Note: This is Frontstretch‘s final Mirror Driving of 2009. The next Mirror won’t take place until Wednesday, January 13th… so all our staff experts would like to take time out to wish you a happy, healthy Holiday Season! We’ll see you in the 2010s….
Welcome to Mirror Driving. On select Wednesdays during the offseason, 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:
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Steve Addington was announced as Pat Tryson’s replacement at the helm of Kurt Busch‘s No. 2 team. Will they contend for the Cup?
Amy: The guy must have a thing for high maintenance drivers.
Beth: They did a pretty decent job contending for the Cup this season, and I think they’ll do the same in 2010. Kurt showed a drastic change in his attitude on the radio, so maybe there’s hope for him still.
Bryan: A great signing. Again, awesome decision by Penske Racing to go with an outside hire to shake things up – Addington will have the No. 2 at the front early and often in 2010.
Amy: I think the No. 2 team is ready to contend, but I’m not sure Penske can quite put the stuff under them to contend with Hendrick or Gibbs. Kurt Busch is possibly the most underrated driver in the garage, though.
Bryan: Where Addington’s job will be even easier this year is that unlike with Kyle, who was so busy running dozens of races that he never even had to think of adjusting his cars, Kurt has been in the Penske seat and taken them from junk to contender. With that kind of input coming from the cockpit, Addington’s going to shine.
Amy: True, Bryan, but Kurt is nearly as high maintenance as Kyle. That’s going to be tough on a new crew chief.
Bryan: If he could handle Kyle, he can handle Kurt.
Phil: The No. 2 team is quite solid, but Kurt just doesn’t seem to have the support from his teammates that the other multi-car teams have. Neither of the other Penske cars finished in the top 25 in 2009.
Beth: That may change a bit if Brad Keselowski can learn some patience. David Stremme wasn’t much of a teammate to work with, and Sam Hornish Jr. only showed up some of the time.
Bryan: Kurt’s been a solid team player… let’s not forget he’s the one that helped break the barrier between the No. 12 and No. 2 cars in 2006.
Amy: Kurt Busch is a huge talent, and Stremme… uh… wasn’t. Hornish is still learning stock cars.
Phil: Yes. This is Year 3 for Hornish next season. Maybe he’ll be even better.
Beth: But to give Hornish a little credit, he did show some pretty significant improvement this season.
Bryan: With Keselowski in the Penske camp, and Guy, there is going to be tons of pushing and shoving internally that people either will work as a team or else.
Amy: Is there? Keselowski doesn’t really strike me as a “take one for the team” kind of guy.
Beth: Well if he won’t play nice as a team member, I’m sure Roger Penske will put Brad in his place.
Bryan: Look at this list… Keselowski, Guy, Addington. They all come from backgrounds where teamwork has been the norm… and they all know it works. Hendrick and Gibbs background is just what the doctor ordered for the Penske camp.
Beth: And remember the news surrounding Kurt when he joined Penske Racing. Since then, he’s a much more tame person… at least in his public persona.
Phil: Yeah, it seems like he’s matured over the past three years.
Amy: Kurt has grown up a lot. I almost think seeing the way Kyle behaves really drove something home.
Phil: That, and maybe getting married helped.
Beth: Anyways, it’s a fantastic signing for the No. 2 team. Addington will be able to work well with Kurt.
Bryan: Addington is a big fish for the No. 2 car, and he’s no stranger to having a challenge for a driver. The No. 2 will be in the Chase and will win more than one race in 2010.
With the Kentucky Speedway antitrust lawsuit settled, the track’s virtually guaranteed a Sprint Cup date in 2011. Who should be the most concerned about that: Dover, NHMS, or Atlanta?
Amy: Here’s where NASCAR needs to take the right stand for the right reason. If Bruton wants to move a date, fine… but only allow it to come from another 1.5-mile track. In this case, it should be Atlanta.
Bryan: Well, if it’s based on attendance, the spring race at Atlanta is the one that needs to be on the chopping block.
Phil: I’d argue Atlanta, too, but it would result in quite a bit of schedule realignment. Dover Motorsports Inc. is for sale, though. They’ve mentioned that they’re receptive to SMI buying them.
