Frontstretch Staff · Thursday June 27, 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)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
Martin Truex, Jr.’s win at Sonoma was a popular one amongst his peers, receiving congrats from teammate Clint Bowyer along with fellow drivers Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, and Brian Vickers, among others. It wasn’t exactly a shot in the dark for the team, as Truex has had many close calls for a race win this year. What will this victory mean for the team as a whole?
Summer: I think he’ll make the Chase and be solidly consistent. However, a championship isn’t happening. I think his teammate — Bowyer — has a better shot at winning the title than he does and even then, it’s hard to say at this point. There is still so much racing left.
Phil: Well, they finally got over the hump. They’ve run well this year, but a little inconsistent. I wouldn’t be surprised if they won a couple of more races before the season ends.
Summer: I wouldn’t either, but then again I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t win another one. It took him almost six years before; I wouldn’t put it past this team to be a one-hit wonder this year.
Jeff W.: Michael Waltrip said before this race that the team really needed a win. After a slow start, Truex had a pretty good stretch before some bad luck. He’d had plenty of bad luck when leading the last couple of years, so there’s good reason for others to be happy for him.
Phil: I don’t think Truex will have a “Cole Trickle Turnaround” for the rest of 2013, but it should be interesting what he does for the next six weeks or so.
Jeff W.: I think he’s certainly capable of winning another race or two just because they have contended some this year. If they were consistently finishing the high teens or low 20s, then pulled out a win, I would say probably just luck. But I think it’s clear they are making progress. One win doesn’t cure everything, but it’s a pretty good start.
Summer: I have to say that I’ve found myself eating my words with MWR the past couple of years. I didn’t they would ever be a good, competitive team in this series. They’re going to put both of their full-time cars in the Chase this year, more than likely.
Jeff W.: I think the big question, as we all know, will be engine dependability.
Summer: That’s true, but it’s not like road courses are easy on engines. Hopefully, they’ve figured this stuff out because I hate to feel like we’re missing out on some racing because of their issues. If TRD can hold it together, MWR will be a darkhorse contender in the Chase.
Jeff W.: I would say it would be an upset for Truex to not be in the Chase now, no doubt.
Phil: The engine issues appear to refer to hanging RPMs. That’s not necessarily something you deal with on road courses. There’s a large RPM range at Sonoma as opposed to Pocono, Michigan, or even Kentucky.
Summer: Kentucky will be a good test of that, and they did say they gave all the horsepower back, right? Because, like I said, it sucks for them to have to ride around.
Jeff W.: They gave some back, I’m not sure if it’s all.
Phil: They might give a little more back this week. Still not all the way yet.
Summer: The thing is that it’s difficult to tell whether someone is having a bad day or if it’s because of the engines. At least they are doing this now and not in the Chase.
Jeff W.: The last thing a race car driver wants to be told he can’t have all the horsepower that’s available. That would be a bummer.
Summer: Well, it’s frustrating to watch, too. You wonder what could have been.
Jeff W.: You know they are under pressure to get it worked out quickly as possible.
Summer: Of course, but it really shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.
Jeff W.: That’s true, and somehow, they were caught off guard by the engine woes. They didn’t see something when they tested.
Phil: MWR and Gibbs are paying way the deuce too much for these engines for them not to figure it out. They will.
Summer: I think Truex will make the Chase, maybe win another race this year. I’m not feeling championship for this team, though.
Kurt Busch took responsibility for what could have been a better day for the team after Busch sped on pit road twice in a row. Though the team did recover and finish in the fourth position, Busch was frustrated after the race, though he handled it with a level head. What does it say about this team—which used to just be happy with a top-15 finish — that they are upset with a fourth-place run?
Phil: Kurt Busch apparently had a great rapport with the Furniture Row team long before they hired him. He has a lot of confidence in himself; they’ve never been this jacked up before.
Summer: I think it says that the team is maturing and that the driver makes a lot of difference.
Jeff W.: Not apologizing for Kurt Busch’s past ways, but he at least seems to be trying to keep himself under control now in tough situations. Sure, he didn’t want to speed on pit row once, let alone twice. But the fact he is not satisfied with not contending for wins is good for that team.
Summer: I was actually shocked Kurt Busch didn’t erupt.
Phil: He’s legitimately happy for the first time in who knows how long. It’s great to see. He’s still a bit of a longshot for a Chase spot.
Summer: I still don’t buy into Kurt Busch’s PC attitude. It still doesn’t come off as genuine. He is way too polite. I wouldn’t mind if he showed his personality a little more, as long as he didn’t act like a jerk.
Phil: I want to say he might have exploded briefly in the car, but then managed to get his game face back on. In the past, Busch would have done something else to compound his issues.
Summer: That’s what I mean, Phil. Any driver would have gotten pissed in that situation. Busch has a history of overreacting.
