The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Final Grades On The Nationwide CoT, Chase Surprises, And "Favorites" by Frontstretch Staff -- Wednesday September 15, 2010

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

This Week’s Participants:
Amy Henderson (Mondays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays / Top 15 & Wednesdays / Full Throttle)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays / Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)
Kyle Ocker (Frontstretch News Reporter)

The Chase field was set at Richmond. Looking back to the beginning of the year, are there any surprises?

Summer: I think people were surprised at how well and how quickly RCR rebounded. Mark Martin is another one. After his season last year, 2010 has been basically catastrophic.

Garrett: Yeah, Mark Martin not making it is a big surprise.
Phil: I’m not surprised at anyone in this group. They’ve all been there before.
Amy: I’m a little surprised that Mark Martin didn’t make it. Other than that, though, I don’t think anybody really stands out.
Garrett: I know many expected RCR to rebound this year, but I don’t believe anyone expected Harvick to be leading the points all season.
Mike N.: I also thought Mark Martin would be more of a factor than he has been. I thought Newman would have a good chance to be there, too. Other than that, not any surprises at all.

First and 12th in the regular season standings, the two bookend to this year’s Chase – Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer – could also be considered the postseason’s two biggest surprises.

Kyle: Mark Martin not making it is certainly the biggest one. I didn’t think Bowyer had what it took (and still don’t) but those two are the biggest surprises. For the purpose of TV ratings, I wanted Dale Jr. to make it, but I knew he wouldn’t. Some changes they made to “fix” Dale Jr.; he’s still broke, and now Mark Martin is, too.
Mike N.: Even though they didn’t make it, I thought the Earnhardt Ganassi crowd had a pretty darn good regular season, too. Just too many DNFs.
Phil: 7 DNFs aren’t going to get you anywhere. It’s like Geoff Bodine’s 1994.
Amy: I missed two on my preseason predictions. I said that Martin and Newman would be in. And I agree with Mike — I think EGR will have a car in next year.
Garrett: Don’t worry Amy, I said Keselowski was going to make it. Boy, do I feel stupid.
Kyle: Keselowski is hated by too many drivers to make it. He gets wrecked by Edwards too much.
Summer: I was convinced for awhile that Logano might make it. That didn’t really work out, either. 

Mike N.: Logano is getting better. Just needs a little more seasoning. He’ll have a real shot at it next year. And I thought Sam Hornish, Jr. had a better shot than Kes — and that was not a shot at all.
Kyle: I personally think the talent is there…
Amy: With Kes? Yes, the talent is there, but the maturity isn’t.
Garrett: Just like Kyle Busch.
Phil: I don’t know about Keselowski’s maturity. He is mature, just overaggressive.
Amy: Yeah, the talent is there, but I never pegged BK as Chase material this year.
Mike N.: Kes’ problem is he has an over-inflated opinion of himself.
Amy: Similar to Kyle again.
Garrett: What I like about Keselowski is that, up until this year, he has always improved race teams once he left.
Amy: That’s true, Garrett.
Kyle: Very true. He really wasn’t a guy that went out and wrecked due to lack of talent every week. He really helped build JR Motorsports into what it is today. They may have not survived if he wasn’t there to make sure the car finished.
Amy: I think the way Jimmie Johnson has limped into the Chase is a surprise, too. They’ve had their summer slumps before, but never this bad.
Summer: I still don’t buy the Johnson “slump” thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if they came out of the gate this week and won the next four races.
Mike N.: Johnson’s team was trying things. They started concentrating again at Atlanta and it shows. They’re still going to win this thing.
Jeff: If Johnson wins five in a row, it may be the worst thing for NASCAR.
Amy: Jeff, one driver can’t be bad for the sport unless people let it.

Jeff: By that token, blaming NASCAR’s demise — as some writers have done — on Junior is ludicrous.
Mike N.: One driver dominating the sport can’t be good. But the way they have it set up, it is easy for a team to do that.
Kyle: Well, if one just looks at the four DNFs, they may say slump. However, in his defense, three of those were at restrictor plate tracks and the other was at Darlington. He has only spent one week outside of the Chase, and that was after he DNF’d at Daytona to the start the season.
Phil: That’s the only week he’s spent out of the Chase spots since 2004. They’ve put themselves in contention to win a bunch in this postseason, too. They were going on and on Saturday that if you’re good at Richmond, you’re probably good at New Hampshire. I debate whether that’s true or not, though.
Garrett: Well, to finish this topic off: Martin is the biggest surprise to miss and Harvick is the biggest surprise to make it.

