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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Cutting Pocono Down to Size, The Pettys’ Investor Prize & Keselowski’s Nashville Surprise

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 & Full Throttle, Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

When asked if the races at Pocono Raceway should be shortened to 400 miles, track owner Dr. Joe Mattioli said that the 500-mile races are done for television, and that the networks want the extra 100 miles to sell more advertising. Is there merit to this argument, or are the races at Pocono so long as to be detrimental to TV? Based on this week’s race, is there any reason for Pocono to stay at 500 miles?

Tony: That’s the first time I’ve heard the networks wanted more miles.
Matt T.: Gotta pay the piper. Would I like to see Pocono shortened to 400 miles? Yeah, but if fans want to watch every race every week they have to accept the harsh truth that TV advertising allows them to do that.
Amy: They should be able to, no question about it, but should fans be forced to watch it? I think TV advertising isn’t going to do too well if nobody’s watching it because people are: A. at dinner, or B. asleep.
Mike: There is plenty of reason to stay at 500 miles, not the least of which is that this is the highest level of stock car racing and they should be able to race that far. NASCAR should make more races longer. I miss 500 miles at Dover.
Bryan: Yeah, there’s no reason to shorten it. Pocono is a test of machine as much as driver. And the cookie cutters should all be 500 too… except for Fontana, which shouldn’t be run at all.
Matt T.: 500 miles at Pocono is a bit much for my taste, though. And I like Pocono.
Mike: No one is forced to watch it. And if you’re a real racing fan, you’d be asking for all of them to be 500 – or longer.
Tony: I’ve been going to Pocono for 15 years now, and in most of those races I see developments in the final 100 miles.
Matt T.: You’ll see that regardless of distance.
Tony: Not when it comes to attrition, though.
Bryan: Yeah, look at this weekend… had it been 400 miles Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart would have had far different days.
Amy: I disagree here. Maybe if NASCAR started this race at a decent hour; but if you have a family, 500 miles takes away a chunk of family time at dinnertime.
Mike: If you had a good NASCAR family, you’d all be in front of the TV for the race.
Tony: I do agree 100% with Amy. Why NASCAR decides to start a four-and-a-half hour race at 2:00 is ridiculous.
Bryan: If they started races at 12:30 when they should, no one would be complaining about distance.
Tony: Yep, Pocono always used to get started no later than 1:00.
Mike: They could start them at 3:00 a.m. and I’d still watch them.
Matt T.: But the thing is, the casual fan that the networks and NASCAR are pandering to won’t watch four hours of Pocono, anyway. Not all of it.
Mike: The casual fan won’t watch a two-hour Pocono race.
Amy: I agree that the diehards will always watch, but the consumer TV audience won’t.
Matt T.: But this question centers around the networks, and a consuming public is the reason the networks want it at 500 miles.
Tony: Ah, which brings us back to the battle that has been going on for the past several years: what’s good for the diehards vs. what’s good for the “casual fan.”
Amy: I didn’t think it was that bad a race, really; but if I didn’t understand the nuances, I might have been bored.
Bryan: Hey, if it’ll get us longer races, I hope the networks keep the pressure on.
Mike: No kidding, Bryan. I would love to see all of the races be five hours or longer.
Amy: Again, that would be fine if they ended at a decent hour. If they started between noon and 1:00, they’d be over in time for a family dinner or whatever.
Tony: So if we address the timing issue, then the question becomes, how much should NASCAR be concerned about the West Coast audience? I think if it’s OK for football games to go on at 10:00 a.m. out there, then it’s OK for races.
Bryan: Exactly.
Amy: I agree.
Mike: And we don’t want to go there – because we all know that there are West Coast fans who deserve some love – but there are a lot more empty seats there at times.
Amy: They don’t go to the races they have; so why pander to them the rest of the season?
Matt T.: The advertisers have to, guys.
Mike: Why would an advertiser want to pander to someone who’s not watching the TV?
Matt T.: Well, they have to assume people are watching… or the Nielsen ratings are telling them that. The advertisers are paying a pretty penny, and need to squeeze every one of them out of the time slot.
Amy: But do the Nielsen ratings tell how many stick around for the end?
Mike: Yes. And the ratings always increase as the race goes along. So no matter how long it is, or when it starts, the numbers will be highest at the end.
Matt T.: The advertisers are buying the time, so they have to be assured that as many people as possible are watching. The way to do that is to fit the races into a time slot where they believe that to be true.

