Podium Preview: Quaker State 400

Certainly, Kurt Busch seeks vindication during tonight’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season halfway in the books, the attention turns to tonight’s Quaker State 400!  As Kentucky Speedway hosts its ninth premier series event, competitors look to secure their spot in the NASCAR Playoffs in two months.

However, Kentucky Speedway provides a tremendous challenge in terms of grip and grit.  By that, drivers must use their guile and aggression while relying on appropriate patience around this 1.5-mile venue.  Furthermore, crew chiefs will battle handling issues much like Luke Skywalker trying to master “The Force.”

With that in mind, our columnists, Adam Lucas, Amanda ShoopmanAshley Hobbs, Christina Bowman, Kathleen CassidyJose Acero JrKobe LambethMatt Sisoler, Stephen Conley, and yours truly evaluate Justin Haley’s first Cup win and the addition of the PJ1 track substance for Kentucky Speedway!

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Question 1
Regardless of opinions, Justin Haley won last Sunday's Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Regardless of opinions, Justin Haley won last Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona produced a new winner in Justin Haley and Spire Motorsports.  However, the win has sparked some controversy. Namely, Spire Motorsports is owned by a marketing agency that represents various NASCAR racers.
Rules aside, was this a conflict of interest in terms of the team’s ownership structure?  Or was this a situation where NASCAR’s business model needs more focus and clarity on who can own a team?

Hobbs :  Wow – this is a tough one.

On one side, we want to see anyone get involved in NASCAR. It is a sport that has a large reach and can get a lot of exposure for companies.

And since this is a huge sport with a lot of different sponsors for multiple reasons, it is a lot to balance. A conflict of interest is defined as “a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity”. In this case, while Spire represents other drivers AND owns a team. Nike sponsors different athletes but don’t put all their money into one basket.

I have mixed feelings on this because I am proud of what this team is doing, but they are representing themselves AND other drivers at the same time. NASCAR can’t afford to not allow teams to be built or sponsors to come aboard, but they must look at things a little bit closer.

Tiongson :  It’s difficult because as Hobbs mentioned, we want to see folks participate and be a part of NASCAR.  Perhaps Spire Motorsports is investing into their team and therefore, they care about succeeding. However, it’s no secret how the business model of NASCAR isn’t totally intact.  All things considered, Spire Motorsports won with driver Justin Haley at Daytona. However, a conflict of interest exists because of the influence and power that this agency carries in motorsports.

Presently, there’s no regulation on who can own a team.  Also, there’s no rule on the effort that a team must put forth on the track.  That said, one of the improbable scenarios transpired in NASCAR.  Certainly, a team’s intention and effort towards absolute competitiveness on a weekly basis should be considered.

Bowman :  I believe people are looking into this a little more than necessary. If it was a conflict of interest, they should have never been allowed to establish a team in the first place. So, the first place my brain goes to is “why is it such a big deal now that they ended up in Victory Lane?” NASCAR and teams have been fighting for diverse sponsorship opportunities for years, not to mention the fact that people have been screaming for more competitive teams across the board.

So, when a little team makes a big move, of course it’s going to make for a big story; but I think that the NASCAR community as a whole is focusing on the wrong story. A young man, just got his first career win. A team just got their first win at the biggest stage in racing… and all anyone is talking about is whether or not the name on the car is a conflict of interest? 

Sisoler :  I am a bit torn, but only a bit. I think if a group can get a team together, as long as it’s not like a massively huge conflict of interest (which I do NOT believe Spire Motorsports is), I say let that team be.

Any team that finds itself with a shot to nab a win is going to take it, so I find the outrage being directed at Justin Haley extremely unfair, for this one reason.

If Haley, like Kurt Busch, Landon Cassill and JJ Yeley, pits with one to go, William Byron would have been the leader and won when the race was called. Would there be this big of an outcry from fans and pundits alike for Byron’s win? That I can answer emphatically. No. There wouldn’t have been.

NASCAR was built on the idea that even the unlikeliest driver/team can win if they play their cards right. Haley and Spire were in a position to take a chance and go for the win, they made a strategy call on Sunday, and that call proved the difference between a win and a top-15 finish.

Cassidy :  I think it was a tough situation. In reality, the race was called very early in the day at a track that could race well into the night. That being said, it is also unrealistic to keep everyone around all day. Aside from this, I believe that people are always upset when a ‘standard’ driver does not win. People do not know how to react to a first time winner, especially when they are from a lower funded team. End point – people read into things too much! 

Acero :  NASCAR was in a spot to “gain” or “lose” fans. How? I mean Daytona does have lights and they could have waited such weather out well into the dark. In this case, I don’t want to say they lost but fans weren’t too happy with the call that gave Haley his first Cup win.