Is there a favorite that stands out to you among the current field, and why? Or should we believe what the drivers say, that this is “the most wide open Chase we’ve had in years.”

Garrett: I, for one, am buying into the hype. I really believe this will be the year Johnson finally loses one. But it won’t be to Hamlin.
Summer: I’m not betting against Johnson — I’m not that dumb, though there are several drivers that could make a legitimate run at it.
Phil: No one really stands out. However, Hamlin does have six wins this year, and that’s a pretty good total these days.
Amy: I think that it is wide open this year. I see four or five guys who could easily win it if they stay on their game.
Kyle: Clint Bowyer … now that you’re down laughing, I’m going to say it’s between Johnson, Hamlin, and Harvick. The engine failure for Hamlin at Atlanta two weeks ago concerns me a bit, but they are the solid three drivers that I would feel comfortable betting on.
Jeff: Carl has been extremely consistent the last month and a half.
Mike N.: Jimmie Johnson hasn’t lost a Chase in four years, and I don’t see him losing this one. They admittedly tried things all summer and when they started focusing again, they scored top 5s. It will be the same this year as it has been the last four.
Amy: I think at this point, the favorite is Harvick. I think consistency, not a gajillion victories, will win this year.
Summer: I also don’t buy all this “Someone is going to win the Chase without winning a race” stuff. Not going to happen.
Amy: But winning it with just one win is a very real possibility.

It’s Chase time, which means the cream rises to the top … and suddenly, the No. 48 finds itself running up front once again after a summer slump. Can it last?

Jeff: They said JJ wouldn’t win four in a row too, Summer. If Carl can keep that consistency up, he may not have to win a race to be champion.
Garrett: I think the favorites, besides Johnson, should be Harvick and Edwards.
Mike N.: Jimmie Johnson will win with 10 wins for the year.
Phil: It’s possible to win this stupidity without winning a race, or by winning a minimal amount. The only way it wouldn’t be is if wins were worth 300 points or so.
Summer: Carl has come close enough of late, and he’ll probably win one here in the next few weeks, but he won’t win the Chase without doing so – especially with so many that already have several bonus points more than him.
Garrett: Summer, what if Carl had 10 top 5s with no wins? Or any driver for that matter.
Summer: He’s still going to have to beat the drivers that already have 30, 50, or 60 bonus points who will most likely be right up there with him.
Kyle: Tony Stewart won the Chase in 2005 without any wins in the last 10 races. It can be done.
Mike N.: Bonus points are so ridiculous. If one of the “bottom dwellers” finishes two spots ahead of Hamlin every race in the Chase, the lead is eliminated. The bonus points are a joke.
Amy: The Chase is a joke.
Mike N.: Well yeah, but that is a whole other story.
Kyle: NASCAR can keep spreading this BS about winning being important if they want, but I think the theory of “consistency winning championships” would still apply in the Chase world.
Jeff: Hey, let’s ask Brian who he wants the champion to be … what does the official script say?

Mike N.: The official script says Junior, but that is blown out of the water.
Amy: The official script? Probably Kyle Busch, the way the broadcasters drool over him.
Summer: OK, I think it’s been well established that no one likes the Chase. This is becoming as redundant as the Nationwide discussions.
Mike N.: Just wait until the Nationwide Series gets a Chase, Summer.
Summer: Oh dear.
Kyle: I like how they want to move to an elimination-style format. This is after NASCAR said they wanted to get the older fans back. The older fans hate the Chase, so let’s make it worse! Yeah, that is a hell of a good idea! Sorry, Heluva! Good idea.
Mike N.: If they’re going to do that, they should just make the winner at Homestead the champion and call it a season.
Garrett: As unpopular as the Chase is, NASCAR’s best bet is to leave the Chase alone, because we all know it will never go back to the old system.
Jeff: You are already eliminated mathematically anyway, so I can’t believe that they are actually considering such a thing.
Garrett: And anything new will drive away more fans.
Summer: As far as the actual question, it’s hard to bet against Johnson, although I think Hamlin and Busch will give him quite a run.
Kyle: Kyle Busch? I don’t think he is mature enough yet. And his brother isn’t consistent enough.
Summer: I think Kyle will make a run at it, but I don’t think he will win it. His “checkers or wreckers” mindset will prevent him from dominating a points system based on inconsistency. If Kyle goes on one of his stretches like he has in the past, and he’s shown signs of doing that, I think he can. But Kyle has these patterns of having several good weeks and then several OK-to-bad weeks.

