Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Does TV Owe NASCAR Underdogs? Grading the Childress Crew Swap & Nationwide Surprises

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:
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Fantasy Insider & Various/Nationwide Series Reporter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Kyle Busch scored his 50th win NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck competition with last weekend’s two victories at Richmond. Busch says he wants to get to 200 to “beat” Richard Petty‘s mark. Can he get there?

Kurt: Well, does that really count? I was thinking that isn’t a fair comparison. That said, it’s too early to tell; but if anyone, can it’s Kyle.
Beth: Right, it’s way too early to make that call. And besides, I wouldn’t count it unless it was 200 Cup wins.
Jeff: I agree – you need 200 Cup wins to beat the King.
Amy: It’s a ridiculous comparison. Kyle isn’t going to have 200 Cup wins, and therefore it doesn’t matter.
Bryan: Agreed. Just because Kyle has an owner that’s willing to field minor-league entries for him to race to his heart’s content doesn’t mean that a possible 200 wins across the board rivals the King’s 200 Cup Ws… assuming he gets there, by the way.
Amy: He’s buying wins in the Nationwide Series, so toss out those numbers.
Jeff: And the King didn’t have the chance to race the Trucks.
Kurt: A win is a win though, even if you don’t think it’s a fair playing field. Kyle’s also going to really have to stay in shape to keep up this pace when he’s 30.
Beth: True, Kurt… a win is a win.
Amy: No, a Cup win is far more impressive than a bought NNS win. A thoroughbred could win every time out in a Shetland pony race.
Kurt: Also, a Cup win today, with all due respect to Petty, is more impressive than a win 30 years ago.
Jeff: I don’t buy that.
Kurt: Competition is much, much tougher today, Jeff. Back in Petty’s day you had maybe six or seven guys winning all year; now, you have 15-17.
Bryan: Well, when Kyle starts pushing 200 Cup wins, get back to me.
Jeff: So, I suppose a win by say the Red Sox today is better than a win 50 years ago?
Bryan: This is like how the media made a big deal of Michael Waltrip starting 1,000 races, not 1,000 Cup races… who cares? Kyle Busch cannot and will not eclipse the King, I don’t care how many Truck and Nationwide trophies he supplements his win column with.
Kurt: To have 50 wins in NASCAR overall at 24 is still pretty darn impressive, guys.
Beth: I agree, Kurt, but to talk about him passing Petty’s numbers combining his Nationwide and Trucks wins as well as Cup is ridiculous.
Jeff: It doesn’t impress me. Lets compare apples to apples, not apples to cumquats.
Bryan: I’d be more impressed if Kyle focused solely on his No. 18 car and won, say 15 Cup races in a season. That would raise my eyebrows more than what he’s doing now.
Amy: Yes.
Beth: Absolutely.
Jeff: I’d be more impressed if he worked on his personality.
Kurt: People said that about DW too, Jeff.
Jeff: Some still do.
Beth: He’s still young, Jeff. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll grow out of it.
Amy: As it is, he’ll be hard pressed to touch Jimmie Johnson‘s Cup numbers for his first seven seasons, so why are we even discussing Petty?
Bryan: We’re discussing Kyle vs. Petty because us media have adopted Kyle as its new darling.
Kurt: Kyle will change when he’s been around a while – it happens with every hotshot. Once he proves himself on the track enough, he wins respect. Tony Stewart‘s a good example.
Amy: Reed Sorenson and Brian Vickers are young, too, and they don’t act like petulant brats.
Kurt: No one hates Sorenson and Vickers because they don’t win, Amy.
Bryan: Sorenson’s not the best example, Amy. He doesn’t care all that much.
Beth: Exactly, Kurt. Sorenson and Vickers don’t have 50 NASCAR wins to their names. Kyle’s cocky because he thinks he’s the best there is right now. And Kyle is acting exactly how his brother acted at that age. He’ll most likely grow out of it.
Jeff: Look, every time I started to give Kurt Busch the benefit of the doubt he did something asinine again. It all has to do with their upbringing.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. Kenny Wallace said it best when he said neither one of them ever got taken to the woodshed. If they had a few times, they wouldn’t be so spoiled. And Kyle’s four years in now. In three years his numbers won’t touch Johnson’s… ergo, he is not the best there is right now.
Kurt: Back to the question. Kyle is still young and can do three races a weekend, but he won’t be able to keep up that pace forever. However, he can rack up some numbers at this rate.
Bryan: Long and short, there is no case to be made that Kyle Busch’s current stretch of wins is the same thing as what the King did solely on the Cup circuit. 50 wins is a lot, but it’s like a pitcher winning 50 games across AA, AAA and MLB baseball.
Beth: And Kyle has a long way to go to matching Petty’s wins with only 15 Cup wins to his name.
Bryan: And no titles of yet. 15 Cup wins, zero titles… 200 wins, seven titles. Do the math.
Kurt: I think Kyle had a good point when he talked to DW: if Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. can’t win over everyone in terms of popularity, why should he try?
Beth: There are always going to be people out there that hate a certain driver – that’s the just the passion of race fans. Some are just more hated than others because of their perceived attitudes.
Jeff: I don’t want him to try and win me over! Just act like you’ve got some class and don’t stomp off mad when you finish second, Kyle. How many times has he done that?
Amy: He’s never going to win me over. The best he can hope for is that someday I will tolerate him.
Bryan: I could care less how popular Kyle is. What he is doing on the track is not equivalent to what the King did. And no matter how much we hype his “200 wins” quote, it means nothing significant.
Kurt: He is going to have to keep up this frenetic pace to get to 200 across the board. If he can handle it, good for him. Go for it. Let me ask you all this: Is anyone offended by his saying he wants to be better than Petty?
Amy: Everyone wants to be better than Petty, but that doesn’t mean he ever will. Petty is a class act, too, to go with those wins.
Kurt: True Amy, and that’s what makes Petty stand out.
Beth: Doesn’t every athlete want to be better than the best? And as long as he continues to say he wants to be better and doesn’t start telling people he is better, then I’ll be OK with it.

