Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Ford’s Future, Keeping Momentum & Truckin’ to Darlington

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)
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)

NASCAR’s ratings are up in double-digit percentages over the first three races a year ago. What is the reason for the renewed interest; and more importantly, can it last?

Mike: I’m sure it is all because of the simple points system. No wait, it is because drivers can only run for one title… hang on, it is because of the wildcards for the Chase? That must be it.
Phil: Not having a pothole derail the Daytona 500 helps. Does it have staying power? I hope so.

See also
Talking NASCAR TV: Why, Networks, Do You Embroil in Needless Controversy?

Jeff: Sorry Phil, it wont last. There is the Bayne effect still lingering and Mike hit it… seriously. Just like the ratings were up for the first year of the Chase, people are curious about the changes.
Amy: The racing the first two races was actually good. LVMS was a cookie cutter, can’t really expect anything from those, but there have been some complelling storylines.
Mike: The racing has been good for years. I don’t think the racing is the reason. It is probably just because of the cyclical nature of the sport.
Jeff: I thought it was good racing. You couldn’t really tell who was gonna win until the very end.
Amy: No it hasn’t Mike. We went from Daytona to Fontana which sucked. This year there was a decent race after and it showed; people tuned in. There was what, one pass for the lead under green. Phoenix was up because Daytona was a great race with a storybook ending. LVMS was up because Phoenix was a great race.
Jeff: Yeah, very ‘scripted’ just like the Nationwide race.
Phil: Phoenix was likely up because it wasn’t on a Saturday night. That was the lowest-rated race of FOX’s batch last year.
Mike: The racing at Fontana sucked because 23 cars finished on the lead lap with 25 lead changes? That’s more than there were at Phoenix this year.
Amy: Again, how many of those 25 were on track, under green?
Mike: Yeah, four different racing grooves with cars all over the track is always terrible racing.
Jeff: Fontana always has sucked. That is a given anytime.
Amy: Now if the networks would actually show more of the action, we’d have some good racing. That’s the same old, same old habit and even worse in the Nationwide Series. I mean how do you run in the TOP 10 in an event and not get a solitary TV mention? Unbelievable.
Phil: Yeah, I know, Amy. It gets a little frustrating with the focus on the leaders at times.
Mike: That’s because they’re Nationwide regulars and the networks focus on the drivers who are popular with the fans.
Amy: Uh, Mike? One of the drivers who got zero mention is a three-time most popular driver.
Jeff: Mention him here.
Amy: Kenny Wallace. Ran 10th, was in the top 15 all day but according to our Nationwide Series Breakdown, he got zero TV time.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas

Phil: Almost zero. I just rewatched the Vegas Nationwide race last night and Kenny did get some mentions (but not much).
Jeff: Amy, you need to write an article explaining to everyone just what your perfect race would be. Just so we know. Personally, I thought FOX did an OK job of not focusing on the leaders all the time and actually showing the racing action.
Amy: Perfect race? Easy. Barnburner at Darlington with zero unnecessary caution laps where every driver is shown on TV and the win is by less than a car length, not decided by fuel mileage and on Labor Day weekend,
Jeff: Fuel mileage is an integral part of racing Amy.
Amy: I’d far rather have a fuel-mileage race than a fake caution. But you said perfect. Perfect is decided the old-fashioned way.
Mike: Back on topic: NASCAR popularity is certainly booming because of the great changes that were made by the folks in Daytona. Or maybe it is just cyclical and the fans are watching a little more this year.
Amy: I don’t think it’s either one. It’s doing well because the season kicked off with two great races and good racing will always get and keep more fans than any gimmick.

In three races so far, Fords have gone to victory lane twice, while other makes have looked good, but not been able to close the deal. Is this the sign of a dominant run for Roush Fenway Racing, similar to what Hendrick Motorsports has enjoyed?

