Track Talk: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Can Chase Elliott find redemption during Sunday's AAA Texas 500?

Can Chase Elliott find redemption during Sunday’s AAA Texas 500?

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR and attempt to pick the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley mull about the controversial moment between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, the possibility of paybacks in the playoffs, the emergence of Kyle Busch, and the two day weekend for NASCAR!

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Question 1
Cause you're making me feel like I've never been born.

Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.

The final 20 laps at Martinsville swung like a pendulum in the grandfather clocks awarded to the race winner. From Chase Elliott’s aggressive bump and run on Brad Keselowski to Denny Hamlin’s contact with Elliott, was this short track racing or the intensity of the playoffs?

Conley :  Unfortunately, it’s a combination, plus the added belief of “do what you have to do to win.” That has become a foundation of our young racers. Now it’s carried over to our veteran talents.

There has always been contact at Martinsville with “the old chrome horn.” However, it’s never been about, nor should it be about sticking a guy in the fence to win.

Denny Hamlin can say whatever is needed in a tweet or post-race press release. However, locking onto a guy’s bumper and turning him before making the corner is simply a lack of respect.

This is something I personally don’t want to see in my champion, or championship contender.

Hobbs :  I think this falls into both categories. The move that Elliott put on Keselowski, the bump and run, is what we equate to short track racing. The move Hamlin put on Elliott was a bit more aggressive, and I think that points towards the intensity of the playoffs.

Hamlin’s best shot at winning this round was at Martinsville and he seemed like he was willing to do whatever to win. It will be interesting to watch these two race the next few weekends knowing what is on the line.

Hull :  I think it was a little bit of both. We had a lot of hungry people in this equation. First of all, Chase Elliott was vying for his first Cup win. He has been waiting for that day since the beginning of his Cup career. Also, he had a chance to advance onto Homestead.

However, there were two other people who were also hungry and wanted to punch their tickets onto Homestead. So yes, they were going to be aggressive doing this.

The intensity of the playoffs definitely factored into it. Also, Martinsville has been the scene of these intense races throughout history.  Short track racing is always intense. Therefore, both factors had a role in this.

Magda :  It was a mix of both at Martinsville. This winner-take-all format creates more dangerous situations and drivers taking chances to punch their ticket to Homestead.

I was very surprised by the way the Hamlin-Elliott deal went down. I thought there was going to be a full-out brawl after Hamlin turned Elliott, but surprisingly as both drivers were heated, it was a discussion between the two. The 24 car has been good on intermediate tracks and these two could see each other racing around each other the next two weeks.  

Lucas :  I think it was a little of both. Racing in tight confines for 480 laps is shear madness for some, and then factor in a win that is a ticket to Homestead and the Championship Four, and it’s a powder keg ready to blow!

Every bit of what we witnessed was classic NASCAR at its finest. It felt like we did the time warp back to the late 80’s/early 90’s with everyone’s emotions running high.

Sturm :  I think it was a combination of both. Short tracks always produce lots of action, but we saw a little extra action there at the end between Hamlin and Elliott. I think that was due to them both fighting to make it to Homestead.

Shoppe :  That was an exciting combination of short track racing and the intensity of the playoffs! With a coveted spot in the Championship 4 on the line, can you blame anyone involved for being aggressive?

I think feelings were hurt more so in this case because Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s new popular, golden boy had yet another win slip away in the closing laps with no fault of his own.

While it was just hard racing for the win with Homestead on the line, Denny Hamlin didn’t do himself any favors with his post race comments and the boos from the crowd prove that easily.

Cassidy :  I think it was a mix of both. It’s nice to see this type of excitement even though not all fans were impressed by some drivers’ actions.

Question 2
When I was a boy everything was right, everything was right.

When I was a boy, everything was right, everything was right.

As a result of the aggressive racing at Martinsville, will we see some scores settled in these final three races of 2017?

Conley :  Probably, but like I said earlier, I don’t want to see a lack of respect represented in our champion. We’ve already got on driver in the final four that has been known to lack respect for the sport and his fellow drivers.

Hobbs :  Currently, the battles coming out of Martinsville involve all playoff contenders. For all their sake, I hope they don’t payback; however, that is not always going to be the case. I do not think Chase Elliott could give payback once the race has completed. It will definitely be something the media covers at Texas for sure.

Hull :  There were so many angry people after this race. Chase Elliott was one of them. Expect him to use his anger to try to win these next two races. He could have a shot at it in Texas. We will see how far this goes on and if each of these guys have moved on, but it will make things exciting.

