Podium Preview: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky

Without a doubt, today's Quaker State 400 may get dicey! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Without a doubt, today’s Quaker State 400 may get dicey! (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

As the first half of the NASCAR Cup Series season comes to a close, the field prepares for today’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky.  Without a doubt, today’s race may throw more curveballs than your usual baseball game for drivers and teams.

Moreover, Round 17 of this year offers hope to the Cup Series field. No doubt, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick seem like dominant forces on the track.

All in all, Kentucky Speedway proves as a great equalizer for those seeking a Playoffs spot. Since 2011, the Quaker State 400 seems to favor the bold and not so much the timid.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsChrissi LuttrellCody ShoppeIsabelle Beecy, Kobe LambethMatteo Marcheschi, Michelle Raynor, Sean FolsomTerra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.

First, we consider Jimmie Johnson’s successor and ideal venues for the 2021 Cup schedule!

Podium Preview: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky
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Question 1
While Jimmie Johnson returns to the No. 48 car today, who'll replace him next year? (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

While Jimmie Johnson returns to the No. 48 car for today’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky, who’ll replace him next year? (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

FOX NASCAR’s Bob Pockrass tweeted his thoughts on potential successors to Jimmie Johnson in 2021. In your opinion, who will Rick Hendrick likely choose to drive the No. 48 car next year?

Sisoler :  My first thought was Ross Chastain, but CGR has long-term plans with him, although it would be his choice if Mr. H made the call to ask for Ross. If Chastain gets promoted to the 42, seeing as Matt Kenseth was willing to drive a Chevy, maybe Matt would be willing to swap that second numeral from a 2 to an 8 and Kurt Busch as a teammate for Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and William Byron. Mark Martin did it, why not Matt Kenseth?

Brad Keselowski could be a good intermediary, but somehow, after what happened earlier in his career I don’t think he’d go back to HMS, and the dark horse candidates would have to be Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, and Tyler Reddick for these reasons: Jones and Hamlin both long-term Toyota stalwarts, Reddick because he’s now ingrained over at RCR. 

Lambeth :  Based on the tweet from Bob Pockrass, it appears that Rick Hendrick may be interested in choosing a young driver to replace Jimmie Johnson next season and beyond. I am surprised that Brad Keselowski’s name was not mentioned here, since his name has been common in the rumor mill. However, if Hendrick decides to focus on youth over experience, I would be willing to bet on Tyler Reddick. He does not drive like a rookie at all. I think he is on the verge of becoming a superstar in the NASCAR Cup Series. The two-time Xfinity champion has enormous potential and becoming the new driver of the No. 48 car could take him to the next level.

Hobbs :  Well, that certainly is one journalist’s opinion on the matter. Though I am not a journalist, I imagine Rick Hendrick wanting some age on his team. I have always felt Hendrick had a (true) veteran on his team, no matter what. When Jimmie Johnson hands over the wheel at the end of the year, it makes Chase Elliott the veteran on the team, and a team full of youth. I see Hendrick eyeing a seasoned driver who is looking for another opportunity or a driver yet to extend his contract and fits the Hendrick mold. I will not name names because the last thing I want is stories flying around taking this as fact.

Jones :  I too think Rick Hendrick would go for “seasoned vet” versus “young gun” with so many youthful drivers in the Team Hendrick stable. Regarding the tweet, I hadn’t heard those names in the “silly season rumor mill.” Like Hobbs, I would hate to put a name out there and a reader runs with it as gospel. Nonetheless, it will be very exciting to see who will follow in Johnson’s footsteps. 

Tiongson :   The guessing game can be fun. In this case, just to play devil’s advocate, and of course, it’s a guess and perhaps wishful thinking, imagine Chase Briscoe in the 48. I also can’t rule out someone like Daniel Hemric or Tyler Reddick. While Briscoe is in Ford’s hands, a Chevy prospect like Hemric, a talented hot shoe like Reddick, and maybe the likes of Justin Allgaier gets consideration.

Raynor: I have been thinking about this for a while now. I feel like he is all about grooming young guys but looking at the drivers in Xfinity right now I am not sure if Noah is ready to move up. I also think he wants a new leader and that could be Denny or Brad. So I am going to have to think he will go with a more seasoned driver. 

Question 2
Surely, might we see a schedule shakeup for 2021? (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

Surely, might we see a schedule shakeup for 2021? (Photo Credit: Stephen Conley/TPF)

In terms of attracting new fans, if you got to decide on the 2021 schedule, does the NASCAR Cup Series need more road courses and short tracks?

Marcheschi : Absolutely. Aside from Daytona and Talladega, the road courses and short tracks provide the best racing and some real highlight-reel moments. The long, grinding 400 or 500-mile races at 1.5-mile tracks are just not the way of the future. If we’re going to have long races, they should be at tracks where the racing stays exciting, even in long runs.

That exciting racing tends to happen at road courses and especially short tracks. While every race can’t be a hit, most of the time our best races come from those types of track. I mean, look at Bristol last month and the Indy road course last week in the XFINITY Series! Those were a couple of fantastic races, and classic products of these types of tracks.

