Frontstretch Staff · Thursday September 26, 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)
Allen Bedgood (Fan Contributor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)
Though we are three weeks away from Richmond, the MWR saga is still in full force. Though NAPA has already announced that they will not be returning to the team next year, 5-Hour Energy still remains uncommitted. Company president Scott Henderson, interestingly enough, expressed some concern that NASCAR was wielding too much power over what happens on the track, saying, “When the guy who’s in charge can say, ‘I can do whatever I want and I’m going to do it and I just did,’ I wonder about integrity.” Does Henderson have a valid point here?
Allen: Yes. NASCAR has this idea they can make rules as they go (and they do … wrongfully so), making huge changes without thinking twice about it. There needs to be a second say-so in such big decisions.
Mike N.: Apparently, Henderson has not paid attention during the last 60+ years of NASCAR. It has always been the Frances’ court and the rest of us are just squirrels trying to get a nut.
Phil: Henderson does have a point. NASCAR has always been, and will always be a dictatorship. No one is going to change that unless the sanctioning body goes bankrupt.
Summer: I kind of wondered the same thing when I heard Brian France basically say that during the press conference. How is that even acceptable? Although Mike is right… what else is new?
Allen: NASCAR screams they aim for consistency, and I’ve yet to see it happen.
Phil: Henderson probably didn’t do his due diligence before entering the sport.
Summer: Still, though, I think his problem here was that the changes they made were so swift and unprecedented, he got the impression that NASCAR will do whatever the heck they want without any consequences. That has to be unsettling as a sponsor.
Mike N.: It is a privately held company. Brian France is the head of the family that owns it. That means he does what he wants with his ball and if people don’t like it, they can go elsewhere.
Summer: Well, I’m sure they are a little uneasy about what happened to NAPA, too. They were the most innocent team involved in that whole thing, and they got punished for it.
Allen: The issue with that is people are going to take their ball and go elsewhere. If 5-Hour and other sponsors leave, NASCAR dies a slow and painful death.
Mike N.: I’ll probably get crucified for this one, but I actually appreciate France said that. The sponsors are dictating way too much in the sport these days and I’m glad that someone finally put them in their place. Unfortunately, they’ll probably lose more sponsors and it may be the beginning of the end for the sport.
Allen: I’m not going to crucify anyone, but in my opinion sponsors have a right to have some say so. I mean, they’re spending $20 million a year. Minimum.
Summer: I disagree with Mike. What happened at Richmond might have been about money, but I have a hard time believing the sponsors were pushing their teams to do that.
Phil: They weren’t. Believe me, if NAPA wanted MWR to do that, NAPA wouldn’t be ditching them at the end of the year.
Summer: And, like I said, they effectively removed the sponsor whose driver had the littlest to do with that. I think the thought process from a sponsor’s standpoint is, “How do I know NASCAR won’t make a decision against us just because they want to?”
Mike N.: I won’t say they were pushing the teams specifically, but I guarantee that the sponsors have clauses that kick in additional funds if a team makes the Chase.
Phil: According to Waltrip, it appears that he charges a low amount to sponsors and backloads deals with Chase bonuses. If the team doesn’t make the Chase, it’s apparently difficult to make ends meet. Of course, low is in quotation marks.
Summer: Well, yeah, that’s well documented. But that doesn’t mean that Brian France should make up rules as he goes.
Mike N.: They also determine where the drivers make appearances on race weekends and what they are allowed and aren’t allowed to do in their spare time.
Summer: But how does this ruling change that? It doesn’t. That’s the team’s decision to make those deals. That’s not NASCAR’s fault and it’s not pressure from the sponsors. That’s the risk you are taking.
Allen: NAPA was spending $16 million a year. I know sponsors like National Guard were in the range of $20-21 million. 5-Hour is in the $15-17 million range.
Mike N.: Sponsors are getting advertising and exposure for their products. That is what they pay for. They don’t buy the right to dictate what teams do and what drivers they hire. Unfortunately, some owners have bent over so far that the sponsors have taken that away from the owners.
Phil: Mike, I’d argue that the teams have a bigger role in what drivers can and can’t do in their spare time, but sponsors can have a say as well.
Allen: And word is 5-Hour was planning to spend even less in 2014. With this crap, who knows what they will do. If they even come back at all.
