Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!
This Week’s Participants:
Amy Henderson (Mondays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kyle Ocker (Mondays/Fact or Fiction)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Criteria for entering the Budweiser Shootout have changed (again) in 2011. Current rules allow the 12 Chasers from 2010, former Cup champions (must have competed during the last two seasons in the series to be eligible), past Shootout winners, past winners of any points race at Daytona and Rookie of the Year drivers from the last 10 years. Given this expanded format, are there too many now eligible for what was meant to be a race for the sport’s elite?
Phil: Yeah, I think so. We’re over 30 now. Derrike Cope just declared his participation on Monday (Feb. 7).
Amy: I’ve said for a while they need to revamp it and run it like a short track. Allow everyone to enter, run heats, a B-main and an A-main for the real money.
Kyle: I don’t really see the Shootout as a race for the sport’s elite. I see the All-Star Race as more of an elite-only event. So, I’d be fine with everyone running.
Mike: They want to have a field over 20 cars for whatever reason. I don’t know why they feel that way but that is their objective. I think it is overblown and they should have left it the way it was when you had to win a pole.
Amy: Kevin Conway doesn’t deserve to be in any race that requires you to have won something. His ROTY was only by default. But Mike, the problem with the pole deal is Budweiser won’t allow it.
Kyle: I liked it better when it was all about the pole. But I don’t blame Bud for not giving Coors Light some free press.
Phil: Coors Light screwed up the race by refusing to sponsor it. They really don’t promote this exhibition very much anymore.
Mike: Again, the sponsors running the sport are a big part of what is wrong with it. Tell the potential sponsor what the race will be and whether they can buy in or not. Who the hell even pays attention to the fact that Coors sponsors the pole except the pole winner?
Phil: There’s no ulterior motive to get poles now. No equivalent to the Unocal Bonus, either. Remember that sweet bonus?
Mike: I get a kick out of the fact that we’re changing the points system to make it simpler to understand but everything surrounding the Speedweeks at Daytona is about as complex and convoluted as you can make it.
Amy: Seriously though, either scrap this race or totally revamp it. But it sucks as is.
Mike: I don’t think it sucks, I just don’t understand why it has to be so freaking hard to understand how to get into it.
Phil: It’s probably only hard to understand because they keep changing it.
Mike: Make it for everyone who won a race the previous year or everyone who won a pole or everyone who had their picture taken with one of the Miss Sprint Cups; just let everyone know it’s something simple and move on.
Amy: Any race that Conway is handed entry into on a bogus rule because that cutie Kasey Kahne had to get in or whatever, sucks. I’d like to see all full-time teams eligible and then run heats and a last ditch, then run 20 in the feature and be done with it. Make it a real Saturday night special .
Mike: I think that would be cool. Or let everyone in and run Australian rules. The car in last place each lap is eliminated.
Amy: That would be fun, Mike. Then get it down to 10 cars and 10 laps for all the marbles or something.
Phil: Oh yes. I’ve seen that in Test Drive: Eve of Destruction.
Mike: Yeah, it can make racing at the back as exciting as it is at the front. Especially on a plate track when people can get shuffled out.
Phil: It would make the event a lot shorter, though. For the Shootout, why not make it 40 cars with an elimination every two laps? That would be interesting.
Kyle: Phil, no. That would be so hard to follow.Did Brian France hack Phil’s account?
NASCAR announced another tweak to the Cup schedule today, starting the Chase races at 2:00 ET to avoid a conflict with football kickoff times. Was it the right move? Will it make a difference?
Amy: No, and no.
Mike: Sure, it means that fewer people will watch the start of the Cup races. Oh wait, that’s already the case. So no.
Phil: It won’t affect a couple of the Chase races (Phoenix, Charlotte, Texas), but the rest of them should have their start times moved up to noonish ET. Of course, it could end up being moot if the NFL lockout extends into the Chase, but you can’t assume that.
Amy: 1 p.m. start times were fine. Races actually ended at a decent hour on the East Coast. Now, even if you do get fans in the beginning, you’ll lose them at the end.
