Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Junior’s Contract, Kentucky Blame Games & Iowa Ignorance?

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 & Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

The race at Kentucky Speedway was overshadowed by fan complaints about traffic, parking and concessions. Who is responsible for the fiasco and for fixing it for next year – NASCAR, who allowed track ownership to move the race from Atlanta, track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. or local and state government, who has control over local roads and police? And speaking of that race, did the racing justify the track getting a Sprint Cup date?

Phil: Responsibility: A combination of SMI for not expanding parking and the Kentucky State Police for an epic fail. I keep reading about exchanges, but it’s not an equal exchange, so the outrage will only continue.
Summer: I think the fans that showed up validated a Cup date, not necessarily the racing. However, I don’t pin the blame on NASCAR. They probably just assumed the track would deal with what needed to be dealt with.
Amy: Well, first and foremost, the race was nothing to write home about and then there was all that other crap, and BTW, if you couldn’t get in, you aren’t getting a refund. That’s the problem, Summer, the racing doesn’t validate the date at all and last time I checked that’s what it’s supposed to be about.
Summer: I certainly don’t understand how they could add that many seats and leave everything else alone especially when they knew how many people were already planning on showing up.
Mike: The police are responsible for the traffic. The track is responsible for the lack of parking. If the fans don’t get a refund there will be a lawsuit.

See also
Monday Morning Teardown: Kentucky Speedway Opens With... a Jam

Amy: They get a free ticket to any remaining SMI race. That is NOT a refund. What if those people don’t want/can’t afford to go to another SMI race? Bruton isn’t offering to pay for the gas and hotels wasted.
Phil: Kentucky Speedway is offering an exchange for a future event at the track, including October’s Izod IndyCar Series race.
Mike: NASCAR doesn’t have any blame other than not delaying the start of the race and I really don’t think that was an option. I did find it odd they only have 33,000 parking spaces. That seems inadequate.
Phil: Thirty-three thousand is probably barely enough for the old capacity. That assumes two people per car.
Mike: Yeah, 107,000 seats means almost four people per car with 33,000 spaces.
Amy: I would put the blame 75% on the track for not adding adequate parking or access roads. The remaining 25% goes to whomever was responsible for the lack of police directing traffic and the traffic patterns outside the track. It was also completely disgusting that it took nearly 48 hours for the track to actually issue an apology.
Mike: I don’t know that the track can just build roads. That is more of a civic problem.
Amy: If it’s on track property, that’s the track’s problem. They can’t build roads off their property, but from their property to the public roads? That’s on them.
Phil: They just have to get approval from Sparta to do it. As far as Interstate 71 and Kentucky 35, that’s on KYDOT.
Jeff: SMI cant do anything about making the Interstate bigger. State and feds have to do that.
Mike: If it is on track property yes, but it looked to me like it was the access from the Interstate that was the problem.
Amy: And there is no excuse for even thinking that 33,000 spaces MIGHT be adequate for the crowd they were expecting. A couple years from now? It will be plenty, but they have to have maximum parking, not just enough for when attendance drops off.
Jeff: OK, so it’s not adequate and the weekend was a cluster. What kind of punishment do you think NASCAR should hand out?
Mike: They won’t hand out anything. Texas was a cluster their first year. California was a cluster their first year. It is a growing pain situation.
Amy: I think if it happens again, NASCAR needs to yank their date. But really, this is one you can’t actually blame NASCAR for. They gave the date in good faith that SMI would have the track ready for the event.
Jeff: I just want to hear Amy say it. I knew that’s what she was thinking.
Mike: I’ll be very curious to see what their attendance is next year.
Phil: A lot of people won’t be back. Watch next year’s attendance drop to 78,000 or so just because of the fallout. I didn’t hear anything about California Speedway being a complete screw-up in 1997. I know about Texas, though. Couldn’t even watch the race here because of a telethon.
Summer: Well you’d think “We’re adding 40,000 seats, let’s add more parking too!” would be common sense. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t so common.
Amy: Texas was a cluster because if the weather, though. They had adequate parking until mother nature rendered it unusable. You would thing SMI would have learned from that, though and planned better. Loudon was a traffic nightmare the first few years, but never anywhere near that bad.
Mike: Yeah, it is hard to believe SMI doesn’t know how to handle traffic and a big crowd.
Phil: Kentucky doesn’t. It’s only been an SMI track for a shade under three years. They’ve never had a crowd bigger than 66,000. That’s nothing compared to 107,000.
Summer: No it’s nothing compared to 107,000 but they intentionally added enough seats so they could fit that many. Why didn’t they up the rest of their resources too?? It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Amy: Not only did a gazillion fans not get to see the race they paid for, the track didn’t have enough bathrooms, ran out of food and drinks, and put on a crappy race. Yeah, that’s a real winner right there.
Mike: Yeah but SMI has been doing this for a while. It isn’t their first rodeo.
Jeff: But remember, more GOT to see it than those who DIDN’T. Don’t go sensationalizing things.
Amy: So what, Jeff. If even one person paid and was turned away, it was one too many. and it wasn’t one, it was more like 20,000
Phil: It’s really unclear since a lot of people gave up before even sniffing the property.
Summer: It doesn’t matter how many. Nearly 20,000 fans PAID FOR TICKETS to see that race and COULDN’T, because Kentucky – whether the track or the state – wasn’t prepared. Twenty thousand is 20,000 too many.
Phil: At least one email from a fan talked about giving up and leaving. Basically turning around and going home without ever going to the race.
Summer: There was a lot of that, from what I read.
Amy: I also heard that there were people in wheelchairs parked far away (not in handicapped lots) who couldn’t get to the track from where they were parked. That’s inexcusable!
Jeff: Yeah it was a cluster, as any new race will be. However, people need to plan better too. Take into account that “gee, traffic might be backed up,’ etc.
Amy: Traffic was backed up at 10 a.m. for a NIGHT race. People should not have to arrive 14 hours before the race to get in!
Phil: People shouldn’t have to arrive 10 hours early for a night race. There was no traffic when I showed up at 2 p.m. for the Coke Zero 400. At least none that I saw since I didn’t have to go to U.S. 92. I know the quasi-back way in.
Jeff: At Daytona? Uh, how long have they been racing there? Can’t really compare the two.
Amy: Same deal at Charlotte. I leave home at noon for a night race and make it to the media center within an hour. And I live 45 minutes away when there is no traffic at all. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been racing there if track ownership has hosted dozens of races at their other facilities and knows how to handle traffic. Plus, they have had traffic problems with just hosting NNS and CWTS in the past. They should have known and chose to ignore it.
Mike: There’s a little more access to Charlotte than Kentucky from what I can see.
Summer: I don’t buy this “first race” crap. They’ve had races before and when they specifically added seats to accommodate that many people, there was no reason to not add more resources too. It’s so simple I can’t believe it wasn’t done!
Jeff: Look. I’m not saying everything was good at Kentucky. All I’m saying is why don’t we focus on the race and why it sucked? People just want to run with the traffic thing and run the place down. I think it’s stupid. They will get it all worked out. These things take time and all of you in the ADD generation just have to be patient.
Summer: Because those fans deserve a racetrack and should be able to get in when they specifically pay for it.
Amy: Bottom line, the facility and local infrastructure were not equipped to handle the event and had no business hosting a race they weren’t adequately prepared for

