The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Discussing Michael Waltrip's Surprise, Kyle Busch's "Historical" Moment, And Driver Responsibility by Frontstretch Staff -- Wednesday February 25, 2009

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Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays / The Voice Of Vito)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays / Top Ten & Thursdays / Voices From The Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays / Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays / Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Frontstretch Newsletter Reporter)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/ Happy Hour)

NASCAR has kept two races on the schedule at Auto Club Speedway despite faltering attendance and fan complaints about the quality of racing, claiming that it needs to have these dates in the California market. But is it really better for the sport to have a presence in certain cities than it is to provide a better product to the larger number of fans who tune in on television each week?

Amy: Apparently, it must… but I wasn’t a marketing major, so I don’t see how. I would think that in the long run, you’d get more revenue from TV ratings instead.
Bryan: Presence in a market is important — but not enough to harm your base. Fontana is a big market, but subjecting the majority of the fan base to an extremely late start time for a terrible race is just not worth it.
Kurt: Well, let’s start with the fact there are two races at California to begin with. That, I don’t get, and I don’t mean that as a knock on California fans. There just aren’t that many of them.
Jeff: The “reason” the Labor Day race was moved to California was because it couldn’t sell out. But California hasn’t sold out for what, five years now? My point is, they can’t sell out either race, and that was NASCAR’s reason for giving them the second date in the first place. If NASCAR wants to save the teams money like they say, they should give up and make one of these races close to home instead.
Vito: One race at California is enough. Sunday’s was less painful than usual, only because there was a brief moment of potential racing for the win at the end.
Phil: And if what I saw on racing-reference.info is correct, yesterday’s attendance was 78,000. I definitely think one race is enough for them. ACS deserves credit for its crowd, though — there were definitely 75-plus there yesterday.
Amy: That was ISC’s number, Phil. The local media pegged it at closer to 55,000.
Kurt: The race itself wasn’t bad, though. I thought it was decent. Fontana gets a bad rap for taking the Labor Day race from Darlington… but that doesn’t mean the racing there is worse than anywhere else. I’ll take it over plate tracks anyday.
Vito: The Truck and Nationwide Races were really bad, though. At least Michigan has the decency to end the brutality after 400 miles.
Amy: Michigan races better than Fontana.
Bryan: Michigan actually can produce side-by-side racing. Fontana can’t.
Vito: Many will argue that Michigan is a snoozer, but before last year, it would routinely sell out every race, and its proximity to Detroit means that you have to go there twice a year. And it has produced some great races in the past — just not recently.
Phil: Apparently, 10,000 showed up for the Truck race at 11:00 AM local time and 15,000 came for the Nationwide race. Makes me wonder what the ticket prices are for those races… Editor’s Note: They’re $40 – $50 minimum for the October Nationwide date at the track.
Bryan: The support series are a whole other issue from Cup. I was pleased with the crowd I saw at ACS on Sunday… but the race itself was way too late, way too long, and just unpleasant.
Phil: I definitely wasn’t a fan of the 6:25 start time.
Amy: I mind a start that late for a West Coast race. As I said last week, if you want night races… run on Saturday.
Kurt: And I’m not saying California shouldn’t have two races — but it certainly shouldn’t have a Chase date the way it’s drawing.
Amy: Las Vegas is basically the same market, too. That track deserves two races way more than Fontana.
Bryan: Exactly. Vegas packs in 100,000+ for Nationwide and Cup.
