Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Can Early Surprises Stick & a Women-Only NASCAR Series?

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)
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)

Kasey Kahne won the CWTS race at Darlington in convincing fashion – but can Kahne parlay his winning ways into the Cup Series this season?

Jeff: Magic 8-ball answer… could be.
Phil: Kahne was a toughy all night Saturday (March 12), and winning definitely gave him some confidence. However, it’s the Truck Series. Only so much can translate to Sprint Cup.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Too Tough to Tame 200 at Darlington

Amy: I could see him winning one. I don’t think it will be consistently, though; he’s Red Bull’s number two guy AND a lame duck.
Mike: Keep in mind Kahne was in a KBM truck on Saturday night and they lead the owner points standings; there’s not much doubt that they’re about the best in the garage. I don’t think you can say that about the Red Bull cars.
Amy: Equipment wise, that’s true, Mike, but confidence doesn’t have a series. Kahne is a very good driver.
Summer: I’m not sure how much success Kahne can have at Red Bull Racing with only a one-year commitment. I’m thinking Brian Vickers will win a race before Kasey will.
Phil: I don’t know about that. Vickers has struggled this season.
Mike: Vickers has had some really bad luck so far this year.
Amy: Equipment wise, that’s true, Phil, but confidence doesn’t have a series. Kahne is a very good driver. But even with him in it, the No. 4 is a car that struggled to make the Top 35 in 2010 – that’s a long way from Chase contender in just one year.
Phil: There isn’t much about that No. 4 team that is the same as last year.
Mike: At least Kahne is still working with Kenny Francis. Kenny and Kasey have won together before, and the equipment they have now is as good and probably better than what they’ve won with before.
Amy: If Red Bull Racing has any sense, Vickers will win a race before Kahne will.
Summer: That’s what I’m saying, Amy. I’m thinking the focus will be on Vickers, not Kahne.
Mike: How is a team going to decide which of their drivers will win a race?
Phil: That’s my question. NASCAR is not really the land of unpopular team orders, like what Ferrari pulled off at Silverstone last year. That was a travesty.
Summer: I don’t think we’ll see team orders, but a team can also put more resources into one team than another.
Amy: Exactly, Summer. It would behoove Red Bull to put more eggs in the basket that isn’t jumping ship in eight months. Their focus should be on Vickers; he’s the one loyal to the company and he should be rewarded for that.
Mike: I just think a team is going to make the best equipment they can for both of their drivers and not differentiate between the two teams.
Phil: Why take the time to deliberately shaft someone like that?
Summer: I don’t think they’re going to give Kahne crappy equipment, but all the time, we see one car struggling in an organization while the other is winning races.
Jeff: It’s the NASCAR world, Phil.
Amy: I’m not saying they should shaft Kahne. But when the weekend’s engines have a five horsepower difference? Of course the better one should go to Vickers.
Mike: I’ll buy that, Amy, but five horsepower isn’t going to dictate who wins unless they’re at a plate track.
Phil: Remember, Red Bull has to make the No. 4 look attractive for whoever will be driving it in 2012.
Jeff: Mark Martin?
Amy: If Red Bull hadn’t screwed up two years ago, they’d still have a good driver in it and wouldn’t have needed the temporary fix of Kahne.
Phil: You mean AJ Allmendinger? They weren’t giving AJ something. There’s no reason why he was struggling to keep the No. 84 in the Top 35, then went to a supposedly equally bad car and torched the No. 84.
Amy: They should have kept ‘Dinger was my point. Way better than Scott Speed.
Phil: Allmendinger learned the ropes of NASCAR with Red Bull, then got dumped out like yesterday’s trash.
Mike: Well if Kahne was smart, he’d run more truck races. Three wins in four starts with a second in the one he didn’t win is a pretty good record.
Amy: Bottom line, Kahne can make the car look good, and yes, Red Bull needs to start courting drivers for next year. But their focus should remain on the long term and that’s Vickers.
Phil: Kahne has been much stronger in the first three races than Vickers.
Mike: A Truck win isn’t going to make him a better Cup driver, Phil, but it doesn’t ever hurt to win races in any kind of vehicle.

There has been some talk of a NASCAR racing series for women recently. Is such a series necessary in this day and age, or is the idea more gimmick than serious racing?