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is reportedly in negotiations with Hendrick Motorsports for a contract extension, and the driver says that he wants to stay with the organization where he’s had one win in three and a half seasons. IS staying the right move, or should Earnhardt look elsewhere to revive his career?

Mike: Staying is the right move. Where is he going to find a better ride?
Amy: I think staying at HMS is a decent move for Junior. Where else would he go and have the same resources?
Summer: What place would Dale Earnhardt Jr. be able to revive his career better than Hendrick? There aren’t any better rides out there. Make do with what you have.
Phil: Summer’s right. There really isn’t anywhere else he could go, anyway. At least he’s finally improved this year, swoon not withstanding.
Summer: He’s fallen off lately though. Earnhardt’s biggest problem seems to be his confidence. He gets discouraged so easily when they have a bad day. A team is defined by how they overcome and deal with their bad days, not necessarily just their good days.
Amy: He’s had some terrible luck, too, Summer. I think there is good chemistry at HMS for Junior, too. He and Steve Letarte are communicating well and had terrible luck. He’s got all Chad Knaus’s notes and resources at his beck and call, and he and Jimmie Johnson work very well together.
Mike: Well having your tire blow and tear the front off of the car isn’t too helpful. Not much you can do to overcome when you rip the fender off with seven to go.
Amy: Exactly, Mike. Getting nailed in someone else’s wreck doesn’t do much for you either. Hendrick is a little behind the curve right now, but I can’t see Dale Jr. fitting in at Roush or Gibbs. He’s fine where he is. HMS is clearly doing everything they can to help him. He’s pretty good at New Hampshire, too, so hopefully for the No. 88 there will be a rebound this week
Mike: Earnhardt has been having a great year and the last couple of weeks have hurt him but he’s still top 10 in points. There’s no reason to panic yet.
Amy: I think the crew chief and shop swap at HMS did Junior a world of good. He and Jeff Gordon have definitely gotten the best end of that deal. Johnson’s issues don’t have anything to do with the swap. He’s benefitted from it, too.
Summer: There’s nowhere else for Junior to go, so he might as well stay.
Amy: I think HMS did absolutely the right thing for Junior. Working with Johnson has been good for both of them.
Mike: Junior will be fine. He’s had some bad luck. If he can get to a seventh place average over the last 10 he’ll be in contention even though nobody wants to acknowledge that.
Phil: For Junior, the confidence is a factor with him, but he’ll get that win soon. Couldn’t tell you when, though. He shouldn’t leave.

