NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Ragan’s Win, The Four-Team Cap and Nationwide Leaves IRP

Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. 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)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/359/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Amy Henderson “(Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Fridays / Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)”:www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362/

*David Ragan’s win at Daytona was the third first-time win by a driver this year. But was it enough to save his ride with Roush Fenway Racing?*

Beth: One win does not save a career, but it’s certainly a good place to start.
Phil: Ragan was very strong on Saturday… he was able to keep himself up front almost all night. I’ll say he definitely didn’t hurt himself; UPS was definitely pleased with the victory.
Amy: I think Ragan’s future at RFR depends largely on Carl Edwards. If Edwards jumps ship, he could be a bit more secure. The thing is, Ragan is a consistent threat on plate tracks … but inconsistent elsewhere.
Beth: And does one win really offset just 27 top-10 finishes in 163 starts?

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David Ragan has finally put that goose egg in the win column behind him. But will that be enough for UPS to sign on board with the young driver another year?

Tom: Here’s an interesting stat for you: seven of Ragan’s 27 career top-10 finishes – nearly 25 percent – have come on restrictor plate tracks. So that tells you something right there… he’s still developing into an all-around driver rather than a one-trick pony.
Amy: Here’s another thing … will UPS stay with RFR? There are other teams looking for sponsor dollars as well.
Tom: I think it certainly does a lot to help. The UPS statement to the media after the race was strange… at face value, it’s a clear show of support. It also says to Jack Roush, “If you were planning to switch us to Matt Kenseth, well…” Battle lines have been drawn there, which hurts the No. 17.
Phil: Why would switching to Kenseth be a bad thing for UPS? They would have a champion driver in their stable. It’s definitely better than only getting your best efforts at plate races.
Tom: I don’t know, Phil, that’s why that public show of support is so confusing. I have heard from sources that RCR is seriously in the running for the UPS deal. So for them to publicly show support for Ragan… it’s strange.
Phil: For what? To replace General Mills?
Amy: Again, I think a lot has to do with Carl Edwards. If he stays, RFR can start thinking about whether to replace Ragan. If he goes, they have a bigger headache.
Amy: Filling two seats with quality drivers is certainly doable. You’d have to think Stenhouse will be given a lot of consideration, and probably someone like Brian Vickers as well.
Tom: Well I think everyone is looking at what Carl’s going to do. Without him, RFR is in serious, serious trouble. Because all those young guns race a good game, but haven’t been able to succeed in the boardroom. Heck, Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 and hasn’t gotten a sponsor to sign on board. That’s disturbing.
Amy: Are they? Or do they simply put more effort into championships for Biffle and / or Kenseth? Both are as capable of winning a championship as Edwards is.
Phil: I have no idea why Edwards would leave Roush Fenway Racing. Aside from Earnhardt, Jr., he’s probably the most marketable dude in NASCAR.
Tom: Phil, Carl’s future is a more complex issue than most people understand. There’s a long-term future being looked at here, not just 2-3 years down the road but 10. I don’t think Carl wants to make two career moves in his 30s… this will set the table for the long-term. I will say this much: if Ragan makes the Chase, holding on with that one victory (and I don’t think that will get it done in the end) UPS would look foolish to not re-sign. I think the Chase would make him a lock to return. Anything else… it’s not 100%. Roush didn’t sound like a guy completely convinced that company was returning Saturday night.
Amy: I don’t think Edwards leaving would hurt RFR all that much, in the end. Kenseth is already a Cup champ and Biffle has more NASCAR titles than Edwards does. Certainly either of them is capable of carrying the RFR banner all the way to a Cup.

