Frontstretch Staff · Tuesday March 1, 2011
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)
Summer Dreyer (Tuesdays / Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays / Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays / Top 15 & Wednesdays / Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays / Top Ten & Thursdays / Voices From The Heartland)
Phoenix was the second race with the new points system, and it began and ended with several drivers having to climb out of a points hole. Considering the number of early cautions at Phoenix, is the new points system going to make the racing better or is it already making drivers too aggressive early on?
Beth: Too aggressive? Really?
Summer: Yeah… Seriously.
Mike N.: I think the opposite is going to be true. I think they’re going to be more conservative because a bad day is so much worse now than with the old system.
Beth: Weren’t we all complaining last year that they’d follow each other around until the last 50 laps or so and then the real race would start? I’d rather see them race the whole race… otherwise, what’s the point in even running a 500-mile event?
Summer: Exactly, Beth. It’s much better to see them race the entire time. I have no problem with them racing hard early on.
Jeff: I still say it’s essentially the same system, just on a lower scale.
Mike N.: It isn’t exactly the same Jeff. Last place used to be 17% of the points of the race winner. Now it is 2%.
Phil: I agree with Mike, crashes hurt you more now.
Amy: I think it’s too early to tell. Plus, a lot of those wrecks weren’t caused by drivers being too aggressive. I do think Kenseth could have cooled it when he caused that 13-car pileup, but that’s about it.
Beth: Kenseth didn’t cause that wreck… Vickers was already loose. But that’s beside the point.
Mike N.: I though Kenseth gave him room. It was the flat tire that caused the big wreck.
Amy: How much room did Kenseth give him? He was about a foot off the wall.
Mike N.: That is substantial.
Amy: That’s big, Mike, I agree.
Phil: As for whether the system will lead people to be more aggressive, it might be dependent on the tracks.
Mike N.: I think he was about two feet off of the wall, which is a lot when you’re going side-by-side out of two at Phoenix.
Amy: I think they will have to be aggressive if they get down in points. No other way to get back. Consistency won’t cut it if you lose 25-30 points.
Phil: Also, penalties will hurt more. I mentioned in my critique this week that the 25 point penalty given to the No. 15 for Vision Aviation Racing was equal to a 100-point penalty in the old system. I don’t think the penalty got a lot of buzz because people are still used to the old system. That’s huge.
Beth: Exactly, Phil. Regardless of the points system, there will be drivers that are stuck climbing out of a hole. But worrying whether it’ll cause early aggression is just silly.
Mike N.: I think that is what NASCAR was going for, Phil. John Darby said during the Media Tour that he was going to make points penalties have the same effect in the new system vs. the old.
Summer: Yeah, I kind of glazed over it when I read the press release. Then I looked again.
Amy: Anyways, there is a fine line here. Being too aggressive can cost points if you’re not careful. I think it will make for some good racing, especially this summer.
Mike N.: I think they’re going to realize that averaging a 10th-place finish is going to put you in contention for a title.
Phil: It’ll put you in contention, but it might not necessarily get you there. It might get you 4th or so, depending on how many DNF’s everyone else has.
Mike N.: Unfortunately, a couple of the top contenders have already used up their bad finishes and are now going to have to work even harder to be up front the rest of the races.
Amy: Exactly. Get wrecked just once and you need wins to get back to where top 10’s will cut it.
Beth: There’s no question it’s a fine line, Amy. But questioning whether it’ll make drivers too aggressive too early is just silly. With any amount of good luck, the points system will improve the product on the track and turn NASCAR in the right direction for once.
Mike N.: We’ll have to see where it shakes out but I bet, if you finish an average of 10th you’ll make the Chase. Then it is up to you to win it from there.
Beth: And don’t forget you’ve still got the two drivers that’ll be added into the Chase field based on wins, so that helps to take care of the risk in getting DNF’s.
Amy: Several top 5’s isn’t a walk in the park. And they will have to seriously RACE for them…which will make the racing better. I think it will be an overall positive as to the quality of the races.
Jeff: Look, the cream will always rise to the top, no matter what system you use. I don’t see nor expect racing much different than before.
Beth: And that’s a good thing. It’s what we’ve all been wishing for over the last couple of years, Amy.
