Track Talk: STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

After a West Coast Swing, NASCAR goes short track racing with Sunday's STP 500 at Martinsville.z

After a West Coast Swing, NASCAR goes short track racing with Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville.

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero Jr, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley consider the new infraction for failing to make a qualifying attempt and the departure of Lowe’s from the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team following this season.

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Question 1: Making the Qualifying Attempt
After some pre-qualifying issues, NASCAR dropped the hammer for qualifying.

After some pre-qualifying issues, NASCAR dropped the hammer for qualifying.

NASCAR announced that those not making a qualifying lap for failing to get through inspection will start at the rear of the pack and serve a pass through penalty on the first green flag lap. Was this a good move by NASCAR to curtail some of the pre-qualifying inspection issues?

Acero : I applaud the move by NASCAR. Teams make an effort to make it through inspection and run a qualifying lap and have to begin on “old tires” while the team that failed starts on stickers. Keep your stickers start at the rear and make a pass through? Nope, not me. I guess we shall wait and see how this plays out!

Bowman : It’s definitely a different approach and takes away any strategy on saving a few laps on tires for anyone who would have chosen not to take a qualifying lap. On your short tracks, should a team not get through inspection, the penalty could be very detrimental. I think this is just one of those edits by NASCAR that we will just have to see how it shakes out and maybe there will be a revision of the rule down the line. It’s a good start though.

Cassidy : As a fan, I look forward to seeing how this new rule will play out. It can be very disappointing for fans when teams make no attempt to qualify. However, I respect the strategy behind it. The pass through penalty is the big kicker here. Depending what track NASCAR is at I can see some teams gambling in strategy here.

Conley : This is a great step in the right direction. The only problem I can see is that it will be a major detriment at some tracks, like this weekend in Martinsville. You can lose three laps by making a pass through, but at Michigan it may not be as big of deal, or Talladega, especially if there are multiple teams penalized.

The laser inspection system is making a drastic change, but the teams still believe, they can push the envelope to the extreme and beyond. It’s going to take something major for them to say, that’s enough.

Copple : I don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand, there have been too many issues as of late with teams not making it through inspection. On the other hand, this could be used as a strategy game with some teams who would rather start at the back in fresh tires instead of starting higher on the grid on worn tires.

This is a good move by NASCAR. It’ll work as long as they reevaluate this for each track and make sure teams are not taking advantage of this new rule.

Hobbs : The fact that if you do not post a lap and you get to start on fresh tires almost makes it appealing not to make it through (at some tracks). This move by NASCAR might be good and entertaining.

At a track like Daytona, if multiple people do it, it is not the worst thing in the world. Some intermediate tracks, it might be a pain; but can you imagine starting Martinsville or Bristol and having to serve a penalty on the first lap? You are well in the hole there.

Hull :  It’s a start I think. I think a lot of teams are sick of trying to rush through inspection. I personally believe that it’s a little excessive to expect so much inspections, but this will probably frustrate teams a lot more. But it will be exciting for the fans. I guess that is what they’re aiming for.

Lucas : I think NASCAR has the right idea here. It goes back to their 100% rule after the fall Talladega 2016 debacle caused by Joe Gibbs Racing. If I sabotage my pre-qualifying specs just to save three or four laps on my tires, I may need my head examined.

Honestly, if everyone is qualifying with the same amount of tire wear at the conclusion of that session, then how can you really gain an advantage? I like the move, but NASCAR also needs to give teams more leeway on the OSS inspection process. The box is too tight to wiggle in with the potential consequences of failing. Heck, you might lose your car chief for a few races.

Shoppe : NASCAR made the right call on this one for sure. I think we are all sick of having inspection being the big story when it’s time to qualify. Fans buy a ticket for qualifying day the same as race day and they deserve to see all the stars of the series compete on Fridays just the same. After so many weeks in a row of a chunk of the field just not getting through tech to participate, enough is enough. Force teams to be prepared to qualify or suffer a real penalty!

Sturm : I think the idea behind it is a good one. It kind of evens out the playing field for those that are starting on fresh tires due to not qualifying, and it’ll *hopefully* cut down on the number of teams not passing inspection and not qualifying. The idea that if you don’t pass inspection then you can start on fresh tires has got to be running through some of the teams’ minds, but now that won’t be the case.

Question 2: Swing Lowe’s, Sweet Chariot
So long, Lowe's.

So long, Lowe’s.

Lowe’s revealed that it will not return as the primary sponsor of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team for Jimmie Johnson.  With sponsors like Lowe’s and Target leaving the sport, is it time to be concerned with NASCAR’s business model?

Acero : I wouldn’t say concerned is the right word. Let’s keep in mind that NASCAR is pushing all “the young guns” movement and as a result, Lowe’s decided to call it quits. How many young people do you see in Lowe’s? I say the sport is fine and I am sure we will see some new sponsors in years to come!

Bowman : Unfortunately, I think the limited amount of sponsorship is more a product of our economy and how companies choose to use their marketing dollars rather than something inherently wrong with NASCAR. With today’s market, I am surprised to see as many full time sponsors as we have. In the future, I would almost expect to see numerous sponsors per team to cover the season rather than having a primary sponsor with a few guest sponsors.

Cassidy : With experience in marketing, two areas concern me in terms of sponsors in NASCAR. First off, the sport is counting on a stale “win on Sunday, buy on Monday” strategy that does not fit many companies current marketing goals. Although NASCAR themselves have stepped up their marketing and social media interactions, this does not leave much room to incorporate sponsors in a creative way.

