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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: A Lawsuit Surprise, Junior on the Rise, & Who Gets the Testing Prize?

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:
Tom Bowles (Frontstretch Managing Editor & Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice Of Vito)

The Kentucky Speedway vs. ISC lawsuit was thrown out Monday, with the judge awarding in favor of ISC. What does this mean for track dates in the foreseeable future, and do you agree with this decision?

Tommy: I absolutely agree with the decision – and predicted it, too.
Matt T.: It means NASCAR will continue to award track dates as it sees fit. And while I think Kentucky has a nice facility and all, they went about this all wrong.
Mike N.: Kentucky was told from day one that they would not get a date, and any attempt to strong-arm one away from ISC should be thrown out. Now, they’ll have to go about it the old-fashioned way – buy Dover and move their dates.
Amy: Mike, you’re right. Track selection should be based on both market and the type of racing and track – not on who whines the loudest. Kentucky is in a heavily-tapped Southern market and a 1.5-mile cookie cutter. They’ve got no choice. If they had built a short track, it would be another story entirely,
Matt T.: One thing I’ve not heard anyone voice their opinion about: Do we need another 1.5-miler?
Amy: Matt, that’s been my main objection to Kentucky all along – it’s the last thing we need!
Tommy: I do hope that NASCAR does eventually give Kentucky a date, though. They have done very, very well with their Nationwide date – but they should be under no obligation to do so.
Mike N.: Kentucky is a great facility, and they put on an awesome Nationwide Series race. The thing is, they don’t have anything to offer to deserve a Cup date, unless the powers that be in Daytona decide to expand the schedule.
Matt T.: Nashville has a more unique setup – 1.33 miles and concrete – and it will never get a date. So, why does Kentucky need one?
Mike N.: They need to give a date to Iowa before they give one to Kentucky. Some day, when my dream becomes reality, all tracks will have only one date, and places like Kentucky, Nashville, Memphis, St. Louis, Iowa and Rockingham will get dates.
Matt T.: Amen.
Tommy: This whole thing is about free enterprise. NASCAR is a business with a growth plan… the courts should not interfere with that. Now, had there been a promise extended like in the case with Texas… that would have been a different situation.
Matt T.: Although, Tommy, it can be argued – albeit this judge disagreed with me there – that the NASCAR/ISC relationship constitutes a monopoly.
Tommy: There is no monopoly… you and I can lease a track and hold a stock car race any time we want.
Mike N.: Just not a NASCAR race, unless the suits in Daytona decide to award it to you.
Tommy: Correct… just not a NASCAR race.
Matt T.: I’m not even talking about getting a race date. I’m saying the France family owns NASCAR, yet are also the majority stockholders in ISC. That’s a conflict of interest if you ask me – from a racing standpoint, that is.
Mike N.: Oh, hell yeah – that has been a major conflict of interest from day one, but it’s free enterprise.
Tommy: Sounds like good business to me.
Matt T.: Smart business, yes. Until a track beats them in court.
Mike N.: They own the series, they make the calls. If you want to start up your own series, go for it.
Amy: I agree, Mike – it’s NASCAR’s way or the highway. I think it may be a conflict of interest, but it is what it is… nobody complained when ISC was the only company building NASCAR-specific speedways, and by the time it became a problem, it was too late. I’m actually glad NASCAR didn’t fold and settle like they did Ferko and Texas.
Tom: Well, with the Kentucky question, the biggest thing that comes out of this is that ISC and SMI now have full control.
Mike N.: Not total control Tom, but damn close.
Tom: It’s kind of sad, really. Independent tracks, see ya later! Those two now have the power to give dates to all their own tracks, buying up the ones they want for extra dates. Third parties are totally screwed, just like the presidential election.
Mike N.: Dover and Indy are still there.
Tom: Tick-tock, tick-tock, Mike. Don’t you see the fast friendship between the Frances and the Georges?
Mike N.: Tony George will never sell Indy.
Matt T.: Never say never, right Mike?
Tom: I’m not saying sell completely, Mike… but an ISC buy-in… you never know. Frankly, the end result of all this – if I were Dover and Pocono – I would sell. Seriously… I mean, how am I ever going to compete with ISC and SMI? I can understand why the lawsuit was thrown out, but what they’ve done is endorse a monopoly – and no matter what they say in court, this is a monopoly.
Tommy: There’s no monopoly, Tom. Just a very successful business, and NASCAR has every right to control the product. Whether consumers want to buy it or not is their decision.