By what was read on social media, people wanted KuBu to win at CGR. McCall made the wrong call, called driver in and to their bad luck, he was thunderstruck (not really) but it went down hill for him fast. And as far as a conflict of interest in team who won – no. They show up week in week out to race and it finally paid off! 

Question 2
Above all, can the PJ1 track substance enhance tonight's action at Kentucky? (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Above all, can the PJ1 track substance enhance tonight’s action at Kentucky? (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Kentucky Speedway will utilize the PJ1 track substance in efforts to promote more side-by-side racing this weekend.  Based on past races that have used this, what can we expect given the overall solid races at intermediate tracks?

Conley :  I’ve never been a big fan of the PJ1/traction compound. But, with that said, we’ve seen some good races or improved races with this at various tracks. This is the first time they’ve used it at Kentucky. And, with the still semi-new track surface that’s aging, this could be good. But, I’ll be hesistantly optimistic in the hopes it’s applied in a way that benefits the surface at Kentucky and activates quickly. We hope it’s not super slick to start and throw teams off when it’s night.

Lucas :  We’ll see more of the same I believe. As much as I want to be positive about it, I really can’t predict the outcome of what we’ll see. Every time I say “oh I expect the high line to really get cranking,” it never does. So my guesstimate is a big old giant “I don’t know.” 

Lambeth :  We have witnessed a pattern of solid action at the 1.5-mile tracks this season. This package is best suited for these specific tracks. With the addition of PJ1, I expect exciting restarts and close action. 

Shoopman :  Like Lucas said, I believe we will see more of the same. There has not been much predictability in the past races, so it’s hard to determine what we will see with this upcoming race. 

Two laps around Kentucky and not even a KFC reference quite yet!  Before going for some crispy poultry, let’s look at our race and points reports from Round 18 of the season!
Cassidy prevailed during last Sunday's rain shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Cassidy prevailed during last Sunday’s rain shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400.

In the meantime, the points race tightens up before tonight's Quaker State 400.

In the meantime, the points race tightens up before tonight’s Quaker State 400.

Without further ado, here’s Ashley Hobbs, “Crunching the Numbers” for us, Quaker State 400 style!
Here's how the current Cup teams fare at Kentucky.

Here’s how the current Cup teams fare at Kentucky.

Interestingly, the average starting spot for a Quaker State 400 winner is fifth while leading an average of 124.3 laps at Kentucky.

Interestingly, the average starting spot for a Quaker State 400 winner is fifth while leading an average of 124.3 laps at Kentucky.

Surely, Truex rules at Kentucky.

Surely, Truex rules at Kentucky.

Notably, here's the trends at Kentucky since 2011.

Notably, here’s the trends at Kentucky since 2011.

Most importantly, here's your trends at Kentucky since 2014.

Most importantly, here’s your trends at Kentucky since 2014.

Our machine predicts another win for Martin Truex Jr in tonight's Quaker State 400.

Our machine predicts another win for Martin Truex Jr in tonight’s Quaker State 400.

With the race just about to kickoff, here’s our picks for tonight’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky!
Could one of these seven prevail in tonight's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky?

Could one of these seven prevail in tonight’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky?

Tiongson :  Alex Bowman seems to excel at intermediate tracks especially with this year’s package.  After the great run at Kansas and win at Chicagoland, I look for Driver 88 to win on Saturday night at Kentucky.

Acero :  Kevin Harvick finally gets that elusive win in 2019! 

Sisoler :  I was kidding with the Chastain upset last week and we got an upset with Justin Haley, so Haley makes it two in a…kidding. 

I’ve not picked him all year, but he will roll off fifth in that No. 4 Ford Mustang. Kevin Harvick, The Closer, will go to Victory Lane on Saturday night at Kentucky!

Lucas :  Brad Keselowski loves Kentucky and Kentucky loves him. Expect to see the Deuce in victory lane this weekend!

Bowman :  BK at Kentucky!

Cassidy :  Ryan Blaney.

Shoopman :  If Ryan Blaney wins, I will literally throw a celebration party. It’s been too long. 

Hobbs :  It’ll be hard to pick a driver not from Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske this weekend as their drivers have won all 8 of the races at Kentucky Speedway. Kyle Busch looks to put the past two weeks behind him and get back to his winning ways this weekend at Kentucky Speedway – as long as he has a solid qualifying effort.

TPF Stats :  It’s hard to ignore the fact that Kyle Busch has finished in the top 15 every race and only outside the top 10 once at Kentucky Speedway.

Lambeth :  Martin Truex Jr. will earn his third-consecutive Cup victory at Kentucky Speedway. 

Conley :  He should have won last weekend. It’s redemption for Kurt Busch at Kentucky.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Saturday night’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

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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