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Track Talk: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR as well as discussing their race pick to win the upcoming Sprint Cup race of the weekend.  In this edition of Track Talk, it’s all about the “World’s Fastest Half Mile” better known as Bristol Motor Speedway!

This week, our panel consisting of  Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullCody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley talk about Erik Jones’ new ride for 2017, Kyle Larson’s Chase chances, the polished bottom line at Bristol, and racing in the rain at Mid-Ohio!

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Question 1
Erik Jones stands tall with his new No. 77 ride for the 2017 season.

Erik Jones stands tall with his new No. 77 ride for the 2017 season.

Erik Jones will officially go full-time NASCAR Cup racing next season with the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing team.  While it’s just a one-year deal, what can we expect from the 2015 Truck champion with Barney Visser’s organization?

Cassidy :  Although Erik Jones has moved up fast through the levels of NASCAR, it cannot be said that this full-time ride is undeserving.  This young driver has consistently shown that he has the talent to race up with the big names in the Cup series.  I believe that Jones will still be successful next season, but will have his challenges ahead of him. Switching to Cup is never a walk in the park, but just like Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliot, Erik Jones will settle in and be a young competitor hungry for his first win.

Copple :  I think this will be a good move for him.  He will have a great teammate in Martin Truex Jr. and this will allow him to get some much needed seat time with the big guys in the sport.  This ride will give him the chance to grow as a driver with a team who will be able to work with him and get him the experience he needs.  Will we be expecting wins from him next season?  Doubtful.  But I think top-15’s and top-10’s wouldn’t be out of the question.

Hull :  Erik Jones will be nothing short of spectacular.  Sure, it will be a learning curve for him to be in the Cup series, but with every challenge that has been presented to him, he has proven that he can excel at.  He is in a good position to win the XFINITY Series championship as well.  Barney Visser’s cars are amazing, as Martin Truex Jr. has been doing well too.  So this first year in Cup for Jones will be a good one!

Shoppe :  I expect Erik Jones to to very well with Furniture Row in 2017 even though it is a newly formed second team.  I think the Denver based team won’t miss a beat adding a second car.  With the help of the JGR alliance, as well as a great teammate in Martin Truex Jr, Jones will have a great rookie season in Cup and a easy favorite for rookie of the year!

Hobbs :  I think we can expect one of two things; rookie success or rookie failure.  Based on his achievements thus far in XFINITY, I think he should do well.  The other unknown to this is the fact that Furniture Racing has always been a single car operation; there are many unknowns that come when adding a second car.

Fesko :  Expect a strong season, at least two wins, and by definition, a Chase berth.  This kid has talent, and FRR is a perfect outlet for Jones to show off.  The Toyota and JGR connection will further help Jones make the transition. Look out, field!

Conley :  This one is a mind bender. Erik Jones is an incredible talent and will be good for years to come in the Sprint Cup Series.  However, a new addition to what has always been a single car team that is showing a lot of progress could be either really good or really bad.  With the assistance of JGR and leaning on Martin Truex Jr., you’d expect it to be pretty good.  I’m not so sure though as it will be a big learning curve for a one-year deal.  Don’t expect Jones in the Chase with Furniture Row.

Question 2
A weekend to forget.

A weekend to forget.

Kyle Larson’s Chase prospects took a bit of a hit when he got bumped by AJ Allmendinger coming to the stripe at Watkins Glen.  While he could theoretically still points race his way into the field, will the race at Watkins Glen come back to haunt the 42 team?

Cassidy :  This is just a minor hiccup in the 42 team’s season.  Although we are getting close to the Chase, I believe this team will be able to dig for those strong consistent finishes in order to pull it off.  Not many other teams this season have been as successful as Larson’s to produce back-to-back strong finishes.  The fight is not over yet for this team!

Copple :  Haunt him?  No.  This wasn’t the only race that did it for the No. 42 team.  He has had seven races outside the top-20 this season.  He is still winless in the Sprint Cup Series after three full seasons when many expected him to go to Victory Lane in his first year.  If he finishes the season in the top-20 in points, the team should be proud.  It gives them plenty to work toward for 2017 but still makes for a good end to 2016.

Hull :  While it was a hard hit in points for the 42 team, they can overcome this.  They have been racing really good this year, and are coming up on some good tracks.  They just can’t let Watkins Glen get to them.  They just need to get their heads down and work on everything.  They can still get in if they just keep working.

