The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Busting Through Slumps And Safety On Independence Day by Frontstretch Staff -- Thursday July 4, 2013

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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)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
Allen Bedgood (Fan Contributor)
Michael Mehedin (Frontstretch Power Rankings Coordinator)

The follow-up to Brad Keselowski’s Sprint Cup Series championship season has been anything but championship caliber, and Kentucky further added to the misery for that team. Through no fault of his own, Keselowski was caught up in a crash early on in the race. Though he finished, his 33rd-place result knocked him outside of the top 10 to 13th, with a 14-point deficit to 10th place. Can Keselowski pick it back up or will last year’s champion miss the Chase in 2013?

Phil: I’m sure that Keselowski can pick it up. It’s way too early to count him out of the Chase. There’s still nine more races. You can make up 14 points real easy.
Allen: He will be fine. He’s just in a slump, and like you said — Kentucky was not even his fault. Once he gets out of this rut, he’s going to start popping off wins and we’ll all be talking about him and Jimmie Johnson again.
Summer: I definitely think there is enough time for him to get back into this thing. While the team has somewhat struggled this year, they couldn’t help what happened in Kentucky. I don’t know that I think he’ll be contending for the championship again, but I think he’ll make the Chase. Honestly, the points are so darn tight back from 10th to 15th, just about any of those guys could make something happen.
Allen: I don’t think he’ll be a “contender” either. Matt Kenseth is going all out this year. It’s pretty crazy. But as far as Brad goes, don’t even worry about it. Still got some racing to go!
Phil: He’ll probably snag a win or two in August. The last couple of years, Keselowski’s best runs have been from August to October.
Mike M.: It’s been interesting to see Brad fare this season. I think a lot of people were surprised he won the Championship last year and I don’t think many gave him a shot to defend this year. Looking at the drivers outside the top 10, it’ll be tougher than you guys think considering I don’t see his performance changing anytime soon. Funny to see Joey Logano doing so good in comparison.
Summer: I will admit, if you’d have told me Joey Logano would be ahead of Brad Keselowski in the standings after 17 races, I’d have called you crazy.
Phil: Brad seems to be tracking for a sixth-place finish in points. He’ll pick up the pace at either New Hampshire or Indianapolis.
Allen: I have him slated to win New Hampshire actually.
Summer: Let’s also not forget that Keselowski didn’t start the year off like this. He started with two fourth-place runs followed by two third-place runs. So they aren’t completely sucking, they just have some room to go. I would say that Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth have just been such a huge force this year, they’ve left everyone behind.
Phil: Brad’s had a lot of bad luck recently. The wreck on Sunday didn’t help. Sonoma was disappointing.
Summer: In the meantime, Logano seems to have found his niche with Penske, for whatever reason. It’s strange considering how well Kenseth is doing with his old team. He’s had a lot of “disappointing” runs, but you could point to a lot of reasons why.
Phil: Logano has regained the form he had back in the first month of the season. Perhaps he’s benefiting from the action in the Nationwide Series?
Mike M.: Goes to show what they were putting “into” Logano at JGR.
Phil: It’s pretty obvious that he wasn’t their primary focus on Sprint Cup at Gibbs. However, I still believe that he underperformed there.
Allen: Well, Brad is going to be fine, too. He’ll make the Chase, but I don’t see him contending for the Title again.
Summer: I think Brad Keselowski will be fine. He’ll work his way back in there somewhere. Logano and Keselowski will feed off of one another’s success.
Mike M.: I disagree. Brad only makes the Chase through the “wild card.”

Kyle Petty’s criticism of Danica Patrick has been well documented, and everyone has chosen a side of the story. Those on the “pro-Danica” side have repeatedly said that Kyle Petty has no room to talk considering his lackluster career in NASCAR. It begs the question: does Petty’s own results on-track make his opinion about this one irrelevant?

