Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR. Additionally, we attempt to pick the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway!
This weekend, our panel consisting of Amanda Parmelee, Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, Kathleen Cassidy, Katie Copple, Kayla Sturm, Kyle Magda, Stephen Conley and special guest analyst and Sirius XM broadcaster Danielle Trotta discuss ways to improve the Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race, the ethical line with photographing Aric Almriola following his hard crash at Kansas, the additional fourth stage for the 600, and the odds of a young racer winning Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte!
This year’s Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway tried to capitalize on the 25th anniversary of the “One Hot Night” edition of this event. Despite the option tire and the somewhat simpler race format, the results were lukewarm, at best. What can NASCAR do to improve this race to enhance the experience for the teams and fans?
Trotta : The All Star Race at Charlotte has been one of my favorite nights of the season ever since my first time attending 13 years ago. The energy is different than any points paying event and a million dollar prize gives teams added incentive to do things they perhaps wouldn’t with points on the line.
Unfortunately this year, the added wrinkle of option tires didn’t inject the added excitement we all thought it would. But I’ll always applaud creativity. Without trying new things, we’ll never grow as a sport and I don’t think the blame can be placed on Goodyear.
Jimmie Johnson perhaps said it best post race – we need more passing to create dynamic racing and the cars are all rolling out to the grid pretty much identical. If the cars are all the same that makes it tough to pass. There are engineers who know much more about aerodynamics and horsepower than I ever will, but I think that’s where the fix lies.
Charlotte Motor Speedway racing, in general, has generated strung out, single file racing for several years now and I’m not sure how to solve it, but it’s definitely concerning. Aside from restart drama, there is little left that has us on the edge of our seats.
After the All Star Race, there has been a lot of talk on social media about wanting to change the venue. I hope that’s never the case because racing under the lights in the teams’ backyards adds a home game feel that I love. But something is amiss, and I hope the sanctioning body and its partners find a way to bring back the side by side, nail biting drama that once made this event a must see.
Sturm : Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch the All Star race this year so I don’t really know exactly how it played out. However, there were a lot of complaints about it on Twitter. Some people said the race needs to move to a different track. That’s an idea I can get behind. A race like the All Star isn’t fitting for 1.5-milers anymore, in my opinion. The excitement isn’t there, the “good racing” isn’t there, and it hasn’t been for a while now.
Hobbs : I will admit that I did not watch a decent chunk of the Monster Energy All Star Race. However, I did watch the Monster Energy Open and that is where the action was at. The final 10 laps between the young drivers of this sport is what we are dying to have more of.
Erik Jones’ attempt to pass in the grass and taking him three-wide is the excitement that we were hoping to see all night long. However, that action quickly fizzled once the actual All Star event started. Drivers did not seem thrilled with the racing as they know that clean air is king.
To improve on this event, the racing needs to move away from the cookie cutter that is Charlotte Motor Speedway. Yes, it is the central track for the teams, but the racing is not what it once was, and NASCAR needs to take a big swing here. Changing tires or aero packages is no longer cutting the cake.
Conley : I say eliminate it all together but NASCAR tends to frown on that idea. The first suggestion I have is to run it in the day time. Night racing at Charlotte has run its course. The aero package that we have tends to favor hot, slick race tracks.
In addition, they practice in the heat of the day and race on a track surface that can be 30 degrees cooler by evening. If they continue to run it at night, these teams have got to be given the opportunity to practice in those conditions. Just look at the Open, as the best racing was with the sun shining down.
Hull : I think the one thing they can do away with is option tire. That didn’t go well at all. If I have to be honest, Charlotte is one of the worst tracks in the circuit. Its surface does not have much to offer and doesn’t allow for good passes. I think they need to return the track it once was, if possible. Before they did that resurfacing and paving, it was a fun track. I think that they need to bring that back. That could be one thing that would make things better both for the fans and drivers.
Shoppe : I feel like no matter what NASCAR does, these current cars on the Charlotte oval just cannot produce the same thrilling racing we saw back in 1992. Regardless of the format, tire compound, or amount of money on the line, you can’t get much more out of the event then we saw in last weekend’s race.
If NASCAR is serious about rekindling the magic of the past, a huge change is in order for the All Star event. Either a venue change is in order (the infield road course that Cup will debut in the fall of 2018, or possibly the dirt track across the street).
The other option they have is with the cars themselves. I think NASCAR should keep tech inspection equipment at the shop for the All Star event and let the teams come up with the best setup they can think of within (reasonable safety standards of course). Anything to add intrigue and action to this race for fun would help. They are trying their best to make it happen and I appreciate that effort, but work is still to be done.