Jeff: Yeah, but that is an SMI track.
Phil: Las Vegas is better than Fontana… but neither deserves two races. You’d just create the same problem at Vegas that you already have at Fontana.
Vito: Vegas sucks, in my opinion. They just want a second date there for the gambling degenerates who will promote it.
Jeff: Am a degenerate ‘cause I gamble Vito?
Vito: Yes. Yes, you are.
Bryan: I’d still be willing to give Vegas a try if it meant getting rid of a second ACS date.
Kurt: I don’t think either speedway is better. I can’t tell a damn bit of difference.
Vito: We don’t need two races at Las Vegas. We don’t need two races at California. We don’t need two races at Phoenix. Pluck a date from ACS and LVMS, add a new track, and give these guys a week off after Daytona.
Amy: There are very few tracks that need two races as it is. I think we need to add Rockingham and Iowa in their places, Vito … and I’d love another road race. Put it in the Chase.
Phil: Iowa would be interesting. How long would a Cup race be at Iowa?
Jeff: Probably 500 laps at 7/8ths of a mile.
Vito: Iowa, I could get on board with. I’d like to see another road course, too. Mainly to shut up the people who say, “We only race on them twice a year, what’s the point?!” Well, now you have to race three times on them.
Phil: The 500-mile distance at ACS is probably a throwback to the races in Ontario, I guess. Of course, they both don’t need to be 500 miles.
Bryan: Races everywhere need to be 500 miles or 500 laps; cutting distance is not acceptable to hide that a track can’t put on a good stock car race.
Vito: I don’t have a problem with 500 miles — although Mark and Junior might after simultaneously blowing engines — but that is the classic distance for a superspeedway race. I think they need to back that start time up to 3:00 PM EST. And I don’t mean coverage starts with endless babbling for an hour and a half. I mean the green flag is waved at 3:00 PM EST.
Kurt: It’s not like FOX had a primetime lineup on the East Coast at 10:30 EST.
Phil: They didn’t have one. Straight to the news, then local programming.
Bryan: It’s cool to have NASCAR in L.A., but is it NASCAR at its best? No. Putting a subpar product in a major city isn’t exactly good promoting.
Amy: The thing is, long term, there are way more fans who watch on TV each week, and they aren’t going to tune in to a race like the snoozefest at Fontana. But those fans will tune in to a good race somewhere else. Bottom line, it should be about the show they put on… not the market they put it on in. In the long run, that will hurt you.
Kurt: I think NASCAR should give it another year or two, but if Fontana doesn’t draw, it should lose a race. The stands were 75 percent full from what I heard Sunday — which isn’t bad — but another track might do better.
Jeff: Another year or two with two dates at Fontana? What will change in a year or two?
Bryan: NASCAR is not able to be showcased in its best light at ACS — good crowd or not. And putting on a lackluster show for a different marketing segment is going to lose more fans than it gains.
Vito: Racing needs to be where it is both appreciated and wanted. The West Coast is an important market — but California isn’t working out.
Phil: Fontana doesn’t have the best track record, and the track just isn’t the greatest place for the Cup cars to race on. I enjoyed watching CART more out there, despite the fact that they were going 236.
Amy: I agree, Phil: that track was designed for open wheel cars, not stocks.
Kurt: They should try somewhere in Montana instead. No speed limit.
Phil: They reintroduced the limits in 2000 or 2001, Kurt. It’s 75 now… sorry.
Vito: Car vs. Elk and Car vs. Bear accidents at 90 mph don’t end well as it is. Anyway, California’s a long race that is to be endured, not enjoyed. I’d rather see the guys get a week off after Daytona than have a race right away. Give these guys a break.
Kurt: I think this year’s California race was better than Daytona.
Bryan: I disagree, Kurt. And it kills any momentum from Daytona to go from the 500 to possibly the worst show on the circuit.
Vito: I know. It’s like having Led Zeppelin open for Fallout Boy. What’s the point?
Bryan: Zing!