The crew swap between Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears appears to be already reaping dividends after Richmond. Was the swap the right move, and do major crew changes midseason really help anyone?

Kurt: It’s too early to know, but I would say it’s probably not going to help both drivers. It might help one of them.
Bryan: One race proves nothing. Mears benefited from pit strategy as much as anyone on Saturday, and RIR is one of Harvick’s best tracks. When the No. 29 and No. 07 run well on 1.5-milers as a result, get back to me.

See also
Crew Swaps Treat Symptoms, Not Disease, for Nos. 07, 29 Teams

Jeff: Yeah, too early to tell. One race doesn’t tell the story.
Amy: I think it will help them both, actually. Harvick was fast as hell at RIR, even after he got punted – and Mears ran very well even though the team capitalized on strategy.
Beth: Sometimes all a team needs is a little shakeup of who’s making the decisions.
Kurt: Sometimes this stuff works. Maybe some guys just need a change of scenery after awhile.
Bryan: It doesn’t matter who you put on the No. 07 box, there’s no talent behind the wheel. Mears always grabs a top 10 here and there, but that’s it. Come the 600, Mears will be 23rd, two laps down and Harvick will be feasting… or lost. Sound familiar?
Kurt: I’m not surprised at Mears, but Harvick has been subpar this year.
Amy: This move was mainly done for Harvick’s benefit, though it will likely help Casey too. I have heard Harvick has wanted Gil Martin on his box for years, so I’m not surprised.
Jeff: I think Casey is just happy to have a ride (for this year).
Bryan: He better be happy to have a ride. He’s done nothing to merit one, yet landed in another marquee car.
Kurt: I don’t understand why everything imaginable is done to help Mears. Anyone else would be lucky to drive for Red Bull right now.
Amy: He’s better than a lot of guys with rides, though.
Jeff: True that, Amy.
Bryan: Ha! I’ll take that argument!
Kurt: Really?
Amy: His name is Mears, Kurt. Sponsors want the name.
Kurt: With that thinking, I should change my name to Earnhardt and see if I can get a ride.
Bryan: There are a lot of drivers that I’d take over Mears that don’t have Cup rides.
Jeff: A lot?
Bryan: In RCR terms, I’d have put Scott Wimmer in the No. 07 before Mears.
Amy: What has Wimmer done lately?
Bryan: About as much as Mears did, Amy.
Kurt: Yeah, Wimmer totally got screwed! What’s up with that? Wimmer’s won a race without the benefit of fuel mileage in his series not long ago, Amy. Not bad for a part-time guy.
Bryan: Won RCR an owners’ title, too.
Amy: Like it or not, marketability matters. There are better drivers out there, but sponsors want the name. Why shouldn’t Casey capitalize on that?
Kurt: Business is business, I guess. I just don’t get it.
Amy: What should he do, Kurt? Say, “Sorry, Mr. Childress, that’s a nice offer and all, but I’m sure you can find someone better.”
Bryan: No one’s debating Casey’s motives, Amy. We’re debating why owners keep wasting their time and sponsor’s money putting him in good cars to run mid-pack.
Jeff: Well, what has Harvick done, really, in his Cup career other than win shortly after Dale Earnhardt’s death in Dale’s car?
Kurt: Harvick has had a few wins. He’s done better than all of the other RCR drivers since Dale’s death.
Jeff: Yeah, a handful.
Beth: Including a Daytona 500 win.
Jeff: But to me, he is more like a Jamie McMurray: Nice guy and all, won a few, but never has reached full expectations.
Amy: If you ever listened to Harvick and Berrier on the radio, you’d understand why I think this is a great move for Harvick. It kind of helps if the crew chief at least occasionally listens to his driver. (Which, ironically may work for Mears if Berrier can get the cars right for him.)
Kurt: Yeah, I think the change might help some. It can’t make things much worse the way it had been going for them.
Bryan: One race, and at a short track that RCR has won at recently, does not prove anything. The longer tracks are their problem and they have to improve there first.
Kurt: Agreed Bryan; they’re really lagging on the speedways and that’s the bulk of the schedule.
Bryan: If they both finish top 15 in the 600, I’ll take back what I said about this move meaning nothing.

Network coverage of Richmond featured more air time for Digger than for many drivers in the field. But what, if anything, do the networks owe the sponsors of the teams who aren’t running in the top 10 in the race or the points standings?

Amy: I don’t know if they owe the sponsors, but they damn well owe the fans better coverage.
Bryan: The networks don’t “owe” anything per se, but when you’re covering a racing series, that means covering the whole series – the backmarkers as well as the guys that run up front every week.

See also
Nuts for Nationwide: TV Coverage Strangling the NASCAR Nationwide Series