Summer: Fans don’t have a right to criticize Kyle Petty about being a bad driver since they’ve never driven at all. In fact, according to their logic, you should only be allowed to criticize another driver if you were a better driver. In fact, everything we just said about Logano and Keselowski was wrong because we’ve never driven a racecar.
Mike M.: Kyle made perfectly clear that he was in no way a “great” driver. Anyone can make that assumption. All they need to do is look at Patrick’s stats. Take the names away, just show the stats, and many people might be thinking the same thing. Maybe the person with those stats isn’t a race car driver, but they definitely have a lackluster career to this point.
Phil: You could argue that Kyle Petty was a better driver than Danica is now.
Summer: Exactly, Phil. He may not have been great — which he readily admits — but he was far from sucking. Danica Patrick will never have eight wins in Sprint Cup.
Mike M.: Kyle is a better driver than Danica.
Allen: It takes some sort of talent to be competitive in this sport and even if it’s only eight wins, over hundreds and hundreds of races – it counts. I say Kyle has a right to speak his mind on the issue. I agree with him. Danica comes from IndyCar, and she never even did much there minus her one win in Japan. She came to NASCAR and what has she done? Won a pole at Daytona? I’m not a Danica-basher, but Kyle had a point and some people need to open their eyes and really read / listen to what he had to say.
Phil: I really doubt Danica will win a race by leading all but eight laps of a 500-mile event. And definitely not at Rockingham.
Summer: Clearly, anyone who said “Kyle Petty has no room to talk because he was no good either” obviously weren’t educated enough to be making such a claim.
Mike M.: Yes, you do need skills to drive a race car, I understand that. I think it’s ironic that she excels at the one type of track that many drivers say doesn’t take much to drive. (Daytona and Talladega)
Summer: Mike, I think the fact that all you need to do at those tracks is floor it comes naturally to her because of her experience in open wheel. Do you know she’s behind Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin in the points, even though she’s run the whole season and they have both missed at least four?
Mike M.: And then, she goes to any other track and can’t get out of the 20s.
Allen: GoDaddy is making a fortune off her, and that is the one and only reason she’s been in racing this long. Can you imagine the money GoDaddy generated during the Daytona 500 weekend when she won the pole?
Mike M.: I agree. She’s a marketing machine, like Kyle said. Probably why Tony hasn’t completely pulled all of his hair out.
Phil: I believe that Kyle is just plain unimpressed with Danica Patrick as a racer. That’s why he’s made his comments, which were apparently from 2010 and simply re-iterated.
Mike M.: See, for some reason people are scared to make their opinion heard. I’m sure there are more people than Kyle who think the same way he does but are afraid to say anything. She won the pole at Daytona and DW was ready to give her the Championship trophy.
Summer: She got more coverage for that pole than Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, etc. would have. They got a hell of a bang for their buck.
Allen: I thought she did win the race. That’s all I heard / read about for an entire week.
Phil: However, I think that Danica can eventually impress – even Kyle. Might take a while, but I think it can happen.
Summer: She’s already impressed him in some places. He seemed impressed by her after Martinsville. And I think he even said something about Darlington, though I don’t remember for sure.
Mike M.: Flashes of positive performances like that wouldn’t keep a job for anyone else.
Allen: As long as we don’t have to read about Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. being forced to sleep on the couch …
Summer: Don’t give anyone ideas.
Phil: I will say that the Six Degrees of Danica thing on NASCAR RaceDay needs to go. In the worst way. It’s annoying.
Summer: I have a hard time liking anything that directly focuses on her. The results just aren’t there.
Allen: And, in my opinion, never will be.
Phil: Back to the question at hand. I think Kyle has the right to voice his opinion here. That’s pretty much what he does these days. Kyle’s been around the sport for most of his life. He knows what he’s seeing from her.
Summer: Look, I know she’s a rookie, but Kyle Petty wasn’t totally wrong in his comments. And, more importantly, he had a right to say what he did regardless of his driving experience.
Mike M.: I agree; I don’t see anything wrong with his comments. At this point, he’s a better driver than Danica and has every right to speak his mind. In this PC world we live in now… I say good for you, Kyle.
Phil: I still think that she’ll eventually start to put up better results. I don’t think she’s winning a title, though.
Allen: I don’t even see her winning a race — sorry.

There aren’t many diehard NASCAR fans who enjoy seeing Sprint Cup Series regulars dominating Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races. However, there is something to be said about watching an up-and-comer beat the more experienced Cup Series drivers as Ty Dillon did in the Truck Series race in Kentucky. Would Ty Dillon’s win be as impressive if Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch had not been a part of the race?

