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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Penny-Pinching Purses, Penske Power, & Pena?

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:
Tom Bowles (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)

NASCAR announced late last week a 10% cut in race purses, with the money instead going to the racetracks. How does this affect the sport’s outlook, given the sagging economy and increasing cost of competition?

Amy: Since I’m guessing that’s not all coming from the winner’s cut… way to screw the smaller teams even more.
Jeff: Can’t give it to the teams, they’ve got to keep ISC alive! Most of the tracks are owned by ISC, anyway, so who’s getting the biggest benefit?
Tom: I give NASCAR credit for being the only sport to adjust to the recession (how in the hell have baseball salaries gone up during this whole economic mess?) With that said, it never looks good to the casually viewing public when you’re cutting anything.
Bryan: It won’t matter so much in the Cup ranks, but you damned well better believe it will hurt the teams in lower ranks that actually rely on that money. Those teams can and will feel the pinch.
Phil: This will hurt some of these teams that are S&P’ing just to make money. It cuts into their profits….
Matt T.: I don’t know that it affects the outlook of the sport, so much as it’s simply a step that was taken because of the times we’re in.
Amy: How is it adjusting to the economy if it’s forcing teams out of the sport?
Tom: Amy, what teams have come out and said they’re getting forced out of the sport? You can’t survive on purse money to begin with.
Amy: It’s the midpack teams in Nationwide and Trucks who will really be hurt. They need every cent they get to race on.
Tom: But most can’t use the purse money alone to do it, Amy. That’s why we have all the start-and-parkers – because the motors alone cost more than the purse for a full race. So if you don’t have sponsorship, you’re screwed.
Amy: Not the start-and-parkers, Tom; I’m talking the full-timers running from 12th or so to about 20th in points in Nationwide, maybe 10th-20th in Trucks. And some of the smaller Cup teams, for that matter. You think Robby Gordon doesn’t need every penny he can scrape up for his cars?
Matt T.: Mid-pack NNS teams are S&Ping at this point.
Bryan: But there are NNS teams that have been able to race on purse money. Specialty Racing pulled it off for nearly two seasons before Matt Carter drove them downhill. 10% of a $15,000 purse – that’s basically another set of tires that they lost each race. Meanwhile, NASCAR cuts the purses, but they didn’t cut the costs for licensing, costs for entry fees, etc.
Jeff: A set of tires they can lease….
Phil: Good point. Teams can’t buy the tires any more. I don’t really understand why Goodyear’s still charging $1,700 a set when the teams can’t claim any ownership of the rubber.
Tom: But at the same time, guys, the name of the game nowadays is sponsorship. What I would have liked to see is the purses cut, but then revamped to give some incentives for finishing 20th over 25th.
Amy: That would be nice, but in Nationwide in particular, the rich teams take all the sponsorship from the poor ones, so it doesn’t solve the problem.
Tom: I’m not saying that’s right, Amy; but what I’m saying is you can’t really come to the table anymore without sponsorship to compete. So it doesn’t really matter to me if the purses are cut five or 50%. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s not going to “force teams” out of the sport. I just don’t think it makes a difference under a business model that’s not viable in the first place.
Matt T.: I’m sure the teams will feel this to a point, but it was done with the track operators in mind. They are losing money hand over fist these days.
Beth: And without the track operators, we start losing places to race.
Matt T.: See: Milwaukee.
Amy: If the track operators would sell tickets at more reasonable prices, they would sell more of them, and in the end probably make more money.
Bryan: Exactly, Amy. There are tons of tracks with tens of thousands of empty seats every weekend that aren’t making a dime.
Phil: That’s part of the reason this move was undertaken, Amy.
Jeff: I assume that this is 10% per race, so basically the Daytona track would get an extra 30% in revenue?
Phil: Bruton Smith also claims that television money needs to be divided up more evenly. He claims DIS gets $50 million for the Daytona 500.
Matt T.: No, Bruton said the purse for Daytona is $50 million, not the money that goes to DIS.
Phil: That’s definitely an overstatement then. Last year’s purse was something like $18 million. Still a buttload, though. And while many tracks have subtracted recently, Daytona has a new party porch on the backstretch this year.
Matt T.: It’s a bar. Open to anyone with a ticket.
Jeff: How many ISC tracks host all three series in a weekend compared to non-ISC? They get the lion’s share compared to non-ISC tracks. It’s another case of NASCAR appearing to do the “right thing’” when all they are doing is giving themselves more money.