Mike N.: I’ll have to see it to believe it. I think they’re going to race less because the penalty for racing hard is far greater than giving up a couple of spots.
Summer: Yeah but if you’re already in a deep hole, you’ll need to race aggressive to get out of it.
Amy: Of course it will, Jeff, but it’s nice to see them have to work a little harder to get there.
Mike N.: Of course, the wildcard that Beth brought up could be interesting. If a driver gets to three wins early in the season, they could really start experimenting knowing they’ll make it in with the wildcard option.
Beth: There’s no such thing as too early to race aggressively. It’s just what we’ve been wanting for the last few years, and if the points system is what pushes the drivers that direction, GREAT!
Phil: I don’t think anyone wants to have to depend on the wild card.
Amy: I still think for this system to really work, it’s time to dump the Chase. I hope when Sprint’s contract ends, they get a title sponsor with some sense.
Mike N.: We all agree the Chase needs to go away. We don’t need to bring that up again.
Amy: But overall, this is a positive. Certainly a great start to the season on the Cup side.
Phil: Maybe Sprint can be convinced to stay, but put their name on something else that doesn’t effect the championship.
Beth: No one wants to depend on a wild card in any sport Phil, but I’m sure Jamie McMurray wishes he would have had that chance last season.
Mike N.: I know no one wants to depend on one, but if a driver has three wins they’ll know they’re going to be in the Chase.
Phoenix will begin an extensive repaving process this week, which includes changes to the banking and the dogleg on the backstretch. But are these changes really necessary?
Amy: Absolutely not. I don’t even think the repave is necessary for a couple of years.
Mike N.: Nope.
Beth: Why bother? Sounds to me like a bunch of wasted money.
Summer: I heard the track had some seepage.
Amy: So does Fontana, Summer.
Beth: That’ll happen in heavy rains.
Mike N.: I’ll never understand why people have to mess with good things. But then again, Cup racing used to be the greatest sport in the world and they’ve totally screwed that up.
Amy: There is no reason to change the dogleg, either… it makes the drivers work hard.
Summer: Smoothing out the track rarely works very well. Check out Bristol and Darlington for examples.
Amy: No need for progressive banking or anything else. Repave if necessary, but the other changes are just a bad idea.
Summer: I’m not saying those tracks suck now, but racing is usually a lot more fun on rough surfaces.
Mike N.: I’m not going to judge the reconfigure until we see it in action, but I really don’t think there was anything wrong with the layout as it was.
Amy: The layout as it was was GREAT. Now, it’s taking a giant step towards being another cookie-cutter.
Summer: I kind of wish there was some way to fix the areas of the track that needed work without changing the complexion of the track as a whole.
Mike N.: I’ll disagree on Bristol. I think the racing there has been extensively better with the new surface and banking.
Amy: There was, Summer, they just chose not to do it.
Phil: The paving is most definitely necessary, if only to fix substandard drainage and so on and so forth. I don’t think we’ll benefit from a faster Nazareth (or alternatively, a bigger but flatter Concord).
Amy: Exactly…if they wanted Nazareth, they should have kept Nazareth.
Mike N.: Well yeah. And they could just run at Concord.
Amy: Would be more convenient.
Mike N.: Hell yeah, and probably a better show.
Amy: I think it’s a shame that so many unique tracks have been replaced. To take another one and make it like a bunch of others is the same thing, really.
Phil: That is true, Amy, but Phoenix would apparently still be unique as a result of this expensive renovation.
Mike N.: I would hope they’ll have SAFER barriers all of the way around at Phoenix when this is done. I don’t understand why every wall at every track isn’t a SAFER barrier.
Amy: But why change it at all? It races fine the way it is. Why spend the money there instead of on fixing tracks that actually need fixing?
Mike N.: I’m sure they aren’t going to admit that Kansas and Chicago need to be 7/8 of a mile.
Summer: They said they were aiming for multi-groove racing… I think they said two grooves was what they were looking for.
Mike N.: Which makes sense, Summer, because so much of Sunday’s race was single file.
Phil: It could be argued that if they repaved Phoenix, it would be a single groove track for a number of years.
Amy: Or is that fan-unfriendly? I don’t think ISC is friendly to unfans either.
