Track Talk: Can-Am 500 at PIR

Who shall be the fourth title contender emerging from PIR?

Who shall be the fourth title contender emerging from PIR?

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR and predict the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Can-Am 500 at PIR!

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
Kevin Harvick could go for being twice as nice.

Kevin Harvick could go for being twice as nice.

Kevin Harvick lived up to his nickname as “The Closer” by snatching the win at Texas. Could he potentially play the dark horse role for the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami?

Hobbs :  Harvick knows how to get things done when it really counts. Even though I saw him as a winner this round, at Phoenix, this definitely elevates Harvick up.

All season, it has been about the 78, 42, and 18. With the 42 no longer a contender, I surely think that Harvick can play spoiler at Homestead.

Sturm :  I’m not entirely sure. He definitely lived up to his nickname this past weekend at Texas, as he caught Truex in the last laps of the race to secure the win.

However, I still personally feel like Truex is practically almost guaranteed to win the championship with the way he’s been running this year. He was leading for quite a while at Texas and while Harvick could possibly pose a threat, I just believe Truex will fight back harder.

If anyone is to pose a threat (specifically to Truex since he’s the favorite to beat), I believe it would be Kyle Busch more than Kevin Harvick since KB has the second most wins this year (right behind Truex) and he’s been continually battling up front with him as well.

Magda :  Kevin Harvick has been able to keep up with the 18 and 78 during the entire playoffs. It didn’t surprise me Sunday when he passed Martin Truex Jr. for the win at Texas.

Harvick is slightly better on long runs just like at Charlotte.  At this juncture, there was no late-race caution to jumble up the running order.

Hull :  I must say, I was surprised to see Kevin Harvick win his way into the Championship 4. He did this at the track he has never won as well.

It’s safe to say, despite having an abnormal season, they look good coming into it. It also doesn’t hurt that Harvick has won a championship before. He will have Martin Truex Jr. as a fair challenger, but he has proven that he can beat him. So watch out for the 4 team.

Lucas :  Absolutely! If Harvick lives up to his nickname, then yes, he can win the championship.

Shoppe :  Kevin Harvick could very well play spoiler in the championship race in Homestead. He has the experience of winning it all there before back in 2014 and that team is on a role at the moment.

I expect the 4 team to be a strong contender for the title despite not being in the conversation all year long like the 18 and 78.

Conley :  After Texas, I’m concerned about Harvick being the guy that rolls in to Homestead-Miami as the favorite. The speed and consistency that the SHR cars showed made me and many others stand up and take notice.

Have they hit on that balance at the right time with their Fords? Certainly looks like they may just have timed their “peak” right.

Cassidy :  With a championship behind him, I would not put Harvick out of the run for the title. This Championship 4 will give NASCAR fans a show for sure.

Question 2
A happy medium for start times.

A happy medium for start times.

NASCAR announced the start times for races next season. With most events starting at 2 or 2:30 p.m. ET, what are some of the benefits for competitors, fans, and track operators?

Hobbs :  This year, it was 3 p.m.; years before, it was 1 p.m.. I guess 2 p.m. is a good compromise? The difficult thing with live sports is balancing the three hour time difference between the coasts.

1 p.m. might have been great for the East Coast, but too early for the West Coast; vice versa for a 3 p.m. start time. I think NASCAR and the networks are trying to find the right balance and find the best start time to optimize ratings.

Sturm :  I think this benefits tracks because it gives them more time to prepare for the events that occur on race day. I think this also benefits fans watching from home that are in different time zones than the East Coast.

Catering to the East Coast all the time isn’t always beneficial for fans that aren’t on the East Coast. In short, I think this move will be good in that aspect.

Magda :  The big benefit out of this is the races start a little bit earlier. The only thing I don’t like is I haven’t heard one West Coast person complain about races starting at Noon or 1 p.m. ET so that’s where I’m confused with the start times.

I think the sport and TV needs to listen to the fans more and stop worrying about being up against other sports. Personally, I think moving up the start times is a step in the right direction. However, I’d like to see earlier starts as the casual fan would like.

Hull :  While it’s not as early as some people would like, it is a fair compromise. I think that the benefits will be that the competitors will have more downtime. Maybe more people would be willing to go.

