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 (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Tony Lumbis (Frontstretch Marketing Director)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Four races into the new season, NASCAR has made several changes to improve competition in 2010. What has worked, what hasn’t, and what is the biggest thing they still need to do?
Tony: Multi-green-white-checkered (GWC) finishes have been tested the most… and worked. The new restrictor plate at Daytona also seemed to work very well.
Jeff: The GWC finishes don’t need three tries, though. Two would be enough.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. A total of four attempts to finish a race is a couple too many.
Tony: I will be interested to see if NASCAR re-examines that. They seem very open to fan input these days. I can see them leveling off at two if there gets to be too many.
Jeff: Well to be honest, I never heard the fans b*tchin’ about needing three attempts. Most I talked to were still happy with the one.
Tony: I was surprised when they went to three. GWC made such a great impression that I don’t think people had enough of it yet to think about what, if anything, was wrong.
Jeff: Originally, the fans were just upset over the races ending under yellow. They brought in the GWC and everyone was happy. They didn’t need to change that. Maybe only do three attempts on the plate tracks.
Tony: I think that’s the key point. They are a great concept, but will take away from the traditional views of the sport if it is happening almost every week.
Amy: I agree, Tony… and I’m not sure it’s a good change. Kurt Busch said it best – a driver shouldn’t have to win a race four times.
Tony: But we’ll see how it plays out. I think it will get more attention if a driver takes a win away from another one who was the clear winner because of the multiple attempts. And I’m not counting Daytona, which is its own animal.
Phil: The plates worked very well at Daytona, I’ll admit that.
Tony: But the “let the boys be boys” rule has seemed to work a little too well.
Amy: I agree with almost everything NASCAR has done except for the non-penalty on Carl Edwards. They really have tried to make things better. Unfortunately, they still refuse to address the two biggest issues: the qualifying procedure joke and the Chase.
Phil: Amy’s right about the qualifying procedure. It was a snap judgment in 2004 and never should have been instituted.
Beth: Well for now, let’s hurry up and get the spoiler on their cars and see what they can do.
Amy: I still wonder if two tests of the spoiler are enough, but it’s a good decision overall.
Tony: While it doesn’t pertain to the competition necessarily, I give NASCAR a big A+ for earlier start times. So nice to have races end early, and they had extra time to play with at Daytona when disaster struck.
Phil: Big 10-4 on the earlier starts. Heck, the earlier starts even make things easier on us.
Tony: Exactly. Always tough when the race ends at 7:00 and media interviews don’t finish up until 9:00.
Amy: The earlier starts are the number one best thing NASCAR has done. But there’s still more work to go. The Chase has hurt the racing far more than any CoT stuff. Nobody races every lap anymore, because the point system doesn’t reward it.
Phil: I agree on the Chase, but I could see Brian France being very stubborn about it.
Amy: And I still think qualifying needs to be radically changed, as does the schedule. Nobody should ever go home while slower cars race because they bought someone else’s points. Ever. Period.
Tony: I think there can be a medium ground on that too, Amy, if they don’t want to change too much – like just locking in the top 25. Although I agree with you, I don’t think anyone should be locked in. The old provisional system, as confusing as it was, worked. It gave the better teams enough mulligans if they needed it, and if you went over that amount, well, you probably don’t deserve to be in the race. Someone in the comments section last week suggested a return to the provisional system, but with only three provisionals instead of five. I’d be cool with that.
Amy: 25 would be better, but nobody should be locked in. And buying points shouldn’t be allowed, especially when start-and-parks are getting in over legit teams. I still think two rounds and only the past champion’s provisional would be best.
Tony: I would be cool with three provisionals. Amy, to your point, I think the prime example of that this year is the No. 26 team. It’s taking a spot away from a team that could probably compete much better.
Phil: Speaking of the No. 26, Tom Bowles reported David Stremme is in for this week to give them a better chance of locking into the Top 35.
Amy: Meanwhile, the No. 90 wants to run full races and has been faster than at least four cars every week, but has yet to race.
Phil: Even if they were to change the qualifying rules, it couldn’t be done until after the season.
Jeff: NASCAR is doing all its changes under the name of the “fan” now – absolving it of any blame.
Amy: Jeff has a good point. Now if something they do sucks, the Big BF can just say, “Well, you asked for it.”
Tony: We’re getting there on the changes… I’m happy so far, but there is a long season to go yet.
Beth: I’m not completely sold on the “let boys be boys” thing, but other than that I’m happy with what we’ve seen so far.
Amy: I’m OK with that one to a point, Beth. Last week’s incident crossed that point by a country mile.
Jeff: Not amongst the “boys” it didn’t, Amy.
Beth: That’s exactly what I’m not sold on yet. We’ll see what happens when it comes up again later this season.
Tony: Is a country mile longer than a city mile?
Amy: I don’t know, Tony… you get better gas mileage in the country. But Kyle Petty nailed it: that crap is not acceptable, ever.
Jeff: Yeah, and look where he is.
Phil: Guest judging a rerun of Fast Track to Fame.