After two races in the young season, there appears to be a small power shift, with teams like Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in the top 15, while teams from Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing currently sit behind them. Does this mean that the testing ban is doing its job in leveling the playing field?

Amy: I don’t think so. I think it’s because we’re only two races in. I will say, however, that there are teams looking racier than they looked last season.
Bryan: No way. It means that teams like Marcos Ambrose’s No. 47 and Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 42 have had solid, not spectacular, starts to their seasons. It has nothing to do with the testing ban.
Jeff: I agree; it’s a fluke. It will all sort out in the wash.
Phil: I think it’s too early to tell.
Kurt: I’d say it’s way too early to tell. Waltrip lucked into a good finish at Daytona, as did a lot of Petty cars.

Vito: Daytona’s results were skewed because it was called over 100 miles short. And two Hendrick cars had uncharacteristic engine failures in California and were both top 10 cars until then.
Bryan: MWR is certainly much improved over last year, though. Mikey and Reutimann were both legit top 15 cars on Sunday.
Kurt: MWR does look better, I’ll give them that.
Jeff: How could they not look better?
Amy: MWR is improved, and Elliott Sadler and ‘Dinger have certainly looked good out there. A year ago, no top 15 was legit for MWR, and they look much more solid already this year.
Vito: They certainly do. Reutimann’s program has always flown under the radar. He’s run decent, but has had bad luck.
Vito: Penske Racing looks worlds better than they have the last couple of years as well.
Bryan: You mean Kurt Busch looks better. David Stremme and Sam Hornish, Jr. are still midpack at best.
Vito: Stremme has had decent cars as well. At least Hornish didn’t wreck anything… yet. I am actually shocked to see the Dodges running well as a whole.
Phil: The top 10 in Sunday’s race was a relatively decent array of who’s really strong right now. And some teams (Nos. 20, 88, 8) have not run well so far.
Bryan: Let’s not forget that teams like the No. 18 are still climbing in points to recover from Daytona. There are definitely teams that I would not have expected that came out of the gates strong… but to equate that to the testing ban is ridiculous.
Kurt: About six races in, the standings begin to stabilize, and who is good by then will probably be good all year.
Amy: Right. I agree a bad Daytona had a lot to do with the points, and the 18 and 48, especially, won’t be where they are in a few weeks. But I have seen signs that some other teams showed up to play this year. The Blue Deuce has looked great.
Kurt: Kurt Busch had a good starting position at California, and I think it was hard to pass. Not saying he wasn’t good — but I think that helped.
Amy: Busch had to be fast to start up front, Kurt.
Vito: Credit that to some big time horsepower. Remember those dyno results from last fall? The No. 2 had almost 20 hp on the next closest car.
Kurt: I will say Kurt’s a great driver. He just hasn’t had the equipment of late.
Bryan: It will be interesting to see if Busch can keep it up, though. Let’s not forget Newman opened the year with four consecutive top 15s last year, and we all know how that turned out.
Vito: Stremme is pretty good, too. He’s never had a shot in decent stuff.
Amy: Stremme is a good Nationwide driver, and Hornish is a great IRL driver… but neither is a top Cup-level driver.
Vito: Stremme ran pretty well with those Fitz Bradshaw slugs.
Kurt: Stremme was like Sorenson: he looked great in the Nationwide Series, but Cup is a different story altogether.
Vito: I think Stremme will surprise some people. He has gotten up to speed pretty quickly, is a good teammate, and doesn’t make enemies on the track.
Kurt: I think Penske just needs to get their speedway program going. They’re OK elsewhere, but speedways are the bulk of the schedule in NASCAR.
Bryan: I think Penske is a team that will likely get bitten by the lack of testing. They fade quickly.
Amy: Well, I do think the test ban may help keep a couple of these teams — not all of them — closer all year. Like MWR.
Bryan: It may have narrowed the gap here at the start a bit — but it’s early. Testing or no, the cream will rise to the top this season like any other. I doubt that this newfound “parity” carries on for more than the first few months.
Vito: And let’s not fool ourselves, either. These teams are still testing, just not at “sanctioned” racetracks. There are plenty of unsanctioned facilities that these big teams can use.
Amy: But none of them are equal to the tracks they run on, Vito — so their info is limited at best. Look, I’m not saying MWR will make a championship run, but the big teams won’t have as much opportunity to pull away, either.
Bryan: Yes, they will Amy. With testing restricted, the big teams with big money have just not figured out where to get big gains this year yet. They will.
Amy: But it does seem that, for whatever reason, there has been a little more parity. Why or whether that stays around remains to be seen.
Jeff: Parity=Socialism in racing.
Vito: I wouldn’t call it parity. I’d call it, “There was a big wreck, it started raining, and some guys made an ill-timed pit stop.” But how about Morgan Shepherd running well Saturday night! That was nice to see.
Bryan: Morgan Shepherd is the man: top 20 on an intermediate?! Unreal …
Phil: 19th isn’t half bad. He was the fourth car one lap down.
Vito: Not bad considering he was part of the pit crew not too long ago…

Dale Earnhardt, Jr said in a recent interview that selling tickets is the sole responsibility of the racetracks. Is he correct, or do NASCAR and the drivers need to share this burden together?

Bryan: Um, they all need fans to be present — they all take part.
Amy: I think absolutely NASCAR and the drivers need to do their part.
Kurt: See, I think Junior’s the one who’s absolutely correct. Drivers do more than enough. Tracks ought to build hotels for the fans that show up.
Jeff: It is the tracks and other local business’ task to put fans in the stands. For years, these track owners have been riding on the NASCAR bandwagon with minimal effort. Now, they have to work at it if they still want the benefit of all the dollars a race generates.
Phil: Typically, it is the track’s responsibility to sell tickets. If the drivers want to buy seats and give them to deserving individuals, be my guest. I’m not going to stop them.
Amy: I disagree. When was the last time Junior had a public signing at the racetrack? The sport’s most popular driver is also one of its least accessible.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. claims he does his best to sign as many autographs as possible. But would racetracks be that much better off if he fit just a few more track appearances into his schedule?