Tom: NASCAR had to do something to give the tracks money to break even, Jeff. Although Bryan’s right: I wonder how many executives’ salaries and other mindless fees for teams really were cut. Because I’m sure they could save a fortune there.
Bryan: I spoke to an NNS driver recently that said their small team was going to be paying over $5,000 for their licenses alone this year. That is absurd.
Matt T.: I agree with you there, Bryan. But it’s hard to quantify unless we have access to the numbers. I’m leery of going out on a limb and condemning a certain party without knowing what the numbers look like.
Amy: That $5,000 has to come from somewhere, and it’s now not going to come from purses. It may not kill Cup teams, but in the end, you will see the end of some Nationwide and Truck ones.
Bryan: You can’t justify cutting winnings if you’re not taking steps to cut the cost of competition as well. But tires and equipment still cost the same, so does travel. NASCAR could easily trim entry and license fee costs, but all they trimmed was the purses. Says a lot.
Tom: OK, well let’s put it this way: Prism Motorsports made a shade under $2.5 million virtually start-and-parking all year. That’s the purse money. So a 10% cut makes that $2.25 million. It takes, what, about $10 million a year to run a reasonably competitive Cup team right now? So it doesn’t make a difference to me. The small teams will still start-and-park and the big teams will still have enough money to compete. They’ll just maybe cap their spending a bit more.
Jeff: What is “purse” defined as? Just what the teams can win?
Matt T.: The total money paid out to teams for their finishing position.
Jeff: So it has nothing to do with TV revenue.
Amy: I don’t think so, Jeff.
Matt T.: I believe it does. Tracks can keep an extra 10% of the money earned, which includes a percentage of TV revenue.
Tom: OK, MSRP in Nationwide made about $600,000 in purse money last year. A 10% cut makes that $540,000. And what does it cost to run a reasonably competitive Nationwide team? Two or three million?
Bryan: Well, you’ve got teams out there like Rensi that already are running whole weekends on only two sets of tires, and now the money for one of those sets suddenly is gone.
Amy: That’s a lot of tires, or a full-time job.
Tom: Again, no one runs off purse money anymore except for a select few. It’s not as much of an issue as we might think.
Bryan: That’s true in Cup Tom, not in Nationwide or the Trucks.
Beth: They may run a race or two on purse money alone, but those that don’t have sponsors typically start-and-park.
Jeff: Bottom line, it ain’t good for any of the teams, and the only ones who benefit are the track owners – mainly ISC.
Tom: When those small teams are going for one-race sponsors, they’re going to have to ask for $1,500 more. I agree, that’s not chump change, but I don’t think it’s going to make people start-and-park.
Jeff: It will keep S&Pers at home.
Amy: No it won’t, it will create more of them.
Bryan: Jeff, last year MSRP was banking $7,000 in profit per race out of say, $30,000 or so a weekend. So instead, they’re making $4,000-$4,500. They’re still gonna make hundreds of thousands a season.
Tom: The S&Ps will never stay home, guys. They’ll just run fewer laps on the engines, and be making a little bit less.
Amy: Bryan is right. It just digs them in deeper, and deeper, until they slink away with barely a whimper, and the big money teams just keep rolling. And how long do the tracks really benefit if the racing suffers with short fields or 20 start-and-park teams?
Matt T.: I just don’t think that the marginal difference each car will see in lost money is going to sink a team that’s basically an S&Per anyway.
Bryan: It’s not going to sink an S&P team, it’s going to make it much harder for the teams already having to scrape by to keep racing.
Matt T.: Well, would you all prefer the tracks to go under? The track operators are hemorrhaging money as it is.
Tom: T’s right. The attendance isn’t there to support these purses. If they’re selling fewer seats, there’s less money to give. What you guys are complaining about has to be addressed by both Goodyear and the teams that sell the engines.
Bryan: Fine then, cut the costs to compete as well. But there’s no effort there – they pass it on to the teams.
Jeff: Hey, just remember, NASCAR does not do anything that isn’t designed to benefit themselves, not the fan, in the long run.
Phil: Sports in general are out of touch with the public when it comes to ticket prices, fees and extortion at the concession stands.
Bryan: Amen, Phil. Martinsville’s $2 hot dog trick would work wonders for a lot of tracks.
Amy: I’ll ‘fess up, I’m curious about the dogs.
Matt T.: Charge per flush!
Amy: Those old bathrooms where you had to put a quarter in to get in.
Tom: I think NASCAR is doing what it needs to do to adjust in today’s economy. You can’t pay the money if people aren’t paying to see your product.
Jeff: Then improve the product.