Summer: Mike, I don’t disagree with your points, but what does that have to do with this issue? I think 5-Hour Energy might have come back if Bowyer had remained a contender. Now, it’s looking less and less likely.
Mike N.: 5-Hour offered the same money to Richard Childress and Childress couldn’t make it work. Waltrip is trying to make things work on less money than other people. Now, the sponsors are expecting to be treated like they are big money backers.
Summer: But how? Like I said, there is no evidence that NAPA or 5-Hour Energy had anything to do with this, and Brian France wasn’t intentionally punishing them, anyway. He was punishing the team personnel. I don’t see how the sponsors are the enemies here.
Mike N.: What is has to do with it Summer is that sponsors have no right to expect anything from the sanctioning body that is a privately held company. They’ve been allowed to get away with more than they should have for years and now someone is finally figuring out that they don’t get to demand what happens in NASCAR.
Phil: Sponsors aren’t the enemy here. Their money is.
Summer: I think Henderson has a valid complaint, but no one can do anything about it. That’s why I think they will ultimately leave.
Mike N.: I disagree. Sponsors telling team owners who to hire to drive and what they can and cannot do is BS. Aaron’s flat out told Michael Waltrip they had to get rid of Reutimann as a driver or they were leaving. That is crap.
Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson clearly established themselves as championship frontrunners with only eight races left this year. Will one of these three win the title, or is someone else still capable of sneaking in and taking it?
Mike N.: Nope. It is a three-horse race. Nobody is going to make up 40 points and leapfrog all three of them in eight races.
Summer: I don’t think anyone will beat those three. Edwards is the closest driver and he’s 36 points back. I don’t see how anyone will make up that many points or more on those three.
Phil: It’s still a little early to tell. I think that if nothing changes after Dover, it’s possible to narrow it to three. Right now, I can’t say that.
Allen: Matt Kenseth. I sound like a broken record. I’ve said this from Daytona. He will be the 2013 Champion.
Mike N.: Let’s think about it. Do you really think Carl Edwards can finish five spots ahead of all three of those guys for eight consecutive races?
Summer: Well, would I bet the house on it? No. But I agree with Mike. All three would have to crash at Dover this week, and Edwards, Harvick, and Biffle would have to finish one-two-three.
Mike N.: If it were only one driver, then I’d say it is still possible. There is no way that all three of those guys have a horrendous race and that is what it will take.
Phil: Honestly. Yes, I can. Remember that it’s just an average. Stuff happens. For all I know, there will be a rash of tire failures this weekend in Dover. Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Johnson aren’t all finishing in the top 3 every dang week. Not happening.
Summer: Which wouldn’t be a bad championship battle. Matt’s an experienced veteran with youthful exuberance. Kyle Busch is still trying to win his first title. And Jimmie Johnson is trying to get back on top. Those are some great storylines, if you ask me.
Allen: If history repeats itself, Johnson will win this weekend and make this a very interesting run to the finish.
Summer: No, Phil. But if they finish in the top 10, which is likely, then the other guys won’t be able to catch up. Even if one of them falls out – say, Kyle Busch’s engine fails on the 10th lap — that still won’t be enough for Edwards to catch Johnson or Kenseth. It would simply go from a three-man race, to two.
Mike N.: I expect Johnson to win at Dover and Martinsville. Kenseth will win Charlotte and Talladega. Busch will be right there with them and the three will be more than a race ahead of everyone.
Allen: I’ll give Johnson Dover, but I’m not ready to give him Martinsville just yet.
Phil: I just don’t know right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson won Sunday, but there’s just too many variables. The other drivers aren’t chopped liver. You make it sound like they can’t put up a fight.
Summer: I don’t think the three of them will combine to win the remaining eight. I just think they are all strong enough to continue beating everyone else. The rest? They’re almost a full race behind. They have to rely too much on bad luck. Could it happen? Sure. But in all likelihood, one of those three are going to win the championship.
Mike N.: They can put up a fight but they’re already too far back. You simply can’t make up much ground with the crappy point system we have now. The old system rewarded you for beating someone. Now, it hardly makes a difference. By the way, Johnson owned Martinsville for a long time, and now that Hamlin’s injured (whether he will admit it or not) Johnson is the car to beat at Martinsville again.
