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Track Talk: A Preview of the AAA 400 at Dover

Ah, the stress level is likely high for 14 of our Chase Grid teams coming into today’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.  While Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth can rest easy before next weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the start of the Contender Round of 12, the rest of the field has to be thinking, “How can we achieve the perfect race to advance into the next three challenges of the NASCAR championship?”

Dover has been called Bristol on steroids, white lightning, and some curse words for those with ill handling cars.  No matter how it’s perceived, everyone can agree that this is one challenging race track where 400 miles/laps around this concrete beast is a true test for the best of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

Rain has dominated the scene at “The Monster Mile” as qualifying was cancelled on Friday.  As a result, the field was lined up by points.  For racers like Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, as well as Ryan Newman and pretty much anyone in the top-10, it’s all looking good.  However, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are looking at the possibility of being eliminated from the championship race if they cannot make their way into the top-12 in points by day’s end.

We’ve seen the field have its ups and downs thus far after two races into the Challenger Round of 16.  Chicagoland and Loudon displayed the controversies of restarts while two of the sport’s strongest title contenders encountered some problems in the past two weeks.  Today, it could either be a respite from the craziness by the end of the day or one where not even Madam Secretary on CBS can evoke any tears after 400 miles at the First State’s NASCAR venue.

Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, and Katie Copple talk about the four storylines heading into Dover in this weekend’s edition of Track Talk’s “Trending Topics!”  In a week that’s seen one of the sport’s future hall of famers announce their retirement and another racer whose career has likely found a Phoenix like rebirth, there’s lots to talk about!  So let’s get to it and talk racing now on The Podium Finish!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
Tony Stewart recently announced that 2016 will be his final season as a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  What’s your take on this and what will you remember most with “Smoke?”

Copple :  Smoke is a champion, in more ways than one. From open wheels to dirt, plate races and short tracks, Stewart has made an impact on the racing community and will continue to to do so long after he’s gone. His time is NASCAR has given us many entertaining moments, victories, shocking stories and so much more. He will be missed on track for sure. BUT, he won’t be gone from the garage! We still have team owner Stewart with us for years to come.

Shoppe :  Tony Stewart is without question a legend of our sport and a lock for a place in the hall of fame. His legacy to me is that he is the last truly versatile talent in racing today. His open-wheel and stock car success makes him comparable to that of Foyt and Andretti.

A legend like “Smoke” doesn’t want to end up like others before him who ran around in the back for the last few years of their career or only made the field on a champion’s provisional. Tony can still get the job done so I think this is a perfect time for him to have a farewell tour similar to Jeff Gordon’s this year. Glad he decided to do that for the fans that have been so loyal to him through the turbulent times.

Hull :  I am actually a little saddened by this. Like Jeff Gordon, I have followed Tony Stewart since he started his Cup career. While he has his moments where he is brash, he is such a great guy. I will miss seeing him out there. But he has to do whatever makes him happy. I just want to see him happy.

My favorite memory is when he battled Carl Edwards for the championship in 2011. Even though I was bummed that he beat my driver, it was amazing to see him come back from having a rough year, to winning the championship. That shows how much of a remarkable driver he is. I am glad that he will still be around and be involved in the sport, and not vanish completely.

Hobbs :  Jeff Gordon in 2015 and Tony Stewart in 2016; it is the end of an era 100%! Seeing the season next year without one of the best drivers in the sport in a seat will be quite different, and I am not ready for that as I have been a Gordon fan since the beginning. Tony Stewart has brought a different attitude to the track, but sadly the past few years have really hit Stewart hard and he has not been able to recover.

I think Stewart will find solitude in being an owner of his team and doing what he loves at other tracks and helping out there. It is nice to know that both Gordon and Stewart will still be around because the sport needs them around.

Question 2
The Chevy party is back starting in 2016.
Clint Bowyer will be driving the No. 14 Chevy starting in 2017 which means he’ll have a temporary new home for next year, which is likely to be the No. 51 Chevy fielded by HScott Motorsports. Bowyer, who described the turn of events as falling off cow manure and coming out smelling like roses, suddenly finds his career in a bit of a renaissance.  Is the best coming soon for the Emporia, KS native?