I think that one of the other factors that would help more would be lowering the prices of races. However, that’s a whole other issue. We will see how it works. But fans are fickle, so they will complain no matter what.

Lucas :  The possibility of a condensed weekend schedule is the first thing that comes to mind. I would imagine we’ll see more two day Cup race weekends in 2018 because of the start times. Honestly, I think it’s a great step for the sport. I don’t have much more to elaborate with on this topic, but I do truly believe it’s going to help.

Shoppe :  Earlier start times can provide a bit of a longer window to get the race to an official distance if weather is a factor that day. Personally, I am a fan of seeing earlier start times. It means not having to wait around all day for a race to start.

Conley :  I think the biggest benefit has to be getting an event in, in case of weather, especially if the track lacks lights.

It is still an option to start a little earlier without going in to the morning on the West Coast and still a little extra time if a red flag for weather comes out in the hopes of finishing.

Cassidy :  As a fan, this is great news. Just because the start times were later did not mean that fans got to the track any later.

I believe that having earlier race times is easier for everyone at the track. This also gives more of a window for Mother Nature to play its course when needed.

Question 3
The end of an era for Matt Kenseth?

The end of an era for Matt Kenseth?

Matt Kenseth announced that he will take a hiatus from NASCAR after this season. Is this a troubling sign of the sport to lose another past champion in the past three years?

Hobbs :  This is a dark time for the sport. With many big name driver retiring and leaving the sport over the past few years, it could mean a loss of a fan base as well.

While the young drivers who are coming up through the ranks are sure to bring new life to the sport, change with the veterans is hard to accept. As Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. got their farewell tour, and got to walk away on their own terms, Kenseth did not have this opportunity.

For a guy who has done so much for this sport, and shows every week he is still competitive, this is not the way he should be going out. I understand that a driver really has to come with a sponsor, but for a team to overlook Kenseth’s veteran status and ability to still wheel a car, that spells trouble in my eyes.

Sturm :  Absolutely. We’ve seen Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, and now Matt Kenseth all step away or retire from racing in the past few years. This majorly hurts the sport because these are drivers that people grew up watching and that hold a pretty significant fan base in the sport.

While NASCAR has some incredibly talented young guns coming up through the ranks and just starting in the Cup series, it’s still worrisome seeing as how the fan base is already dwindling as it is. If NASCAR can’t figure out how to market these young guys better or start reeling fans in again, they’re going to have some serious issues in the upcoming years.

Magda :  There really wasn’t much of an option for Kenseth next year. At the most, he was going to be in a low-tier ride and I know he doesn’t want that. I found it ironic that both he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered and left the Cup Series at the same time so that’ll be nice to see them complete their careers at Homestead. NASCAR is like any other sport, where the names and faces change but the sport will go on.

Hull :  It’s not as much a troubling sign to the sport as it is to veteran drivers. It is really unfortunate that Matt Kenseth was basically ousted from his ride. Also, I don’t know how much of his own feelings factored into it.

Maybe he felt like it as time to move forward. I think a lot of fans will be sad and will threaten to never watch it again, but they will not make good on that threat and root for someone else.

The future of the sport is building. People will find new favorites for sure.

Lucas :  It’s a sad trend to be witnessing. Almost all of my childhood drivers have either stepped away or retired from racing. I know that it’s been a tough last two seasons (being a lifelong Jeff Gordon fan) trying to find a replacement for my fandom. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a love as deep as I had for “driver” Jeff Gordon.

“Broadcaster” Jeff Gordon is different. I respect him either way and had the pleasure of meeting him finally for the first time after 19 years of waiting back in May. It was an absolute pleasure meeting my childhood idol and being able to share a few moments with him.

As for who I’ll pull for in 2018, I’m still determining who it will be. More than likely, it will be a few drivers from each manufacture, a good mix of veterans and young guns.

Shoppe :  It is really sad to see so many of this era’s legends stepping away all so close together. It would have been much better for the sport to see these stars retire in a more gradual way.

However, circumstances played out differently. We are seeing a much more of a drastic transition from the now “old guard” to the new, fresh faces of the future.

Conley :  No, it’s just the cycle. We had the same thing in the early 90’s. Drivers can only hang around for a certain amount of time and we’ll have it again in 15 to 20 years, if not, sooner with the current crop of “young guns.”