Magda : A lot of drivers, fans and media like to see a change in venue for the All-Star Race but I don’t see it happening. Expect Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) and NASCAR to keep it there for a while.
Something I’d like to see is a format change back to 30-30-10. Under that format, you need both long-run and short-run speed. Additionally, it tests the driver’s ability to adapt to changes throughout the three segments.
I wasn’t a big fan of the option tire because it didn’t make much of a difference throughout the race. Jimmie Johnson took them in segment two. Ultimately, he did not catch Kyle Larson because the tires weren’t much of an advantage as we initially thought.
Cassidy : Unlike most race fans, I do not think the problem is the track, but rather the cars. Charlotte Motor Speedway tried to bring new exciting elements to the race. Ultimately, the way the car packages handle, it does not excite fans.
Copple : What can NASCAR do to improve on the All Star Race? The answer is fairly simple in my humble opinion. Change the venue! Pick a new track every year to hold the All Star Race. Give fans across the country the change to see this non points race.
Changing the venue would not only do that, but it would make each race different and give drivers and teams a new set of challenges each year. Now I know NASCAR will never do that but, a girl can dream, right?
In order to bring excitement back on the track, something drastic had to take place. The drivers aren’t fighting for any big prize. Yes, one million buckaroos is a “big” prize, but when you think about the cash these drivers get throughout a season, it’s not a huge prize. Maybe the winner should get to choose their starting spot for the 600. Or they get an extra set of tires. Something that will be useful for them on race day. I believe they may have done this before, but invert the starting lineup. Make the fast guys battle back to the front for that victory.
At this point, any change will be a good change to this race. It was just plain boring to watch and I rarely say that about a race.
Parmelee : Go karts? An actual running race? NASCAR beauty pageant? All jokes aside, I agree that the All Star Race this year didn’t exactly produce the results that fans, or officials, had hoped for. But aside from the location, the drivers, the tires, or the format, I constantly found myself asking, “What’s the point?”
Before anyone goes on the attack, hear me out. What’s the point of an All Star Race? What exactly is it trying to accomplish? Before deciding on the intricacies of the event, NASCAR needs to determine what the race hopes to showcase. Something that demonstrates the personalities of the drivers is going to be different than a race that exhibits a driver’s capabilities in handling or adaptability.
NASCAR needs to find a way to create something that is a unique experience, and unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone knows exactly what that is.
Aric Almirola shared his stance on those who took photographs of him following his crash at Kansas Speedway. In terms of fine journalism, did photographers cross the fine line?
Trotta : I understand a driver’s concern in this situation, not just for their own privacy, but for their family who is watching. But I can tell to you from working on the television side of things, that responsible journalism is always paramount.
In this instance, I think the dropping of the window net is where things started to get tricky. That is the universal sign in racing that a driver is OK. But Aric said afterwards, he dropped the net because there was concern about being on fire. (He wasn’t, but at the time he wasn’t sure.) So once that net was down, I can understand why journalists would feel safer zooming in for closer images or video. But I watched the broadcast and I could see how they were still trying to stay at a respectable distance (even given the window nets position) in terms of shots they chose to broadcast live.
Had the window net stayed up, I’m guessing the shots would not have been as close as they were, but again, that’s the universal sign the driver is OK. It’s obviously a judgement call and I can understand Aric’s thoughts. I think respect and professionalism was at the forefront of everyone involved. Again it’s subjective, but to suggest irresponsible journalism was displayed isn’t fair in my opinion.
Sturm : I 100% disagreed with what the photographers did. I do understand that it’s their job, but to me, it crossed an ethical line. There comes a point where you have to put a strong value on ethics, and this was one of those instances. He was grimacing in pain in those photos, and they made my stomach churn. They were released almost instantaneously before any explanation or update could be given. Aric has children that aren’t quite old enough to understand what happened to “daddy.” He has other family that I’m sure did not want to see that. I don’t think it was right, and that goes for any sport, like football, baseball, etc.
Hobbs : This is a very difficult subject. The photographers are paid to take photos of all the action on the track. Was it morally right for them to flock over like seagulls and click away while he was being tended to? Probably not. That aside, they were doing their job.
I would hope they did not take pleasure in snapping away at the expense of Almirola’s pain. Luckily, the images were not released immediately and the stories got sorted out before the images went public. Could they have waited more? Yes, but again, it is their job and it is hard to criticize them for doing their job.
Conley : There is no question that line was crossed. As a photographer, I was taught to not shoot an injured athlete until it is known that they are completely OK.
