Frontstretch Staff · Thursday October 17, 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:
Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)
Jeff Wolfe (Thursdays / Frontstretch Fantasy Insider)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Thursdays / NASCAR Mailbox)
Jimmie Johnson was more than likely going to win his sixth race of 2013, last Saturday night until a late race debris call by NASCAR allowed drivers like Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski to try some pit strategy. Johnson would then have to settle for fourth while points leader Matt Kenseth finished one spot ahead of him. The ensuing battle for the victory in the remaining few laps of the race overshadowed the reason we had that battle in the first place. With NASCAR’s emphasis on competitors giving “100 percent,” it seems hypocritical for them to be making questionable debris calls. On the flip side, it did make for a better race. Should public pressure be greater on NASCAR because of this decision or are they justified in doing it?
Summer: It doesn’t bother me so much that they do it. It bothers me that they feel like they have to in the first place.
Amy: The call was completely bogus. Nobody saw any debris. It’s completely hypocritical to tell teams that they’ll be penalized for manipulating races and then NASCAR does it themselves.
Phil: I think I saw the debris that drew the caution on the telecast. Just watched it a little bit ago. It was on the apron exiting Turn 2. One of those blink and you miss it things.
Summer: Was it needed, Phil?
Phil: I’d argue not really.
Amy: None of the drivers said they saw it… and Mike Neff and I were covering the race, at the track. Several teams we talked to said the same thing.
Summer: Was it a big piece, Phil?
Phil: No, it was kind of small. Now, the one that caused the other debris caution, that definitely made air, although I’m unclear as to what it was.
Jeff W.: It would have been nice to see the actual debris on TV. Sometimes, there is a little debris, like a spring rubber, but it’s nowhere near the racing groove and they throw a yellow. NASCAR just seems inconsistent with this call. Sometimes, they seem to throw them pretty often and others, they let it stay green.
Summer: OK… well, I think that’s the problem. They didn’t need to call a caution, but they felt like they had to since the race wasn’t going to have an exciting finish. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the finish of the race and it didn’t ruin it because NASCAR called the caution. I wouldn’t even take it back just so the race would have a “clean” ending. At the same time, that’s why they do it. The finish and story is usually good enough that the actual caution is completely overshadowed.
Amy: But that’s just stupid. Not every race is going to have an exciting finish. That’s reality and has been reality for more than 60 years. Personally, I’d think fans would rather have a boring finish that wasn’t faked than one that was created for nothing but entertainment. You know, like debris cautions and the Chase.
Summer: And it wouldn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth, as someone covering this sport if they hadn’t just finished a verbal lashing against teams and drivers for manipulating the race.
Jeff W.: Johnson obviously had it in the bag. Yes, it did make the finish better, but it doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.
Summer: But guys, NASCAR is trying to gain fans, not lose them. I don’t like it either, but I get it.
Amy: I disagree, Summer. The caution did ruin the end of the race because it was contrived.
Summer: The ending of the race was better because of it, though. No one, outside of Jimmie Johnson’s fans even thought about the caution. The only reason we are talking about it here is because it was brought up.
Amy: If fans don’t get that every race isn’t going to have a .005-second margin of victory, they don’t understand the sport.
Summer: And they will also tune out. NASCAR knows that. NASCAR can’t win. Fans were going to whine if Johnson won that race by several seconds, but they complain when NASCAR attempts to make it more exciting. You and me know that not every race is exciting, that a driver winning by several seconds is an accomplishment in itself. But that’s not how the typical viewer is going to see it.
Jeff W.: The problem is, the best car in the second half of the race did not win because of no fault of his own.
Amy: Why does NASCAR care so much more about keeping these new, casual, “I like NASCAR because it’s the cool thing to do” fans and not the real ones who love the sport for what it is? In doing these stupid, fake things to keep these new fans, they’re alienating the ones who have watched for years.
Summer: I’d argue even those longtime fans who supposedly love the sport complain when it’s boring, too. And when races have very few cautions and a dominant driver, they complain about that, too.
