Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Tire Talk, Daytona’s Feel-Good Stories & Nati-sui-cide

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:
Tom Bowles (Editor-in-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice?)
Amy Henderson (Mondays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Summer Dreyer (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)

Trevor Bayne got his season off to the right start, winning the Daytona 500 in just his second Cup race. What does it mean for the 20-year-old and where should he go from here?

Tom: It means a lot. Honestly, we may look back at the second-to-last restart, where David Ragan jumped it and gave Trevor Bayne the lead it became the defining moment in both their careers.
Phil: Well, from here, he’ll be on Cloud 9 for a while.
Summer: He should milk it for all it’s worth.
Amy: It’s a huge deal, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. He’s a rookie driving for the Wood Brothers part time. Reality after Daytona is going to be a little harder.
Phil: We’ll have to see. Bayne probably isn’t going to win in Las Vegas or anything like that, but he’s still new to the series. The Wood Brothers are going to have a lot of momentum coming out of Daytona and they need to parlay it so that it doesn’t look like Bayne’s a one-hit pony.

See also
No Bull: Trevor Bayne's Win Was Big for NASCAR... Now What?

Mike: I think, if he’s really smart, he’ll do exactly what was originally planned: run 17 races and go for the Nationwide title. I think he’s grounded enough not to go all Brad Keselowski and get a gigantic ego.
Amy: I agree with Mike. He’s got a really good shot at that title.
Tom: I think Mike is right, while I think he should do more than 17 races the kid could go and win a Nationwide title. Let the Wood Brothers build up their program slowly… or UPS start lobbying from now to get him for 2012.
Summer: It’s going to be interesting to watch him run for the Nationwide Series title and hear something like, “Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne” every time he’s on camera.
Jeff: It will be the biggest win of his life, no matter what happens from here on out. He started at the top. Look, it took Dale Earnhardt 20 years to do what he did!!!
Mike: Very good point, Jeff. I think he’ll be smart to score as many sponsors out of the deal that he can but I hope he’ll focus on the Nationwide series and try and grow with the Wood Brothers.
Jeff: Remember last year, he tore up what? Three, four racetracks in a row, grabbing the pole!?
Tom: My favorite stat is the last time the Wood Brothers won Daytona, it was 1976 with David Pearson – 15 years before Bayne was even born.
Amy: I was a senior in high school when Bayne was born. Way to make me feel old, kid.
Tom: The “kid” is a great interview, Amy. He handled the post-race presser like a pro, like he’s been a superstar for years instead of 24 hours. Got that Carl Edwards (2004 version)-like innocence to him, I reckon.
Amy: Bayne’s innocence is real, Tom.
Summer: He was giving Marty Smith crap in the media center after the race.
Tom: Yeah he did… made Marty Smith feel old, which is saying something because Smith’s only 34.
Mike: LOL, Look at Tom trying to make himself not feel old.
Phil: Marty’s one of the younger media guys there. Most of them are old enough to be my parents.
Tom: That’s right! And I’m much younger than Marty, so there.
Mike: Can we forget about the fact that Bayne was born during the Clinton administration and get back to the point?
Amy: Will this win get the No. 21 sponsorship for the rest of the year? I wish I could be certain of that.
Summer: If it had been any other win, no. But Bayne has been all over the place today and will be basically every day until Phoenix. It might attract something bigger than what they have now.
Phil: We do know that they’re likely to do the first seven instead of the first five races now.
Mike: He’s got a golden opportunity to make some real money for himself in short order, but I hope he’ll do it in the Nationwide Series.
Tom: Here’s the impressive thing about Bayne. Bryan Davis Keith pointed this out… he made the move no one else was able to during Speedweeks, bold enough to block coming out of turn 4, hold the yellow line and forced Edwards to spin him or go high.

