Frontstretch Staff · Thursday February 28, 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:
Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)
Jeff Wolfe (Frontstretch Fantasy Insider)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
Obviously, the Daytona 500 was the big race of the weekend, but most of our thoughts are still with the injured fans from Saturday’s Nationwide Series race after Kyle Larson’s car flew into the catchfence. What can NASCAR and Daytona learn from the incident and what can be done to make sure it never happens again?
Mike N.: You can never be sure it will never happen again. It is cars travelling at high rates of speed. Accidents will happen. That said, I hope they’ve learned that they need to get rid of crossover gates at all racetracks.
Summer: Or at least find a way to make them safer. I usually advocate for a second look before a total elimination. I think it should be an evolving process, like the cars. But it will never be perfect.
Phil: Well, I’m not really sure what should be done. Larson’s car didn’t blow over and hit the fence. He got nailed and the sheer force of that hit put him in the catchfence.
Jeff W.: They’ve made improvements with the safety barrier; now, they have to look into the catchfences. I think most fans still want to be close to the action. That’s part of the appeal. Whether the fence needs to be taller, or maybe a secondary fence built directly in front of the fans might help. But they really have to look at it. Wrecks like that don’t happen often, but they can be devastating when they do.
Amy: I think the catchfence did its job. That said… there’s always room for improvement. I think they need to look at the material the fence is made of, and perhaps some netting over the top of those frontstretch seats, like they have behind home plate at baseball stadiums.
Phil: Netting wouldn’t be a bad idea, but it would have to be on a track-by-track basis since everything isn’t the same like a baseball stadium.
Amy: Well, I think part of the problem is the chain link. It acts like a cheese grater when a car gets into it, and assists in shredding the parts.
Summer: Would that have really stopped a tire though, Amy?
Mike N.: Nope. The tire came through the fence. Netting wouldn’t have limited much of anything on Saturday. By the way, for fans that were confused as to why the tire got in the stands: these cars have tethers. The problem was the section of the frame it was tethered too was torn off of the car as well.
Phil: The gate being there probably made this incident much worse than otherwise. When the grandstands are renovated in Daytona, they’ll all be gone. Just watch. In a few months, they’ll announce an extension to the grandmaster plan that will include pedestrian tunnels to the infield.
Jeff W.: Yes, the gate is definitely a weak part of the fence.
Mike N.: Actually, the gate is the strongest part of the fence, which is why it tore the car up so badly.
Amy: Strong or not, some of the worst wrecks we’ve ever seen have been because of crossover gates.
Summer: Well, it could have been much more devastating that it was.
Amy: I also think NASCAR needs to wake up with regards to restrictor plate racing. In addition to the fans that were hurt, a driver (Michael Annett) is out indefinitely after the racing on Saturday.
Summer: But what can be done other than slowing the cars down even more? There are already fans who don’t like the slower speeds.
Amy: Plates were meant to be a temporary measure 25 years ago. Surely, there is another way to slow the cars down, either using EFI or something else.
Phil: Yes, there are other methods, but the plates are just the easiest way to police it for NASCAR.
Summer: I personally have no problem slowing the cars down, and I don’t mind eliminating crossover gates so long as they figure out an equally convenient way to move people from one place to another.
Mike N.: If fans don’t like slower speeds, they don’t understand good racing. The cars would probably put on a better race at 170 as long as they had more throttle response and had to hit the brakes.
Summer: I know that, Mike but there are still those who would hate it. You can’t do much about drivers accelerating though a wreck, either. If you listened to Brian Scott’s interview after the race, that’s what he did.
Amy: Well, if they can’t find a way to fix the racing safely at plate tracks, they need to look at other options entirely.
Phil: Wait. There’s such a thing as safe racing in general?
Summer: Right, Phil. Racing at restrictor plate tracks – or anywhere else – will never be truly safe. It just won’t happen. Racing in and of itself isn’t safe. Add in those kinds of speeds, plus that kind of racing room and there is always going to be an element of danger.
Mike N.: Nope. When people drive cars as fast as they can, sometimes they’re going to lose control and wreck.
Jeff W.: True, but fans can’t be at risk. It’s not like a car part is like a foul ball at a baseball game.
Mike N.: Fans are at risk, Jeff. It is a necessary evil of attending races. The risk is minimal but there is always a risk.
