Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Troubling Trends, Bristol’s Best Driver Intro & Career Suicide?

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:
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)

Bristol Motor Speedway, a track that once had a waiting list years long for tickets, had a lot of empty seats on Sunday (March 20). Has the racing really changed that much since the resurfacing, or is the real problem something else?

Phil: Well, racing might play a small role. Really, everything else is playing a bigger one.
Amy: A huge part of the problem is the price gouging going on at the hotels. People had to stay in Asheville, N.C., an hour and a half away to get a normal room rate.
Jeff: The spring race was never hard to get tickets to. It was the night race in August that had years of waiting.
Beth: I don’t think the real problem can be nailed down to just one thing. Sure, price gouging plays a role, but that happens around most tracks.

See also
Dialing It In: Running on Empty - If NASCAR Attendance Falls, Blame the Gas Tank - Not the Fans

Amy: That’s ridiculous, though. I heard local hotels were charging in the $350 per night range. Tack on the $3.75 per gallon to get there, the price of tickets and that’s a lot when salaries aren’t exactly climbing.
Jeff: Bristol ain’t that big; you have to remember that, and what hotels are there fill up fast. Best bet: camping.
Amy: Someone said a good camping spot was $400, though. Still ridiculous.
Phil: I hear that they were giving away free tickets in the Cornelius area for Sunday’s race and people still weren’t making the trip. My sister actually got one, but didn’t go because she hates racing.
Beth: It’s funny you mention that, Phil. That was actually something my husband and I talked about as an idea for tracks to fill the stands.
Amy: I think the general apathy from the public is also a factor. Bristol took the longest to lose out, but it was a matter of time.
Jeff: Amy, you can’t blame gouging for the empty seats. They have been gouging for years when the seats were full.
Beth: Like I said, there are so many factors. The product on the track, overall apathy over NASCAR in general… need I go on?
Phil: They wanted $45-72 for the Nationwide race. Did they still want $90-150 for Cup tickets? That’s pricey.
Amy: True, but three years ago, many people could have afforded the luxury. Now? No way that’s in their budget.
Jeff: Again, the spring race NEVER was the biggie, most coveted, ticket.
Amy: No, but it always sold out.
Jeff: You can’t blame gouging, though. That has always happened.
Phil: Of course you can when it knocks stuff into the unaffordable range.
Amy: The difference is, Jeff, nobody has the spare cash they did a few years ago.
Jeff: I’m just as poor now as I was four presidents ago.
Phil: Four presidents ago, I was in preschool.
Beth: Consider adding that gouging to the unemployment rate, the cost of gas, higher cost of living, higher medical insurance rates. I don’t know about you, but the extra spending money we used to have has gone to all of our bills going up.
Amy: It’s not a reflection on Bristol as it is on NASCAR as a whole. Too expensive, the product isn’t great (Bristol is an exception there) and the bandwagon fans are on the next bandwagon by now. Bristol’s mistake was adding so many seats; supply should never outweigh demand, even when times are good.
Jeff: Oh, gee! Tell us another news flash! By the way, Bristol added those seats when they were still selling out back in 2003, Amy.
Amy: If they’d stopped at 100,000, the stands would have been full.
Phil: They could have had 250,000 seats at Bristol five years ago and still sold out. Therefore, their supply did not meet demand.
Amy: True, but did they really think that would last?
Phil: Amy, 100,000 would mean that they should have stopped less than a year after Bruton bought the place. It could seat 125,000 by Aug. 1997.
Beth: You can’t really nail down the pathetic number of people in attendance to just one factor. It’s more like a bunch of things came together all at once.
Amy: Bottom line, it’s too bad because the racing was very good on Sunday for the most part. Sure, the margin of victory was disappointing for Bristol, but that’s going to happen on occasion.
Phil: The night race will probably have better attendance, but SMI and the locals in Northeast Tennessee have to make it a little easier for people to attend. Ticket prices are too high at Bristol and hotels seem to believe that they lose the point of existing if they don’t bankrupt people during these race weeks. Campgrounds, too.

Lots of drivers had solid runs at Bristol, while others had decidedly less good fortune. But who was helped – and hurt – the most by their Bristol performance?

Jeff: Jeff Burton was hurt. Badly.
Phil: Greg Biffle definitely helped himself by not having issues.
Amy: Junior comes to mind as having a good run. He showed he can have good finishes on any kind of track this year. Bobby Labonte looked a lot more like Bobby Labonte, too while Burton took the worst of it. Could his luck be any worse?