NASCAR made an announcement late last week that basically said that Iowa Speedway will not get a Sprint Cup date because the current ownership does not have a Cup date at another track to trade. Should the sanctioning body add a week to the schedule to accommodate the speedway, which is a fan favorite and willing to expand?

Amy: Here’s what NASCAR said: “We’re pretty thin right now with what’s available out there for off time or adding races. I mean, the statement has been made we are at the limit at 36, plus two non-points races. As you’ve seen Atlanta move a date to here, we’ve moved things around over the past few years, whether it be Wilkesboro, Rockingham, California Speedway. Everybody knows the routine that those dates need to be moved around or traded amongst the ownership groups that are out there. So we’ll see what happens moving forward. But right now I believe the company line is we are, today, happy with the number of weekends that we spend at the tracks.”
Phil: Where would you add the week is the question?
Mike: Personally would like to see them add another 20 races but that’s me.
Summer: So they can’t have another date because they don’t own another track? Am I understanding this right??
Amy: I agree that a 36-race schedule is enough. But NASCAR needs to grow a pair and take dates from tracks that don’t deserve them, no matter who owns them
Phil: I’m not opposed to Iowa having a Cup race, but where would you put it? You’d have to take one away from one of the independent companies (Pocono, IMS, Dover Motorsports) for it to happen.
Mike: Unless you are Pocono or Dover and want to sell a date to them.
Phil: I can’t see Pocono doing that. The Cup weekends are the only major race weekends there.
Mike: They can’t have a date because they don’t have a date somewhere else first.
Jeff: Iowa with a Cup date would be a MAJOR cluster! Trust me. There has to be major road expansion done before that ever happens. Not that the track wouldn’t be good. It would be great, but, like anything in NASCAR, if it makes sense, it won’t happen.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. More seats and parking, too. But to pretty much say they’ll never have one isn’t right.
Phil: What’s it like up there road-wise, Jeff?
Jeff: One interstate, one exit – there would have to be major work done to even have a ‘back’ way.
Summer: Yes, Iowa is pretty remote and there aren’t a lot of roads out there, but those are improvements that can be made. And if they need to take a date away from an independent track, then do it. Fans love Iowa, whether they live there or not.
Amy: The problem is, the independent tracks deserve the races because they’re good. The date needs to come from a cookie cutter. And to pretty much tell any track owners out there they will never be getting a race is ridiculous.
Mike: I agree Amy, unfortunately. I personally think they should change the whole schedule and have one race at each track.
Summer: I’m the same way Mike. One race per track. Heck, they could take a race away from Kansas and give it to Iowa. They’re only a few hours apart.
Amy: I agree with that to an extent, Mike. A few tracks deserve two dates based on racing. NASCAR needs to make a statement: no new dates will be given to mile and a half tracks, period, no matter who owns them.
Summer: Yeah but having two dates should be the exception.
Amy: That I agree with, Summer. Maybe six tracks should have two dates.
Mike: Iowa would be a great track to have on the schedule but we all know how this works so it ain’t going to happen.
Amy: Once again, NASCAR shows their shortsightedness. By basically thumbing their noses at track owners not already on the schedule, they’re opening the door for a rival series.
Phil: Until that happens, I doubt Iowa’s getting a Cup race. However, NASCAR was wrong to just squash their dream like that. They’re like Biff in Back to the Future.
Summer: Well apparently pigs will fly before Iowa gets a Cup date, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Mike: Nobody is going to put together a rival series. Just ain’t gonna happen. They’ve been talking about it for years and it never happens.
Phil: Unless something ridiculous happens, that’s a no. And by ridiculous, I mean a power struggle that rips NASCAR’s leadership apart.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule has taken some heavy blows recently with the losses of the Milwaukee Mile, Gateway and Lucas Oil Raceway (in 2012), and it also looks as though the series will lose Montreal on the schedule as local government doesn’t want to help pay the expenses. Where should the series go to replace this latest casualty, or should they simply concentrate on sharing a schedule with the Cup Series whenever possible?