Kyle: Amy, obviously they weren’t fine. There is a reason the NFL’s rating are through the roof and NASCAR’s are in the tank.
Mike: Start the races at 1:00, not the pre-race, but the race. The NFL is always going to draw more and Brian needs to give up chasing that. No pun intended.
Amy: I agree, they should have gone earlier, not later. Get fans hooked before kickoff. Trying to get them to tune in after the game is underway is iffy at best.
Kyle: Amy, we can’t hook fans, that’s the problem. If we had fans hooked in the Daytona 500 we wouldn’t have the problem. NFL/NASCAR fans will choose football.
Amy: Kyle, the start times were fine. People weren’t going to watch those races no matter when they started. The 1 p.m. times were something fans were hugely in favor of last year. Note to NASCAR: the problem isn’t the start times of the Chase. The problem IS the Chase.
Kyle: The entire sport is the problem. NASCAR is so screwed up I can’t even say the Chase is their biggest and most important problem.
Phil: We’ve still got four more years of this stupidity. We can’t do anything about it. Sprint and Brian France love the Chase and that is pretty much all that matters right now.
Mike: By the way, the NFL is stupider (if that is a word) than the suits in Daytona if they let a lockout happen after 163 million people just tuned in to watch their Super Bowl Sunday.
Phil: Yeah, it would be the ultimate squandering of great PR.
Mike: What do you think is wrong with the sport, Kyle?
Kyle: I can’t possibly name everything here, but I’ll hit a few: Online coverage (we need RaceBuddy for every race), TV coverage still doesn’t have side-by-side for commercials, the Chase, qualifying is totally irrelevant since there isn’t much of a incentive to qualify on the pole and there only eight spots up for grabs, the races are too long, we give second dates to tracks just because they are getting a casino, tracks like Auto Club remain on the schedule for some damn reason…. I’m tired of typing.
Amy: This is just another case of NASCAR’s ignorance of the real issue. Fans aren’t tuning in because the product (the Chase) isn’t what they want. The start times WERE what they wanted, but NASCAR once again tells us what we want.
Mike: I never used RaceBuddy, but I’ll buy that. The sponsors won’t allow for side-by-side advertising so NASCAR can’t fix that. The Chase is definitely a problem. Qualifying is not irrelevant because pit position is more important than ever.
Phil: The start times are fine. We needed to make them earlier last season. It’s just that the NFL has become far more of a juggernaut than before and a lot of people have become very angry with NASCAR’s leadership. Just look at some of the comments in our preview articles. No one is amped for Daytona. I am, but I would be regardless.
Former crew chief Frank Stoddard announced that he will enter the Cup Series full time as an owner in 2011. The team will lake the Daytona 500 with Terry Labonte’s past champion’s provisional and will put veteran Mike Skinner behind the wheel for the next two races at Phoenix and Las Vegas. Given the fate of many single car and start up teams recently, is there reason to believe that this one can do any better?
Amy: Not really. Frankie is a great guy (his dad used to be my mailman, actually) but a great crew chief doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good owner.
Phil: Well, Stoddard seems to have some capital behind his team from U.S. Chrome, so that helps.
Kyle: Good luck competing with Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Stewart-Haas, etc.
Mike: OK, Stoddard will have a great shot because, as of this week, there are 40 cars set up to run full time in 2011 and if they can outlast the start and parks they should be able to get into the Top 35. Which, by the way, is probably the biggest problem with NASCAR right now, even worse than the Chase.
Phil: Finding additional funding is going to be an issue, though. Hopefully, Stoddard can get those “killer engines” that he mentioned on Sirius Speedway. I’m thinking that some of the stuff might be left over from the Latitude 43 team from last year.
Amy: So Stoddard has a great shot at squeaking into the field… but will he be able to develop the team into something with staying power and eventually contending for top finishes? Not likely.
Kyle: I agree, Amy. NASCAR isn’t set up for single-car startups.
