Track Talk: FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan

Will Kyle Larson win Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 or will someone new claim the checkered flag?

Will Kyle Larson win Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 or will someone new claim the checkered flag?

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyJose Acero Jr, and Katie Copple consider their own realignment of the premier division’s schedule while critiquing the strengths and areas of opportunities for FOX NASCAR’s telecasts.

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Question 1
Might Michigan or other tracks need to do up one race a year?

Might Michigan or other tracks need to do up one race a year?

While NASCAR may not be in position to drastically change up the schedule in the near future, which track would you only give one race weekend date?  Which track currently not in the Cup schedule would you award a race weekend date to maximize the variety of venues for NASCAR’s premier division?

Acero:  The timing of this question is more than perfect. Let’s see, tracks that deserve only one Cup date, if any? One comes to mind – Pocono.

Yes, the track may be unique and what not but let’s be honest here. The racing is not up to par to have two dates here, especially that close together in the calendar.

Tracks I would like to see on the schedule include Iowa, Road America, and a few others. You change it up add another road course to the schedule to shake things up a bit!

Bowman:  I feel like this question is being asked because we are going into Michigan and that has been a hot topic over the last few years. Besides the fact that it is my hometrack, I would hate to see it go to one race per year. The amount of tourists and income that it brings to our small community is sometimes what gets locals through the year. Plus it’s one of the closest tracks for the Canadian fanbase.

Had Charlotte not been changed to a road course for the fall, I would have said to take that down to one race weekend, being that they have the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 already.

If I had to choose, it would be Pocono. The races are too close together in my opinion to optimize potential. I’d like to see another road course added, preferably in the Northern half of the states, either Road America or Mid-Ohio.

Cassidy: As much as I hate to say it – Michigan. I have been going to this track for over 15 years and have never walked away saying “What a race.” I believe that the track design does not compliment the safer car designs that are critical to NASCAR’s drivers. Keep in mind, Pocono is a close second, despite never attending a race there.

In terms of adding a track to the schedule, I think you need to bring back one of the old school tracks. I’d die to see a race at ‘The Rock.’

Copple: There are a number of tracks that currently have two race dates that I would drop to one. On the flip side, there are a handful of tracks that currently have one date, that I think would benefit with two (ex. road courses).

As far as a track that doesn’t currently have a Cup date, I think Iowa Speedway would be a fantastic track to see Cup cars on. Iowa already has the junior leagues like Xfinity and Trucks and also IndyCar races each season, so why not a Cup race?

Hobbs: Any track that is not a short track or restrictor plate should get only 1 visit per year. This means so long to a race at Pocono, Michigan, Loudon, Vegas, and Texas. This ensures the variety is truly there. Charlotte Motor Speedway can keep both races, given that one of the two races is the “roval.”

As for adding in a track, any short track or road course, that could be Iowa Speedway or Circuit of the Americas. It would be best, in my mind, to go to a track that no NASCAR series has been to. Venturing into new territory can bring new attention and fans to the sport, which is what NASCAR needs right now.

Hull:  The track that I think should be only raced at for one weekend would be Kansas Speedway. I never thought any race there was exciting, besides the finish between Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson in 2008. Other than that, it is a cookie cutter track without a lot of action.

As for the track that needs to be on the current schedule, they really need to look into having a Cup race at Iowa Speedway. All of the Xfinity races there have been nothing short of exciting. I think it would provide the same amount of excitement for a Cup race. Plus, it would give Iowans a chance to see a Cup race live a lot closer than say driving out to Chicagoland.

Lucas: There are several tracks currently on the schedule that would benefit greatly from instead of two races, dialed back to one marquee event. However, if I must pick one track, the one that comes to mind would be Michigan (coincidentally, the track we’re at this weekend).

Ever since the repave after the 2011 racing season, the track has become a dull, single groove circuit with very limited action and insanely high speeds. So far from what we have learned, speed isn’t a must to provide exciting races. It’s cool to see a stock car go sailing into turn one and three at 218 mph, but that also means side-by-side, multi-grooved racing will be practically non-existent.

