The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Dueling Towards The 500 And Qualifying Quandaries by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday February 20, 2013

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Mirror Driving: Dueling Towards The 500 And Qualifying Quandaries

Thomas Bowles · Wednesday February 20, 2013

 

Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, 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:

Jeff Wolfe (Frontstretch Fantasy Insider)
Kevin Rutherford (Frontstretch Nationwide Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)

Danica Patrick made history last Sunday, becoming the first female to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series. What impact, if any, will it have on her season and NASCAR as a whole?
Phil: Somewhere between bukpis and bupkis. While it is nice to win the pole at Daytona, it doesn’t really help her case for the rest of the season. There have been drivers who have had terrible years win the pole for the 500. Loy Allen, Jr. won the pole in 1994, then DNQ’d 12 times.
Kevin: That’s the exact stat I was actually going to point to, Phil! In terms of the season, it’s definitely a nice boost of confidence, but it’s still just one pole position at the beginning of the year. She’s still gotta perform in the actual race(s).
Jeff: I think it gives her a big boost of confidence that she can drive a fast car. How much impact she has will depend on her ability to stay consistent. I think she will have some good races, top 15s even, and some 30-something finishes.
Summer: Well, as far as her season, it won’t do anything for her. She won the pole at Daytona in Nationwide last year and it didn’t make much difference. However, as far as NASCAR, she’s been all over all the major news networks. That’s a big deal.
Kevin: Yep, it’s certainly had an impact on NASCAR. Whether or not you understand that it’s more about the car in terms of Daytona qualifying, most people outside the sport don’t know that, and first woman to win a pole is quite the intriguing story. I think that it is nothing but good for the sport.
Summer: Don’t get me wrong. It’s been kind of neat to have CNN on in the background, and all of a sudden NASCAR comes up. Until I listen to the anchors start acting like they know what NASCAR even is. “Can you believe it?! Danica Patrick is starting on the front row with Jeff — {looks down at notes} — Gordon!”
Kevin: I haven’t seen any of the media coverage from outlets without a solid footing in the sport. Is that really how it’s been going? That’s hilarious.
Phil: That’s almost everyone, unfortunately. I swear that on SportsCenter, only Lindsay Czarniak (out of the anchors) knows anything about NASCAR, and that’s because she was a pit reporter for a bunch of years.
Summer: I watched an interview on CNN with Don Lemon and I don’t think he asked her anything that was actually relevant to the race itself. It was all about “Oh, gosh, diversity! Oh, and you’re really pretty!”
Kevin: Somehow, I’m not surprised it was all about that.
Phil: And then you’ve got the whole relationship thing…
Summer: That’s true, but I don’t think any mainstream people have even asked about that. For being apparently such a mainstream figure, people don’t really seem to know much about her. Or care, for that matter. Oh, they might leer at her Sports Illustrated picture, but does anyone really think they read the articles?
Jeff: It’s easy for media to jump on the Danica-Ricky relationship because something like that almost never happens. So, it’s going to be an item for a while, but it will eventually die down.
Summer: I hope so, Jeff, though I doubt it. There are some “regular” wives and girlfriends that the media can’t seem to get over no matter how long they are together.
Kevin: Well, I think Danica will be solid during the Duel and the 500. Lead some laps, even. But I think she still has some to learn about restrictor plate racing. Then again, the rest of the field’s still learning a bit too, with the new car and such.
Phil: Honestly, qualifying at a plate track nmight be one of the few things in NASCAR that running in IndyCar can prep you for.
Summer: I was actually thinking the same thing, Phil. I’m not sure she could have been better prepared for that with her background. She’s shown enough prowess on restrictor plate tracks in the past that I think she has a shot at performing well.
Jeff: I’m not sure how she will do in the 500. I hope she does well, I really do but just watching her interviews, I get the impression she’s just looking to not cause trouble rather than try and go for the win.
Phil: Well, when this column runs, the Duels won’t have happened yet. Danica needs to draft with these cars and she hasn’t done it.
Summer: Well, qualifying doesn’t mean anything in terms of the race itself, let alone in the season as a whole. It will be a storyline until the next race.
Jeff: I think she will do better than most think this season, though. That’s because she is willing to listen and learn and doesn’t have a know-it-all attitude.
Kevin: Danica’s pole is a positive in terms of outside eyes focusing on NASCAR this Sunday, but it’s going to have little to do with the rest of her season. Nothing more than the fact that she’ll be in the Sprint Unlimited next year.
The Gen-6 race car received mixed reviews on Saturday night because of how the cars are (or aren’t) able to draft. How did you grade the race and what, if anything, does it tell us about what to expect in the upcoming Daytona 500?
Summer: I missed the tandem racing. I prefer that “hook up” type draft rather than this cookie-cutter one on steroids.
Phil: The race looked a lot like last year. Our Fearless Leader (Editor-In-Chief Tom Bowles) shares my sentiment. However, it was also something like 44 degrees outside. Won’t be like that for the rest of the week. The Duels and the 500 will be a little different.
