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Track Talk: A Preview of the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead

One last ride for a man who hopes to become Mr. Five-Time!

There’s always mixed emotions in NASCAR land when we’ve reached the weekend of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. For most, it’s a race that marks the culmination of the complete effort exerted by every woman and man in the garage area, the shops, and on the track to make their steel chariot as competitive as possible to be a winner when all’s been said and done.  That elation will certainly be felt at the track today (or tonight) after at least 400 miles (or at most) at this 1.5-mile speedway.

Today has a different feeling to the finale.  It’s #Championship4 Sunday which has four great stories involving drivers who’ve overcome some sort of obstacle to get to this point.  Our stats guru Ashley Hobbs broke down the contenders’ numbers so in-depth that our readers may fall in love with numbers.  We’ll have in-depth analysis on each of the drivers who’ll battle it out for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship that Will Smith made such a real genuine rap song about back in the late 1990s.

When it’s come to summarizing this season up to this day, it can boil down to these words: rain, quintessential, retaliation, and redemption.  Yes, we’ve had so much rain that we’re afraid that NASCAR tracks play Phil Collins’ But Seriously album, particularly “I Wish It Would Rain Down.”  Perhaps it’s Mother Nature’s way of saying, “I just can’t” with the Jeff Gordon tributes at each venue (she might be a fan).  We don’t need to go further into quintessential because we won’t bore you with high school English class while retaliation – yea, there wasn’t a shortage of that on the track.

As for redemption, how about the stories of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr?  It’s simply incredible what both drivers had to overcome this year or in the past two seasons.  Coincidentally, these two tangled with each other at Atlanta last year and perhaps their one-race spat magically transformed into amazing 2015 campaigns.  OK, we tried but it was an interesting coincidence.

Honestly, both have overcome personal struggles, namely Busch’s injuries from the Daytona XFINITY season opener and Truex’s uncertainty with a good ride following the 2013 Richmond controversy that he was a total victim of circumstance.  Truex has also coped with his longtime girlfriend Sherry’s battle with ovarian cancer and needless to say, they’re a couple who inspire others about the true meaning of love when darkness tries and absolutely fails to overcome strength, heart, and devotion.

Harvick has been the odds-on favorite since last year’s Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale in which he saw a chance and took it to Victory Lane to assuredly win the title.  With three wins, 22 top-fives and 29 top-10’s, he’s been the quintessential defending champion statistically speaking.  Could the Bakersfield, CA native repeat and hoist that trophy once more?

And then there’s Jeff Gordon.  What more could be said about a driver whose 23 year Cup career has essentially helped the sport get introduced to the masses across the country and our world?  Emerging into the sport with a mustache and mullet, this young man from Vallejo, CA and Pittsboro, IN became not only one of the greatest racers in auto racing, but perhaps one of its most important.  While he will remain in the sport as an analyst for FOX Sports starting next year, today’s race will certainly be emotional as Driver 24 clambers into the Axalta Chevy for one last ride.

What a year it’s been in NASCAR and for us here on The Podium Finish.  Hobbs, Ashley HullCody Shoppe, and Katie Copple have brought it each week and we’ve been able to grow not only as a team but as an outlet for racing news and stories.  We’re always growing and getting stronger.  This year has been great, particularly with our coverage of the Loudon race weekend in July in which we did six interviews spanning from Cup drivers to a K&N East competitor with a bright future in our sport.

While a legend hangs up his helmet by this evening, we at TPF will continue and we’ll deliver on exclusive stories and features from racers in NASCAR to those in grassroots series.  Our mission is to be the site that has a unique voice and perspective on the sport where you, the race fans, can connect and interact with us and those who we spotlight.

Starting off as a cure for homesickness as articles on Bleacher Report in the fall of 2008 to an independent site with racing enthusiasts, we hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage for 2015.  We are thankful for your support and for the brilliant assistance and leadership too of Luna Tiongson, who’s built us a fine, fantastic online home!  We’ll keep on pressing on with more content for the rest of the year and into the next season!

