Track Talk: Tales of the Turtles 400

The calm before the storm. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

The calm before the storm. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

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 Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley talk about Kyle Larson’s championship chances, the infamous parked ambulance at Richmond, odds-on title favorite Martin Truex Jr, and an engine rule for next season in NASCAR!

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Question 1
Does Kyle Larson have the moxie to win the title? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Does Kyle Larson have the moxie to win the title? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Kyle Larson scored his fourth win of 2017 and his first outside of a two-mile superspeedway. Does his Richmond victory serve as a reminder that the No. 42 means serious business for this year’s playoffs?

Cassidy :  This team has been hot since the end of 2016. Absolutely, the 42 should be on everyone’s radar for this year’s playoffs!

Hull :  Martin Truex Jr may have the all-around advantage when it comes to the championship, but Kyle Larson has the potential to give him a run for his money.

Despite only a few setbacks, Larson has had a great season thus far. If he can keep the streak going into the playoffs, I would expect him being one of the four competing for the championship at Homestead.

Sturm :  Absolutely. Larson and the No. 42 team have been hitting on something special this year and I think he will be a serious contender for playoffs, all other things equal.

I know there’s a lot of factors that come into play such as luck, strategy, skill, etc., but based on talent and performance alone, Larson is a serious threat this year for the championship.

Magda :  It’s been the same story all year: the battle between the 42 and 78 teams. I expect it to go all the way to the checkers at Homestead as Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team has shown strong short-run speed in their last two wins.

Meanwhile, Truex and the 78 team have everyone beat on the long runs, especially towards the end of last Saturday’s race. Larson’s pit crew is better than Truex’s but Furniture Row Racing still has time to improve before the playoffs start. The battle between these teams has been exciting to watch.

Lucas :  I think it makes them the snake of the playoffs, meaning that if anyone falters, they’ll be sure to strike at the opportunity. Larson is sneaky fast every week, so I wouldn’t count him out!

Parmelee :  I don’t think anyone who follows NASCAR, especially drivers, have forgotten just how powerful the 42 team has been this season. Although I never think it’s possible to predict an outcome in NASCAR [too many crashes, y’all], I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyle Larson in the final four.

Anders :  Larson is definitely a championship threat simply because half the playoffs are mile-and-a-half tracks.  If there’s one guy that can put it up against the wall and haul at those kinds of places, it’s Larson.

He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire at Martinsville, the only short track in the playoffs, so I wouldn’t peg him as a favorite there just based off this one win.  However, it’s a warning shot that he can run well at tracks other than Fontana and Michigan.

Oh, and the 10.6-second pit stop that got him out front was a reminder that in late-race situations, he may have the best pit crew on pit road.

Conley :  He’s certainly a contender, as that has been well established. As for his win at Richmond, I’m not sure that means much of anything outside of the bonus points.

That race was so twisted, had Jefferey Earnhardt won, I would not have been surprised. Larson was in the right position to take advantage of the situation ahead of him.

Ultimately, Larson has five mile and a half tracks to excel on and it will certainly be an advantage to him.

Shoppe :  This victory serves as a reminder that if the No. 78 team of Martin Truex Jr has problems throughout the playoffs, Larson is going to be right there to capitalize!

The finish of the race last Saturday night in Richmond could be a precursor for what the title picture could look like come Homestead. It’s like what Kyle Busch said post race, “The 78 team is the clear favorite and it is between the two Kyles (Busch and Larson) for second.”  In the end, Larson sure does mean business but is not quite the favorite by any means.

Question 2
What the fork?

What the fork?

A parked ambulance nearly derailed Matt Kenseth’s playoff bid while Clint Bowyer’s prospects were dashed from this incident on lap 258. While NASCAR is looking into this matter, how much of a black eye was this for the sport with it preparing for the postseason?

Cassidy :  Clearly, something like this never makes NASCAR look good, but simple human error happens. Moving forward to the postseason, extra precaution needs to be taken by all NASCAR employees to avoid silly mistakes.

Hull :  This is a huge blemish on NASCAR’s behalf. This could have been avoidable with the appropriate communication.

But things happen. I hope that NASCAR can improve upon it in the future. This mistake was very costly to a couple of drivers. We don’t need any more drivers slighted by a stupid mistake.

Sturm :  Yikes. It was not good and does not reflect well on the sport. Accidents happen and communication gets skewed. I get that.

