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:
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/The Voice Of Vito)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top Ten & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
The Budweiser Shootout this year will feature a new selection format, with the top six drivers from each auto manufacturer’s stable making the field. Was this really a good formula, or could NASCAR and Budweiser have done better, considering that they can no longer use pole winners sponsored by a rival product?
Vito: No. It is silly and stupid, further indicative of what is wrong with NASCAR. What little shred of decency, tradition, and heritage it once had is being further whittled away.
Amy: They surely could have done better, considering that some of the participants haven’t seen the front of the field since 1983.
Jeff: Bud should have told NASCAR to stick it and just go ahead and have the Coors Pole Award. They have made a sham of it.
Beth: I suppose they could have done better… but giving others who haven’t had the chance to run the Bud Shootout a chance to do so could be fun.
Kurt: This was done to get Tony Stewart in the race… was it not? There will always be disputes with this sort of thing, I suppose, as there is in the All-Star race.
Bryan: The wild-card rule was obviously created to get Stewart into the race. And let’s face it… this format doesn’t work. Guaranteeing seven Dodge teams berths in the race isn’t good — they should have let Patrick Carpentier and Ryan Newman be grandfathered in as pole winners for this year’s edition.
Amy: They should run it like a short track with heat races. A “B” main hooligan race — and then the feature.
Kurt: I think they should do that every week, Amy.
Amy: Well, yeah, but they could at least do it for the exhibition race. The only saving grace in the format is a couple of really bad teams get some extra Daytona 500 practice.
Vito: I guess they had to do something to throw the manufacturers a bone since they are holding on by the skin of their teeth — particularly the group from Highland Park.
Kurt: But they brought the manufacturer problem on themselves, Vito.
Vito: Eh, I wouldn’t say that. It’s the state of the economy as a whole. Racing is lucky it is maintaining the presence that it is despite having to beg Congress for money.
Jeff: But if they are holding on by the skin of their teeth, isn’t it cruel to throw them a bone? They will let go and go for the bone!
Vito: Ha, no it’s good Jeff. It is the kickoff event of the season, and if they fail miserably during the 500, at least they have something — anything — to hang their hat on. Plus with testing banned during the offseason, look for this to be little more than a superspeedway test session with the manufacturer’s top teams in it.
Jeff: But manufacturer symmetry was never an issue. This was for pole winners.
Bryan: And that’s how it should be.
Amy: I really think they should get rid of this thing and give them an extra off week after Richmond.
Kurt: You’re right, Amy… especially with even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. noting that the season is too long.
Vito: Nah, they need it this year – it will serve as a good test session for the 500. Although some would say that the Twin 150s serve that purpose. They need to shake some stuff down… and this is a good format for it. I think that’s what the true intention of the Bud Shootout is, actually — a glorified compact test session under race conditions.
Jeff: And what is so special about Stewart, anyway?
Kurt: Are you kidding? What isn’t special about Stewart?
Amy: He’s the most talented racecar driver in the series, right Jeff?
Bryan: Yeah, he is Jeff.
Kurt: He’s the most outspoken driver in the series — plus he uses Old Spice.
Beth: And he’s not afraid to let his emotions show.
Amy: And you can advertise in his armpits.
Jeff: That is just all of your opinions — not fact.
Kurt: Hey, he climbs into outer space for Subway!
Amy: OK, seriously, this race has outlived its usefulness. If they have to have it, invite everyone to practice, then do a Saturday night special and eliminate drivers in heats.
Beth: Sounds like a good plan to me, Amy.
Kurt: Eliminate drivers in heats?
Jeff: That is the best idea I’ve heard.
Amy: You can’t have 50 teams in the main event. So here’s how you do it: run five heats with 10 cars apiece, where the top four transfer from each. Then run a hooligan race, take two more… 22 cars.
Bryan: Sounds a lot better than what we’re going to see.
Beth: And then everyone gets to have some track time, and only the best make it to the main event.
Amy: For the love of Pete, if you have to have it at least shorten the feature by about 70 laps.
Vito: I think complaining about it not being a sprint race is completely missing the point of why they made the change.
Amy: Agreed, Vito, which is exactly why — with no other testing allowed — everyone should be invited.
Bryan: They might as well invite everyone, as they’re going to have, like, three-fourths of the full-time field in the event.
Vito: Hey, it’s something to watch in prime time, and it’s not basketball…
Kurt: Here’s an idea: why not remove the plates for this one short race?
Bryan: Kurt just struck gold.
Jeff: Oh be still my…
Amy: Because someone would get killed, most likely a fan… or several.
Vito: Oh God, not this argument again …
Amy: The CoT was meant to be unrestricted. But seriously, it’s too dangerous with the current package.
Kurt: In the end, this race doesn’t matter enough for this question to be terribly important. It is a non-points event. Still, no pretenses. Just have a Stewart rule.