Front Row Motorsports had to shuffle its driver lineup after NASCAR refused to certify rookie Kevin Conway to race at Daytona, despite Conway’s previous stock car experience, but will certify some drivers on the basis of a single ARCA race at DIS. Is it time for an overhaul of the system?

Matt T.: There’s a system? It’s “at “NASCAR’s discretion.” That’s not a system, per se.
Amy: The old way, to me, made sense. You were allowed to drive only at tracks under a mile for a certain amount of time, then you were allowed the 1.5-milers, and then the big tracks. Now, if you’re a media darling you can race one time at one track and there you go.
Matt T.: Danica Patrick will be certified for a Nationwide start if JRM decides to put her in that race after only one ARCA start.
Bryan: Conway not getting certified just proves how biased NASCAR’s system is. Jacques Villeneuve got certified to run Cup at ‘Dega despite virtually no experience in stock cars whatsoever.
Tom: Look, I don’t think Conway should be racing Cup as much as the next guy… but really? No Daytona certification even with 25 starts in the Nationwide and Truck series?
Bryan: Dario Franchitti got his Daytona 500 certs with an ARCA start. Joey Logano got 500 certification with an ARCA start. And Conway had an ARCA ride lined up as of January 20th to get certified, but now suddenly FRM replaces him because NASCAR wouldn’t let it happen.
Amy: Right, Bryan, and Conway has more NASCAR track experience than Logano did.
Phil: I’ll throw an even better name out there: Erin Crocker. Remember when she was apparently denied the opportunity to test to get approved?
Tom: I think NASCAR wants to desperately avoid a Daytona 500 disaster. Remember, Conway was going to be locked in under the owner points rules, so in their heads, they make sure the big wrecks goes away by having him sit on the bench.
Jeff: Conway is not going to cause the Big One.
Tom: Well, Jeff it works like this. Danica runs Nationwide with virtually no stock car experience, then causes a big wreck equals good PR. Kevin Conway wrecks Dale Jr. the following day equals bad PR.
Phil: I don’t blame NASCAR for not wanting a disaster, but cripes, what’s going to happen when Talladega comes in April? Will they have to pull him out again?
Bryan: I guarantee you if that Extenze sponsorship was worth more, Conway would be in the 500. But because they can’t compete with Home Depot dollars, he’s sitting. It’s a ridiculous double standard.
Amy: Conway has raced at Charlotte and Texas in NASCAR, which should at least make NASCAR look at him in the ARCA race. Conway has more NASCAR races under his belt than Logano, Franchitti. and Carpentier combined when they got their Daytona 500 certification.
Tom: It’s amazing how rules are “subject to change” in this sport.
Jeff: One of the biggest reasons it is hard for me to take it seriously anymore, Tom.
Matt T.: Yeah, as with most things NASCAR, it’s very subjective. There should be a black-and-white procedure for getting certification.
Bryan: Conway’s not the most talented guy out there, but he’s not a wreck waiting to happen, either.
Matt T.: I guess Extenze is not the Official Male Enhancement Product of NASCAR.
Bryan: For God’s sake, if he can get through the ARCA race clean, let him race the Duels. If he runs like crap there, then yank him for the 500. If Norm Benning is allowed to run the Duels in a car nearly 15 mph off the pace, Conway should be allowed to race.
Amy: Exactly; allow him to make the attempt. It used to be harder to get certified, but there was a standard, and it was the same for everyone.
Matt T.: Let him run the Shootout for certification… everyone else that sat behind the wheel over the last 20 years has found a loophole to get in!
