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:
Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Wednesdays / The Frontstretch Five & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Thursdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short Track Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Wednesdays / NASCAR Mailbox & Frontstretch Senior Editor)
Brad Keselowski put on his second dominating performance in three weeks at New Hampshire on Sunday. Team Penske has something figured out, but can the team stay ahead of the game, or will other teams catch up before the Chase?
Summer: Oh, I think we’ll see the top competitors ebb and flow several times before the season is over. I think the 48 team will be just as competitive at the end of the season as they ever have been. That doesn’t mean Penske won’t still be there. I think they will be. But they won’t be dominant.
Amy: I agree, Summer. I think it’s far enough out that others have ample time to catch them before the Chase
Mike: : History generally repeats itself in this business. Somebody figures something out and it takes a while but everyone else catches up. Then someone else gets the advantage. My guess is they’ll be hot for the next three or four races but, by the time the Chase gets here, they’ll have been caught.
Summer: Totally agree.
Phil: I think that Keselowski and the No. 2 team are on a roll right now. That doesn’t mean that they’re unbeatable.
Amy: I think the Gibbs teams, which have been a little behind, will be a threat as well once they hit on it. Can Keselowski win the title? Absolutely, and so could Joey Logano…but other teams don’t need to be concerned yet.
Summer: I think that’s fair, Amy. I don’t think all three cars will be in contention, but I’m thinking the 18 and 11 have a good chance of being there.
Amy: NHMS was the first Chase track on the schedule where a few teams were in position to use it as a test, so it may not be an indicator of where they all are, either.
Mike: : I think the JGR teams are getting better. They’re still behind but they are closer than they have been. When Richmond is over, there will be 10-12 teams hitting on all cylinders. The 20 is going to make the Chase on points. It will be fantastic to see Kenseth win it with no wins this year since the first time they added the Chase was because of him not winning and now that they’re emphasizing winning he just might screw them up again.
Phil: That’s not looking likely. You can get into the Chase without one, but you’re probably going to have to score one somewhere.
Mike: : Dale Junior would have won it last year. Just sayin’.
Summer: That’s based on the finishing positions of the races last year, which I think is safe to assume would NOT have been the same had the current system been in place. We don’t know for sure whether he would have won the championship last year.
Amy: Yeah, you can’t say that any more than you can say whether Johnson would have six or not without the Chase…everyone would have run differently.
Mike: : True, and yes, people would do different things. But the point is it is possible. And it would be a hilarious development if someone takes the title without a win, or at least without a win in the Chase.
Summer: I’m telling you we will not have a winless champion. If we didn’t have one with any previous points system in all of NASCAR’s history, there is no reason we would have one with a system that strategically emphasizes wins.
Amy: But it is possible to win a title without a win and I’d love to see that happen. It would be awesome to see NASCAR’s reaction.
Summer: Why would we want something to happen that would effectively screw over the entire system?
Phil: To show that consistency will always win titles, no matter what.
Summer: So you want the season to be completely screwed up because YOU don’t like the system? Oh, that makes perfect sense.
Amy: Because the system stinks.
Mike: : Because some of us still believe racing should be about a season long champion. Not a “playoff system” that tries to mimic stick and ball sports.
Amy: Why would the season be screwed up? If a driver wins the title under the current system, he’s earned the title. It’s pretty simple, really.
Summer: I personally don’t care if a winless champion is crowned. But saying you want the season to be a farce because YOU don’t like it is ridiculous.
Mike: : No, that is a great way to point out the flaws of the system and hopefully get them to eventually go back to what it should be.
Summer: I agree too. But wanting someone to win the championship without a win because it would make NASCAR look bad is so stupid. They won’t change it back. You know that. And people have been screaming for NASCAR to implement a system that emphasizes wins for years and they do it and it’s still not good enough. At least they’re trying.
Mike: : Actually, I think that would be less of a farce than say, Kyle Larson wins three races in the Chase and comes in 10th at Homestead to win the title.
Amy: Exactly, Mike.
Summer: You know good and well that’s a highly unlikely scenario. How is that any better than someone having the title virtually locked up when there is still a good chunk of the season?
Phil: If that happened, Summer, then whoever that person was would have earned it.
Mike: : Because that means they were the best for the season. Winning a title by being good for a month is not a champion. It is a well-timed winner.
