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NASCAR Cup Series

Track Talk: Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen

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 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International road course.

This week, our panel consisting of  Ashley Hobbs, Ashley HullCody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, and Stephen Conley talk about Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports’ big win at Pocono Raceway, Chase implications for Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, the safety of the Watkins Glen International race course, and the standard 3 PM ET start time for next season’s races.

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Question 1
Winning Row Motorsports.

Winning Row Motorsports.

Chris Buescher and his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford team scored an improbable but amazing win at Pocono Raceway.  How surprising was it to see this bunch win and can this team continue shocking the Sprint Cup world by getting inside the top-30 to make the Chase field?

Hobbs :  Surprising for sure; especially since the team is only hovering around 30th in points (like his teammate David Ragan). But everyone loves a feel good story and this is it! You can be sure that they are going to leverage their teammates and get as many points as possible while still following NASCAR’s “100%” rule. If Buescher needs one point and Ragan has it, you can bet that Ragan’s team will help Buescher’s team get that one point to make their way into the Chase.

Copple :  It was a surprising win and definitely a great day for Front Row Motorsports and Chris Buescher! Does this mean they will make the Chase? Possibly. But here is another question.  If the race would have been restarted and could have finished the final 22 laps, would they still be in Victory Lane?  Again, possibly.  FRM has some great drivers and seeing them in VL, to see all of their hard work pay off with a top-10, top-5, or even a win, makes it a great day for all of NASCAR!

Hull :  I thought that this was a great surprise.  It was nice to see both Chris and Bob Osborne get a much needed win.  Sadly, I have seen people upset with him winning because they didn’t think he deserved it.  He deserves it as much as anyone out there.  You don’t always have to have the fastest race car out there to win the race.  Pit strategy plays a huge role in winning a race too.  Hopefully, Buescher can keep proving the haters wrong, and keep improving.  I think the win will give this team a huge morale boost, and will help them into the Chase.

Cassidy :  It was great to see an underdog win Pocono!  However, I feel like the team and Buescher are not being given enough credit due to the rain shortened race.  Fans often forget that there is strategy when there is rain in the forecast for race day.  Clearly, the 34 team took advantage of this.  Right now, this team is super close to cracking the top-30 in points but I am not sure if they will be able to keep this fire under their belts to stay that high in the points.  Consistency will be needed if this were to happen.

Shoppe :  Seeing Chris Buescher add his name to the list of Sprint Cup winners in 2016 is clearly a total surprise, and it is not because Chris Buescher isn’t talented enough to get the job done.  That is not the case at all.  The Prosper, TX native is an ARCA champion, a NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, and a proven winner in everything he has driven to this point.  The surprise to me is the team he is driving for.
Front Row Motorsports has hardly been capable of running in the top-15 each week.  The two drivers in this Ford team in my opinion are more then capable of winning multiple races if the equipment was up to the task.  To see this underdog team break that 118-race losing streak and catapult themselves into a Chase spot is something nobody would have seen coming but most everyone is happy to see.  If the powers at be in the Ford camp can rally around this small team and give them what they need to improve, we will be seeing another rookie making the Chase in September other then the two everyone expected to see making it!

Conley :  
I wouldn’t say it was entirely surprising.  That team has been making steady progress, and if not for some unfortunate bad luck early in the season, Chris would already be in the top 30.  As for running up front and putting himself in position to win, we shouldn’t have been surprised.  That team ran very well at Indy, coming home with a solid top-15 finish.  Those results typically echo each other.
Question 2
After they eat at McDonald's, it'll be time to shop at Target.

After they eat at McDonald’s, it’ll be time to shop at Target.

Staying within topic of Buescher’s win, should he make the Chase field by getting inside the top-30 by Richmond, how much pressure does this put on racers like Kyle Larson or Jamie McMurray to make the playoffs, especially with the possibility of more first-time winners ranked between 17th-30th in the points standings?

Hobbs :  It puts immense pressure on them! Here they were thinking there are five points position up for grabs but that will be touch and go until Richmond and it may be only four and it may be less if another first-time winner (this season) finds their way to Victory Lane.  It puts the pressure on them to run hard every week and content for a win and earn as many points as possible.  For Chase Elliott, this means the team must turn things around.  Summer has not been nice to the 24 camp, but now they need to turn it around.

Copple :  Larson and McMurray are driving for top teams in the sport.  Seeing drivers with less experience or lower-funded teams making the Chase should be more of an incentive for them to get in the playoffs.  They are going to have to drive hard and race hard to get the win or high enough in points to make it in to the Chase.  There are plenty of others as well who are still looking for that Chase spot as well.  It’ll be interesting to see who makes it in and who misses the cut.