Reports have primary sponsor UPS leaving Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of this season. It’s also been reported that MWR has laid off some employees. Is this team in big trouble, or just facing the cyclical nature of the economy and racing in general?

Vito: Probably just the beginning of the divestiture of the No. 44 team. With UPS gone, there’s really no reason to keep it afloat.
Bryan: MWR may well be in some trouble… UPS is out, the No. 00 is milking Aaron’s for every dime they’re worth, and NAPA can’t be happy. They need to find big bucks somewhere.
Amy: The team isn’t coming around on track like Red Bull is. Toyota can’t be thrilled.
Mike: I don’t think they’re in trouble, though. It is disturbing that they laid some people off, but that has happened to more teams than just MWR. And remember, teams like Evernham didn’t win out of the box, and he had Dodge firmly behind him.
Tony: I think it’s cyclical. Those reports were coming out before they even had a chance to see what David Reutimann could do behind the wheel, so it’s not so much a reflection of the team as of now.
Matt T.: I think MWR has been a teetering vessel since its inception, and since JGR’s defection to Toyota, it hasn’t helped a bit.
Amy: I agree that there could be trouble if the bleeding – on the track and with the sponsors – isn’t stopped.
Mike: I’ll give you that MWR does need to start running a little better, although Reutimann has been pretty good this year. And Michael McDowell is getting plenty of experience.
Bryan: McDowell hasn’t done bad given his situation, but he needs a sponsor. Race-to-race isn’t going to keep up all season.
Tony: MWR would benefit from Waltrip stepping out and putting a veteran in his place. Reutimann is driving that show right now, proving that the team has potential – but he needs some help.
Amy: Yeah, Michael needs to stop driving and focus his effort on the team as a whole.
Tony: Honestly, I’m not sure if Michael Waltrip will win another race again as a driver. It’s time for him to start becoming a winning car owner.
Bryan: Just like Kyle Petty, Waltrip needs to use his salesman savvy to land McDowell some sponsorship, trim the team to two cars and get Reutimann running better.
Mike: But Michael brings a lot of attention to that team. If he’s not in the car, will they still get as much airtime?
Tony: They’ll get airtime if the cars start running up front.
Mike: Reutimann has shown that these cars have potential. Remember, it does take time for a team to get from start up to contender.
Matt T.: But Bryan is right: With UPS leaving and the No. 00 without a full-time sponsor, it makes whatever NAPA is paying all the more important to the long-term health of the operation. I would not be surprised to see MWR a two-car team next year.
Bryan: I dunno if MWR is as far off as it seems. Reutimann is knocking on the door.
Tony: Well, McDowell is a long-term investment and Michael is past his prime, leaving just Reutimann as the team’s lone hope to make the Chase in the upcoming year or two. Those aren’t good odds, going strictly by numbers.
Bryan: Yeah, I agree that Waltrip is just flat done as a driver, and McDowell is about a green a rookie as they come. ARCA just doesn’t prep for the Cup Series as a direct transition.
Mike: I don’t know that Waltrip’s totally done. If his engine doesn’t blow at Talladega, he wins that race.
Matt T.: Well, I don’t think Mikey has the ponies – even on plate tracks – like he did at DEI, Mike. I don’t foresee any future wins with the No. 55, anyway. Reutimann could catch a break, but even still, the No. 44 hasn’t been a serious top-10 threat yet.
Mike: I’m telling you, Mikey had Talladega won if his engine didn’t let go.
Amy: But if I’m a sponsor, I’m not going to bank on “catching a break.” I’m going to go with proven performance.
Matt T.: That’s why UPS is looking to Stewart.
Vito: I think you’ll see Reutimann snapped up by somebody else. If not, I would say McDowell is the odd man out, and Reutimann goes back to the No. 00 car.
Amy: I just feel like there just seems to be more wrong at MWR than even at first glance. The other Toyota teams are improving, while MWR is standing still.
Bryan: MWR doesnt seem to be improving on the whole because of the struggles of the No. 00 and No. 55. The No. 44 has improved leaps and bounds this year.
Matt T.: Has it? I’m not so sure…
Vito: Well, it’s still a relatively new operation. Michael really shot the moon with three teams, all of them well below average. They don’t really have a ton of name guys working there either.
Amy: Team Red Bull is new, too… so there goes that excuse.
Bryan: Red Bull has had some names, though. Doug Richert helped them start off, and Brian Vickers had Hendrick experience to draw from.
Matt T.: MWR can’t keep anyone, either. They had Matt Borland and Paul Andrews and a couple others that just don’t seem to make it there.
Mike: I’m pretty sure all three MWR drivers are ahead of AJ Allmendinger.
Amy: Of course they are, because ’Dinger took six weeks off – and those six weeks helped tremendously from the look of things. And yes, a new team has growing pains and I do understand that, but with what Toyota is throwing at its teams, you have to wonder where the performance is.
Vito: Red Bull is a small operation, but it seems to be making the most of it because they throw people at the problem, not just money.
Tony: Right now even Bill Davis Racing, which is a one car team with financial problems, is outperforming MWR.
Bryan: Well, MWR is in trouble. It’s losing sponsors, not performing, and does not have a roster conducive to improving much.
Amy: I think the problems are part of a cycle, but also an indicator that there is more going on; and until the owner decides to devote his time to ownership, it might not improve.
Tony: I don’t think MWR is on the verge of closing down, but it certainly needs to do something to improve. The status quo is unacceptable here and the economy is not helping, either.
Vito: As strong as MWR’s Nationwide program is with essentially one car running, it will happen; it’ll just will take some time. Hopefully for Michael and the team’s sake, they can continue to buy time sponsorship-wise.
Matt T.: But MWR should already have the money with the boatload of investors it has bought in. I don’t even know that Mikey owns 25% of the operation anymore.