Tom: Oh Amy, I disagree completely. I think it really hurts them … neither Kenseth nor Biffle is a charismatic leader behind the scenes.
Beth: Agreed…as for Ragan, a Chase berth will keep him behind the wheel of the No. 6, but I have a feeling it’ll take at least two wins for those wild card spots when it comes down to it.
Phil: I don’t think so. Especially if Harvick keeps winning races in the last 6 miles.
Amy: I agree with Beth there. I think it’s going to take more than one win. But stranger things have happened. Has a sponsor ever left a team after making the Chase? Sure, so I don’t think it’s a total shoo-in for them to stay if he makes it in, especially if he limps home in 12th, which seems the likely scenario. If Edwards goes to the 20, Aflac would be up for grabs.
Tom: That’s true. Here’s another question: with DeWalt still in the Ford camp, will they turn around and sponsor Kenseth again? And what will that do for Marcos Ambrose?
Phil: Why did they leave Roush in the first place if they were just going to up and come back a couple of years later? What’s the point? Was it because of joining up with Stanley?
Amy: Why wouldn’t Aflac go to the No. 16, which is as legitimate a title contender as the 99?
Phil: Well, Edwards is a big card here. What happens with him will go a long ways towards what UPS does, and possibly what Ragan is left with.
Amy: Bottom line is one win will buy a driver time, but in this era it will NOT guarantee a ride long-term. It used to be different (ask Derrike Cope), but times have changed.

*When NASCAR instituted a four-team-per-owner cap, it was in response to smaller owners who wanted to enter the series. But with teams leaving the sport, is it time for NASCAR to reconsider their rule – or are potentially short fields the lesser of two evils?*

Beth: I was on the fence with the four-team cap to begin with. While I understood the concept behind it, I didn’t feel like it was fair to those teams who wanted to spend more and put another butt in the seat.
Amy: Teams get around the cap anyway, so if they’re willing to pony up the dollars to provide a quality entry, why not? I understand why they did it, but those small teams are not any better off with the rule.

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Rick Hendrick, seen here with veteran Jeff Gordon would be one of the few owners in position to expand if NASCAR’s four-team cap got lifted for 2012.

Tom: What four-team cap? Considering the chassis and engine deals, teams get around it all the time. Yes, those other teams are not “technically” under the same umbrella but they share information and rely on the big teams above them for equipment. Tell me how that’s not meshing together in some way already.
Beth: That’s the point, Tom… it’s not any different. Basically this rule is just a matter of putting a different team name on the paperwork.
Tom: Here’s the thing, too… if you remove the four-team cap, there’s only two owners in position to go above and beyond it: Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress.
Phil: NASCAR’s put themselves into a box now. You’re even seeing it in the Izod IndyCar Series. I don’t think they have a “team cap” there, but Ganassi has the two Target teams, and then the two others for Rahal and Kimball. They act like they’re two separate operations.
Amy: Honestly, I think the future lies in franchising, but lifting the cap could provide a solution to the lack of quality rides. Lifting the cap wouldn’t force owners to expand to more cars than they want to field, so it wouldn’t have a huge impact, but really, the cap doesn’t do anything for anyone. Then again, some teams could add a development program back into their plans, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Tom: Who? Penske and Gibbs have just three cars, Roush can’t find sponsors (see above) so even if they poached from RPM, they might still end up with just four. At some point, the owners have to readjust the market value for their organizations. As long as Hendrick gets $20-$25 million sponsorships, everyone else will keep chasing them. And these big teams don’t want to let people go… they worked hard to get to where they’re at.
Amy: Actually, I believe it was Yates who started the huge dollar trend. When UPS came on with them it was for an insane amount, far higher than what others were paying.
Phil: At the time it was instituted, it was basically a slap in the face of Jack Roush.
Tom: It was … and lifting it now, when Roush is at a disadvantage financially would kind of be a slap in the face again.
Amy: True, Phil; that rule was also put in place to curb Hendrick before they got any ideas.
Tom: Well, it’s Hendrick in the lead re: sponsor dollars now. And remember how CART failed… you had a bunch of rich owners get greedy, unable to sacrifice some of their fortune in the short-term for the good of the sport.
Amy: The bottom line is, we live in a free enterprise society. The cap flies in the face of that and it’s useless.
Tom: The key is not in removing the four-team cap… it’s in adjusting the rules and the cars so driving talent and mechanical ingenuity, not wind tunnels and horsepower win races.
Phil: I think everyone’s waiting for the new 2013 cars in that regard.
Amy: The cap was an OK idea at the time that never worked. Kind of like a lot of NASCAR’s other decisions except they were never good ideas to begin with. It’s not the number of teams an owner has that hurts the sport, it’s the amount some owners SPEND on each team. Limiting the number just means the owners could throw more money at fewer cars. That solves nothing for the small teams. It did NOT bring the small teams sponsors as hoped, because NASCAR snapped them all up as the “official whatzits of NASCAR.”
Phil: Cost caps would be interesting, but near impossible to enforce without a CBA. And, of course, we know that’s never happening in NASCAR.

