Frontstretch Staff · Thursday October 10, 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)
After a harrowing weekend for Kyle Busch in Kansas, while both Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth enjoyed good weekends, the top of the championship standings have changed dramatically. Kyle went from third to fifth in the standings, leaving room for race winner Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon to jump into the picture. Though they are both far removed from the lead — Harvick is 25 points out, while Gordon is 32 — they are much closer than they were a couple of weeks ago. Did NASCAR Nation jump the gun on picking a champion? Can Harvick or Gordon steal a title?
Phil: I was the only one here a couple of weeks ago that didn’t declare all but the top 3 (Johnson, Kenseth, Busch) eliminated after Loudon. Since then, things have closed up a little. I figured that they couldn’t keep it up for the whole Chase.
Summer: I don’t think anyone jumped the gun. I think it went from a three-man race to a two-man race, and the only way Harvick or Gordon are going to win the championship is if Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth have a serious slump. Which I don’t think they will.
Phil: Can Harvick steal a championship? Sure, but he’ll probably need help. Maybe not an outright slump… just some issues. Everyone seems to make 25 points sound like 170 these days.
Summer: He will definitely need some help. It’s not that Harvick isn’t good. It’s that Kenseth and Johnson are too far ahead. His only hope is Talladega. And even then, that’s only if he doesn’t get caught up in the big wreck, too.
Phil: Let’s face it. Talladega will play a role here. But, every other track could as well. Suppose a couple of issues happen Saturday night. A miscalculation of fuel mileage, a cut tire. The whole thing changes.
Summer: Of course it does, and I’m not saying it won’t happen. But Harvick and Gordon aren’t championship-caliber without that happening. And even then, they’ll have to finish in the top 5 to be sure that they can make up the right amount of ground to be back in it. Right now, they are the only ones in position to capitalize.
Phil: Without those issues going down, yeah, it’s going to be tough, but not impossible.
Summer: I’m just saying, it’s a two-man race right now. Harvick and Gordon are not in it. And Busch should still be in it, too. But he shot himself in the foot. Kenseth and Johnson won’t make those mistakes.
Phil: I’m definitely not saying it’s a two-man race. It just looks like it is.
Summer: If another driver has to wait for someone else to make a mistake in order for them to be “in it”, then it’s a two-man race. Harvick and Gordon have no chance without that.
Phil: With Kyle Busch, I just hope he doesn’t submarine the rest of his season because of his Kansas issues. I will say this much: the championship is not a complete free-for-all right now. Realistically, we’re down to maybe five or six at best that could get it. Depending on what happens Saturday night, we could cut one or two more.
Summer: I think it’s Johnson versus Kenseth, and that only changes if one or both of them has trouble. I don’t foresee that happening.
Phil: Well, I don’t foresee either of them going trouble free all the way to Homestead. So, for those directly behind the top two, there’s a chance…
Prior to the Sprint Cup Series race last Sunday, Brad Keselowski asked NASCAR in the driver’s meeting to clarify the “100 percent” rule the sport put into effect back at the start of the Chase. Not so coincidentally, he asked if wrecking a driver intentionally fell under that rule. He had been in an incident with Kyle Busch the day before in the Nationwide Series race where he felt like Busch had wrecked him intentionally. NASCAR’s answer was essentially that they make a subjective call based on the circumstances, whether or not to react to a specific incident. Was their answer satisfactory?
Summer: No, it’s complete crap that they can just make up rules as they go along. Essentially, what they said was “we said you can’t do that, but it wasn’t a big deal when you did, so we don’t need to react.” This isn’t a grey area. This is a grey rule.
Phil: Not really. This one wasn’t even the most annoying driver’s meeting question of the weekend. You saw how Regan Smith asked a question about the blend rule out of the pits and was basically told to “figure it out.”
Summer: I was there and couldn’t really hear the whole thing, but I noticed that NASCAR kept giving vague answers and explanations. They’ve been doing that for a while and it is absolutely aggravating.