Phil: Also, I’m debating whether Frankie got paid last year. Sadly, that’s a legitimate thought knowing what went on with Latitude 43.
Amy: NASCAR isn’t set up for ANY startups. Look at Germain. Multi-truck champs and can barely hang on in Cup.
Phil: The team will do OK to get into races. It will be a little easier than two years ago when TRG and Tommy Baldwin entered, along with the mess that was Mayfield Motorsports.
Mike: Cup racing is different from Truck racing, Amy. I don’t know about top finishes, but I think they can compete for top 30s and that is all you need.
Amy: All you need for what, exactly? Success in this sport is defined by one thing and one thing only… winning.
Kyle: Oh my God, I can’t debate Cup versus NNS versus Truck anymore.
Mike: All you need to make a living racing in Cup. No startup team thinks they can compete for wins.
Amy: But Bob Germain obviously knows how to build a team. Yet they can barely scratch the surface in Cup.
Kyle: I’m sorry, Amy, the series can’t be more different.
Mike: There is no way, except on a plate track, a startup team has a shot at winning a Cup race. The cars are far too technical and there is no way a single-car team can compete. That is how the sport works and has for the last 15 years.
Amy: And if a top racecar owner can’t make it, what’s that mean for inexperienced owners? I’m talking long term. Five years from now, will they be contending or still running 30th?
Mike: They’ll contend if they expand to 350 employees and three cars.
Phil: Stoddard seems to think he can get his No. 32 into the 15-30 range for finishes now. I don’t know… that’s going to be tricky. I don’t know if they’ll be around in five years. Way too early to think about that.
Kyle: If they have sponsorship, add at least one more team, they may be top-20ish in five years.
Amy: Will they? Front Row sure isn’t. Even RPM isn’t and they’re not a new team by any stretch.
Phil: At least they’ve got a decent amount of startup capital and from what I understand, decent equipment.
Mike: Does Front Row have 350 employees and three cars? How about RPM?
Amy: I just don’t believe this Stoddard team can be viable over the long term. I think five years from now, you’ll only have the big name teams still around. At which point, NASCAT might as well franchise.
Kyle: I think that startups have to start by having a lot of money, going to Hendrick and starting a satellite team. That’s the only way a single-car team could make it. Several investors PLUS full sponsorship PLUS proven equipment/research.
Phil: RPM cut down to 80 before Medallion came in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they hired some people back after then.
Amy: Don’t know how many employees, but FRM had three teams last year and RPM had four. Neither organization could cut it.
Kyle: RPM was barely hanging.
Mike: Playing off of what Amy said, I think five years from now you’ll have exactly what you have now. Four or five big teams that do almost all of the winning, a couple of satellites that steal one now and then, and some single-car teams competing for the scraps.
Phil: RPM ran into issues because of Gillett’s empire crumbling.
Kyle: They were running out of $$$.
Amy: In the best of times, the team was decent, but never a top team. Now? They’re barely getting by.
Mike N.: RPM didn’t have any engineers. They got all of their stuff from Roush. You have to stand on your own with your own people. Front Row and RPM are just leasing stuff without the engineers.
Phil: As for Front Row, they were admittedly stretched thin trying to keep Conway in the Top 35 in owners points. They’ll be a little better this year.
Amy: It’s a crying shame that there is no place in this sport for the guys like Alan Kulwicki anymore. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago.
Phil: It is wrong. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that Kulwicki was in serious trouble less than two years before winning his title. Zerex left him high and dry, forcing him to start 1991 without a sponsor.
Mike: Looking towards the future, I guess it depends on what you want out of the sport. Do you want one where 25 cars finish on the lead lap every week and we have the most competitive racing ever, or do you want a sport where one- and two-car teams catch lightning in a bottle once in a while and by the middle of the season there are three teams with a chance to win?
Phil: We kinda already have both these days, Mike. Depending on the amount of cautions.
Amy: I loved the racing in the late 1990s. Why? Because I truly felt like an underdog might squeak one out. Now, I wonder why they even show up.
