Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Making Sense of “Major” NASCAR Changes in 2010

Welcome to Mirror Driving. On select Wednesdays during the offseason, 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 (Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

NASCAR announced several changes this offseason, including an eventual change from a rear wing to a blade spoiler and new rules at restrictor-plate tracks that allow bump drafting in all zones. Did NASCAR make the best, and safest, changes they could to improve the racing, or should they have stayed at the drawing board and come up with something else?

Kurt: I say the bump-drafting leniency lasts exactly one Talladega race. But I’m glad the wing is gone. It was ugly – it looked like it was slapped on just before the race.
Jeff: They did what was right. They are starting to rectify all the stupid things they shouldn’t have messed with in the first place.
Beth: I don’t really care about the rule about bump drafting because it was happening already.
Phil: I think these rules are good, but I approach Daytona with trepidation.
Amy: The changes were OK and it was nice to see NASCAR toss the fans a bone, but there were way bigger and better things they could have done, like dump the Top-35 rule and make these guys qualify on speed.
Kurt: I 100% agree, Amy. These are small things that aren’t going to make a big difference. They had the guts to implement the Chase – now have the guts to get rid of it.
Jeff: They are not yet ready to admit the Chase is a joke, but they will eventually. And they did not just “toss a bone,” Amy. The plate change means nothing.
Phil: I’d agree with dropping the Top-35 rule – I’ve railed against that multiple times in the past. But I was telling Matt Taliaferro on Twitter that I don’t think the 63/64″ plate will see the Daytona 500 before its replaced.
Amy: The spoiler’s effect on the racing remains to be seen. The spoiler was a huge factor on the aero push of the old car and if it causes that, the racing will be no better.
Phil: Didn’t the wing make the aero push worse?
Kurt: From what I’ve heard, the handling of the car isn’t much different. But someone said they didn’t find any evidence that the wing helped Ryan Newman‘s car get airborne at ‘Dega. Uhhh… why do they put wings on planes?
Beth: Well from what I’ve heard so far, the drivers have been pretty happy with the spoiler in testing.
Kurt: I think the aero push is more because of the air dam. That, and the angle of the windshield being higher.
Phil: Also, this spoiler is only four inches tall, I think. That’s pretty small.
Amy: I disagree. The old six-inch blade was too big and gave too much downforce. And another thing… a two-day open test is not adequate, in my opinion.
Kurt: I don’t think the size of the blade was a problem. That was what, 2004 before they lowered the spoiler height? I think a lot of teams had more problems with lower height. But I agree on lifting the testing ban, especially when there’s a change to the car.
Amy: Exactly, and mandate at least three or four tests, on different track types, before racing the spoiler.
Jeff: Maybe the spoiler and the splitter are the package we’ve been looking for.
Phil: They should just go back to the style of spoiler on the old car.
Jeff: NASCAR issuing the spoiler is pure BS!
Kurt: Why Jeff? Does it really matter? It needs to be spec anyway.
Jeff: They don’t want their “wing” company to go out of business. The teams can make it spec if they make the rest of the car spec.
Amy: I have no problem with NASCAR issuing the blade. Who cares who builds it if they’re all supposed to be spec anyway?
Jeff: Because, like with the wing, it is just another way for NASCAR to screw the teams out of money.
Kurt: Well, you could get into a cart before the horse discussion… like maybe NASCAR should just issue the entire car and be done with it.
Jeff: Exactly.
Amy: Provided it’s more expensive than making their own car would be.
Jeff: It will be, Amy. And a spoiler ain’t exactly rocket science.
Kurt: I think we’ve caught Jeff in a down mood.
Amy: See, the end plates on the wing were ugly, but the wing itself… how many new street cars have a solid blade spoiler? Mine has a wing, not a blade. The argument was that the spoiler looks more stock, yet it really is not.
Kurt: Actually my car has a wing, but it looks good on my car. It’s the same color.
Phil: I remember someone in college having a blade spoiler on the back of his Caprice (seriously). Then, he upgraded to a wing. Believe me, wings look weird on 1980s Caprices.
Jeff: A ‘69 Camaro with the spoiler is one of the best looking things money could buy.
Beth: Back to the topic at hand, I’m not totally sold on the changes, but I’m not going to condemn them until I see what happens when we get back to racing.
Kurt: The spoiler’s a good change, even if it’s minor. The aesthetic value has improved a little bit.
Amy: Yeah, NASCAR made a few nice changes. If the boys can act like men at Daytona and don’t wreck 90% of the field, the bump-drafting rule might improve the race slightly. But they didn’t address the core issues that need change: the Top-35 rule, the Chase, or the schedule.
Phil: I agree.
Kurt: Re: bump drafting. There never was a clearly defined rule in place anyway, so I don’t care. “Don’t do it, but you can do it a little bit… Just not much more than a little… Picture the tilt light on a pinball machine.” Whatever.
Jeff: In the end, the changes made are good, but they still haven’t admitted that they were wrong in the first place and they are just going to PR it to death that they are listening to the fans and giving the fans what they want.
Phil: Yes, they do need to admit that they screwed up in the first place.
Amy: NASCAR should also have made wins more important.
Kurt: Wins are important enough. Take away the Chase and you’ll see less points racing.
Amy: Or make winning a prerequisite for making the Chase.
Kurt: I think having a cool personality should get a driver in the Chase. There should be a fan vote for one driver.