It’s a fine line because most of the ones taking that shot are required to do so. As one long time NASCAR photographer told me in a discussion about this, “It’s a matter of personal integrity.” Can you handle the thought of your name being associated with an image of a severely injured athlete, knowing that the family of that person will have to see that? Personally, I shoot the scene, the workers, and the aftermath, not the injured. No story should be put before ones personal integrity and conscience. I was bothered by those images.
Hull : This is a very tough question, but if Aric Almirola doesn’t believe it’s okay, then I have no choice but to agree with him. Just because they are high profile athletes does not mean that in moments like this, they are not entitled to some privacy. I understand that there have been pictures taken of football players being carted off while grimacing, but that again doesn’t make it right.
Shoppe : I would agree that a line was crossed with the photos taken of Aric Almirola after the accident. I understand his feelings towards it. Personally, when I saw those images on social media that night, while I was searching for updates on his condition, I was relieved to see them so I could see for myself that he was awake, alert, and that the worst hadn’t happened.
Magda : I see both sides on this. One, the disturbing photo is part of journalism. If it upset fans and drivers, at least have a disclaimer in the article or photo gallery before viewing it. Those were some really vivid pictures. They were upsetting in a way. I think it should be treated with caution before posting. Personally, I’m not a fan of the photo but I understand the photographers doing their job in capturing the scene.
Cassidy : To a point I understand, it is a photographer’s job to capture those ‘high-talk’ moments of a race. However, I do not agree with this. I think journalism needs to take a back seat in situations like this. I hope the sport keeps this in mind moving forward.
Copple : As someone who has to cover terrible stories , which Almirola’s crash would unfortunately fall into, as part of their job, getting “that shot” is part of the job. That said, if a photographer pursues a shot that makes everyone talk but gets in the way of the first responders doing their jobs, you don’t need to get the shot.
If getting that shot will harm the person/s involved in the accident in a negative way, you don’t get the shot. If getting that shot serves no purpose other that to say you were the one to show the devastation up close and personal, don’t get the shot.
There is a time and a place for that and shooting a close up of first responders pulling him out of the car was not that time or place. If your shooting it from afar, what we call a wide shot, where you can see the full scene, then go right ahead. Taking and then publishing that photo, while that journalist/photographer may have thought he had the “money shot,” it was, in my ethical opinion, not the right call. Honestly, it was the photographers’ call whether or not they should release it. Whether or not we all agree with it, that’s another story.
Parmelee : As a former reporter and photographer, I’ve learned there is a very fine line between do and don’t when taking pictures of injuries. I have two opinions on the photos. They both stem from situations that I’ve personally experienced.
One, I didn’t so much have a problem with the fact that photographers were taking photos in general, but more with the proximity to Aric Almirola and his wreck. If you’re close enough to read the sponsors on his fire suit, you are too close.
Two, those photographers had no clue exactly how injured Almirola was. Was it a broken toe? Broken leg? Broken arm? Was he bleeding out in the car with no hopes of survival past the infield care center? Without knowing the extent of Almirola’s injuries, I think it’s incredibly dangerous — and yes, unprofessional — for media outlets to not only take the photos, but to publish them.
If fans sat behind where the crash occurred and photos were shared on social media, that’s one thing. But I think it takes away the credibility of the profession and the respect that journalists are constantly fighting for when situations like this occur.
This year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway comprises of four stages. Does this help enhance the on-track product for this crown jewel event or could more be done to prevent a one-sided affair such as last year’s running?
Trotta : Yes! I loved the added stage and was surprised it wasn’t immediately more well received on social media the day it was announced by some fans and media members. And forget last year, think of it this way now that we’ve seen the All Star Race. If short, 20 lap segments created single file, strung out racing, imagine having only three segments in the Coke 600! The more segments we have, the better the chances we all have at seeing a great show. Until we can create more passing and side by side racing, I think this is the best short term solution. Go back and ask those people who were critical of this four segment race format when it was first announced. See how they feel after seeing the All Star Race. My guess is they would whistle a different tune.
Sturm : I think this was a good move by Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR. I’ve seen some people saying that it hurts NASCAR’s credibility to change rules mid-season. At least it wasn’t a few years into this stage racing that they did it. While stage racing was introduced this year, fans did not get the chance to see the 600 with three stages.
It’s a long race on a 1.5-mile track. It does get boring at times. If they wouldn’t have done this, there would have been a 200 lap third stage which is a bit long in my opinion. The length of the race didn’t change, the laps didn’t change, nothing that we’re used to changed. I don’t see what the negative uproar is all about.