Amy: I think Kurt has a real shot and this year if he wins, it will be legit. I also think Harvick will contend right up through Homestead.
Garrett: I am seeing a pattern with Steve Addington, though. He isn’t as good down the stretch.
Mike N.: Kurt has a shot, but I just don’t think Dodge can win it when they’re on their own island. As for Kyle, he’ll be in contention if he’s able to stay in touch with the leaders through the first five Chase races. If he has trouble in a couple of those first five, he’ll be done.
Kyle: I don’t even see Kyle Busch making a run at it. I’d say he and his brother will both be outside of the top 5.
Summer: Sorry, I don’t see Kurt coming anywhere close to the championship. And I’m starting to doubt how well Gordon will fare. I keep saying he has to win eventually, and it’s not happening yet.
Mike N.: Remember, Kurt has done it before — and beat Johnson in doing it.
Kyle: The fact that Dodge only has three teams really hurts them when they try to compete with Toyota or Chevy, who have over a dozen teams each.
Mike N.: Like I’ve said, I think Johnson is going to win. There will be one or two other drivers in contention at Homestead at the most. It may be all but over by then.
Phil: Talladega is definitely going to play a role in this Chase. With all the concerns about points, that might end up being a repeat of last year. You remember the ranting back then, right?
Garrett: Kyle, I believe you were joking earlier about Bowyer being a favorite, but he very well could be a darkhorse. He has come close before.

Kyle: Yeah, I was. I predicted him to finish the season 10th in the media poll. I got Harvick winning the thing, by the way, in said poll. I still think if he keeps the consistency he has had this year, he’s got it all but locked up.
Summer: I think Bowyer will finish sixth-eighth. I don’t see him as much of an actual championship contender.
Phil: I agree with Summer on Bowyer. He might do exactly what he did a couple of years ago: Squeak in, win in New Hampshire, and finish about fifth.
Mike N.: Don’t count out Greg Biffle. He’s won a race this year and he’s good at the last couple of tracks in the Chase. If he can be close heading to Phoenix, he’ll have a shot.
Summer: I think Biffle is a better darkhorse pick than Bowyer.
Garrett: Harvick and Edwards should be the biggest threat for Johnson’s five-peat.
Jeff: Maybe JJ has just been toying with everyone. NASCAR told them to, just to spice it up.
Mike N.: He has been, Jeff. They admitted that they’ve been experimenting all summer. They’re going to come out strong and not look back.
Amy: I think JJ went looking for his horseshoe and got his head stuck with the way he’s been driving lately. But really, the No. 48’s pit work has not been championship caliber, and that will kill them.
Phil: Like when they cost Johnson a lap at Indy?
Garrett: Johnson just needs to stay away from Montoya.

A lot of fans are sick of the Chase, to the point they don’t even want us discussing the championship. OK then, give us the most compelling storyline over the next 10 weeks that doesn’t include any of the 12 Chase drivers.

Garrett: Good question. How about Dale Jr. and his future with Hendrick?
Phil: Ok, try this on for size: Earnhardt Ganassi. How are they going to crash the party?
Mike N.: I’m with Phil. Will Montoya or McMurray finish 13th or will Newman beat them out? And will Lance McGrew still be on the pit box by Homestead?
Summer: How can anyone but Dale Jr. be something interesting to talk about outside the Chase? But I’ll agree on EGR. I’ve enjoyed the McMurray story this season.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray have been darkhorse Cup contenders every other week, it seems … when they’re not taking each other out.

