Frontstretch Staff · Friday August 23, 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)
With Tony Stewart out of the car for the rest of the season due to an injury he incurred during a Sprint race, earlier this month, Mark Martin will race the rest of the year for the team in every race except for Talladega (where Austin Dillon will drive). What chance does the team have of making the owner’s Chase and subsequently winning the owner’s championship with this choice of drivers?
Ellen: I hate to say it, but a pretty slim chance in my opinion. While I have always respected Mark Martin, I think a driver that who isn’t really past his prime might have been a better choice.
Phil: Right now, pretty darn good on making the owner’s Chase. They’re only out of it right now via a tiebreaker (and that tiebreaker is “Most third-place finishes.”) As for winning the title, that’s a no. I don’t think that’s happening.
Amy: I agree with Phil. I think their chances are as good as anyone’s in that wild card spot. As for winning, not so much.
Summer: I agree with Phil in that a championship this year is out for them. It’s hard to say with Mark Martin. He’s a great driver, for sure, but he’s past his prime and certainly hasn’t been the best driver at MWR. And the race that Austin Dillon is in is such a crapshoot, I don’t think it will make much of a difference either way.
Phil: I think that Stewart-Haas’ No. 14 is a little better than MWR’s No. 55. For now, what they need to do to get in the Chase is maintain, continue to put up good finishes. Winning quite possibly could get the team into the top-10 in owners points outright.
Summer: I do think that of the drivers available, Martin is the best choice out there. Ellen, my response to you would be who, exactly is available? Stewart handpicked Martin himself.
Amy: Martin’s the best available. The best NNS and CWTS guys will be concentrating on winning those titles.
Summer: I will say this much: I don’t think the team will win a race the rest of the year. It takes a driver some time to get acclimated to their new team, and in most cases they have the whole offseason and preseason testing to do that. Martin is being somewhat thrown to the wolves on this deal.
Amy: I think Martin has an excellent chance of winning if the cars are good enough. He showed last week he can still run up front just fine and the SHR equipment should be a step up.
Summer: I just don’t see Martin being able to run with that No. 48 car when Stewart himself wasn’t doing it.
Ellen: I like the idea of continuing to ask drivers who are available each week and make your selection based on who might be able to perform at each track. Keeps fans interested, too!
Amy: Yeah, but a rotation of drivers is not the way to go if they are going to run for the owner’s title.
Summer: It keeps fans interested, but consistency is what will work best for that team, Ellen. At least that’s how I think they look at it.
Phil: Maybe you can make the rotation thing work if this were the Nationwide Series. Not so much in Cup. It’s better to have continuity with a race team.
Summer: Also, I think it is interesting Martin isn’t running Talladega. He must have been adamant about that one. It says a lot about Martin’s opinion of restrictor plate racing.
Phil: Martin’s hated plate racing since the 1990s. No surprise to me.
Summer: It’s not surprising because he’s so vocal about it, but he wasn’t even willing to tough this one out.
Amy: Still, the bottom line is having one veteran in the seat for most of the races gives them the best shot. All around, it’s a good move. They can make Chase for the owner’s title although they won’t be a real threat.
Summer: They won’t win the owner’s title. They might make the owner’s Chase, but this juggling of drivers over the past few weeks can’t have helped. The continuity was screwed up as soon as Stewart was in the hospital.
Phil: I think they’ll make the Chase, but I don’t think they’ll be in with a shot of the title.
A report came out this week claiming Juan Pablo Montoya might be making a return to the IndyCar Series if sponsorship could be worked out. Would he be successful if he made that move or is he past his prime?
Summer: I think Juan Pablo Montoya could still be successful in any series he went to. He wasn’t very good in NASCAR and he still won a few races.
Ellen: I actually think it might not only make Juan happier but also give him some racing success again.
Phil: I’m surprised that he’d want to do it, but that’s just me. It would take him a little while to readjust back to open-wheel racing, but I think he would be very competitive if he did.
Summer: I agree. I think Juan would be happier there.
Amy: The cars in IndyCar are quite a bit different than the ones he drove before. But that’s not to say he wouldn’t post a couple of wins and some decent finishes. He’s one of the best open-wheel racers in the world.
Summer: It’d be a lot less of a learning curve than stock car racing has been. I’m not saying he’d be a championship contender. That would be hard to do. But I do think winning in open-wheel again is definitely a possibility for him.
Phil: It’s such a change that only a few people in NASCAR would even be remotely competitive there. AJ Allmendinger, when he wasn’t crashing, was at least competitive. I think Montoya could win races there, but not until the second half of the season.
Amy: Absolutely. He’s a bit old, but he’s been competitive even in Cup at times this year. There’s no reason he couldn’t readjust and win a couple. I don’t think a lot of NASCAR fans realize just how good Montoya really is in an open-wheel car.
Summer: No, Amy, it’s because he’s been such a rolling chicane in Cup. It’s hard for drivers to praise Juan when they have wrecked cars because of him.
