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Track Talk: Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

How will Charlotte Motor Speedway treat the playoff field this weekend?

How will Charlotte Motor Speedway treat the playoff field this weekend?

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR and attempt to pick the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley digress on Chase Elliott’s close call (again), the manufacturer battles at Dover, teams facing pressure in the Round of 12, and that little post race discussion between Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon.

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Question 1
Chase Elliott is truly NASCAR's bridesmaid...for now. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Chase Elliott is truly NASCAR’s bridesmaid…for now. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Chase Elliott’s bid for his first Cup victory came to a screeching halt in dramatic fashion at Dover. Did Ryan Newman have the right to hold Elliott in his attempt to make the Round of 12 or were his tactics somewhat questionable?

Sturm :  Newman had every right to hold him because he was fighting for a playoff spot just like Elliott was fighting for his first win.

Granted, a first win holds a little more prestige than a playoff spot considering Newman had his fair share of time in the playoffs in years past. I can see both sides.

The odds of Newman making it either way were very low, even if he did hold Elliott off and remain on the lead lap. He would have had to do more than just hold Elliott off (which he didn’t do and is why he didn’t advance). So I can see where people are coming from when they say he should have let Elliott by.

However, that’s not how racing works. Everyone is out to fight for their own spot and Newman is a seasoned racer, so he’s not going to give up that easily. In short, he did what he had to do in hopes of advancing and unfortunately for him, his efforts came up short.

Hobbs :  Newman was out of the playoffs and there really wasn’t anything that he could do to change it. Elliott was battling for the lead, as the leader none of the less.

However, a driver should never have to just move over. Then again, with a handful of laps to go, those who are not in striking distance of the lead should give way and let those up front settle it on their own. But the last thing we need is more NASCAR policing.

Conley :  As for his right? Well, he’s a racer, his job is to race for the best result possible.

What he did was a full-blown case of disrespect. The flagman shows that blow flag with a yellow stripe to slower cars. They are supposed to yield to the leaders.

Now, Newman is known as the toughest car to pass and there was never any question that he wasn’t going quietly. But, what he has to ask is how would he feel had the roles been reversed? Ryan Newman had a significant impact on that race, which was very unfortunate for a playoff driver.

Hull :  It’s kind of hard to distribute blame to anyone. Ryan Newman was doing what he had to do as a driver, and that was not let anyone ahead of him. However, he had no chance of advancing, so what he did was kind of selfish.

In the end though, Kyle Busch had the better car, and therefore, won. Hopefully, Elliott will learn from this and will win a race soon.

Cassidy :  I think any driver has the right to race their hardest no matter what their circumstances are. Being in the playoffs, Newman was fighting for every point as well.

Parmelee :  When you’re fighting for a championship, all bets are off. Getting caught up in race traffic is racing. Unfortunately for Chase Elliott, he was on the receiving end of the short stick this time. If anyone thinks that Elliott would have done different had the situation been reversed, they’re kidding themselves.

Lucas :  Newman was racing for his playoff life and had every right to race the way he did. Plus, if we look at the final tire cycle, perhaps Elliott cooked his tires at a faster rate.  Ultimately, Busch was able to stay consistent early in the run, saving his tires for a late race push.

There are many variables in a race that we are not privileged to know about. I think many fans were quick to rush to conclusion that Newman ruined Elliott’s chance at a win. Racing ethics aside, Elliott should’ve used the “chrome horn” on Newman if he really wanted to win.

Shoppe :  Ryan Newman was absolutely right to be fighting hard to stay on the lead lap late in the race in Dover. Should a yellow come out, who knows what could have happened in terms of his playoff hopes.

Some say Newman held up Elliott to mess up his win or he should have gave up his track position to let the leaders through. Like Newman said before and as the race broadcast put it, it is his job to have the best finish for his team and he is paid to fight for his positions not give them up.

Chase Elliott lost the race due to his inability to change his line late in the race and Kyle Busch was faster on the top. Just because Ryan Newman isn’t a quitter doesn’t mean he is to blame for Elliott’s loss. 

Magda :  Ryan Newman was fighting for his playoff life the entire race and with Ricky Stenhouse Jr grabbing the stage points early on, it only put the Richard Childress Racing driver in a bigger hole. I don’t think Newman really held up Elliott towards the end of the race, especially with both of them enduring a copious amount of lapped traffic.

RCR cars haven’t been that strong this year even with their two victories. Honestly, they were lucky to make it into the playoff grid. Elliott will be strong again this weekend at Charlotte and don’t be surprised if he breaks through for his first Cup Series win.

