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 (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice?)
Doug Turnbull (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Frontstretch Newsletter Reporter)
NASCAR has claimed 15 new owners applied for licenses in the month of January. Is this a bunch of hot air, or are we going to see a higher-than-expected car count at the Daytona 500… and beyond? More importantly, can these small-time owners stand a chance against the four-car behemoths of Roush, Hendrick, etc.?
Doug: No, they can’t. Tommy Baldwin, Black Jack, Phoenix, Boris Said, NEMCO and Kirk Shelmerdine will not come close. No sponsor and no foundation means no success. These small teams will drop like flies. I don’t see the unsponsored operations coming to every track on their own bill.
Bryan: But we’re going to see 50-plus cars at the 500 because the promise of a $250k payday will be enough, as always, to lure a lot of team owners to Speedweeks. After that, though, the count will drop sharply.
Jeff: You will have a full field for Daytona.
Phil: And then the short fields will start as soon as California comes, or Las Vegas.
Amy: There may be 15 new owners after all. But remember, they have to apply even if they only plan one race, and there are always one-offs at Daytona and Indianapolis. Probably a dozen are one-offs and wannabes.
Phil: Well, they’ll have a car count similar to last year for the Daytona 500. Probably in the 53 or 54 neighborhood.
Beth: I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is accurate, but it doesn’t mean much.
Bryan: MSRP will run a full season. They’re a devout start-and-park that proved last year they know how to make that work. But if 54 show up to Fontana, then my eyes will jump.
Jeff: Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price is fielding a car?
Tom: “Prism” Motorsports now, Jeff.
Phil: Dave Blaney’s in it at California.
Bryan: Blaney will park, Phil, not drive. But keep in mind sponsorship woes mean nothing at Daytona. Every, and I mean every, year someone gets into that race that shouldn’t. Kevin Lepage did it. Shelmerdine did it. John Andretti last year did it.
Amy: Daytona is its own animal.
Doug: I just can’t believe the teams inside the Top 35 that won’t field a full-time ride, like the Nos. 22 and 41.
Tom: Doug, I think this is where the Top-35 rule is going to kill half these new teams. How 35 of 43 spots can already be guaranteed in the Daytona 500 is beyond me. Do you know the uproar a decade ago when 25 of the 33 spots at the Indy 500 were guaranteed? I can’t believe we’re letting that happen.
Amy: It’s asinine Tom, and everyone knows it.
Phil: Yes, the infamous Top-35 rule. Something I’ve ranted against multiple times in the past. I still maintain that it was a snap judgment.
Tom: Well, the reason I think it pertains to this question is we have over a dozen new owners looking to break into this sport. New blood. But there’s about eight owners herding 32 locked-in spots that are going to make it near impossible for a lot of the newbies to make headway. Which is why I feel like this is going to start out as a legitimate crop of new cars… but by race six, I’d be surprised if we have more than four or five of them hanging around, racing all 500 miles.
Doug: I wonder if Jeremy Mayfield and Joe Nemechek are really serious. It is so late in the game to just start up and run a full year, even if they’ve bought used inventory.
Phil: True. Nemechek is probably more serious than Mayfield, though.
Bryan: Nemechek may not last a full run in Cup, but his Nationwide stuff isn’t bad. Back when NEMCO used to run consistently, they were really good. And signing Lopez atop the pit box wasn’t a bad move, either.
Doug: Nemechek at least says he has a sponsor possibly lined up for 12 races. I do think it is funny that he is running Toyotas in Cup and Chevys in Nationwide, though. Sounds like Phoenix Racing.
Bryan: I think I read somewhere that they were going to turn the NNS cars to Toyotas when they could.
Jeff: Make has nothing to do with it, anyways. Put different stickers on them and they’re IROC cars.
Tom: As for Mayfield, he’s been talking about owning a team for a good six months now. It was just supposed to be in the Truck Series, though; so the fact that whole deal suddenly fell through and he’s magically thinking Cup has me skeptical.
Doug: Yeah, to just start up a Cup team and run the full year? This late? C’mon …
Phil: Brad Keselowski‘s giving up a Rookie of the Year campaign to do 10 races in the No. 09 this year. Do you all think that’s a good move?