Jeff: Jimmie Johnson has caused more Big Ones than Conway.
Tom: I think, in general, you’ve got to set some basic standards – and it needs to be black and white. Amy’s “if he runs crappy” is subjective. What’s crappy? If he wrecks and finishes 40th in a Big One not of his making?
Matt T.: If he pulls a Lepage.
Bryan: Anyways, all this is proof positive that unless you’re a big name, NASCAR isn’t going to cut you a break.
Amy: Conway has 20-odd Nationwide starts, but can’t even be looked at for a Cup license? That’s BS.
Bryan: What a great example to set: a driver brings a new sponsor to the sport and NASCAR kicks him out of the year’s biggest race.
Matt T.: A “solid” sponsor for a “big” race.
Tom: Well, the sponsor’s still going to be involved in the 500. It’s just going to have another driver running the car. They’ll still have that car up and running in no time….
Bryan: Oh, that makes it all better Tom. Imagine if JGR had to find a driver to run a fill-in race for Home Depot last year.
Phil: Conway knows how to drive a stock car by this point. I just don’t understand this. Maybe they don’t like Extenze’s double entendres.
Amy: Anyone want my free samples of Extenze from the media tour? Not much use for them here….
Phil: They didn’t give you Extenze for Women? Because they have that, you know.
Bryan: Seriously, the only reason that I can think that would let NASCAR off the hook is if John Andretti pressured FRM into not spending resources to get Conway a cert because he wanted to run the 500 so bad.
Tom: Getting back to changing the rules, I think you need at least one start in a lower series to qualify for racing the 500. But at the same time, you get so much practice… if you have a NASCAR license, period, I think that should come with an expectation you’re capable of running on all types of tracks. Everyone needs to learn sometime, you know?
Amy: Right Tom, and Conway has those starts – including one at Texas – which is nearly as fast as Daytona.
Tom: I think it shouldn’t be subjective. I think you need to do something to lose your license once you get it, the more I think about it. Innocent until proven to cause a Big One.
Matt T.: I’d be interested to see what the official certification procedure is. I can’t say I’ve ever had that explained to me.
Beth: NASCAR should lay out in black and white what it takes to get your NASCAR license and where you’re able to race with that license.
Phil: Remember when Larry Gunselman hit Franchitti at Talladega? Tom mentioned that they stripped him of the ability to run plate races after that.
Matt T.: Are we sure Conway wasn’t allowed to even get certified?
Bryan: As of January 20th, Conway said he had an ARCA ride lined up so that he could run and get licensed if NASCAR required it. Now, FRM has flat replaced him. So unless Andretti pulled a power play within that camp because he wants to cherry-pick races this year, Conway had to have been told “no.”
Matt T.: I see. Well, if he can land another ARCA ride (I know, I know, easier said than done at this point), could he not then obtain the certification?
Beth: You would think so, Matt. But for some reason I’m doubtful he’d get the thumbs up to race the 500 even if he were to land another ARCA ride.
Bryan: If that was on the table, though, why would FRM make such a big deal to pick replacement drivers?
Amy: Their press conference at media week indicated Andretti was racing at select tracks, but not at Conway’s expense.
Matt T.: So this isn’t NASCAR black balling him, right? It’s a team thing?
Phil: I don’t know. It’s unclear. It’s a little late to get an ARCA ride now since the race is five days away….

