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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)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Mike Lovecchio (Mondays/Bubble Breakdown: Tracking The Top 35)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/That’s History)
It’s now been six years since Chicagoland hosted its first Nextel Cup race. Are you disappointed in the progress being made as the track has aged, and should improvements be made a la Homestead and Las Vegas to make the facility more competitive?
Tommy: Heck no… looks like it’s becoming a challenging track. I could care less how slick it was, it made for some interesting racing.
Amy: The track itself has improved, as it basically started as a one groover. The problem is, NASCAR never needed to be adding all those cookie-cutter tracks in the first place – Chicago and Kansas? Give me a break.
Tony: Not sure why we had such a bad race Sunday. I thought Chicagoland was starting to get a bit better; instead, it just took a step back.
Vito: Chicago has always been a snoozer of a racetrack. Worn-out tracks make for the best racing. Atlanta, Darlington and Lowe’s… before they ruined it.
Mike L.: Well, I actually like the way the track has changed. It’s beginning to look like a 1.5-mile Michigan.
Mike N.: The fact that they could run in a second groove speaks volumes. Two years ago, they couldn’t go up there if they wanted to and be competitive.
Matt T.: What?! I see no aging, Mike. There is no second groove. Guys run high because their cars won’t handle low, or stay out of the way.
Tommy: I must have watched a different race then. I thought it was pretty fair. The last 10 laps were pretty anti-climactic, though.
Tom: I think that Sunday’s race was pretty darn boring. But in general, I don’t think the track was necessarily the issue… I think you just had Tony Stewart hooked up and running away from the field. Once Jimmie Johnson crashed out, that was all she wrote.
Matt T.: He ran away because of the aero issues, Tom.
Amy: I just think there are way too many tracks like that one on the circuit, and none of them except Lowe’s have any character at all. That’s the real problem. And we gave up Rockingham for this crap?
Mike N.: Amen to that, Amy.
Tony: The thing is, if they make improvements, it will be more banking, and it will become a cookie cutter like Las Vegas and Homestead, so you can’t win.
Matt T.: I’m tired of hearing all the pre-race PR stating how the track is coming in. “We’ll have a second, maybe even a third groove.” Bull. The second groove is the “my car won’t turn so I have to run slower up here” groove.
Mike L.: The scary thing is, this track might get a second date.
Mike N.: A second date? At Chicagoland? You’re on crack.
Vito: No kidding. What does Chicagoland hold, 80,000 maximum? And it’s not even that close to Chicago! It’s an hour away. That’s like saying Michigan International Speedway is in Detroit. It’s not.
Matt T.: Chicago get a second date? Heck, they might as well grant California another one, too… oh, wait.
Tom: I don’t think there’s any way that’s going to happen. So many other tracks are already in line for that; Las Vegas, for one.
Amy: Everyone wants a second date… it doesn’t mean they deserve one.
Tony: What would they replace? Kentucky will sue its way to a date before that happens.
Tommy: And really…what more does Kentucky have to do to prove they’re worthy of a Cup date?
Amy: Blow Kentucky up and rebuild it as a ¾-miler like Richmond… then they might deserve a date.
Tom: I do think we’re in position to have a major scheduling shakeup here soon, though. Do you see all these tracks in danger positioning themselves? Bob Bahre at New Hampshire two weeks ago comes out and says his track will never lose a date as long as I’m alive. The Mattiolis come out and say Pocono is here to stay for two dates a year. Sense a pattern? There’s a lot of people running scared.
Matt T.: In all seriousness, I don’t think Chicago will get a second date. That market is actually getting full!! They didn’t sell out this race, either.
Tony: Not saying that Kentucky does or doesn’t deserve it, but I think certain tracks will get a first date before an existing one gets a second.
Mike N.: Let them run at Iowa before they give a date to Kentucky or a second date to anyone who doesn’t have one.
Amy: Iowa is a cool track.
Tony: I hear good things about Iowa all the time.
Tom: It’s in a good position to get a Truck Series date in 2008; I know that for a fact.
Tommy: Iowa only has seating for 35,000, though.
Amy: And we’d have to put up with more Rusty if they gave them a date. The Midwest has Gateway, but it’s about maxed out as a Busch Series venue now.
Vito: But the Midwest needs a track more than Chicago does. I realize it’s a major market, but if you can’t even sell out an 80,000-seat 1.5-miler… you got trouble.