Tom: Tommy Baldwin Racing is the exception among the small teams… and they’re doing things the right way, working on their own chassis so the team is not dependent on someone else to win them races. But how long did it take for them to get to that point? Three years? The model should not be “start and park for two years and hope you get lucky the one weekend you do run, so you have a chance.”
Phil: True. Their introduction to Sprint Cup was a baptism by fire.
Amy: Which, Phil, brings us right back to franchising. I know it’s an ugly word to a lot of fans, but it could well save the sport.
Phil: I just don’t think NASCAR would ever go along with it. They’d have to relinquish power.
Amy: I don’t know. It would cost power, true, because there would have to be some form of collective bargaining. On the other hand, it could bring dollars through franchising fees and NASCAR loves them some money.
Tom: I think Amy’s right… but at the same time, I don’t think the right answer is to let five people control the entire Cup garage. That just doesn’t work too well in the long run… the sport needs to evolve. It needs new blood. NASCAR needs to find a way to let that naturally happen once again.

*As things stand right now, David Ragan could steal a Chase berth from Tony Stewart based on his Daytona victory. While with the wild card, NASCAR was responding to fans’ concerns about winning not getting enough emphasis, does a 17th-place driver really belong in the championship hunt?*

Amy: No, and I don’t think when all is said and done, he will be.
Phil: I don’t know. Ragan needs to do a little bit more out there. Maybe next year, they can require two wins if you’re out of the top 10.
Amy: This is right about when Tony Stewart heats up and if he wins twice, Ragan’s likely done. Personally, I think you should have to be in the top 10 AND have a win. If that leaves five Chasers, so be it.

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Tony Stewart would be the odd man out in this wild card system if the season ended today; David Ragan, on the strength of a Daytona victory would take that spot in the Chase.

Beth: I agree, Amy; I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Tony Stewart this season. We’re getting into summer now, and this is usually when he really turns up the heat.
Phil: If Stewart wins twice, then he’ll probably get into the top-10.
Tom: Well, this wild card system is going to spice up the summer. With nine races left, there’s still a lot that can happen and I think 16 or 17 drivers have a real shot. “Danny Peters made a great point this week”:https://frontstretch.com/dpeters/34505/ about Juan Pablo Montoya… no one’s talking about him, but he could easily jump up and take both Indy and Watkins Glen over the next month and a half.
Amy: 16 or 17? Really? I think it’s more like 4-5 tops.
Tom: I’m talking about 17 for 12 total spots. OK, you’ve got the current top 10 plus Hamlin, Stewart, Biffle… there’s probably your cutoff to make it in on points. Montoya, Ragan, Keselowski and Kasey Kahne on wins. The No. 42 has had the best car at Indy for two years… and they’re the defending champs at the Glen. That happens, things get REAL interesting… it could put Denny Hamlin on the line, Junior on the line if he falters, even Stewart if they don’t start winning.
Amy: So could Stewart, Tom, with Indy and he’s probably more likely to do it than Montoya.
Phil: When it comes to the championship, I really don’t care about winning. I guess I’m in the minority. Just because you don’t win a race doesn’t mean you’re not deserving.
Amy: I agree, Phil, and under the old system I’d agree even more. But if the reality is that fans think there should be an emphasis on winning, then there really should be, and not just the bonus points crap.
Tom: Keselowski and Ragan are real longshots, I admit… we’re probably looking at 15 for 12 spots. Mark Martin knocked himself out, I think with that Daytona crash. He sounded like a man who’s already moved on when talking to Dave Despain Sunday night.
Amy: The current top 10 don’t count. They’re already in the top ten, and probably at least 8 of them will stay there.
Tom: Seven… I think Junior, Bowyer, and Newman are vulnerable. That gives the Hamlin/Stewart/Biffle trio a chance to sneak in … I still don’t buy a summer where Smoke doesn’t light on fire at some point. Of course, another longshot – with a capital L – is if Joey Logano shocks the world and wins Kentucky Saturday night. He’s inside the top-20 cutoff.
Phil: Logano’s finally showing something over the past couple of weeks. About time.
Beth: He’s got a damn good history at Kentucky…I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Victory Lane.
Amy: And sorry, but if you are seventeenth in points with ten to go, you don’t deserve a championship.
Phil: A few years ago, being 17th with 10 to go meant that you were anywhere from 700-1200 points out of the lead. Maybe more.
Amy: I really think the wild card spots will go to drivers with at least two wins. Jeff Gordon is one bad race away from dropping into one of them, and Stewart or Hamlin will likely end up with the other – whichever one of them doesn’t get in on points.
Tom: The wild card is good in that it adds spice to the regular season, though; it’s clear the final month leading up to Richmond will be insane. And during that time, it gives sponsors of teams all the way down to 25th in points a reason to still be in the limelight.
Amy: As insane as a bunch of the most boring tracks can be.