Jeff: If that’s the case, Amy, then the “boys” should chastise Carl. And they are not.
So far this season, Joe Gibbs Racing has not been up to speed. Will that change at Bristol? And what does JGR need to do to turn it around for good?
Jeff: Oh, give that a rest. Bristol is never a good test of anything. It still is a race of attrition, even with the new surface.
Tony: Well, Joey Logano was actually doing fine until he got caught up in the 99/12 deal.
Amy: I think it will change at Bristol, because Kyle Busch is good for at least a top five there every time out. Long-term… I’m not so sure.
Beth: Maybe they should take some of their focus off of Nationwide and put it back on the Cup side of things.
Phil: Gibbs has had a lot of bad luck this year, especially Denny Hamlin. I think they’ll do fine at Bristol. Hopefully, they don’t have fuel pump issues again.
Tony: I agree with Amy, though. Bristol may be a good race for them, but not a long-term gauge. I think Beth may have the best point of all: too busy trying to be good at too many things can hurt a team.
Amy: I agree. The NNS wins are just the big kids beating up the little kids anyway. They should focus on competing with the big boys.
Phil: Maybe they’re going to end up like RCR was last year.
Tony: I really don’t think they are going to be bad the full year. Hamlin will turn it around, and Logano was just in the top 10 in points. Kyle still seems to have the hangover from his ’08 Chase collapse, though. Not sure what to think there yet. And by Hamlin turning it around, I mean he will get pissed off about something and start winning – that’s usually how it works.
Amy: Yes, until he gets pissed off about something and starts wrecking people, and then ends up wrecked himself.
Tony: Or wreck other people and win as he did at Pocono.
Jeff: Now that is not acceptable. Haha.
Beth: I still stand by my theory that Kyle is spreading himself too thin. He might have a decent run this weekend with no Truck Series race to distract him, though.
Amy: I think part of JGR’s problem isn’t even so much the extracurriculars, but the drivers involved with them. Both Hamlin and Busch get way too invested in problems in those other series and don’t spend enough time worrying about driving their Cup cars. Hamlin is a legit title threat, if he can get over the drama and race. He wasted way too much energy worrying about Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series last year when he should have been focused on the Chase.
Jeff: Well now, maybe Carl took care of that problem for Denny.
Tony: It’s interesting about the lower series because most of the drivers say the cars are so different, it really doesn’t even help their Cup efforts anymore on dual weekends. There’s really no advantage to driving as much as they do in NNS.
Phil: I don’t really know why they do those races now. Sponsor commitments?
Tony: I think that is a big part of it, Phil.
Amy: Ego, too. And if the Cup drivers can’t take being raced hard by Nationwide regulars in Nationwide races, they should stay home on Saturday.
Tony: I’m not sure how their Sprint Cup sponsor can be happy about them sometimes traveling halfway across the country during a race weekend.
Phil: Yeah, I wouldn’t be a fan of my driver doing that either.
Amy: I agree, Tony. If I was shelling out $20 million, I wouldn’t be happy about my driver tiring himself out for $50,000.
Jeff: You are never gonna give up that ego thing are ya, Amy?
Amy: No, Jeff, I’m not. It’s pretty obvious when only the guys who don’t win Cup titles do it.
Beth: Well, every year someone has to be off a little – Penske in ‘08, RCR in ‘09. Now it’s JGR.
Tony: JGR is not dead yet in 2010, just slow out of the gate. Bristol will be a good test because they normally do well, but certainly not a gauge for the entire season.
Amy: Right. JGR should rebound at Bristol, perhaps even a weekend sweep. But that should not be taken for long-term success.
Phil: Four races are nowhere near enough to determine whether someone is “dead” for the year. Of course they can turn it around.
The second annual Legends race is scheduled for this week at Bristol, which begs the question: Should NASCAR have a Senior Tour? Why or why not? How would it work?
Amy: I don’t think so. Part of what makes the Legends race fun is the novelty. I’m also not sure a lot of the older guys would want to race an entire tour.
Phil: I have no clue how a senior tour could work. I don’t think there’s enough demand out there for one.
Tony: I don’t think so. We kind of have one already in the Trucks. Drivers retire for a reason. Reaction times get slower, etc. And they are tired of the travel.
Beth: I can understand a race or two here and there for fun. But how many of the “senior” drivers want to race week after week still?
Jeff: Run a senior series on different small dirt tracks around the country.
Phil: I agree with Beth, it’s something best left for every once in awhile. No more than six a year.
Amy: Four or five races a year, max. Didn’t someone try to do a tour like that a few years ago on short tracks?
Phil: The Old School Stock Car Tour? It died before they ever had a race.
Tony: Some drivers, such as Mark Martin, Harry Gant and Bobby Allison have proven through the years that they still want to race, and they can do it with the big boys until they are ready to step down anyway.
Jeff: Yeah, I don’t see anyone clamoring for a senior series… even the seniors.
Tony: Maybe they can do something similar to what IROC did if they were to entertain the idea.