See also
Ford's New Star? Wood Brothers Savior? 20-Year-Old Trevor Bayne Fits the Bill

Mike: I don’t think they had a chance because Bobby Labonte stayed right above Edwards as long as he could, basically killing his momentum before he could swing out and pass.
Tom: Well, Edwards, there was no way he was going to spin Bayne. I think if the Edwards-David Gilliland duo stuck to a super high line coming out of turn 4, they might have had a chance.
Amy: Kudos for Bobby for being able to stay up there alone. I expected to see him drop back when Carl shoved him out of the way.
Mike: Speaking of Labonte and Gilliland, they deserve some love too for great finishes in the Great American Race.
Phil: Especially Gilliland. Best-ever finish for Front Row Motorsports.
Amy: It was GREAT to see Labonte up there. Goes to show you how bad his equipment has really been.
Tom: Re: Labonte – did you guys know that was his first top-five finish since the fall of 2006 in Martinsville? We’re talking about a former Cup champion there.
Phil: Yeah, I saw that. Bobby’s had some really lean years recently. The Petty-Evernham merger really screwed his career.
Tom: Again, another veteran who put their trust in a 20-year-old kid. That tells you something about his future; the fact Bayne is donating so much of his winnings to a ministry down in Mexico, too, shows you the values and that he probably won’t let fame get to his head.
Mike: I’m pretty confident Bayne won’t be vaulting for another ride sometime soon. He is an incredibly level-headed kid and a bunch of fun to talk to.
Tom: Hey, kudos to Bayne for being able to stay up there alone. On that restart, he had Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Mark Martin all within striking distance. But it was Stewart that made the wrong moves down the stretch.
Summer: Bayne’s marketability in and of itself just soared to new heights.
Tom: One of the interesting things to watch going forward, as much as Bayne likes the Wood Brothers… I learned this week Roush has right of first refusal re: a future full-time Cup ride for him. So if Ragan and UPS part ways, would Roush scoop him up and put him there?
Mike: For Ragan, if he can’t win or run up front consistently by July, I think he’ll be out of the No. 6 and Bayne will be in.
Tom: I could see that happening too, Mike. I hope for Ragan’s sake his and Bayne’s careers didn’t fatally intersect with that penalty.
Mike: I think you’re right though, Tom. That moment on Sunday could link them together for year

The 2011 season started with a number of feel-good storylines in Daytona. Name one you think will carry forward from here on out and one you think is going to fade away.

Summer: I think the Brian Keselowski story will fade out pretty fast. I don’t think he did well enough in the 500 to keep it carrying over. Maybe if he’d have finished the race and people were still talking about it, he might be given more of a chance.
Tom: You know what? I’m going to go with Regan Smith as the feel-good story that last. This kid has been knocking on the door of the next level for years and getting his first top-10 finish in this 500 has got to be pretty big.
Summer: Gosh, Smith was impressive! Every time I looked up, he was there!
Mike: Smith and the Furniture Row folks really seem to be for real. The fact that he brings home cars in one piece most every weekend does wonders for that organization.
Phil: Smith is more or less an undiscovered gem. For me, the Bayne story is obvious here. Beyond Trevor, I’m not really sure.  Maybe Labonte and JTG Daugherty can surprise.
Tom: As for fading away, I think you’re going to see a lot of “Hendrick is in trouble” articles this week, which is ridiculous. By Phoenix, they’ll be 4-5-6-7 or something and we’ll forget they ever had any trouble at Daytona.
Amy: Despite that green-white-checkered pileup (and really, did anyone think that WOULDN’T happen) Dale Junior looked great. He drove a smart race, communicated with his team and had a fast car. I think that could be the lasting story – that Junior and Jeff Gordon enjoy a resurgent year.
Mike: Junior always runs well on plate tracks, but doesn’t always finish well. I was rather worried about his communication with the team earlier in the week when they wrecked during practice, to be honest. We’ll see how long they are able to keep up a good facade.
Tom: In my opinion, Junior never looked comfortable down the stretch Sunday, for whatever reason which is rare in a restrictor-plate race. Neither did Stewart, for that matter.
Mike: Junior was fading on almost every long run. He was very fast for three or four laps, held his own for another five or six, but then started fading. I don’t know why that was, but I thought a GWC was ideal for him until he got wrecked. I think the story that will fade the fastest is Michael Waltrip in general. I really think he’s going to be fading away more and more going forward from here.
Summer: I agree, Mike. We won’t be hearing a whole lot more from him this year unless you’re tuning into the Truck Series broadcasts.
Amy: Waltrip should have stayed retired. There’s a lot of championship contenders digging out of a hole thanks to him.
Phil: Michael never retired. He just stepped back.
Amy: Maybe he should stay back.
Tom: To write a book, er extedned sponsor appreciation article that mentions Dale Earnhardt Sr. a handful of times Phil. Anyways, I think Smith just ran an outstanding race, nice recovery from that wreck in the Shootout. They’ll be strong and don’t discount Labonte either. That team’s got enough money to be competitive.

