Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Mexico’s Blown Save, Jon Wood… Savior? & Saving Excitement at Talladega

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 & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

The Sprint Cup Series was idle this week while the Nationwide Series teams went to Mexico City. Given the huge cost of the trip, should it be the other way around? Is it time for the Cup Series to have a race out of the country?

Amy: I think it’s too expensive for anyone, but better the Cup guys than Nationwide guys.
Bryan: I don’t think so. It’d be harder for Mexican drivers to get rides in the race, and that’s bound to hurt the event itself.
Vito: Racing outside of the United States is a huge waste of time, effort, money and resources. There are plenty of tracks that could use a race here and gain exposure. After all, whose economy are we truly trying to benefit? I’m guessing a smaller track in the Midwest could use a date more than Mexico City.
Tony: I would still go to Canada, Vito. The Mexico City race was great at first, but it seems to have lost its luster.
Vito: Actually, that race in Canada is pretty good. I really like that track.
Mike N.: I think it’s not time to be out of the country, period. Like Darrell Waltrip said on Wind Tunnel, the out-of-country races lose interest quickly. Let’s get races at Kentucky, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Rockingham and Iowa first.
Bryan: And a dirt track.
Mike N.: Don’t tease us with a dirt track.
Bryan: A guy can dream.
Vito: Heck, I’d even welcome another road-course race, as long as it’s stateside.
Amy: The main problem with racing in Mexico is that the fans like it there, but how big of a TV market is there in Mexico for NASCAR?
Mike N.: The fans have already dropped off, Amy. They had almost as many open seats as California this weekend.
Bryan: The empty bleachers are proof positive that NASCAR doesn’t need to be going out of the country. It’d be different for such an expensive trip if 125,000-plus were piling in to these foreign races.
Amy: I have no problem with racing outside the country, per se. The problem is that it’s crazy expensive for the teams and the travel is ridiculous. I like the course in Mexico City a lot, but not what the teams have to go through to get there.
Bryan: I don’t know about the course, Amy. I have to say I’m not a fan of those artistic mesa walls that took forever to fix.
Vito: If there is a benefit, it’s that it pays substantially more than many Nationwide races in America do. And it is good to see drivers other than Cup regulars hogging up the grid.
Mike N.: But we need to fill up the American tracks first.
Tony: The race in Michigan is close to Canada, the race in Texas is close to Mexico and a potential race in Washington would be close to western Canada. We can cover our international bases without driving up costs.
Mike N.: Very good point, Tony.
Amy: Let’s see… Michigan sucks and there is no track in Washington; the road course is better.
Mike N.: Better than what? A root canal?
Amy: Better than the cookie cutter at MIS.
Vito: Michigan may not be as exciting as it once was – races in the 1990s were pretty good – but it is right next door to Detroit, so NASCAR will always be there. And MIS is not a cookie cutter; it was there first.
Tony: It was the original cookie cutter.
Mike N.: Michigan races offer multiple grooves and actual on-track passes for the lead.
Bryan: If you want to move a race off an oval, Fontana has two dates too many.
Vito: At least people show up to Michigan. It is always a sellout.
Amy: True, but the racing is boring.
Mike N.: Three grooves with cars all over the track… how is that boring?
Tony: If we’re going to address the boring factor, then we have to put a Bristol or a Richmond-type race in Canada. This is a question of the costs involved with going international…
Mike N.: We need to have races at the tracks in the U.S. that don’t have races first. We need to race at Rockingham before we race in Montreal.
Vito: CASCAR can come here.
Amy: I agree with that 100%.
Bryan: Well said.
Vito: It’s like the NFL and MLB playing games in Europe or Japan. Seriously, who cares?

See also
Voice of Vito: Mexico City the Answer to a Question No One Asked

Mike N.: Rockingham, Iowa and Nashville in particular should get dates.
Bryan: That ARCA race at Iowa was solid this weekend. They’ve got some track there.
Amy: But not all the tracks in the U.S. deserve a date before the road course at Montreal. I was skeptical of it, but it raced better than I expected.
Vito: The Montreal event was well received mainly due to the bizarre ending.
Tony: Back to Mexico; NASCAR has to do a lot of research and a long-term study on the impact of an international Cup race before going there. The early trend that we’ve seen is that interest wanes after a few years.
Bryan: Bring the boys back home. Mexico needs to be selling out to justify such a long and expensive trip for Nationwide teams. And a Cup Series trip abroad is out of the question.
Tony: To be honest, if Darlington and the Rock lose races because of a lack of sellouts, so should every race.