However, some people don’t and I saw quite a lot of criticism about the ambulance incident. I think NASCAR’s best bet with that issue is to do everything in their power to make sure it doesn’t happen again and to continue to reiterate to fans that they will work on their communication.

Magda :  I don’t think NASCAR should take all the blame in this incident. It was mainly the fault of Richmond’s emergency crews being in the wrong place at the wrong place.

People make mistakes but this issue needs to be resolved before Sunday. A non-racing vehicle should have no influence on what happens in the playoff outcome.

Lucas :  Well, it was bizarre at the least. I’ve seen a lot of things in racing, and that one could be the cake topper to top them all.

I think Cole Pearn summed it up best in a postrace tweet, “#SportsEntertainment.”  Lack of communication is the downfall of any team, organization, or even empire.

When everyone is on the same page, things flourish or stay status quo. Without it, there leads to divide within, split agendas, misunderstanding of track safety crews, etc.

If Kenseth would not have made the playoffs, I believe it would’ve warranted a possible waiver for a 17th contender.  

Parmelee :  This situation was probably the most egregious mistake I’ve seen from NASCAR in the three years I’ve followed the sport.

With so many drivers in a must-win situation, the fact that officials didn’t communicate clearly enough to remove an ambulance from the entrance to pit road shows, to me at least, just how unorganized this sport can be on such a basic level.  Not to mention, if a driver had actually hit the ambulance, this could have turned from an unfortunate mistake to a life-ending one.

Anders :  The ambulance deal was the most NASCAR thing that could have possibly happened with Richmond billed as one of the most important races of the year.

With so many moving parts to oversee, it’s inevitable that race control would have an issue like this every now and then, but because it happened on a night the sport builds to for 26 weeks. It could have shot Kenseth’s playoff chances and it did what NASCAR is so apt at doing — finding ways to make sure the conversation is on anything other than the outcome of the race, and that’s a problem.

Conley :  This is a major issue for NASCAR. Many fans have questioned the traveling safety crew, and the use of local medics and safety personnel.

It has also brought a lot of questions with NASCAR’s ability to successfully officiate their own events. NASCAR has played this off as some rogue ambulance driver who made a decision to block traffic.

In reality, this was a situation that had a communication issue between NASCAR, safety crews, and even the spotters. If a hazard is on the track, spotters must inform their drivers immediately. It was a bad situation and one that has our championship drivers concerned moving forward.

Shoppe :  This is another embarrassing moment for the sport last weekend at Richmond.  It might have been a communication issue or a lapse of judgment of those in the vehicle.

Ultimately, this is a situation where a simple mistake can impact the event in a way you don’t see in any stick and ball sports. My problem with the incident was how NASCAR handled it.

Accidents happen and I can get past that. However, the way that NASCAR went about righting the ship was far from the level of professionalism we expect from the sanctioning body. Those drivers who missed the commitment line were not penalized for the infraction and rightfully so, since it was due to the ambulance error.

Kenseth, who was taken out of the race, and Bowyer who was also damaged, received no compensation. You cannot pick and choose who to make it up to when you make a mistake and this misjudgment will be a black eye on the sport yet again.

Question 3
Does Martin Truex Jr carry his regular season dominance into the playoffs? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Does Martin Truex Jr carry his regular season dominance into the playoffs? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Martin Truex Jr seems like the man to beat for the playoffs despite his frustrating finish at Richmond. Have the two weeks somewhat poked the grizzled veteran in a way that instills fear towards his title contending rivals?

Cassidy :  This season is MTJ’s to lose. Although he has had a few frustrating weeks, the competitiveness has still been there. As long as his bad luck is past him, this 78 team is the one to beat this 2017 season!

Hull :  Despite the incident that cost him the race last Saturday night, Martin Truex Jr has proven to be the dominant driver out there. As mentioned in previous previews, he is the the champion favorite this year if things continue in his favor.

But in the past, luck hasn’t really been good to him in the playoffs. We shall see if that changes this year or not.

Sturm :  I think the field has been fearing Truex and I don’t think that will change. He’s arguably been the best driver this year and to count him out just because of a few bad races would not be smart on anyone’s part. He’ll be back and better than ever – just wait.

Magda :  This 78 team is superior to everyone else on long runs. Truex had a nearly four-second lead before the caution came out with four laps to go.