Amy: I think it’s the continuing decline of the Nationwide Series and NASCAR’s adamant refusal to do anything about it. Again, one driver doesn’t make or break the sport, but an entire series might.
Garrett: I’m also curious about Marcos Ambrose and his final 10 races. Might he bolt earlier to RPM? Would Kahne go to Red Bull early?
Mike N.: That would be interesting, Garrett, but I don’t think Kasey is going to leave early.
Phil: Me too, Garrett. Especially after Marcos slipped up during that painful interview with Jamie Little on Saturday.
Garrett: Yeah, Phil. That really grabbed my attention.
Summer: I don’t think anyone is going to leave early.
Mike N.: I missed the slip up. What did Marcos say?
Phil: He said that he was having second thoughts about leaving JTG-Daugherty Racing. They’re finally getting into a groove.
Mike N.: Interesting. I must have been mesmerized by Jamie’s fascinating interviewing style.
Phil: Jamie’s interviewing style was substandard on Saturday. I ripped her in my critique.
Summer: I remember seeing the reaction to it on Twitter.
Jeff: Here’s a storyline: Is Dale Jr. more relieved now that his biggest secret — his talent, or lack thereof — is finally out?
Kyle: Jeff, he has talent. The dude has won 18 races.
Phil: He just doesn’t have confidence.
Kyle: He doesn’t have confidence and he doesn’t have Pops.
Amy: This kind of cracked me up: NASCAR is rethinking not letting Cup guys get NNS championship points because, well, how would fans react if a Cup guy would have won but didn’t? Um … and that wasn’t a problem when they implemented the stupid Chase?
Garrett: Another storyline I will be interested in is also in the Nationwide Series. Ricky Stenhouse seems to be slowly turning it around. The new car may be the best thing for him.

Kyle: What I want to know is when the Cup Series can have that new Nationwide Series car. That thing looks hawt!
Amy: Hopefully never, Kyle. Cup cars were never meant to be Pony cars.
Mike N.: Yeah, but Cup cars were meant to be stock cars, not spec cars.

Amy: True, but why bastardize them even more?
Summer: Well, I think what people want is for the cars to look more like the manufacturer’s product — like the NNS cars do now.
Kyle: I want the Pony cars in Cup ASAP. At least you can take all the decals off of the NNS cars and still tell what manufacturer they are.
Mike N.: Make them look like cars that roll off of the assembly line. Screw how hard they are to tech. Get them back to some brand identification.
Amy: In that case, NASCAR needs to do that with the Cup models, not bring the Pony cars into the series.
Mike N.: I miss the days when the teams would beg and plead for more spoiler and eventually NASCAR would cave in.
Kyle: Let’s go back to the days when you drove the car you raced to the track. You want to cut expenses? There you go.
Mike N.: Might want to do a little modification for roll cages there, Kyle.
Amy: I think the feel-good story thus far has been the resurrected career of Jamie McMurray.
Summer: Amy, I agree. That’s been my favorite story to follow this season.
Mike N.: Jamie Mac still needs to be more consistent, but he’s certainly had an entertaining year.
Kyle: I would agree. It was awesome seeing him winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard this year. He’s a good guy, and sometimes they do finish first.
Summer: I wouldn’t bet against McMurray possibly winning a couple more races this season, especially with Talladega in the mix. I personally will enjoy watching the McMurray story the rest of the season. He’s my pick for 13th.
Amy: I still think the biggest deal is the Nationwide Series, and not in a good way.

Kyle: The Truck Series and Nationwide Series both are the biggest stories, I think. The story is: “Which one dies first?”
Phil: True. Who’s going to be around next year with the new car full-time and a 20 percent cut in purses? You can’t kick the Cup drivers out with those rules.
Amy: Sure you can, Phil. You’d have more real NNS teams come in if they thought they could actually compete.
Mike N.: They’re going to be bringing in some real crap drivers to fill out Nationwide fields next year. They’re not going to build a fleet of cars to run for 28 percent less than they were two years ago.
Jeff: I think the Cup Series is in more trouble than people know.
Amy: I agree, Jeff, but a big part of that comes from the crumbling foundation that was once the development series.

