Editor’s Note: It’s baaaack. Starting today, your favorite and most controversial NASCAR discussion, Mirror Driving, returns every Wednesday from now through the end of November!
Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest news from the past week or race weekend. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!
This week’s participants:
Tom Bowles (Frontstretch Managing Editor/Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Toni Heffelfinger (Frontstretch Assistant Editor/Mondays/Busch Series Breakdown)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Hot Or Not/Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Tracking The Trucks)
Vito Pugliese (Frontstretch Contributor)
Meegan Sweeney (Frontstretch Contributor)
With Juan Pablo Montoya adding a Rolex 24 victory to his resume over the weekend, it’s another prestigious trophy to go along with his years of success in CART and Formula 1. Can Montoya be already considered one of the most successful drivers in history, even if he ends up failing in stock cars?
Amy: Absolutely. If Montoya never wins a NASCAR race, he’s still one of the best ever.
Vito: He’s not much different than Dan Gurney at this point… so yeah.
Toni: I have followed Montoya’s career since he started in Champ Car, and it really hit me yesterday just how much he has accomplished. I mean, that’s Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt territory to have a record like he has. He’s won some of the biggest events in the world.
Tommy: History is a long time, though! Foyt is a unique part of history. Juan Pablo has quite aways to go to “catch” him… and then there’s Mario and,
Meegan: Juan’ll still be accomplished, but he won’t be THE best.
Tom: Just because the media doesn’t give as much respect to open wheel anymore shouldn’t diminish all that Montoya has accomplished. Think about someone like Michael Andretti. One of the best open-wheel drivers in the U.S in his prime, but when he went over to F1, he failed. It’s an entirely different animal… for Montoya to be successful in that series is huge. He’s had better crossover success than most people.
Vito: As political and ridiculous as F1 can be, Montoya should get an award just for participating in it.
Beth: But at the same time, there’s so much hype around him coming into stock cars that he really needs to prove he’s as versatile as everyone thinks he is. And the same thing that happened to Michael in F1 could happen to Montoya in NASCAR.
Toni: See, I find that an interesting idea. What does it say about NASCAR if someone with a resume like Montoya’s doesn’t succeed?
Amy: He’s adapted very well so far, his crash at Homestead was not indicative of how well he was running.
Vito: The No. 42 car has always been a 10th-15th place car though… Montoya’s going to have his work cut out for him.
Cami: I think that the hype will die down if he turns into a mid-pack runner.
Tom: It’s going to be impossible for the hype to die down, Cami… Montoya is the fan favorite of an entire group of fans who haven’t followed the sport before.
Meegan: Yeah, he will probably have F1 fans coming over in droves… although many will be closet fans.
Cami: But will those people watch NASCAR just because Juan Pablo is here?
Beth: Some will, even if they won’t admit it.
Tom: They’ll fit in just fine… NASCAR has millions of closet fans now, especially in the Northeast.
Meegan: Yep, I see them everyday, Tom!
Cami: I’ve dealt with more F1 people that hated NASCAR with a passion than the ones who liked it.
Meegan: Well, there’s a stickler here and there… but if you ask them if they’ve been to a NASCAR race, they always say no.
Tom: And at the same time, these fans have never had a famous F1 driver cross over into NASCAR, the type of personality that’ll have them giving stock cars a chance.
Toni: One other thing we should think about as to whether Montoya is a true success story. If he ended up running something like a Toyota in F1, then I guarantee you he doesn’t build up the record of success he has in that series. So, some of a driver’s success will always depend on the equipment they get, no matter how talented they are.
Tommy: Montoya’s talking right, at least. He shut Michael Schumacher down.
Tom: What did he say about Schumacher?
Meegan: That he’s a nobody in America.
Tom: Oh, wow… good for him! Although that’s a no-brainer. You get the feeling more people would recognize Kevin Lepage on the street here than Schumacher.
Toni: Schumacher shouldn’t be offended. Most racers who are not in NASCAR are pretty much nobodies here. I’m betting tons of people could trip over Sam Hornish Jr. on the street and have no idea who he was.
Amy: Nah, they’d think Hornish was Martin Truex Jr.
