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)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
Jimmie Johnson’s win at Martinsville made him the first repeat winner of 2013. Though we’re only six races in, are we possibly looking at a sixth championship from the No. 48 team?
Summer: It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if that happened. And, no, I don’t think it’s too early.
Phil: It’s certainly possible, especially if he has any more weekends like Martinsville. Woof.
Amy: I don’t think you can ever count Johnson out when talking about the title, but it’s still too early to say he’s the favorite.
Summer: I don’t care if it’s the first lap of the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson is always the default favorite.
Amy: I don’t agree with that. A favorite, yes, always, but not the only one.
Phil: Six weeks is a little early to declare Johnson the favorite. I don’t necessarily buy into Johnson inheriting that title automatically… as if no one else can usurp him. For all we know, all heck could go down later in the year, like with Hamlin and Johnson has to take a back seat for a while.
Amy: Brad Keselowski is also looking equally stout so far.
Summer: I was just thinking about that earlier today. The standings today look very similar to the way they did at the end of last year.
Amy: And Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just might put up more of a fight than people think. Plus, Kasey Kahne will be a threat before it’s over.
Summer: I hope we get some new contenders this year, though. Keselowski was fun, but it gets old seeing the same people every year.
Amy: Now, does the road to the title lead through Johnson? Absolutely. But does he have a stranglehold on it? Not yet.
Summer: I think that’s true, too, but I feel like he’s so strong all year, every year, that it’s never “too early” to consider the No. 48 championship favorites. A favorite is a more accurate description than the favorite, but still.
Amy: I agree, Summer, but I don’t see a new contender with the current economic structure… in the top 20 in points, there are two drivers not racing for Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, Childress, or their satellites and neither are going to make the Chase.
Summer: I don’t see a new contender with that and with Johnson still being on the track. He’s going to have to get worse before anyone else gets better.
Phil: It’s also not unprecedented in NASCAR history that one dude would be in contention to win something like seven titles in a decade. Both Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon did that. Neither won that many in one decade, but they were in contention. There are few weekends in recent years that were as dominant as Johnson’s was last weekend. No one could touch him for most of it.
Summer: Johnson should be able to sit out Martinsville so someone else has a chance. Well, I mean contenders aside from Jimmie Johnson. Should he falter, ever an Edwards vs. Keselowski championship would be fun to watch, though I’m not sure that’s going to happen with the way Edwards is running.
Amy: Keselowski-Edwards would be OK if you want anyone but Johnson. However, Johnson and Keselowski race each other with so much respect and so hard that it’s hard to beat watching them go at it. Texas last fall was just awesome.
Phil: Truth is, almost any championship battle will be interesting to watch, whether Johnson is in that bunch or not.
Amy: I don’t know. I think Johnson-Keselowski is a better match up because of the way they race each other on track.
Summer: It’s nothing against Jimmie, but eventually it gets tiring watching the same ending to every movie. It’s the reason I don’t like chick flicks. Anyway, I think Johnson will be there at the end like every year. I’m not even paying attention to that. I’m more interested into who else will be racing for the championship.
Amy: Johnson will be there, but he won’t have a cakewalk; plenty of others are there as well.
Phil: Sunday showed that Johnson will be someone that will have to be dealt with at some point this season. He’s a threat. And he seems quite loose as well, as that tweet he sent out shows.
Danica Patrick’s 12th-place finish had even her toughest critics raising their eyebrows, even though it was the first time since Daytona she’d shown any potential. So which one is the real Patrick? Is she undersold by her critics or was Martinsville just a fluke?
Amy: Probably a little of both.
Summer: I don’t think she’s undersold, but that wasn’t a fluke either. She did a good job. Still, to me this doesn’t prove she’s “legit” or whatever. A 12th-place finish for the first time in weeks does not prove anything.
Phil: I told you last week I was surprised she hadn’t gotten a top 20 so far. I didn’t think it would happen Sunday, though.
Summer: I didn’t think she’d get more than a few top 20s this year at a place other than Daytona or Talladega, let alone a top 15 at a short track.
Amy: Is she undersold by some? Maybe, though she’s not anywhere near the level of the sport’s best drivers. Was it a fluke? No, although she’s not a terrible driver and she wasn’t the only one to come from the back on Sunday.
