Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: The Fallout of No Testing at Daytona, Dueling For… What? & Avoiding Short Fields

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:
Vito Pugliese “(Wednesdays/Voice of Vito)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout featured several multi-car crashes that took out some top contenders – including rookie sensation Joey Logano and Cup champions Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson. Was this to be expected in a non-points race, or is it an ominous result of the testing ban – and is there more to come as the ban continues?

Beth: I think it was a little bit of both, actually.
Amy: I think it’s a sign of things to come for the 500; but after that, not so much. Teams need the track time, but they’ll get that the first few weeks.
Mike: It was a non-points race. There will be a Big One during the 500, but Saturday was more about people going for it – at least at the end.
Vito: It was a combination of no practice, no testing, and throwaway racecars. Most teams weren’t even using their backup to a backup Daytona 500 car. Coupled with the nature of the event, it was inevitable.
Bryan: Testing had nothing to do with it. Throw 28 cars into a non-points race and it’s going to happen.
Matt T.: We saw what we should have expected – that’s the nature of an exhibition race on a plate track. All hell breaks loose because these guys have nothing to lose. The 500 will be much more tame until 30 to go.
Beth: Exactly.
Mike: You got it, Matt. You’ll see more action in the last 30 laps than you saw all night Saturday.
Amy: I do think not being in a CoT on an actual track they race on will make them rusty for a couple of weeks – especially on a plate track.
Matt T.: Well, I don’t think it was rust as much as antsy-ness. Those dogs were ready to hunt!
Mike: People were everywhere in the last 10 laps. It looked like a wide Martinsville.
Beth: It sure was fun watching them try to go five-wide until all hell broke loose.
Vito: Keep in mind that the CoT is a lot different animal than we’ve been used to at plate tracks. You can ram into people, get ‘em sideways and that wing will straighten them out. Look at Johnson: drilled Biffle in the door and he was up front on the last lap. That isn’t supposed to happen at a 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Matt T.: In the old car, there’s only five of ‘em left.
Amy: In the old car, Kevin Harvick never wins that thing.

See also
Kevin Harvick Battles Back from Losing Draft to Win 2009 Budweiser Shootout

Vito: I don’t know, Amy; he made a similar move in 2007 with the old car to win the Daytona 505.
Mike: Yes he did, Vito. In the old car, they don’t make it through turn 1 during the green-white-checkered.
Vito: Ha, no, probably not. And half the field is eliminated in that Jeff Gordon/Greg Biffle/Johnson fracas.
Amy: I do think that the lack of testing, though, has the potential to provide some really boring racing later in the year.
Beth: You can’t get much worse than some of the races last season, Amy.
Bryan: I agree, Amy. Boring because there will be two or three guys that are going to run over everyone.
Mike: Nah. You’re going to have 12 teams competing for every win. And Johnson winning No. 4.
Amy: But Mike, they can’t make any new adjustments to improve side-by-side racing if they can’t test them.
Vito: I think it’s going to be Roush/Hendrick/Gibbs for the most part. Most other teams are out to lunch. And by “most other teams” I mean, “Dodge.” Or what’s left of them.
Matt T.: I think it will be more a matter of run what you bring this year. It’ll be a handful that hit the setup each week, but maybe that’ll make things interesting. I’m just trying to think positive here.
Amy: I don’t think Jimmie will win No. 4 with the test ban. That team tested like 22 times last year.
Bryan: And those 22 tests got them ahead this year, when no one can catch up.
Mike: Chad Knaus is going to be an even bigger genius this year.
Vito: Also, it is a ban on testing at sanctioned tracks only. GM, Ford and Chrysler have their own proving grounds and Texas World Speedway is hosting test sessions – all is not lost.
Matt T.: They’ve all been testing plenty. The ones with a realistic shot at the title, anyway.
Amy: Other than Texas, there aren’t any tracks that come close to replicating the cookie cutters, and that’s where they need to test the most.
Vito: There are plenty of short tracks in Canada and throughout the country that they can use to test brakes, shocks and other things. There is plenty of opportunity to acquire data. The manufacturer proving grounds all have road courses in them, too, as does Texas World Speedway.
Amy: But you can’t test qualifying or race trim for an intermediate track on a short track.
Mike: No one can – but they can simulate it.
Matt T.: I just don’t expect the landscape to look much different than last season. Testing or no.
Vito: I think you’re on target, Matt. If anything, the disparity will be greater.
Bryan: The disparity this year is going to be awful by midseason. There will likely be a half-dozen or so teams that will be contending weekly by summer.
Mike: The seven-post rig will give them most of what they need, and the rest will be figured out in practice.
Matt T.: The engineers get the car damn close at the shop. The drivers’ derriere makes it a winner.
Vito: Biffle set up his car exclusively on a shaker rig for Dover a couple of years back.
Amy: I think if anything, the racing will be more boring this year, which is saying a lot after last year.
Vito: The only team I really seeing doing much of anything that wasn’t up front last year will be the Red Bull cars of Brian Vickers and Scott Speed.
Mike: Well, as for Saturday night, it was a prelude to the last 30 laps of the 500. Nothing more, nothing less.
Amy: Did no testing make the drivers more prone to make bad moves Saturday? Yeah. Will it cause problems a month in? No.
Vito: And I predict that Speed will win Watkins Glen.
Bryan: I’ll take that action, Vito. How much you willing to wager on that?
Matt T.: I’m down.
Vito: I’m all full of predictions today. Give me Mark Martin at Dover in June.
Mike: Sign me up for a piece of that, Vito.
Bryan: Vito, let’s put some money down. I need a new car.
Vito: Go buy a Chrysler. They’re all 50% off, apparently.