Magda :  There was a lot of battling between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch at Martinsville for most of the race. Those drivers aren’t the best of friends and I can see them racing each other in the Championship 4 at Homestead.

The only other score I see getting settled is Chase Elliott with Denny Hamlin. Elliott really stood up for himself after the contact and they’ve been the strongest car in the Hendrick stable.

Lucas :  I hope not. It would be a crying shame for a wreck to eliminate a team from racing at Homestead for a championship.

Sturm :  I believe we will. I think Phoenix is the race where some crazy stuff is really going to go down since it’s the cutoff race, but I’m kind of hoping some crazy stuff happens at Texas since I’ll be there. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the Hamlin/Elliott duel and I don’t expect either of them to go down without a fight.

Shoppe :  While I don’t expect a Kenseth/Logano scale retaliation to take place in the next few weeks, I do expect some ramped up intensity between Hamlin, Elliott, and Keselowski from here on out.

Let’s not leave out Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick from this as well. I was starting to think this year’s playoffs were going to lack that over-the-top drama we have seen in years’ past but now I think it’s only starting to heat up! 

Cassidy :  I think you will see some driver payback as these next three weeks will be very aggressive. Look for not only playoff drivers, but teammates to pair up against others.

Question 3
Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.

Meanwhile, Kyle Busch stamped his ticket to Homestead by winning the First Data 500.  Has the momentum shifted from the No. 78 to the No. 18?

Conley :  No, because if you look at the final run down, where was Truex? Right next to the 18, running him clean to the line. Truex is not a short track racer, but he did what he needed to do in order to stay in position for next week at Texas. The No. 78 is still the car to beat.

Hobbs :  No, the momentum has not shifted. Martin Truex Jr. finished second. Kyle Busch is better at short tracks than Truex Jr., but that in no way means the momentum has shifted. Both these drivers have their A+ game every weekend, and I will be disappointed if it is not these two battling all day at Homestead going for the checkered flag.

Hull :  They both have the same affiliation, so not really. The Toyotas, mainly Martin Truex Jr, have been dominant during the playoffs. If anything, it’s more of the same thing. Kyle Busch still drives a Toyota, so they are continuing their dominance.

Magda :  Truex still has the momentum going into Texas this week. Until Kyle Busch knocks the 78 out of victory lane on a 1.5-mile track, Furniture Row Racing and Cole Pearn have the upper hand. My view may change after Texas depending on what happens and Truex is 62 points to the good for joining Kyle Busch in the championship hunt.

Lucas :  I think they have drawn a pure line in the sand. The two best Toyota drivers could potentially face off for all the marbles. If I were a betting man, I would think it could be these two chasing each other back to back in the closing laps at Homestead. The real question will be who will be the wild cards to potentially play spoil.

Sturm :  I don’t think so. I think they’ve both had speed and good momentum throughout the playoffs, but I still think Truex takes the crown as far as momentum and confidence goes. Plus, Texas is a mile and a half track and the No. 78 team have dominated at these kinds of track this year, so look for him to be really strong this Sunday at Texas.

Shoppe :  While Kyle Busch rebounded well from his tense Round of 12 with this immediate advancement out of the Round of 8, I still think the 18 team is far from surpassing the 78 as the favorite.

With two mile and a half tracks remaining, Truex is in the cat bird’s seat. Last week in Martinsville was looking to be the weakest track for the 78 team and what did they do? They came within a car length of winning it anyway! Look for Martin Truex Jr to remind everyone why he’s been the favorite all year this week in Texas!

Cassidy :  The 18 has been strong all year. However, the 78 has a better track record this year. Don’t count them out until the last lap of Homestead.

Question 4
Two can be as bad as one, it's the loneliest number since the number one.

Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.

As seen at Indy and Watkins Glen, NASCAR implemented the two day schedule for Martinsville. Overall, is this a good or bad move by the sport and what are some ways to enhance this compressed format to benefit competitors, fans, press, and track operators?

Conley :  If you find a way to appease all four of those groups, you’ve just been immediately bumped to the head of the class for NASCAR CEO. I think a two day show is OK in some aspects, especially when you have all three series at the same track.

At the same time, the cost of operating a facility floods the fans, and paying more while getting less is not a good business model, especially when you as a sport are already losing a large portion of the fanbase.

