Track Talk: ISM Connect 300 at NHMS

Can Kyle Larson answer the call from Martin Truex Jr at NHMS? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Can Kyle Larson answer the call from Martin Truex Jr at NHMS? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

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 ISM Connect 300 at NHMS!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody Shoppe, Jordan AndersKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley analyze Brad Keselowski’s rivalry with Kyle Busch and Toyota, Danica Patrick’s future, Smithfield’s continued presence in NASCAR, and if anyone can challenge Martin Truex Jr.

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Question 1
Mind games or some truthful words from Brad Keselowski? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Mind games or some truthful words from Brad Keselowski? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Brad Keselowski’s long rivalry with Kyle Busch embarked on a new chapter this past weekend when the former tweeted about the dominance of Toyota this year. How much of Keselowski’s tweet was politicking and how much of it was a bit of a mind game tactic?

Conley :  This was just Brad being Brad. I’m sure he was hoping that NASCAR would stand up and say something or take notice. Honestly, NASCAR is not going to make a rules change like they did back in the 90’s when they would show up to a race track and trim off part of the spoiler.

No matter what the intent, it had people talking about the sport and that is a good thing. Now, I wonder if Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski discussed riding around in the truck together preface. Oh, the irony.

Hobbs :  I think Keselowski is just sour because Chevy and Toyota are performing better than they are. Team Penske only has one car in the playoffs, and I think he is a bit bitter about that. He can try tactics all he wants, and Kyle Busch might respond, but Martin Truex Jr will continue to dominate in the meantime.

Sturm :  I honestly think Brad Keselwoski’s comment holds a lot of relevance. I know I may be in the minority here, but there is an obvious advantage that Toyota has. I’m not saying they’re cheating, but they have an advantage. Just like Ford had an advantage at the beginning of the year and NASCAR put an end to that real quick.

Also, I believe there are a few things that give Toyotas advantages that work well with the new package, but I won’t get into that here. So to make a long story short, I think it was a little bit of both. Gotta get those Toyota guys all shaken up with playoffs starting here soon.

Lucas :  Almost everything posted on social media is usually politically related. It’s a sad state of the sport honestly.

If Keselowski has a real problem, or concern, about Toyota supposedly having an advantage, maybe he should go speak with NASCAR about it. I listened to Rusty Wallace in the radio earlier this week, and he summed it up best. He said that the sport has sort of “lost its way from its roots.” If he had a score to settle, he would either say it to the opposition, or take care of it on the track. Keselowski needs to focus on racing, not pointing fingers.

Hull :  There is no secret that there is no love lost between these two guys. And we all know that Brad Keselowski is never afraid to speak his mind. I think that if anything, he was speaking the truth.

Toyota has been dominant this year. But I think he was trying to keep his competitors on their toes, which is normal for him. We will see how the rivalry evolves in the next few weeks.

Anders :  Keselowski’s a guy who has a great overarching view of the sport, but his tweet seemed like a little bit of sour grapes. His comments harken back to 20 years ago when every single manufacturer was roaring on a weekly basis about how the others had an unfair advantage.

The Toyotas seem to have found some speed that has put them ahead of pretty much everyone. Ultimately, it means the Chevys and Fords have their work cut out for them to narrow the gap.

Side note: Denny Hamlin’s remark that Keselowski was Toyota’s best spokesman may have been the funniest media center sound byte of the year.

Parmelee :  It’s crazy to look at the manufacturer make-up from the first 10 weeks of the season compared to the most recent 10 weeks. Fords won five, Chevrolet took four, and Toyota scored one. However, the tables have definitely turned recently, with Toyota winning seven of the last 10 races, and not a Ford to be seen.

Some may call Keselowski crazy for his tweets, but it’s hard to argue with the overwhelming success from Toyota we’re seeing on the track every weekend.

Shoppe :  I’d say the tweet was all mind games from Brad to the Toyota group. Brad Keselowski is smart enough to know that this kind of jab isn’t going to actually make NASCAR take a look into an advantage situation.

Also, Keselowski was just venting some frustration about his own equipment not measuring up to the Toyota teams. Ultimately, I doubt this was at all effective but it has helped add some more drama heading into the playoffs!

Cassidy :  BK is all about the mind games and always will be when it comes to competition in the sport. You must say though, it’s always fun as a fan to see these two going at it again.

Magda :  It was a little bit of both. Toyota’s been on their game the past few months and once they figured out the new car, Joe Gibbs Racing and satellite team Furniture Row Racing organization has been unstoppable. The only team to beat the Toyotas has been the No. 42.

