Track Talk: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas

Will Ryan Blaney snap a 10 month winless streak in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500?

Will Ryan Blaney snap a 10 month winless streak in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500?

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Jose Acero Jr, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKayla SturmKobe Lambeth, and Stephen Conley debate about the next driver to snap their long winless streak and the snowy days at Martinsville.

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Question 1: Who’ll return to Victory Lane?
Watch out Brad, cause I ain't Blaney and my beard will be victorious!

Watch out Brad, cause I ain’t Blaney and my beard will be victorious!

Clint Bowyer snapped a winless streak dating back to October of 2012.  Who will be the next driver to end their long drought from Victory Lane?

Acero: It’s taking him some time to get accustomed to the new rules package. However, once Jimmie Johnson and compania (company) get this figured out and I am thinking soon, that 48 bunch will be the next to snap out of that winless streak!

Bowman: My vote would be for Jimmie Johnson. I thought he would snap it back in California, but he’s known to do well in Texas too.

Cassidy: Jimmie Johnson. Although their drought is nothing compared to others, it will be weird not to see this team dominate at some point in the season.

As Hendrick Motorsports continues to shift, no one should be too quick to rule-out the 48 team.

Conley: When we talk about long losing streaks, I think of things longer a season. So it has to be more than 36 races. Joey Logano is just inside of that at 33. But this leaves Newman, Kurt Busch, Buescher, Almirola and a couple others.

Paul Menard and Trevor Bayne are outside of 230. But one in that list that has been running well has been knocking on the door. Aric Almirola is my pick to end that “long losing streak” which stands at 132.

Copple: It might not be considered a long drought to most. For Jimmie Johnson, he and the 48 team are definitely in a funk.

They are gaining ground each week but it’s still not Johnson-like to go this long without a trip to Victory Lane. He’s itching more than ever for a return trip to his second home and I see that happening soon.

Hobbs: It is hard to believe it was that long for him! But, it is not too surprising the streak ended at Martinsville.

If we look to other drivers with winless streaks, you can look to almost everyone. From Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, to AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola, they all have winless streaks but of varying degrees. Johnson and Busch are likely to break their streaks before Allmendinger and Almirola. Still, you can never count out Allmendinger from the road courses this summer.  

Hull:  I think that the two I see breaking their streaks are both Paul Menard and Aric Almirola. Both are with great teams this season, and Aric came really close to winning the 500 this year. I can see him winning a race this year.

Lambeth: The next driver to get back to victory lane after 238 races will be Paul Menard. Team Penske and the Wood Brothers have a solid relationship, so I expect Menard to take advantage of the decent equipment.

Arguably, this is the best ride of his career. At age 37, this is the perfect opportunity for Menard to challenge for wins in a car that finished ninth in the standings last year with Ryan Blaney. Do not be shocked if the iconic No. 21 Ford Fusion returns to Victory Lane at some point during the 2018 season.

Lucas: I’ll make a bold prediction. Paul Menard and the Wood Brothers are clicking, chugging, and firing on all cylinders through the first few races. The pairing is ideal along with technical support from Team Penske.

Menard has deep pockets, but is also a model of consistency, either good or bad throughout his career. A rejuvenated Menard and a resurging Wood Brothers team makes them a perfect dark horse to snap his 238 race winless streak and continue the team’s sleeper mentality.

Sturm: With the way Aric Almirola has been performing lately, I’d say he’s the next best shot at snapping his winless streak, and it would just be fitting for another Stewart-Haas driver to end their drought.

We’ve seen his performance improve tremendously since he was put into a car at a top-tier team. Ultimately, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he snuck out a win this season. If he can get in the right position and his team can play the right strategy, I think it’s only a matter of time.

Question 2: Scheduling changes soon?
Is Martinsville "snow good" in late March?

Is Martinsville “snow good” in late March?

While the Alpha Energy 250 and STP 500 was postponed a day later, should NASCAR reconsider the first race date for Martinsville Speedway for 2019 and beyond?

Acero: It’s something to be considered. But, should they really go about switching Martinsville’s first race after a series of 1.5 milers and a 2 miler? No.

What occurred in Martinsville was a rare occurrence that would probably won’t happen again in a few years (hopefully).

Bowman: When it comes to weather, I really don’t think that there is much that can be planned for. If it wasn’t snow, it could have been rain. In that case, we wouldn’t even be having a discussion about it. Just one of those fluke things that happens every once in a while.

Cassidy: Given the situation, NASCAR should be applauded. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not been a NASCAR fan’s friend over the last few years. That being said, the schedule could still be in need of a mix up. Just three weeks out west is safe, However, why not make it four before travelling back east?

