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 “(Mondays / Bowles Eye View & Wednesdays / Did You Notice)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/359/
Amy Henderson “(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
*Kansas Speedway was the latest racetrack to add progressive banking in hopes of producing a more competitive race. Did it work, and are there other ways that tracks and track owners should be looking towards to beef up the competition?*
Phil: Not really. There were faster speeds and a lot of wrecking. Overall, it wasn’t any more competitive.
Amy: There wasn’t any more passing on Sunday.
Tom: I think Kansas is a classic case of excitement based on lower expectations. People have been so lulled to sleep by intermediates, they’re looking for something, _anything_ to happen. So a lot of “things” happened on Sunday. That made people happy… but the reality was, two green-flag passes for the lead. _Two._ Want to know what they were? Aric Almirola, passing Kasey Kahne on Lap 1 and Almirola getting passed by Clint Bowyer when the No. 43 slammed the wall. That, to me doesn’t exactly scream “barnburner!”
Amy: I haven’t seen that progressive banking is the answer. It improved Las Vegas maybe slightly. I don’t think it made much difference at Homestead. It certainly didn’t work at Bristol. Sunday’s race at Kansas was a disaster.
Phil: Now would be the point where Neffy would go on about the cars being the sole problem and gluing them to the pavement is creating all these issues. That theory appears to be in line with the last few Kansas races.
Amy: The cars _are_ part of the problem, but they are _not_ all of it. People like to use rose-colored glasses sometimes. The previous car was just as aero-dependent and the races were still not that great on the 1.5-mile tracks. Any speedway big enough to spread out the action that much is going to have some boring moments, especially when the TV refuses to show any racing outside the top 10.
Tom: But aero still plays a major part, period. Who was the fastest car on Sunday? Who freaking knows! It was whoever was positioned up front at the time.
Phil: Yeah, it wasn’t all that competitive at the front. I’ve never really expected too much out of Kansas, to be honest.
Amy: In reality, Phil, if they can’t make the cars less aero-dependent, they need to look at dropping tracks of 1.5 miles or more in favor of tracks of 1.3 or less. I saw some people saying Sunday was a great race… that goes right back to it being about some people watching for the wrecks, IMO.
Phil: Well, a lot of people do expect more out of NASCAR these days, and that leads to gimmicky stuff. That’s why we have a Chase.
Amy: If you like wrecks, Sunday was probably bearable.
Tom: I don’t think it was that, Amy. I think fans just wanted something other than… nothing. You had an underdog (Almirola) at the front for a while. You did have the wrecks… and the cautions to bunch up the field to go with it. So that’s what attracted the fan base. But I think, two races from now if we have the same type of action at Kansas people will be pulling out the “B” word all over again. As in… boring.
Amy: Here’s the problem with saying you like cautions but not wrecks. Three things cause cautions: wrecks, debris (which everyone also complains about) and mechanical failures (which often lead to wrecks).
Tom: Well I think one of the problems, for 1.5-milers is that when you introduce things like the wave-around, everyone keeps ending up on the lead lap once all those yellows come out. So you don’t have people recovering from adversity, trying to keep from getting lapped, etc. … reduces some of the intrigue. It’s like “Why have a 500 or even a 400-mile race?” The sense of urgency in many situations is gone.
Amy: But, Tom, everyone complains when there are only a few cars on the lead lap, too! What the heck is NASCAR supposed to do?
Tom: I think sometimes people complain just to complain. It’s dangerous for a sanctioning body to overreact… (See: Chase format, three times over).
Amy: That always makes me laugh, Tom…what the vast majority of fans really want there is just to get rid of it…
Tom: Well in this case, so few cars on the lead lap, in theory was actually _good_ for the sport because there was a reason for the cars to go 500 miles. Cars had to fight for the right to contend for the win… fans weren’t seeing the bigger picture. They were just looking at a stat line.
Amy: I do agree. Some people will complain no matter what NASCAR does or doesn’t do.
Tom: And now, they have a major problem. Denny Hamlin said so himself, the other day: it’s all about track position, track position at the right time. Everyone is taught to bide their time over a 400-mile distance until the last round of pit stops or two. Now, you have 30 cars that, in theory could contend for the win because they’re all going to end up on the lead lap. So why bother with 267-lap races then? You can take care of business in, like, 50.
