Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!
This Week’s Participants:
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Full Throttle, Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice of Vito)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
The empty seats at Michigan were the latest in a trend that has seen attendance declining at many tracks on the Cup circuit. With the 2009 schedule coming out this week, would it be in NASCAR’s – and the tracks’ – best interest to hold one race at some of these venues with hopes of a sellout, allowing the series to travel to tracks like Kentucky and Nashville for one-race shows – or are stands that are a quarter or more empty still worth the trouble?
Amy: I almost think so. Yes, you sell more tickets with two dates even at three-quarters full, but operating costs, like electric and water, are astronomical times two with two races.
Matt T.: I’d love to see a few tracks lose one date for variety’s sake and to cater to more people.
Kurt: Well as much as I’d like to see some new venues – like St. Louis or Milwaukee – NASCAR can’t just change the Cup schedule every year.
Bryan: It’s not like moving to one race a year will guarantee a sellout though. Every track out there has empty seats this year – but I’m for any excuse to get new tracks on the schedule.
Kurt: There are some tracks that, based on consistent attendance over the last few years, should probably lose a date. Atlanta, for example.
Tony: The important thing in this question is “the trend.” It’s more than just the tracks causing a drop in attendance.
Matt T.: True, but Kentucky, Iowa and Nashville would sell out in a heartbeat.
Vito: It would certainly look better on television, that’s for sure.
Mike: I’ve maintained for years that every track should get one race. It would allow the series to hit a lot more venues and offer more fans that chance to see races close to them.
Kurt: I don’t disagree with that, Mike. And also, drivers would have to prove themselves everywhere.
Amy: What I’d propose is this: when new venues get a second date, give them a deadline. If in five years it isn’t selling 90% of its seats for both races, it loses a date. No discussion. The tracks that can sell out would keep their dates… Bristol, Martinsville, New Hampshire.
Bryan: But then Fontana wouldn’t have two dates, Amy.
Mike: Unfortunately, at least according to SMI, you can’t break even with just one race date – although I think that is a load of crap.
Tony: I kind of like your idea, Amy. It’s much easier when you justify taking a track off the schedule with numbers.
Kurt: That’s kind of idealistic, Amy. Some tracks might make more money selling 75% of the seats than others make selling out.
Mike: That is true, Kurt. There are a lot of factors that a track has to take into consideration. But from a fan standpoint, I’d love to see it. It would be something NASCAR could do to try to draw fans elsewhere, but I think a lot of the attendance drop today has to do with the product.
Bryan: The product and economy are largely responsible, I agree.
Amy: Maybe, but how fiscally and environmentally sound is it to pay the electric and water bills for two dates when if you had one, every seat would be full.
Bryan: They wouldn’t necessarily be full, Amy.
Kurt: And NASCAR may be considering that, Amy – we don’t know that yet.
Vito: I don’t think that Michigan should lose a date, as it is so close to the epicenter of automobiledom – Detroit.
Mike: As much as I’d hate to see Daytona and Talladega and Bristol lose dates, I’d love to see them run at 11 new venues and maybe get on some dirt. You also have to remember the seats that are empty are generally the least expensive ones. Tracks make more of their money off of the suites and the higher seats.
Tony: Good point, Mike – it’s the same way all the baseball and football teams make their money.
Matt T.: Well, racing twice at some of these tracks is pure overkill. Yeah, the product is average this season and it’s a bad time financially, but dropping some second events from certain tracks and giving those dates to new venues would really help.
Bryan: But in terms of improving attendance, altering the schedule is not going to fix it.
Vito: You’d think the television coverage alone would do wonders to drive throngs of fans to the track, to escape the abomination that is foisted upon them every weekend.
Matt T.: I think moving some dates to new venues would actually help attendance, personally.
Kurt: Some weeks back I suggested in a column to expand the series to two races every weekend. It’s radical, but you could include all of the great venues and have some more than once.
Mike: Well, have no doubt that only running once at each track would boost attendance.