Tom: Well, part of the problem with Chicagoland is the traffic. It’s not very good in and out of there… and it’s over an hour from Chicago itself.
Vito: Try getting out of MIS. Now I know how Moses felt for 40 years in the desert.
Tony: Too bad you couldn’t part the traffic, Vito.
Matt T.: Go out the backstretch wall, man. Piece of cake.
Tom: Anyways, I think this race was more of a stinker based on Stewart having the perfect setup. But I do think no sellout and no compelling finish except for last year should easily keep it from getting a second date. And I would like the growth process for the track to accelerate a bit… I just don’t know if it’s going to.
Mike N.: Chicagoland had some good racing this year. I thought the multiple grooves are coming in, and hopefully the CoT will fix it to where someone can actually pass for the lead.
Mike L.: The CoT will fix a lot.
Vito: Ha, yeah. Then nobody will come.
Mike L.: But Chicagoland is the type of track the CoT will really be a benefit at!
Vito: Yeah, right. Then there will even less grip, because the left front will be off the ground in the turns.
Matt T.: I don’t know… they can’t turn the CoT, so there is still going to be issues. Can’t turn, can’t pass. And don’t even dare try to work on your car to get it to stick… or you’ll be sent home for two months.
Tony: Junior will have good experience at that after losing his power steering.
Amy: Now, he was a riot on Sunday. “This is fun!”
Tony: Probably the first driver ever to describe that situation in such a way.
Tommy: Junior was quite the “little trooper” yesterday!
Matt T.: Or should we say, “little beer drinker.”
Tom: As we speak, Junior is probably out drinking somewhere, laughing about the power steering incident and drinking another Bud Light 12-pack.
Amy: But he’s “having fun!”
Vito: Drinking not just beer… but “cold beer.”
Reports have Ginn Racing merging with Dale Earnhardt Inc. as soon as this week. If this does go through, is DEI simply inheriting extra baggage, or positioning itself to be a major Chevy superpower?
Vito: So much for Bobby Ginn’s five-year plan.
Tom: What have we been saying since day one? I really want to organize a meeting between Bobby Ginn and JD Stacy. They’d be fast friends. It was a great five-year plan, Vito… until the man looked in his bank account and realized there was nothing there.
Tony: I’m a little concerned. Expanding with one team is one thing, but this is a bit much. And I agree with Tom; either Ginn is giving up way too fast, or his pockets weren’t as deep as everyone thought.
Amy: Which is really too bad, because Ginn seemed really committed to making it in Cup against the odds.
Mike N.: I think DEI is inheriting a ton of baggage. The teams were showing some promise, but they just don’t have the deal working like they need to in order for them to seamlessly merge.
Amy: I don’t much like the idea for DEI. First up, which two teams do they get rid of?
Tony: Maybe Regan Smith goes to the No. 8, or whatever it will be, and the No. 13 and No. 14 are gone for 2008.
Vito: I think the idea all along was to ditch the No. 13. Smith will drive the No. 14, and Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will supposedly split the No. 01. Selling off the No. 13 frees up some money.
Mike L.: DEI won’t be in the same league as RCR, JGR or HMS if this goes through. But the driver lineup won’t be too shabby… possibly Lil’ Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and a combination of Almirola/Smith/Martin.
Matt T.: I don’t think it’s a bad move for DEI. They’re in the market, and so is Ginn. The owner points transfer, throw in Jay Frye and you got yourself something!
Mike N.: I think DEI still doesn’t have their crap together enough on their own right now to be looking at expanding with three midpack teams. Did you notice their engine woes this weekend?
Amy: DEI has three teams, which is enough for info gathering purposes… they need to get those three to Victory Lane consistently before adding any more.
Vito: The No. 01 is still a top-10 car, owner points wise, and if Mark had run ALL of the races, they’d likely be in the top five. I don’t think this is as doom and gloom as some are speculating.
Tom: What if DEI works with the Almirola/Martin combo as the fourth team and just throws Smith back in the Busch Series? Who says Smith HAS to go Cup racing full-time next year, especially if he struggles in the No. 14? He certainly hasn’t shown anything quite yet.
Vito: I disagree, Tom. Regan was in the top five in Busch. This has been the plan all along… split time with Mark, then move him up.
Amy: I’d take Regan over David Ragan any day of the week in Cup.
Tom: Guys, they didn’t even let him finish the full Busch season. Stephen Leicht just WON in Busch. Do you think he’s ready? And Regan hasn’t even visited Victory Lane yet in that series, let alone contended for a win.
