Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Tire Rubber Slicks, Empty Seats & Picking on NASCAR Probationers

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)
Summer Dreyer (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

The second half of the Dover event was peppered with driver complaints about excessive rubber buildup on the track, caused from the tires making the racing surface too slippery. Is this something NASCAR and Goodyear need to address or a case where the drivers need to deal with it?

Summer: Drivers will complain about anything that makes the racing difficult.
Amy: In the case of Dover, definitely a “shut up and drive” situation. In the case of Bristol, there were safety issues and in that case, obviously something needs to be done. Safety issues, like tires cording in a handful of laps, need addressing.
Phil: They had the exact same issues last fall. It did negatively affect the action since drivers had serious troubles passing people, and the CoT probably didn’t help things much.
Mike: The drivers need to shut the hell up. Yes, Goodyear needs to stop screwing around with tires and just make some that wear out and don’t dust off. But the drivers need to get up on the wheel and earn their millions instead of pissing and moaning because the car is sliding a little. Although I will cut them some slack this weekend because the car was breaking loose at random points.
Phil: Apparently, it seems to be very hard to get that perfect tire these days. However, the issue at Dover seems to be that the rubber won’t get into the track. It just sits on top of it, and when the cars slow down, they pick everything up.
Amy: Racing is SUPPOSED to be hard, especially at that level. Otherwise anybody could do it. And I bet in that case, they could find ones who wouldn’t whine.
Mike: There were a lot of drivers who weren’t whining, but that doesn’t make for good TV.
Amy: That’s true, Mike. Lots of guys DID shut up and drive. And it’s kind of hard to sympathize with a complainer when he just won the freaking race, too.
Mike: I don’t have a problem if there is rubber on the track so that the tires don’t wear out in 15 laps. I have a problem that Goodyear changes the freaking compounds every single race. I pretty sure there isn’t a single race on the schedule running the same tire they did in 2009.
Summer: I guess it was a good thing for dirt track drivers, though!
Phil: Not so much, Summer. Someone like Tony Stewart would have done better if it were just like a dirt track.
Amy: I agree, mike. Look at Richmond: the drivers really liked the tire compound they were using and Goodyear changed it this year, throwing teams for a loop for no good reason I can discern.
Mike: I’d really like to see them figure out a tire that works, not a tire the drivers love necessarily, but one that works and then just leave it alone for five to 10 years.
Amy: If the drivers like it, that generally means it’s got both grip and durability and that IS a tire that works.
Mike: Yeah, but I’d rather see a tire that either wears out or doesn’t have the grip the whole time.
Amy: Wears out eventually, yes. But not every 10 laps.
Mike: Right, I’d like to see them wear out before they need to get tires.
Amy: Bottom line, though, is this isn’t supposed to be easy. If there’s no safety issues, go asses and elbows and deal with it.
Summer: I’m with Mike. I like to see the tires wear at a reasonable pace. As far as the drivers, I agree that they need to just can it and drive. Like Amy said, as long as no safety issue if present, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of a challenge. Especially for Cup drivers, who are supposed to be the best in the business.
Phil: I’ve never seen Goodyear be able to nail that combination. It’s either they last forever or it’s like the Hoosiers at Daytona in 1994.
Amy: I agree there. They should last maybe two-thirds of a fuel run. More makes for fuel-mileage racing, less makes for too many cautions.
Mike: I think drivers today are spoiled. I’d like to see them get in a car with a bench seat and run around Richmond with no power steering. Not in a race but just to realize how good they have it.

There’s been talk of empty seats in recent years, Dover being the latest example – and much has been made of what NASCAR can do about it. But what about the individual racetracks? Are they doing enough marketing, promotion-wise, and price-wise to bring more fans to their events?

Phil: If Tom Bowles is to be believed, Dover was trying to do their part for this past weekend. Some other tracks are. Some aren’t. Makes me wonder what Nashville has been doing to promote their races recently.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Empty Seats, Broken Hearts: Has Dover's Monster Lost Its Bite?