Summer: I agree, Amy. It was a good run for her but it hardly proved anything we didn’t already know.
Phil: I do agree that she did well. Minded her P’s, Q’s and X’s and brought her SS home all but clean. If she can translate that performance onto other tracks, then there just might be some good times for her this year.
Amy: I think she’s good for a few top 15s, but she’s no title contender. The top 25 in points is realistic; a top 20 is a stretch.
Phil: In this case, it proves that Patrick can grasp short track racing, something that she has very little experience doing.
Summer: Expectations are relatively low for her. I’ll be more impressed if she keeps this up over the next few weeks, which I doubt. That’s not to say she hasn’t done well for her experience level. But she’s more overrated than under.
Phil: 20th to 25th in points this year is most likely the target for Patrick, but I’m not sure if that will satisfy GoDaddy.
Summer: Phil, as long as she’s in their commercials, I don’t think they care. She gets tons of press regardless of where she finishes. She ran 12th and we act like she won the damn race.
Amy: I was more impressed on Sunday with guys like Bobby Labonte or Casey Mears, who came from the back in lesser equipment than Patrick. She has cars good enough to win.
Phil: Admittedly, I’d argue the 12th at Martinsville that Mears had in 2011 was more impressive than yesterday. But, Mears has had a very good start to the season. I’d like to see Germain Racing keep that up, maybe get on the good side of the garage once Watkins Glen comes around.
Amy: Look, I don’t think Danica’s a terrible driver. She has an IndyCar win. But she’s nowhere close to what some people made her out to be. Which is a shame, because she can never live up to that.
Summer: No, because anything she ever accomplishes will be blown up 10 times more than it should be just because she’s a female.
Phil: Yeah, she might be the most overrated racer in motorsports. Not her fault. Being a woman is probably part of it. But despite her win at Motegi, she isn’t the most successful female racer out there. Heck, Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann have had more successful careers and they’re on the sidelines right now.
Summer: What about Johanna Long? Or Ana Beatriz? Or other women in motorsports? It’s not the same for them, which is what I don’t understand. What about all the winning female NHRA drivers?
Amy: Have you ever seen Johanna Long pose half-naked across her car?
Summer: Is that really why? Is society really that shallow?
Amy: What else could it be, Summer?
Summer: I mean … yes, obviously, but it’s so hard to believe that people even in the motorsports industry think that way.
Phil: For some people, yes, they are. I could care less about that kind of stuff.
Summer: Me neither.
Amy: She’s less successful, less talented, but more provocative.
Summer: Some other media outlets will be all over her, but barely mention the other female drivers in any other capacity. It’s maddening, quite honestly.
Phil: Problem is that a lot of other female racers don’t have anything approaching the marketing power behind them that Patrick has. I will say this, though. I believe any female racer, with the possible exception of Milka Duno, will be more popular than an equal male driver seemingly just because they’re female.
Summer: Anyway, as far as Martinsville was concerned … it was impressive, but not enough to convince me she’s a long-term success.
Amy: Patrick drove that car to the front on Sunday, and we shouldn’t take that away from her. But at the same time, don’t expect that every week.
Phil: I’ll agree with that. Texas will be another challenge for Danica. We’ll see how she handles it. I think she’ll finish 24th.
The Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, and this “wild asphalt circus” is shaping up to be more of a boxing ring if you’re paying any attention to the headlines. That begs the question… should all of us be taken aback by the drama and rivalries of the sport, or is that just one more reason to enjoy racing?
Summer: I think it’s so much a part of the sport, it’s hard not to get caught up in it.
Phil: I guess it’s just another level to the action. I tend not to notice all that stuff, but the TV dudes (especially Darrell Waltrip) just love to jam it down our throats.
Amy: My opinion is it’s one more reason to enjoy the sport. Why Texas tries to play itself off like a short track, I don’t know though, because they will never, ever equal the racing at a place like Martinsville. I expect more of a “mild asphalt circus” this weekend.
Phil: If we were all “taken aback” by the drama in the sport, we’d be nothing more than a bunch of “marks,” to steal a wrestling term.
