Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Hendrick Horsepower, Kill the Duels & Hard Cards Run Amok?

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)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)

The Budweiser Shootout was the first race at Daytona since the repave job. How did it rate, what does it tell us about the Daytona 500 and was the rules change to limit cooling airflow to stop these two-car breakaways necessary?

Phil: The changes were probably necessary if only because the blow-over risk was very high. With the speeds being reached Saturday night (Feb. 12), if someone spun in the right way, the car pushing from behind could just lift the first car up and over.
Amy: I thought it was a great race – probably the best plate race since the current car. As for the 500, it will either be a great race or a total cluster. Depends on how smart they drive.
Phil: This has been an ongoing issue for the last 20 years.
Jeff: I’ve been on the fence about the race, but the longer I ponder it, the more I am leaning to very much dislike.
Phil: I will admit that the race gave me a headache.
Amy: I don’t know that the rules change was necessary, but I will say kudos for not shrinking the restrictor plate despite the crazy speeds.
Phil: Despite the headache, I still found the race to be interesting. But, I don’t think that the Daytona 500 will look like that for the whole race.
Amy: I think the two-car deals were cool to watch. They could make huge runs, could move around a lot more than two 22-car lines and are WAY better than the huge pack we usually get.

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Phil: Unfortunately, I got bored with the two-car drafts before the race ended.
Jeff: It was different. And like I said, the more I think about it, the less I like it. Drafting is a part of the sport, but what happened Saturday night was nothing more than a gimmicky chain racing.
Mike: I thought the race was very intriguing. I enjoyed the lead changes and the fast runs and the choreography of it all. But I’m not sure; if four cars can figure it out, they could all but lap the field.
Amy: And that would be terrible how, Mike? That’s old school, pre-plate racing.
Jeff: Racing should be about individual cars. Not two by two by two.
Amy: Superspeedway racing hasn’t been about individual cars since Junior discovered the draft.
Mike: It was kind of like chain racing but I liked that two cars could make a run and catch back up if the front four got side-by-side. If they don’t do that, it could turn into a breakaway and I’m not sure I’m ready to see that happen at Daytona. There’s certainly a lot of strategy involved, but I think the thing I didn’t like was if you weren’t hooked to someone, you were done for.
Jeff: As I said, drafting IS part of the sport, but what we saw on Saturday was ludicrous. Only two cars… not three or four in a draft, only two. Just not right.
Amy: Why not? It was better than 22 cars in a line.
Mike: The one thing that had me totally irritated, as it always does, were the slow cars running around at a dramatically slower speed than the lead lap cars.
Phil: That is what really concerns me, Mike.
Jeff: Well what the heck is the guy gonna do, Mike? Just park it?
Mike: Get black-flagged and get off of the track. One of these days and probably one soon, someone is going to get really messed up by a car going that much slower than the fast cars.
Amy: Yeah, they need to adjust minimum speed or something.
Phil: Heck, that almost happened during the ARCA race Saturday when the leaders ran up on a really slow Barry Fitzgerald.
Amy: Some of those cars had NO reason being out there.
Jeff: Twenty mph greater for two cars hooked together over a solitary car is just NOT RIGHT.
Mike: It is amazing that there is that much of a difference. I don’t think it is plate racing, but it is how it is working with the new car.
Phil: I want to say that the new noses are playing a role in this as well, but I’m not sure how.
Amy: So it’s plate racing with the new car. But it’s way better than any plate race I’ve seen since Cup ditched what’s now the Nationwide aero package.
Mike: I still don’t agree with the change to the cooling to try and slow them down. Kevin Harvick was pushing people all night and never overheated. I don’t think the cooling change is going to make a difference.
Jeff: Me either.
Mike: I just don’t understand why four cars can’t seem to run the same speed as two if they’re hooked together.
Amy: I hate plate racing and always will, but this was the closest thing to a good plate race I’ve seen in a long while.
Phil: The cooling change is designed to make it so that they can’t do the two-car thing for as long.
Jeff: Think about this point. IF there should be NO attrition during a race… with 43 cars in the field… if ALL were equal… one dude is always gonna be left out.
Phil: It seems to be all about coordination, but I don’t think it is going to make a difference. Harvick was stepping out for a second or two and kept right on pushing all night long.
Amy: And? Some guys always get left out, anyway. Usually it’s because they’re either better than everyone or a hazard. Or both cough Jimmie Johnson cough.
Mike: There’s going to be an art to staying up front on Sunday. I just hope that, with 43 cars on the track, the back half of the field doesn’t get totally run over within 20 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole for the Daytona 500 and will share the front row with Jeff Gordon. Does that mean anything for the season ahead for Junior and Gordon, or is Daytona simply a product of superior horsepower?

