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 Their Mouth & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Danny Peters (Tuesdays/The Yellow Stripe & Fridays/Nuts For Nationwide)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
In light of recent developments, which included Tony Raines and Kenny Wallace both moving to lesser-funded, single-car operations, is it better for series veterans to sit out completely, waiting for the right opportunity that will get them a competitive ride? Or should they take any ride offered to them, hoping against hope that the underdog will, in fact, triumph?
Matt T.: Shall we ask Ward Burton this question?
Tony: Yep; one has to look no further than Ward to find the answer.
Amy: I think they should take the ride, though, because some teams forget about drivers sitting around on the sidelines.
Danny: Right. It keeps a driver in the spotlight for when other opportunities arise.
Beth: I’d agree with that; any seat time is better than none.
Tony: Yeah, I will say that it’s not just drivers, but people that forget about you when you’re out of a car. Not every driver’s fans are going to go around wearing “Where’s Ward?” buttons.
Matt T.: It’s hard to turn down a ride in today’s climate, competitive or otherwise, because you’re easily forgotten in this sport. I think Raines is playing this the right way.
Tommy: Sometimes, I think these decisions are about more than the equipment. They’re racers, and they want to race. Look at Scott Wimmer in a part-time ride in the Nationwide Series with RCR… he didn’t turn that down. They have to do what they have to do. There’s only about 20 really good rides available.
Matt T.: Wimmer is another great example, Tommy. And I think Scott will land something of some merit before all is said and done.
Tony: You never know what will happen to an underfunded team, either. It could be bought out or join an alliance and before you know it, you’re driving for Hendrick or Roush.
Amy: I do know the No. 28 team Kenny Wallace now drives for is planning on a major overhaul in the very near future, as far as equipment and engines are concerned.
Matt T.: The E&M Motorsports ride that Raines accepted isn’t a good one and will most likely not make many races, if any; but Raines will be at the track, every week, and in team owners’ consciousness.
Amy: Agreed. It’s a good move for him. If a driver can’t practice for some reason or whatever, Raines is there. He can’t fill in if he’s at home.
Tony: Good point, Matt; and extending Amy’s point, if a driver is released in Silly Season, Raines is there and could be asked to step in.
Tommy: It’s like dating an ugly woman. If that’s all you can get…
Tony: If that’s all you can get, it keeps you in the dating game so when that pretty one finally comes along, you’re ready to go and not knocking the rust off.
Tommy: And what the heck, Ken Schrader has made a good living at it, driving junk.
Tony: Now, Schrader may become a part of Petty Enterprises, if the rumor is true. Again, not a huge step up, but a step up nonetheless.
Matt T.: Schrader brings a lot more to the table than some of these guys, Tommy. He’s legit and has been for years and years. Plus, Schrader is a very well known name to all race fans. He can still help a sponsor move product.
Tony: He’s the best driver the No. 49 car has had, doing the most with very little.
Tommy: Schrader is very competent. That has allowed him to get those junk rides. It has been better for him than waiting for Rick Hendrick to call again.
Tony: It just shows that you can take what you can get; because hearing your name mentioned at the back of the pack is better than not being mentioned at all.
Matt T.: But then you have a guy like Jeremy Mayfield, who was away for a bit and still got a call. So it works both ways, I guess. Of course, Jeremy has those two Chase appearances on the resume.
Danny: But Mayfield, in my eyes, got bumped out of the sport even more dramatically than most.
Matt T.: True, but he was still away for half a season, and even that’s a long time in this series.
Tony: Travis Kvapil is a good example that counteracts that. If he doesn’t accept a Truck ride (granted, it was a top Truck ride, but the third-tiered series nonetheless) he’s not in Cup today.
Amy: But if Jack Roush didn’t bully Doug Yates into it, Kvapil still wouldn’t be in the No. 28. Kenny Wallace would, and then we wouldn’t have this lovely question to answer.
TV Ratings are up seven percent overall on FOX this season. Is that a result of the broadcasts themselves? And what, if anything, can be done to improve them?
Amy: I don’t know, but Bristol was FOX’s best broadcast ever!
Beth: Make DW take a day off when he can’t talk!
Amy: Better yet, get someone with laryngitis to breathe on him every week.
Tony: Well, they’ve been a little better with the start times; but I think overall, the broadcasts are about the same as they’ve ever been.
Tommy: The broadcasts are improved, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with the ratings. They were up from the drop of the green at Daytona.
Tony: I think more competition so far this year and the absence of a dominant team thus far helps.
Matt T.: I’m not one to get too upset by the actual broadcasts, so I don’t know if I’m an expert on this topic. But I actually think NASCAR’s “Back to Basics” mandate (or whatever it is) may have some old timers giving this another shot.