Team Penske’s been behind on speed. Keselowski and team hit it early on in the season, but with Joey Logano missing the playoffs and no wins for the 2012 Cup champ since Martinsville, Ford is playing catch up. Kevin Harvick did show significant speed last Sunday at Chicagoland.

Question 2
Does Danica Patrick continue her racing efforts in NASCAR or IndyCar? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Does Danica Patrick continue her racing efforts in NASCAR or IndyCar? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Danica Patrick announced that she would not return to Stewart-Haas Racing next season. However, she’s made it known that retirement is not in her prospects for 2018. Does the Roscoe, IL native find a full-time NASCAR ride or possibly return to IndyCar?

Conley :  This is one of those situations I’m eyeing closely. Danica Patrick has been good for NASCAR, no matter what anyone says. She’s brought new eyes in to watch. She certainly did not have the results she or Stewart-Haas Racing wanted, but she showed improvement and had chances to run up front, if not for situations out of her control. I can see Danica taking a top ride in Xfinity in the hopes of contending for wins.

Hobbs :  Sorry, but if owners are smart, no Cup owner would take her. The novelty has worn off and teams need drivers who can perform. She is marketable, yes, but teams need to see an ROI.

Sturm :  I definitely don’t think she’ll return to NASCAR. She’s said countless times how she just isn’t have any fun doing it and we all know she hasn’t been performing very well. I think it’s possible she could run some IndyCar races, if not even going back full-time. She was arguably better in IndyCar, so I think that would be a good decision for her.

Lucas :  I can almost guarantee that Patrick won’t return to IndyCar. As an open wheel observer, there’s not a lot of top open seats for 2018.

Patrick has her hands pretty deep into the wellness and fitness realm, so I believe she will continue that path. It almost seems that Patrick is blowing smoke where there’s no fire, i.e. she has no rides for 2018.

The novelty of the Danica experiment has come and gone for NASCAR, meriting it had little success at best. Just like with any season, we continue to move on.

Hull :  There is a possibility that she may return to either IndyCar or the Xfinity Series. She wasn’t too shabby in either series. But, we will see which of these teams will open the doors for her. She may not continue racing as well, and take time off. The possibilities are endless for her.

Anders :  I think her racing days are done. She’s done a great job building her fitness brand with her clothing line and workout book and will be able to sustain herself with that. She’s made plenty of money to set herself up for life after racing, and I think that starts after Homestead.

Parmelee :  I would have sworn that Danica Patrick would announce her retirement to focus fully on her new brand launch and book release. Despite arguing the contrary, saying goodbye to Carl Edwards mere weeks before this season, made me realize nothing is impossible.

You can’t argue with the fact that Danica has brought a new audience to the sport, and her departure would be a loss for NASCAR. Though I think she would succeed more in IndyCar, I think we may see her in the Cup Series again next season; just don’t ask me where.   

Shoppe :  I would really like to see Danica Patrick get a full-time ride in Xfinity or Trucks next year. I know she has said in the past she was only considering Cup deals.

However, Patrick is such a competitive person she would be much better suited in a series where she stands a chance to contend for wins. I really think she has the experience now in stock cars to actually contend for playoff positions in one of the lower NASCAR series.

At this point in her career, a return to IndyCar would likely be unsuccessful although a great boost for that series who will likely lose stars like Helio Castroneves next year. Wherever Danica Patrick ends up next year, or if she in fact has concluded her racing career, I think she has done a lot of good for the future of the sport.

Many girls have seen they can have a future as a driver and the bar hasn’t been set high to upset her records. Although Danica Patrick will not go down in history for her statistical performance, she will be forever known as a huge catalyst for diversity in the sport.

Cassidy :  Is racing even in Danica’s mindset anymore? I think that she is becoming very successful in other areas of business. With a thriving clothing line, I think she may take a step back from racing all together, as a driver of course.

Magda :  With Danica’s departure from SHR, I don’t believe she’ll be back in a full-time Cup ride. By her comments after the Kansas wreck in May, she showed her frustration with the organization’s switch to Ford in a short off-season.

Question 3
With Smithfield leaving the 43 team for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, who's on the winning end? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

With Smithfield leaving the 43 team for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, who’s on the winning end? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Smithfield and Richard Petty Motorsports’ partnership comes to an end next season. With Smithfield heading to Stewart-Haas Racing and Bubba Wallace as the leading candidate to drive the No. 43 ride in 2018, as of now, who appears to be the biggest winner?