Amy: Exactly, Mike. This new system rewards winning, but in totally the wrong way with the eliminations and a one-race champion.
Summer: Anyway, I think Team Penske is strong right now but I don’t think they will be dominant once the Chase starts. Someone will catch up.
Amy: Getting back to Keselowski, I do think they’re peaking a little too early, giving other teams the time to figure out what they’re doing and catch up.
Joey Logano also had a fast car on Sunday, but his run was derailed after Logano had contact with Morgan Shepherd and hit the wall. Many fans called for NASCAR to impose an age limit for drivers, citing the 72-year-old Shepherd’s racing Logano while multiple laps down. Is that something that needs to be considered?
Summer: I really don’t think age had anything to do with that. And I don’t think Shepherd is a hazard on the track any more than some other drivers out there.
Mike: : Minimum speed might need to be addressed, but Morgan was legally in the race running well above minimum speed, so I don’t see anything to address about his age.
Amy: OK, all this crying about Shepherd’s age is ridiculous. It’s not like he’s the first guy to wreck someone from laps down and he won’t be the last. Should we find an excuse to ban them all, too? Should Brad Keselowski lose his license after Talladega?
Mike: : I will also say, I think it is bad taste that the talking heads on TV keep bringing up his age. He was running five MPH above the minimum speed, so from that perspective he was not a problem.
Amy: Yep, there was nothing NASCAR could black-flag him for, despite what many viewers seemed to think.
Mike: : No, but he was well above NASCAR’s minimum.
Summer: The comment was crappy of Logano. Like Logano has never done something stupid on the track and cost someone a position or a good race.
Mike: : Yes it was. But he was mad and I don’t blame him.
Summer: Every driver has done something stupid in his career.
Amy: Logano’s comments in general were pretty silly. Heat of the moment thing, but as if he’s perfect…
Mike: : He did some things because of his young age that hurt people’s days.
Summer: He absolutely did. If Logano was mad, that’s fine, but he should have backed off his comments later if that was really the case. If anything, he’s stood by them. Every driver, at some point, has done something stupid on the track. So for Logano to insert age into the equation is just crap. I’m not saying he didn’t have a right to be mad. He absolutely did.
Amy: The funny thing is, just a couple of years ago, fans were applauding Shepherd’s effort to race and urging people to buy him tires to run full races.
Mike: : It is funny because, if you watch some Truck series races, the back markers in those events are far more dangerous than Shepherd was. I didn’t have any problem with Morgan’s effort.
Summer: It always pisses me off when lapped cars interfere with the race going on up front.
Amy: Did Shepherd screw up and cause a wreck? Yup. Was it extra-stupid because he was 14 laps down? Yup. But it had nothing to do with his age. Old guys don’t have the market cornered on screwing up.
Mike: : Morgan said Logano came by him so closely that it pulled his car around. There may be some validity to that. We won’t know because there is no video of that moment.
Amy: True, Mike. These cars do get aero loose very easily.
Summer: Is it really Logano’s job to give a car 14 laps down room? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Mike: : Morgan was low. Slow is low is usually how it goes. If you are passing a car that is obviously not handling as well as yours then yes, you need to give them some extra room.
Phil: I thought that Shepherd clipped the apron in Turn 3 and that got him out of shape and into Logano. That can happen to anyone.
Amy: Again, there’s no video, but if Shepherd was giving Logano a lane, where else was he supposed to go?
Mike: : It’s not like he can stop on the track.
Amy: I think he had a right to be mad, but it wasn’t an age or ability thing. Shepherd only has one fewer Cup win than Logano does, after all.
Summer: Well I don’t think that has anything to do with it either. Wins or not, if Shepherd was driving like an idiot, he can rightfully be called out for it.
Mike: : Of course he had a right to be mad. And this ultimately goes back to the age old argument that, if they only awarded points for the top 20 or top 25, then cars that far off of the pace wouldn’t have a reason to be out there. But they award them all of the way through the pack so they stay out, thus allowing the rolling wrecks come back out for points.
Summer: I’m fully on board with that, Mike.
Phil: It wasn’t like Shepherd didn’t try to get out of the way. He did. Logano acknowledged that Shepherd got out of the way. He just ended up losing control. Apparently, the No. 33 was a beastly car to control before the wreck.
