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NASCAR Cup Series

Track Talk: Overton’s 400 at Pocono

Each weekend, our panel on The Podium Finish provide their thoughts on the latest stories in the world of NASCAR. Additionally, we attempt to pick the winner of the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway!

This weekend, our panel consisting of Adam LucasAmanda ParmeleeAshley HobbsAshley Hull, Christina BowmanCody ShoppeKathleen Cassidy, and Kayla Sturm discuss the magnitude of Kasey Kahne’s victory in the Brickyard 400, the late finish at Indianapolis, the aero package utilized for the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Indy, and the arrival of Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports next year!

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Question 1
Kasey Kahne finally beat Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest!

Kasey Kahne finally beat Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest!

Kasey Kahne endured a marathon at Indianapolis to score his first victory since Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend 2014. How much of a statement was this for Kahne with his future at Hendrick Motorsports and within NASCAR?

Sturm :  Before I jump right in and talk about how he may be losing his ride, I want to say congratulations to Kasey Kahne. That’s my driver and this was a huge win for him.

Not only was it his first win in 3 years, but it was the Brickyard 400, one of the crown jewels of NASCAR. Awesome job by him.

It may have been luck and strategy that got him to the front, but it was definitely drive and talent that kept him at the front. He drove the wheels off of that thing on those restarts and it was incredible.

As for his future at Hendrick Motorsports, I don’t think this was enough for Rick Hendrick to say “Kasey is back, he’s going to win tons, we aren’t letting him go.”

Ultimately, it was definitely a good start and even if he does get the boot at Hendrick, having this win on his resume will look absolutely awesome when he’s ride shopping in the future.

I don’t think Kasey is done in NASCAR. I think if he does leave Hendrick Motorsports, someone will pick him up. He’s still got fire and talent left in him and this race proved it, so look for him to still be in NASCAR for the next few years or so, wherever he may be.

Cassidy :  I believe that Kahne has a future in NASCAR. However, I think it is time he moves on from Hendrick. We have seen many drivers fall into a slump with an organization but move on to be very successful. I think Kahne will follow in suit like Logano, Kenseth, and Kurt Busch by finding success in a new ride – sorry 5 fans.

Hobbs :  It will be a statement if Kasey Kahne can continue to perform at a top level. Honestly, Kahne got lucky this weekend when the best drivers in the field crashed out. If he does not start rattling off more top fives or top 10’s, the conversations around him and his time in the 5 car will continue.

Bowman :  This win was huge for Kasey Kahne and his crew chief Keith Rodden! Kahne was barely a blip on the championship contention radar before he snapped that winless streak. Now, not only has he solidified a spot in the playoffs with a win at one of the most prestigious race tracks in the world, he has everyone talking about him again.

However, there has been little or no talk about his contract after this year. Instead, there has been a lot of speculation that he could be out of the 5 car.

Winning the Brickyard 400 was a great way to turn the tone of that conversation into a positive one and give him some momentum going into the last half of the year. It’s all speculation. Maybe this will be the turn around that team needed and we will see the rise of Kahne once again.

Lucas :  The win puts Kasey Kahne into the playoffs, making him only the second Hendrick driver to win this season. Let that sink in for a moment. Only Jimmie Johnson has had any sort of luck at Hendrick this season.

This year has been rough for them to say the least. Lots of missed opportunities and caught in the wrong place a the wrong time.

Was it a statement win for Kahne to keep his job? Let us put it this way. He has a ticket to the big dance, which is great.

But will he find a partner to tango with through the playoffs? I think the win leaves more questions than answers as we progress to the halfway point of silly season.

Hull :  It was awesome to see Kasey Kahne finally get a victory. But I’m not sure what the future holds for him. There are still rumors floating around that he could still get replaced with another driver. But maybe he will keep doing well and he will remain with Hendrick.

Shoppe :  I can not stress enough how much Kasey Kahne needed that huge victory last Sunday at the Brickyard! If there is anything that can save his ride at Hendrick Motorsports, that Brickyard 400 win is it! With Alex Bowman officially locking up the No. 88 car in 2018, there still is a good chance Kahne can return next year as his contract says he will anyway.