Vito: Regan’s more ready than David Gilliland was after winning one race.
Mike N.: I’m with you on that, Vito.
Mike L.: There’s no doubt Ginn getting Almirola really hurts Smith, though… there’s no Busch team this year, you’ve got Almirola splitting time with Martin next year, and you’ve got the No. 14 sitting there partially sponsored.
Tom: In the long run, you know why Mark won’t be able to tutor Smith anymore? And why this is great for DEI? They’re going to hire Kyle Busch, give him to Martin and say, “make this kid a straight arrow.” Which is a BRILLIANT move on DEI’s part.
Amy: And Mark will promptly retire to Borneo, never to be seen again.
Tony: Mark is great, but not a miracle worker!
Tom: Don’t discount this guys, I’m telling you, because Martin and Busch get along and Martin gives Busch confidence.
Mike N.: Martin reining in Busch. Now that’s funny right there.
Tony: He will have a lot more wrinkles… just when you thought that wasn’t possible.
Mike N.: In all seriousness, that relationship works great when they aren’t around each other every day. Put them together as teammates, and it is a mess just like Hendrick.
Vito: I’ll tell you what: Mark’s the only one who can get through to him. Him driving Kyle’s car at Darlington was for a reason: watch and learn. I think that was Kyle’s last chance to stay with Hendrick.
Tom: Well, who at Hendrick truly stepped up and was a role model for him? I mean, let’s be real guys. I want names. You really think Casey Mears came over and said, Kyle let me help you? And that’s what he needs right now. Someone to teach him how to stand on his own two feet. And Mark actually likes Kyle… call him crazy, but he does.
Tommy: I think Busch is trying to talk himself right out of Cup racing. An owner would have to be crazy to take a chance on that knucklehead.
Amy: Yeah… considering very word he says is basically a job interview… he’s not making himself very marketable. He needs to go somewhere where teamwork is not emphasized.
Tony: We also don’t know what happened behind closed doors there, or how open to advice Kyle was.
Tom: Um, I don’t ever imagine Jeff Gordon and Busch shooting the breeze Tony. Ever.
Vito: What would they talk about… terrible execution of facial hair? What’s worse: Jeff’s ‘stache from ’92, or that… thing on Kyle’s chin.
Amy: The sad thing is, Kyle’s a HELL of a racecar driver.
Mike N.: Kyle is probably one of the five best drivers in the series, if he could just shut up and drive.
Tom: As I pointed out this week, Kyle is so hurt about getting ditched at Hendrick, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He can’t get over it… that’s the problem. And they’re not going to take him out of the car. Junior wants to finish up at DEI… and he will.
Vito: With regards to Ginn, I think we need to see how this really plays out. I would have a hard time believing that Bobby Ginn is folding up shop and his blimp and going home so soon.
Mike N.: You know, it is very interesting that Ginn went from a supposed favorite in the Junior sweepstakes to shutting down. That is a hell of a swing in two months.
Tommy: Ginn seemed to gamble that if he dumped a ton of his own money into the organization and got it running competitively, he could recoup it later when the sponsors came knocking. They didn’t.
Matt T.: Ginn has been on shaky ground for a month or so now, I think we only now see to what extent. When you’re running cars without sponsorship, it says something.
Mike L.: Things would be a lot different if they actually got Junior.
Tom: Speaking of which, let me make a point here… at Roush, people came there because they wanted to work for Martin. At DEI, people were coming to work there because they wanted to work for Junior. Merging Ginn with DEI replaces that Junior draw the best that organization can.
Tony: So DEI needs a new Junior in the form of Mark?
Tom: Yup! Because people will still come to work for DEI… for Mark.
Vito: That’s sound reasoning, but I don’t see them selling the entire organziation out.
Tom: I don’t either, Vito… but in that scenario, Ginn will actually be able to invest in the team now as a part owner, instead of keep it afloat. But you’re also assuming he still has money left, which I don’t think he does. And when he goes bankrupt in six months Teresa will just take the thing over outright. It’s the perfect move for DEI, I gotta tell you, if this goes through you have to hand it to Max Siegel. What he’s done since Junior dropped his bombshell….
Vito: “Bankrupt?” Bobby Ginn is a billonaire. He didn’t make his fortune by making terrible business decisions.
Tom: No Vito, he lost his billions before by making terrible business decisions. He just took a five-year break from it.
Amy: I just think two organizations that need to get their act together becoming one BIG one that has two acts to get together cannot be a good thing.