Vito: If Junior had an autograph session at Talladega, it would look like Munich in 1934.
Bryan: OK, fine, the racetracks don’t stay alive without selling tickets. But it’s not like there are a hundred 100,000-seat speedways to generate the millions of dollars that these drivers get paid waiting to take over for the current venues.
Kurt: But drivers have to race 36 races a year, not counting the exhibitions. They make appearances, give interviews, and do commercials, not to mention stuff like those blips FOX shows before breaks.
Amy: I think NASCAR needs to look at the IRL. It has public signings with all the drivers at every race. It’s mandatory.
Phil: A lot of series do that, actually.
Amy: The only active champion who I have seen meeting with fans on a regular basis is Kurt Busch.
Bryan: Kurt Busch deserves mad props for showing up at his hauler every race.
Vito: Robby Gordon is really good about visiting with the fans as well. But the best was Kyle Busch at Michigan last year. He got mobbed in the garage area walking out of the infield care center. Some guy kept sticking a hat in his face to sign it. He grabbed it, scribbled something on the bill, threw it up in the air, sprinted to his hauler, and shut the door.
Amy: Jimmie Johnson does only a few appearances a year at the track — not nearly as many as Kurt — and I’ve never seen Stewart or Gordon have one. I do agree that local businesses need to get with the program… especially hotels.
Jeff: People will always come to see the drivers and the race if they don’t get raped by the locals on prices! Hotels are the worst.
Kurt: That’s part of the problem though, Jeff. No one from out of town can afford to go these days.
Jeff: Well, then the locals need to make it so you can afford to visit them. It is the responsibility of the track and the town to promote the races and make it accessible.
Kurt: Hotels are going to charge what they can get. I don’t know that you’ll ever change that.
Jeff: Then hotels are part of the problem — don’t blame the drivers.
Phil: Atlanta has this deal where they’ve worked with local hotels to lower prices.
Vito: Doesn’t it kind of police itself, anyway? If nobody buys a ticket or a hotel room, don’t the prices just come down by themselves? I mean, that is one of the few remaining free-market principles left in our country — for the time being.
Bryan: Everyone is part of the solution this year. The tracks need to make tickets affordable, the hotels need to make the situation friendly for attendance, and the drivers need to thank their lucky stars for the fans that give them their posh lifestyles. Junior’s comments on this one honestly don’t jive well with me. Yes, the tracks need to push hard to sell tickets. But that, in this climate, is a very hard sell, and everyone from the drivers to the tracks — anyone who depends on racing for a living — bears responsibility.
Amy: I agree, Bryan. Junior is one of the least accessible drivers, and I don’t think that’s OK.
Vito: If Junior was more accessible, the guy would go Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. Seriously, nobody can handle that kind of pressure.
Bryan: Asking Junior to show up and sign autographs for 45 minutes or so isn’t going to kill anyone.
Vito: 50,000 strangers in your face — and all of them think you owe them something? Screw that …
Kurt: Does anyone think Junior’s a little touchier than usual this year? He was pretty cranky after that Daytona wreck. Hasn’t been himself lately, it seems.
Jeff: The problem with people like Junior is that he is so popular, you get a frickin’ mob scene anywhere he goes.
Phil: That’s why he created his own town to live in..
Vito: Maybe he is being himself, Kurt. He’s probably sick of it. I would be too!
Kurt: I was thinking that, Vito. I think he’s had Dr. Phil assertiveness training. I think the popularity not matching the results is getting to him. He kind of sounded that way when DW interviewed him.
Bryan: Well, you are never going to get me to feel sorry for a driver who can’t handle the pressure of their fans. There are thousands of drivers out there who would kill for the opportunity these Cup guys get. The way things are right now, they are completely responsible for continuing to push this sport.
Vito: Right, but it’s one guy we’re talking about here. Ever have a bad day at work when you’re getting pulled in 20 different directions by 20 different people? Now figure that, but 50,000 in one day. That wouldn’t go over well. These guys are human, after all.
Amy: I think the drivers do owe the fans something, though — after all, in the end, who buys their sponsor product? If 100 people meet their hero at the track, they have done something; if none do, they have done nothing.
Jeff: That is BS. It is not their responsibility.
Vito: It took me 20 years to meet my hero. I never felt like he owed me anything.
Kurt: The drivers owe it to us to drive their asses off, but I don’t really feel they owe fans anything beyond that. If they think they’re being ingrates, they won’t buy tickets.
Amy: Maybe “owe” is too strong a word, but these guys need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Richard Petty signed for hours, even after races, because he never forgot that he was/is somebody’s hero.
Kurt: But that’s what made Richard head and shoulders above the rest, Amy. We all wish all of the drivers were like the King — but that’s why he’s the King.
Vito: Different time and day, though. Nobody outside of some diehard fans cared much back then. Drivers stayed after to sign autographs because they didn’t have much else going on. There were 20,000 people there, not 200,000.
Bryan: None of these drivers owe me anything; but hearing a guy who’s making tens of millions a year telling promoters he has no responsibility at all for pushing ticket sales that pay his living makes me sick.
Kurt: That wasn’t really what Junior was saying though, Bryan. He was just basically saying “we do enough” — and he’s right.
Jeff: Society has changed over the years. With the popularity of Junior and the wackos out there, he can’t possibly sign like The King did.
Amy: The bottom line to me is that everyone who benefits from the race fans is responsible for making sure they come back.
Jeff: OK, so as journalists, it is our fault, too? Is it our fault Fontana is never sold out? We could say what a great race Fontana is and no one should ever miss it.
Bryan: All we’re saying, Jeff, is the times we’re in require everyone involved in racing — from the fans to the promoters to the drivers — to roll up their sleeves and give more. NASCAR has tons more work to do, the tracks do too — and so do the drivers.

