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NASCAR Cup Series

Track Talk: A Preview of the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover

The First State’s sole NASCAR Sprint Cup track is often called “Bristol on steroids” or “The Monster Mile,” the latter being a name more favorable to Dover International Speedway versus the former that makes one think of baseball. Dover is one tough beast for the best in stock car racing with 24 degree corners and nine degree straights that’ll make the drivers feel as if they’re riding the Superman roller coaster at Six Flags New England.

For 400 laps and miles, it’ll be an exercise between patience and aggression.  While this track is one where the races must race with the given conditions, they’ll contend with different racing lines where passing will be frequently occurring as much as Cheers’ Sam Malone trying to win Diane Chambers or Rebecca Howe throughout that show’s 11 season run.  Yes, friends, the package and race track will lend itself to a great afternoon of racing.

Jimmie Johnson is usually the top favorite at Dover with 10 wins.  With three wins in the past five races at this venue, it’s like Jeff Gordon at Martinsville or Team Penske’s dominance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indianapolis 500 for as long as this writer’s been around.  Then again, Johnson has some formidable challengers like Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Martin Truex to contend with at the front of the field as well as a deep starting spot of 21st for today’s race.

Dover’s just as quick to collect race cars at her disposal as she is with great racing action in the spring and fall events. Look no further than Friday afternoon’s practice session when grease around turn four as a result from Danica Patrick’s rear gear failing led to a three car accident that wiped out the primary cars of Patrick, Tony Stewart, and Jamie McMurray.  McMurray has been dealing with sore elbow and ribs so to say the least, today’s race will be quite the physical challenge.

Speaking of challenge, let’s get to it and start up our Track Talk preview with our Trending Topics with the TPF Track Talk team of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullCody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie CoppleSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley!

Trending Topics

Question 1
Martin Truex Jr has been off to a strong start in 2016. Deja vu?

Martin Truex Jr has been off to a strong start in 2016. Deja vu?

Martin Truex Jr has been oh-so-close with winning multiple races in 2016 but it seems like a circumstance befalls them in the late going.  That said, is the No. 78 team much stronger than they were at this time last year as they gain more on-track time with the Toyota Racing brigade?

Fesko :  They are because they’re continuing the momentum from last season. Partnering with JGR and Toyota has proven to be a great choice for Truex and company, and it’s only a matter of time before the wins come. If you’ll recall, the team went through the same issue around this point last season where they led a ton of laps but couldn’t come away with the victory. Then came Pocono. The same thing will happen this year, but with the strength of the program I don’t see it being just a single victory. More will follow.

Hull :  I think that they somewhat stronger than they were last year, and having the Toyota/Gibbs alliance has helped a lot! JGR has been on fire here lately! If it wasn’t for his tire going down, we would have seen Truex winning it last week, because he for sure had the dominant car. I think that going into these next three races (where he has had a lot of success) , he will probably finally have his first win! That said, he has to overcome the tire problems, and hopefully not have another fuel mileage fiasco like he did during the Coca Cola 600 last year. . Other than that, he will win one here soon! He has all of the tools!

Copple :  The No. 78 team is definitely stronger than they were this time last season but they do have a problem. They, as a team, can put together a fantastic race car, a strong race car. They run well on the track and can hold their own… up until the end. Truex needs to learn how to close the deal and finish the race as strong as he starts. Maybe he can take a page out of Harvick’s book and become “The Closer 2.0.”

Cassidy :  I think that the 78 team will be successful it is only a matter of time. Similar to the 88 team, both teams need to find the speed and follow up by having smooth race performances. I see the 78 winning a race and locking themselves into the Chase.

Shoppe :  You can’t help but feel for Martin Truex Jr and the No. 78 team for the countless near misses this season. I’d say that that team is much stronger then they were at this time last season. Last year, Truex Jr and team were just consistently a top 10 team. Now they are a threat to do dominate any given weekend. Once they get some racing luck on their side, the Furniture Row No. 78 will win quite a few races.

Conley :  There is no question they are stronger. Unloading at the top of the speed charts, poles, not just leading but dominating…once they get the bad luck out of the way and visit Victory Lane, watch out. This team will be hard to stop.

Question 2
Will the All Star Race find its groove again?

Will the All Star Race find its groove again?

