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Track Talk: Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR. Additionally, we make our predictions on who may win the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Kayla SturmKyle Magda, and Stephen Conley reflect on the importance of Jimmie Johnson’s victory at Texas, the progress of Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers Racing team, the return of a familiar format for the All Star Race, and the track surface at Bristol Motor Speedway!

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Question 1
Jimmie Johnson and his beard are here to stay.

Jimmie Johnson and his beard are here to stay.

Jimmie Johnson finally scored Hendrick’s first victory of 2017 by taking the checkers at Texas, completing the worst to first drive. With the monkey finally off the No. 48 team’s back, what can we expect from Johnson and Knaus in these upcoming races?

Sturm :  We all know that Johnson scored his seventh championship in 2016. However, after his early season wins at Atlanta and Auto Club last year, he struggled a bit mid-season. Johnson had quite a few less than average finishes before finally winning again at the fall Charlotte race. Knaus and Johnson are a legendary duo, known for how well they work together and get along, which I believe is one of the main reasons they had such a great finish at Texas. I believe that if last season was a prelude to this season, the win at Texas was just a start of what is to come for the 48 team in 2017.  Ultimately, it could quite possibly turn Mr. Seven Time into Mr. Eight Time.

Conley :  I’m still not entirely sold on the No. 48. Yes, it was a successful weekend in Texas. However, it was such an unknown that you took a shot in the dark with the set-up and hope it paid off. It did and they won. A string of four or five top five finishes for the 48, plus another win and I’ll call them back in the game.

Hobbs :  There is no monkey. There never was a monkey. There will never be a monkey for the No. 48 crew. The journalists in our sport often start getting “concerned” for Jimmie Johnson after two races into a season. They’ll wonder when, or if, he will win. They do this each year and guess what? He always wins and is always (or usually) fighting for the title come week 36. I laugh at those who think Jimmie and Chad have lost their touch. As long as these two are together, they will always win and always be battling or that championship.

Copple :  Did we really think there was a proverbial money on the backs of the No. 48 team? I mean, it’s Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. They don’t have bad seasons! True, this season took them a bit longer to get that first win. As long as they have a strong end to their season, they are always a contender for the title. Johnson has done something only two other drivers have ever done. Those two drivers are known as the best ever in NASCAR. Johnson is ranked right up there with them. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him surpass them.

Hull :  I am not sure what we can expect for this team in the next coming races. Even though they just got their first victory of the year at Texas, they struggled to get there. But the Jimmie Johnson I know does relatively mediocre until the playoffs. I think we will really see him shine during the playoffs. We shall see if he continues his streak or not.

Magda :  I’d expect them to continue running in the top-five or 10 in the next few events.  Johnson won Bristol once but none since 2010 so this track is a curveball for the No. 48 team.  They’ve run up front basically everywhere but here, it’s a hit-and-miss.  Over the next four-race stretch, keep your eyes on this bunch at Kansas.  The seven-time champ excels at the 1.5-milers.

Cassidy :  With seven championships under their belt, NASCAR fans shouldn’t expect anything less from this team than every other year.  We saw the No. 48 team “struggle” in the 2016 regular season to come back and win the championship.  Never underestimate this team.

Question 2
Ryan Blaney has 21 more reasons to smile about his MENCS efforts.

Ryan Blaney has 21 more reasons to smile about his MENCS efforts.

On the flip side, Ryan Blaney won two of the three stages at Texas before a late race mistake on pit road derailed him and the No. 21 team from a chance with challenging for the win.  Despite this, how close are Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins from finally realizing that first win?

Sturm :  I think Blaney is closer to his first win than most people realize. He’s been performing consistently well so far this season, although some bad luck and issues have relegated him to some not so great finishes. If Blaney and the No. 21 crew can stay out of trouble, I believe the win is right around the corner for them. He’s an extremely talented driver with a ton of the “right” attitude needed to get the job done.