Phil: Issues like this one will eventually kill “Boys, Have at it.” The vagueness can’t continue.
Summer: Exactly. Drivers can’t race hard if they think everything they do may or may not be called.
Phil: NASCAR simply needs to lock down what they’re going to do in specific situations and stick to it. If a new circumstance arises, then deal with it then and don’t let it fester.
Summer: I don’t think NASCAR needed to make a call on anything that happened in the Nationwide race at Kansas because you can’t really prove Busch did that intentionally. It looked like he might have been, but we don’t know that. The problem is that they didn’t say that.
Phil: If they don’t clarify things, then everyone thinks you’re a fly-by-night organization that can’t be trusted.
Summer: Exactly. If you need to pull a card out of the “special circumstances” file, then do it. Otherwise, set a precedent and live up to it. Which is what everyone thinks now, anyway.
Phil: There’s a reason why the rulebook has gotten thicker in recent years, and it’s not just because of the tightening of technical rules. There’s just more things in general that NASCAR has to police?
Summer: I don’t think there is more they have to police. They keep adding more rules that aren’t really rules. They keep saying, “this is something that we might react to, but won’t unless it’s extreme.” Which is kind of how things always have been.
Phil: In regards to Saturday’s race, to me, that crash did look fishy. Brad had every right to be angry. He didn’t do anything wrong, and ended up with a Ford Mustang in need of a rear clip.
Summer: I thought it looked fishy, too, but Busch had a reasonable explanation as to why it happened. The problem I have is that NASCAR basically tried to say they wouldn’t allow it, and then said it was fine.
Phil: Yes, they can’t prove it, mainly because Kyle’s not a moron. He’s not going to come right out and say that he dumped him.
Summer: If they wanted to say that they couldn’t prove Busch did it, fine. Instead, what they told Brad was that Busch wrecked him… but they didn’t think it was bad enough for them to do anything about it.
Phil: Busch’s explanation sounded reasonable if you were listening on MRN and didn’t see the race. With the pictures, it just didn’t seem to make sense to me. I think most short tracks would have sent Kyle to the rear for that.
Summer: I just wish NASCAR would provide a little more clarity and quit trying to be King Tut. Let them race, and only intervene when absolutely necessary.
NASCAR announced last week that it will not end the contract it has with its current TV partners, after 2013 despite the fact that both FOX and NBC Sports wanted to start their new deals a year early. Was that the right decision and what are the pros and cons?
Summer: I don’t know what to think. I find it disheartening that ESPN wants out that badly, but I think it’s great that NBC wants in.
Phil: Well, I’m not really opposed to NASCAR’s move here. However, the statement that Steve Herbst put out last weekend interested me.
Phil: Herbst didn’t mention anything about ESPN or Turner Sports wanting out, but he specifically mentioned FOX and NBC wanting in. Sounds like they could have had a deal and NASCAR came in and said, “heck to the no.” I hadn’t heard about FOX and NBC actually being open to starting the new deal early, just that ESPN and Turner Sports wanted out.
Summer: That’s what I find so strange. If they want in so badly and Turner thinks it’s such a waste of time, why not let them do what they want to do.
Phil: It just sounds like NASCAR wanted to hold them to their contracts. They probably didn’t want to reopen the TV stuff again. They’ve already done that a couple of times this year.
Summer: I guess I understand that part, but at the very least, FOX and NBC were willing to start early. And if what you said is true and ESPN wanted out so badly, then they just need to leave.
Phil: There are a lot of cons of holding Turner, especially to the final year. You already saw the cost cutting over the past couple of seasons. There was the ditching of the stage, then the cutaway car (replaced by TNT convincing someone to let them use their backup car) and replacing Lindsay Czarniak with a gust of wind. It’s just going to get worse with no incentives.
Summer: Right. They are going to be investing as little into this effort as they can in 2014. That’s why I don’t understand the logic behind this move, but there must be some more stuff going on behind the scenes. The quality is going to suffer, which means the ratings are going to suffer. Forget garnering new fans. We’ll be lucky to keep the ones we have.