Phil: No, I don’t think it’s a sign of Roush dominance. It’s way the heck too early to declare that.
Jeff: Fords had to start winning sometime. It all goes in cycles. Hell, they are all kit cars anyway.
Amy: I agree with Phil. On the other hand, Hendrick, other than Jeff Gordon‘s win, has been less-than-stellar.
Phil: If Jimmie Johnson isn’t winning in Las Vegas, he’s out of the top 10 and struggling. You saw the latter Johnson on Sunday (March 6).
Jeff: Junior has been running good.
Mike: Hendrick has two drivers in the top 12 in points (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin), so I wouldn’t write them off yet. On the other hand, Carl Edwards has been hot. I wouldn’t call Roush dominance three good races by Edwards and a plate win.
Phil: Gordon had tire issues while Martin had similar issues to Johnson. Earnhardt Jr. was actually solid.
Amy: Well, the FR9 engine gives the Fords a big aerodynamic advantage on the bigger tracks because they can run more tape.
Phil: It could be argued that the FR9 was a big advantage in Daytona because they could push more. Truthfully, the Fords were pretty anemic most of last year. They couldn’t put up much of a challenge to Hendrick or Childress. This is simply a regaining of prior form.
Jeff: Well, we certainly can’t be having that! Time to ban the FR9! Hendrick must be livid!
Mike: Oh, I am sure there will be a ruling from Daytona because “the felon,” Rick Hendrick will pay off Brian Fran$e.
Phil: Hendrick was pardoned by President Clinton. He’s not a felon anymore.
Amy: NASCAR’s non-call on Edwards loose tire helped the cause.
Mike: It didn’t hurt, Amy, but they showed precedent on NASCAR Race Hub where that call has been made consistently in the past.
Jeff: What non-call?
Amy: TV showed a No. 99 crewman chasing down a tire in the No. 48 pit, two down from theirs. No call. I think the problem the Fords may face is lack of depth.
Mike: I know Phil, but the comments that we receive all of the time call him that.
Phil: The tire rolling out of the pit box under yellow. Rolled into Johnson’s pit, I believe. That is pretty inconsistent.
Amy: Especially since Joey Logano got dinged for a loose tire.
Mike: It was only about halfway through the stall next to theirs and it was on the half of that stall closest to the wall so the penalty was not called.
Phil: Daugherty was claiming that it should have been a penalty on NASCAR Now.
Amy: I agree with him. It left their box, period. Suppose Johnson had been coming into his pit just then.
Mike: NASCAR Race Hub showed a couple of instances from the last two years where it wasn’t called and a couple where it was. The tire being on the half of the box closest to the wall kept it from being called.
Amy: Well, it’s no less dangerous when it goes into another pit than onto pit road. They lost control of the tire and should have been penalized.
Jeff: You just don’t like Carl!
Amy: So another car couldn’t hit it because it’s on the inner half of the box?
Mike: They call it if the tire gets out towards the pit lane. They even had an instance where a tire was hit on pit road that had rolled away and a penalty was not called. Not saying I agree with it, just saying it is consistently not called when the tire is close to the wall.
Amy: I don’t like obvious penalties not being called.
Mike: Apparently, it is obvious that it is not a penalty because it has consistently not been called for years.
Amy: Why is a tire different from other equipment? That can’t leave the pit box, period.
Mike: Apparently it is different because it can roll by itself.
Amy: Just because it hasn’t been called doesn’t mean it was the RIGHT call.
Jeff: I never could roll.
Amy: Rules call for teams to have control of the tires. They didn’t.
Mike: I don’t know. As long as it is consistent, that is all we ever ask for.
Phil: NASCAR tries to stick to precedent whenever possible, regardless of their actual rules.
Amy: But precedent should follow the actual rule…
Jeff: I suppose I don’t get credit for calling a Edwards win from last week now.
Mike: Oh yes you do, Jeff. You should have two in a row.
Jeff: I’m with ya there.
Amy: In any case, I do think the Fords get a huge downforce boost from the new engine’s cooling system. And next year, someone else will have something. Then it will be someone else.
Mike: I don’t know if the cooling is a difference or not because Stewart was actually the class of the field on Sunday and a pit-road penalty ended up costing him the win. I don’t think Ford is stinking up the show yet.
Jeff: Two races does not a dominance make.
Phil: That’s right. Ask me after Talladega if the Fords are dominating.
Amy: And a pit road non-penalty handed to Edwards…ironic.
Jeff: Hell. Matt Kenseth won the first two a couple years ago and no one was saying the Fords were dominant.
Mike: I remember when Kenseth used to win. The Fords are certainly doing better this year than they were last year. However, I’m not about to call it domination yet.
Jeff: How about Marcos Ambrose!!!
Amy: Ambrose ran great. That will make for a fun diary next week.
Mike: Petty in general is doing pretty decent this year.
Jeff: It’s the FR9s.
Mike: And the super cooling.
Phil: I think it’s a little more than the engines at RPM. Stability helps.
Amy: I have been very pleasantly surprised with Petty. News of their demise was obviously premature.
Jeff: They are just trying to save on duct tape… going green.
Mike: I don’t know that it was premature. But their resurgence is a great story to start the season.
Amy: One of many.

Robby Gordon was placed on NASCAR probabtion for allegedly engaging in a physical altercation with Kevin Conway until December – nearly twice as long as Tony Stewart got in 2009 for virtually the same infraction. Is the ramping up of this penalty justified?

Amy: No. It’s no different from Tony Stewart decking Kurt Busch unless Robby Gordon really roughed Kevin Conway up.
Phil: It could be argued that they announced the penalty before Robby got a chance to explain himself.
Jeff: We werent there; on this one, we don’t know all the facts. But probation? Whoop ti do.
Mike: I don’t know what the deal was, but there is obviously a problem when car owners are confronting drivers in the garage.
Jeff: The latest update I’m award of is that it was unprovoked and he even went after Joe Nemechek. A crew chief signed the police report as a witness.

