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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Dodging the Charger, Who Pulls the Next Upset & Questioning the Start Times at Daytona

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)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice Of Vito)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Mondays/Points To Ponder & Wednesdays/Turn 5)
Jeff Meyer (Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

After a whole week in relative anonymity amongst their manufacturer counterparts, Dodge took six of the top-10 spots in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Were the Dodges merely in the right place at the right time, or are they going to be a force to reckoned with this year?

Jeff: They were never as far behind as they let on.
Amy: They certainly weren’t really on my radar much – though Reed Sorenson‘s Speedweeks should have been a clue.
Mike: As Roger Penske stated after the race, they focused on downforce and it paid off in the end.
Matt T.: Six of the top-eight tells me they had something figured out. But Daytona is an anomaly, so let’s see how Cali and Vegas go before jumping on the bandwagon.
Tony: A little bit of both. It shows their restrictor-plate program, at least in race trim, is good. We’ll have to see how they do next week.
Bryan: I’m not surprised by Penske as much as Evernham. They were off my radar big time.
Vito: They are on a more even keel with the CoT. That nose on the old car… it was either dead-on or pined at the nose and not balanced correctly.
Amy: There are also some very talented drivers in Dodges, especially with the new car. And you can’t overlook the driver factor.
Tommy: I think we’re going to see that Dodge’s stellar performance in the 500 was more a result of positioning themselves well in the draft than any gains in speed during the off-season.
Jeff: A lot of it WAS right place right time, as with any plate track.
Matt T.: GEM has some decent showings at the plate tracks lately. I wasn’t too surprised by that and I knew the Ryan Newman/Kurt Busch duo were close. Real close. Busch was actually my pick last week.
Amy: Newman and Busch should be able to continue the success at the intermediates, so should Sorenson. The jury is still out on the GEM boys yet.
Tony: I guess what we can conclude is that Dodge’s engine program, again at least on restrictor-plate tracks, is pretty strong since that is about the only thing that differentiates these cars anymore other than the driver.
Mike: I don’t know about the driver idea. Newman? Elliott Sadler? Kasey Kahne?
Tommy: Though, Newman and Busch were competitive the last half of the Chase races, real competitive at season’s end.
Vito: What Robby Gordon and his team were able to do was remarkable. Wrong nose on the cars, last-minute switch to Dodge from Ford, having to re-plumb the cars for Dodge motors from Fords…