Amy: If he did drop all the way to the apron and Logano came by close enough to get him aero loose, whose fault is it really?
Mike: : Apparently that team had all sorts of issues that weekend. They left without a left rear on a pit stop at some point. They had EFI issues. It was a huge struggle for them. I don’t think driver ability had much to do with it. Nobody was going to do much with that car. They might not have wrecked it but they weren’t going to be competitive.
Summer: It sounds like they maybe shouldn’t have been out there at all. I know that’s cruel. I would never expect them to pull out. I’m sure they’re passionate about it and everything. But it sounds like they were more an obstacle than anything, and it would have been that way no matter who was in the car.
Amy: That’s exactly it, Summer–it was the underfunded car that was the problem, not the driver. I’d argue Stremme could have easily done the same thing. Should he lose his license too? Anyway, does NASCAR need an age limit? I don’t think so. I’d worry about an older driver having more potential to get hurt in a crash, but if they meet the requirements from NASCAR and have their doctor’s ok, then let them race.
Summer: I don’t have a problem with Morgan Shepherd being on the track anymore than I do some other back-markers who are constantly in the way. I don’t like them being in the way, of course, and I think it’s something NASCAR should look at. I think their own inability will chase them out of the top series at some point. But Morgan Shepherd’s age doesn’t worry me.
Mike: : I think we all agree. It is the minimum speed that needs to be examined, not some kind of age limit.
Summer: And maybe some sort of points cut-off point to keep slow cars from returning to the track when they are having issues.
Mike: : Don’t forget this point too. If you had 46 or 47 cars trying to qualify, that team isn’t on the track. The sport needs to get healthier, but we’ll leave that to the RTA.
Amy: Right, Mike, and it needs these smaller teams to do well in order to get healthier, so there you go.
Jimmie Johnson finished 42nd at Loudon Sunday after a pair of tire failures in the first 15 laps. Johnson has had continuing tire issues this year…will tires be the Achilles’ heel that keeps Johnson from winning a seventh title this year?
Summer: I highly doubt that. I’m sure they’ll figure it out before the Chase.
Phil: I mentioned this earlier. The team went way aggressive on tire pressure and it bit them.
Amy: I’ll say maybe. They’ve had multiple tire issues over the last two seasons…way more than anyone else.
Phil: They have to watch that since the new setups are harder on tires.
Mike: : They won’t push it that hard in the Chase. They are on the edge testing things out for the Chase. When the big money is on the line they are going to be sure that they finish races.
Summer: Right now, they can screw around with things like tire pressures and what-not. It won’t hurt them and they know it.
Amy: I’m thinking Loudon was a test session from the moment they rolled off the truck, so now they know what not to do in September.
Summer: I don’t know the statistics on that, but the 48 team doesn’t tend to have many issues at all during the Chase
Mike: : I know they are bummed they didn’t get more info from the day, but they tested up there and they know what they want to do. They qualified outside front row.
Amy: I will say that the tire issues may have hurt their position a little. Johnson could easily have five wins right now, maybe six.
Summer: Yeah but they don’t necessarily need them. That’s admittedly counter-intuitive to how this is supposed to work, but it’s a system this 48 team has mastered. They would rather test some things out now and use them in the Chase and potentially be ahead of their competition.
Amy: He’d start the Chase in second as it stands, but could easily have the lead.
Phil: In second on a tiebreaker. Whoop-dee-do.
Amy: That’s true, Summer, and this point in the season is all about testing for the Chase, with the exception of Indy, where they can always win, and maybe Watkins Glen, where Johnson is pretty bad anyway. That’s been that team’s M.O. since 2004.
Summer: Yeah and it has worked pretty well for them. They’re good everywhere. No one would be all that surprised if they won Watkins Glen and Chicago. Maybe more so than normal, but it wouldn’t be “OMG I can’t believe the 48 team won at Watkins Glen”.
Amy: Well, yeah it would. Not as big a surprise as if, say Morgan Shepherd won, but they’re not high on the list of favorites.
Summer: I would say his lack of success at Watkins Glen has more to do on where it falls on the schedule than his actual skill there. If Watkins Glen was the final race of the season, suddenly he would probably be unbeatable.
Amy: I don’t know, Summer, he was bad there before the Chase, too. As good as Johnson is, he’s not as versatile as Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart.