Summer: But will the temperature really affect how the cars draft? Because I don’t see how that’s possible. And that’s where my issue with the race was, as well as with many others.
Phil: It will affect how the cars drive. The 500 won’t look like the Sprint Unlimited.
Jeff: I thought the racing was not that good. I think it will be better Sunday, with more drivers and the ones from the Unlimited learning a little more. I don’t think the Gen-6 car will help much on plate tracks or the short tracks. Hopefully it will help on the intermediates, where some races were hard to watch last year.
Summer: I didn’t think it was horribly boring. The last half-a-lap was actually OK. But the race as a whole was rather anti-climactic. I will be curious to see how the new car impacts intermediate races, but I’m not liking what it takes away from restrictor plates.
Kevin: See, I enjoyed it; I think it was a solid racing debut for the car. I’m happy that the cars were at least able to keep up with each other. That’s a personal liking at these races; I love that the cars get so bunched up.
Phil: It’s a more old-school style of restrictor plate racing. Stuff takes a little longer to develop and you can’t just hold back anymore.
Summer: If that’s the way it used to be, I’m glad it changed and I wish it would go back.
Jeff: I think the plate races will be better as they crew chiefs and engineers adjust.
Summer: Maybe. I hope that it was just a case of the drivers being cautious, but I doubt it.
Phil: I don’t really want tandem drafting for 500 miles back. That stuff was ridiculous.
Kevin: I wonder if the drivers were being a bit conservative during the Unlimited; after all, the practices did produce some wrecks and everyone’s still learning how the car runs. I’m not going to write it off completely until I see how they run at the Duels. Because that’s when you’re really gonna see them race, probably all race. So I’m looking to that, for sure.
Phil: I can buy cautiousness (and so can Bowles) at this point.
Summer: I think they’ll race a little more in the 500 than the Duels simply because the Duels are only about starting lineup. No points. And, as we all know, starting spots don’t matter as much even now.
Kevin: Well, yeah. But there will be more racing Thursday than Saturday, I think. Plus, some of those guys gotta race their way in, so there’s that. Though only two will go home this year.
Jeff: Yeah, with only two drivers going home Thursday, that will hurt the Duels I think. The 500 will really be the time where everybody shows us what they have.
Summer: I agree, Jeff, I think we’ll see bit more conservative driving in the Duels than arguably the Unlimited simply because it won’t mean much in terms of the race. I just hope the Daytona 500 is memorable for reasons other than the storied new car screwed it all up.
Kevin: I’m optimistic. I can’t really pinpoint exactly why, but I don’t think this 500 will be a dud by any means.
Jeff: I’m with Kevin. I think for some reason this 500 will be a good one.
Summer: My main concern is that the draft is so much different than before, and not in a good way. In my opinion, anyway. I know some people like it.
The Daytona 500 is unique in that they actually use the Budweiser Duels to decide all but the first two starting spots for the big race. However, with the loss of the top 35 rule and with fewer cars attempting to qualify, is this format still necessary?
Summer: I actually wish they did this format more often. It makes qualifying a lot more exciting.
Kevin: It’s never been necessary, I don’t think. But it’s always been unique and intriguing. It’s one of the reasons I look forward to the 500 as much as I do. This year, unfortunately, is going to limit its effect, what with only two cars going home. But I certainly wouldn’t want them to do away with it.
Jeff: The Duels are part of what makes Daytona unique. They don’t have to do it this way at other tracks. Also, just because they have a down year or two on entries doesn’t mean they should abandon this formula.
Summer: It’s not about the starting spots or the top 35 rule for me. It’s about the excitement of the races itself. Like I said, I wish they did something like that every week, or at least for more of the crown jewel races.
Phil: The Daytona 500 is just different from everything else. Wasn’t that long ago that we had 55 cars trying to get into the 500 (2007, I think).
Summer: I hope we can eventually get back to that, though it seems to be getting harder and harder for teams to show up.
Kevin: This format at other tracks would be a lot of fun. I’d personally enjoy it at short tracks like Bristol.
Summer: Or Richmond. Or Martinsville. That’d be great! And, honestly, more people would probably tune into qualifying than now.
Phil: Ditching the top-35 rule actually makes the format a little easier to understand.
Jeff: There’s no doubt that having eight or 10 guys trying to race their way into the 500 is more exciting.
Kevin: Yeah, once the entry list goes back up (assuming it does… I’m sure it will), I’m really going to enjoy the Duels.
Summer: And it gives those drivers more time in the spotlight, albeit a very stressful time. I agree with you guys that it adds to the “prestige” of the race. To take it away would be a disservice. It’s not Speedweeks without the Duels.
Jeff: I think the duels are important too to help drivers and crew chiefs get new information, and for pit crews to get in the swing of things. If you are new to a team, then it just helps the learning curve, you know? Plus, if you are a fan who can make it down there, it is a great excuse to go down a few days early.
Summer: I think NASCAR should continue running it even if less than 43 cars show up to qualify. It’s just tradition and it’s fun to watch! Which I hope they never have a less than 43-car field… but that’s beside the point.