Hull :  Chris Buescher’s win has gotta make the people fighting for a points position in the Chase scared.  If Chris Buescher does make the top-30 by Richmond, it will put a lot of pressure on these drivers because they will need to step it up so that they can make the Chase.  We will see how this goes!

Cassidy :  I think there is more pressure on Chase Elliot and Ryan Blaney to make the playoffs than any other drivers with Buescher’s win.  Coming into this season, Chase and Ryan were seen as the only two rookies coming into the Cup ranks who had the skill and equipment to win a race.  With the 34 team’s win, I believe these two rookies will start to feel the pressure for a win.

Shoppe :  Bubble drivers such as McMurray, Larson, Kahne, Blaney and Bayne all have been fearing the possibility that a new winner could jump their way ahead of them in the chase standings for months now.  This is sort of a worst case scenario for these bubble drivers.  Someone has possibly taken another points spot in the chase away from them and it wasn’t even one of the drivers they were worried about.  There is still the possibility that AJ Allmendinger gets a win at Watkins Glen, and who knows what can happen with the whole Dale Jr situation.  With time and space running out, these bubble drivers are really feeling the pressure now!

Conley :  
I still think we will have guys getting in on points but those two certainly need to bump up the performance if they don’t want to be on the outside looking in…again.  Kyle has the best chance to win but the pressure is so great right now, it could be a long final 10 races if they miss it again.
Question 3


Brad Keselowski walked away from his destroyed No. 2 car following a grinding practice crash last week at Watkins Glen just off turn one.  While this is a testament to the safety of the cars, is there anything that NASCAR, Watkins Glen, and outside groups can look into improving with making that particular corner safer for the competitors and fans?
Hobbs :  I am sure they are doing it every day, but as Brad said, there are so many factors when it comes to road courses that some things may not be possible. In this case, a brake line failed and that is something you would expect not to happen, but obviously Watkins Glen was prepared for scenarios that could cause a car to travel full speed into something.

The protection did its job and I applaud the tire barriers and wall (non-SAFER Barrier) being there. But there are always things that can be done to improve safety; safety is an ever evolving item that changes and each track and NASCAR does not take that lightly. If anything, for other tracks that do not have SAFER Barriers, this crash (and all the ones before it) should make them cough up the money to put a SAFER Barrier on every inch of their track.

Copple :  As much as I LOVE the racing that comes out of road courses, the safety at these tracks…it is not always the greatest.  I think that was proven with Keselowski’s crash…during a test.  Imagine what that would look like with 39 other cars out on the track?  Someone could get seriously injured at a road course.  NASCAR needs to take a look at these tracks, and take a look at other road course tracks around the world, and make sure that our drivers, teams and fans are the absolute safest they can possibly be.  There is only so much that the cars can do safety wise that the tracks have to take responsibility too.

Hull :  They really do need to look at making Watkins Glen safer.  We have witnessed some horrendous wrecks here in the last few years.  The one that comes to mind for me is the horrendous wreck that David Reuttimann and David Ragan had in 2011.  It’s lucky that none of these drivers have been injured as a result.  However, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t do something about the safety.  These cars may be safe, but it doesn’t mean that a driver can’t still get seriously hurt.  I am hoping for a safe race this weekend.

Cassidy :  
There has been many times where Turn 1 has been a problem for not only NASCAR, but Watkins Glen. Since the track just repaved, I highly doubt they will be willing to reconfigure the tracks to change this corner. However, they should look into this area and look for improvements that can be made to ensure drivers and fans are safe.

Shoppe :  NASCAR is doing a great job with the never ending job of improving safety.  Watkins Glen has made so many vast improvements in its walls and other safety features since that similar turn 1 crash we have all seen replays of with Jimmie Johnson in that No. 92 Alltel car.  While I commend both for their efforts of improvement, there will always be more to do in the effort of safety at road courses.  A road course, while not always being as fast as an oval, the varying angles of impact such as 90 degree turns, can be much worse then a more sweeping oval track turn.  Very glad to see Brad K was OK after that head-on hit.

Conley :  
That is one of the most difficult places to really make safe for those guys.  There is a lot of speed coming down in to that sharp right hander.  At least there isn’t a sand trap there and they can at least spin it out and scrub off speed.  Without completely changing that corner around, it is what it is there.  At least there are Armco barriers.
Question 4
3 PM is truly 1 PM next year...or something like that.