Jeff W.: It’s always been a risky sport. Earnhardt was always anti-plate racing and he probably had a good point.
Amy: Earnhardt was dead on right. He hated plate racing. But there is an incentive to risk making a run before the end because if you get wrecked, you can’t win.
Summer: Aside from the crash, Saturday’s race was great. It was the best of the weekend. But you’re asking for trouble when you have racing like that. I don’t think it should be eliminated, but any effort that can be made to make it safer should be taken.
Phil: Long-term, there’s really only a couple of options. Downsize the engines, or take a bulldozer to the banks. Neither is cheap.
Summer: Or popular, Phil.
Jeff W.: It’s ironic that they put plates on to slow down cars and make it safer, but really it’s more dangerous for drivers with everybody together and possibly for fans, too.
Mike N.: It keeps the cars on the ground, Jeff. That is the only reason for the plates.
Summer: I think NASCAR and Daytona needs to do exactly what they said – Investigate the incident thoroughly and do everything to prevent it in the future. I just hope the racing is still just as exciting.
Phil: You can’t have 5-liter V8’s anymore and not have plates. You’d have to cut down to something like a 2-liter V6 to run unrestricted. Simple as that.
Mike N.: The best thing they could do is come up with some method of changing the horsepower through the EFI system. I don’t know how they do it but you’d think there has to be a way.
Amy: By the way, I love how everyone wants racing like “back in the day.” The 1975 Daytona 500, I think it was, had like one car on the lead lap…
Jeff W.: When A.J. Foyt won Daytona, he was like two laps ahead of the field.
The Daytona 500, and Speedweeks as a whole for the Sprint Cup Series, was rather uneventful. Single-file racing and a lack of drafting was the norm in the Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duels, and the Daytona 500. With restrictor plate racing being such a small part of the schedule, should NASCAR continue looking at how the Gen-6 car competes at these tracks or should they simply leave it alone?
Amy: I wonder if the race would have been considered terrible if Danica had won…
Phil: I don’t know. I didn’t think it was terrible.
Amy: I had to laugh. All those people who complained about the tandems… then everyone complained about the Cup races this week and talked about how great the Nationwide race was. With tandems… I think people have totally unrealistic expectations of racing now. If it isn’t a pass for the lead every lap, it’s boring.
Summer: I agree that there are high expectations, but last Sunday wasn’t really all that great.
Mike N.: It is boring if the cars are nose-to-tail and there are ten passes for the lead on the track. Last Sunday was one of the worst races I’ve ever seen in my life.
Amy: I thought it was OK. Reminded me of the plate racing in the late 1990s.
Mike N.: I thought the Truck race was the best but both that and Nationwide were better than the Cup race.
Summer: Back to Amy’s point about the fans: I don’t get it. They want exciting racing, but don’t like the carnage it produces. You can’t realistically have one without the other.
Amy: Plate racing isn’t real racing and hasn’t been in years.
Summer: Well, as far as what we should do I honestly think we wait, a year at least and see how the cars race there in July and at the two Talladega races before they try changing anything again.
Phil: Knowing NASCAR, they will keep looking at how the car races at plate tracks. Daytona and Talladega races are not identical, even with the recent repaves.
Mike N.: They need to do something because that crap that they had on the track for the Unlimited, the Duels and the 500 was abysmal.
Phil: If NASCAR does it now, they won’t have to make changes everywhere else because they already have a series of rules exclusive to the plate tracks for the Gen-6 cars.
Jeff W.: I think leave it alone for now. Give the crew chiefs and engineers a chance to adjust.
Amy: If the cars produce a better race on the intermediates, they need to leave it alone. In my opinion, you can’t make an informed judgment on the Gen-6 car until the second races at these tracks.
Jeff W.: I think the Gen-6 car will hopefully help at other tracks more than plate ones, especially the 1.5-mile snoozers we’ve had in recent years.
Mike N.: I truly hope the Gen-6 is great on the intermediates but that has nothing to do with how they configure it for plate tracks. On the plate tracks, it was horrendous and they need to make a change now. Either a bigger spoiler… or no spoiler.
Phil: I have no clue how these cars would drive with no spoilers at all. It would be interesting, to say the least.