PUGLIESE: DODGE RETURNS TO PROMINENCE AT DAYTONA

Amy: Robby’s team is so impressive for a single-car independent operation.
Jeff: Big deal, they are ALL as close to spec as one can get.
Tony: I agree with Amy’s assessment: GEM has a much bigger hole to dig out of from last year, so we’ll have to see. Ganassi and Penske showed signs of life in ’07.
Tommy: Five engine failures for Newman last year alone. If they get that number down they ought to see better results this year!
Bryan: I’ll feel a lot better about Newman when they show they can run the intermediates in the CoT.
Mike: Yeah, that will be very telling Bryan. Until then, the jury is still out.
Matt T.: 18 races on the intermediates. That’s where a title is won.
Tony: They should be OK if Lowe’s last October is any indication. That’s where Newman almost won.
Bryan: Old car though. And the No. 12 team has always been hit or miss at the intermediates.
Vito: They were fast at California and Las Vegas in testing a few weeks back.
Tony: Good point on the CoT. Regardless, Penske has usually fared well at Fontana.
Amy: Too many weird things happen at Daytona for it to be a true indication of anyone’s season.
Matt T.: That’s right, Amy.
Tommy: That’s a good point about waiting to see how they do on the intermediate tracks. Mark Cronquist seems concerned as to where the ‘Yotas will be on them as well.
Matt T.: I saw where Cronquist was concerned about Cali and LV, Tommy. And he didn’t seem to worry as much about Daytona.
Jeff: I did get about a 60-lap nap in during the 500.
Mike: I still don’t fall asleep during races.
Bryan: Me neither.
Mike: But I could see where people might have during the middle of that one.
Jeff: I don’t at the tavern, but I was in the midst of a blizzard, so I was snowed in.
Tommy: I’ll confess… I might have dozed off during the middle laps.
Matt T.: My roommate told me he’d be back with 30 to go. There’s your casual fan.
Amy: I thought it was a decent race like any other plate race, the best holding back until the end.
Tony: In some ways, I guess that’s better, Amy, although not as exciting throughout. Drivers kept their heads on and we avoided the Big One.
Jeff: I would say it was better than with the old cars.
Vito: I just miss being able to differentiate between a Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet.
Jeff: And Toyota.
Mike: It was amazing we didn’t have a Big One. We even had a couple of opportunities.
Matt T.: Last 30 laps were great, but I wish NASCAR had not had such lengthy cautions. Gotta get those commercials in, though.
Tony: Yeah, the last 30 seemed to drag on, Like the last few minutes of a football or basketball game.
Tommy: I thought it was a very good race. Of course they settle down for a while, but why wouldn’t they? What is the advantage to taking chances on lap 105?
Jeff: And that first caution was bogus.
Mike: So was the second one.
Matt T.: How long does it take to clean up after a SPIN by Clint Bowyer?
Bryan: And when are they going to mandate that TV show the debris on the track?!
Mike: Once again, they didn’t show the debris on either one.
Jeff: And then Mark Martin cuts two tires.
Vito: Kind of ironic this year and last year/old car and new car, the Daytona 500 is decided by someone getting rammed forward up the backstretch.
Mike: Although there were unaided passes this year, which was refreshing.
Tony: The restrictor-plate basics will never change no matter what the car, though.
Mike: Back to the Dodges, they were mostly in the right place at the right time.
Matt T.: Nice showing at Daytona, Dodge. Now let’s see it on a weekly basis. Then we’ll be convinced.
Tony: Great start for Dodge, but it doesn’t mean anything yet. I think it is confirmed that right now that Penske is the leading Dodge.

Considering that the Daytona 500 is now run from late afternoon into the night, should NASCAR move the Gatorade Duels to later in the day, a move which would also potentially attract more viewers because many fans work during the day? Or does the relative parity of holding them in afternoon conditions outweigh the benefit of a later start?