Conley :  I’d say as soon as this week. The No. 21 Ford is typically strong at Bristol. With the momentum they have right now and the strength of that car, I think Blaney and the Wood Brothers are back to being a weekly contender and could win any given Sunday.

Hobbs :  Blaney, like Chase Elliott, is knocking on the door. Heck, they both have one foot inside the door. In time, Blaney will get his victory and put that No. 21 car back into Victory Lane. He need not worry, for his day will come. When that day does, the next victories will be that much easier. And that, my friends, is when the field needs to be scared.

Copple :  Blaney and Bullins are still a young team trying to figure out their way to work together. They had a phenomenal race car at Texas but couldn’t close the deal. Will they win this season? I don’t know. However, if they keep running strong races and bringing good race cars to the track, they will have endless learning opportunities and come out stronger, together, in 2018. Blaney has a lot of potential but he is still young. Give him another year or two and I could see him in as a regular in Victory Lane.

Hull :  I think they are getting really close. They have such a good working relationship. Ryan Blaney is a very talented driver. They have also come close so many times this year. I think that if he doesn’t win at Bristol this weekend (which I think he has a good chance of doing so), he will win at some point in the future. It’s coming!

Magda :  Very close and the reason for that is the Roush Yates power under the hood combined with Blaney’s driving abilities.  The 23-year-old driver took home two stages in Texas.  Amidst no mistakes, this team is a real contender to end up in Victory Lane soon.  

Cassidy :  I think this season will have a lot of young guys racing up front.  Blaney definitely gets his first win this season!

Question 3
If it feels like 1992 at Charlotte, chances are...a race in May will feel that way.

If it feels like 1992 at Charlotte, chances are…a race in May will feel that way.

NASCAR recently announced a return of a familiar format for the annual All-Star Race, with a bit of a twist to shake things up come Charlotte Speedweeks.  With Goodyear debuting the option tire that’s meant to be good in a short run, is this perhaps an experiment with a variable that may see the light of day in regular season points races?

Sturm :  I think it all really depends on how well it goes over for the All-Star race. If we think back to 2009, when double file restarts were used at the All Star race, people loved them. Two races later, they were implemented permanently starting with Pocono. However, I’m not sure it’s even a thought until NASCAR can see how it works out for the All-Star race. If it ends up being great for the sport, I definitely think they would consider using it in regular season races.

Conley :  Even though Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, observed that the company and NASCAR have not had any direct conversation in regards to the future of this “dual” compound. I believe it will be something that is seen as early as 2018 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. For now, it’s certainly going to bring some interesting storylines to not only the All-Star race, but every time tires are an issue. 

Hobbs :  Oh, a science experiment during the All-Star race you say? Interesting conceptual idea here. It very well could be.

Or, it could be Monster Energy not taking a bigger gamble on making their statement on this series.

Copple :  The All-Star Race is all about bragging rights. No points are on the line and it isn’t going to hurt your chances at the championship. This is a race to go out, have fun, and try new things. And that doesn’t just go for the drivers. This is a great opportunity for Goodyear to try a new tire to see how it handles in a race. Testing can only cover so many variables. There is nothing like testing a tire for a race by racing with it.

Hull :  I think that if this proves successful, it could be debuted at other races. I like that this race format really forces the teams to use pit strategy to win the race. People always forget that sometimes it’s not always just the drivers themselves that win races, but the pit crews and crew chiefs. This could also prove to be very exciting as well. However, the question is how would these tires hold up during the day? It would be a great thing to at least try out though.

Magda :  This is a toss-up for me. First thing comes to mind is the tire wars in 1994 between Goodyear and Hoosier. Both had two totally different products. The option to change the tires might end up beneficial if the 10-lap run goes green. The All-Star race is a good experiment to try it out.  It’s a non-points event with this and last year’s winners. Also, this experiment takes will not factor into an actual race, as Goodyear and teams will play around with the two types of tires.

Cassidy :  Goodyear’s approach with the tire is interesting.  I am excited to see how it plays out.  As of now, I am unsure if many people are sold on the idea.