Hobbs : No. If the All Star weekend is any indication, it will not help. It does not look good on NASCAR to change the rules mid-season. Effectively, it make this race seem like it is more important with an additional stage (one more chance for a playoff point and more Championship points). The 600 is an endurance race. The stages make it no longer that endurance race we all love to sit through on Memorial Day Weekend. It just turns into 4-heat races basically.
With the All Star Race very close to what we’ll see in the 600, it is not very promising. 30 laps more will not provide the excitement that the fans want to see. They have started to become very vocal about this.
Conley : This race was always man against machine. That label has really gone away with today’s technology and endurance of the drivers. It’s still a special race, but it needs something to make it stand out. Yes, some believe that it’s now more important than the Daytona 500 because it awards more points.
However, 10 points isn’t going to mean anything in the grand scheme of the season. A 200 lap stage seemed too long. It needed this to help break it up. Hopefully, this allows for the opportunity to see a better overall race.
Hull : People have spoken out against the whole adding a fourth stage. We all know that the 600 isn’t one of the most exciting races of the year. In fact, everyone will probably argue that aside from the beautiful tribute they do for the fallen soldiers, it’s their least favorite race of the year. With the way that stage racing has gone this year, it could make it a little more exciting. Perhaps it will help prevent a one-sided affair. I look forward to seeing how this format works during the 600.
Shoppe : This four part segmenting of the Coke 600 is something I am very glad to hear about! Yes I understand that the point of this marquis event is to be long and difficult. However, the segments are only adding to the show for the fans. That will always be the number one priority. We have seen enhancement of race action throughout races all year long due to the addition of this stage racing. In summary, I expect it will do nothing but more of the same for Sunday’s 600-mile endurance classic!
Magda : This race typically has comers-and-goers. Now, the race has four stages instead of three. I don’t see much of a big deal but the All Star Race lacked the excitement everyone hoped for. The stage racing took away a special element we now see every week. It’s the norm of stages and not just a one-time deal in the All Star.
Sometimes, you can’t prevent a driver from going out and dominating a race. It shows the hard work and dedication it took to get the victory. Truex trounced the field in last year’s 600. It’s much better than it was two years ago. At that time, drivers had more downforce and couldn’t make any passes throughout the 400-lap event.
Cassidy : I am hoping that this fourth stage gives the 600 mile race a little more character. This race is long for fans and drivers, so hopefully this adds some extra action into the event.
Copple : I am still not a fan of the “stages” this season. I really don’t like them. I can’t say I’m convinced the stages enhance the 600. It’s such a long race so it’s going to get boring and that’s hard to avoid. Will this will help? Maybe. We will have to wait and see.
Parmelee : Like we’ve seen from the All Star Race, there are certain recurring issues that Charlotte seems to have, and this is one of them. I’m not sure if the stages will help to decrease the one-sidedness that we saw last year. However, I think it will help keep the field from becoming too spread out after only a few dozen laps. Whether we’ll actually see any significant passing during those stage restarts is another story. All I can say is that I hope the fans leave feeling as though they witnessed something enjoyable.
The Open featured flashes of brilliance from the young guns like Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones. Which of these young guns has the best shot at being a challenge from start to finish in the 600?
Trotta : I’m not sure I could put anyone of these young guns over the other after what we saw in their All Star Race performances. Each are in excellent equipment. They have enough starts under their belt to understand the marathon vs sprint discipline that is required mentally and physically for the 600 mile distance. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney seem to be closer at their first Cup win perhaps based on previous mile and a half performances. However, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez showed incredible skill at the All Star Race and that should only give them more confidence come Sunday.
Sturm : Ryan Blaney. Hands down. The No. 21 team have been absolutely smashing it at 1.5-milers (if you don’t include his bad last minute luck). For example, he dominated at Texas. He had it in the bag until late race issues cost him the win. He’s knocking on that door so hard, harder than any of the others. If they (Blaney and team) can avoid trouble, this race is his to win.
Hobbs : Wow, all of these young drivers could do it. They have all flexed their muscles mightily, especially this weekend.
Here are how they stack up (on average finish) in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and intermediate tracks.
- Drivers have two starts each,
- Chase Elliott has three starts and Ryan Blaney has four starts, and
- Chase Elliott has 20 starts. Daniel Suarez has four starts. Erik Jones has six starts and Ryan Blaney has 28 starts.
