Track Talk: Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan

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 Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody Shoppe, Kathleen Cassidy, Kayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley reflect on Martin Truex Jr’s fourth win of 2017, the rivalry between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, NASCAR limiting Cup racers’ starts in Xfinity and Truck Series races, and the ever progressive silly season!

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Question 1
Martin Truex Jr displays his excitement with beating the Secret of Mana.

Martin Truex Jr displays his excitement with beating the Secret of Mana.

Martin Truex Jr scored his fourth win of 2017, showcasing how powerful his No. 78 team has been this year. Can this team sustain their dominant ways heading into the playoffs?

Hobbs :  What other answer is there besides yes? If teams are not marking this driver down as the one to win it all, they are absolutely kidding themselves! On top of the four wins, he has twice as many playoff points as anyone else.

Shoppe :  Not only do I see Truex and the No. 78 team keeping their dominant ways heading into the playoffs, but with the supply of playoff points they have acquired so far, they have given themselves some wiggle room for a bad race or two in the playoffs. This not only gives them the confidence to do what they need to to get to Homestead, but they have less pressure to not have a bad day unlike many of their opponents.

Sturm :  Absolutely. To doubt Truex and his crew at any point this year would be crazy. He has so many playoff points that he could be in Homestead before the championship race. I personally think that he’s the best choice to be the champion this year, if I’m being honest. He and the No. 78 crew have just been hitting on something that no one else has hit on yet. Essentially, he’s basically guaranteed a spot in the Championship 4.

Bowman :  This team is on fire! While no team is immune to a hiccup here or there, this one seems to have tapped into a whole new realm of consistency. I cannot imagine a situation that could arise that would take them out of contention for the championship.

While they have had great performances at a variety of track sizes, the mile and a half tracks seem to be their bread and butter for wins. With more than a few of them sprinkled throughout the playoffs, I think we can expect their hot streak to carry through the remainder of the season. The real question might be – is there anyone else who can compete with them?

Hull :  This team is becoming a championship worthy team, barring any bad luck. They have been on a roll here lately, and they have been very consistent this year. I believe that the 78 team will be one of the four teams competing for the championship in Homestead. I just feel like that it’s Martin Truex Jr’s year to shine.

Parmelee :  I think Martin Truex Jr and Cole Pearn have created an incredibly successful team, and their dedication has paid off. The 78 has been one of the teams to beat the last 2 seasons, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Conley :  Outside of JGR suspending the entire team and forgetting to send out engines, I’m not sure if anyone can out race the No. 78. It certainly doesn’t look like anyone is going to outpoint them. I’d say you may want to just begin making the place settings at the head table at the banquet for Barney Visser and the No. 78 Furniture Row team.

Cassidy :  Playoffs are always a different story as the pressures run high. However, I think the 78 team has shown dominance in these situations before. I have no doubt they can continue to be successful.

Question 2
You spin me right 'round, baby, right 'round.

You spin me right ’round, baby, right ’round.

Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch tangled during Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, adding yet another wrinkle to their rivalry. Does this carry over at least through to the races at Bristol or Richmond?

Hobbs :  For the sake of the sport, please let it carry over! Luckily, for these drivers, they have a victory in their back pockets. However, one driver (more than the other) has a history of retaliation and NASCAR has not taken too kindly to retaliation the past few years. I just want to see the passion! This is the biggest rivalry we have in the sport today, and it always makes for interesting moments on track.

Shoppe :  The rivalry between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski has carried on for years. You just never know when the next chapter will be written. Right when you think something will happen between the two of them, it usually doesn’t.

The contact between the two at Watkins Glen had little to do with their attitudes for one another and more to do with a simple racing accident when a fast car is aggressively trying to make up spots after an issue leading to a mistake. It is in Kyle Busch’s nature to get angry at the guy in was in a crash with but I don’t see this blowing over into a race soon.

Sturm :  I personally don’t think so. It didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal to me, as it was just a heat of the moment type thing. In fact, I think by this weekend at Michigan, all will be forgotten about. It’s racing, things like that happen, tempers flare, but it normally all blows over in a matter of time.

Bowman :  Just like the proverbial elephant, a driver never forgets – or so I choose to believe. Mentally, it will carry over and we will see how or if it affects Brad Keselowski or Kyle Busch.

However, I don’t think you will see either one of these drivers go out of their way to get back at the other for any prior transgressions. They have too much to lose as we get closer to the playoffs in terms of points, and the possibility of a probation or suspensions to risk it.