Tommy: Yes!
Tony: Yeah, I don’t get it. The starting times for the Duels and the 500 should be reversed.
Bryan: Definitely move the start time back. Let some folks get home from work.
Amy: I think they should as I have never gotten to watch one live. Ever.
Tommy: Come on now NASCAR… people do work!!!
Mike: I personally would like to see them later in the day, since they obviously aren’t going to move the start time of the race up, which is what they should do.
Jeff: I wish they were earlier, but I work the second shift and I can watch at work anyway. So I guess I don’t count.
Matt T.: See I’m torn here. I love taking that Thursday off from work and I’m all about tradition, but moving the start to a later time would go a long way in attracting more viewers.
Mike: I have always taken off work to see them.
Bryan: I skipped class to watch them this year.
Vito: The Duels should be run on Thursday night. No one is watching at 3:00 p.m.
Amy: And running them at night would only add to the hype anyway.
Tony: The Duels are almost always the best races during Speedweeks too, with obviously the most at stake. NASCAR would benefit from a primetime showing when other sports are slow at this time of year.
Vito: There is nothing going on in sports of importance in mid-February. Besides, NASCAR could help build some interest in the biggest even of the year by airing a preliminary race in primetime.
Mike: Although they would have to spend even more time explaining how all of those cars are out there running for four spots.
Vito: Ha, when I was substitute teaching back in 2001, I turned the TV on in the classroom, and dialed up the 125s.
Jeff: The biggest problem with the Duels is the Top-35 crap.
Amy: That’s the biggest problem with EVERYTHING in NASCAR these days.
Bryan: Top 35 hasn’t done too much damage. Seeing John Andretti race his way in was fun.
Matt T.: The Top 35 has definitely ruined what used to make the Duels so enthralling. Still, I love ’em. It’s Thursday, I’m off of work and watching racing that, in some sense, means something.
Bryan: I’m not saying I support the rule, but the Duels are still intense.
Tony: Yeah, it just doesn’t seem right for only two drivers to transfer.
Mike: The Duels are cool, but not as cool as they used to be, Or as they could be.
Jeff: With it you are almost assuring a wreck-fest.
Tommy: I read the Jayski explanation of how drivers qualify through the 150s and my head almost exploded.
Vito: If they did away with the Top 35, it will matter again. That will also make qualifying more important and help build more interest and excitement in to the entire week’s activities.
Jeff: Only two transfer spots is ludicrous. I say have a top-12 rule to match the Chase.
Amy: Rewarding guys for being 35th best is ludicrous. Why anyone? If you’re that good, you shouldn’t need what amounts to a glorified provisional.
Bryan: Well said.
Mike: I like that idea Jeff. The Chasers from the year before are the only ones assured of qualifying.
Bryan: The fastest 43 need to race.
Matt T.: I think we need some kind of provisional system, Bryan. But the Top 35 is insane. We’ve had some sort of provisional system in place for as long as the sport has existed. Even down to appearance fees in the early days assured a driver of a spot.
Amy: The funny thing is the best system they had was 10 years ago.
Tommy: I couldn’t help but think, even though feelgood stories with Andretti and Kenny Wallace were okay, that we really needed James Hylton attempting to get in again this year! That was pretty cool in ’07.
Bryan: I’d have settled for Kirk Shelmerdine. Back to the Duels, move the start time back and let people get home from work to enjoy two solid races.
Tony: Yes, absolutely, put that thing in primetime!
Mike: I would like to see the 500 start time moved up rather than the Duels moved back.
Tommy: And… put it back on the networks. I didn’t have SPEED and had to beg a Hooters Girl to change the channel.

