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Track Talk: A Preview of the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Jeff Gordon Raceway

Well, friends, it’s time to put on the cowboy or cowgirl gear (rhinestone if you dig the Glen Campbell song) one more time in 2015 as the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and teams prepare for the penultimate race of the season with today’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at, yes, Jeff Gordon Raceway (or Phoenix International Raceway).  All kinds of pop culture references on this edition of Track Talk so quickly, eh?

If you’re a Chaser who’s made it through the first eight races of the postseason and have a shot at contending for the ultimate prize of the year, there’ll not be any holding back for the drivers and teams who could be hoisting the trophy when all is said and done.  Of course, for Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Pepsi Chevy team, it’s a shot to win another race as a rehearsal before the finale next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Sure, some fans may be absolutely concerned about the speed of that car but crew chief Alan Gustafson and company have a good grasp of the big picture so this could be a good momentum builder (or really a 312 lap prelude) for the big show next weekend.

As for Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr., they don’t necessarily have to win today but a checkered flag in today’s race at JGR would be huge.  On the flip side, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano are the ones who’ll have to do Hail Mary racing in the desert, especially for the latter portion of this group.  Logano, who seemingly looked like the odds on favorite to win it all in the Chase, is in an absolute, have to win, no doubt about it about checkered flag situation as he’s 63 points behind the cutoff line or fourth place Truex.

Remember the final laps of last year’s race at Phoenix?  Yes, Harvick stunk up the show and reminded the racing world and fantasy owners who aren’t familiar with some New York or Boston sports site on the news that he was on a mission to go for it all.  Behind him, craziness ensued with Ryan Newman applying the chrome horn on Kyle Larson to gain that pivotal single point that knocked out four-time race winner Gordon from challenging for the Cup title.

Might all of that happen today?  We’ll see as the late Buddy Baker would often say, “It’ll be feeding time at the zoo!” After Jimmie Johnson’s party crashing at Texas last weekend, might the 48 repeat his victorious ways at Avondale, AZ?  Let’s talk about this and more with Ashley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody Shoppe, and Katie Copple here for today’s Track Talk.  The party starts with Trending Topics right here on TPF!

Trending Topics by Rob Tiongson

Question 1
Jimmie Johnson played the groundhog real well at Texas.

Jimmie Johnson played the groundhog real well at Texas.

Jimmie Johnson spoiled Brad Keselowski’s bid to win the AAA Texas 500 last Sunday.  Keselowski, who led a bulk of the race, will now have to either race his way or win the race this Sunday to advance to the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Can Keselowski and his No. 2 team dig their way out of the hole and into the final round?
Hobbs :  I think he is in more of a crater than a hole; though I am not sure what that would put teammate Joey Logano in, but maybe a black hole? Anyways, of course the 2 team can win! . However, in order for this to be possible, they will have to figure out how to (fairly) beat the Kevin Harvick and the 4 crew, who are the masters of PIR/JGR (that is Jeff Gordon Raceway).
Copple :  Was anyone else jumping and screaming when Johnson took that win from Keslowski? No? Just me? (Editor’s Note: A lot of race fans found it interesting!) Anyway, Keslowski is really going to have to work hard this weekend for his spot in the Championship race. This isn’t going to be something that is just handed to him on a silver platter. Last weekends race just shows that anything can happen. Just because you lead the entire race, doesn’t mean you are going to win it. The final four, whoever they may be, need to remember that for Homestead!
Hull :  That was a huge blow to the 2 team. It really stinks when you lead almost all of the race, yet you don’t win. He will for sure have to win Phoenix to get out of the hole that he is in. His average finish in his last 4 starts at Phoenix is 6th place, which will not be enough for him to make it to the Championship round. He will need to win the race. Like Texas, Keselowski has never won at Phoenix, so he will have an uphill battle for sure. But as this Chase format has proven to us, ANYTHING is possible.
Shoppe :  I think with Harvick as good as he is at Phoenix, Team Penske’s chances are all but over. The last chance for Brad Keselowski to punch his ticket may have come in the closing laps in Texas. If Brad has any chance left to make the final four, he may have to pull a Hail Mary move on the No. 4 car for the win on the desert.
Question 2
Joey Logano is feeling quite platinum today.

Joey Logano is feeling quite platinum today.

Joey Logano finds himself in a must win on Sunday scenario to advance into the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  In hindsight, did Logano go about his racing with Matt Kenseth incorrectly and thus forced himself into this difficult predicament?
Hobbs :  This is a difficult one here. There are so many what if scenarios we can play at Martinsville, but if Logano did win, we clearly would not be having this conversation. It cannot be said that going back to Kansas is the reasoning behind all of this, but it certainly is the elephant in the room. If Logano was not taken out by Kenseth yet still lost Martinsville to Jeff Gordon, and Texas still happened the way it did, he might not be in a must win situation.

Copple :  This feud or whatever it is between Kenseth and Logano has hurt his chances at making it to the final race in Homestead and has hurt his chances at becoming the 2015 Champion. Was Logano in the wrong at Kansas? NASCAR doesn’t think so. What Kenseth in the wrong at Martinsville? NASCAR thinks so. All of that doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is the fact that their feud with other has ruined the chances of either of them winning the title this season.
Hull :  While Matt Kenseth perhaps could have dealt with the conflict better, Joey Logano didn’t handle it properly. When Logano wrecked Kenseth at Kansas, he didn’t reach out to Kenseth aftewards, like most veterans have done in the past. He didn’t go up to Kenseth and explain what happened, nor apologized. Had he done that, Kenseth may have reconsidered even wrecking him. Instead, Logano had an arrogance about him and bragged about how he was being mistreated. That certainly didn’t make things better for him. Hopefully, he will learn how to treat veteran drivers, instead of being arrogant and nonchalant about the whole situation.

