The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Big Changes Setting Up A Big Day At Michigan by Frontstretch Staff -- Sunday August 18, 2013

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Mirror Driving: Big Changes Setting Up A Big Day At Michigan

Frontstretch Staff · Sunday August 18, 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:

Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)
Ellen Richardson (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)

It’s official. Brian Vickers will be a full-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing beginning 2014, and will stay that way for at least the next two years. One of the more surprising aspects of the deal was that Aaron’s agreed to be the primary sponsor for every single race. This means that Michael Waltrip Racing will have two fully sponsored cars next season, and most of Bowyer’s car is filled with sponsorship. When even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has trouble filling their schedule, what does this say about MWR’s ability to keep sponsors happy and can it be applied to the rest of the garage?

Phil: It says that they’re doing something right. They’re pleasing the sponsors not just with on-track performance, but with off-track stuff as well.
Summer: And I’m shocked that companies like NAPA and Aaron’s stuck around during the first couple of years, let alone until now.
Mike N.: Aaron’s and NAPA have gotten a lot of mileage out of Mikey’s moronic shenanigans in commercials. They see value in being on his cars so they’re sticking with it. I also believe Waltrip takes less money to sponsor a car than other owners.
Summer: Michael is a great endorser, but on-track performance still means something, right? And, yes, that was rhetorical. I know better.
Phil: Maybe it’s all the way down to the small stuff, like how the MWR Girls coordinate their attire to sponsors. Last week, they were wearing this camo stuff to advertise the whole Duck Dynasty special scheme that Bowyer ran.
Summer: MWR is a marketing machine. They are great at it.
Mike N.: Which means the on-track performance means next to nothing. It is all about exposure and Michael’s sponsors get more than almost any other sponsors off the track. They get their money’s worth.
Summer: Junior isn’t great, but he does well enough on track to warrant his sponsors.
Ellen: Summer, I agree but can you honestly say that Junior has performed that well this year?
Summer: He’s usually top 10 in points. That’s something that MWR couldn’t say for a very long time.
Ellen: I have to agree that MWR is a Marketing Machine, but I believe that you also have to factor in the Hendrick is probably the top team and in saying so will always charge more for the name.
Summer: Now, you could make a very legitimate argument for someone like Danica Patrick. But MWR is even more impressive since they were able to keep their sponsors happy with pure exposure. Nothing like the marketing Patrick has.
Mike N.: Remember, 5-Hour Energy came to Richard Childress and he turned them down because they weren’t going to pay enough. Mikey makes more with less than most other owners.
Summer: And then they get more for their money and you might argue they would be willing to pay more. It’s really a genius strategy… and they have benefitted from it this season. Who would have thought that it would be Clint Bowyer who didn’t make it to Victory lane while Vickers and Truex would?
Phil: That’s the best strategy. Give the sponsors a good deal and they’ll keep coming back.
Mike N.: Hendrick could sell one off rides all day with Junior. They’re looking for someone who will be a long-term sponsor.
Summer: I know. But they were having trouble finding one, or they would have signed it by now. There was a time when that wouldn’t have been an issue. Meanwhile, Aaron’s is willing to sponsor all 36 races for someone who isn’t nearly as popular.
Mike N.: Brian Vickers is actually a very popular driver.
Summer: Not nearly to the extent that Dale Jr. is. If you ask a bunch of fans at the track who their favorite driver is, you won’t hear very many say Brian Vickers.
Ellen: I agree, Mike. Hendrick seems to be a more consistent, strong team who likes to build long-term ties.
Phil: Teams like Roush Fenway Racing are rather terrible at giving good deals on sponsorship. I’d argue that’s why Kenseth ultimately left the No. 17.
Mike N.: I would be willing to bet you’re right, Phil. Roush is horrendous with sponsors and I’m sure Kenseth got sick of it.
Phil: Vickers is popular in the “he might not be my favorite, but I’d like to see him win” category.
Summer: Right, Phil. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they are selling a lot of merchandise. Though I’d argue he’d be more popular if he were in a quality ride… winning a lot more. Maybe he’ll get that with this deal in 2014.
Mike N.: The sponsors get a boat load of exposure through their TV commercials. Do any drivers appear in as many commercials as MWR drivers?
Summer: Maybe no one other than Danica Patrick. Anyway, I’d really like to see other teams do something similar, because it sucks seeing sponsorship be so important that competitive teams can’t be competitive. MWR locks them up, finishes the deal, and goes racing.
Mike N.: MWR is the best marketing bargain among the teams in NASCAR that have won more than one race this season. Their sponsors get their money’s worth and that is why they stick around.
Phil: I figured that Vickers had a good sporting chance to score the No. 55 full-time. He’s done very well in the car, even before he won. The team seems to operate in a lean fashion, and sponsors probably like that.
Ellen: I have to agree with Mike. MWR seems to have a magic touch with the drivers who compete with them lately.

Austin Dillon will be the interim driver Tony Stewart today in Michigan, as Stewart continues to heal from a vicious sprint car crash last week in which he broke his leg in two places and had to undergo two surgeries. Is Dillon the right choice or should they have chosen someone who was not running the Nationwide Series?