Amy: I agree with him…I was actually thinking earlier that NASCAR should set race lengths by the length of fuel runs in an attempt to eliminate mileage racing. Make them such a length that everyone will have to stop X number of times, no matter what. I ran out of time to figure out how, exactly they could make that work, though.
Phil: Gee. Either of you two remember when CART instituted mandatory periods of time for pit stops in order to prevent fuel mileage racing? That was a travesty.
Amy: Why not do it that way, then? Or, you could run heat races and a B and A Feature. That format would actually make the races good. Everyone would have to race hard in their heats to qualify well for the feature and a short feature would mean a huge sense of urgency with no fuel mileage issues…
Tom: Anything is better than what we have now. The challenge of how equipment holds up, combined with the difficulty required to stay on the lead lap and contend for victory is now gone. People are now, in many cases just riding around. That wouldn’t be the full solution… you need to make the cars boxier, slow them down and eliminate the dreaded aero push. But that would “push” things in the right direction.
Phil: I don’t want features for Sprint Cup, Amy. I want a 400-mile race, or a 500-mile race. This isn’t Saturday night at Lebanon Valley.
Tom: I want 400 or 500-mile races, too. But if NASCAR wants to keep them, they need to do two things. 1) Allow engineers and crewmen to push the limits, equipment-wise so we experience situations like “engine failures” and part breakage once again. 2) Change the rules so the endurance factor throughout a 500-mile race is once again important. Waaaay too easy to get back on the lead lap now if you have a problem. I know I’m in the way minority here, but in the “joy” surrounding double-file restarts with the leaders we’ve lost sight of how important it was to have the lapped cars up front, battling to get back in contention.
Amy: I would rather have the longer races, too, but if the teams aren’t going to actually race for three-quarters of them, what else can you do? That sounds great, Tom, but NASCAR doesn’t want any innovation from anyone in the sport. And I’d still rather see the wave around than 15 lapped cars holding up the leaders and ruining someone’s chance to race for the win.
Phil: I’d argue that the manufacturers could pressure NASCAR to allow the teams to be able to innovate more once the new cars come in.
Tom: Maybe. I think people got overexcited about the double-file restarts, especially on intermediates because it’s the only freaking time they’d see cars run side-by-side. We didn’t used to have them… and the racing was just as exciting. Guys would still scratch and claw to get into a position to battle for the win. The change, in a nutshell was a last-ditch gimmick designed to guarantee the side-by-side racing fans weren’t seeing anymore. And even still, at some of these intermediates it’s not working 100%.
Phil: I kinda agree with you on the lap cars and ‘Dogs and all that. Having double-file restarts makes it impossible to make up a lap under green without a wave-around or Lucky Dog.
Amy: I don’t think getting rid of the wave-around would solve anything, though. I think changing the purse and points systems drastically would produce good racing. I think you need to look at the points. The two series with the closest margins right now don’t have a Chase. Also, if they took _all_ the year-end point fund money and put it into the winner’s purse for the regular races, it would change the game. Also, I’d like to see NASCAR adopt a points system more like the one IndyCar uses. Points are the same after a certain position, so you either have to work harder to get more, or pack it in if you can’t…
Phil: The thing with the point fund money is that NASCAR doesn’t necessarily pay out the race purses. They might chip in a certain amount, but the track and race sponsors put up most of it.
Tom: The bottom line is that it’s good people think Kansas was good racing. But for those without rose-colored glasses… the product being put out was not that much different than any other intermediate. We’ve just been lulled to sleep.
*Danica Patrick has run eight of ten scheduled Cup races this year with a best finish of 25th at Chicago. She is also currently tenth in Nationwide Series points with three top-10 finishes. Is Patrick ready to race in Sprint Cup full-time in 2013?*
Amy: No, she isn’t. The problem is that her sponsor _is,_ so she’s going to get thrown to the wolves anyway.
Phil: No, she needs another year in Nationwide. She’s actually regressed a little this year and needs the extra seat time. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did 15-20 Nationwide races next year in addition to her Cup races. Ricky Craven noted earlier on _NASCAR Now_ that Danica isn’t learning from her mistakes very well. What happened Sunday is nearly identical to what happened in the Indiana 250.
