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NASCAR Cup Series

Track Talk: 400 at Kansas Speedway

Carry on our wayward sons (and daughter) as NASCAR finds the next stop on the Sprint Cup circuit at Kansas Speedway.  Tonight, it’s all about the 400 and while they won’t go bowling, they certainly have zero plans to lose in Solon.  Instead, it’s about the 1.5-mile track that’s been a staple of the most premier stock car series since 2001 or essentially about one of the fastest and challenging venues since the turn of the century.

Although it’s only race 11 of the 2016 season, time is starting to tick for some drivers and teams aiming for a spot at this year’s Chase playoff field.  For drivers like Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr, winning a race would be like a ray of sunshine for their Cup campaigns.  Each of these drivers scored wins last year but have yet to visit Victory Lane this season.  To say the least, they’re about ready to earn their Winner decal and the spoils of a triumph after a three and a half hour stock car battle.

Kansas Speedway is more than just a 1.5-mile intermediate track.  It’s tenacious, equally as treacherous as its big sisters at Talladega and Daytona, and physically grueling with the transitions off each corner.  With 17-20 degree banked turns, nine-11 degree banking on the frontstretch and five degree banking on the backstretch, these drivers will be earning it tonight for at least 267 laps.

Who’ll win tonight’s 400?  That remains to be seen.  However, our TPF Track Talk team is more than ready to analyze the week that was in NASCAR and who we’re considering for victory at Kansas tonight!  Let’s get up to speed now with our TPF team of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull,Cody ShoppeKathleen Cassidy, Katie CoppleSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley!

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Question 1
Chris Buescher had a ride that was more than he bargained for at Talladega.

Chris Buescher had a ride that was more than he bargained for at Talladega.

Clearly, we saw a very exciting, competitive but crash marred race at Talladega last Sunday.  Firstly, does NASCAR need to make any changes to ensure the amount of carnage, particularly with Chris Buescher, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick’s cars going airborne or on their side, is limited or is this just the nature of the beast at the plate tracks?

Fesko :  For Buescher and Harvick, their cars were lifted off the ground due to contact with other cars. There’s nothing the sport can do about that other than spread the cars out as Denny Hamlin, among others, have suggested this week. Kenseth’s blowover is the most serious of the three accidents, as it was a complete aerodynamic issue. What can NASCAR do about this? Add more roof flaps, I guess, but I’m no engineer. There must be something that will work, however, and I expect NASCAR to implement whatever can be used to keep incidents like that from happening again.

Hobbs :  I said this after Buescher went flying – engineering needs to be revisited on the roof flap system. Clearly they did not do their job and 3 cars were sent for a ride. When was the last time more than 1 car flipped at Dega in a race? Not sure, but 3 is way too many if 1 is too many. Do not change anything until the science behind the cars is looked at first. There has to be a way to increase the probability of keeping the cars on the ground. Take that out, and I thought the racing was spectacular! The restarts set forth so much racing that I could not take my eyes off the screen.

Whenever something is “not right” in the eyes of the drivers or fans, NASCAR jumps the gun on making a change. Then, the change appears and no one is happy. We cannot have NASCAR change things every time someone is unhappy. Restrictor plate racing is what these guys do for four out of 36 races. They may dislike it, particularly at Talladega, but it is what it is. Stop trying to please everyone and enjoy the great racing that is being put on this season.

Shoppe :  NASCAR does not need to make any changes to the racing at plate tracks! The racing we see there is among the best of the year.  Not to mention, it is the best four crowds of the season!  The safety in the cars today has come so far and the fact none of the drivers were hurt in the accidents proves that.  I feel like the area that will always need work is the walls and fences.  The inside retaining walls at tracks like this should not have a bad angle like we saw Chris Cockrum and Michael Annett hit this past weekend.  If the wall space for safety vehicles to get onto the track were made differently, that would help prevent vicious hits like we saw with those accidents.