Amy: There’s been drama and rivalries since 1948 in NASCAR – that won’t change. Yeah, if you’re taken aback by it, you might need to pick a new sport.
Phil: I’d make a statement about “can you buy this kayfabe,” but that’s enough wrestling terms for one day.
Summer: I guess the argument could be made that it’s too glamorized, but even then it’s the drivers who do it.
Amy: By the way, I was shocked to hear fans who saw Sunday’s race on TV call it boring. If they thought it was boring, they either only tuned in to watch someone get punted, or FOX failed miserably with the broadcast.
Summer: I’ve noticed fans react better to storylines than actual racing. I don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve noticed. I didn’t think Fontana was a lot better than Martinsville in terms of racing but it had better storylines.
Phil: Maybe that’s more of a “casual fan” thing. I don’t know.
Summer: I don’t think so, Phil. I see diehard fans reacting the same way. It doesn’t make sense either. The race could suck, but everyone would love it if there was a fight or something. I think it’s another strike against how shallow some audiences are, but we’re all guilty of that.
Amy: Are we, though? I think most fans just want good racing.
Summer: Well, maybe shallow is too strong a word. They’re going to get a lot more excited over an on-track rivalry than three-wide racing.
Phil: A lot do want good racing. There are quite a few that want more, though. I think people expect three-wide racing to a certain extent on a weekly basis. A fight is much more rare.
Summer: That’s what I mean, Phil. It’s not that they don’t want good racing. But they want to have their cake and eat it too.
Amy: Again, are we? I like both, because both make good racing.
Summer: I think there are plenty of individuals who still expect too much. There is also a fair amount of over-glamorizing these rivalries. But, at the same time, it’s accepted as a part of the sport. Heck, it’s accepted as a part of any sport or competition.
Amy: Rivalries and drama are a great part of racing, but they aren’t the only part that makes it great.
Johnny Sauter has had an incredibly strong start to the year in the Camping World Truck Series. Will he carry it on through Rockingham or will someone dethrone him?
Amy: That could really go either way. Rockingham is still a relative unknown.
Phil: Well, if Sauter’s going to do it, he’ll have to fend off a bunch of people. That field won’t be easy to top by any means. By my count, any one of 15 dudes could win. Beware of Joey Logano. He nearly lapped the field there in the Carolina 500k a few years ago.
Amy: Logano was dominant there in ARCA, but that doesn’t mean much.
Summer: I’ve been going back and forth. I really don’t know. Like Amy said, Rockingham is really the reason I can’t decide. There’s no “favorite” on that track yet.
Phil: You’ve got 40+ entries, a number of drivers without much experience there, and tires that go off like no one’s business. I suppose it’s about time that Hillenburg puts down another layer of sealer on the 18 to 19-year-old pavement, but this race will be interesting to watch regardless. Also, the defending champion and the most dominant driver from last year’s edition aren’t entered.
Summer: I wouldn’t be surprised if Sauter’s teammate, Matt Crafton, was the one to knock him off the podium. Also … Kyle Larson is going to be running Rockingham, too and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do well at all.
Phil: You’ve got Larson and a buttload of young ‘uns in good equipment. Just qualifying for this race won’t be easy, if you’re not already locked in.
Summer: That will make it fun to watch. But the more we discuss the ringers, the more I don’t think Sauter will win three in a row. I think he could, but there are so many other guys coming in just for Rockingham, the odds are so stacked against him.
Phil: True; just too many great drivers in great trucks standing in the way. He’ll run well on Sunday if nothing stupid happens, but I don’t see him winning.
Summer: Also, it’s hard to win three in a row. Throw in a track like Rockingham, and it’s darn near impossible. Don’t ask me who I think will win, though. Because I have no clue.
Phil: Sunday’s race is going to be wide open. As I mentioned, any one of 12-15 guys could win. I would even throw someone like Chase Elliott in there. Wouldn’t that be something?
Predictions for Texas?
Summer: Jimmie Johnson.
Phil: I’m going with Greg Biffle.
Amy: For Texas, I’m going with Matt Kenseth.
Connect with Amy!
Contact Amy Henderson
Connect with Summer!
Contact Summer Bedgood