Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, 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*:
Amy Henderson “(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Toni Montgomery “(Frontstretch IndyCar Managing Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/360/
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor / NASCAR Truck Series Insider)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Summer Bedgood “(Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/32577/
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch NASCAR & IndyCar Contributor)
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/
*Who is the most overrated driver in NASCAR today?*
Matt S.: Oh, this ought to be good…
Summer: Is that a serious question?
Beth: This one’s opening a can of worms…
Phil: Probably someone like Kyle Busch. Yes, he’s won 50+ races in the Nationwide Series, but he’s prone to choking in Cup.
Matt S.: A.J. Allmendinger. Yeah, I know he’s not technically a full-time driver at this point but I simply do not get the fascination with this guy (even after the drug suspension!). He did absolutely nothing to warrant getting the No. 22 ride, and then proceeded to do absolutely nothing in the same equipment that Brad K. would go on to win a championship with.
Phil: I’d argue that he got the No. 22 ride because Kurt Busch made the situation impossible there. Allmendinger just so happened to be the best driver available at the time.
Amy: That’s a tough call. I’d say Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is on the list because with his name, the whole world expected a clone of his father.
Mike N.:Hard to call someone overrated who has 19 Cup wins, Amy. I’d go with Martin Truex, Jr.
Summer: I think Joey Logano is a good candidate for this question.
Amy: I think Carl Edwards is on the list. Yes he’s got some wins, but on pure talent, he doesn’t stack up against his peers. I think the best measure of a driver is less in the numbers and more in watching them. Can they make a fifth-place car a winner, or do they finish fifth in it? Edwards doesn’t make a fifth-place car a winner. On the other hand, Keselowski makes a fifth-place car a winner. To me, that makes him a better driver.
Summer: You say Keselowski might be a better driver than Edwards. (Which, by the way I disagree with.) But even if that’s proven true, that doesn’t make Edwards overrated.
Mike N.:It doesn’t make them overrated just because they can’t make a winner out of a fifth-place car. It makes them overrated when they have talk every year about contending for a title and don’t even win.
Beth: Plus, it’s not up to the driver to make the changes needed for the car to perform well enough. Sure, he can give the feedback, but it takes a strong crew chief to take that feedback and put it into use in the car.
Amy: Numbers aside who’s a better driver, Matt Kenseth or Carl Edwards? I say Kenseth, any day.
Mike N.:Edwards tied for the title in 2011, Amy.
Amy: And didn’t win it because he couldn’t win when it counted.
Summer: He freaking _tied!_ Had he finished one position better in _one_ other race he would have won the championship! Forget winning … that’s _one_ spot.
Amy: Exactly, Summer… and he couldn’t do it.
Mike N.:But he’s still won. And won a lot. Plus he was that close, Amy. Logano, Allmendinger, Truex Jr… they don’t win or contend.
Summer: That’s ridiculous, Amy. I don’t mean one position at Homestead. I mean literally anywhere else. He was seriously one position away from the championship, as opposed to literally anyone else in the field.
Mike N.:Whereas Truex, Logano and Allmendinger were all mentioned before the 2012 season as title contenders.
Amy: We’ll move on… agree to disagree. David Ragan also comes to mind for me. And David Gilliland. Gilliland is solid, but he’s sure gotten a lot of mileage from one NNS win.
Matt S.: Ragan was a better candidate for the No. 22 car in my opinion. But given the fact that most people already have a low opinion of him, I’d say its tough to call him overrated.
Mike N.:I don’t know why Ragan has a ride, but he’s not considered a Chase contender. Ever.
Summer: That’s what overrated is, though. Someone who is labeled as competitive but really is about midpack.
Amy: To me, it’s anyone who gets more attention than their record or skill would suggest. Cough, Danica Patrick, Cough.
Matt S.: Surprised no one has mentioned ol’ Dani yet.
Summer: Yeah, but Danica wins that by default.
Phil: As for Patrick, she’s Danica. Needs more seasoning, but can’t get the seasoning.