With the CoT Daytona 500 testing underway, what and/or who has been the biggest surprise so far? Who’s right where you’d expect? And does it even matter?

Matt T.: Doesn’t matter. Everyone who knows they are in the field is sandbagging. Although the JGR outfit will be interesting to watch.
Tom: I think Jacques Villeneuve in the top five has been a bit of a surprise. And Dale Earnhardt Jr. popping up, to a certain extent… although I think a lot of that was for show.
Mike N.: There isn’t anything that can be modified on the cars, so to me, it is pretty irrelevant.
Amy: I agree with Mike. The top teams don’t bring their best stuff, the mid-to-bottom teams look better than they do, and the fans get all worked up over nothing. That’s why the Toyotas looked good on paper… because most of them have to race into the field, they have to show their hands.
Tom: Oh come on, Amy! You didn’t think Darrell Waltrip was a contender when he led testing speeds seven years ago?
Mike N.: Of course she did. DW was always a threat on a plate track!
Amy: He was, too, Tom! And so was Ken Schrader when he led in the MB2 car!
Tom: Seriously, I agree that not much of this means anything… but for once, I’m interested in testing just because I want to see what people say about the Car of Tomorrow. It’s very important to stem the tide of negativity, in my view… and there hasn’t been a bit of positive news in awhile.
Mike N.: Can we please stop calling it the Car of Tomorrow? It is here, for the whole series. It’s not tomorrow anymore – it’s now.
Vito: How about we just call it fugly.
Matt T.: It’s a term.
Mike N.: How about just calling it the car.
Amy: At least it looks like a real car…
Tom: I think we’re stuck with it, Mike.
Matt T.: How about the PoS?
Tom: YES! I like that. But on a serious note… I was talking to Jeff Burton last month, and he was adamant you need to give this car a chance after the teams have an offseason to work on it.
Amy: I knew I liked Burton – he’s right again.
Tom: Yeah, well the offseason is pretty much over… it’ll be interesting to see if people are still whining after drafting practice. And as the attitude of the drivers go… so will the fans. After all, this is the same Burton that called this car a massive mistake in NASCAR Illustrated not too long ago.
Matt T.: I love how NASCAR markets this as “Preseason Thunder,” by the way… it’s like giving this test a corny name will drive up enthusiasm.
Tom: Mike Lovecchio was telling me that this is the largest attendance he’s ever seen for Daytona testing – so, who knows? It might actually be working.

Looking back on the 2007 Silly Season, which individual driver and team do you think is in position to reap the most benefits after their moves?

