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Track Talk: Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover

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, we preview the Citizen Solider 400 at Dover International Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley look into “The Closer” and his resurgence, a somewhat middling Team Penske Chase effort, The Chase format’s initiation into the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, and the chances of a young racer winning today at Dover!

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Question 1
Cause he's bad boy for life.

Cause he’s bad boy for life.

Kevin Harvick avenged his No. 4 team from their bitter defeat last year at Loudon with a patented victory on Sunday at “The Magic Mile.”  Is “The Closer” back to regular form and likely en route to a potential third appearance in the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

Copple :  I think it was safe to say all along that Harvick and his No. 4 team were a favorite to make it to the final four of the Chase.  His move to Stewart-Haas Racing two years ago was brilliant and the perfect career choice… obviously!

While he has seemed to struggle a bit this season, he was also locked in to The Chase and could afford to “make mistakes, ” so to speak. Also, having a few of his pit crew members switched out with guys from the No. 10 team was a smart move and honestly, not surprising.

Harvick and his team can take this race and take it easy…sort of…leading in to the next round since they are locked in.  Baring anything horrible happening in the next two rounds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the final four. In fact, I think I would be more shocked to see him not make it!

Hobbs :  Kevin Harvick will do what Kevin Harvick does best – be there when it counts!  No matter how bad the day seems to be going, he always seems to be around at the end and that is what will win him the Championship.  As with all the Chasers, unless they are involved in a wreck and are out of the race, they are really the only ones who can take themselves out of the Chase.  Sure, Harvick has had issues with his pit crew in the past and they can surely take one out or make it difficult for their driver, but those issues seem to have gone to the wayside for now.

Fesko :  I don’t think Harvick was ever out of form.  He’s always been feast or famine while at SHR, so winning one week doesn’t surprise me, and neither does having issues.  Since he’s had luck in getting to the Final 4 in the last two years, I don’t see why he wouldn’t make it this season.

Hull :  I think that Kevin Harvick really works well under pressure, and really stepped up to the plate last Sunday. I think that he is really a shoo-in to be in the Championship race.  He is that good and is really good under pressure. So we will be seeing a third appearance from him.

Shoppe :  I’d say the 4 team is just as much of a contender as they always have been.  Harvick’s win in Loudon just confirms that when it really counts and he is one of the strongest contenders there is in Cup today.  This team remains the only team yet to face elimination in the new Chase format since 2014.  This speaks volumes as to just how much of a threat they are for a second title.

Conley :  One win does not make a championship.  That being said, the team looked solid as they’ve overcome the pit issues from earlier this season and Harvick “finished” something that has been lacking this year.  I certainly believe he is a final round contender, but I’m still not sure if they are ready to dominate and take a strong hold on this title yet.

Cassidy :  I think the 4 team will be competitive for the rest of The Chase.  Other teams are going to have to work hard to ensure this team does not take the title of Sprint Cup champion.

Question 2
Thank you, Team Penske, for making sure we are still in the fight.

Thank you, Team Penske, for making sure we are still in the fight.

Team Penske somewhat struggled at Loudon before coming home with a top-five finish with Brad Keselowski and an 11th place result with Joey Logano.  Should they be concerned with their performance last Sunday or was this a minor blip for this powerful duo?

Copple :  I have not been very impressed with the Team Penske boys this season.  They have been strong at times, but not dominating like we have come to expect them too.  I don’t think I put either one of them in my final four for Homestead.  Something just isn’t clicking within that organization this season and they really need to figure out what that is.

Hobbs :  I would put a small cloud of concern over the Penske duo only because this is The Chase and one poor race and spell certain doom.  Maybe they used all their speed in the summer and the rest of the field is catching up, but I do not think this puts either driver at a disadvantage for The Chase.

Fesko :  Team Penske hasn’t been as stout this year as they have in the past, so Loudon wasn’t a huge surprise to me.  Yes, Keselowski has four wins but two of those came on the plate tracks.  The team should be concerned. They’re running decent, but decent probably won’t get them to Homestead in title contention.