Doug: I think that is a dumb move for Keselowski. He will pull a Joey Logano and run 33rd in the No. 09.
Bryan: The move doesn’t surprise me at all, though. He’s one of the few drivers out there that has driven back of the pack cars and learned from it.
Doug: That’s a good point, but I think he should focus on trying to outrun the Cup guys and win the Nationwide championship. And also, he doesn’t know when his opening for the Cup Series will come. Mark Martin might not want to run another year.
Amy: Bad cars? He drove Hendrick NNS cars.
Doug: Yeah, but he also drove that cruddy No. 23 NNS car, too. And he barely made races in it.
Tom: Keselowski is just looking to get seat time and more experience any way he can get it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. What I find interesting for that ride is the other drivers that are filling the seat for the whole season. That smells like a start-and-park operation to me in those races, unfortunately. Two 50-something veterans and the Nationwide Series regular driving their No. 1 car.
Bryan: What I will say though, is that Keselowski’s move does seem to hint that the Nationwide title doesn’t mean much to anyone anymore.
Tom: Well, if I understand correctly… Keselowski was only slated for 10 races in the No. 5 car in 2010 to begin with, because Mark’s still running 26. So why wait?
Bryan: Phoenix’s operation will park when Brad doesn’t run. Who can forget when they had Joe Ruttman run four laps at the Rock before getting black flagged for not having a pit crew?
Jeff: Of course, all this will change after the first race. Silly Season starts after Daytona, remember?
Doug: It did last year when the Bobby Labonte to RCR rumors started.
Phil: Hey, anybody got a guess on a typical number of runners this year? I’m guessing about 38 will attempt every race, with another 1-3 showing up part-time after Daytona.
Tom: Oh Phil, I think with all these new owners, we are going to have a full field of 43. For awhile.
Bryan: I don’t think we’ll see any short fields because with the money there will be start-and-parkers foaming at the mouth.
Tom: I think how many keep showing up is going to depend on how much “parity” the Car of Tomorrow really gives us. These underdog teams are showing up with 1/10th the budget, no engineers, no seven-post shaker. If they can run 15th despite all those disadvantages… they might survive. But if they run 36th through 43rd (which is what I suspect) they’re all living on borrowed time.
Teams such as Stewart-Haas, Earnhardt-Ganassi, and Richard Petty Motorsports were all but overflowing with optimism at the Media Tour. Is the hype justified, or merely talk for the media these days?
Doug: I think SHR has reason to be happy. They have revamped that operation.
Jeff: Stewart-Haas has the best chance. The rest – RPM, EGR – are just talking out their wazoo.
Bryan: Stewart-Haas can talk optimistically. All they need is time for their driver talent to fine-tune the stuff they’ve got. The others… well, they’re trying to bring in the money.
Amy: I think the wide-eyed optimism will wear off by Las Vegas.
Beth: There’s always optimism when you have a new start. The only one that really seems justified, though, is SHR.
Phil: Stewart-Haas is the only one of the bunch that stands to improve significantly over 2008.
Doug: EGR has lost so many people that they are going to see a big hump to clear before breaking through with success.
Amy: There’s a lot of fine-tuning to do, even at SHR. The equipment that came with the deal isn’t exactly top-notch and it can’t all be replaced overnight. EGR will be lucky to have two cars by the end of the season.
Tom: I think of all the teams, Stewart-Haas has reason to be most optimistic. They’re getting a heck of a lot more sponsorship money, they still have extensive Hendrick support, and Tony Stewart hasn’t blown his lid yet.
Bryan: Amy, Chevy didn’t buy out Stewart’s contract for him to race in Haas CNC cars. He will be driving a de facto HMS car all year.
Tom: The other two teams mentioned – EGR and RPM – well, it’s hard to get excited when there’s not much to get excited about.
Doug: RPM may run better as one entity than two, but they still have a lot of catching up to do. And Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler need to step their games up.
Amy: RPM is such a mess that they are almost beyond help.