Mike: : No, but he still has one of the more spectacular “offs” ever at the Glen.
Amy: Yes, yes he does.
Summer: I disagree strongly with that. Johnson is not a crappy road racer. I don’t know that he could go to IndyCar and be as successful, so if that’s what you’re saying, I agree. But in NASCAR, he can win anywhere.
Amy: The only reason Johnson has a road course win at all is because Marcos Ambrose thought he could defy the laws of physics. Turns out he can’t, so Jimmie has that win. But he’s not as skilled as several others on the road courses. He’s not bad, but not a top talent, either. He’s so good everywhere but the road courses and the plate tracks that it makes him look worse than he really is.
Summer: And restrictor plate tracks he’s good at, but he’s had some bad luck. He’s won, what, two Daytona 500s? That’s not a slacker. I think Johnson is one of the most, if not the most, versatile driver on the circuit right now.
Mike: : I certainly wouldn’t go THAT far. Tony Stewart and Kyle Larson are about as versatile as it comes.
Amy: As far as the tire issue this week, I think it was something the 48 did that caused the tire issue for sure. They had trouble getting through tech Sunday. I think maybe when they changed something to pass tech, they created the tire issue
Mike: : Good point Amy. I didn’t think about that.
The Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire suffered from sparse attendance on Saturday, while the Camping World Truck Series race in Iowa, paired this week with the Verizon IndyCar Series, appeared to have a decent crowd. Should NASCAR be looking to pair up with IndyCar more in the future?
Phil: I’d argue that the decent crowd was more related to it being at Iowa Speedway than it being hooked up with IndyCar.
Mike: : This question has two parts. First of all, the attendance in Iowa was not very good if you consider it is one of the few race weekends they have during the year.
Phil: It wasn’t a sellout crowd, but it was pretty decent. A lot more than at some other tracks.
Mike: : Secondly, I think they should have more companion events with IndyCar but doing so does not increase attendance. I don’t think anyway.
Amy: Maybe it was, Phil, but it being essentially a stand-alone had something to do with it. According to Sonya Grady, who was there, people actually left Loudon after the Modified race, before NNS. That’s not good. NNS was supposed to be the Marquee event…fans paid for a ticket for both races and left after the Mods. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. It’s certainly not how it used to be at Loudon.
Mike: : New Englanders would leave a Red Sox game after the Modifieds run.
Summer: I don’t think that would have been the case at Southern racetrack. I think Mike is right. That’s just the culture in that part of the country. NH is nothing to fret about. Honestly, I love how fired up they get about Modifieds.
Amy: NASCAR needs to wake up to the fact that fans are tired of the Cup guys because they make the races so predictable. But it’s NOT, Summer. It wasn’t that way for years. Fans came and stayed all day at Loudon when the NNS race was a stand-alone. I know, because I was there for many of those Saturdays.
Summer: I don’t know. I don’t get it. To me, racing is racing and that’s good enough.
Mike: : I’m with Summer on that, but apparently we’re in the minority. I didn’t hear anyone screaming about Newman winning the Modified All-Star race.
Amy: Newman doesn’t do it every week, Mike. And I guarantee some of the diehard Modified fans didn’t like it. I love Loudon, but those NNS races did used to be way more fun when it was a stand-alone weekend.
Summer: Oh for God’s sake. It’s not the way it used to be, therefore it’s no fun anymore. Sigh…it’s ok to be nostalgic without being bitter. If it was more fun to you, that’s great, but that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it now.
Amy: Well, for a lot of fans, it isn’t fun anymore. Clearly there is something wrong if 2/3 of the people left before the race…
Summer: Like I said, I don’t understand those people. Racing is racing, there’s no need to be picky.
Amy: Fans are smarter than that Summer. They get what makes the racing desireable to watch. And what’s getting shoved down their throats in those series right now at companion events clearly isn’t it.
Summer: How is saying that “racing is racing” equivalent to “fans are stupid?” I’m just saying that they are choosing to be unhappy. Not every race is going to be exciting. That’s just the way it is.
Mike: : I don’t understand it either. I know some people think I’m nuts but I go to see a race. No matter who is in it. And I enjoy it for what it is, a race. Whoever wins wins. Simple as that. Doesn’t matter whose equipment or what their normal job is.