What does this add up to? Well, Elliott and Blaney have the advantage of running in the Coca-Cola 600, and that is a huge advantage. As it is the longest race of the season, they know how things can unfold. More importantly, they know how to pace themselves. On all intermediate tracks, all drivers are fairly even with Suarez holding the slight edge.
Looking at the numbers, in total, they slightly favor Chase Elliott to be the best of these young drivers. That is not to say that all four do not have a solid chance of finding great success this weekend.
Conley : Erik Jones is certainly becoming a driver who’s getting into the top 10, slowly becoming a threat to win. Once we get back to these tracks a second time, we should start seeing Suarez up front more often. He still is working through that learning curve.
As for Blaney and Elliott, they are back and forth like the swinging boat ride at a carnival. Once, I believed that Elliott was the closer of the two to winning their first race. Now, I believe the pendulum has swung in the favor of Ryan Blaney. It’s been a little while since we’ve seen that 21 in Victory Lane. Blaney is as close as ever to doing that, maybe even this weekend.
Hull : I think out of the three, I think that Ryan Blaney has the best shot. He was great in practice and drove his tail off during the race. I think that just maybe, this is one of the races he can win this year. He is getting closer and closer to that first win, so we shall see good things out of this young man on Sunday.
Shoppe : Once again, the Open was the highlight of the All Star Race weekend! When you look at that exciting racing with these young guns, the future is bright for the Cup series! I expect Ryan Blaney to have another good chance at his first win Sunday since he was been so strong on the last two mile and a half tracks at Texas and Kansas. I wouldn’t be surprised if Erik Jones is at the front with his teammate Martin Truex Jr.
Magda : When I look at first-time winners, Chase Elliott’s the first that comes to mind. Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 team still have work to do with long-run speed. They were fast off the bat at Kansas but fell into the clutches of Martin Truex Jr within 10-15 laps.
Erik Jones had a fast piece for the Open until misjudging where the pavement ended on the frontstretch. The same goes for Suarez like Blaney with the long-run speed. That No. 19 ARRIS Camry took off like a rocket ship on the restarts. However, a few laps later, Elliott was able to run down the JGR rookie. Out of those four, the No. 24 team is most likely to be a factor in this year’s Coca-Cola 600.
Cassidy : These young guns have proven that they deserve to be at the top level of NASCAR. I think any one of these four drivers are just around the corner from their first win.
Copple : Honestly, when is Chase Elliott not an answer for this question? I don’t think we’ve found a track he isn’t at least decent at. But really, any of these young guns could go out and surprise us. This is a talented group of young drivers on the track. They are really going to give the veterans a run for their money.
Parmelee : These four drivers have really started to show up in the last few races in my opinion — Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez in particular.
However, I think Ryan Blaney has the best chances of taking home the checkered flag in Charlotte this weekend. He swept the first two stages at Texas and earned his first career pole at Kansas. These are two tracks that are fairly similar to Charlotte so the odds are definitely in his favor.
That’s four solid laps by our panelists at Charlotte Motor Speedway! Before we drop the hammer, let’s review how we fared during the most recent points race at Kansas!
It’s about that time on Track Talk! Without further ado, let’s reveal our picks for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway!
Tiongson : Yes, this driver fell one spot short in the Monster Energy NASCAR All Star Race. However, Kyle Larson appears to know what it takes to win at Charlotte. Hard to go against him for Sunday night’s 600 at Charlotte.
Hull : My pick for the 600 is Kyle Larson. He had a strong car in the All Star Race. All considered, he could have easily won it if it wasn’t for a pit error. So go Larson!
Shoppe : Gotta go with Kyle Larson!
Magda : I’m going with Kyle Larson.
Trotta : My pick is Jimmie Johnson.
Sturm : Going to have to go with Ryan Blaney. The dude is right there – he’s got it.
Hobbs : I have a feeling about Joey Logano this weekend.
Copple : I really hate picking a winner for this one… so I’m just going to draw one. Seriously. I have typed all of their names into a website to generate a random name. And it’s Joey Logano!
TPF Stats : Brad Keselowski will look to rebound from his stumbles in the All Star Race.
Conley : This weekend, I predict we’ll see the a driver win the All Star Race and Coke 600 in the same year for the seventh time in NASCAR history. I’m picking Kyle Busch.
Parmelee : Going with Martin Truex Jr for the win!
Cassidy : It’s Chase Elliott‘s time to shine!
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 night’s race and who is your favorite to win? Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!
Thanks as always to the TPF team and special thanks to Danielle Trotta for joining us this 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.
Lastly, this edition of Track Talk is dedicated to Nicky Hayden, a beloved MotoGP racer. Godspeed, Kentucky Kid.