Amy: I just wonder about operating costs. At what percentage of capacity are you making a sound financial decision to have two races?
Vito: I disagree in that vein, Amy. If you go to a new track – and let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of tracks that can handle a full-scale Cup event and put 100,000 people in the stands – if you go to a new track and it doesn’t sell out… wow. You’ve bombed big time on a grand Indianapolis-esque scale.
Amy: How much profit are you making with 25-50,000 empty seats? Electricity, water and personnel cost the same whether there are 50,000 there or 100,000.
Mike: Where are you seeing 50,000 empty seats besides California?
Bryan: Daytona had like 35,000.
Kurt: There are a lot of empty seats everywhere this year, but I don’t think it’s the venue or even the economy.
Tony: Tracks also bring in a ton of money in advertising, so between that and the box seats, you need a lot of empty seats in the stands for the tracks to lose money.
Matt T.: I’m seeing empty seats at a lot of places, but NASCAR couldn’t expect to sell out every race every weekend forever. I think the fans’ interest has plateaued, and we’re seeing that play into this as well.
Vito: I agree, Matt.
Amy: I think if you have one race per track, it’s going to entice people to buy a ticket. The “If I don’t get it now, someone else might and I’ll be SOL” mentality.
Kurt: Seriously, NASCAR should be worried about a drop in attendance. That’s worse than ratings, because being at a race kills seeing it at home.
Bryan: If NASCAR was taking action to cut the costs of a race weekend, the two dates point becomes moot.
Mike: The other thing that could entice some more people to attend would be if they actually enforced the TV blackout for races that are not sellouts.
Vito: Certain dates should be dropped and/or rearranged on the schedule. To maintain fan interest, some of these other tracks may get a date for that reason alone.
Kurt: I think it’s redundant to say it, but Fontana and Atlanta could both lose dates. The rest, well… NASCAR is slumping.
Amy: I think there has to be a point when NASCAR has to look at attendance as an indicator, and move a race when attendance drops below a certain level. Send the race to an area where people will go.
Tony: Just like the economy, NASCAR has had its boom and now the bubble has busted. It’s going to take a number of things to bring the fans back – more than just eliminating races.
Matt T.: Exactly, Tony.
Amy: The bills are the same no matter how many come. It’s going to become a financial burden on the tracks to have two dates if attendance keeps dropping.
Kurt: I don’t know that you can just change it every year, though. There has to be some stability. If people can’t count on a certain number of races each year, they aren’t going to renew.
Mike: I still vote for one race per track, period. Let’s run at Iowa, Kentucky, Memphis, Nashville, Terre Haute, Knoxville, Eldora and the Lou!
While the Nationwide Series has been in the news for a series of dynamometer tests this year, the Cup Series just got around to its first comprehensive dyno test after the MIS race. Scheduled for the test were four Fords, three Dodges, two Toyotas and one Chevrolet. Especially since the Nationwide Series found some discrepancies, should there be a specific timetable for these types of tests in Cup?
Amy: Yes, there absolutely should be. A minimum of four times a year – but not a set schedule.
Kurt: NASCAR is just now getting around to that?
Mike: I only think it’s necessary if the teams are complaining. If everyone thinks things are equal, why waste the time and effort?
Bryan: Exactly Mike. Do it in response to a problem.
Matt T.: Probably, although it doesn’t bother me that one make/team is producing more horsepower. My question is: Why only one Chevy when NASCAR is taking three Dodges?
Kurt: It’s the really fast Chevy.
Amy: I wondered that, too. Why not three of each and test an even dozen?
Vito: That won’t do a lot to silence the “NASCAR favors General Motors” critics. But nobody has really been barking too loudly about horsepower this year, save for the Toyotas being a little bit stronger on the plate tracks.
Tony: I think that’s a good idea, Amy. Let them know they’re going to get tested “X” amount of times a year, but not say when.
Bryan: As for horsepower advantages in Cup, tough luck if you can’t keep up. It’s the Cup Series for crying out loud.
Amy: But it amazes me that NASCAR hasn’t done one at all until now.