As for which date I would cut, depending on if the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle is still around, I think I would keep the June date and ditch the August one.

To take its place on the schedule, or to rather add another track, I know everyone and their brother will say either Iowa or Road America. Well, I’m going a different route. I think I would add Myrtle Beach Speedway. Hear me out though. I know realistically that this would be a monumental effort for the track to upgrade and be Cup ready, plus the date would have to be early spring or after Labor Day weekend. It would be neat for an oldie but goodie track to regain some notoriety one last time.

Shoppe:  The track I’d take down to one race a year would have to be Pocono. The two races they have there are so close together anyway I think one trip to the triangle would be enough if it meant we could get another short track to help pump some life back into the schedule. If we look at the possible short tracks that have a shot at being added to the schedule Iowa has to be at the top of the list.

A perfect mix of short track action and speedway maneuverability, Iowa would be a perfect addition to the Cup schedule! Other options I would love to see, just as a fan dreaming of a miracle, would be a former Xfinity or Truck venue such as Gateway, a current Truck and IndyCar track, Memphis, a short track that is looking to get back into national events in NASCAR soon, and Lucas Oil Raceway, a great way to have an event in Indy while actually having an exciting race take place!

Question 2

With FOX's schedule of NASCAR races coming to a close for 2018, what's their strengths and areas of improvements?

With FOX’s schedule of NASCAR races coming to a close for 2018, what’s their strengths and areas of improvements?

With just a few races until NBC’s turn for NASCAR television coverage this season, what are some areas of improvement for FOX to enhance their coverage, be it with their race telecasts and/or their weekday programming?

Acero:  Less commercials, get rid of DW, and the oh so annoying “Boogity, boogity, boogity.” God, that is the most awful thing in sports nowadays. Michael’s grid walk needs the boot as well. Gordon and Mike Joy are the two that keep me glued to the TV, week in, week out!

Bowman:  I can only comment on the race telecasts as that is all I have watched. FOX scored big by bringing Jeff Gordon on! He gives such a current and relevant perspective that it freshens up the commentary. Mike Joy has always been such a professional, and one of my personal favorites. While he has been in the sport long enough to offer insights from “old-school” NASCAR, he stays current with the sport so with him you get the best of both worlds.

Where they are losing me though and possibly other younger viewers is the Waltrip brothers. Maybe it’s my personal taste, but I find their antics to be a little kitschy and sometimes it comes across as a bit fake. DW used to be one of my favorite commentators because of the emotion that he could evoke, but I don’t feel he is as personally connected to this generation of drivers or fans.

Cassidy: FOX needs to get creative to broadcast the information in new ways. Week after week, the same presentation of media gets boring to fans of any sport. Maybe this means some younger voices to add that flare, maybe it means a new element of broadcasting. Needless to say, the highlight of the season for FOX where this was demonstrated: the drivers only broadcast.

Copple: For the most part, I just found FOX coverage to be dull. Their graphics system was decent and flashy and fairly easy to read, but if you were watching on a smaller TV screen, it took up too much room. Every network is going to do things differently and every viewer is going to like and dislike different things about each.

There is no way to win! The best thing FOX and every other network carrying these races can do, is look at viewer reaction, what they loved and what they didn’t, and make changes for the next season. I loved hearing Cup drivers call Xfinity races. That needs to stay and also become more regular! Give more guys a chance in the booth or on pit road. It’s entertaining and gives fans a new insight in to the race.  

Hobbs: Bringing on Jeff Gordon when he retired was the best change to come in recent years. That said, the butting heads of two former drivers in the booth has gotten very old, very quickly. Gordon has been closer to the sport in recent years than DW has, and because of that, his insights are more up-to-date, and accurate even. I feel like half the broadcast is them spent arguing over whose opinion is right.