Shoppe :  With Kyle Larson being isolated now in that 16th position on the Chase grid, most of his fate is in the hands of Chris Buescher.  If Buescher can work his way into the top-30 in points, he will move Larson out of the final spot.  Before the Watkins Glen spin, Larson had a great shot at easily working his way a place or two higher to keep himself in contention.  Now that so many points slipped through his fingers, a win is the only certain way he can feel safe.

Hobbs :  I think more than just the Watkins Glen race.  Similar to Chase Elliott, Larson started the season well.  He was putting together solid finishes and then fell off a bit.  That would not be a huge problem if more and more drivers were not finding Victory Lane.  While making it on points can still happen, I also believe that Larson still has the ability to win before the Chase starts.

Fesko :  No more than some of the other races this season – Dover in the spring, and Pocono a couple of weeks ago were great races for Larson, but he was unable to find Victory Lane to punch his ticket.  I feel with Larson, who had so much promise two years ago, a change of scenery will be necessary to jump start his career.

Conley :  I think the entire season is going to come back and bite that team.  They’ve had a lot of bad luck and not being able to close the deal and reach Victory Lane will put this entire season and Larnson’s future into question. He’s better than what he’s got at CGR.  Watkins Glen was just another chapter in that horror story.

Question 3
So much polishing, my dentist would be proud of Bristol!

So much polishing, my dentist would be proud of Bristol!

The bottom groove at Bristol Motor Speedway was recently “polished” to aid with more side-by-side action at The World’s Fastest Half Mile.  Will this be enough to bring back some of that physicality that fans and competitor expect at this concrete beast?

Cassidy :  I truly hope this is enough.  Last year, I attended Bristol and was a little disappointed with the racing side of the weekend.  Although the track layout was amazing, I failed to witness any crashes, or even “the big one” for that matter, in all three races.  At the end of the weekend this left me feeling disappointed with my trip, not because of the track, but because the level of racing I expected was not delivered.

Copple :  What is wrong with Bristol to begin with?  Bristol is and continues to be one of the best tracks on the circuit and while racing hasn’t been what it used to be, the cars and drivers on the track are always changing too.  I hope this “fix” isn’t going to harm the racing product but I guess we will see when this weekend comes.  But regardless, it’s the Bristol Night Race.  It’s one of the best races of the year.

Hull :  I am not sure whether or not it will really bring back all of the action, because that is yet to be determined. But it’s a start.  All of the races from the past few years have been good, but it seems like one driver dominates the entire race, and there isn’t a lot of bumping and running.  Hopefully, this will help the fans out and will give us a little more action!

Shoppe :  I can speak for a large group of race fans that we really hope so!  I know quite a few people are in favor of the current configuration of Bristol with its long green runs, less contact, and rare passes on the bottom.  The empty seats speak for themselves as to if the Bristol of old needs to make a comeback.  I am very glad to see Bristol Motor Speedway making these attempts to make the track more racy for fans to enjoy!

Hobbs :  That is to be determined honestly.  Bristol has done many changes over the past few years, and honestly, none have been good.  The Bristol we all grew up with and loved, thanks to the beating and banging and short tempers, has all but gone away.  Sure, we get a lot of passing, which is not seen at any other track, and there are still those tangles (500 laps gives one a lot of time to think), but it is not what it used to be.

Fesko :  If Rodney Childers’ assessment is right, then no. I like the idea, and drivers have been using the bottom lane, but we won’t really know until the CWTS and NXS races are run (both of which happen after our deadline). Even if it doesn’t, Bristol is still a great race and fans will have a good show.

Conley :  If the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was any indication, no.  It seemed the bottom groove was the preferred line and I wouldn’t expect anything different in the Cup series.  Albeit, in recent years, that top line has been the way to go.  The polished bottom may just give us that “bump and run” opportunity again.  Here’s to hoping.

Question 4
Nothing like a weekend drive in the rain, eh?

Nothing like a weekend drive in the rain, eh?

NASCAR XFINITY Series racers and teams were put to the test last weekend at Mid-Ohio with rainy conditions that sent some drivers off course while also promoting some parity at the front of the field.  In your opinion, was the race still competitive even when the rains came to Lexington?

