NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: We Need a Week Off, A Lack of Talent in the Busch Pool & Feeding Off The Craftsman Truck Series

This week’s participants:
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch Senior Editor)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Truck Series Reporter/Commentator)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Hot Or Not & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)

The possibility of a race between the July off-week and the Chase being rained out is very real. Changing the Chase to accommodate that race is an expensive process, and very costly to both NASCAR and Homestead-Miami Speedway-is that just part of the game, or does NASCAR need to revise the schedule or the rulebook to accommodate this possibility?

Amy: NASCAR needs an off-week after Richmond. Period.
Toni: Have you seen the number of contests alone using Homestead as a prize based on it being championship weekend? Not to mention that’s why they keep selling that race out.
Cami: I think they need an extra off-week. This week’s debacle is proof that they have to have a better backup plan than sticking the date Thanksgiving weekend.
Mike: We’ve been saying for a couple of years they need an off-week after Richmond. For this possibility or just to give the teams a break before the Chase.
Amy: And Busch and Trucks crown their champions there, too… how anti-climatic would that be?
Cami: Exactly. I was just going to say that Amy.
Toni: Plus, racing on Thanksgiving in Michigan is probably an insane idea.
Amy: Almost as insane as racing on Thanksgiving in New Hampshire was.
Mike: For the most part, NASCAR has been lucky with weather over the years, but this year it has caught up with them.
Tommy: They don’t need an off-week. They need to start racing on Wednesday nights as well.
Toni: They got lucky that time (at New Hampshire).
Amy: WAY lucky… I’m FROM there, and that was weird.
Cami: I’ve been in Michigan in the end of November and it ain’t pretty.
Mike: That’s a whole other story Tommy. I’d love to see that, but the teams would have to ramp up their operations to be able to have multiple cars en route to the tracks simultaneously.
Toni: Tommy will start getting death threats from crew guys now…
Cami: Plus an off-week would help eliminate the last long stretch of racing they have. If they get the off-week, then it’s a bonus.
Mike: Crew guys are just like drivers. If they don’t like it, get out. There are thousands of other people who would love to take their place.
Cami: I’d say plan the off-week for the week before Homestead.
Amy: That I don’t like, it would make you wait two weeks to find out who wins the championship. Plus, heading into the Chase they deserve a week off.
Toni: Well, no, crew guys aren’t just like the drivers exactly.
Tommy: I don’t know why they don’t schedule around the seasons. Northern states during the late spring and summer… Southern and western tracks during the questionable months.
Cami: Yeah, but at least the week before Homestead is the lastest possible open date that you could fill in a race, such as Michigan if they had to do that, and not ruin championship weekend.
Beth: Well but if I had my choice, I’d rather see them make up Michigan before the Chase.
Toni: The crew men spend the week in the shop in addition to the weekend at the track in many cases.
Amy: We were throwing this around: leave the cars at Michigan, send the haulers to Bristol, come back to MIS next Sunday, practice, and race Monday.
Beth: Sounds like a plan to me Amy.
Cami: They are lucky Bristol is a CoT race. Those cars should be packed and ready to go.
Tommy: Bristol’s not really a problem… what is it, a three-hour tow?
Mike: True Tommy, but they have to get the hauler back to the shop and then off to Bristol by Thursday night. That’s when they have the big hauler parade. If they race Michigan on Wednesday, they’re going to be in trouble.
Amy: Especially the three Cup drivers entered in the truck race.
Tommy: I’ll be glad to loan them my open trailer!
Mike: I’m sure all of the fans in Bristol would love to see your open trailer in the parade.
Tommy: Believe me… if they scheduled 50 races a year and the money was there… they would figure out how to get their cars there.
Mike: I agree they would Tommy, but they have to ramp up their operations to do that, they can’t just do it overnight. There should be an open date after Richmond. It is stupid to have so many open dates at the beginning of the schedule and then 16 straight weeks at the end.

As “silly season” progresses, there seems to be more quality rides available than drivers to fill them, especially now that Ricky Rudd has announced his retirement following the season. Is the sudden lack of top level drivers a growing problem or merely an anomaly?

