Frontstretch Staff · Thursday March 7, 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)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
The Gen-6 car has received mixed reviews so far in 2013, but we’re only two races into the season. The “real test” is going to be this weekend in Las Vegas, one of the many intermediate racetracks that are currently on the Sprint Cup Series schedule. What would a successful race be for you and do you think expectations are too high?
Jeff:: I would like to at least six or eight passes for the lead. But really, when it comes down to the end, it would be nice to say any one of four or five drivers could win.
Amy: Like I said a couple of weeks ago, teams are still learning this car, as is NASCAR. Any time before the second race at tracks is too soon to know what it’s really capable of.
Summer:: I do think expectations are too high because of all the hype. Still, though, a successful race would be a variety of passing throughout.
Jeff:: Yes, even a lot of passing in the top 10 would be good, too.
Phil: Agreed. A successful race at Las Vegas would be one where drivers don’t just pass… they can race each other hard for position.
Summer:: I don’t think that will happen simply because it’s a long race and drivers won’t race too hard regardless. But I’d like to get through one weekend without hearing the drivers say, “You just can’t pass in traffic.” Phoenix wasn’t a terrible race, but drivers were still saying that. I understand that some of that is the tires and track configuration, but the car plays a role too.
Phil: At this point, I’m confident that almost any type of car at Phoenix would create a similar race to what we saw on Sunday.
Jeff:: I thought Phoenix was a decent race. There was a respectable amount of passing late in the event.
Amy: I think expectations are too high from fans. And one thing hasn’t changed…there are passes for position, under green, all race long…but you never see most of them because the cameras are only showing a few select cars. When FOX used the stationary cams during the Crank It Up segments at Phoenix, you could see several cars racing side-by-side. The rest of the time, not so much. I was listening to team audio, so I know there was passing going on.
Summer:: Like I said, it wasn’t a terrible race, but I still heard drivers talking about how the car reacted in traffic. It sounded the same as the old car.
Amy: It will be interesting to see what the cars do at Vegas. Based on what I saw during the tests at Charlotte over the winter, there was passing when they raced in small groups. However, they never raced in groups bigger than about four or five.
Summer:: Yeah, but we don’t see “big packs” at intermediates anyway. Four or five is a big pack at those tracks.
Phil: Let’s be honest. There were crew chiefs that talked to us and stated that they didn’t really believe the Gen-6 car would race all that differently from the CoT. Seems like they might have been right.
Amy: Here’s the other problem. Yes, the cars look like the street version. But manufacturers have worked so hard to make new cars more aerodynamic for better fuel mileage that if the race cars look like them, they’re going to be aero dependent.
Summer:: Which basically means that we have to pick our poison.
Amy: Right. Do you want a car that looks as close to stock as possible, or one that is race-specific but looks even less like the street version than the CoT?
Phil: Basically, that means either have aero dependent cars or don’t exist, considering the manufacturers would pull out. Not that tough a decision, to be honest.
Summer:: I’m sure this race, like some others coming up will be a learning process. And I don’t want to judge too heavily until we’re at least halfway through the season. But it’s hard to keep everyone happy in terms of seeing stock cars or good racing. I’m not convinced that’s at all possible. I know, I know… everyone saying, “But racing used to be soooo good back in the day.” That’s right. There’s nothing I long for more than seeing cars win by laps over other drivers.
Jeff:: I think they will get better as time goes on. That’s always been the case, no matter what kind of cars they have.
Amy: Even if they raced stock cars off the showroom floor, they’d be aero dependent. What NASCAR needs to do is slow them down significantly… that’s what would get rid of the aero dependency to some degree.
Summer:: It would also make things less dangerous. I would be totally fine with decreasing the horsepower on these cars. In a sense, wouldn’t that also help some of the smaller teams?
Phil: How do they do that? New, smaller engines?
Amy: EFI. They could control speed through fuel mixture.
Summer:: Or just put restrictor plates on any car at any track over a mile.
Jeff:: You know, I think new fans see two minutes of highlights, then expect whole races to be like that. That’ll never happen.
Summer:: I’m trying to manage by expectations for this weekend. Honestly, though, I just want to see a good race regardless of the car.
Phil: I think we’ll see an interesting race, maybe a little faster than normal.
Jimmie Johnson made a fuss about Carl Edwards’ late race restart that eventually helped Edwards win the race. Did he have a case to make and, if so, did NASCAR need to react?