Summer: That’s ridiculous.
Mike: That is stupid.
Amy: Total gimmick. The good ones are racing just fine.
Summer: If they’re good enough to be in racing, they can race with the guys. Period. It’s not like NASCAR is a women-hating sport or something.
Mike: Racing is racing and differentiating the drivers by gender is even dumber than differentiating them by race. Johanna Long won the Snowball Derby competing against some of the best late model drivers in the country, not the best females.
Phil: Auto racing is not like basketball. In cars, women can compete on an equal playing field. Let the women race with the men.
Amy: Not saying it wouldn’t be good for racing to make sure opportunities are available for good female drivers, but a whole series? Isn’t that kind of insulting? “Here, ladies. You aren’t good enough to race with us, so here’s a series just for you.”
Phil: It could be considered insulting.
Summer: The bottom line is the sport should make sure opportunities are there for every driver, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity.
Amy: Exactly, Summer. The rides in any racing series should go to the best drivers. End of story.
Mike: Betcha Kyle dresses up like a woman and smokes them in the female series.
Jeff: HAHAHA. Kyle Busch would still kick their butts and everyone would be b**ching.
Phil: What would he do, put on a wig and assume an alias, like Jonathan Brandis in Ladybugs?
Jeff: Any one else heard talk of this ‘sides Amy?
Phil: Apparently, one of the spotters on Twitter pitched the idea last week and spent two hours fending off sexism accusations.
Amy: It is pretty sexist.
Jeff: I got enough problems with writing drunken emails; thank God I dont Twit, Twat or what ever it’s called.
Amy: I don’t think an all-anything series is good for racing in this day and age.
Summer: I don’t, either. It doesn’t make sense anyway.
Jeff: The NASCAR PowderPuff Series.
Mike: I know local tracks run powder puff divisions sometimes, but I’ve never heard of anything national and don’t think they need one.
Phil: We don’t have any Powder Puff racing here in New York. Women that race gear up with the dudes.
Summer: Aren’t those just exhibition races, though? Not an actual series with points and such?
Amy: Right, Jeff. Local tracks doing it for fun is another thing entirely. Dale Jarrett ran his first race in a powderpuff car, didn’t he?
Phil: That’s the first I’ve heard of that, Amy.
Mike: I find it hard to believe Jarrett could pass for a woman.
Amy: Sorry, it was Geoff Bodine. Or so one tall tale goes.
Jeff: Ohhhhh big difference
Mike: Now THAT I could see.
Phil: Bodine got in a Powder Puff race at the Chemung Speedrome? Interesting.
Amy: In any case, a national women’s series is a bad idea.
Phil: I’d rather see women race against the best. An all-women’s series wouldn’t get any respect. Just look at the trashing the WNBA gets on a weekly basis every summer.

There are a few surprises in the top 10 this young season. Among them are Paul Menard, AJ Allmendinger, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.. Can any of those surprising names stick around all the way to Chase time?

Amy: Probably not. Maybe Junior if Stevie can make him shut up and drive. The others? Not much chance there.
Jeff: The best shot is Junior.
Summer: Yeah I agree. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most likely of all those drivers.
Mike N.: Junior can do it, Martin Truex Jr. can do it. Both of them are in good enough equipment.
Phil: I’m thinking that Truex could be up there. Allmendinger could, as well, but I think his fiery “Gotta Have It!” personality might get the best of him later in the season.
Summer: Allmendinger could be a true darkhorse.
Jeff: I’d put Marcos Ambrose in the Chase before AJ.
Phil: I experienced Allmendinger’s mood swings firsthand in Daytona last July. Was calm as could be on Thursday, when we happened to have a one-on-one interview. Two days later, he was flipping out at Richard Petty.
Amy: ‘Dinger has crappy equipment. Paul Menard has great equipment, but is mediocre on his best day, Truex is mediocre and has mediocre equipment. That leaves Junior.
Mike: It isn’t really a stretch for Menard to do it considering he is in equipment that made the Chase last year. And he’s good at finishing races.
Summer: Yeah, but he has to do more than finish.
Amy: Finishing races is easy nowadays. Winning them? Whole ‘nother ball o’ wax. Menard is a decent Nationwide driver and that’s about the extent of his talent.
Phil: Menard started strong last year as well, then fell off towards May. We’ll have to see about Paul.
Mike: Does winning matter? We don’t know that for sure in the new points system. You don’t have to win races to make the Chase, just finish consistently.
Summer: Just finishing 15th-20th isn’t going to get you in the Chase.
Jeff: On a personal level, I’d rather see Menard over Truex solely on the basis that Truex makes ultra stupid commercials.
Mike: I saw the NHRA stupid commercial this weekend. Holy crap, it was worse than the NASCAR ones.
Amy: At least Truex doesn’t only have a ride because of Daddy’s money, Jeff.
Jeff: Hey, if my Daddy had that kind of money, I’d be out there, too.
Phil: I think Menard’s good enough now that he’s a legitimate Cup driver. However, being backed by his family has definitely hurt his marketability.
Summer: He’s backed it up to a point though.
Mike: Menard has become a better driver. It isn’t solely his money that is getting him a ride.
Summer: He picked up the pace a bit the last year or so.
Amy: Menard is Casey Mears with money to put on the car.
Jeff: Menard is more mentally stable than Mears.
Mike: I agree, Jeff. I think that is why he’s more consistent.
Jeff: Mears has a tendency to blame everyone around him for misfortune.
Amy: Back to Junior; he’s the best driver in that mix. He and Letarte seem to be clicking. If they can put some of Chad Knaus’s magic in the mix, they have a shot.
Mike: Junior was the best in the Hendrick stable the first half of the year a couple of years ago. He needs to finish off the deal and a win or two would be nice, too.
Summer: I’m curious as to how much influence Chad has over that No. 88 team now that they’re working out of the same shop.
Amy: Chad needs to get the No. 48 right before he worries about the No. 88. But he and Letarte work well together, so Junior has a Chase shot. He’s a better driver than he’s shown in recent years.
Phil: Earnhardt Jr. is an interesting story. If he and Letarte can stay on the same page and not let shenanigans get in the way, they’ll do fine. Right now, winning is more imperative for Earnhardt Jr. than anything else.
Jeff: Maybe Jimmie Johnson sits there and taunts Junior. “Wow, you really suck, man!”
Summer: I could actually see Jimmie doing that. Not in a mean way, just to joke around.
Amy: “I’m gonna need it again….”
Summer: Yes!
Jeff: Always pointing to his five trophies when Junior asks a question.