The All-Star Race has undergone yet another change which goes to a three segment format with the first two rounds going for 50 laps while the final segment is just for 13 laps.  In between the segments, there’ll be a 3-5 minute break in which a mandatory pit stop must take place before the second leg while a random draw in break two decides whether the top nine, 10 or 11 cars must pit for a mandatory four-tire pit stop.  Are these the right changes to bring back the excitement at this staple event for the fans in Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Fesko :  The random draw adds a wrinkle, and I like the idea. I’m just not sure if 13 laps is enough time for those with fresh rubber to make it to the front and battle for the win. I almost feel like a longer final segment is needed to give those teams a fair shot. Especially if after the Showdown and the first segment teams find that clean air is king – do teams then start sandbagging and try to finish segment two in twelfth place to make sure they’re in the front for the final dash? I feel like, if the logistics worked out, the race should be three segments with one held on the infield road course, one held on the mini oval out front and one held on the actual oval. Use a weighted points system to determine the winner.

Hull :  While it sounds promising, one issue the fans will have is that they want to always change things up, and not make things to the same. But on the other hand, it does seem like a very interesting format. It will be interesting to see how it plays out next weekend! I like how the final segment will have fewer laps, and therefore will make it seem like a shootout to the finish! This will make things contentious to say the least! But sadly, there a lot of fans these days who are hard to please these days. So we shall see how it goes with the fans!

Copple :  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the changes to the All-Star race! And by that, I mean that they change it up every year. It keeps the drivers and teams on their toes and since this is a race that is “just for fun” as apposed to a points race, it gives drivers, teams and fans a chance to see something different than the 400-miles plus races we see all season. This All-Star race is a great opportunity for drivers and teams to have a little fun and a new challenge on top of that. I can’t wait to watch this year’s race!

Cassidy :  I feel like the All Star Race is a very touchy subject. When I went a few years ago it was boring and short, aside from the qualifying method. From these changes, I think it is a step in the right direction. I think Brad Keselowski is very good at using his position on the Driver Council to incorporate not only what drivers want but fans as well. I believe that 50 lap segments will allow more racing to take place, and the random draw on pit stops adds excitement to the stands. I look forward to seeing how this race plays out, and from there more changes could be made next year.

Shoppe :  I’m not sure as of yet if this format will be the perfect format we are all hoping for but I am glad to see NASCAR shaking it up a little. Changes certainly needed to be made. The last few years have produced very disappointing All-Star races. Some have said they would like to see the All-Star event moved to another track. I think having it at Charlotte, the home track of NASCAR, is the right place. Now it’s just time to wait and see if some excitement will return to this great event.

Conley :  The All-Star race has become too gimmicky.  This is just another addition to a long list. With only two off weekends in 2017, I say eliminate this race altogether.

Question 3
And to think, he was in a "sword fight" with his sister Emma in 2012.

And to think, he was in a “sword fight” with his sister Emma in 2012.

Ryan Blaney scored his career best finish in a Cup race (as of press time) of fifth last Saturday evening at Kansas Speedway.  How momentous was it for Blaney to not only run with the leaders but score a strong result with the fabled No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team? 

Fesko :  Blaney is a talented guy, and the run only served as a confidence boost that he can run with the big guns. Of course everyone expected it, but now there is fact to back it up. I’d say the finish was bigger for Wood Brothers Racing as a team, as it is an Open team and not technically locked in each week. They certainly run like the Charter teams, and finishes like these will get sponsors interested.

Hull :  For this team, it is such a great thing to see him doing so well. There is absolutely no question that Ryan Blaney has plenty of talent! I can even see him winning a race sooner or later! I mean, looking at the Chase grid; if the Chase started this weekend, he would most definitely be in. He’s also not doing too shabby in the regular points as well. If they continue to be consistent, the Wood Brothers team will be running for a championship for the first time in a long time!

Copple :  First of all, this will not be the last finish in the top-five that Blaney gets this season. There is a strong Rookie of the Year battle this season, probably the strongest NASCAR has seen in a long time. Blaney and the Wood Brothers Racing team are running some great races.  For the Wood Brothers to run a full time operation with a young driver who has the talent to become one of the best drivers of his generation, this team could be winning races left and right in just a few years time. Getting this top-five at Kansas is a great start for Blaney and the No.21 team but it definitely isn’t the last time this season we will see that happen.

Cassidy :  Blaney has shown that he has what it takes to run with the big names up front. I think he has a strong chance to win Rookie of the Year as well as being a contender for the championship. Even without the Wood Brothers having a charter, Blaney seems to being using his momentum to keep pounding out solid finishes.

Shoppe :  It was great to see Ryan Blaney earn another top-five last weekend at Kansas! Blaney hasn’t had a top five since his fourth place finish in the spring Talladega race last May. I expect more top-five finishes to come for Blaney and his Wood Brothers team! When Ryan and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins can go to some tracks for a second time, they will only continue to improve. I expect the famed No. 21 Ford will return to victory lane soon!