Bryan: RPM would have more to be excited about if they’d have given the 43 to AJ Allmendinger instead of Sorenson.
Tom: Well, the problem is that Sorenson was signed for a full season. And we all saw what happened when George Gillett tried to play with contracts. Apparently, he thinks all signed contracts are written on a dry-erase board.
Bryan: Sorenson will be the first driver fired in ‘09.
Doug: I doubt that Sorenson will be the first to go, but he definitely needs to step it up.
Jeff: I think Scott Riggs will be the first to go. And I think TBR will do better than most think.
Bryan: Riggs is like a lower-tier Casey Mears. How they keep landing rides just baffles me.
Doug: I think Tommy Baldwin’s team will have the benefit of having to compete with less teams for the final eight spots in the field. But how do you expect them to do well, Jeff? They just started and they have no sponsor.
Jeff: Well, it’s more of a hope, really! They could have picked a better driver.
Amy: Well, back to SHR; they’re running HMS engines, but do you really think they will get anything but the fifth-best Hendrick engine or parts every week?
Doug: HMS equipment didn’t really help Haas these last few years…
Phil: I thought they only ran Hendrick engines at Haas CNC the past five years.
Tom: No Phil, they’ve been getting chassis support as well. And I feel the expectations of that support will differ a bit now that the team has an owner who’s not in jail. And a two-time Cup champ.
Bryan: There is no way to compare SHR and Haas CNC. They kept the name and the shop, everything else over there is new.
Jeff: I agree. SHR is a whole new animal.
Phil: The talent behind the wheel has increased significantly over last year. Improvement will happen. I expect both cars in the top 20.
Jeff: I think TBR will be a surprise this year, too,
Doug: I wonder if Ryan Newman‘s available sponsorship for 16 races on the No. 39 is going to hurt them.
Tom: I don’t think so, Doug. Haas Automation backed those teams for a lot more than just 16 races… they’ll find a way to fill out that 36-race lineup.
Bryan: Don’t count on it Doug, Haas Automation is going to be on the car if they can’t find outside sponsorship. And they announced that after saying they wouldn’t sponsor at all in ‘09.
Tom: As for RPM, my problem isn’t Sorenson or even Gillett. The problem is who’s going to step up and lead with Evernham not in the shop each day? And who’s going to fix the underperforming Dodge Charger? Those are two really big questions.
Doug: Robbie Loomis? I don’t know.
Jeff: Dodge is getting a new nose again, aren’t they?
Phil: Yeah, it’s a subtle change.
Jeff: New stickers or something…
Doug: I bet that change won’t mean squat on the Dodge noses. The problem is the teams that field Dodges.
Tom: EGR is the team that really worries me. I mean, really worries me.
Bryan: Money won’t fix the problems at EGR, Tom.
Tom: Aric Almirola was tripping all over himself the past two weeks: “I’m going to run a full season, no I’m not, maybe a few races, don’t ask me I’m just an employee…” Think he was getting a little frustrated? And the season hasn’t even started yet.
Phil: Nothing seems to be going right for EGR at the moment.
Doug: Except that they have managed to keep Target and Bass Pro – although I think they will all be fleeing that operation very soon.
Amy: I don’t think any of these three teams – SHR, EGR and RPM – will make the Chase. Maybe Stewart, if someone has some bad luck, because he’s just that good.
Bryan: Stewart will make the Chase. Again, money talks… and Stewart has lots of it backing him.
Doug: The stakes are simply too high. But he is the driver to do it.
Phil: I said at the end of last year that the top of Stewart’s possible range would be the last team into the Chase.
Bryan: Stewart will get in. Newman on the other hand will not. His team is going to be an afterthought until they get Stewart contending week in and week out.
Tom: Again, the theme of this question almost relates back to the Big Four: How untouchable are Roush, Gibbs, Hendrick and Childress? Will no testing leave them on another level, or can others close the gap?
Doug: I think that the Big Four are very untouchable. That is, unless the chemistry at RPM and Penske takes almost zero time to form… then there is a chance.
Amy: That’s a good point, Tom. Even if they have new stuff, they can’t test it anywhere that really counts.
