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:
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)
Last Sunday, NASCAR fans got a “Duel” race of their own when the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series raced on the same day. The Nationwide Series was rained out, rescheduled to Sunday in Iowa and had it running right up against the Sprint Cup Series race in Pocono. With both races running at once, it forced all the Sprint Cup Series regulars out of the Nationwide Series but possibly pulled some eyes away from the race as well. Should NASCAR look at doing something similar in the future?
Summer: I don’t know that it’s something they should do every week, but I would love it if they explored the option further. I would say run it as long as it doesn’t overlap directly with the Cup race. Have it end just as the pre-race ceremonies are under way or something. It’s enough time that drivers can’t fly from one to the other but that fans can switch from one race to the next and not miss anything.
Mike N.: I don’t think that would be a wise choice. NASCAR has three national series and splitting an already limited audience is not in their best interest. Now having doubleheaders, where they run Nationwide in the daytime and Trucks at night or Trucks in the day and Cup at night I think would be great.
Phil: I don’t particularly like direct overlaps. Especially when fans naturally would want to watch both. Having it the same day without overlap is not bad, though. Remember when Watkins Glen for Busch and Sears Point for Cup were the same day? That worked out OK.
Summer: I wouldn’t mind having them run up against each other. And Mike, what about all these people who promise they would watch both and be more interested in the Nationwide Series without the Cup drivers?
Mike N.: Several years ago, the Nationwide race rained out at Charlotte and they ran it in the morning and then ran the Cup race at night. It was before I was writing and I took the family and it was a great day of racing.
Summer: Didn’t they do that recently at Daytona, too? I want to say it was 2007, the year McMurray won the July race. Not that 2007 is particularly recent, but still.
Phil: They did it at Talladega in 2010.
Mike N.: I remember that one, Phil. I am trying to remember the Daytona race. I don’t have a problem with them on the same day, but running them, intentionally, against each other is not wise.
Summer: And that still gives Cup drivers the option to run both, which I think is another reason to consider something more similar to what happened on Sunday. Having them in different locations on the same day shouldn’t be a problem.
Mike N.: I agree, Summer. I would love to see more races where Nationwide and Truck are paired together at a venue while Cup is at a different location. I don’t think the promoters like that idea, but I do.
Summer: I do, too, but fans would have to fulfill this vow that they supposedly don’t tune in now but would if the Cup drivers weren’t in it. It’d be a hell of a compromise.
Mike N.: Oh, I know Summer; and I promise you that the numbers would bear out that they don’t, in fact do that.
Summer: I agree with you, but we’ll get smeared in the comments for saying so.
Mike N.: Proof is in the pudding. The Nationwide race was standalone on Sunday and there were quite a few open seats.
Phil: Mike, it was delayed due to rain and didn’t have the best forecast. Of course Iowa would have empty seats.
Summer: I would have been interested to see the stands on Saturday if the race had, say, been stopped before halfway. Because Iowa is usually a pretty big crowd regardless of who is or isn’t there.
A.J. Allmendinger is going to replace Bobby Labonte in the No. 47 car for a few races on a “consulting” basis. Meanwhile, the Sprint Cup Series champion was forced to find another ride and drive the No. 51 while Allmendinger fills in. What are your thoughts on the move? Is it disrespectful to Labonte or is the team just doing what it needs to do?
Summer: I don’t think it’s disrespectful since this is a performance-based industry. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart move.
Phil: Well, we know that Labonte wasn’t very happy about this move.
Summer: Didn’t Red Bull do this to Allmendinger for the same reason? With Mike Skinner?
Phil: Yes, but that team was struggling a lot more than Labonte is now. Allmendinger got benched back then because he couldn’t make races.
Summer: It didn’t seem to make a big difference then, anyway.
Mike N.: I think JTG is making a stupid move. I don’t blame the team for looking to get input from someone else, but choosing a driver who has never won a race and only has a handful of top 5s in his career is a joke. Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers are both Toyota drivers who have won Cup races. They most certainly could give better feedback than Allmendinger.