Phil: Horsepower definitely plays a role. Keeping a proper line helps, too. It’s not really much to project their seasons from, though.
Mike: Daytona is all about the car. The only thing that a driver can do is not wiggle the wheel.
Amy: I said as soon as the crew swaps were made that both Junior and Jeff Gordon would see huge benefits. I think it’s early to say how the year will play out, but so far so good.
Mike: I don’t think it says anything about the season, but it does say that Hendrick’s engine department might have caught up a little bit.
Phil: As for the rest of the season, we’ll just have to see. Daytona has traditionally been a bit of a season in itself.
Amy: And if Junior wins the 500, how storybook is that? Half the fans would go nuts and half would wonder how NASCAR fixed it.
Mike: Junior winning the 500 would be a huge boost to the sport, but I don’t think it will say anything about the rest of the season. It would be great for Junior’s confidence, but we’ve seen that historically the 500 winner doesn’t have a great season.
Jeff: First he wins in the ONLY time he will drive the No. 3 car and then he wins next Sunday?

See also
Full Throttle: NASCAR Rumored to Be Fixing the Daytona 500

Mike: One thing I did learn on Saturday was that I hadn’t missed Digger one iota.
Jeff: That new graphic of FOX’s was pretty cool. I’d have to say, the “Ghost Car” is probably the best and most informative graphic they’ve come up with since the ticker.
Phil: That Ghost Car seems like a one-trick pony. I thought it was interesting, but I don’t expect to see it in Phoenix.
Mike: Back on topic: Junior was second in the race last year. And he does have seven plate wins, doesn’t he? It’s not like it would be a fluke.
Jeff: Oh, I’d be happy for him, but it’s almost too good to be true.
Amy: No, it wouldn’t. Junior is a very, very good plate racer. If the chemistry with Letarte is there and the car is good and nobody takes him out, he could easily win, and it would be legit.
Jeff: Amy, are you picking Junior to upset J.J. this year?
Mike: I think it would be legit, but I’m sure you’d hear the conspiracy theorists screaming their heads off.
Amy: I said win Daytona, Jeff, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Mike: If Mark Martin and Dale Jr. battle to the finish for the championship this year, then I’ll believe the conspiracy theorists.
Jeff: Well, the pole don’t mean nothing, or even if Junior or Gordon win. I present Matt Kenseth in 2009 as exhibit “A.” Win the first two and then…?
Phil: I’ll give you that, Jeff.
Mike: I still think the only thing that having Junior and Jeff on the front row might indicate, and this doesn’t mean it is for sure, is that Hendrick’s engine department found some of the speed they were lacking last year. But remember, they had both cars on the front row last year. Actually, they’ve had a car on the front row for the last four years in a row now.
Phil: I mentioned earlier that the Daytona 500 has not necessarily begun trends for any season. Dave DeSpain even mentioned it himself in the intro for the 1988 Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond. He claimed that it was the start of the “real season.”
Mike: Nice flashback, Phil.
Amy: It can, but it doesn’t usually. Still, that’s the best Earnhardt has looked anywhere in a long time. A new crew chief and new extended crew chief might be a factor.
Jeff: Remember Junior’s very FIRST race in a Hendrick car? You’d have thought the Messiah had returned.
Mike: Yes I do, Jeff. Everyone thought he was going to set the world on fire in Hendrick equipment when he kicked ass in the Shootout. So let’s see if Junior is in the top five in points after, say, Martinsville, then I’ll believe it.
Amy: He needs to contend in individual races before he thinks about points, Mike.
Phil: By contending in individual races (at the end, of course), the points would eventually come to him.
Jeff: Most definitely. Junior has to regain a lot of respect again (racing wise) to even begin to think he is back in top form.
Mike: But that’s my point. If it means anything, he’ll be finishing top 10 in the first handful of races of the season which will put him inside the top five in points.
Amy: But I do think there could be something different with Junior this year. If it was just about Hendrick power, then by rights Martin and Johnson should have been in the top four and probably ahead of Junior.
Mike: Don’t forget, a couple of years ago, he was the top car out of the Hendrick stable for more than the first half of the year.
Phil: In 2008? Yeah, he was. He should have won more than just the Michigan race on fuel mileage.
Jeff: Well, in 2011 I wouldn’t bet any money on him.
Amy: I do bank on Jeff Gordon being much better than last year.
Jeff: I will agree with that, Amy.
Mike: I agree. I think Gordon got the best deal out of the whole swap.
Jeff: Plus, he’s a better racer. Always was. Not that I’m a Junior hater, I am just a realist.
Phil: It’s just too early to see whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. is better than 2010. Wait until after Las Vegas to ask me.

