Track Talk: Apache Warrior 400 at Dover

While Kyle Larson clinched his place in the Round of 12, can he win at Dover?

While Kyle Larson clinched his place in the Round of 12, can he win at Dover?

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 Apache Warrior 400 at Dover!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley reflect on Kyle Busch’s momentous playoff victory at Loudon, the final playoff race at New Hampshire, Kasey Kahne’s new home, and the perils and rewards of racing at Dover!

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Question 1
Might this scene become a frequent sight in the playoffs? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Might this scene become a frequent sight in the playoffs? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch scored his third victory of 2017 at Loudon, NH. Might Rowdy be in safe position to virtually clinch a spot among the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami?

Cassidy : I think any NASCAR fans know that they should never count out Kyle Busch from winning the Championship. Last year taught the whole NASCAR community that.

Conley : Going by the numbers, yes. I’d say he is a virtual lock, but going by history and how quickly Kyle can self-destruct, I don’t want to give Kyle a spot in Homestead until we load the haulers and we’re in route to Miami.

Hobbs : The only driver I would say is a lock for a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead is Martin Truex Jr. I would put Kyle Busch at extremely good odds, however.

Hull : Right now, the win catapulted him up to 3rd in the standings. He needs to keep having stellar weekends though, if he wants to be a contender. He didn’t fare well during the opener; if he is done with the bad luck, then perhaps, he could be in the Championship 4.

Lucas : Nope, not a chance! No one is a safe lock for Homestead until the Round of Eight. If you win in this part, you’re a lock. 2017 has been an unpredictable season full of interesting twists and turns. Too many good drivers in the Playoffs will lead to some shocking results.

Magda : The same three teams are at the top this year; the 18, 42 and 78. Every single week, all three cars run up front and contend for the win. Kyle Busch would’ve been locked in the next round regardless of the victory from accruing stage points/victories for the extra bonus points. I have Rowdy in my Championship 4 for Homestead, along with the 20, 42 and 78.

Shoppe : As arguably the second-best team in the cup series garage at this time, yes Kyle Busch and the JGR #18 team are virtually a lock for the Championship 4 in Miami! On a good day for them, they are leading laps and winning stages; and on a bad day they are still right around the top 5. That kind of performance is what you will need to make it through to the finale.

Sturm : I think he already was. Kyle Busch and the No. 18 started off rough this year and many were questioning if he would even make the Playoffs at all; but as usual, they never disappoint, and he started counting off those wins. No matter how you feel about him, Kyle Busch is an incredible driver and there’s no denying that. I fully believe he’ll be in contention for the Championship 4.

Question 2
Oh, fall race at Loudon. We hardly knew ye. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Oh, fall race at Loudon. We hardly knew ye. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted its final playoff race weekend for the foreseeable future. Was this the right move for NASCAR in terms of trying to evolve its playoff product?

Cassidy : There is a bitter sweet moment to changing the Playoff races for next year. Some fans have been asking for this for a long time, others not so much. I think a change every once and awhile is good for the sport. However, change is hard.

Conley : It has to be; as much as I hate losing a unique track like NHMS, it’s not a big sell. It draws the New England crowd, but after seeing this race suffer in TV ratings (1.2 overnight) it’s not a big draw. Will Las Vegas do much better? It’s hard to tell, but NASCAR needs to make changes in hopes of building a solid fan base for the future.

Hobbs : Whether it was the right move or not, it is going to happen. This sport follows the money, and that money moved elsewhere. If anything, it will make the playoffs interesting next year with some tracks shaken up. Change is always hard to digest, but we can only hope for the best with this move.

Hull : It’s a great idea, or at least a good try. A lot of people complain that New Hampshire is a really boring track, especially for the playoffs. The sport can use work on evolving the schedule. As long as it produces good racing, it will be a success.

Lucas : Yes and no. It’s unfortunate that New Hampshire is losing a date. But, keep in mind, northeastern fans still have four chances to see NASCAR (once at New Hampshire, Watkins Glen, and twice at Pocono). The racing at the track has been dull in the past 10 seasons, minus the July race that was one of the best events the track has seen. I think it’s a blessing in disguise for the track.

Some tracks are better at hosting one event a year. Auto Club and Darlington are prime examples of this. Each race use to host two events a season. However, dwindling attendance essentially killed off each races’ second date (and a controversial move of Darlington’s Labor Day classic back in 2004). Now, Auto Club is a favorite stop for NASCAR and its #NASCARGoesWest campaign at the beginning of each season, along with Darlington’s return to Labor Day weekend with an added throwback theme.

