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Track Talk: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas

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 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Amanda ParmeleeAshley Hobbs, Ashley Hull, Cody Shoppe, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleKyle MagdaSean Fesko, and Stephen Conley share their insights on Brad Keselowski’s win at Martinsville, the ever changing No. 19 team, the ramifications of Texas Motor Speedway’s refitting, and 20 years of Texas’ mark with NASCAR!

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Question 1
Same reaction that Brad Keselowski had when he beat Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest in 1992!

Same reaction that Brad Keselowski had when he beat Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest in 1992!

Brad Keselowski scored his second victory of this season by winning last Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. As the first repeat winner of 2017, has he reminded his competition about Ford’s presence to contend for races and this year’s championship?

Hobbs :  I don’t think there is a reminder needed to be given. Ford has been on their A game this season thus far, making the most noise at the start of a season in a long time. The start of the season usually sets the tone for teams, and I think Team Penske is going to be strong all season long.

Magda :  Brad Keselowski is always up there and in contention for the win. Prior to his Martinsville win, he finished runner-up twice in the past two years there, so it was a matter of time before he scored his first grandfather clock. The cream rises to the top as Brad and the No. 2 team have Paul Wolfe back on the box for the paperclip after their appeal of the Phoenix penalty. There should be no worries in the Team Penske camp as their cars are fast.

Cassidy :  Over the last few years, the No. 2 crew and “Bad” Brad Keselowski have shown that they have the ability to be competitive. This team’s ability to give Ford and Team Penske multiple wins has not stopped this season. If the No. 2 crew can overcome their struggle during the playoff races, they will be a top contender for this year’s championship.

Hull :  I think it’s safe to say that he has. After having a few rough years, Ford is back on top; of course, Penske has been a top-notch team as well. It has helped him tremendously having those Roush Yates engines. We could possibly see a Ford or two in the championship race at Homestead this year.

Parmelee :  Brad Keselowski has done a fantastic job this season. I wouldn’t say that he has shown Ford can be a contender — he has shown Ford is a contender. I honestly believe, though, that’s it’s not necessarily about the car. Being able to spend the most money on top-of-the-line engines and equipment, yeah that’s helpful. But the car doesn’t drive itself. As much as I think Keselowski’s successes recently are seen as a “W” in the books of Ford Motor Company, people should look further to see what truly contributes to the success — or failures — of the drivers each weekend.

Conley :  I think Ford has certainly announced their presence with authority this season. I’m not sure Brad’s win enhanced that or not. However, it did send a clear message to the playoff field or hopefuls. If you want to be in to the final four, Martinsville is not a place you’ll punch that ticket without going through us.

Copple : I don’t think its necessarily Keselowski that is proving Ford’s dominance this season – it’s all the Ford cars. Many of the Ford teams have been running exceptionally well this season and I think they are only going to get better. Chevrolet has always been the dominant team but they might have a run for the top title in 2017.

Shoppe:  I see Brad Keselowski as one of the championship favorites at this point. Not only is he the first repeat winner of 2017, but he was close to winning a third back in Vegas. I expect to see the No. 2 Miller Lite team to win quite a few races as the season goes on and continue to show how strong Ford right now.

Question 2
We pinky swear, Daniel Suarez didn't pose for us for this question on Track Talk.

We pinky swear, Daniel Suarez didn’t pose for us for this question on Track Talk.

Dave Rogers took an indefinite leave of absence.  As a result, Scott Graves has taken over the helm of Daniel Suarez’s pit box for the interim.  While Graves and Suarez worked together last year, is this a demoralizing blow or temporary setback for the No. 19 team?

Hobbs :  I think whatever going on at Joe Gibbs Racing involving that 19 team is just, strange. It has been an interesting year for that entire organization, and this is just another head scratcher. Who knows what is going on with that organization, the No. 19 team, or Dave Rogers in general; but personal well-being comes first so he has to take care of himself. When it comes to the No. 19 team and Daniel Suarez, he is a rookie driver being paired with a crew chief he knows, so that should help things.

