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Track Talk: GEICO 500 at Talladega

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 GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Amanda ParmeleeAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, Joseph SheltonKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Kayla SturmKyle Magda, and Stephen Conley discuss the ramifications of Joey Logano’s win at Richmond, Kyle Busch’s late race penalty, the importance of teams like TriStar Motorsports, and the balance between aggression and patience at Talladega Superspeedway!

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Question 1
Tainted W, tainted W, 25 points got deducted....from Joey Logano.

Tainted W, tainted W, 25 points got deducted….from Joey Logano.

Joey Logano broke through to score his first points paying victory of the 2017 season at Richmond with brilliant pit strategy and a heads up move in the final pit stop of the race. Will we see the No. 22 team reel off wins by the bunches as they did in 2015 or gear towards consistency as they did last year?

Hobbs :  I gave Joey Logano lack of an ‘A’ last week because he had not made as much noise as he normally does; Richmond puts him in the ‘A’ category. Consistently quiet this season, Logano made a big statement at Richmond. I expect him and teammate Brad Keselowski, to continue to be high rollers this year.

Fesko :  With the strength of Ford, expect Logano to keep winning races in 2017. He has the excellent combination of daring and patience to hound drivers ahead and pass them.

Copple :  I definitely don’t think Richmond will be the last we will see of Logano and his team in Victory Lane. Ultimately, I don’t see them racking up the wins as they did in 2015. With the way the playoffs are today, once a team has a win, they don’t absolutely need another in the regular season.

Yes, they want to stay competitive, but they have the freedom to try new things that they can use during the playoffs. Logano and the No. 22 team are smart enough to use this win. The freedom they have throughout the rest of the regular season, to gear up for the playoffs, and make it their best championship run yet.

Hull :  So far, the year looks solid for Joey Logano. He has an average finish of 7.2 this season, and is currently fifth in points. He can go win other races this year since luck is in his favor. Penske has been dominant this year. If we don’t see the No. 22 competing for the championship at Homestead at the end of the year, something bad will have happened.

Conley :  With the new stage racing, I think we’ll see both. He’s going to be consistent in making sure he’s in that top-10 and gaining big points in the first two stages. Todd Gordon may play some big strategy and see how it plays off. They may get a little aggressive with pit calls and go for wins. Some may pay off, others may fall a little short. I don’t think he’s going to go and win several in a row, but he’ll be in contention.

Magda :  Logano ran a good race at Richmond by biding his time and running around the top-five, top-10 for the entire race. He stayed out to get track position with his Team Penske teammate so he was in the right place at the right time.

Keselowski had the superior car but ran out of time. You can see the No. 22 win again this week at Talladega as Logano won two of the last three events at the 2.66-mile track. The No. 22 Xfinity Series team is also hungry for a win. They took this event two years ago with Logano, who is entered in the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford for Saturday’s race. There’s a possibility that this may be a big weekend for Penske again.

Cassidy :  Consistency is key and that is one thing Team Penske has going for them over the last few seasons. Personally, I do not think we need to worry about the No. 22 team. They will win more!

Shoppe :  Not only did I predict that Joey Logano would win the race at Richmond last weekend, I also called him my preseason pick for the title. Taking until last weekend to get his first win of the year doesn’t change my confidence that this No. 22 team is a title favorite. They will only improve from here and I see them getting multiple wins through the summer months.

Sturm :  Seeing as how Logano had this win encumbered, I think it’s almost a necessity to win another race if he wants a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. In general, Team Penske and Ford teams have no doubt been on fire so far this season. Therefore, I do believe that Logano will amass numerous wins throughout the course of the 2017 season.

However, his team just has to avoid these penalties and violations, or else the wins are pointless. Not good at all. And now with Todd Gordon being suspended for the next two races, I’m not sure how well they’ll go over for Logano.

Parmelee :  The thing that I enjoy about NASCAR is that there are so many variables that decide whether or not a driver is successful week in and week out — track position, pit crew execution, overall strategy, penalties, and luck in whether they’re caught up in a wreck or not. I think Joey Logano has been competitive this year and is finally seeing the rewards from the hard work put in by the entire 22 team.

Last year he wrecked at both Talladega and Kansas, and finished 22nd at Dover, so I think that result plays into my opinion that the variables truly make a difference. Will he win next week? Who knows. But either way, I would be stunned if we didn’t see another checkered flag for Logano in the next month or two.

Shelton :  It’s easy to claim Logano will aim for consistency. All drivers want consistency. If they’re with a good crew, they should be able to be consistent. Considering the way the No. 22’s season is going, consistency is not a problem.

For last year’s championship runner-up, it’s about the victories. Logano is going for the win every race, not because of the championship implications but because he wants to win as a racer. As it is every year, Logano will define his season by wins.