However, sponsorship has been dwindling for the struggling 5 car with Farmers, Great Clips, and others lessening or dropping their deals with the team. Hopefully, this win can boost the confidence of not only Kahne but that whole group to run better and have a good strong playoff performance to gain sponsorship to continue for years to come!

Parmelee :  I am a big fan of underdog stories, so seeing Kasey Kahne take the checkered flag on Sunday made me smile. I think the 5 team has gotten a bit of flack this season as the Hendrick team running the worst. However, we’ve seen a few impressive runs from him that I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit for.

As it were, I think this win does one of two things for Kahne. In other words, it either secures his run with Hendrick next season, or he chooses to retire on a high note. Ultimately, when considering the lack of sponsorship for the 5 next season, it’s not looking great in my mind for Kahne.  

Question 2
The six hours of Indianapolis!

The six hours of Indianapolis!

The late finish at Indianapolis was unique in that it happened close to sunset for Speedway, IN. Did NASCAR handle this matter correctly or did it put drivers and teams in a tight box to maximize their efforts in a narrow time window?

Sturm :  This all goes back to the late restarts. NASCAR fans complain and complain about them but I personally like them. They had no way to know there was going to be a rain delay or so many red flags when they planned the start time for this race.

So as far as planning ahead of time, NASCAR did nothing wrong. But as for handling it in the moment, I think they could have done better. It took them an oddly long time to clean up the track on that last red flag and they knew it was getting dark.

I don’t think it should have taken that long to clean up after the wreck. If anything, Indy needs to add lights. So yeah, you could blame it on NASCAR I guess if you wanted to, but I won’t.

Cassidy :  NASCAR did this to themselves by pushing back the start times. It is easy to say I am not a fan of these later times at all, however either way this win would have belonged to the 5 team. However, manner in which NASCAR called the race was disrespectful to fans.

Above all, NASCAR needs to follow the rules they put into place, which meant throwing that caution. Then they could have called the race for safety issues, as clean up would have taken too long.

Hobbs :  NASCAR did what they could to get the whole race in. If the race started earlier in the day, this would not have been an issue. The issue that was present was when NASCAR threw the caution flag at the end of the race; they waited until Kasey Kahne had crossed the overtime line. This is another instance of the overtime line not working. But, that is a whole other topic.

Bowman :  NASCAR did everything they could to give fans a suitable ending to a never-ending race. With the rain delay, red flags and numerous cautions; the options were slim. I think NASCAR did a great job getting the track cleaned up as fast as possible to utilize daylight and get a proper finish in.

Even though the race ended under caution, regardless, the fan in me was happy to see them get another restart in and reach the overtime line in order to make it a true race. Truly, I don’t know how they could have done any better with what they were given. You can’t fight the setting sun.

Lucas :  NASCAR has been known to push the limits of Mother Nature from time to time. I always think back to the spring 2013 Talladega race where David Ragan won at dusk (that’s putting it “lightly”).

Then I also think back to Pocono 2002 when NASCAR decided to end the race several laps early due to darkness (there were several lengthy red flags caused by Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s wild backstretch ride, and rain).

The sanctioning body made the right call after reviewing the weather radar. After the red flag for rain, the sun returned and was abundant for the remainder of the event.

In the other two events I mentioned, there was a lack of sunshine after each weather delay. Talladega 2013 pushed the limit, Pocono 2002 was a decent call, Indianapolis 2017 was a clean call. Also, let’s go back to a traditional 1 p.m. ET start time. These 3 p.m. ET start times are killing me and my fellow East Coast race fans!

Hull :  I feel like that they haven’t been consistent with their cautions. It just delayed the race a lot more than they should have been. Also, the late starting time didn’t help either. It kind of put them in a time crunch as well. That’s what hurt the race a lot.

Shoppe :  It was a tight box they were in to finish the race before the sun set in Indy but I think they did it right. I would not have been surprised if NASCAR had made a call for no overtime finishes since the darkness was fast approaching.

However, they kept their promise to try to give the fans a finish since they stayed through the long delay. Although the decision to end the race due to the overtime rule had nothing to do with the darkness factor, I think they should have ended the race at that time regardless. Visibility and safety is most important. The debate that should be drawn from this shouldn’t be about race ending procedure but earlier start times!