Second, it is clear that the economy has still never fully recovered from 2008 recession. Therefore, it is safe say that businesses are trying to get the best for their marketing dollar. This may not include the high prices of NASCAR sponsorship.

Conley : NASCAR as a whole, their business model is fine. It’s the teams that really need to be concerned. It didn’t take long for the teams to start building these car to a point that the cost went from maybe a million dollars a year, to 20 and 30 million for one team.

Just like the inspection, it’s going to be on the teams to make changes and adjustments, it’s also going to be on the drivers to maybe take a little less on pay day to race. How many sponsors have jumped off of cars to be a NASCAR “official” partner in recent years? Quite a few.

One other thing – just look at the reports that Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson have “multiple” major corporations that have already called and shown interest in the seven-time champ.

Copple : This announcement worries me. Sponsors have been coming and going from this sport for decades.

However, to lose a sponsor like Lowe’s, who has been with one of the best drivers in this sport for years, is a big detriment to not only Hendrick Motorsports, but the sport in general.

Major race teams are struggling to find sponsors. If they keep losing long-time sponsors, it just doesn’t look good for the sport.

We all saw what happened a few weeks ago with Matt DiBenedetto and his struggle to put his car on the track. If the sport keeps losing major sponsors, we could be seeing more of that.

Hobbs : Sponsors coming and going has been a story for a long time now. It is sad that one of the best pairings in all of sports will be breaking up, but it is the way of the world.

This is not a NASCAR issue as much as the business model they want; NASCAR can only do so much to appeal to them to stick around. Lowe’s is clearly loyal to Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.

But, they must feel like their marketing dollars could be better invested elsewhere. I expect Johnson to go out with a bang for Lowe’s now.

Hull :  This departure is a sad one. Lowe’s has been with Jimmie Johnson since the start of his Cup career. I think that there is something wrong with the current business model of NASCAR. They are no longer appealing to sponsors, so therefore, they are leaving the sport. I think also the drop in attendance has had a lot to do with it as well. I think NASCAR still has a lot of work to do appealing to people.

Lucas : We’ve seen this before in the sport. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that some iconic brands associated with NASCAR are stepping away. Lowe’s is not the bad guy in this divorce. The current business model was set before the 2008-2009 economic downturn, meaning it worked for the first part of the decade.

Ever since the recession, teams have been on a balancing tightrope, either between new car development (the COT and Generation 6 cars), or financial woes (less sponsorship money caused many small teams to merge or suspend operations). For the past ten years, basically what has happened is that several appendices have been applied to the old model.

Rather than continue to patchwork an ageing model, perhaps the charters and NASCAR could hold a summit on how to shape a new sustainable business model that would cut costs, bring in new investors & sponsors, possibly a few new teams, or even a new engine supplier.

Shoppe : As sad as it is to see, you have to commend Lowe’s for having such a long and successful run as title sponsor of the No. 48 car. After Hall of Fame certain win numbers and a legendary championship run of seven as a pair, what more can you ask for as a sponsor?

At this point, they must be thinking we have gotten as much out of this as we could have ever hoped and quitting while they are still ahead. The days of one company paying for the whole year are over. We just have to deal with seeing many different sponsors on a car throughout the year.

Sturm : I absolutely think it’s concerning. Guys like Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champion, can’t even keep a sponsor due to the failing business model that NASCAR is using? It’s definitely something to be worried about. Not only that, it doesn’t look good to the fans when long time, dedicated sponsors start leaving the sport.

No fancy woodies or Southern California sunshine, but all glory in these two laps! Before we countdown to our picks for Martinsville, let’s review our race and points reports from Fontana!
TPF's editor-in-chief was quite happy with Fontana.

TPF’s editor-in-chief was quite happy with Fontana.

Meanwhile, Lucas enjoys leading the points race!

Meanwhile, Lucas enjoys leading the points race!

Six drivers, which of these will win?

Six drivers, which of these will win?

Friends, it’s about time, no pun intended, to reveal our picks to win Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway!

Bowman : There are a lot of contenders to choose from this weekend, but I am going with Brad Keselowski.

Shoppe :  I’m thinking it’ll be Joey Logano‘s day at Martinsville!

Acero : Martinsville, VA is the homecoming race for Denny Hamlin! FedEx will deliver the grandfather clock at Denny’s house! Hamlin for the checkered flag!

Hull :  I think it will be Denny time at Martinsville. Therefore, Denny Hamlin will be the winner.

Cassidy : Jimmie Johnson will win it at Martinsville.

Conley :  It’s Jimmie Johnson’s time to shine.

Copple : He hasn’t been running well lately, but has continued to make progress. When it comes to Martinsville, there is only one driver that comes to mind – Jimmie Johnson.

Lucas : The clock struck midnight this past weekend, culminating with his first top ten of the season. Look for Jimmie Johnson to break his winless drought and collect his 10th career grandfather clock this Sunday!

Hobbs : Love him or hate him, he’s so strong this season and has been on the podium for the three races out west. I look for Kyle Busch to make a big statement upon the return to the East Coast with his first victory (finally) this season.

Tiongson :  I’m going to open up my bag of M&M’s Caramel and go with Kyle Busch. For my last race as a Bostonian, I want to be Rowdy.

TPF Stats : He’s one of five drivers with an average finish under 10; in fact, he is number three on the list. In the STP 500, he has the ninth best average finish, but has an average finish of 1.5 in the past two years; one of those is a victory. I’ll let you figure out what the other finish was!

Look for Kyle Busch to continue his Martinsville STP 500 dominance this weekend.

Sturm :  I’m going with Chase Elliott.

That wraps this week’s preview, 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 this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2018.

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. A Boston native turned Austinite, 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, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

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. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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