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Track Talk: First Data 500 at Martinsville

Can't turn back time with the paperclip!

Can’t turn back time with the paperclip!

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 First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKayla Sturm, and Stephen Conley 

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Question 1
Kyle Larson can play playoff spoiler and score wins. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Kyle Larson can play playoff spoiler and score wins. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Kyle Larson’s championship hopes came to a shocking end at Kansas Speedway due to an engine issue.  How can Larson and his 42 team overcome this bitter defeat and rally from this setback?

Hobbs :  Kyle Larson is a champion for the way he has handled himself after such agonizing defeat. He will get over this in time, and I have a feeling we will still see him running as well as he has all season long. Four races remain this year.

Some of them are fast tracks and Larson loves himself a fast track! I think all he has to do is go out and run as he has all season, and he might find himself in victory lane. A victory might dull the pain for this year, but expect him to be hungrier next year.

Cassidy :  The same thing they did last year. Week in and out, this team has been competitive for that last few seasons. Just because the 42 team is out of the playoffs does not mean they can’t run up front and even win races.

Sturm :  I’m not sure there’s necessarily a way to rally back from something like getting booted out of playoffs. It was a really tough loss for Larson and the No. 42 team considering the great season he’s had. I do think they can overcome it and continue to perform well, but as far as getting over it, I don’t think it’ll happen.

For Larson, I think it’s a matter of reflecting on the season he did have and realizing that he’s been one of the most dominant drivers this year. I think it’s also important for Larson and the team to focus on next year and ways to ensure that a playoff ending accident like this doesn’t happen again. The dude has plenty of championship wins ahead of him, so no need to fret this one.

Magda :  It’s not going to change anything going into 2018. They are already my preseason favorite to win the title and had the same fate as Martin Truex Jr did last year in the Round of 12 elimination race. The No. 42 team don’t need to hang their heads on this, as it was just a mechanical failure that took them out of the title hunt. I expect Larson to run strong these final four races and win a race or two.

Lucas :  The No. 42 team did extremely well this season, only to have its pursuit of a championship go up in smoke. I truly feel that this season was a tremendous growing year for Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole, which bodes well for Chevrolet going into 2018.

One can hope that this success will continue, unlike in years past where the team is hot one season, then off the pace for the next one. Larson is a future champion in this sport. His fearlessness was evident when battling for a win (the second Michigan race). It takes guts to win in NASCAR, and he’s got it!

Hull :  A good way to come back from this shocking upset would be to go out and win a race. Kyle Larson could do that. Just because they had a bad time last weekend, doesn’t mean that they aren’t the same powerhouse team that could have made the Championship 4. Larson and his team have done great this year, and there is nothing to hang their heads about.

Shoppe :  That was certainly a surprise to see the No. 42 team out this early in the playoffs as many thought they were a lock for Homestead. All Kyle Larson and his team can do now is continue to have a great season they have enjoyed all year, win a few more races, and show just how much they deserved a place in the final four.

Conley :  I think this team looks at the amazing season they had and know that bad luck is part of the game. They have to be proud of what they’ve done, like how they contended and know that next year can be as good, if not better. Don’t be surprised if they continue to run up front and and even win a couple races from here on out. They may just be the real spoiler at Homestead.

Question 2
Should NASCAR's rules become officially accessible to the public? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Should NASCAR’s rules become officially accessible to the public? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

We saw a few instances of rare NASCAR rules in place, such as the restart violation for Martin Truex Jr and Matt Kenseth’s automatic DNF due to too many men servicing his damaged car during the five minute clock.  Should NASCAR make these rules transparent and available to the public?

Hobbs :  I am pretty sure these rules are transparent and available to the public; at least, the “too many men over the wall” rule.

The restart rule was shared with drivers and crews in the driver’s meeting. but it might be more beneficial if they had all the rules given to them at the start of the season and that they are not changed. Even still, the rule was stated in the meeting and for those who chose not to really listen to it, that is on them.

The “too many men” rule is not a favorite among fans or commentators but it appears the drivers also asked for this. The teams know the rules, and even if they disagree, rules are rules.

Cassidy :  These rules need to be transparent because this is why the sport is losing fans. Plain and simple.

Sturm :  This caused quite the uproar on Sunday. I personally had never heard of either rule actually. Granted, the five minute repair clock is new this year so maybe we’ve just never need to hear of it because no one had broken it until Kenseth’s crew.

However, I do think when NASCAR makes changes like this, they need to make every rule change clear to the public.  In failing to do so, they hurt their credibility. I know people were upset that Johnson didn’t get penalized because he had seven guys over the wall as well during the repair clock. But the rule is that you can’t have seven guys servicing the car.  The seventh guy on Johnson’s team was just giving him fluids.

As far as the Truex thing goes, I also saw a lot of people complaining that Harvick didn’t get penalized, but NASCAR’s excuse was that he was just following the leader. I think Harvick should have been penalized here as well, but that’s not for me to decide.

