Hard to believe that the NASCAR season was kicking off over 26 weeks ago. Indeed, time flies by fast in the Sprint Cup Series and after a reprieve two weeks ago followed by the grueling Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway last Sunday night, it’s off for another nighttime showdown with tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
After 25 races, 11 drivers and teams have showcased their abilities to be a winner in this competitive series while five other seeds for the Chase are available for the taking. Well, really four since Jamie McMurray merely has to start his car, but then again, crazy things could (unlikely) happen. We’ll at least know one racer who’ll finally get to enjoy their first shot at the championship this fall but from 13th through 16th, it’ll be a somewhat interesting evening for the likes of Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, and Clint Bowyer.
For those outside of the top-16 like Aric Almriola, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Larson, they can take on the mentality that they haven’t anything to lose. Instead, they can roll the dice on pit strategy and opt for track position. They’ll be like most of us during Thanksgiving while Newman, Gordon, Menard, and Bowyer will likely do their best to resist any unnecessary risks tonight. Considering that the final regular season race takes place at this 0.75-mile short track with attitude, this will be a 400-lapper in which equipment and patience will be put to the absolute test.
As for the Track Talk team of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Jessica Bushee, Jessica Tow, Katie Copple, and Kim Melton, it’s the final countdown to make something happen before reseeding takes place in time for the first Chase race of the year. Indeed, much like the real life drivers and teams, we’ll also be shuffling positions after tonight’s race and reset points Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship style. While we won’t have eliminations, we’ll at least have some fun at the coveted TPF Cup.
Ready for tonight’s final regular season race? Well, put your headsets on, hope the New England Patriots’ radio broadcast isn’t on since you’ll want to listen to MRN Radio’s coverage or NBC Sports Network’s telecast tonight, and let’s talk about the four Trending Topics followed by our race picks for tonight!
Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson
With NASCAR returning Darlington back to its Labor Day race weekend, do you think the sport should bring its spring race date back and also consider bringing back some of its staple tracks like Rockingham (should it get repaired and find a new owner) and possibly North Wilkesboro?
Melton : The turnout for Darlington was incredible. It has been a while since I have seen crowds that large in the stands. NASCAR fans love tradition and that was obvious on Sunday night. Seeing Rockingham be revived and brought back would be simply amazing. A fan shared photos of the track recently and there were many drivers who spoke up about it. Mark Martin quoted, “I can close my eyes and run a lap in my mind at Rockingham and still feel all the bumps and transitions better than any other track.” Now that is a powerful statement. I’m all for bringing back old tracks and traditions…I think that would be great for the sport.
Bushee : I’d love to see the Spring race come back as well as Rockingham. It would be nice to see someone buy it back, fix it up and make it a staple in NASCAR again!
Hobbs : I think bringing back the history that goes along with Darlington spoke more than enough for itself. With the throw backs left and right, from the track to the booth, to the racing where NASCAR seemed to get an experimental package down, THIS is what NASCAR is all about folks! Labor Day and Darlington go together, as Cal Naughton Jr. said, peanut butter and ladies, and I think we need to bring back more of the nostalgic NASCAR and get these killer old school tracks back on the circuit! There are several tracks that come to my mind that do not need a second date, where Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, or even Iowa can get a date and shake things up a bit! It is time to bring back the old and make it new again!
Hull : First of all, the race last weekend at Darlington was such a fun race all around. From all of the paint schemes, to Ned Jarrett and Ken Squire being in the booth, and to the good racing, this is one of the best races I have seen all year! I think that they should do this every single year, and keep the date the way it occurred this year. I have also been in favor of bring Rockingham back too. They don’t have to do all off the pomp and circumstance there that they did at Darlington, but they should bring it back, because that track had some great racing. While it is a good thing that the sport is evolving, sometimes it’s comforting returning to tradition.
Copple : I love Darlington so I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing another date on the schedule. But also, it would be nice to take away some of the double dates and add in other tracks like Rockingham and even add a Cup date at Iowa. Mixing it up is never a bad idea.
Tow : The traditional Labor Day race at Darlington should remain in tact, especially after the success it had last week following a 12 year long switch on the schedule. It was great to see the throwback concept embraced by all in the industry – drivers, wives and girlfriends, teams, NBC, the fans, everyone. The Darlington Labor Day throwback should certainly be something that remains on the schedule as is for years to come. Also I do believe that NASCAR should have some of their former tracks return to the schedule. There is much to be said about these historic venues. Who wouldn’t want to see Rockingham or North Wilkesboro return back to their former glories?! It’s a win-win!
As Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have asserted themselves as the dominant forces of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing for these summer months, which driver and team has shown the makings to challenge these powerhouse organizations for wins and for this year’s title?
Melton : Normally I would say Hendrick Motorsports, but lately they have been off. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some HMS, but the cars just haven’t been where they need to be, which is strange. If I had to choose a driver off the top of my head, I would definitely say Martin Truex Jr and the Furniture Row Racing team. Truex has been driving like a boss this season, and if anyone has the power to challenge these guys, he would be the one.
Bushee : I could definitely see SHR and Kevin Harvick making these guys work harder for their wins and the Championship. He’s such a force and has been pretty consistent this season.
Hobbs : Wow, you take six of the best teams out of this equation and you are not left with many top guns to pick from. But, if we must venture to a Chevrolet team, I am looking to that of Kevin Harvick. That team has been dominate all season long, even when you think he is not there, he is there. Outside of Harvick, Jimmie Johnson is hoping he is psyching out the competition with all of the “oh, Mr. Six-Time is not running that well” talk and then he can just BOOM – CONFETTI his way to the top of the charts.
