Track Talk: Ticket Guardian 500(k) at ISM Raceway

From Sin City glitz and glamour to the desert of Arizona, racing is quite spicy at ISM Raceway.

From Sin City glitz and glamour to the desert of Arizona, racing is quite spicy at ISM Raceway.

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Ticket Guardian 500(k) at ISM Raceway, 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 mull over Kevin Harvick’s dominance last weekend at Atlanta and the West Coast Swing tracks!

Trending Topics for Phoenix
Question 1: Kevin Harvick and those freakishly fast Fords
Like Ron Swanson, Kevin Harvick, at least his car, is quite modest about its speed! (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Like Ron Swanson, Kevin Harvick, at least his car, is quite modest about its speed! (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Ford Racing, namely Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing, are off to a strong start in 2018. Will this trend continue heading into ISM Raceway, a track that Kevin Harvick has won at eight times?

Acero :  Remember how I said that the move from Chevy to Ford over at SHR was no fluke with last weeks performance? Boom! Harvick’s win at LVMS just set that statement in concrete. Of course, this trend will continue over at Phoenix given the fact that Kevin is “el jefe” at said venue! Will he go for three in a row? You damn right he will. I don’t see the Fords slowing down anytime soon!

Bowman :  Ford is certainly having an explosive start to their season and I believe that they will continue their strong run this weekend at ISM Raceway. They may get a challenge from some of the JGR Toyotas though… this is a good track for them as well. Definitely don’t count out Harvick though! I would not be surprised to see him go back to back to back.

Cassidy :  It is great to see Ford leading the manufactures this year, even though it is early in the season. I got the sense that some fans were concerned with how Ford would perform this year after releasing their plans for a new body next season. Luckily, those worries are nowhere to be found at this point in time! In terms of Harvick, three in a row is tricky – but not unheard of!

Conley :  Ford has made everyone question everything they thought they knew about this sport and how things transition from year to year. Harvick’s success early is certainly the main focus, but Ryan Blaney has shown a lot of strength, Joey Logano has been up front as well as Paul Menard with the Wood Brothers. They haven’t missed a beat. Ford has certainly done something right, but things can change very quickly in this sport.

Copple :  Anyone who doesn’t think Kevin Harvick will be a dominant car this weekend needs to reevaluate…a lot of things. Harvick has two race wins already this season. And we’re only heading into the fourth race!

Stewart-Haas Racing has found something that the other teams haven’t quite hit on yet. Besides Harvick, Almirola has also run well, especially for being the newest member to the team. And the 41 and 14 have had strong cars to kick off the year as well. I think it’s safe to say that SHR and Ford are putting together the strongest package in 2018. At least for now.

Hobbs :  One would be insane to think that Kevin Harvick could not go three in a row and continue to flex those Ford muscles. If there is a driver that could spoil the party for Harvick and the Ford camp, it is Kyle Busch, who has one of the best statistics in the desert.

Hull :  It appears that Kevin Harvick has reclaimed his dominance after having a rough season last year. It also appears that the Fords are doing the same. Harvick has found his groove these last two weeks, and Phoenix is his track. So expect to see him dominating again this weekend, like it or not.

Lucas :  I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. No. Penske and Stewart-Haas have done their homework during the offseason and it certainly is showing early on in the season. If this dominance continues through the Easter weekend break, it could be a long summer for the Chevy and Toyota camps. The OSS inspection system is playing in Ford’s favor so far since its introduction at the beginning of this season.

Shoppe :  This will absolutely be another Ford dominated weekend once again! With Kevin Harvick on the role he is now toppled with his amazing record at Phoenix, this will be a Harvick vs the field type race like it has been since we left Daytona.

All three Penske teams have been the closest challengers to the 4 most of the year so far and that should be the case this Sunday too. Expect a challenge from the JGR Toyota’s of Kyle Busch (who dominated this race last spring until a late caution gave Ryan Newman a chance to steal it) and Denny Hamlin who has had a good start to the year.

Sturm :  I absolutely think so. Ford has been on fire so far this season and I don’t see that streak ending anytime soon. I think their performance is a huge slap in the face to anyone that doubted them and thought they would be at a disadvantage (I’m guilty of it). As mentioned, ISM is a track that Harvick has won at numerous times and with the streak he’s having, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ripped off another one and made it three in a row.

Question 2: The last hurrah for ISM Raceway’s current configuration
ISM or Phoenix, it's one of the most unique venues - but why so?

ISM or Phoenix, it’s one of the most unique venues – but why so?

Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k) marks the final NASCAR race for ISM Raceway’s current configuration since the fall of 2011. What’s made this track unique for competitors and will the new layout enhance the on track produce this fall?

Acero :  ISM Raceway, the “short track” on steroids, is something unique where you want to have a short track set up hoping for that to work in the likes of a cookie cutter track. About the racing product, well, one can hope that the new layout offers some great side by side racing. In the meantime, let’s try and get familiar with soon to come turn numbering at such. For instance, current turn 1 will be the new turn 4. Yikes!

Bowman :  I think the best thing about racing at ISM Raceway is that the track doesn’t fit into a stereotypical style of racing. There is the short track feel, yet the tri-oval and low banking don’t always translate into short track style racing. With the reconfiguration, only time will tell how it affects the racing. Moving the start/finish line may increase the drama in the final laps of each stage or as the laps wind down. Either way, I always look forward to racing on this track!

