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)
Summer Bedgood (Wednesdays / NASCAR Mailbox & Frontstretch Senior Editor)
The race at Kentucky Speedway featured just three lead changes and attendance was very low. In addition, some drivers were complaining about the bumpy racing surface. Would a repave help the racing, or does the speedway need to do something else to improve the product?
Phil: I don’t think a repave would help. You’d have a smoother version of what we have, essentially.
Amy: I don’t think a repave is the answer at all. The racing is usually worse at a repaved track, not better.
Summer: I think they are still trying to recover from that traffic mess, similar to how the Brickyard will take a long time to fully recover from the tire issue. And, no, please don’t repave it.
Amy: I agree with that as far as at-track attendance, Summer. It was a terrible experience for those fans and they’ve been true to their word about never returning. Good for them.
Phil: You could argue that Kentucky is dealing with the same issues Indianapolis is after the tire debacle. Attendance never recovered there either. Also of note, Indianapolis is about 110 miles away from Kentucky Speedway.
Summer: Right. I don’t agree “good for them”, because they’ve done what they can to fix their mistakes. It was a mess, yes, but would they really rather lose a race because of it?
Amy: That’s a good point, Phil. But, other than those in close proximity to Kentucky, did anyone really want it on the schedule in the first place? I meant good for fans for taking a stand. Maybe that should happen more often to exact change.
Summer: I don’t think there was any need to add it. It’s good for the fans in Kentucky–the ones who still come–so I mean nothing against them. But adding another intermediate to the schedule seemed unnecessary. Yeah, Amy, but at what cost? Eventually they have to give the track another chance or it will lose its date. And, bad track or not, a live race will always be better in person.
Amy: They should lose a race, frankly. The racing is terrible for the same reason it’s terrible at every other 1.5-mile track on the schedule.
Phil: Kentucky? Yeah, I remember a large outcry for a Cup race there, but it had long since died down by the time they actually got one.
Amy: Yeah, there is a lot of good racing every week that TV doesn’t show, but the 1.5-milers produce the worst racing on the circuit other than plate races. That’s why fans aren’t going or watching.
Summer: Right, which is why I didn’t get the addition. Even if intermediates did provide good racing (and they sometimes do, depending on tires, aero package, age of the track, etc.), why add another? What value did Kentucky add to the schedule other than the local market? And it doesn’t help when people don’t show up.
Phil: A lot of times, the TV dudes have storylines that they want to cover. Sometimes, they need to deviate from them a little more.
Summer: I feel kind of bad saying that, though. I don’t know if it’s one of those issues where a full crowd at Martinsville would look like a crappy crowd at a larger track. Perhaps there was a large crowd at Kentucky, it just wasn’t near capacity.
Phil: True, it wasn’t. I guess a Cincinnati outlet estimated 60-80 thousand people, including the infield. That would mean that the place was a little more than half full.
Summer: Which is kind of awesome, actually. It just looks like crap on TV. In terms of the national audience, though, I agree that Kentucky adds nothing special to the schedule. I don’t have a problem with Kentucky, but I don’t get excited when it’s coming up next. As far as the crowd, I really wish the fans who showed up to the first race would come back. God knows the track is trying.
Phil: Kentucky has been a disappointment. For the age of the track, the groove hasn’t expanded in almost a decade. It’s like the place is defective or something.
Amy: The reality is, races don’t draw as well for a variety of reasons. Prices for a weekend at the track have gotten ridiculous, the racing is just okay to most viewers, and fans have gotten so cynical that they don’t think there could possibly be a race with a finish that wasn’t predetermined by NASCAR.
Phil: It’s not even so much the ticket prices. They’ve been kinda stagnant since the late 1990’s. It’s everything else.
Amy: NASCAR should have left Kentucky to the real horses and added Mid-Ohio or something for the Ohio market. As far as some fans’ perception of the sport as a whole, which I think are largely far off the mark, I don’t know how NASCAR can improve that. Even if there are no debris cautions, someone cries foul about something.
Summer: Yeah. They do. Every single time. If the race is fantastic, it’s contrived and gimmicky, and if the race is boring, it’s NASCAR’s fault and they’ve ruined the sport.
Phil: That’s not just in NASCAR. That’s everywhere in life.
Summer: I know it is. It’s stupid, but it’s true.
After Home Depot announced its departure from NASCAR last week, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Dollar General has extended and expanded its sponsorship of Matt Kenseth. Does this provide a solid enough foundation for JGR to make an expansion to four teams without losing a step?