Hull :  Clearly, something needs to be done. I really hope that it doesn’t take another death for NASCAR to get it’s act together and make these races safer. Luckily, with Sunday’s carnage, no one got hurt. But at the same time, I don’t think you can really prevent something like this to happen without cancelling the races altogether. The only thing they can do is lower the banking and lower the speed. But people will then complain about how boring it is. So it is a hard call to make either way.

Copple :  I was cringing and covering my eyes more than I was actually watching the race at Talladega.  I understand that we will see a good amount of wrecks but under no circumstances should cars be airborne or hit with such force that it literally makes a driver grab their knees to catch their breath.  Something needs to be done to A) keep these cars on the ground.  There should be no reason THREE cars should be airborne and B) keep the big, nasty, cover your eyes and hope for the best, wrecks at bay.  It’s not worth the drivers’ safety and I think most fans would agree.

I will say though, Talladega did a great job of getting SAFER Barriers installed around the track! Some of those wrecks could have been a lot worse had they not been in place.

Cassidy :  Following Talladega, on social media, I saw a lot of negative comments from not only drivers but fans. Many people hate on plate tracks following the race, but comments throughout the year were about how crashes make a race interesting.  From NASCAR’s point of view, plate tracks are much safer now then in the past.  With all the changes to these cars/trucks over the years, they should feel good about drivers being able to walk away from crashes.  That being said, safety equipment is always changing just because these cars are safer than 10 years ago.  It does not mean NASCAR shouldn’t continue to find news ways to improve these vehicles.

Conley :  This is a situation of “be careful what you wish for – you might just get it.”  We wanted to get away from the big packs and chaos.  We did but the masses didn’t like it.  So here we are back with the pack and “The Big One.” Asking NASCAR to make changes is what brought about the two car tandem.  “The Big One” is part of this but we certainly need to look into what is causing so many cars to get airborne, plus the lack of effectiveness and or complete lack of roof flap deployment.

Question 2
Do not Sadler for anything less.

Do not Sadler for anything less.

Let’s reflect on last Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300 finish at Talladega.  Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano were battling for the win heading to the stripe when Logano and Sadler tangled, with the former crashing and the latter taking the win as the caution came out.  Was this the right call by NASCAR or is this a case where a technicality shouldn’t be the case?

Hobbs :  I say this is a place of technicality. They wrecked, yes. Was it pure carnage? Eh, not so much. Were they about to finish the race anyway? Yes. And they should have let them finish the race under green flag racing. At that point, that close to the finish, did the yellow really capture the drivers’ attention enough to slow down? I am willing to bet anything the answer was no. I fully understand why NASCAR threw the flag,  but I wish they took into consideration the yards that were left in the event and the time it would take the drivers to react to said caution before calling the race themselves. Not every caution case is the same, and NASCAR will always be beaten down for the decisions they make.  

Shoppe :  The idea that bringing out the caution a few hundred feet shy of the finish line does nothing for safety like they said.  Those drivers are going full speed to the finish without a chance to even react to the yellow in that space of time.  They were all battling for position regardless so I feel like throwing the caution was not effective.

All the yellow flag ended up doing was changing the winner of the race.  I feel like when a crash happens on the last lap from the tri-oval to the line, there shouldn’t be a yellow since they won’t be passing the scene of the crash again. I firmly believe that letting the finish line decide the winner as much as possible is the best idea for the quality of the show.

Hull :  Personally, I thought that this was the wrong call. It was clear that Brendan Poole made it to the finish line first. Besides, Elliott Sadler was past the double yellow lines. So I thought that Brendan Poole had it won. It was a tough call to make, especially seeing all of the cars bunched up at the start/finish line. Hopefully, NASCAR will evaluate how to better call a race.

Copple :  They were racing hard and they were racing for the win.  NASCAR made the right call to let it go and let them race for the win.  I was cheering and applauding for Sadler when he moved Logano for the win.  That’s some great racing! And I’d much rather see an XFINITY driver actually win an XFINITY race than a Cup driver winning it.

Cassidy :  Fans on social media were not happy with the decision NASCAR made.  A significant amount of people thought that NASCAR “handed” Elliott Sadler the win, “robbing” the rest of the field the attempt at a green, white, checkered.  It seems that fans never like a race that ends under caution.  However, one has to remember that drivers’ safety come first.