Summer: No, it wouldn’t have. I loved watching Ty Dillon racing with two of the best drivers in NASCAR. A champion and who I believe will be a future champion.
Phil: Ty’s win would have been impressive, regardless.
Mike M.: The support divisions aren’t like they used to be these days, which is sad. I hate saying it but I think that his win wouldn’t have been as impressive if the Cup boys were not in the race. As dominant as Kyle, Brad, etc. have been, you have to beat them to be considered a top driver in those series. Ty is a good driver, but he’s not Austin.
Summer: Ty and Austin are equal drivers, I think, but it was more impressive to see him beat Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski than it would have been watching him race Jeb Burton and Matt Crafton.
Mike M.: I agree. To be considered a top driver in those series, you need to beat those guys.
Allen: I don’t think it would have meant near as much. The Truck Series is a developmental Series before moving to Nationwide and eventually Cup, so when you can outperform someone who is already there – it’s impressive. You kind of need a Cup guy or two in the lower Series to help mold the up and coming drivers. I don’t agree with having 5-10 Cup guys running in a race though. 1-2 is enough.
Phil: It’s not like those guys are a couple of scrubs. Crafton and Jeb Burton would have still given Ty plenty of heck.
Summer: Of course, but they’re not Cup level.
Mike M.: I would have rather seen Jeb Burton in my rear-view mirror than Kyle Busch.
Summer: Agreed.
Allen: I like a challenge. Give me Kyle.
Mike M.: If anything, I’d be more concerned about Jeb throwing the truck into turn 1 and wrecking us all. Actually, I’d be afraid of that with Kyle too.
Summer: Apparently it’s his brother that you have to worry about diving into the corner, but that’s another story.
Mike M.: Haha, that’s not the corner… that’s the straightaway. But I agree, you need the Cup guys in those divisions. Imagine the ticket sales if they were not. Those divisions would fade away… there isn’t the talent there was 5-10-15 years ago.
Summer: I’m not talking about in terms of danger, though. I’m talking about in terms of talent. Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are championship level drivers in the Sprint Cup Series. Ty Dillon is a second year Truck Series driver. That’s pretty freakin’ impressive to beat them, if you ask me.
Allen: Personally, I enjoy going to my local track and watching guys make a name for themselves, without someone well known in the field, but I know in NASCAR, you kind of need it. I’m on the fence about the whole thing, honestly.
Summer: I’m fine with or without Cup guys in the field. There are pros and cons on both sides. To ignore either is ignorant.
Phil: It seems like the development series (especially below the Truck Series) seemingly don’t have any veterans in it anymore. K&N East (when it was Busch North) used to have a lot of regulars that you had to conquer. Now, it’s mainly 15-21 year olds.
Summer: That’s not completely a bad thing though. One of the pros of not having Cup drivers (or whoever) in the lower series is you do hear more about those young guys. Dylan Kwasniewski and Brett Moffitt are examples. Though I’d imagine you’d hear more about them if they out-raced Kyle Busch to win…. so there is that.
Phil: Still pretty exciting races, but it’s just different.
Mike M.: Working at a local dirt track…it’s a totally different atmosphere. I love it. Guys just racing hard trying to win for a lot less than a Cup driver.
Phil: I’m at a dirt track every week. They’ve got a 54-year-old kicking butt cheeks every week in the top class.
Summer: I think it depends on the track. Anyway, I definitely was more impressed by Ty Dillon for beating Cup guys than I would have been had he beat the regulars. He’s a great driver either way.
Phil: Yeah, I suppose. Ty has shown a lot of promise in the Truck Series. However, he also got great equipment from the start.
Mike M.: Good for Ty. He needed that win. The fact that he beat the big boys, it’s impressive. I’d like to see a few more wins this season. Keep the mistakes to a minimum and he’ll be quickly following in his brother’s footsteps.

This weekend, NASCAR returns to Daytona for the first time since the horrifying wreck in the Nationwide Series that severely injured several fans in the grandstands. Daytona has implemented a project that would reinforce safety measures in the catchfence and especially near the crossover gate. Do fans attending the race have a reason to be afraid and has Daytona done enough to make sure this never happens again?