Question 2
Might Brad Keselowski's Ford contend for wins in the Round of 12? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Might Brad Keselowski’s Ford contend for wins in the Round of 12? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones)

Dover finally showed some manufacturer parity, as Brad Keselowski won Stage 1 in a Ford, Kyle Larson triumphant in his Chevy in Stage 2, and Kyle Busch as the race winner in his Toyota. Will we see more competitive fire from the Chevy and Ford teams in the Round of 12?

Sturm :  Let me just say that I absolutely loved Dover for exactly this reason. There was so much manufacturer variety up front and it was so refreshing to see. NASCAR fans have been so used to seeing Toyotas dominate almost every race, so I think this was very good for the sport.

To answer the question, yes. I absolutely believe we will see more fire from Chevy and Ford. It’s crunch time and everyone is going to be all in no matter what. Hendrick Motorsports really brought the speed to Dover and I believe you will continue to see them bring the speed to future playoff races, and many other Chevys and Fords (Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick) were running up front as well.

Hobbs :  One can only hope we see more variety. Could this be short track racing at its finest? Perhaps. The intermediate tracks will tell if the Chevrolet and Ford camps have found something.

Conley :  Once we see that parity on a mile and a half racetrack, then I’ll believe it. Right now, it’s still all Toyota, all the time. Especially when it matters.

Hull :  We are coming up on some tracks that favor both. All of these teams have shown that they’re still hungry to advance to the Championship 4. These teams have some fight in them, so we will see all three of these manufacturers vie for the championship.

Cassidy :  I think as the playoffs heat up, you will see more competition come from these other manufacturers. Clearly, they have the momentum to win races in the playoffs when it truly matters.

Parmelee :  I think the fights about manufacturers are really interesting. If you look at the winners from the beginning of the year, it’s a whole different ballgame to where we are now.

Is that because of changes that the manufacturers are making, or is NASCAR just that fluid of a sport? I think we’re always going to have arguments for both, but I think it’s safe to say that the Toyotas may have gotten some stiffer competition as of late.

Lucas :  Remember last season when Jimmie Johnson won at Auto Club and then slept the rest of the regular season? Yeah, I think there has been some sandbagging going on in the garage.

This weekend at Charlotte, I believe we’ll see the real championship four rise to the top of the point’s standings. No more pretending, as this is the round where we separate the contenders from the pretenders, regardless of manufacturer.

Shoppe :  I do think we can expect to see manufacturer parody for the rest of the year. Toyota still has a leg up in speed but Chevy drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson will be strong. Ford drivers like Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Blaney also have a good chance to contend.

Magda :  I think we’ll see other teams give Toyota a run for their money in this round. This has to be the toughest round in the playoffs, throwing Talladega into the mix next week and Kansas being an elimination race.

Last year at Charlotte, Martin Truex Jr triggered a multi-car crash involving Austin Dillon and a dominant Chase Elliott and all three drivers were unable to advance to the round of eight once things settled down.

The non-Toyota team you’ll have to keep an eye on is Kyle Larson. He had the car to beat at Dover until the engine stopped running under a caution and was never able to re-gain the top spot. I think we can see mechanical gremlins playing out again in setting the field for the Round of 8.

Question 3
Cause love's just an old fashioned word and love dares you to change our ways. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Cause love’s just an old fashioned word and love dares you to change our ways. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Which drivers and teams face the most pressure to advance from the Round of 12 to the Round of 8?

Sturm :  I think there will be a lot of pressure on JGR, more specifically Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Unless something wild happens, I think Kyle Busch is safe, but Hamlin is currently seventh in points and if we were to eliminate today, Kenseth would already be out seeing as how he’s currently in 11th.

Another driver that I think will be fighting tooth and nail to hang on is Jimmie Johnson. He’s trying to go for eight this year and there’s no doubt that he’s gonna work hard to earn it.

Hobbs :  Every since team faces pressure. I would say the top drivers this season, Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Larson, and Kyle Busch, in my eyes, face the most pressure to continue their dominant performances.

Conley :  With the progress that Hendrick Motorsports has shown in the past couple of weeks, I say the 24 and 48 are under the most pressure to advance.

Jimmie Johnson has the most wins and best average finish among active drivers at two of the three races comprising the Round of 12. Chase Elliott showed us that he is ready to win at Dover. If they don’t move on, it’s a disappointment.

Hull :  Ricky Stenhouse Jr has a lot to prove. He barely made it into the Round of 12 due to someone else’s bad luck. He could do well at Talladega, but he really needs to step things up. Kevin Harvick is another driver that will need to step things up in the playoffs as well. This is unusual for him, as he has done well in the past playoff races.