The booth needs younger blood; bring Regan Smith up into the booth in place of DW and see what that youth perspective looks like. Heck, bring in an Xfinity regular to shake things up. Fox is too stiff and really needs to loosen up. Oh, and the Hollywood Hotel needs a revamp.

Hull:  I will go ahead and say it; one of the ways they can really improve is to ditch the Waltrip brothers, especially DW, or at least have him tone it down a notch. He can really be rude towards Jeff Gordon, who is a breath of fresh air during the broadcast. Jeff Gordon always has some insightful things to add to the commentary, and it would be nice if he wasn’t interrupted while doing so. Also, they need to keep doing the Drivers Only broadcast. In fact, they should do it twice a year. It is really enjoyable to watch.

Lucas: FOX has become too campy for the average viewing audience. What viewers want to see and hear is expertise without gimmicks left and right. I like the chemistry that Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds, and Chris Meyers bring to the Cup series broadcast. Shannon Spake and Jamie Little are modern day pioneers for young female sportscasters.

If FOX truly wants to do a grid walk, then instead of utilizing one reporter stationed at one spot on pit road, use several of the pit reporters to catch up with different parts of the grid, along with giving it a full broadcast segment instead.

RaceHub is fantastic, but no one will ever truly be able to replace my good friend Steve Byrnes. I always think of him whenever I watch. My advice, less gimmicks, more analysis from a technical standpoint. Also, that Drivers Only broadcast is great!

Shoppe: FOX has always been, in my opinion, one step away from being a great network to present NASCAR. Their roster of on-air talent needs some work for sure. I am sure everyone thinks immediately about the Waltrips when they think of FOX.

I am one of many that agree DW needs to step aside. Loved him in the early FOX days but his time has passed. Jeff Gordon has been insightful, but still seems a bit stiff in the booth. Mike Joy has always been the bright spot in the booth with his accuracy and professionalism. I miss Lary Mac in the booth, but I’m torn between seeing him or perhaps Regan Smith replacing DW in the booth in the future.

Friends, that’s two laps by our team around this mighty fast superspeedway.  Before we delve into our race picks, let’s review our race and points report from Pocono!
Copple and Sturm enjoyed victories from Martin Truex Jr.

Copple and Sturm enjoyed victories from Martin Truex Jr.

Meanwhile, the points gap got a bit closer, but Hobbs enjoys the top spot.

Meanwhile, the points gap got a bit closer, but Hobbs enjoys the top spot.

Alright, alright, alright! Full impulse, Mr. Sulu.  You’ve read Hobbs’ stats preview and got our thoughts on the biggest stories from this week. Now, let’s reveal our picks who may potentially win Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway!
In what's perhaps a TPF first, this may be the closest we agreed on something!

In what’s perhaps a TPF first, this may be the closest we agreed on something!

Tiongson:  Consistently, Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet has been the best of the Bowtie Brigade.  Considering his runner up finishes at Fontana and Pocono, and the awesome speed displayed at Kansas, Larson will make it four wins in a row at MIS.

Acero:  Looks like everyone and their mom is picking Larson this week. Therefore, I am jumping on the wagon as well. No. 42 to Victory Lane!

Cassidy: Larson.

Copple: Larson has been strong this season, but can’t quite seal the deal. I think that all changes this weekend at Michigan.

Hobbs: I mean, how can you not see Kyle Larson as the clear favorite? He is the defending FireKeepers 400 winner, and is the most recent MIS winner as well. He loves this track, and it loves him back.

Hull:  This weekend has Kyle Larson written all over it!

Lucas: It’s Young Money time! Kyle Larson will park it in victory lane this weekend. He’s been the epitome of consistent at Michigan.

Shoppe:  Kyle Larson!

Bowman:  He’s had enough of being a bridesmaid and I want to see a first time winner this weekend! My choice is Chase Elliott.

TPF Stats: The stats are in, and they favor that breakthrough win for 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.

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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