Summer: Hah… No. I don’t think four teams will be a good move to begin with, let alone when they are finalizing some sponsor deals.
Phil: It does help. I’d like the No. 20 to have full sponsorship before JGR makes the move up to 4 cars. As of right now, they need money for 8 more weekends for Kenseth.
Amy: Um…yes and no. Having the 20 sewn up gives them the window to put things in place without having to deal with that. But expansion is rarely as easy as it would seem. Just ask Tony Stewart and Richard Childress about that.
Summer: Hendrick seems to be the only team that can have all four of their teams successful. I don’t think JGR will be able to.
Amy: It took Hendrick Motorsports years before they could field four competitive teams. Roush Fenway never got it.
Summer: HMS rarely ever did that until this year, not as consistently anyway.
Amy: I think JGR can do it if they look at the big picture and look for success for all four years down the road, not weeks or months.
Phil: I remember the consistent discussions about Hendrick’s No. 25 being an R&D car.
Amy: HMS still isn’t completely consistent about all four running great, truth be told.
Summer: No, they aren’t. This year has been above the mark even for them, though.
Amy: The 5 has struggled a lot this year.
Summer: But they’ve been competitive at times, too.
Phil: True, Kahne’s been competitive. They’re better than they’ve been. Thinking back to the ’90s, that was the thought about Roush Racing’s No. 26. Which ticked me off because I was a Benson fan at the time.
Summer: I guess my point is that even Hendrick can’t be superman all the time, so why does JGR think that adding a fourth car will make them better?
Amy: So, while having Kenseth done is a lot of time and energy JGR can now spend on landing the fourth sponsor and driver, it’s not as simple as landing a sponsor and driver.
Summer: Maybe they don’t, I guess. Maybe there is just an opportunity with Edwards we don’t know about yet. I guess this is all premature conversation anyway. But, still, I feel like they will be overwhelmed.
Phil: They probably think having more data will benefit them. Who knows if that’s truth. There’s nothing that says that the data won’t conflict.
Summer: Or that Penske Racing has two cars and are doing just fine that way. Or that SHR has the 4 up front every week but everyone else is either so-so or sucks.
Phil: Having four teams is quite the adjustment. If JGR expands, I’d expect them to have growing pains for a good couple of years. Honestly, they’re probably fine as a three-car team.
Summer: They’re fantastic as a three-car team.
Amy: I agree, Summer…having the fourth team is no guarantee of success. It’s so much more than that.
Summer: I know they haven’t been that A team this year but they certainly have been before.
Amy: I agree that the best thing for the organization as a whole would be to stay at three teams and not overtax everyone.
Summer: Now whether or not that’s the best thing for Edwards is a different story.
Amy: But that’s not the team’s concern. Their concern should be sustaining the success for the teams they do have.
Phil: Expanding to four teams would also require a bunch more employees (75 more, maybe), plus a potential expansion to the Gibbs shop. That’s a lot of big bucks right there.
Summer: I wholeheartedly agree. I just couldn’t help but think, “But then where does that leave Edwards?” And yeah, you would think the cost of adding another team would outweigh the benefits. I don’t believe that adding a fourth car to JGR will make the team stronger. I believe it will do the opposite. If they decide to move to four cars, I’m curious to hear their reasoning.
Amy: I do think JGR should tread lightly and make sure their priorities are in line. I’d hate to see one of their current Cup teams suffer because they bite off more than they can chew and throw everything at Edwards.
According to a report from Sports Business Daily, NASCAR is considering reducing or eliminating team souvenir haulers at the track in favor of portable tent “stores.” Is this the right move to make shopping better for fans?
Phil: Probably not. Sounds like job cuts are coming to Motorsports Authentics.
Amy: Depends. I can’t help but think it’s more about how NASCAR can get a bigger cut than how it will affect fans.
Summer: I guess I don’t know how the PGA does it, but the long row of souveneir haulers is kind of part of the fun. I’m not being one of those “I don’t like it because it’s change” people. But it just seemed like part of the experience.
Amy: I agree, Summer, wandering through the haulers is part of the experience. The numbers of them are already so far down from what they were 15 years or so ago.
Phil: Ok, they do something similar already in the Sprint FanZone in Daytona. The problem I see here is that the number of teams with gear to sell may decrease. As it stands, there’s only 15 or so teams that even really have merchandise to sell at the time. 15 years ago, it was closer to 30.