Amy: I think the tracks are, to an extent, trying. However, they could do more in terms of promotions and the like.
Summer: Price-wise, I know that some have lowered the ticket prices but that’s only part of the problem.
Amy: One comment on the site had a good point. It said their tickets were raised by $11 three years running when things were good and dropped a whopping $5 when things went south. And concessions are still through the roof, and shame on ISC for their haul-in policy.
Phil: The one that got overhauled for this season? What more do you want, two cases of beer per person?
Mike: I don’t know that you can put a blanket statement on all of the tracks. I know that Charlotte offers some hellacious ticket deals. The racing is better than it has ever been, whether y’all want to admit that or not. I just don’t think you can get the stands packed until the economy gets better.
Summer: In this economy, I think the tracks should focus more on the surrounding areas for buyers since people are less likely to travel. That being said, it’s hard to tell how much each track is promoting themselves in the local media.
Mike: One thing that will make a difference, they need to start blacking out the races in the local markets again. I promise you’ll get more people to attend if they can’t see the race on TV at their house when it is in their town.
Summer: Mike, that would be a terrible thing to do. If they can’t afford to go, they shouldn’t be punished for it.
Amy: I agree with that, Mike. Plus, when it’s $300/night for an $80 hotel room, it makes it hard to justify a weekend out of town at the races. Parking at the track should always be free, unless you’re paying for a VIP section or something.
Mike: I promise you Summer, it may be hard for people who can’t afford to go, but it will put more butts in the seats. Because there used to be bigger crowds before they stopped blacking them out.
Summer: At most of the tracks, we are drawing pretty large crowds anyway. They may not be filling the stands, but when 100,000 people show up and there are 180,000 seats it can look empty. If I remember right, didn’t the first few races this year sell out?
Mike: Yes they used to. I actually jumped in the car and drove to Charlotte when I first moved down here and realized the race was going to be blacked out.
Amy: No, Summer, no sellouts this year so far that I know of. If tracks offered cheap tickets in a blackout market, people would go.
Phil: I think its always free at Watkins Glen, but that’s just the Glen. The places you pay are on private property (the locals).
Mike: Yeah, the first few sold out or were close to it. I’m not sure what happened this weekend. Darlington was pretty full. I wonder if some of the problem at Dover was that fans were pissed about them closing Gateway and Memphis. I doubt it because the Northeast doesn’t give a shit about the rest of the world but it might have some validity.
Summer: OK not completely sold out, but I know Daytona, Phoenix, etc. were pretty close. The frontstretch at Dover looked pretty full. Maybe it was just the camera angles. I’m not sure. But I thought there were parts of the track that looked packed in.
Amy: BUT Daytona had several sections covered, didn’t they? I know some tracks have. I suppose that makes for a better percentage on paper.
Summer: Sometimes the best way to get the numbers back is to reduce the availability. Talladega was covered too, and they filled the seats all the way up to the banners.
Mike: Dover had LOTS of sections covered up too and it was still empty as hell
Amy: However, here’s another thing: some of these tracks hold 160,000 people. Fill one of those halfway and you still have more people than any other sporting event. And many of them have rarely, if ever, sold out that many seats. When was the last time Charlotte sold out?
Summer: That was my point before. We might be drawing fewer numbers than in years past, but that’s still a crapload of people.
Mike: I agree. Indy had 120,000 last year but that is only half full at that track.
Phil: True. But Indianapolis has 257,345 seats, or a “butt load.” Anything that doesn’t approach that number makes the place look empty.
Amy: Should tracks be doing more? In some cases, absolutely. In others? Tracks can’t control hotel prices or NASCAR’s purses.
Summer: Or the price of gas.
Mike: Yeah, like I said Phil. They had 120,000 last year and the place looked empty. And I know blacking out races is a kind of taboo subject but I promise it will put more butts in the seats.
Summer: Really I think for some tracks, they just need to get rid of some seats. I think that’s what the banners do and maybe it would help.
Mike: NASCAR needs to put some more of their official sponsor money into purses instead of their pockets.
Amy: They CAN control the price of concessions and what they allow fans to carry in.
Summer: Amy, some tracks are really good about letting people bring stuff in while others are Nazis about it. Plus the cost of parking can be hell.
Phil: What don’t they allow fans to bring in, besides glass bottles? Soft-sided coolers up to 16x16x16 are allowed now.
Summer: Is that every track?
Phil: That’s at ISC tracks, Summer. New policy. It really depends on the track.
Amy: Some tracks do a great job. I know Charlotte had some fans in for the media tour last year who had pre-purchased season tickets and they all got to go for a ride with the JGR drivers. That was cool.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with concessions as long as people can carry some stuff in. Most places will have some free parking locations.
Amy: Food prices are reasonable, but a $3 bottle of water is ridiculous, especially when it’s 95 degrees out. And why not do some baseball-style promotions as well? All fans under 12 get a mini diecast or something.
Summer: I disagree about the food prices. Some tracks can get stupid about it.
Phil: Once again, that is dependent on what track you’re at. I’ve only been to Daytona and Watkins Glen recently, so I don’t have much of a frame of reference.
Summer: Some tracks let 12 and under in for free, though those are usually NW and Truck races.
Phil: Daytona’s letting in kids under 12 free for the Coke Zero 400, 13-17 half price.
Summer: I think most of the tracks are doing enough to promote themselves,but it’s the things they can’t control (gas, hotels, etc.) that are hurting attendance.