Shoppe :  Obviously, the schedule needs more road courses and short tracks! I think fans and competitors are both in agreement with this. I know it is a hard task to add new venues to the schedule and I would be happy to see some potential rovals as we saw at Indy at some other tracks like Homestead or Kansas (they at least used to have one) and Pocono might have one as well.

As far as short tracks, we all are still hoping for the Nashville Fairgrounds to become a reality. It is all really optimistic but it is crystal clear that these types of tracks are what the fans want!

Folsom : Most definitely, NASCAR needs to add more road courses and short tracks. It makes for more exciting and awesome side by side battles.

Beecy :  I would be definitely okay with more short tracks for sure. Some of the most exciting races for me are at Bristol and Martinsville, so more tracks like that would definitely be welcome in my book. As for road courses, I’d be okay with a couple more road courses. As Chrissi said, it would develop more interest from fans of IndyCar, F1, and/or IMSA. Plus, it would get the excitement of fans of ringers and other drivers who do really well on road courses up more than twice a year. 

Luttrell :   When it comes to providing excitement on the track, you can’t go wrong with road courses and short tracks. I definitely think adding a few more road courses will add more interest and curiosity about the sport, especially from potential fans who already enjoy series like F1 and IMSA. As far as short tracks, it’s clear that many fans are already calling for more on the schedule. The chaos that we see during these races could easily sway new fans to stick around for more action. It would benefit NASCAR greatly, in my opinion, to bring on more of both track styles to the schedule in the future.

Indeed, we circled around Kentucky Speedway with two solid laps. Next, let’s review last Sunday’s action from the Brickyard 400!
Again, anyone who's anyone chose Kevin Harvick.

Again, anyone who’s anyone chose Kevin Harvick.

Then again, the machine isn't just anyone.

Then again, the machine isn’t just anyone.

Now, Ashley Hobbs chases numbers down like cats chasing down birds.
First, consider how each team fares at Kentucky.

First, consider how each team fares at Kentucky.

In fact, Toyota loves the Bluegrass State.

In fact, Toyota loves the Bluegrass State.

Since 2011, the race winner has an average starting spot of 4.9, led an average of 115 laps, started within the top-five 66.67 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 88.89 percent of the time.

Since 2011, the race winner has an average starting spot of 4.9, led an average of 115 laps, started within the top-five 66.67 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 88.89 percent of the time.

No surprise, Kyle Busch excels at Kentucky.

No surprise, Kyle Busch excels at Kentucky.

First, here's the trends for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky since 2011.

First, here’s the trends for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky since 2011.

Next, here's the trends at Kentucky since 2015.

Next, here’s the trends at Kentucky since 2015.

Certainly, our machine is a Kevin Harvick fanatic.

Certainly, our machine is a Kevin Harvick fanatic.

Above all, the panelists reveal their picks for today’s Quaker State 400!
All Yodas and Blue Ovals for today's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky.

All Yodas and Blue Ovals for today’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky.

Hobbs :  So much tells me not to, but my heart believes Kentucky will light the spark of the old Kyle Busch.

Luttrell :  I believe that this is the weekend Kyle finally gets to victory lane. Knowing Kyle, he’s got to be disappointed with his performance so far this season, which usually leads to him landing a win when he drives with the emotion he is feeling.

With anger and frustration as his motivation, I think we will see him drive a hard, and passionate race doing whatever it takes to get him that infamous first win this season.

Tiongson :  He‘s always dangerous at Kentucky Speedway. I look for Kyle Busch to win the Quaker State 400!

Marcheschi :  Kevin Harvick has been ridiculous this year. With four wins and only three finishes outside the top ten this season, it’s hard to deny Happy. Harvick has yet to win in the Bluegrass State but has six top-ten finishes there in nine races. He’ll find his way to victory lane to take his fifth win of the season on Sunday!

TPF Stats :  If he wasn’t so dang strong this year, I would not keep seeing him as the top contender each week. To no one’s surprise, Kevin Harvick grabs another victory this year.

Lambeth :  When the checkered flag flies at Kentucky, Joey Logano will pull into Victory Lane for the third time this season.

Sisoler :  People forget who led the field to green last time Cup was at Kentucky, and it was not one of the Busch brothers. Logano runs well at Kentucky and I think he’ll get redemption for the last race at Kentucky.

Beecy :  Brad Keselowski has done well at this track and is starting sixth, so I expect him to do well again this week.

Folsom :  With the luck that Denny Hamlin had last race at the Brickyard, he will be looking for the win this weekend to make up for his last race’s loss.

Jones :  While he’s had a roller coaster 2020, Erik Jones has three Cups series starts at Kentucky. Of those three, he brought home a top 10 each time. I think That Jones Boy comes out on top this weekend.

Shoppe :  Ryan Blaney actually has the best average finish of anyone this year on 1 1/2 mile tracks but will win one for the first time here in Kentucky!

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

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this Sunday’s race? 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!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  Please stay safe and wear a mask if you must go out!

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. Ultimately, they 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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