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NASCAR Cup Series

Track Talk: A Preview of the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville

From the fastest speedway in the world to one of the smallest short tracks in any professional racing series, this is when the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and teams really grind it out for that full race effort.  After going at it for 32 battles from Daytona Beach, FL to Talladega, AL, it’s time, no pun intended, to head on over to Martinsville Speedway for 500 laps (we hope cause Mother Nature is mean) of racing and a grandfather clock in the offing.

Well, if you’re one of the eight remaining efforts battling for the championship, a win today is probably as important as any prestigious race all season long as it grants a free ticket into the final four fight for Cup glory at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  That means Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch have even more reason to take no prisoners at this paperclip track.

For the non-Chase competitors, it’s a day when they can spoil on the title contenders’ day.  Dale Earnhardt Jr was very close to punching his ticket into the penultimate round of the playoffs last weekend at Talladega, leading a bulk of the laps before he relegated to second spot.  After an aborted run to the start/finish line that NASCAR dismissed as a restart attempt, the field went at it again for its only green-white-checkered run to the win before a skirmish involving Harvick and Trevor Bayne wiped out several cars including Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and others, effectively ending the race.

Logano won his third straight race in the Chase (sixth overall in 2015) while Earnhardt found himself out of the playoffs along with Ryan Newman, Kenseth, and Hamlin.  Harvick drew some ire from his peers including Hamlin and Bayne but the defending Cup champion has kept his mind focused on duplicating his feat from last year.  Then there’s the stories of Kyle Busch, Edwards and Gordon, who suddenly find themselves in prime position to carry their team’s banners to the championship race at Miami.

Overall, we have the makings for a great set of three races to lead us into the championship round.  As for how we got to this point, that’s where the real conflicts set in for the NASCAR world.  Ashley HobbsAshley Hull, and Cody Shoppe chime in on the week’s happenings and the storylines heading into today’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway here on Track Talk!  We kick things off as always with Trending Topics right here on TPF!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
A finish that'll be talked about for years.

A finish that’ll be talked about for years.

We’ve had some time to take in what happened at Talladega, particularly with the finish of that race.  In your opinion, do you think it was handled properly by NASCAR or was it a mess that ultimately led to a string of controversy for the Chase field?

Hobbs :  It became a mess when NASCAR said they would only make 1 attempt at a GWC at Talladega this weekend. I understand that is was a safety call and I am fully behind that, but you cannot just make up the rules as you go along NASCAR. You said 1 attempt; you made that attempt and the attempt failed. I understand that the field technically did not take the green and achieve attempt status, but what NASCAR did just confused the drivers, teams, and fans alike.

One thing that NASCAR really needs to work on is knowing their own rules and enforcing them as such. I think if NASCAR called it the attempt and left it at that, not as many people would be unhappy about it. Joey Logano would have won the race either way; Dale Jr. and Matt Kenseth would have been out, and maybe the 2 other eliminated drivers would have been different, but the overall outcome of the race would have been Logano in Victory Lane.

Step up your game NASCAR! Learn YOUR rules; enforce those rules properly, and quite making up rules and making changes to those rules as you go along.

Shoppe :  When it all took place last weekend, I was extremely upset with how the final restarts took place. It was such a great race and shaping up for a great finish all to be ruined by the less then satisfactory finish. After taking some time to think it over, my thoughts are much less harsh. I think they made the right call saying the first attempt wasn’t actually an attempt. It was the right call for the fans at home and in the stands.

However, I cannot find any previous situation where there is a rule stating if they don’t make it to the start finish line, it doesn’t count as an attempt. No experts I have heard have ever heard of such a rule. I believe it was the right decision but gives me a feeling they were making it all up as they go along.

I have the biggest problem with the lineup for the final restart. As I see it, four drivers did not maintain their speed during that “non-restart”: #5 Kasey Kahne, #42 Kyle Larson, #48 Jimmie Johnson (all involved in the crash) and #4 Kevin Harvick (pulled over due to his engine issue). The cars who spun were sent to the rear and rightfully so since they pitted. But Harvick was able to get his spots back. Not really sure what to make of that.