Phil: I don’t consider Montoya to be a “rolling chicane.” Nur Ali last year at Phoenix in Nationwide was a rolling chicane.
Summer: Oh wow, I forgot about that guy. Yes, even on Montoya’s worst day, he could still stay up to speed.
Phil: Montoya hasn’t raced in America in an open-wheeled car since 2000. He only did for two years, in North America but he was excellent on both road courses and ovals.
Summer: I think his statistics in all of the series he’s raced in earns him the title of one of the best racecar drivers in the world.
Phil: Sports cars was also considered to be an option for Montoya if he ended up staying with Ganassi, but they don’t have Prototype regulations yet. They don’t know what the deuce is going on for 2014.
Amy: Montoya’s way better than he’s given credit for because NASCAR fans have no idea about the rest of his career.
Summer: I agree with you on that point. It’s one thing for drivers to not like him because of the way he races, but it’s another for fans to be uneducated about what he’s been able to do. Like I said, he’s still won in Cup. There are several drivers who have raced stock cars their entire career and still can’t say that.
Phil: Coverage, or even news at all about European series was minimal back in the 1990s. I had never heard of Montoya until he came to the states to replace Alex Zanardi at Ganassi.
Summer: What he’s accomplished in Formula 1 and CART, though, isn’t uncommon knowledge. It may not be widely cited amongst the NASCAR crowds, but the motorsports elite know exactly who he is.
Amy: Exactly, Summer. I think he’s more likely to land a ride capable of winning in IndyCar than NASCAR. The actual winning is up to him, but he’s got the talent.
Phil: Heck, Montoya can win races on ovals as well. Take the caution away, and he would have won Richmond in NASCAR. The problem is, Montoya’s got a bit of a rep now. I think he’s learned some rough habits from his NASCAR career that makes him unlikable in other forms of racing. See last year’s Rolex Series Brickyard Grand Prix as an example.
Summer: There also aren’t many good rides in NASCAR and, of those that are, he’s nowhere near the front of the line to take them. I think he’d rather race in IndyCar than the Nationwide Series. I do think that, whatever Montoya decides to do, we’ll still see him in NASCAR for the road courses at the very least. He can still win races in this sport. As far as IndyCar, I think he’d be great at it, especially with a team like Andretti.
Very strong and loud rumors have surfaced that put Kurt Busch in a fourth car at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, assuming that Busch accepts the offer. Should he sign on the dotted line or is four cars stretching it too thin?
Phil: Stewart-Haas would need to hire more dudes in order not to stretch themselves thin.
Summer: Well, I think the answer to both questions is “yes”. Four cars rarely works in this sport but Busch should still sign. It’s better than Furniture Row.
Amy: It’s a great opportunity for Busch, if true. I’m not sure about for SHR… if reports are true, they haven’t signed a sponsor for him, and Busch, while improved this year, could be a hard sell to sponsors.
Summer: HAAS/CNC is on board with him to sponsor the team, Amy. By the way, I mean no offense to Furniture Row with my comments. It’s been great watching an independent team succeed like they have. But Busch needs to do what is in his best interest.
Phil: That’s because Gene Haas owns Haas/CNC. It’s not even really sponsorship. It’s Gene’s personal big bucks.
Summer: Yeah, and if he’s willing to put those bucks behind Busch, I’d say that speaks for itself.
Phil: I don’t think it would benefit Busch to leave Furniture Row right now. Just last month, I wrote that he should stay. Seems to like the environment’s he’s in already. Why screw that up.
Summer: For better equipment. A better opportunity to win.
Amy: I think FRR’s stuff has been equal to SHR’s, or at least close for most of the year. He’s getting the same stuff as Harvick, Burton and Menard are; Harvick was far ahead of Stewart even before he got hurt.
Ellen: If Kurt Busch wants to prove to fans that he is trying to make a change from who he used to be, I believe that he should give Furniture Row another season. Not sure that SHR has enough sponsorship for this ride, anyway.
Summer: That’s an interesting perspective, Ellen. I think more people are willing to cheer for Busch because, technically, he’s an underdog. Maybe not the driver himself, but the team certainly is.
Ellen: I also think it’s more exciting to see an underdog team win versus the same old big-time teams.
Amy: SHR is a small step up from Childress in that they’re more organized and more prepared to focus as a team. If it’s true that FRR has not offered Busch an extension, despite what he’s done for them this year, that speaks volumes about him… and not good volumes.
Phil: Furniture Row appears to be growing a little bit. Heck, I saw Furniture Row merchandise at the track in Watkins Glen for the first time. If he’s really “The Outlaw,” why not stay.
Summer: Which is weird, Amy. He has behaved himself lately and done better for them than any other driver.
Amy: FRR isn’t really an underdog team anymore. Their relationship with RCR is equal to SHR’s with Hendrick, so if RCR is making the Chase, FRR should be in that position, too.
Summer: FRR would be an underdog team if they still had Regan Smith. The driver is making a huge difference here.