Kyle Busch made history on Saturday, becoming the first driver to win two major touring series races on the same day – but is history of this type good for the sport overall?

Bryan: No. Kyle Busch won two minor league races in the same day. Big whoop.
Phil: It’s probably not healthy. It shows that Kyle Busch can adjust to different machinery, but it severely discounts his competition. Now, when Busch wins the Coke Zero 400 and the Paul Revere 250 at Daytona, that will tell me something. The idea is that there isn’t a whole lot of competition in those races he won on Saturday. He had the best vehicle in both races, without a doubt.
Jeff: It’s like an MLB pitcher pitching to some little league teams.
Amy: It’s like a thoroughbred winning a race against Shetland ponies. Sure, it’s a trophy, but what does it prove?
Vito: I think it’s fine. The problem lies in how completely uncompetitive each of these races were. If you can’t even make a decent race with the Trucks, you seriously have a problem.
Bryan: Amen, Vito. The trucks were a parade like every other race this weekend.
Kurt: I think it is good for the sport. This kid’s making himself a household name, and NASCAR needs a new star.
Bryan: What did Kyle do, Kurt? He took the best equipment in both fields and won with it. This accomplishment, let’s remember, hasn’t even been possible for drivers until recently simply because of how races are scheduled now.
Kurt: But that shouldn’t take away from what Kyle did. It has never been done before.
Amy: I’m not impressed that it has never been done before. I’d be impressed if it had been someone like Brad Keselowski or James Buescher — but Kyle?
Vito: Hey, Kyle’s the best driver in NASCAR right now. While he may be unpopular with many fans, you will never hear any of his competition call him overrated.
Bryan: Kyle is a supremely talented driver, Vito; I know that. But he doesn’t need to massacre the AAA ranks to prove it.
Vito: I always wondered what the point of pulling the triple was. Does he really love racing that much? Is it for money? Does Kyle have nothing else going on and just does it because he’s bored?
Kurt: It’s for the money, Vito. You seen that babe he’s with?

Kyle Busch was on top of the world Saturday night after winning both the Nationwide and Truck Series races in the same day. But is this major league driver going a step too far in stepping down to dominate the minor leagues?