Mike: We only had three cars that could win any week last year? For a paycheck, Amy. That is what the sport is all about now.
Amy: That’s kind of sad.
Phil: Three operations? At times, more or less.
Kyle: HMS, JGR, RCR.
Mike: That’s not what I said. I said three cars. Right now you have 15 or more cars that could win any week. In the ‘90s, there were three cars most weekends that could win.
Kyle: Just because each organization that matters has 3-4 cars.
Mike: Exactly. If you want the ‘90s, you get rid of big teams and make everyone run their own deal.
Amy: There were times back then that you’d watch and think, if things go right, Ken Schrader could win this race, or Michael Waltrip could, or Kenny Wallace….
Mike: Yeah, and you’d also look and think, wow, there are four cars within five laps of the lead.
Phil: In the 1990s, you would still have roughly a dozen different winners a year.
Amy: Now, you watch and you know before the green flag falls who has a shot and who doesn’t.
Kyle: Well, obviously the races aren’t that predictable, we hardly ever pick a winner.
Mike: I think right now, though there are only 12-15 cars that can win on a weekend. Back then, there were four or five cars going into a weekend unless some weird fluke happened. Now, if a weird fluke happens there can still be a crazy winner, but it will have to be a huge fluke.
Amy: I don’t know. I remember many a race where at points you had the feeling someone other than the usual suspects might win or at least get a good finish. Now? That’s not the case. I watch a race and see the same guys winning and the same guys without a prayer. There’s no hope in it anymore. Except maybe in trucks… those races are fun because you still get that feeling.
Kyle: Really? I don’t. As soon as I see Kyle Busch on the entry list, I know who to put my money on.
Mike: You might remember it that way, Amy, but it really wasn’t the case. In the ‘90s it was going to be Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace most weekends. Occasionally Terry Labonte or Dale Jarrett, but that was about it.
Kyle: The only thing that makes the trucks more exciting is the fact they are willing to beat the crap out of each other. I’m a young gun, so I didn’t get to see the old days, but I think they look like they were great times because people remember the good things, but block out the bad. And now they look at the sport recently, can remember the good and the bad and aren’t making a fair comparison.
Mike: Exactly, Kyle. There were days when Gordon, Earnhardt, Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin were about it. John Andretti steals a plate race or Greg Biffle wins one on fuel mileage. But week in and week out there were five guys who were going to win and you knew it coming to the track. At least now you have more on-track competition among more drivers. I wish there were more owners and I wish there was more innovation in the sport, but the competition is unquestionably the best ever.
Kyle: In 1991 three drivers had over four wins. There were only two last year, although they had six and wins wins.
Amy: I don’t know. Look at some of the results from the mid-1990s. It’s not always the same names. Sure, they won the lion’s share, but guys like Bobby Hamilton, Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd, Sterling Marlin in victory lane? Some of those were lower-top to top-middle tier teams. Now, those teams are lucky to get a top 15.
Kyle: Holy cow, Kyle Petty won a race in ‘95.
Mike: I agree. But like I said, what do you want from your sport? Do you want to have 15 cars competing for wins or five with a handful of people stealing a win on a fluke occasion?
Amy: The top-tier drivers have and always will win the most, that goes without saying. But now, NOBODY else has a chance. Once upon a time, they did.
Mike: I agree Amy, but there are more people with top of the line equipment than ever before. Do you want five guys with top-tier equipment winning most of the races and a handful taking others or do you want 15 guys with top-tier equipment splitting the wins? Brad Keselowski won a race for James Finch. That is not top-tier.
Amy: Racing, to me, is fun when anything can happen. I don’t feel that way anymore.
Mike: Racing is fun to me when multiple people have a chance to win and mix it up for a win. I hate when people with potential to win do not try to for the sake of points and that is what is wrong with the sport today. They still won.
Kyle: You need a car that can withstand the damage, a car tuned to cut through the air and a setup that allows you to race the car like you have to.