See also
No Longer "Intimidating:" In the Blink of an Eye Further Devaluation of NASCAR's Past & Present

Mike: I think this matters a lot more than it used to Tom. We’re going to see just how hard it is to dig out of a hole with the new points now that so many of the Chase drivers from last year are well behind.
Tom: As for Summer’s thought about Brian K., I think the jury’s still out. You never know what’s going to happen there. With a limited schedule and better equipment he’d be fine. Dodge would love to have another team to share information with, so don’t be surprised if Penske pops up again the next week or two and “donates” a car to his shop.
Summer: I just can’t see us still talking about him several months down the road. I’d love to be wrong. It was fun to watch an underdog succeed, but I just don’t see it.
Amy: You know what? I just hope no matter what stories we focus on, the optimism carries on for a while post-Daytona. The sport needs optimism.
Summer: The ratings were up. That’s a start.
Tom: Yeah, an 8.7 doesn’t match the 2009 number, but it’s still up 13% year-to-year from “the pothole that shall not be named.”
Jeff: The Bayne story is not the savior of NASCAR, though in my opinion; that is for sure.
Summer: No, Jeff, but it helps. A lot of people have taken notice.
Tom: He may not be a savior, man but it’s sure something nice to talk about for a change.

Many teams planned their Daytona strategy to include just one complete change of tires.  Obviously, tire durability is a good thing, but should there be a happy medium in order to force teams to come to pit road and break up the two-car breakaways?