The unfortunate part of this move is that it is being replaced by Las Vegas, another 1.5 mile oval in a ’full of 1.5 mile oval’ playoff season. Vegas is a nice place to start the Playoffs, but does the track truly support a second date? I guess we will find out in March. Did I mention that Las Vegas was also a one stop a year track? Sounds like a little trade, trade, lemonade scenario for Speedway Motorsports INC (parent company of New Hampshire and Las Vegas). Also of note, another SMI track is changing in the Playoffs for 2018, with the inaugural running of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. Guess I can’t complain about New Hampshire losing a date if it means I get to see the Roval in my backyard!

Magda : I’ve heard both sides of this story. Loudon had two dates for 20 years with Las Vegas having the lone one in March. From a business standpoint, it makes more sense to go to Vegas to kick off the Playoffs. I think Loudon produces better racing as LVMS is a typical 1.5-mile track; got to have horsepower and state-of-the-art aerodynamics to be a factor for the win.

Shoppe : I can understand why SMI chose to go to Las Vegas for a second time rather than NHMS. The many side attractions to the race in the famous area just makes good financial since on paper. I personally am biased since New Hampshire is my home track and one of my favorite places to go.

Like most of us NHMS regulars, we wish if they had to take away a date to our beloved track, it would be the scorching hot July weekend and keep the (usually) temperate September weekend as is. With the fall foliage in full view, the September weekend at New Hampshire is always a fun trip for the teams who rarely get to see the north. I will be extra sad to see the Camping World Truck Series go as well. Hopefully LVMS can deliver great playoff race action in 2018 and beyond and this will go down as a good decision by NASCAR.

Sturm : Absolutely. It’s easy to see that Loudon is not the most exciting track even during regular season, which makes it even less exciting during playoffs because playoff time is when people REALLY expect to see some action. I think it was a good move and hopefully the results are what NASCAR wanted.

Question 3
Kasey Kahne's 2018 ride contains the numbers of his previous two Cup assignments. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Kasey Kahne’s 2018 ride contains the numbers of his previous two Cup assignments. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Kasey Kahne announced his plans to drive for the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevy Camaro efforts next season. Realistically, what can expect from Kahne and LFR in 2018?

Cassidy : I believe this year is just a place holder for Kahne. Unless this is a Clint Bowyer situation I think Kahne will be done running with top teams. Working with LFR in 2018 gives the team an opportunity to work with a veteran driver. However, they need to be competitive to win races.

Conley : Kasey has been a rut since he was he was put in that position at Red Bull to hold a year waiting for the No. 5 car to open. He has never really been the championship contender that many thought he would. But, he has talent, he has the ability to win (shown by Indy), and he can give direction to the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team that they haven’t had in recent years. Like it or not, Kasey is still a big name in this sport, and that is attractive to sponsors. Like so many have said since the announcement, this is how Furniture Row started. Build, build, build, get a name, and succeed.

Hobbs : I think expectations are what we can expect from any non-top tier team; middle to back of the pack runs, and a non-contender (on a weekly basis). Sorry, but a driver like Kasey Kahne cannot change that alone. No matter how good the driver is, if he is in equipment that is not up to the levels of (say) Joe Gibbs Racing/Furniture Row Racing, Team Penske, or Hendrick Motorsports, they will not be able to contend weekly. The exception to this is Daytona and Talladega.

Hull : That is a good question, because it’s really hard to know what to expect from him. To be honest, until this year, he hasn’t really been faring the best with Hendrick. Could that change with Leavine Family Racing? Maybe. He could pull a Martin Truex Jr. But, for now, I think it is uncertain what we can expect.

Lucas : Sounds like more of the same for Kahne in 2018. LFR has been making great strides this season, so it would seem that the addition of a top tier driver would lead to immediate results. I hope Kahne and company can exceed critics expectations. I just worry that it could be like a Bowyer/HScott Motorsports disaster season of 2015. Good lord, I pray that no fan ever has to endure that type of season; I should know because I did!

Magda : My expectations aren’t set high for this team. It’s possible Kahne sneaks a way into the 2018 Playoffs with a victory; just look how Indianapolis played out in the later stages. Kahne and the No. 95 car might be top-20, top-25 but could improve if Richard Childress Racing hits on something during the year. RCR has two cars in this year’s Playoffs and Ryan Newman broke a long winless-streak with Austin Dillon squeaked enough fuel out of his No. 3 car to win the Coca-Cola 600.

Shoppe :  I am sure many will take a look at this paring and say this will be a non-story in 2018. Kahne with his on-track performance going downward in the last few years, and this Levine Family Racing team not usually among the front runners. I personally see some potential for decent success for them in the future however. LFR is a team similar to that of Furniture Row was years ago, a struggling single car team from Colorado (LFR from Texas) that put together a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing to improve resources. Now look at Furniture Row today after a few driver and personal changes. It may be a long shot to say that Kasey Kahne and Levine Family racing can make the ultra-difficult jump up to the top of Cup competition, but I wouldn’t count them out of a few surprise great runs in 2018.