Tony: True, Matt. Letting the drivers show some emotion has helped, too, in person, anyway. On the track is a different story; but no matter what, people want to wait until the end of the race now to see what may happen.
Matt T.: Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart saved the ratings with their Bud Shootout practice misadventure. And it was on SPEED Channel!
Tommy: As for the broadcast itself, FOX has cut down on a lot of the bells and whistles and things seem to be “cleaner.”
Beth: Frankly, I think they shouldn’t even care if they show the cutaway car. People want to see racing… period.
Tommy: I like the cutaway car. I think the “gear heads” do. It is pretty well done. But not to excess.
Amy: I agree, Tommy. But even I, who admittedly knows next to nothing about mechanics, get bored with the overly simple explanations. Frankly, I agree with having less extraneous stuff overall; but I wish all the covering networks would get better people in the booth.
Matt T.: But who are the networks going to get that aren’t going to catch hell? That’s what I want to know. People, us included, will complain regardless of who is in the booth.
Amy: Lose DW and Larry on FOX and put Bestwick back, to start. And if I never get another lesson in “loose” and “tight” it’ll be too soon.
Tommy: Amy, we’re going to keep going over the difference between loose and tight until you get it!
Danny: I like DW, though, except when he can’t speak. He conveys the passion well.
Matt T.: DW and Larry get high marks from all the casual fans that I’ve talked to.
Tony: I think most of us miss Bob Jenkins, Benny, and Ned. But that, unfortunately, is not going to happen; so with that in mind, and to Matt’s point, I’m not sure who would make a difference.
Amy: ESPN needs actual race broadcasters. What was wrong with Bob Jenkins? DJ is a slight improvement over Rusty.
Matt T.: Actually, I think DJ is a big improvement. The one change I’d make is Brad Daugherty… he brings nothing to the broadcast.
Danny: I feel like Daugherty tries really hard, though. You might all think I’m sad, but one thing I like is the “Crank it Up!” feature.
Amy: But trying doesn’t cut it, Danny. Buckshot Jones tried to drive a race car, too.
Danny: I will say this: enough with the naming the sodding Gopher Cam.
Beth: The Gopher Cam has improved a bit; they’re starting to learn how to use it without actually overusing it. It can definitely bring some great shots, but when the sun is shining on it, it doesn’t work.
Matt T.: The only real complaint I have, and my girlfriend will attest, is when the director or producer or whoever cuts to the bumper cam, and I can’t see the real racing. It’s always done at the most inopportune times. Bumper cams in replay mode only, please.
Danny: Isn’t the bumper cam just a sponsor plug by another name?
Amy: And the worst is not cutting back from commercial the second a wreck starts. Or for a green flag, for that matter.
Tommy: Let’s get back to the question. I really don’t know why ratings are up. It looked like folks couldn’t wait to watch some racing.
Amy: I agree, Tommy. It isn’t because the product is really any better.
Tony: There may be increased interest in finding out what the new car does or does not do for the racing, as well.
Danny: Ratings are up because the No. 88 is running well, we’re talking smallish increases here.
Amy: The No. 24 is running like crap though, and Junior doesn’t carry all the ratings like NASCAR wants you to believe. I want to see the ratings in October before I make a judgment.
Tony: That’s a good point, Amy. If the season turns into another snoozefest, at least with the points, those ratings could shoot back down again. I think the No. 88 fans tune in regardless; there’s probably no difference between last year and this year from them.
Beth: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. carries a pretty good chunk, though. And ratings are probably up simply out of curiosity on how Dale Jr. will do with HMS.
Tommy: But I don’t think Junior’s move to HMS has much impact on why there has been an increased audience.
Amy: We’re giving Junior too much credit.
Matt T.: I don’t think this is a Junior thing, honestly. I just wonder exactly how much “up” means. I’d bet ratings were down at a good clip in the first place, and even a seven percent spike means we’re still down 15 percent from ’03. It’s all in the way the PR is spun.
Tommy: I disagree; the increase this year is pretty dramatic. Maybe it’s disgruntled fans giving it one more shot?
Tony: But “up” doesn’t have to be much if compared to last year.
Matt T.: All the releases I see cite that ratings are up “X” amount from last year. Well, haven’t we been in a ratings decline the last two or three years? It’s PR spin. Seriously.
Amy: I completely agree with Matt. The ratings have been declining since 2004.
Tony: Not to discredit the news — because this is nice to hear over the news we’ve been getting the past two years — but we can’t celebrate too much.
Beth: It’s all about making NASCAR sound good, even if it’s a small improvement.
Amy: Interestingly enough, the Chase and Top 35 rule have done nothing to increase viewership, have they?