Bryan: Final thought: the format here is a joke, and lost all legitimacy it had with the addition of the wild card. Just cancel it.
Beth: That’s a great way to save teams money, Bryan.
Jeff: Bud will give it up, and we can go back to the old format.
Vito: Well, since they changed it I like it for what it is: a preseason test at Daytona built into race weekend. They should do it more often and eliminate testing altogether. You can only test at sanctioned tracks on race weekend.
Bryan: They never fill Daytona for the Shootout, anyway.
Kurt: Take off the plates and have a “high-risk” spectator section.
Vito: I like that idea. Put up blue tarps and CGI advertisements on it. Hey, you pay your ticket, you take the risk with the drivers. We’re all in this together! NASCAR was built on unencumbered access to the athletes after all… right?!
NASCAR has allowed teams to swap points in the last few years in order to lock into the first five races. This season, it could result in at least one part-time team guaranteed a spot over teams already planning to run the full schedule. So, should NASCAR allow it?
Bryan: They absolutely should not allow it. This transferring of owner points has to stop. If the team that earned them the year before isn’t running, then the points disappear – end of story.
Kurt: Why does NASCAR allow this to begin with when so many teams abuse the spirit of the rule?
Beth: I would think that it would be OK in a position of two full-time teams (like Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish, Jr. last season). But transferring them from a full-time team to a part-time team is asinine.
Amy: Points should go only with the team who earned them. I don’t think that Hornish situation was OK, Beth; I think that was as close to cheating as the rules allow. Bottom line: If neither the driver nor team earn the points, they shouldn’t be allowed to use them.
Kurt: So, should the driver be the one that keeps the points instead?
Amy: I’m still not sure on that one, Kurt. On the one hand, Clint Bowyer got screwed. On the other, his team helped earn those points — and they retain them.
Kurt: Well, I think Bowyer is probably cool with it. He shouldn’t have a problem remaining in the top 35.
Amy: He shouldn’t, but a Big One in a Duel could change all that.
Bryan: Bowyer is going to be sweating bullets come 500 time. RCR is always hit or miss when it comes to speed runs, which means he’ll likely be racing his way in via the Duels.
Kurt: There must be some insurance that RCR has against that. I can’t believe Childress would take that risk.
Bryan: RCR is trying to get points — as is Penske for the No. 77 team. This shopping for a spot in the field is ridiculous.
Vito: This is a rule that’s time has come and gone, particularly during these times we live in. While I do not like the start & park idea, hey, if you can get in, you’re in.
Bryan: Phoenix Racing is reportedly getting points from somewhere to get Brad Keselowski into the 500.
Beth: You know, it’s not like it’s a guarantee it’ll help, anyway. It’s just a way into the first five races, but not a guarantee they’ll be able to remain in the top 35.
Kurt: True Beth, but one of those races is the biggest payoff of the season by far. I don’t have a problem with teams using the rule to their advantage — but this certainly doesn’t help struggling teams.
Bryan: That’s still an awfully big deal, Beth. That’s up to a half million in purse money.
Vito: I’ll give you one reason why it’s a bad idea: Hornish.
Bryan: Well said, Vito.
Vito: Gives him five guaranteed races to wreck and ruin it for other guys.
Kurt: I’m not even sure what Penske’s rationale is with Hornish.
Bryan: Loyalty, Kurt — that’s all. Hornish gave Penske tons of IRL hardware and wanted to try NASCAR.
Kurt: You know, this rule benefits the big teams who are adding cars — which NASCAR is supposedly trying to slow down. New teams are screwed when this rule is combined with the top 35.
Bryan: What would be awesome is for four new teams to take the lock-in on speed times Sunday, then have a Big One in the Duels take out big teams. If you got rid of the top 35, the Duels would be ridiculously more exciting.
Amy: They used to be more exciting. Right now, they are a joke with only two cars making it in. They should just go back to two rounds of qualifying and lose the stupid rule altogether. And no points swapping — no matter what the system!
Kurt: I don’t like the Top 35… but I understand it. If you throw in the points swapping, though, it gets bad.
Jeff: The Top 35 was a cluster to begin with from Day One.
Bryan: A knee-jerk reaction to Scott Wimmer and Scott Riggs missing Atlanta with major sponsorship — nothing more.
Amy: Here’s the thing: if you can’t get in a race on your own merit, why should you be allowed in on someone else’s? Though I do agree that situations like the Casey Mears/Bowyer deal are more difficult. And while I think in a way it sucks, the No. 07 team helped earn every one of those points — so there’s no easy answer to that.
Vito: With the level of competition there is going to be, Bowyer should be fine. I’m sure he isn’t going to get any subpar equipment from RCR. And if he stumbles, look at Johnny Benson in 1998: he missed the 500, and was in the top 10 in points by Charlotte. The irony was that Cheerios was his sponsor.
