Track Talk: Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington

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 Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley reflect on Kyle Busch’s Bristol sweep, Jeremy Clement’s exciting first NASCAR Xfinity Series win, potential changes for Richard Petty Motorsports, and the best Darlington Raceway throwbacks!

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Question 1
Love or hate him, Kyle Busch accomplished quite the Bristol sweep.

Love or hate him, Kyle Busch accomplished quite the Bristol sweep.

Kyle Busch swept the race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway for the second time in his NASCAR career.  Despite his feat, it’s been a somewhat lukewarm reception from the fans. Will Kyle Busch ever be a universally accepted and well liked driver with the NASCAR fan base?

Sturm :  I don’t believe he will be just because of his attitude. I have seen countless people say that if it weren’t for Kyle Busch’s attitude, they would probably be a fan of his.

He’s an incredible athlete and driver, but that’s not all it takes to be well liked with NASCAR fans. You have to have a good, humble attitude and needless to say, Kyle Busch doesn’t really have that. It gets him a ton of publicity though so he probably doesn’t really care.

Hobbs :  The fans are sour that he swept because he is racing in the lower series. I am a Kyle Busch fan, and have been since his Busch Series days; however, I am also not a fan of Cup drivers dominating the lower series.

But, putting that aside, we must recognize the great driving ability that Kyle Busch posses. There are plenty of drivers who attempt multiple races in a weekend; and none have seen the success that Kyle Busch has. Winning a race these days is hard enough (in the Cup Series), and to do it three times in a row really speaks to the incredible talent he has.

And he did this by having several issues set him back, and he had to crawl his way back to the front. What the guy has is pure talent, and I think the NASCAR fan base overlooks his talent just because he “takes wins away from the younger guys.”

Magda :  The happiest people from the Kyle Busch sweep are his fans. But I’ve come to appreciate his raw driving talent over the last 15 years. Winning three races on a weekend is no easy feat much like Jimmie Johnson winning five consecutive titles.

Ultimately, I think Kyle Busch will always have his haters because he wins a lot, even more when it’s in Xfinity or Trucks. Also, keep in mind he’s much better as a driver and a person since breaking his leg and having a kid two years ago. He’s calmed down but Kyle Busch remains himself.

Lucas :  Kyle Busch will eventually win over the fan base of NASCAR. He’ll accomplish this once he retires and heads to the announcing booth or whatever he wants to do post-NASCAR career.

Firstly, I think it’s incredible what he accomplished at Bristol. To do a three race sweep is no easy task. However, what I think is crazier is that he still competes in the max-allotted races in the lower series.

I understand that money plays a tremendous factor in those decisions, but how will we ever see new talent rise in the next series, making names for themselves? We could blame the entire situation on no spending cap in NASCAR.

For the sport to survive long term, it has to happen sooner rather than later. If you want proof of this, look at the Truck series and what’s been unfolding over the past few weeks. There’s a lot of blame that can go around, but to keep this from going over five pages, I’ll just give you my two cents.

Conley :  Not with today’s fanbase. I think they love to hate to much. Twitter has made it so easy to fire off at someone you don’t like that I think people enjoy seeing someone like Kyle Busch that draws the ire of the fans. If Kyle Busch was easy going and a gracious loser, he’d be more popular than Dale Earnhardt Jr. But he’s not and that’s why there is such a divide between his fans and his haters.

Shoppe :  I feel like Kyle Busch will not get the respect he deserves until after his run of overwhelming success has come to an end. It might not even be until after he retires that the majority of fans truly appreciate what he has been able to do.

He is always going to be the one many love to hate and that leads to people being upset when he wins rather then seeing his success for what it really is. To win all three races at Bristol in one weekend for the second time is a remarkable achievement and one we may never see again.

In my opinion, the greatest part of Kyle Busch’s legacy is that he might just be the first athlete in this or any sport to single handedly be the reason for a rule change limiting or banning drivers from competing in a series due to winning so much.

Just think about that for a minute. Like it or not (and I am one of those who isn’t a huge fan), you have to give this guy the credit he deserves.

Parmelee : I respect Kyle Busch’s accomplishments as a driver. From a personal and a public relations standpoint, I think he leaves a lot to be desired. I understand that competing at such a high level comes with a lot of stress and responsibilities. However, Kyle Busch seems to lack the basic appreciation for his position in life than you see from many of the other drivers. That being said, I do love what he and his wife have done with their charity — it’s the only thing I can continuously say I support about the guy.

Hull :  Sadly, I think he will be one of those drivers that will be hated. It’s mostly due to his on-track attitude. A lot of fans don’t like how he reacts when he loses. Some hate the manufacturer he drives for. Just a lot of factors. I am not sure how he can be more well liked unless something changes.