Beth: Danica Patrick will get there. She’s shown improvement and has learned some things. It just takes time.
Summer: That doesn’t mean she isn’t overrated, Beth. I agree that she has shown great potential, but even then she’s overrated.
Amy: Get where, Beth? I don’t see her ever being any kind of title contender. She wasn’t in IndyCar, either.
Matt S.: I’ll reserve my judgment on Danica until she has two full Cup seasons under her belt. For now, I think her experience in the foot-to-the-floor IZOD IndyCar Series translates well to plate racing. She might be a threat at Talladega next year, but not Daytona.
Amy: She’s overrated now based on the hype she’s gotten. Half the media acts like she could win every race she enters.
Mike N.:I don’t think anyone in the media acts like she could win every race. I think those that choose to report on her, incessantly do it because she has a huge fan base and that gets their articles a large amount of hits.
Matt S.: Bobby Labonte is overrated at this point in his career, too.
I’ve heard numerous fans say they think he deserves another shot in good equipment, but honestly I think he is completely washed up at this point in his career. That JTG equipment is better than B-Lab makes it look.
Summer: I agree, Matt. I laugh when I hear that.
Mike N.:I think the opposite. I think JTG cars are junk. Labonte makes them last to the finish and gets the most out of them.
Phil: It’s a little hard to say. This year was the first season for JTG-Daugherty without full MWR support. There would be growing pains.
Matt S.: He was pretty ineffectual in the year they had MWR equipment, too though.
Amy: So were the other MWR cars, Matt. JTG-Daugherty might have picked a bad year to break off…
Summer: You guys are saying Labonte might be better than his equipment suggests. But he will never, ever contend for a championship again and I highly doubt he’ll win. JGR could put him back in a car with full funding and I would still say that.
Mike N.:I don’t know if Labonte would contend for a title but he could win a race just as easily as Logano did.
Amy: That I’ll agree with, Mike. I think Labonte could eke out a win or two in a great car.
Matt S.: Jeff Gordon struggled to eke out a win or two this past year in a great car. And he’s four times the driver Bobby ever was — even in his prime.
Summer: _Anyone_ could “eke out” a win in a good enough car. That’s not the point. They’re not proven _winners._
*Who’s the most underrated driver?*
Mike N.:Jimmie Johnson. Dude is a five-time champion and gets almost zero credit for his ability to drive a car.
Summer: Jimmie is _not_ underrated.
Beth: That’s a load of bull, Mike. How many times have others in the media handed him the championship long before it was over? The guy can drive, and anyone who pays attention knows that.
Mike N.:When is the last time you heard him seriously discussed as one of the best drivers ever?
Summer: Like every day.
Beth: What Summer said.
Mike N.:I must listen to the wrong discussions.
Summer: Do you watch ESPN and SPEED? Because they’re all over him as being the second coming.
Mike N.:I’m constantly hearing that the only reason he wins is because of Chad and the Chase. If it wasn’t for that, he’d have one title and that was because of everyone else struggling that year.
Summer: That’s from his detractors. Everyone has those. _Especially_ the most successful. But general perception is he’s one of the greatest. Which is a stupid thing to say because Jimmie’s competitors were racing with the Chase system too.
Matt S.: Jimmie Johnson is grossly, grossly, grossly underrated. He is the best driver of his era, and in my opinion he is the third best NASCAR driver of all-time. Earnhardt->Pearson->Johnson->Petty->Gordon.
Summer: Matt and Mike, can you please share what you’re smoking with the rest of the group?
Mike N.:I haven’t heard y’all come up with anyone else.
Summer: Because we’re too busy arguing it.
Phil: Underrated in Cup? It’s a little hard to tell. I’d say someone like Marcos Ambrose. However, most people wouldn’t consider him a legitimate contender until he wins an oval race.
Summer: As far as underrated… I’m going to go back to what I said earlier. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is overrated because of his inflated fan base but I feel like he’s underrated with everyone else because of it. In other words, I don’t think he’s a part of the discussion as much as he should be.