Danny: I guess it depends on your definition of decline. Isn’t it just the casual fan dipping in and out of the sport?
Amy: Those bandwagon fans moved on to the next big thing and won’t be back.
Matt T.: Every sport or form of entertainment is going to have a climax in popularity (except for the NFL) only to plateau. Once that happens, you’re left with an accurate read. We’re getting that, or will be soon.
Tony: Let’s see if the trend can continue through this year and next, to get us closer to the 2004 levels.
Matt T.: I don’t think we’ll see that, Tony. Not back up that far.
Tony: We’ll see if it happens. Then we can feel better about the ratings. If not, then not all is fixed, or we have to accept the fact that this is the plateau for now.
An off week five races in is a good time to take stock of the first month of racing. What’s been the biggest surprise of the 2008 season so far?
Tommy: Our last topic: the ratings.
Danny: Jimmie Johnson.
Tony: Kyle Busch‘s level of dominance, Hendrick’s lack of a win, and the level of Jamie McMurray‘s struggles.
Beth: Ratings, HMS and their lack of dominance, and Kyle Busch.
Amy: I’ll go with the No. 48 struggling so bad on the intermediate tracks. That totally took me by surprise, because I expected them to pick up where they left off. Granted, they had their best run ever at Bristol until the blown tire, but that’s a short track. Las Vegas was the first time in Johnson’s career that they finished that badly with no part failures or wrecks.
Matt T.: I’ll go with parity; er, I suppose it’s called parity. The fact that all four makes have a win and are all pretty well represented in the top 12 is somewhat surprising, especially after HMS’ domination last season.
Amy: The other surprise is Toyota’s huge improvement. I knew that having Gibbs on board would help, but Brian Vickers in the top 20?
Danny: All three Michael Waltrip Racing cars in the Top 35 headed to Martinsville has to be considered quite a surprise.
Tony: Agreed on MWR, especially the No. 55.
Beth: I agree, Danny… I’m impressed by MWR.
Amy: Well, the reports of Toyota having a horsepower advantage and the others not being allowed to make changes to compensate might have something to do with it, too.
Matt T.: Possibly, Amy; but Toyota still has only one win, as do all the other makes except Ford, so I don’t know how big an advantage Toyota really has. Sometimes, rivals like to make a big deal out of nothing to get things stirred up.
Amy: True, Matt; but I’m surprised they have a win so soon. I expected Toyota to win later in the year, but not this early, and not to have more than the Gibbs teams and maybe Dave Blaney in the Top 35.
Tony: To a lesser extent, I’m a little surprised that DEI has been rather quiet, especially with their engine alliance with RCR. Truex hasn’t been bad; but not exactly good, either. The same goes for Mark Martin.
Tommy: I’m still stoked about this season, though. It seems to be shaping up to be an interesting one! I actually expected far more problems with the new car. NASCAR pulled a slick one off there.
Matt T.: I don’t know, Tommy. Part of the tire problem, a large part of it, I contribute to the new car.
Tommy: That and “bump stops.”
Matt T.: Bump stops are a byproduct as well. Why even allow bump stops?
Tommy: They’ll get that worked out. But overall, it’s not bad considering the radical change.
Amy: The CoT didn’t cause the tire problem. The fact that Goodyear did not change the tires when the cars did change is the problem.
Matt T.: But is that Goodyear’s fault or NASCAR’s, Amy?
Beth: Probably both. Although Goodyear knew that change was coming and should have been prepared.
Tony: Yeah, I think both have to take part of the blame here.
Matt T.: I just don’t blame all the problems we’ve seen totally on Goodyear. NASCAR had to let the exclusive tire manufacturer know what was coming, and how they might go about dealing with it.
Amy: Goodyear knew NASCAR was changing the car, and the tires have not really been adapted for bump stops or the CoT geometry.
Matt T.: I don’t know that Goodyear could have been ready for some of the freaky stuff that’s getting thrown their way.
Amy: I don’t, either; but they are part of the problem. Teams are also responsible if they’re running too much camber.
Tony: Exactly, this is why you see some teams having extensive problems, while others have none at all.
Matt T.: OK, so the teams get some of the blame too. I’m good with that.
Amy: What control does NASCAR really have over what Goodyear brings to the track? Goodness knows, I’ll blame NASCAR for everything; but the tires aren’t really their fault, except for not allowing another manufacturer.
Matt T.: It’s all in the testing. I’ve heard from a driver who said that what they use in a test sometimes never even finds its way to the same track on race weekend. Plus, a team may find something during testing and suddenly, when they come back to the track, the compound is different and nothing applies. It can be a mess.