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 has become a confusing, convoluted process with many rules governing who gets in and who goes home. Should the process be revamped, or does the Great American Race deserve this lengthy process to determine its starting lineup?

Amy: The Top 35 made the process stupidly obsolete. All this for four spots? Come on.
Mike: Other than getting rid of the Top-35 rule, which won’t happen, the process is fine as it is.
Beth: Leave it as it is. Until the Top 35 is gone, it’s not going to change anyway.
Matt T.: The fact that all but what, four cars are basically in is just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.
Bryan: They should stop having Sunday qualifying determine the front row – let Sunday be about setting the Duels. Apart from that, I like the Duel races. Even with only two spots in the races, they’re still fun to watch.
Mike: You got it, Bryan. And then they can race for the seven open spots if you must have the Top 35.
Vito: Absolutely. Get rid of the Top-35 rule. This is The Great American Race and there is nothing “free market” about racing for two spots to get in what has become the premier race in North America.
Mike: At least there are some spots open to race into. Although I’d rather see the whole speed thing go out the window and have seven spots open in the 150s.
Bryan: Exactly, Mike. It’s about as meaningless as Indy 500 bump day now.
Vito: Daytona should be an exception to any rule, since it is, after all, “The Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing.”
Amy: How do they even set the Duels any more? By owner points! If they’re going to do that anyway, they need qualifying on Sunday why? Qualifying doesn’t even determine which Duel they’re in! And by the way, the Duels are too long now.
Vito: Thursday is all but useless. And I’m sorry, but if the normal Z06 pace car can lap that place faster than Terry Labonte, for God’s sakes, go home.
Mike: I think they should have Duels every week.
Bryan: Can’t have that, Mike – that’d leave the big teams vulnerable to being outrun from time to time.
Matt T.: The other problem with the 500 (besides the Top 35-induced setup) is the passing of owner points. How the hell did Bowyer wind up with Bobby freakin’ Ginn as the listed owner? That’s messed up.
Bryan: Bobby Ginn had to retain ownership last year for DEI to keep points.
Mike: Ginn bought into Childress.
Matt T.: I know technically how it happened, I’m just saying it’s plain wrong.
Vito: Yeah, that’s real tight, Matt. Guy has been out of the sport for two years now but he has owner points somehow?
Mike: And what was the points swap that NASCAR didn’t approve?
Bryan: They wouldn’t let DEI and Phoenix Racing hook up.
Vito: I think that speaks volumes about how sorry the state of the economy is – and NASCAR’s dependence on it. Cheerios carries a lot more weight in sponsorship and advertising than does an unsponsored start-and-park outfit.
Amy: I’ll stand by what I said last week in that deal: this point swapping should not be allowed. Period.
Vito: Right on, Amy. It’s stuff like this that turns off the traditionalists and makes the newcomers go, “…huh?”
Amy: But since NASCAR insists on having the Top-35 rule, it should just have one race Thursday for all the cars who aren’t locked in to the 500. The top four make it – and then you’re done.
Matt T.: The Duels used to be just awesome events each year. Remember when Jimmy Spencer got locked out of the 500 in the Target car? We’ll never see anything like that under this system. No high drama. Just four spots in the back of the field to be had.
Mike: Remember James Hylton being in position last year? That was awesome.
Vito: That sucked that his clutch failed.
Bryan: Hylton, man, what a rough weekend he had. Though it’s probably good Hylton missed the ARCA race. I mean, what a mess.
Mike: How the hell do you get to Daytona and your car won’t start?
Matt T.: Rolling him down pit road must’ve been kinda embarrassing.
Vito: Anyways, I’d like to see the top-25 spots locked in, with two provisionals for past champion/defending champion.
Beth: If we have to lock in any positions, I’d agree to 25.
Amy: No, none of that crap, Vito! Go or go home. No matter who you are. They had qualifying right about 1997. Go back to that, lose all but the PC provisional, go qualify.