Mike N.: Jeff is right, the Cup Series is in trouble, too, but people won’t realize it until we have a race without a full field.
Kyle: We’ve come pretty close to that, Mike. There’s been a few times where only two or three cars went home. Eventually, those cars won’t even come … and then what is NASCAR going to do?
Summer: Is a smaller field really that bad? It might even be in NASCAR’s best interest to make the fields smaller altogether.
Mike N.: With Front Row losing a car next year and Penske struggling for sponsorship for Hornish, there are only going to be, like, 28 fully-sponsored teams for next year. They’re really going to be hurting to fill fields.
Amy: I agree, but only if they ditch the stupid top 35 rule.
Summer: Well if they made smaller fields, they’d probably make “35” a smaller number, too.
Mike N.: If they don’t have a 43-car field, Summer, they lose television revenue.
Phil: It’s just like what it was with Champ Car and an 18-car field. They lost a bunch of money from promoters the last couple of years.
Summer: What if they just make that the standard? Couldn’t that be more of a long-term thing?
Mike N.: I’m pretty sure the television contract stipulates a 43-car field. On a separate note, I’m not sure Junior’s continued struggles are even going to be of interest going down the stretch. I think the ability of some non-Chasers to contend for wins could be intriguing.
Phil: I wouldn’t mind someone pulling a Nemechek at Kansas.

Summer: Mike, I honestly think people are sick of hearing about Junior — even Junior fans.
Kyle: Junior’s struggles are now old news. If he ever gets back to firing off a win or two a season, then he’ll be back to the headlines. He’ll hit rock bottom eventually and tell Hendrick to do whatever he damn well pleases with the team. Or maybe it will get so bad that Tony Sr. will have no choice but to come back.

Richmond completed the three-race test of the new Nationwide CoT. What are your thoughts on the competition it produced, and are there any changes you’d suggest before the series rolls out the car full-time beginning in February 2011?

Amy: Yeah, ditch it at least until 2012.
Summer: I wish they’d do that more often. Allow the teams a test session a few days before the race. If you’re going to eliminate testing, at least give them an extra day.
Phil: Well, the competition is not half bad with it. You don’t have the same problems that the Cup CoT rollout did (at least, I don’t think you do).
Garrett: I loved it at Daytona and Michigan. However, I think it needs some work for the short tracks.
Amy: I mean, the new cars look nice, but yeah, let’s find one more way to screw the smaller teams.
Phil: You guys remember those tire dusting problems in 2007, right?
Mike N.: Yes I do, Phillip.
Kyle: I’m happy with the car, both the way it looks and the way it performed. I think they should have taken it to more races this year. The drivers seem to be happy with it in the early going, so about the only suggestion I have is to make sure that NASCAR makes changes to fit the drivers’ concerns. Don’t be stubborn and wait three years to make a change like they did in the Cup Series.
Amy: Kyle, that would have killed some of the teams.
Kyle: Well, do we really need the second-rate teams? I mean, if they can’t afford to build a car then they need to go somewhere else.
Amy: Kyle, if you knew the guys on those teams you’d feel differently.
Mike N.: Most of the teams used the same car in all three races. How would it have killed them?
Amy: Because if some of them had wrecked it, Mike, they didn’t have another one.

Those new Nationwide cars may look pretty spiffy, but will everyone in the garage be able to afford to build them for 2011?