Does Boston Ventures reportedly buying a controlling interest in Petty Enterprises signal a death knell for Petty’s involvement with the struggling team – or will it breathe new life into an ailing organization?

Amy: I think that if they invest properly and keep the right people in the right places, Boston Ventures could help.
Bryan: I don’t care what that team does; until Kyle Petty gets out of the No. 45 Petty Enterprises won’t be moving up much more.
Mike: It’s hard to say. Gillett has certainly breathed life into Evernham.
Tony: Well, it’s not necessarily a breathe of good life all the time. Just like we were talking about with MWR, their investor hasn’t helped much.
Vito: To rip a line from Stewart, they really had no choice if they want to become a competitive team again – instead of struggling to achieve second-tier status.
Amy: But man, it kills me to see Petty Enterprises go to way of the dinosaur.
Tony: On the other hand, like Mike said, Gillett has worked for GEM.
Matt T.: This is a tough question. My worry is whether Boston Ventures knows anything about racing, and will they allow the Pettys to run the ship the way it should be run?
Vito: If not, they’d devolve into little more than a museum of trophies and old Mopars.
Amy: That was my concern as well, Matt.
Mike: The difference with Petty vs. Evernham is I don’t know that Petty has people who are trying to do things other than work on cars. If they had someone to focus their energies on, then I’d feel better.
Vito: Well, I think they’re headed that way, Mike. The move to the Charlotte area was a step in that direction, I think. As pretty as Petty blue is, the organization can’t field cars out there with the Richard Petty Driving Experience on the hoods… or nothing at all. Something had to be done.
Amy: I agree, Vito. PE had to do something, I just hope the investor either knows racing or has the sense to listen to those who do.
Mike: If the Boston folks can focus on the business side, and they can get some good car people in there to run the cars, then I think it will be a good thing.
Matt T.: I wonder where many of these investors will be in five years when they realize very few people or companies actually make money in racing.
Mike: The only way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one.
Bryan: If Boston Ventures doesn’t pull a Dan Snyder and recognize its job is to enjoy the sport and sign checks, it’ll be a good thing for Petty.
Vito: Roush Fenway seems to be keeping afloat, as well. I think these investment groups realize that. They delegate to who knows what.
Tony: Exactly, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in any organization in terms of key people flying out the door.
Mike: True, I don’t know what the organization looks like at Roush compared to before it did the joint venture.
Matt T.: That’s great for the big teams that were already three steps ahead. Petty is behind and will take a long-term investment of time, patience and money.
Tony: Exactly Matt. the big teams were looking ahead at what will keep them at the top while the smaller teams are playing catch up.
Amy: I hope the investor will be in it for the long haul with Petty, though, because change is not going to happen overnight.
Vito: Petty isn’t running that bad now with the No. 43 car, but it needs money to field a third team; and Kyle clearly isn’t 100% focused on being a full-time driver any longer.
Bryan: Still, the investment only goes so far. Petty needs something it can build around, and that means that the No. 45 needs a new driver and the organization needs a development program.
Mike: Chad McCumbee seems to be the heir apparent, although I’d like to see him win a Truck Series race at some point.
Amy: They need to do all this without losing their identity, and that could be the hard part, I’m afraid.
Mike: I don’t know about that, Amy. I have to think the investors are smart enough to know that the Petty name is worth a hell of a lot in NASCAR.
Bryan: And it’s not like Kyle and Richard would disappear from the scene.
Vito: If Petty could somehow coax STP back in the fold, nobody would be none the wiser. Heck, Richard Petty won 199-200 driving for Mike Curb, not Petty Enterprises.
Bryan: See, I’m surprised they haven’t tried to sell STP on Bobby Labonte, at least in some capacity. They did a few years back with Jeff Green.
Matt T.: STP just can’t pony up $25 mill. That’s the problem there.
Mike: When was the last time you saw an STP ad on TV?
Vito: Well, bring it out for a few races then. Multiple sponsorship type deal.
Matt T.: It’s the racer’s edge, you know.
Bryan: STP was only an associate at Rockingham in ’04, and they had the No. 43 on TV every other lap.
Vito: “Son of A Gun Pra-tec-tent… man… whut a differnce!”
Bryan: Good for Petty getting more money, but it needs a new No. 45 and they need development programs to give them a future building block.
Mike: The Pettys will be in racing for a long time. The new investors are hopefully just going to be able to focus on the business side and let the racers race.
Vito: Well, it is an end of an era; but if that’s what it takes to keep those Sam One Horse hats, big belt buckle, and Ray Bans showing up to the track, then fine. Rather it be this then see them go the way of The Wood Brothers as of late.