Phil: The Milwaukee Mile was their own fault, not NASCAR’s. Promoter issues. Similar to Montreal, but worse.
Jeff: NASCAR is killing the series.
Amy: They absolutely should NOT try to be Cup support every race! If anything they need to get away from that. As for that race? Hands down, it should go back to Milwaukee or to IRP
Mike: They need to blow the thing up and go to all of the tracks that the Truck Series used to go to. The series is completely losing its identity.
Jeff: Moving to Indy is one of the stupidest moves in history.

See also
With Lucas Oil Raceway Gone in 2012, Replacing Montreal of Key Importance

Phil: Well, they need to lower the sanctioning fees and go somewhere in the Southeast. Not sure where, though.
Amy: Here’s NASCAR’s fail: They raised sanctioning fees but then lowered purses to keep costs down for tracks.
Mike: The series should run a lot of standalone dates but that is not what the promoters want so that is not what NASCAR wants.
Amy: I donít necessarily think that’s the case, Mike. I bet a lot of promoters who have lost races would like their races back.
Mike: Yeah, but the promoters who have the Cup races want the Nationwide races as companions. And NASCAR likes that because it is cheaper for them. Plus they don’t have to work as hard to promote.
Amy: Mike that made me spit soda on my keyboard! Work as hard to promote? If they worked any less hard to promote NNS, it would be negative! Right, but that’s only a few. So you can’t really say it’s the promoters – it’s the sanctioning body being short-sighted, as usual.
Mike: Only a few? That is like 27 of the races on the schedule.
Phil: In other words, they’re taking the easy way out. The Nationwide Series is just a way to sell stuff on Saturdays.
Mike: My point. They don’t have to promote it at all when it is a companion event.
Phil: I guess Nationwide promotes the series better than NASCAR does. They’re actually making use of the $12 million they’re paying to put their name on the series.
Amy: Mike, I meant that’s only a few track owners, namely ISC and SMI, whose promoters want the companion races. I’d guess there are a lot of tracks whose promoters don’t share that sentiment! Seriously, if NASCAR promoted NNS less, they would have to be making ads that say “Don’t go to these races!”
Phil: What do you suggest they do to promote the series? More stuff like the Dash 4 Cash? Series-wide autograph sessions? They had such a session at Daytona, but it was in the FanZone, so it cost $30 to get in.
Amy: How about giving them comparable space on their own website or comparable TV and print ad space? Doing something so fans know the drivers in the other series.
Phil: ESPN’s also culpable here. I rant a little about that in my critique this week. Granted, they actually interviewed Morgan Shepherd this week after he got wrecked. Couldn’t remember the last time that happened (other than the shoplifting thing).

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky

Amy: Feature NNS and CWTS drivers prominently and often both in advertising and on NOL. Because, really, how many of them do fans feel like they know as well as they know their favorite Cup drivers? Maybe Kenny Wallace, who’s on TV all the time. Maybe Elliott Sadler because he was a Cup driver. That’s it.
Phil: None of them. Not even Kenny or Elliott. It’s just Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and Joey Logano and so on and so forth. Maybe a little Baynemeister and Stenhouse thrown in.
Amy: And that’s really the issue. And by pairing the NNS with Cup, it makes it even worse. Fans can be lazy because the Cup drivers are in the race anyway. NASCAR needs to keep NNS separate, not lump it in with Cup any more than they already do.
Phil: I just don’t know if even the teams would be in favor of more standalone weekends at this point. I don’t even mean those with Cup ties. Hard to imagine that back in 1982, the teams were reluctant to make the trip to IRP, necessitating NASCAR to give teams some free tires to make the trip.
Amy: IRP was a LONG way to haul back then, and expensive for the teams. Like Phoenix/Cali/Vegas are now.
Phil: True. Even though it was only 400-500 miles.

How about some predictions for Loudon?

Amy: I’m going to take Kyle Busch going back-to-back.
Phil: I’m going with Denny Hamlin.
Summer: Jeff Gordon.
Mike: Kyle Busch.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 18 18 1 6 9
Mike Neff 16 -2 15 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 16 -2 16 1 4 10
Jeff Meyer 11 -7 17 1 5 8
Summer Dreyer 6 -12 9 0 3 3
Tom Bowles 1 -17 2 0 0 1
Brody Jones -1 -19 4 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -24 7 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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