Conley :  It has to be Stewart-Haas. They pick up a major sponsor with the potential to put a former champion (Kenseth) in their car if situations work out. Or they can have Smithfield be a primary on multiple cars and go to a three car team. There are a lot of opportunities at SHR. Meanwhile, Petty has a potential driver but no sponsor. Certainly, it is not a good look for the single car team.

Hobbs :  That depends on who is Smithfield going to over at Stewart-Haas. We know that Danica Patrick is out; and who really knows the status of Kurt Busch at this point. Is Smithfield going to the 10 car and do they have a driver in mind? They left Aric Almirola, so it is unlikely he is a candidate for the 10 car; and Kenseth said it is not him.

So, with all those unknowns, I think Bubba Wallace comes out the biggest winner in all of this.

Sturm :  It’s hard to say. RPM has been struggling lately and losing their most loyal sponsor will undoubtedly knock the breath out of them. However, Bubba Wallace is extremely marketable and he brings diversity to the sport so I really don’t think they’ll have trouble finding sponsorship.

As for Smithfield and SHR, Smithfield is a good company and they’ve been extremely loyal to RPM so I think they will be a good fit with SHR.

Lucas :  By far, Stewart-Haas Racing is the biggest winner out of this scenario. The team finally has some backing from an outside source rather than going unsponsored with its “Haas Automation” branded cars.

Every race that one of their cars had that on as a sponsor, it was technically unsponsored. No revenue from an outside source has been hurting SHR this season. I partly blame it on why Clint Bowyer missed the playoffs. It might sound silly, but there’s probably more truth to it than we realize. Also, the whole Nature’s Bakery debacle put their entire 2017 season in complete uncertainty.

Truly, Smithfield made the right move in my mind. Petty’s team is going to struggle in 2018 regardless of whoever will be their driver. When the money is tight, it’s tough for any wiggle room.

Sure the No. 43 carries a ton of prestige, but they struggle as a one car operation. Indeed it’s a very tight spot for Petty. Maybe they can find a better technical alliance for 2018.

Hull :  If Richard Petty Racing survives, I think that Bubba Wallace will be the leading candidate, as he should be. He is a talented driver and he helped get some good finishes for RPM while Aric Almirola was sidelined due to his back injury. He would be a good asset for the team.

Anders :  In all honesty, I’m stunned Smithfield stuck it out for as long as it did at RPM. Bubba Wallace has a clear upside and improved as he was in that car over the summer, but with big sponsorship questions and their historically average performance level, that team is squarely behind the 8-ball.

As for Smithfield, their upgrade level at SHR is dependent upon which driver they’re paired with. If they stick with Aric Almirola as the rumors suggest, then it’s a relative upgrade, but I don’t think it’s a grand slam like it could be with a more accomplished driver.

Parmelee :  Bubba Wallace has shown that he can bring a competitive edge to a team that could definitely use a few wins. If Wallace can secure sponsorship, I think he will dominate at RPM.

It’s still crazy to me that no one has snagged the kid off the market, though. As for our favorite bacon producer, it wouldn’t surprise me if Smithfield followed Aric Almirola to SHR, but with no deal on the table as of yet for the former 43 driver, it’s impossible to know what will happen.

Shoppe :  This is certainly a huge blow for RPM loosing their sponsor for next year. While the famous No. 43 is a highly marketable car in the NASCAR world, the team’s on-track results in recent years have not done themselves any favors as far as attracting a sponsor.

I really hope they can work something out to put Bubba Wallace in the car next year! I’m sure both parties involved are working hard to get something put together. Presently, they are the big losers out of this and SHR gets a big win.

Cassidy :  This situation is hard. There was a lot of awkward tension real quick surround these announcements. (Thanks for that social media). As long as RPM finds solid sponsorship for Bubba Wallace, I can see that team continuing to run where they have been the past few years.

Magda :  It should be no surprise that Darrell Wallace Jr is the leading candidate for the No. 43 car in 2018. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding RPM. Will the 43 team switch manufacturers in the off-season or stay with Ford?

Smithfield going to Stewart-Haas is no guarantee Aric Almirola is the driver, but I think RPM has faith in Wallace to wheel their car. The 23-year-old driver experienced growing pains in his Cup debut at Pocono in June but adapted quickly to the digital dashes on the cars.

Question 4
Does anyone have what it takes to challenge Martin Truex Jr? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Does anyone have what it takes to challenge Martin Truex Jr? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

With Martin Truex locking up five more playoff points and his fifth win of 2017, which driver and team appear to have the makings to give him an honest challenge during the playoffs?

