Track Talk: I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at Watkins Glen

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 I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at Watkins Glen International!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Christina BowmanKathleen Cassidy, Katie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley muse about Kyle Busch’s important victory at Pocono, the mid-race altercation between the Nos. 18 and 78 teams at Indianapolis, a setback to Kyle Larson’s No. 42 team, and the two day race weekend format!

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Question 1
All Kyle Busch needed was caramel M&M's.

All Kyle Busch needed was caramel M&M’s.

Kyle Busch snapped a yearlong winless streak at Pocono this past Sunday. With that first win under his belt, does this validate and soften the setback that befell them at Indianapolis?

Hobbs :  Nothing will ever soften the setbacks this team has faced all year. They have always had the speed, but the golden horseshoe was never on their feet until this past weekend. If anything, this should scare the rest of the field.

Once Rowdy gets a taste of victory in his mouth, it will be that much easier for him to get more victories. It will also make him hungry for the playoffs.

Conley :  No. Getting wrecked while leading the Brickyard 400 left a bad taste in Kyle Busch’s mouth. Even a win at Pocono doesn’t soften that.

Sturm :  A win is a win. I don’t think it “softens” any of the setbacks Kyle Busch has experienced this season. However, it definitely opens up the floodgates for more wins and gives a boost to his confidence.

Most importantly, Busch is in the playoffs so the next five races won’t be as intense.  As a result, he won’t have as much pressure on his shoulders to get a win. Ultimately, I think any driver would much rather win the Brickyard 400 at prestigious Indianapolis Motor Speedway than win a race at Pocono Raceway. As I said, a win is a win.

Copple :  Busch has endured an up-and-down season and it’s definitely showing. I don’t believe he is a strong competitor for the title this year but you never know.

Certainly, everything could suddenly click for his team in time for the playoffs. This win does nothing to validate or make up for what happened in Indy or any other track. This just hasn’t been his season. But, I will say that I think we all expected him to win at some point this season.

Hull :  Make no mistake, this victory definitely makes up for what happened at Indy. Having that first victory is an amazing morale booster. At any rate, they still have a long way to go.

Joe Gibbs Racing has really been struggling this year. With only two Cup wins this year, they still have a lot to work on in terms of the playoffs if they want to do well.

Bowman :  I think in the mind of Kyle Busch, the two events are unrelated. He will return to Indy wanting to win with the same fervor as if he had not won at Pocono. That win may have pushed the reset button for Busch as he does not have to wonder when he will break that winless streak.

I don’t believe anyone doubted that he would return to Victory Lane. At the same time, the surprising factor was that it came at a track he had never won at before. How about having 10 different winners in the last 10 races?!

Lucas :  Not as much as you would think. The crash at Indy must have felt about par for course with the rest of this season. It’s been rough, so the victory was much sweeter. The win puts the No. 18 team into the playoffs as we all know, but will the win turn their bad luck so far into a bountiful fall harvest? I think they can be a spicy threat for the championship four at Homestead.

Parmelee :  Kyle Busch’s struggle to secure a Cup victory this season has been brought up as frequently as Dale Earnhardt Jr’s retirement. I think the 18 has had a good season despite only taking home one checkered flag.

As we’ve discussed before, Busch will settle for nothing less than perfection — and tends to get a bit grumpy — when the race outcome isn’t what he expected or desired. Here’s to hoping his trip to Victory Lane not only takes the pressure off, but calms the frustration level a bit as well.

Cassidy :  In the fans’ eyes, I think this makes matters worse. Additionally, many people thought Kyle Busch’s crew chief should have faced a penalties following the altercations with the 78 team. Ultimately, we could assume Kyle Busch would not have gotten that win with his crew chief missing.

Question 2
"Don't make fun of my amazing tube socks!"

“Don’t make fun of my amazing tube socks!”

Joe Gibbs Racing suspended two of the No. 78 pit crew members following a mid-race altercation with Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens at Indianapolis. Are the penalties just or insufficient in this case?

Hobbs :  The ruling came from Joe Gibbs Racing, and not NASCAR. Clearly, the organization felt these suspensions were necessary. As a matter of fact, Joe Gibbs Racing supplies the No. 78 team with their folks, so they have the right to do with them what they choose.

We, as the public, really have no say. We all have opinions, but it ultimately comes down to what the bosses saw and taking the appropriate actions.

Conley :  In any job, there are behavior clauses in a contract. The actions by the crew members towards a JGR top “at track” staff member is not going to fly. Therefore, they should have received exactly what they got.

