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?)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Top 15 & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top Ten & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Fantasy Insider & Various/Nationwide Series Reporter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Brad Keselowski won in just his fifth career Sprint Cup start at Talladega this past weekend. With Mark Martin now contemplating staying in the No. 5 — a ride many expect Keselowski to inherit — in 2010 and possibly beyond, what does Keselowski’s Cup Series future hold?
Bryan: It’s very bright, for one thing. And if Martin does come back, I don’t think there’d be much trouble getting him a ride in a third Stewart-Haas Racing car.
Amy: I agree, he has a very bright future. I think HMS needs to give Martin a gentle shove to get him in the seat at least part-time next year.
Mike: I’m sure that if Mark decides to stay around, JR Motorsports will go Cup racing with backing from Hendrick. Or, as already mentioned, he’ll go race for Stewart-Haas.
Tom: I think Keselowski’s suddenly the hottest free agent on the market. At this point, I’d compare him to a backup quarterback in the NFL who’s suddenly ready to start. If Hendrick wants to keep him, I’ll say this much: they better have a plan for him and stick to it. Otherwise, someone else is going to make a move and grab him.
Beth: Yeah, he’s got a great future ahead of him. Other teams would be crazy not to try to snatch him up — but Hendrick will do his best to make sure they don’t.
Tom: Well, I don’t think a part-time ride’s going to be enough to keep him. There’s likely going to be openings at Gibbs (fourth team) and Penske, among others. Remember, Keselowski visited Penske last year — if Martin doesn’t fully retire, trust me, someone else will make a run at this kid.
Mike: If that happens, Tom, Hendrick will keep him close by — whether it is with JR or Stewart-Haas.
Bryan: There is no way they’re going to let him slip away. Plus, outside of JGR, there really isn’t a place for Keselowski to go that’d be an improvement.
Tom: Again, the key is the offer of full-time driving. I don’t think Keselowski’s going to take a part-time offer to stay at Hendrick in 2010. And that’s going to mean either Martin retires or they find an opening at SHR or JR Motorsports. I will say finding sponsorship is probably no longer a problem for him.
Bryan: And they won’t, Tom. Between SHR all but assuredly expanding next year and JR getting ready to move to Cup, there will be HMS camp rides available next year.
Mike: I can’t imagine Hendrick or Chevrolet letting him get away. The only other option would be if Casey Mears gets dumped at RCR and they don’t get a guy like Martin Truex, Jr. in that car. Brad has already proven himself marketable… and now he’s a winner.
Jeff: Rusty can give him Steven’s ride…
Mike: Depending on where he ends up in the Nationwide standings, Keselowski may choose to make another run at the title next year.
Bryan: No reason he couldn’t run for both, Mike.
Mike: That’s true, but Truex and Junior waited a year longer than people thought they should to move up.
Amy: I’m not so sure Keselowski wouldn’t take a lucrative offer to drive part-time in 2010 at HMS — if there was a guarantee for a full-time ride the year after.
Bryan: I don’t know about that, Amy. Just look at him yesterday — he’s got Cup on the brain now.
Amy: Well, Hendrick should definitely do all they can to keep this one, even if it’s to tell Martin to share.
Jeff: Hell, tell Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to share the ride!
Tom: I just remember when David Gilliland won in an underfunded ride a couple of years ago in the Nationwide Series… he was getting calls from top-tier teams the next day. The thing is, this is the Cup Series, and Keselowski just won driving for a single-car team in a similar spot (albeit with old Hendrick equipment).
Amy: Keselowski is in a better position than Gilliland. He has come up the right way, in good cars. But if he’s smart, he’ll wait for a top ride and not settle for less.
Mike: I’m telling ya, Hendrick will have him in some kind of Hendrick ride next year.
Amy: I hope so — that team needs a young guy. Their youngest now is 33. You know, Martin can’t race forever, and I don’t see Jeff Gordon racing at 50.
