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Track Talk: Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

NASCAR's West Coast Swing concludes with the Auto Club 400!

NASCAR’s West Coast Swing concludes with the Auto Club 400!

Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!

This weekend, our panelists Adam LucasAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Christina Bowman, Cody ShoppeJose Acero Jr, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, and Stephen Conley mull over our NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019 picks and Kevin Harvick’s most likely challenger at Fontana.

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Question 1: Potential Class of 2019 Picks
Might Jeff Gordon become the first unanimous inductee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Might Jeff Gordon become the first unanimous inductee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

The NASCAR Hall of Fame recently revealed its latest nominees for the Class of 2019.  Who would you vote into next year’s class and why?

Acero:  As much as I would love to vote for Jeff Gordon, my vote goes to Alan Kulwicki for his scientific approach to the sport. It is an approach that is being implemented by teams around the sport to this day.

Bowman: It’s hard to argue against Jeff Gordon being voted in, the man was and still is a legend in the sport. If I had an opportunity, I would vote for Alan Kulwicki, Kirk Shelmerdine, Buddy Baker and Davey Allison as well. All of their contributions on and off the track are deserving of induction.

Cassidy: I love seeing deserving drivers such as Jeff Gordon get nominated for the Class of 2019. However, I believe the sport still owes it to induct some “original” icons into the NASCAR Hall of Fame first.

The top of my list is still Alan Kulwicki. I believe this driver did so much for the founding days of the sport, I know he has been a fan favourite to be inducted for a few years now.

Conley: Jeff Gordon, Buddy Baker, Davey Allison, Ray Fox and Harry Hyde. For me, Jeff Gordon is without question a unanimous vote, Buddy Baker is a multifaceted vote for driving and TV plus it’s time. Ray Fox and Harry Hyde all give a glimpse into the past and their contributions helped bring the sport and technology to a new level. As for Davey Allison, he may not have the numbers, but had a following that would rival any of the greats.

Copple: I’m probably one of the few who will say this. I wouldn’t vote for Jeff Gordon for this year’s Hall of Fame. While I do believe that Gordon deserves a place in the HOF, I think there are others on the list who deserve it first. Gordon has only been out of the car for a handful of seasons and has plenty more off-track to do in his career.

Now, for those who I do hope to see inducted this year, Buddy Baker, Alan Kulwicki, Jack Roush, Dave Allison and Harry Hyde are all icons in this sport who have had a hand in making NASCAR the sport we know today. Every single person nominated deserves a spot in the HOF. It’s just a question as to who gets in first.

Hobbs: Jeff Gordon. Might be only a few years removed from the NASCAR racing circuit, but he did so much for the sport when he first entered, and continued making waves throughout his entire career. He is truly a reason why NASCAR became so popular. With his 93 wins and four titles, that is first ballot Hall of Famer in my book.

Hull:  I would most definitely vote for Buddy Baker. He has done so much to transform the sport not only as a driver, but a commentator. He was just a remarkable man all around, and is very deserving of this honor. I would also vote for Davey Allison, Jeff Gordon, Ray Fox, and Alan Kulwicki. It is really hard to choose from all of those amazing nominees though because they have all contributed positively to the sport.

Lucas: Well, I’m going to sound like a fanboy answering this, but Jeff Gordon is definitely number one on my list. It would be extremely satisfying to see my childhood idol become a first ballot Hall of Famer this May. What else can I say? I love the guy! As for my remaining four Class of 2019 inductees, I would have to go with Buddy Baker, Waddell Wilson, Alan Kulwicki, and Jack Roush.

Shoppe: I think everyone can agree that Jeff Gordon is a lock for the HOF. Everyone nominated is very deserving of a place in the hall. It’s not a question of if but when they will all be in.

Moreover, can Joey Logano score his first win since Richmond last April? (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Moreover, can Joey Logano score his first win since Richmond last April? (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Fontana, a track with an aged surface but similar in shape to Michigan, hosts the final West Coast Swing race for NASCAR.  Which racers appear to have the best shot to derail Kevin Harvick’s winning ways?

Acero:  After winning his third straight at ISM Raceway, Harvick during post-race press conference mentioned that he had Fontana circled on his calendar given the fact that said venue is his home track and has a racing surface similar to Atlanta where I believe he schooled the field. It wouldn’t surprise me that the No. 4 car ends up being the car to beat at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. Four in a row for Harvick!

Bowman: The Fords (lead by Harvick) have really kicked off the 2018 season with a bang! It’s hard to stop momentum like that. However, a track like Auto Club Speedway could be a great equalizer. Strategy and long green flag runs are a consistent factor, much like Michigan. If I was to pick a Ford, I would say Joey Logano has the best chance of taking down Harvick, Jimmie Johnson is Chevy’s best bet and Kyle Busch for Toyota.