Cassidy :  Simple answer, no. Every sport needs a villain.

Question 2
Welcome to Victory Lane, Jeremy.

Welcome to Victory Lane, Jeremy.

Jeremy Clements scored a popular, exciting first NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Road America, albeit in somewhat unique fashion.  Does this reemphasize why the NASCAR Xfinity Series should be a true series where names are made?

Sturm :  Absolutely. While I didn’t watch the race due to hurricane issues, I think it’s awesome that Jeremy Clements won. If there’s one thing I love about NASCAR, it’s getting to see the underdogs come out victorious. The emotion and gratefulness that they exhibit when they win is incredible and is what the sport is all about. I just wish we could see it more often.  

Hobbs :  The Xfinity Series uses “where names are made” as their catch phrase. If they truly mean that, they should have more power over those competing in their series. It is great when we see non-Cup driver battling on track; every spot means that much more.

Wins are hard to come by in the Xfinity Series for the regulars. It does not surprise me when they see the light at the end of the tunnel, they go above and beyond to be the first to reach it. Let the series live up to their catchphrase; let this be the series where names are made and the next class of great drivers is born.

Magda :  It was a great story to see Jeremy Clements pull off the win at Road America. Short tracks and road courses are the great equalizers in NASCAR, based more on who can manage their stuff the best and be in the right position for those kind of races.

The RA win for Clements has those Xfinity teams on the playoff bubble sweating with three races to go in the regular season. As far as the Xfinity Series being where names are made, limiting Cup drivers in certain events helps but doesn’t fully solve the problem of Cuppers running in lower-series events.

It’s more along the lines of a Cup Series driver competing for a Cup team in a lower series compared to running their own car (i.e. Dale Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip).

Lucas :  In short, yes. Why? Because if we didn’t have underdog stories, no one would have hopes and dreams. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I think that the lower tier teams that put the same amount of work in with a fraction of the budget should be able to showcase it on a more frequent basis.

Take the first Iowa Xfinity race this season. That was the best race we’ve seen in that series in years! Make a spending cap, make the composite bodies mandatory, run an engine program that doesn’t kill small teams, further limit Cup drivers involvement, shorten the race weekends in order to make more standalone events.

With a condensed budget, teams could run more races per season and perhaps a few weeknight events at short tracks? We can only hope that NASCAR can make adjustments in the near future to help little guys out. Also, this needs to be the plan for the Truck series. Both series can be great again with a little help from the sanctioning body.

Conley :  Absolutely. Clements took a car built nearly 10 years ago, had the speed, and parlayed good strategy to win at Road America. This is why NASCAR needs to find a way to reign in the technology advancements and costs as well as making the developmental series just that.

Now, with that said, I do believe to make these guys better, they still need some time to compete with the top drivers. The new rules for limiting Cup drivers is a step to both allow drivers like Clements to succeed and learn from the top stars.

Shoppe :  This huge upset win is just a rare example of a time where the Xfinity Series’ slogan has been accurate. The win by Jeremy Clements was not only thrilling but it was amazing to see such an underdog triumph!

Part of what made it so great to see is because it doesn’t happen much at all these days! Not since David Gilliland’s surprise win in the unsponsored #84 car in Kentucky in 2006 has such an underdog win occurred. If NASCAR bans Cup regulars altogether from the lower series, we may indeed see more of these great stories. But will they be just as special?

Parmelee :  That would be nice, wouldn’t it? It’s always refreshing to see a race when the big-name Cup drivers take the weekend off, and I think it absolutely re-solidifies the brand that NASCAR has attempted to create with its “Names are made here” tagline. If drivers in the Xfinity Series are constantly competing against larger teams with more funding, there’s rarely going to be a chance for the events we saw this past weekend to repeat themselves.

Hull :  Yes. This is one of the reasons I believe that the Cup drivers need to stay out of the series. It was a much better race and a more deserving winner was crowned. This is a series that should be making names, and not have the glory taken away from them.

Cassidy :  I think it is important for the sport to see both sides of this argument. Big names bring attendance but each fan has their own opinion.

Question 3
Richard Petty's famed No. 43 team's 2018 plans may not include "The King" racing one more time.

Richard Petty’s famed No. 43 team’s 2018 plans may not include “The King” racing one more time.

Richard Petty Motorsports appears to be preparing for big changes heading into the 2018 season in the form of a new shop, manufacturer, and potential ally.  How critical would these changes be for RPM in relation to their long term future, based on the rumblings online?

Sturm :  I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been keeping up with much NASCAR news lately so I’m not exactly sure what all the rumors are about. But I think this move could be very beneficial for RPM, especially if all the talk about Bubba Wallace joining the team is true.