Tommy: An anomaly.
Mike: I don’t think there is a lack of drivers. The media is trying to portray that, but there are plenty of good drivers out there that could take a ride.
Amy: It’s going to be a huge problem until NASCAR begins tapping places like ARCA for talent, because there is no place to develop young guys as it stands.
Toni: I think it’s a growing problem, personally, thanks to the fact that guys like Carl Edwards are busy having a good time kicking poor little Busch Series guys in the head every week.
Tommy: There is an excess of well-financed teams right now. Something has to give eventually. The ones that don’t make the programs more often are bound to eventually fold.
Mike: The problem is, the dopes that are calling the shots now want to have young kids in the cars instead of veterans.
Amy: Mike is right. Sponsors want good-looking over talented in the driver’s seat.
Toni: Young drivers are getting chewed up and spit out with no confidence faster than they come along.
Mike: Very true, Amy. There are probably 10 drivers right now that could fill the seats available if they’d give them a chance.
Amy: Personally, if I was sinking $20 mil a year into a team, I’d want a guy who can get me on TV for something OTHER than crashing, but apparently that’s just me.
Beth: I’m the same way Amy.
Mike: Me too, Amy. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t put Ted Musgrave in your car rather than Kertus Davis.
Beth: Talent beats good looks in my book any day.
Amy: But apparently that’s why we aren’t corporate America.
Mike: I guess so Amy.
Toni: Ken Schrader, Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek are all available and at least you wouldn’t have a quarter of the sheetmetal bill. Even if your driver isn’t making crazy desperate housewives squeal.
Amy: And Kenny Wallace and Ward Burton
Mike: Let’s just think about it. Marlin, Nemechek, Johnny Benson, Todd Bodine, Jack Sprague, Musgrave, Jason Keller, Travis Kvapil, Kenny Wallace, Ward Burton, Jimmy Spencer.
Amy: I don’t know, some of those ladies might like them some Schrader booty…
Tommy: Nemechek is a good example of the injustice going on right now. No reason for him not be in a solid ride as soon as he became available. The guy did a great job this year in Ginn’s start-up No. 13.
Toni: Well, Sprague you can take out – he hated Cup.
Mike: Any of those guys could get in a car and run competitively without tearing up equipment.
Toni: But you could put Ron Hornaday in there in his place.
Mike: Sure, or Mike Skinner.
Amy: Hell, Brendan Gaughan never really got a fair shot either. He’s better than some of these other guys.
Mike: Skinner has finally figured out how to race for a championship.
Mike: Very true, Amy.
Beth: I’d rather see Skinner in trucks myself.
Amy: Hell yes, keep Skinner over there. Bodine too. Part of the safety initiative.
Mike: I agree Beth, but don’t tell me there isn’t enough talent to fill the open rides.
Beth: There’s plenty of it. I just like Skinner in that truck right now.
Tommy: How about our own Rick Crawford? What more should a guy need to do to get a peek at the big time. And personable as well?
Mike: It’s just because they want to have these young punks attracting their target demographic.
Toni: Skinner and Bodine have found a niche where they excel, and that makes the Truck Series exciting. I kind of agree I’d like to see them stay there.
Mike: Hell, let them run both. There’s a day off in between most of the races!
Mike: It has all become about marketing instead of racing.

With their less aerodynamic bodies being the inspiration for the CoT, could/will the Craftsman Truck Series become a more logical Cup feeder series than the Busch Series, especially given the Busch Series’ current lack of development drivers?