Cassidy: Harvick is known for his success on the West Coast Swing and it will be hard to crush his confidence again this weekend. I believe another Ford has the best chance at knocking the 4 team off another podium finish.

Conley: I’m not sure Superman himself could knock off Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team. NASCAR tried, and it only ticked them off. I made the mistake of not picking Harvick at Phoenix, I won’t do that again. But, if you’re looking for some “good finishers”, Stick with the Fords. Keselowski, Logano, Blaney, Maybe through a Chevy in there with Larson or Chase Elliott. But for now, it’s “All Harvick, All the time.”

Copple: At this point, can anyone derail Harvick and the No.4 team? Fontana is his track. But apparently, every track is his track this year. The one to beat is Harvick, and if Jimmie Johnson was racing like Jimmie Johnson usually races, I’d say he would be a good bet to dethrone the No.4. But Johnson is having one of his worst stretches in his career. Fords seem to be the strongest cars on track this season, so maybe Keselowski or Kyle Busch can take a run at Harvick. But let’s be serious here, I’d be surprised to see someone other than Harvick in Victory Lane Sunday.

Hobbs: Drivers who like hot, fast, slick tracks. Kyle Larson certainly comes to mind. Kyle Busch is very good out at Auto Club Speedway, and would love to not finish second (to Kevin Harvick). Chase Elliott also is a fan of the high grooves. But, I would keep my eyes on the two Kyles in the race this weekend.

Hull:  Seeing that Auto Club is very similar to Michigan, I see Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch having a good chance to win this weekend. They both like the fast tracks. We shall see if they can derail Harvick though, because that man has been on a roll.

Lucas: The natural assumption would be one of the Two Kyle’s (Larson or Busch). Larson has a phenomenal record at Auto Club and will definitely be a contender come Sunday. But, the big question will be can he last the entire race. Reliability has hampered the Ganassi cars since the end of last season. It appears that those gremlins have shifted to teammate McMurray’s car so far through the opening four events. However, I think Bush might have the upper hand this weekend. He was visibly upset after the Phoenix event, and we all know that when he’s mad, he drives the wheels off! Tire management will be crucial to securing a checkered flag this weekend.

Shoppe: Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch have to be on the top of the list to challenge Harvick. Any of the Penske Fords of Blaney, Logano, or Keselowski could as well. Don’t count out Chase Elliott either, the most competive of the Chevy’s so far this year.

That’s two solid laps warranting folks who desire squad goals at Auto Club! Before it’s winning time, let’s review our race and points report from Phoenix!
Kevin Harvick made a lot of panelists happy last weekend.

Kevin Harvick made a lot of panelists happy last weekend.

Meanwhile, a sophomore panelist is enjoying his first ever points lead.

Meanwhile, a sophomore panelist is enjoying his first ever points lead.

NASCAR’s West Coast Swing comes to a close at Auto Club Speedway. Without further ado, let’s reveal our picks to win Sunday’s Auto Club 400!
A fast five for Fontana!

A fast five for Fontana!

Acero: The Kevin Harvick Invitational began in Atlanta and concludes at Auto Club Speedway. Harvick for the win!

Conley: I’m riding this horse till it bucks me so it’ll be four in a row for Kevin Harvick.

Copple: This is a tough one. On one hand, I’d be foolish NOT to choose Kevin Harvick. But on the other hand, all good runs must come to an end at some point. I’m going to take a chance and say Kyle Busch tops Kevin Harvick for the win at Fontana.

Hobbs: With back-to-back second place finishes, I think Kyle Busch finally beats Kevin Harvick this weekend and heads to victory lane!

TPF Stats: Kyle Busch would like to stop finishing second, especially to Kevin Harvick. The statistics point the way for Kyle Busch’s first victory of the season this weekend.

Tiongson:  Kyle Larson rebounds from Phoenix, er ISM, and uses his Credit One credit card to win at Fontana for a second year in a row!

Hull:  Mr. Kyle Larson scores a victory!

Lucas: Auto Club Speedway has been my favorite track for the past ten years. Over these ten years, the track has seen an interesting cast of characters take home the legendary “Woody” trophy. The obvious pick for this weekend would be Mr. Freaky Fast himself, but believe it or not, It’s time for me to play strategically.

Knowing that Harvick is a threat week in and out, it’s time to focus on the rest of the field for Auto Club Speedway. He’s been one of the fastest cars in the field this year and has plenty of grit, but will he have enough patience to outlast the competition? Look for Kyle Busch to ring the Auto Club bell Sunday afternoon!

Shoppe: Kyle Larson!

Bowman: The site of his first win is where the drought will end for Jimmie Johnson.

Cassidy: Ryan Blaney gets the win at Fontana!

That wraps this week’s preview, race fans!  Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2018.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Track Talk are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author 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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