Phil: I wasn’t in favor of the current system being instituted. NASCAR claimed that it was simply a more simplistic version of the old system. In reality, the 1 point gaps are amplified.
Mike N.: Just more of the dumbing down of the sport.
Allen: Off topic, but the Chase has its pros and cons … with the old system, someone like Jimmie Johnson would literally run away with the title before race 26. Hell, probably around race 15. At least it resets and gives everyone (well … almost) a fighting chance.
Summer: Could you open that can of worms a little faster?
Mike N.: I’m not going to take that bait.
Summer: Me either, though I already know I disagree with you.
Allen: I’m excited to read the comments section from that one comment…
Mike N.: Anyway, Kenseth, Johnson, and Busch are the three that will decide the title.
Summer: That wasn’t a prediction. That was just the way I ordered the names.
Phil: With the old system, we’d see a completely different season. I don’t think Johnson (or anyone, for that matter) could run away from the field for 36 races. The other 10 Chasers have dug themselves a hole. It’s not over right now, by any means. But they have to produce.
Mike N.: Oh, they certainly could run away, and usually did. However, the season champion should be able to do that.
For the 23rd time in 27 races this season, someone who wasn’t eligible for Nationwide Series points won the race last weekend. This time, however, it was a Truck Series regular (Ryan Blaney) instead of a Cup Series driver. Is there anything wrong that that? Should NASCAR be more strict on who can and can’t race where and does it cut both ways?
Mike N.: Nope. The beauty of NASCAR is that anyone with the cash and a pedigree can run any race, anywhere.
Phil: I don’t have issues with Camping World Truck Series drivers competing in Nationwide races. However, that’s not what this question is really about.
Allen: More often than not, Blaney runs Trucks more than anything. AND he’s still a development driver. He’s not Kyle Busch — so no. Nothing wrong with it.
Summer: I don’t have a problem with it either way. Heck, I didn’t have a problem with it when everyone was eligible for points. If the drivers don’t care, I certainly don’t. Good to see none of us have an opinion on this…
Phil: The sponsor argument from earlier plays a big role here. They’re unwilling to put up the money to back an unknown quantity. That’s why we have so many Cup dudes in Nationwide races.
Summer: Well, yeah, but this weekend it was a bunch of Truck Series drivers and no Cup guys, and almost all of them had sponsors. True, many of them had Cup affiliations, but these weren’t a bunch of big name drivers out there.
Phil: That’s true, but Kentucky was also a standalone race.
Mike N.: With some standalone fans. I remember when the folks in Kentucky used to support the Nationwide race. Now it is a ghost town in the stands.
Summer: Yeah, and it was a Truck Series weekend. So Truck drivers shouldn’t be able to race when the Trucks are on that weekend? Cup shouldn’t be allowed during standalone events? What difference does it make?
Phil: Especially with the larger teams, their sponsors want that Cup tie-in. Is it necessary? No, but they think it is.
Summer: It was a standalone race and there were still some good sponsors there.
Mike N.: But there were no fans.
Phil: I feel like that traffic screwup in 2011 really screwed Kentucky Speedway long-term. Soured a lot of people on the track in general. It’s a great shame.
Summer: And whose fault is that?
Mike N.: I don’t think Cup drivers in the race would have made a difference.
Summer: I think it would have helped somewhat, but I think Phil hit the nail on the head there.
Phil: Who knows how well that race was promoted, too. I don’t live in that region, so I don’t know what advertising was like. They couldn’t get a sponsor for the race.
Summer: Add to that Kentucky isn’t known for any quality of racing.
Mike N.: If fans are using that bullshit excuse to stay away from Kentucky, then shame on them. Similar to the death of Rockingham, fans deserve a large amount of the blame when Kentucky gets cut back to one Nationwide race.
Summer: You’re right… fans say they support standalone races without Cup drivers and don’t show up. Kentucky screwed up and they fixed it. I think it’s time to show up again.
Mike N.: Kentucky races in the daylight are great. Unfortunately, they have lights and think night racing is better. Even though it isn’t.
Phil: Unfortunately, people are very fickle these days. If they get burned, you’re dead to them.
Summer: And don’t get me wrong. I’m genuinely sympathetic to those who just don’t have the financial standing to buy tickers. But fans can’t say they don’t go to races with Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series, and then say they can’t afford to go to a Nationwide only event.
