don’t see that happening in time to either make the playoffs or even win the playoffs.

Lucas :  As the regular season is drawing to a close soon, so is the hope of having both Penske teams in the playoffs. The No. 2 will be just fine once the playoffs begin. But, the curious case of the No. 22 team is a bit puzzling and bizarre.

It’s almost like what happened at Hendrick several years ago when the No. 24 and No. 48 teams were dominating the series, while their teammates in the No. 5 and No. 88 were vastly off their pace. The No. 22 team should start focusing on 2018 with the remainder of this season.

Bowman :  Even though Brad Keselowski captured the pole last weekend at Michigan and both drivers in the Penske stables have wins this season, we just aren’t seeing the performance that we have come to expect from the organization.

Quite honestly, it almost seems like they don’t know the direction they need to take to regain their ground. Until they do figure out what adjustments are needed to be as competitive as some of the other contenders in the playoff field, I think we are going to continue to see Penske struggle.

Pressure is building, especially with Joey Logano on the outside looking in, in terms of the championship playoffs. It’s “go” time for Penske.

Sturm :  Maybe. I’m not sure about Logano though. I don’t know what is up with the No. 22 crew this season, but they are just not having very good luck. Keselowski and Blaney already have their playoff positions secured so they aren’t under as much pressure as Logano is. It will be a huge shock if a notable name like Logano doesn’t make the playoffs.

Hull :  It seems like they have lost their groove over the last few races. Hopefully, they will be able to recover by the time the playoffs roll around. I think they will work hard to make sure they are successful.

Cassidy :  Keselowski was fast all weekend at MIS until the sun came out. This has me thinking there may be speed and power behind Team Penske. However, they need to set up for proper racing conditions.

Parmelee :  I’m actually incredibly surprised that we haven’t seen another victory for the 22 team this season after his encumbered win at Richmond in the spring. The struggles that we’ve seen from Logano are unusual. But, with two checkered flags for Keselowski and one for Blaney, it may just be a mid-season slump. Here’s to hoping Logano can possibly find his way back into the fast lane before the playoffs start.

Magda :  Brad Keselowski is fine with his two early-season wins but Logano must win to keep his playoff hopes alive. Since the encumbered Richmond win, the 22 team has been struggling to stay in the top-five. It’s been one issue after another for the same squad that made it to the Championship 4 in 2014 and 2016. Logano likes pressure, and said it after qualifying second at Michigan.

Question 4
From iRacing to Cup racing, what a journey for William Byron.

From iRacing to Cup racing, what a journey for William Byron.

William Byron will race the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro entry starting next year. Based on his rather quick climb up the stock car racing ladder, might we see instant success with the Charlotte, NC native?

Conley :  I would like to think so. Byron is a relatable driver to the fans and can be a big impact player for the sport. They need him to be successful. But, it’s the Cup series and not everyone comes in and wins right off the bat, no matter how they fared in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. I hope we get a chance to see him in a Cup car before season’s end. The potential is there and the time is now.

Hobbs :  Instant success? Absolutely not. We have seen the greats of Larson and Chase Elliott come pretty quickly, but see the same struggles of adapting. I think we will see the same from William Byron. It is just natural to have that learning curve for a few years.

Copple :  The rookie class for 2018 is going to be competitive and entertaining to watch. With Hendrick Motorsports having two rookies in the mix and Chase Elliott still a little green around the gills, that organization is going to have a lot of teaching to do with their young racers.

I don’t really think Byron is ready for Cup but if he can grab a ride as good as the No. 5, someone obviously thinks he’s ready.

Lucas :  It’s sad to see such a young talent forced into the spotlight at such a fast pace. I almost feel like we could see another Joey Logano situation unfold before our eyes. Logano was rushed into the Cup series without much track time in either the Trucks or Xfinity series. He did though thrive in the K&N East series.

Perhaps I will be completely wrong about this, which I hope so, but they’re rushing him. I think William Byron needs one more season in the Xfinity series before making the great leap to Cup.

Bowman :  I think instant success would be a stretch. The youngster from North Carolina has talent and drive, no doubt! But to expect greatness out of someone in their first year in the Cup series is a bit much. He has a great organization behind him that will prep him, coach him and help build him up into a championship caliber driver – over time.

I look forward to not only watching William Byron race in the Cup Series, but also I’m excited to see Hendrick with such a young stable of drivers. 2018 will be interesting for the veteran organization.

Sturm :  I don’t think it will be instant, no. It’s not that way with most rookies, especially ones that are moved up so quickly, like Joey Logano for example. I do think in a few years, he will be extremely successful. But I don’t think it will be right away. I hope he proves me wrong though!

Hull :  It will be hard to tell. While he is a very talented driver, I think that it’s too soon for him. Chase Elliott was in the Xfinity Series for two years before he moved up. I hope that his talent makes up for his lack of experience. We shall see what he has to offer. But I think that once he matures, we will see a lot from him.

Cassidy :  I think it is doubtful for any driver to hop right into the Cup series and instantly win. Over time, William Byron will be a Cup champion. However, I see success taking a few years to grow.

Parmelee :  Initially, I was surprised Hendrick chose William Byron over a more established Cup driver. But the more I look at him, the more impressed I am. In the Truck and Xfinity Series races alone, he’s won over 21% of the races he’s been in — 3 of 21 in the 2017 Xfinity Series and 7 of 24 in the Truck Series.

If you add in CARS Super Late Model, ARCA, and NASCAR K&N Series? He still comes out with a win average right at 22%. That’s one heck of an insurance policy for Rick Hendrick.

Bottom line? He’s either one of the most talented drivers we’ve seen in a long time, or he needs to go buy a lottery ticket.

Magda :  

That’s four quick laps around “The World’s Fastest Half Mile in the World!”Before it’s winning time on Track Talk, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Michigan!
Kyle Larson made quite a few panelists happy...

Kyle Larson made quite a few panelists happy…

...giving those panelists some extra playoff points!

…giving those panelists some extra playoff points!

With a hot August night fast approaching, let’s reveal our winning picks for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway!
Nine picks for a night race at Bristol.

Nine picks for a night race at Bristol.

Tiongson :  After sweeping the races at Michigan, look for Kyle Larson to score his first non-two mile track win at Bristol this Saturday night!

Magda :  My pick is Kyle Larson.

Conley :  He was good here even in a bad car during the spring race. Clint Bowyer takes the 14 car back in Victory Lane.

TPF Stats :  Chase Elliott will win at Bristol!

Hobbs :  Let’s see what Matt Kenseth can do this weekend.

Hull :  My pick for the Bristol night race is Matt Kenseth.

Cassidy :  The Bristol winner will be Matt Kenseth.

Copple :  My race pick is spring race winner Jimmie Johnson!

Lucas :  Bristol is a fast paced, bullring, microcosm of speed and wit. I’m going to somewhat contradict myself with my pick for this weekend. Joey Logano orders up a Bristol win. Hold the encumbered cucumbers please!

Bowman :  Kevin Harvick gets it done at Bristol!

Sturm :  I think I’m going to have to go with Brad Keselowski.

Parmelee :  Kurt Busch wins it on Saturday night!

That wraps it up, race fans!  Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk! We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Saturday night’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team 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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