Mike N.: I’d love to see them try it, Phil. I’m pretty sure they’d have to use the brakes.
Summer: I think there’s more to it. Even with three races, at the beginning of the season I still feel like there was a ton of hesitation because of the fear of crashing.
Jeff W.: I agree. After the Nationwide wreck, drivers were a little afraid to try any bold moves on Sunday. Maybe a factor in the 500, too.
Amy: Maybe if the cars are better on the other tracks and the fans all start hating on the plate racing, they’ll get rid of those. The car wasn’t the problem Sunday. Plate racing was. Everyone whined about the CoT on plate tracks in the tandems, and they whined about the car before that on the plate tracks forever.
Mike N.: Drivers spending the day driving in a parade was a big part of the problem. Cars not being able to pass on their own, which is what they were supposed to be doing, was the other big problem.
Phil: You really think people thought these dudes were going to be able to pass on their own at Daytona? That hasn’t happened since 1987.
Summer: But Phil, at least with the tandem they could pass. They can’t do either now.
Amy: Plus, guys like Edwards wrecked multiple cars and parts are still in short supply…
Summer: The fact that they also tried to draft and sometimes it would slow them down didn’t help, either. I also think fans will never be happy at plate tracks. They’d b*tch before and after. But during the race, social media and chatrooms usually tell the tale. People love it. Fans used to bitch about the tandem before. But when you watched their reactions during the race, they enjoyed it. It might have made them nervous, but it was exciting.
Amy: The only good plate race without tandems that I remember was in the Fall of 2000. The roof spoiler and the wicker on the rear spoiler produced a decent race. Oh, and there were no major cautions. That was the best part. Plus, guys like Edwards wrecked multiple cars and parts are still in short supply…
Mike N.: I thought the tandems made for an interesting race.
Amy: I heard a rumor that one proposed solution is to make blocking illegal on plate tracks. I hope NASCAR doesn’t go that route.
Summer: Oh gosh. That would make it worse than when they banned drafting in the corners.
Mike N.: Whenever they try and eliminate blocking it turns into a debacle.
Jeff W.: I think NASCAR may have told drivers to be sure before you make a move anyways. No educated guessing.
Summer: I think NASCAR needs to let the drivers figure that out on their own. Quit babysitting them. If they want to be stupid and block, let them.
Amy: But seriously, all the people calling the car the “genSux” after one race just sound like they have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s going to take until the second race on tracks until you can make a judgment.
Mike N.: There’s a bigger problem. NASCAR needs to come up with an incentive to race more aggressively in the middle of the race. There is no incentive to try and get to the front on lap 90.
Amy: Again, to win, you need to be in position to win, though. And you can’t be in position to win if you’re wrecked out on lap 50. Teams care about winning, not about producing a show.
Summer: I’ve suggested something like awarding points at the halfway point for a while. But they can only do that if the cars will actually pass.
Jeff W.: Everyone does wait for the end to try and go in a plate race. It’s a hurry up and wait type of thing.
Summer: The Nationwide race wasn’t like that though. Neither were the trucks. Both were exciting throughout.
Mike N.: Anyways, I think the true test will be Vegas. If the Gen-6 car sucks at Vegas, you’ll be witnessing the death of NASCAR.
Phil: I doubt that, Mike. That’s hyperbole at best.
Mike N.: Not really. You put billions of dollars into the development of this car to make racing at Intermediate tracks better. If it is worse, there’s nothing left.
Amy: Again, Mike judging it after three races anywhere is just ridiculous.
Summer: They’ll find a way, Mike. NASCAR won’t die. IndyCar had worse racing than last Sunday at several tracks and they’re still fine. They will figure out a way to make it better.
Amy: Teams need half a year to work on them before we really know. Especially if there are still any lingering parts issues.
Summer: I honestly think it’s way, way, way too early to make a fair judgment on the Gen-6. Maybe at restrictor plate tracks it sucks, but we’re not even 100% sure on that yet.
Mike N.: I hope you’re right, Summer. For if they can’t race on plate tracks and they can’t race on Intermediates, there isn’t anything left.
With so much going on in both Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and Sunday’s Daytona 500, the Truck Series was largely overshadowed. Who impressed you the most in Friday night’s race and who do you think will still be in contention at the end of the year?