With the beginning of the new season, teams will be gunning to knock Jimmie Johnson off the championship pedestal he’s enjoyed for four seasons. Who is most likely to do that? Or will Johnson take home No. 5 when the dust clears?

Jeff: No, let’s just give him the Cup now.
Kurt: Well, I think Denny Hamlin is out now because of his knee. The other two Hendrick guys that finished behind him could do it, but they’d need Jimmie to DNF in the Chase at least three times. Tony Stewart seems to fall off later in the year these days, so I don’t know if he could do it. I think Kyle Busch is going to be a contender this year, though – and if Roush can find it again, Carl Edwards has a shot.
Phil: I was thinking Hamlin was going to do it until I heard about his ACL. I still think someone’s going to knock him off. If not Jeff Gordon or Mark Martin, then maybe Stewart.
Amy: I had Hamlin pegged, but realistically, I think he’s going to have to have the surgery before November. Martin has a real shot at it, as does Stewart if he can avoid the late season slump.
Beth: I wanted to say Hamlin until he tore his ACL. I wouldn’t count out Kyle Busch this season.
Jeff: Like a torn ACL is so important in racing.
Kurt: It is, Jeff. That’s his clutch leg.
Amy: I believe I read somewhere that Hamlin is a left-foot braker, as well.
Jeff: You use the clutch only for leaving the pits and stopping. He’ll be able to handle it. It’s not like you do all that much shifting anymore except on the road tracks, anyway. Another thank you to NASCAR and the “gear” rules for that one.
Kurt: I think having a broken foot hurt Edwards last year, as he was doing poorest at tracks that require more footwork.
Amy: Kyle Busch has too much on his plate to contend this year. Until he decides to focus on winning a Cup title, he won’t win one.
Kurt: Busch did just fine in the other series, Amy. He just didn’t make the Chase because of bad luck and restrictor plates… oh, and his tantrum at Chicago.
Amy: I think that having a baby in July will derail Johnson more surely than any other driver can.
Kurt: Jimmie’ll be fine. That didn’t hurt Gordon… he had the most points of any driver in 2007 and was third in 2009.
Amy: Gordon hasn’t made a true title run since the baby.
Beth: You know, that was the first thing I thought of when I heard Chandra was pregnant. But now that I’ve thought about it, I don’t think it’ll slow him down at all.
Kurt: Gordon finished third last year, Amy.
Amy: Gordon was never a real threat to Martin or Johnson last year.
Phil: I mentioned Johnson’s forthcoming child in my season preview. It’s going to a play a role.
Kurt: Johnson will be fine. I haven’t yet seen a new addition slow guys down. Divorce, maybe, but not a kid. It’s easy to think Johnson can win another one, but a lot of guys can take him with some luck.
Beth: It’s going to take some serious bad luck for Johnson in the Chase for another driver to knock him out of the top spot. Of course, you know we’re all going to eat our words if Hamlin somehow manages to pull it off with the torn ACL.
Amy: I don’t see anyone winning five titles in a row, but the guy I had pegged to derail that train just derailed himself, so call it a wash.

Although the offseason isn’t quite as chock-full of news as it once was, which story will have the greatest impact on the upcoming season and which ones will fade quietly away?

Amy: The one we already discussed: Hamlin’s basketball injury.
Kurt: Danica will not fade away. We’ll hear about her every week.

See also
Like It or Not, the Danica Express is Coming to Save a NASCAR Near You

Beth: Even when she’s not racing.
Amy: Only because she’s pretty and obnoxious, Kurt, not because she’ll be winning.
Phil: I don’t know about that. Once the Izod IndyCar Series starts up, we won’t hear all that much about her unless she gets hurt.
Amy: Way better IndyCar drivers have tried NASCAR and found it to be too hard. And she’s a mediocre IndyCar driver on a good day.
Kurt: Well, she’ll have a better team giving her cars, though. The other guys went to Ganassi, Penske – good teams, but not Hendrick.
Kurt: All eyes will be on Junior, as usual, and how about a big bust of a season for Brad Keselowski?
Phil: If the end of last year is any indication, I’d have to agree with you there.
Beth: I don’t know, Kurt. If he and Kurt Busch are talking as much as Busch says they are, the two just might be able to work well together.
Kurt: You think so, Beth? So far, I haven’t really been impressed with Brad. He won a plate race, but that isn’t a big deal. I wonder if Pat Tryson leaving is going to hurt the No. 2 team more than we know.
Jeff: The car changes will be the only real impact on the season. The rest is just fluff and BS.
Amy: I still think Hamlin’s injury is going to have a big impact on the Cup title.
Jeff: Why? Hamlin has never been a serious factor before.
Amy: Hamlin got hot late in the Chase in ’09. If he can get hot early and maintain for 10 races, he’s the biggest threat.
Phil: I think Hamlin can adapt to right-foot braking to compensate for his bad left knee.
Kurt: I can say that I’m not picking Hamlin for my fantasy team now, but I don’t know how well he’ll do. I think Childress may be poised for a resurgence, too, and that could be a story.
Jeff: Speculation is one thing, actual offseason stories are another, and that’s why I say the car is the biggest impact. It’s a no-brainer.
Phil: The new spoiler rule is going to change the racing. By how much, I’m not sure. It’ll be April before we know for sure.
Kurt: How about the promise of adding another race to Kansas and one to Kentucky?
Amy: Like we really need two more cookie-cutters on the schedule.