Summer: I don’t think NASCAR should force the teams to do anything. Just let them race, for crying out loud. Personally, I thought Sunday’s race was great!
Amy: I thought about the tire deal a few times watching. It did cut back on pit strategy. Not sure it would have changed much with all the cautions, though.
Jeff: Who cares? You are not going to see that kind of racing all freaking year long. People tend to forget that.
Mike: I don’t think it matters on plate tracks. I do think they need to wear out more quickly on other tracks. I will always maintain that teams need a tire option every week instead of all being given the same compound.
Tom: I think Sunday’s race had extreme reactions from both sides. If this were a war, there would be no Switzerland.
Phil: It would hurt my brain if I saw that for 36 races.
Tom: Well, people either REALLY liked what they saw or REALLY hated it. I started last week a hater, but now I’m coming around a bit although I’d still like to see more tire wear and not having to constantly depend on someone like they’re a date to the prom or something.
Amy: I thought it was the best plate race I’ve seen in years. Of course, that’s like saying that’s the best liver I’ve ever eaten.
Summer: Or sauerkraut. That stuff is gross.
Mike: Sauerkraut is not gross if it is made properly.
Amy: I love sauerkraut, incidentally.
Summer: You people disgust me.
Mike: No, liver is disgusting. Anyways, I enjoyed the fact that it was somewhat of a throwback to ‘70s superspeedway racing. The slingshot still isn’t quite there, but the number of lead changes was.
Summer: And when you get enough of the two-car drafts together, eventually you’re going to get the big packs anyway.
Jeff: It’s not racing when you have to have two.
Amy: I think there should be SOME tire wear. Not a blowout every other lap: just enough to make them choose “two or four” and give them more pause.
Phil: Did anyone actually manage the full 520 on the same left sides? I know some teams were thinking of doing that.
Tom: Nope! They all changed them at some point.
Summer: I can’t imagine Goodyear is too thrilled about teams buying fewer tires, so my guess is they’ll do something about it.
Mike: I think they still bought the tires, just didn’t use them. I think the tires will eventually become an issue but it is going to take several years for some aging on the asphalt.
Tom: One of the problems, in talking to crew members is this asphalt is going to take some time to age. Just because it’s near the beach won’t help too much.
Amy: The problem with tires is there never IS a happy medium. As much as I would have liked to see some tire strategy, it was better than another Indy 200-whatever.
Mike: True Amy. I wish NASCAR would wake up and let the teams choose from three compounds on race weekends. Soft, medium and hard tires that would commit teams to different pit strategies based on tire selections.
Amy: I totally agree with that, Mike. Or even a tire rule like the IRL, where they have two and they have to use both at least once.
Jeff: Well, I didn’t really like the racing or really hate it. I thought it was “different” and rather amusing. An anomaly if you will.  More “entertainment” than anything else, and that is sad.
Tom: Jeff, here’s my problem with it. In one sense, it was fascinating to hear AJ Allmendinger and Martin – two drivers from two different teams and manufacturers – talk on the radio under caution. But at the same time, it’s weird and a little bit disturbing to have races decided by people asking other people to be their friend.
Summer: You needed a drafting partner in previous races at Daytona and Talladega anyway. It may not have been this dramatic, but the need for a drafting partner still existed.
Mike: I do think the whole radio communication thing was ridiculous. Can you imagine the defense and offense during a football game talking with each other about their plans? That was just messed up.
Phil: Twenty channels of radio communication? That’s just plain nuts. Never seen a circumstance where drivers from separate organizations could talk to each other.
Tom: Yeah, and about silly stuff! This is supposed to be an athletic competition, not a folksy high school drama.
Summer: Well, some of the radio communications were pretty hilarious and they play that stuff all the time.
Mike: I don’t watch racing to be amused.
Tom: Well, the ending was A+, which makes it hard to argue the results. I do see the other side, though, where so many people feel like the “sport” has been taken out of it.
Amy: I want to know how they do it, actually. Since at least one driver has to change channels to do it and the rules specifically state that drivers and spotters must be in communication (on the same channel) the entire time.
Jeff: I just hate that in this configuration, you can only draft with two cars. Not three, not four, only two. That is wrong. And, we all know that two are faster than one, but there is no earthly way that they should be 20 mph faster.
Summer: I never heard a good reason as to why it’s like that now, though.
Tom: Well, it’s in the way the cars are drafting together. They’re basically interlocked like train cars, it changes the way the air goes over them both. Like a super bumdraft. I mean, bump draft.
Mike: Tom said bumdraft. Hehehehe.
Summer: That was an awesome typo.
Mike: As I understand it, when a third car gets involved, the air flow over the second car changes, making it very unstable and quite a bit more uncomfortable for the drivers.
Phil: Anyways, those tires were really good. The only failures were because of cuts.
Summer: I think we’ll see Goodyear change the tire compound a little bit. I doubt it will be anything too drastic, but they might try something new.
Mike: I wish they would come out with multiple compounds for the teams to choose. They don’t need unique compounds by track. Develop three for intermediates, three for short, three for superspeedways and let the teams choose.
Tom: I’m not optimistic we’ll see any changes at all, to be honest. I seem to remember another, newly repaved track where Goodyear got too aggressive; half the field crashed, people couldn’t go a full fuel run on tires and everyone cried bloody murder. See: Charlotte 2005… and they haven’t been aggressive ever since.
Phil: Well they definitely took lessons from Charlotte 2005. The Daytona tire could dissipate heat.

ESPN has said that it will focus more on race winners in the Nationwide Series and not on the championship battle. Does this harm what NASCAR is trying to do – in light of recent rules changes – or is it what fans want?