This weekend’s Sprint All-Star event forces a former champion (Bobby Labonte), the current Most Popular Driver (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and the 2009 Rookie of the Year (Joey Logano) to race their way in. Are there problems with any of those exclusions, and if so where do you draw the line at who’s in and who’s racing to get there through the Showdown?

Amy: The only one I have any issue with is Bobby Labonte. If you’re a series champion and racing full time, you should get in. Most popular, maybe. ROTY? So what?
Summer: Why would there be a problem with that? It’s about today’s all-stars and sometimes I think the eligibility rules are excessive as it is.
Mike: The only thing I think should change is if you win it once you should be in for life. Just like Ken Schrader should be able to be in the Shootout at Daytona every year.
Phil: Up until recently, being a former champion automatically got you in. Why else would Darrell Waltrip had gotten in automatically in 2000?
Summer: I thought it was always within the last 10 years, Phil? If they’re the Most Popular Driver, they’ll get voted in anyway.
Mike: True Phil. They used to let former Cup champs in and I think they still should.
Amy: True, Summer. Does anyone actually think someone BESIDES Junior will get voted in? Really?
Phil: Let’s just hope he wins the Sprint Showdown. Then, things would get interesting.
Summer: I’m kind of hoping he’ll just race his way in in the Showdown so another driver has a chance of being voted in. Dale Jr. is a lock to make it.
Mike: They claim that Junior wasn’t leading the voting a couple of weeks ago.
Amy: Though I’ve heard that the vote can be “manipulated” if a big name doesn’t get in, that’s not the case this year. Except for Junior. He’ll get the vote. Even if he doesn’t.
Summer: I have a hard time believing that, Mike. I can’t really think of any driver that needs help getting in who even touches Jr.’s fanbase.
Phil: Yeah right. Then, the sympathy voting started. Remember the scene in Stroker Ace where they claimed that Chicken Pit had sales that matched KFC?
Mike: I will be very surprised if Junior doesn’t make it but you never know.
Amy: I know some people have an issue with the fan vote, but I don’t. Fans vote the entire starting lineup in baseball. Besides, it’s an all-star event. What makes them stars if not the fans?
Summer: Plus it’s a non-points event, so it doesn’t matter anyway. I like the fan vote.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with the fan vote at all. I miss the fan vote for the invert. I used to love that when we all knew it was going to be the whole field.
Summer: I kind of hated the invert. It made things exciting but it was also kind of maddening to watch it happen. Though I wouldn’t complain if they brought it back.
Phil: Then, you would have sandbagging and bush league stuff like that.
Summer: I’m with Phil. We get enough sandbagging in the regular races.
Amy: One more thing I think would be fun for next year: let the Nationwide and Truck series champions be eligible. Someone would provide a car.
Mike: Have NASCAR provide the car. They’ve got enough money.
Amy: Most of their teams could provide a car, or they’re affiliated with someone who can.