Phil: Well, he did see that sports psychologist. Maybe that was more than just for show.
Summer: I don’t know. I just don’t always match the facial expressions with the words. It’s different when he’s happy, but when he’s frustrated he puts on this plastic grin and says all the right things.
Jeff W.: Well, he’s dealt with consequences of overreacting, so maybe he’s figured out how to calm himself down a little when he’s frustrated. The key was, he took responsibility for the speeding mistakes, plus didn’t blame NASCAR or his crew for having the tach wrong. He said he screwed up.
Summer: I admire him for trying. The problem I have is that it’s OK for him to have a personality and for some reason he can’t seem to find a balance.
Phil: I suppose that’s hard for some people. I think Kurt’s convinced that everyone hates his personality, so he chooses not to show it publicly.
Jeff W.: Finding that balance may take a while. After so many over the top reactions, he knows his future could well depend on him keeping his cool. So, he’s got to tone it down first, then maybe figure out when it’s OK to let it rip a little, too.
Summer: Well, I think people would like the personality, just not the jerkwad side. Unless that’s his only side… in which case, he can keep it to himself. His brother has a middle ground. He’s a smart aleck, and has a great sense of humor when he’s not pissed off.
Jeff W.: Yes, Kyle seems to be in a pretty good place right now. Couldn’t help but laugh at his twitter responses this week.
Phil: Yeah, he went after the trolls big time after the race.
Summer: His Twitter tirade was hilarious. The trolls deserved it.
Jeff W.: Since they already don’t like him, he didn’t care if he made them mad or not. So, that’s why I thought it was funny.
Phil: There’s something to be said for that. Kyle Petty’s similar at times on Twitter.
Summer: I like that he’s not sensitive. I see people saying, “This is why Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t on Twitter!” Well, maybe if Junior had thicker skin…
Jeff W.: The whole Junior Nation would be living and dying on his every word, overanalyzing each tweet…
The Nationwide Series race ended with a feel good story in Road America, with AJ Allmendinger enjoying a win filled with redemption after a failed drug test last July in Daytona had many wondering if AJ Allmendinger would ever race again. How much did this win shape Allmendinger’s future and, more importantly, did he deserve this second chance?
Jeff W.: I’m actually, in a strange sort of way, rooting for him to turn his attitude/career around. Even though I’ve been in the media room when he’s been disrespectful.
Summer: Well, no one’s perfect. He went through the NASCAR program, so he deserves a second chance. It was great for him to get a win and prove that he is still capable.
Phil: I think he did deserve the second chance. Most of the drivers who have flunked tests in the past 10 or years have never returned at all. Aaron Fike took five years just to get reinstated. Brian Rose took six. Kevin Grubb got back relatively quick, then got booted again for refusing a drug test after crashing out.
Summer: Everyone deserves a second chance, though Penske has obviously been a supporting hand in that. It helped that Allmendinger didn’t fight the system and obviously didn’t seem to have a real drug problem.
Jeff W.: Not to mention the whole Jeremy Mayfield career fiasco.
Summer: Oh, goodness! I was groaning at the thought of having to sit through more of that crap.
Phil: Yes, you choose to fight the system and all kinds of skeletons will come out. Mayfield won’t race again, no matter what he says.
Summer: I was honestly happy for Allmendinger. He made a mistake, it cost him, and he made it right. Good for him.
Jeff W.: I think, too it’s possible too that Allmendinger realized he made one and was humbled a bit by it. Sometimes, you just have to take your hits and then do what’s necessary to get back.
Summer: Right, but he admitted a mistake, as opposed to all of these other people who would rather live in denial. Even if you didn’t do it, you are in better position to just go along with NASCAR’s plan rather than trying to be the David to their Goliath.
Jeff W.: The system is just too hard to go against if you want to keep racing. So, what’s more important, getting proven right or to continue doing what you love to do and getting paid a pretty good salary for it.
Phil: NASCAR does their drug test announcements differently than other sports. In baseball, they don’t announce test failures until after the appeals are done. Here, you’re suspended before you get the chance to appeal.
Jeff W.: The other part, too is that Allmendinger was and is still young enough to have a good career.
Summer: I also think it’s great to see Allmendinger giving so much credit to Roger Penske. Clearly, he feels like Penske gave him a second chance when he didn’t have to. Yes, he will be fine.
Phil: True. Allmendinger had driven for Penske for five months before the test failure. He could have washed his hands of AJ, but he chose not to.
Jeff W.: And maybe the whole Mayfield mess sent a message to at least him. Yes, I was happy for Allmendinger to get a win. Penske is a first class guy and while he was in a tough spot last year after the suspension, he doesn’t forget people either. Good for ‘Dinger and good for Penske. Better days ahead for ‘Dinger too, most likely.
Phil: It’s good to see Allmendinger have some success. This is his first win in NASCAR, period.