Mike: Past champions should still get provisionals only if they’ve run the full season.
Vito: A champion’s provisional should be the reward for winning a freaking title. I mean, come on. It isn’t like Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip are going to be coming back out there to try to race or anything (although Richard might – I’m pretty sure he’s the best guy in the Petty/Gillett stable even still).
Matt T.: See, I think you have to have a provisional system of some sort – think of the big sponsors that will leave in droves if they aren’t shoed-in. Besides, there has always been some form of provisionals, dating back to the ’50s. But the Top 35 in its current incarnation ain’t it.
Bryan: They should do it like the short tracks: lock in only like the top five and if they need a provisional, expand the field.
Amy: Two rounds of qualifying eliminates the need for provisionals, period. If you can’t race it in in two attempts, you don’t deserve to be there. Keep the one past champion spot only, but only for a full-time racer.
Mike: I have no problem dumping it if they have two rounds of qualifying.
Vito: With as much TV as they jam down everyone’s throat, they should have a second round of qualifying like the old days. At least it’s worth watching. I mean, how many times during practice do you need to hear Johnson say, “We’re running really good and just need to get it to turn a little bit better.” Oh, really? No kidding!
Beth: I’d love to see two rounds of qualifying again.
Matt T.: Well, at this point, the Top 35 is not going to make much of a difference beyond Daytona, anyway.
Mike: I’m not sure, Matt. I think we are going to see a lot of single car teams showing up this year.
Matt T.: Not on the West Coast swings. Big problems there.
Bryan: That purse money is quite tempting. It would be cool to see all the go-or-go-homers duke it out.
Mike: Still not sure, Matt. I suppose we’ll see.
Matt T.: The money is tempting at Daytona where you get 200 grand for finishing 43rd. But away from there, the dollars and cents don’t add up.
Bryan: 65 grand to start and park, Matt? That’ll pay some bills.
Matt T.: Not if you have to travel to California to get it. It adds up in the Southeast but not west of the Mississippi River.
Vito: A good plate motor to lease is $65,000!
Bryan: If there’s 44 cars out there, it’s a gamble worth taking. SPEED mentioned how Gunselman Motorsports plans to run their 500 car at Fontana and Vegas.
Matt T.: Lots of people are saying stuff like Larry Gunselman is preaching. Whatever. Talk to me in a month. They’ll be gone.
Vito: Well, back to the Top-35 thing – there needs to be some sort of reward and incentive for full-time teams and sponsors. That’s why I like a top-25 rule, and the rest get in on speed.
Matt T.: I agree with Vito: 25 is a good number.
Amy: The top 25 are in the top 25 for a reason: they should not need the gimme.
Vito: But the Top 35 allows guys like Sam Hornish Jr. who, I’m sorry, has no business being locked in the field, into it for the first month and a half of racing.
Amy: Why should there be a reward for just showing up every week with a sponsor on the hood? This is racing! You have to be fast!
Matt T.: Not necessarily, Amy. Look, these are businessmen we’re talking about, not ‘50s and ‘60s-era “drive-your-car-to-the-track” one-man shows. This is big business, and without the sponsor on the hood, there is no show. Period.
Vito: Yeah, because without those top-25 cars, you have no series and you’re listening to it on MRN and seeing it for 20 minutes at a time two weeks later on ABC’s Wide World of Sports – like I did growing up.
Amy: I say, one race for the go-or-go-homers and Duels for the rest. But make them all shorter – say 30 laps.
Bryan: No points-swapping. No Top 35. And no making the race on speeds. Use speeds to set the Duels and let everyone fight it out.
Matt T.: Here ya go: How about each year, we start with a clean slate. Earn the Top 35 (preferably 25) as we go. That’ll take care of this mess.
Vito: Remember at Indy when 60 cars used to show up?
Mike: 60? There were 90 when I was a kid.
Vito: Mike, when you were a kid it was all still bricks!
Mike: True.

