NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Kahne Takes a Hit, Johnson Snakebit, & Replacing the Sponsor That Quit

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice Of Vito & Fridays/Driven To The Past)

Kasey Kahne is getting sued for an incident in which he pushed a 62-year-old security officer to the ground. Is this another get-rich-quick scheme for private citizen versus NASCAR celebrity, or a troubling sign of a young driver’s immaturity?

Tony: A bit of both. I bet if it was a run-of-the-mill citizen, there may not be a lawsuit. However, Kasey is not off the hook; what he did was over the top.
Amy: It’s a lame attempt to extort money… but that does not excuse Kahne’s behavior. It’s not like needing credentials is something new!
Vito: Maybe someone can get knocked out by Danica Patrick next year and outdo this guy.
Tony: Vito, I hope I’m on the opposite end of that knockout.
Vito: If I was Kahne, I would file a countersuit. What kind of security could possibly be afforded by a guy who gets manhandled by a frail 130-pounder?
Tommy: I think it’s a case of no pride. If Kahne knocked me down, I would be too embarrassed to admit it to anyone! In all seriousness, though, we haven’t heard anything from the Kahne camp, it’d be nice to hear his side of the story. Editor’s Note: Evernham Motorsports released a statement on the matter late Tuesday night.
Tony: It would be nice to know how Kasey approached it from the beginning… if he started out with a bad attitude or not.
Amy: Well, Kasey was in his uniform, and his brother Kale was with him… the guy could have given them a break.
Tommy: It is easy to assume things. I guess it’s possible Kasey could have lost his temper; but it would just be so out of character for him.
Amy: Is it? Seems like Kahne can be that way. I’ve heard enough stories of people he’s been downright nasty to in order to believe there’s more than sour grapes here.
Tony: It could have been just one more frustration at the end of a frustrating year which put him over the top.
Tommy: My gut feeling is since the guard’s attorney held a press conference, it is a play to get Kahne to payoff and make the bad PR go away.
Tony: Exactly; the Kahne camp will make this “go away” in any way they can.
Amy: BUT, there was no damage done and the guy is trying to capitalize.
Tommy: His attorney said that he has been too traumatized to work since the incident. Where’s the sympathy, guys?
Beth: He can’t work because he got pushed? Oh, puh-leeze!
Amy: OK, if you are traumatized by Kasey Kahne, you need a new line of work.
Beth: Exactly.
Vito: Hah, maybe he can ask David Stremme to represent him as a character witness.
Tommy: Never thought of Kahne as a “thug.”
Amy: Kasey “The Enforcer” Kahne.
Tony: Kahne and Carl Edwards can form their own club! “Nice on the outside, naughty on the inside.” Don’t anyone take that the wrong way, either! Anyways, hopefully legal precedent will be looked at here to see what should be done in a case like this, that’s the only way this can be fair.

Ryan Pemberton has left the comfort of DEI for the relative unknown of Michael Waltrip Racing, the biggest hire in a slate of three new crew chiefs. Paul Andrews and Bill Pappas were also asked to join the MWR program; will that be enough to turn that team around?

Vito: In a word? No. Ryan will get a few weeks off during the year for when the No. 00/44 misses like 6-10 races.
Amy: No, they aren’t. MWR needs more than three crew chiefs. Will they help? Yes… are they the be all end all, no.
Tommy: They’re a step in the right direction… for sure. Pemberton is slick.
Tony: I’m a little skeptical here, because we’ve seen big name crew chiefs brought into other organizations with larger problems – and they couldn’t do it alone. For example, Todd Parrott to Petty back in the day,
Vito: Doug Richert to Red Bull, too. I kind of feel bad for Mark Martin; he comes to DEI and first Steve Hmiel bolts, now Ryan Pemberton, it’s going to give the guy a complex.
Tony: I agree, Vito; in the matter of a year, Mark has something completely different than what he signed up for.
Tommy: My guess is Martin wouldn’t be held to his contract if he chose to bolt.
Amy: But he signed on for another year, so he had to have liked something he saw.
Vito: For Mark, I don’t think it matters who the crew chief is. No matter who’s been at the helm, he’s usually the same, seems to rally around a new crew chief, too.
Tony: I was really surprised they made a change in David Reutimann‘s camp, because he said in my interview earlier this year how much he enjoyed working with Frankie Kerr, sometimes, longevity with one crew chief is what’s needed to build success.
Amy: I agree with that, Tony. But a great veteran is very hard to turn away, too. And with Gibbs on board in the Toyota camp… all those teams will improve.
Vito: MWR’s issues go way beyond scoring a couple of crew chiefs. They need to be aligned with a top-tier Toyota team, and right now there is only one in Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tommy: But as bad as MWR has been, there were indications during the end of the season that they are starting to find some speed.
Vito: That was due in part to Gibbs funneling some technology Toyota’s way.
Tommy: Now, Vito… you know Gibbs denied that! Seriously, with the CoT full-time next year, I expect to see a significant improvement from the MWR stable next season.
Amy: A Toyota will win in 2008. Gibbs on board, to me, is a far more important step than the three crew chiefs.
Tommy: Agree, Amy. Mark Cronquist is the best move Toyota has made, I’m assuming JGR will be sharing their info with the other teams.
Vito: Gibbs doesn’t really have much of a choice. The way Toyota runs their racing programs, it’s all teams under one banner.