One early season Nationwide favorite, Aric Almirola, hasn’t been making much noise so far. Is he likely to pick it up and contend for the title, or is he looking more and more like lower top-10 material instead?

Jeff: Well, if I was Aric Almirola and I couldn’t beat Steve Wallace… I’d give it up.
Amy: I’ll admit, I expected Almirola to come out of the box a bit better.
Mike: We’re three races into the season; there’s no telling who is going to be a contender. The fact that Aric is in the No. 88 means he’ll have a chance to run for the title until the end of the year.
Summer: Where is he in points?
Amy: Seventh, 26 back.
Summer: Yeah, see I thought he’d start out better too. I figured he’d be in the top five at the very least.
Amy: He certainly can contend, but has yet to post a top-10 finish. That needs to turn around fast.
Summer: He has time.
Jeff: Seriously, like Mike said… it’s way too early to be asking who’s gonna be there in the end in ANY series.
Phil: Almirola’s really struggled at tracks, though. I definitely would expect him to be running better than 16th during races.
Amy: Three races outside the top 10 for what’s considered one of the best teams in the garage is a little worrisome, in my opinion.
Phil: The car just really hasn’t handled well.
Mike: Pops will get it turned around. Almirola just needs to learn that he has to drive the car the way Eury sets it up and not expect to get the car the way he wants it.
Amy: I’d expect to see a driver with Almirola’s experience finishing better in Cup-owned equipment. He has plenty of time, but he’s looking like something is lacking so far.
Phil: I understand having to respect Pops Eury, but not being able to make changes because Pops vetoes driver input is weak. He may be experienced, but he’s not infallable.
Mike: I agree, Phil, but that is the way I’ve always understood it to be with that car. He’ll come around. Sometimes it takes a little while.
Amy: Incidentally, if you told me a year ago that the only driver with top 10s in all three Nationwide races would be Ricky Stenhouse Jr., I’d have wondered what you were smoking.
Mike: A year ago yes Amy, but not six months ago. Stenhouse figured out how to run for a title in the middle of last summer.
Amy: Actually, the real disappointment so far is Rusty’s team. Both of them. Elliott Sadler is further behind than I expected as well.
Mike: I agree, Sadler hasn’t done as well as I thought he would. Again, it is just a learning experience though. He’ll be around at the end.
Phil: Michael Annett has been really miserable this season. That DWI must be hurting the team behind the scenes.
Amy: On the pleasant surprise end of the stick, RAB Racing. I expected them to do decent, but they’ve been stronger than I thought off the blocks. Kudos.
Phil: Unfortunately, the No. 09 team seems to be like Sheriff Bart early on in Blazing Saddles. An underground success.
Summer: I just think my biggest shock right now is that Danica Patrick is beating everyone except Reed Sorenson, Stenhouse and Jason Leffler.
Amy: Yeah, never saw that one coming. But she’s not a title contender by her choice. Anyways, I think that Almirola will likely be top five, top 10 for sure. But haven’t seen that special something early that some others are already showing.
Mike: Almirola will at least be near the top 10 by the end of the year. If he figures some things out, he’ll have a shot at the title.
Summer: He can just prove to be a late bloomer… so maybe by this summer, he’ll start running up front more.
Amy: By summer it will be too late if he can’t start scoring top 10s now.
Phil: Almirola will probably be around 3-6 in the points by midseason. Probably score a win or two. Heck, he was darn near winning last year.

How about some predictions for Bristol?

Amy: I think I’m going with Kyle Busch. His “‘scuse me, coming through whether you get out of the way or not” attitude suits the track.
Jeff: Yeah, but you can also die early with that ‘tude at Bristol too, Amy. I’m going with Jeff Burton.
Summer: I’ll go with Tony Stewart.
Phil: I’m going with Kurt Busch.
Mike: I wanted Kyle but, since he’s already been snagged, I’ll take his brother.

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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