Summer: If Austin Dillon thinks he can do it, and the sponsors and teams don’t care, I certainly don’t.
Ellen: I believe that Austin will do well. I am not sure that he could pull off a win but could keep fans tuning into this team to see how he will do.
Phil: Dillon’s a decent choice. I don’t know if he’s going to be the only sub, but he’s run well at Michigan in the past (11th in June). They’re still in line to score a Wild Card in the owners’ Chase.
Summer: The best quality drivers available in the Cup Series are already taken.
Mike N.: I would have rather seen Scott Riggs in the car, but Dillon is a good choice. He’s already run some races in Cup, he’s got a relationship with Bass Pro Shops already, and he’s usually good at bringing his cars home in one piece.
Summer: Right. And it will give him some valuable experience with a quality team. I agree with Ellen in that I don’t think he will win, but I’ll be interested to see what he can do in that kind of equipment.
Ellen: Guess it will give him a chance to step into one legendary ride to get ready for a more legendary ride in the future. Wink! Wink!
Mike N.: Dillon is going to be moving up to Cup next season, so the more experience he can get, the better. If SHR thinks that is a good deal, then more power to them.
Summer: Right. And I don’t think it will hurt him too much in the Mid-Ohio race this weekend. If Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, etc. can all switch back and forth without a hitch, I’m sure Dillon can do it just fine.
Phil: Yes. Might as well get Dillon used to some more Cup action.
Mike N.: BTW, just for clarification, Stewart’s wreck was far from vicious. It was a tumbler, but there are far more violent sprint car wrecks almost every week. I’m curious to find out if something failed in the cage or if it was just a fluke injury.
Ellen: Agreed, Mike! He just was unlucky.
Phil: It wasn’t a nice wreck, that’s for sure. Just hitting the stationary car probably caused the injury.
Summer: There may be a lot of similar crashes in sprint car races, but the fact that he was hurt so bad, I would argue, makes it vicious. Though, I admit when I saw it … I didn’t think it looked any worse than any other sprint car wreck I’ve seen before.
Mike N.: Agreed. I think Dillon will do fine in the No. 14. Michigan is a pretty easy race from a driver’s perspective. I don’t know where Bristol falls on that scale.
Summer: Do you think they will judge Dillon’s performance at Michigan to decide if they will use him further? Because that’s the only reason I can think that they are waiting. It can’t be fun having to become acclimated to a new driver every week.
Mike N.: Definitely not, and I’m pretty sure they would like to have one driver for the whole time, but Dillon already has a couple of other races on his schedule. So they’re going to have to do some driver swapping.
Phil: Car setup is pretty big at Michigan. Stewart-Haas needs to get a good setup under Dillon for him to do well.
Ellen: I like the idea of having a different driver every week to gauge who might be the best candidate to fill Stewart’s shoes someday.
Summer: I guess so, Ellen, but at the same time I don’t think he will be retiring for a while. If his leg heals up properly, he’s going to come back with a vengeance.
Mike N.: Ha, I’m confident that Austin Dillon will not be filling the seat of the No. 14 in the future. Tony is a very long way from done. He’ll be running in Cup when he’s 50.
Phil: Stewart will be full-time in Cup at 50 and still racing at 65 in something.
Mike N.: Oh yeah. He’ll be the Red Farmer of his generation.
Summer: I can’t think of a better quality available driver who can drive a Chevy without upsetting a sponsor than Dillon. He’s certainly a better choice than Riggs.
Mike N.: I would have rather seen Riggs. Riggs was a Haas driver before they were championship caliber, he has tested for the team this year and it would have been great to see him in good equipment.
It was announced Tuesday that Juan Pablo Montoya will not be returning to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing next season, though the team has expressed interest in keeping him on the team in some capacity. What should the next step be for JPM and did he deserve to keep his ride?
Summer: Eh… I think stock car racing was a mistake for Montoya, though he did knock out a couple of wins. However, I think he’d be happier and more competitive in open-wheel.
Ellen: I believe this news is long overdue. JPM never really performed well and it is time that this team had a real performer again. Bring on Kyle Larson!
Mike N.: I don’t know that either of the full-time drivers deserve to keep their ride at EGR these days. That said, I think a Grand-Am ride or an IndyCar ride would be a good fit for Montoya.
Phil: Montoya has really fallen off the past couple of years. Even with all the changes Earnhardt Ganassi made, he hasn’t shown any improvement while McMurray has.
Summer: Montoya has had some strong runs this year, but McMurray has more stock car potential. And Montoya won’t wreck as many cars.
Mike N.: McMurray tears up less equipment than Montoya. Montoya has more shots at winning races.
Phil: Montoya won’t do the Izod IndyCar Series. I believe he’s stated that multiple times. He does the Rolex 24 every year and seems to enjoy it, but I don’t know if he wants to do it full-time. I’m still shocked that it was JPM and not McMurray, though. Chip has always had a soft spot for Juan.
Summer: OK then, Phil, what are his options? I’m sure the NHRA would love to have him (note heavy sarcasm). It is way too soon for Kyle Larson to move to Cup. That would be Joey Logano all over again.
Mike N.: I think Larson is better than Logano, by a long shot, but I agree that Larson needs another year in Nationwide.
Ellen: I agree that it wouldn’t hurt to leave Kyle in the Nationwide Series for another year. But I believe he should have a chance to compete in at least one to two Cup races next season.
Summer: As for Montoya… I doubt he’d go back to F1. However, I don’t think he’s done racing.
Phil: I have no clue Summer. Sports cars would be his best option, but that’s up in the air because there’s so many unknowns with the USCR for 2014. They still haven’t released the rules for the combined P2/DP class yet.
Mike N.: I can’t imagine he’s done racing. He’s too good and too young for that.
Summer: Let me just say that I don’t think JPM is totally done with NASCAR. At the very least, we’ll see him run some of the road courses every year.
Mike N.: It’ll be funny if he finally wins an oval race now that he’s lost his ride. JPM can drive a car. It will be interesting to see where he ends up and if he makes a decision to go to a different form of racing.