Jeff:: No and No. The leader always gets the jump on the restart, that’s part of his reward. It’s been that way for years at all different levels and types of racing. Jimmie would’ve and has done the same thing.
Phil: Personally, I don’t think Jimmie’s got a point here. Carl led them down slow. Keselowski might have jumped the start, if anything.
Summer:: Jimmie’s a whiner. Carl Edwards didn’t do anything wrong. I agree with Jeff. He was the leader, he gets the advantage. I think Johnson got bamboozled and he didn’t like it.
Jeff:: Exactly. The leader always sets the pace on restarts. I’ve seen a lot worse than what Carl did.
Amy: Edwards didn’t do anything wrong. He had a huge shove from Keselowski from behind.
Summer:: And as far as if NASCAR should have done anything, absolutely not. The more NASCAR can let these guys just freaking race, the better. It wasn’t obvious enough for them to react.
Phil: I have no problem with what happened here. In fact, it wasn’t even really noticeable to me.
Jeff:: Me neither during the race.
Amy: The green flag was out when Edwards went. If anyone jumped, it was Keselowski, but since he didn’t pass anyone, it’s all good.
Summer:: Edwards said he thought Johnson was trying to out-do him, which – if you watch the restart – he was.
Amy: As he should have, Summer. As they both should have.
Summer:: That’s what they should do. It’s nothing but completely irritating when a driver bitches about another driver trying to beat him. What the hell do you think you’re there for???
Amy: That’s why it’s called racing.
Jeff:: Edwards is experienced enough to see that and not get taken advantage of.
Summer:: It might have worked on a rookie driver, yes, but you’re right. It’s not like Edwards is new at this. If Edwards had crowded Johnson out of his lane or something like that, he’d have a reason to be upset. Otherwise, Jimmie needs to shut up and race.
Phil: “Quit your whining and have at it,” is what I’d say to Johnson here. It was going to be tough for him anyway because he was on the outside.
Jeff:: Edwards wasn’t about to let a desperately needed win slip away. I think it was just a little politicking by Jimmie. Not really a big deal. The Hendrick drivers are perceived to get enough breaks as it is.
Summer:: Mind games. That makes sense. At the same time, does it really intimidate drivers when he whines?
Phil: No, it just irritates them.
Amy: If Johnson has issues with anyone, it would be Hamlin, who might have wrecked the 48 and the 2 if Keselowski hadn’t gotten out of the way. The three of them had some great racing at the end, though. Watching Keselowski and Johnson race each other is just fun.
Jeff:: Jimmie a great driver, but no Intimidator.
Amy: He doesn’t need to be.
Summer:: No, he really doesn’t. He’s done well enough without being aggressive.
Amy: He is aggressive. He’s just not overaggressive. Usually, anyway. They all have their moments.
Summer:: I know, but in general, Johnson will race you fairly. He’s not someone you watch creeping up on them and saying, “Oh, he’s gonna wreck him!”
Amy: I really hope Johnson and Keselowski are racing for position near the end of a lot of races this year, though.
Phil: I agree, Amy. Those two seem to have a lot of respect for each other, even if Johnson seems to think that Keselowski is a little immature.
Summer:: Regardless of Jimmie’s motives, in this case though, he needs to hush. Just because he’s a five-time champion doesn’t mean he gets to tell everyone how to race.
One story that has been making its rounds—so to speak—in the mainstream media is the NRA’s sponsorship of Texas Motor Speedway’s spring race in April. It’s a controversial move, but is it really that big of a deal?
Summer:: I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal. It’s just sponsorship.
Amy: Yes and no. I think it’s the timing that’s questionable, so soon after Sandy Hook. Other than that, it’s a sponsor, and the sport needs those.
Summer:: I guess I could agree with that Amy. In the wake of recent tragedy, it seems distasteful. But the intent certainly wasn’t behind that.
Phil: Ultimately, I say no big deal as well. Since it’s Texas Motor Speedway, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gossage went to the NRA himself and gave them a sweetheart deal.
Jeff:: It’s just because gun control is a big issue right now and some NRA statements about it have been a little controversial, or perceived that way by gun control proponents. But NRA is not some evil organization. If they want to sponsor, they should.
Summer:: The only issue I have with it is that I hate when politics and racing mix. Racing is supposed to be an escape, not a soapbox.