Cassidy :  The rain currently made the race interesting.  However, I could feel the frustration some drivers felt due to the conditions.  I do not think the rain made the race competitive but more of a challenge for regular drivers fighting for points.  Although it is exciting to watch as a fan, I am not sure how I feel about racing in the rain, road course or not.  I feel as though our series stock cars are not built the same way other cars who generally run road courses.  Therefore, running in rain could be much more dangerous for a machine that has a significant weight difference.  In addition, XFINITY Series drivers do not race in rain any other time of the year, making it a second strike on my list.

Copple :  Competitive?  Yes.  Appropriate?  Maybe not.  Racing in the rain gives fans some excitement and also throws a new challenge at the drivers but the track seemed to be too wet.  Too many drivers were sliding all over the place, making for some dangerous conditions.  I think NASCAR should have red-flagged the race with the track as wet as it was but it still a good race.

Hull :  This race was the craziest race I have ever watched, aside from when Juan Pablo Montoya hit the jet dryer at Daytona.  It was clear that these drivers had little to no experience with driving in the rain.  But it was still a good race.  They were still able to put on a good show, and give us good racing.  It may have been more difficult for the drivers, but to say that it wasn’t a good race would be a lie.

Shoppe :  I’d say that the race in Mid-Ohio was very competitive despite the rain.  There was some good action battling for the lead between Justin Marks, Bubba Wallace, Sam Hornish, and Ty Dillon.  It was a very interesting race as the drivers and teams had to constantly adapt to the changing track conditions.  Hornish and Ryan Blaney were able to work their way back to the top-five despite many trips off the track.  We even saw very underfunded teams like Andy Lally in the No. 90 and Alon Day’s No. 40 run up front for the first time ever!  I enjoyed the race and I’m sure the fans there had fun seeing that race rather than waiting a day or two to see it in the dry.

Hobbs :  I feel like the XFINITY Series deals a lot with rain at the road courses.  I did not watch the race as my obligation was to the Olympics (and I also had no clue what channel to turn to) so I cannot really comment on the racing; but I can bet there was a lot of spins and angry drivers.

Fesko :  The race was competitive but instead of racing each other, drivers raced the conditions.  This is either a good thing or bad thing depending on your view.  I see the merits of both.  The race itself was entertaining, however, and that to me is the biggest metric.

Conley :  The competition wasn’t between drivers.  It was between tires and the race track.  That race should have never been run in the rain.  I know fans wanted to see a race in the rain, but at times, there was standing water on the race track.  Racing in damp conditions, sure, it brought a challenge, but the deluge we had at Mid-Ohio during parts of that race was just absurd.  It was fun to see Justin Marks, who calls himself a rain specialist, pull off the win, but it wasn’t competition or quality racing in my mind.  With that said, Sam Hornish said after the race that he was glad it rained because his car was so good, it would have ended up as a boring race for the fans and the rest of the field anyways.

That’s one lap around the “World’s Fastest Half Mile” and we’re getting around here like Usain Bolt in the 100 meter race!  Before we reveal who we’re picking for tonight’s race, let’s recap how we all fared at Watkins Glen with our race and points reports!
Kathleen keeps the good times rolling for her season...

Kathleen keeps the good times rolling for her season…

...and it shows with her dominance in the points race!

…and it shows with her dominance in the points race!

Alright, race fans!  Bristol is always such an exciting race in mid-August and tonight should be no exception.  Let’s see who we’re all picking to win the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway!
Three former winners and a Cup rookie...this shall be interesting!

Three former winners and a Cup rookie…this shall be interesting!

Tiongson :  Because three’s cool, Joey Logano will be a winner on Saturday night at Bristol.

Copple :  Going with Joey Logano.

Hobbs :  TPF Stats points to success for Team Penske; Brad Keselowski to be more specific. However, while the stats point to BK, I am going to choose his teammate, Joey Logano, to defend his defend at Bristol! (Get it? Because he has won the past two August races?)

Cassidy : Carl Edwards is the winner tonight!

Shoppe : Carl Edwards is my pick for the race.

Fesko :  Carl Edwards will win it with an Olympic flip!

Hull :  My pick for tonight is Matt Kenseth!

Fesko :  Over the last six years, Toyota has won six races, leading all manufacturers with wins at Bristol. With that being said, Chase Elliott breaks up the Toyota party and wins his first race at Bristol in his Chevrolet.

That wraps it up, race fans! Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk!   We’re about ready for some racing.  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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