Bryan: Of course they are… though I think it’d be a mistake on Bruton’s part to move a Dover race. With SMI dollars backing those events, they’ll draw bigger.
Phil: NASCAR can invoke clauses to nix deals for the betterment of the sport like the Commissioner of Baseball can.
Amy: Well, we don’t need another 1.5-mile track that races like every other 1.5-mile track as it is. So NASCAR needs to stand firm on a “1.5-mile rule.” Tell Bruton he can move any race he wants… but only from one of the cookie-cutter tracks. Dover and Loudon are better tracks from the standpoint they race differently.
Bryan: No one can really argue that, but Dover is likely going to get the axe. And that’s a shame, really, because it’s a tremendous venue and a great racetrack.
Amy: And, while we’re on the subject… why is Charlotte immune? When was the last time the place sold out?
Phil: Couldn’t tell you, but it’s been a few years. Charlotte’s basically immune because it’s Charlotte.
Bryan: Charlotte’s not going anywhere.
Amy: There are three races in Charlotte.
Bryan: And there will be for a long time to come.
Amy: Well frankly, the racing isn’t that great. It was before the repave…
Phil: It could be argued that they don’t need the All-Star Race there, but they can keep the two points races.
Amy: Atlanta is the best option, though.
Phil: Which race do you move? The spring or Labor Day race?
Bryan: The spring race isn’t going to be the draw the Labor Day race is.
Amy: Right, Bryan. It doesn’t sell out, it isn’t the best weather… and it should go. The Labor Day race should stay in Atlanta since NASCAR is NEVER going to do the right thing with that one.
Bryan: But, Dover’s got dates that make more sense for Kentucky to take over.
Amy: So how about this: race Atlanta on its Spring race, Kentucky on Mother’s Day, and Darlington Labor Day… THAT would be ideal. But it makes too much sense… the fans want the Southern 500, ergo, it will never happen
Bryan: Still, it has now been said and will be published.
RWI recently announced a technical alliance with JGR, and they’re switching to Toyota. What does this say about their stature in the NNS garage, and will the switch benefit the team’s drivers in 2010?
Amy: I think it helps RWI a lot more than JGR. RWI gets JGR stuff… JGR gets info from Steve Wallace.
Bryan: Well obviously, JGR is the standard bearer in the NNS garage. CJM went to Toyota, now RWI. I don’t know if it will make a huge difference for Steve and RWI in terms of performance, though. CJM was running fine in Chevys before they made the switch.
Amy: It’s still the same guy behind the wheel. All of JGR’s drivers are better than Wallace, so, they don’t gain much except some hefty money from Rusty.
Bryan: You mean the much improved Steve Wallace? I still don’t think Toyota is going to make the No. 66 a title contender, but they’re not going to lose any ground switching makes.
Amy: He is much improved… he only crashes someone every other week now. And he makes Kyle Busch look like he’s great with the fans.
Phil: This will be Wallace’s fourth year in the Nationwide Series, right? He hasn’t really shown all of his potential.
Amy: His cousin is a better driver. And she’s nicer, too.
Bryan: From an info perspective though, it won’t do much. It’s not like Kyle and Denny are going to go out of their way to help Steve.
Amy: No, it’s not going to make a difference in that respect. I think it’s more of a money thing – Toyota is giving more support in the series.
Beth: Toyota seems to be giving more support across the board.
Bryan: It does suggest that they’re the one manufacturer that’s still willing to spend big money in the NNS ranks.
Amy: Sure, because they can buy wins and championships there.
Bryan: Which means the NNS may be going the way of the truck field before too much longer….
Last week, we tackled the best and worst among drivers in 2009. But what was the most memorable moment of the past season?
Beth: When I look back on 2009, I can’t help but think about the Keselowski/Carl Edwards finish at Talladega.
Amy: I’ll go with Tony Stewart‘s All-Star win – Proving an owner/driver can still win.
Bryan: Keselowski into Edwards at Talladega.
Phil: Yeah, the Edwards crash was the most spectacular moment of the year.
Amy: Considering the straight crash factor alone, that race is hard to overlook….
Beth: For me, it wasn’t so much the crash factor as it was that Keselowski held his line regardless of what Edwards decided to do.
Phil: Another notable series of moments was the rivalry between Keselowski and Hamlin.