Penske Racing is the only team fielding Dodges in Cup competition in 2010. Roger Penske says that gives the team an advantage, but does it really?

Phil: Heck no.
Amy: Yes and no. On one hand, they will enjoy the sole benefit of every single dollar the manufacturer spends; but on the other, if they can’t figure something out, there is nobody to get information from.
Beth: I’m not quite sold on that, Amy. I’d like to think they’ll benefit from having 100% of Dodge’s NASCAR allowance.
Bryan: Given Penske’s history, I have to say no. Penske as a camp has always had a tendency to introvert itself, and now they’re going to have to be introverted. If they get off track, they’re in trouble.
Amy: So, if they don’t get the geometry right, they are SOL.
Phil: It means that everything is insular. Nobody is doing anything with your stuff. Although, if my IndyCar knowledge is right, if they get it right, they can be unbeatable (See: 1994). I don’t think that’s happening, though.
Bryan: And while Penske did a good job bringing outside talent (Brad Keselowski, Wolfe, Guy) to shake things up, they’re not going to have any other friends to turn to. Plus, Kurt Busch is their only real resource. Sam Hornish Jr. is still learning stock cars, and the No. 12 car is going to take years to bring back up to speed.
Matt T.: I think it’ll work for them. I don’t remember Dodge teams ever sharing any wealth, anyway, so might as well have everything to yourselves. In fact, there was a lot of in-fighting between Dodge teams. They certainly weren’t helping one another.
Beth: You’ve got a point there, Matt. It could benefit Penske simply because there’s no one else in a Dodge competing with them.
Bryan: It will benefit them Beth, until they get off track even a little bit. Then, they’re shooting in the dark until they find it again. And when you look at how long it’s historically taken Penske to right ships, that’s a problem for them.
Matt T.: Not only that, Beth, but the competition between Dodge teams wasn’t healthy competition.
Tom: I think Brad Keselowski is one heck of a hire for Penske. He brings with him a Hendrick mentality and some secrets to doing things Roger’s open to learning from.
Beth: I agree completely, Tom.
Tom: The bigger problem may be getting two drivers who think they’re No. 1s (Brad and Kurt) to co-exist. Kurt hasn’t exactly shown he can work well with others.
Amy: I agree, but Keselowski can’t bring outside info if it doesn’t exist, and if they get a little off, they’re alone on an island.
Bryan: Being alone on an island doesn’t help Brad at all – especially considering how far off the No. 12 car is to start.
Beth: Assuming what Busch says is true – that the two have been talking quite a bit this offseason – I think they’ll end up surprising everyone in how well they can work together.
Matt T.: I don’t think BK has that much Hendrick info to share.
Bryan: He knows how they work. And that could, in fact, help Penske… because they’re not exactly the best teamwork model out there.
Amy: Keselowski isn’t exactly the model of the Hendrick way.
Matt T.: He’s a driver, not an engineer.
Tom: It’s the philosophies they had, Matt. That’s what he brings to the table. Look, this was a guy who told me at Charlotte he wouldn’t take the Penske ride unless he agreed to hire 100 more people (they ended up hiring 50). And he (Brad) had a specific plan for where those people needed to go for Penske to compete. You may not like the guy’s attitude, but trust me… do not underestimate his intelligence.
Matt T.: I don’t have a problem with his attitude or his smarts, but c’mon Tom, BK doesn’t have any magical HMS philosophies. He’s a 20-something year old kid that wants to drive a racecar.
Amy: I’m not underestimating anything, but I don’t see BK being the generous teammate he’s trying to sell himself as if push comes to shove.
Bryan: They’re going to have a good model to work with. But again, until the CoT changes, they’ll need the data side of it as well. And those three cars are it… three cars. They have to figure it out or they’re toast. And look at the No. 12 car: they lost the handle on intermediates in 2005, and they still don’t have it back.
Amy: BK’s already proven he can’t be patient and give and take when a race is on the line. Why should he be any different when a season is on the line?