Mike: I haven’t heard any complaints. I don’t see a need to test if no one is complaining.
Matt T.: Why do we need all the engines to be the same?
Tony: In an effort to bring the IROC Series back, apparently.
Matt T.: I guess.
Kurt: Good question, Matt. Manufacturers want to boast, so they should tell NASCAR to let them all run free – magnets and all.
Vito: NASCAR never really publishes the actual dyno readings of the cars, either. You might read a rumor somewhere of what the actual figures are, but not a comprehensive readout or powercurves or anything.
Amy: Here’s my deal, though, and I feel the same about any series: NASCAR should not take horsepower, but it should be quicker to approve upgrades by manufacturers.
Mike: I will say before Chevy brought out its new engine, there were complaints. But I haven’t heard anything since it came out.
Amy: There is no excuse for the R07 still not being in the NNS. It’s been approved, yet teams have to wait until next year to use them. If a make submits an engine, NASCAR should have a set time to approve it. Like a few weeks – not months – and once it’s approved, the usage should be immediate, not for the following season.
Vito: Ford is racing a pretty outdated piece compared to the Toyota and Dodge engines; but beyond Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, how many Toyotas and Dodges are winning races in Cup?
Mike: Test Kyle and Carl Edwards. no one else should matter.
Matt T.: It seems to me that teams, not makes, are winning a lot of races. Carl & Kyle have what, 13 wins between them? That’s not just engine.
Amy: It’s front-end geometry, Matt.
Kurt: Well, it’s Kyle and Carl – and both of them are in organizations that have run fairly well and just not had wins.
Bryan: The No. 18 and No. 99 are flat hooked up.
Matt T.: True, but 13 wins among just those two? Where’s the Nos. 20 and the 17 and the 16 and the 11? At some point, those guys should have delivered by now.
Kurt: No one else has really made any kind of statement. The closest to doing so is the No. 48.
Amy: I think RFR and JGR are putting their eggs in one basket in an attempt to unseat HMS.
Tony: The Nos. 20 and 11 are surprising. Two championship contenders getting smacked by their own teammate with the same equipment.
Amy: Well, apparently Denny Hamlin‘s getting the R&D stuff for Kyle.
Vito: The Nos. 20 and 11 have been denied wins by nothing more than bad luck – not lack of speed. Not that there is bad equipment, but there is proven stuff and there’s unproven pieces – witness the trail of parts following Hamlin’s car. And if it’s clear that one team has the best shot to win the title, you have to put your eggs in that basket and get ready for the 10-week onslaught that’s coming.
Matt T.: Kyle and Carl’s season are the result of everything just clicking. It happens to a different team or two every year. They could be waaaaay off next season – but it’s just the way it goes.
Bryan: There’s not a horsepower problem at the Cup level. Edwards and Busch are rocking and rolling. Stay away from a timetable that gives the teams something to work around, keep it to when there is a problem.
Mike: Teams aren’t complaining about horsepower advantages in Cup, so there isn’t a need to test if the teams don’t perceive an advantage.
Amy: I disagree. Random testing throughout the year should be a necessity, and there’s no excuse for waiting until now to have the first one done.
Kurt: Right Amy, random testing is the way to go.
Amy: I’ve heard a lot of fans complaining, Mike, and that’s also a valid reason to test.
Mike: Fans are complaining about horsepower advantages?
Matt T.: Fans? C’mon, what do fans really know – present company included – about horsepower advantages? I mean really…
Mike: I must not listen to the right fans.
Bryan: The fans are complaining because a certain No. 18 keeps winning.
Kurt: Exactly Bryan.
Amy: People do wonder how a car that sucked a year ago suddenly wins eight races with a new driver and a new engine.
Bryan: I think fans are simply resigned to the fact that Toyota has done to NASCAR exactly what they did in other series: it’s come in and outspent everyone. And while it can, that’s not necessarily good for race fans to be seeing.
