Track Talk: Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Pole sitter Kyle Larson looks to win Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma.

Pole sitter Kyle Larson looks to win Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma.

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero JrKathleen Cassidy, Katie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley tackle the dilemma of the All-Star Race package, adding Iowa Speedway to the Cup schedule, and select a contender for Sunday’s road course classic.

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Question 1

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Brad Keselowski and Mark Martin expressed some concerns with potentially implementing the All-Star Race package in future Cup races this year.  Do you agree with their concerns or is it much ado about nothing?

Acero :  One race (All Star race) will not dictate whether that specific aero package will be a hit at other venues, keep in mind that not all tracks are created equal. Maybe said package was a hit at Charlotte but can be a disappointment at another place. I personally think that NASCAR should quit changing rules and or packages mid season and focus on bringing new fans to the sport. Do all the changes in the off season and bring back January testing back to LVMS!

Bowman :  NASCAR is kind of in a pickle and the truth is no one knows what to do because there is no right answer. If they implement the package at more tracks, then I think the concern of driver talent showing through is real. If they don’t and could have made the racing tighter… then they may have lost out on a better show. Is the risk worth all of the development and money that these teams will have to fork out for the shot of attracting new fans? I don’t know that I can say yes. I think NASCAR needs to just chill out on making changes to the sport and focus on marketing it to a new fan base or maybe cultivating better relationships between sponsors.

Cassidy :  There is some concern surrounding this idea. NASCAR is looking for answers to bring back ‘old style racing’ with safer cars in order to make all parties happy. As fans are eager to see this good racing on the track that results in their opinions flooding the online world. However, this package played out good for one race, not a whole season.

Conley :  I absolutely agree with their concerns. I personally think it’s a little ironic, that after Daytona and Talladega, fans are screaming for the removal of restrictor plates. Now, when we go to intermediate tracks, they want to put them on. Just because they worked at one Xfinity series track where one added pass would greatly increase the discussion of competition doesn’t mean it’s good for everywhere else. If this is added to every track, then I’ll say the sport is in trouble and the length a drivers career will become exponentially shorter.

Copple :  My opinion? NASCAR need to look at past races in recent years at EVERY track on the circuit and reevaluate and find what is working and what is not. The racing product needs to change. That’s something I think everyone can agree on. But this isn’t going to be a “one change fits all” type of solution, every track is different. Should fans have input? Yes. Should drivers and teams have input? That should be an obvious yes. This sport is already in a transition of change… I just hope the transition does cause us to lose too many fans before it’s over.

Hobbs : I think, no matter what the call could end up being, the NASCAR fan base will still be angry. The past few years, there have been a lot of complaints that NASCAR does not listen. When NASCAR does listen, the fans still say that NASCAR does not listen. They say they want restrictor plates gone at plate tracks so they can run faster, but when one race puts them on, and the racing is better, they now want it. Now, the drivers have the opposite opinion here? It just makes one’s head spin about what drivers and fans actually want.

Hull :  I think they have a right to be concerned. Just because it was great during the All-Star Race, doesn’t mean that it will work at all the tracks, and for all races. I think that NASCAR needs to just go back and look at what worked in the ‘90s and go from there. That could help make the racing more competitive.

Lucas : I do share a common concern with Brad and Mark about how NASCAR should go forth with the “all star package.” The package should be a priority for the second Michigan and Pocono events, along with Indianapolis, which needs a bang rather than another fizzle to keep its prestige and reputation relevant. But as for the remaining 1.5 mile events, I still think there needs to be more R&D work. Don’t try the package during the playoffs! That would be catastrophic for all contenders involved. NASCAR fans need to understand that every race can not be Daytona or Talladega all the time. Real racing is a test of endurance, skill, and patience. If that means the leader gets a 14 second plus lead, while there are only 12 cars on the lead lap, then so be it.

Shoppe : I don’t think just because it was good at Charlotte that it will be good anywhere else. We have seen improved racing at Indy with the restrictor plate in Xfinity races so maybe it would be good there. The problem Nascar has is there is no clear answer but I we should all appreciate their endless efforts to give us the best racing possible.

Sturm :  I personally think the package was great and should definitely be explored further for using in the future. Of course I’m not a NASCAR driver or former NASCAR driver, just a fan that likes good racing. I don’t actually have to race a car with the package. I’ve never had a serious problem with restrictor plates. Fans complain that the racing is terrible at intermediate/1.5-mile tracks and then when NASCAR does something to make it more interesting, people still complain because it wasn’t done how they thought it should be done. All parties will never be satisfied. I can see where Brad and Mark are coming from though because restrictor plates do bunch up the pack and drivers aren’t able to go all out like they would at a non-restrictor plate track. But for now, I think it’s too soon to get all worked up about it.

Question 2
Will Iowa Speedway host a Cup race in the future? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/TPF)

Will Iowa Speedway host a Cup race in the future? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/TPF)

Iowa Speedway hosted another weekend of exciting Truck and XFINITY Series action.  In relation to our question last weekend, is this track ready to host Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing?

Acero : Iowa has been ready for quite some time. It’s a good change of pace to have the lower series run their own standalone events. Yeah we need more short tracks on the schedule but let the JV drivers have their fun without Varsity taking the spotlight. Maybe in the future add Iowa as a chase race or replace Pocono.

Bowman :  Is the track ready to host a MENCS event? Sure! It does not necessarily mean that we should go ahead and add it to the schedule. I’m of the thinking that maybe a little less change would do NASCAR some good right now. Plus, this gives the Truck and Xfinity Series a place of its own to shine. Sometimes, I think MENCS overshadows the other series’ drivers when they continually run the same tracks every weekend, so it’s good to give it a little separation.

