Podium Preview: Ticket Guardian 500

Will drivers like Kyle and Kurt Busch shine in Sunday's Ticket Guardian 500 at Phoenix? (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Will drivers like Kyle and Kurt Busch shine in Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 at Phoenix? (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

With the afterglow of Las Vegas’ neon lights transitioning to the desert life of ISM Raceway, one may think they’re Indiana Jones.  After all, every driver and team is after a prized possession that may belong in a NASCAR museum one day!  Truth be told, round four of the 2019 season may be as interesting as it gets with some of the sport’s top stars (and our guest columnist) looking to drive to the front come Sunday.

This week, The Podium Finish’s columnists, Adam LucasAmanda ShoopmanAshley Hobbs, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero JrKathleen CassidyKatie CoopleKobe Lambeth, Matt Sisoler, and Stephen Conley along with guest analyst Landon Cassill muse about the polarizing group qualifying format and expectations with the much discussed aero and motor package!

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Question 1
Are we all about that draft in qualifying or not? (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Are we all about that draft in qualifying or not? (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Group qualifying has been quite frantic during the past two weeks with drivers waiting until the waning moments to drive off pit road. Will we see some of these same tactics as long as this style of qualifying continues in NASCAR, particularly as we head to a short track like Phoenix?

Bowman :  I would expect to see the same “strategy” from teams this week as we have seen in the previous races this year. I don’t think that the track size would have much impact on how long drivers give themselves to make their qualifying laps.

Cassill :  I think that, especially as the drivers and teams settle in with it and NASCAR sticks to their guns, that we’re going to be doing the group qualifying.  I think that teams will start to figure it out and you’ll start to see a little more organization to it because people are just going to know what they want to do.  They’re going to have a better plan, but I don’t know. Because of my experience in the sport and knowing that everything, sometimes when the rules changes, it looks like chaos for a while but everybody ends up figuring it out.  That’s what I would think would happen, but who knows? It’s pretty chaotic.   

Copple :  This really isn’t anything new. Drivers have been doing this since group qualifying started. I don’t think it matters what the track size is. The point of it all is making the best and fastest run and not wear out your tires. Frankly, I’m not a fan of group qualifying. I’d much rather see the series go back to single car qualifying runs.

Conley : I’m not a big fan of this chaotic style qualifying. I’d be ok with going back to single car qualifying. It’s not about the fastest car, it’s about luck and who picks up the perfect draft. If they want to do this group qualifying, then line them up and have basically a play clock. You have to roll off pit road before that 30 second clock hits zero or your DQ’d. Something to that effect. If they continue to do what they did at Las Vegas, we’re going to have our first pit road “big one”.

Lambeth :  At a track like ISM Raceway, I do not expect any of the craziness we saw during group qualifying in Las Vegas. I think qualifying with 750 horsepower will be more straightforward than the ones with 550 horsepower and aero ducts. Drafting will matter more at the larger tracks. Drivers have always waited until the last minute to get a fast lap time under this format. If we are searching for the entertainment factor, then NASCAR has come up with the right formula in that department. Until we have a major incident, unnecessarily tearing up multiple cars, then I expect NASCAR to leave it alone and focus on the show.

Shoopman :  I think that we will continue to see these tactics, no matter the track size. NASCAR loves a good show, and they love anything that will create more drama. By having a chaotic pit row, we could see more driver tensions and a higher entertainment factor. Like Kobe said, until we have a major incident, NASCAR is unlikely to focus on it.

Sisoler :  Without question we will see these tactics, possibly even more so at short tracks! The margin for error will still be razor thin, but with shorter tracks comes a shorter amount of time to get around and start your flying lap as a driver, and if you are the last one to hit the line, theoretically conditions will be the best for your one flying lap. It will make for a lot of stress on drivers, crew chiefs, crews and car owners, but the entertainment for qualifying will definitely go up.

Question 2
No disguise with that double vision. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

No disguise with that double vision. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Let’s consider what we saw last Sunday at Las Vegas with our new aero and engine package. How encouraging is it to see the increase in green flag passes and closer margin of victory? And what are some ways NASCAR could further produce overall closer, exciting action during each race weekend?

Acero :  Well for starters, we didn’t see no one driver dominate the race like years before. Yeah green flag passing is cool and all but i want to see drivers duke it out coming out of turn 4 racing each other for the checkers!

Cassidy :  The last few Vegas races have been rough. It is not uncommon to see one driver dominate at this track, however, that was not the case this Spring. Seeing lead changes, green flag passes AND a close finish suggest that NASCAR is moving in the right direction with this new areo package.