Bryan: The testing ban has done nothing but increase the gap between have and have nots.
Bryan: Like NASCAR and everyone knew they would, Phil. And let’s not use the word ban, it’s deceptive. The testing “limitations.”
Doug: They should let the teams put testing equipment in during practice.
Amy: They should let the teams test with computers on Thursdays. Then, regular practice and qualifying on Friday.
Tom: But Doug, they’re already giving random teams an extra test session. It’s called “The Bud Shootout on Crack.” (Presented in HD.)
Phil: That lineup changes by the day.
Jeff: “The Crack Shootup, gimme a Bud!”
Bryan: They might as well name the Shootout after Stewart.
Several NASCAR drivers made the trip to Daytona to run the Rolex 24. Do they learn anything that can transfer to Cup cars, or does the risk outweigh the reward?
Doug: Neither. It is all good and fun; forget about risk, it is simply good to see them race.
Bryan: They didn’t learn anything for their Cup cars, that’s for sure.
Amy: I think they just get to have a good time, and that’s important in its own way.
Beth: I wouldn’t necessarily say they go to gain an advantage. A lot of these guys just love to race no matter what it is.
Doug: The reward they get is the thrill of racing.
Phil: I think some do the Rolex 24 just for fun. I doubt anything can transfer to the CoT. But I’m pretty sure Juan Pablo Montoya enjoyed racing David Donahue for the win yesterday.
Tom: I don’t think there’s much risk involved, to be honest… unless you give a driver a knife outside the car and say, “Have at it.”
Amy: Yeah, the Cup champion cut himself badly enough to require surgery to repair a tendon… there is a risk involved.
Jeff: If you look at it that way, then of course there is a risk; but there’s also a risk in mowing the lawn.
Bryan: He cut himself in the hauler, not racing.
Doug: They should have learned from this race that close racing at the end of a 24-hour race makes for a heckuva finish. And they also can learn that JPM is still an absolute threat on the road courses.
Tom: But in terms of learning the track (or even better road-course racing skills) I have a hard time believing either theory. It’s just a fun race for those people.
Amy: Although one of them said, and I agree, that it does hone things like reaction time and visual marks – that translates.
Doug: Maybe for racing overall, but not for just Daytona, Amy.
Tom: I think the cool thing about the Rolex 24 is it brings people from all different series together… IndyCar, stock cars, road-racing series… and they seem to be very evenly matched.
Bryan: You know, if they thought something could translate, more Cup drivers would do it.
Phil: And Jimmie Johnson’s type of injury occurs all the time. It’s not even the strangest injury I’ve heard about in sports.
Amy: No, it’s not, and he got lucky. But strange things do happen, and they can affect the NASCAR season. Jimmie, though, is fine for Daytona.
Jeff: His pet goldfish could die the morning of Daytona and affect him. Big deal.
Beth: Yeah, his surgery was a success. He’ll be ready with no problem.
Amy: His injury was minor, but it proves there is an added risk to racing outside of the circuit paying your bills.
Doug: But they still should do it. These guys are racers. I mean, racing is racing. I understand if owners don’t want their drivers parasailing or dirt biking. But they should be able to race.
Tom: And it’s a great way to start off the overall racing season, too. With a little taste of drivers from everyone’s favorite series, before they start up in earnest over the next few months.
Phil: It gets drivers back in the groove of racing a car in anger.
Bryan: The Rolex 24 is one of those races that anyone who wants to should race. It’s a world-respected event and gives a lot of great drivers a chance to square off.
Tom: It’s crazy that Ganassi’s winning streak got stopped in that one. He seemed to have that race under his thumb as a car owner.
Doug: Amen to that. I thought JPM won it.
Amy: I agree. And it’s probably the last real fun they’ll have in a racecar, so let them have at it… but be ready to reap the consequences, too.
Jeff: You can’t restrict a guy from racing.
Amy: Actually, Jeff, you can. I know Hendrick has a clause where they have to ask for permission.
Jeff: I KNOW you can, but my point is you SHOULDN’T.
Phil: Dale Earnhardt Jr. did Sonoma in 2004 as something to kill time on an off-weekend. The fire was unfortunate.