Question 4
As Madonna once sang, "Get into the groove."

As Madonna once sang, “Get into the groove.”

It’s back to Bristol where the track will have its second race with the rosin like material applied to the surface.  How much of a catalyst will this be in allowing for double file racing and thus, more exciting competition on the track?

Sturm :  I think it’s going to provide plenty of two-wide racing, seeing as how the rosin gives the tires more grip and makes it easier to run both high and low. This will obviously result in more passing, which in turn, will result in more exciting racing since it won’t all be single file. Fans love to see passing in racing. It’s one of the things that they can’t get enough of. However, if someone makes a mistake and misses the groove like Kurt Busch did last year, it could also make for some nasty wrecks.

Conley :  It’s really kind of funny to think about the things that SMI and Bristol are having to do to get “side by side” racing. It seemed with all the changes, adjustments and track surface overhauls that they’ve done, they would have it right. But I guess what they had in late 2007, where we saw three wide racing and a new type of Bristol, wasn’t good enough. Now we have to add stuff to the track to help promote good racing. Will the rosin help? Guess it really depends on what kind of racing you want. I personally doubt it does much.

Hobbs :  Man, I hope this Bristol racing brings back the excitement and passion of the sport. With the stages, I can see this race having a lot of bumping and moving. Ultimately, I hope to see some fists (or fingers) flying out windows, a bit of rubbin’ is racing action, and some tempers flairing. That is what this sport is. And that is what Bristol can showcase. Or, so I hope…

Copple :  This rosin that they are putting on the track is questionable. I wasn’t sold on it the first time but I’m still not ready to knock it completely yet. It’s definitely going to have an impact on the racing product. As to what extent, I guess we will have to wait until the green flag.

Hull :  I really enjoyed the last race on this type of track. Double file racing at Bristol makes things more exciting. Also, the new racing format will prove to be exciting as well. It will be interesting to see how many cars will be left by the end of this race with the new damage rule. Either way, we will expect to see a good show here on Sunday.

Magda :  The material on the track won’t make much of a difference because it makes the bottom more slippery. Although there might be grip down there, it doesn’t mean there’ll be any later on in the event. It’ll never be the same Bristol like 10 years ago but SMI is making an effort to bring the classic short-track racing action to Thunder Valley.  

Cassidy :  I think this approach to the race will be super exciting for fans.  With successful double file restarts, I expect to see more competitive racing on every green flag lap.

Four fast laps around this place and this is what racing in Tennessee is all about!  Before it’s winning time on Track Talk, let’s review how we all fared two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway!
Katie and Amanda enjoyed victory in the heart of Texas...

Katie and Amanda enjoyed victory in the heart of Texas…

...but Kyle Magda is still leading the way like Jason the Red Power Ranger!

…but Kyle Magda is still leading the way like Jason the Red Power Ranger!

Alright, friends.  Not only is it winning time – it’s morphin’ time on Track Talk.   Let’s reveal our winning picks for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway!
Which rangers will power their way to a win at Bristol Motor Speedway?

Which rangers will power their way to a win at Bristol Motor Speedway?

Tiongson :  This young man is off to a great start in 2017.  I think it’s time to use that credit card from Credit One and cash in on a Kyle Larson victory at Bristol this Sunday!

Conley :  Surviving the chaos at Bristol will be Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Hope they have the stands reinforced.

Sturm :  My pick to win Bristol is Joey Logano.

Copple :  Joey Logano will win at Bristol.

TPF Stats :  Let’s see if he can turn “so close yet so far” into a victory…finally.  Chase Elliott to survive the gauntlet that is Bristol!

Hull :  My pick to win this weekend is Chase Elliott.

Hobbs :  Let’s see how Kevin Harvick can handle Bristol.

Magda:  Kyle Busch will take the checkered flag on Sunday.

Cassidy :  Going with Matt Kenseth!

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. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the authors 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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