Mike N.: It probably will be single groove for five or six years. I can’t believe that track was just repaved in 1990 while Daytona hadn’t been paved since 1978.
Beth: Which is exactly why they shouldn’t be doing it, Phil.
Summer: I just hope it works. I’d be all for multi-groove racing… But sometimes smooth surfaces make the racing suck, too.
Mike N.: I think it is a waste of money. I think they could have done some patching and bought another five to seven years before they had to repave. Either way, I don’t think they need to reconfigure at all.
Phil: Daytona likely needed to be repaved 12 years ago.
Mike N.: ISC is really trying hard to make Jimmie Johnson lose the title, aren’t they?
The IndyCar Series has made an interesting offer of $5 million to any driver from outside that sereis who can win their season finale at Las Vegas. The race falls on a Sunday following a Saturday night Cup race, so it’s doable, but will any Cup drivers bite?
Beth: Is it really worth it?
Mike N.: No.
Phil: I don’t think so. I’d like 5 million bones, though.
Amy: I think a few will.
Mike N.: The only way anyone could really justify it is if they’re in a Ganassi or Penske car.
Amy: They will be, Mike.
Mike N.: I don’t think either of those owners are going to put any of their drivers out there for that.
Summer: I think these people know the money is safe. Even if they do get a NASCAR/F1/etc. driver over there, what is really the likelihood that they’ll even contend for the victory?
Amy: According to the IRL, they will get cars from Penske or a Penske-like organization where they could immediately contend.
Phil: I’m thinking someone like Allmendinger might, depending on where he is in points at that time of year. Maybe someone from ALMS or Grand-Am.
Amy: There are a couple who would contend, for sure. Win is another story. I think you’ll see Robby Gordon do it.
Mike N.: I’d like to see Robby Gordon in Penske equipment.
Amy: And he could contend.
Summer: Does Danica count as a crossover? ;-)
Mike N.: No
Summer: Yes, that was a joke…
Amy: Robby Gordon is an exceptioal Indy Car driver.
Mike N.: Robby Gordon is an exceptional driver, period.
Amy: For some reason, he doesn’t run out of talent midrace as much over there. Ask any driver in Cup who has the best car control. Most will say Robby Gordon.
Jeff: How about Juablo?
Beth: I want to say I read somewhere that JPM pretty much ruled it out.
Phil: Montoya isn’t really interested in doing it, but he did find the idea interesting.
Mike N.: JPM did not sound very excited about going IndyCar racing when someone asked him about the Indy 500 bonus.
Amy: It’s also a chance for someone who says they want to try it – Jimmie Johnson or someone.
Jeff: If he did, I would bet on him. I think he would have the best chance.
Summer: I heard Kyle Busch and a couple others showed some interest… I don’t remember if they actually ruled it out or not, though.
Beth: Kyle Busch would be interesting in an IndyCar.
Summer: I was thinking the same thing. I might tune in for that…
Mike N.: I can’t imagine Joe Gibbs is going to let Kyle go run an IndyCar race if he’s top five in the Chase.
Amy: And a few might say now they won’t do it, but the allure may prove too strong… Tony Stewart.
Mike N.: I don’t think Stewart will do it because he doesn’t think he will have a legit chance to win.
Beth: It’s ultimately going to come to where they’re sitting in points come October.
Mike N.: That will be a big part of it, Beth.
Amy: I think it’s a cool idea, and I hope some of them DO bite. It’s a Sunday race after a Saturday night.
Beth: It wouldn’t surprise me to see someone who’s out of the championship battle give it a shot.
Mike N.: I’d like to see Scott Pruett go take their money.
Phil: My guess is that someone will take the bait. However, it will be someone from outside of NASCAR. My pick would probably be Simon Pagenaud, who currently races in ALMS.
Beth: And he definitely could, Mike.
Phil: Pruett is another possibilty. Hasn’t raced in open-wheel since 1999, though.
Mike N.: The ultimate would be to see Michael Schumacher come steal their money. Pruett can race anything, too.
Summer: Yeah, Phil that’s what I think… if anyone attempts the crossover, it will be someone outside of NASCAR.
Mike N.: Although I’ve never seen him on dirt.