Mike: No, more on-track passes for the lead, more passes on-track period, more race leaders than ever before and more lead changes than ever before make it OK. If we can get rid of the Top 35 and the Chase, and give a huge bonus and check for winning every week things might get good again.
Michael Annett got arrested over the weekend for a DWI in which he blew a .32 blood-alcohol level. If you were running Rusty Wallace Incorporated what would the length of the suspension be, if at all and how would you handle it? Should Annett be allowed by NASCAR to run Daytona considering the circumstances?
Amy: Yes, but whether he should be allowed by RWI is another story.
NASCAR shouldn’t step in and I have no reason to believe they will. They never have in these situations.
Mike: If I was Rusty I’d make him complete some kind of alcohol awareness class and submit to extensive testing before he ever got to drive again – and that would be after a while.
Kyle: Look at Waltrip, he’s had his fair share of incidents. Nothing has happened to him.
Amy: And a tiny guy like ‘Dinger blowing a .08 is also not the same as an ex-hockey player blowing a .32.
Mike: As far as NASCAR, they should sit him for as long as it takes to complete their stupid sensitivity training crap that drug offenders have to do.
Amy: Rusty is making him do an alcohol awareness deal, Mike, and a year of community service. I’d have fired him though, no questions asked.
Kyle: Does he always do this? Or was this just a one-time deal?
Mike: It wasn’t, but he’s still got a ride. Don’t get me wrong, I think NASCAR was built on moonshine and he should simply have to do whatever it is he has to do under the law.
Amy: His BAC was about one drink away from fatal.
Mike: If they let him out of jail, he should be able to drive. But in the modern, corporate focused, politically correct world, you can’t do that.
Kyle: I think I’d probably fire him. I mean, there isn’t a shortage of drivers out there by any means and it looks really bad. Like we said, he didn’t blow a .09, he blew a .32! Sponsor can’t be happy.
Amy: As far as NASCAR is concerned, he should be allowed to drive, yes. Shame on his car owner for allowing it, though.
Mike: I guarantee you there were dudes getting behind the wheel at the racetrack back in the day that would have blown a .3. I would not fire him or even suspend him if it were me.
Amy: If I were Brendan Gaughan, I’d be pissed. Michael Annett only got hired because he’s A) Steve’s BFF and B) will probaly make Steve look better on track.
Kyle: Annett did say he was sorry though (sarcasm, cough).
Mike: Did you expect him to blow it off? What angers me is in the straight-laced world that NASCAR thinks it is now, he will be held to more scrutiny. Unfortunately.
Amy: He blew it off when he did it, Mike. Actions speak louder than words.
Mike: No, he made a mistake. I didn’t hear the police say he was aloof about it .
Kyle: Well, his “apology” screams prepared by PR. I want his butt on camera giving a true apology from his heart.
Amy: A .08 is one or two drinks with dinner. A .32 is more like six or eight. He was charged with resisting an officer, Mike.
Mike: I want to see him making appearances at schools. I didn’t read that. That is not a good thing.
Amy: The officer witnessed the accident he caused and witnessed him stuffing breath mints in his mouth trying to cover it up.
Mike: It takes more than two drinks for .08 unless you weigh 80 pounds like AJ Allmendinger.
Kyle: His statement sounds like he’s acknowledging he has a problem: “I’m going to strive to use this incident as the impetus to make a lot of positive changes in my life.”
Mike: Well yeah, would you pop another Bud if you just rear-ended someone when you were drinking before you drove?
Amy: It sounds like the PR department is acknowledging it. Impetus?
Kyle: Yeah, it was obviously prepared. But the way I read it, it’s saying “This was rock bottom.”
Mike: I hope it is for him. I hope he’s not just saying it to keep a ride.
Kyle: He should give free sponsorship to M.A.D., AA, etc.
Mike: I hope he makes some real changes if this is a problem for him .
Amy: He was also charged with texting while driving (illegal in NC) and not slowing down. He rear-ended another car.
Kyle: NASCAR needs to test him before races though, since I think there is reasonable suspicion after blowing a .32.