Amy: But they complain more when it’s contrived.
Summer: Oh, please. They complain just as much either way.
Jeff W.: I think the faithful fans have a right to complain if the race is boring. They know they are going to come back next week, spend their time and money on races and race apparel and if they don’t like what they see, they should speak up. If they stay quiet and things don’t change, then they will leave, too.
Phil: I’d argue that these new, casual fans may have more discretionary income than the established fans do. Money talks.
Amy: But they aren’t going to stick around and bring a new generation into the sport, Phil.
Summer: Anyway, don’t get me wrong; Saturday night’s race wasn’t fake. The outcome was just different because NASCAR called a caution they didn’t need.
Phil: You’d have to go quite a ways to create a “fake outcome” from Saturday night’s race. Way beyond what ultimately happened.
Summer: Saying it was fake seems to insinuate that the entire race was fixed. It wasn’t. It was a judgment call at the end. The wrong one, but they didn’t directly fix the outcome of the race. Two totally different things.
Amy: Um, Summer…that is fake. If they had to make up a caution because the race was boring, it can’t possibly be any more fake. Look, it’s impossible to fix a race. It is possible to fake an exciting ending. That’s exactly what NASCAR did, and that smacks of no integrity.
Brian Vickers’ career will once again be sidelined because of blood clots, though this time it seems like the delay won’t last as long. With this type of health problem creeping back up, though, will it overshadow any of Vickers’ current or future career achievements?
Phil: Right now, not really. Vickers already has a full-time deal for 2014.
Amy: I don’t think it will. Other drivers have had careers ended or sidelined by injury and it hasn’t overshadowed their accomplishments. Ricky Craven was sidelined with a concussion, but he’s remembered for his great win at Darlington, not the injury.
Summer: I don’t think it will even hurt him now, because he’s only out the rest of the season and should be back next year. Even in Nationwide, I doubt anyone will notice he’s gone. The funny thing is, when Vickers won, I didn’t see a lot of fans mentioning that. They just thought it was cool to see someone win who hadn’t won in a while.
Phil: Allow me an NBA reference here. I’ve been comparing Vickers’ situation to that of Amar’e Stoudamire of the New York Knicks. Granted, completely different ailments, but still considered “damaged goods” to a degree. Knowing that this clot is the second time, it could hurt him, and possibly make it difficult for Vickers to find a double-up gig for next year.
Jeff W.: I think with Vickers’ health issue cropping up again, you can’t help but wonder about his future. I realize that kind of medicine can be a bit tricky to figure out, but it’s not something that a person can mess around with. I’d be worried about it, though I know they are saying this is not a big deal. I feel bad for him. A good guy and good driver.
Summer: Jeff, I think that’s a good point. It may not be overshadowing him now, but the question remains how often this issue will keep him out of the car. As far as I know, this isn’t something that can’t be cured, only treated. And the treatment, from what I understand with the blood thinners is what is keeping him out of the car. Which makes him a risky commodity for any team.
Phil: I’d argue the only way that the clots are what everyone remembers Vickers for is if they end his career. We’re not there yet.
Amy: That’s true, Phil. From what I understand, some people are just prone to clots and they can recur at any time throughout their lives.
Jeff W.: I think they can give him another chance for next season easily. But if he’s in contention to make the Chase next year and this issue crops up again, then it really becomes a big deal. For his sake, I hope it works out.
Summer: It might not end his career directly, but it might be more difficult for him to get a ride if the clots keep happening. It’s only the second time, of course, but that’s two more times than any other free agent driver.
Phil: With the thinners, crashing is a big concern because of the bleeding out. That’s no good. You can’t have that.
Jeff W.: It’s a just a shame. Vickers proved he belonged in Sprint Cup.
Summer: Is it weird for someone this young to have it? It just seems strange to me that he is dealing with this issue, especially considering that he is such a dedicated athlete.