Parmelee :  I don’t think there was anything that NASCAR could have done to remedy the situation it faced in relation to a lack of daylight. First, the track doesn’t have lights. Second, with the increased number of wrecks — including the length of time it took officially to separate the 3 and the 6 — they were chasing daylight.

Ultimately, can you imagine the outrage from people if NASCAR had called the race due to darkness with less than 10 laps to go? Considering the playoffs are only a few weeks away, I think NASCAR made the right choice.

Question 3
All about the drafting.

All about the drafting.

Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race saw some of the most exciting action at Indianapolis in recent memory with the unique race package. Should the sport consider utilizing this format in future races and possibly cross it over to the Cup series?

Sturm :  I didn’t watch the Xfinity race so I can’t say much on this particular topic but from what I saw and heard, it was an incredible race. I think I read that there were like, 14 lead changes or something like that which is practically unheard of for Indy. So yes, I think it might be a good idea to continue to utilize it at certain tracks and eventually cross it over to Cup and see how it does.

Cassidy :  Social media was loving that Xfinity race. The hard work that NASCAR’s R&D center has put into the sport is finally paying off. I think this format of racing should look at expanding past the borders of the Xfinity Series.    

Bowman :  The Xfinity race at IMS saw better pack racing and numerous lead changes. There was definitely more action! NASCAR and its collaborators did a great job putting together the right package for the right track. Indy is so unlike any other track, I think it may be hard to mimic the success of this package on other tracks.

Maybe instead, what could be looked at is what from this package could work at other venues. Tailoring each setup to the track would be more useful than trying to make the same package work at each track.

Lucas :  I wish the Cup series could use this package for Pocono this weekend and at Michigan in two weeks. Sadly, that will not happen. But, with such a successful event at Indianapolis, I do think we will see this package used at the top series in 2018 at 2.0 mile tracks (minus the superspeedway tracks).

The general consensus from teams was overwhelmingly positive, except for one team, who criticized that it was a ploy to level the playing field. I won’t point fingers, but we all know who has dominated that race in past years.

Hull :  I think so because it was very exciting (not that Sunday’s race wasn’t). But maybe keeping things fresh will help the sport. It has in the past.

Shoppe :  Out of all the endless rules changes from downforce, drag, splitters and spoilers over the last few years, this change was by far the most sucessful in my opinion. A huge difference was made to improve the racing in that Xfinity race which usually has been one of the worst shows of the year (not to mention in front of a nearly nonexistent crowd). I was very impressed with the air opening change and would like to see it again soon. Not sure if it is something for Cup yet, but it can benefit the racing in the lower series which can use the boost.

Parmelee :  I only caught part of the Xfinity race, but I’m not sure that anything could have been more crazy, ridiculous, or exciting than what I witnessed with the Cup race.

Question 4
No more simulation time, Alex!

No more simulation time, Alex!

Alex Bowman takes over the No. 88 ride from Dale Earnhardt Jr starting next year. Based on his performances last year and his stint in this year’s Clash at Daytona, what can we expect from the Arizonan?

Sturm :  I think Bowman will exceed expectations once again. I’ve seen some people saying he doesn’t deserve the ride because he’s never really done anything notable in NASCAR. However, he was never in the best equipment (BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing). Those were not the best teams to be running for if you want to showcase your talent.

When he was in the No. 88, he ran competitively in almost every race and even got the pole at Phoenix last fall. Not to mention, he contended for the win a few times. So in short, I think Mr. H made a good move and Bowman’s career in the No. 88 will be very successful.

Cassidy :  Anyone who knows me knows how happy I am with this decision. I am hopeful that Bowman now has the mechanics behind him to showcase his true potential. Don’t expect results right off the bat, but wait a year or two for this team to work together!

Hobbs :  Based on his time in the 88 car last season, I think we can see some pretty good things coming from this kid! Naturally, stepping into a ride with such presence will be pressure itself, but all Bowman has to do is be himself and run his races. The 88 car will be solely his next year and he can make a name for himself in that ride.

Bowman :  Alex Bowman was the best choice to take over the 88 ride. I don’t just say that because we share the same last name! He is a fantastic young talent and came away with some great finishes when filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

What is going to be the true telling factor is how he handles the pressure of taking over that ride permanently. It’s one thing to fill in for a driver, knowing that he will be returning.  Filling the shoes of NASCAR’s most popular driver post-retirement is on a whole new level.