Summer: As far as Nationwide and Truck drivers, how are they “all-stars?” Maybe in their series, but that’s not exactly what they’re trying to do. It’s a developmental series.
Amy: They’re champions. Why not let them in. Unless, of course, the Cup guys are afraid of them.
Summer: I like how the drivers are racing to win each segment, but I really don’t think Nationwide and Truck drivers have a chance.
Mike: I’d like to see them put in the Australian rules deal. Drop the last place car every two or three laps or something. You would get some exciting racing at the back as well as at the front.
Amy: Those series need promotion. This would add some and it wouldn’t hurt anything. There are drivers in the all-star race who aren’t a champion in any NASCAR series.
Summer: No but they’ve performed at a level where they are still a major part of the sport each year. I just don’t think drivers in development series should be a part of the highest level of racing. There’s a reason they aren’t already racing there.
Amy: The same could be said about the NNS and CWTS champions, Summer. Again, nothing to lose, is there? Some of them might be more talented than the guy who’ll get the fan vote.
Summer: Absolutely not, but I think the All-Star Race is supposed to be about the highest level of drivers at the highest level of racing. Nationwide and Truck series drivers aren’t, or they would already be there in the first place. I’m not saying I’d have a problem with it, but I think it’d be missing the meaning of all-star.
Phil: It could be argued that the Prelude might do more for promoting the lower series that than NASCAR has recently. Ron Hornaday and Austin Dillon are both on the list for that race.
Amy: So is Kenny Wallace and he’s won it in the past, Phil.
Phil: Yes, he has. Kenny loves the dirt late model stuff. I can’t claim that I’ve ever seen that style of racing live. We don’t really have it in the Northeast.
Mike: It is awesome Phil. You might want to make a trip to the Prelude sometime. Or Eldora for any race actually.
Amy: Past Cup champions should definitely get a bye as long as they’re running full time. In this case, that’s only one addition to the field as the rest have raced in. A champion is more of an all-star than a guy who has one win.
Summer: I don’t see a problem with the eligibility rules though. They let the drivers at the top of their game race in a balls to the walls event to prove who is the best.
Mike: I would like to see former Winston winners and past Cup champs in for life but, other than that, I don’t have a problem with the eligibility.

Brad Keselowski was angry with Kyle Busch after Saturday’s Nationwide race, vowing revenge on Twitter after Busch had supposedly gunned for the No. 22 during a late-race caution. Here’s the problem; Busch is currently on probation, meaning he may have little recourse if Keselowski does start something on the track or in the pits/garage.

Is it OK to take out a beef with a driver while they’re on probation or should NASCAR step in with hefty penalties to keep a power play from happening? And does probation even apply if it’s another driver, not you playing the “payback game” first?