Magda :  Daniel Suarez hasn’t been off to the best start in 2017. There’s going to be growing pains with any Cup rookie and this instance is no different. I wish Dave Rogers the best in his leave but I don’t expect any difference in the performance of the No. 19 team. They’re one of the best pit crews in NASCAR and Graves has been on top of the box for the last two Xfinity Series champions.

Suarez had a rough weekend at Martinsville and it can be said for any rookie for their first time in a Cup race there. Luckily, Suarez had some momentum going with back-to-back seventh-place finishes at Phoenix and Auto Club so don’t be alarmed yet Suarez fans. It’s going to take him some more time to get faster and compete for top-fives and wins in the coming year.

Cassidy :  I don’t think anyone expects the No. 19 team to be very competitive right off the bat. Before this season, Suarez had never driven a Cup car in a race – just only in testing. Now with the setback of this crew chief change, I think it will give the No. 19 team a chance to grow together. The driver and team are good, and I look forward to what they can bring later in the year or even in 2018.

Hull :  I think that Dave Rogers’ absence definitely is not only a blow to the team, but the organization as a whole. Rogers has been with Joe Gibbs Racing for years, and it’s a blow to lose someone who has been a part of the team for a long time. However, Daniel Suarez has a great replacement. He and Scott Graves won the Xfinity Series Championship last year.  They are very familiar with each other. For Suarez, it is a temporary setback, and for the JGR organization, it is a huge blow.

Parmelee :  Having finished seventh at both Phoenix and Fontana, it’s hard to attribute his rocky finish at Martinsville to anything other than it being his first time at the track. However, I think this comes at a truly unfortunate time for Daniel Suarez. As a rookie driver in the Cup series, getting comfortable with the swing of things is something that depends on consistency.

Seeing Suarez improve his finishes from 29th at Daytona (due to a crash) to 7th at Phoenix and Fontana was a sign that the rookie was really coming into his own and proving that his success in the Xfinity series was something he brought with him when he moved to the No. 19 team. Fortunately for Suarez, Scott Graves is someone he knows, someone he’s worked with — and quite well I might add. I think it’s a bit insulting to assume that we’re automatically going to see a decline in his performance with this change.

Conley :  It’s a huge blow because it’s the loss of an extremely talented crew chief, one that had a close relationship with Adam Stevens, and was an integral part of JGR. This entire situation with the No. 19 team has hurt the overall health of all four teams.

Copple :  They are a young team and I think they will be just fine. Honestly, I think this might be better for Suarez and the No. 19 team for the sole fact that these two have worked together before. This will allow them to grow and learn with each other instead of Suarez having to learn the cars and a new crew chief.

Shoppe :  I feel as if this is a short-term loss for the No. 19 team of Daniel Suarez. Suarez has made some big gains in the first few races of his Cup career all with the expert leadership of Dave Rogers. Now with Scott Graves taking over, it is like they are starting over once again. Graves does have experience in Cup and Suarez has lots of experience working with Graves. I think after a few weeks of getting used to this new situation, we will see Suarez once again start making steady improvement as a Cup driver.

Question 3
To repave or not to repave - part deux.

To repave or not to repave – part deux.

Atlanta Motor Speedway decided to hold off on repaving its surface for at least another season.  Is this a wait and see move based on the success of Texas Motor Speedway’s refitting/repaving project this weekend?

Hobbs :  I think this is a move based on all the drivers asking for the repave to not happen. AMS officials might say otherwise, but the drivers were very loud about the repave and I am glad that AMS officials listened to what the drivers wanted.  More folks in NASCAR should listen to the drivers.

Magda :  Yes and no. Drivers begged SMI not to repave Atlanta but at some point, it’s destined to happen. Personally, I don’t want to see Atlanta end up like Texas with possible weepers because that presents a problem for the race like it did last November at Texas. I’m all for great racing but in order to preserve these facilities, a repave will have to happen at some point. Weather and aging are only two factors to what the track takes along with getting rubber and race cars widening the groove. I’ll have a better idea of the repave once the Xfinity Series run their race Saturday.