See also
Steve Letarte Taking Charge as Bristol a Step Forward for Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Team

Jeff: Kevin Harvick done good.
Beth: Paul Menard comes to mind for me. I’m not even close to calling him a Chase contender, but the move to RCR has to have helped him substantially. The run he had at Bristol sure had to help boost his confidence, too.
Phil: Menard definitely benefited on Sunday. Does he still look like Casey Mears with Big Bucks to you, Amy?
Amy: Yep. Mears had a string of good runs in ’06, and look where it got him. Menard is a solid mid-pack driver on a good run and the terrible luck his teammates have suffered makes him look better than he is. He’s most certainly not the best driver at RCR long term.
Beth: Leading laps, surviving Bristol and pulling out a top 10 speaks well for Menard, though. That has nothing to do with the luck his teammates have had.
Amy: It does in that both Clint Bowyer and Burton are certainly capable of doing the same. Harvick spun out and still got a top 10. Menard is having a good run but I’m not ready to proclaim him the Next Big Thing in NASCAR.
Phil: Bowyer can’t do all that much about blowing an engine. Although, the wreck didn’t help his cause.
Beth: They’ve been with RCR a hell of a lot longer than Menard has. All I’m saying is that his run at Bristol certainly helped him.
Amy: I was really impressed with Junior, though. He’s getting good finishes on tough tracks where communication is more important… that says a lot.
Beth: I have to wonder how much of that is Junior and how much of that is having Steve Letarte atop the pit box.
Phil: I guess Letarte’s really getting through to him. Tony Eury Jr. and Lance McGrew seemed to just agitate Dale at times.
Amy: It has to be both, Beth. Neither one could do it alone.
Beth: I’m more inclined to look at it as Letarte managing to get through to Junior in a way his other crew chiefs the last few years haven’t.
Amy: I agree with that, Beth, but Junior still has to go out and race… something he hasn’t done recently because he was too busy cussing out his crew chiefs.
Beth: Which again points to it being a crew chief thing. Letarte has managed to rein Junior back in and get him refocused on racing. Sure, neither one could do it alone, but Letarte has to be a pretty big factor in it since they couldn’t do that last season with McGrew.
Amy: True, but with the right crew chief, Junior has proven he can win multiple races. He needs a certain type.
Beth: We’ll just agree to disagree on that one or we’ll be here all night arguing that point.
Amy: Moving on, Kasey Kahne is doing better than I expected.
Phil: How well did you expect Kasey to run, Amy? It seems that you thought this year with Red Bull was going to derail his career.
Amy: I expected Kahne to run somewhere in the 25th in points range, not like anyone else could do anything in that car.
Beth: Brian Vickers is another guy who can’t catch a break this season, except his lone top-10 finish at Vegas.
Amy: Vickers’s performance has been frustrating. He’s always in the wrong place at he wrong time lately.
Phil: Yeah, I know. His day got destroyed by the early crash.
Amy: I heard BV’s scanner chatter was hilarious, though. Guess his crew chief and spotter were pretty hard on him because he needed a personal pit stop.
Phil: Personal pit stop? Couldn’t he have done that while the car was being repaired behind the wall?

Let’s have a little fun here. Which drivers picked the best intro songs at Bristol and who should have chosen something else?