Cassidy :  Looking at the words of drivers and fans – yes! Why not mix things up a little to try and re-energize some of the fans of NASCAR? At this point in time, there are a few tracks on the circuit who see plumating attendance due to poor action on the racetrack. That means it is a great time to try and create an excitement about new measures taken by the sport.

Conley :  I’m sure it could, but it doesn’t need to. We hear it all the time, the XFINITY Series needs it’s own identity. It needs to race at tracks that the Cup series doesn’t go to. That will never happen as long as you keep making companion races. Look at Kentucky. It’s now a 3 day all series weekend. Gateway has a stand-alone. But, that is only due to the fact the infrastructure is not there for a Cup weekend. Iowa needs to stand out as the crown jewel of the Trucks and XFINITY Series and stop this nonsense talk about making it a full weekend with the Cup series.

Copple :  I might be a tad biased here since Iowa would be considered my “home track” and I’m always looking for an excuse to attend a Cup race, but that would be one of the only reasons to bring Cup racing to Iowa. The racing at Iowa is always good and I think it would be a great race for the Cup series, but I have to agree with my colleague Stephen Conley here, XFINITY needs races that are only theirs and Iowa is one of those races. Iowa gives the XFINITY Series drivers a chance to shine without the Cup stars taking the spotlight.

Hobbs : The drivers seem to want to race there, but the fans think that the Cup stars going there will take away from what makes Iowa Speedway great; separating themselves from the top. Yes, the racing that is produced is great, but it also gives these two other series the chance to shine without being in the light of the Cup series. Give the Cup series their own track to make their own statement, and prove something that way. But, don’t let them tread on the turf of the other series just because they do well there.  

Hull :  I have always wanted Iowa to be on the Cup schedule. It would produce great racing. It reminds me of a larger Richmond. Plus, do you know how big it would be to have a track for Iowans to go to? I think it would be a great idea!

Lucas : Iowa presents a tricky and somewhat sticky situation. The track is ready for an event, but it doesn’t need it. Remember when the XFINITY series ran a summer stretch between Nashville, Kentucky, and Milwaukee? What made those tracks unique, interesting, and fun was the fact that the regulars were able to showcase their talent uninterrupted by Cup regulars (well, for the most part). Iowa is a fantastic venue for the XFINITY and Truck series and should continue to be without any Cup interruptions. Also of note, perhaps Iowa should consider going to either a Friday/Saturday night schedule, or maybe even a double header on Saturday. The afternoon heat greatly affected attendance negatively this past weekend.  

Shoppe :  I said it last week and I’ll say it again. Iowa should absolutely be in the Cup schedule! Everyone wants to see another short track race and Iowa is a perfect combination of short track action and speedway racing. This ⅞ mile track in the middle of the corn fields is the breath of fresh air that the cup series could use!  

Sturm :  I unfortunately was not able to watch any racing this weekend but what I could tell from social media, both races were amazing. I believe the track is ready to host a Cup event, and I think they should try it out. Fans have been screaming for new tracks and for NASCAR to mix things up so they might as well see how it goes.

That’s two warmup laps around this road course staple of NASCAR! Before it’s winning time on Track Talk, let’s reflect on our roller coaster results from Michigan!
Bowman and TPF Stats had faith in Chase Elliott.

Bowman and TPF Stats had faith in Chase Elliott.

Otherwise, the points race remains relatively the same heading into Sonoma.

Otherwise, the points race remains relatively the same heading into Sonoma.

Friends, we’re back to work with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series! Let’s make some winning predictions for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma!
Six picks, six possibilities for Sonoma.

Six picks, six possibilities for Sonoma.

Tiongson :  With all of the talk about a three driver championship race, Clint Bowyer makes a compelling case to become a fourth contender. Look for Bowyer to have fun at Sonoma with a win.

Copple :  Bowyer usually runs pretty well here. Plus, he is coming off of a Michigan win AND Stewart-Haas dominance. He takes another trip to Victory Lane this weekend at Sonoma.

Hobbs : He does have the best average finish at Sonoma, and the 4th best average finish this year (bet you didn’t know that!). Which driver is on his way to another victory (hopefully, maybe) this season at Sonoma Raceway? I’m looking at Clint Bowyer to go for two wins in a row this season!

TPF Stats : Most recent winner, very solid on the road courses, and has nothing to lose but to win more Playoff points; look for Clint Bowyer to continue his 2018 success this weekend!  

Bowman :  Stewart-Haas could have another great weekend after Michigan. I’m thinking Bowyer is going to go back-to-back!

Cassidy :  Kurt Busch.

Lucas : Kurt Busch will be the first repeat winner at Sonoma in nine years, last winning in 2011. I’d expect the fearsome foursome of Stewart Haas Racing to perform extremely well this weekend. Heck, we even might see the first 1-2-3-4 finish by a team in a long time!

Conley :  Kyle Busch, for no other reason than I need points.

Hull :  Kyle Busch for the win!

Acero :  Call me crazy, but this weekend will be a back to back win for Mexico! First, it’ll be Saturday over at Russia in their World Cup match versus S. Korea. Then, that second win will be here at Sonoma by none other than Daniel Suarez! Viva Mexico will be chanted all over come this weekend! The 19 will drink the wine in Sonoma! I mean anything is possible. Look at Germany score vs Mexico! (Looking at you, Hobbs.)

Shoppe : Brad Keselowski.

Sturm :  Going to go with the most dominant SHR driver so far this season, Kevin Harvick.

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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