Cassidy :  Characterized as a short track, ISM Raceway purposes a challenge for the collective team. Unlike the other short tracks, we will see very little banking here in comparison to the others in this category. I hope the new layout will enhance the on track performance and look forward to the feedback from fans who attend the future races.

Conley :  ISM Raceway is like nothing else on the schedule. You can’t prepare for it. You can’t take things from other tracks for it. It is truly unique and that makes for good racing.

It’s multi groove and that backstretch gives something you just don’t see anywhere else. High speed, heavy breaking and if you knock the nose off, you can still be somewhat competitive. Plus the close proximity of the inside wall gives an added challenge. I’m looking forward to the new track in November.

Copple :  Any time a track makes changes, whether it be a reconfiguration, a repave, etc., teams and drivers need to adjust and relearn the track. It proves to bring new challenges but it’s not always good. What will the reconfiguration bring to Phoenix? I guess we will have to wait and see. But, the drivers will get their first taste of the new track during the Playoffs. That’ll make things interesting.

Hobbs :  ISM Raceway is a short track that races like an intermediate track. It is (relatively) flat, so it has a slower speed than a typical intermediate track, but it is not a typical short track like that of Bristol or Martinsville either. It is definitely unique, and that challenges both driver and crew. Now, the next time the teams are here, the track will be the same, but it will also be different. Will it enhance the racing? That is the hope, isn’t it. None the less, it will make for an interesting race in the Playoffs.

Hull :  The fact that it’s the only track that has a dog leg (which is awesome) make it unique. That dog leg gives the track an added challenge for the competitors. It will be interesting to see how the reconfiguration affects the strategies of both the driver and crew chief.

Lucas :  When I think of ISM Raceway, the first thing that comes to mind is the dogleg. Even after the reconfiguration in 2011, it still has played a big factor in how drivers maneuver the backstretch. The “rollercoaster,” as many drivers refer to it now, causes the cars to divebomb off of the banking onto the flat, non-racing surface.

The theory is that their trying to gain an advantage, but much to their thinking, it really does not gain any advantage. Sadly, Sunday might be the final installment of this unique feature. With pit road exit being extended to the dogleg, I think teams will have trouble in the future trying to dive.

Shoppe :  A track like ISM Raceway is a welcome change of pace whenever we go to it. Anything unique is a good thing in this sport that has many tracks that might not be identical but race similar. Phoenix has always been able to stand on its own. A one-of-a-kind backstretch dog leg, short cut like apron, and short track on steroids mentality has made it a favorite among drivers and fans alike. I can’t wait for the track to take it’s flair for the imaginative to a new level this fall. Never in NASCAR has a track had a start/finish line so close to a turn!

Sturm :  ISM Raceway is unique in that it’s considered a short track but doesn’t always necessarily have the product of short track racing. It has characteristics of intermediate tracks and short tracks combined so that always makes for interesting racing. As for if the new configuration will make the on-track product more interesting, I’m not sure. I hope so, and I think that’s the main goal.

That’s two solid laps around this unique speedway in Arizona!  Before winning time arrives on Track Talk, let’s look back at the Las Vegas race weekend!
A familiar name chose the Rowdy Express at Las Vegas.

A familiar name chose the Rowdy Express at Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, two of our 2016 Track Talk rookies share the points lead heading into ISM Raceway.

Meanwhile, two of our 2016 Track Talk rookies share the points lead heading into ISM Raceway.

From the bright lights of Sin City to the Valley of the Sun, let’s reveal our picks for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k) at ISM Raceway!
Will it a Blue Oval kind of Sunday at Phoenix?

Will it a Blue Oval kind of Sunday at Phoenix?

Acero :  Kevin Harvick and company. Look at the win column.

Copple :  At this point, it would be stupid not to pick Kevin Harvick. Can he make it three for four?

Hobbs :  Seriously, how can you root against Kevin Harvick and the Freaky Fast No. 4 team!?

Hull :  Harvick is on a roll, so totally going with him!

Lucas :  The iron is hot and freaky fast, so let’s all crack a cold one and hope for another free bloomin’ onion on Monday. Kevin Harvick continues his dominance in the desert. Surprisingly, Harvick will be looking to break a yearlong winless streak at the track, having won at least one event at ISM Raceway between 2012 and 2016.

Shoppe :  Can’t really bet against Harvick this weekend.

Sturm :  I have to hop on the bandwagon here and go with Happy Harvick.

Bowman :  I know most of y’all are looking at Harvick and that Ford camp to continue domination. However, there is a young gun with a developing track record in Arizona worth keeping an eye on. If he can stay out of trouble, I believe Chase Elliott will have a good run at ISM.

Cassidy :  Young Ryan Blaney, that’s what’s up!

Tiongson :  I’m going to take the field here against Harvick! In this case, I’m going with Brad Keselowski. Fords have been fast and the 2012 Cup champ could make things happen at ISM!

TPF Stats :  If he can keep up with Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch will be the driver who comes out on top in the desert!

Conley :  Ford is here to stay, but this time, it’s Joey Logano surprising the field in Phoenix.

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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