Hull :  I don’t think that they should be concerned at this point because they are both well above the cut line. However, anything can happen, and they could both have a bad day at Dover and fall more in points.  Keselowski is third in points, so he has a bit of a cushion.

Logano is sixth, so he has a little less of a cushion.  I think that unless you have won a race so far, you need to be on your toes and make sure that everything goes your way this Sunday.  And as The Chase wears on, they don’t need to be complacent, or else they could get cut.

Shoppe :  If I were Team Penske, I would be fairly worried.  The level of concern is rising as they still don’t seem to have the speed they have shown in the past.

Last year at this time, Joey Logano was one of the final four favorites and would go on to sweep the second round of The Chase.  This year, it looks like a totally different team.

It does seem that Penske’s best hope for one of their Fords to make it to Homestead is the 2 of Brad Keselowski.  The 2 team seems to be better at salvaging a great finish despite having a sub-par run. 

Conley :  It seems like in the last handful of races Penske has been just a bit off compared to the rest of the field. Are they out of it?  I don’t think so, but one thing that does correlate is where have Logano and Keselowski been when it comes to XFINITY Series races?

Their success in Cup typically is directly related to success in the number two series.  I don’t think it’s a major issue, but lightning strikes certainly show up in bunches on that radar.

Cassidy :  I don’t think they should be concerned.  With a powerhouse team like Penske, I think this duo will be fine.  At the end of the day, they had the finish to show the success after a day of fighting.

Question 3
Arms raised in victory!

Arms raised in victory!

NASCAR welcomed The Chase format officially last weekend for the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series.  In the first races under the playoff format, did you like what you saw with the races at Loudon and Kentucky in terms of the intensity and level of competition on track?

Copple :  I’ve said all along; if you are going to have a “playoff” format in the Cup series, then you should have it in the others as well.  Keep it uniform across the board.  I think The Chase format in the lower series is a brilliant idea. It gives the young guys a taste of what is to come when they move up with the big guys!

Hobbs :  Because an XFINITY regular won the race, I am going to say yes to this.  I whole heartily believe that each series’ Chase should only contain drivers who are full time in that field; at most, any Cup driver in The Chase should not be allowed in the Chase races of the lower tiers.

This will allow the focus to be 100% on those in The Chase (and in the series) which is where it should be.  I hope the XFINITY Series drivers’ winning ways continue through the rest of the year!

Fesko :  I didn’t catch the Kentucky race, but I heard it was pretty good.  As for Loudon, the story was the same one it’s been all year: William Byron dominates.  The racing itself was good, though, and it was a solid start to both inaugural Chases.

Hull :  Both races were very awesome.  At first, I wasn’t a fan of them bringing The Chase into the lower tier divisions.  But seeing how it has improved the racing for both, I think it’s a great idea.  I saw the best racing out of either series that I have seen in awhile.  I can’t wait see how this goes this weekend.  But the first week of it was a success in my opinion.

Shoppe :  I really like how the excitement has grown with the addition of the chase format in the other two series. We have seen much more TV time and exposure for underdog teams in XFINITY Series that vied to make the top 12. Without this Chase format, we would hardly hear about the 11 team of Blake Koch or the 39 of Ryan Sieg who have been punching above their weight all year. 

It will be interesting see who can survive the eliminations and make it to Homestead in Truck.  Will William Byron continue to dominate or will Matt Crafton’s experience prove more important?  The Chase only adds to this intrigue. 

Conley :  Some question the addition of The Chase to the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series, but if the racing that we saw at the two tracks that often leave us feeling a little underwhelmed is is what we will see moving forward, it’s a certain win.

The Truck Series put on a decent race at Loudon, but what we saw at Kentucky may have just been the best race of the entire year across all three series.  Constant battles for the lead among multiple cars were prevalent and not just on restarts.  We saw a segment of 20 straight laps with Suarez, Wallace and Jones nose to tail for the lead, and speaking of those restarts…four and five wide at times.  The intensity was bumped up a notch and I expect it to continue.