Since the convoluted qualifying procedure for the Daytona 500 was instituted, there have been several rule changes, most notably the single engine rule and the Top-35 inclusion that locks in all but eight spots in the starting field. Is it time to change the system for the Great American Race or if they don’t, eliminate the Duels?

Amy: The Duels are useless now.
Phil: I would be in favor of re-introducing the old system from prior to 2005.  It was easier to understand.
Mike: No, it is time to eliminate the Top-35 rule. Even if the entire field is locked in, though they need to keep the Duels. We’ve already turned our back on enough history in the sport.
Phil: The Top-35 rule just needs to go in general.
Jeff: I’m with Mike and Phil.
Amy: A maximum of four guys can race in through the Duels now and everyone else is either locked in or SOL. It’s asinine that a guy can finish third in a Duel and miss the 500.
Mike: I completely agree, Amy. But you can do almost the same thing on a given race weekend. Qualify ninth fastest and miss the show.
Phil: I think AJ Allmendinger missed a race at Talladega under those circumstances in 2007.
Jeff: I still say everyone TIMES in on SPEED!!!! No exceptions… OK, maybe go back to a few old provisionals… but just a few based on your prior year’s finish.
Amy: I agree, Jeff, the two-round system from the 1990s was never broken. It needed a few tweaks, not what we’re stuck with now.
Mike: If you can’t race your way in during two qualifying sessions, you don’t deserve to race. But Brian said during the “change” press conference that the Top-35 rule wasn’t even discussed.
Amy: So if that’s staying, then it’s time to scrap the Duels or at least dump those several spots that revert back to qualifying speed and let all the go-or-go home guys race in.
Mike: I would love to see them put all of the guys who have to race in into the same Duel. I would much rather see them have to race each other in order to make the show.
Jeff: Ever notice that ALL, or most all, the things we all hate about NASCAR have been the doings of Brian France? But yet the “family” refuses.
Mike: Back on topic, the old provisionals weren’t bad with the exception of the past champion’s provisional. I also think that needs to be visited now and someone should slap a five-year limit on it.
Jeff: Companies, especially sponsors are way more in tune to what their customers want than NASCAR will ever think about being again.
Amy: Well I don’t like the PCP. That guy with a championship 25 years ago still has one, making him better than what, 35 other drivers?
Phil: Remember, Terry Labonte won his second title in 1996. The first one came in 1984. Doesn’t make it much better, but its still important.
Jeff: Bottom line is BZF and Top 35 rule have to go.
Mike: Again, the speed thing, instead of racing your way in during the duels, when only eight spots are available is stupid.
Amy: Eight spots aren’t available; four are, which is even stupider.
Phil: Under the current system, barely anyone understands what goes on. If NASCAR were serious about simplification, this should have been the first place to start.
Mike: Right, that was my point. It is stupid that speed gets three guys in and the PC gets one in when there are only eight spots available. Seven should be decided in the duels with one going to the PC if necessary.

The latest rule from NASCAR allows people with a hard card or hot pass to bring their children with them to the garage area. Good marketing move… or terrible decision?