Brad Keselowski finally put himself into the winner’s circle for the first time at Nashville. All the speculation has been about Joey Logano, but what’s Keselowski’s future looking like?

Vito: Looking good, man!
Bryan: Bright, bright, bright…
Amy: I think he has a future if they continue to groom him in the Nationwide Series.
Tony: He’s not going to get up to Logano stature – at least not yet – but he is definitely looking more and more promising.
Matt T.: More so than Shane Huffman.
Bryan: Fanbase is there, he’s getting immensely more confident, he’s more consistent on track… they’ve got something going there.
Vito: I see these two being the Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth of this generation. Their career paths seem to be on the same plane as those two were.
Tony: Really good comparison, Vito. These two could be battling it out for ROTY in a season or two.
Mike: His future is bright. He’s hitched to the Junior gravy train and producing. Mark McFarland and Huffman could have been in his spot if they had figured out how to make it to the checkered flag.
Amy: Keselowski is not exactly a sponsor’s dream, but he seems like a genuinely nice kid and a very good driver to boot.
Matt T.: If Keselowski can prove he can win consistently, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, I don’t see why he doesn’t get the call to Cup in a year or two. Junior likes to groom ’em right in the NNS.
Mike: How quickly these young drivers move up depends in large part on the CoT decision for the Nationwide Series, too. If they go to it next year, you’ll see Logano in Nationwide while Keselowski competing for ROTY in Cup.
Tony: We’ll have to see how the rest of the season goes before anointing him a future champion or anything, but he definitely is one of the best prospects coming up.
Bryan: Colin Braun‘s not posting Kyle Busch‘s results in trucks, though.
Vito: Yeah, but what non-Toyota team is besides Ron Hornaday?
Amy: Braun has a ways to go before you can make statements that bold, I think.
Tony: I’m glad we’re starting to get some excitement around actual stock car drivers coming up through the ranks, though.
Bryan: Well, Keselowski may well win again this weekend at Kentucky. That team is hot; they’ve gone from consistent top 15 to consistent top five.
Mike: Logano is going to win in a lot fewer races than Keselowski, but he’s got better equipment, too.
Vito: I think the open-wheel invasion is a passing fad, what with the reunification of IndyCar, and quite honestly, them putting on a far better show than NASCAR has of late.
Matt T.: 100% agreed, Vito.
Amy: Completely agree with that, Vito.
Vito: Frigging Formula 1 is better than NASCAR right now.
Bryan: Ouch.
Amy: I wouldn’t go that far…
Mike: Let’s not get crazy now, Vito.
Matt T.: I hear there’s an opening at paddockstretch.com, V.
Vito: Have you watched the last two weekends? Interesting races, and they’re done in 90 minutes.
Mike: That’s part of the problem. They’re too short.
Bryan: Indeed. 90 minutes isn’t enough time to put a dent in a cooler.
Amy: Back on topic: I’ve been impressed with Keselowski this year, I really have. That team has a lot of potential, and you can’t count out the Junior Factor in getting them backing, either.
Vito: You can call JR Motorsports a satellite Hendrick team if you want, but whatever… they are out there with a driver who has less than 50 career starts, and are solid championship contenders already. Junior isn’t steering the car either.
Mike: Keselowski is really coming along as a driver. And he scored a huge amount of fans with his handling of the Charlotte situation.
Bryan: Charlotte was the best thing that could have happened to him.
Mike: Most definitely, Bryan. He showed himself as a racer, not a driver.
Bryan: From Keith Coleman Racing to JRM… that’s how it should be done. Keselowski’s going to be contending with Logano for headlines this season. That No. 88 might have something for the big bad No. 20.
Matt T.: Keselowski’s what, fifth in points? Pretty impressive.
Mike: Keselowski is good. JRM is getting better. At the end of the year, they’ll finish top three in points in the series.
Vito: Joey is going to be the one racking up wins and getting the attention for all of the hype surrounding him. Brad is more of the low-key soft spoken guy, which is what leads me to the Kenseth/Junior comparison… albeit in reverse.
Bryan: Cup drivers in general are acting like babies lately.
Matt T.: Some of those Cup boys expect the NNS guys to roll over for them on Saturday. Ain’t happenin’ lately.
Amy: Good for the NNS boys, then!
Vito: As my dad is fond of saying, if he were a Nationwide driver, he’d be intentionally bashing in fenders on pit road to make a point to guys taking away a living from them.
Bryan: Clint Bowyer ticked me off so much when he bashed David Stremme for “bumping the points leader.” What a wuss.
Matt T.: Very disappointed in Bowyer’s comments…
Vito: No kidding. If you’re going to roll around with that Dick Tracy jaw, you better be able to take some contact and deal with it.