Question 2
Blurred lines.

Blurred lines.

Kyle Busch was in position to win at Richmond. Ultimately, Busch violated the commitment line.  While Kyle Busch called it a “Ball and strike” matter after the race, was this ultimately the right call by NASCAR?

Hobbs :  I think a lot of driers were confused by this new rule; not just Kyle Busch. A lot of fans were quick to jump on Kyle Busch, calling him a cry baby and a whiner, but he was not the only one who took issue with it; he was just the one ended up with the biggest impact from the penalty. It was blown out of proportion when he refused to answer questions about it after getting out of the car, and I do not blame him. He wanted, and needed, to cool off before saying something and I think reporters were hoping to get some “angry Kyle” out there.

Whether the call was right or not depends on how one interpreted the rules given, from what I heard, first at the drivers meeting before the race. New rules take time to nail down, and as stated, a few drivers ended up with a penalty. If all four tires must have been below the box (the end) and they were not, then yes, the penalty was justified.

Fesko :  Absolutely. The rules were clear and Busch broke them. It stings, but he will move on a get a win before too long.

Copple :  Busch was far from the only one, if I am remembering right, to fall victim to that call by NASCAR. He needs to grow up and stop whining and go out an win the next race. If he was the only one called on a commitment line violation by NASCAR, then he would have a case, but he wasn’t. Did it cost him the race? Very possible. But NASCAR made the right call. They couldn’t call others on the violation and not him.

Hull :  Well, I think it was a tough matter to judge, but I think it was the right call. Kyle should have known he was outside of the commitment line, and should have been given the penalty. It is hard to tell whether or not Joey Logano really faked him out on purpose, and if he did, guess what? That’s racing. Logano did nothing remotely wrong in this situation except for what was best for him at the moment.

Conley :  Calling it a Ball and strike seems like the penalty can be questioned or that it was “close.” This wasn’t close – it was black and white. Don’t run over the box, don’t get penalized. He ran over the box and NASCAR said, “Strike three, you’re out.” It could not be any clearer than they made it.

Magda :  Drivers get upset when they forget to do something or didn’t think no wrong. Even Clint Bowyer said over the radio that he knew of the commitment line violation that bit so many drivers at RIR. It was brought up in the drivers’ meeting.  Yes, it was the right call by NASCAR. The series has been more consistent with their calls and Joey Logano brought up a good point in the Xfinity Series race last Sunday by saying that NASCAR needs to be fair with everyone.

Cassidy :  We have seen some arguable calls this season by NASCAR in all three series. At the end of the day, little is changed about these. However, I think it is important for NASCAR to reflect on what fans are saying. Social media gives a huge insight as to what fans are thinking about the rules, races, and calls that are made.

Shoppe :  If you run your tires over that box, it is a penalty. It isn’t a ball and strike. It is black and white. He clipped that orange box. Therefore, he deserves a penalty as if the cone was there to be knocked over. Whether this was due to a slight misjudgment following the No. 22, or a mistake remembering the change in the rule, Kyle Busch has nobody to blame for himself. Kyle Busch continues to show poor sportsmanship and attitude as he gets deeper into the season without a win.

Sturm :  A violation is a violation, a penalty is a penalty. We all know how Kyle Busch is with things like this. You can’t penalize one driver and not penalize another driver for doing the exact same thing. It’s not like he wasn’t allowed to finish the race. He just had to restart at the back of the grid, like many drivers had to do at Richmond for the same exact violation. Rules are rules.

Parmelee :  Was it the right call? Yes. The driver is required to have all four tires below the orange box, and Kyle Busch clearly drove directly through the area as he was following Logano onto pit road. The violation is black and white.

Unfortunately for Kyle Busch, he chose to ride the rear bumper of the No. 22 which prevented him from seeing exactly where the painted area was, causing him the penalty. As Jeff Gordon pointed out during the race, what Logano did was perfectly legal. If you’re going to enforce a commitment “cone” violation, you have to be consistent, and that’s exactly what NASCAR was in this instance. The fact that Busch was positioned in a way that prevented him from seeing the approaching orange segment was his own fault.

Shelton :  Always. NASCAR doesn’t mince their words when it comes to penalties. They lay out the rules in the driver’s meeting, and if there’s a violation, they will act. End of story.

Question 3
TriStar Motorsports has been off to a decent start with Cole Whitt.

TriStar Motorsports has been off to a decent start with Cole Whitt.

Cole Whitt and the TriStar Motorsports team have been respectable for a small Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series effort after nine races. With a season best finish of 18th in the Daytona 500, how vital is it for a team like this to succeed in today’s world of NASCAR racing?

Hobbs :  Small teams doing big things is a big deal. However, this is the day and age where even big teams and names are looking for sponsorship and visibility. Any TV time that any driver can get is the goal; hopefully they are getting it for running well. For the longest time, folks only pointed to restrictor plates as places where these smaller teams can shine, but short tracks are on the same level.