Phil: Because of Earnhardt Jr.’s fanbase, it’s difficult to honestly rate him. You get crushed either way.
Beth: You could almost say Clint Bowyer is underrated. He showed some promise for much of the year and would have been in the championship battle at Homestead if not for Jeff Gordon’s boneheaded move at Phoenix.
Summer: Great point, Beth. No one pays enough attention to him.
Beth: Think about it…Bowyer put up his best numbers yet in 2012, outrunning his previous six seasons. And he also finished top 3 in points back in 2007 (third).
Amy: I think Bowyer is a bit underrated, Beth. He’s never given credit as a championship-caliber driver, and yet he is.
Toni:A little late to the party on J.J., but here’s how I see it. Michael Schumacher and Jimmie Johnson accomplished similar things as far as winning championships in their respective series. Are they viewed the same? Does Johnson get the same kind of accolades? I don’t think so.
Matt S.: What exactly does Johnson need to do to prove he is one of the best of all-time? Is five straight championships seriously not good enough?
Amy: That’s just it – among fans, Johnson gets little credit for his achievements. They say he only wins because of his cars, or because of his crew chief.
Toni:My point about the Schumacher-Johnson comparison, continued. If you ask fans, Schumacher carried Ferrari to all those wins and championships because he was such a great driver. But Johnson… Hendrick and Chad Knaus carried Johnson to all those championships. That’s the way it seems to be viewed.
Summer: Or because of the Chase. But still…. I think in _general_ he is given more than enough credit.
Amy: But there’s always an excuse as to why he does well… as a pure driver, he’s underrated.
Beth: That’s among people who don’t like the guy, Amy. That’s _always_ going to happen regardless of who you’re talking about.
Summer: Just because he’s not given the same weepy stories as the Hall of Famers doesn’t mean there isn’t a tremendous amount of respect. I feel like that will come in another 10 to 15 years. I don’t think anyone truly realizes greatness until after the fact. I was too young back then, but the perception I get is that Earnhardt Sr. was hated until he died. Now all of a sudden, speak ill of him and you need witness protection.
Phil: It just seemed that way. In reality, Dale Earnhardt had a lot of fans. Probably more than anyone else.
Amy: And nobody ever said the only reason he won was Kirk Shelmerdine.
Matt S.: Earnahardt was the definition of polarizing. But Summer’s right — all of the people who hated him softened their opinion because he died so tragically.
Matt S.: Richard Petty’s cars were _miles_ better than his competition back in the day, yet we still consider him one of the three or four best of all-time. How is that any different than Johnson? Johnson did it in a time when the competition was about five times more stiff.
Mike N.:That’s why I don’t put Petty in my top 5 best drivers.
Amy: Speaking of Petty, I also think Aric Almirola is pretty underrated in the No. 43. I think if the RPM team can improve a bit, he could really surprise people.
Matt S.: I agree on Almirola, Amy – he will surprise many people next year.
Summer: I also agree with Almirola. I think Kansas was pretty indicative of that.
Phil: I figured that Almirola could do what he was doing by the end of the year in the No. 43. Just took him 30 races to get in the groove.
Beth: Almirola is one of those that has come into his own and if further proof of what I mentioned in the last question when talking about Danica. As for my “darkhorse pick,” I think I’d even go out on a limb and say Kurt Busch is a bit underrated, but that’s got more to do with his attitude. So many people want to see him fail because he’s had a history of blowing up at the most inopportune times. But can anyone tell me the last time Furniture Row Racing put up three consecutive top 10s?
Phil: Never, Beth. Kurt is quietly doing very well in the No. 78. If that’s going to be the norm next year, I think I’ll like that.
Mike N.:I’m with you on that, Beth. He is a wheelman without a doubt. He gets more out of a car than most anyone else can.
Beth: He just happens to be one of those that can’t keep his temper in check. And think about what he managed to do with Phoenix Racing equipment… there were so many times he would’ve finished top 5 or top 10 but something happened.
Summer: I don’t think Kurt’s underrated. He’s a former champ — and he’s done what was expected.