Amy: I think Johnny Sauter just served notice that 2012 was just a bad year.
Summer: I already thought that. ThorSport have been incredibly strong in the past. Sometimes, it’s easier to start over than to dig yourself out of a hole.
Amy: I think he will contend for the title. Ty Dillon was impressive, but that’s to be expected.
Summer: Honestly, I’ve been thinking this question over and I can’t think of anyone I was impressed with more than Ty Dillon. It’s an obvious answer, but what can I say? He’s pretty darn good.
Amy: Joey Coulter was solid as well.
Mike N.: There will be a bunch of people around at the end of the Truck season. There could very well be 15 drivers in contention. Of course, we won’t really know for another two months until we have four races in the books.
Jeff W.: I liked Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Ryan Truex. But from what I saw, Dillon would be at the top of the list. I wouldn’t forget about James Buescher, either.
Summer: Honestly, though, all of the drivers with hype behind them performed well. Darrell Wallace, Jr., Blaney, and Dillon all had some attention shined on them and they all performed.
Phil: Summer does have a point here. There aren’t really any surprises in the top-10 results of this race. The possible exception is Ryan Sieg.
Amy: I think come the end of the year, you’ll be looking at Sauter, Dillon, Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, and Coulter as title contenders. All five have been in a title hunt; all five have the equipment to be there again.
Summer: Buescher is a given after last season. He’ll be in contention all year. I think it will be Dillon, Sauter, and Buescher at least. I’m not really sold on Gaughan, though. He’s not all that great at keeping his head on straight and he’s not all that consistent.
Jeff W.: Gaughan has been around a few years now, so I’m not sure about him either.
Amy: Gaughan’s with the best team he’s had in years and with the crew chief he nearly won the ’06 title with, along with 2 Winston West titles. He also had 4 top-5 results in eight races last year.
Phil: My list of title contenders is Dillon, Timothy Peters, Sauter and maybe Coulter. Naturally, Sauter has a head start on everyone.
Mike N.: Just like with the new car, it’s hard to judge contenders for the title after one plate race. Especially when the next race is in April.
Summer: I agree to a point, Mike. But I think in the Truck Series, it’s a little easier to tell because you see how well all the new rookie drivers hold up to the intensity. I think Dillon will be in contention at the end because he can handle himself in tight competition.
Amy: Peters should be up there as well. My fear is that RCR, Kyle Busch, and Turner will simply outspend Red Horse, though.
Summer: Speaking of “surprises”…. Jeb Burton performed a lot better than I thought he would. Seriously, I thought he’d be another guy with a last name that everyone knew but still sucked. I was surprised at how well he did.
Amy: Jeb was solid. He’s been coming up the ranks the right way.
Phil: Jeb was solid in general last year when he stayed out of other people’s problems. Granted, he wasn’t approved for Daytona, but he was good in the Hillman No. 27 until the money ran out.
Summer: I’ll be interested to watch him the rest of the season. I think if Burton can keep that kind of quiet run up, he’d be a really good dark horse contender. Mike’s right – it’s hard to tell at tracks like that. But Daytona isn’t easy.
Jeff W.: A lot of these guys, Dillon, Blaney, Truex, Burton, have experienced dads, brothers or grandfathers to help them along and teach them a lot. Some people knock it, but that’s got to be a bit of an advantage for them.
Summer: Absolutely, and they have families with money too. I think most of us have just accepted that as reality. Though it does help that they are talented enough to earn it.
Phil: Regardless of the parties involved, I’m sure that we’ll have another great title chase in the Trucks this year.
Summer: I think of all the new guys coming in, Dillon has the most staying power.
Mike N.: Really enjoyed the Truck race. Stinks that we have to wait until Spring to see another one.
We saw many big names struggle or fall out of contention completely last Sunday, but rarely does Daytona mean much in terms of the whole season. Still, with the year still in its early stages, there are several drivers who have a lot to prove. Which driver is in the most need of a good run in Phoenix and why?
Summer: Carl Edwards. Need I say more?
Mike N.: I suppose I’d agree with that, Summer.
Amy: Edwards for sure. How many more cars does RFR have left?
Summer: Carl Edwards needs to freaking win just so they can afford to build more cars.