Mike N.: So now they are going to build 20 cars over the Christmas break?
Kyle: A lot of these teams only have one or two of the current cars. It really doesn’t put them in much different of a situation with a wrecked car. They would have had to buy new cars eventually.
Amy: That’s pretty sad. It’s not just about the money, Kyle. Racing was built on the independent teams’ backs.
Garrett: But you have to face the fact that NASCAR is moving away from what it was built on.
Mike N.: Yeah, and it was built on short tracks, too. Unfortunately, that isn’t how stock car racing works anymore.
Amy: There are some drivers driving those cars that would take some of these young drivers to school if they had equal equipment.
Kyle: I didn’t say it was all about the money, but you have to face reality; without money, we don’t have NASCAR.
Amy: And without fans, you don’t have money. Driving off the real NNS teams will only drive off more fans.
Mike N.: Well, they’re already running out of fans. How many Braun Racing fans are there, really?
Garrett: I have really changed my stance on the NW series. They have still been doing OK through the economy. I mean, they aren’t dropping off like Cup, ratings-wise.
Amy: I can only speak for myself, I suppose, but when they run my driver out of there next year, I will not put a penny into that series, nor will it get a favorable word about it from me.
Phil: They’ve actually gained a little this year.
Mike N.: Yes they have, Phil, and a big part of that is the Cup guys — whether people want to admit it or not.
Amy: A bigger part is Danica. The ratings in her first couple of races have carried that boost.
Garrett: Dana-who? I really believe it’s because of the amount of Cup drivers in the race. That, along with some people enjoying shorter races.
Kyle: What the hell is a Danica? Never heard of her … she have a color TV?
Phil: I don’t think Danica plays as much of a role with Nationwide ratings as people think she does. However, her appearance did lead to record ratings for ARCA in February.
Amy: I know people who used to go to NNS races more than Cup races when they had their own drivers and identity … not anymore.
Summer: Yeah, well I bet a lot of those fans in the stands like having the Cup drivers there. And those tuning in, too.
Amy: Then those fans need to get informed, and NASCAR has done a piss-poor job of informing them.
Mike N.: Inform them of what, Amy?
Amy: Who the real NNS teams and drivers are — you know, actually market the series as its own entity and not a playground for the rich Cup boys to take over?
Phil: I hear ORP Nationwide tickets were $52. Road America was $50 in advance, $75 day of. I wouldn’t pay $75 for a Nationwide race, I’m putting that out there right now.
Amy: I don’t think I’d pay to see a NNS race at all.
Summer: I would pay $75 for a NNS race if the track didn’t have a Cup date.
Mike N.: The Nationwide Series used to be a development series. Unfortunately, there isn’t a need for development right now. Once Bobby Labonte leaves the sport, there won’t be any more seats to fill for probably five years. What good does it do to develop drivers when there isn’t a seat for them to move into?
Amy: Because in five years, they might actually be ready to move up.
Mike N.: There isn’t an owner out there who will spend five years developing a driver besides Richard Childress. And that is what he’s doing with Austin to move into Jeff Burton’s seat.
Kyle: The Nationwide Series is where the Cup drivers have fun and the has-beens and never-will-bes race.
Amy: Kyle, that’s the most shortsighted statement I’ve ever heard.
Kyle: Unless your daddy has money or someone owes him a favor… you’re not getting into the series. Justin Allgaier is really the only driver that would have a legitimate shot at making it — and even that could be up in the air now.
Garrett: I like Trevor Bayne. I think he could do something in Cup.
Mike N.: Coleman Pressley and Trevor Bayne will make it someday. Tayler Malsam also might be able to fill a seat.
Amy: Only if you are looking at Cup as making it, Kyle. And that’s the problem. Some drivers, by choice, have made a career of NNS. Cup isn’t the only measure of success.
Kyle: Yes, I do. The NNS and NCWTS don’t pay well enough to be “making it.”
Amy: And that’s a huge problem. They should be paying enough, but Cup is not the only measure of success in racing.
Mike N.: It is in stock car racing. And if they’ve chosen to make the Nationwide Series a career, they’re taking a development seat away from an “up and coming” driver.
Amy: That’s a load of crap.
Kyle: If your goal is to race full-time in the Nationwide Series and not the Cup Series, get the hell off the track.
Amy: You know what … that’s not worth my comment back.
Jeff: What’s that smell? Oh, it’s Amy’s hair burning.
Kyle: That’s basically what you’re saying, though. How many kids go, “Man, I wish I could race in the Nationwide Series one day.” Yes, any national series takes talent, but the Cup Series is the pinnacle of auto racing and it’s “where it’s at.”
Mike N.: Who makes a career out of racing Indy Lights or 360 Sprints? You make it when you’re a full-time driver in the top series. If you don’t make it to the top rung, then you haven’t achieved maximum success.
Amy: No, but things change, Kyle. Careers change. Jason Keller is every bit the driver that a lot of Cup guys are. So are some other NNS drivers.
Mike N.: Aside from Jason Keller and Randy LaJoie, I don’t know if anyone else who has intentionally made a career of the Nationwide Series. And both of them realize that they’re going to be making a lot less money and driving inferior equipment.
Amy: Maybe not intentionally, but that’s where they end up and I promise you, they deserve to be there more than half the drivers that are.
Kyle: Obviously they don’t, otherwise they would be there.