Summer: But who cares who is in it? The race can be fantastic with or without Cup guys in it. Why is that not what matters? Because you would think that race fans would care about the race. That doesn’t have anything to do with their intelligence.
Amy: Of course not every race is going to be exciting. But having the winner practically predetermined is not what fans want to see. If fans are unhappy with the product, then the product is flawed.
Summer: It’s not pre-determined, though. That’s why you watch.
Phil: True. When fans believe the outcome is predetermined, they stop coming. On the local scene, if that’s the case, car count suffers.
Amy: I go to see the race, too, but I don’t want to be 95% sure of the outcome.
Summer: Hell, there are guys at my local dirt track that it’s pretty freaking likely that they’ll win. But you still go because you want to watch a race.
Amy: But more and more fans aren’t watching those series, Summer. That’s my point.
Summer: But that’s stupid! I don’t understand it. It’s a freaking race. Why in the hell would you quit watching because of, what, five people?? People didn’t quit watching when various others were dominating the sport, so why start now??
Mike: : Local racing is having one of the greatest seasons in years based on attendance. How do you say fans aren’t watching those series?
Amy: Local stuff, sure. Because the guy winning every week likely isn’t running equipment that’s five times more expensive and coming from a higher division to pick up a few trophies.
Summer: You don’t know that. What if they have more money? Hell, you could make the argument that it’s pre-determined Johnson is going to win every year. We still watch.
Mike: : I would dispute that. Most of the guys that dominate local tracks have far better equipment than most every other car on the track.
Amy: Because he’s winning among his true peers! Same with Johnson. There’s a huge difference.
Mike: : I love going to a race like the Oxford 250 or the Winchester 400 when a Cup guy shows up. It is cool seeing them run a local show. Same thing for me in the Nationwide and Trucks. It makes the other drivers better.
Summer: That’s how I feel. It enhances the competition. It doesn’t take away from it.
Mike: : I like watching a great race driver no matter what he’s competing in.
Summer: I know sometimes they dominate and the race sucks, but that happens in Cup too. It happens everywhere.
Phil: True. The same used to happen when Tony Stewart would randomly show up at Lebanon Valley.
Amy: Anyway, I’d argue that what the fans want is what NASCAR should be doing, if they want long-term gain. They aren’t doing it. That’s bad business.
Mike: : I guess. Since that is what the fans seem to be saying. I just don’t know that it will get better without the Cup guys in the races.
Amy: I don’t think they should be limited from the races. I think they should not be able to run for the same owner in both series.
Phil: Without the Cup drivers in the field, the races would look a little different. Regulars would definitely get more exposure. I’d argue that some of the regular teams might be a little stronger without the Cup guys.
Summer: Smaller teams in Cup would be stronger without HMS.
Amy: I think it would be good if the Cup guys did a few races for a small-time owner in NNS, get the team a little TV tno Cup team should be allowed in the NW series? Or just not the same drivers? Because I really don’t think it makes a difference.
Phil: There would be a difference between Carl Edwards driving for Jack Roush and Carl Edwards driving for Robby Benton (that’s happened before).
Amy: Cup owners should be able to run with development drivers, and Cup drivers should be able to run for other owners. That would solve a lot of the series’ issues
Summer: So we limit these guys’ ability because it puts on a better show. That’s BS. I don’t know how to completely solve the issues with the lower series, but I also think it’s ridiculous to expect the lower series to have huge ratings and huge attendance. Only diehards have ever paid attention to those series and it will always be the way.
Amy: Of course they won’t get the number of fans as Cup races. But they used to have a large fan base of their own.
Mike: : I don’t know the answer. I’ve seen great races with no Cup guys that have crappy attendance and terrible races with Cup guys that have packed stands. I think you just need to pay Dale Jr. to race every Nationwide race and then it will all be better.
Summer: It could ALWAYS be better and I would love for it to be. But it’s not going to happen overnight and I don’t think the series problem is just Cup drivers.
Mike: : That’s all I’ve got.
Summer: Okay, so are we done ?
Mike: : I feel done, do you feel done?
Mirror Predictions 2014
Welcome to our seventh 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
Camping World RV Sales 301
|Amy Henderson||Jimmie Johnson||42nd||-3|
|Mike Neff||Matt Kenseth||4th||+3|
|Phil Allaway||Kyle Busch||2nd||+3|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|