Let’s get to this final race day edition of Track Talk starting with Trending Topics here on TPF!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
#Championship4 Showdown Sunday!

#Championship4 Showdown Sunday!

We’ve arrived at the season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Of the Championship 4 drivers on Sunday (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.), which one do you think has overcome the most this year and has that fire to win it all?

Hobbs :  It would be easy to say Jeff Gordon has overcome the most this season because he did not win in the first 26 races and made it in on points.  One can also advocate for the “underdog” in Martin Truex Jr., but to me, this driver is not a surprise being in the Championship 4.  He has been on his game all season long and as a fellow Jersian, I an stoked he is silencing everyone!

To me, Kyle Busch has been the one to overcome the most this year, and by a long shot.  Having missed 11 races, he had to race his way into Chase harder than anyone else in NASCAR.  He had to gain enough points to get him into the top 30 in points as well as win some races.  Not only did he do both, he did it with incredible fashion. It did not take him long at all to get a victory; 7 races into his season, he got his first win, followed by 2 more wins right after the first; he made a statement and made it in a big way.  He is also known as a driver to fade in the Chase, and that history has almost gotten him every round this year, but he was able to pull through with enough points to move on, all the way to the Championship 4.

As for who has the fire to win it all, it would be silly to think none of them have it.  With each incredible story line that each driver has, a true champion will prevail in Homestead (but I personally hope it is Gordon).

Shoppe :  Say what you want about this championship deciding format.  We have four drivers who are all deserving of a championship. Each one has a great story of how he got here. My favorite story of perseverance is that of Martin Truex Jr, a driver who nearly lost his place in the sport after losing his ride for reasons not of his making.

I highly doubted at that point that he could ever make it to the top.  Even more impressive of his rise to the top is the Furniture Row Racing team.  For a single car operation based far from the rest (Furniture Row is based in Colorado), beating most of the other teams and has a chance to beat them all is remarkable!  After being called a longshot or an underdog has lit a fire under Truex and his team to win it all!

Hull :  If I had to choose which driver or drivers that have overcome the most this year, it would have to both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr.  During the first XFINITY race of the season, Kyle Busch wrecked and suffered a broken leg.  After all of the rehab and being out until the All-Star Race, Kyle has had a fire in him. He went out and became the star during the summer Joe Gibbs Racing domination.  And on Friday, during qualifying and practice, he is still showing the desire to become a champion.

Martin Truex Jr. has overcome so much in the last two years.  He has had to endure being the scapegoat during the whole Michael Waltrip Racing scandal.  His girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  He also had a rough 2014 professionally.  2015 is his redemption for all of the bad things that has happened to him and his family these last 2 years.  Now, he also has a fire in his belly to go out there and win.  He has proven it with his consistency.  It would be a storybook ending for him to win this championship.

Copple :  Let me break this down a bit.  Who has over come the most?  Easy…Kyle Busch!  Did anyone think that he would be in the final four vying for the Championship after breaking both legs at Daytona?

As far as who has the fire to win it all?  That is impossible to answer.  Busch, because of his Daytona incident.  Martin Truex Jr. – he is on the verge of his first championship.  Harvick, ready for round two for a title.  Gordon, winning the title before he retires would be icing on the cake.
It’s anyone’s game.  Anyone’s title.  This will be one of the best title races NASCAR has seen in a long time.
Question 2
Raindrops kept falling on their heads...

Raindrops kept falling on their heads…

Although we’re reeling in the excitement of the season finale at Homestead-Miami, we are coming off the penultimate race of 2015 at Phoenix in which Mother Nature absolutely caused havoc and put NASCAR in a tough box to call off the rest of the race.  While rules are rules in NASCAR racing, do you think more could’ve been done to have the race go the full distance especially with the playoff implications involved?

Hobbs :  Absolutely!  The race was called around 10pm local time and the track has lights, which is why we saw the race at night.  Though it took hours to dry the track enough to even get the cars rolling, I think all those teams and fans would rather wait another hour or 2 or even 3+ for drying of the track so the elimination race of the Eliminator Round could be decided by the drivers and not mother nature.