Fesko :  It’s really important to show that a new team, with a charter, can compete off the bat in NASCAR’s top series. However, it is even more important that they continue to get better. Otherwise, it serves as a warning to not enter Cup.

Copple :  TriStar Motorsports is a small, low-funded team in the garage.  They struggle to make it with the big guys. These guys struggle to make it to every track and complete the entire season schedule. It’s touch and go every weekend. Cole Whitt is a talented driver and any seat time is good seat time.  Running each weekend with competitive cars against teams with millions of dollars and endless resources is not an easy task. That said, Whitt is doing the best he can.

Hull :  I think it is very vital and maybe it will make people pay more attention to the little guys out there. These teams are out there busting their behinds like the rest of these drivers. Since they are smaller, they don’t often get the recognition they deserve. Finishing strong is good for them.

Conley :  TV, radio, and online outlets like this are talking about them. That is huge for that team and the more competitive teams we have in the sport, the better off it is. Is it vital? Probably not. Is it good? It’s great. Everyone loves an underdog.

Magda :  TriStar hasn’t had a full-time Cup team in a while.  Still, they’re slowly working towards getting better. There’s no better manufacturer to do it with than Ford going back to the mid-1990s with their No. 19 car. Cole Whitt drives with the equipment at TriStar and gets the best finish he can for a team who has a charter for the season. Talladega’s always a wild card because most small teams have a chance to pull off the upset much like Front Row Motorsports finishing 1-2 in the spring of 2013.

Cassidy :  With the structure that NASCAR currently has, we should always expect to see lower funded teams. However, it’s indelible for these teams to be running and finishing better than expected. With stronger than average finishes, there is hope for smaller teams as better position bring home more money. It is a cycle. Can it be broken?

Shoppe :  This No. 72 TriStar team is really punching above their weight this year! Teams such as the No. 72 typically run in the high thirties each week.  Heck, they may get in the way of the leaders. Instead, Cole Whitt and this Benny Parsons inspired 72 car are fighting for top 20 finishes, embarrassing some fully funded cars in the process! Expect Whitt to surprise some folks with a great run in Talladega this Sunday!

Sturm :  As vital as it is for any team to succeed in NASCAR. All teams want to succeed. However, I do think it’s more important for the underfunded teams to succeed and perform well, because this leads to more exposure and publicity. With exposure comes more sponsors, more fans, etc.

Also, I’ve noticed that NASCAR fans love the underfunded teams because they work hard for what they have. They don’t get everything handed to them on a silver platter and are grateful for every opportunity they get. Fans would love to see the underfunded teams succeed.

Take truck driver Jordan Anderson for example. He had a huge outpouring of support when his truck was totaled at Atlanta. You saw a lot of talk about small teams for weeks after that.

Parmelee :  This is where the teams that we all love — Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, etc. — become the enemy, in my opinion. The need for small, one-car teams to succeed is essential in helping young drivers realize the dreams that they have of becoming racecar drivers. The sport originated with anyone being able to show up and compete, and actually be competitive.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case because of the incredible advances in technology that have occurred in recent decades. It’s hard to put together a winning car when the team next to you has a budget 10 times what yours is, and it’s hard to convince companies to sponsor you when you’re not making top-20 finishes.

It’s frustrating to me to watch the success of some of the younger Xfinity drivers, and even some of the Cup drivers, who have so much enthusiasm and charisma and character but are consistently overlooked because they’re not able to finish higher.

Shelton :  It’s huge for TriStar and Cole Whitt.  While this team won’t become a title contending team anytime in the foreseeable future, the fact is that they’re there every week. They’re more than a placeholder. That says something about the potential for the No. 72.

Maybe in due time, they’ll progress to upper-mid-pack, near or in the top 20. To see the ultimate underdog of a team go out and try to do more than just make laps is a welcome addition to the 2017 season. It adds more parity in the ranks.

Question 4
Ride in the pack or go Cup crazy at Talladega?

Ride in the pack or go Cup crazy at Talladega?

Talladega awaits the competition for what’s usually tense, exciting, and somewhat breathtaking racing.  Based on the season opener at Daytona, will we see a fine line between patience and aggression in the early going or the usual three to four wide racing seen lap after lap in the GEICO 500?

Hobbs :  A fine line has always been present at these restrictor plate tracks. Do the stages give more of a line? Perhaps. Being early in the year, drivers who are still outside the playoffs and far back in points might do more to get more points than others, and than they normally would; but drivers who have (multiple) wins, might play some more strategy than anything. This could lead to a distinction between those going for an aggressive race vs. a passive race.