Summer: I don’t think it would ruin the experience necessarily, but it just seems like a more rigid structure than what they have now. I don’t know. I guess it could work. I think Amy might be right in that the numbers might decrease, but it might not be so bad. I would have to see it for myself to say for sure, but I think I still prefer the haulers.
Amy: NASCAR says they want to do it so they can have autograph sessions, etc….but why they can’t do them at the haulers like they did for years is beyond me.
Summer: Yeah, I don’t get that either. Don’t a lot of drivers still do hauler signings? And then people can buy a hat or shirt if they want it too.
Phil: Having said that, if they were to go this tentagon route, it might result in a more orderly setup, but also in a lot of open space.
Amy: Not sure how it will be for fans. Do they want to have to wade through stuff for ten other drivers to find stuff for their guy?
Summer: Right…walking down a long row of big haulers with large letters, pictures, and graphics was kind of part of the appeal to the senses that NASCAR is so good at.
Amy: I don’t think more than a handful sign at the haulers anymore.
Phil: Last I checked, drivers do hauler signings. They’re kinda limited, though. Drivers without souvenir trailers do them somewhere else. I think I saw David Ragan doing a signing a couple of years ago at a sunglasses booth.
Amy: A lot of them sign stuff to be sold but don’t sign for fans in person. The only driver I can think of who signs just about every week is Casey Mears, and he’s always done that. The bigger names need to be doing it, frankly. But that’s another debate for another day.
Summer: Well the huge names don’t, but I know some of them do. Well yeah… there aren’t hundreds of people lining up to see Mears either.
Phil: The huge dudes probably don’t because it’d be a quagmire.
Summer: I don’t think just the drivers in smaller teams do it, still, though. I think some of the more well-known ones do. I can’t think of any off-hand because I really don’t pay attention to that anymore, but I know I’ve seen stuff about it on Twitter and such.
Phil: I know people like Clint Bowyer do trailer signings. I remember AJ Allmendinger did one the day he got suspended in Daytona. I saw the line of people waiting for him.
Summer: I think Logano does them sometimes too? I don’t know for sure though. Like I said, these aren’t huge names (like Johnson, Earnhardt, etc.), but they are names NASCAR fans know.
Amy: I was thinking more along the lines of Gordon, Johnson, Stewart…they never do it anymore
Summer: Well, no, that would be a cluster…mug, and would be more trouble than it would be worth. Anyway, I like it the way it is. I’m not resistant to change but I would like to see what the other option would look like before I say for certain whether or not I would like it.
Phil: I wish there was more stuff. NASCAR seems to want to centralize things more. That might not be a good move, but it would look nicer. It would be the second centralization move. The first was the formation of Motorsports Authentics and the booting of the independent sellers (you know, the people that sell old diecasts and things like that) that have to set up miles from the track now.
Amy: It used to be, Souvenir Row was huge. Almost every team had a hauler and the big ones had two or three. Drivers signed and shopping was part of the weekend experience. I don’t know if I’m in favor of changing that without input from fans. The flea market at Charlotte with the independents used to be epic.
Summer: Well fans aren’t going to like it because it’s change and change is automatically bad. A concern I would have about this generalized merchandising is that only the big names would have merchandise there at all. As opposed to now, where everyone who can afford one has a souvenir hauler.
Phil: I agree, Summer.
Amy: Completely agree with that concern. As it is, I think fans of smaller teams have trouble finding stuff, which means in the end, those teams lose out.
Phil: In Watkins Glen today, the independent dudes are either in the village itself, 4-5 miles from the track, or at this mini golf place a little bit closer. You would have to drive there to frequent their kiosks.
Summer: I don’t like that. Everyone should be welcome.
Amy: You could find the best old stuff at those tents. It was totally fun to poke through them.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. said last weekend that he’s working on a possible full-time Nationwide series deal for 2015. Is Wallace ready to move up, or should he consider another year to pad his stats before making the jump?
Summer: I think he’s fine. If it were Nationwide to Cup, that would be one thing, but I don’t think waiting it out in the Truck Series will provide much more benefit.
Phil: Honestly, I think it wouldn’t be a bad move to go up at the end of the year. Wallace has done well. Granted, he doesn’t have a title, but he’s done very well. He’s also done well in his previous Nationwide starts. If he were to get the No. 20 that he’s driving this weekend full-time, I’d say go for it.
Amy: I think he’s ready for the move as a driver. But if it’s with JGR, he will always be second fiddle to them. Not sure that’s the best situation for a young driver.
Phil: Either that, or he’ll be expected to be the equal of Kyle Busch and/or Matt Kenseth. That’s a lot of pressure.