Beth: Certainly, the networks don’t have to show anyone they don’t want to; but in the end it’ll cost sponsorship money in the series. And that will, in turn, cause more problems for the smaller teams.
Jeff: The networks owe the sponsors nothing. It’s just bad coverage is all. Shows you how the networks may be actually hurting the sport.
Beth: Showing sponsors outside the top 10 isn’t the issue; it’s not showing the good racing back in the pack.
Kurt: I noticed that David Reutimann is out of the top 12. I guess he missed his chance for his car to be on TV.
Jeff: No, he’s got DW in the booth.
Amy: NASCAR needs to grow a pair and make demands of the networks next time the contract is up.
Kurt: Actually Amy, I think NASCAR’s demands are too large to begin with. Racing is so expensive to cover that you have this just so networks can make a profit. But if I were Brian France, I’d be asking some questions about that gopher.
Bryan: If the networks don’t show everyone, not just the big names, the small guys go away – and so does the series they’re making money covering.
Amy: I’m sorry, but showing the rodent more than any one driver is unacceptable. NASCAR needs to tell the networks that every team gets coverage every week, and every team that crashes or goes out early gets a mention of why.
Kurt: I doubt FOX or any other network would go for that. I think that’s why sometimes sponsors have told drivers that if you can’t win, wreck.
Bryan: For a series to survive, you’ve got to have a way to make every sort of sponsorship out there viable, from the big deals to the smaller ones that keep teams like Tommy Baldwin Racing afloat. Otherwise, you narrow the sponsorship market down and that hurts the race teams, the series being covered and thus the networks.
Amy: I’m sick to death of drivers crashing and the audience not even being told they’re OK. Those drivers have friends and family watching, as well as their fans.
Bryan: I don’t like not knowing when they get back onto the track, either.
Kurt: I don’t know if the networks can win with this one. I sometimes get irritated when there’s a battle for the lead and I’m watching the 27th-place car because the guys are talking about him.
Beth: What’s sad is NASCAR shouldn’t have to mandate that. Those are things that are important to the broadcast.
Jeff: No, gophers are important!
Amy: There is no excuse for the fact that I had to ask a driver on Monday why he was in the pits for nine laps early in a race. The network should have told me and that driver’s fans.
Kurt: But it’s harder than it looks to do that. You have to pay more attention to the leader than a 30th-place car.
Amy: But what about when there’s a battle for 27th and the leader is six seconds ahead, not even passing lapped cars, and they show him turning laps instead. That’s even worse!
Bryan: If anyone wants to see an example of how it should be done, ESPN did a markedly better job covering the NNS race on Friday. A number of regulars still didn’t get airtime, but a lot more did than normal.
Amy: They used to do full field rundowns a few times a race.
Bryan: And the cameras focused on side-by-side, be it for first or 18th – the coverage Friday night was a good example of how it can be done.
Kurt: I do think they should go through the field like TNT does. But I don’t know if there’s enough time.
Amy: That’s all I’m saying: A few rundowns and letting us know what happened in a crash or early exit. They don’t have to spend half the broadcast on Joe Nemechek, but it would be nice to know where he is once in a while.