Jeff: No matter what the reasons are, what Kyle did means nothing to me. Now, if one of the series regulars did it, then you have something.
Amy: It must take pretty low self-esteem to have to beat the T-Ball kids when you’re a major leaguer.
Kurt: He whooped on other Cup guys too, Amy.
Vito: Does that make Dale Earnhardt a low-self esteemer when he ran the Busch Series in his prime?
Amy: No, Senior ran with his own team that he owned and financed. That’s at least somewhat more honorable. And Senior never ran for the title.
Vito: I don’t seem to recall the Goodwrench No. 3 that made an embarrassment of the Daytona 300 being there “for fun.” That was always the biggest race of the year for “the little guys,” and here comes Dale barging in, making a total joke out of it.
Amy: But Earnhardt also put up-and-comers in that very same car on occasion — and at that time, the series did need a few Cup guys now and then.
Jeff: I agree with Amy… for the record.
Kurt: Look, I’m not condoning Cup guys in any of the minor league series, but that isn’t the question. People can’t have it both ways. They can’t say the Truck Series is great racing, and at the same time say Kyle isn’t anything for winning races there.
Amy: I don’t think a big bully running over the little kids is a good thing for any sport — and this is no exception.
Bryan: All of this Kyle Busch winning in different series talk is blown out of proportion, anyway. It’s the same way they drooled over him possibly winning Texas, Nashville, and Pocono in the same weekend last year. Thanks to TV, money, and a private jet, Kyle is getting the chance to run more races than any driver before him. There are tons of guys out there talented enough to win more than once a weekend. Kyle just happens to have the resources to run anywhere he wants.
Jeff: The Truck and Nationwide Series is Kyle Busch’s Extendze for his ego. If Kyle didn’t have the biggest and fastest tricycle than the rest of them and was losing, he wouldn’t be doing it.
Kurt: If you want to criticize the system, that’s one thing. But I don’t blame Kyle anymore than Kenseth, Edwards, Burton, Biffle … I could go on and on.
Jeff: Oh go on, then.
Kurt: … Mears, McMurray, Ragan, Almirola …
Jeff: GO ON!
Kurt: … Martin, Kahne, Hamlin … I don’t argue that Cup guys shouldn’t be in the lesser series, especially with sponsors that are getting them cheaper. But how do you stop the madness?
Bryan: Saying no is a good start, Kurt. I’m not blaming Kyle. I’m saying he is proving nothing and accomplishing nothing doing what he is doing.
Amy: I say, take away points and money. If drivers really only want to be there for fun, they’ll run a few anyway. If they don’t, they won’t show up, and then it just goes to show they were only there for an easy win anyways.
Vito: Nobody would go to the races if those guys weren’t entered. They’re trying to sell tickets and, after all, that is the racetrack’s job … so sayeth Junior.
Bryan: Vito, that argument holds no water. ACS drew 15,000 this weekend with 12 Cup guys in the field.
Vito: Right. So if there were zero Cup guys in the field, 6,000 would show up. If it’s so easy, then it’s not much of a series.
Bryan: Makes you wonder how Kentucky, Nashville, etc. can draw 40,000-plus without Cup guys…
Vito: The whole point of Cup guys in lower divisions was to lend some legitimacy to the series, sell some tickets, and let the up-and-coming guys learn how to race with the veterans at the Cup level. Otherwise, you have a bunch of Steven Wallaces showing up at Daytona some years.
Kurt: Right, Vito — except it’s gone too far. And sponsors dictate everything. You saw the Almirola-Hamlin debacle…
Phil: 27 Cup support races is too many.
Bryan: Kyle is not to be blamed here throughout all of this. But to make his accomplishments in the lower ranks out to be historically significant is simply clutching at straws…

OK. Predictions for Vegas?

Vito: Jeff Gordon.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Kurt: I’ll go with Jimmie Johnson.
Phil: I’ll go with Edwards.
Amy: I’m going to back up what I said on the radio Monday: Jeff Gordon wins it, and is dwarfed by the showgirls in Victory Lane.
Vito: Like Mark in 1998. That picture is still hilarious!
Phil: He’ll be dwarfed by their headdresses. But then again, everyone is.
Jeff: They are all using Old Spice now. Those girls are from Russia.
Bryan: I’m riding on the Kenseth bandwagon until someone beats him. That No. 17 team is on fire right now.
Vito: Did I not tell you that Drew Blickensderfer would turn that team around in short order?
Bryan: Blicks has that team fired up. The “Killer B’s” were ridiculous Sunday.
Kurt: Drew is still batting 1.000.

Email the Mirror Guys ‘N’ Gals!
Contact Amy Henderson
Contact Bryan Davis Keith
Contact Jeff Meyer
Contact Kurt Allen Smith
Contact Phil Allaway
Contact Vito Pugliese

Mirror Predictions 2009

Welcome to our third consecutive year of Mirror Predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible … so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Mirror Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through two races (and the Shootout) this season, here’s how our experts have fared to date:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Bryan Davis Keith 3 -0 3 1 1 2
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -0 3 0 1 1
Tom Bowles 3 -0 1 0 1 1
Vito Pugliese 2 -1 3 0 0 2
Mike Neff 2 -1 2 0 1 1
Kurt Smith 2 -1 2 0 0 2
Jeff Meyer 2 -1 2 0 0 2
Amy Henderson 1 -2 3 0 0 1
Matt Taliaferro -3 -5 1 0 0 0

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Kevin in SoCal
02/25/2009 03:52 AM
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Bryan: Makes you wonder how Kentucky, Nashville, etc. can draw 40,000-plus without Cup guys…

That’s an easy one: There is no Cup race there. If there was a Cup race at Kentucky or Nashville, you would see a lot less attendance for the Truck and Nationwide races. The local fans go to those tracks because that’s one of their only chances to see a NASCAR race.

