Podium Preview: First Data 500

By all means, Corey LaJoie and his Mystery Machine are ready for today's First Data 500. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

By all means, Corey LaJoie and his Mystery Machine are ready for today’s First Data 500. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff/TPF)

As the late Vicki Sue Robinson once sang, we’re “movin’ to the nitty gritty’ with today’s First Data 500 at Martinsville.  Of course, the NASCAR Playoffs draws to its final chapters with the first race of the Round of 8.  Ultimately, today’s competitors vie for a prize that they don’t have to fight for in Television City, Calif.

Instead, the field of 38 will fight for a prized grandfather clock at the famed paperclip speedway in Virginia. As a track that tests patience and aggression, drivers must race with mindfulness as they’ll hit their brakes hard twice each lap in this 500-lap affair.

In addition, there’s nothing like a mid-autumn Sunday stroll at Martinsville from afternoon sunlight to evening dusk. When all is said and done, competitors won’t fancy over the foliage. Rather, there’ll be at least one happy driver and team accompanied by 37 angry asphalt warriors.

Today, our panelists, Ashley Hobbs, Cody Shoppe, Jose Acero Jr, Kobe Lambeth, Matt Sisoler, and yours truly prepare for this exciting race with the stories leading up to Round 33, elimination picks, statistics, and race picks!

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Question 1
While restarts are fun, should NASCAR reconsider what constitutes a caution for races? (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

While restarts are fun, should NASCAR reconsider what constitutes a caution for races? (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

In recent NASCAR races, there’s been concerns about the timing of cautions and how it impacts the Playoff field.  Should NASCAR work on its consistency with calls in terms of what constitutes a caution period?

Shoppe :  I know people are arguing that debris on the apron shouldn’t bring out a caution like with Ryan Blaney’s tire late in the Kansas race. I personally am in favor of Nascar erring on the side of caution with debris. As a fan, I like to see a late race restart whenever possible, much like the guys in the booth said. At the short track of Martinsville today, I doubt we will see any questionable yellows. This race will likely have enough late cautions anyway.

Question 2
Above all, what will Jimmie Johnson do after 2020? (Photo Credit: Michael Guariglia/TPF)

Above all, what will Jimmie Johnson do after 2020? (Photo Credit: Michael Guariglia/TPF)

Jimmie Johnson mentioned how he’ll make a decision on his long-term future in NASCAR within the next four to six months.  While Johnson and his No. 48 team have made progress, is it unrealistic to consider that Johnson may venture into other motorsports disciplines like IndyCar?

Tiongson :  Jimmie Johnson and his team are making great strides in the latter part of 2019. Sure, the sport still comes down to results and their finishes aren’t glamorous, but there’s good character building moments that’ll define this new No. 48 team.

However, it’s not unrealistic to imagine that Johnson will move into forms of motorsports once he finishes the final chapter to his NASCAR book.  Then again, Johnson is a bit like Tom Brady and perhaps the El Cajon, Calif native is in a similar situation to the latter between 2005-’13. If Johnson and his team find success in the next four to six months, perhaps he continues on for as long as Ally sponsors the 48.  That is something to follow next weekend! #staytuned

Hobbs :  I think if Jimmie Johnson were to step away from the sport in the next year or two, it would certainly be crushing to the sport. He is a Hall of Famer and an ambassador to the sport. Sure, the past two years have not gone nearly as well as the rest of his career, but he is a staple for NASCAR on and off the track.

Would we see him venture off to other motorsports? I do not think so. I see Johnson going a different athletic direction; marathons, iron man competitions, and cycling races. He has clearly shown a passion for endurance racing via the body these past few years, and I think that is something he would focus on whenever he steps away from the race car.

Sisoler : If Jimmie Johnson retires, it will be a sad day in NASCAR, and quite possibly a blow to the sport. He was one of my heroes growing up alongside his mentor Jeff Gordon, and is really one of the last of the old-guard.

I hope he stays, but only if he can find that groove and win some races again. He doesn’t have to win his eighth title, just go out showing everyone vintage JJ. The driver who won five straight Cup titles and could just go out and dominate.

Switching topics slightly, Jimmie has pondered doing IndyCar for a while, and I think, on certain tracks, if he’s got a good enough car to run near the front, he will be a contender to win. Do I see him trying full time IndyCar? Not really. But on select tracks, he could be a real contender, so I think he would give it a go, at least in the Indy 500.