This past weekend, Jimmie Johnson lost in a “Race of Champions” Cup, shedding light on the fact the IROC series in America has gone by the wayside. Is there a way to bring a competitive Race of Champions back to the states? Or is having an IROC-style series among the best drivers among each racing genre simply a waste of time?

Amy: First of all, I’d like to point out that Johnson didn’t lose to just some driver; he lost to the best in the world, bar none, in Michael Schumacher. And ROC is a better format than IROC was. The ROC is a lot of fun, but it’s not shown live on American TV, and nobody in the states knows half the drivers in it.
Tony: I’d say, bring back IROC with some tweaking. They need to do different-style tracks with different-style cars, it’s way too similar to NASCAR. The concept is good, though.
Tommy: I personally enjoyed IROC – I’m not sure why it hasn’t worked. Might be a case of simply not being well promoted. But… we have the next best thing to the old IROC series. NASCAR and the CoT!
Tony: With open-wheel drivers, even!
Vito: Hah, pretty much – just slap whatever stickers you need to identify what brand of car you’re driving. But IROC was getting way too long in the tooth. They were racing cars that hadn’t been built for five years.

BOWLES: DID YOU NOTICE? 2007 OFFSEASON

Amy: IROC could have been awesome.
Tommy: They just needed a much bigger field.
Tony: I know; the IROC series had some great races and some more diversity with tracks. It was good they got a road course back on the schedule.
Amy: If they would have done it right: one race at Daytona in stocks, one on dirt in sprints, a road course and an oval in Indy and Champ cars.
Tommy: And open it up to more drivers.
Amy: It wasn’t just the tracks, it was the cars. If you invite champions from sprints and open wheel, you need to race sprints and open wheel.
Tony: One NASCAR-style car, one open-wheel style car, one sprint-type car and one more.
Beth: You’re right, Amy… otherwise, someone else always has the advantage. If you give everyone a chance to have the advantage, it’ll be a better representation of who really is the best.
Amy: Of course, if you race stocks, sprints and open wheel, you could just hand the trophy to Tony Stewart.

With the announcement that Craftsman leaving the Truck Series, will NASCAR have a harder time finding a replacement than they did with Anheuser-Busch – or will the Trucks be an easier sell?

Beth: Trucks are an easier sell, to a point.
Tommy: Depends on price… but shouldn’t be too hard to sell.
Amy: It shouldn’t be hard, but it will be. They will have a hell of a hard time with the current TV package.
Beth: The trucks have much better racing and a much closer points race most of the time, but running races exclusively on SPEED doesn’t help.
Tony: The TV package does leave a lot to be desired, but Craftsman seemed to get a lot of air time using the series. And the competition, of course, speaks for itself.
Vito: It needs to be a sponsor that fits the Truck Series image. Craftsman is obviously getting out of it for a reason. Hopefully, the series sponsor will have some say as to when the races are run.
Tommy: It’s still a developing series; definitely a good opportunity for a large corporation to get in at an affordable price. NASCAR could certainly do more to promote the series, I believe.
Tony: If the sponsor is also the “official something” of NASCAR, everyone will benefit. Craftsman played off of being the official tool of NASCAR nicely, but it will be up to the sponsor to get creative.
Beth: If more races would air on network television, the trucks would attract a wider range of sponsors, and probably more viewers as a bonus.
Tommy: I just don’t believe that NASCAR will have as much difficulty selling the trucks as they did Busch/Nationwide. I understand they had to discount the price considerably to get Nationwide to bite.
Beth: I agree completely, Tommy.
Tony: It’s got a much better identity than the Busch/Nationwide Series has had of late.
Vito: But I still think it’s not an easy sell: you’ve got races on a small cable outlet that air typically on Friday night and do not attract many fans to the track. If it were on a Saturday late morning or early afternoon – when Busch races used to run – you’d have a much bigger audience, market, and return on investment.
Tommy: You’re right, Vito… I just assume the price of the sponsorship will reflect all of that.
Beth: They really need to promote how good the racing is much more often.
Amy: They should run more companion events with Cup, for one. And get a decent TV package… at the very least on ESPN.
Vito: The issue with the Truck Series is not the product – it’s the placement. They do a terrible job of marketing what is arguably their best series. Short races, lots of action and names from the past, they just need to find someone other than ESPN announcers to cover it. And we probably don’t need an hour pre-race show for something that lasts 90 minutes.
Tony: Yep. I think it’s become a lot of people’s favorite series, but they make it difficult for people to support it with the aforementioned Friday races.
Tommy: I think it’s taken this long for race fans to get past the fact that they are trucks!
Amy: Hey! What’s wrong with trucks? Cars are for sissies.
Tommy: My daughter told me one time years ago when she was in high school that she just couldn’t see herself dating a guy that didn’t drive a nice truck. Always thought that was hysterical.
Beth: If I could get a car’s gas mileage in our truck, I’d keep it forever.
Amy: That is true. The 15 miles per gallon gets old.
Tommy: Well, at least gas prices are reasonable! Oh, wait…

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