Tom: I think whether she’s ready or not is irrelevant. This contract is the one GoDaddy signed up for, and the walls are closing in. It’s put up or shut up time.
Amy: She’s not even truly competitive in NNS. I mean, she’s battling Joe Nemechek for tenth place.
Phil: Regardless, we’ll have two legitimate rooks in Cup next year, but not much of a rookie battle unless Stenhouse gets hurt.
Tom: I think Tony Stewart’s theory about putting Patrick on the most difficult NASCAR tracks was ass backwards. She can’t even finish 10th on the easiest track… so why start at level 10 and destroy her “confidence” even further?
Amy: Her move on Sunday just underscores how not ready she is. Cassill raced her hard and she completely overreacted…and wrecked herself trying to wreck him. Cassill moved her because she was completely in the way, not because he wanted to wreck her… but she has no clue of what the difference is.
Tom: This woman seems to be blinded by the fact that, as Phil said she’s making the same mistakes. So I don’t know what the right word is, but nobody’s learning anything by this arrangement. Look, everyone knows Danica’s made the most of the marketing side, earning the maximum amount of money she could possibly collect during her peak. But the jig is up. She squeezed all the cash she could out of IndyCar… and now, her NASCAR career is nearing a crossroads. She’s also 30 years old.
Phil: Yes, definitely. Her “Q rating” is apparently falling now.
Tom: That’s not to say, by any means older women can’t be sexy. But every supermodel has their time in the sun… she can only fall back on that appeal for so long. Eventually, the results have to come and the hard truth is she hasn’t had any. Other drivers coming up, like Johanna Long are younger, have more career ahead of them and have showcased more potential. People are going to start seeing that.
Amy: The bottom line on Danica is that she was never more than a mediocre IndyCar driver and yet everyone in NASCAR and the media expected her to set the world on fire. If someone wants to throw money at a female driver who could move up the levels and be a legit Cup contender, they are throwing it in the wrong direction. They should be throwing it at Long.
Tom: Amy, I think if Danica struggles in 2013 you will see Johanna naturally get more sponsorship traction. NASCAR will start putting their faith in her instead as “the next big lady” … you watch.
Amy: I hope they do. Long is the real deal. Just look at her Snowball Derby win…that race attracts the best racers from around the country and she beat them all in equal equipment. Makes me wonder what she’d do in equipment as good as Patrick has.
Phil: I wonder just how marketable Johanna Long is. One could argue that NASCAR hasn’t tried to market her yet, but I don’t know. She’s definitely a different type of driver as compared to Danica.
Amy: You know, the first year they don’t have to cater to Danica, let’s not forget Andretti Autosport wins the IndyCar championship…
Phil: I think Danica was better in IndyCar than a lot of people think she was. It’s just easier for her to drive those types of cars. But even there, she regressed towards the end.
Amy: She was OK in Indy cars, but that’s it. She couldn’t compete with Franchitti, Dixon, Power, Castroneves and the like. She could compete for lower top-10 finishes, realistically most weeks.
Phil: With no more money from Bob Parsons, she would be in trouble. It’s time for Danica to improve her skills both in driving the car and being able to communicate about the car.
Tom: And if this Danica ad replacement deal has legs… it’s the first step GoDaddy takes in disentangling from this web they’re in. That tells me it can give them the option of bailing when their contract is up. I’m not going to say they will… but it gives them the option, which would have been impossible had she continued to be the face of the company. So yeah, Danica has to race Cup… and she has to overachieve. It’s put up or shut up time.
Phil: Danica’s rookie year will be a trial by fire. Hopefully, she can get some confidence somewhere.
Tom: Well, I feel the only time there will be “Danica news” in 2013 is when an incident like the Kansas-Cassill one happens. It’s not like the No. 10 car is going to be running up front. Right now, I’m concerned she could go an entire season without a top-15 finish anywhere other than Daytona, Talladega, Watkins Glen and Sears Point.
Phil: I don’t know about that, Tom. In the first half of the season, I could see that happening, though.
Amy: Which is too bad for her and her sponsors, but it is what it is, I guess. In any case, she’ll be a non-factor for a lot of the time unless she’s a factor because she’s in someone’s way. She’s often the slowest on the track in Cup, and yet she has the best equipment.