Kurt: What does this say about Childress’ confidence in Mears, Vito? Like I said… I don’t like this rule, but I understand it. I didn’t have any real problem with the previous qualifying rules.
Vito: If nostalgia is as “in” as it is in every other facet of automotivedom (as is the case when the current situation sucks as it does now), then maybe it is time to take a look at just having a couple of provisional spots and no Top 35 rule to start the year off.
Bryan: I never thought the day would come when I said I missed the provisional system, but I do.
Amy: There shouldn’t be provisionals, either, Bryan. No reason for them.
Bryan: I agree Amy, but right now I’d take that over the Top 35 rule. The fastest 43 will never race in NASCAR – it’s the sad truth.
Vito: There should be provisionals for the reigning champion, past champions, and maybe one for points position. But the way things are today… come on. If the racing could be replicated from 1993, NASCAR would be a lot better off than it is now.
Kurt: Jamie and Donnie Wingo come to mind, but I don’t know yet.
Vito: Kenseth and Drew Blickensderfer for the win.
Amy: I agree there, Vito. Although I really, really wanted to see Wingo go to the No. 07.
Beth: Kenseth will probably come out on top in this one.
Bryan: Now that Kenseth has adjusted to life without Reiser, he’ll come out guns blazing this year.
Kurt: I think Kenseth does best because he was only with Chip Bolin for one year — he already has made an adjustment.
Vito: Matt and Drew might start off slow, but they will win races and contend for the title. I would stamp a Joe Namath guarantee on it.
Jeff: A Joe Namath one? Really?!
Amy: But I really think that given Blickensderfer’s success in the Nationwide Series and ability to communicate, he and Kenseth will do well.
Vito: DB is probably the most unknown weapon in the Roush arsenal. Look at what he was able to do with Danny O’Quinn in his first gig — in a barely funded Busch team. He was an integral part of the No. 6 team in 2004 and 2005, and managed to light a fire under Carl Edwards the second half of last year.
Beth: But it wouldn’t surprise me to see McMurray and Wingo pop up every now and then, too.
Kurt: McMurray finally has his man on the box, so who knows. He did well with Wingo at Ganassi, but he’s driving a different car now.
Amy: I have no idea why RFR brought in Wingo for one year, anyway. They should have let that team continue to grow before dumping him on Yates.
Bryan: Donnie Wingo and McMurray do look good on paper, but McMurray has gone through a lot of good Roush personnel and has yet to live up to his potential.
Vito: I don’t know what they’re thinking removing Larry Carter for Wingo. That No. 26 team was just starting to come around — and then they pull the plug on it. I don’t get it.
Kurt: I don’t know that the crew chief will make much of a difference. How many times do guys start finishing in the top 10 after running 30th all year because they got a new chief?
Bryan: As for Mears, Amy, the crew chief has never been his problem.
Amy: Actually, Bryan, the crew chief was completely Mears’ problem in 08.
Bryan: Amy, Mears is a perpetual underachiever that has done nothing in his career, even with good cars. Put any crew chief up there — it’s not going to make him that much better.
Amy: Mears was much better with Darian Grubb and Donnie Wingo than either Elledge or Gustafson. Kyle Busch would have won more without Gustafson, too.
Kurt: Actually, I wouldn’t say Mears is an underachiever. I think it surprised a lot of people when Ganassi promoted him.
Vito: Casey has never really been in that great of a car — let’s face it.
Kurt: Meanwhile, Bowyer will be fine, I think. He wasn’t with Gil for very long — three years — which is awhile, but not a career.
Amy: I think Bowyer got a really good replacement in Shane Wilson. I wonder about Gil Martin and Mears, simply because Martin made it clear he didn’t want to be there.
Jeff: I want to see Chad Knaus and Jeff Gordon together.
Kurt: I’m with Jeff.
Amy: Knaus and Gordon wouldn’t communicate well. Gordon cannot communicate a car the way Jimmie Johnson does; it would frustrate the hell out of Knaus.
Beth: And they’ll never break up Johnson and Knaus.
Kurt: They once said that about Gordon and Evernham… and Led Zeppelin.
Vito: I don’t know. I think they’ll get bored.
Amy: Sure, Vito, it’s so boring winning all those championships …
Bryan: That’ll happen down the road — after Johnson wins four or five more Chases.
Vito: Like Kurt said, look at Evernham and Gordon. In 1999, did you think they’d be splitting up less than a year later?
Amy: Not that I want to see Knaus go anywhere; but if he did, I’d want to see him with Junior.
Jeff: Now, there are two who would not communicate well: Junior and Knaus.
Amy: Yes they would, Jeff. Junior drives like Jimmie and communicates the car bettter than Jeff.
Jeff: Oh, well ‘scuse me.
Kurt: Knaus could name his price. Don’t know about anyone else. Zipadelli maybe, or Osborne. Or Fatback when he was doing it.