Tommy: Kyle Busch!
Vito: Hands down, Kyle Busch. I say that because Kyle was a distant third or even fourth at Hendrick. At Gibbs, he has a real opportunity to be on equal footing with Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
Matt T.: Kyle and JGR. In the long run, the moves made by the driver and the team will be huge.
Mike N.: Gibbs is going to be the big winner on the team side. Being the big dog for Toyota is going to give them a real advantage.
Amy: Teamwise, JGR just got a bucketload of talent, but they’re working with a car than ran like a bucket of bolts last year.
Mike N.: JGR is going to be a major contender in a year or two, but they’re still dealing with a one-year-old power plant and car.
Vito: The cars are all the same now, Mike; it’s just that Toyota suddenly has three weekly contenders in its ranks now.
Amy: On the driver side, Earnhardt Jr. – without a doubt. He just got the best stuff in the garage, far and away – he’s so excited he’s in Daytona this week, and he doesn’t even test!
Mike N.: Junior is the big winner for drivers.
Tommy: I won’t argue against Junior in the short run. He’ll probably be back in the Chase this season.
Amy: Hendrick got a marketing coup… but of the two, Kyle is the more talented driver.
Tom: I think both Kyle and Junior are in great shape – and that’s what makes this so awesome. The potential is there for it to become a big rivalry… it’s just whether laid-back Junior will get pissed off enough. I can’t wait for the first time Kyle and Junior make contact.
Mike N.: That will be very interesting, Thomas, to say the least. Ever since their little dustup last year, I’ve been waiting for it to happen again.
Matt T.: I don’t think Junior sees it as a rivalry. Kyle, maybe – but not Junior.
Amy: Well, Junior has one more weapon at HMS – Jimmie Johnson. The two drive a very similar setup, so if he can run Jimmie’s stuff…
Matt T.: Good point, Amy. I think Junior is every bit as good as Johnson.
Vito: The No. 48 is still the team to beat for the title; I don’t see Junior contending for the title, but he will win a few races this season. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyle move to the head over at JGR.
Amy: I agree, Vito. Junior isn’t the driver Johnson is, or Gordon… but he will win this year, and make the Chase to boot.
Tommy: I see Junior as a regular Chase contender with HMS. But championships… they’ll take some real racing luck!
Amy: Junior would be in a better position if he could communicate with his crew chief as well as Johnson does.
Vito: For me it’s not a lack of talent on Junior’s part; for all intents and purposes, he should have won the title in 2004. It’s just a lack of depth on the team compared to the No. 48.
Matt T.: Anyone think maybe the best thing for Junior is not having Tony Jr.?
Mike N.: Not at all, Matt. Tony Eury Jr. knows how to make the changes Junior wants.
Tom: I think the biggest problem with Tony Jr. is actually going to be holding himself accountable within the Hendrick system. Those guys are workaholics, man, there is no slacking off. And I’m wondering if Tony Jr. – deep down – has that mindset.
Amy: Regardless, Junior is good, make no mistake about it. But does winning 17 times in stuff that’s not as consistently good as other teams show that he does have the raw talent of Stewart, Jeff Gordon or Kyle Busch?
Matt T.: He’s got three top-five title finishes. Not too shabby.
Tom: I still think Junior falls short of his Hendrick teammates, Amy – but that doesn’t mean he can’t win a title if the right pieces of the puzzle fall his way.
Matt T.: I just worry that the Junior/Junior partnership at HMS may not work as well as it did at DEI.
Vito: Um, Junior has two Busch titles, a Daytona 500, and 17 career wins in eight full seasons with a start-up team. Won two races his rookie year and the Winston, he’ll be fine.
Tom: On a side note, you know who else we should mention here is Mark Martin. Technically, it’s not a huge “Silly Season” move, but I guarantee Martin will win at least once in 2007. DEI will not let that No. 8 ride suffer – the critical backlash will be overwhelming.
Vito: The problem with the No. 8 that I see, and with DEI – Steve Hmiel’s gone, Eury Jr. is gone, Pops is gone and now Ryan Pemberton is gone.
Matt T.: Well, DEI took some hits this offseason, but I’m still not convinced they were as bad as everyone wanted to believe.
Tom: As for Junior, Vito, he made a critical mistake in 2006 at Martinsville that cost him the Chase. He also did the same thing at Atlanta in 2004; that’s why I don’t put him in the same class as Gordon or Johnson. Junior’s been prone to the types of miscues you don’t see other drivers with “A” talent level having at important times.
Mike N.: Very true, Tom. Junior does have mental slipups at times.