*The Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville with 10 Chase drivers 20 points or more behind Brad Keselowski. Can anyone make a last-ditch effort to climb back into contention at NASCAR’s shortest track, or will it still be a two-horse race when the checkers fall?*
Amy: I think this one is Hamlin’s make-or-break week. If he doesn’t get back within 10 or, at the outside, 15 points, I think he’s really hurting.
Tom: I agree that this race is more about Hamlin than anyone else. But Johnson is a close second. Let’s tackle Hamlin first. It’s a track Denny’s expected to win on … second place, considering where he’s at in points is like a loss.
Phil: Hamlin and Johnson do have excellent track records at Martinsville. Keselowski is OK, but I have no doubt that he’ll be better than in the past there.
Tom: I think one of the reasons for Hamlin’s urgency is you know the No. 48 will be one position ahead… or behind him. Because for Johnson, I think this race means nearly as much. J.J. clearly expected to leave Kansas either tied or in the points lead… I think that’s where his team expected to put the hammer down and rout Keselowski. One look at Keselowski after the race and you _knew_ he knew that. It looked like the point leader had just dodged a bullet aimed directly at his head.
Phil: To me, Keselowski seemed normal after the race Sunday. Perhaps he always looks like someone’s aiming for him, then.
Tom: Oh I think he knew how much keeping the point lead meant … especially with a car as ill-handling as they had. Johnson, for all intents and purposes had a second-place finish, minimum in the bag if he doesn’t wreck.
Amy: Even with their comeback, as it stands, if Johnson loses by a small margin, he can thank his move at Kansas for it. Remember, this is Keselowski’s first real championship bid…there is some pressure that comes along with that.
Tom: Right. Second place would have given him the point lead by one, a psychological advantage heading to one of the No. 48’s best tracks. Instead, he’s still fighting from behind. And, unlike Hamlin, I don’t think Keselowski risks cracking under the pressure… instead, he relishes it.
Amy: That I agree with. The head games that worked on Hamlin for Johnson won’t work with Keselowski.
Tom: Right. Johnson will not beat the No. 2 by playing mind games… so the longer the Keselowski crew sticks around, the more likely they’ll repel any Johnson charge. That means J.J. needs to start sticking it to Keselowski… now. With Johnson’s track record at Martinsville, combined with Kes’ struggles there anything less than leaving with the point lead has to be considered an F.
Amy: I think Johnson has one more ace up his sleeve on the schedule: Phoenix. His career average finish there is 5th. Keselowski’s is 22nd. If they’re even at the intermediates, as they have shown, Johnson and Hamlin have a distinct advantage at Martinsville and Phoenix if previous numbers mean anything.
Phil: Johnson is a tough out in Phoenix, I’ll admit. Same in Martinsville. However, what happens if we get a repeat of what happened back in April on Sunday?
Amy: We could, Phil. But it’s unlikely that both Hamlin _and_ Johnson will have a bad day at Martinsville and because of that, Keselowski has to improve on his average finish. Same deal at Phoenix.
Tom: No doubt. But the Hamlin/Johnson duo has to also follow through. I’ll go political… Kes keeps the point lead after Martinsville, I’d change the title race from “Leans Johnson” to “Toss-Up.” And Hamlin needs a win just to stay in the race.
Amy: Bowyer has an outside shot as well… _if_ both Keselowski and Johnson stumble. Kasey Kahne’s average finish at Martinsville is pretty bad, so he’s going to need a miracle to get back in it.
Tom: Bowyer, I agree Amy is a wild card… don’t know how he’s going to do. The big edge here is he has nothing to lose.
Amy: I honestly think Kahne is done. That leaves Bowyer as the only one who can make a huge run. But look at last year. Stewart was 19 back at this point, and he barely made that up. So a deficit of 20 or more is going to be tough to make up.
*Rumors abounded last week about the possibility of adding a dirt race to the Camping World Truck Series schedule, possibly at Eldora. Is this addition something that NASCAR should be exploring, or has its time past?*
Tom: It’s the best decision NASCAR’s been thinking of making all season long. Honestly, that’s what they should be doing in the Truck Series… thinking outside the box.