As for Adam Stevens, he had a guy in that area and he “may” have been going to his aid, or clear him out. We don’t know, but a lower staff member “taunting” an upper staff member never plays out well for the small guy, nor should it.

Sturm :  I was one of the many people who thought the suspensions were totally bogus, especially considering the fact that Adam Stevens didn’t get suspended at all. Yes I know, the No. 78 crew guys were taunting Stevens when he walked by their pit box. However, Stevens was the one that walked into the box and got up into the crew guy’s face cussing him out and pointing his finger at his face.

If you’re going to suspend the crew guys, okay. But Stevens should have been suspended as well. Just like everyone is saying, Stevens is “technically” their boss. He’s up on more of a pedestal than the crew guys so the least he could have done was ignore the taunts and continued to walk away.

Of course, I’ve seen a few people saying that Joe Gibbs only suspended Martin Truex Jr’s crew so Kyle Busch could win. While I don’t think this is true at all, Kyle Busch’s win this weekend probably further cemented that belief for the people that do believe it.

Copple :  I believe JGR supplies the crew for the No.78 team. If this is the case, and their behavior was out of line, then yes, it is absolutely deserved.

Ultimately, it’s not just the drivers and crew chiefs who are in the spotlight. Teams and crew members are as well. They need to show a certain respect in the garage at all times.

Yes, I know tempers get heated when it comes to the race. However, there is still a time to take it “out back” in a way and get away from the track. If drivers are punished for fighting, crew members should be too.

Hull :  I understand their anger and how they wanted to stand up for their driver. In any case, that was no way to act. Pit crew members play as important of a role as the driver does, so they need to act classy as well. They were out of line, so I think that the penalties are just.

Bowman :  Honestly, this one is a pickle. Joe Gibbs Racing has all the authority in this matter and the standard that they hold their employees to is all on level playing field.

Yes, the crew members on the 78 were more physically aggressive than Adam Stevens. Yes, that is not acceptable behavior. But suspending them? Seems a bit much.

A behavioral probationary period and some good ole fashioned talking may have done the trick. Or maybe they started down that route and decided it wasn’t enough. It’s hard to say. I just hope that this doesn’t affect the mojo of that 78 team.

Lucas :  I call folly on JGR. Although it did not look like it affected the No. 78 team this past Sunday, I think it was a reactionary warning shot from Coach Gibbs to his customer team, Furniture Row Racing.

You could say that passions of battle culminated at Indy, especially after all the success the No. 78 has had this season, and lack of for JGR. Maybe Coach had had enough of losing to his own equipment.

Apparently, there’s more to the story than we know, so we can only speculate about the situation. My theory is probably on the darker spectrum, but we can only spectate and move on.

Parmelee :  This is a hard question because as Joe Gibbs Racing pointed out, there is (for all we know) additional information that we’re not privy to. It’s 2017, and anyone can capture a situation with their smart phone and share it on the internet.

Unless we’re standing next to the video’s author at the time, there’s no true way to know what happened before they started recording. Unfortunately for JGR, that means they’re up against what people claim they know versus what actually happened.

By the team’s account, that’s what this is. Because JGR will not elaborate on what caused the suspensions, people are given two options: believe there was justification for the suspensions, or not.

Cassidy :  This relates directly to my thoughts on the first question. Penalties were insufficient from the fans’ standpoint.

Question 3
So much for the No. 42 team having Target on their backs.

So much for the No. 42 team having Target on their backs.

Kyle Larson’s primary sponsor Target announced the ending of their motorsports efforts following the end of this season. How troubling is this for NASCAR as well as for Larson and his 42 team?

Hobbs :  Seeing sponsors leave is nothing new. However, it is a great opportunity for Kyle Larson to bring a new sponsor into the sport. This kid is a proven winner and proven class act on and off the race track. His marketability is outstanding, so there is no worry in my eyes for him or the team about his future.

Conley :  Just another splash in the big pond of expensive motorsport business. It’s no different than when DuPont rebranded and cut back with the name change. The AARP picked up sponsorship on the 24 car in 2011.

Additionally, Kellogg’s came through when UPS stepped aside from the No. 99 team in the mid 2010’s. Luckily for Ganassi, they have the corporate partners and business to business sponsors from Target that are still there. Lastly, I’m sure they’ve got some other feelers out there in addition to Credit One Bank. They knew this was coming.