Amy: Raw talent means you can finish a car 5-10 spots over where it is probably capable of, superior car control – like being able to save a sideways car while flipping someone off – and a tendency to always sneak into the race at the end.
Tom: Well said, Amy… and I don’t think Junior does that. I think he’s good… there’s a difference between good and great. But one thing Junior does know – this is the chance he has to prove peons like us wrong.
Mike N.: He has to prove us wrong Tom. If he doesn’t, then it justifies all of the people who have always said he didn’t have talent.
Amy: Personally, I agree with DW – for once – when he lists Junior probably seventh or eighth in talent in today’s field.
Vito: Hey – Junior gets up on the wheel and goes for it. You’ll also hear people say “he isn’t trying hard enough.” Well, what do you want from the kid? His dad gets killed behind him on the track, then he almost burns to death. Robby Gordon has raw talent… what has that gotten him? Three wins and guys who get mad at him a lot. Just because Junior hasn’t had a good car in three years, let’s not pile on him.
Amy: I’m not piling on him – I like Junior and always will, but I’m being realistic.
Tommy: I’ve been saying the same thing for quite some time – Junior’s a top 12-15 driver. He is certainly competent, but will need the best equipment on the track to win a championship.
Tom: Right, he’s a good driver – no one’s denying that. But there’s a difference between good and great. Now, Junior has a chance to be great. Awesome – so Junior, go prove it. That’s all I’m saying.
Matt T.: 17 wins is more than a lot of drivers can boast, and he’s in the best equipment of his career now… I’d say more wins are on the way. He’ll be fine at HMS once he gets settled in.
Amy: Gordon is great, so is Stewart. Kyle Busch can be, and Johnson is certainly making a case for himself. Junior… still has to prove it.
Vito: Well, let’s face it – the first few years of his career, Junior was dealing with a hell of a lot more than other drivers have had to contend with. And he was having a pretty damn good time just being Earnhardt Jr. and being sponsored by Budweiser. If you were 26 and in his shoes… tell me you’d do it differently. I don’t know that I would have. He’s handled himself a damn sight better than Kevin Harvick has.
Amy: If there was a trophy for dealing with pressure and being a great personality, Junior would win it.
Tommy: Junior’s likable. No argument there.
Vito: Well, we all agree that the car is about 75% of the equation today. If you’re off a little, you’re off a lot – so. how can one display their talents in a car that isn’t up to par with what Hendrick, Roush and Gibbs have fielded from 2005-2007?
Tom: Again, Vito I don’t disagree with you to a certain extent – but in the end, excuses are just that, excuses. There’s no doubt I would have partied it up for a couple of years with the Budweiser sponsorship and a cushy ride, with my dad in control – but you know what, that doesn’t mean he gets a ticket to Great-land. Because in that scenario, everything becomes a bunch of “what ifs.” What if Junior did this, did that, what if this hadn’t happened… if we do that for every athlete, we’d have a ton of suddenly great people out there.
Vito: There’s a difference between an excuse and an explanation, though. And if his last name was Cartwright, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Matt T.: I don’t think anyone is arguing that Junior is “great.”
Vito: Well, you put Junior in the No. 48, tell me he wouldn’t win 10 races a year. Superior equipment, superior results. That’s all I’m saying.
Tom: Vito, I can’t tell you that answer until after this year. Because right now, he hasn’t put the facts on the table that suggest to me he could win ten.
Tommy: I don’t believe he would.
Mike N.: Vito, you put Tom in the No. 48 and he’d win five.
Amy: 17 wins is a very impressive total for Junior… but in less time on the circuit, Johnson has what – 34? He also has two Cups and two runner-up finishes… and it’s not all because of equipment – it’s communication and teamwork. Those are Junior’s weaknesses. Junior can communicate with Eury… but only when things are going right. When things unravel, so does the communication.
Tommy: I’ve seen Junior and Eury Jr. adjust themselves out of too many races to think they are a dynamic duo.
Vito: Like Junior says – He’d rather race with people he’s both close with and enjoys working with to finish second than win with some strangers. He’s got his priorities straight.
Tom: That’s fine, Vito – but this isn’t football and Junior isn’t Randy Moss. He finishes second a bunch of times – it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of stats. Second in racing is the first loser – nothing more, nothing less.