Copple :  Oh, Clint. His euphemisms and little quirky sayings will never get old! Now, onto the topic at hand, I think Stewart-Haas Racing will be a great fit for Bowyer! Adding him into the mix with Danica, Kurt and Kevin will lead to a very entertaining season in 2017. And I don’t think we have seen the best from Bowyer yet.

Shoppe :  Clint Bowyer sure has a great opportunity ahead of him! When you look at what Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have been able to do right off the bat at SHR, you can say that a Stewart-Haas ride is one of the most coveted in Sprint Cup at the moment. I’m interested to see how he can help improve the HScott program.

This is a small team with all the potential to work their way to the top much like Furniture Row has this year. With a star like Bowyer with them for a year, they have a real opportunity to make gains as well.

Hull :  We have seen how much changing teams have revived some of the veteran drivers’ careers in recent years. For example, when Matt Kenseth went to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, he had a great year and came just a little short of winning the championship. Then last year, Kevin Harvick went to Stewart-Haas and won the championship. And finally, this year, we see Carl Edwards coming to JGR, and despite the rough start, he is doing well this year.

Hopefully, this will give Clint Bowyer the career revitalization that he needs. He will be going to a good team, and hopefully that will pay off for him.  Besides, he needs to get away from the 2013 controversy to move on and do better. So I think that a change will do him good!

Hobbs :  It did become official that Bowyer would take over the ride that Justin Allgaier currently occupies. A new driver coming in for a new team, when that driver will be leaving after just a year never seems to go over well. HScott Motorsports is a team that needs a veteran in the seat for a period of time so they can better diagnose the major issues with the car and team if they want to be competitive on the track.

For Bowyer, I feel like his best days are now behind him. He has bounced around from ride to ride over the past years and has not found a true home. But he is still having fun on the track and making the fans laugh, and that seems to help him cope with the fact (slightly) that he is not as competitive. Maybe 2017 will be a different tune for ole Bowyer.

Question 3
I did not jump that restart at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. I never told Kevin Harvick I'd jump it at anytime, not a single time.
Brad Keselowski was clearly upset with NASCAR’s ruling on the final restart at Loudon, NH last weekend in which they declared that he jumped it, thus costing him a shot at the race win.  Describing the sport as one that’s “entertainment,” do you think that he’s accurate on this and that some elements of the sport needs to have tighter and clearer officiating?

Copple :  Are we really talking about Restarts again? Like I’ve said before, restarts will be a never-ending battle. I do agree with Keslowski is some aspect in that I do think there are parts of this sport that are used more for entertainment value, but I don’t think that anything on track can be fit into that category. The off-track fights, bantering, and excitement are exploited more than necessary.

Shoppe :  I have to say that the current restart debate is a real mess at the moment for NASCAR. These rules and rulings are somehow getting more and more complicated as we go. I believe NASCAR is trying their best with these changes to make this as fair as can be. With that said, fans and drivers alike want to see consistency.

You can make the fairest system possible but you need consistency to go along with it.  Jeff Gordon is not penalized in Chicago but Keselowski is penalized in Loudon?  That’s a hard one to understand and explain.  It’s even harder to understand is a guy being penalized for jumping a restart but didn’t even take the lead.  It’s a work in progress for sure.

Hull :  I think that the restart rule is a big vague, and it needs to be defined better, even though it was clear to me that he did jump the restart. It also needs to be enforced better too. NASCAR, in my opinion, just needs to get it together when it comes to these rules, and be consistent when enforcing them. The lack of consistency is what frustrates these guys,not getting caught. So I think that the officiating and rulings need to be more clear AND consistent.

Hobbs :  Oh what a crying bunch of babies we seem to have when it comes to being the leader. One week everyone is asking for less restrictions; a few weeks later they are all up in arms that the leader has too much control and NASCAR has none. What does NASCAR do? They decide to take back more control and monitor the starts closer. What happens? A driver gets caught jumping the restart and gets punished for it. Now that driver, who was in fan of more policing, is complaining.