Tom: Well, the clock is already ticking… on whether they can keep him. Brad just launched himself ahead of plenty of Cup drivers with full-time rides… NOW. You listen to him in that post-race press conference, and he made it very clear he’s got nothing signed for 2010. The guy knows the height of his marketability is now. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if some struggling team tries to bag their driver at Charlotte and pick him up.
Bryan: There is no reason for Hendrick not to keep him, and nothing short of a bad contract offer that would motivate Brad to leave the HMS camp. He’ll be there for a long time to come.
Amy: Tom, you don’t think it’s prudent for a team to have a young guy to groom for the future? No wonder driver development is nearly non-existent these days…
Tom: I do think it’s prudent to have someone in driver development, Amy. But with Keselowski, Hendrick’s in an interesting spot. I’m sure he wants him on the “A” team, but he’s already got four drivers capable of being on the “A” team for a couple more years.
Amy: Look, I like Martin and have for many years, but as an owner, if you have to choose between a sentimental favorite and the future of your team, you’re forced to make some tough decisions.
Mike: Well Amy, if you have to make that tough decision, then Junior should be the one out of a ride.
Bryan: I think we’re reading way too much into this, guys. It’s early in the year, and even though everyone and their mother will go after Brad, he’s in the fold in Cup’s top camp. Hendrick will take care of business, and he’ll be running full-time in 2010. This is a no-brainer.
Tom: You would think, Bryan… you would think. But Silly Season always gets crazy, and he’s become the top prospect (by far) in a year where there aren’t many out there. Hendrick’s not going to be his only option… and Keselowski’s ready now. He could step into a ride next week and run top 20.
Jeff: Then replace David Stremme in the No. 12.
Amy: Whoa there, Tom… remember that Talladega is a different animal. Brad was impressive there, but at setup tracks he’d find it much tougher.
Tom: Amy, he’s run top 20 in Hendrick equipment for a part-time, fifth team in two of his five starts.
Bryan: Hendrick isn’t going to be his only option, Tom, but considering how much crap he drove to get to Hendrick, I have a hard time seeing him becoming impatient now for a ride that will be a step down.
Amy: I agree with Bryan. Other than Gibbs and maybe Roush Fenway, any team is going to be a step down.
Jeff: A step down for Kes? ANY team is a step up right now! He’s in a James Finch car…
Tom: I think the guy’s shown greater maturity and readiness for Cup than either Scott Speed or Joey Logano. Can someone not running for Rookie of the Year be eligible to win Rookie of the Year?
Mike: Well, if they run him in enough races, he can win it. He needs at least 17…
Tom: He was scheduled to run 17 (seven for HMS, 10 for Finch). And remember that Hendrick is great… but he’s not God. Full-time at several top teams versus part-time with no guarantee of when Martin retires is a better opportunity for Keselowski.
Amy: No guarantee of when Martin retires — but there is a guarantee of when his contract ends …
Mike: If Keselowski’s running for Stewart-Haas or JR, he’s running for Hendrick — what’s the difference?
Jeff: Maybe replace someone at RCR? Hello!
Bryan: Why would anyone in the Hendrick camp want to move to RCR?!
Amy: RCR is good, but they aren’t as good as HMS or Gibbs.
Mike: If Truex doesn’t take Mears’ spot, then he could go into the No. 07. But at the end of the day I’m with Bryan. I just can’t imagine going somewhere else when you’re in line to take one of the top rides in Cup, even if you have to run for someone else for a year or two.
Tom: Well, I’d say if Martin keeps hedging, it’s 50/50 he stays at Hendrick. And that’s including the SHR/JR Motorsports portfolio. Someone, somewhere will make a run… my bet is Penske.
The finish at Talladega was a bit controversial, with most of the blame falling squarely on NASCAR and the out-of-bounds rule. Is it time to change or abolish the rule, or does it ultimately provide more safety than Sunday’s race suggested?
Bryan: Get rid of the yellow line and the plates. Period.
Jeff: Plates have nothing to do with it. Lines, maybe… but not plates. How is a painted line going to stop wrecks?
Mike: I think they should get rid of the yellow line rule and let them crash themselves if they choose to.