Edwards’s win on Sunday was the first time all year that he’d beaten Kyle Busch in a one-on-one duel for the win coming to the checkered flag. Does that give the No. 18 team reason to be concerned, or is Busch still clearly in possession of the upper hand with three months left to go in the season?
Kurt: Yes, and yes. With the Chase, Jimmie Johnson is going to be a factor too. That team is finding it.
Amy: I think once the points reset, there is a very real concern for Busch. The No. 18 has the upper hand, but not by much.
Bryan: I think the No. 18 has some reason to be concerned, although it is still one of the top-two teams in the sport – but its mile-wide advantage over everyone is gone.
Matt T.: They’re not too concerned over that one race. Remember, they’ve been kicking everyone’s butt all season… including Carl’s.
Kurt: As far as Kyle vs. Carl, I still think Kyle’s the man; but if anyone can take him, it’s Carl.
Mike: I don’t know that it gives them much concern. If Carl wins all 10 races and Kyle finishes second, he’ll lose the title by 20 points or so.
Vito: I think it shows that the No. 99 team is peaking at just the right time. Had the race gone a few more seconds in Daytona, he very well could have won that race too.
Tony: Busch may have eight wins, but it’s only three more than Edwards. They’re not all that far off.
Bryan: And that means that Kyle is going to be under more pressure than it looked like he would be come Chase time.
Amy: If the No. 48 can find it (I’m not sold that they can) it’s a three-way race.
Kurt: The No. 48 was good in Michigan. He just had an incident.
Vito: Keep in mind the No. 18 is also trying some new stuff, as they are locked in the Chase with the top seed.
Amy: I think Carl has an advantage in having won a title – even without the Chase format.
Kurt: It’s hard to imagine anyone beating Kyle, but with the Chase, he could DNF at Talladega and lose. But I firmly believe Kyle can rise to the occasion. I have no doubts about that. This kid is pumped.
Matt T.: The Chase is the great equalizer, so I don’t think the No. 18 team is going to get their shorts in a wad until they find themselves 80 points in the hold midway through the Chase. Not that they will, but now’s not the time to panic – and I don’t think they are.
Amy: Kyle also has a history of self-implosion, though. Carl is a bit more even-keeled, and that does play a part.
Bryan: If I’m the No. 18, I’m concerned because it means that as the pressure mounts, it’s going to be up to Kyle to keep his act together – and he hasn’t really been pushed this season yet.
Vito: I think the one that people need to worry about is not the No. 18 or the 99, but the No. 48. I am telling you, this is the team to beat for the title.
Kurt: Yes Vito, I’m not counting out the No. 48 at all. The only other teams that I think might have a shot are the Nos. 31 and 20.
Vito: Jimmie and Chad have been quiet for far too long. What you saw at Indy was the shape of things to come. They show up for the big-money races every time and – except for Homestead 2005 – never do themselves in.
Matt T.: Yeah, I agree that if I’m the Nos. 18 or 99, the 48 team is the one I’m most afraid of.
Mike: Me too. The No. 48 is still the team to beat. Now, I don’t think the No. 18 is that concerned about this last weekend’s race because they just had a lousy set of tires at the end. Imagine that.
Amy: As much as I’d like to see that, I don’t, Matt. He’s improved a lot on plate tracks, but Jimmie can’t drive Chad’s cars this year.
Bryan: That’s my point: Kyle hasn’t had to come from behind this season, and he may well find himself having to. I’m not sold he’s ready to handle that.
Tony: Honestly though, I thought if Kyle was going to implode, he would’ve done it by now. I don’t think he’s going to.
Amy: Realistically, the difference could be who doesn’t get wrecked at Talladega.
Bryan: The No. 48 is the team to beat then because at Talladega, Jimmie causes more Big Ones than he gets caught in!
Kurt: Kyle won’t implode, but he could be a victim of bad luck. I do think Jimmie is pretty darn good at Talladega of late.
Kurt: So if the No. 48 is finding it, which I believe, does it stand to reason that maybe the No. 24 could be a player?
Bryan: The No. 48 hasn’t been far off; it hasn’t been dominant, but let’s not exaggerate here.