Matt T.: It’s certainly a shoot the moon proposition, but I think Dodge will see to it that Penske at least remains competitive. I don’t see them slumping to 20-something… not all three teams. The whole No. 12 team has been lost the last few years, no doubt, and it’ll take BK time with Guy to get it righted, but he’s a talent. That’s a good hire long-term.
Amy: I agree that BK is a step up in talent, but it’s not like the team just landed Tony Stewart. Jay Guy is a nice addition, but he’s also coming from a team that was behind the curve. If he couldn’t make the Furniture Row cars better, will he be able to make the Dodges better?
Bryan: Well, he will have more resources, and again he brings a new perspective to a stale camp.
Phil: With a full offseason to work on communication and such, I think Brad will be much better than David Stremme last year – but I don’t see them making the Chase or anything like that.
Tom: OK, I’m going to dip into the quote box here. This is from Keselowski last October: “I’ve taken some of the things that I’ve learned from Hendrick, not necessarily about the cars, but the philosophies and getting here with Penske to [push them to be] where they’re at. And Penske [needs to] jump a little bit to where I’m at – and in the middle we meet to one of those philosophies, and we just kind of alluded to it earlier, is people. One of the gaps that I notice drastically at Penske is they’re about 100 people short of where they need to be to compete with Hendrick.”
Tom: More from Brad: “It’s just a matter of installing the depth and the personnel. ‘Cause that’s what – it does not take 550 people to race a car on any given weekend. But it does take 550 people when XYZ gets sick, or his wife’s in labor, any of those circumstances that are going to come up – that’s where that piece is so important. And that’s not just a crew chief, that may be your main fabricator. Your main fabricator that does the best bodies is out for a month hunting, or out for a month with his wife on maternity leave, or whatever the hell that might be, you need that depth to come in and cover for him. And that’s one of the things that Hendrick has done very well.”
Matt T.: Hiring all those people, though, just seems like a big step to make on the weight of one driver’s comment.
Amy: Especially a rookie.
Bryan: Penske’s a smart guy, Matt, and Brad’s the man. He landed a superstar and he wants to keep him. Keselowski was the hot prospect last year, and Penske stole him from NASCAR’s most powerful organization. What Penske was doing was not working. So he listened to someone that’s seen firsthand how to get it done.
Amy: Is Brad a superstar? Really? Based on what… a plate win? Being the best NNS-only driver who couldn’t quite beat the big Cup guns? Or because he worked for Junior? I think a lot of his name is because he drove for Dale Jr…. if he had driven for another team, he’d not be a star.
Bryan: Aggression. Intelligence. One of the few guys out there in the garage that’s driven the best of the best and the worst of the worst. He’s got perspective next to no one driving today has.
Matt T.: Well, Junior has proven he knows how to pick ’em.
Phil: Penske better hope the newbies gel together well.
Beth: Penske is going to end up surprising a lot of people this season.
Bryan: Short-term, being the only fish in the pond will help the company. Where Penske might get hurt though is if they struggle with the spoiler early. If they can’t hit on that combo quick, they’ll have nowhere to turn.
Amy: I think the Dodge deal is a short-term gain, because they get all the marbles, but long-term there is nowhere to turn if you miss a beat. I don’t see a big change. Kurt Busch will make the Chase barring a major meltdown, but Kes and Hornish will be mid-pack most weeks.
Matt T.: Yeah, Penske will certainly sink or swim this year, and personally I think they’ll do OK – especially in the long run. BK is a racer and if Justin Allgaier makes the jump to the No. 77, all should be in place for future success.
Phil: I think if Hornish stays long-term, Allgaier’s going to leave Penske for someone else.
Tom: Getting back on track, the question is whether they’ve got an advantage being the only Dodges. And honestly? I think they do. They’re the ones who developed the engine and the manufacturer can focus only on them. And I think RCR has a disadvantage because they’re part of Chevy, because Chevy deals with about 15 cars and Hendrick has six of them.
Matt T.: What will be interesting is if NASCAR listens to the other teams about limiting testing to three makes at a time and not all four….