As the series heads to Kentucky this weekend, there are several big-name drivers in the top 15 who have yet to score a victory. Most notably, these include Jeff Gordon, defending champion Brad Keselowski, and Truex’s teammate Clint Bowyer. Who needs to score a win the most this weekend and what are their chances?
Summer: Gosh, I’m really surprised Jeff Gordon still hasn’t gotten one yet and he needs it more than the other two. It’s not like he’s sucked this year, either. He’s just had some crappy luck.
Phil: I’d argue that Bowyer has the best chance of getting that win. However, Kentucky is sort of wide open since they’ve only had two Cup races there.
Jeff W.: I would say Gordon. He’s a guy used to winning and trying to prove he still has the drive to win races.
Phil: Gordon is coming off of a second-place finish at Sonoma. Every little bit helps.
Summer: I think Bowyer has the best chance to win, but Gordon can probably pull it off.
Jeff W.: Also, in terms of making the Chase, Gordon needs it, too. But you know, Keselowski isn’t happy with not winning either. You can sense some frustration there, but he’s kind of holding it in a little right now.
Summer: Yeah, but Keselowski hasn’t been running as well as he did last year though either. Gordon has been good this year. Keselowski has been so-so.
Jeff W.: Once you run up front, like he did a lot last year, then the next year you aren’t running up front, no driver or team is going to be OK with that.
Phil: Gordon’s second place only moved him up to 13th in points. He needs more good runs in a hurry. As for Keselowski, he’s in a prolonged swoon. He’s got to get it together. The last couple of years have seen Brad come on in August, but he might need to turn it up earlier this season.
Jeff W.: Certainly, he and the team are capable and he knows that coming off a championship season. That may give him reason to be a little more patient than in the past.
Summer: Well, Brad is still in an OK position to make the Chase, though one blown engine or ill-timed crash could knock him out of the top 10.
Jeff W.: I think that’s why drivers want that win so badly – some Chase insurance.
Summer: That, and getting some good runs in will provide some momentum for the Chase. They can’t wait until then to start winning. Unless you’re Tony Stewart, of course.
Phil: Brad’s only nine points in front of Kahne in 11th. Just getting beat a couple of weeks in a row can knock him out of the top 10. That doesn’t necessarily require a bad run.
Jeff W.: That’s not a cushion at all. He could drop out with even a couple of finishes between 10th and 15th. He may be a little more desperate to go for a win with so little room for error.
Summer: Actually, Gordon isn’t that far behind Keselowski, either. I guess the point is that both of them better get their butts into gear. Bowyer seems pretty safe in third, though getting a few wins would help him when they reset the points.
Jeff W.: Bowyer’s been pretty consistent. I think Chase-wise, he’s fine, but yes, he’ll miss those bonus points.
Phil: Gordon in 13th is 13 points behind Keselowski.
Jeff W.: There’s a pretty tight group there between ninth on down. It makes getting a win, or even two, a really big deal.
Summer: I’m wondering if both or at least one of them will miss the Chase. I would say one of them is looking somewhat likely, but it’s really hard to say.
Phil: Winning’s a big deal, but just getting a good finish can be all the difference when it’s that close.
Summer: For those outside the top 10, though, it’s that win they need more than strong finishes.
Jeff W.: What if both Gordon and BK missed the Chase?
Summer: That would be odd. It’s usually the second-place finisher who has the slump, not the champion himself. As far as Gordon, he’s had years like this one before.
Jeff W.: Maybe the change to Ford, combined with the new car is taking Penske guys a little longer to figure out that car.
Summer: Well then, how do you explain how strong Logano was at the beginning of the year? It’s just been Keselowski lacking for a while now.
Phil: No one really thought about how that would affect Keselowski. A manufacturer switch, even since NASCAR introduced newer cars, is a big change. For Logano, Gibbs had turned into a toxic environment for him. Getting out just made him better in general.
Jeff W.: Maybe in trying to get the car set up to win, they took a big swing at it, missed and took a step back. That’s what I mean; they are still learning on the new car.
Summer: I’d say Gordon needs the win the most and is capable of doing it. Keselowski needs it, too but he’s just been lacking this year.
Jeff W.: Well, it would be good for the sport for Keselowski and Gordon to both get a win and both make the Chase. But there are no guarantees, unless you’re Jimmie Johnson.
Predictions for Kentucky?
Summer: I’ll go with Kyle Busch to win it all, even though Gordon needs it.
Phil: Gordon needs the win more since he’s further back in points, but Brad needs momentum. I’ll go with Kasey Kahne for the win.
Jeff W.: Kyle Busch and Kahne were the two names in my head. So, with that in mind, I’ll go out on a limb and pick Denny Hamlin.
Summer: Now that would be interesting.
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Contact Jeff Wolfe
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