Phil: For example, the Duels are crucial for Danica Patrick this week. It’s important training with the new Gen-6 Chevrolet SS for her.
Summer: Shoot, it’s important training for everyone with the Gen-6 car! If anything, the new car adds more importance than just the drivers who could fall out.
Phil: I agree. Remember that a number of the guys entered for the race skipped the test.
Jeff: And there is so much at stake, the extra track time helps the lower budget teams have a chance to run a little more evenly with the big money one.
Summer: It’s like an extra practice session, but with a little more on the line.
Phil: Plus, there’s some bucks out there to be won.
Summer: So there you have it; it’s a win-win for everyone. A race for the fans, more track time for the drivers and teams, and the $$$ never hurts.
Jeff: Personally, I have always loved the Duels. Just another sign that season is here.
Phil: A bit off topic; we’ll have to look and see on Thursday, but I’d argue that the Duels will be a little more competitive than Saturday night. However, it might not look like it due to the heat (and the rule changes to encourage more mechanical grip) causing some separation.
This weekend, we finally get to see the Nationwide and Truck Series back on track. In the Nationwide Series specifically, we’ve almost seen a “mediocre racer’s reunion” with former Cup Series regulars like Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, and Regan Smith opting to compete full-time in the Nationwide Series rather than accept a subpar Cup ride. Is this approach the right one to rebuild their careers and should they be considered championship favorites?
Jeff: Their experience and the teams they are with make them favorites. I think if we went back 10 years, where sponsorship was much less of an issue, then they would be in Cup. But we all know driving talent isn’t necessarily how Sprint Cup rides are handed out any more.
Phil: I agree with Jeff; all three drivers mentioned are championship favorites. The problem with the move is that you would have to win the title right away in order to get that Cup ride.
Summer: I think it’s best for the drivers to stay as relevant as possible. They’ll do a better job of that if they’re competitive, regardless of what series it is.
Kevin: The approach has worked OK for Sadler so far; he’s seen a bit of a career rejuvenation and may even drive a few Cup races for Joe Gibbs this year. And they’re all favorites for the title, for sure. Regan’s the only one I question because JR Motorsports hasn’t been top tier the last few years. But they did win at Homestead.
Summer: Phil, I’d make the argument that even if they did win that Nationwide Series title, it would still be difficult to get a Cup ride again just because they were already given that chance. It would be more likely that they would be continuously passed up for up-and-comers.
Phil: Hence why I said that they would need to do it right away. Well, Vickers basically has a Cup ride as soon as Martin retires (whenever that is). For Sadler, I don’t know.
Summer: I think Smith will be a huge addition to JR Motorsports.
Kevin: He will for sure; I’m only going off their past few years. Regan will improve them; I’m just wondering by how much.
Summer: I think he’ll be able to run with the likes of Sadler, Kevin. I don’t know that I’d pick him for the championship, but I think he’ll be right in step.
Kevin: I hope so. I’d love to see all three battling for the title.
Summer: That would be fun, though I do hope to see the up and comers doing well too. They have a lot more potential.
Phil: It’s going to be interesting in Nationwide. It’s not a two-way battle for the entire season like the past two years.
Jeff: I personally think Sam Hornish, Jr. will be a contender in Nationwide. I think Penske should have given him the ride in the No. 22.
Kevin: I’m definitely more excited for the Nationwide title battle than Cup… as far as whether or not it’ll be a better chase, we’ll see.
Summer: Back on topic, the Cup drivers who moved down to the Nationwide Series made the right decision. Relevance is everything in this sport.
Jeff: I think, too for these guys, they’d rather be in races where they know they have a chance to win, rather than with a subpar team that is just trying to survive with very little chance of winning in Cup. Nothing more discouraging than pretty much knowing you can’t win before the race starts.
Kevin: My thoughts exactly, Jeff!
Summer: I agree, Jeff. Plus they’ll be a part of the conversation longer than they would have been had they settled for a terrible Cup ride.
Phil: Regarding the Trucks, they should be good. We’ve got some newbies this year and a great mix of veterans, too. Should be another good season there with multiple drivers fighting for the title… but it always is.
Jeff: I think Trucks will be a good battle this year, too. There’s a lot of young guys who seem to have talent. It will be interesting to see how fast they learn or if they will have to eat some humble pie first.
Summer: This year is a good one for young talent.
So, who do you think is going to win the Daytona 500?
Summer: I’m going with Kyle Busch myself.
Kevin: Tony Stewart’s got it.
Jeff: I agree. I think Tony Stewart finally wins at Daytona. I mean the Daytona 500, that is.
Summer: Good, Jeff. We all thought you meant the July Daytona race. ;)
Jeff: Well, wouldn’t want Tony to see this and then get corrected!
Phil: Let’s see. I think I’m going to go with Matt Kenseth to win his 3rd Daytona 500.
Summer: I could see any of those three. Good picks.

Connect with Jeff!

Contact Jeff Wolfe

Connect with Kevin!

Contact Kevin Rutherford

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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