Bryan: The plates are supposed to keep the cars out of the grandstands… they didn’t. The yellow line is supposed to stop wrecks… it caused one. Every justification for these asinine rules was disproven yesterday.
Beth: I disagree with that, Bryan. I think Junior said it best… you can’t really blame it on the yellow line, because guys were running all over each other long before the yellow line rule even existed.
Amy: Well ultimately, I’d say that NASCAR should not race at Talladega OR Daytona in the first place until they can come up with a solution that gives the cars throttle response and keeps them on the ground.
Tom: I’m with you, Amy. I’ve thought a lot about this one… a lot… and I think it may be time to start from scratch at Talladega. You’ve got to do something to the track to keep cars from being bunched together like this all day… as exciting as the racing is, someone’s going to get killed.
Bryan: I could not disagree with you more. I think they need to open the racing surface up in its entirety and get the cars out of these packs. The speeds will be astronomically high, but the product will not be more dangerous than what we have right now.
Jeff: Well the wreck was simply wrong place, wrong time. Carl Edwards would have never hit the fence if Ryan Newman hadn’t hit him.
Beth: That’s exactly the point, Jeff. It was just the right circumstances all together in one.
Mike: I think the car design needs to be visited, because this car will get airborne without being on a plate track. I think you’ll see another one go into the fence before the year is over.
Tom: As for the yellow line… it’s like saying, “Well, Vegas tells us 50:1 odds are pretty good on cheating death compared to 5:1 if we don’t have the yellow line. So let’s put these guys in a box and see what happens.”
Amy: The rule is a sham… it has never once been enforced correctly, and had it not been in place, you would have had a drag race to the finish and eight unharmed fans.
Tom: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again… if you have a rule restricting racing because the track is inherently unsafe if you race in certain areas… then why the heck are you racing there in the first place? Makes NO sense to me.
Amy: Agreed, Tom… restrictor plate racing is not real racing. It’s only exciting if you watch for the wrecks; otherwise, it’s nothing more than a mess.
Bryan: I’m sick of hearing people say that plate racing is not real racing. It is a discipline, like road racing or short-tracking is, and there are those that are better at it than others. Yes, there are wrecks that you can’t avoid, but that’s true at every race track. When we had an 18-car wreck back at Dover in 2004 that took out the leaders, did everyone scream we shouldn’t race here? No.
Jeff: And these cars weren’t really all bunched together! You are talking two cars that start wrecking while the third place guy hits one at the finish.
Mike: I agree, Jeff. There were four cars within 100 yards of each other, and the car went into the fence. It wasn’t pack racing that caused it.
Amy: It’s not a discipline… it’s everyone hold the car wide open, and pray… especially at Talladega, where you don’t even have to work hard on setups.
Tom: Well, I’d agree with Bryan that plate racing is real racing… and I still think NASCAR’s like an overprotective mother when it comes to safety. Still, it’s one thing to throw a ridiculous debris caution for a piece of metal no one will ever hit versus running at a track that’s inherently unsafe and where one bad wreck could have killed hundreds of people.
Mike: I still say, with bigger roof flaps, the car never comes off the ground.
Bryan: Look, the safety argument is being completely overblown here. The catchfence worked, and the new car’s safety features did their job.
Jeff: Amen! You can just as easily, and have more chance really, of getting killed by a line drive foul ball at a MLB game than debris from a car in a race. That is why I always take my glove to the games. No, I know they aren’t going to ask me to play, but at least I have some sort of protection if I am paying attention.
Bryan: Amen, Jeff. Where are all the pundits screaming that we need 40 foot nets around baseball diamonds to catch flying bats?!
Amy: Ever sat behind home plate, Bryan? They have nets where the likelihood of accidents happening are the greatest.
Bryan: But it’s for safety, Amy… why aren’t they everywhere?! Look… NASCAR did everything they could to prevent it, and it was enough.
Amy: Was it enough? For the woman with broken jaw, was it enough?
Jeff: It is a RISK, Amy. I saw a shock fly into the stands a couple years ago at Bristol during the Truck race. Someone got hurt. Stuff happens!