Conley :  Prior to Sunday, I would have said Kyle Busch as the speed is there and playoff points. But if the driver and crew can’t get out of their own way, it could spell doom for the No. 18. After Sunday’s race, it looks like it may be Chase Elliott. The 24 car showed up in Chicago with his game face on and speed in the car.

Hobbs :  The only driver I can think of who has kept MTJ in his sights this season is Kyle Larson. However, you cannot count out veteran. Also, seven-time Champion Jimmie Johnson can step it up at will.

All these bonus points for MTJ make it that much easier to get to Homestead. However, Homestead is all about one race, for all the marbles, no bonuses. He has been the king of intermediate tracks this year, so that helps his case further; but that does not mean someone with a better record at Homestead (like, Kevin Harvick), could topple his reign in the end.

Sturm :  Hmm, I think I’m going to have to go with Larson. Cliché, I know. But Larson and the No. 42 team have been just a hair behind Truex and the No. 78 team this year, and I think he’ll give Truex a run for his money. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that fans need to be looking for those two to be battling it out at Homestead for the championship.

Lucas :  I still think it’s Jimmie Johnson. The No. 48 will quietly make it into the Round of 12, then the hammer will come down at Charlotte to get to the Round of 8.

Ultimately, if Johnson can have another day like back in April at Texas, he’ll be a lock for Homestead. Also of note, Kyle Larson will always be a threat.

Hull :  I think that Martin Truex Jr will most likely have Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick on his tail. Kyle Larson has had a stand out season this year. He did great in the opening race of the playoffs.

Harvick, who hasn’t quite had the season that Larson has had, did great as well during the playoff opener. But, if it keeps going the way it’s going, Truex will smoke them all.

Anders :  I still say Larson, but my confidence level dwindles a little more with every week that Truex shows up and steamrolls the field.

Parmelee :  From the look of things lately, it may be the Larson-Truex show the next few weeks. The two have dominated this season, and I think they’re the two we’re most likely to see battle for a championship in Homestead.

Shoppe :  It seems like this is the big question every single week. While nobody seems to have anything for the No. 78 as of now, I still say that Larson, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin have the best shot at lining everything up to make a run at Truex!

Cassidy :  Deep down, I think Larson is the only driver who can give MTJ a run for his money. These two have been top competitors for this season. I don’t think the 42 team is done yet.

Magda :  At this point, the two teams I see giving the No. 78 a run for their money are the Nos. 18 and 42 teams. Kyle Busch was strong in the first stage at Chicagoland before the wheels literally came off. The crew swap between the 18 and 19 cars seemed sudden to me, as they needed more reps with Busch.

Ultimately, the new 18 pit crew made a lot of mistakes on pit road. The No. 42 team was never a factor last Sunday yet salvaged a fifth place out of the race. I said before the playoffs that the 18, 20, 42 and 78 will be the championship 4 at Homestead and I can see three of those four duking it out in the final laps in the finale.

Four strong laps by the Track Talk team as NHMS prepares for its final playoff race for the foreseeable future! Before we get sentimental with our race picks, let’s review our race and points report from Chicagoland!
Sturm and Anders had winning days at Chicagoland...

Sturm and Anders had winning days at Chicagoland… the battle for TPF Track Talk glory is on!

…as the battle for TPF Track Talk glory is on!

Without further ado, let’s “bang a uey” by revealing our winning picks for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at NHMS!
Which of these six will have a wicked good time at NHMS?

Which of these six will have a wicked good time at NHMS?

Tiongson :  For a man who wants to simply finish races in the playoffs, look for Matt Kenseth to win at Loudon this Sunday!

Conley :  With an average finish of third in the last five races, including two victories, Matt Kenseth wins at the Magic Mile.

Sturm :  Going with Matt Kenseth.

Anders :  My Loudon pick is Matt Kenseth.

Parmelee :  Denny Hamlin is my pick.

Cassidy :  Denny Hamlin takes the win at Loudon.

Lucas :  He should’ve won this race in July if not for a late race penalty. Kyle Busch wins the giant lobstah! Maybe he’ll chase down Denny Hamlin during postrace!

Hull :  My pick for the race this weekend is Kyle Busch. He will get the redemption he needs from Chicagoland.

Shoppe :  I’m going with Kyle Busch.

TPF Stats :  Kevin Harvick might have a lobster dinner this weekend.

Hobbs :  I think a Team Penske driver could deliver this weekend; let’s see what Brad Keselowski has.

Magda :  Martin Truex Jr is my pick for the 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

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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