Summer: Race winners in the Nationwide Series? That would basically be what they are already doing… focusing on the Cup drivers.
Tom: Well, it’s a convenient way to not make a transition into focusing on the drivers no one knows about. It’s all about short-term pain for long-term gain… but everyone’s already in pain, as in hemorrhaging money. So it’s hard to get them to hemorrhage more.
Amy: Well it’s exactly what the fans have said they don’t want. And in this case, it’s even worse.
Phil: I don’t think it’s going to help publicize Nationwide drivers to do that, although you are telling the story of the race (possibly).
Jeff: The only way it will be good is if Bayne keeps winning in the Nationwide Series.
Amy: True, Jeff. Because what most fans I talk to want to see is at least some mention of all the drivers, and in the case of the NNS, the actual NNS drivers.
Phil: We definitely didn’t get that on Saturday, Amy.
Amy: We never do, Phil. It was just stupid to send out a press release that basically says, “Screw you, NNS fans, we’re still only going to show the Cup guys. Neener, neener, neener!”
Mike: OK, here’s a question. How many times since the 500 have you heard that no one knew who Trevor Bayne is? That is no one’s fault but the Nationwide TV crews.
Amy: Amen, Mike.
Phil: Heard it a lot. Had a discussion with my buddy Brien, who believes whole-heartedly that Bayne is the next Derrike Cope. Claims no one in his section in the grandstands knew what to think when Bayne won.
Mike: I would hope the fact that Bayne was almost totally unknown before Sunday rings a bell for someone covering the Nationwide Series.
Jeff: Thats BS, though because they made a big deal of him when he was winning all those poles in a row.
Summer: I don’t think anyone would know who Bayne was regardless.
Mike: Bayne is a better driver than Cope, by the way.
Tom: Much better.
Jeff: I still say the real NASCAR fan knew how Bayne was. And I’m not talking about just the hardcores, either.
Phil: My buddy’s been watching NASCAR for 20 years and all but knew nothing about Bayne before yesterday.
Jeff: Then he just hasn’t been paying attention.
Summer: Well if you don’t pay a lot of attention to the Nationwide Series, I highly doubt you would.
Mike: There are a lot of fans who are more than casual who don’t know much more than his name. How many of us knew when his last win was before the 500?
Amy: He got a little coverage for the poles, but how much of that carried into the race broadcasts after the first 50 laps?
Jeff: But it’s not like he came out of nowhere.
Tom: I’m in the middle on this one. The thing is, Bayne was virtually a non-factor in the Nationwide Series last year with the exception of a strong summer stretch. Even then, you had so many Cup drivers focused on in front of him, Bayne’s seventh place became virtually meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Summer: Right. And they’ are going to follow the contenders, regardless of what series they run.
Tom: So I think both sides have good points, but the bottom line is the more you see someone on television, the more you know him.
Amy: Right, Tom, and ESPN needs to actually listen the the fans who say they want coverage of more than just four or five drivers.
Mike: I think fans want more coverage than four or five drivers in the Cup series when ESPN covers it, too.
Jeff: Hey, ya know what? This could technically get Bayne in the Chase.
Amy: No, it can’t.
Summer: He’s not running for points in Cup.
Tom: Yeah, and even then he’s not eligible with the wins deal unless he’s in the top 20.
Mike: Now it would be interesting if he wins a couple of races and doesn’t make the Chase when someone who wins one race does. THAT would be fun.
Amy: It would be foolish to transfer a championship shot for 16 races in Cup.
Mike: It would, but if a sponsor showed up to make it a full season it could be interesting. Don’t forget, Kevin Harvick finished like fifth in points in 2001 with 35 races.
Jeff: Is he running for ROTY in Cup?
Amy: He can’t. If you declare for the Nationwide Series, you aren’t eligible for Cup ROTY.
Tom: I think Nationwide for Bayne is the right call. And remember, right now there’s only about four or five Cup drivers running the Nationwide Series full time. And only 40 cars on the entry list for Phoenix.
Jeff: I still think the whole thing is getting as convoluted as Olympic eligibility used to be in the old days.

Predictions for Phoenix?

Amy: I’m going to say Martin finds some magic.
Summer: Edwards. He’s got momentum on his side right now.
Jeff: Edwards.
Mike: Jimmie Johnson.
Jeff: Jimmie who?
Mike: The guy who hasn’t finished outside the top five at Phoenix since the spring race of 2006.
Phil: Martin. He’s due.
Tom: You know, I’m going to go with Kurt Busch. He led 20 laps here last year and that team’s off to a strong start.

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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