I understand his frustration for Derrike Cope when he basically had the win in hand and the irony in Cope parting ways with Premium Motorsports the next day. What the 15 car did hitting the wall was out of their control and in NASCAR’s hands. The sanctioning body allowed the 1990 Daytona 500 winner to race and rightfully so.

These minor setbacks won’t slow down the 78 car, though the championship will come down to Truex and Larson in the final laps at Homestead.

Lucas :  I would be somewhat skittish heading into the postseason. The last two races have been mirrors of the past few season, dominant early, but unable to get the results.

Hopefully for the No. 78 team, this slump is behind them. Truex has a good cushion from his success this season, so let’s hope he doesn’t have to rely on it. I still believe he will make it to the final four in Homestead.

Parmelee :  I think Truex is just as much of a competitor as the rest of the drivers he’s up against. I don’t think fear is the correct way to put it, but I do think it heightens the level of competitiveness we’re likely to see out of drivers in the coming weeks.

However, like I’ve said before, NASCAR is a sport that can change in an instant. Truex could be the best driver out there, but if he gets caught up in a wreck, blows an engine, or experiences a few bad pit stops, his championship run could be cut short — as could anyone else’s. It’s one of the best and worst aspects of NASCAR.

Anders :  Having seemingly surefire wins ripped away is unfortunately nothing new for Truex, so I don’t think the last two weeks changes anything. The guy is the title favorite for one reason: he’s consistently been the fastest guy to show up at the race track every single week.

The only question is whether or not some Mario Kart-style misfortune will hold him up to keep him out of Homestead. At this rate, if he makes it to the finale with a shot at the title, I wouldn’t be surprised if a piano fell out of the sky onto his car.

Conley :  I think his bonus points have the field a little more concerned than his troubles over the last couple of weeks.  With his success on intermediate tracks, which comprise the bulk of the playoff schedule, Truex and the No. 78 team could be cruising to their first title.

Shoppe :  I am not sure if we have yet to see all that of Furniture Row Racing’s potential this year.  However, we sure will this weekend!

Truex as well as Cole Pearn were so angry while taking photos after the race that they will be working extra hard to rebound in race one of the playoffs to make an early statement as the title favorites!

Question 4
Jamie McMurray still wears his sunglasses at night.

Jamie McMurray still wears his sunglasses at night.

NASCAR recently announced a new engine rule for 2018 that mandates teams to use the same engine in multiple races. Firstly, is this a good move to cut costs and most of all, is this a way for the sport to crack down on the burnouts by the race winner?

Cassidy :  I’m torn with this decision. I feel like not giving fans a burn out at the end of the race is a tradition being demolished.

That moment is what many race fans look forward to, whether they like the winner or not. However, I think this is a great way to cut costs for teams. My fear is that this will effect the quality of racing fans see each week.

Hull :  It is way to cut down on the cheating in general. NASCAR has proven that they are no longer going to play around with teams cheating. If the harsh P1 penalties this year haven’t proven that, I don’t know what has.

Sturm :  Well first off, I love burnouts. So this new rule was kind of a bummer for me in that aspect. However, I do believe it will help cut down on costs for teams. Also, it will make sure that teams don’t make any “illegal” adjustments pre-race/during the race/etc.

Magda :  In this instance, I can’t really specify whether teams destroy race cars or not on purpose so they can pass post-race inspection. There’s folks with black hats thinking it’s the case but a good point is brought up if it’s a crackdown on burnouts. I don’t think it matters as much as people think because drivers always do crazy celebrations after winning.

Lucas :  It’s a start for cost cutting.  Most importantly, the question will be if it’s how strong the teams’ reliability will be with their engines.

Personally, I could care less about victory donuts by the winner.  Instead, let drivers grab the checkered flag on the front stretch, thank the crowd, and head to Victory Lane for one live television interview. I would be in full favor of this practice.

Also, it is a crackdown on teams pushing the limits of technology. Would a team risk destroying a motor during a burnout to ensure that everything within the inner workings of the car was aligned? It makes you wonder.

Parmelee :  I’ll be one of the first ones to admit that I never even thought about whether or not a team re-used engines. While I think that this move will help some teams cut costs, it will also be a major headache for officials if a team blows an engine after using it in another race.

