Each weekend, our panel provides their thoughts on the latest stories in NASCAR while predicting the winner of the Homestead-Miami Speedway at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race!
In this season finale edition of Track Talk, our panelists Adam Lucas, Ashley Hobbs, Christina Bowman, Cody Shoppe, Jose Acero Jr, Katie Copple, and Matt Sisoler analyze the Championship 4 field and the major stories from this season!
This year’s Championship 4 field is about as aggressive as it gets heading into Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of the quartet still standing tall, which do you expect to win the championship?
Acero : I don’t want to sound bias but I am pulling for Harvick! We know the fire that is in him after what happened at Texas. They don’t call him the “closer” for anything. So look forward to Harvick closing 2018 being a two time NASCAR champ!
Bowman : I want to go with Kyle Busch so badly, but Harvick has shown some real grit lately and I think is hungry for another title. When it comes down to the wire, these two drivers will both be aggressive and assert their dominance. Hard telling which will come out on top, but I want to see Busch take it.
Copple : I think this is really a toss up. A few races ago, I would have said Truex, but the 78 team just hasn’t been as dominate as they were earlier this year. Now, I think it’s between Busch and Harvick. Both want it. Both deserve it. But who will get it? Harvick has a new pit crew and a different face on top of the box. That’ll either hurt him… or help him.
Hobbs : It will come down to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, as it has most of the season. Martin Truex Jr. has been third best all season and I do not see that changing unless something catastrophic happens to Happy and Rowdy. I give the edge to Harvick in to Ford EcoBoost 400 since he has the edge in performance over Busch at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Lucas : Harvick. Unless his crew screws up a late race pit stop or NASCAR calls a bum penalty on them, I think they’re in the cat-bird seat heading to Homestead. Deep down inside though, I want Logano to win, but realistically, it’s Harvick’s season to lose
Shoppe : The best team all year has been Kevin Harvick and the SHR #4 Ford! Through a season of pit mistakes, penalties and controversies, this team has continued to win or be a threat to win. Logano and Truex have been much more consistent, but many will agree it is a race against Harvick and Kyle Busch for the cup this year. I see it going to Kevin Harvick!
Sisoler : I’m gonna be honest. I have no clue, mainly just because all four drivers have shown good speed of late. The feel-good story would clearly be Martin Truex Jr. winning one last race and title to close out Furniture Row Racing’s lifespan with back-to-back championships, so I’ll admit, I want MTJ to do it for Barney Visser and cement FRR’s legacy.
But, he’s gotta get through his teammate-to-be, Kyle Busch, and a pair of fast Fords in Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, who are going to be racing hard to try and close out the Ford Fusion’s run in Cup Series racing (which I find sad to see go, partially because I have a Fusion) with a win and a title of their own. Not to mention Harvick is carrying a lot of momentum, so we will all be along for one helluva ride to close out the 2018 season.
As the season wraps up, what’s been the most surprising storyline, the most pleasant story of the year, and perhaps the one story you’ll follow heading into the offseason?
Acero : Most surprising story of 2018 for me, well there is a few but the one that stands out is FRR closing shop come the checkered flag in Homestead. Such a great organization working itself up in the ranks of those with JGR, SHR amongst others. Bittersweet to see them go.
Bowman : I think how young these drivers are retiring in general is a surprising storyline. The most surprising, however, is the dissolution of Furniture Row Racing. I don’t know that many people saw that one coming.
As for the most pleasant storyline of the year: I think for me this comes in following the drivers and their families off track. I love Kyle and Samantha’s IVF journey and how they share that with their fans, the human and family side of racing is what steals my heart. Kasey Kahne retiring to spend more quality time with his son hits me the same way. I don’t know that there is a story I will follow into 2019. It’s best to just wait and see what the new season brings in my opinion.
Copple : Furniture Row Racing shutting down has definitely been a talker, but for me, Jimmie Johnson takes the cake. He is winless this season, unless he miraculously wins the season finale. That hasn’t happened since his first season in Cup. On top of that, he’s losing his longtime crew chief after this year.
The Johnson/Knaus pairing is like the grand-parental marriage in the garage, but now after so many years they are shockingly divorcing. I still can’t wrap my head around it. Along with that breakup, Johnson is also moving out of his longtime residence with Lowe’s on the 48. The numerous changes to the Johnson camp are just shocking. The 48 will be nearly unrecognizable in 2019, but hopefully, not for long.
As far as what I’m going to follow in the off-season? That one is easy, and something I’ve been following for a while. Kyle and Samantha Busch’s journey through IVF. It’s inspiring and heartbreaking and I love that they are sharing this hard journey with fans and friends. Not many celebrities would document this journey for the public, but they are really helping others who are or will eventually go through the same thing. I look forward to what they have in store for the off-season and wish them the best in their journey!