Expect to see them race each other hard, there will be no give or take between these two on the track – as if there was much to begin with.

Hull :  It’s no secret that these two guys are not friends, especially after Brad Keselowski threw Kyle Busch some shade on Twitter. One of these two drivers has matured throughout the years, and will focus on himself winning. I am not sure that the other driver will let it go or not, but he has proven that he is reverting back to his immature ways. So we shall see where this ends up.

Parmelee :  I’m going to the race at Bristol, so part of me hopes Kyle Busch does something ridiculous. So that covers the “does it?” part. But it shouldn’t. This goes back to the idea that drivers need to take their anger out on each other OFF the racetrack. Otherwise, it does too much to compromise the success of drivers who have absolutely no involvement.

Conley :  With Busch’s heated comments about wanting limit Brad’s “life expectancy,” I’d say this is far from over and certainly will carry over come playoff time. These two could end up putting out more fireworks than the Fourth of July celebrations worldwide.

Cassidy :  These two drivers have always had some bad blood. Thankfully, rivalries like this keep the sport interesting.

Question 3
Less Cup, more on the regular side with Xfinity and Trucks.

Less Cup, more on the regular side with Xfinity and Trucks.

NASCAR tweaked their rules for Cup drivers competing in Xfinity and Truck Series races next year. With Cup racers of all experiences not allowed to compete in either divisions’ playoff races, does this allow for their full-time regulars to have the spotlight on them?

Hobbs :  150% yes! When I read this portion of the rules changes, I did a good ole fashion Jersey fist pump. It is a big step in the right direction. The playoffs are the time for the championship drivers to battle among themselves, so why include the big guys, who will most certainly take the wins away more times than not? This is a huge step in the right direction for the Xfinity Series!

Shoppe :  Like it or not, the spotlight will certainly be on the full time drivers in those series once again. The racing in the series will be different as more battles for wins will be between full-time title contenders.

The only wrinkle in that is whether or not that will do anything for the preparation for these young drivers to have future Cup series success. Putting that debate aside, the fans will get what they want in seeing full-time, regular drivers racing for the wins in Xfinity more and same for the Trucks.

Sturm :  I sure do hope so. I was never a huge fan of Cup guys in the lower series anyway. It never gave the lower series’ guys time to shine. I think that by eliminating Cup drivers from the playoffs, it will definitely put more of a focus back on the full-time series regulars.

Bowman :  Yes! I like the idea of watching the teams who are fighting for a championship not have their thunder stolen by Cup drivers. Don’t get me wrong! I do see the benefit of having Cup drivers dabble in the Xfinity and Truck series. Their experience can be helpful in building a successful team as they can provide insight that maybe a new driver wouldn’t think of.

Sometimes, their presence can increase the competitive nature of a race. When it comes to playoffs, I don’t see an issue taking them out as an influence on the track if they are not eligible for the championship.

Hull :  It is so good to see NASCAR step in and do more about this. Sure, a lot of fans want the Cup drivers not compete in any of these races, but I also think that the Xfinity racers enjoy racing them. But in the end, the focus needs to be on these Xfinity guys and not Cup drivers that are stealing their thunder.

Parmelee :  “Names are made here.” The slogan rings true to me because of the young drivers we’ve seen show success in the Xfinity and/or Truck series before their appearances as Cup drivers. After seeing seven of the top ten drivers in qualifying for the Xfinity series race at Watkins Glen be Cup drivers, I was incredibly frustrated.

How are these young drivers supposed to gain the recognition and experience needed to advance to compete at a higher level when they’re frequently being cast aside in favor of someone named Busch, Logano, Keselowski, or Larson?

The notion that Kyle Busch put forth recently about pulling his team from the Truck Series all together if he was no longer allowed to drive in it is the exact opposite of what Cup drivers should be preaching. Drivers get old. They retire.

Busch’s idea that he doesn’t want to be helping the guys who are going to be his competitors someday is selfish to the extreme. Now more than ever, this sport needs people who want to see it succeed — without themselves as the poster child.

Conley :  It has to. Just look at races that had limited or no MENCS drivers in the race. They’ve been highly competitive and very entertaining to watch. Plus it’s given us guys the chance to lock into the playoffs. This limit will be good for the sport, even if a certain owner wants to take his ball and go home.

Cassidy :  This is their time to shine! With no Cup drivers in the playoffs, up and coming drivers will need to prove their skills yet again. I look forward to seeing passionate racing for the titles!