Hobbs :  I am more excited about the closer finish than the green flag passes. Sure, all the passing is nice and definitely brings the excitement factor up – but I live for close finishes. However, I also know not to count my chickens before they hatch. This is the first race with the package, and other tracks may not produce the same results. That being said, I am cautiously optimistic that this will work out well for the sport – as long as the fellas at the top don’t tinker around too much with things.

Lucas : I liked what I saw, but I think we can continue to fine tune it. For starters, get rid of the splitters and bring back the front valance.

Shoppe :  For a race that had zero on-track accidents for the first time since late 2002, and it still produced a near side by side finish, I’d say that is a good sign for this new package. I still think there needs to be more time before we can say 100% if this is a overall success. But, in this early stage of it, I for one am happy. By no means is this the perfect conclusion for where the aero rules need to stay but it’s a start. Let’s be positive and hope we haven’t seen the best racing yet!

Tiongson :  Thankfully, we saw some sign of life, or some competition during the final stage last Sunday at Phoenix.  However, I think there’s some work to be done to make this into the all around, mostly exciting package that it’s been marketed as to fans and press. I almost think they need to add more horsepower to have it right under the current aero package.

That’s two laps around the always interesting ISM Raceway with a little help from Landon Cassill and company!  Before we consider winning, let’s review round three of the season from last Sunday at Las Vegas!
Hobbs and Lucas enjoyed winning at Las Vegas.

Hobbs and Lucas enjoyed winning at Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, an all too familiar name leads the standings!

Meanwhile, an all too familiar name leads the standings!

Naturally, trends are always an interesting facet when it comes to NASCAR.  Certainly, that applies to racing at ISM Raceway.  Presently, statistician and recent birthday girl Ashley Hobbs chimes in as she provides trends and numbers of importance for the duel at the desert!
Crunching Numbers – ISM Raceway: Ticket Guardian 500 Edition
How does your favorite team fare in Phoenix's spring race?

How does your favorite team fare in Phoenix’s spring race?

Since 2005, the average starting spot for the race winner is 9.9 while the average number of laps led by the winner is 108.

Since 2005, the average starting spot for the race winner is 9.9 while the average number of laps led by the winner is 108.

Surprising averages for our most recent three Cup champs at Phoenix.

Surprising averages for our most recent three Cup champs at Phoenix.

Phoenix stats dating back to 2004.

Phoenix stats dating back to 2004.

Past 10 races at Phoenix trends.

Past 10 races at Phoenix trends.

Trends of the past five races at Phoenix.

Trends of the past five races at Phoenix.

The TPF Stats machine thinks Phoenix goes back to JGR!

The TPF Stats machine thinks Phoenix goes back to JGR!

We’ve given you insights and trends!  Now, let’s reveal our picks for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 at Phoenix!
A quartet of Phoenix picks could prove interesting!

A quartet of Phoenix picks could prove interesting!

Acero :  Kyle Busch not being able to capitalize the sweep at his hometown has only gotten him fired up! KyBu for the win at Phoenix.

Conley : He’s not happy and that makes him dangerous; Kyle Busch gets closer to 200!

Copple :  Probably a safe bet to go with Kyle Busch here.

Shoppe : Kyle Busch will win a race that will actually count for him Sunday at Phoenix!

Sisoler : Like I said last week, that pick of the No. 18 driver was a surprise to everyone who knows me, but you know what? It worked so well, I think I’ve gotta double down and roll the dice (sorry, he’s from Vegas so I’ve gotta get the puns in) with him again. Kyle Busch grabs victory this weekend at ISM Raceway.

TPF Stats :  The man with the best average finish this year, but no wins (yet) – Kyle Busch to close the deal out in Phoenix.

Bowman :  Kevin Harvick is picking up momentum. I would look for him to do well at ISM.

Lambeth :  From now until the end of time (or his career), I will always pick Kevin Harvick to take the checkered flag at ISM Raceway.

Lucas :  Go to the desert and break a drought, especially for how much rain we’ve gotten out here in Phoenix in the last month. I expect Kevin Harvick to break his mini-drought and recapture his dominance of last season.

Shoopman :  I wouldn’t be surprised if we are seeing Kevin Harvick in Victory Lane at the end of the race.

Hobbs :  He may not be off to the best start in 2019, but as defending race winner and master of Phoenix, I see great things for Kevin Harvick this weekend.

Cassill :  Man, I would have a hard time betting against Kevin Harvick.  I think Kyle Busch has been really good there too. (Editor’s note – going with Landon’s first pick!)

Cassidy :  Kurt Busch!

Tiongson :  Joey Logano, you could say, is the Shell-Pennzoil fire pick for Sunday at Phoenix. #dadjoke

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Ticket Guardian 500!  We’d also like to thank Landon Cassill for contributing to this weekend’s preview as well!

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 2019.  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview 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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