After some time away from the Cup Series, Jon Wood is returning to the seat of his family’s No. 21 for Talladega. Is this the solution the Wood Brothers have been looking for; and more importantly, with Wood’s lack of Cup experience, is starting him at a restrictor plate track as dangerous as Jacques Villeneuve‘s start the year before?

Vito: Depends if Wood’s still taking his ADD medication…
Tony: It’s definitely not a solution. They need one driver for a full year to get that car back in shape and on solid ground.
Bryan: The start of any solution for the Wood Brothers is getting Bill Elliott out of the car, though. And Wood is nowhere near as dangerous as Villeneuve. Wood actually knows how to wheel a stock car.
Mike N.: Jon has experience in racing full-bodied cars and trucks. He will be fine. Villeneuve had never run a stock car before.
Bryan: Still, I doubt Wood is the driver that will snap them out of their rut. He’s been underachieving since 2004.
Mike N.: Wood isn’t going to snap them out of anything. The organization is so far behind that they are not going to come out of it by changing drivers.
Amy: Wood’s not Cup caliber, in my opinion. He’s an OK Nationwide Series driver; but despite the family name, there’s nothing special behind the wheel.
Vito: It may not be the answer, but Wood belongs there. He has the necessary experience, and it’s his last name on the door of the race shop. I just hope that the team actually makes the race this week.
Tony: It’s awkward to throw Wood in so randomly. They should’ve come up with a predetermined split with him for so many races, and thrown Driver X in for the rest like Mark Martin and Aric Almirola.

See also
Did You Notice? Pruett’s Bumper, a Tale of 2 Juan Pablos and the Cup/Nationwide Connection

Amy: I don’t think he belongs there.
Tony: But Amy, like Vito said I think it’s a good thing to bring the family into the family ride. I just don’t see much of a development plan for him… granted, he screwed part of that up himself.
Mike N.: If they can’t put Elliott in the show, then they aren’t going to put Wood in the show. Elliott is a hell of a qualifier, even now.
Amy: Mike has a point… they could put Jimmie Johnson in that car and not win.
Vito: Well, let’s be honest. That car hasn’t been a contender to win for about four years now, and that was when they were still running psuedo-Roush equipment. Not every team is going to be a contender.
Bryan: I don’t know about that. Ricky Rudd nearly won at Richmond in ‘03 and Kansas in ’04. They’re just struggling like any other single-car team with this CoT changeover.
Tony: Bryan, the difference there was that Rudd was the consistent driver there for a few years and the team and driver got to know each other. They don’t have that anymore.
Mike N.: That is very true. They have not had any consistency at the crew chief slot. I don’t know what happened with Fatback. I really thought he was going to get that place straightened out, but they didn’t mesh with him.
Amy: They don’t have close to the money and resources of Hendrick or Roush, and that is what it takes today. Sucks, but that’s reality.
Mike N.: I don’t know what the answer is, Amy. But they do have 300 employees; it may be a small team, but not that small.
Bryan: Their situation is eerily similar to Morgan-McClure. Consistency is the first thing the team needs… they need to pick one driver, one crew chief and ride it out for a while. I doubt they have any clue where they stand right now with the revolving door they’ve been running with.
Amy: It’s truly a case of time passing them by.
Tony: Exactly.
Mike N.: They either need to get a stellar crew chief/driver combo, or look at making some kind of alliance with Roush.
Vito: They had an alliance with Roush just like Yates allegedly had one with Roush a couple of years ago.
Mike N.: The Woods could put David Pearson in the car and not win.
Tony: They have the car to try it at Darlington.
Bryan: Pearson’s show car might outrun their CoTs.
Mike N.: That is a sad but true statement.
Tony: They just need to find a consistent driver and crew chief, or there will be no getting out of the “Woods” anytime soon.
Vito: Wow. Way to sell that one, Tony.
Bryan: Four years ago, the No. 21 was on the pole for this race. This weekend, they’d settle for 43rd. That says it all.

The Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega this week for the third restrictor-plate race for the new cars. What can we expect this time around after the freight train we saw last fall? Is it the cars causing the problem at a track like this; or have drivers just learned to lay back until late in restrictor-plate races?