Tommy: There’s not lack of talent in the lower ranks. Maybe talent and maketability.
Beth: I could see more drivers moving straight up from the trucks since the new car is so much like the trucks.
Amy: I think it could, just on the strength of not having half a field of Cup guys stinking up the show week in and week out.
Mike: I think it is going to be, until they put the CoT into the Busch Series. It is hard to imagine how they sell the CoT as being about safety and then not implementing it in the Busch Series.
Amy: They run the “too dangerous for Cup” restrictor-plate package in Busch, Mike.
Toni: A Truck Series crew chief once told me he was encouraging his young driver to skip Busch and try to get to Cup, because even then he felt the Busch cars were a dead end that varied off the track too far from the trucks. He felt the trucks were closer to the Cup cars even then and that the Busch cars only gave a driver bad habits.
Tommy: Seems that the CTS would become more relevant as a stepping stone with the CoTs being so similar in their handling characteristics.
Beth: But they’d have to be extra careful not to rush the guys up into Nextel Cup.
Mike: I’m surprised NASCAR hasn’t changed the rules for Busch next year so that all of the obsolete Cup cars can be run in the Busch Series.
Amy: They’ll get sold cheap to ARCA teams who will be in a gluttony of new stuff.
Mike: That’s a hell of a lot of cars for that series to absorb. There are roughly 500 Cup cars that are going to be useless after Homestead.
Amy: And a hell of a lot of money to be made from collectors for sheetmetal.
Toni: The young drivers in trucks are faring a lot better than the ones in Busch and yes, that does have to do with not getting overrun by Cup guys every week. And they are getting an advantage over guys trying to come from Busch with the cars being closer to the trucks too. Now given the monkey see monkey do way NASCAR works, the first phenom that comes out of the trucks, every owner will be raiding CTS for their next young driver.
Amy: There is a tremendous amount of talent in trucks – I think it’s strange that teams don’t exploit that pool more.
Mike: Roush has done it for a while. I am surprised you don’t see more drivers make that jump.
Tommy: So who are we getting? Jon Wood and Steve Wallace? Geeezzzz…
Toni: Well, the Pettys found themselves a pretty talented and overlooked young driver out of trucks. Kind of too bad he’s with Petty Enterprises… but still, at least someone noticed him.
Mike: I don’t know if he was overlooked, just didn’t have a development contract and he was over 20.
Amy: But he looks like Dale Earnhardt Jr., that was a plus!
Tommy: Look at Aric Almirola. Gibbs tried to bring him along properly and he jumped!
Toni: Gibbs pretty much told him they didn’t have any room for him.
Tommy: Not in a Cup car.
Toni: Plus I still say he never got over being yanked out of the Busch Series car in Milwaukee. And I don’t blame him for that.
Amy: Me either. That was ridiculous.
Mike: Gibbs couldn’t guarantee him a ride next year and Ginn offered him that.
Tommy: And also said he wasn’t ready for Cup.
Toni: Gibbs didn’t try to bring him along properly.
Mike: I wouldn’t say that Toni, they put an awful lot of effort into his career.
Toni: Gibbs treated him like a warm body to fill the seat on those rare occasions when the Cup guy couldn’t run.
Tommy: The kid is in over his head now!
Toni: You can’t develop a driver when he only gets to run here and there on occasion as a fill-in.
Amy: Right. He has to run full-time for a season at least, and at that rate he’d have had a season’s worth of races in about 10 years.
Tommy: Gibbs had been putting him in good equipment since he was 18.
Mike: He was getting to run in various series and getting quite a bit of exposure to different types of racing.
Toni: Every few weeks. How many years until he gets his own ride he doesn’t have to share? And the truck doesn’t count. It wasn’t a Gibbs ride. It was the Spears truck and it’s not that great.
Mike: I’m pretty sure Gibbs had something to do with the Spears ride.
Tommy: He was a project. Nowhere ready to go to Cup. Gibbs subsidized the ride in trucks as part of the Drive for Diversity program.
Mike: Oh don’t get me going on that.
Amy: Subsidized, yes, got all new equipment for, no… same old truck.
Toni: That has never been the best truck in the garage and it didn’t improve with the subsidy.
Tommy: But Almirola wanted it NOW! Well he’s got it! Bye… Bye Aric!
Amy: That’s the nature of the beast these days though – why shouldn’t he want it now with guys like David Gilliland being mainlined?
Toni: I am willing to bet if they’d offered to give Almirola his OWN Busch ride he may have stayed.
Mike: I think Almirola is going to get a lot of time next year. The word is DEI is going to run two Busch teams next year. I bet he will see quite a bit of time in one of those rides.
Toni: What is so wrong with wanting your own ride and racing every week?
Tommy: You got to make good decisions. Anyone with half-a-brain should have know that Ginn was iffy at best. But… time will tell.
Toni: Not that iffy – he ended up with DEI. I’d say he made out pretty good in that exchange.
Mike: Better than Regan Smith.
Toni: That’s for sure. And that’s the guy who was ready for Cup. That’s the shame of it.
Amy: Yeah… some guys get rushed while others never get the correct shot.
Tommy: Like I said… bye, bye Aric. DEI has their own projects. Think about it. Why would they keep Aric for long when they weren’t particularly interested in Smith?
Amy: I hope Smith gets his.
Mike: I hope Danny O’Quinn gets a shot first.
Mike: There is plenty of talent out there to fill the available rides. Yes, a lot of it is in the Truck Series, and quite a bit of it is older, but there isn’t a lack of talent to fill the vacant seats.
Tommy: Plenty of talent that can be developed. It’s the right haircut that’s hard to find.
Mike: See Jason Leffler.

Predictions for Bristol?

Beth: Kurt Busch.
Toni: Jeff Gordon.
Tommy: Gordon.
Mike: I’m going to go with Tony Stewart. He’s on a roll and Gibbs CoT program is good enough to get him there.
Amy: I’ll go with Kyle Busch for the sweep.
Toni: I also predict 24 cautions…
Amy: …all caused by David Ragan.
Mike: I’m thinking of making it into a drinking game like “Hi Bob.”
Tommy: I schedule my “pee breaks” around Ragan spins.
Amy: You must have to pee a lot.
Tommy: It an age thing!
Amy: Just saying… if you didn’t have to go a lot, you’d schedule around someone like Matt Kenseth.
Tommy: The young guys can hang with Kenseth. I can’t. I have to pee.

Not sure which Frontstretch writer to trust with predictions this week? Check out their success – or failure – with the current season standings listed below.

Writer Predictions Wins Top 5s Top 10s Average Finish
Tom Bowles 18 3 10 14 8.2
Tony Lumbis 16 1 9 12 9.2
Tommy Thompson 18 3 7 12 10.0
Vito Pugliese 21 1 10 15 10.5
Cami Starr 7 0 2 4 12.7
Amy Henderson 22 3 10 15 13.0
Matt Taliaferro 15 2 4 8 13.8
Toni Montgomery 14 1 5 6 15.8
Mike Neff 18 1 3 7 18.4
Beth Lunkenheimer 6 1 1 3 18.5
Kim DeHaven 2 0 0 1 23.0

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