Hobbs : Surprising: Toss-up between Furniture Row Racing bowing out and the retirements of some of the young stars.
Pleasant: Chase Elliott finally cracking into victory lane, not once but three times this season.
Off-season: How will the rest of the 2019 line-up shake out?
Lucas : Most Surprising: The demise of the 2017 Cup series championship team of Furniture Row Racing. I’m all about some conspiracies, and I have a big one. However, the powers that be prevent me from spilling those beans. Instead, here are the facts.
Financially, Mr. Viser was unable to secure long-term funding to sustain a top-tier race team. Well that, and the fact that his technical alliance deal with JGR was going to skyrocket for 2019. That’s never a good thing especially when your funding is already questionable.
Most Pleasant Story: Now this might come off as somewhat harsh, but please hear me out. I find that Kasey Kahne retiring from full time racing is pleasant. Why though? Athlete burnout happens, and there were many signs pointing to this over the past few seasons. Prior to last season’s Brickyard win, Kahne had not won a race since 2014.
Three years between wins feels like three lifetimes to a full time Cup driver. When your not winning, you start to question yourself. “Why am I still doing this?” “Why can’t I win?” “Is it worth it anymore?” Kahne graciously decided that the right time was 2018 to make that call.
Now, Kasey can be the best version of Big Daddy Kahne for Tanner and spend quality time with him as he grows. I’m not a parent, but if given the opportunity to essentially be set financially for the future and be able to spend time raising a family, I’d gladly take that option. Good luck to Kasey and Co., I’m extremely happy for your new happiness!
Offseason Story: What to expect with the new Cup package? We still don’t truly know!
Shoppe : This year has been filled with many great storylines. A year that’s regular season was dominated by three drivers who became known as the “big three.” The defending series champions being forced to shut down the next season was the biggest in my opinion!
Not only do we say goodbye to Furniture Row Racing, but also to a few great drivers! Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler retire from fulltime driving and will be missed!
Sisoler : Furniture Row Racing’s demise has got to be the most surprising storyline of the season, and it shows just how hard it is to be competitive. Barney Visser never thought his team would be going out like this, and yet, here we are. The champions from last year, who still have a chance to win it all again this year, are not gonna be here next year.
For pleasant, even though I’m not a big fan of Kyle Busch, he and wife Samantha’s journey through IVF and how open they are with the fans and community about it, it is something to be inspired by, and I wish them the best of luck.
As for an offseason story to follow, I think something that has to be looked at is where do some drivers go. With FRR going belly-up, Daniel Suarez is getting booted aside for Martin Truex Jr at Joe Gibbs Racing, which is unfair but fair at the same time.
Suarez hasn’t shown the race pace, most of the time, compared to MTJ in what are essentially the same cars. And, yet one wonders if he’s really been given the best opportunities, when he’s been racing alongside Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones. I hope Suarez lands somewhere good and can find his way to the front again.
Excellent job, team! We’re in position for this year’s championship. Speaking of the championship, there’s a battle brewing between three panelists and a machine! Let’s review last Sunday’s results at Phoenix and see who’s still fighting for the TPF Track Talk Cup championship!
Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead settles the biggest score of 2018 in NASCAR and with our writers and photographers! Let’s see our picks for the race, the season finale!
Tiongson : We’ve reached the “End of the Line” for 2018 in many ways. Not only is it the end of NASCAR’s 70th season, without much fanfare to this amazing accomplishment, but it’s the end of a perennial Cup team. That said, I look for Martin Truex Jr to have the ultimate farewell present for Barney Visser – a win in this year’s Ford EcoBoost 400 and his second Cup championship!
Copple : I have to go with Martin Truex Jr for the race win!
Bowman : Kyle Larson wins the race, Kyle Busch wins the Championship.
Shoppe : Kyle Larson will win Homestead, not caring to stay out of the way of the championship battle unlike years’ past!
Sisoler : As much as it would be cool to see Jimmie Johnson win one more time with Lowe’s on the hood and Knaus on the pit box, I think Kyle Larson’s strong run will continue and he’ll take the checkered flag to play spoiler to the Championship 4.
Speaking of championships, as much as I’d like to see MTJ win one final time for Barney and FRR, I think we’ll see Kevin Harvick take home the title and send the Ford Fusion out on top.
Hobbs : Tied for the most wins, (barely) second best season average finish, most stage wins, most top fives/10’s/15’s, and happens to have one of the best average finishes in the Ford EcoBoost 400, Kevin Harvick will be victorious in both the Ford EcoBoost 400 and being the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion!
Lucas : Been saving him for this weekend, Kevin Harvick wins the race and captures Cup championship number two!
TPF Stats : But of course, it is none other than Kevin Harvick to win the race and the championship.
That wraps this week’s preview, 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 this week! We hope to see you at the races in 2019. Everyone’s support in the past, this year, and the future for TPF is much appreciated!
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.