Mike: The No. 48 is so far off its third in points.
Amy: The No. 24 is in worse trouble than the No. 48. Jeff Gordon’s in danger of not making the Chase at all.
Tony: Agreed. The No. 24 has been plain out to lunch in a few races this year, not just running in the teens.
Bryan: The No. 24 is just not ready to contend. For that team to miss a setup at the Glen is a major red flag.
Vito: Meanwhile, the No. 48 team is doing exactly what it did last year – but on a grander scale.
Matt T.: The Chase favors teams that can reel off two, three or four wins in a six- or seven-race span. The Nos. 18, 99 and 48 are the only teams I see that are capable of that. Those three are head & shoulders above the rest. It’ll take three or four wins out of one team to win it this year.
Mike: I believe Gordon’s average finish was fifth in the Chase last year and he still lost.
Bryan: And Jimmie had the run to end all runs last year.
Kurt: I think Carl will give Kyle his biggest fight, but Kyle should still take it. In fact I see Kyle and Carl as the next great rivalry.
Amy: Gordon has less than a 100-point cushion to even make the Chase. I don’t see him as a player.
Bryan: Gordon will be an also ran, sans Martinsville.
Mike: And Talladega.
Tony: The bottom line is with the Chase format, Kyle and team can’t get complacent. If they keep doing what they’re doing, they will be the team to beat.
Vito: The No. 18 is taking a page from the No. 48 in their prelude to the title run. The No. 48 team, however, is always a step ahead whether or not anybody can see it.
Speaking of dyno tests, it was reported that two Joe Gibbs Racing teams in the Nationwide Series altered their cars to cause a lower horsepower result than the engines were actually making. Since there was nothing illegal raced on the cars, was it really cheating – and if it was, what should the penalty be?
Kurt: Yes. It was deception, which is a form of cheating – even JD Gibbs admitted that. NASCAR should crucify them! Suspend the crew chiefs, at the very least – but that isn’t enough. By the way, it’s the first time I’ve heard contrition from a team after they got busted.
Amy: And it absolutely was cheating, Kurt. Gibbs was doing it to gain an advantage in future races – you can bet on that. I can think of only two reasons you’d do that – and neither of them is good. I don’t think NASCAR should take points, though.
Tony: I agree with Amy: it is cheating, but I don’t think you penalize them points. That’s fair, since they did not earn any with the infraction.
Mike: I’m not really sure what the penalties should be, but the team definitely should be penalized. It was a blatant attempt at deception. I would not be surprised to see them get whacked 200 points.
Matt T.: Yeah, it was cheating. But it wasn’t done on the track, so I’m not sure how you penalize that. Maybe pull the crew chiefs for the next six races… or all season.
Bryan: The cars should be parked, period.
Vito: I thought the whole thing was kind of funny – and embarrassing. Even at less than wide open throttle, those cars were probably keeping pace with the other manufacturers.
Mike: I can tell you one thing: if the people who actually did it keep their jobs, they should feel very lucky. I promise you JD and Joe are not happy.
Bryan: They won’t keep their jobs, Mike. Anytime Joe Gibbs releases a personal statement, you know heads are going to roll.
Amy: If I was in charge, I’d fine them big. $200,000 minimum, and promise them a complete teardown of every car in every series, every week.
Kurt: It’s hard to figure out how far you go with these penalties, because you can’t put a finger on the specific advantage. Could you park them for a race? Is there even a precedent for this?
Vito: Well, I don’t think this whole thing was unplanned. If these were “key” personnel – as JD Gibbs alluded to – the conversation will not be, “Why did you do that?” but rather, “…you couldn’t have thought of anything better than that??!”
Tony: The unfortunate thing is that there was so much talk around Dave Rogers and how talented he is… this incident really puts a black cloud on his resume.
Bryan: I think as a penalty, they should have to swap cars with the Means Racing team for the rest of the season. Seriously, it really casts a shadow on Toyota’s party line, too. They’ve constantly said that it’s their handling – not their engines – that is winning them races.