Shoppe :  Looking back at all that took place, the move Joey Logano made on Matt Kenseth in Kansas is the reason he may not advance or even win the championship. If that rivalry didn’t escalate as it did, I believe the Logano would be a lock for the final 4 and may win the title. He has one more chance to get in, but he likely would have been in a much more comfortable position.
Question 3
Tired of tire problems.

Tired of tire problems.

Tires seemed to be an issue for some of the teams last Sunday at Texas.  Was this a product of the compound not being suitable for this aero package or the teams being too aggressive with these tires?
Hobbs :  That depends; are you asking the crew chief and tire specialist of the teams who saw tire issues, or are you asking Goodyear? It appeared that not every issue was the same, which everyone thought was the case when tires started going down. Still, it is rare for multiple teams to have issues related to tires, let alone the same tire. If it was a team or 2, I would be more inclined to say that the teams were being too aggressive on their set-ups, but since that is not the case, I am leaning slightly on the side that something was amiss in the Goodyear tire for this race. And that, my friends, puts us in a pickle for Homestead since the same tire will be used.
Copple :  I’m surprised that we haven’t had more tire problems this season. But in the case of Texas, what’s done is done. Each team and each car will have a different impact on the tires, however small that impact may be. Was it a lack of on-track time that weekend before the race? Was the tire pressure the reason? We may never know the exact answer but NASCAR and Goodyear can take this race as learn from it to better the tires for next season.
Hull :  I think the aero package had a lot to do with it. Texas is a very aggressive track on tires to begin with. When the aero package makes it hard to pass cars, you are using your tires more, therefore, wearing out the tires. It was mostly that and unfortunate circumstances. Some teams had bad luck and doled out to them and they couldn’t shake it, while others, such as Kevin Harvick, overcame that.
Shoppe :  I believe it was a combination of lack of practice time for the teams as well as aggressive body shaping for a fast track that lead to the tire issues. When you are at a track as fast as Texas, you need a car as tightly built against the tires to prevent air going between. Some teams misjudged it by getting the sheet metal too close and cutting the tires down. If it was a Goodyear compound issue, I believe it would have happen more to the right front then the left rear which was such a common place for failures Sunday.
Question 4
Excuse me, pardon me. Or something more aggressive than that.

Excuse me, pardon me. Or something more aggressive than that.

Last year, we saw Ryan Newman muscle Kyle Larson out of the way to race his way into the Championship Round field.  Might we see the same situation take place this Sunday?
Hobbs :  Short and sweet answer: With the points so tight and 3 drivers (basically) in a must win situation, ABSOLUTELY!!! If I am Jeff Gordon, I am happier than a camel on Wednesday.
Copple :  YES!!!! Tensions will be on edge for those drivers who need to race their way into Homestead. Jeff Gordon is the only one who can really take it easy. The other seven will have to be cautious but not too cautious, race hard but not too hard. There will be a fine line between pushing the car and the team just far enough and pushing them a little too far.
Hull :  This Chase format really brings out the competitive and ruthless nature in these drivers. We have seen this already. Since this is a cutoff race, it is possible that it can happen again. This is the product of this format, more aggressive drivers. And anything can happen, so we shall see on Sunday.
Shoppe :  With all the big name drivers who HAVE to win Phoenix, I would be shocked if there isn’t a last ditch bump and run attempt Sunday. With your season on the line, you gotta do what ya gotta do!
Yee-haw!  Gotta love talking about NASCAR even in mid-November.  The crew delivered big time with today’s four storylines.  Now before we get to the race picks, let’s take a gander at those TPF Track Talk Cup points standings after Race 34 at Texas:
1) Ashley Hobbs – 2333 points (3 wins)
2) Ashley Hull – 2298 points (5 wins)
3) Rob Tiongson – 2271 points (5 wins)
4) Katie Copple – 2227 points (1 win)
5) Cody Shoppe – 2204 points
6) Patrick Staropoli – 2037 points
7) Jessica Tow – 2003 points (1 win)
Everyone's getting a glance at the firesuits for the second to last race of the year.

Everyone’s getting a glance at the firesuits for the second to last race of the year.

Goodness, gracious!  It’s about time to reveal our race picks here on TPF.  Ladies and gentlemen, here’s who we’re picking for today’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Jeff Gordon Raceway!

Tiongson :  

Hobbs :  Well, since I sacrificed my prized Harvick pick last week at Texas, I am choosing a driver who really needs to win. He may not have any wins (yet), but he has had a pretty good year and will probably do (almost) anything to win this weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about Busch, Kurt Busch!

Copple :  Going with Kurt Busch!

Hull :  My pick for the race this Sunday is going to be the shoo-in, Kevin Harvick.

Shoppe :  Jimmie Johnson, come out to play!

There you have it, race fans! The Track Talk crew has spoken and given their thoughts on this weekend’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Jeff Gordon Raceway!  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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