1. Joey Logano’s victory at Bristol was his third of the season, tying him for the series lead with Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Which of these five has the best chance to win a championship?
Danielle Trotta: I think it’s obviously a Team Penske vs. Hendrick battle that’s shaping up. I think under this new system, it’s hard to say who comes out on top. But if everything is all squared up equipment-wise, I don’t know how you go against Jimmie Johnson. I know that Jeff has been great and BK has won a championship, but nobody does it better than the 48 team down the stretch.
Tom Jensen: You have to give the nod to Johnson for experience. He’s won six titles, but all of these teams are very closely matched in terms of speed right now. Then again, with this new format, one or two bad races and you’re out. And the winner-for-all format is a great equalizer, too.
Joe Menzer: You guys are picking against Dale Jr.? Junior Nation, take note. In all seriousness, I’m picking Jeff Gordon. He and crew chief Alan Gustafson have taken their chemistry to a new level this season and they’re making fewer mistakes than the 48 guys.
Trotta: You can make all the mistakes you want in August. That’s typical 48 bashing. They might be trying some new stuff to get ready for the Chase, and you’d better believe they’ll be ready to go come Chicagoland.
People forget that last year about this time, Jimmie’s wife had their second child right before the Chase, and that didn’t even shake him. You want to talk about mental toughness? Nothing can rattle him. That mental fortitude gives him an edge over younger drivers like Joey Logano.
Jensen: The problem is, with four cars eliminated every three races, all it takes is one blown tire or crash and you could be out.
Menzer: You know, I’ve seen lots of folks bashing the elimination format in social media lately. But to Tom’s point, I think that’s what is cool about it. In the NFL playoffs, for instance, you throw an interception at the wrong time or fumble the ball away at the goal line, your season could be over. This is the same concept. I love it.
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Trotta: How can you bash something that hasn’t even happened yet? It could be the greatest thing NASCAR has ever done, or it could be the worst. But let’s see how it plays out first before you rush to judgment.
Menzer: Exactly. I knew I liked you, Trotta, from the moment we changed tires together in the Media Pit Crew Challenge a few years back — even though you thought I was too slow.
Trotta: I did. I went all Kyle Busch on you over the team radio. I thought you were totally dragging the whole team down that day.
Menzer: I told you then it was because of poor training. I shouldn’t have eaten that large sub right before the Challenge. I should have gone with the small. Besides, do you have any idea how old I am, Danielle?
Trotta: Just don’t quit your day job, Joe.
Jensen: Hey, can we get back to the question at hand, you two? Ultimately, I’d like to see the title decided over the final three races, not just one. But I’m willing to give it a chance.
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Menzer: Thanks for bringing us back on topic, Tom. But I disagree. I like the idea of a Final Four going for it all in one last race.
Trotta: Again, who am I to judge something I haven’t seen yet? I go back to Kurt Busch’s championship in 2004. If that tire rolls the other way, he doesn’t win the title. I don’t want to see 10 months of work go out the window over something technical like that. Then again, this new format is guaranteed to make watching Homestead more interesting, and I guess that’s the whole idea of it.
Menzer: Well, I would have caught that tire in 2004 if my good buddy Kurt Busch had me on his pit crew. But I was much younger then.
Jensen: We’ll see how this plays out … if the champion wins at Homestead, that’s one thing. If the top-finishing Chase driver finishes 18th at Homestead, that’s something else entirely.
2. With only two races left before the Chase cutoff, who on the bubble gets in and who is going to be left out?
Jensen: I still think Kyle Larson has the best chance to win in the next two weeks. Kasey Kahne, on the other hand, is Donezo.
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Trotta: Just based on the premise that we won’t have another first-time winner, I hate to take the drama out of it but the guys who are in front on points are the ones who are going to be in. Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman are in. Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle will have to have horrific days and others great days for the points situation to change.
Jensen: Larson and Kenseth are the only two winless drivers who I think have a shot to win in the next two weeks. And Kenseth makes the Chase no matter what.
Menzer: Man, that’s what made it tough to watch Jamie McMurray miss out on his chance to win Bristol and get in last week. I think the only way any of the guys right behind Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer and Biffle get in is to win.
Jensen: I hear you about McMurray, but he had 23 chances to win before Bristol, too. It wasn’t just Bristol that’s going to keep him out of the Chase.