Fesko :  With the way races award points at multiple times, I would expect a busy pack when pay time comes and less aggressive racing at other times to make sure they’re there when that time comes.

Copple :  I hate predicting these super-speedway races. It’s impossible. Anything can happen. With these drivers running so close together, just the slightest misstep can lead to disaster. Will we get the proverbial “big one?” More than likely. When will it happen? Only time will tell. Talladega is a beast and one of those places where luck means just as much as talent.

Hull :  I think that based on past races here, and this season, the excitement will be towards the end. The last laps are when you see the most action at these plate races. You see the drivers make the bold moves. Sadly, the big wrecks are part of the nature with plate racing.

Conley :  Patience requires oxygen to the brain. These drivers strap these helmets on sometimes too tight and that all goes out the window. There is not a chance that we see patience early. If Erik Jones thought they were racing too hard early last week, he may just want to start the race on pit road this week. It’s go time.

Magda :  Here’s my take on this: The issue at Daytona was a problem with the spoilers making the cars so sensitive to the slightest contact with their bumpers. Cars lose the air and go out of control with everyone behind them with nowhere to go. All three races during the Daytona 500 weekend featured massive crashes by the smallest push to a car’s rear spoiler.  This sent drivers spinning and causing the “Big One.” There’s times where the restrictor plate races are relatively caution free so don’t rule out that possibility either.

Cassidy :  No doubt, I think this style of racing causes drivers to be more aggressive early on. Is that a good thing or bad? You’ll have to be the judge of that.

Shoppe :  We are sure to see some amazing racing like all superspeedway plate races produce! I expect everyone will go for broke knowing this might be their best chance to win their way into the playoffs. Let’s just all hope for a safe event free of the horrific impacts we saw there in years past.

Sturm :  Hmm. Well, Talladega is one of two tracks (Daytona being the other) where the new low-downforce package isn’t implemented and where we see restrictor plate racing. If Daytona was any indicator of how her sister superspeedway track will play out, we’ll see some exciting racing. I can’t really say but I’m hoping it’ll be similar to this year’s 500 because boy, that was a good race.

Parmelee :  I think the new points system has given drivers a new incentive to be more competitive throughout the race rather than race patiently until closer to the checkered flag. Sure, you get extra points for winning each stage, but the way I see it? Can you really win the points that matter if you’re in a torn-up racecar? I think it’s all about weighing the options, and I’m definitely in the more conservative boat (or car, in this case) when it comes to this argument.

Shelton :  I think we’ll see typical Talladega. Daytona was an anomaly. Yes, Daytona had the stage racing, the long off season, and the overall impatience of the drivers trying to get towards the front for the points. Now that they’ve got one restrictor-plate wreckfest under their belts this season, I think they’ll show some more patience and race Talladega the way it’s supposed to be raced.

That’s four laps around Talladega Superspeedway and there’s nary a scratch on our racecar! Before we make our winning move, let’s review how we all fared last Sunday at Richmond!
TPF Stats, Cody, and yours truly scored a somewhat tainted win....

TPF Stats, Cody, and yours truly scored a somewhat tainted win….

...Joey Logano's Richmond penalty tightens up the points race!

…Joey Logano’s Richmond penalty tightens up the points race!

It’s almost as exciting as needing dinozord power now!  OK, we’ve had a lot of Power Rangers references lately.  That said, it’s Dino Buckler time as we reveal our picks to win Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway!
One of these five will be happy at "The World's Fastest Speedway!"

One of these five will be happy at “The World’s Fastest Speedway!”

Tiongson :  Keeping this weekend’s pick within the Penske family.  While I see Talladega being quite a good weekend for the young guns, look for Brad Keselowski to repeat his win here on Sunday!

Fesko :  Brad Keselowski will be the winner on Sunday.

Copple :  It’s Brad Keselowski’s time to win at Talladega!

Cassidy :  “Bad” Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 crew will be numero uno!

Shoppe :  I’m picking Brad Keselowski for the win!

Magda :  Going with Joey Logano.

Parmelee :  Joey Logano will take the checkered flag on Sunday!

Shelton : Dibs on Joey Logano. Team Penske swept Talladega and scored a July Daytona win last year. Earlier this year, Logano won the Clash at Daytona. While both ran up front late in the 500, it’s safe to say Logano has ‘Dega figured out.

Hull : I am picking someone that has dominated the headlines here lately and is really good here at Talladega. Of course, that is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Conley : If Talladega has any construction plans, next week would be a good time. The fans will tear this place down when Dale Earnhardt Jr. scores win number one of the season.
Sturm : I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Dale Earnhardt Jr. Not only is he in serious need of a win, but Dega is “Earnhardt Country,” after all.

TPF Stats : Chase Elliott tops the table for this weekend’s festivities!

Hobbs : Let’s see if Clint Bowyer can snap that winless streak!

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!  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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