Bryan: If you don’t want to get hurt at the track, stay out of the grandstands. And I was flat impressed by how Talladega was equipped to handle this crisis to begin with — and how track personnel responded following the incident.
Tom: Bryan, I’ll agree with you on the quick response time… but we shouldn’t be coming that close. Something’s gotta be done, no matter how you feel about plate racing. Period. Period. Period. Because we came SO SO close to having about 100 fatalities Sunday. If that happens, it’s not the track that gets shot in the heart… it’s our sport and our fans. We just can’t play with fire like that… so it’s a matter of what we do to fix it.
Amy: Kenny Wallace was right. He said that they have to find a way to slow those cars down at least another 10 MPH, or someone is going to get killed.
Beth: The real question is what? Everyone you ask is going to have a different opinion.
Mike: It’s going to take something to keep the cars on the track when they turn backwards; and that is true at any track, not just the plate tracks. With the wing on the back, they’re more likely than ever to take off when they’re backwards.
Tom: But that’s not all of it, Mike. Dale Jarrett had a great comment this weekend… there is a certain point (170 miles an hour? I’ve also heard 195) where they’ve determined the chances of a car to get launched in the air increase exponentially. Could it happen at any track? Of course. But it’s ten times more likely to happen at certain places… and Daytona and ‘Dega are on that list.
Mike: Right, Tom; and at any of the intermediate tracks, they’re going into the corners at over 170.
Beth: We’ve talked before about being in the stands at a race and the risk you take when you walk into those stands. Thankfully, the risk ended in just minor injuries instead of casualties.
Tom: Again, I’m all for NASCAR dialing it back a bit on the whole overprotective thing. But this whole conversation is based out of a rule NASCAR made to be “too safe.” The plates were used to slow the cars down because of their fears things were getting out of control… but at the same time, those plates restrict the ability for drivers to pass on their own. Ditto for the yellow line…
Mike: Let them race below the yellow line, just figure out something with the back bumper and the roof flaps to keep the cars on the ground when they turn around.
Amy: I will always say err on the side of safety, but this rule created a situation at least as dangerous as the one they were trying to prevent.
Tom: They needed to either change the track back in the late ’80s to keep speeds down and manage the risk that way, or come up with some sort of solution in which cars’ speeds are down… but they’re still capable of passing on their own.
Bryan: Just take the damn plates off.
Tom: See, I don’t know about that, Bryan. They’d be going 230… there is such a thing as too fast. If there wasn’t, cars would be hitting 250 around Indy in open-wheel right about now.
Mike: You can’t just take the plates off, they’ll really get airborne then.
Amy: Then why not make a smaller engine and reduce HP that way? That would produce slower speeds and give drivers full throttle response. I say take the plates off, build a smaller engine, and race. It sounds contradictory, but that would be safer than what we have now.
Jeff: Well, you have a minimum speed… NASCAR can have a maximum speed limit at plate tracks. Just don’t go over it!
Bryan: Don’t give them ideas, Jeff.
Amy: I just want safer rules and safer cars so we don’t have to worry about this stuff anymore.
Beth: Amy, we can’t spend all day wondering what could have happend. All we can do is be thankful disaster was avoided.
Tom: In the end, none of our opinions matter anyway. Because as long as fans keep paying with their wallet, NASCAR’s just going to do what it wants to do. I love what Carl said at the end of the race: “They’ll do this until they kill somebody, and then they’ll change it.”
Recent reports suggest that the National Football League may expand its regular season, pushing back the playoffs and landing the Super Bowl on the date when NASCAR has traditionally run its premier event, the Daytona 500. So, what should NASCAR and/or the networks do with the schedule to make it work?
Jeff: Attack of the NFL! Too funny! I think we shouldn’t worry about it until it happens (if it happens) and let NASCAR figure it out.
Mike: Have Brian France buy the NFL, I don’t care. I’ll watch the Daytona 500 unless the Raiders are in the Super Bowl.
Beth: Why should NASCAR have to change its schedule? Let the NFL figure out how to work the Super Bowl around it.