Mike: I don’t think it puts a cloud on Rogers’ resume though. Setting up the cars has nothing to do with trying to keep your horsepower advantage. This is a little different. It wasn’t directly gaining an advantage – it was an attempt to avoid losing an advantage in the future.
Vito: I just wonder how NASCAR caught it. Did someone have a two-sided magnet and the pedal got stuck to the floor?
Mike: Someone was probably measuring the clearance between the pedal and the floorboard.
Kurt: Do you suppose maybe someone at Toyota was behind this, in retribution for the recent rule change?
Bryan: JGR has been adamant that Toyota wasn’t involved, but of course they would be. Those magnets were quite the idea.
Amy: It was clearly meant to give them an advantage. In this case, it gave them back horsepower by making them look woefully behind when they are not.
Kurt: This is a different form of cheating, though… creating the appearance of a slower car.
Amy: It’s sandbagging at its finest. Make us look way behind so NASCAR gives us our advantage back.
Mike: And I don’t blame NASCAR for making that one rule when it was one team that was kicking everyone’s butts.
Kurt: Which is exactly why they should leave it alone. Who cares about stinking up the Nationwide show?
Bryan: NASCAR maybe, Kurt? The same car winning 25-30 races will turn fans off real quick.
Amy: If they just let the Chevys run the R07 now, you wouldn’t have needed to take anything from TRD. But having an advantage in the Nationwide Series gives the illusion Toyota has one in Cup – especially when it’s the same teams in both.
Bryan: Well, if I’m NASCAR, I park the JGR guys for at least a few races. I just had an unpopular manufacturer all but admit they wronged me. You gotta send ‘em packing.
Kurt: Parking a team is tough, but maybe the situation warrants it. Or maybe you take away 100 points for each team that pulled that trick.
Amy: Again, fine them BIG, go over every car with a fine-toothed comb, suspend people – just don’t take points. But you know NASCAR will wind up taking points.
Kurt: And handing out a crew chief suspension.
Mike: No matter what, the team’s going to get hit hard because it was blatant. And the boys who did it are probably going to be looking for jobs. I bet you won’t ever see magnets in a JGR pit box again.
Bryan: You know, it’s ridiculous to me that a team with 14 race wins is cheating. If hard work got you to that point, why not work hard to get it back? The fact that JGR went that far hints to me that NASCAR may well have hit on something that is giving them their performance.
Matt T.: Throw the crew chiefs out for the season. That’ll teach everyone… no points.
Mike: The one other thing that no one is considering is could it be they have something elsewhere Gibbs has figured out, and they did the magnets to divert attention from the real advantage? And that’s a question we won’t find the answer to for a while.
Predictions for Bristol?
Mike: Dale Earnhardt Jr.!
Bryan: Matt Kenseth cements his Chase standing with his first win of the year.
Kurt: I’m going to go out on a limb and say Kahne.
Mike: You’re nuts, Kurt.
Kurt: Hey, he almost won it last year.
Mike: Kahne is not good at Bristol. That was an exception.
Tony: I say Kenseth wins and propels himself further into the Chase.
Matt T.: I’ll go with Tony Stewart. He’s got to win one of these Bristol races after three near misses in the last five.
Amy: I say Kurt Busch gets pissed that Kyle is getting all the attention and takes him out – then goes on to win.
Kurt: I think it’s great that none of us ever pick Kyle Busch each week… but you almost can’t go wrong picking Kyle.
2008 Mirror Prediction Chart
Bryan Davis Keith may have three fewer starts than his opponents this season, but that’s not stopping him from becoming our number one predictions expert. By correctly forecasting Edwards’s fifth win of the season at Michigan, Keith grew his lead by 30 points and now has four “victories” of his own on the year. With just 13 races remaining this season, it’s looking harder than ever for either Tony Lumbis or Amy Henderson to close the gap – but with the way all three have performed, they’re definitely writers you can trust when it comes to picking a winner on the weekend.
|Bryan Davis Keith
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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