Summer: I don’t think that’s true. He’s obviously marketable and a good driver. They will give him a chance to succeed. Phil, expected by whom? JGR or the fans? Because I would think both parties know better. Kyle Busch succeeds at a level even impossible to many of his peers, and JGR knows that. To expect Wallace to be a winning driver each week isn’t fair and I don’t see how they would expect that of him.
Amy: Like they give Elliott Sadler an equal chance? Kyle Busch and the owner’s title is more important to them than the actual NNS team. I don’t see that changing.
Summer: By the time they got to Homestead, the owner’s title was more winnable anyway. And Busch is a better driver. Put them in the exact same equipment and Busch will run laps around Sadler every time. You’re saying that because Busch consistently beats his teammates, they must be paying more attention to him? That’s BS. If that’s the case, Jeff Gordon is getting screwed by Hendrick.
Amy: I don’t think they’d expect him to win every week. I think it’s the opposite…they wouldn’t care if he didn’t win every week as long as Kyle Busch was winning.
Phil: I feel like JGR would force those expectations on him. At bare minimum, it would be like when Parker Kligerman had the No. 22 part-time.
Summer: I highly doubt they don’t care. That’s a crap ton of money for the team to just hand over the steering wheel and say “Have fun, kid!”
Amy: I think both JGR and Penske put more effort into winning the owner title with their Cup drivers last year than into winning the driver’s title with their real NNS guys. Imagine what they could have done if they put all the effort into Sadler and Hornish and ran the 54 and 22 part time for a few races…
Summer: Again, saying Kyle Busch’s success is evidence that JGR only cares about him is nonsense. You say that the Cup drivers shouldn’t run Nationwide because they are too good, and then you turn around and say they are only succeeding because the team is putting more focus on them. Do you REALLY think that Sadler is the same caliber of driver as Busch and Kligerman the same caliber as Keselowski? Not a chance. It has nothing to do with attention and everything to do with talent.
Amy: No, Sadler’s not the same caliber as Busch, but he’s certainly top NNS title caliber in JGR stuff and he would have had a better chance if he had been the main focus instead of the other guy.
Summer: Again, I don’t see where your evidence that the Cup guys are the main focus comes from. Because they’re better? Obviously.
Amy: Because all the teams talked about was owner’s title this and owner’s title that…kind of makes me think they really cared more about that.
Summer: Maybe there was more sponsor money in it? I don’t know. I don’t recall that being the case until the owner’s championship was the only logical route. And if anything, it was the media touting the owner’s championship, not the race teams.
Phil: At this point, they really might. Team Penske doesn’t even have a full-time driver in Nationwide anymore.
Summer: Because the sponsors want the Cup guys.
Amy: And NASCAR lets them have them…
Summer: Well unfortunately there is no balance. It would be nice if there could be.
Amy: There could be, but NASCAR won’t make it happen.
Summer: Balance is not kicking them out completely. I’m talking about how there used to be a handful of Cup drivers in the field each week but there were still plenty of sponsors to go around for everyone else too. For the most part. I know there were exceptions. But the economic situation of teams and sponsor availability used to be much better. Now they want a star or they want nothing, with a few exceptions.
Phil: Getting back to the question, I hope Wallace can get sponsorship. That’s been an issue at KBM. Yes, he has Toyota logos on his truck from time to time, but I feel like that isn’t a real sponsorship for him. The Good Sam and Liberty things were sponsorships.
Amy: Anyway, I think Wallace would be better off with another team, but he’s certainly ready. If he spends too long in CWTS, he risks being labeled a truck-only guy and have a harder time finding opportunities later.
Summer: I think he’ll do fine in NW. He won’t light the world on fire or anything, but he’s ready.
Amy: I’d like to see Wallace with JR Motorsports or RCR. I think he’d have a better shot at long term success.
Let’s hear those Daytona predictions.
Amy: I’m hoping for a small team upset this week, so I’ll go with Casey Mears, who’s due the luck it takes for a top finish.
Summer: I don’t know. It’s really freaking hard to predict winners this year and Daytona makes it worse. I’ll go with Earnhardt to sweep the Daytona races.
Phil: Hmmm. I’m going with Kurt Busch. He did well last year in the No. 78 and Stewart-Haas is typically strong at Daytona.
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
Quaker State 400
|Amy Henderson||Matt Kenseth||4th||+3|
|Aaron Creed||Jeff Gordon||6th||+1|
|Phil Allaway||Brad Keselowski||1st||+5|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|