Carl D.
02/25/2009 08:23 AM
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Call me old fashioned, but I much preferred it when the Cup guys raced in fewer (then) Busch series races and the champion was always a regular from the Busch division. Allowing drivers to race in the Nationwide series is one thing, but seeing Cup stars like Harvick, Edwards, and Boyer win the series championship is hard for me to swallow.

M. B. Voelker
02/25/2009 09:39 AM
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Sounds like some people are absolutely green with jealousy that their guy isn’t racer enough to run multiple series — much less win in them.

The claim that Kyle is doing it for the money is particularly asinine considering that he takes no money for his truck racing. And those trucks aren’t from Gibbs they’re the Billy Ballew stuff — chronically under-funded, at the back of the line for manufacturer support, and lucky to get a top-15 with anyone else driving.

Kyle Busch lives to race. His idea of unwinding after Speedweeks was to spend Monday getting his hands dirty working on his Late Model team’s cars.

I guess it was all nothing but an ego-fest all those times Ken Schrader won ARCA and local track races while he was a Cup driver? Hmmm? And Mark Martin’s Busch series career was compensating for his short stature, right?

Do I hear a deafening silence there? Or is it the sounds of back-pedaling and foot-shuffling as people ready defensive cries of “But that’s different!”?

Funny how when Kyle’s winning in those series they’re the equivalent of Jr. High but the rest of the time they’re the home of talented veterans like Johnny Benson and Dave Blaney who deserve Cup rides far more than the supposedly over-hyped young drivers who are actually in the Cup rides.

Either Kyle is stomping on the kindergarten crowd or he’s legitimately beating those talented veterans who deserve Cup rides more than the sponsor-friendly, pretty boys who actually have Cup rides. Pick one guys, you can’t have it both ways.

But I suppose that’s different too?

Or is it just a pile of sour grapes that yield nothing but bitter whine?

dawg
02/25/2009 09:56 AM
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How can any one really make a point, for the racing at Calif. being good. Sure they can fan out & run 4 wide. But what’s the point? With the lead car having such a aero advantage. It just turns into a strung out parade. two races at Fontana, & Pocono. Terrible idea. Besides if the Pocono owners were notified that they were being cut back to 1 race a year. They would be waiting outside Bruton’s door when he got to work the next morning. Burton could move 1 date to Kentucky, & everyone would be happy. Me included.

Kevin in SoCal
02/25/2009 12:16 PM
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I dont mind Cup guys in the Nationwide field or even running for the Championship if they dont already have a Championship. But guys like Kevin Harvick back in 2006 or Carl Edwards last year and this year running the full season when they already have a Busch/Nationwide championship is just pathetic. Carl has nothing to prove to anyone that he’s a good driver. Why does he need to race the full season, again? Decent guys like Brad Coleman and Danny O’Quinn get pushed aside and forgotten because of it.

Ford Fan
02/25/2009 12:53 PM
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Amy— Phil is probably closer to the correct number than the local media. I have attended the last three Spring Fontana races and this was definitely the largest crowd of the three. Hard to estimate, but I’d say 75,000 was about right. Kurt— you at least did not watch the race with your mind made up. Yes, there was some good racing. Especially the last thirty laps with Gordon trying to pass Kenseth. The crowd was pretty pumped. I agree that the 1 1/2 and 2 mile tracks have a tendency to have spread out racing. Not just ACS.

As for the Nationwide race on Saturday, Kyle put a whipping on the field. Wasn’t even close. Take him out of the equation and you had some fun racing. Jeff Burton and David Ragan raced side by side for about ten laps. Attendance was about 20-25,000. Charging 40-50 dollars is way too high. Especially in these economic times. Luckily, there was some deals. Ten dollars off for Auto Club members and children 12 and under free with paid adult. That’s what more tracks should be doing.

The media, including this website, needs to watch the race and then report it. Too many out there just want to rip certain tracks because it makes there job easier. Just recycle last years story. Maybe what needs to happen with all the media and fans that keep complaining about terrible racing, terrible tracks, terrible cars, etc. is they should stop going, watching or find a new line of work. As for me, I just enjoy racing. Every race, even the really bad ones, have something about them that I find interesting. Maybe I’m just a fan and not a cynic.