Beth: It would have been nice to see the intros, but I understand why they couldn’t air them.
Phil: Neither do I. It’s Bush League. What did Vickers have to come out to?
Jeff: Have no clue. Didn’t care before and I still don’t now. Just not something that interests me. Unless it’s rock and roll (classic) I wouldn’t know most of the songs picked, anyway.
Amy: Vickers came out to “Man, I feel Like A Woman.” Jimmie Johnson got the Thong Song.
Beth: I was laughing too hard to remember which was which.
Phil: The sheer thought of that makes me laugh. Sisqo does not get much press these days.
Jeff: I have a thong, but I’ve never sung about it.
Beth: TMI, Jeff.
Jeff: Oh, I guess they call them “flip flops” now. Sorry!
Beth: I thought Harvick’s choice, Back in Black, was pretty appropriate considering his new scheme.
Amy: Yeah, that was great. I’ve always thought the perfect song for Jeff Gordon would be the theme from St. Elmo’s Fire. Not sure why, but always have. Johnson should pick the Top Gun Anthem when he gets to pick his own.
Phil: I guess that makes sense. I’ve only heard the chorus to St. Elmo’s Fire, though. Never seen the movie.
Beth: Burton’s choice, Welcome to the Jungle was pretty appropriate considering where they were.
Phil: Landon Cassill rick-rolled the crowd with Rick Astley.
Beth: David Reutimann‘s was another funny one.
Amy: Reutimann’s was hilarious. So was David Ragan‘s.
Jeff: You’ll have to list the songs with the names, please, so people will know what you’re talking about. My guess is a lot of people, like me, have no clue as to what was with whom.
Amy: Reutimann did “Pretty Fly for a White Guy.” Ragan’s was “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Best driver song pairing ever, though? It would be if Danica Patrick ever came out to “B*tch.”
Beth: Definitely!
Phil: That would be interesting. I remember the song, but can’t remember who sings it. It’s from the mid-to-late 1990s, right?
Beth: Meredith Brooks. Hard to believe, but I wore that CD out growing up.
Jeff: She didn’t do women driver’s reputations any good by acting like it was the other guy’s fault she wrecked on Saturday.
Phil: Yeah, that was pretty stupid. Not out of character, though.
Beth: Don’t get me started, Jeff. I could rant for a while on that one.
Phil: No stomping, though.
Amy: Not like she’s the first one, either. Ever hear Gordon complain about someone racing him too hard?
Beth: I’ve heard of plenty of drivers complaining they’ve been raced too hard. Last time I checked, though, this is NASCAR and we race each other.
Phil: You usually hear that stuff after someone gets wrecked 20 laps into the race, not with 53 to go.

Jennifer Jo Cobb walked away from her 2nd Chance Motorsports ride just minutes before the green flag on Saturday, stating that she was told to start the race and park after a handful of laps and that the order came just minutes before the race. (The team owner states the team was told on Friday). Was Cobb’s move one that more drivers should be considering – or was it career suicide?

Phil: At the time, I thought it was career suicide. Now, I’m not so sure.
Jeff: I applaud her with all my heart! I am proud she did it.
Amy: It couldn’t hurt her more than she already was, she was fired one way or the other.
Beth: I admire JJC for sticking to her beliefs and I’m damn proud of her for walking away. It obviously didn’t hurt her too much since she’s got a ride for Fontana.

See also
Jennifer Jo Cobb Refuses to Start-and-Park; Claims Contract With No. 79 Team Broken