Hobbs :  It is good in the sense that it saves money for the teams, and that is something they have been looking to do, especially for the lower budget teams. I am torn, as a fan, as to whether I like it or not. I do know I am a fan of seeing a few hours of NASCAR Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Therefore, a two day show limits that. Being on the East Coast, qualifying at noon is fine; the West Coast might feel otherwise though.

It will be interesting to see how track revenue and other key metrics improved (or not) compared to races earlier this year or even last year. That is ultimately going to decide if it was successful or not.

Hull :  It’s hard to say. It could have some benefits. We all know that the small time dirt racers have a format similar to this. They will qualify right before running the race.

I think that brings some of that dirt racing tradition to the Cup series, and it makes it exciting for the fans to see both on the same day. It could have benefits as more people could be there to see it. It also saves the teams money and gives them more time to work things out.

Magda :  The format’s only been used a few times so it’ll take more time to see if two-day shows are successes. A lot of fans showed up at the July Pocono race by having qualifying on the same day.

I can recall teams spending an extra day or two at the track since I’ve been following the sport. Two-day shows are nothing new for XFINITY or Trucks because they race and qualify on race day. I think it’s good to mix the weekends up a bit, just to give it more variety.

Lucas :  This is tremendously good for the sport! As NASCAR tries to enhance its at track product, I think this could be the wave of the future for events. Less practice for teams has lead to a better on track product. I have been pondering on how to make the weekend schedule even greater.

Hauler parade for Friday evening, an early practice on Saturday followed by final practice following whichever companion race is run, then qualify and impound Sunday morning, followed by the race.

If the race is a Saturday night event, have the hauler parade Thursday evening, an early practice on Friday followed by Happy Hour (making sure that it concludes at least 45 minutes prior to whichever companion race is run), then qualify and impound 90 minutes prior to the green flag on Saturday. That’s what I would like to see, and would hope that others would agree or at least somewhat agree that this could work.

Sturm :  From what I saw on social media, I don’t think this was a good idea as far as fans go. I know lots of fans like the three day weekend because they’re able to spend more time at the track. However, it’s good for the drivers because they have an extra day off with their family or whatever they may be doing.

I think one way to improve this would be to add some kind of activities on Friday, like concerts or fan events. That way, even though they aren’t there for racing, they’re still able to be at the track.

Shoppe :  Although I was disappointed to not find any Cup series action on my TV on Friday, I do see this as a good move for the sport to condense the weekend schedule. It can be viewed as an issue for teams to have less time to prepare.

In some cases, it means time for repairs have little wiggle room between sessions but the overall cost cutting and ticket value is a positive.

Cassidy :  All around, I find only two-days a little weird, and that is to be expected from a traditionalist.

As a fan, I understand the feeling of getting less for your money’s worth. During hard times, this is not what you want to do to fans.

As media, it is the same amount of work, but more hectic hours. As for NASCAR and team employees, it is the burden of longer work days with the same or higher level of expectations.

Everything is bigger in Texas and so are the opinions of our esteemed panelists! Before we talk about our (potentially) winning picks for Sunday’s race, let’s review the happenings of Martinsville!
A couple of panelists got a treat from Kyle Busch...

A couple of panelists got a treat from Kyle Busch…

Ultimately, the definitive players for this year's titles are emerging!

Ultimately, the definitive players for this year’s titles are emerging!

Cue up the Dallas theme song because drama may happen at Texas!  Here’s our picks for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500!
Winning picks whose exes don't live in Texas.

Winning picks whose exes don’t live in Texas.

Tiongson :  After the sleigh ride that was Martinsville, Chase Elliott takes the win at Texas!

TPF Stats :  He’s been flying high, hit a small low at Martinsville. Nevertheless, he shall soar this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Chase Elliott to victory lane!

Hull :  I am going with Chase Elliott to get his redemption on Sunday and punching his ticket to Homestead.

Cassidy :  Chase Elliott for the win!

Hobbs :  He might be out of the title hunt, but Matt Kenseth likes Texas Motor Speedway.

Sturm :  My gut is telling me Kevin Harvick so that’s who I’m going with.

Shoppe :  Kevin Harvick is my pick for Texas.

Conley :  Ryan Blaney will surprise many with a win at Texas.

Lucas :  He was extremely quick back in the spring event, and also got the high line running fast (the track has aged tremendously over the hot Texas summer, meaning we will have two to three solid lanes of racing). Look for Ryan Blaney to get his second career win and a ticket to the Championship 4 at Homestead.

Magda :  Going with Brad Keselowski at Texas.

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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