NASCAR begins the 2010 Nationwide Series campaign with only about 30 full-time teams that will not start-and-park. Is this the year NASCAR realizes the state of that series? And is it too late to save it?

Amy: Even if NASCAR notices, they won’t do anything about it.
Phil: It’s only around 30? Geez, I didn’t know it was that bad.
Kurt: It’s time to shrink the field. As for the future, I don’t know what to do about the Nationwide Series. The racing itself isn’t bad and chances are you’ll see your favorite Cup driver in a race.
Amy: But we already know who the champion will be and the season is three weeks away… this is a problem.
Jeff: Oh? And who will that be, Amy?
Amy: Edwards. I talked to several NNS drivers and even they all but conceded it to him.
Kurt: What if they can’t fill the fields?
Amy: They will have full fields with part-timers and start-and-parks.
Phil: Still, they need to shrink the series. Nationwide needs less travel and less support races with Cup. It pretty much needs to be reinvented.
Kurt: It’s tough. Racing is expensive and I’m not sure the payoff is big enough in the Nationwide Series to split it off from Cup.
Beth: I keep saying they should pair Nationwide with the Truck Series a lot more than they do.
Phil: They don’t need to be racing in California or Arizona. Don’t know why they went out there, anyway. This is a series that didn’t cross the Mississippi until 1997.
Kurt: Wait a minute… I forgot about Danica Patrick! She’ll save the series for sure! Seriously, maybe they could find the hot up-and-comers and start marketing them – the only problem is they need to get into races. You know, guys like Justin Allgaier or Kelly Bires.
Amy: A lot of the NNS full-timers are pretty fed up with the Cup guys running for the championship and the veterans of the series call the title a joke. That is so far from healthy it’s ridiculous. But until NASCAR mans up and does something about it, the series will continue to die a slow death.
Phil: Agreed. NASCAR needs to restrict Cup drivers to a token amount of NNS races per year. Meaning five or less.
Kurt: I don’t know. I don’t like seeing Cup guys racing there, but I suppose some people like seeing their favorite driver in a Nationwide race. Anyway, doesn’t NASCAR restrict things enough? Seriously, we may not like it, but any rules to enforce limits would look contrived.
Amy: At this point, they need to be contrived for the good of the series.
Kurt: I did like the series a lot better when it just had minor leaguers, but honestly, I don’t know what to do about it now.
Amy: I don’t really give a rat’s ass about Edwards’s ego when the series itself is the victim.
Phil: How does Edwards benefit from winning the Nationwide title again?
Amy: Ego. That’s the benefit. How many Cup champions do you see racing for a Nationwide title?
Kurt: See, if I was a Cup driver, I wouldn’t take much pride in beating a minor leaguer and I’d really feel bad if I got beat by one. It’s like fighting a boxer in a lighter division – everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Jeff: I agree with limits, but get off the personal stuff with Edwards. You know as much about Carl’s ego as a tea leaf in China.
Kurt: But see, think of this: if teams were allowed to run as many cars as they want in the Cup Series, it might help. If Roush could run six cars, he’d have a reason to develop someone.
Jeff: It’s not so much the driver, but the team that’s funding the car. More money equals more championships.
Phil: Not necessarily.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. The Cup owners running their Cup drivers on five times or more the money of some NNS teams is shameful.
Kurt: The thing is, if Nationwide goes away, where do the rookies come from? Oh, wait….
Amy: That’s the thing, Kurt. NNS had a great identity of its own not too long ago, with a mix of veterans and development guys. Then Roush got more sponsor money for his Cup guys and it ballooned from there.
Jeff: Junior needs to go back to Nationwide in a Hendrick-funded car so he can be top dog again!
Phil: Earnhardt’s going to be better this year. He hit rock bottom last year.
Jeff: I’ll believe it when I see it.
Amy: He can’t be worse.
Beth: I’m willing to bet the offseason did him a lot of good.
Jeff: Yeah, he expanded his nightclub.
Kurt: Did he? I need to check that place out.
Amy: Great club. Really good atmosphere.
Beth: But maybe that’s what he needed. If he’s busy doing something to forget about racing for a while, he’ll be able to come back fresh and ready to race.

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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