If you want to be watched, you need to accept the responsibility of your actions when you are caught. From all of this, NASCAR has now doubled the restart zone. Excuse me? Why does the restart zone need to be bigger? These guys are professionals and have been doing this for years! I am just waiting to see what they complain about next.

Question 4
Stressed? Who says I'm feeling stressed?!?
Heading into Dover, DE, our bottom four consists of Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer.  Would you say this surprises you some and might we see some of the top favorites eliminated very early on in the Chase?

Copple :  I will say that I am surprised that Busch and Harvick are included in the bottom four at the moment. But…there are still 400 laps in today’s race to go before the cutoff.

Shoppe :  While Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard were in most people’s bottom four to be eliminated, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were in many people’s final four for Homestead. It is a huge shock to see strong teams like the Nos. 4 and 18 teams in this position so early on but that is just the product of the new format. You can have the best cars for the chase but you also need some good luck.

Hull :  I would have to say that I never expected Kevin Harvick to be in a must-win situation coming into Dover. When the Chase started, I thought he would be one of the front runners for the championship. But it’s still not over for him yet. Dover is one of his strongest tracks, and he could very well get that win that he needs to advance into the next round.

Kyle Busch, with the year that he has had so far also surprises me. But Kyle is also very good at Dover, and even if he can’t win the race, he could do well enough to advance. It goes to show that this Chase format carries a lot of stress for these drivers, and even one costly mistake can ruin a driver’s chance to win that championship. We will see after Dover how these guys fare. If Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch do not advance, it will be very shocking.

Hobbs :  Half of those drivers absolutely surprise me, and if they do not surprise you, then you need a brain scan. Kevin Harvick has been the car to beat every single week this season. He has been the most consistent, has a few wins to his name, and is always running up front. This is just one reason I dislike the Chase; he had 2 bad races (a wreck and a fuel calculation issue) and he comes into the next race where he basically will have to win the race to keep his title hopes alive.

As a NASCAR fan, I sure as heck hope that Kevin Harvick makes it through to the next round. The other driver that surprises me is Kyle Busch. Once he get back to the car he has done nothing but be impressive. On the same note, the 18 crew as a whole seems to choke slightly when it comes to Chase time. However, he is not nearly as in bad of shape as Harvick is entering this weekend.

Alright, team!  Looking good on our roundtable discussion for this weekend.  Before we get to our race picks, let’s look at the TPF Track Talk points standings after Round 28 of the 2016 season!
1) Ashley Hull – 2098 points (5 wins)
2) Rob Tiongson – 2093 points (4 wins)
3) Ashley Hobbs – 2078 points (2 wins)
4) Katie Copple – 2064 points
5) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
6) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
7) Jessica Bushee – 2000 points
8) Cody Shoppe – 2000 points
Alright, y’all!  You know what time it is.  Let’s reveal our race picks for today’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway!

Hey, we almost got the colors of a traffic light.Shoppe :  Joey Logano is my pick. His recent success on concrete tracks along with his consistency gives me a feeling that he will win whenever this race ends up happening!

Tiongson :  Thinking the Hendrick party returns to Victory Lane with Jimmie Johnson
sweeping the races at Dover!

Hull :  My pick for Dover is Jimmie Johnson.

Copple :  Jimmie Johnson…because it’s Dover!

Hobbs :  The Monster always is a place where certain drivers just dominate, and two of those are in the Chase. One of those drivers is in the top 12 while the other is just on the outside. I am going to pick Kyle Busch to show Miles the Monster who is boss and win on Sunday…or Monday…or whenever we race.

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on today’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway!  How about you?  What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into today’s race and who is your favorite to win?
Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Thanks as always to the TPF team.  The opinions and thoughts expressed in Track Talk are solely of the authors and do not reflect on any organizations that we are affiliated with outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.  Now it’s time to celebrate my birthday with today’s race!

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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