Amy: Not necessarily. There are a number of factors that can cause blood clots, and they’re not limited by age.
Summer: I don’t think he’s ever said if his family has a history of this illness, either. If I remember right, when Marty Smith asked, he basically said it’s nobody’s business. Though that seems like the most likely reason.
Phil: We may never know the full truth of his medical history. An outright DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) and PE (Pulmonary Embolism) put him out in 2010. That’s serious stuff.
Jeff W.: I just hope he can be healthy and be OK for the rest of his life, whether he races or not.
Phil: And as for “none of your business,” Vickers has the right to say that. Medical information is very sensitive these days.
The Camping World Truck Series is going to be back on track for the first time in three weeks for the Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega. Was the long break an advantage or disadvantage for points leader Matt Crafton?
Amy: Probably a little of both. It gives the team a chance to prepare equipment for the stretch run, but it can sometimes be a momentum killer.
Phil: I just don’t like these long breaks in general. With Talladega coming up, it just means you’re nervous for a longer than normal period of time.
Summer: I don’t like that they race that little, and I think anytime you get out of a rhythm, it is detrimental to a race team. I think Timothy Peters would have liked to keep going.
Jeff W.: Oh, yeah. If you’re on a roll, you hate to stop. I think it hurts the series, too when it takes a long break. It’s like, “Oh yeah, the Trucks are going this week!”
Amy: I think there was some benefit to teams who have had some bad luck of late. When I talked with Brendan Gaughan last week, he said it was a mixed blessing.
Summer: I think the only benefit to the Trucks this week is that Nationwide isn’t racing. They will be in the spotlight on Saturday.
Jeff W.: I do like watching the Trucks on the plate tracks. Usually a pretty good show.
Phil: Yeah. They’re not quite the only show in town Saturday afternoon (Petit Le Mans is near Atlanta at the same time and will be shown on FOX Sports 2) but it’s before the IndyCar race and should be interesting.
Amy: Does anyone even get FOX Sports 2?
Summer: I do.
Phil: I do. It’s actually right next to FOX Sports 1.
Jeff W.: I get it, too.
Amy: I’ve heard so many fans complain they don’t get the channel. I do wonder how many households do have it.
Summer: Yeah, I don’t know a lot of fans who have it. I just happen to be someone who does.
Phil: When it was still Fuel, it was in 37 million homes, while SPEED was in 85 million-plus. I doubt it’s much different now. FOX Sports 1 is in a little more than 90 million.
Summer: Well, I think it’s Fox Sports 2 that’s the issue. I still think the same amount of people get FS1.
Phil: Back to the topic at hand… the trucks generally put on good shows.
Amy: The trucks usually do put on the best show.
Summer: I don’t think the long break will wind up hurting any of the championship contenders too badly. But it does hurt the series.
Amy: The schedule overall hurts the series. The teams have to learn to work within it, and that’s part of the challenge.
Talladega is the wild card in the Chase and the points couldn’t be much tighter. With Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson separated by only four points, will the gap shrink or grow between them? Or will their closest contenders catch up?
Phil: It’s tough to say. Anything can happen. My best guess is that one of the two has issues (either a wreck or blown engine) while one of the lower Chase drivers wins. Maybe 3-4 Chasers in the top 10 at the end.
Jeff W.: Just too hard to predict what will happen with the points. What we do know for sure is that it will be a chance for the guys 30 to 40 points back to make a big gain if Kenseth and Johnson have issues.
Summer: I think it’s hard to say, but I still think that Kenseth and Johnson will be the favorites afterwards. I don’t think their races will be so catastrophic that their status as the ones to beat will change. Simply because if they got caught up in a big wreck, chances are their closest points competitors will, too.
Jeff W.: I think those two won’t be taking a bunch of risks and I think that other drivers will be a little more cautious around them. They don’t want to be known for ruining someone’s championship chances.