Vito: As good as Chad is, I think Jimmie doesn’t get the level of appreciation he deserves.
Bryan: Disagree there, Vito. I think Jimmie looks a lot better than he is for having Knaus on the box.
Vito: Really? I don’t know. I think each of those guys brings out the best in the other.
Amy: I agree, Vito. Jimmie Johnson is a fine race car driver — smooth, clean, great car control. Those don’t come from on the box or under the hood.
Kurt: Knaus helps, but Jimmie is a great driver. Generally a clean racer, too. Let’s get back to our original four. Kenseth, no difference; McMurray, maybe improves some but not much; Mears, same as always; Bowyer gets better.
Bryan: Kurt hit the nail on the head. Though I would say that Kenseth will run better earlier and more often than 2008. He will win multiple races in 2009 and legitimately contend come Chase time with Blicks on the box.
Vito: Kenseth and Blickensderfer to contend for the Cup; Wingo and McMurray to wallow in mediocrity; RCR will swap teams before the season is out.
Amy: And as for teams that should break up, take away Tony Eury, Jr. and Junior wins more races. Blickensderfer and Kenseth will win races, while Eury will continue to lose them for Junior when he can’t keep up with adjustments.
NASCAR announced a rule change in the Camping World Truck Series that will allow only five crew members over the wall on a stop, thus prohibiting teams from getting gas and tires on the same stop. They are also limiting teams to nine crew members at the track to work on the trucks. Is this a smart cost-cutting move – and should it be considered in the Nationwide and Cup Series as well?
Amy: I really like the idea of this one. They should use it in the Nationwide Series — but not in Cup.
Bryan: I do like the idea of employing it in the Nationwide ranks, too… anything to minimize the abilities of juggernaut teams to dominate it. Actually, this is the first effective cost-cutting move that NASCAR has made all year.
Amy: In the Nationwide Series, it could help keep Roush, Childress, and/or Gibbs from buying the title every year… you wouldn’t be able to have five Cup engineers and a dozen assorted “pit support” any more.
Kurt: Beth, what do the teams think about this rule change? It seems to me like it will make pit stops look very strange.
Beth: I haven’t seen much from them yet. It’ll be interesting to see how it changes pit strategy.
Bryan: I don’t think pit strategy is going to harm the racing in the Truck Series at all… those things always put on a great show.
Amy: I think the extra stops open the door for more penalties and strange accidents, but I don’t think they will harm the overall racing.
Bryan: With 10 to go, the Truck Series will still produce the best racing NASCAR has to offer.
Vito: I think it kind of cheapens the series – pardon the pun.
Beth: I’m still not quite sold because in the back of my mind, I wonder what effect requiring two stops instead of one might have on the racing itself. It’ll make a difference when it comes to green flag stops… especially if the leader has pulled out by a few seconds.
Bryan: It’s a rule that in all honesty would have more impact in the Nationwide Series.
Kurt: Sigh. Why does NASCAR always try to “cut costs?” Why not let teams with deep pockets spend what they will? Doesn’t the sport need it now? And people say that the Truck races are better than the Cup races… but are they really? If they were, why wouldn’t the ratings reflect that?
Beth: Because they’re shown on SPEED, Kurt. And a lot of people don’t go for the sports package that includes six or eight channels for the use of just one. If they’d run more races on FOX, the ratings would definitely see an increase
Amy: Exactly… if they were on network, they’d do better.
Bryan: The Truck races are better. Period.
Kurt: I’m not saying anyone’s wrong… I think it’s because Trucks don’t yet have a superstar exclusive to them (as opposed to a Kyle Busch). Maybe NASCAR should market it better than they are?
Vito: I’ve been railing about that for years. The Trucks are the best kept secret nobody knows about. Best coverage, commentating (yes, even with Mikey spouting off), racing, personalities… there is nothing not to like about it, except the painfully inadequate and incompetent promotion of the sport.
Beth: And as much as I don’t like him, Kyle Busch does put on one heck of a show.
Kurt: OK, then let’s all pick a favorite Truck Series-only driver to market… that’s what we need. I’ll go with Ron Hornaday.
Beth: Matt Crafton.
OK, predictions for the Shootout?
Vito: That No. 18 is looking pretty stout to me.
Kurt: Carl Edwards in the No. 99, taking advantage of the no testing rule.
Jeff: Stewart will crash and I will laugh, seeing as how he is even more talented a driver than Johnson. That said, I’ll take the No. 99.
Bryan: Dale Jr. wins his second consecutive Shootout. And one of the “bad teams” that got a berth in this race will cause a messy wreck.
Amy: I like the No. 88 in this one. He runs Daytona better than almost anyone.
Beth: I’m gonna have to go with Junior, too.
Kurt: And don’t dismiss the No. 24… ever.