Amy: I think it’s pretty cheap to take out someone who you know can’t retaliate, personally.
Phil: NASCAR would have to look at the situation separately. I doubt Brad Keselowski would act any differently with or without the probation, though.
Summer: Keselowski wasn’t specifically planning revenge for this weekend, though. Unless I missed something? For all we know, he could be waiting until they go back to Dover or until they get closer to the track. It doesn’t have to be this weekend.
Mike: If I’m not mistaken I think Kyle Busch gave Brad a hard time when Brad was on probation last year. That said, I have no idea how Busch could have been gunning for him. The whole thing happened way too fast for Kyle to have tried to dump him.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Keselowski Loses Credibility, Dwindling Entry Lists & Ty's Targets

Amy: Keselowski isn’t going to act differently, but perhaps if he goes gunning for a guy who can’t “have at it,” NASCAR should take exception.
Summer: I agree, Mike. Keselowski is way overreacting to that whole thing. He said he watched a replay and said that he SAW (or heard.. or something) Busch gun it into the back of his car. I don’t understand how he thinks Busch was thinking of doing anything but trying to get away from the wreck.
Amy: Keselowski said Busch’s in-car clearly showed Busch never lifted. Though he didn’t give a timeframe, that’s true.
Mike: As long as it happens between the flags I don’t think NASCAR will do anything to them.
Summer: It could just be all talk, too. He might just be trying to get into Busch’s head.
Amy: That’s true. Though if the cars in front of you are wrecking and flipping, you do generally lift off the gas pedal. If Keselowski is to be believed, Busch never did. I looked for the in-car footage he claims he saw, but couldn’t find it.
Summer: I do too. Even if Busch never lifted, Keselowski seems to think it was a conspiracy against him. I don’t remember where Busch was on the track, but maybe he thought he found a hole and was trying to get through it. Right now, Keselowski needs to be worrying about his own on-track program in the Cup Series. If he means the Nationwide Series, then he needs to work on getting the owner points back he lost in the wreck.
Phil: ESPN did replay the last-lap crash from Kyle Busch’s roof-cam.
Amy: The rest of it, Keselowski definitely overreacted to. He had a couple of valid points, but there was so much sour grapes it was easy to miss them
Mike: I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I heard him lift but I know there is some delay to their audio sometime.
Summer: I think Keselowski saw what he wanted to see. Meaning if Keselowski thought that Busch intentionally got into him (or it could have been avoided), that that was the way he was going to see it when he watched the replay regardless of what really happened.
Amy: But as for the original question, it’s a cheap shot to go after someone you know can’t fight back. That said, if Keselowski did spin Busch on track and Busch rammed BK on pit road, that should make no difference in Busch’s punishment. He’s on probation because that crap is dangerous and uncalled for, no matter what the situation.
Summer: Agreed. Keselowski needs to chill and worry about his own on-track performance.
Phil: We know dang well that Busch would fight back to any aggression from Keselowski, regardless of whether he’s on probation.
Mike: I don’t know what probation will have to do with things. I’m positive if someone goes after Kyle he’s not going to care about probation.
Summer: I’d be more interested to see how NASCAR reacted if a driver retaliated while under probation. I’m curious if they’d even do anything.
Amy: He wouldn’t fight back with Harvick man to man.
Phil: Probably nothing, Summer. Maybe lengthen the probation.
Summer: Maybe a points penalty or, yeah, make the probation longer. Which would basically be doing nothing.

How about some predictions for the week: Showdown, fan vote and All-Star winner, no points, all for the glory.

Amy: Showdown: AJ Allmendinger. Fan vote, Junior and All-Star Matt Kenseth.
Phil: I think Earnhardt Jr.’s winning the Showdown. Ambrose for the Fan Vote, Kyle Busch for the All-Star Race.
Summer: All-Star: Jimmie Johnson. Fan Vote: Dale Jr. And I’ll go with Brian Vickers for the Showdown win.
Mike: Showdown Jeff Burton. Fan Vote Junior. All-Star race Carl Edwards.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 13 11 1 3 7
Mike Neff 13 10 1 3 6
Phil Allaway 10 -3 11 0 4 6
Jeff Meyer 9 -4 11 1 3 6
Tom Bowles 1 -12 1 0 0 1
Summer Dreyer 0 -13 7 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -19 5 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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