Hobbs :  The internet is always full of rumblings; especially when the season is winding down. RPM looks to be making some big changes. Until official word is spoken, it is all just words. Who knows what changes outside of looking for a new facility, could come their way. For now, they need to find a shop as that is the only confirmed piece of information.

Magda :  The big domino that has yet to fall is Darrell Wallace Jr. RPM wants him in a car next year despite all the rumors surrounding the team about a manufacturer change. RCR may have only two cars next year as of press time. By adding RPM to the fold, it might be good to lean in for info. I hope Wallace can get a competitive ride in 2018. I don’t see RPM going to two cars even though Aric Almirola’s situation is unknown at this point.

Lucas :  Who would’ve thought that the two Richards of NASCAR would team up to field a car? The odds of that are changing every moment the clock ticks. From what I have heard, the current Petty shop in Mooresville is for sale, and that the team will be housed at RCR for 2018 with the potential to bring back the No. 44 team pending sponsorship.

Petty’s team would be a satellite team to RCR. There is plenty of space at RCR’s campus now that Paul Menard will not be returning. Additionally, the always rumored No. 33 team may come back to life.

Perhaps the second Petty car would be said No. 33 (in exchange of the No. 44). Not to put more fuel on the fire, but Darrell Wallace Jr did drive and win in an RCR affiliated truck this season. Maybe this is his way of picking up a ride for 2018, either in the No. 43 or No. 33/44 car.

Honestly, Petty has been the semi-outlier of teams in recent years since they ended their relationship with Dodge. The relationship with Roush Fenway has been shaky at best. So will we see a change of good fortune for the legendary No. 43, or will it crash and burn again? Who knows – it will be interesting.

Conley :  There have been so many changes to RPM that I’m not sure what direction this team needs to go in. But as long as The King’s name is on the door, it will still be a popular race team and one that fans hope to see succeed.

Shoppe :  These seem to be exactly what kind of changes RPM need to stay competitive in the long run. The long standing alliance with Roush Fenway is not going to do much as far as helping this small team stay relevant. A new alliance would be just what this team needs, a shared notebook with a team that actually has a lot to offer in terms of help.

As of now, the only thing RPM has going for them besides The King’s fame and notoriety is Smithfield. It is imperative for this group to make a choice in driver that will make their sponsor happy! I think Bubba Wallace has proven himself worthy of that car and had the runs the Smithfield No. 43 team are capable of! I hope to see this combination work out in some way in the future! 

Parmelee :  Am I the only one who is still focusing on the hope that this gives Bubba Wallace a full-time ride in the Cup series? I think seeing RPM return to a more competitive place in NASCAR is going to be fantastic, not only for the team, but for the sport as a whole.

Hull :  I think it will be a big and good thing for them. It will be an even better thing for Darrell Wallace Jr if they were to sign him on. He is an amazing talent who will bring a lot to the team. Hopefully all these changes will lead to that.

Cassidy :  I think we’ll find RPM stay in the industry but the organization changes the ways it approaches the sport.

Question 4
Ain't no party like a Darlington throwback party.

Ain’t no party like a Darlington throwback party.

Since 2015, Darlington Raceway has embraced the throwback theme with its appearance and the vast array of retro paint schemes fielded by Cup and Xfinity drivers. As of press time, who has the best throwback paint schemes respectively in Cup and Xfinity?

Sturm :  I think Dylan Lupton’s throwback to Jeff Gordon’s Rainbow Warriors paint scheme is absolutely awesome. As far as Cup goes, I really like Jimmie Johnson’s and also Chase Elliott’s tribute to his dad.

Hobbs :  There a few paint schemes that stand out in my eyes: Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, and of course, Dylan Lupton’s tribute to the Rainbow Warriors. It is scary (maybe a bit sad) that Jeff Gordon now is the proud member of the “throwback paint scheme” club.

Magda :  For Cup, three stand out to me. The one I like most is Ryan Blaney’s Motorcraft throwback to Kyle Petty’s 1987 Coke 600 win.

Petty’s been pretty popular with throwback schemes since Darlington returned to Labor Day weekend. Kyle Larson again is running a retro-scheme to the No. 42 Coors Light Sabco Racing car from 1995.

Chris Buescher’s tribute to Patty Moise is pretty cool given the fact someone actually recognized Moise for a throwback to her Crisco car in the late 1980s.

On the XFINITY side, there’s no doubt William Byron’s throwback to the late Ricky Hendrick wins my vote. The story of Ricky aiding Hendrick’s development program in their prime and adding to the organization was meaningful after his racing career ended. And also give a shout-out to Ryan Sieg honoring his brother this weekend at Darlington. It’s never easy to lose a family member that suddenly, especially when it’s your older brother, but a very fitting tribute for Shane Sieg as Ryan honors him for the family-owned team.

Lucas :  For Cup, I’ve got to go with Kevin Harvick’s throwback to the 1980’s era of Busch Beer. That car screams classic in my mind.