Conley :  Momentus, I think that may be a bit much.  It certainly is a building block. This team without a charter is going all in each week and making it work. They have the Penske support as well as a large fan base that wants a little touch of old to merge with the new. Blaney and the Wood Brothers are without question the feel good story of the year and I for one hope it keeps going.

Question 4
MIS - the track where the Track Talk points leader gets her NASCAR fix.

MIS – the track where the Track Talk points leader gets her NASCAR fix.

NASCAR announced the 2017 season schedules for the Cup, XFINITY, and Truck Series last week, far earlier than in years’ past.  What’s your take on the few changes done to the Cup schedule, particularly with the season starting a week later than usual, Michigan’s August race going back to its traditional slot before Bristol, and Talladega swapping its spot with Kansas in October?

Fesko :  The Kansas/Talladega swap is great. It’s much fairer to give drivers a chance to overcome a bad plate race with one last chance before eliminations occur. Kudos to NASCAR for that. I didn’t even realize the season started a week later, which means one more week of “what do I do with myself” this off-season.

Hull :  I am the most happy with putting Kansas as the cutoff race instead of Talladega. I think that it’s unfair to even have a restrictor plate in the Chase anyway, much less it being a cutoff race. This will hopefully help these teams redeem themselves if they have a bad day at Talladega. Obviously, they have a long way to go for me to be completely satisfied with it (AKA, putting a road course in a the Chase, and another short track). But other than that, it’s not much more different than before.

Copple :  Hasn’t Talladega and Kansas swapped places before? And then swapped back? Changes to the schedule aren’t a bad thing as long as they keep races like the Coke 600, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the other historic races where they have always been. Releasing the schedule as early has possible gives fans an opportunity to plan their race weekends early. Hopefully, in the long run, that means we can get more of them to the tracks.

Cassidy :  As someone who has gone for Michigan for numerous years, I am very happy it is back to its normal weekend in August. I was very unhappy with how late the changes to the schedule were released last year. As someone who had already renewed their tickets, it was a slap in the face to find that the weekend changed. If I knew that ahead of time, I would not have renewed my August tickets as it made the MIS-Bristol back to back less of an option with the MIS camping not opening until later. That being said, the schedule being announced earlier this year is beneficial to plan ahead for next year. However, I do not see a large difference between the Talladega – Kansas swap, but fans who go to those races may disagree.

Shoppe :  Well I don’t like the idea of having to wait another week in February for the season to begin. I do like the change made for round two of the Chase. By switching Kansas and Talladega, drivers who get caught up in an accident at Talladega have a chance to make up for it in Kansas before the round comes to an end.

Conley :  Talladega and Kansas is by far the most significant change. That was backwards from the start. Personally, I don’t think Talladega should be part of the Chase. I get the argument of having the Chase being a microcosm of the full schedule. But a race where the driver isn’t fully in control of their outcome should not have a major impact on the overall outcome of the championship yet it continues to do so.  Just won’t be as overwhelming in 2017.

Nicely done, y’all!  We’re getting up to speed with our Dover preview.  Before we reveal our race picks for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism, let’s look at how we all fared last weekend at Kansas and who’s sitting pretty heading into today’s race at Dover!
Hull collected yet another victory...

Hull collected yet another victory…

...although Kathleen Cassidy is being quite the outlaw this year.

…although Kathleen Cassidy is being quite the outlaw this year.

It’s about that time, or the 12th time in 2016, to do this up!  Let’s reveal our race picks for today’s race at Dover.
Will one of these five be hosting Miles the Monster in Victory Lane?

Will one of these five be hosting Miles the Monster in Victory Lane?

Tiongson :  The No. 78 team has come to the track prepared.  They’ve just lacked that ability to close out races.  That said, Martin Truex Jr and Cole Pearn aren’t going to be complacent with riding out the circumstance train.  They’ll make things happen by winning on Sunday at Dover.

Cassidy :  I’ll go with Martin Truex Jr.

Fesko :  I’ll feel stupid picking against Jimmie Johnson, so the 48 it is!

Copple :  Going with Jimmie Johnson.

Hull :  As far as my pick goes, it was a hard one to make, but I will have to go with Carl Edwards.

Shoppe :  My pick is Carl Edwards.

Conley :  Denny Hamlin conquers Miles the Monster.

Hobbs :  The stats do say Jimmie Johnson but I am going for a long shot in Aric Almirola.

That wraps it up, race fans! Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk! 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.

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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