See also
No Bull: The Robby Gordon-Kevin Conway Fight From Sin City & More

Amy: As for Conway’s statement; if your sponsor is a male enhancement product, you may want to think twice about an opening quote of “I don’t mind stiff competition, but I want to make sure the hard facts are told.”
Phil: I guess Conway wanted to make a funny and downplay the seriousness of the situation. Just made him look silly.
Mike: Well, like Jeff said we don’t know the details of what transpired – we didn’t physically see it – but it is rare for a police report to be filed for something that happens in the garage area, so it has to be pretty bad.
Jeff: But like I said… probation. Whoop ti do!
Mike: True, it is just probation.
Amy: But the entire year seems like a lot. Though why Robby was surprised Extenze didn’t pay up, I don’t know. They owe Front Row money, too, I believe.
Jeff: And last I knew, Extenze owed a modeling agency money too. It was an agency in Texas, for use of their models; the owner contacted me last year and told me some info.
Mike: That is why Conway was out at Front Row. I’m still trying to understand the whole deal with Nemechek’s backup car and not being able to change the number on it.
Phil: It was because Nemechek’s backup car was the No. 97 that Conway was supposed to drive. By the way, I don’t know if they ever paid or not; I got no reply from my queries.
Amy: I think the penalty does, to an extent, depend on just how physical Gordon got. If he poked Conway with his finger and Conway is pissed enough at him, Conway can file a report.
Jeff: You can file a report anytime. Even if just threatened.
Phil: I heard something about a black eye.
Amy: On the other hand, if he did more than slug him once (what Stewart did to Busch), a longer probation might be deserved. They could change the sponsor decals, I believe, Mike, but not the number.
Phil: The description I heard of the incident mentioned Gordon grabbing Conway, him throwing at least one punch, then dragging Conway to the ground.
Jeff: The truth of the matter is… or should I say reality… is it’s Gordon and Conway, so not many people really care. Now, if it was Jeff Gordon….
Mike: Yeah, if Kevin Harvick grabbed Jeff Gordon and drug him by the hair through the garage area, we’d have some intrigue.
Phil: A vocal contingent of Robby’s fans, including plenty that read our articles would say otherwise.
Amy: What did Edwards get for going for Harvick’s throat? Anyone remember?
Jeff: Probation.
Phil: Apparently, a poster on a message board online witnessed the confrontation. He termed it a “fight.”
Mike: I would say Harvick v. Edwards could have been considered a fight.
Jeff: Robby was just crazed, an after effect when you suddenly stop taking ExtenZe. They don’t mention that on the commercials.
Amy: Well based on the info I’m hearing now, I’d say Gordon got a few months too long.
Phil: I’d agree with you, Amy, but it falls into NASCAR’s precedent these days. If you get probation at all, it’s through the end of the year now.
Mike: Well, Edwards and Brad Keselowski didn’t get probation through the whole year.
Amy: I do think it matters. NASCAR should have given the same number of races as Edwards got, no more, unless he beat the snot out of Conway.
Mike: I don’t know what happened in the garage but drivers fighting is always going to get probation at least. I think Robby just has to watch himself. I hope he has the funds to make it through the year.
Amy: I wonder what would happen if you combined Extenze with a truth serum.
Jeff: I could care less. Probation is meaningless anyway.
Phil: True, it never really escalates anything.
Amy: Yes and no. It’s NASCAR’s excuse to do whatever they want later.
Jeff: Hopefully he can land Enzyte as a sponsor.

The Camping World Truck Series returns to Darlington this weekend for a standalone as the only NASCAR national series race on the schedule. What stories should fans watch for in a weekend that could be pivotal for the series?

Jeff: Kyle Busch winning.
Mike: Busch isn’t running.
Jeff: Oh. Hahaha never mind.
Amy: That would be quite the story.
Jeff: He’s so good, he could probably win in absentia.
Mike: It will be interesting to see what Austin Dillon does after a good run there last year.
Amy: I think the best storyline would be a great race with a side-by-side finish. That’s what’s going to do the most for the series.
Mike: It will be cool to see if Matt Crafton can hold on to the points lead.
Amy: I think you may see a bounceback by Todd Bodine this week.
Phil: Bodine has had a terrible start. He needs to have a good run or his season could be derailed.
Amy: We will have live coverage. (shameless plug)
Mike: It is too early for a season to be derailed, but it would be good for him to repeat as winner.
Amy: I think Darlington and the way the Trucks can race should – and will – take top billing. Those were made for the Lady in Black.
Mike: The Trucks at Darlington is always a great show. Then again, anything at Darlington is a great show.
Phil: A night race in March might be a little cool for the locals, Mike.
Mike: It is going to be brisk Saturday night. I’d still love to see them cover the track in sealer the night before the race like they did in the old days.
Phil: There’s no point to doing that now. The pavement is too good.
Mike: I know, but could you imagine a track doing that in today’s NASCAR? Teams would lose their minds.
Phil: I could almost see Atlanta putting sealer down sometime soon, but someone might revolt against such a move.
Mike: It would be cool to see the teams have to deal with a completely different track from what they practiced on.
Phil: There would be competition cautions and general chaos if that happenned, Mike.
Amy: I think, in the end, the Lady herself will take top billing. But hopefully fans will tune in – the series provides the best racing in NASCAR.
Phil: If they just sealed the cracks, you’d have Triple Championship Weekend 1993 all over again.

How about some Truck predictions for Darlington?

Amy: I’m sticking with the Onion.
Phil: I’m thinking Ron Hornaday will win.
Jeff: Nelson Piquet Jr.
Mike: I’m taking Dillon.

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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