Mike N.: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but NASCAR is dying on the vine and, unless the rumors of non aero dependent cars is true, it isn’t going to be a very slow death. Brian France is all about the bucks and once the golden calf stops paying off, he’ll cut and run in a hurry.
Summer: I think it will take more than that to change it. The racing can be fantastic and some fans will still whine.
Phil: Back on topic. I feel like if Nationwide raced on shorter tracks, it wouldn’t be much of a deal for the fans, either. I think Lucas Oil Raceway was charging something like $55-70 a ticket the last time the series was there. That’s a lot for Nationwide.
Summer: I don’t have a problem with Trucks or Cup guys in Nationwide, so the conversation is null and void to me. If they want to race, let them race.
Phil: NASCAR feels that they can’t ban certain drivers that meet their standards from racing in the Nationwide Series (of course, if you’re not good enough, then yes, get better).
Mike N.: Nationwide standalone races should be great happenings. Unfortunately, the fans don’t seem to support them. Shame on the fans. And if you don’t believe me, check the Iowa stands too. They aren’t full anymore.
Last time the series was at Dover, Jimmie Johnson would have likely gone to Victory Lane without a restart penalty from NASCAR that was largely contested by Johnson. Now, with the new restart rules, that likely won’t be an issue again this weekend. Is Johnson the only person who can keep Kenseth from winning three in a row?
Phil: He’s not the only person that can keep Kenseth out of Victory Lane.
Summer: I think Kyle Busch can, too, though Kenseth is really good at Dover. In fact, both Johnson and Kenseth are great at both.
Mike N.: No, thanks to the generic cars with track position being so important, any of 20 cars can win any race. Johnson is just the most likely driver to keep Kenseth from winning at Dover. Although Kenseth isn’t dominant there.
Summer: Obviously, they aren’t the only two who can win, but it will be hard to beat either. Kenseth isn’t typically a dominant driver anywhere, and he’s been just that in this era.
Phil: Other than Johnson, no one really stands out. Any of 8-10 drivers probably could win, depending on handling and other factors.
Summer: It’s going to be interesting to watch this continue to play out. Either, like Phil said, they are going to have some issues and allow others to catch up, or they are going to cement themselves as contenders.
Mike N.: Don’t forget how good Carl Edwards used to be on concrete.
Phil: Yeah. They still call him “Concrete Carl” on TV from time to time.
Summer: It will only benefit Carl Edwards to win if Johnson, Kenseth, and/or Busch finishes outside the top 20. So, yes, Edwards can win but it won’t help him any in the long run.
Phil: Every little bit helps. You’ll gain on everyone if you win. It’s not like 1999, where you could win and still score as many points as second place.
Summer: But he won’t gain enough to win the championship.
Mike N.: No, but the question isn’t about the championship. It is just about who can stop Kenseth.
Summer: I know. Still, it’s hard not to look down the future like that. But, yes, I think Johnson is the best shot at stopping Kenseth. Though it would be kind of fun to see a non-Chaser win.
Mike N.: Well yeah, Especially Martin Truex, Jr.
Summer: I don’t think anyone would object to that.
Phil: Dover’s effectively the home track for Truex. He’s a past winner there and that team just needs something good to happen to them.
Summer: It’s hard to say if or who will stop Kenseth. Obviously, he won’t win every race. But Kenseth and Johnson are both really good at Dover. Then again, so is Biffle, and he had a good finish in Loudon. So there is a lot of potential for some “stoppage” here.
Mike N.: Many people can win this weekend. Most likely, it will be Johnson. Don’t forget, Kenseth finished in the 30s and 40s the last two races at Dover.
Predictions for Dover?
Summer: I’ll go ahead and be the person who says Kenseth wins three in a row. I don’t have a better pick because I don’t think Johnson will win.
Phil: Yep. Blew an engine back in June. However, prior to the fall of last year, Kenseth finished in the top-5 eight out of nine times at Dover.
Allen: I’ll go with Jimmie Johnson.
Mike N.: Kyle Busch. He led 150 laps there this Spring. Wouldn’t surprise me to see the No. 18 and No. 48 duel it out to the end Sunday.
Phil: I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer. He’s been good there recently.
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