Hull : There is one driver and team I see giving these two teams a run for their money is Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing. He has had a solid year thus far, even though he has been a bridesmaid here lately. Still, his consistency has been solid. He will be a strong contender and a favorite for the championship. Kurt Busch is another driver that could be strong too. While he hasn’t been as consistent as Harvick, he will still be a strong contender as well.
Copple : Kyle Busch. Hands down he is the only one who I can really see contending for the championship. He missed a handful of races so who knows if the outcome of his season, his stats, would be if he wouldn’t have been injured. He is by far my favorite for this championship.
Tow : Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, no doubt. The defending Sprint Cup Series Champion has lots to prove if he wants to continue his Championship reign.
Brad Keselowski has to feel like a bridesmaid this year, constantly knocking on the door for his second win only to emerge out of his car with empty dominance. Do you see the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team breaking their way into Victory Lane soon?
Melton : I really feel for Brad Keselowski, as well as Kevin Harvick. Both of them seem to rock it the entire race and then something happens to mess it up for them, typically towards the end of the race. It’s hard to say if we will see him in Victory Lane again. I definitely think he has what it takes, but he might have to bring it a little harder in these next races, especially starting at Chicagoland, where it really matters.
Bushee : I see Brad winning soon. He’s obviously got the right formula (team, crew, car) to finish so well each week. A win in definitely in his near future!
Hobbs : We saw the same thing with Kevin Harvick for the longest time this season; he had a win, but was so close way too many times to count. At this point entering the Chase, I would much rather know I am capable of running consistently in the top-five, heck even finishing second consistently, than having a victory and several abominations of finishes. In order for Keselowski to turn those deuces (no pun intended) into victories, he has to hope some of the winners falter; he has a fast car and a good team, as do other teams, he just needs those other good teams to just take a small misstep and he can sneak through.
Hull : While he has been strong, he hasn’t been having the victories his teammate Joey Logano has had. I can see him being really good, and maybe even winning the race at Richmond this weekend. Just last year, he won the night race there. But that is barring that he has a great car, and that he has no mishaps, and fortune is on his side. He could have won last week, but luck wasn’t on his side.
Copple : Yes and no. Brad is a champion. He knows how to win and he has the drive to win. No pun intended. But he hasn’t been on the top of his game this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in victory lane but everyone has an off season.
Tow : I think Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team will find their stride at some point during the 10 race Chase. It’s just a matter of when. This team has proven that they are dominant on every type of track and with such a great variety of tracks in the Chase there’s no question that Brad will find his way back to Victory Lane soon.
As we enter these final races of the year, it’s time to consider that these events are the last appearances for Jeff Gordon at these venues. Of the upcoming races comprising the rest of the schedule, which track do you see the No. 24 team scoring their first win of 2015?
Melton : Just by going off of statistics, I think we could see a win at the next Martinsville race in November. I certainly think there is a possibility of seeing a win before then, but that is the track I think we will see him dominate. I was shocked that he didn’t do better at Martinsville this year, but he has had quite the rough season. I hold out hope we will see a win from the 24 team, as it’s just a matter of time.
Bushee : I think, with the tracks these drivers will be heading to, Jeff Gordon will take his win at Chicagoland Speedway. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter to me what track he wins at…I just want to see him take a win!
Hobbs : As long as the entire 24 team steps up their game, from the pit crew to the crew chief, Gordon would have won a few events already. Since the odds are in their favor of being in the Chase, one has to look at Martinsville and Talladega, places where Gordon is dominate and will be leaving behind a legacy. Though, how awesome would it be to see Gordon end his career on a high note and win at Homestead?
Hull : This is a tough question, as the 24 team hasn’t really been up to par performance wise. Looking at his statistics, he has the best chances at Chicagoland and Martinsville. At Chicagoland, he has won one race, which was back in 2006. Also, he is an eight time winner at Martinsville. Statistics don’t lie, but hopefully, his team can pull together and make this happen for him. It is, after all, his last full season.
Copple : I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this but I don’t see Gordon visiting Victory Lane at all this season. I think with all of this hoopla and celebration every weekend, it’s been a distraction of sorts for him and the No.24 team. I would love to see Gordon end his final season with a victory. Who knows… Maybe that victory will come at Homestead-Miami.
Tow : Given his performance so far this season I think Jeff’s best chance to win will come at Talladega as anything can/will happen when it comes to those restrictor plates.
As Borat would say, “Great success!” Now that we talked about the four storylines heading into tonight’s race, let’s glance at the TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after Race 25 at Darlington, SC!
It’s go time, y’all! Let’s reveal our race picks for tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway!
Tiongson : Thinking that Joey Logano is going for his fourth win of the year and bringing back the Blue Oval’s presence to Victory Lane at Richmond!
Tow : Going with Joey Logano.
Melton : My pick for Richmond is going to be Brad Keselowski. Brad has been driving his heart out every race and I think we will see him dominate this weekend.
Bushee : My pick for this weekend is Denny Hamlin.
Hobbs : Let’s go with JJ the jet plane! (Jimmie Johnson, of course)
Hull : My pick for the race on Saturday night is Kurt Busch, the spring winner.
Copple : Kyle Busch. See question 2.