Sturm :  Larson wouldn’t be the first to lose a sponsor following the 2017 season. However, I do have to say it is a little troubling considering how well Larson performs and how much exposure he brings to Target.

After they backed out of IndyCar, it was only a matter of time before they backed out of NASCAR as well. Yes, I think this does spell trouble for NASCAR. If big companies that are representing great drivers are backing out, what does that say for everyone else?

While it’s troubling, as far as Larson goes, I’m sure sponsors will line up at the door for him.

Copple :  Target has been a major NASCAR sponsor for years. Consequently, losing them will be a big blow, not only for the team, but for the sport as well. If the sport continues to lose major sponsors, it’s not going to be a positive outcome for anyone involved.

Hull :  This is kind of a setback for the team. It hurts when a sponsor decides to leave, even when the driver is doing so well that season. You have to remember though, Target appeals to the younger crowd.

Sadly, a lot of younger people haven’t been attracted to NASCAR. Target felt like they could reach a younger audience with soccer.

However, while it stinks for Larson, he will for sure be able to find another sponsor.  He is a very talented kid, and is extremely marketable. I don’t think any sponsor would be disappointed to invest in him.

Bowman :  I was shocked to hear that Target was not returning. Sponsors are never a guarantee. However, this was a blow. With the talent and potential that Larson brings to the table, I can’t imagine them not finding a sponsor (or sponsors) before the start of 2018. It’s sad to see such a long-standing partner go, but it is just the nature of the beast.

Lucas :  It’s sad to see a brand leave the sport after much success across the motorsports world. When Target announced it would be leaving Chip Ganassi’s Indycar team, I knew the Cup program was in trouble.

I think it is a cause of concern for NASCAR in general. I felt as if there was an upswing in sponsorship momentum this season, but with the Nature’s Bakery/Stewart Haas Racing lawsuit, it has sent shockwaves throughout the industry.

However, the problem is that NASCAR’s sponsorship platform formula is outdated. In this digital age that we live in, sponsors and teams need to focus on fan engagement, i.e. we’ll scratch you back if you scratch ours. Return on investment (ROI) has been paramount for sponsors lately and will continue to do so into the future.

Perhaps NASCAR and Monster could somehow come to an agreement to lessen its rule on other energy drink brands. If you at the Supercross series (sponsored by Monster), there are multiple energy drinks sponsoring different riders.

In theory, you could take a risk by allowing these other brands sponsor teams within you series. This probably will not happen, but it does make you think. Why monopolize a market when you could diversify the overall fan experience.

Parmelee :  I’m probably the biggest Target fan there is. One of the biggest things that drew me to liking Larson when I first started watching NASCAR was my boyfriend pointing out that Target was his sponsor. I think my exact words were, “Throw a Starbucks logo on that thing and I’m a fan for life.”

From a PR standpoint, Target may be worried about reaching their target (pun unintended) audience with the “typical” NASCAR fan. However, I think Larson was an incredible brand ambassador for the company, and it’s a sad situation for everyone involved on the racing side of things.

I think NASCAR is doing a lot to open up to what may be considered non-traditional race fans, but the loss of Target as a sponsor shows that it may be too little, too late.

Cassidy :  It’s crazy that a team that has been so successful faces sponsorship decreases. Larson has proven himself and Target has been around for that ride. With many minutes of publicity, it is hard to understand this decision.

Question 4
Easy come, easy go with the two day weekends?

Easy come, easy go with the two day weekends?

NASCAR has experimented with the two day race weekend at Indianapolis and Pocono along with a 3 p.m. ET start time. Should they continue with this change or revert to the tried and true, three day, 1 p.m. ET start times of the past?

Hobbs :  I am pretty sure the only folks that a 3 p.m. start time helps are those on the West Coast. Are the West Coast folks really NASCAR’s prime target?

The later start times are no fun. As we saw with Indy two weeks ago, it can cause problems if there are any delays for tracks without lights. I get West Coast races starting later, but not the East Coast or Midwest races.

Conley :  The two day show is a money savor, no doubt about that. However, is it giving the fans the bang they want for their buck? It seems they are trying to save the sport money, and cater the start times to their West Coast audience in the hopes of picking up viewers.

In the end, it’s about getting revenue from the TV partners to recoup what they may not be getting at the track from fans who don’t show up for the race weekend or desire the late start times, which means a late departure. A three day, 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. start times has worked, so why change it?