Summer: I don’t know that they thought that could happen in the first place. I think they would have fixed it a long time ago if they did.
Phil: Honestly, what happened in February could be best described as a freak accident. My guess is that once the renovations are done, there won’t be gate crossovers anymore.
Mike M.: No, the fans should not be afraid. What happened in February was an accident. The car just happened to his the crossover fence, which is what caused so much damage and allowed so much debris into the stands.
Summer: Phil, I saw them say they’ll keep the gates because they serve a purpose in the industry.
Mike M.: If they do keep the gate, I’m sure there will be changes to allow for not as much “give.”
Allen: I said this before … freak accidents are going to happen. It’s really unfortunate, but it’s going to happen. You just have to do everything in your power to keep it from occurring again. No … fans have no reason to be afraid.
Summer: And I agree that no one should be afraid to go to the track. All the circumstances were just right for that to go wrong. It won’t happen again.
Mike M.: They’ll prevent this from happening again… and sadly, something else might happen at another part of the track that no one thought would happen.
Summer: It’s not like they can put SAFER barriers in the catchfence.
Phil: I probably won’t be able to take a look from behind to see what the reinforcement looks like, when I’m there but I’m sure that it will be very strong.
Mike M.: Look at Pocono. I don’t think anyone thought Sadler would wreck the way he did. Now there are SAFER barriers all along those dirt mounds.
Summer: Well that… I don’t know that a driver crashing in the infield is completely unexpected, but I see your point.
Phil: They’re not on the dirt mounds. The SAFER Barriers are quite a bit closer to the track than the mounds. Like 15-30 feet, maybe.
Summer: I don’t see any reason to not have SAFER barriers on all the walls if that’s feasible for the track.
Mike M.: They’re smart. I’m sure they’ll find a way to reinforce the fence while still keeping the crossover option. Well exactly, something I don’t think anyone needed a year or two ago.
Summer: Right. It’s highly unlikely a car will hit that area again anyway.
Mike M.: But all you need is for it to happen once. And that’s what happened in February.
Summer: Of course, but I don’t think anyone needs to be concerned.
Phil: True, but we’ve had an uptick in catchfence incidents in the last few years. I think there’s been four since 2009.
Mike M.: I wouldn’t be. I’d sit in those seats.
Summer: Maybe slow the cars down, then? NASCAR can only do so much to bypass physics.
Allen: Slowing the cars down would be perfect. Closer racing, and better safety.
Mike M.: They’re still going too fast even if you slow them down. With how they race four-wide, it’ll be tough to slow them down enough. They were wrecking like this years ago, when the cars were “slower.”
Phil: The only reason they’re as fast as they were in February (for Nationwide) was because of the tandem drafting. Otherwise, they can barely go 175.
Summer: Phil, what other catchfence incidents have there been?
Phil: Well, Carl Edwards at Talladega in 2009. Dennis Setzer in 2010 at Talladega and Joey Coulter last year in the Truck race at Daytona. Yes, none of them were like Larson’s hit, but those vehicles went into the catchfence.
Summer: That’s hardly enough to warrant concern. The only one reaching severity was Edwards’. Obviously they happen, but they are still pretty few and far between.
Phil: But, it is a significant increase. Prior to 2009, you’d have to go back a significant amount to find one at all. Possibly as far back as 1996. Wait, 2000 with Geoff Bodine.
Summer: I don’t know of what that would be other than coincidence, and even then they weren’t near as severe.
Phil: You can call it coincidence. All four of the most recent catchfence incidents are final lap crashes, though.
Mike M.: Fans have nothing to worry about. Enjoy the race!
Summer: I think Daytona will do what they need to do to fix the problem, even if it likely won’t happen again. Fans should go back for sure.
Phil: However, I trust that Daytona and other tracks will continue to innovate better fencing and gate solutions. They have to.
Predictions for Daytona?

Summer: I’m going with Kyle Busch.
Allen: Matt Kenseth.
Phil: Casey Mears. I’m going for another upset special.
Mike M.: Tony Stewart.

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Did You Notice? … Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Beyond the Cockpit: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Growing Up Racing and Owner Loyalties
The Frontstretch Five: Flaws Exposed In the New Chase So Far
NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Darlington
NASCAR Mailbox: Past Winners Aren’t Winning …. Yet
Open Wheel Wednesday: How Can IndyCar Stand Out?


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07/04/2013 12:24 PM

I don’t think there was anything wrong with Petty’s comments about Danica as a racer. Gender shouldn’t matter and she is in well-funded, well-prepared equipment. A lot of racers, both male and female, would be ecstatic to be in that equipment.

I get that her fans will defend her performance, but based on what she’s done in both Indycar & NASCAR, Kyle’s comments are correct. I would have no problem if she was simply covered as a racer, not as another one of NASCAR’s wanna-be saviors. NASCAR & it’s related media insists on trying to shove specific drivers down our throats for popularity. I’ll decide for myself if I want to cheer for a driver or not, not because the various marketing & media machines tell me I should.

Johnson needs to get over himself with the restarts. He screwed up both times and I’m quite sure he’s been on the “delivering” end of some snookering at times. It has actually been pretty funny considering he usually is so PC. The whining isn’t helping his popularity though.

Personally I would prefer that the Sprint Cup regulars be limited to a specific number of races in Nationwide & trucks, rather than just whenever they want to be there. I’m happy for Ty Dillon – I’m sure beating 2 Cup regulars made his win even more special. For the most part, I seldom watch the broadcasts for either series because I find it boring to watch whatever Cup driver happens to be racing dominate. It just doesn’t interest me.

Daytona – well, I’ve been there twice. I’m not a big fan of RP tracks to begin with and honestly I wouldn’t spend my money and time to go there again. Considering that 90 percent of the race is pretty boring and the last 10 percent is (at least from my point of view – fear for my driver’s life). The recent rash of catchfence incidents at RP tracks certainly would concern me. There was a long period of time where I don’t remember seeing a car get launched into the stands, but recently, there have been too many. My sister saw that Nationwide crash on the news and when I answered my phone – her first words were – oh good, you aren’t at Daytona. When my sister, who doesn’t follow racing, reacts like that, I’ll just watch it on TV. My house is more comfortable anyway.

Carl D.
07/06/2013 11:37 AM

No one picked Jimmie Johnson this week. If this were a betting game, I’d make a crass comment about fools and their money.

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