Cassidy :  I think pressure will hit the young guns such as Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. These drivers need to separate themselves from the pack this round and prove they are meant to be in the playoffs.

Parmelee :  I think drivers like Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray know they’re going to have to step it up this round because they’re in the playoffs entirely on points rather than wins. I think that has to put a bit more pressure on those drivers and teams because they haven’t performed as well — in terms of victories — as the other drivers in the playoffs.

Lucas :  Martin Truex Jr has a fierce, vice-like grip over the competition.  However, one small crack, as we have seen in the recent weeks, could unravel his ridiculously excellent season.

Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and seven-time champion, will always have a target on his back. I think he begins his waltz to Homestead by having a strong showing at Charlotte this weekend. Never count the champ out, but watch out for slippery spots!

After the season that teammate Kyle Larson has enjoyed, I think Jamie McMurray is out to prove that old guys can still kick butt. Two of the next three tracks are where McMurray got his mojo back several seasons ago. It will be interesting for the No. 1 team. Perhaps they should bring a few extra Big Mac’s to the track for good luck.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s proclamation, “1776, we are the champions,” may be the closest that the No. 17 team gets to uttering those words. It will be an uphill battle for Stenhouse Jr and company. Their magic track to advancing is Talladega. Without a win in this round, I find it very hard to see the No. 17 advancing to the Round of 8.

Shoppe :  Ricky Stenhouse Jr barely made it through to the Round of 12. To be fair, I think he is going to experience the most pressure in this round.

Ultimately, it is not because they lack the speed to make the Round of 8.  However, with the No. 17 team’s outstanding plate race record this year, they will have so much pressure to repeat their success at Talladega next week.  If they aren’t able to pull off one more win in Alabama, this playoff rookie will likely find himself eliminated.

Magda :  Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 team face the most pressure going into this round because JGR is fast. The pit crew is one of the best in the business along with the No. 18 (formerly No. 19) members. Kenseth will need to win a race in this round to move on and they’ve been quick the last few months. Right now, Kyle Busch is the top driver at JGR, scoring back-to-back playoff wins for the first time in his career.

Seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson is also on the hot seat for the Round of 12 because they’re not as fast as they began last year’s playoffs. Johnson goes into Charlotte as the defending winner of the race and both Hendrick cars still eligible for a title might have their hands full if either driver doesn’t win a race.

Question 4
Conflict of interest or not for Jeff Gordon?

Conflict of interest or not for Jeff Gordon?

The post race discussion between Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman sparked some conversation about the ethics for a broadcaster and a participant of the sport. Should NASCAR and its media partners look into tightening up its alignment to avoid potential (and curtail existing) conflicts of interests?

Sturm :  I’m going to be completely honest here. I didn’t see a problem with Jeff Gordon rooting for Chase Elliott to win. He’s not broadcasting at the moment, he has part ownership in the team, and Elliott took his spot in the No. 24, so I can totally understand why he would be a little biased.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen it and it won’t be the last. I think there are plenty more important things that NASCAR could focus on, such as the dwindling fan base. From what I gathered on Twitter, there actually weren’t that many people that had a problem with what Gordon did, so it’s safe to say it shouldn’t be of main concern.

Hobbs :  Jeff Gordon, while a Fox broadcaster, is still a part of NASCAR. Gordon has stake in the cars are Hendrick Motorsports, and he will always have passion for the drivers of that organization. To tell him to step back would be out of line.

If NASCAR has issues with conflicts of interest, using Gordon as an example, they would not let driver be in the booth or become owners, let alone, any combination of that list. NASCAR needs to not pay attention to this “incident” and just move along.

Conley :  No, not at all. Jeff Gordon is a broadcaster, but at that moment, he was acting as an owner. Plus that gave us controversy to talk about. Heated moments are part of this sport and NASCAR does not need to step in for what is a rare occurrence.

Hull :  Since Jeff Gordon was off-duty that day, I don’t think this was an issue. I think that Jeff Gordon is a mentor to Chase Elliott, and he wanted to stand up for him. I think that it was okay. Maybe if he was working that day, something should have been done. But other than that, everything was justified.

Cassidy :  It depends who you are asking. It is clear through social media interactions that NASCAR fans live for these types of altercations. At this moment in time, I think the sport needs any light it can get. At the end of the day, both parties need to do their job and respect others as much as possible.

Parmelee :  I think that’s the risk that NASCAR — and several other athletic associations — have taken to hiring former players as broadcasters and analysts. I think it would be one thing if Gordon was still racing, but he’s not.

