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Track Talk: Hellman’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR as well as discussing their race pick to win the upcoming Sprint Cup race of the weekend.  In this edition of Track Talk, we preview the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Ashley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Kathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Sean Fesko, and Stephen Conley discuss the potential changes to Cup drivers racing in XFINITY and Camping World Truck events, the search for more money for Cup’s replacement sponsor, the new wave of NASCAR racers, and a Chase bubble racer with the best shot at winning today at Talladega!

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Question 1
Less of this and maybe more of the real regulars?

Less of this and maybe more of the real regulars?

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, said to “stay tuned” for an announcement regarding a potential rules change either limiting or banning Cup racers from competing in XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series events during The Chase in the future. Is this a positive step for the sport or should more be done with these Cup drivers’ ventures in either division?

Copple :  Can we get a collective “FINALLY?”  I’ve been saying this for years, as have many others, that the number of Cup drivers in the lower series needs to be limited.  The XFINITY and Truck series are the young guys to learn the sport and work their way up to the Cup series.  They can’t do that if their races are dominated by Cup drivers.

It completely defeats the purpose.  These young guys aren’t winning races because drivers like Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski come out there with the best cars and YEARS more experience and dominate the races.  That’s not fair to the guys running for the championship and it’s not fun for the fans.  It’s about time NASCAR did something to eliminate or at least limit the Cup drivers in the lower series.

Hobbs :  YES YES YES!!!!!! This has been something that fans have been saying for years! Be it social media or comments on posts from that weekend’s race, fans are growing quite tired of seeing the Cup veterans dominate in the lower series. And I think this is something that has surfaced louder with The Chase being in all series now. I do not believe it is right for non-series contenders to be taking away a potential victory. The Cup drivers have their own fight they are going for and they should remain in Cup only for The Chase.

If NASCAR was to make only one rule regarding regulation of drivers in the lower series, it must be that no Cup driver (regardless of Chase status) can race The Chase races of another series. The Chase is there to put the focus on those in the series and, as much as I love Kyle Busch, seeing his victory take away from anyone in the Xfinity Series is just sad. It is time NASCAR regulated this and maybe, just maybe, it can turn things around for the sport.
There is also the opportunity for XFINITY as the entitlement sponsor to step up and give their two cents on the topic. If they like it, they like it (but something still needs to be done); if they dislike it, NASCAR needs to act because keeping their entitlement sponsor happy is critical. I think Larry Mac sums it up nicely; “I sat and I watched the Charlotte race from green flag to checkered, I sat and I watched the Kansas race from green flag to checkered and it’s not good. It’s just not good. And they have to fix this.”
In my world, the Cup drivers would be eliminated from 2 other series’ Chase races, be limited to five regular season races (or 10% to give “consistency” between XFINITY and CWTS), and not be allowed to participate in any stand alone races for the other two series. It is time the focus on the XFINITY Series was on the XFINITY Series regulars and Camping World Truck Series to focus on the Camping World Truck Series.

Hull :  I am glad that they are finally trying to do something about this.  It has gone on for too long now, and has angered too many fans in the process.  I think that it is definitely a positive step in the right direction.  However, I think that they need to have a rule in place that forbids Cup drivers from running any kind of races during The Chase period.

These drivers need to focus on winning and advancing into the next round.  They don’t need to also worry with contending with a Cup driver as well.  So while they are doing the right thing, it would be even better if they implemented that rule.

Cassidy :  I find it hard to give an opinion on this topic.  In my opinion, I would like to see Truck and Xfinity guys fighting amongst themselves for wins, not Cup drivers.  However, I understand that it is important for these younger drivers to learn from the pros, and clearly, big names sell tickets. 

The part that most confuses me about this topic is actually the fans.  For years on social media, fans were constantly saying they wanted Cup drivers out of lower series.  Now, that NASCAR has announced changes, fans are mad.  Can you really please the fans anymore?

Shoppe :  I think it will be a very positive step to limit Cup declared drivers  allowed starts in the lower series. There doesn’t seem to be anything else that the fans are so vocal about over the last few years especially.  With the new XFINITY and Truck Chase, now is the time for action towards this issue.  I think having drivers who declare Cup as where they want points to be accumulated must pick a set limited number of companion races to attempt in lower series.