Summer: I just don’t see how this works well for anyone. Do they really think that Labonte will come back to them with open arms? No hard feelings? I don’t think so. Also, switching drivers midseason usually doesn’t do much good, either.
Phil: I don’t know. He might be done in the No. 47. Especially if Allmendinger has any amount of success in the car.
Mike N.: When Allmendinger ran full-time, he was well known for driving the car deeper into the corner than anyone else. When you are looking to figure out where your team is, why would you hire someone who drives completely different from anyone else, especially people who win races?
Summer: If Allmendinger has any amount of success in his car, it won’t be any better than he’s done anywhere else. He’s mediocre at best.
Phil: This car may be the weakest car Allmendinger’s driven in Cup for quite a while.
Summer: Exactly. It’s not like he has the equipment behind him.
Mike N.: I don’t know that Bobby is done in the car. They’re supposedly going to alternate rides for a while. I think Labonte is professional enough to handle this the right way. That said, I will be stunned if he’s in the No. 47 in 2014.
Summer: He might handle it professionally because that’s who he is, but that doesn’t mean he’ll like it. Or that the chemistry with the team will ever be the same. That’s assuming it was good to begin with.
Mike N.: Oh, I’m sure he doesn’t like it. However, Bobby Labonte can still wheel it, and he’ll give the team the best he can because the guys on the team deserve it, no matter what the owners are doing.
Summer: I don’t know that I believe Labonte can still wheel. Yes, he’s a good driver, but he’s well past his prime.
Mike N.: He’s had the No. 47 in the top 10 during races multiple times in the last couple of years. I don’t know that Richard Petty in his prime could do much better.
Phil: It’s like Labonte’s prime just ended all of a sudden and he became a midpack driver. I don’t know what happened. It’s like the minute “Fatback” left, his career went in the toilet.
Summer: He’s had six top 10s since 2009. Excuse me if I’m not impressed.
Mike N.: How many top 10s has Dinger had since 2009?
Summer: 27. I don’t think Allmendinger was the best choice either, but he’s a better investment than Labonte. However, I don’t think that was the right way to do things. I understand it for sure, but I feel like they did him wrong.
All eyes are on Denny Hamlin with 12 races to go until the Chase begins. After sitting out for four races due to a fractured vertebra, Hamlin has been trying to play catch-up in order to have a shot at making the Chase. His chances are slim, as he is sitting 76 points back from being inside the top 20 and holding zero victories that will be necessary to get that “wild card” spot. However, only one other driver between 11th and 20th actually has a win. If he can just make it to that 20th position, will it be enough?
Mike N.: At this point, I think it will because I don’t think he can get to 20th without two wins.
Phil: Probably not. Even getting to 20th is marginal at this point. Hamlin’s going to have to bite and scratch just to get there and hope nothing stupid happens.
Summer: As surprised as I am at some drivers who have yet to reach Victory Lane this year … I have a very difficult time believing it will stay that way. We’ve had seven winners in 14 races. We’ll get more within the next 12.
Mike N.: If Hamlin can win twice, that will probably eliminate half of the deficit in two races. Then he can spend the other 10 eliminating the other half.
Summer: I think he can win twice, but the thing is they haven’t been running “win” as much as they should be. They can’t keep having days like they did in Pocono. And Dover didn’t help, either.
Mike N.: I agree, Summer; that’s why I don’t think he has much of a shot. It isn’t the 20th, it is the wins that aren’t close right now.
Summer: Yep. They aren’t Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth material, and they have to be at least that good, if not better.
Phil: I’m looking at this list of dudes 11th to 20th right now. I’m thinking that maybe two to four of them (Kurt Busch, Truex, Jeff Gordon, maybe Menard if he gets lucky) could claim wins in their own right. It’s going to be a tricky climb.
Mike N.: I agree. Nobody back there is running like they will win, but anyone can get on a roll and rip off two or three.
Summer: I think Gordon will. The other three … eh. They could, but they aren’t locks.
I do think Hamlin will win at least once before the Chase, but they can’t keep having rollercoaster weekends. They have to be darn near dominant. That’s why it’s funny to me to hear Darian Grubb say, “We have to race every weekend like it’s the last one.” Yeah, that ship has sailed. You needed to do that two weeks ago.