Bryan: NASCAR damn well better change its schedule. Putting the Daytona 500 against the Super Bowl would be a disaster for the sport.
Amy: I was thinking about this earlier, and here’s my solution: The Daytona 500 is practically a night race anyway, so run it Saturday night and capitalize on the Super Bowl hype.
Beth: I don’t like the idea of moving the 500 to Saturday night.
Tom: I think it’s an opportunity to put the biggest race at the end of the year. Traditionalists would freak – but can you imagine the Daytona 500 as the last race of the season in November? With everything at stake?
Amy: Under the old format? Hell yeah! But that would be a disaster with the Chase format in place.
Tom: I disagree. If the championship Chase is close enough… fireworks would ensue. Plus, Daytona is still a track where handling actually matters. It’s a little different than ‘Dega.
Beth: I don’t know how I feel about a plate race being the last race in the Chase. That could make or break a guy’s championship run simply from being caught up in someone else’s wreck.
Amy: Plus, under the current format, you’d have anyone actually in contention riding way at the back.
Jeff: Well in the back, they rarely fly into the stands…
Bryan: Plate racing is real racing. It’s fine to end the season with it.
Amy: Plate racing sucks, and nobody should lose a championship because some yahoo couldn’t be patient and drive.
Beth: Exactly my point, Amy.
Jeff: As opposed to some yahoo not being patient at Homestead?
Amy: Of course that could happen — but at a plate track, it’s a virtual certainty.
Bryan: Whatever the solution, NASCAR has to adapt based on the Super Bowl. The Daytona 500 will not compete with the Super Bowl.
Amy: Well, I’d say roll everything back a week, or run the 500 the week before the Super Bowl if you don’t want to run Saturday night.
Tom: I think you can’t fool around with the NFL in terms of making it earlier in the month, Amy. If you don’t want to make it the last race of the season, pushing the schedule back one week is the best option. Get rid of that off week in March.
Beth: I just don’t see why the NFL can’t work the Super Bowl around the 500… but maybe that’s just me.
Jeff: Because the NFL draws more ratings. Especially the Super Bowl.
Bryan: The NFL can do whatever they want with the Super Bowl, because the Super Bowl will smash anything competing with it. They hold the cards. Like it or not, NASCAR is at the NFL’s mercy here.
Beth: Doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.
Amy: How about running Phoenix the Saturday before the Super Bowl, then have the off week after Richmond in September, where they need one anyway?
Tom: What about running the 500 as the last race of the regular season in September?
Beth: I could handle that.
Bryan: No. The season should begin and end at Daytona.
Amy: Again, the Chase contenders won’t race.
Tom: I’m not so sure about that. Think about it… you’ve got a lot of people locked into the Chase and with nothing to lose going after the season’s biggest prize. Combine that with drivers desperate to make the Chase, and if it’s the Daytona 500, there’s none of this tiptoeing around the Chase contenders crap.
Beth: Good point, Tom. They’re already “locked in,” so why not go for it?
Tom: I’d say my preferences are one of the three I mentioned: Move it back a week, put it at the end of the Chase or at the end of the regular season. I think Option 3 is my favorite. And if you don’t make Daytona the first race of the year, for the love of God, NASCAR, don’t start with California… we’ll never build up any momentum!
With David Ragan scoring his first win in the Nationwide Series, it leaves him just 80 points out of the top spot in the season standings — just in time for Erik Darnell to take over the No. 6 next week. But with Ragan struggling mightily at the Cup level, should Roush allow him to compete for a Nationwide Series title and dump Darnell?
Amy: No, absolutely not. If anything, Roush ought to put Darnell in more races and let Ragan concentrate on his Cup ride.
Bryan: No. Darnell is a good prospect, and the way Ragan is running in Cup, he needs to keep his focus there.
Beth: I wish they wouldn’t have taken Darnell out of the Truck Series to begin with.