I am sure NASCAR stared at the radar for a long time before making their final decision, and Mother Nature is always unpredictable.  However, with so much on the line for this race, I think the rules should be edited slightly for the Chase races; if not all the Chase races, at least races 3, 6, 9, and 10 so the race goes the distance and the drivers determine who moves on and who does not.

Granted that, based on how they were racing up until that point, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. were the only two drivers who could have changed something with the Championship 4, the other three drivers did not seem to have the speed to pass Kevin Harvick.  NASCAR needs to look at their rule book for these races and edit them so even if rain comes past half way that they run the remainder of the race the next day if need be; they are too important to let NASCAR make the call.

Shoppe :  As disappointing as it was to see it end that way in Phoenix, there was nothing more that NASCAR could do.  It was raining hard and we were past halfway.  They didn’t drag out the caution so Dale Jr. could win either. They did everything they could to have a great race but Mother Nature wasn’t having any of it.

As far as changing the rule of ending a race due to rain if they past the halfway point, I think they should definitely look into it.  At least 3/4 of the race should be completed in my opinion.  When it is a rainy weekend, a fan deserves the most racing action they can get regardless what race and series.

Hull :  While I know that NASCAR doesn’t control the weather, I was terribly unhappy that they had to end the race this way.  If they knew that it was going to rain again later that evening, why didn’t they decide to run the race that following Monday?  I think that this race was way too important to let it end this way.

A lot of racers who could have run their way into the Championship were robbed of that opportunity. I really hope that NASCAR NEVER does this again. And if they know that it will rain again that night, then they should try to run it the next day.  Again, it was too important to end this way.

Copple :  We would have been racing into Monday afternoon if NASCAR hadn’t called off the race.  It was a good decision on their part regardless of whether or not it was the race before the championship.

Question 3
As long as they're not like that bumpy sideroad to work...

As long as they’re not like that bumpy sideroad to work…

There’s been some speculation that Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway are considering repaving their track surface.  Both tracks are known to be notoriously bumpy but promote good racing.  Is repaving the way to go in ensuring long term solid competition at these tracks or should the tracks consider another process while preventing the asphalt from falling apart in the future?

Hobbs :  Many tracks have gone this route and most drivers don’t necessarily agree.  The surfaces of the older tracks like this are what makes racing there so different and exciting.  Not to mention that repaving a surface will completely change the racing, and that has not always been for the better.  I agree that repaving can help some issues such as weepers and even pieces of the track coming apart, but other options should be considered so that the track really maintains its image and what makes it unique.

Shoppe :  It seems like every time a track is repaved, the racing is terrible for a number of years until the surface wears out and builds “character.”   I would hate to see tracks like Kentucky and Atlanta get repaved.  Atlanta especially is a very exciting track, providing maybe the best racing of all 1 1/2 mile tracks.  In my opinion, leave them alone till the track starts to come apart.

Hull :  We all know that in reality, I am not the most technical person on this team.  However, as it has been proven before, repaving these tracks will bring a lot of speed to these already fast race tracks.  I think it will make for some better racing in that case.  I think that the drivers would be relieved not to run over those bumpy patches at Kentucky, like they complained about this season.  I think either way this goes, someone will find something to complain about.  I think it’s time they improved track conditions to improve safety and to make for better racing.

Copple :  The asphalt is going to break down regardless.  There is nothing that NASCAR or anyone can do to prevent it.  Repaves are going to happen!  You never know what will happen when a track relates its surface.  Look at Kansas Speedway!

Question 4
Take a bow, Jeff Gordon.

Take a bow, Jeff Gordon.

Jeff Gordon closes out his stellar career in NASCAR after 23 years in the Cup series with numbers that’ll likely lock him into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. What’s your favorite memory of Gordon and what’s his greatest contribution to the sport?

Hobbs :  When I got into NASCAR, I got in because of Jeff Gordon.  He has been my driver since day one and I am saddened knowing this is the last race he will ever be in.  What he has done for this sport is unexplainable to be honest.