Trotta: Over the next two races, Atlanta and Richmond, do you see teammates maybe start to help teammates to win to get into the Chase? We saw what happened last year, and I’m not talking about that kind of help, but maybe it’s all hands on-deck at the Hendrick shop and in the garage to see if they can get that 5 car in.
Menzer: That’s why I’m not sure I agree with Tom’s earlier statement about Kahne. I think the entire Hendrick organization is going to put the throttle down on helping that No. 5 team win over the next two weeks to get in. And Atlanta, where he has won twice in his career and as recently as 2011, probably is his best shot.
Jensen: The amount that one driver can help another is minimal. This isn’t like Formula One, where the first guy to get to the first turn of the first lap often wins the race.
You think if Kahne’s running second to Junior or Jeff or Jimmie that they’ll just slide on over and let him pass for the win? That’s about as likely as me changing careers to become a jockey.
Menzer: I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that they will put every resource they can — maybe more than usual — to make sure Kahne’s car is fast and just right. Because he can’t seem to drive it very well when it’s not!
Trotta: Are they going to double-, triple- and quadruple-check every part and piece on that Kahne car this week? Are there going to be more Hendrick employees swarming around in the garage to make sure it’s as close as perfect as it can be? I would argue yes.
Jensen: They’ve been doing exactly that for weeks now. The other drivers have been talking about it. What makes you think it will work any better now than it has for the last eight or 10 weeks?
Trotta: When the sand slips through the hourglass and you’re down to two races, I still think you may see some things on the track such as teammates helping teammates as far as getting in and out of pit stalls or giving them the preferred line on a restart. I don’t think that’s out of the question at all.
Menzer: You bring up a good point about Kahne and the No. 5 team not being able to get it done this year, Tom. But I have a feeling they may emerge as a factor in Atlanta.
Jensen: I like Kasey Kahne as a driver. But he’s finished in the top five just twice all year, and he hasn’t finished better than sixth in the last seven races. I just don’t see him picking it up.
3. It’s on to Atlanta this week for the Sprint Cup Series. What race stands out in your mind as the most memorable there over the years?
Menzer: It’s obviously between two: The 1992 Hooters 500 when Bill Elliott won the race but Alan Kulwicki won the title back when the season finished at Atlanta, or the 2001 race where Kevin Harvick won in the Goodwrench Chevrolet three weeks after Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Jensen: Certainly, the 2001 race where Kevin Harvick inched out Jeff Gordon for his first victory at the Cup level and the first since Dale Earnhardt’s death. It was a hugely emotional moment and one the sport badly needed.
But the ’92 race was a classic, too. Richard Petty’s last race, Jeff Gordon’s first, Alan Kulwicki wins the championship by leading one more lap than Bill Elliott … Hollywood couldn’t write that script.
Trotta: Well, um, I’m not nearly as old as you guys so I don’t have personal memories of stuff like the 1992 race. But that’s why I love doing NASCAR Race Hub so much. We get into the history of the sport with guys like Larry McReynolds who have lived much of it, and it gives younger and newer fans such as me great context into what happened before we watched in person.
Menzer: Oh, there she goes with the ‘old man’ cracks. It was only a matter of time.
Jensen: I have clothes older than she is.
Menzer: She definitely has better clothes than you do!
As far as the question goes, there are a few other memorable ones — such as in 1993 when a guy even older than Tom and I, Morgan Shepherd, won at Atlanta in a race that was postponed six days because of snow. Shepherd was already 51 years old then.
Jensen: I would also throw in the 1997 weekend when the track was freshly repaved and Geoff Bodine qualified at over 197 mph. Everyone was freaked out. It’s somewhat common now, but that was the first time the speeds really jumped at one of these tracks after a repave — and it kind of shocked everyone.
Menzer: I’m just shocked, and pleased, that the lovely Danielle Trotta was able to take time out of her busy Race Hub television schedule to join us today. Thanks, Danielle, despite the cracks on my pit-crew skills and my advanced age.
Jensen: Yes, thanks for joining us, Danielle.
Trotta: I enjoyed it very much, so thanks for inviting me. Let’s do it again soon. Now go get some rest, boys. At your respective ages, you need plenty of it.
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