Which teams are handicapped by the qualifying rules at Daytona, what organizations do you see in big trouble after Sunday’s qualifying sessions, and which ones do you think have the best chance of sneaking through the Duels?

Vito: The only guys with a good chance in the Duels are AJ Allmendinger and Regan Smith.
Bryan: I know Dodge had good racecars in last year’s 500 after a poor Speedweeks; but man, do they look out to lunch.
Vito: They remind me of the Roush Fords a few years ago: Fast in a pack but junk by themselves.
Amy: I think ‘Dinger races in for sure. Scott Riggs is vicious in these things and Mike Wallace can drive Daytona better than the rest of them.
Vito: Yeah, but is his rig up to it?
Bryan: Riggs has a good piece, Wallace not so much.
Matt T.: There were some real slugs on that track on Sunday.
Mike: Doesn’t matter. You can be a pig and draft with this car. It’s all about timing and anticipation, but I will say that Wallace is a stud at it.
Amy: If driver counts, Wallace makes it. If it comes to horsepower, he goes home – so it depends on how the race plays out. Wallace is twice the driver at Daytona than Rusty ever was.
Bryan: I like Joe Nemechek to get in.
Beth: Allmendinger is in with no problem, along with Nemechek.
Mike: What full-time team isn’t locked in? It’s pretty much the standalones, isn’t it?
Bryan: I want a big wreck in both Duels to allow four small teams to get it.
Matt T.: Well, who all do we have to choose from here? M. Wallace, Riggs, Brad Keselowski, Boris Said, Mike Skinner (bye-bye), Travis Kvapil, David Gilliland, Jeremy Mayfield, Carl Long, Kelly Bires, Norm Benning, Todd Bodine, Derrike Cope, Smith, NEMCO… who else?
Bryan: Kirk Shelmerdine. Shelmerdine, Long, Said and Mike Garvey: That’s my dream list.
Mike: I’d love to see Shelmerdine make it again. 20th in his last 500.
Bryan: For the record, I hope Shelmerdine can find some money and contest the full schedule again. That guy is as true an underdog as they come. By the way, here’s a list so our readers can keep track: Bill Elliott, Tony Stewart, Nemechek, Riggs, Keselowski, Shelmerdine, Tony Raines, B. Labonte, Skinner, Long and T. Labonte in Duel 1.
Bryan: Smith, Said, ‘Dinger, Mayfield, Wallace, Garvey, Cope, Bires, Bodine, Benning in Duel 2.
Amy: OK, in Duel 1, Riggs and Keselowski get in. Dinger and Wallace get in the second.
Beth: Riggs and Nemechek in Duel 1, Allmendinger and Smith in the second.
Vito: Most of those cars are going to be a lap down at some point; they will lose the draft about five laps into it once the tires get hot. It’s not going to be 45 degrees and cloudy on Thursday.
Bryan: The ones in the back are all racing to avoid – and praying for – a Big One.
Vito: Meanwhile, Terry Labonte is quickly becoming Darrell Waltrip: whoring himself out with his champion’s provisional.