Phil: Schumacher stealing the money. Not happening. He’ll be in South Korea that day.
Phil: Maybe his brother Ralf, if he feels like it.
Mike N.: Maybe, if he’s way out of the championship he might be out of a job by then.
Phil: You never know.
Amy: I kind of wish it wasn’t during the Chase and/or was on an offweek. It would be really fun to see guys like Busch of Johnson try it.
Beth: It might appeal to some drivers as the date approaches, but if they’ve got a legitimate shot at the championship, they won’t bother.
Mike N.: It is interesting to think about someone taking the chance and seeing a driver who doesn’t normally compete in open-wheel run one, but I really don’t think there will be much interest from the Cup series because they won’t have a chance to win.
Mike N.: Maybe Jason Leffler will take a shot.
Phil: We’ll get a taker here, but it won’t be a big Sprint Cup star. Leffler’s got experience in the series. Why not. Maybe Casey Mears.
Amy: How abou Mears? Very good open-wheel driver.
Summer: Casey would be interesting.
Mike N.: Casey would be a good storyline. But I’d rather see Rick Mears do it.
Phil: Mears raced in the series as a teammate to Al Unser Jr. in 2001 for Galles Racing. Speaking of Rick Mears, did you know that he called a Winston Cup race in the booth once?
Mike N.: I do believe I remember that. At Michigan?
Phil: Watkins Glen, 1986.
Mike N.: Ah, cool.
Summer: You recalled that from memory?
Phil: Found the whole race on YouTube yesterday.
Mike N.: Sweet!
Phil: I thought it was interesting.
Summer: Oh. Never mind.
Amy: Phil knows everything…
Mike N.: Couldn’t be worse than Bobby Unser calling a race.
With the new points rules in the Nationwide and truck series there are some new faces in the top ten in both series. Which of these will still be there when the season ends, and who will make an appearance in the top standings when all is said and done?
Summer: Uh… Wow. That’s a tough one.
Phil: I know a couple that won’t be there for a fact because they aren’t doing the full season.
Summer: Rarely do the points actually look the same way at the end of the year that they did at the beginning.
Mike N.: I think the better question is will A.J. Allmendinger make the Chase.
Beth: It’s really hard to say who’ll be around of those running full-time since we’re only two races in. It certainly is nice to see a rookie in the top 5 in Trucks, but you have to wonder when a lack of experience is going to catch up.
Phil: Nationwide is Sorenson, Stenhouse, Leffler, Patrick, Nemechek (tied for 4th), Almirola, Bliss, Allgaier, Kenny Wallace and Clements (tied for 9th).
Mike N.: I’d love to see Kenny Wallace be there at the end, and Joe Nemechek in Nationwide.
Amy: I agree. But there could be a couple who haven’t been there either before or in a while – Stenhouse and Kenny Wallace.
Mike N.: I don’t think the top 12 in Nationwide will change much. Sadler will get up there and Steven Wallace, probably. Jeremy Clements will probably slide along with Mike Bliss, and Danica is obviously out.
Amy: Nemechek certainly can hold up, but his equipment has to be good enough and that’s a question mark.
Phil: Stenhouse can definitely contend, as can Allgaier and Almirola. Clements might surprise some people and stay there for a while if he can get sponsors.
Mike N.: Stenhouse was really strong the second half of the year. He just figured out how to race in the middle of the season.
Amy: Patrick will drop out, of course, but good for her.
Mike N.: Trevor Bayne is 11th, you know.
Summer: Well Bayne has had a rough start. I would think he would get up there eventually.
Mike N.: I hope so, or he will have pissed away the greatest opportunity in the history of racing.
Amy: I think Bayne will get in. Steve Wallace and Brian Scott as well, and Sadler.
Phil: Truck Top-10: Crafton, Rogers, Whitt, Sauter, Peters, Dillon, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Papis, Paludo and Hornaday.
Mike N.: On the Truck side, I’ll be surprised to see Clay Rogers or Miguel Paludo still in there.
Phil: I can’t see Earnhardt staying up there since his equipment isn’t the best.
Beth: Agreed, Phil. Though RWR has been showing some slight improvement…
Summer: How about Cole Whitt in third?