Phil: Turner might put some more cost-cutting in for 2014, but what that might be is unclear for now. They don’t bring in many people (at least on-air) specific to them. Really, it’s only Dallenbach. For ESPN, they can re-use everything that they bring to a NASCAR race for something else they do.
Summer: It’s just stupid to me. ESPN and TNT never really seemed to care much about NASCAR anyway. Meanwhile, FOX seems to really embrace their role in the sport. Why not invest in the people who really care.
Phil: As for FOX, it’s well known that they’re all in. I wouldn’t have been opposed to having FOX take over Turner’s stuff and allow ESPN to stay out their final year. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going to spend much more than they have to for next year. You’ll see what they already have, and not much more. Two of the beat writers for the sport (Terry Blount and David Newton) have already been reassigned to the NFL, and not replaced. Although by comparison, I have no idea what NBC’s new coverage will look like at this point…
Summer: I’m not even trying to be critical of Turner or ESPN. If something works for them, then they need to stick with it. But NASCAR needs to realize who their allies are at this point. They seem to do all right with IndyCar, from what I’ve seen.
Phil: NBC Sports Network with IndyCar? I enjoy those broadcasts. We won’t be getting that from them in 2015. They paid way the deuce too much money ($440 million a year) to give us telecasts like that. You’ll see a lot more commercials and no side-by-side.
Summer: I really wish NASCAR had allowed the two out of their contracts if NBC and FOX were willing to start theirs. From what they said, they were willing. I really hope 2014 isn’t as terrible as I’m afraid it will be.
Phil: Next year might be a little tough to watch at times. Everyone at ESPN and Turner will put on happy faces, but the “lame duck” effort might show.
Four down. Six to go, and Jeff Gordon is in the top 5 in points with a difficult yet still within reach shot at a championship. Yet, Gordon wouldn’t even be in the Chase had NASCAR not granted him an extra spot because of a chaotic controversy that erupted in the final regular season race in Richmond. If Gordon somehow manages to pull off the championship, is there an asterisk next to this one?
Phil: It would be amazing if he managed to pull it off. No one’s managed to win the title with just the base points at the beginning of the Chase.
Summer: It’s really, really hard to say that there wouldn’t be. The reason I say that is because Jimmie Johnson’s Chase championships shouldn’t be discounted because everyone was playing with the same rules. If Gordon wins the championship, he certainly wasn’t playing with the same rules. It would be impressive, no doubt, but he got a chance that other drivers didn’t.
Phil: Gordon getting the 13th Chase spot was not his fault. Sounds like he didn’t even fight for it. He was resigned to not being in the Chase, then got added in that fateful Friday afternoon in Joliet. The whole thing is loony.
Summer: Well the whole stupid thing isn’t Gordon’s fault, no. But it’s the legitimacy that bothers me. I wouldn’t actually sit there and tell him it’s not his championship… however, it would leave a bad taste.
Phil: But, now that he’s here, if he can pull it off, more power to him. It doesn’t make him look bad. It makes about three other parties look bad.
Summer: It makes the whole thing look bad. Even if you and me understand that it’s not his fault, saying “Jeff Gordon won the championship after literally being given a spot in the Chase by NASCAR” makes the sport sound like it’s just making up the rules as they go to many fans. I think it would be perceived as having an asterisk because of the special circumstances. Gordon and his team deserve kudos if they pull it off… but NASCAR needs to make sure it never happens like that again.
Phil: It does sound like the sport would be making up rules. However, that came as the result of unprecedented circumstances. It’s as simple as this “scandal” had never happened before. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t happen again, so that we don’t have to argue about precedent. As far as I’m concerned, this stupidity should be more than enough to kill the Chase.
Predictions for Charlotte?
Summer: I think it’s hard to argue against Jimmie Johnson so I’ll stick with that theme.
Phil: You know what? I’m going with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I think he could pull it off.
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