Conley: Absolutely. And with the 2019 schedule, we know that it’s not happening next year. But down the road, I’d certainly like to see NASCAR leave Daytona, take a week off then head to the West Coast. Week two is Vegas, followed by Phoenix, California, Texas, Atlanta, and Martinsville. Weather is certainly an issue, and one that can’t be controlled, but, there isn’t really a need to play in to Mother Nature’s hands.

Copple: Weather is unpredictable. I have a handful of great friends who are meteorologists so this I know! Any track that is in an area where there is the possibility of snow in April, which is in any track that is in a place that regularly gets snow should have late-spring dates.

Rain is one thing to deal with but snow is a different story. On the other hand, when did snow postpone a NASCAR race? Maybe this was just a freak occurrence.

Hobbs: This is something I answer from a logistical and optimization standpoint. To me, it does not make sense to have the short stint out East, head West for 3 weeks, come back East for one race, have a week off, then go back West.

I understand the importance of having Easter off, but from a cost standpoint of traveling back and forth across the country, hanging out west just one more week makes more sense.

However, the one thing you can never control is the weather.

Hull: I think it was a good decision only because it kept the fans safe. After the fan dying in the thunderstorm at Pocono a few years ago, I don’t think NASCAR wanted to take any chances. So good call on their part.

Lambeth: Absolutely! Considering the situation, NASCAR made the best decision to ensure to safety of anyone planning to attend Martinsville Speedway on the “snow day.” It is difficult to make the right call, but it is always better to take a safe approach rather than have regrets later on. NASCAR should consider moving the Martinsville spring race to mid to late April in hopes of warmer weather  

Lucas: To be blunt, yes. Move the race back to its traditional mid to late April date. Had the temperature of been above 32 degrees, we would’ve been racing this past Sunday, rather than Monday.

I do think it was a freak occurrence of Mother Nature, but a simple tweak to the schedule could prevent this for future events. I hope that ISC and NASCAR keep this in mind when tracks can request date changes.

Sturm: This is the first time there’s been a serious issue with a Martinsville race like this in a long time, and I think it was just a freak of nature type thing. I know there were lots of complaints. While I’m not against NASCAR changing Martinsville around on the schedule, the complaining wasn’t justified.

NASCAR did the safe thing for drivers and fans, and it’s a very rare occurrence to postpone a race due to snow. So to answer the question, I’m neutral on this topic. I’m fine with either way.

That’s two great laps around this 21-year-old venue in the Lone Star State! Before deciding on the winner of Sunday’s race, let’s review our race and points reports from Martinsville!
Kyle Busch made a few panelists happy.

Kyle Busch made a few panelists happy.

Meanwhile, a new points leader has emerged!

Meanwhile, a new points leader has emerged!

After nearly two weeks of dormancy in NASCAR land, let’s drop the hammer by revealing our picks to win Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500!
Which of these six drivers will be a lone star in Texas' Victory Lane?

Which of these six drivers will be a lone star in Texas’ Victory Lane?

Tiongson:  I really like Ryan Blaney’s chances to win his first Cup race of 2018, this time coming at Texas. We all saw how strong he was in the 21 car last spring. Just imagine how dominant he could be in Team Penske’s No. 12 Ford!

Sturm: Going with Ryan Blaney. He had this race in the bag last year until some issues caused him to lose his momentum, and he’s been very strong this season. Plus, I have a friend coming to the race with me that’s a huge Blaney fan so it would just be awesome if he won.

Bowman: Going on nothing but my gut I want to say Ryan Blaney for the win!

Conley: He dominated this race early last year and had one of the strongest cars in the field, then a strong 6th at Texas in the fall. Ryan Blaney shoots his losing streak off in to the sunset.  

Hobbs: I’m liking Martin Truex Jr.

Hull: Martin Truex Jr. for the win!

Lucas: Look for Martin Truex Jr and his Furniture Row team to “Mess with Texas” this weekend.

Acero: Fellow Las Vegan gets it done this weekend and will get the cowboy hat at TMS. Kyle Busch for the win!

Lambeth: He is tired of finishing second, so I am expecting a very “Rowdy” weekend in Texas with Kyle Busch finding victory lane to earn the first victory of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing.  

Copple: If this was any other season, I’d say Jimmie Johnson. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and choose another Hendrick driver. Chase Elliott will go to Victory Lane this weekend at Texas.

TPF Stats: He’s one of six men with an average finish under 10 this season. He has an average finish of almost 11 in the O’Rilley Auto Parts 500. He seems to have fewer fans each week too. None other than Denny Hamlin will end up with some six-shooters in Texas.

Cassidy: Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team!

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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