Cassidy :  There was a lot of backlash by not only fans but from drivers when Atlanta announced the track repaving. I believe that when Dale Earnhardt Jr brought this issue to Twitter with his comments, the idea was reconsidered. Due to the fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr has such an important presence for NASCAR fans on and off the track, the disruption of this idea was brought forward on many levels.

Hull :  I think so. It will be interesting to see how this race will go at Texas this weekend. I think they are trying to see how successful it will be which is a great strategy. We all know that some NASCAR fans will be extremely fickle and complain about it. I think that is what they are doing before they participate in such a massive undertaking.

Parmelee :  I’m going to answer this in two parts. I think it’s far too early to consider the repaving of Texas a success. Without time to get cars on the track for Goodyear to test the tires before practice on Friday, and with the massive amount of changes that took place — not only to the surface but the change in banking as well as the widening of turns one and two — this could very well be a disaster for teams, we just don’t know yet.

Instead of adding a full day of testing to the track, something commented on by driver Jaime McMurray, only an extra hour was added to practice on Friday. It will be interesting to see how the cars handle the new surface and track changes, but like I said, I think it’s far too early to say it was successful.

As for Atlanta, I think the move to push back the repave is more out of the response from drivers both past and present than it is anything else. Yes, all tracks will have to be repaved eventually, but I think the surface at Atlanta is something that makes it unique and special to not only the drivers but the fans as well.

Conley :  I’m not sure what the reasoning was because it’s all entirely confusing, but I do know if the track gives us a good race this weekend, AMS will have every detail of Texas’ repave in the office before Monday.

Copple :  Repaving is a major process and drastically changes the track and the way it handles. I don’t know if we can base their decision to hold off repaving based on Texas as they could just want more time to reconfigure the track.

Repaving multiple tracks a season is tricky. It throws a lot of new in to the mix, not only for the teams and drivers, but for Goodyear and the track as well. It’s a major undertaking and should be done when NASCAR and the track are 100 percent ready.

Shoppe :  Atlanta’s decision to hold off on their repave must have to do with the overwhelming outpouring of opposition by the fans and drivers alike. Everyone is loving the old track surface and the great multi-grooved racing it provides. Atlanta Motor Speedway doesn’t want to give up that great racing until they have to.

We have seen tracks like Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan repave their surfaces only to see one groove racing until the surface can age and gain “character.” I feel like Texas is a different situation because not only did a repave take place but also a change in track configuration took place.

Question 4
The first of many wins for "Mayor" Jeff Burton.

The first of many wins for “Mayor” Jeff Burton.

From Jeff Burton’s first Cup win to Carl Edward’s last victory (for the time being) last November, Texas Motor Speedway has compiled many racing memories in the past 20 years. What’s perhaps the most poignant memory in this track’s young history?

Hobbs :  For being an intermediate track, it is a fast track that always gave some great racing. Carl Edwards is certainly one of the best when it comes to two-steppin’ in Texas, so those back-flips will be missed for sure. I think this weekend will stand out, as I gaze into my crystal ball. With a new surface and some fast, young drivers up front each week, I think there will be a show put on to remember. Please, do not make me eat these words.

Magda :  A lot has happened in the past 20 years. Tornadoes, weepers (I’ll stop with the weather references), first-time winners; this track is a work in progress. For years, NASCAR raced at Texas World Speedway before going off the schedule in the early 1980s.

What comes to mind memory-wise is the Indy-car finales TMS hosted in the early 2000s with the likes of Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves. On the NASCAR side, three things stick in my head. First is Elliott Sadler nipping Kasey Kahne at the checkered flag for his first Cup win in three years in 2004. Jeff Gordon broke a 47-race winless streak in 2009 by finally grabbing the six-shooters at Texas.

Then one last memory remembers the night of “Harvicking” in Nov. 2014 when the eventual Cup champ pushed Brad Keselowski into Jeff Gordon igniting a post-race brawl between the two. Have to give credit to track President Eddie Gossage; he knows how to market these races.

Cassidy :  Texas Motor Speedway is fairly new to the game of NASCAR. However, I think we need to remember the very first lap of the first race. Starting in 1997 with a crash – instantly showed the character this track had to offer to the NASCAR circuit. Taking out some of the most popular drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, and others, no one is safe from wrecking at Texas!