3 PM is truly 1 PM next year…or something like that.

NASCAR announced the start times for next year’s races and a majority of the daytime races will start after 3:00 PM ET.  Does this help or hurt NASCAR in their attempt to draw more television audiences to watch the races and how does this impact attendance at the races?
Hobbs :  NASCAR thinks it will help because it put it to noon on the West Coast as opposed to 10am on the West Coast. I do not think this will change things. A decade ago when stands were full and ratings were high, the 1pm start times were great; no one cared.  At some tracks I bet it will help, specifically ones out west; but then again, the race is still on the same day of the week.
For races like Pocono where rain is always (or should be always) factored into the schedule, you know a later start time puts risk of getting the race in/completed goes up because there are no lights. Certain tracks are more prone to weather than others and the history needs to be taken into account. And in terms of weather, some parts of the country, the 3 PM time will be much hotter; granted they will get the cooler part towards the end of the race, but that also opens another can in terms of setup and strategy for adjusting the car.

On the East Coast, I personally dislike the 3 PM start times. I  feel like I am waiting for something and waiting half a day for it to happen. And if a race is postponed due to weather, NASCAR risks going into primetime television. If they are on a broadcast network (FOX or NBC), will they stick around that network or will they be forced to move to their cable counterpart?

So many pieces go into the puzzle and I do not know what NASCAR took into account in doing so, but we all know NASCAR loves change so we will see if it works for them.

Copple :  I’m hoping it helps but it also means that on weekends like this last one, where rain seems to take front and center, there is less time for NASCAR to get the race in on Sunday.  It also means that those who travel to the races, for some that means driving 4+ hours, arriving home later and/or taking another day off of work.  Late race starts might be good for TV viewership but I feel like it could harm race attendance, and race attendance is already suffering.

Hull :   This is hard to tell but I can see that not too many people were happy about it.  Also, it could be a good thing since people may have other plans on Sunday and therefore would be more able to see the race.  I personally like it because I can get things done before the race on Sundays.  We will see how well it does with the NASCAR demographic.

Cassidy :  Hands down, this hurts NASCAR in my opinion.  As a fan who goes to many races, this does not help make the race weekend experience better.  Besides a nice sleep in, many problems come with having later races.  For example, traffic and leaving the track – it is already a fair amount of money to go to a race and many people do not want to have to take Monday off in addition to the average weekend spending.  In addition, for home viewers, Sunday nights revolve around a cycle of getting things ready for the next work week.  This means we have viewers who are not watching or are not fully engaged.

Shoppe :  I suppose it may help in the respect that fans can remember a start time better if it is the same more times then not.  I hope this will be a positive for TV viewership which has been down.  I don’t think it will affect attendance that much since if you are going to the race, you’ll go no matter what time of day since we aren’t talking about moving a day race to night or anything like that.

Conley :  
I don’t think it makes much difference as fans are finicky at this point.  They are either going to watch or not.  It doesn’t matter what time the race airs.  I think the old school fans would like to see the noon or one start for everything, but in today’s society, we’ve gotta make everyone happy and secure those West Coast viewers.
That’s our opening lap around this newly repaved road course in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York!  Before we get ready for the race action, let’s review how we all fared in the better late than never until fogged in Pocono Mountain region Pennsylvania 400!
Points leader Kathleen and yours truly shared a regular season win at Pocono...

Points leader Kathleen and yours truly shared a regular season win at Pocono…

...but it's still a close points race for the field.

…but it’s still a close points race for the field.

Gold medals may not be on the line at Watkins Glen but it’s still a prestigious event in which a winner will be crowned. Here’s our race picks for today’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen!
A wide open selection of potential race winners.

A wide open selection of potential race winners.

Tiongson :  Cause why not…anything is possible with the man driving on the track and Jeff Gordon is making his 800th Cup start.  Congrats, champ.

Hobbs :  For TPF Stats: He many only have a single victory this season, but he has been around every week; Kevin Harvick looks to add another victory this weekend.

As for me, I am going with the driver who has finished every lap this season on the lead lap and he is the driver with the second best average finish (behind Kevin Harivck); Kurt Busch will find his way to Victory Lane at Watkins Glen.

Copple :  Kyle Busch will win it!

Shoppe :  My pick today is Kyle Busch.

Hull :  I am going to go with a daring pick this weekend.  I think that Tony Stewart can get it done!

Cassidy :  Brad Keselowski for the win today!

Conley :  I have to go with the closest thing to a ringer we have – AJ Allmendinger is in the Chase after making a stop in Watkins Glen’s Victory Lane.

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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