Heralded Busch Series crew chief Harold Holly – who won the 2000 championship with Jeff Green – was signed to crew chief the No. 66 Steve Wallace over the holidays. Is that going to be enough to save this struggling program – or is Wallace just not equipped to handle the Nationwide Series at this point?

Amy: Um, no. Wallace would make a hell of a drag racer… he goes hellah fast in a straight line. It’s the corners that give him problems.
Vito: Even in drag racing, he’d still find a way to wreck.
Tom: All I can say is I hope Wallace doesn’t have a sophomore slump, because it couldn’t have gotten much worse his rookie year.
Vito: That was a looonnnng time ago when Harold Holly had success. I’m not so sure that’s the answer – to me, the answer is Crusty getting out of the booth and helping to shepherd his son along.
Mike N.: I’m not sure that Rusty doesn’t cause too much of a distraction for that team.
Matt T.: Holly is definitely a step in the right direction, though, and Rusty knows that. Steve has a lot to learn.
Tommy: Holly was a good catch by Wallace – he will improve the car. Now… who will improve Wallace?
Amy: Steve has to actually listen to someone… I’m not convinced this will be any different.
Mike N.: That is true, Amy. Steve might have had too much success too quickly, and gotten too full of himself as a result.
Amy: I’ve been acquainted with Steve since he was about 14 – and all I can say is he has a hell of a lot of growing up to do if he’s going to make it in this game. He’s very full of himself.
Mike N.: He’s got his dad’s temper, but not his dad’s talent.
Vito: You’d think that fleet of crumpled-up metal would be somewhat humbling…
Tommy: I know we like to preordain sons of NASCAR greats, but most don’t have it.
Amy: Steve’s got talent, but he needs to learn how to use it… and to do that, he needs to learn to listen to people who know better than he does.
Tom: Well the thing is, Steve can’t really lose his ride because his dad owns the thing. So the pressure to perform isn’t quite there. At least the kid knows how to qualify… he just doesn’t know how to play nicely with others.
Mike N.: You’re not comparing him to Larry Foyt, are you?
Vito: Foyt is terrible.
Amy: Foyt might actually have wrecked less cars.
Mike N.: I agree, Amy.
Matt T.: Harrah’s was a great sponsor for Foyt: It was a roll of the dice that the car would come back in one piece.
Vito: Haha – nice one, Matt! As for Steve, I do think he has talent – the way he led Bristol for five laps with a flat tire before he wadded it up proves that to me. I honestly think he needs some assistance from his dad – not his uncle Kenny Wallace.
Tom: I’d love to know how many races in which Steve Wallace didn’t wreck last year. Ooo, wait, I got the perfect stat – last year, he had seven top-20 finishes and eight DNFs. If that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will…
Matt T.: Look, Steve was a young rookie and has big shoes to fill. Of course he’s going to tear up a bunch of cars – and he did do that! But we may be piling on a bit here. I seem to recall a young Jeff Gordon hitting everything on the track his rookie year in BGN.
Mike N.: But Gordon didn’t have a shitty attitude about doing it.
Vito: He just had a mullet and that terrible moustache.
Mike N.: Loved the pornstar ‘stache.
Vito: He should bring it back and comb it before putting the helmet on. It’d be awesome! The mullet and the porn ‘stache.
Mike N.: Oh yeah, Vito, that would sell some Pepsi products.
Tom: I don’t think Ingrid would allow that.
Amy: I hope Ingrid wouldn’t allow that…
Tom: Although, if she has him getting diapers all the time… maybe he has some leverage.

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