Jeff W.: Edwards hasn’t won since Vegas two years ago. He’s got new crew chief. Him and his team need to show they can still be contenders.
Phil: I’ll go with Matt Kenseth. He had the best car for almost all of Speedweeks and came out of Daytona with bupkis.
Amy: What about Clint Bowyer? He had a good run from last fall to finish second in the Chase.
Summer: Bowyer was surprisingly quiet this weekend even though he’s won a couple of the last restrictor plate races. So yeah, I think that would be a good one to watch considering the season he’s coming off of.
Phil: Bowyer was very quiet on Sunday. The other higher ups had their problems, so maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Jeff W.: Stewart and Harvick need to rebound, too. Not necessarily a lot to prove, but they don’t want to start out in too big of a hole.
Amy: One of the statistics in Kevin’s column Tuesday surprised me… the Daytona 500 winner’s average finish in the second race is 14th. So, especially given his fall performance, you could make an argument for Johnson.
Summer: I think Johnson has very little to prove in general. Johnson could blow an engine on the first lap, then finish last on Sunday and no one would doubt him.
Jeff W.: Johnson could be the exception to that rule, though.
Summer: Heck, almost no one was talking about him heading into Sunday anyway.
Phil: That doesn’t really surprise me, Amy. The Daytona 500 has long been considered a race onto itself.
Amy: I’d also toss the small teams, as a whole, into this mix. They need to take advantage of the fact that nobody really has an advantage with the new car yet. It would be great to see a smaller team in the top 10 or 15 this week.
Summer: I still think those with the most money will prevail. Those smaller teams just don’t have the resources to figure these things out as quickly. Though I agree, it would be nice to see them on a level playing field.
Jeff W.: I think the No. 48 team could really be on a mission this year. They did a lot of single car runs in practice for Daytona, really had a plan there. Some may be wondering if their championship days are over and they want to prove they are not.
Amy: Right. I tossed out Jimmie more because his fall performance was so pitiful. The Daytona stat just adds to that.
Summer: Speaking of teams who have something to prove, how about a manufacturer as a whole? What the heck was up with Toyota last week? They started off where they left off last year. Well, maybe that’s not fair. Still, I didn’t see anyone surprised that Toyota had issues.
Phil: I’d argue a bad batch of parts. It’s happened before. Like in 2002, at Talladega when all six Hendrick built engines failed in a caution-free race.
Jeff W.: Toyota still has issues with its plate engine program. They’ve got to get it figured out. It didn’t help that Kenseth and Busch were leading when their engines went. Some unwanted spotlight there, too.
Amy: But a couple of blown engines during Speedweeks isn’t that unusual…
Summer: Yeah, but they’ve had problems on intermediates, too. It’s not just Daytona and Talladega. If anyone has anything to prove, it’s them this weekend. Get through a weekend without a ton of mechanical issues.
Mike N.: Toyota has engine issues, period. Plate or not. That is what killed Kyle Busch’s Chase hopes last year.
Amy: One other thing; NASCAR might want to take a look at the side windows before Talladega. That screwed a couple of teams and all three makes had issues.
Summer: The side windows thing was just bizarre. Who would have even thought of that??
Phil: It’s arguable that the side window issue screwed up Truex’s entire weekend.
Mike N.: They changed some of the bracing before the 500.
Summer: Bottom line, Toyota and Edwards will all have eyes on them this weekend. They need something good to happen for them.
Predictions for Phoenix?
Mike N.: Kyle Busch.
Phil: I’m going with Greg Biffle.
Jeff W.: I said earlier the No. 48 team is on a mission. Winning Daytona is a great thing for a team, but Johnson will make a real statement with a win at Phoenix.
Amy: I’m going to go with Denny Hamlin.
Mike N.: NASCAR also needs to have a good run at Phoenix. To begin to show what the new car can do.
Phil: I think that race will be interesting. However, the Gen-6 doesn’t seem to be as physically durable as the CoT. Probably won’t see dudes diving down to the apron as much.
Summer: Very true. If anyone has anything to prove … it’s NASCAR and this Gen-6 car, though Phoenix isn’t a much better judge.
Jeff W.: True, they need a good run at Phoenix. If Danica happens to contend again, then it will be big, like it or not.
Summer: Oh Jeff. We almost got through this whole thing without mentioning Danica. :)
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