Jeff: I seldom watch a race with the volume on or I’m doing something else at the same time and just check back once in a while (usually to see another commercial).
Kurt: I know I’m in the minority opinion here, but I’m usually not interested in the backmarkers. I want to know who’s leading, where the battles are and why someone wrecked.
Jeff: But usually the battles are the backmarkers!
Bryan: No one’s saying that the backmarkers need to be on half the time, but there needs to be recognition that they are on the track.
Kurt: No disrespect intended, but if Kyle’s taking the lead from Jeff, I’d rather see that than Jeremy Mayfield vs. Robby Gordon.
Bryan: A good example Friday was when Kenny Wallace and Burney Lamar were battling for 20th. It was a great side-by-side battle, and for once it got covered. Then when someone made a move on the leader, ESPN cut away to it. That’s how to do it.
Jeff: They usually do show a lead change.
Beth: By the way, MRN still does a ‘Through the Field.’
Kurt: As does TNT.
Jeff: I dread TNT though. I can’t stand Weber. I mute TNT louder than Fox!
Amy: The problem is, they show the lead change, but then they show the leader running away ad nauseum.
Bryan: Precisely. ESPN did a good job handling that on Friday as well. When Kyle pulled away, they showed the racing in the top 10-15. Then, before commercial they’d cut back to him and remind us that he was leading and give his sponsor a good plug.
Kurt: But if they focus too much on the guys in 25th, people will get upset with that too. Bryan’s got it right, they need balance. I think all of the networks have a problem of what they have to do to turn a profit.
Amy: When NASCAR loses 10 or more Cup sponsors because of no coverage, there will be a very real problem and then nobody will turn a profit.
Bryan: If networks want the sport that they’re making money covering to survive, they need to ensure they keep the sponsorship market healthy, for everyone from the Fortune 500 to the small .coms. And that means that every car that takes to the track needs to be covered in some capacity over the course of a race. If the networks just want to kill these series off and make a quick buck, they’re right on track.
Amy: Every driver has fans and all the fans spend dollars. The networks would be well versed to remember that. I think they don’t owe the sponsors – but they do owe the fans.
Kurt: People are buying Digger gear… that only encourages them! I am convinced that Digger has been responsible for at least 8% of the 13% average ratings drop.
Amy: I agree, Kurt. Nobody likes a stupid gimmick, and it sure as hell doesn’t make up for the pitiful coverage some teams are getting
Kurt: The big question is whether fans would rather watch Digger than David Reutimann.
Jeff: It was cute at first – maybe the first couple races – but kill the damn thing already. Leave the cams, kill the rats!
Amy: Bottom line, there is no excuse for not doing at least five full-field rundowns per race in addition to always letting fans know a driver is OK after a crash and why a car is off the track.
Jeff: You’ll never see the megabuck contracts from the networks again. France already fleeced that lamb.
Bryan: Here’s a thought: if you want to advertise Digger, put him on a car. Help a team like Tommy Baldwin or TRG out if you insist on televising gophers.
Beth: That’s not a bad idea, Bryan.