Tom: Does a 17th-place driver, on the whole deserve a title? No. But the way this system is set up, if they’re not consistent during the regular season there’s little to no chance they’ll have a magical final ten races. This is all about hyping up the regular season races. I don’t think we’d ever have to worry about one of the wild cards winning under this system… unless they were 11th in points, had about five mechanical failures during the year and were otherwise a clear title contender. And if those teams get it together during the Chase… they wouldn’t be quite so undeserving a champion.
Phil: Kinda like Kyle Busch a couple of years ago when he missed the Chase, or that year that Stewart missed it?
Amy: I’m not big on the wild card but then I’m not big on the Chase, and I only see the WC as one more gimmick within a gimmick.
Phil: I don’t think any of us are high on the Chase, or have ever been in favor of it.
Tom: Hey, I’m big on anything that encourages winning. Even if it’s a temporary boost during the regular season, with no playoff implications I’m all for it. Every year prior to this one, 12 people made the Chase but we knew only 8-10 had a realistic chance. If you add two dud wild cards into the 12, what’s the difference?
Amy: I’d agree to a point, but why not make winning something like a huge monetary bonus or a Chase requirement along with top 10 in points?

*An announcement is expected Wednesday that will move the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Indianapolis from Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly IRP) to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Is this a step forward for NASCAR’s second series, or is it a step in the wrong direction?*

Amy: It’s a TERRIBLE idea. I can’t imagine a worse scheduling decision for that series.
Tom: I understand why they did it, but traditional fans are going to throw a fit.
Phil: No. Icks-nay. That place is going to be empty for a 250-mile Nationwide race.