Chrissy Wallace, daughter of Nationwide Series driver Mike Wallace, is set to make her debut in one of NASCAR’s top three series this week. With the Drive For Diversity supposedly in full swing, is it an insult to the other drivers in the program that the daughter of a big name driver is the one getting the opportunity to prove herself on a national stage? Or has Wallace proven her talent?
Amy: I think Chrissy can get it done. As for the name, a lot of drivers have gotten pretty far on a name, so she’s sure as hell not the first.
Tommy: It’s simply nepotism in its rawest form.
Amy: Michael Waltrip has made a pretty good living that way.
Beth: Chrissy is actually pretty talented, and had a decent test at Martinsville.
Tony: She might be able to get it done, but names have helped drivers in this sport for years — and that cannot be overlooked here.
Matt T.: Well, I’m not sure that a track championship at Hickory — although that’s impressive — is the ultimate stepping stone to a touring series ride. But more power to her if she can get it done. Thing is, there are hundreds of track champions out there that never get a shot.
Beth: The question is if she will back it up on the track, because a name will only take you so far.
Tommy: Doesn’t mean she’s not talented; but wow, what a break!
Amy: She can drive better then her cousin and he has a ride, so she deserves a shot. And if she can’t make it, well, she tried.
Danny: You still have to be good at the end of the day, whatever your last name is. A famous name gets you a ride and maybe some leeway, but talent wins out.
Beth: And it’s not like she’s going in with a particularly underfunded team. Germain Racing has the equipment to get the job done, and Chrissy is marketable.
Amy: Chrissy could be good for a sponsor… nice girl, ultra serious about her racing. She is aggressive on the track, which may not make her a lot of friends.
Matt T.: I just pray this isn’t a stunt to get a female a ride and nothing else. This is the big leagues, where stupid mistakes can be fatal. I’m not saying she isn’t worthy, because I really don’t know. I’m just saying.
Beth: At least she’s starting the right way and not jumping into Cup without track time. I question Martinsville as a starting point, but it makes sense since that’s where Mike made his debut.
Tony: Martinsville is a challenge, but it’s a hell of a better starting spot than Talladega.
Beth: Bristol would have been a better starting point though… Martinsville is much more challenging.
Amy: Chrissy got punted at Hickory last year, saved it, came back for a decent finish, then dumped the guy who did it the next week on the cooldown lap. So she may need to curb the temper in the big leagues.
Tommy: Shoot, I’ve seen gals like Tammy Jo Kirk run short track series and whip up on guys. But no one connected when NASCAR came knocking on their doors. Chrissy is a lucky young lady; for that matter, her cousin Steven Wallace is also pretty fortunate.
Beth: Why, Tommy? He’s racing for Rusty.
Amy: Steve has never been more than an average talent at best, but he had the name and he is marketable with his personality.
Matt T.: So when does Loren get his shot?
Danny: Soon, I hope. He looks awesome.
Amy: He is made of lightning, after all…
Matt T.: The toothpick is a look I’m seriously considering.
Danny: He’s got some good form with a shopping cart.
Tony: Agreed, Danny; he can handle a loose cart better than any other I’ve seen.
Matt T.: And he’s proven to be marketable! See, a match made in nepotistic heaven!
Tommy: Okay, now we all do know that Loren is a fictional character, right?
Predictions for Martinsville?
Amy: Hell, Johnson has to find his talent one of these weeks. Might as well be this one.
Beth: Jeff Gordon finally shakes off the trouble he’s had so far this season.
Danny: No. 11 to win it all. Leads every lap.
Tony: Denny Hamlin breaks through at Martinsville, although not quite leading every lap.
Tommy: I’m thinking this might be Mr. Penske’s week, let me have the No. 2 and Kurt Busch!
Matt T.: Jeffy gets it going. You all realize that only two drivers besides the Nos. 24 & 48 cars have won in the last 10 Martinsville races? Can you name them?
Tony: Stewart I think is one, Matt. Maybe Kurt Busch the other?
Matt T.: Close…
Tony: Stewart and Rusty Wallace.
Matt T.: Correct. Give that man a stuffed grandfather clock!
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2008 Mirror Prediction Chart
Not sure which writer’s prediction to trust? Well, check out our handy predictions chart below to see which of our writers has had the best luck looking into that crystal ball this season! At the end of the year, we’ll tally up the points and award our Mirror Driving predictions champion. Last year’s winner was Editor-In-Chief Tom Bowles; but as you can see, he’s running a bit behind to start the season. Can rookie Bryan Davis Keith hold him and the rest of the other veterans off? Keep reading every week to find out!
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s|
|Bryan Davis Keith||1010||-0||6||1||5||5|