Cassidy :  I think it is a change for fans, which all may not like, but it is time. Most of these drivers have been around my whole life. As much as I hate to see them go, I am excited to see how the sport changes due to the new generation.

Question 4
Sup, girl?

Sup, girl?

With only one Championship 4 spot remaining heading into Phoenix, who has the best shot at earning the final ticket to Homestead-Miami?

Hobbs :  The stats point to Chase Elliott this weekend. But, one can never count out Jimmie Johnson when things need to get done. Sure, Johnson has had a rough streak, but he has had this in the past and it has not stopped him before. In all honesty, any of the five remaining drivers can get it done because they all need to go for broke this weekend.

Sturm :  Brad Keselowski already has a pretty good lead on fifth place Denny Hamlin (19 points), and he’s been running pretty well this year. Ultimately, that’s my pick to snatch the last spot in the Championship 4.

Magda :  At this point, I’ll have to take Brad Keselowski as my fourth driver in. I don’t think Denny Hamlin has enough to get into Homestead.

Meanwhile, Hendrick’s best chance at Phoenix to win with is Chase Elliott. The  Championship 4 without a Chevrolet driver is looking very likely.

Hull :  Even though Jimmie Johnson’s team has been through the ringer this round, we should not count them out at all, unless they haven’t shaken their bad luck. They have proven that they can rise from any kind of adversity that they are given. Plus, they have good finishes at this track.

Chase Elliott could also become the fourth driver for the same reasons as Jimmie Johnson. We shall see on Sunday how this goes.

Lucas :  As much as I want Jimmie Johnson to be in the Championship 4 at Homestead, I think he’s a longshot for this year. I think it’s a realistic tossup between Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

Both showed high skill, high risk and reward back at Martinsville and throughout the season. I think Brad has more pressure from Ford to claim the final spot, especially at a race titled the Ford EcoBoost 400.

Shoppe :  It will be exciting at Phoenix this Sunday since it is so hard to predict which of these drivers will earn that last spot. Any of them have a good chance of making it but only a few are in a decent position when you look at the points.

Even though Brad Keselowski said Martinsville was a must win for his team to make it, they are sitting in a pretty good position on points being 19 points to the good. If the likes of Hamlin, Johnson, Elliott, or Blaney cannot pull off the last chance win, Keselowski is in a great spot to make the Championship 4.

Conley :  I’d have to say Denny Hamlin. I give that nod due to his teammates at JGR with the Toyotas.

Also, Hamlin has an uncanny ability to find victory lane on short and flat tracks. Phoenix certainly qualifies, and I’m sure he wants to put Martinsville and his past ” flops” in these season finale races behind him.

Cassidy :  I think Brad Keselowski and the 2 crew have shown consistency through the playoffs. I believe this team will clinch their spot into the Championship 4 with another solid finish!

Four solid laps around this track with four unique corners!  Before we geek out with our potential race winning picks, let’s review our race and points reports from Texas!
Kayla and Cody were winners at Texas...

Kayla and Cody were winners at Texas…

A familiar battle appears to be set for Phoenix!

A familiar battle appears to be set for Phoenix!

Moving to the present, we drop the hammer with our picks to win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at PIR!
Will one of these elite eight win at PIR?

Will one of these elite eight win at PIR?

Tiongson :  After scoring an important victory last weekend at Texas, Kevin Harvick makes life harder for his playoff rivals by winning at PIR!

Hobbs :  I had Kevin Harvick pegged for this race for a very long time. With his victory last week, and nothing to lose, let’s see if Happy Harvick can go back-to-back.

Lucas :  This is his final shot this season to have a chance at NASCAR immortality. Jimmie Johnson will end his winning drought in the desert!

Conley :  In a last ditch effort to chase for eight, Jimmie Johnson is my pick.

Cassidy :  Martin Truex Jr and his 78 team win at Phoenix!

Sturm :  My pick to win at Phoenix is Kyle Larson.

Magda :  I’m going with Matt Kenseth.

Hull :  The driver I pick for Sunday is Ryan Newman.

Shoppe :  Ryan Blaney punch their ticket into the Championship 4 with a win at PIR.

TPF Stats :  He may only have a single start in the Can-Am 500, but Chase Elliott has nothing to lose and everything to gain this weekend.

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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