Amy: This reasoning is exactly why I hate Talladega. It’s entirely likely that if the gap grows, it won’t directly be the fault of either driver — simply collateral damage.
Summer: Because that never happens at any other type of track. Jeff, I think that will be true up until the final 20 laps. Then no one will care.
Amy: Summer, it’s about 50 times more likely at a plate track because they can’t get away from each other.
Summer: They could if they really wanted to. There’s that whole “hanging out at the back” thing that drives me crazy.
Amy: I don’t like the hanging out in back, but I completely understand why they do it, especially with the Chase format.
Summer: I know why they do it, too. That’s why I don’t worry about it. I know that call to victory will pull them towards the front when it gets down to it.
Phil: Big wrecks are a lot more likely at Talladega than anywhere else. But, we’ve had 10-plus car crashes at other tracks. Not so much in recent years… but it’s happened.
Jeff W.: Just one little bobble can cause it all to break loose.
Summer: Seriously, if every single driver only ever suffered from mistakes they made, nothing would ever even happen. Sometimes crap just happens in racing.
Jeff W.: As for motors, I’d be a little more worried with the Toyota engine. But Johnson had some engine issues before the Chase started, too. All these concerns show that plate racing is definitely an art. You just hope your painting doesn’t get splattered when you’re almost done with it.
Amy: Yes, but Talladega is ridiculous. You might as well pull the finishing order out of a hat, that’s as much control as some drivers end up having over it. On most tracks, generally speaking fewer cars are involved and there’s a prayer of avoiding a wreck.
Summer: Yeah, but there are certain drivers who are better at it than others. And with that chance of wrecking also comes a better chance at winning. I don’t think Talladega should be discounted as a valid race just because it has the draft. The draft is another obstacle, not a gimmick.
Jeff W.: Unlike some, I like the plate races, but I wouldn’t want more than the four we have on the schedule now.
Amy: Plate racing can barely even be called racing. Sure, it takes skill, but skill doesn’t count as much as luck. It takes a good car, but you can win in a mediocre one.
Summer: I think we have the right amount of plate races. The only thing I wish they might change is putting Talladega a little further away from the end of NASCAR’s schedule. That way, if something crazy does happen, drivers have a little more time to recover.
Amy: They need to find a way to either get rid of plates (why they can’t use EFI to control speeds, I don’t know) or find other tracks to race on that don’t require them.
Phil: They probably just haven’t put the R&D time into the EFI in order to kill the plates. It’s probably cheaper just to keep them.
Summer: As for what happens, I think Kenseth and Johnson will still be the favorites after the race. But, hey, if it tightens up the championship, then so be it.
Amy: I hate that Talladega, a massive crapshoot, is right in the middle of the Chase. The format is bad enough without adding that.
Jeff W.: Well, everyone knows it’s a “wild card” race and they all just have to survive the best they can. It’s just the way rules are.
Amy: I’d much rather they had a road course.
Phil: I wouldn’t mind that. Watkins Glen in October would be swell.
Jeff W.: I agree, a road course should be in the Chase. But I think a plate track should be in it, too.
Phil: Dump Chicago for the Glen and move the Chase start back to New Hampshire.
Predictions for Talladega?
Summer: I’m going to say Matt Kenseth dodges this “wild card” with a win.
Jeff W.: The closer returns … Kevin Harvick.
Amy: I’m going to go with Jeff Gordon.
Phil: It’s a toss-up. I actually picked a winner back in May with Ragan. I think I’m going with Aric Almirola. It would be a surprise, for sure, but I’m holding out for a surprise winner.
Predictions for Talladega?
Summer Bedgood: I’m going to say Matt Kenseth dodges this “wild card” with a win.
Jeff Wolfe: The closer returns … Kevin Harvick.
Amy Henderson: I’m going to go with Jeff Gordon.
Philip Allaway: It’s a toss-up. I actually picked a winner back in May with Ragan. I think I’m going with Aric Almirola. It would be a surprise, for sure, but I’m holding out for a surprise winner.
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