Amy: In public, Summer. Do we really know what he’s said or done behind the scenes, in the shop or the garage?
Summer: I guess so. But didn’t this team really stand behind him when he was going through a rough patch late last year?
Phil: In regards to Kurt’s private behavior? I’m not sure. He does still get angry from time to time on the radio, but he’s a bit calmer now.
Amy: I’d still say the driver isn’t making as big a difference as some people think. Yes, he’s good, but the stepped-up alliance with RCR is the big key. Sure, Busch makes a difference (otherwise Danica would be running as good as he is), but without the info sharing, he’d be running for 20th, not a Chase spot.
Summer: No way. They would still be running top 10 to top 15. I think there needs to be credit on both sides, of course, but Busch’s abilities behind the wheel have played a huge role.
Phil: Information sharing can only go so far. At some point, the driver comes into play. Kurt Busch will give you as much as possible behind the wheel.
Summer: Busch has done well with FRR, and he’s earned the chance to move up.
Amy: No way, Summer. The equipment last year was closer to say, Germain Racing or JTG-Daugherty than to RCR. JTG-Daugherty is also running a former champion and not getting it done, so…
Ellen: Either way, I feel Busch has earned another chance at a top-level car. I feel he would really earn it if he brought home a win with Furniture Row.
Amy: This year, the 78 car is getting the same stuff as Harvick and Company. That’s a huge upgrade from the same stuff as Casey Mears is getting…
Phil: I still feel like Stewart-Haas would be hard-pressed to handle a fourth car. Might hurt the organization in general.
Kasey Kahne won the last race at Bristol Motor Speedway this Spring, and a win this weekend would all but guarantee him a Chase berth by virtue of the wild card. Will Kahne even need the wild card, though, or will he race his way in?
Summer: I don’t think Kasey will win this weekend, so I don’t think that part will matter anyway.
Ellen: I feel if Kasey starts to calm down a bit and really focus, he could make the Chase without the wild card.
Phil: It’s a little hard to say. I don’t think he’ll need the wild card because I think he’ll be in the top-10 after Richmond, but it’ll be there just in case.
Amy: With Kahne’s sketchy luck, he could need the wild card, though as good as he and his team are, they shouldn’t. I think the issue is lack of consistency, and that’s been a problem with Kahne throughout his career. He’s talented as can be, but has so many ups and downs.
Summer: The reason I wonder whether or not they will make it, and Amy touched on this, is they are hit or miss. They’ll win a race or finish in the top five, and the next they will finish outside the top 30. It’s not always their fault, but the inconsistency kills them. Otherwise, they are a Chase worthy team.
Amy: Some of the inconsistency is just plain bad luck, but not all of it.
Summer: Of course… teams have to make their own luck. Jimmie Johnson and his team are a great example of that. However, Kahne is at least good enough to be in the top 10, and that’s why they are only a few points out.
Phil: Kahne’s highs are the main reason why I picked him last week for Michigan.
Summer: Look at Kahne’s last six finishes: 7th, 34th, 1st, 3rd, 11th, and 32nd. And it’s like that all year. The same pattern.
Amy: Kahne is the type of driver who gives owners fits. He’s got championship-caliber talent, but gets stuck in his own head at times, a little like Denny Hamlin.
Phil: I guess you could make that comparison, but Kahne doesn’t have the excuse of physical issues that Hamlin does. There are few 32-year-olds in racing that are as feeble as Hamlin.
Summer: I agree with Amy on this one. Hamlin has been vulnerable to mind games from other drivers.
Amy: I think Kahne is vulnerable to his own head more than other drivers, but it’s a similar thing.
Summer: I don’t see that as much with Kahne, though we haven’t seen him in positions as precarious as Hamlin’s. He tends to fly under the radar when stories like this one are going on, despite the fact that he’s in a wild card position. I think most have just assumed he’ll wind up getting it because he has those two wins.
Amy: With the two wins, he’s still in good shape. I don’t see two other wild card hopefuls getting a second win and passing Kahne in points in three weeks.
Phil: He’s got enough of a cushion over 21st that two wins will almost guarantee a wild card unless he finds a way to get hurt in the next 10 days.
Summer: Right. So I think he’s in on the basis of a wild card. It’s really hard to say whether or not he’ll race his way in, though. Like we said, he’s inconsistent and, also, he’ll have to rely on other drivers to slip up. It’s hard to rely on luck when it hasn’t gone your way this year.
Ellen: This sure has been a very wild season! I’ll be interested to see what happens at NASCAR’s Coliseum this
Predictions for Bristol?
Summer: I have to go with the easy answer and say Kyle Busch.
Amy: I’m taking Junior. That’s not as out there as it seems. Only Kyle Busch has a better average finish there than Junior does, and he’s had some good races and some bad luck. If luck goes his way, he could be in Victory Lane.
Phil: I’ll go with Carl Edwards.
Ellen: Going with a wild card here… Kurt Busch!
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