Magda :  The same penalty Kenseth got was asssessed to Kyle Larson in the Clash at Daytona so I wasn’t surprised it happened. There needed to be more clarity in Jimmie Johnson’s situation when the seventh man went over the wall to rip the tear-off on the windshield. I saw a lot of confusion in the two instances and not every fan knows the rulebook to heart so I understand all of the banter going on in the different cases.

Lucas :  We saw a few instances of rare NASCAR rules.  In most sports that I have been involved with, or follow, usually have their rules easily accessible to access. One that does not is NASCAR. It’s an interesting topic to discuss but I think I like the mystery that surrounds them.

Hull :  It’s not that they need to make these rules public, but they need to make them more transparent, and enforce them consistently. That is the main problem with these rules.

Not only are there too many of them in the first place, but they are hard to follow, and aren’t enforced properly. They let one team get away with something, and then turn around and punish another team for the same thing.

NASCAR needs to follow through on all teams. I think that this is one reason that NASCAR is struggling with retaining and earning fans. They aren’t understanding what is going on. It used to be a simple format to follow, but the rules have complicated it even more.

Shoppe :  NASCAR should absolutely make all rules available to the public! A die-hard fan and a novice fan alike should have the ability to learn and understand the rules of the sport they are watching to further enjoy the product.

It can’t possibly be a good thing when long time fans, myself included, were just finding out about these rules for the first time, as they were effecting those drivers in last weekend’s race. Many feel they have gone way overboard with the excessive rules.

Whether you are on either side of that debate, we can all agree we should be able to have access to the rules, know when and why they are in place, and then worry about if they are too far or not.

Conley :  These rules are plenty clear. They made them available for discussion prior to the season. They seem unclear because they are not normal situations that we see week to week.

Kevin Harvick said on his radio that he caught that line rule mentioned in the drivers meeting. Not only was it told to teams prior to Daytona, but mentioned just a few short hours prior to the incident.

As for the DNF for Kenseth, Jason Ratcliff has to take some blame because you could hear on his radio that he said seven men, then he changed it and said six. No wonder that crew guy was a little confused.

The rule has been around forever. You can send a seventh man to service the driver, but it has to be requested to the tower. The seventh man for crash damage being a penalty has been clear as day since Daytona. There are a lot of rules, but these are supposed to be the best of the best.

Question 3
Might the Round of 8 prove successful for Hendrick Motorsports? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Might the Round of 8 prove successful for Hendrick Motorsports? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Jimmie Johnson’s win at Dover in the spring. Can the No. 24 ad 48 teams battle for wins starting at Martinsville?

Hobbs :  If you discount Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville, you are a fool. Chase Elliott finished 12th in this race last year, and I expect him to run well again this weekend. Elliott has been on fire this playoff season; he currently has the second best average playoff finish behind Martin Truex Jr.

On the other hand, Johnson, finds himself in the middle of the eight pack of remaining playoff drivers in terms of average finish. With three races and only four spots, the sooner they can find themselves in victory lane, the better they will be.

Cassidy :  With the Toyota domination this season, Hendrick Motorsports must feel overlooked this year at a lot of races. This team is still competitive however have some hurdles to overcome quickly.

Sturm :  I wouldn’t say Martinsville is the only best shot for Jimmie Johnson. I think he has a pretty good shot at Texas as well. Some of these upcoming venues are “Jimmie’s tracks.”  Ultimately, he still has a couple of shots at winning.

As far as Chase Elliott goes, I’m not sure. Talladega seemed like his last and best shot. However, he’s been extremely consistent and has a lot of second place finishes. If he can learn how to close out races, he may have another shot as well.

Magda :  Hendrick’s been behind some this year. Johnson has three wins early on but none to show for since then. Chase Elliott was knocking on the door of a few wins. The last race multiple Hendrick cars contended for a win was the Brickyard 400 with Kasey Kahne and Johnson.

Martinsville and Texas are the two races you’ll have to keep an eye on the 24 and 48. Johnson is the defending winner of the race and the 24 has good history at the paperclip. Hendrick has won the last six fall races at Martinsville so don’t rule them out of the win.

Lucas :  Hendrick’s teams will be close.  However, I think their best track to win during the Round of 8 will be next weekend at Texas. Brad Keselowski’s best shot at victory will be this weekend.

Hull :  It appears out of the two, Jimmie Johnson would have the greatest chance of winning this weekend. He is the king of Martinsville Speedway. However, despite being lucky and advancing even after having trouble the last round, they will have to get the bad luck behind them if they want a victory. If they get the monkey off their back, they will win this weekend. Ultimately, Martinsville may dictate if Johnson has a shot of winning an eighth championship.

Shoppe :  If Hendrick Motorsports is going to break their winless streak this season, it would have to come at one of their best tracks like Martinsville. Chase Elliott did win the Truck race there earlier this year. However, I feel if they do bring a clock home, it will come from Jimmie Johnson like last year when he won his way to Homestead.

Conley :  I think it is for Elliott, as he’s been consistently the best Hendrick driver pretty much all season. He could easily grab a win or maybe another second place finish.