Do you buy the rumors that have Kyle Petty stepping out of his seat to do TV work later in the year? More importantly, should he retire before reaching his goal of winning another Nextel Cup race?
Beth: If the rumors are true, then good for him. But I have a hard time believing them. He’s one of those guys that races to race, and he will until he can’t anymore.
Cami: I think it depends on how well he is running.
Toni: Well, not to be mean, but he’s 35th in points entering the year. He might never retire if he wants to win another race first…
Meegan: I think Kyle should weigh his options… but his talents are needed in running Petty Enterprises or the Victory Junction Gang Camp, not in a racecar. He means a lot to those kids at the camp, and a lot of his time goes toward it.
Vito: I believe he will entertain the idea of retirement once New Hampshire comes up. His heart is definitely not in it anymore.
Amy: Kyle has always done what’s right for his team and sponsors… I don’t see that changing now. Whatever his decision, he’ll do what he believes is right… nothing less.
Vito: Kyle can still get the job done on the track though. He’s just got his hands full right now.
Tommy: There may be merit to these rumors, but I think it would only happen if Kyle wasn’t able to find legitimate sponsorship money to continue as a driver himself. I will say this, though, from the little bit of TV work he’s done, I believe he will be really good at it.
Vito: Kyle’s always been good on TV.
Tommy: I look forward to the day he becomes a color commentator full-time. He’s got a knack for it!
Tom: Well, I think that for everyone who’s followed the sport for a while, we all have a certain dream in our head. It’s the one where Kyle makes that trip to victory lane to honor Adam Petty… so for that to never become reality would be hard to take. But I think Vito is right… Kyle’s got too much going on to have his head in the game. Especially if his team keeps struggling while Bobby Labonte fixes up the No. 43 car. If Bobby starts winning in the No. 43 and Kyle’s still running 25th, I can see him stepping out.
Amy: Yeah, I agree with that.
Toni: I can see that, too.
Vito: It’s like he’s been the R&D car for Petty Enterprises the last five years.
Tommy: Well, if Kyle’s going to win one, this season in a CoT race is his best opportunity!
Toni: This could be a crazy year with the CoT evening things out – if it actually does. Remember, the haves still have a way of coming out ahead of the have nots.
Vito: With Petty Enterprises possibly moving to Charlotte, Kyle might be getting ready to step out and move into more of a managerial role.
Meegan: I think he’s got Robby Loomis for that though, Vito.
Tom: The thing with Petty Enterprises is they don’t have a driver development program. For years, it looked like Shane Hmiel was going to be the replacement… and we all know how THAT worked out.
Vito: No kidding. Come on, Shane, put down the pipe, it’s not that great.
Amy: Many teams don’t have driver development anymore, it’s not like a few years back.
Toni: It’s interesting how all the Cup teams are still in Busch, and yet, they all did away with their driver development programs.
Meegan: Well, no matter what happens with Kyle, I still miss Allen Bestwick in the booth. ESPN STILL put him in the pits… big mistake.
Amy: I know, that’s nuts.
Vito: That was the worst decision NBC made, putting Bestwick in the pits. Everyone seems to dislike Bill Weber… even though I don’t have a problem with him.
Tom: Well, when Petty was in the booth, the chemistry between Weber and Dallenbach seemed to improve dramatically. Petty definitely has talent.
Toni: I live for Wally making an ass out of Weber. It’s my best highlight of most weeks.
Tommy: Well, Wally’s game improves when Kyle’s around. I have noticed that.
Speeds in Vegas are roughly 10-15 mph faster than the track record set there by Kasey Kahne. That makes Vegas one of the fastest tracks on the circuit… but will faster testing speeds lead to better racing?
Beth: Not necessarily.
Meegan: Faster speeds do not necessarily mean great racing.
Vito: Well, Texas is fast, but the race sucks. Atlanta is fast, but the racing is awesome. After the tires wear out and they have more than one lane to race on, it should be okay. Figures they repave the track after they finally have one decent race there though.
Tom: Well, Bruton Smith does have a history of doing whatever it takes to a racing surface to make things right. But then again, there’s the whole Charlotte debacle from the past two years. So, it’s difficult to tell how this one would work out.
Cami: I wouldn’t hold my breath for anything based on Charlotte alone.