Sturm : Leavine Family Racing has undoubtedly improved in the past couple of years, and I think with a proven winner, it’ll be even better. Sadly, I don’t think they’ll contend for wins, but I don’t think you should count them out for running top 15-20 for some of the season. I think this move was good for Kasey because he’ll be the Lone Ranger so all the focus and attention will be on improving his car and his performance and his crew etc.; as in, he won’t be competing with Mr. Seven-Time, Mr. Chase Elliott, or the legendary Dale Earnhardt Jr for resources. Overall, I think it was a good move and I’m excited to see where this new opportunity takes Kasey.

Question 4
Monster Mile doesn't mess around at all.

Monster Mile doesn’t mess around at all.

Dover is a fast mile track that’s a self cleaning venue with wrecks. Might we see the leaders having to slither their way through to battle for the win just as seen during last Sunday’s race at Loudon?

Cassidy : Right now, I think the points are pretty stable moving into Dover. I hope to see some of the teams at the bottom of the charts be successful at Dover. Drivers like Kurt Busch, need to be cautious, but get that win this weekend. The pressures on.

Conley : I don’t think so. Going off of a conversation I had at Kentucky, when it comes to playoff races, these tend to be a little more calm. They tend to have longer green flag runs, and the teams tend to set up on a more conservative side. That tends to show in the numbers as well. The Fall Dover race typically has half of the cautions that the Spring race has, and typically half of those yellows are for debris, or single car spins. I’d expect to see a fairly clean race.

Hobbs : Given that only 4 drivers are set for the next round, that leaves 12 drivers fighting for 8 spots. We know drivers at the bottom, like Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, really need some Monster magic if they want to keep their title hopes alive. Guys just above the cut line need to be sure the guys below them, stay below them. I do hope we see some drivers push the limits to get themselves into the Playoffs. Isn’t that what this system was supposed to do; bring more racing action?

Hull : It will be a contentious race for sure. Dover is a challenging track for the drivers. At this point in the Playoffs, these drivers will be scrambling for the win. So hopefully, we will see a good race this Sunday.

Lucas : If there is a pile up like at the end of the Spring race, then yes for sure. But, the Dover fall race has a very green feel in the past seasons. It could turn into a war of attrition instead of carnage. Clean air will be key, along with pit stops. The pit crews will have to be on their A-game all day.

Magda : Dover’s a track where drivers have to hit their mark because one slip puts them into the wall. The Monster Mile’s been host to some of the biggest wrecks on short tracks in the past 15 years. 22 cars were caught up in one in June 2004 while another one took place in knocking out several contenders four years later. Once again, there will be a lot of lapped traffic for the leaders to deal with it. The groove on the one-mile track tends to move around once the green flag drops.

Shoppe : In recent years, the Dover playoff race has produced few thrilling moments such as what is asked here. I hope to see some drama and intrigue to this year’s running for sure. With the addition of stage racing, and an extremely tight group of teams right on the cutline, we could be in for an exciting race at the Monster mile!

Sturm : I’m not sure. It’s always iffy with Dover, so I’m hoping that being the Playoffs, it’ll produce some great (but safe) action, because we sure have needed that lately!

Four solid laps, playoff style by the TPF Track Talk team!  Before we get to our race picks, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Loudon, NH!
Kyle Busch made some panelists quite happy...

Kyle Busch made some panelists quite happy…

...but there's still eight races until the champion is decided!

…but there’s still eight races until the champion is decided!

If you like winning, may these race picks be your guide to Victory Lane! Here’s our picks to win Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover!
Which of these seven smiles at Dover's Victory Lane?

Which of these seven smiles at Dover’s Victory Lane?

Tiongson :  This is the stretch of races that Jimmie Johnson absolutely enjoys. Starting this weekend at Dover, watch the 48 step it up with a victory on Sunday.

Magda :  Going with Jimmie Johnson.

Sturm :  Going with Mr. Seven-Time, Jimmie Johnson. Dover will be where he locks himself into the Round of 12.

Hobbs :  I think Kyle Busch is riding high right now and I think that could carryover to the Monster Mile.

Hull :  The driver I am going to go with is Kyle Larson. He has come close the last two weeks for the win. I think he can get it done this weekend.

Shoppe :  My pick is Kyle Larson.

Cassidy :  Joey Logano will win it at Dover.

Conley :  Kurt Busch needs a win to advance to the Round of 12. Look for it to happen on Sunday.

TPF Stats :  The numbers favor Chase Elliott.

Lucas :  He had a rough day in Loudon, but expect him to rebound. Kevin Harvick will win his way into the Round of 12!

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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