Phil: I don’t really care about the NRA sponsoring a race. They’ve got big bucks, even if they carry the threat of a whammy with them. Besides, it’s not like the viewers at home are going to notice, unless the NRA buys FOX’s TV ad package so that they can get their race name on TV.
Amy: I’d love to see all the unsponsored cars run the Sandy Hook fund scheme that Michael Waltrip ran at Daytona that week.
Summer:: Yeah, have a bunch of Sandy Hook cars on the track during the NRA 500. That would generate ratings and be a statement in itself.
Amy: That said, if they or any other sponsor use their exposure to promote a political agenda, that’s not cool with me, regardless of what that agenda is.
Summer:: Basically, what the NRA is doing here is playing to their base. I think everyone knows that. Or what they think they are doing, anyway. I don’t pretend to know for sure.
Jeff:: Yes, it seems a large majority of NASCAR fans are NRA supporters.
Phil: OK, would you be against a company trying to register people to vote via a sponsorship, like Rise Up and Register last year?
Summer:: I don’t think there is anything controversial about registering people to vote.
Jeff:: I had no problem with that either
Phil: On paper, no. However, you remember how much of a travesty that turned into last year. Granted, that was more of an ESPN thing than anything else. The only one that got screwed out of that was Blake Koch.
Summer:: Honestly, I wouldn’t have a problem with any democratic or progressive-related sponsorship at a race either. If they want to get their name out there via NASCAR, that’s fine with me.
Jeff:: It’s no different than buying an ad in a newspaper or popular website — just on a bigger scale for more money.
Amy: I think it is different from buying an ad. I don’t think political agendas belong in professional sports. But if it’s just the name of the race and there is no further agenda flaunted, then no problem.
Summer:: Oh, I bet it will be. The NRA will hold some press conference or something and the media will jump all over it. But it’s not helping NASCAR’s demographic issues. That’s probably my biggest problem with it. NASCAR is trying to grow, they’ve been doing a good job in that department, and this is a step backwards.
Phil: The NRA is all about publicity these days. This deal will appeal to the base, but it won’t draw anyone new into NASCAR.
Summer:: It might shove people away instead.
Amy: I think any sport or venue is foolish to let that happen and risk alienating a portion of their fan base. But hey, if NASCAR wants to throw more fans away, let every race be a political ad…
Summer:: It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not. People see the NRA as the big, bad guys.
Jeff:: I’m afraid it will add to the stereotype of NASCAR fans a bit. But it’s kind of like if you don’t like us, good, we don’t want you anyway.
Summer:: That’s not what I mean, Jeff. We’re speaking mainly of the political agendas that are spoken of in the mainstream media. Sports are supposed to be separate from that.
Phil: True, it might. I’d argue that Gossage would have made this deal regardless, though.
Amy: Why, Jeff? Shouldn’t anyone be able to enjoy the sport without fear of having someone’s agenda shoved down their throat?
Phil: Yes. Many believe that NASCAR has a closed image. That it’s only open to some. There’s a reason why the sport’s fan base might be the most homogenous in professional sports.
Jeff:: Well, somebody’s always got an agenda. I just hope NASCAR remembers where it came from.
Summer:: I know what you’re saying, but we’re not talking about pleasing everyone in terms of the format of the series. We’re talking about not alienating them because of political statements. Big difference.
Jeff:: Well, in some aspects sure, in terms of moonshining and racism. But in terms of hard racing and having guys who showed emotion when losing or winning, I hope not.
Amy: I think it’s fine as long as the NRA (or any other special interest group) isn’t allowed to use races as a political forum. That alienates fans and NASCAR can’t afford to do that.
Summer:: I’m OK with it in a sense. But I’m frustrated that this continues a stereotype.
The Nationwide Series is known for its underdogs and up-and-comers. Though we’re only two races into the season, who do you think will have the most staying power?
Phil: Well, I think Kyle Larson will. Granted, he’s had a rather exciting couple of weeks, but we should see good things out of him.
Jeff:: You’ve got Hornish up there and think he is a much better driver for these cars than two or three years ago. Sadler, Regan Smith and I think Austin Dillon is a newcomer who can stay in contention.
Amy: For this year, I think Hornish will be there at the end, and Elliott Sadler. Allagier, Brian Scott, and Piquet will be top 10 in points but are unlikely to be a title threat. Smith and Dillon will be in the mix in November.
Jeff:: Yes, I like Larson, too. If Stewart gives him an endorsement, that’s pretty good. Tony doesn’t just go handing those out everyday.