Bryan: Stewart’s definitely Driver of the Year (I think we’ve had that talk before)… but Edwards/Kes was the biggest event. Between seeing the rules blow up in NASCAR’s face, the safety issues and Keselowski becoming the biggest story of 2009, it was the defining moment.
Amy: But to me, it just highlighted what is wrong with NASCAR. They jeopardized a driver’s safety just to be right, when if they had admitted they were wrong with the yellow line rule, it might have been avoided.
Bryan: Actually, you could say that Keselowski was the story. He took the role of a popular Kyle Busch, raced old-school and defied everyone in leaving Hendrick for Penske. He took NASCAR by storm.
Beth: Exactly, Bryan. And it had nothing to do with the crash. I’m thankful Edwards walked away to race another day.
Amy: Since when is wrecking people for the hell of it “old-school?”
Bryan: Amy, he drove aggressive, traded paint and didn’t apologize for it. That is old-school… or at least not Johnson school.
Phil: Are you arguing that Keselowski wrecked Edwards for the heck of it, or that he wrecked Hamlin for the heck of it?
Bryan: Neither was for the heck of it.
Amy: Either could have been avoided. A good bump-and-run is old school. Moving a guy out of the way is old school. Just dumping them in the wall isn’t.
Bryan: Kes had one of NASCAR’s biggest names running scared… he was in his head. You never, in any sport, give up that kind of advantage.
Amy: Wantonly wrecking other drivers isn’t any school… it’s just dirty.
Bryan: Amy’s just angry because Kes spurned the Hendrick mantra. Now that’s he not in the fold, he’s just another dirty driver.
Amy: He was dirty before he left… one reason there was no place made for him.
Beth: Amy, are you trying to say Kes should have backed off just because Edwards moved down the track on him? You can’t be serious.
Amy: Nope, I’m saying that was NASCAR’s fault.
Beth: Then don’t blame the driver. Kes did exactly what he should have done.
Amy: Talladega is its own deal… nobody can race smart there, anyway.
Phil: The Edwards crash was a direct consequence of that Yellow Line garbage. This is one of the reasons that I was against Talladega paving over the grass on the backstretch. It completely changed the style of racing for the worse.
Amy: But how can you call something the moment of the year when all it did is illustrate what is wrong with the sport? NASCAR can’t admit they made some horrible mistakes in recent years, and that’s the result of one of them.
Phil: Amy, you can call something the “Moment of the Year” if it could be considered negative. A moment doesn’t have to be a good moment.
Bryan: All 2009 did was remind us what was wrong with the sport. Face it, this season sucked.
Amy: Stewart’s All-Star win showed what’s RIGHT with it.
Bryan: It also showed that the only way for an owner/driver to succeed is to get millions in help from an entrenched owner. If you ask me, that’s not an entirely positive story.
Amy: I disagree… it should be positive. There WERE positives this year.
Bryan: Yes, like Brad Keselowski.
Beth: Memorable doesn’t mean positive.
Phil: Memorable is a neutral word. It can go both ways.
Amy: It’s not positive this week, but it made Stewart Driver of the Year last week? How does that make sense? Last week, it was all Tony; now, suddenly, it’s only because of Hendrick? Which is it?
Bryan: Amy, what Tony did took guts and talent. Not many could pull it off. But no one would deny the role that Hendrick played in it. Tony took a hard route and knew exactly how to make it work. What he had to do to make it work wasn’t necessarily a good thing, though, regardless of the talent and effort it took. Johnson’s four straight titles was not good for the sport at all, but it certainly took something.
Amy: I never said it didn’t. That was you all, saying to not credit the equipment.
Bryan: No, we argued that what Tony accomplished trumped Jimmie. His assembling of great personnel had nothing to do with equipment. And this isn’t even the debate, anyway. The debate was the most memorable moment. And you will see the Kes/Edwards incident 500 times before someone remembers Tony won an exhibition race.
Amy: Yes, you will… and it’s a shame, because that wasn’t what racing is about. All NASCAR had to do was admit the yellow-line rule doesn’t work after the Stewart/Regan Smith deal, and it never would have happened – you’d have had a real race for that win instead.
Bryan: But, that was the moment of the season. Period.