There definitely needs to be ways for teams to compete without having to shell out their life savings, but I’m not sure if this is the correct way to go. Also, I think NASCAR trying to cut down on burnouts is going to ruin one of the things fans enjoy the most.

It seems as though NASCAR is just trying to nitpick at this point.  If they aren’t careful, they’re going to burn bridges with fans that they can’t repair.

Anders :  I don’t see how this move helps to even the playing field, because it doesn’t change the fact the bigger teams will still be able to devote more dollars to their engine programs. It’s hard to speak to whether it will cut back on winners burning it down. However, one would hope that wasn’t the desired effect because victory burnouts are one of the few fun, creative things left in the sport.

Conley :  It’s obviously going to cut down on burnouts, which is unfortunate because that is an enjoyable celebration for fans. Plus, it’s a great photo-op for drivers.

As for the cost in the sport, engines are probably the top cost.  This move may help. But, with the way these teams operate, money saved there will be spent elsewhere.

Shoppe :  This is an experiment we have seen in other forms of racing such as Formula One. I feel like it has taken a lot away from the racing when teams with engine issues are penalized so much they cannot recover.

Hopefully, NASCAR will take at look at how it has affected F1. Perhaps they’ll make slight modifications to this rule and keep them within reason.

The Track Talk team kicks off their playoff efforts with four strong laps!  Before we move along, let’s look at how we all fared last week at Richmond!
Hull and Sturm earned plentiful points with Joey Logano...

Hull and Sturm earned plentiful points with Joey Logano…

...however, Hobbs will enjoy those 30 playoff points!

…however, Hobbs will enjoy those 30 playoff points!

As Chicagoland kicks off the playoff action, like in years’ past, it’s time to reveal our championship picks. Also, we’ll share our predicted first batch of eliminated racers after the Round of 16.
Bottom Four after Round of 16
Might Austin Dillon prove the Track Talk team wrong with this particular prediction?

Might Austin Dillon prove the Track Talk team wrong with this particular prediction?

Tiongson :  Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Newman.

Cassidy :  Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Hull :  Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Kurt Busch.

Sturm :  Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Magda :  Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Lucas :  Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Blaney.

Parmelee :  Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Conley :  Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Chase Elliott.

TPF Stats :  Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Kurt Busch.

Hobbs : Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Newman.

Shoppe :  Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Championship Picks:
Might one of these five hoist that giant Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy?

Might one of these five hoist that giant Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy?

Tiongson :  While the long run program might not be a strong suit for my title pick, ultimately, Kyle Larson is the man to beat in a shootout or a short dash to the finish!

Lucas :  Jimmie Johnson is my pick to win the championship.

TPF Stats :  The stats still project Kevin Harvick as the champion.  

Cassidy :  Not sure why I picked Denny Hamlin in February, but let’s test these waters.

Hull :  This may be different than what I originally picked, but I’ll be going with Martin Truex Jr.

Sturm :  My pick to win the championship is Martin Truex Jr.

Magda :  Martin Truex Jr is my championship pick.

Hobbs :  Going with Martin Truex Jr!

Conley :  Earlier this year, I went with Joey Logano.  As he’s not in the field, I’m going with Martin Truex Jr.  How could you not?

Shoppe :  Going with Martin Truex Jr.

Parmelee :  Martin Truex Jr takes the title this year!

Well, that moment has arrived! Let’s see who we’re picking for Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway!
Eight picks, one winner?

Eight picks, one winner?

Tiongson :  While the obvious pre-race favorites have to be Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson, look for Ryan Blaney to remind fans why he’s in the postseason hunt with a Chicagoland win!

Cassidy :  Kevin Harvick is my pick.

Magda :  Kyle Larson will win at Chicagoland.

Lucas :  Momentum is in this driver’s favor, even after thwarting an ambulance check on pit road.  Matt Kenseth for the win in Joliet!

Sturm :  My pick to win at Chicagoland is Martin Truex Jr.

Anders :  Going with Martin Truex Jr.

Hull :  My pick for Sunday’s race is Denny Hamlin.

Conley :  Denny Hamlin will be the first to move onto the Round of 12.

Parmelee :  Brad Keselowski, I choose you.

Shoppe :  Brad Keselowski takes the checkered flag.

TPF Stats :  Chase Elliott takes the victory on Sunday.

Hobbs :  It’ll be Chase Elliott’s time to win.

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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