Mike N.: Cole Whitt can wheel it. If he can minimize DNFs he’ll be there at the end.
Amy: Trucks, I do think will change. The Germain trucks are strong, just got off to a terrible start as wreck magnets.
Summer: I think the ThorSport guys will stuck around. At least one of them are usually up there in the top five.
Phil: We don’t know if Rogers is even doing the full season. Whitt will probably drop off, but finish 12th or so. Papis believes that he can win races.
Mike N.: Papis can win races. Like Montoya, it is just a matter of time.
Summer: I think Austin Dillon will stick around, too.
Phil: I think Piquet (currently 16th) could move into the Top-10 later on in the season.
Mike N.: I think Austin will win the title this year.
Beth: Austin Dillon will definitely be around come November. He learned A LOT last year and now has a teammate to work with in Joey Coulter.
Phil: Dillon is very strong. He’s probably got the best team in the series behind him.
Amy: I think Dillon is still a year away from the title. But he will be top five. I think it could be Matt Crafton’s year. He’s paid his dues. Timothy Peters looks ready to make a serious run, too.
Summer: I’ll agree with Amy here. Crafton is due for a breakout year.
Mike N.: Crafton always seems to shoot himself in the foot, though.
Beth: It’d be great for ThorSport, but you’re right Mike.
Phil: ThorSport is a team that exists completely separated from the NASCAR core. Success is likely very difficult to initially obtain for the team, but once they get it, they know what to do in order to keep it.
Phil: However, we cannot count out Todd Bodine and Germain Racing. Let’s hope they didn’t bite off too much with 4 teams.
Mike N.: It is sick to see that we’re two races into the season and, aside from Mikey’s big Daytona payday no one has made more than $56,000 this year in Trucks.
Phil: And no one eligible for the title has won more than $45,000.
Amy: I did wonder about that… plus two Cup teams on top of it is a lot for Germain to pay for.
Beth: That’s why there are so many start and park teams, Mike. It’s awful.
Mike N.: How can you even justify start and parking for that pittance of a purse?
Phil: Actually S&P doesn’t seem like its going to be that big a problem in the Trucks this year.
Mike N.: They had a good group show up at Phoenix.
Phil: They’ve had 40+ for the first two races. James Buescher missed the field. No one would have expected that.
Beth: They usually start off the season with healthy entry lists, but they’ll drop off as the season goes on.
Amy: That series seems fairly healthy for sure… much more so than NNS.
Mike N.: Well you can’t tell by the purses.
Phil: True, some of the tracks are stingy as heck with the money.
Beth: They definitely have some new teams that are trying to make it work, but the pitiful purses will force those teams out pretty quickly.
Mike N.: It is NASCAR’s fault, not the tracks. NASCAR can decide how much the purses are.
Phil: Hard to imagine that it wasn’t that long ago that tracks were literally trying to duck out of paying purses for Busch races (see Hickory travesty, 1986).
Amy: Well, let’s hope at least some of these meagerly-sponsored teams can make a run of it.
Beth: It’ll hinge on the amount of backing they get from sponsors. Though it definitely looks better than it has in a few years.
Amy: If I was a sponsor looking to break in, I’d go with trucks over NNS any day.
Phil: The first two races have been very interesting for all 3 of NASCAR’s “National” Series. I think the Trucks won’t be as predictable as Nationwide might be this year, but they’ll still both be worth watching (that is, if Kyle Busch doesn’t go flag-to-flag anymore).
Predictions for Las Vegas?
Amy: I think I’m going with Kurt Busch. He’s got a hot start to the season with the added incentive of kicking Kyle of the top of the standings in their own hometown… should be good for a great finish.
Summer: Jeff Gordon wins back-to-back.
Beth: Kyle Busch beats out big brother.
Jeff: Edwards avoids the Busches all together and takes home the victory.
Mike N.: OK, I was going to take Kyle but Beth beat me to it so I’ll take Jimmie Johnson again.
Phil: Well, I’m going to go off the board and take Juan Pablo Montoya. He’ll definitely want to avenge last year’s wreck. Also, brownie point to who can figure out which game show I just referenced.
Mike N.: Johnson has won four of the last six races there. That is pretty strong.
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