Question 4
Can Kasey Kahne find a new racing home?

Can Kasey Kahne find a new racing home?

With Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Matt Kenseth searching for their 2018 full-time racing homes, do they eventually land solid opportunities? Might we see some Silly Season madness abound with these veterans?

Hobbs :  I sense some Silly Season madness for the next year. How could you not want championship caliber, and winning caliber, drivers in your stable? Is there someone out there who has always wanted to start a NASCAR team?

If so, they have three stout veterans they should send a contract to and get them racing. Yes, the changing of the guard has taken place over the past few seasons. However, these drivers are still running well and contending. They should be in rides that reflect that.

Shoppe :  I am not so sure each of these guys will land a full time Cup deal in 2018. There may be an opening or two at Stewart-Haas Racing but sponsorship will be key. The same could be said with the vacated Furniture Row car that Erik Jones is leaving. While these veterans are proven winners in the past, many are looking for to the future and young talent.

Sturm :  I believe they’ll all land rides. Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth are champions, Kasey Kahne has multiple crown jewel wins. There’s no way they’ll be out of a ride, as someone will pick them up.

I think in the right circumstances they can all thrive and perform very well. I think people recognize that so I doubt they’ll be free agents for long.

Bowman :  This Silly Season is getting mighty tough to predict an outcome for. I find it hard to believe that any of these drivers will not race full time in 2017. Retirement for Kenseth seems too abrupt. Kurt Busch has a home, but needs a sponsor. Kasey Kahne needs all of the above.

While talent is abundant, what is throwing a lot of these teams for a loop is the need for sponsorship. There is a bit of time left to sort out all the finer points, but I will be shocked if any one of these talented drivers finds themselves without a seat in this game of musical rides.

Hull :  This has been one crazy silly season so far. It is sad to see these veterans being pushed out by younger guys. I hope that each of these guys have some kinds of opportunities pop up this year. This is the sign of the times where the youth movement is picking up and taking over. We will see what happens with these three guys. It is shame to see this happening though.

Parmelee :  After watching Carl Edwards retire in mid-January, I have absolutely no expectations for how these driver contracts are going to play out. Though it’s surprising to me to see that these three are still without official rides for next year, I also feel safe assuming that Kurt Busch returns to the 41 (though I’m not truly sure what gives me that impression, but oh well). These drivers have shown that they are still competitive. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see where they end up.

Conley :  I think one will retire, one will go “home,” and the other will land with a brand new team in the Cup series. Watch for the possibility of Ford to pull some strings and drop some bucks to get Kurt Busch in a familiar situation.

Cassidy :  Does Silly Season ever really end? I think we will see more madness in 2018 as rides and sponsors become less uncertain in the sport.

Fantastic four laps by the Track Talk team around this beautiful speedway! Before we think about winning Sunday’s race, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Watkins Glen!
Hobbs scored her second straight win...

Hobbs scored her second straight win…

...as a result, she's taken over the points lead!

…as a result, she’s taken over the points lead!

With a new race arriving, it’s time to reveal our picks for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway!
Can one of these four help Chevrolet sweep Michigan in 2017?

Can one of these four help Chevrolet sweep Michigan in 2017?

Tiongson :  Last year, fans saw this driver finally score his first Cup win at Michigan. Just two months ago, I witnessed this same racer duplicate his winning ways at the two-mile superspeedway. Kyle Larson scores three victories in a row at MIS!

Hobbs :  How can you root again the driver who is not only the defending race winner, but looking to sweep the Michigan races this season? Flex those speedy muscles again, Kyle Larson!

Lucas :  I’m picking Kyle Larson for the year sweep at Michigan.

Hull :  My pick for the second Michigan race is Kyle Larson. I think he will have a repeat of last time!

Parmelee :  My pick is Kyle Larson.

TPF Stats :  Could the stars align for Chase Elliott this weekend? We think so!

Sturm :  I’m gonna have to go with Chase Elliott. I’ve picked him to win Michigan before. However, I really feel like this is his week to end his bridesmaid’s streak at Michigan and snag the win.

Bowman :  I have picked the 42 and 24 for the last two races at MIS and they have finished first and second. I don’t think we will see a three-peat for Larson. So, I am going to choose Chase Elliott to get his first win at my home track!

Conley :  Chase Elliott is bound to win at Michigan. He might as well it do it this weekend.

Shoppe :  Jimmie Johnson gets the win this Sunday.

Cassidy :  Dale Earnhardt Jr is my pick to win!

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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