Amy: It’s not the cars. The drivers have shown they can race door-to-door when they want to. But you will always have drivers waiting ‘til the end to go after it. That’s not new.
Tony: Don’t forget the new pavement, too, making it a lot easier to maneuver when they want to. Drivers can afford to sit knowing they can make up ground in the final handful of laps easier than they could in the past.
Mike N.: Part of it is the drivers laying back, but a big part is that Talladega was never a handling racetrack to begin with. If there was any kind of handling difficulty at Talladega, they might actually mix it up more because there would be differentiation between the cars.
Vito: Daytona was pretty good this year. I think last year was an aberration because the Car of Tomorrow was such an unknown quantity.
Bryan: I agree. Daytona was a solid race this year, and the end of Talladega in October was real exciting.
Amy: What does torque me is that the CoT was designed to eliminate restrictor plates altogether. These cars hit 190 and NASCAR couldn’t have that; so, they put the plates back on. Well, plates are much more dangerous than 190-200 mph.
Mike N.: Amy, did you see Bobby Allison hit the fence at Talladega? Two feet higher and that car is in the crowd. Plates are not more dangerous than that. They need to put a six-inch wicker on the top of the car’s fin if they want to eliminate plates.
Amy: Yes, and that brought better fences and, more importantly, things like roof flaps to keep cars on the ground. 190 mph with throttle response to get away is better than what there is now.
Vito: To quote Sterling Marlin in 2001: “We need to be runnin’ 200 mile an’ hour. Otherwise we just gonna wad em all up… wreck ‘em again!”
Bryan: I hope Sterling makes the field this weekend just so I can hear him say “wreck ‘em again!”
Vito: Back on topic; I don’t think this’ll be the Talladegas of the past that we have come to expect, but it will be definitely better than last October.
Bryan: It’ll be a 450-mile single file line, followed by the 50 most exciting miles since Daytona.
Mike N.: I think we will see a little more mixing it up than in the fall, but it’s still not going to be 70 lead changes.
Vito: The real question is, will there be more lead changes than mentions of Digger during the telecast?
Mike N.: Shut up!
Tony: Digger will have more, but the number of times DW mentions Dale Earnhardt Jr. will trump everything else.

The Nationwide Series is still insisting on switching to a Car of Tomorrow platform in mid-2009. Will the change energize the ailing series, or ring its death knell?

Vito: It will only energize it – if the bodies are those of the Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. Otherwise, it’s going to be 300 miles of ugly cars racing versus 500 miles of ugly cars racing.
Amy: Unless NASCAR does something about the Cup guys using it as a test, the series is dead.
Tony: I agree with Vito and the pony cars. But honestly, I would’ve thought a Nationwide CoT would bring more Cup guys in and kill it that way. It’s interesting that there really hasn’t been a decrease in numbers this year with the top two series running two different cars; it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Mike N.: But a Nationwide CoT will hopefully give the series a short-term boost. I believe there are a few teams that are waiting for the change before they join up. But long-term, I don’t know that this is going to change things much.
Bryan: I don’t know. Forcing those teams to build new cars is going to kill off the few remaining independent teams left, and there’s not going to be enough Cup ones in the series to fill the fields.
Amy: There seem to be fewer Cup guys trying to buy the championship this year, though.
Mike N.: I’m curious how long they are going to insist on having 43-car fields. I would not be surprised to see them cut their fields to 36 for next year.
Vito: I don’t think Cup drivers should be running roughshod in lower levels, anyways. I thought it was a little much watching even Martin in the Truck Series run away from everyone back in 2006.
Mike N.: I don’t mind seeing the drivers there; I mind seeing the teams dumping the money into it. I enjoyed when Dale used to run Busch Series races with DEI equipment before DEI was a big Cup team.
Amy: Yeah… Cup drivers should have to own the team and not have Cup team help.
Mike N.: And that is the bigger problem. It is these Cup-level teams fielding Nationwide cars causing just too much of a technology advantage.
Bryan: We need more CJM Racings. That’s the feel-good story of the year.

Predictions for Talladega?

Amy: I’m going out on a small limb here and saying Casey Mears. Mears, not Junior, had the best Hendrick car at Daytona at the end; if his spotter hadn’t been slow on the draw, he had a very real shot at it.
Vito: I am going to say… Tony Stewart. Though Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. is probably a safe bet.
Bryan: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stewart lead the most laps.
Tony: Junior seems too easy… I like to make things difficult, so I’ll go with Stewart as well.
Mike N.: Um… JUNIOR!!!
Bryan: JUNIOR!!! At last.
Vito: Now Mike, when you yelled that, did you raise your outstretched hand with a beer and follow it with, “WEEEEOOOHHHWWWWWW!!!”
Mike N.: Junior’s owned Talladega, and now he’s in the equipment that owns the track of late. Wish he was running a special paint scheme; is Jeff Gordon running a Pepsi paint scheme?
Bryan: The entry list says Gordon is running Pepsi colors.
Mike N.: Crap! He always wins at Talladega when he runs Pepsi colors.
Vito: At least it isn’t that God-awful Nicorette car. That thing is terrible.
Mike N.: No kidding.
Amy: It looks like he ran into a nuclear reactor.
Mike N.: Or like a baby’s diaper after it had a lot of peas.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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