The Nationwide Series top 10 looks like the same old, same old, with a few exceptions. Which Nationwide Series veteran has the best chance of a top-10 points finish and which young gun has the brightest future?

Bryan: Jason Leffler.
Amy: Other than Leffler and Brad Keselowski, neither of which is a surprise, I think Jason Keller could crack the top 10. And I have been super impressed with Justin Allgaier.
Bryan: Leffler is running really well this year. With Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch no longer moonlighting in Braun’s No. 32 car, the No. 38 is the focus over there again, and it is paying off.
Kurt: What happened to Brendan Gaughan?
Jeff: He’s breen and gone!
Bryan: Last weekend was a good weekend for Keller – his second consecutive top 10 and the first time since 2005 that the No. 27 team has scored back-to-back top 10s. Not sure he’s a lock for top 10 in points, though.
Kurt: I am with Amy, I like Allgaier a lot. I think he’ll be on the fast track to Cup soon.
Bryan: The best of the young guns has definitely been Allgaier so far, though Scott Lagasse Jr. has also surprised me. The No. 11 car hasn’t missed a beat since he took it from Keller.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: Scott Lagasse Jr. on 2009 at CJM Racing

Amy: He barely looks old enough to drive, but he can wheel it.
Kurt: I’d say Keselowski is the best regular out there. Surely he’s gotten a boost from that Cup win now, too. And Allgaier does look young, doesn’t he? Good grief, he may not even be old enough to be a Gillette Young Gun.
Amy: I think another to watch as he learns is Michael Annett in the Germain ride.
Bryan: Annett’s got a ways to go yet. He’s not on the same plane as Allgaier.
Jeff: Keselowski is the next Cup superstar ready for a full-time ride because he won a Cup race, remember?
Kurt: A plate race at that.
Bryan: Keselowski is going to be a household name in the near future, mark my words. That guy is the real deal, plate win or not.
Amy: I agree; but again, he’s not a surprise. The question was who will surprise this year. Leffler isn’t a surprise, either.
Jeff: How about Steve Wallace then. As in, surprised he has a ride!
Bryan: Leffler is going to surprise because he’s going to crack the top five in the standings, not just the top 10. He’s top dog at Braun again, like he should be.
Amy: Steve isn’t a surprise. Give him equipment like that, and even he’ll get some good finishes.
Kurt: Steve Wallace has been better than when I was first watching him. He seems to have learned a lot.
Bryan: For all the Wallace bashers out there, he was top 15 again this weekend and is in the top 10 in points.
Jeff: I don’t bash all the Wallaces; just Steve.
Amy: He raced super dirty to get that top 15, Bryan.
Kurt: Oh boy, here we go.
Bryan: Johnson isn’t a surprise, Amy; equipment like that and even he’ll win three Cup titles.
Jeff: Zing! Shot fired across the bow!
Amy: Jimmie can actually drive, Bryan… that’s kind of a prerequisite.
Bryan: Anyone who can crack the top 10 in national touring series points standings can drive.
Kurt: Wallace is getting better. He used to wreck all the time and he’s getting half-decent finishes now. Well, maybe not all the time, but frequently.
Amy: I sure didn’t see improvement at Richmond.
Bryan: He finished 11th, Amy. His improvement is leaps and bounds over where he started.
Amy: He drove dirty all night, too. He almost wrecked his uncle about three times.