Mike N.: I think the ideal NASCAR situation will be that Hamlin has to win at Richmond to make the Chase. That will give them a huge amount of publicity leading into a Chase where Jimmie Johnson is going to be the overwhelming favorite.
Phil: Regardless, Hamlin can’t do anything unless TRD has their stuff together. He’ll be completely done for if he has an engine failure between now and Richmond.
Summer: In fairness, they are giving some horsepower back in Michigan. Though, you’re right Phil… they aren’t doing much to help Hamlin seal the deal here. Mike, it’d be even better if he and Logano had to race for that “wild card” spot.
Mike N.: Yes, that would be an outstanding storyline. Imagine the jabs and snipes all week leading up to that race.
Summer: Man, now you’ve got me excited.
Mike N.: Well, Hamlin has a lot of work to do before that will happen.
Summer: Certainly. And at this point, I still say it won’t. But stranger things have happened in this sport.
Phil: That would be interesting. However, I think that feud is over now.
Summer: Oh, no, Phil. I don’t think that at all. They just haven’t had a ton of chances to really race around each other, and Hamlin has other things to worry about. If he gets caught up in the feud, he’s officially screwed. If he focuses on the Chase, he’s still at least somewhat in the game.
Mike N.: Hamlin has to put in some yeoman-like work the next couple of months for him to be in the game.
Summer: And have some amazing, Jimmie Johnson-esque luck on his side. I will make this prediction: Hamlin will make a hell of a run at it. Win one, maybe two races and get some good finishes. But he will simply run out of time.
Phil: Hamlin’s got to drive like heck, and hope things go his way. I don’t think he can get in the Chase by pure pace alone. He needs help.
Mike N.: Hamlin is going to have a very impressive run to make the Chase. If he does, it will be something of legend. And then we’ll see what he does.
Jeb Burton, the son of Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton won his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race last Friday night in Texas. He’s second in points, just 23 behind leader Matt Crafton. Look in your crystal ball … can he close this one?
Summer: I think the whole rookie thing will prevent him from winning the championship, but he’ll still be in the top three after Homestead.
Phil: He’s got the right squad behind him to do it. However, he doesn’t quite have the experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if he claimed a couple of more wins, though. He showed flashes of brilliance last year at Hillman Racing, but a lack of funds really limited what he could do.
Summer: I remember that, Phil. He’d all of a sudden be in the top 5 or top 10 and no one knew who he was. It was definitely a sign of things to come.
Mike N.: Interestingly, although he is a rookie, his demeanor in the heat of battle seems to never change. The emotion in Victory Lane was far and away the most I have ever seen from him.
Summer: Did you see his interview on Race Hub? I think it was him that said he had a five-year plan… this year in Trucks and next. Two in Nationwide, then the next in Cup. I think that’s someone who has his head on straight.
Mike N.: It would be a fantastic story. I don’t think a rookie is going to win the title but the chance is there. It will go a long way in solidifying South Boston Speedway as one of the best short tracks in the country.
Summer: I like the excitement that comes from him. He’s passionate, but reserved when he needs to be. He hasn’t been around long but I can’t think of a time when he lost his temper.
Mike N.: He is very much in control of his emotions and when things get close in October, if he is still in the running, that will be a benefit for him.
Summer: I do agree with you.
Mike N.: I don’t believe he’s had a moment in the truck yet where he lost it. I think there were a few times on the local track growing up, though.
Phil: He’s definitely a solid championship contender for 2014. For this year? I want to see a little more before I can say for sure.
Summer: I think ThorSport wins the championship this year, not Burton. But I think next year is a real possibility for him.
Predictions for Michigan?
Summer: I’m going with Greg Biffle pulling some momentum from Pocono to win.
Mike N.: I’m going with Matt Kenseth. He’s been the car to beat on tracks like this when his engine stays in one piece.
Phil: Kasey Kahne, for me.
Connect with Mike!
Contact Mike Neff
Connect with Phil!
Contact Phil Allaway
Connect with Summer!
Contact Summer Bedgood
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