Track Talk: Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland

Can Jimmie Johnson snap his long winless streak by taking the top spot in today's Overton's 400?

Can Jimmie Johnson snap his long winless streak by taking the top spot in today’s Overton’s 400?

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero JrKathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley analyze the incredible trickery by Martin Truex Jr and crew chief Cole Pearn and the possibility of a fourth powerhouse Cup contender!

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Question 1
A smart "non-call" for a pit stop resulted in a trip to Sonoma Victory Lane.

A smart “non-call” for a pit stop resulted in a trip to Sonoma Victory Lane.

Martin Truex Jr’s crew chief Cole Pearn radioed for a pit stop on lap 73.  However, he did not pit and the trickery gave Truex a slight advantage by pitting later than second place runner Kevin Harvick.  While this isn’t new in NASCAR, does this show just how strong the No. 78 team is with their title defense versus their rivals?

 

Acero :  Great call by Pearn. Very iffy but it paid off. Great calls and a great driver behind the wheel makes the 78 a threat from here on out.

Bowman :  Cole Pearn should definitely be credited with making an outstanding call! I loved that it was a little risky and a bit out of the box! More than anything, I believe it speaks to how trusting this team is and that only adds to their strength.

Cassidy :  This duo is a force to be reckoned with! The call was risky, but worth it in the end. This shows the trust and communication between this team.

Conley :  Does this remind you of another great minded crew chief? Yeah, Chad Knaus. Pearn and Truex right now can do just about anything. With fast cars and great strategy, they are on a roll. No question they are as good, if not better than last year, and that should concern the rest of the field.

Copple :  The best thing about this is, it’s been done before. Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have been playing his trick for years and it, for the most part, works. It’s a great tool to bring out when you need that little bit of “extra” to get to Victory Lane.

Hull :  Cole Pearn, in my opinion, is the best crew chief in NASCAR right now. He is very intelligent and has made good calls that has helped the 78 team score some victories. This whole team has been strong since last year.  They also have a lot of luck on their side as well. So, Cole and Martin have a great relationship. And their victories show that.

Lucas : Going for back-to-back championships is a mighty task that few can master in any form of sport. The No. 78 team is playing mind games constantly with the rest of the field. The best offense is a good defense. Expect the No. 78 to contend regularly throughout the rest of the season and make a serious run for a second championship come Homestead.

Shoppe :  This was the best thing to happen that whole race! Cole Pearn deserves so much praise for the outside the box way he calls races for the #78 team. You can argue that if a yellow had come out their strategy would have fell through and we wouldn’t be talking about it as much but it gave them an advantage they needed to beat the 4.   I would say they are much stronger then they were at this point last season. The only problem is, there are at least two other teams that are at that level as well.

Sturm :  Truex and Pearn are a dangerous duo right now. One could say they’re getting close to being like Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Pearn is an outstanding crew chief and he makes great calls at the right times. They might be tricky sometimes, but as we saw Sunday at Sonoma, they tend to work out. Although the pair hasn’t been as dominant as they were last year, I’d be careful about counting them out for championship contention again.

Question 2
Will the strong start of the "Big Three," including Martin Truex Jr, continue into the second half of 2018? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/TPF)

Will the strong start of the “Big Three,” including Martin Truex Jr, continue into the second half of 2018? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/TPF)

There’s been much talk about a “big three” in NASCAR consisting of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.  Does this trend continue going into the second half of the regular season or might we have some new players emerge this summer?

Acero : Safe to say that the big three will continue to be a factor while at the same time we will see, like the Phoenix rise from out of nowhere and play with the boys! I don’t see no one having any sort of crisis this second half of the season.

Bowman :  While nothing can be certain or really predicted, I feel it is a safe bet to say that those three are championship contenders and will continue to have a strong season. A mid-season slump could always happen, however, I don’t think it’s anything these teams couldn’t overcome.

Cassidy :  One can never be certain, but yes. These teams have shown consistency not only this season, but for the last couple of years. The ‘big three’ in NASCAR have found something that others have not, and will continue to use this to their advantage.

Conley :  It has to continue. I don’t see any of the Chevrolet teams breaking the folds. Keselowski will win, but Penske is not at the level of SHR, right now. I will say this. The Kyle Busch haters should be praising Ford and Truex. If not for the domination by Harvick early on. Kyle Busch would be sitting on 9 possibly 10 wins already. Let that sink in.

Copple :  At this point, who would you add or take away from that group? No other driver or team is even coming close to these three and, considering they haven’t slowed down at all since season start, I doubt they will this second half. I think we can all agree that this seasons championship has already decided it’s top three… we just need to figure out who is number one.

Hobbs : If it does not continue, I will be surprised. These 3 drivers are the best this season, but that 4th slot is definitely up for grabs. Sure, the summer is when we tend to see new players pop their heads in, but these 3 will remain there.  

Hull :  I still see Harvick maintaining his momentum, as well both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. No one has really gave them a challenge this year. So these three will remain strong as ever, as long as nothing crazy happens.

Lucas : 2018 is looking like a runaway season for the top three contenders. Honestly, there’s no end in sight. This season has proven that the old guys still has mojo! The kids have to step up and start proving why they’re Cup series material (and not just good for marketing). Something has to go right for one of them, but hope is starting to fade for this season.

Shoppe :  There’s no doubt that these three are on their own level at this point of the year. You just can’t predict whether or not they will still be running at this level when it really counts. There are a few teams on the outside looking in on this elite group. The likes of Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, and all three of the Penske Fords all are showing speed this year and if they can put a strong summer string together, they could be players for the title as well!

Sturm :  I absolutely believe it will continue. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t. Sure, the Chevys may get a better hold on the new Camaro bodies, but there’s no way they’re catching the “big three”, at least not this year.

Two solid laps at Chicagoland Speedway means smooth sailing on Track Talk, right? Before we make like Gilligan and his crew, let’s reflect on the weekend that was at Sonoma!
All in all, our team fared decently at Sonoma...

All in all, our team fared decently at Sonoma…

Consequently, this leaves the points race relatively unchanged heading into today's race at Chicagoland.

Consequently, this leaves the points race relatively unchanged heading into today’s race at Chicagoland.

Alright, friends! You’ve read our preview and the stats from Ashley Hobbs. Let’s see who’s thinking it’s winning time with our picks for today’s Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland!
Will one of these six sail their way into today's Overton's 400 Victory Lane?

Will one of these six sail their way into today’s Overton’s 400 Victory Lane?

Tiongson :  Ryan Blaney will be running down a dream to Victory Lane for NBCSN’s first NASCAR race of this season!

Cassidy :  Blaney.

Hobbs : For no other reason that he just won at Sonoma and is the defending race winner, Martin Truex Jr goes back-to-back (and 3 in a row at Chicagoland Speedway).

Bowman :  Can MTJ go back to back? I do believe so!

Copple :  I have to go with MTJ at Chicago.

Hull :  MTJ for the win.

Lucas :  Kevin Harvick will give a big #FreakYeah shoutout in victory lane this weekend!

Shoppe :  Kevin Harvick!

Conley :  I feel good and I’ll be Happy with Harvick in Victory Lane at Chicagoland.

Acero :  Don’t ask why – Denny Hamlin for the win!

Sturm :  The driver I’m going to pick has a few wins at Chicagoland and has also been very consistent over the past few years at this track, finishing in the top ten for the past seven years. I’m going to have to pick Brad Keselowski, as it’s his time to shine this year at Chicagoland.

TPF Stats :  Two races at Chicagoland Speedway. Two top-five finishes. Still searching for that first Cup series victory. I’m looking at you, 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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