The last race at Michigan actually had a somewhat exciting finish, though it is not one of the most exciting races on the schedule. Following an exciting race at Watkins Glen International, the “excitement” headed into Michigan is lacking. Would Michigan benefit from just having one race a year or is there another change that needs to be made to make the large racetrack more exciting?

Summer: Yes. Leave MIS and go to a local short track.
Phil: One of the primary reasons the track has two races a year is its proximity to Detroit. I know that it doesn’t sound like any more of a reason than Kansas having two because of the casino (and ethanol).
Summer: I know. Once again, it’s about the money.
Mike N.: Simple answer here to fix Michigan: it is all about the tires. We saw what the right tire could do at Fontana earlier this year, it can be applied to other tracks. I still think the cars should be slowed down a little, but it all comes down to tires, not the car or the track.
Summer: Couple that with some changes to the aero package and, I agree, it could benefit Michigan tremendously. It still doesn’t justify two dates.
Mike N.: Very few tracks justify two dates anymore, Summer.
Phil: The place is so fast that if you try to do anything to the tires so that they’ll wear more, you’ll blister the heck out of them, and that’s not good. Doesn’t benefit anyone.
Summer: No, they don’t. Most tracks that have two dates can barely justify one. Though, to your point, sometimes not through their own fault. Phil, there has to be a happy medium. The racing didn’t always use to be so dependent on track position alone. Tire wear used to mean something. And it wasn’t that long ago, either.
Mike N.: The Goodyear Tire and Rubber company has been making tires for auto racing for 100 years. You’d think they could make a tire wear out that wouldn’t blister. Perhaps they need to start building tires mechanically rather than by hand.
Phil: It’s not even just a Goodyear problem. Hoosier’s had the same issues in the ARCA races there since the repave.
Mike N.: Taking the aero dependency off of the nose of the cars would obviously help make the racing a lot better, but NASCAR seems hell bent on keeping that dumbass splitter on the cars.
Summer: Then slow the cars down. Mike, that and the rock hard tires would make the intermediates watchable. They might even be fun.
Mike N.: That would be a wise decision Summer, but NASCAR wants the cars to be fast.
Summer: Which just … ugh. There is so much potential for the racing to be better and they won’t do it. And it’s maddening.
Mike N.: Boggles the mind that dopes like us can figure this out so easily but NASCAR refuses to acknowledge it.
Summer: I don’t think any NASCAR viewer—casual or not—would give a damn that the cars were going 40 mph slower if the racing was fantastic.
Mike N.: Nope. It would make the sport immensely popular again.
Phil: There is something to the cars being really fast. Racing is more than just racing. It is a spectacle.
Summer: Phil, it’s not a spectacle if the cars are going really, really fast single-file. No one talks about the speed of the cars anyway during green flag racing. The only time it matters is qualifying, and no one cares about that anyway.
Phil: At Michigan, if you slowed the cars 40 mph, it would be flat out racing. I think a lot of people would be ticked off. This isn’t 1975.
Summer: It would be better if the cars were going generally still pretty fast and the racing was better. The 40 mph was just an example. I don’t care what it is. Whatever it takes.
Mike N.: If you took the front valence off below the bumper, they’d run 40 mph slower, it would not be flat out and the racing would be tremendous.
Summer: Mike, you brought up a great point when you mentioned Fontana. It wasn’t great from green to checkers but the racing was fun to watch, especially at the end. There is no reason all tracks, even Michigan, can’t have that. Especially when they used to.
Mike N.: Michigan is getting better, because the track is aging. Still, the tires need to wear out and the cars need to be slowed down to make the racing any good. Not just at Michigan but everywhere besides Martinsville and Bristol.

Picks for Michigan?

Summer: I’m going with The Biff for three in a row.
Mike N.: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phil: Kasey Kahne.

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

Connect with Mike!

Contact Mike Neff

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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