Amy: I think what she did was great.
Jeff: Any moron can start-and-park. She was there to race.
Amy: I’m not against start-and-park in all instances, but this was ridiculous. She paid for most of it!
Phil: I don’t know the level of respect that Rick Russell has in the garage, but if he had more clout, it would be suicide for Jennifer Jo Cobb. Now, she’s got a slightly better ride in the Rick Ware Racing No. 41 for Fontana.
Amy: She does, but she still needs a full-time ride.
Phil: Yeah. Getting that might be hard, especially without a whole lot of sponsorship.
Amy: Right, and if she gets labeled as difficult, it could be even harder for her.
Beth: I understand the need for some teams to start-and-park, but when you sign on a driver to run five full races, you need to expect they’re going to want to run the whole race each week, especially if they’re footing the full tire bill.
Jeff: I think more people in the garage will have more respect for her for this decision.
Phil: I know Brad Keselowski respects her decision.
Amy: It doesn’t do her a lick of good, though, unless he’s planning to finance her.
Phil: True.
Jeff: But she’s not coming off as “difficult.” She’s coming off as sticking by her beliefs.
Beth: She’ll definitely earn more respect in the garage for standing up for herself. If nothing else, she showed she’s not a pushover and isn’t going to bend when it comes to what she believes in.
Jeff: I don’t think it will come up again. No one will ask her to start and park.
Phil: If the same situation happens again, then she’ll be labeled as difficult to deal with.
Beth: Not necessarily, Phil. If someone backs out on a commitment to a driver, then that driver should have every right to stand up and not take it.
Jeff: They all know now that she is there to race and let the chips fall where they may. So a start and park outfit ain’t even gonna ask her.
Beth: Exactly, Jeff. If nothing else, it shows she’ll race to the end as long as her ride will allow it, even if it just means logging laps in a wrecked car.
Phil: Well, Russell contends that she backed out in Vegas by not fulfilling the engine part of her contract. Although, it’s debatable just how much money was actually spent on the engine they bought for that race.
Amy: Whatever the buildup, good on her for walking after basically being told, “Oh, by the way, run four laps or I’ll have you black-flagged. And oh, by the way, you’re out of the car, too.”
Jeff: What did they do? They found someone in the crowd, threw a suit on him and had him run a few laps. Hardly what I’d call a respectable race team, anyway.
Beth: Did he mention that engine issue before they headed to Bristol, Phil? I don’t remember reading about it before this happened over the weekend.
Phil: No. Russell contends that they had a team meeting Friday where he contends that he laid out the start and parking, though. Cobb doesn’t dispute that the meeting happened, but claims he never mentioned S&Ping.
Jeff: If she knew about it beforehand, she obviously never would have even gone to Bristol. I tend to believe Cobb on this one.
Beth: Exactly, Jeff. And Phil, I’ve got to wonder how much truth there is in that he brought it up only after she walked out at Bristol.
Phil: Russell was offered a forum on the ESPN telecast to talk about it, but brushed off Jamie Little kinda rudely.
Jeff: He don’t have a leg to stand on and he knows it.
Beth: That pretty much sums it up for me. There’s more to this story that’s not being told.
Phil: He claimed that he couldn’t hear her, but if I were being made out to be the bad guy here, I’d want to get my message out.
Beth: Exactly. And going back to the engine thing, according to Cobb, the agreement between the two was that he would provide the cars and she would provide engines and tires while he pocketed the profits.
Phil: That is a deal that definitely favored Russell.
Amy: In a big way.
Jeff: No doubt!
Beth: More drivers need that big of a desire to race.
Phil: Sounds like Russell wanted to throw his weight around like Bear Hugger in Punch-Out! for the Wii.
Jeff: Again, a generational gap thing going here. Bear Hugger in Punch Out!???
Phil: OK, Bear Hugger is a fictional boxer from Canada that weighs 440 pounds, wears overalls and makes stereotypical Canadian references.
Jeff: Eh?
Phil: That, and he inexplicably has a pet squirrel that follows him around. Weird.
Beth: On a serious note, Russell’s automatically going to draw the ire of some fans by the sheer mention of being a start-and-park entry. Add in the part where he was pocketing all of the profits and it looks like JJC wins in the court of public opinion. I checked out her Facebook wall Saturday afternoon and it was full of nothing but encouragement from people who stood behind her decision.
Phil: Cobb was effectively a pay driver in this situation. Even more than normal.
Jeff: Bottom line, it won’t hurt her career one bit. If anything, it should help it.
Phil: I think its roughly 95-5 in favor of Cobb here. There were a couple of people in the comments at racing-reference.info that definitely tried to blame Cobb for this, claiming that it was pre-meditated. But not much.
Amy: I do think the Truck Series would be a wiser decision for her for another season or two, but she did the right thing and I think people will respect her for it.
Beth: Well, I imagine she would have been content to stay in the Truck Series had she not signed on for the five-race deal with 2nd Chance.
Phil: In the long-term, that might be the plan for Cobb. Go back to her own team and try to build that up. She was only going to be part time in the Trucks this year and that would have been the case without the 2nd Chance deal.
Beth: JJC definitely helped her reputation by standing up for what she believes in. I, for one respect her even more for refusing to start and park in the interest of her commitment to NASCAR, the fans and her sponsors.
Jeff: If I hit it big in the Lotto, Jennifer, I’ll give ya a full-time ride!

Note: On Tuesday, Cobb was sued by Russell for stealing approximately $16,000 in race parts. 

How about some predictions for Fontana?

Amy: I’m going to go with Johnson in front of the home crowd.
Beth: I’m going with Biffle and a good long nap.
Phil: I’ll take Matt Kenseth.
Jeff: I’ll take Carl Edwards. And I’m with you on the nap, Beth.

Mirror Predictions 2011

Welcome to our fifth consecutive year of Mirror Predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Mirror Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through four races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 7 4 0 2 3
Amy Henderson 5 -2 4 1 1 2
Mike Neff 3 -4 4 0 1 2
Jeff Meyer 2 -5 4 1 1 1
Tom Bowles 1 -6 1 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -2 -9 1 0 0 0
Summer Dreyer -3 -10 3 0 0 0

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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