Acero :  NASCAR losing Jimmie Johnson is like Mario and Luigi losing Yoshi. I mean, the impact the off road truck driving kid from California has had in the stock car world is second to none. The guy hasn’t won in over a year. However, competitors are afraid that when he wins (only a matter of time) that he will go in high gear! Will we miss JJ? Of course. But, can you imagine if he makes the move to IndyCar? Let’s just hope he stays in NASCAR and get that coveted eighth title! 

Lambeth : Absolutely not. I still believe that Jimmie Johnson has the fire and talent to compete at the highest levels. However, I would be shocked if he is still competing in the Cup Series, five years from now. In the past, Jimmie Johnson has competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but has not earned a Rolex watch yet. Johnson is a longtime GM driver and they have a Cadillac DPi program, so we will have to wait and see if he attempts another Rolex 24. Previously, Johnson expressed his desire of competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday as well. 

Although it may seem like a long shot, I could see him potentially doing a one-off IndyCar road course race. Last year, Johnson tested a McLaren Formula 1 car, in a seat swap with Fernando Alonso. With Zak Brown and McLaren being involved with the new Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar project, it would be interesting to see if Johnson might find an opportunity here, in the future.

Certainly, one can celebrate racing around Martinsville for two laps without a scratch! Before we proceed, we must review Round 32 at Kansas with our race and points reports!
Part-timer Tanner Brown scored a strong finish.

Part-timer Tanner Brown scored a strong finish.

However, yours truly leads the grid heading into today's First Data 500.

However, yours truly leads the grid heading into today’s First Data 500.

Our next segment is one that racers dread more than test sessions.  Here’s our predictions for those who’ll be eliminated after the Round of 8.
By all means, we've got graphics for you.

By all means, we’ve got graphics for you.

AceroRyan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott

Hobbs :   Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney

LambethJoey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney

ShoppeRyan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin

Sisoler Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott

TiongsonChase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Kevin Harvick

TPF StatsChase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney

Of course, the preview is incomplete without Ashley Hobbs’ recurring segment.  So, here’s her contribution with Crunching the Numbers: First Data 500!
Gibbs and Penske love the First Data 500.

Gibbs and Penske love the First Data 500.

Since 2004, the First Data 500 race winner has an average starting spot of ninth, led an average of 145.3 laps, started inside the top-five about 46.67% of the time, and started inside the top-10 about 60% of the time.

Since 2004, the First Data 500 race winner has an average starting spot of ninth, led an average of 145.3 laps, started inside the top-five about 46.67% of the time, and started inside the top-10 about 60% of the time.

Might Jimmie Johnson build on his recent success at Martinsville?
Now, here's the First Data 500 race trends since 2009.

Now, here’s the First Data 500 race trends since 2009.

Next, here's the First Data 500 race trends since 2014.

Next, here’s the First Data 500 race trends since 2014.

Our infernal machine is thinking Denny Hamlin wins at Martinsville.

Our infernal machine is thinking Denny Hamlin wins at Martinsville.

Alright, people – the moment of truth is here!  It’s now or never with our picks for today’s First Data 500 at Martinsville!
One of these four is not like the other at Martinsville.

One of these four is not like the other at Martinsville.

Hobbs :  I mean, how can you not choose Mr. Martinsville, Denny Hamlin?! He’s got the best stats at Martinsville, and is starting 1st for the First Data 500. Denny will deliver.

TPF Stats :  Take out his 33rd place finish back in 2012 and Denny Hamlin has finished every First Data 500 race in the top 10. It’s hard to top that.

Acero :  Hamlin! Short track is his specialty! 

Shoppe :  Joey Logano just like last year, will win his way to the championship 4!  

Sisoler : He may have barely snuck into this round, but he got it done at The Paperclip last year and he’s gonna do it again. Ol’ Sliced Bread, Joey Logano, is gonna punch his ticket to Homestead for the second straight season. 

Tiongson :  While he didn’t do much in the Playoffs, Clint Bowyer brings another grandfather clock home on Sunday.

Lambeth :  Martin Truex Jr will get redemption from last year by winning and claim his spot in the Championship 4.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the First Data 500 at Martinsville!

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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