Amy: I’m not sure if the SPEEDS will lead to better racing, but making the track more like Atlanta and Charlotte will.
Tom: The thing is, if the racing does improve dramatically, Bruton won’t go quietly about adding a second date… not after making all those renovations. Somebody better start guarding their race dates somewhere.
Vito: As long as they get bodies in the stands, they won’t lose a date. It’s in one of their precious markets that they were all hot and bothered to get into a few years ago.
Toni: I’ve always said it doesn’t matter what the racing is like at Vegas. Fans still want to go. Heck, I wouldn’t mind going there any time.
Vito: It’s only a matter of time before some driver gets busted in Vegas during race weekend doing something ill-advised.
Meegan: A lot of drivers have. You just don’t hear much about it…
Tommy: A second date for Vegas is a done deal. It’s just a matter of who gets the axe. Darlington messed up NASCAR’s plans by all of a sudden selling out the joint on a bad weekend to be racing.
Vito: Because Darlington is awesome. Unlike California, where no one shows up because there’s nothing there worth watching, unless you like watching a bunch of trash blow onto the racetrack.
Toni: Guess it depends on what you like. But personally, if I have to pick a city to go to where there is something to do when I’m not at the track, Vegas has a good leg up on a lot of others. That’s what could hurt other tracks in the race for dates, Tom has me dreading Martinsville, for example.
Tom: Well, let’s just say Martinsville is no place for a liberal that doesn’t go to church every weekend and actually likes to do stuff, you know, outside the racetrack every once in a while.
Toni: That’s what I’m saying, Tom. I’ll take Vegas over that.
Tom: I think we’ll ALL take Vegas. So the track better be improved!
Bobby Hamilton Jr. recently spoke out against those running his father’s former Truck team. Should he be playing a greater role in how that team is run in the wake of his father’s death, or is that a family issue no one should be getting involved with?
Toni: I think it’s a personal issue myself.
Meegan: It’s personal… but if it’s a team, it’s business.
Cami: It depends on the conversations he and his Dad had about how the race team should be run.
Amy: I agree… if it’s about the team not being run the way Bobby Hamilton Sr. wanted, then he has a legit beef.
Tommy: Well, I think his Dad endorsed him going to team Rensi.
Tom: I also think it’s a personal issue… but of course, Bobby is the one who is busy mouthing off his concerns to the media. For someone who “doesn’t care” about the future of the Truck program, he was sure direct with his criticisms.
Toni: That’s a good point, Tom. I hadn’t thought about that. If it’s that personal, why did he say anything?
Vito: I think they caught him at a bad time. Not everyone is as media comfortable as Jeff Gordon. His dad just died, and the truck teams have been running poorly, mainly because Dodge pulled all of their support. The only truck teams that are decent and can consistently win are the Toyotas and that No. 6 Truck.
Toni: Possibly, Vito, except that this is exactly the sort of extra cuddly personality Bobby Jr. has always exhibited. I’m trying very hard to be nice and sympathetic, but that’s the way he always is.
Amy: 10-foot ego. Four-foot body. Thank you, Mike Bliss…
Tommy: And no one from Bobby Hamilton Racing has yet to say a negative word about Bobby, Junior.
Vito: Maybe there’s some legal obstacles that are preventing him from doing anything? He looks kind of like a fire hydrant with a Nomex suit on.
Tommy: This whole thing kind of got me wondering who really owned BHR: the sponsor itself or Bobby, Senior?
Tom: I want to know the circumstances as to exactly how this whole interview got sparked, too… to me, death is a sticky subject that shouldn’t be broached for a certain period out of respect for the relatives of those who died.
Vito: Look, Bobby, Junior is a racer, not a business man. Maybe he wants nothing to do with the race team, and that’s just the truth of it. Not everybody wants to carry on their dad’s legacy or keep things around that were his.
Tom: At the same time, though, it would seem logical that the race team would go to Bobby Jr. He and his dad were extremely close.
Vito: But I don’t think he wants to drive a truck his whole career. Man, that No. 32 Cup car was a career killer if I’ve ever seen one.
Tom: But you don’t need to drive the truck to own the team. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of that story.