Hull :  There have been a lot of moments that have been amazing throughout Texas Motor Speedway’s history. One moment that stands out for me is when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his very first Cup race in 2000. That moment was just amazing. Seeing how proud his father was made it more special. Also, last year’s rain-shortened race that lead to Carl Edwards’ victory was special too. To see him going back to compete for a championship made me so happy.

Parmelee :  Personally, I have a bit of a grudge against Texas Motor Speedway for how it benefitted from the sale of both Rockingham Speedway (NC) and North Wilkesboro Speedway (NC)…but that’s neither here nor there. As someone who adores Carl Edwards, I’ll always remember seeing his last visit to Victory Lane at TMS. And yes, I truly do believe we won’t see him again in a Cup car.

We’ve seen some cool and crazy moments — Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s first wins at the Cup level, and Jeff Gordon ending his 47-race winless streak with a win in April of 2009. We’ve also seen The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger perform, Robbie Kneivel being…himself…and what I can only refer to as a big-ass TV. Now, this may seem like a cop-out answer, but I think that the most poignant memory in the track’s history could very well be the results of this new repave. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

Conley :  Overall, Texas has been less than memorable. It started from year one with the rain, poor parking situation, bad racing and the constant weepers. But on the bright side. Jeff Gordon did not retire without winning at Texas. And Elliott Sadler gave us a spectacular finish with Kasey Kahne in 2004.

Copple :  I’m still a fairly new fan so I don’t know if I can answer this question. I’m just a huge fan of the cowboy hat and revolvers that the winners get in Victory Lane.

Shoppe :  One memory that sticks out the most in my mind is the intense playoff race in 2014. Jeff Gordon was in position to win his way into the first ever final four at Homestead when he made contact with Brad Keselowski on a restart cutting his tire down. The already eliminated, Jimmie Johnson, would go on to win the race but not many were paying attention as Gordon got into a huge brawl with Brad Keselowski and crew on pit road post race. And who can forget the little push by Kevin Harvick to get that all started?

That’s four good laps around this treacherous track in the Lone Star State!  Before summoning our race picks for Sunday’s race, let’s see how we all fared during last Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway!
While three of our smart panelists knew what time it was...

While three of our smart panelists knew what time it was…

...Kyle Magda called on to the powers of Brad Keselowski to take the points lead!

…Kyle Magda called on to the powers of Brad Keselowski to take the points lead!

Alright, friends…next to that moment we enjoyed hearing back in 1993, it’s morphin’ time…er, actually, it’s winning time on Track Talk as we reveal our picks to win Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway!
Almost as tough as those Power Rangers.

Almost as tough as those Power Rangers.

Tiongson :  Mr. Smiley hasn’t won a race yet. Still, fans of the 2016 Cup runner up should be happy about the race being at Texas Motor Speedway. With that in mind, watch Joey Logano win the race on Sunday after much treacherous action on the rechristened track!

Fesko :  Kyle Busch gets redemption for Martinsville with a win at Texas.

Hull : I am going to go with Kyle Busch this weekend.

TPF Stats :  A young gun. A fast, freshly paved track. A great finish last year. Get those six shooters out Chase Elliott!

Hobbs : He ran very well last year, notching two top-five finishes. He is one of the best this season so far. It was never going to be long before Chase Elliott grabbed his first victory; let it be in Texas!

Parmelee :  Let’s go with Jimmie Johnson. Why the hell not? Maybe the racing Gods will look kindly upon my week this week and bless him with good racing!

Copple :  I know I’ve picked him a few times already this season but how can you not pick Jimmie Johnson?

Magda :  It’s Kyle Larson‘s race to win!

Cassidy :  Bad luck can’t last forever. I’m going with Dale Earnhardt Jr!

Conley : Picking a winner at Talladega might be easier than rolling out the great unknown. I’m going to the blender and popping out first is the driver of the No. 20 car – Matt Kenseth.

Shoppe :  Martin Truex Jr will score a big win on Sunday!

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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