Amy: This wasn’t him being pulled over for crossing the yellow line after a couple of beers. Pretty sure Rusty’s going to test him if NASCAR doesn’t.
Kyle: He is lucky he didn’t kill someone.
Mike: Very lucky he didn’t kill someone. Where he was pulled over is a pretty congested area. He’s lucky he only hit one car.
Amy: Yeah, that intersection is dangerous if you’re sober.
Mike: Rusty is more worried about image than just about anyone else in the garage so he’s going to make sure this doesn’t happen with him again. I’m pretty sure they’ll test him. I think officials still test Scott Wimmer pretty regularly when he’s at the track.
Amy: DWI, failure to reduce speed, texting while driving and resisting a public officer. Those were the charges.
Kyle: Yeah… was resisting popping the breath mints in, or what? I’d like to know more about that charge.
Phil: Hey, I’m back. My mom’s car got stuck in a snowbank and I had to help get her out.
Mike: You’re such a good boy. Did you have her take a breathalyzer?
Kyle: Wow. LOL.
Phil: As for Annett, I just cannot see how NASCAR would let him run Daytona. If they do, its a slap in the face of the Substance Abuse Policy. Also, it gives Jeremy Mayfield slightly more clout in his ongoing battle.
Kyle: Mayfield needs to go away… go start his metal scrap yard or whatever he is doing.
Amy: It was not at the track, Phil. NASCAR’s followed a “hands off” policy before and they shouldn’t do it now, but shame on Rusty for letting him run.
Phil: Annett won’t be driving off the track for a while, that’s for sure.
Amy: First DWI in NC is a year’s suspension of your license. Second is four years, Mike
Phil: Does he have a previous DWI?
Phil: Because .32 definitely qualifies as “extreme.” The judge could try to make an example of Annett, especially since he tried to cover it up and basically resisted arrest.
Amy: Just for reference, >.08 is the legal limit for DUI; .32 is four times that and .40 is nearly always fatal. Meaning he was a couple drinks away from killing himself.
Kyle: I’m surprised he was even able to find his car, let alone drive it.
Mike: Oh I have seen some people driving who couldn’t hold their heads up straight.
Kyle: That’s really sad.
Phil: I think I saw someone that drunk in the FanZone at Daytona Saturday night during the race. He fell down the stairs leading up to the FanWalk.
Mike: He fell down stairs that were going up?
Phil: He was coming down the stairs and face planted.
Kyle: Was Annett at a bar? Why didn’t they take his keys and make him take a cab?
Phil: I think that’s unclear, Kyle.
Mike: It is hard for bartenders to keep track of everyone in a bar.
Kyle: OK I think Annett should be able to drive, but take tests before EVERY race, plus do all of the stuff RWR/the law requires.
Phil: I think Annett’s probably going to have a little jail time out of this travesty. That’ll be more than enough for NASCAR to institute its own suspension.
Mike: Annett is in for a long year or five. Hopefully, if this is a problem he’ll get help. If it isn’t a problem, he’ll hopefully use it to make a difference in society.
Phil: He’ll probably have to do that anyway, Kyle. It’ll probably be part of court-ordered community service in addition to whatever Rusty comes up with.
Predictions for the Shootout?
Mike: Dale Jr. shows that Hendrick engine department caught up a little bit from last year.
Amy: I think I’ll go with Jamie Mac. His performance in the Shootout made me pick him for the 500, which might be the pick of 2011 .
Phil: I’m going with Denny Hamlin. He’s won this race before and I think he’s got the chops to do it again.
Kyle: Shoot, I don’t know. So many drivers can win these things nowadays. (Right, Amy?) I’ll take Jimmie “Future Six Time” Johnson.
Amy: Hamlin has to have the chops for something. It sure ain’t the Chase.
Mike: It is hard to pick against ECR engines when they won every plate race last year.
Phil: Last year was just Hamlin’s first time in the hunt for a title.
Amy: Disagree, Phil. Hamlin has had Chase meltdowns two years in a row now while Jimmie has never beat himself. That’s the difference.
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.