Phil: Keller’s last Cup start was Richmond in May, 2003, but that was under far from ideal circumstances.
Amy: It’s too bad that so many don’t have a clue about what that series used to be. It used to be its own series. It used to be fun.
Summer: I still enjoy watching NNS races, and I know a lot of people still do.
Mike N.: But that isn’t how it works, Amy. There are drivers trying to move up to Cup and there are drivers on their way down. There are also a handful who drive for fun, and they don’t expect anything but to race.
Garrett: I will say this about Nationwide: The reason it got my attention was because of Cup guys running it, but then I learned about guys like Jeff Green, Todd Bodine, and LaJoie.
Amy: I wish I could say that I still enjoyed watching it, but once my driver gets run out like the rest of the real NNS teams, I won’t watch any more unless it’s for race coverage, not for fun. Not ever again.
Mike N.: Did you quit watching Cup when your driver was run out, Amy?
Amy: No, because my driver is one hell of a NNS driver. I thought it would be fun again.
Summer: Oh hey, I’m not saying I don’t love seeing the NNS regulars do well, but I know we wouldn’t have near the viewership we have now without Cup drivers in it.
Amy: In Cup, I’m fine with it. In NNS, I’m sick of the egos and the greed.
Mike N.: What greed is there in Nationwide racing? They don’t pay for crap as it is.
Amy: The greed the Cup guys show, Mike.
Mike N.: How many of the Cup guys even get a paycheck for running a Nationwide race?
Amy: It’s the greed for taking the championship, the sponsors, the good rides … they “greeded” the independent NNS teams right out of the sport.
Summer: We have a Chase question and instead we talk about how bad the Chase is. We have a Nationwide question and instead we talk about what’s wrong with the series. So I guess next we’re going to have a qualifying question and talk about how bad top 35 is? What was the original question?
Kyle: The original question was: Richmond completed the three-race test of the new Nationwide CoT. What are your thoughts on the competition it produced, and are there any changes you’d suggest before the series rolls out the car full-time beginning in February 2011?
Summer: I like the new car. A lot.
Amy: Yes, and I said that rolling out the new car and cutting purses is strapping the real NNS teams.
Garrett: Overall, I am pretty happy with the new car.
Kyle: Then we went on this wonderful journey to a Nationwide paradise.
Amy: I’d be fine with it if they were much less expensive, but they aren’t.
Kyle: The bad economy hit and the sponsors get more bang for their buck in the Cup Series. Money is tight.
Mike N.: They need to get the cars into the series. I don’t care when they try and do it; the owners will bitch it is expensive. They just need to get it over with.
Phil: Saving money on new cars is what the IndyCar Series is trying to do with their new car for 2012. NASCAR simply increased it.
Kyle: It makes sense to NASCAR, Phil. They must have some drunk economists or something, their logic almost never makes sense. “Let’s help teams save money by making the cars more expensive and cutting race purses!”

OK, predictions for Loudon?

Amy: I’m going with Kurt Busch.
Summer: Tony Stewart.
Garrett: Jimmie Johnson.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Mike N.: Put me down for Denny Hamlin.
Kyle: I want Jimmie Johnson.
Phil: I’m going with Bowyer.

Email the Mirror Guys ‘N’ Gals!
Contact Amy Henderson
Contact Garrett Horton
Contact Kyle Ocker
Contact Mike Neff
Contact Phil Allaway
Contact Summer Dreyer

Wednesday on the Frontstretch:
FREE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER! SENT RIGHT TO YOUR EMAIL INBOX! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP
Did You Notice? Bad Times In NASCAR’s Big Apple, The Cost Of Brand Exclusivity And Chase Cinderella: 2010
Beyond The Cockpit: Kenny Wallace Worries About The Future Of Nationwide Independents
A Trio Of Favorites: Why This Chase Is Not As Close As You’re Being Told
Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Top 15 After Richmond
Top Ten Reasons People With No Sense Of Humor Write In And Complain About These Lists
Frontstretch Foto Funnies! Richmond, September 2010
Carey And Coffey: That Ever-Changing Chase Feeling