Jeff: His uncle is too old to drive and should retire.
Kurt: Maybe that was Steve’s thinking.
Amy: His uncle is 10 times the driver right now than Steve will ever be.
Jeff: Cant argue with you there, Amy. Even uncle Mike is!
Amy: Uncle Mike is the best of all of them, actually. Hell, Rusty will tell you that. But anyway, Steve has a great car.
Kurt: OK, now you’re way out there, Amy. Mike better than Rusty? Really?!
Amy: Rusty will tell you that.
Jeff: Now playing left field for the Frontstretch Regulars: Amy amy amy Henderson henderson henderson…
Amy: How is that left field if the entire family admits it?
Jeff: Maybe they owe Mike money.
Bryan: I don’t have a hard time seeing Steve end the year top 10 in points and that is surprising to me. I hated his father with a passion, but Steve has sold me that he’s got the chance to do well in this sport. Yes, he’s getting chances because of his family name, but so did Mears. Except, unlike Casey, Steve keeps getting better.
Amy: He’s not going to get that much better.
Kurt: Whatever Amy, he’s out there selling car insurance. How about Michael McDowell? He hasn’t been running badly.
Bryan: McDowell has run well, Kurt, but he’s where he should have been last year.
Amy: He’s still been impressive – eighth in points now.
Bryan: The question for McDowell is whether or not they’ll have sponsorship to run all year. I don’t think the Tom’s deal is for the full season.

Predictions for Darlington?

Jeff: Gotta go with my man Carl.
Kurt: Kyle Busch gets number 51 en route to 201.
Bryan: Kyle Busch wins and certain media members tell us that he’s the first driver ever to tame Darlington because they have to channel their man love for Kyle into some kind of feat.
Beth: I guess I’m gonna go with Kyle Busch, too. I wanted to pick Stewart because I know he’s so close, but it seems every time I have, he hasn’t quite been able to get there.
Kurt: Aw, go for it Beth.
Beth: Alright, put me down for Stewart.
Kurt: Everyone get that? Tony’s never won at the Lady in Black, has he?
Bryan: He’s never won for Stewart-Haas either, but that’s not going to last. Stewart will win before Daytona this July, where he’ll smoke the field.
Amy: I say Jeff Gordon wins like his ten millionth Southern 500, even if we all know it’s a fake (calling it the Southern 500 that is, not Jeff winning it).
Kurt: Oh yeah, it’s the Southern 500 isn’t it this weekend? Tradition is back at Darlington?
Amy: I, for one, am not biting. The Southern 500 is on Labor Day weekend. Therefore, this is no Southern 500.
Bryan: Calling this race the Southern 500 is like if ARCA changed its Daytona race to 312 miles and called it the Daytona 500K.

Mirror Predictions 2009

Welcome to our third consecutive 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:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through ten races (and the Bud Shootout) this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Tom Bowles 11 5 1 3 3
Kurt Smith 10 -1 9 1 3 5
Amy Henderson 9 -2 11 1 3 5
Beth Lunkenheimer 9 -2 10 0 3 4
Bryan Davis Keith 8 -3 9 1 4 4
Mike Neff 7 -4 7 0 3 3
Vito Pugliese 7 -4 7 0 1 5
Jeff Meyer 0 -11 6 0 0 2
Tony Lumbis 0 -11 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway 0 -11 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -14 1 0 0 0

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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