The best of NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East and West divisions met at Irwindale Speedway Saturday for the All-Star Showdown and some serious bragging rights. Joey Logano won the race, but his run was somewhat upstaged by 16-year-old polesitter Sergio Pena in his first ever K&N Pro Series start. Pena is a member of a team, led by series verteran Andy Santerre, that will be a keystone for NASCAR’s Driver for Diversity program. After that eye-opening performance, is Pena the shot in the arm the program needs?

Matt T.: We seem to ask this question with one particular driver in mind each year.
Tom: Well, considering it was just one race, I wouldn’t count your chickens just yet on Pena. But for not even earning his way in until two days before showtime, that was pretty gosh darn impressive.
Bryan: Pena was incredible. What a performance.
Amy: Pena was great, and he’s got some serious talent, so why is it about being a minority? Why does there need to be a diversity program? Why not a program designed to find the best young talent at racetracks around the U.S. and the world… make it about the racing.
Bryan: Diversity program or not, who cares? Pena took on one of the best talents this decade and gave him everything he could handle – and then some.
Tom: And Pena beat some of the other top D4D candidates in the process. But like I said, it was only one race. Let’s see how he does over the course of a full season wherever he runs. There’s two years for him to develop before he’s eligible for any of the top-three series, anyway.
Phil: This will help the Drive for Diversity. I’m wondering what Pena can do with a full season under his belt. Now, the next battle: Better TV coverage for the K&N Pro Series.
Bryan: The story should be about a 16-year-old (from my neck of the woods, Winchester, Va.) that took regional racing’s biggest stage and topped just about everyone. And yes, it was one race, but look at what he demonstrated over 225 laps. He raced clean. He knew when to back off. He kept his brakes cool all night long.
Amy: One question, though: Why were Pena and Logano allowed in an All-Star race for a series in which neither raced last year?
Matt T.: That race is sort of a short track Daytona 500. It’s never been about the drivers being in a certain series. Just the way it’s always been.
Phil: I have no clue, but they weren’t the only ones in that category. Candace Muzny had never driven a race in that series either before Saturday night. But apparently, Pena beat his three teammates just for the right to go to Irwindale.
Amy: Andy Santerre has a hell of an eye for talent.
Matt T.: I’d hate to put the pressure on Pena to be some kind of savior for this D4D cause. That’s dangerous. Let’s let him develop without that pressure.
Jeff: I for one, refuse to acknowledge any type of “drive for diversity” on the grounds that it is discriminatory against my race!
Phil: I’d argue that there is a need for a diversity program, but other programs (independent of the teams) are also needed to find and cultivate great talent regardless of background. Pena seems to be very mature, and also seemed to handle himself well on Race Hub on Monday night. He comes off on TV as someone that has had some media coaching, though.
Bryan: Phil’s right about talent development. Diversity or not, Pena got a shot in a legit development program, and if they stick with him there’s obviously a ton of talent there ready to be honed.
Amy: Pena raced like a veteran at Irwindale, for sure. He’ll be fun to watch as he develops. Props to Matt Kobyluck as well with the best average finish in the Showdown – and he darn near got a third win. Kobyluck’s not exactly clean, but he races hard.
Bryan: Whomever came up with the bright idea of broadcasting that race live deserves a ton of props. It was a great broadcast and a firm reminder of why short tracks will cure all ills.
Matt T.: Well said, Bryan.
Phil: I wish they built Irwindale 2-4 years earlier.
Tom: It’s too bad there’s not enough seating to have a Cup race there. But how about a Truck show?
Phil: Doable, but it would have to wait for the economy to recover.
Amy: If Pena sticks with Santerre, he could really go a long way. Santerre has an eye for talent and knows how to coach a young driver as well.
Phil: Santerre was pretty good behind the wheel himself. Won at Pikes Peak in 1999 and won a bunch of titles in the East Series.
Amy: Yep, he was one hell of a racer. And Kobyluck is one of the few racers remaining from the way the series used to be. Not exactly Mr. Clean, though.
Phil: A lot of the drivers from the old Busch North Series are no longer racing in the series. It’s a lot younger series now.
Amy: It, along with the modifieds, were always the best race of the weekend at Loudon. I loved to watch Santerre and Brad Leighton race.
Phil: Watching a Busch North race in the 1990s meant a healthy dose of Kelly Moore, Dave Dion, Santerre, Dale Shaw, Robbie Crouch and others.
Amy: I miss those names, Phil. I remember Martin Truex Jr.‘s first race. Back then he was “Martin’s Kid” because we’d all seen his dad race forever….