Sorenson had a great Speedweeks… fifth in the Shootout, second in his Duel, fifth in the 500. Is this the year Sorenson finds Victory Lane? And who else is going to find Victory Lane for the first time in 2008?

Bryan: I can see Sorenson stealing one on an intermediate track.
Tony: I think Sorenson has a great shot of being a first timer, especially at a track like Charlotte.
Amy: I think Sorenson will get one and he won’t have to “steal” it, either.
Matt T.: Not sure about Reed. He has the talent but hasn’t delivered yet. A win is not assured on his Speedweeks performance alone.
Vito: Anyone can win at anytime. That much was proven on Sunday. So it’s possible but I wouldn’t say probable. He’s a nice driver, just not so sure he is that team’s priority at the moment.
Mike: Sorenson has a very good chance to break out this year.
Bryan: Good point, Vito. He’s old news at Ganassi.
Jeff: He could win a few and Ganassi would still let him go. It’s the Ganassi way.
Amy: But he’s also the senior driver in that shop.
Matt T.: As for first-time winners this year, I’m not sure we’ll see one. Like Vito said, anyone can surprise, but I’m not confident enough in any of the 0-fers to predict a win.
Tommy: Again, it is hard to judge a season on what transpired at Daytona. But Sorenson seems to have the ability and now has been around the circuit a few times. So if he doesn’t perform is it the driver or the equipment?
Amy: Juan Pablo Montoya will win on a road course but Dario Franchitti goes without a trophy. Other than Ashley.
Jeff: No, no Montoya this year.
Amy: Why not Montoya, Jeff? He’s Dale Earnhardt with a funny accent.
Jeff: The blasphemy!
Mike: Easy there, Amy. Don’t be making that statement.
Amy: Montoya drives like Earnhardt, though. If there’s a hole, he’s in it. If there isn’t, he’s likely to make one.
Mike: Kyle Busch is closer to Earnhardt than Montoya ever will be. I think David Reutimann will have a decent shot this year, too.
Matt T.: MWR’s equipment will hold Reutimann back. I’d like to see him win one, but in no way am I confident enough in his equipment just yet to call that shot.
Tony: Reutimann could absolutely benefit the most from Toyota’s newfound power.
Vito: Montoya will win an oval-track race this year. Bank on it. No pun intended.
Tony: Some of you may think this is ridiculous, especially given his performance on Sunday, but David Ragan may be in position to take one by the end of the year.
Bryan: I forgot about Ragan. He’s definitely got the cars and he’s getting seat time.
Mike: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ragan win one.
Amy: Regan Smith is another one who could win if he can overcome the DEI equipment.
Tommy: I would have to say Reutimann would be the most likely to get his first win. And possibly Montoya, on an oval. But those Ganassi machines are, in my opinion, more suspect the the MWR entries right now.
Bryan: Can’t say that yet… MWR got all three cars in the 500 last year before the floor fell out.
Jeff: I’ll go with Reutimann.
Mike: But Toyota engines are better this year, that’s why I could see Reutimann pulling one off.
Matt T.: Dave Blaney maybe? Fuel mileage or something.
Bryan: Blaney could take a plate race.
Tony: Ah, good point Matt. That is definitely a possibility.
Amy: OK, WHY is a fuel-mileage win considered less of a win? Racing is all about putting yourself in position to win.
Matt T.: I don’t believe it is. But we’re making predictions of some sort here, right? That’s mine for Blaney.
Mike: Dang, I always forget Blaney hasn’t won one yet. He could definitely do it.
Tommy: Blaney! Holy cow, I forgot all about him. There’s a possibility, too.
Tony: Blaney runs really well at some of the other tracks too. Back in the day he almost pulled one off at Atlanta before the wheel fell off.
Vito: The Toyota cars will be faster everywhere. I think people are seriously underestimating how much ground they have gained in one year’s time.