Tom: I can see why owners want drivers to ask permission… their contracts are huge. It’s a tough call, but I think it’s the price you pay for making it to racing’s top level.
Doug: I think if owners are paying millions of dollars to put a driver in the car, the driver should at least ask if they can. But owners should let them drive except in extreme cases.
Tom: The whole thing just seems so wrong.
Phil: By the way, I’m surprised a crew member couldn’t have cut that hole for Jimmie.
Amy: Jimmie was in the suit at the time, and it was his pocket… You want a stranger with a knife going there?
Jeff: Apparently he should have…
Beth: Sure beats slicing a ligament and a nerve.
Amy: Been there, done that.
Phil: Can you flip a pocket in a driver’s suit inside-out, like you can with a pair of regular pants?
Amy: I don’t know, Phil, I’ve never had occasion to try…
Doug: No, because all the money would fall out!
Jeff: What do they need pockets for, anyway? Not like racecars have keys.
Tom: Couldn’t Jimmie have changed out of his driver’s suit and made the cut? I’m confused about the whole thing. Was Chandra there? Could she have intervened? Being a klutz myself, you should be aware of situations where you need help.
Bryan: Let’s face it… Jimmie just wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed!
Tom: And seeing as Jimmie has past history here (golf cart, stunt gone bad, whoops) maybe he shouldn’t have had a knife in that situation?
Jeff: Maybe he was trying to slit his wrists and got confused.
Bryan: That’d make 2009 more fun to watch Jeff, I’ll give you that.
Phil: Definitely let them race. It’s in their blood.
In the Toyota All-Star Showdown, Logano was disqualified for rough driving when he wrecked Peyton Sellers on the final lap. Was this the right call, and should NASCAR be making it more often?
Tom: Looking at the video, the whole thing appears pretty blatant to me.
Beth: It looked like a blatant move to me; it’s possible that Logano’s emotions got the best of him, and all he could see was the checkered flag.
Amy: Absolutely. It was the right call… Logano’s move was, at best, really stupid.
Doug: Really? I like what Logano did, except for the fact that innocent cars got damaged.
Phil: I thought it was proper. The move was bush league – that much is clear. However, like Matt Kobyluck, we could see it coming a mile away.
Bryan: Let… the… drivers… police… themselves. Logano raced way hard, but hey, Sellers was beating and banging on him hard.
Tom: It’s a hard call… a real tough call. I don’t think anyone was playing nice over those last few laps. But the way the No. 08 car slid up…
Bryan: Logano definitely raced recklessly, and he got the trophy. However, next time he races Sellers, he won’t be getting a clean pass.
Jeff: I’ve only seen it once, but maybe Joey went in too hot like Carl Edwards did last year trying to beat Jimmie and just lost it.
Amy: Jeff, there was no way that car was going to stick on old tires… and he simply didn’t care who he took out.
Doug: You know, everyone lauded Edwards for his banzai move at Kansas back in the fall. But if his car had taken out Johnson’s, it would have been a different story…
Tom: It did look somewhat similar to Edwards’s banzai move at Kansas. Here’s the difference, though… he and Jimmie hadn’t swapped paint back and forth for about eight laps. So, I find it a lot harder to believe Logano was busy doing the same thing. The angle the car slid up… I’m all for NASCAR letting ’em race. But that seemed to just barely cross the line. Especially since he wrecked someone with the same last name as me.
Bryan: No way, Tom. Sellers was all over Logano with five to go.
Jeff: The problem is, NASCAR will not stay consistent with its rulings!
Bryan: Amen, Jeff. What’s sad is that everyone now is looking to NASCAR to solve these problems. The drivers make the moves – let them determine whether or not it’s acceptable. Those two were banging on each other for the last 10 laps. Now, if Logano tries that move at Bristol, he’s gonna get a front fender up his ***.
Amy: Well, I can name about two drivers good enough to make that move stick on a good day, and Logano isn’t on the list.
Doug: There is a line, Amy, but drivers should not have to worry about crossing it all the time. If Logano had made that move early in the race, like Hornaday, then it would have been wrong. Instead, they each were going for it on the last lap… and that is what happens.