Conley :  It’s stated clearly in the rulebook for how this situation is to be handled.  NASCAR handled it perfectly. The fact it denied what would have been a popular win is what has people more upset.  Had it been Kyle Busch in Brennan Poole’s position, the fan base would have been overjoyed that NASCAR got it right.  Safety has to be the number one issue and the safety crews can’t roll until that scene is clear or the yellow has been delayed.  It may have been just a couple extra seconds, but you never know what can happen.  Err on the side of caution even when it may upset the natives.

Question 3
Meet the newest car in the famed Dale Jr field of broken car dreams.

Meet the newest car in the famed Dale Jr field of broken car dreams.

Dale Earnhardt Jr made mention of his steering wheel coming off when he was making laps following his first accident.  Does NASCAR need to look into this matter and lay down the law to ensure these incidents become far and few between for all competitors in all levels?

Fesko :  This is clearly a safety issue, and while there is no advantage to be gained like scrimping on lug nuts, it is something that NASCAR needs to look at. Rather than penalize drivers for a wheel coming loose, the industry should look into alternative ways of attaching the wheel and making sure it is connected securely. Then this won’t be an issue again.

Hobbs :  This is not the first time this happened this season; Jimmie Johnson was the first. What more can NASCAR do to ensure the wheel is on? An official won’t let the car leave and head back on track until they deem the car safe to do so. There is only so much that NASCAR can do and there are aspects that are fully in the drivers’ hands. Can NASCAR look into the why and how of the steering wheel coming off? Absolutely. And if they can find a way to ensure this won’t ever happen, I am all for ways to keep these athletes safer. But let’s not go back to “NASCAR being the be all, end all” solution and sayer of everything.

Shoppe :  NASCAR doesn’t need to do anything about locking steering wheels in. The steering wheels need to be removable for safety reasons.  The wheel being detached makes it easier for a driver to exit the car after an accident faster.  I feel like if there is something they should look at is being more strict about letting wreaked cars back onto the track after an accident.

Hull :  No. There are already too many rules in NASCAR. This was a one time thing that happened, and it was due to driver and crew error. I think that drivers will see this and learn to secure their driver wheels. But there are already too many rules in NASCAR right now. This doesn’t need to be one of them. Leave it up to the drivers.

Copple :  I think the incident with Junior was just a fluke. We don’t see steering wheels come off every weekend so why should it be an issue? This isn’t the lug nut ordeal all over again.  I say…let’s do nothing.  If it starts happening to drivers on a regular basis, then it’s time to take a look at it but until then…

Cassidy :  The issue of steering wheels coming off needs to be looked at by NASCAR as soon as possible.  We have seen this issue a lot over the course of this season, an issue that has never been so problematic in previous seasons. With the measures NASCAR has gone to over the years to make the cars/trucks safer, there is no reason this problem should just slide on by.  A steering wheel coming off when a driver is going an average of 200 MPH could be one of the most unsafe elements that could happen in a race.  Aside from putting the driver at risk, team members, fans and others’ safety could also be jeopardized.

Conley :  This has been confined to one team, and even in the case of Hendrick, one shop – the 48/88 shop. NASCAR needs to work with the team to see if it was human error or a part failure.  Like Jeff Gordon said, we need to get rid of that coupler and find a new way of attaching the wheel, but we don’t need new rules to make sure the wheel is attached.

Question 4

Kyle Larson: "Say chief, think I'll actually break out of this funk I've had so far?"

Kyle Larson: “Say chief, think I’ll actually break out of this funk I’ve had so far?”

It’s becoming more and more clear to see which drivers have the ability to win multiple races in 2016.  Is it safe to say that we’ll see some drivers and teams points racing their way into the Chase field and if so, will there be any surprises with this?