How about predictions for Michigan?

Mike: Edwards.
Tony: Well, this is definitely a Ford track, and the No. 17 is past due and starting to gain momentum. I’m going with Kenseth.
Bryan: Me, too. Kenseth proves the No. 17 is back for real.
Amy: I’m going with Biffle. The bad luck can’t last forever!
Vito: I’ll go with Biffle, as well – assuming the wheels stay intact this week and he doesn’t speed on pit road.
Matt T.: Yep, the No. 16 team finally puts all the trouble behind them. Biffle wins this one.
Bryan: Is anyone not going to take Roush?
Vito: Wow. An all Roush prediction. I’ll throw out a darkhorse pick: Vickers.
Bryan: I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be a darkhorse, Vito. That No. 83 is a beast on intermediates as of late.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

Not sure which writer’s prediction to trust? Well, here’s a little inside info for you – our 2008 Mirror Prediction Chart tracks just how well their picks are panning out. Every week, we give each writer the number of Sprint Cup points his driver earned during the race – and if they skipped out on Mirror, well, then, they’re plumb out of luck! At the end of the season, we’ll tally up the totals and crown our Mirror Driving champion – chief prognosticator amongst all our experts! Editor-In-Chief Tom Bowles won the award in 2007.

This past week, Tony Lumbis’s choice of Stewart proved costly, as Amy Henderson extended her lead with Edwards’s ninth-place finish. No one picked winner Kasey Kahne this week, but a trio of our panelists came up with third-place Denny Hamlin – including Bryan Davis Keith, who has creeped back within 200 points of the leader despite having three fewer starts on the season. Can he be this year’s version of part-timer Mark Martin from 2007? We’ll have to wait and see.

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Amy Henderson2054-015149
Tony Lumbis1907-14715358
Bryan Davis Keith1876-178122810
Vito Pugliese1591-46312068
Mike Neff1516-53811057
Matt Taliaferro1264-7909046
Tom Bowles1074-83710014
Kurt Smith733-13217023
Tommy Thompson500-15544022
Beth Lunkenheimer341-17133011
Danny Peters190-18641111
Jeff Meyer94-19601000
Kim DeHaven0-20540000