Until a couple of weeks ago, there was the danger of a short field for the Nationwide Series race at Daytona. However, on race day so many Cup teams showed up that several teams that planned on competing for the championship went home, putting them even further behind the eight-ball before the season even started. Would NASCAR have been better off with a short field of serious competitors? Considering that NASCAR is reluctant to limit the Cup teams, is there even hope for a solution?

Jeff: The short field is better.
Amy: Yes, in the long run, NASCAR and the series would have been better off.
Matt T.: It gets uglier and uglier…
Bryan: We’ll find out soon. Only 43 cars for Fontana as of now, and it’ll go to 42 if JGR’s No. 18 doesn’t show.
Vito: They used to only start 36 cars at the short tracks because they didn’t have enough room. Not such a bad idea.
Mike: I’ve said all along they don’t need a full field in the NWS. They’d be better off with teams that are in it for the long haul.
Tony: Short field, definitely, but I don’t think they need to go that far. Ensure all the Nationwide regulars get in and then fill it out with Cup guys.
Amy: And there IS a solution, but NASCAR won’t want to hear it: Apply the Top-30 rule ONLY to full-time NWS teams running for the current year’s title.
Mike: They do that, Amy. Matt Kenseth had to qualify on speed even though his car was top 10 in points last year.
Bryan: Although, can we consider teams such as Morgan Shepherd‘s that have declared intent to run the full season “serious competitors?” Remember Jeff Fuller a few years back?
Matt T.: I don’t think NASCAR is really interested in “fixing” the Nationwide Series unless they see substantial financial gain in it.
Amy: What about the new teams, though? Why do the Cup guys deserve in before them?
Jeff: They don’t.
Mike: They don’t, unless they’re running the full season.
Tommy: The Cup teams bring a far better equipment to the series. I don’t care anymore; let it be “Cup light.” ARCA will be the “grassroots” stock car series and NASCAR’s stepping-stone.
Vito: Well, the likelihood of the series being revamped is about a year away with new cars. It makes no sense for these small teams to build and maintain a fleet of cars that will be little more than loud, colorful paperweights in nine months.
Tony: That would sure help the ARCA series, but I think that’s a last resort. Some sort of Top-30 rule or the pony cars would (hopefully) help.
Jeff: I say you can have Cup teams field a car but not with a full-time Cup driver that is more than one year out the NWS.
Amy: And WHERE does that leave the teams like Rensi and Fitz who WANT to run that series?
Vito: See you in 2009. Build a Challenger. They look tight.
Mike: Partner up with a Cup team.
Tony: Interesting point, Mike. That would make it kind of like baseball where a team has a designated minor league team to serve as a feeder system for them.
Bryan: It’s a sad day to see the PPC Racings and McGill Motorsports teams of the series going away.
Amy: I say zero points for any full-time Cup driver that is more than one year into Cup.
Matt T.: Then the series dies, Amy.
Tommy: I’ve thought the pony cars would be the answer, but the Cup cars are completely different from the Busch cars now and the problems persist!
Bryan: Rensi’s taken a fall, too… they were a backmarker on Saturday and a few years back Bobby Hamilton Jr. was a title contender.
Vito: You need a series that offers no applicable data from car to car, much like the Truck Series.
Tommy: If a fan is going to make a weekend out of it at the track why not have the very best drivers and equipment in the Nationwide Series race for them?
Amy: Because they aren’t necessarily the BEST drivers, they just have the best stuff. I’d put Jason Keller against ANY cup driver in equal equipment, any day.
Vito: I wouldn’t.
Amy: Keller stayed in the NWS because he WANTED to. He turned down some very good Cup offers.
Tommy: What do you mean they aren’t the best drivers? They’re supposed to be. That’s why they are in Cup (for the most part). So you mean the NWS drivers are better drivers than the Cup drivers? This isn’t computing.
Amy: Kenny Wallace would have run Cup races with a full year in that DEI car. Jeff Green never had good enough Cup equipment to equal his NWS success. And I didn’t say they were better, Tommy… but some of them are just as good.
Mike: Green dominated the NWS because of his equipment.
Tommy: If Kenny Wallace could win in Cup, he’d have signed with a top team years ago. And he certainly would be marketable.
Vito: That was eight years ago that Green did that. That was a loooong time ago, well before there was the level of Cup involvement, technology, focus and money.
Amy: Yeah, but there are Cup drivers who are NO better than some of the NWS guys.
Matt T.: Maybe, but making it to the show involves more than simply talent. You gotta have some breaks. And, yes, be marketable.
Tommy: No doubt, there are some very good NWS drivers, but Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, the Busch brothers… If I have a choice on who I want to see race, it will be them. Even on Saturday.
Mike: And as Jacques Villeneuve displayed, MONEY.
Matt T.: Here’s a thought: Swap the Truck and NWS schedule. That way the trucks benefit from being run in conjunction with Cup and NWS gets its own identity back. Of course, you couldn’t swap race-for-race, but get it close.
Amy: That would be great, Matt.
Mike: Why not have the NWS and trucks run together and have the Cup races standalone?
Vito: Why not run it Sunday afternoon BEFORE the Cup race? They don’t start these friggin’ things until 3:00 p.m. as it is anyway. Who wants to race 800 miles in one day?
Jeff: Maybe go with a salary cap type of deal: If you made at least ‘X’ amount of money in Cup last year, no NWS for you.
Mike: That is a good idea, Jeff.
Amy: I’d rather see a points cap. Finish above ‘X’ spot in Cup points and no NWS races for points or money.

Predictions for California?

Mike: Stewart comes out with a vengeance.
Bryan: Jimmie Johnson rebounds and puts Hendrick back on the map. Newman’s gonna take the pole, though.
Matt T.: Chad Knaus is still pissed about Daytona. The No. 48 runs roughshod over the field.
Jeff: Reutimann gets No. 1.
Amy: Jeff Gordon takes one home.
Matt T.: Nice, Jeff.
Mike: Junior will be the top-finishing Hendrick driver again, and the rumblings of discontent begin.
Tony: Jimmie proves that his strong runs haven’t come to an end yet.
Tommy: Jeff Gordon.
Vito: Kyle Busch makes up for Sunday’s shortcomings.

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