Fesko :  There will definitely be a handful of point-only qualifiers like in previous seasons. So who can be this year’s Paul Menard? Looking at the Chase grid right now, it’s looking like Jamie McMurray is in solid position to repeat a Chase berth. AJ Allmendinger is also running strong enough to qualify should he not win a road course race. And Trevor Bayne is actually in the top 16 right now, too. I’m not sure if it’s a position he’ll keep through September, but 10 races down and so far so good for the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Hobbs :  There will definitely be a handful of point-only qualifiers like in previous seasons. So who can be this year’s Paul Menard? Looking at the Chase grid right now, it’s looking like Jamie McMurray is in solid position to repeat a Chase berth. AJ Allmendinger is also running strong enough to qualify should he not win a road course race. And Trevor Bayne is actually in the top 16 right now, too. I’m not sure if it’s a position he’ll keep through September, but 10 races down and so far so good for the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Shoppe :  I think it’s safe to say there will be a few spaces for drivers to get into the chase on points.  I’ll take the guess that there will be four winless drivers that get in on points.  We can still see some surprises get in the Chase with a upset win. The two road coarse races remain and the July Daytona race are the best possibilities to see an upset winner get into the chase this year.

Hull :  Yes, there will probably be some drivers who will try to get into the Chase field based on points. One of the most surprising driver that would probably just get by on points, based on the season he has had so far would be Matt Kenseth, especially since he is on a powerhouse team. He has had a rough year, and it would be surprising for a high caliber driver to have to make it on points and not a win. But there is still quite a bit of racing left to see who will make it to the Chase. He may be able to finally win one before then.

Copple :  It’s pretty obvious that we will see drivers get into the Chase via points. There is no way we will have 16 different drivers by the time this year’s Chase rolls around.  Won’t happen!  I think we will see a rookie or two in the Chase this season.  Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are running impressive races and keeping up with the veterans each and every week.  I think we will see at least one of them in the top-16…and if not with a race win, then definitely on points.

Cassidy :  Since the Chase has been implemented, there have been cases where teams have been fighting for points based positions into NASCAR’s playoffs.  This often happens because of the division between drivers/teams’ performances week in and week out.  Some drivers have the ability to win multiple races in a season and some teams have better equipment than others to make this possible.  This just goes to show that consistency is still key in our sport.

Conley :  With 16 spots, I think we’ll typically see two or three points positioned set.  You can almost guarantee that we’ll have four, maybe five multi race winners in the first 26.  That doesn’t leave much room for anyone else and I really think it’s the top-12 in points that are regular threats to win a single race.  I wouldn’t expect any surprises.  In fact, I’d say right now, 13 out of the current top-16 will be in that position come September.

The race at Talladega certainly has drawn a lot of conversations about our sport and that’s what this team’s awesome at doing!  Before moving on to our race picks for tonight’s race, let’s review how our team fared with last Sunday’s race and also look at the points standings heading into Round 11 at Kansas!
Talladega was not too unkind to some of our panelists...

Talladega was not too unkind to some of our panelists…

...Kathleen cannot stop being a winner!

…Kathleen cannot stop being a winner!

It’s about time here on Track Talk!  Let’s unveil our race picks for tonight’s 400 at Kansas Speedway!
Will it be one of these fantastic five finding their way into Victory Lane?

Will it be one of these fantastic five finding their way into Victory Lane?

Tiongson :  Eventually, Joey Logano will race his way into Victory Lane.  Just make sure that Matt Kenseth isn’t too far behind him on the track.

Fesko :  Joey Logano is my pick for tonight.

Copple :  I’m going with Joey Logano.

Cassidy :  Let’s see Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team win tonight!

Conley :  My pick finished first and third last year while having the top driver rating at 112. The low hanging fruit in the heartland is Jimmie Johnson.

Hobbs : TPF Stats goes with Jimmie Johnson while Ashley goes to the JGR camp and selects Matt Kenseth to complete to team sweep.

Shoppe :  Kurt Busch is my pick to win.

Hull :  My pick for Kansas would have to be Kevin Harvick.

That wraps it up, race fans! Thanks for joining us for another edition of Track Talk! 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 and do not reflect on any organizations that we are affiliated with 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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