Phil: It’s interesting. Let’s hope this kids are well behaved.
Mike: At least it is only when the garage is cold, but I think it is a really dumb idea.
Amy: Terrible decision. There are already WAY too many people in the garage every week. Someone is going to get hurt and then everyone is SOL.
Phil: It could possibly be a reaction to the Izod IndyCar Series lowering the minimum age to enter the garage from 18 to nine.
Amy: Teams can hardly get from one place to another in the garage with all the people there as it is. Now add 2.5 kids per pass and you have chaos.
Mike: The garage area is already incredibly crowded on a race weekend and the guys working on cars have to dodge people all over the place. Now, you’re going to have misbehaving kids getting separated from their parents and getting lost or hurt.
Amy: The only way this could even begin to not suck is if kids were required to be on leashes.
Phil: I find that inhumane and stupid. Not my fault that parents are lazy.
Jeff: It will be a fiasco. Some kid will end up getting hurt.
Amy: Agreed, Jeff.
Mike: I’m just glad it is only during cold time. I’ve seen more than a handful of grown adults nearly get run over. If they let kids in when it is hot, they’ll have a youngster get killed.
Amy: And then everyone is screwed.
Phil: Knowing me as a kid, I would get hurt outside of the garage area after going through the whole place without any problems.  Injuries can happen anywhere.
Mike: If they want to let them onto pit road when it is cold, that is fine. But having them in the garage, when crew members are trying to get a car ready for a race weekend is just adding a huge amount of additional traffic to an already over congested garage situation.
Phil: Let’s face it. NASCAR has probably the most restrictive garage policies of any major series outside of Formula 1. This just makes it slightly less restrictive.
Amy: Yeah, but when the garage is cold is when media are trying to work. We can’t do our jobs as effectively with kindergarten central going on. They should be MORE restrictive, not less, Phil.
Phil: You make it sound like there’s going to be 3,000 people in there. I don’t think that will be the case, although it might depend on what track you’re at.
Mike: I am just imagining the Code Adam calls going out about every 10 minutes during the race weekend.
Phil: Now, opening up the pits before the race for people to mill about would be fine. That’s what they did at the Rolex 24.
Amy: Ever tried to walk up pit road before a race at Charlotte, Phil?  There are already 3,000 people every 10 square feet. This could what, double or triple the number of people in the way of the crews?
Mike: I’ve seen 4-5,000 people in there on race weekends. Add 2,000 kids to that mix and it will be a true fiasco.
Amy: What about tracks that don’t sell cold passes because of space limitations? Now they have to cater to everyone’s kids?
Mike: I’m thinking that we may be overreacting, but I just know what it was like at Wal-Mart when kids ran wild and I can’t see it being a whole lot different in the garage area.
Amy: And every sponsor guest will now bring their 2.5 rugrats as will anyone else who gets a hot pass as someone’s guest.
Mike: I’m probably just as concerned about people now being able to wear shorts in the garage.
Phil: These kids will be with their parents. If those parents are worth their salt, they’ll keep their kids under control. I know my parents would have. Of course, I never had that type of opportunity back then.
Amy: Each driver gets six hot passes per race.  That’s 12-18 people now instead for every six you used to have.
Phil: You seem to have no trust for anyone under the age of 18, Amy. That concerns me.
Mike: After someone sued McDonald’s for being burned by hot coffee, how many people are going to sue because they get cut by a piece of metal or get their knee scraped going by a pit box?
Jeff: Or because their kids hearing was “impaired…”
Phil: I would definitely recommend ear protection for kids in the garage, hot or cold.
Amy: Under 18 is one thing. But under 10? Knowing how some parents let their kids act these days scares me when it comes to being at the track.
Jeff: NASCAR is just setting up more work for their lawyers.
Mike N.: The fine print on the back of the passes is going to be so small, you will need 100x magnification to read it.
Phil: It’s already pretty small.
Jeff: Personally, since my kids are grown, I don’t really care about their new policy. It ain’t my problem.
Amy: I just don’t think NASCAR needs to add to the population in the garage by what is apparently an unlimited number.  Especially not kids. Cold or not, people are trying to do their jobs.
Mike: Imagine a kid’s pushing on a stack of tires in the pit lane and rocking them back and forth. The parents tell him to stop, but they’re too busy taking pictures of Johnson’s car to really pay attention. Next thing you know, a stack of tires is rolling through the crowded garage.
Phil: I don’t know what would have happened to me. I never did anything remotely like that in public. My mom is not a big person, but I didn’t want to cross her.
Mike: That’s the point, Phil. Some parents are like ours, others aren’t. That’s why you have to have a restrictive policy.
Phil: As for the example Mike gave, likely a crew member (or other team employee) would have stopped the kid before it got to the point of tires rolling around. That is, if the parents didn’t get to him/her first.
Mike: I understand what NASCAR is trying to do, but I just don’t agree with it. The garage is a zoo on a race weekend already. Adding kids to the equation is going to make it even more chaotic.
Amy: Agree with Mike 100%.
Phil: You guys are just assuming that everyone’s going to bring their kids. I don’t think that would be the case. There’s probably going to be some screening involved here.

How about some Daytona 500 predictions?

Amy: There is no WAY I can top last year, so I’m going with Jeff Gordon.
Jeff: Draw out of a hat… but barring that, I’ll go with Jeff Burton.
Phil: Unfortunately, people are stupid these days when it comes to common sense. I guess I’ll go with Kurt Busch. Let’s see him get a two-fer. I would have won last week if Denny Hamlin didn’t go below the line.
Amy: Burton looked really good in the Shootout.
Mike: OK, I’ll bite. I’m taking Junior. Started second last year and finished second. He’s starting first this year.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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