Conley :  It’s a start.  The Chase certainly should see the full ban, but I still say no more eight races allowed in a series other than what you compete full-time in.

Question 2
Your guess is as good as ours, Brian Vickers.

Your guess is as good as ours, Brian Vickers.

It appears that NASCAR’s potential entitlement sponsor for the Cup Series will draw in less money and not be on board as long as Sprint, much less Winston.  Is the sport better off going at least a year without an entitlement sponsor or is it just a matter of the dotted lines being signed in time by the right company?

Copple :  Sponsorship across the board is hard to come by these days.  There are so many new things companies can put their money behind than there were even 10 years ago.  As far as going a season without a title sponsor, that would just be weird.  It’s not surprising that the new sponsor would be a short-term contract in terms of comparing them to Sprint or Winston.  Companies are just not buying into the long-term deals anymore.  You even see that for the race teams.  The best bet NASCAR can do is split the series in two.  Have a title sponsor for the regular season and then a different title sponsor for The Chase.  Either way, things are going to change!   

Hobbs :  Wow, solid question! From a marketing standpoint, no, they cannot afford to go without an entitlement sponsor. For the sport in general, no, they cannot go without an entitlement sponsor because it will just look bad. From the start, NASCAR has had an entitlement sponsor and what will it say if the fifth most popular sport in the country (or fourth, depending on the survey) could not hold down a sponsor like it has for years? It spells nothing good for the sport if that happens.

I think NASCAR has done this to themselves honestly. With declines across the board in TV ratings and attendance, how can NASCAR expect to get an entitlement sponsor to pony up a lot of money when there is no reassurance that the sport will rebound or at least stay level to current year. The right company will come in and it will be on their terms, not NASCAR’s terms if NASCAR really wants to turn their image around.

Hull :  This is a hard question.  The sport is having a hard enough time getting funding and money.  There are not as many fans who come to races these days, so that has had an impact money wise.  I think that they need someone who could possibly be with them long term, and could cater to the needs of the fans.  I think that some kind of technological company could help with that since it is a big industry, and a lot of fans use some form of technology these days.  I think that having someone long term could help the sport a lot.

Cassidy :  I think it is better to have a company who has interest in being around for awhile.  Even to this day, fans that have been around for years still call series by the wrong sponsor.  For example, Nationwide instead of XFINITY, or Winston Cup instead of Sprint Cup.  Once associations are made within the sport, they tend to stick.

Shoppe :  The sport is way better off taking their time making the right choice on this.  It is not a good thing for the series to be changing its title every few years.  If they need to wait to put a deal together with someone that fits well with the sport and can have longevity, then it will be well worth the wait.

Conley :  Get someone signed.  You hold out, you risk losing even more money.  Punch the pennies and make it work.

Question 3
Next phase, new wave, dance craze, it's still NASCAR racing to me.

Next phase, new wave, dance craze, it’s still NASCAR racing to me.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity program hosted a combine this week, inviting some of the top prospects in the country from the likes of Ariel Biggs, Reagan May, Hannah Newhouse, and Kayli Barker among others.  What kind of impact can these talented racers have with the sport, should they be tabbed to drive for the Rev Racing efforts next season?

Copple :  There were a lot of drivers in the combine who I have been following for quite some time and there is a huge amount of talent coming up through the ranks.  Hannah Newhouse is one of the young up-and-coming female racers who could really have an impact on this sport.  She has talent behind the wheel and comes from a family of local racers.  I hope these young guns get the break they need in this sport and I really hope someone gives them a chance behind the wheel in some bigger races. This is the next generation of racers here!

Hobbs :  If they are given equipment and opportunities to showcase who they are, I am sure we can expect to see great things from these drivers.  But NASCAR has to be willing to be behind these drivers for a few years to help get them to one of the top three series of the sport.  Otherwise, they will just fall to the wayside like so many drivers before them.

Hull :  Being that they are women, this could have a very great impact on this sport.  I think that there are girls out there who are looking to have a career in this male-dominated field.  I think that this could help more girls try to get their foot in the door.  We need more women representing this sport.  I think that it’s a great thing to venture into.

Cassidy :  I love the levels that NASCAR has gone through over the years to integrate up and coming drivers into the sport.  I think that ultimately these programs will improve the diversity in the sport and the types of talent we see in years to come.