OK, predictions for the Shootout. No points for an exhibition race, so bragging rights only.

Beth: They’ll be taking more risks because it’s a non-points race. Put me down for Kyle Busch.
Tom: The Shootout winner the last few years hasn’t gone on to do much during the season. So if that trend sticks, I’m going to go with Ryan Newman.
Amy: Denny Hamlin.
Phil: I’ll go with Dale Earnhardt Jr. For the heck of it.
Matt T.: Gimme Stewart. He’s got a thing for the Shootout. Three wins, I believe.
Bryan: Kyle Busch. Early enough in the year that he won’t be distracted.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.

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8 thoughts on “Mirror Driving: Penny-Pinching Purses, Penske Power, & Pena?”

  1. Pena was really fun to watch and a chance for a bright future. Also enjoyed watching Candace Muzny – she made several mistakes, but also good recoveries!

  2. While I agree that NASCAR should tighten up the decision process for who gets certified to run at what tracks, I am not sure that comparing someone just starting out their career to someone that has been racing for several years in a non-NASCAR series is applicable either. And trust me that it pains me to say that because I am not a big fan of successful IRL and F1 drivers coming into NASCAR. But let’s face it, when you look at a job posting EXPERIENCE is always a factor. Why should racing be different. Of course I realize the downside of that, it gives NASCAR more subjective control over who it wants to be in the series (not to mention possible $pon$orship conflicts of interest).

  3. Nascar screwed up big-time by moving the Fontana Truck Series race to Pocono, when Irwindale was just down the freeway from Fontana. Irwindale is a great track!

  4. Keselowski may be young and a bit brash, but he’s a talent who can take a team to the championship level if he gets the right nurturing and support. I don’t know that the Penske organization is the place where he will reach his full potential, but it’s definitely a great stepping stone. It’s a win-win situation for Keselowski and Penske both.

  5. I second the Truck race at Irwindale, but double it up with a Nationwide race too. Capacity is there for NW, and it’ll be more likely to draw both fans and racers with both series there at the same time. To me, Irwindale fills the hole left by Milwaukee a lot better than where they wound up.

  6. Why do you seem to believe that the top tier of motorsports in the US should be an entry-level series?

    Between complaining that “the little guy” can’t afford to run and complaining that an inexperienced driver like Conway is being kept out of the biggest race of that top tier series that’s the impression you give.

    If you want to play in the pros you have to have the pro package. That means both sufficient sponsorship to pay for the privilege of racing with the best and sufficient experience to handle it.

  7. Mirror Driving: “Penny-Pinching Purses, Penske Power, And…Pena?”
    Frontstretch Staff. ‘Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Purple Pickled Peppers.’ :)

  8. Pena was awesome and expect to see more of him regardless that he’s one of those “downtrodden” minorities that needs a break to race.
    M.B. I agree with you except for the fact that Danica only satisfies half of your criteria.

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