Tom: DEI’s more together than you think though, Amy. Like I said, they’ve made some ballsy moves.
Matt T.: I’ve been impressed with DEI’s performance. I didn’t think they were dead without Junior, I thought they were near it with him. Now this turnaround… pretty cool.
Amy: DEI doesn’t need the added baggage of Ginn, though. Truex is running good most of the time now… but the real top tier teams have at least two cars running to win every week.
Vito: How is Martin baggage? How is Ryan Pemberton a hindrance?
Tom: I just don’t think we’re talking about teams with baggage. You’ve got two teams in contention for the Chase out of six, and a third that would be in the Chase if Martin drove all the races. And, you’ve got two of the other three teams that are going to dissolve after 2007. So, where is there baggage? Paul Menard? With his dad funding every mistake? That is NOT baggage.
Amy: Two Cup teams and a Busch team with no sponsorship is baggage.
Tom: But most of those teams you mentioned will be going away! That’s an easy way to get rid of the problem.
Tommy: You got to admit that something’s funny at Ginn, though. They paid a “king’s ransom” for Martin… then tried to sign Earnhardt Jr. for big bucks, then all of a sudden they’re showing signs of financial trouble. Weird.
Tony: I think people are overlooking the Hendrick connection with Ginn… that is a big thing to give up.
Tom: But Ginn has been working with DEI on other things for a while now, Tony. It’s not like this move is out of the blue. They were just getting Hendrick motors.
Vito: “Just” Hendrick motors. I wish I had those problems.
Matt T.: You know what’ll be funny? If the merger never happens and this discussion was all for naught!
Tony: Just like the DEI/Yates merger.
Tom: Well, I’ve heard from a source that this was talked about as early as the middle of last year before Ginn bought into it. DEI has always had their eye on purchasing this team.
Vito: Regardless, a merger will benefit the entire organization. And do not discount the potential of Martin and Steve Hmiel reuniting if this does go down.
Tom: If this happens, count DEI as one of the four most powerful teams in NASCAR next year. You heard it here first. They go right up there behind the Roush-Hendrick-Gibbs juggernaut. I’d even move them ahead of Childress. It will help them THAT much in the end.
Mike N.: Ahead of a team that has all three of their cars in the Chase, Tom? That is a rather bold statement.
Tommy: There will be no Ginn/DEI merger. What are you kids smoking?
Vito: Methamphetamine. It’s really popular these days.
Are Budweiser and Dale Earnhardt Jr. making a mistake in ending their nine-year relationship together? Who seems the best fit for the Budweiser sponsorship in Earnhardt’s absence?
Amy: I think for Junior, it’s actually a great move.
Mike N.: As I said this week in my article, Budweiser is not smart. I think Junior is, though, because he is actually able to start marketing himself to a bigger demographic.
Tony: Earnhardt has a HUGE following in the under-21 crowd.
Tom: What’s ironic is the same thing happened in 1986, when Darrell Waltrip appeared to be attached to Budweiser and then went over to Tide. At the time, he was looked at as the most marketable driver in the sport. But in the end, he did just fine… and so did Budweiser, at least in the beginning. They aligned themselves with Terry Labonte.
Matt T.: It’s no mistake for Junior. I understand the Bud deal wasn’t that lucrative anyway (besides free beer).
Mike N.: I can’t believe that Bud is not one of the top five sponsors in the garage in terms of money invested.
Amy: Bud made a huge number of demands on him for what the money was.
Matt T.: No matter what, it’s going to be a big loss for Bud. They did a great job of marketing with Junior. I’m not sure who they go after now…
Mike L.: I definitely don’t think Kasey Kahne fits the Bud “image.”
Tony: Agreed on Kahne. Can’t have a guy that looks like he’s 15 selling beer.
Amy: One Bud would have Kahne loopy.
Vito: It just doesn’t look right, Kahne and his spindly little arms flailing about promoting The King of Beers. What’s the new commercial going to be… those three chicks from Allstate getting wasted and hanging all over him? Kurt Busch and Miller… Kasey and Bud… Stremme and Coors… it ain’t right.
Matt T.: I heard Coors wanted out of that David Stremme deal, Vito. But Dodge wouldn’t allow them to go to Kahne’s team.
Mike N.: Stewart is ideal for Bud, but Gibbs won’t do it. Although after this weekend, I think Schlitz should be knocking on his door.