Tom: Well, I hate, hate, hate Cup guys in the Nationwide Series… but you wonder if Ragan has earned the right to compete for a title. If they could just sell another one of their sponsors on Darnell or take the other Roush guys out of Nationwide, they should give him a chance. With Ragan young and still somewhat inexperienced, more starts would do him some good to build confidence — especially when he’s got a big money sponsor expecting results over in Cup.
Amy: Ragan is no Cup rookie. If he can’t get it together in that ride, maybe Roush should keep McMurray next year and just demote him. Cup rookies need the experience, for sure; but after that, they need to make a choice about where they need to be.
Bryan: Ragan’s got enough on his plate getting the UPS car up to snuff without worrying about a Nationwide title.
Amy: I will say that perhaps Roush should dump Edwards in the NNS car and put Ragan in, then run Darnell. It is a development series, after all.
Bryan: Sponsors were sold on all the ESPN coverage foaming over Edwards in pursuit of a second title, Amy — it’ll never happen.
Beth: In the end, Amy, sponsors dictate who’s in that seat. They like Carl Edwards there, and unless NASCAR does something to get the Cup drivers out of the NNS, Edwards will stay there.
Bryan: I don’t know why Roush insisted on moving Darnell to NNS if they could only guarantee 15 races. They should have just left him in trucks another year.
Tom: I don’t want them to dump Darnell. I’m just saying maybe it might be good for Ragan to go for a Nationwide title. He looks like he could use more seat time. We were all fooled into thinking Ragan was ready for the big time after the year he had in 2008. But something happened over there… and while I hate Cup guys in the Nationwide Series full-time, the rules do allow it…
Jeff: Tom, you want Ragan to step back to Nationwide, yet you think Keselowski is all fired up and ready for Cup full-time? I just don’t get that.
Tom: Well, the difference between Keselowski and Ragan is that Ragan has never run full-time in any NASCAR division other than Sprint Cup. He came into that top level with limited experience. Keselowski, on the other hand… he’s had plenty of seasoning. You know he’s ready for at least the opportunity at Cup.
Bryan: Keselowski has also shown a fire in him that Ragan hasn’t. Ragan, in all honesty, may need a kick in the ass more than anything.
Jeff: Yeah, ‘cause he sure didn’t show enough emotion in his win.
Bryan: Ragan also doesn’t have the history in the NASCAR ranks that Keselowski did. He’s driven top stuff his whole career. Keselowski has been in the dredges before — he knows how fortunate he is.
Tom: Anyways, if I’m Jack Roush, and I’m trying to keep a sponsor like UPS happy when their driver is running so far off the pace I use everything I have at my disposal to develop him.
Amy: I agree to a point — though perhaps concentrating on the Cup ride would be a better solution.
Bryan: But Roush made the bed for Ragan, they’ve thrown him into Cup and put their money on him. Jack needs to do what Childress needs to do with Harvick: make clear that their Cup car is their job, and that’s all that matters.
Beth: Roush shouldn’t dump a development driver just because Ragan won the Nationwide race. He needs to focus on his Cup ride and work on improving that.
Bryan: And Darnell is far from a slouch prospect driver.
Tom: Well no matter what, Ragan’s win on Saturday was impressive stuff. Shot through the middle out of nowhere. He and Logano paired up at exactly the right time.
Predictions for Richmond?
Bryan: Keselowski. Kidding…
Jeff: Gimme Carl.
Bryan: I’m going with Martin.
Beth: Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at Richmond since 2000, and you can bet he wants that points lead back. I’m going with him.
Amy: I predict I will have more fun watching it than the rest of you. And Tony Stewart takes home the trophy… does it still look like Virginia with random stuff glued on?
Tom: I agree, Amy — it’s Stewart’s time. This is a good track for him. I think he ends up passing Denny Hamlin to do it, too. That dude is cursed. With a capital C.
Bryan: Don’t forget depressed, Tom. With a capital D.
Mirror Predictions 2009
Welcome to our third consecutive year of Mirror Predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible … so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?
That’s why we came up with our Mirror Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
Through nine races (and the Shootout) this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s|
|Bryan Davis Keith||5||-7||8||1||3||3|