Also, this was a hard one to say second to, but give credit to Matt DiBenedetto’s homage to Bobby Allison and his 1988 Daytona 500 winning scheme. Those are two great schemes that will look fantastic Sunday night.

For Xfinity, this one is a bit personal and somewhat biased. It is an incredible feeling to know that your alma mater is a part of a NASCAR team on a semi-regular basis. Brandon Brown has incorporated a tribute to the late Dick Trickle and Junie Donlavey by running a Heilig-Meyers tribute.

Brown chose this scheme for two reasons, with the first being that Donlavey was a fellow Richmond, VA driver. The second (and most important) reason was to incorporate the original paint scheme with Coastal Carolina University’s primary colors of teal and black.

The unveiling of the car this past Tuesday evening was part of a campus wide pep rally for the upcoming college football and basketball seasons.  It brought a feeling of unity within the school’s community and showed that the university is constantly growing in size and popularity.

Coming in a close second is Brendan Gaughan’s old NAPA scheme from the Truck series. That thing was dominant at Texas from 2002 through 2003 (he won 4 in a row)!

I’ll throw in a bonus since I have talked and mentioned the Truck series a lot for this week’s questions. John Hunter Nemecheck’s throwback to his father’s Bellsouth Mobility scheme. My parents use to use Bellsouth for their cellular phones. I also remember Kenny Irwin Jr running a Bellsouth scheme before his tragic accident. You could say all these picks have sentimental value to me.

Conley :  There is a tie in each series in my mind with the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne and the No. 10 of Danica Patrick for the Cup series and the No. 9 of William Byron and the No. 16 of Ryan Reed for Xfinity.

But if had to pick just one, William Byron honoring the late Ricky Hendrick just tugs at the heart strings. It is a perfect replica of the car Ricky Hendrick drove. I’ll certainly buy it as a diecast.

Shoppe :  It is impossible to pick just one favorite! I never seem to agree with the fan voted winner but maybe I will this year! I have to say when it comes to throwback, the Wood Brothers have a leg up on everyone else. When you look at their history and longevity in the sport, they can’t go wrong with any retro scheme choice!

Parmelee :  I’m the worst person to ask about this because I mainly just care about if the car is pretty or not. However, I think my two personal favorites are Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson. Basically, they had me at flames and Harry Potter-like lightning bolts. As for the Xfinity Series, how can anyone argue with Dylon Lupton’s Jeff Gordon rainbow car?!

Hull :  It’s hard to choose a favorite as they are all pretty awesome this year. My favorites are Austin Dillon’s tribute to Dale Sr.’s Wrangler car and William Byron’s tribute to Ricky Hendrick. I get goosebumps thinking about how awesome they are. I am looking forward to this race!  

Cassidy :  I would like to branch out from Xfinity and Cup and suggest that Brad Keselowski’s Truck team has the best throwback schemes. This team has taken iconic points in the team’s history and highlighted them.

That’s four laps around the Darlington Raceway without a scratch! Before we earn our Darlington Stripe, let’s review how we all fared two weeks ago at Bristol!
TPF Stats made like Agent Smith with a win over us humans...

TPF Stats made like Agent Smith with a win over us humans…

...meanwhile, Hobbs enjoys her points lead!

…meanwhile, Hobbs enjoys her points lead!

After a nice week away from Cup action, winning time has arrived! Let’s reveal our picks to win Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway!
Can one of these four tame "The Lady In Black?"

Can one of these four tame “The Lady In Black?”

Tiongson :  By far, Martin Truex Jr and his 78 team have outgunned the best of the best this season. Darlington won’t be any different as he picks up his fifth win of 2017.

Sturm :  I’m going with Martin Truex Jr.

Hobbs :  Defending race winner, and best guy this season – Martin Truex Jr finds his way to Victory Lane again.

Hull :  My pick is Martin Truex Jr.

Lucas :  Technically, this is my home track so I hope that we give a good showing this weekend. Darlington is tricky because it’s egg shaped. This race is extremely hard to pick for. There is an immense amount of mental preparation needed for 500 miles around the southern fried high banks. I think we will see our first repeat winner of the event since Greg Biffle in 2006. Winner, winner, chicken dinner for Martin Truex Jr.

TPF Stats :  With three wins this year, and three starts at Darlington averaging a seventh place finish, Kyle Larson looks to add one more victory to his belt this weekend.

Shoppe :  Going with Kyle Larson!

Magda :  Brad Keselowski is my pick to win.

Conley :  There have been no repeat winners in the last 10 years at Darlington. That continues as Brad Keselowski scores his first Southern 500 win.

Parmelee :  Jimmie Johnson. Hands down.

Cassidy :  Let’s go with 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 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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