Tom: I’m usually all for staying out of it… I only like intervention in cases like the whole Scott Speed ARCA championship thing. But again, there was just something about that move… and I think the penalty’s good for Logano. He’s been in need of a little reality check lately… and he got one.
Phil: It shows him that there is, in fact, a line.
Tom: Exactly, Phil. And if you cross that line, the consequences could be dire.
Jeff: Not in Cup!
Amy: But kudos to Kobyluck… there’s a guy who has worked his butt off in that series long before it was a “cool” series, and is finally getting his due.
Bryan: It is good to see Kobyluck running well Amy, you’re right. But it is never good in racing to have the guy who crosses the finish line first not win the race. Logano shouldn’t be answering to NASCAR for his moves; he should be answering to his competitors.
Doug: Agreed, Bryan.
Amy: But Logano deserved the penalty. What really stuck in my mind, too, is that Logano never apologized for taking out Sellers.
Jeff: Since when does anyone have to apologize in the first place?
Beth: No one has to, but it’s a nice gesture Jeff…especially if you were clearly at fault.
Bryan: Well, no apology is exactly what this penalizing rough driving does: it makes drivers go pout to NASCAR instead of deal with their competitors. And that is – if you ask me – a huge part of why the garage is so vanilla today.
Tom: But you also don’t want NASCAR accused of having another favorite son. That move was Dale Earnhardt-esque in his blatancy.
Phil: Yeah, I could imagine that would be the case if you’re going 10 mph faster into a corner than normal.
Bryan: Logano made a ballsy, reckless, shameless move for the win, but instead of talking about the move, we’re talking about what the refs should have done. Ridiculous.
Jeff: Maybe Joey is just an ***.
Amy: Look at the kid’s role models….
Tom: I think Joe Gibbs has his greatest challenge on his hands with Logano. Because he’s so young, he could go in one of two directions… let everything get to his head – or, stay grounded. I hope he stays grounded… heck, he’s from my home state. And Connecticut doesn’t produce many “A” level drivers.
Beth: If he manages to stay grounded, he has one heck of a career ahead of him.
Amy: Well, Joey is a nice enough kid, and I hope he gets his act together. But you could see that move coming for a couple of laps… it was just a matter of time.
Phil: I knew it was coming with three to go. It just had the signs of something big brewing.
Bryan: Well, the best way to cure arrogance is not for NASCAR to say “bad Joey.” It’s for Logano to have a Sellers or someone grab him by the neck at the hauler and shake some sense into him. But that’ll never happen now, because NASCAR is being looked upon to do everything for everyone.
Doug: Bryan is on fire today. I love it!
Bryan: Logano learned nothing by having NASCAR take a regional touring win away from him, I promise you that.
Amy: But Bryan, while the other drivers not taking his crap will ultimately teach Logano a lesson, NASCAR can’t allow unsafe behavior until that happens.
Bryan: It’s the last lap of a short-track race – people wreck in that situation all the time! Logano should have penalized with a right hook, not a call from the press box.
Jeff: Logano’s no more a villain than a million other things that have happened during just about any race.
Tom: The thing that worries me about Logano – and I’ve said this before – is his time behind the wheel of the No. 96. That was not a good experience for him… it was almost like he felt entitled to better equipment.
Bryan: The Hall of Fame deal with Logano just showed that this development idea of giving him cars 10 times better than the competition has left him lacking in knowledge of adjustments. In short, he’s not ready for Cup.
Doug: I don’t think the HoF deal says that much. That team stunk… though he did struggle in the No. 02 also.
Phil: I definitely think Logano needs a full year in the Nationwide Series, but he’s in the No. 20 because Stewart left and put the team in a bind.
Doug: I still maintain that Gibbs wouldn’t have given him the ride if they didn’t see something for sure that led them to believe he was the real deal.
Amy: Well, what was telling for me was when he finished sixth in his first race and complained about it – instead of thanking his crew. He might be the real deal… in four or five years.
Beth: I just hope they’re not rushing him.