Summer:: I agree on Larson, but that’s a little obvious. One driver that really doesn’t get a lot of coverage, despite his popularity, is Nelson Piquet, Jr. He’s done well.
Phil: Earlier today, ESPN’s NASCAR Twitter was asking whether Larson or Alex Bowman would win first this year. I don’t know about Bowman winning, but that would be cool if he did.
Summer:: I think he will be a good dark hose contender.
Amy: I like Larson, but time will tell with him. He’s awfully young and inexperienced still. And everyone thought Joey Logano was well, the best thing since sliced bread…only when he got to Cup, it didn’t pan out.
Summer:: Put Joey Logano back in a full time Nationwide Series ride and he’ll win the next 10 championships. There’s a huge talent gap there.
Phil: Logano got bumped to Cup after 2/3rds of a season in Nationwide because Stewart bolted. He wouldn’t have been in Cup before 2010 otherwise.
Summer:: I’m not convinced that Logano won’t eventually find his niche in the Sprint Cup Series. There was a time Keselowski was crappy in Cup, too.
Phil: Moving on… I have every reason to believe that Parker Kligerman could win a race this year as well.
Summer:: If Kligerman can maintain some stability, he’ll be right there.
Amy: I still think Brian Vickers has time to get back in it. He’s too good not to.
Jeff:: Ah yes, I forgot Bayne and Vickers.
Amy: Bayne impressed the heck out of me with his Texas win in 2011. I think that being full-time will boost him to where he’s a weekly contender, especially at the bigger tracks.
Summer:: It’s not like the Nationwide Series is just identical cars with suckier drivers. They really are different.
Amy: They are. It’s also a lot less pressure…and some guys just don’t handle the pressure of Cup well.
Phil: I thought we were supposed to be talking about underdogs. I don’t really feel like Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Elliott Sadler and the like are underdogs here.
Summer:: The conversation shifted a bit. Honestly, it’s extremely hard to tell this early because there is so, so much that can and will happen.
Amy: Underdogs to me are Brian Scott (on talent, anyway), Allagier, and maybe Alex Bowman. Don’t know if Bowman is all talent or all money, though.
Phil: Bowman has shown that he is competitive. Couldn’t do much Saturday since he got wrapped up in the Lap 2 mess.
Jeff:: Racing at the top level brings more pressure, sponsorship and attention. If you mess up big time in a Sprint Cup race ,everybody knows about it. Sponsors don’t like negative attention for that kind of money.
Summer:: I guess the difference is still that there is no points reset. What happens now technically does still matter.
Summer:: Scott is an underdog, but I don’t believe he’ll stay where he is. Allgaier, I believe will. Bowman… no. Just, no.
Amy: There will be a good battle for top 5 in points this year, and a decently deep top 10.
Summer:: I don’t think anyone other than Nationwide fanatics (do those exist?) will care about the top 10 battle.
Summer:: Even die-hard fans know it’s not the top tier. Only the championship matters.
Amy: There are a lot of fans who like NNS better than Cup
Summer:: It depends on who is in the race.
Amy: Not true, Summer. Race fans look for up-and-coming talent. The champion isn’t the only driver who has it.
Jeff:: I think NNS is more legitimate now with so many that can win title. And yes, up and coming talent is big. NASCAR needs new blood and it’s nice to see some young guys with potential, at least.
Amy: The guys who are there because they have money will fade. There are several who will be there at the end, and a few who won’t quite be good enough to contend.
Summer:: I’m watching Allgaier closely. He’s an underdog in terms of all the washed up Cup drivers in Nationwide. I think there is a fair point to be made for Kligerman, too.
Amy: All the washed up Cup drivers? You mean Elliott Sadler?
Summer:: Sadler, Vickers, Smith.
Amy: Brian Vickers is hardly washed up.
Summer:: I didn’t mean that to sound as mean as it sounded.
Phil: Money can only get you so far. It can get you in the room. However, you gotta bring your A-game once there.
Amy: He’s going to be in the No. 55 Cup car next year unless something drastic happens
Jeff:: Vickers definitely deserves a full-time Cup ride.
Predictions For Las Vegas?
Summer:: Not to sound like a broken record, but Jimmie Johnson. Why not?
Amy: Matt Kenseth.
Jeff:: Edwards again. He has tendency to get hot when he gets going.
Phil: I’m going with Brad Keselowski.
Connect with Amy!
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Contact Summer Bedgood
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