Shoppe :  Hopefully, a big impact in the long run.  We haven’t seen a Drive for Diversity combine graduate make it out of the K&N Series.  Hoping the best for these young talented drivers.  Some of which have familiar names that could help them go places like action sports star, Brian Deegan’s daughter, Hallie.

Conley :  I know a lot of these drivers and the potential is through the roof.  They certainly deserve the opportunity, but again…money.  Hard to go far without it.  Luckily, many of these young drivers know as much about the business side and how to market themselves as they do driving.

Question 4
Chase Elliott apparently doing the Filipino lip gesture.

Chase Elliott apparently doing the Filipino lip gesture.

Last year, we saw how Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in a must win situation at Talladega, coming up one spot short of scoring a big win, curtailing his championship efforts. Of the bottom four drivers heading into Talladega, which driver do you think has the best chance to capitalize on a big W at this mammoth track?

Copple :  I am shocked Brad Keselowski is in a must win situation.  A former champion driving for Team Penske, I expected him to be at least in the top-six.  Chase Elliott has had a rough few weeks and this round of The Chase has not been kind to him.  But he is a rookie and making it into the second round of The Chase in your first season is impressive to say the least.

Hobbs :  Chase Elliott.  The passion this kid has is insane.  I hate seeing him beat himself up each week over not getting the finish he anticipated; but put him in a must win situation like this could be good for it.  Or it could be bad – it is Talladega after all.  He only has one race in his pocket at Talladega, and that was earlier this year where he finished an impressive fifth.  But he has to win on Sunday if he wants to keep battling.  Either way, this rookie is the top of his class and should be proud of that.

Brad Keselowski.  Another driver in a (virtual) must win scenario.  Unlike Chase Elliott, Keselowski knows how to win at Talladega, including at the first visit there this year back in May.  With his average Chase Talladega finish of ninth, that won’t be enough to move him to the next round.

Hull :  I think that out of the four, I could see Brad Keselowski having the best chance to win on Sunday.  I remember that in 2014, he was in a very similar situation where he needed to win to advance.  He is very good at working under pressure, and could definitely win on Sunday and advance.

Also, I think that Denny Hamlin could have a chance too, based on past success there.  But we shall see on Sunday who gets the big W.  This will be a crap shoot race for sure.

Cassidy :  Always going with the 2 crew.  There is something about Keselowski and this team that know their way around Talladega.   

Shoppe :  Just by looking at recent history at plate tracks, they haven’t been as much of a crap shoot as you’d think as far as winners go.  It has mostly been the one type of track Penske has been dominating lately.  If you look at the last two plate tracks, the spring Talladega race and July race at Daytona of this year, Brad Keselowski has had the field covered.  He will need to keep this up this weekend to have a chance to save himself from elimination, and I think he will.

Conley :  Any of those four have a good shot…it’s Talladega, but I’d have to say a guy that has become one of the best plate racers, Brad Keselowski should have the best shot.

Four laps into the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega and we’re hanging on to the draft!  Before we try to make a slingshot pass for the win, let’s look back at the Kansas Speedway race weekend right now with our race and points reports!
Candy Crushin' Cassidy won yet again...

Candy Crushin’ Cassidy won yet again…

...and she keeps on crushin' it with the points race!

…and she keeps on crushin’ it with the points race!

Let’s get to it, race fans!  It’s time to reveal our winning picks for today’s Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway…much less, who we think shall get through unscathed.
Another case of the fantastic fives.

Another case of the fantastic fives.

Tiongson :  Joey Logano for the win at Talladega!  Penske is pretty confident about their plate program and I have to think the 22 team is ready to show folks what they’ve got!

Copple :  Joey Logano for the win today.

Hull :  I pick Kurt Busch to get the job done!

Cassidy :  Kurt Busch will be the winning driver at Talladega!

Shoppe :  It was a toss up between Brad and Joey but Brad needs it more, so I’m going with Brad Keselowski!

Conley :  My pick, as stated earlier, is one of the best on the plate tracks.  Brad Keselowski is the one who’ll be ready to move on.

Hobbs :  Chase Elliott, because, why not?  Go big or go home I say!  And I hope Elliott goes big!


Fesko :  I’m going with Austin Dillon today!


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 @Team_TPF 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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