Hull :  I have to say, I had a feeling that the G-W-C rule was going to create some drama. Boy, I was totally right about that one. It ended up being a really big mess. The fact is, NASCAR has been terribly inconsistent with it’s rulings. They need to set concrete rules AND stick with them, instead of making it more complicated by modifying the rules as they go. Not only does make things more complicated, it upsets the fans and drivers. Also, it was obviously counterproductive as there was a huge wreck at the end. So they need to just leave the whole ruling alone.

Question 2
So remember that friend who tried to wreck you in Daytona USA?

So remember that friend who tried to wreck you in Daytona USA?

Some racers took to Twitter or to the press to express their displeasure with Kevin Harvick with some blaming him for the crash that transpired in that final but ultimately short lived restart.  NASCAR did not penalize Harvick nor his No. 4 team as they cleared them of any wrongdoing.  Was this the right call or do you believe there was more than met our eyes with Harvick in that situation?

Hobbs :  When Clint Bowyer brought on Spingate, there was ample evidence that the team did something wrong to alter the outcome of the race to favor one of their own. There was way too much solid evidence against the organization to not penalize the team. When this happened, all it did was bring out a caution and no cars were involved.

Switch gears to this event; Harvick is a veteran at this sport and a smart person. Would it cross his mind to some how think of a way to swing the scale in his favor? You would be crazy not to! But to say he intentionally caused a wreck, that costs teams a ton of money and puts the drivers at risk. is just foolish on the fan front. Sure, things may have appeared as such that he did what he did knowing what his car was capable (or lack there of) of doing, but I cannot fathom a an accomplished driver being so stupid and foolish to put multiple people’s hard work at risk.

I think it comes down to this: Dale Jr. was out front fighting for the win that would have moved him on to the next round. When everything happened and the dust settled, he was not the winner of the race. Junior Nation has more numbers than Pi and when they want to be heard, they do so.

Shoppe :  Do I believe that Kevin Harvick intentionally caused that crash to end the race? Yes I do. I believe that he was upset that NASCAR didn’t end the race after the first attempt and needed to make sure the race didn’t go much further after the second. You cannot really blame a guy who is doing what he absolutely had to do in order to advance but I believe he took that too far. The problem is, every single official in NASCAR could agree 100% with me but it doesn’t matter. There is not any way to prove Harvick’s intent to cause that crash so they have no choice to penalize him. As to him moving on, you can argue he didn’t earn a place in the final eight in Talladega, but you cannot argue that he earned his place this year as a whole.

Hull :  This is a very complicated matter, and one for me to be terribly objective about as a writer. I don’t agree with the way Kevin Harvick handled this at all. It definitely wasn’t the best thing to do, and it cost a lot of people a slot in the final 8. But if there is not really any evidence to go by, I guess it was the right call. I really hope that it wasn’t intentional. But with that said, a lot of drivers would do the same thing given the situation, even though it isn’t exactly the best thing to do.It is a product of this Chase format, where you see more drivers getting more aggressive just to advance. It is racing, and we just need to focus on these next 3 races, and leave this behind.

Question 3
If you're a fan of any of these drivers, prepare for three more stressful weeks!

If you’re a fan of any of these drivers, prepare for three more stressful weeks!

Of the eight drivers who comprise our Eliminator Round field, which one surprises you the most and which four racers do you see advancing to the championship battle at Homestead-Miami?

Hobbs :  Wow, that is a good question. Let me evaluate each driver here….

Joey Logano: Absolutely no surprise here at all!

Carl Edwards: Maybe a tiny shock with Edwards; he has just been so darn consistent, but I do not think it will be enough to get him into Homestead this year.

Jeff Gordon: I want to say no shock at all but based on his season and the other competitors that made the Chase, I am surprised he has made it this far. He has been one of the top performers in the Chase thus far and I can see that sneaking him into the final 4.

Kurt Busch: Not really a surprise, but maybe just not enough to join his teammate for the last battle.

Brad Keselowski: Not surprised but his teammate will carry Team Penske into Homestead with a shot at a title.

Martin Truex Jr: Absolutely not a surprise! This little team that could has been on their game since the Daytona 500! They have been incredibly consistent and have been getting the job done each week. This is a driver I could see playing spoiler at Homestead.

Kevin Harvick: I expected him to be this far and continue on to Homestead fighting for another title.

Kyle Busch: With the way his season went when he returned, I knew Kyle Busch would be better than ever. He barely made it into this round and with the tough competition, I (sadly) do not feel he will make the cut to Homestead.