He brought a whole new era in from a different part of the country.  His attitude on and off the track as inspired so many racers, and some of those who called him a hero growing up are racing on track with him today.  There are 93 great days in Jeff Gordon history, three Daytona 500s, five Brickyard 400s, accompanied with 81 poles and four Championships (hopefully five by the end of the week).

To be honest, Martinsville just a few weeks ago will stand out in every fan’s mind as it might just be his last ever victory. Of course, his first win is something in itself, and each Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 wins have been special, but the pure excitement and joy that Gordon showed after winning at Martinsville, a track that he dominates, was just great to watch. But, if Jeff can pick up another Homestead victory this weekend, it will top all victories in my book.

Shoppe :  It is really hard to believe that this is Jeff Gordon’s last race!  Every single Cup race I’ve seen has had Jeff in it and I can’t picture a race without him.  Definitely would like to congratulate him on such a historic and legendary career.

I’d have to say my favorite memory of Jeff’s career is his most recent win.  Right when I thought I’d seen his final win last year at Dover, he busts out one more right when he needed it the most.  Just one more instance showing us why he is a legend deserving of all this talk about him this weekend.

Hull :  There are a lot of great Jeff Gordon moments in history, so it is really hard to choose just one.  But if I had to pick one, it would be when he won his first Brickyard 400.  I remember seeing how happy he was after he won that race because it was a big moment for him to win a crown jewel race.  It was a really good race from start to end.  And it was awesome seeing how happy he was.

I think his biggest contribution to the sport has been being a mentor and icon to many NASCAR racers that are out there today.  A lot of them say that they always looked up to Jeff Gordon growing up, and how he has helped them aspire to be NASCAR drivers.  So if it wasn’t for Jeff Gordon, a lot of these racers wouldn’t be where they were today, because they had someone like him to look up to!

Copple :  This is an impossible question to answer, only because Jeff Gordon has been a household name in sports for years.  He has made an impact on young drivers, fans, friends, fellow drivers and everyone in between.  Look at Jimmie Johnson for example – would be be a six-time Champion if Gordon hadn’t introduced him to Rick Hendrick? Gordon is a staple in NASCAR.  He brings in viewers and fans and lifelong supporters.  Not having him in the No. 24 next season is going to be a hard change to get used to.

Thanks so much, team!  Y’all always rock it with our four weekend storylines here!  Nicely done.  Now before we reveal our race picks and our title pick, let’s look at the TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after Race 35 at Phoenix:
1) Ashley Hobbs – 2372 points (3 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 2344 points (5 wins)
3) Rob Tiongson – 2309 points (5 wins)
4) Katie Copple – 2264 points (1 win)
5) Cody Shoppe – 2246 points
6) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
It’s going to come down to Hobbs and Hull for the title!  Hobbs’ pick must finish at least 28 spots ahead of Hull’s selection.  Meanwhile, yours truly can somewhat comfortably consider third place for the final points tally although my pick, should Hull’s choice have trouble, could net me a potential second place finish but only if I finish 35 or more spots ahead.  Lastly, Katie and Cody are waged in a war for fourth spot and there’s no telling how that could conclude!  
Alright, it’s about time!  Let’s reveal our race picks and our championship pick for today’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway! (An asterisk indicates that the panelist’s race pick is also a Championship 4 contender.) 
We just love crossing our arms.

We just love crossing our arms.

Hobbs :  Because this is the last time I can say it, Jeff Gordon*…FTW!!!

Tiongson :  Likewise, it’s Jeff Gordon’s* last time (as a racer) to be like Charlie Sheen – winning!

Hull :  My race pick and championship pick is Kevin Harvick*.

Shoppe :  My race pick is Joey Logano and for my title pick, Martin Truex Jr. will pull off the upset!

Copple :  For the race, I’m going with Joey Logano but for my title pick, it’s Jeff Gordon.

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on this weekend’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-MiamiSpeedway!  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.   Thanks Hobbs, Hull, Katie, Cody, and thank you Luna!  Bring on the finale!

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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