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This type of close racing – three-wide on a short track – will be a thing of the past in 2012 if the Nationwide Series moves its main event to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Amy: Stock car racing at Indy is about as exciting as watching paint dry on the retaining walls at Fontana. Whereas IRP is ALWAYS a great show, usually one of the best of the year.
Phil: I don’t think anyone is in favor of this move except for the board at Hulman & Co.
Amy: It’s bad enough we have to watch the Cup cars there.
Beth: If you thought the stands looked that bad at last year’s Brickyard 400, they’ll just be dismal for the Nationwide Series there. And why take away the great racing IRP ultimately produces? I just don’t get it.
Phil: It’ll look like Pole Qualifying for the Indy 500. I’m fine with Grand-Am being there, but this just doesn’t jive.
Amy: Meanwhile, I don’t recall there ever being an attendance issue at IRP.
Phil: Never. I thought the seats were a little overpriced for a Nationwide race there, but they get something like 40,000.
Tom: The problem is, if they get even 35,000 fans in the stands at IMS the purse will be bigger. That’s the big problem with Lucas Oil… seat capacity and purse money. It paid 35th out of 35 Nationwide races last year; so both IMS and NASCAR want more cash.
Amy: So they need to work with the speedway.
Phil: This was the same argument that cost places like Hickory. But Kroger’s sponsored that race since 1982. Maybe talk with them and see if they can put up a bigger purse or, at least, help a little more with it.
Beth: A bigger purse is definitely something that’s needed for the Nationwide Series, but is it really worth the sacrifice in racing on the track?
Tom: I just don’t know if they’ll automatically get more money with this move over the long-term. Attendance was over 40,000 last year at IRP, while the TV rating for the race was a 1.7… also very strong for the Nationwide Series.
Amy: The racing suffers every time NASCAR makes a bonehead move like this.
Phil: I don’t think the race weekend there can survive at IRP now – especially with just the Trucks and USAC racing.
Amy: The racing in NNS has already suffered from losing the short tracks like South Boston and Myrtle Beach, among others. They don’t need to lose another one for crappy racing.
Tom: Keep in mind the track couldn’t come to an agreement with NASCAR on a sanctioning fee… no one should rush to judgment. You also have to wonder whether IMS made a bit of a power play behind the scenes considering the dismal attendance expected for the Cup show.
Amy: We’re angry because it was a GOOD RACE, Tom. Indy won’t provide that.
Tom: Well for IMS, at some point those Cup attendance numbers dip low enough and it’s not financially in anyone’s best interest to hold the Brickyard 400. Could you imagine the media fallout from that? No NASCAR at Indy? The non-NASCAR people would jump all over it, and the headline would be “NASCAR is Dying.” So they may be trying to placate IMS any way they can… it just sucks for everyone else.
Phil: It would be a mess of epic proportions.
Amy: There never should have been NASCAR at Indy in the first place. It sucks.
Tom: Yeah, I’m not defending the move, mind you; just explaining it for the public.
Phil: I was never opposed to Sprint Cup at IMS. There is a place for them there. Something isn’t right here.
Amy: Ultimately, what will attract and keep fans is the on-track product. NASCAR needs to race at tracks that will provide that product.
Phil: I can definitely understand the need for a support series, though. They’ve had 17 Brickyard 400’s with no support (The Busch and Truck races down the road don’t count).

Amy: If the race at Indy is really that prestigious, it shouldn’t need one. Most loyal fans went to IRP, anyway.
Phil: Think of it this way. If the Daytona 500’s so prestigious, why does it need a Nationwide Series support race? It doesn’t need one. It has one, but it doesn’t need it.
Amy: Besides, IRP is close enough to Indy that many fans easily did both the same weekend. It’s just the big track being greedy. The bottom line is that once again, NASCAR has proven that they have completely lost touch with the point of their very existence: good racing.
Tom: Well, they’re very in touch with what keeps the business going: money. They’re looking for ways to keep the cash flow intact; and if they can increase their income, so be it.
Amy: That’s all well and good if you don’t have long-term plans, Tom. Because in the long run, what will bring NASCAR money is good racing. There will be no cash flow if nobody wants the product. I don’t know a single fan who actually wants this product.
Phil: True, I think they actually found something that will be unilaterally despised. Not even the Chase was as maligned as this move might be.

*OK. Predictions for Kentucky?*

Amy: I’ll go with Matt Kenseth. His kind of track.
Beth: Three starts, three poles and three wins in the Nationwide Series. I’m going with Joey Logano.
Phil: I’ll go with Edwards.
Tom: I think Edwards has had too many problems of late to bounce back and win… they need a top-5 finish to get on track first. I’m going to go with … Tony Stewart. Random? Yeah. But he’s got to heat up in the summer.

*Email the Mirror Guys ‘N’ Gals!*
“Contact Amy Henderson”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14352/
“Contact Beth Lunkenheimer”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14353/
“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18440/
“Contact Tom Bowles”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14345/

*Mirror Predictions 2011*

Welcome to our fifth 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:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through seventeen races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Mike Neff 16 15 *1* *5* *8*
Phil Allaway 15 -1 17 *1* *5* 8
Amy Henderson 15 -1 16 *1* 4 *9*
Jeff Meyer 11 -5 16 *1* *5* 8
Summer Dreyer 6 -10 9 0 3 3
Tom Bowles 1 -15 1 0 0 1
Brody Jones -1 -17 4 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -22 6 0 0 0

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