Phil: I think it would be interesting, if only because I’d like to see what it would be like. However, I fear that a lot of people would be disappointed. Remember the Goody’s Dash Series? They did a dirt race at Oglethorpe Speedway Park in Savannah the last year NASCAR sanctioned them. They were just barely faster than go-karts. Granted, these aren’t Pontiac Sunfires here, but I just hope they don’t get embarrassed. Also, if they do go to dirt tracks, watch out for Norm Benning. He could surprise at Eldora.
Amy: I’m going to go with a big, fat maybe. I think the racing would be great, and it would go a long way toward taking the Truck Series back to its roots on short tracks. _But,_ this move would have to be cost effective for the teams.
Tom: I agree that it needs to be cost effective. That’s the second thought in my head.
Amy: It would be interesting… back in the day, when NASCAR’s top series ran dirt, the vast majority of drivers had a dirt background. These days, many of them have never driven on a dirt oval. It could be a great race, but it could also be 2 to 1 cautions to green flag laps. Even though dirt would be novel, fans don’t want to watch endless caution laps. I _love_ Modifieds, but the race they ran at Martinsville where there were 132 laps of caution in a 200-lap event wasn’t very good racing. Add to that fact teams would have to build a dirt chassis, for just one race, and suddenly this change isn’t as easy as it seems.
Phil: Yeah, the recent Preludes have had a lot of yellows. I don’t think a three-hour truck race at Eldora is all that great of an idea.
Tom: But I think that it’s a step into what could be a bigger chunk of dirt track racing in the future. Plus, isn’t it less expensive to build a dirt track car than, say, one for superspeedways?
Phil: My guess is that they would simply convert a short track truck instead of starting from scratch.
Amy: Keep in mind those teams will only have two test sessions next year, and many would have to use one for a race on a track that is totally different… that’s not cost effective.
Phil: That’s two tracks on the NASCAR schedule, Amy. There’s nothing stopping these teams from going up to Bluegrass Speedway to test on their half-mile dirt track.
Tom: Exactly. And for fans that are hankering for something different… dirt track racing is something different. Look how popular the Prelude has become.
Amy: So popular they aren’t running it next year…
Phil: They’re apparently changing up the Dream weekend at Eldora. My guess is they needed to save up the money in order to pay the sanctioning fee. Anyways, I could see NASCAR stating to the teams that their dirt trucks could not be dedicated dirt trucks. You know, like what NASCAR did when they reintroduced road racing to the Nationwide Series.
Amy: ARCA doesn’t run a totally different chassis on dirt, i don’t think, but they do modify them. I think they would have to mandate that the chassis not be any different, otherwise the bigger-money teams would have a big advantage they shouldn’t be given.
Tom: Still think it’s a great idea overall. With the trucks, NASCAR should be adding more short tracks and dirt tracks, moving back towards a 25-race schedule — even if it means more regionalization — and see if those changes win back fans.
Amy: Short tracks, yes. Dirt tracks? It would be a novel idea, but not really a practical one.
Phil: I think that’s really dependent on the teams. You see all kinds of solutions for those two races (well, one this year since DuQuoin got cancelled after two rainouts).
Tom: It’s a cheaper way to beta test major changes than just throwing them, willy nilly at NASCAR’s biggest series.
Phil: I’m on board with that, Tom. It’ll definitely get people talking, to say the least. It’s been a long time since a Truck race sold out a track. Well, I’m sure that a Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora would sell out the grandstands and much of the hillside in Turns 3 and 4. I’m just a little unsure about how pitting would work. It’s been a while since quirky setups were used in the series.
Amy: I think they should go further, looking at tracks like Myrtle Beach and South Boston for 2013 — provided those tracks can update their safety equipment. Heck, most of the big 1.5-mile tracks have quarter-mile ovals on the front straight… why not run the quarter-mile at Charlotte, Texas, etc.?
Tom: Or go back to tracks we once abandoned, like the Rockingham experience to see if fans can come back.
*Predictions for Martinsville?*
Amy: I’m going with Jimmie Johnson…he’s pissed about last week and that makes him dangerous.
Tom: I’m going to go outside the box and say Clint Bowyer. He wins, giving false hope to the title Chase but Johnson runs second. Hamlin finishes ninth and falls out.
Phil: I’m going to go with Brian Vickers. I know, bit of a wild card pick, but he was strong there in the Spring.
*Mirror Predictions 2012*
Welcome to our sixth 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
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