Mirror Predictions 2010

Welcome to our fourth 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 twenty-six races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 38 22 2 10 16
Amy Henderson 38 26 3 10 18
Beth Lunkenheimer 23 -15 18 1 9 11
Summer Dreyer 21 -17 16 1 7 10
Jeff Meyer 16 -22 16 0 6 10
Mike Neff 9 -29 12 1 3 5
Matt Taliaferro 4 -34 4 1 1 2
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -34 3 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 4 -34 4 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 2 -36 3 0 1 2
Garrett Horton 0 -38 5 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -38 3 0 0 0
Kurt Smith 0 -38 5 0 1 1
Toni Montgomery 0 -38 1 0 0 0
Kyle Ocker 1 -37 2 0 0 1

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?
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Michael in SoCal
09/15/2010 12:39 PM
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Jeff: You are already eliminated mathematically anyway, so I can’t believe that they are actually considering such a thing. — Thank you for stating that. There already is elimination in the Chase! What I think the Chase needs though is it’s own points system, since they’re theoretically racing only the other Chase drivers, score them 12 – 1, with a bonus if one of them wins a race. That would make it really interesting.

As for the new NNS car – whenever they introduce it it’s going to cost money, but why introduce it the year NASCAR announces a 20% purse reduction? Why can’t NASCAR just take in less money with their fees? Good looking cars though, at least the front half of them. I’m not sold on the notched spoilers though.

And why not limit any Cup driver to half the NNS season? A car could still have two Cup drivers for the season, but with any Cup guy driving only half the season, I don’t think they’d be a threat for the NNS Driver’s Championship. The owners championship would be a different story, but at least the NNS regulars would be racing for their championship.

Just my two cents…

Carl D.
09/15/2010 04:01 PM
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Amy: I mean, the new cars look nice, but yeah, let’s find one more way to screw the smaller teams.

Amy, if I didn’t know you were being sarcastic, I’d swear your last name was France.

Razz
09/15/2010 05:58 PM
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Top 3 Cup contenders, IMO: Harvick, Kurt Busch, and (though I hate to say it) Johnson. 3 with a real shot are Kyle, Carl and Clint (yes, Clint Bowyer). One DNF in the last 10 effectively eliminates a driver, and it takes 7 or more top 10s to really be in the hunt.

As for Nationwide – I’d be more interested if the Cup drivers weren’t there. I’d suggest something lie this: any driver with more than 36 Cup starts at the beginning of the season is ineligible to run Nationwide if they run in more than 2 Cup races that year.

M.B.Voelker
09/15/2010 08:10 PM
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Logic: If fans really wanted to see a series full of low-budget teams running inexperienced drivers they’d never heard of with no Cup driver presence then ARCA and the USAR series would be the #1 draws each weekend.

The Nationwide series is the #2 racing series in the US. Why do you think it should be reserved for underfunded dreamers?

Its really cool when, once in a blue moon, a David Gilliland comes along and wins a race. But underfunded semi-pros and their dreams don’t make a national racing series with a prime TV contract.

You Frontstretch writers go on and on and on and on about Nascar wrecking traditions then turn around and advocate breaking the oldest tradition in racing, the one that most clearly distinguishes racing from other sports, …

The tradition that anyone who can present a legal car at inspection and make the field on time has the right to compete in the event.

You are a pack of hypocrites.

Brooks
09/16/2010 12:34 PM
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Check out on youtube the 1997 busch series race at south boston. Now that is the busch series used to be like, with no cup drivers in this race and great short-track racing, and lots of stars at the time in the series. I wish the Busch/Nationwide Series would be like this again, but i’m afraid that will never happen.

Steve
09/16/2010 01:20 PM
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“Logic: If fans really wanted to see a series full of low-budget teams running inexperienced drivers they’d never heard of with no Cup driver presence……” Funny how this series used to do just fine without the Cup regulars 10-20 years ago. Now the series apparently will die if the Cup guys are not in the races. My bet is that the series will die with the Cup regulars. Its all about money in Brian France’s Big Top, which Nascar is hurting for. If he thinks he will make more money with Cup guys in the shows, there will not be any changes made. I’m still waiting for that announcement about reducing or eliminating Cup guys from the series like they have been “ discussing”. I’m sure I will be waiting a while.

Dave
09/17/2010 12:05 AM
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Uh, 3 race nationwide COT test? They still are going to run it in Charlotte this fall too. 4 races this year.. then full time next year.

rear car mirror
09/17/2010 06:42 AM
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