As for Johnson, who knows where this team is. Listening to their radio, you’d think they are ready to phone the season in and take an early vacation at times. I don’t see Johnson as a guaranteed threat like last year.

Question 4
With a short track and action track in the desert, might Texas play a huge role with the playoff field? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

With a short track and action track in the desert, might Texas play a huge role with the playoff field? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

The Round of 8 makes stops at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix. Which of these races is the “true” wild card event of the semifinals?

Hobbs :  Unlike the previous round, there are two short tracks and an intermediate track. Of these, Martinsville can strike tempers easily, but we’ve seen all three tracks show great emotion from drivers. So, in a way, every race is a wild card as it comes down to the end.

Cassidy :  I feel like Texas will give these playoff drivers a challenge when looking at the Round of 8. Depending what happens at Martinsville, there could be a large gap within points.

Any driver wants to overcome this so they do not head into the last round at a disadvantage. For this reason, I think we could see some aggressive driving on this huge track.

Sturm :  I’m going to have to say Phoenix just because it’s an elimination race. Kansas is not known as much of a wild card track. However, we saw it be exactly that last Sunday now that it’s an elimination race. Drivers are fighting to advance and they’ll do whatever it takes so I think we’ll see Phoenix get a little wild.

Magda :  Out of the three, I look at Phoenix as the wild card. This race tends to have different winners especially for those breaking long winless streaks.

Ryan Newman got his first Cup win in nearly four years in the spring so a surprise winner is very likely in this event. Since the current playoff format was introduced, two winners have locked themselves into the Championship 4 at Homestead. Even before the playoff days, good drivers have a Phoenix win on their resume.

Lucas :  Phoenix is the wild card and coincidentally, the elimination race to determine the Championship 4. Phoenix brings a unique mixed bag of a short track with 1.5 mile oval tendencies.

Most teams feel relaxed and carefree. The same may not be said for the teams in the playoffs asare fighting for their lives. It’s the exact frame of mind that can play havoc in the garage area. Brake management and mental fitness/clarity will be key to the playoff teams surviving and advancing to Homestead.

Hull :  The “true” wild card event would obviously be Martinsville. Martinsville is a notoriously difficult race track to navigate. It has the short track wrecks.  Any team could be impacted by its wrath.

Thankfully, it’s the first race of the semifinals, so the teams that will have trouble here can bounce back.

Shoppe :  This weekend’s short track finale of the year at Martinsville will absolutely be the wild card race of this round. If we have learned anything from the playoffs so far, it is that nobody is safe.  A bad race to start off the round and it can snowball into elimination come Phoenix. This will be a weekend that the eight remaining drivers will be happy to get through with a clean race.

Conley :  I think it’s Texas. That 1.5-mile track is extremely fast and the still relatively new asphalt could play havoc. We’ve seen quality racing here and we’ve seen races where you couldn’t pass the leader without a sniper shooting out the tires of the leaders. Martinsville can certainly play havoc on the playoffs.  Certainly a few shakeups could be possible the next three weeks.

The clock struck four because the TPF team scored on their responses!  Before it’s winning time on Track Talk, let’s review our race and points reports following Kansas!
Truex came through for yours truly...

Truex came through for yours truly…

...while Hull retakes the points lead!

…while Hull retakes the points lead!

Following the atypical Round of 12, we progress into the Round of 8.  Much like our previews for Chicagoland and Charlotte, the panelists attempt to predict the next batch of eliminated racers, this time for the Round of 8.
Bottom 4 after Round of 8
Will the chase for eight end for Jimmie Johnson after the Round of 8? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Will the chase for eight end for Jimmie Johnson after the Round of 8? (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Tiongson :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski.

Hobbs :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski.

TPF Stats :  Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, and Martin Truex Jr.

Cassidy :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski.

Sturm :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick.

Magda :  Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick.

Lucas :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick.

Hull :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski.

Shoppe :  Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski.

Conley :  Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick.

The time is right for victory on Track Talk!  Step on those gas pedals because our panelists attempt to predict the victor for Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville!
Which of these four will enjoy a new grandfather clock?

Which of these four will enjoy a new grandfather clock?

Tiongson :  If there’s ever a time for a good delivery at Martinsville, Denny Hamlin‘s the man in that FedEx machine.

Hobbs :  Denny Hamlin has had a quiet Playoff season thus far, but look for him to make some noise this weekend at one of his best (if not his best) tracks.

TPF Stats :  He is second in many statistical categories to Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville, but with a better season and playoff season, Denny Hamlin looks to dominate at Martinsville once again.

Cassidy :  My pick is Kyle Busch.

Magda :  Kyle Busch will win this Sunday.

Sturm :  Brad Keselowski scores a season sweep at Martinsville!

Lucas :  It will be just like clockwork for this fellow again at Martinsville, Brad Keselowski for the tick tock sweep!

Conley :  Brad Keselowski is the first lock for Homestead.

Hull :  I look for Jimmie Johnson to win at Martinsville!

Shoppe :  Gotta go with Jimmie Johnson.

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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