Sure, the comment was unnecessary, but I don’t think that changes Gordon’s ability to be a successful analyst or gives anyone from Hendrick an advantage by having their former driver in the booth. We don’t stop drivers like Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski from participating in Xfinity race broadcasts even though they occasionally drive the 22 for Team Penske. I don’t see this as any different.

Lucas :  I’ve been a huge Jeff Gordon fan my entire life. However, I was extremely disappointed in his actions this past Sunday.

First of all, is he a commentator or a driver coach? Whoever is paying the bigger paycheck is where you need to keep your business. If Jeff is totally committed to being a broadcaster, he’ll have to drastically reduce his involvement with Hendrick Motorsports.

However, there is some uncertainty on how much longer he’ll be in the television booth. I believe the novelty of Gordon in the both has worn off, and the thrill of racing and teaching the next generation of drivers at Hendrick has weighed heavily on his mind.

I think it’s a good move to head back home to Hendrick for Gordon in the future. Not that there is anything wrong with him in the booth. I enjoy listening to his perspective during the broadcast.

Shoppe :  It has never been a secret that Jeff Gordon is a biased broadcaster. A driver who had a legendary career with just one team, Gordon not only has a close personal and professional tie to the Hendrick team but also a sentimental connection to his former team.

Few can be surprised to see Gordon criticize Newman as a cop out for Elliott’s loss. I do think there should be a line drawn with broadcaster bias. It will be interesting to see how Dale Earnhardt Jr handles calling the ups and downs of the No. 88 team next year.

Magda :  Jeff Gordon is a co-owner of the No. 48 car and still plays a role with the team after his retirement. While I understand a lot of people get along with each other in the garage and sometimes are caught up in the moment, that doesn’t give anyone a pass for their actions.

Notably, Gordon’s TV contract with FOX is up for renewal in after June 2018 and there’s still a lot of unknowns on what the four-time champ will do. There is a fine line on being involved with the sport on a certain level.

Furthermore, look at former NBA player Brad Daugherty partnering with JTG Racing while he was still doing racing stuff for ESPN. I think it’s possible to separate the media and professional side of things in racing to maintain a healthy relationship with drivers, fans, team members etc.

Once again, the TPF Track Talk panelists delivered with four solid laps at Dover!  Before we proceed with our race picks, let’s review how we all fared at Dover!
Hobbs enjoys another victory...

Hobbs enjoys another victory…

...and naturally enjoys the points lead!

…and naturally enjoys the points lead!

With the Round of 16 in the books, our panelists look ahead to the Round of 12!  Like our Chicagoland preview, it’s time to make our predictions for those who may be eliminated after the Round of 12.
Bottom 4 after Round of 12
Will Ryan Blaney prove our panelists wrong with their prediction?

Will Ryan Blaney prove our panelists wrong with their prediction?

Tiongson :  Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray.

Sturm :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Jamie McMurray

Hobbs :  Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Jamie McMurray.

TPF Stats :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Jamie McMurray.

Conley :  Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Jamie McMurray.

Hull :  Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray.

Cassidy :  Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray.

Parmelee :  Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray.

Lucas :  Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray.

Shoppe :  Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Jamie McMurray.

Magda :  Ryan Blaney Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Jamie McMurray.

Of course, it couldn’t be Track Talk without making our picks for Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte!
Will one of these mighty six win at Charlotte?

Will one of these mighty six win at Charlotte?

Tiongson :  Kurt Busch may be out of the playoffs but he enters Charlotte with five top-10 finishes in his past five starts.  His second victory of 2017 will happen at CMS this Sunday.

Sturm :  My pick to win at Charlotte is Martin Truex Jr.

Hobbs :  The master of the 1.5 miles, Martin Truex Jr, goes to Victory Lane in Charlotte.

Hull :  Martin Truex Jr wins at Charlotte.

Shoppe :  Martin Truex takes the victory at Charlotte.

TPF Stats :  The guy who is on such a hot streak right now, and would love to see that continue, is Kyle Busch!

Conley :  After coming a mile short last weekend, Chase Elliott finally wins his first race and advances to the Round of 8.

Lucas :  The “powers that be” have put me in a hole when it comes to making a pick during the postseason. However, I have come up with a formula to succeed during this time. That’s about all I’ll tell, so I am going with Mr. Runner Up, a bridesmaid no more. Chase Elliott will break the bank!

Magda :  I’m going with Chase Elliott.

Parmelee :  Going with Kyle Larson.

Cassidy :  Jimmie Johnson kicks off the Round of 12 with a win!

That wraps it up, 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 each week! 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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