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Track Talk: A Preview of the Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at Indy

Jeff Gordon looks to have a storybook ending at Indianapolis with his sixth Brickyard 400 win.

Let’s just imagine for a moment that we’re back in the summer of 1994, which would mean you’re uploading a very bare version of The Podium Finish on Hyperterminal or on AOL.  It’s the weekend of the first Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and your curiosity for how stock cars would compete at this 2.5-mile superspeedway.  Fast forward it to the finish and we’ve witnessed a hometown (sorta) hero winning NASCAR’s first big race at Indy with 23-year-old Jeff Gordon celebrating in one of the most hallowed grounds in all of racing – Indianapolis Victory Lane.

The cars were boxier, passing was somewhat existent with drivers feeling out the track and their cars during the inaugural race but the excitement factor was definitely one rivaling that of a crown jewel stock car event.  Fast forward to today, July 26th, 2015.  Today’s Sprint Cup cars are not nearly the fast moving boxes that they were but more of a sleeker, refined machine which will have some aerodynamic enhancements that will, hopefully, promote more competitive action all around.

Taller spoilers with a wicker might not exactly be what drivers want but if yesterday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race was any indicator, if the front two drivers have broken away from the rest of the pack, it’s definitely a race where either have a solid shot to win.  Lap traffic, driver relapse, and the second place racer applying the heat for the win could be factors in today’s 400-miler along with of course, those hot summer temperatures.

This may not be Daytona during Independence Day conditions or Southern 500 ran on Labor Day Sunday but it’ll be a very physically demanding race.  Just reflect back to last Sunday’s 5-HOUR Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a race not typically grueling on the drivers.  It’s quite easy to recall how a lot of racers and pit crew members were absolutely spent after nearly three and a half hours of racing – in the Granite State!

When all is said and done, there’ll be some brick kissing, which might mean the spouses and kiddies not wanting any part with knowing how Goodyear rubber tastes like but it’s still quite a cool feat.  Once the checkered flag is waved, that racer and their team will have earned it, perhaps sweating it out quite more than usual.  Races like today will be one that will remind the cynics that the women and men who are in that garage area, pit road, and in the driver’s seat are legitimate athletes.

Ready to talk more about today’s 400-miler at Indy (3 PM ET on NBCSN)?  We thought so, as Ashley HobbsAshley Hull, and Kimberly Melton are game and ready.  So let’s get to this weekend’s Trending Topics right now!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1

Kyle Busch has to be thinking, "Maybe I can play the lottery and win it too!"

Kyle Busch has to be thinking, “Maybe I can play the lottery and win it too!”

Kyle Busch has been virtually unstoppable, winning 3 of the past 4 races.  Does this trend continue at Indy?

Melton :  First of all, I think Kyle Busch deserves a major shout out! I have seen so much negativity towards him lately and I don’t understand it. This guy is lucky to be alive after that horrendous wreck at Daytona. Not only is he alive and healed, but he has already won three races since coming back. That is pure talent and that talent deserves some recognition, whether you’re a Busch fan or not.
Okay, so now that’s out of the way, I am on the fence about Indy.  Kyle Busch is great at what he does, but we also have to keep in mind — Kyle has no wins (for the Sprint Cup series) at Indianapolis. He has eight top 10’s and three top-fives, but no wins as of yet. Do I think that can change? Of course, anything is possible. With the way Kyle has been driving, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win. If the trend doesn’t continue at Indy, I can almost guarantee we will see more wins. While Kyle’s accident was awful, I think it was definitely a career changer for him.
Hull :   There is no question that ever since Kyle Busch has come back from his injury, his determination has been unstoppable, despite having a few bumps in the road. I think what really fueled his determination even more was that victory at Sonoma. That really opened up the floodgates for him. I think that with that determination he has to make the Chase (and he’s not too far away now with these victories), he could very well get it done at Indy this weekend. Along with his new found determination, he and his crew chief Adam Stevens have great chemistry, and they have proven it these last few races. I believe we should not count Busch out this weekend.
Hobbs :  Will he win at Indy? No. Will he have a good run? Yes. In eight races this year, his average finish is 14.88 and has three wins! Jimmie Johnson, in comparison has four wins in 19 races; so he has won 21.05% of the races this season, while Kyle Busch was won 37.5% (of what he has entered). When it comes to Indy, Kyle has an average finish of 10.6 with three top-fives and eight top-10s in the last 10 visits. I expect this pattern to continue and we will see Kyle Busch climb closer to the top-30.

Question 2

Because AJ Allmendinger.

Because AJ Allmendinger.

AJ Allmendinger had a solid race last weekend with a 13th despite battling a strep throat and the hot, humid conditions at Loudon, which would be a gutsy performance in recent NASCAR memory.  Which driver and team impressed you the most during the most adverse conditions over the past 10 years?

Melton :  That is a really difficult question. I can think of so many drivers that have impressed me over the past few years. We have had quite a few drivers experience struggles, whether it be accident related or health related.We have Trevor Bayne who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2013. It would have been so easy for him to throw in the towel and give up, but he has fought on and continued doing what he loves. He has such a positive attitude and always seems to be smiling.

Then we have Brian Vickers, who is an absolute rockstar! Although he is currently sidelined, he really gave driving his all, even when dealing with a horrible condition like DVT. Michael Waltrip Racing stood by his side and supported him through the years, and that really impressed me.

Finally, let’s talk about Austin Dillon. Can I just share with everyone how emotional I got when I saw that wreck? I think I screamed loud enough for the neighbors to hear me. My scream was even louder when I saw Keselowski slide down the track and smash into him. I was expecting the worst, like everyone else. As we all held our breath and fought back the tears, praying to God he would be okay, here comes Dillon doing the Lane Frost wave like the cowboy he is.