Amy: Not that it would ever happen, but Robby Gordon would be a perfect match.
Mike N.: Kevin Harvick would be a good Bud guy.
Mike L.: Truex would be – but he just re-upped with Bass Pro Shops.
Tommy: Or Boris Said.
Tom: The thing is, you can pick out perfect people but very few who are actually available. I mean, I’m sure the people at Home Depot like Bud… but not enough to give up Stewart.
Vito: I think for Junior, it’s more of an identity thing. He wants to cut any ties between his “old life” with DEI and his new one with Hendrick.
Mike N.: Junior’s alliance with Adidas has him positioned to start marketing internationally, too. Adidas is huge overseas.
Amy: I think Junior also wants to be able to identify with kids more, and that’s hard when you’re selling them on beer.
Vito: Junior is cool because he IS Budweiser. A down to earth guy who essentially won the lottery. I just hope and pray he doesn’t turn into a corporate clone like Jimmie and Jeff. Clean-shaven, shirt tucked in, sipping a sugary, syrupy, carbonated beverage after being in a racecar for four hours.
Mike L.: Junior will still be drinking Bud, though, I’m sure of that… I don’t see him lounging around his house with his buds and drinking Mountain Dew.
Tom: I think Junior is too individualized to ever be a corporate clone. And Hendrick won’t put the hammer down on him… he’ll let Junior be Junior.
Vito: I don’t know, Tom. Look at the other guys in the Hendrick lineup. If Casey didn’t have a buzz cut, you couldn’t tell them apart.
Tom: But Casey WANTS to be like Jimmie. There’s a difference. They’ve known each other since they were 12.
Tony: Tim Richmond also drove for Hendrick, so I think Rick lets his guys be what they want to be.
Tom: If I was Bud, you know what I’d do? And they won’t do this because their parent company is pulling out of the series, but I’d find some young guy to invest in with the Busch Series. Follow him as he moves up to Cup. Don’t get desperate and try to knock other sponsors out of the way for Kahne, just because he’s the only twentysomething available.
Vito: Hey, they could sponsor Regan Smi… oh, wait. Nevermind.
Tommy: Hey… Bobby Hamilton Jr. would make a good ‘beer guy.”
Matt T.: Bobby Jr. would be a great fit…
Vito: I’d love to see him in a Bud Man cape.
Amy: Bobby Jr. would trip over the Bud Man cape.
At the halfway point of the NASCAR Truck Series season, Mike Skinner is threatening to run away with the points lead similar to the way Carl Edwards has taken control of the Busch Series. What’s the key to his success this season, and is there anyone that can step up and challenge him in the second half?
Vito: He’s stopped running into things with his Tundra. Racing’s longest overnight success story, Skinner.
Mike N.: Skinner’s secret this year is that he isn’t trying to win every week. If his car isn’t the best, he’ll take a top five and live to run another day. That, and this weekend they realized that coil binding works.
Tony: And he’s been paired with that team for a while now… they really have the chemistry going.
Amy: Skinner has finally learned to race smart. He’s had some talent, and now he’s using it the right way.
Tommy: He has finally come to grips with the fact that he doesn’t have to run flat out all the time. I hate to say it…but he’s become a “big picture” guy.
Tom: I also think that in the last couple of years, Skinner had some of the worst luck of anyone in any series I’ve seen. Parts would break, he’d be in the wrong place at the wrong time… that team always shot themselves in the foot.
Matt T.: Those Toyotas are just Bad Ass in the CTS, and I agree, Skinner’s team really hit on it this year. Don’t count out Ron Hornaday just yet, though.
Tommy: I always liked Skinner at Childress when he and Big E were “teammates.” I don’t think he ever got the word that Earnhardt was the alpha dog.
Any predictions for the off-week?
Mike N.: I predict Tony will be in a commercial for Schlitz.
Vito: I predict that Kyle Busch will not finish the year out in the No. 5. In fact, I will say that Kyle will be out before the Chase begins.
Tony: We’ll have a DEI annoucement in the off week.
Tom: Oh, no doubt, Tony; I feel like we’ll have a merger and a new driver announcement for DEI ready to talk about by next Wednesday’s column.
Mike L.: I say we have two DEI announcements… one for the Ginn buyout, and one for Busch.
Matt T.: And Junior…?
Tom: He’ll be drinking a lot of beer. Cold beer.
No race this week, but here’s the updated Mirror Prediction Standings. How’s your favorite columnist doing? Check it out below:
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