See also
Side by Side: Should NASCAR's Champion's Provisional Be Dropped?

Matt T.: Dude is getting paid. Hard for me to blame him.
Amy: I agree with Matt: Money talks.
Matt T.: He’s crazy not to take it. You all would.
Bryan: Matt, if you’re retired, retire.
Matt T.: C’mon, this is the real world, not our little Fantasy Raceland. It’s an easy payday doing something he loves. Besides, we need entrants, and who better than a past champion who earned his stripes the hard way?
Vito: The only way one of the back-of-the-packers gets in is if one of them goes NASCAR ‘99 on Playstation and drives the opposite way around the track and takes out 10 frontrunners. Speaking of that kind of racing maneuver, how about that ARCA wreck on Saturday?
Amy: That was messy.
Beth: Ouch.
Mike: I haven’t seen it yet. I have it DVR’d. Gonna watch tomorrow night.
Bryan: That wreck never should have happened. At least that hard. Larry Hollenbeck was full throttle when it happened.
Vito: They should just give their numbers to some dogs at the dog track across the street and figure it out that way.
Bryan: We got an update from Patrick Sheltra this week – he was released.
Vito: Hollenbeck had six seconds to lift. I believe he went Cole Trickle, aimed for the smoke and matted it.
Mike: Did he pull a Larry Gunselman?
Bryan: It was a Gunselman. In ARCA terms, it was Deborah Renshaw-esque. Hollenbeck wasn’t the first guy to do that, though. One of the earlier wrecks got worse after the yellow flew because they didn’t lift.
Vito: ARCA: Always Recking Caution or Afterwards.
Amy: Poor Gunselman, he’s become a verb… “to pull a Gunselman.”
Mike: Just like “pulling a Lepage.”
Bryan: I love ARCA, but nine of those 10 guys should never set foot on a plate track.
Vito: It’s your local short-track guys thrown into a two year-old Cup car.
Matt T.: It’s insanity is what it is.
Amy: Hey, props to James Buescher though – holding off Sliced Bread and making him look the fool.
Bryan: Amen Amy, Buescher did awesome.

A 43rd-place payout of nearly a quarter-million dollars has attracted 56 entries for the Daytona 500, while Friday’s Camping World Truck Series entry list is five entries below a full field. Is a full field an indicator of anything beyond a big purse? Does the racing suffer from a short field, or is the opposite actually true?

Amy: No, the racing doesn’t suffer. The marketing suffers, but the racing is just fine. Some of those guys don’t need to be there, anyway.
Beth: If the field is short, there isn’t really a difference in the racing. Half the time the field is full, and there are four or five start-and-parkers.
Mike: The indicator is the quality of the field. A full field with 10 cars starting and parking isn’t any better than half a field where they all have a chance to win.
Matt T.: I agree with Mike and Amy. A full field (or lack thereof) doesn’t hurt the racing. It’s just embarrassing to NASCAR. That’s why it’ll be a big deal when it happens later this season (possibly on the Cup side).
Vito: The quality of the product doesn’t suffer. It just means that there are seven trucks that aren’t going to get lapped or park it before the first pit stop.
Amy: I’d rather see a short field of good trucks and good drivers than a full field of yahoos and has-beens.
Mike: As long as the cars/trucks on the track are competitive, it’s all good, regardless of number.
Bryan: And as long as you’ve got about 30 full-time trucks, they’re going to have a full track and a great race.
Matt T.: You know, there’s usually only about 25 trucks left at the end of a plate race, anyway.
Amy: Same for the Cup side. I’m not going to be upset if Furniture Row doesn’t show up some week and there are only 42 cars.
Bryan: Furniture Row’s a bad example, they actually run the distance and were top 15 at ‘Dega, Amy. Just because they messed up Herman’s brakes…
Amy: It’s a lot more than that, trust me on this. That team is really, deeply messed up.
Bryan: Now, if MSRP Motorsports wanted to stop showing up and the Nationwide Series had 41 cars, I’d be happier.
Beth: What difference is it going to make if there are 42 instead of 43? You wouldn’t even notice it looking at the cars on the track.
Matt T.: My fear is NASCAR will see to that not happening on the Cup side by “paying” a team to show up. Then, the team will park it five laps in.
Bryan: NASCAR loses TV money when the field isn’t full, so the start-and-parkers will continue to pop up.
Mike: Oh no, Brian is taking a hit in the wallet. Hate it for him. Hey, maybe he can take some of the money from Revell… oh yeah, he wanted too damn much so he’s not getting any from them.