Sturm :  Like I’ve said before, I like the start times. I know I’m in the minority (the very small minority), but none of the late start/finishing times bother me.

However, I’m a nobody compared to the whole of the NASCAR fan base and I know a majority hate them. Ultimately, I think NASCAR should look at pushing back start times again or it’s quite possible that they start losing fans because of it.

Copple :  To me, it depends on the track and the location. At some tracks, that makes sense. For others, not so much. I believe NASCAR needs to open it up to the fans. Ultimately, their opinion is what matters most they are the ones who are going to be buying tickets.

Hull :  Personally, I think that they need to just go back to doing things the way they did before. I think that these late starts have an effect on the races and the people watching them.

For example, some of the late troubles were preventable if the races started earlier. I mean, no one had trouble before with the 1 p.m starting times. So why fix what’s not broken?

Bowman :  If changing to a two day race weekend brings in bigger crowds and higher revenue, I’m all for it! I’d like to see the numbers on attendance, TV viewership, and revenue comparing the two day weekend to these races having been held as three day events in the past. I know we have seen some drivers express frustration with the new start time as well.

Personally, I am not a fan of the 3 p.m. start, especially on tracks that do not have lights for night racing. Issues may arise when it comes to the ability to complete a race – as we almost saw at Indianapolis.

Lucas :  I like the two day race weekend instead of the long, pointless Fridays that teams burn money with. If it means an extra day at home for families, less travel expenses, and more power behind a Saturday ticket, I think we could see this become the new normal. Less practice equals better racing.

As for qualifying on Sunday, it could be better. I think we should go back to single car qualifying with the top 30 fastest, regardless of a charter, are safe for the race. Positions 31 through 40 would be subject to the results of a Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) that would be raced 90 minutes prior to the start of the main race. So to review, we would practice twice on Saturday, qualify on Saturday, LCQ on Sunday, followed by the race.

As for the start times, if this is going to become a permanent standard start time, then by all means, this would be a great formula. But, for traditionalists who do not like change, a 1 p.m. start time, or within 30 minutes, plus or minus, that would be great.

Ultimately, I like my qualifying idea, but it would only work with a two day weekend and later start times.

Parmelee :  I can see the pros and cons of both situations. Ultimately, when it comes down to whether or not a track has lights, starting at 3 p.m. is only going to create potential problems.

In addition, it puts an incredible amount of physical pressure on the drivers who are then forced to spend an extended amount of time in their fire suits and their cars. Judging from how close it appeared Kasey Kahne came to vomiting in Victory Lane at Indianapolis, I’m definitely a member of team “three day race weekend.”

Cassidy :  Being a fan at the track waiting for the 3 p.m. start time was brutal. Days at the track are already long enough, waiting for the race does not help anyone’s day. At Pocono, we saw that 3 p.m. start times affect that race. NASCAR should consider this.

That’s four solid laps around this unique, challenging road course in upstate New York!  Before we reveal our race winning picks, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Pocono Raceway!
Hobbs found herself with a victory at Pocono...

Hobbs found herself with a victory at Pocono… a result, the points race tightens up going into Watkins Glen!

…as a result, the points race tightens up going into Watkins Glen!

It’s about that time on our preview! Without further ado, let’s reveal our winning picks for Sunday’s I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at The Glen!
Might one of these six wind up in Victory Lane?

Might one of these six wind up in Victory Lane?

Tiongson :  After the solid top-10 showing at Pocono, look for Clint Bowyer to snap his winless streak at Watkins Glen!

Sturm :  I’m going to go out on a limb here and pick Clint Bowyer. He’s been pretty consistent at road courses in the past. Tensions are high because he’s fighting for a playoff spot. Yes, he wins this weekend at The Glen.

Bowman :  I would love to see 11 different winners in 11 races! Look for Clint Bowyer to win at The Glen!

Cassidy :  My pick is Clint Bowyer.

Lucas :  I’ve waited a while to finally say this, but I’m going with my favorite driver this weekend, Clint Bowyer!

Conley :  With four straight top-seven finishes at Watkins Glen, Joey Logano makes it five in a row by scoring a big win.

Parmelee :  Joey Logano takes the win at The Glen!

Hobbs :  Martin Truex Jr takes the victory at Watkins Glen!

TPF Stats :  A few wins at this track, and a win this season (finally), point towards good things for Kyle Busch this weekend.

Copple :  Going with Chase Elliott!

Hull :  My pick is going to be AJ Allmendinger for Watkins Glen!

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

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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