Cassidy :  I think the races are definitely different for The Chase format for XFINITY and Truck Series.  It’s hard when you throw full-time Cup drivers into the mix.  I feel like it takes excitement away from the race.

Question 4
Might we see a bit of the same today?

Might we see a bit of the same today?

The Cup circuit returns to Dover, where Matt Kenseth won but not without some credible challenges by young racers like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.  Are we likely to see the same come Sunday afternoon or will one of the bubble Chasers try to gamble for a shot at victory at “The Monster Mile?”

Copple :  I look for the young guns like Larson and Elliott to be major factors in this race.  I believe I say this every week, but I will not be surprised to see Elliott in Victory Lane this season.  Dover would be the perfect place for that to happen.

Hobbs :  I think it would be fantastic to see those two young guns of Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson show the veterans that they are not going away without a fight!  Larson is only two points to the good from the cutoff and teammate Jamie McMurray, so you can bet he is hoping for another fantastic run at The Monster Mile.

Chase Elliott has a bit more of a cushion, but nonetheless, he will expect nothing less than a great day, perhaps even finally grab a checkered flag.  Those drivers outside the cutoff will really be hunting for a win and those on the right side of the line are hoping to have a solid day so I expect a pretty great race among the Chasers, especially those who have to watch their backs.

Fesko :  They’ll gamble but fall short.  I think we’ll see a surprise winner, but it’ll be Chaser Chase Elliott who picks up his first win of the season.

Hull :  As I stated last week, The Chase is very unpredictable.  We didn’t know that Harvick would win the race last weekend (well except for Cody, to whom I congratulate).

Dover is a wild race track as well, and we will see some crazy things go down.  That said, I think that Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson have a good chance of winning.  They both were strong there in the spring, and they have improved a lot since then, so they could be out there vying for the win.  We will wait and see what happens on Sunday.

Shoppe :  I sure hope to see those on the bubble try whatever it takes to get themselves on to the next round. However, I think it’s going to be one of the usual Dover winners making a return trip to Victory Lane.  Kenseth had a great run at Loudon last weekend and can sweep at The Monster Mile.

Conley :  It’s the monster.  You could be dominating but once it gets hungry, the next thing you know, you’re in the garage.  Over aggressiveness doesn’t typically pay off at Dover and that’s why I think one of the veterans that needs a win to move on like Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards or even Jimmie Johnson, who have owned this track at times, could jump up and slay the monster.

Cassidy :  I think there will be a lot of gambling at Dover.  This is where 16 become 12.  Teams are going to have to play some cards up their sleeves to get to the next round.

Four laps in and Miles the Monster has yet to catch us!  Before we get to it with our race picks, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!
Cody Shoppe wins the battle at Loudon....

Cody Shoppe wins the battle at Loudon…

...while Candy Crushin' Cassidy continues to lead the way.

…while Candy Crushin’ Cassidy continues to lead the way.

It’s winning time here on Track Talk!  Let’s see who we’re going with for today’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway!
It's Chevy or Toyota today at Dover.

It’s Chevy or Toyota today at Dover.

Copple :  It’s Chase Elliott for the win!

Fesko :  My pick to win it is Chase Elliott.

Tiongson :  Sure, he’s not in the most comfortable position heading into today’s race but Kyle Larson will make it happen today at Dover.

Cassidy :  Kyle Larson and the No. 42 team win it today.

Hobbs :  TPF Stats sees a better result for Jimmie Johnson this year than last year!

Meanwhile, I sense Kyle Busch wants to do something great again at Dover.

Hull :  My race pick today is Martin Truex Jr.

Shoppe :  Going with Denny Hamlin.

Conley :  I spoke of him in the last question.  A veteran with a smooth hand at the wheel and a racer who would eat concrete for breakfast, Carl Edwards once again stands up to the task of beating the Monster.

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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