Hull :   One memory that is etched in my mind was when Martin Truex, Jr. was having kidney stones in 2009 at Atlanta, and yet still resumed practices and the race despite this. My husband can attest that having kidney stones is probably one if not the most painful things you can ever have. While he finished not so impressively (26th), to get in a race car, which takes a lot of concentration and focus after suffering something that painful is quite impressive.
Hobbs :  Past 10 years?! Heck, I can barely remember what I did last week let alone go back 10 years ago! So I will just say this: all drivers overcome the adverse conditions of racing every single week. Here and there we have a driver that succumbs to the stresses put on them, but they are all strong and come back with vengeance a week later.

Question 3

1994 - the year of Parklife, Speed, and Brickyard 400. How Blur, Keanu Reeves, and NASCAR share something in common.

1994 – the year of Parklife, Speed, and Brickyard 400. How Blur, Keanu Reeves, and NASCAR share something in common.

We’re heading to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400, which has been a NASCAR tradition since 1994.  What are some of your favorite Brickyard NASCAR moments?

Melton :  There is one moment that is really etched into my mind. Let’s take a journey back to 2002. Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer already had a little feud going on, but that little feud turned to a larger one when Spencer drove right into Busch’s car. In true Kurt Busch fashion (which I have always loved), he gets out of his car and proceeds to bend over and point to his butt. I died. That moment couldn’t have been anymore perfect. I’m sure NASCAR didn’t appreciate it, but it’s been 13 years, so I assume I can safely enjoy that moment now. I hope.
Hull :   My favorite moment was the second Brickyard 400, when Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Dale Jarrett, were battling for the win. It was one of the most exciting races I have seen in my years of following NASCAR, and probably one of the closest finishes too. And, the fact that my favorite driver won a marquee race was also great to see too!
Hobbs :  I feel like we had this question last year (laughing). So, I will stick with my same answer – Jeff Gordon victories; especially his fifth. His sixth this weekend will be the best one ever!

Question 4

Clinw Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. might swap manufacturers - talk about blast processing!

Clinw Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. might swap manufacturers – talk about blast processing!

There’s been some speculation that Michael Waltrip Racing might move to the Chevrolet camp while Furniture Row has considered making the switch to Toyota. Taking the presumption that both moves happen, in the short haul, does this hurt or benefit either team in 2016?

Melton :  I think that MWR making the move to Team Chevy would be fantastic! Chevy has always been the dominant manufacturer, in my opinion, so I think that this might really help them out. As far as Furniture Row moving to Toyota, only time will tell. I feel like they are so strong this season that I’d hate to see them make any changes! They are a talented group though, so I am not worried about the move negatively affecting them.
Hull :   I think only time will tell if these moves will benefit or hurt either off these teams. Even with the changes, I see Furniture Row being strong because of what the put into the team, and not what the car is made out of. And it doesn’t hurt that their driver is talented as well. As for MWR, maybe switching over and having an alliance with another team, unlike what they have now, could benefit them, because they aren’t having the best overall team performance right now. But as I mentioned before, it is what goes into these teams that make them successful, not the manufacturers entirely.
Hobbs :  Why Furniture Row Racing would change is beyond me! They have shown such growth these past two years with Martin Truex Jr. that it baffles me why they would want to make such a big change. Unless they are going to allign with Joe Gibbs Racing, it is not going to be a good move for them. On the other end, if MWR decides to jump ship from being on the first Toyota pioneers in the sport, it might be a good move. Sometimes a second tier team can become a top tier team in the right equipment. There is potential for some growth at MWR, and with their alliance either being with RCR or Ganassi, they should be in good hands slightly more so than FRR going over to Toyotas.

The Track Talk team has given their two cents or dollars to this weekend’s four hot stories at Indy. Before we get to our race picks, let’s take a gander at this weekend’s points standings heading into Round 20 of 2015!

1) Rob Tiongson – 667 points (4 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 632 points (2 wins) 
3) Ashley Hobbs – 604 points (2 wins) 
4) Jessica Bushee – 534 points 
5) Courtney Clement – 519 points (1 win) 
6) Jessica Tow – 337 points
7) Kim Melton – 279 points (3 wins) 
8) Patrick Staropoli – 2 points

At some point, Patrick will have more than 2 points to show for but we’ve got a close battle for first place with reseeding taking place after Round 26 at Richmond.  Now, let’s reveal our race picks for today’s Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway!

Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch think they'll be making out bricks later today. Oh, NASCAR.

Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch think they’ll be making out bricks later today. Oh, NASCAR.

Tiongson :  I’m going with Jeff Gordon for today’s race.  Based on his optimism from last weekend and the fact that this is his final start at this venue, he’ll definitely turn up the notch even more to win his sixth and final 400-miler at Indy!
Hobbs :  As previously stated, I am sticking with Jeff Gordon!
Melton :  This weekend I am going to go out on a limb and choose Denny Hamlin. Denny has been pretty strong lately and his car has been quick! Joe Gibbs Racing is unstoppable right now, so I am confident if Denny doesn’t take the checkered flag,  someone from JGR will.
Hull :   My pick for Sunday is, because he is so determined here lately, and I think that he can get it done, is Kyle Busch.
There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on the Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at Indianapolis.  How about you?  What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into today’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Also, we’d like to give our positive thoughts and prayers to Buddy Baker and his family.  We’re all thinking of you and hoping you’re keeping strong in your brave battle!
Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now! Thanks as always to the TPF team.  The opinions and thoughts express 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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