See also
Full Throttle: Bud Shootout, Revell's Departure Not Exactly Embracing Our Past

Amy: But the point is, 38 good cars is at least as good as 38 good cars and five bad ones, maybe better.
Beth: I think it’s better, actually; there’s less chance of one of those five bad cars taking a decent team out.
Bryan: No debate here.
Vito: TV money? They show the Truck races on some tiny cable network on a Friday night. Nobody outside of real NASCAR fans knows it’s even on. The best race of the whole two weeks, and you might see a blurb of it during a highlight show.
Beth: And sadly, until NASCAR does something to give them more exposure than two races, Vito, that won’t change.
Bryan: I dunno. Part of me likes the trucks being a secret – it’s a refuge from the ESPN-ized NASCAR.
Matt T.: True. The Trucks are what the Cup Series was in the ‘80s – they have a “lawless” appeal to them. Or so it feels.
Vito: Do the Trucks have “draft lock?”
Mike: They might, but they don’t have a “Digger!” I hate that varmint.
Matt T.: I don’t care for most any on-screen graphics, aside from a running order.
Beth: I can’t stand Digger, but I love the camera angle – especially at speed.
Mike: Graphics are fine – just don’t name them.
Vito: I love it when Jerry starts going off about draft lock. “They have achieved DRAFT LOCK!” Hey Jerry, shut up.
Bryan: SPEED had a period during practice where there was no commentary, just engines. Best coverage I heard all weekend.
Amy: You know who was decent at broadcasting races? TNN. Remember them? They had that cool show with Ned Jarrett, too.
Bryan: Granted, it was a technical failure, but it was great.
Beth: That was back when I first started watching NASCAR, Amy.
Mike: I remember when they showed WoO.
Vito: I need to know what Glenn Jarrett is doing, immediately.
Matt T.: TNN was good. No freakin’ gimmicks. It fit right in with what the Cup Series was back then. I saw Glenn at a Nashville NNS race two years ago. He was running up and down pit road.
Bryan: Anyways, I watched SPEED for like 10 straight hours on Saturday.
Mike: “We now take you back to your regularly scheduled Pinks, Pinks All Out and Living the Low Life.” Made for TV crap.
Vito: I want to see a car break an axle upon launch and run over Rich on Pinks.
Matt T.: Whewww. We all needed to blow off a little steam there.
Amy: Back to our original point: Short fields are a PR issue, not a racing issue, and frankly NASCAR needs to spend more time worrying about racing issues. If it did, the PR issues would take care of themselves
Mike: Well said, girl.

OK, how about some Daytona 500 predictions?

Amy: I say Martin wins it.
Mike: JUNIOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Beth: I agree Amy: Martin takes it.
Amy: Junior’s No. 4 now, Mike. Not gonna happen.
Mike: Junior wins with Tony on his bumper, Amy. And it looks like you ladies beat Vito to the punch.
Vito: OK fine, I’m going to say sca-rew you gahhys… I am not going to jinx Mark this time. I am picking Gordon to win.
Matt T.: Gotta be Rowdy. Gimme Kyle.
Bryan: I’m not jumping on the Hendrick bandwagon; I’m jumping on their satellite. Ryan Newman wins back-to-back 500s and puts SHR on the map.

About the author

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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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