Jeff: Winner gets the Geritol Cup.
Amy: It would be fun to watch a couple of times, but then the novelty wears off.
Tony: That’s probably why everyone enjoys it now, because they don’t see it all the time.
Amy: I really wish I was old enough to have seen some of those guys race, but it’s not the same as it would be if they were in their prime.
Beth: I like seeing them every now and then, but I honestly doubt there’s enough interest to support a full series.
Amy: What I’d rather see is the deal they’re doing at Martinsville where the old guys tell stories. That I’d pay to see 10 times a year, easy.
Tony: I’m not sure if they do it anymore, but the Sirius NASCAR channel had a legends segment where they would shoot the breeze with an old-timer. Really great stuff… they need to do more of that.
We’ve talked a lot about the schedule in the Cup discussion recently, but how about the Nationwide and Truck series? Are they in need of a serious schedule revamp, or are the companion races to Cup the best way to go?
Amy: They both need a revamp, but to opposite ends of the spectrum. The trucks would benefit from the companion races.
Beth: And running more than three races in the first two months, Amy.
Tony: I think the companion races are a good way to go for generating fan interest. However, keeping separate races for a lot of weeks helps some other tracks get exposure that we normally wouldn’t see.
Phil: The Nationwide Series needs a lot more standalone races. However, I think that they have priced themselves out of a lot of venues.
Amy: But the Nationwide Series is the perfect way for NASCAR to play it’s “back to our roots” schpiel. Put them back on the short tracks like they used to be, as far away from the Cup races as is humanly possible every week.
Tony: To Amy’s point, I would love to see NNS and/or the Trucks go to Rockingham or Hickory or North Wilkesboro. I used to think that more separate events would help eliminate some of the crossover from Cup guys, but many of them proved to me otherwise.
Amy: Send the NNS cars to South Boston, Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, Irwindale, Pike’s Peak.
Jeff: If you have more standalone NNS and Truck races, the less ego Cup guys will have, Amy.
Amy: I’m not sure Hickory could handle it, but the others could. Bring back the standalone at New Hampshire, pair them with K&N or Modifieds for several weekends. It would be great racing – the short tracks usually are – which would be good for the fans and for NASCAR.
Phil: I wouldn’t be opposed to the Nationwide Series running combination weekends with the Modifieds and/or K&N Pro East Series.
Amy: They used to do that at New Hampshire and it was a great weekend.
Phil: Back when they were running there in May, right?
Amy: Yeah, it went downhill when they went to a companion race. But giving the Nationwide Series a separate, short-track identity would be good for all involved. NASCAR gets to push the “roots” deal: the Cup guys stay in Cup more, and the races would be a blast to watch.
Tony: It’s a good way to get some of the younger guys involved, too. Instead of throwing them to the wolves at a superspeedway, it allows them to get some experience with these types of cars at a shorter track. That would be a lot easier if there were more to choose from.
Phil: Aye, that would be a good show. However, the Cup guys apparently sell tickets to Nationwide events. That is apparently why NASCAR likes them in the series.
Tony: That is the kicker….
Amy: Yeah, and it would make the big tracks, like Charlotte, a big deal for those guys when they do get there.
Amy: I think there are a lot of fans who would buy tickets.
Tony: Well, the best way to do this is to try it and see. Give it two or three years, tell the fans to support it, and if they don’t, the schedule will go back to the larger tracks with Cup events.
Amy: Personally, I’d be more likely to buy tickets to NNS as a fan if a real NNS guy had a real shot to win races and the championship.
Jeff: How about make it mandatory that a driver must race two full years in NNS before going to Cup?
Amy: I’d love that, Jeff. Been saying it a while. At least one full year, two would be better.
Tony: Yeah, not a bad idea. No exceptions, either.
Jeff: And if you are a full-time Cupper, you can only run five or six NNS races a year.
Phil: That was kind of like what the Nationwide Series was back around 1988 or so, when you really think about it.
Amy: And the series was great back then.
Jeff: OK then, all problems solved… give me a beer!
Tony: I was always intrigued by the IRL/Truck combo races, as well.
Amy: The Rednecks and the Metros all in one place.
Tony: Mullets and man purses.
Jeff: And beer.
Beth: What a combination.
OK, predictions for Bristol?
Amy: I say Kyle Busch wins one for Coach Gibbs.
Jeff: Carl first, Kes takes second.
Tony: If Kes is running second, I’m not so sure Carl is finishing first! I’m going to give the nod to last year’s struggling team and say that Kevin Harvick breaks through.
Beth: Dangit, Amy, I was planning to pick Kyle. But I’ll go with Tony Stewart and the No. 14 team figuring out where they’ve been this season.
Tony: The agreement continues between Amy and Beth….
Phil: I’m going with Jeff Burton. He’s still running well, and is a recent winner (spring 2008) at the track. That was the first race I ever recapped for the Newsletter.
Mirror Predictions 2010
Welcome to our fourth 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 four races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s|
|Bryan Davis Keith||3||-9||2||0||1||1|