Bobb
02/25/2009 01:13 PM
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Just a couple of comments…

About August of 2008, MWR developed a new chassis that fits their drivers well. The numbers now display the success of that chassis, but if you look back to late last year, MWR was already getting stronger. Their finish in points was miserable due to the poor performance early in the season, but race results improved dramatically late season with the new configuration. Please pay closer attention, k?

Vegas and Fontana are NOT essentially the same market.
Do a little research before you speak… NASCAR traditionally draws roughly half of their crowd from within 50 miles of a venue… Fontana and Vegas are much further apart.

Carl D.
02/25/2009 01:16 PM
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Voelker’s rant not withstanding, let me just say that I don’t think that Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide series has anything to do with drivers’ egos or the money. Drivers race because they are asked to by team owners, sponsors, etc. When Carl Edwards straps into the Scott’s car on Saturday, it’s strictly a business decision and not one that just benefits Carl. My problem isn’t with the drivers as much as it is with Nascar for allowing the situation to get progressively out of hand over the last few years.

I have nothing against Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards or any of the other Buschwackers. I just wish Nascar would limit their participation in the Nationwide series, giving more opportunities to up-and-coming talent.

Connie
02/25/2009 02:31 PM
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Amy – When was the last time you were near one of the more popular drivers in a crowd? There was one person between Jr and I in the Atlanta pits and the crowd was pushing and shoving so hard I was almost trampled. In Michigan pits a woman was knocked out of her wheel chair by a crowd after Jeff Gordan.

The vehicle that takes drivers to and from the sales trailers are also mobbed and can barely move. No wonder the more popular drivers don’t sign autographs as much would you? The fans become rabid and dangerous to the driver and the other fans.

I think a secure setting that the tickets are sold a a reasonable price by phone would be great. No entry w/o a ticket. The profit from the ticket sales would go to charities. Example 200 tickets sold at 10.00 – 20.00 would be 2,000 – 4,000. With only 10 drivers that would be 20,000 – 40,000 for good causes. I would pay up to 50.00 for some drivers autographs. I realize that security costs and etc would also have to come out of the profits.

The drivers do not OWE us an autograph just because we bought a ticket to a race.

Kevin in SoCal
02/25/2009 04:03 PM
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Thank you Ford Fan, for your first and last paragraphs. I’ve been saying that as well. The columnists (and readers) on this website go into the California race with their mind made up its going to be a bad one, and guess what, they see a bad race.

FS John Potts
02/25/2009 06:11 PM
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There may be some truth in what Kevin says. The same thing applied to drag racing while I was with NHRA. We had a “points meet” at IRP, a divisional race which is now part of the Lucas Oil series. Drew 600 cars or more, and was an outstanding event. But no amount of promotion helped to bring spectators in. Other tracks in the division had the same kind of event and had very respectable spectator totals. I felt it was because we also hosted the U.S. Nationals, and the division meet was in the spring while the USN was on Labor Day.

Paul F.
02/25/2009 08:05 PM
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As much as I hate the design of the California track, I agree with Kevin and Ford Fan that the racing isn’t AS abysmal as most claim, but I don’t find it enthralling either. I went to Chicagoland last year and saw a mediocre at best race(save the dramatic ending with Kyle and Jimmie) but enjoyed it thoroughly simply because I could pick and choose what to watch and “find” the battles on my own.

With the camera angles broadcasts use now one’s perspective of the track is severely hindered. There’s no appreciation for the dynamics of each track because it’s all so zoomed in. Plus, they focus on “storylines” instead of close racing. Even with all the horror of the COT and cookie-cutter tracks, I realized after attending Chicagoland that the terrible visual appeal of the broadcasts kills most of whatever racing does actually occur.

While drastically changing ACS probably isn’t a bad idea, I think the camera angles can manage to damn the entertainment of even exciting tracks. Combine that with a less than stellar venue like ACS, and you’re going to get comatose thrills at best barring a close battle to the end.

George
02/26/2009 01:30 PM
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You guys are a piece of work. I actually enjoy most of your columns, but all this Kyle Busch bashing is pretty childish. Get over it already. He’s the best driver along with Carl and Jimmie, and he’s going to be around for a while. You get all over him for throwing one lousey hat in the air, but you won’t touch Junior for anything that he does. Quit drinking Junior Cool Aid already. There’s enough people in NASCAR that do that, he doesn’t really need anymore.

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