Bowman seems to be level-headed enough to know exactly what he and the team are capable of. Once they develop their own rhythm, I think we will see great things out of this team.

Look for him to have a solid 2018. Sure, he won’t necessarily compete in the final four or eight for a championship, but I could see him making the cut for the top-16 come playoff time.

Lucas :  If Alex Bowman can keep the No. 88 in the top-15 consistently next season, I think that will be a success. Hendrick is in a major transition period, and just being competitive will be a bigger victory than a win.

Let me explain that a little more. Any team can go out and get lucky on race day. My thinking is that I’d rather build consistency than win a race based on luck.

Trevor Bayne is a prime example. He won the biggest event in NASCAR in only his second start. That led to bloated expectations within the team, which he has not met to this day. He has been close, but it has been a struggle at some times. Consistency trumps luck.

Hull :  This was a great move on their part. Alex Bowman has proven he has what it takes to pilot the 88 car. He’s not only a talented driver, but his performance has backed it up. We will see great things from him.

Shoppe :  I am one of many that are so happy to see Bowman in the 88 next year! A refreshing success story for a driver who’s struggled to get where he is today while driving with underfunded back-marker teams, making it to the top without the help of money, but instead by the help of his own talent! I expect Bowman to impress next year. Maybe not at first as he will need time to adjust to the new full time ride, but I do think he can contend for wins and a playoff place next year!

Parmelee :  Alex Bowman became a decent competitor during his time in the 88, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was incredibly skeptical at the beginning. Looking at his career from 2015 when he was averaging a 34.4 place start and a 31.6 place finish, his time with Hendrick saw those numbers make a drastic change — averaging a 12.3 place start and a 19.7 place finish in just 10 races.

Yes, I understand that equipment matters and he wasn’t exactly in the most competitive opportunity in year prior. But even looking at where he started in the 88 at Loudon compared to his final race at Homestead, I was definitely impressed. I think with the help from Dale Jr. and the experience he had last season, we very well may have another young challenger on pit road next February.

Fantastic four laps around Pocono by our Track Talk team!  Before we drop some science and truth with our race picks for Sunday’s race, let’s rewind by looking at our race and points report from last Sunday’s Brickyard 400!
...thus prompting a closer points race heading into Pocono!

…thus prompting a closer points race heading into Pocono!

Alright, friends!  Winning time has arrived with Track Talk.  Let’s reveal our picks to win Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway!
Shall any of these solid six win at Pocono?

Shall any of these solid six win at Pocono?

Tiongson :  It’s been three years since someone pulled off Pocono perfection. Look for Ryan Blaney to make that happen on Sunday, giving the Wood Brothers their 100th Cup victory.

Sturm :  Dale Earnhardt Jr finally gets it done this weekend and becomes the third Hendrick driver this year to get a win.

Cassidy :  Dale Earnhardt Jr fans, or rather…Junior Nation, you need this win so let’s make it happen!

Bowman :  I am so torn between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr! Pocono is one of two tracks that Kyle has yet to win at and we all know he is hungry for a win. But for some reason I just have a good feeling about Dale, so I will go with Junior for the win!

Hobbs :  He may not have a win here yet, but Kyle Busch runs well at these superspeedway tracks.

TPF Stats :  The numbers favor Kyle Larson this weekend.

Lucas :  I have no luck in picking winners this season. I’ve even joked with taking a “safe bet” driver just to scoop up points. That would be good and all for the rest of the group. But if I’m going down swinging, I guess I’ll take as many of you out with me! Martin Truex Jr for the W.

Hull :  My driver this weekend is Martin Truex Jr.

Parmelee :  Martin Truex Jr is my pick for Sunday.

Shoppe : My pick is Matt Kenseth.

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 for their amazing efforts each week! 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.

Lastly, we’d like to dedicate this preview to the family and friends of the late Mark Smith of TriStar Motorsports.  Also, this piece is dedicated in memory of Kenneth Martin, the father of a great friend, Kara, my cohort during my years with Bleacher Report. Love and mercy to you all.

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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