Shoppe :  Most people will say Martin Truex Jr is the biggest surprise in the Eliminator 8.  I for one am not surprised that he has advanced one bit. Jeff Gordon is the biggest surprise to me. During the regular season, the No. 24 team didn’t show the speed to be a contender in this Chase this far in. The whole team has really stepped up their game in the playoffs and could go all the way. I had always thought it would be too good to be true to see Jeff Gordon win his fifth title in his final year. Now I’m not so sure that dream couldn’t become a reality.

Hull :  I have to say that none of these guys really surprise me at all, except for maybe Jeff Gordon, given the year that they have had this year. However, I think that they are finally getting better at the right time, and it shows. Maybe they can pull it off at Martinsville this weekend and win so they can advance to the final round. All of these guys are strong competitors, so it will be hard to pick four to advance. I see Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Jr., Carl Edwards, and Kevin Harvick advancing. All of these drivers have been consistent at the right time.

Question 4
Cause three wide at Talladega twice for the next five years is pretty cool. Maybe.

Cause three wide at Talladega twice for the next five years is pretty cool. Maybe.

NASCAR not only announced and shared the 2016 schedules for the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series, but it also revealed how they have a five-year agreement with the current tracks on the circuit.  For race fans, how promising is it for them to at least know that there’s consistency with the major two series through 2020?

Hobbs :  For consistency, it is a great thing! For a sport that could use some racing surfaces changes, I am not sure. I know many fans want new tracks added to shake things up and get ride of tracks that do not provide great racing. What if a new track wants to get into the mix sooner rather than later? I guess just because NASCAR is saying a track will be on the schedule won’t guarantee it 2 races if it usually did, which could leave room for new comers to the top 2 series. As you can see, I am open-ended right now on this one!

Shoppe :  It is a great piece of mind for a race fan to know their home track is going to be on the schedule for at least five years. No longer going year to year to know what’ll happen with the schedule is a good thing. NASCAR needs to be doing everything they can to make sure fans will be in the stands as much as possible.   

Hull :  Honestly, I saw a lot of disappointment with the 2016 schedule, in that nothing much has changed with it. A lot of people were wanting to add tracks such as Road America to the Cup schedule. For years, people have wanted a road course in the Chase as well. People are getting tired of the same kind of schedule. But I think the best thing that they did that people can at least be happy with is the fact that they are keeping the Southern 500 at Labor Day, and we all know how awesome that race was. So even though a lot of people may not be quite happy with the new schedule, there are some things on it that make people happy.

Sweet job, team!  While the roosters are adjusting to the end of Daylight Savings Time (except for some of our lucky friends in a few states), we’re prepping up for 500 miles of racing action!  Before we get to our race picks, let’s take a look at the TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after Race 32 at Talladega!
1) Ashley Hobbs – 2244 points (2 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 2218 points (5 wins)
3) Katie Copple – 2186 points (1 win)
4) Rob Tiongson – 2185 points (4 wins)
5) Cody Shoppe – 2121 points
6) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
8) Jessica Bushee – 2000 points
It’s a pretty close fight and with Martinsville kicking off the Eliminator Round of 8, anything is possible with who finds themselves in position to win the third TPF Cup championship!  The points consider any correct predictions for the eliminated racers from the Contender Round of 12.  Race picks matter and it’s about that time, as a matter of fact, to reveal who we think will win today’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville!
We have a 7% chance at picking the race winner today!

We have a 7% chance at picking the race winner today!

Hobbs :  Time to get that last first win of the season (and number 93 overall), Jeff Gordon!

Tiongson :  I have to like the 24 team’s chances of advancing on to the final round if they win at Martinsville.  I’ve saved this pick just for the man who knows how to score many grandfather clocks so I expect that No. 24 AARP Member Advantages Chevy to be in Victory Lane!  

Shoppe :  Going with Denny Hamlin today!

Hull :  My pick for the race today is Martin Truex Jr.

We’re not quite done yet, friends!  Why don’t we look at our predictions for who we think are our bottom four after the Eliminator Round of 8!
At least we're not asking you to pick a Robot Master from Mega Man.

At least we’re not asking you to pick a Robot Master from Mega Man.

Hobbs :  Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch.

Shoppe :  Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch.

Hull :  Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon.

Tiongson :  Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick.

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on this weekend’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville 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.  

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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