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 Editor)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
With four Chase races in the books, there is still no clear title favorite and very few drivers have fallen out of true contention. Does the new points system make the Chase a more exciting championship race than the old Latford system, or is this year just an anomaly?
Phil: I’d argue that it’s an anomaly.
Mike: I don’t know that the new points have made much of a difference. It might be slightly closer than with the old system, but I really think it is more just the nature of the field this year.
Amy: I don’t know that it’s more exciting. It makes it harder to make up points. Case in point: in the last two weeks, Jimmie Johnson has finished first and second and not made up the 29-point deficit he had on the lead.
Mike: I don’t know that Johnson would have made it up in the old system either, though. Carl Edwards has finished up front in both of those races, too, so you wouldn’t expect him to have made it up.
Phil: I equate such a deficit to roughly 115 points in the old system. That’s a toughy to make up in two weeks, regardless of what you do.
Amy: Without the Chase, there would still be four drivers within 26 points after Kansas. I do really like the one-point system; it really makes every single position count. It just seems to make the Chase totally redundant.
Mike: I’d never say the Chase is exciting, I was just going for closer.
Amy: Johnson would have the points lead with no Chase.
Mike: He’ll have the points lead after Homestead. That’s all that matters. BTW, I’d say Johnson is the favorite now whether he’s in the lead or not.
Amy: I don’t know, Mike. Edwards is running very well, too, plus Kevin Harvick isn’t going away. And we all know what kind of tear Keselowski can get on.
Mike: I know. I just know that this is October and that is Jimmie time.
Phil: Is that like the supposed “Denny time” in the commercial?
Mike: Kind of, except Denny Hamlin cooks dinner and Jimmie wins titles.
Amy: No time should be Denny time, ack. I’d rather have him cook dinner.
Mike: Meanwhile, I realize Kes got on a tear. I don’t know that we can say we know what kind of a tear he can get on. He did it once. Johnson has done it five or six times.
Amy: But he hasn’t done it this year. Sunday (Oct. 9) was Johnson’s first win in six months. So I’d say Kes still has a shot at it.
Mike: Seven of them have a shot at it. Just don’t know that they’ll do it.
Phil: People make that fact sound like it’s the end of the world or something. Whoop dee do. Johnson’s never been gone at all. He might have been hiding in a corner, like in Team Play in Black Ops, but he’s been around just waiting to strike.
Mike: That’s why they run the races.
Under a late-race caution at Kansas, Kevin Harvick did not pit with the rest of the field, most of whom were 3-5 laps short on fuel to make it to the end. Instead, Austin Dillon pushed Harvick around behind the pace car while Harvick had the engine shut down. NASCAR intervened though there is no explicit rule against the practice, saying that Harvick was not maintaining pace car speed. Was NASCAR right or should Dillon have been allowed to assist his teammate in any way he wanted since it was not the last lap?
Phil: Technically, it’s not within the spirit of the rules, but it’s legal. And, of course, I have evidence to back it up. May I present the finish of the 1991 Miller Genuine Draft 500.
Mike: The rules are the rules. If there isn’t a rule against it, then they had every right to do it. Is it good sportsmanship? No. Is this racing? Yes. If it ain’t written in the rules then it’s legal.
Amy: It certainly isn’t very sportsmanlike, but consider the source. Anyways, NASCAR was right that Harvick wasn’t maintaining pace car speed. While it’s technically legal, they failed to keep the speed up, which is not Kosher.
Mike: Now if they weren’t maintaining speed, that is a different deal and they should penalize him if he wasn’t up to speed. But just because they thought of it first … don’t hate the players, hate the game.
Amy: I think NASCAR made the right call. They weren’t maintaining speed, end of story.
Phil: At the very least, NASCAR is being consistent in not docking Harvick and Austin Dillon a lap for this penalty.
Amy: Then again, they’re not always consistent with that particular rule, either? Remember that race that Greg Biffle won when he was crawling behind the pace car, out of fuel?
Mike: The rules say no help on the last lap. It wasn’t the last lap so it was legal. Of course, now every caution is going to look like a car train race with teammates pushing each other around.
Amy: It would actually be simple to correct without outright disallowing. Simply make the rule that they have to maintain pace-car speed under their own power. That way, you’re not keeping a guy from getting a push if he runs out under green.
Mike: Yep. And I would not be surprised to see a technical bulletin to that effect this week.
Phil: Maybe you’ll have to grill Pemberton on that question this weekend.
Amy: In any case, NASCAR made the right call. The pushing wasn’t breaking any rules, but not maintaining pace was. Good call.
Phil: I don’t think we’re going to see Talladega every time the yellow comes out now. However, just how “sportsmanlike” is NASCAR, anyway.
Now that Clint Bowyer has inked his deal with Michael Waltrip Racing for 2012, what are his chances for helping to move the team forward? Or is the whole move a big step back for Bowyer and MWR?
Phil: I don’t think it’s a step back for MWR. Clint Bowyer might be taking a step back, at least early in the season.
Amy: Bowyer is a good driver and his skill will be an asset. However, if reports are correct, $13 million is an awfully lean budget unless they have other sponsorship lined up. Trying to run on that could mean a couple of things, neither of them good. One, it could mean they run like a dog, or two, it could mean bleeding resources from the Nos. 56 or 00 and that’s not cool either.
Mike: I am sure they’ll have more.
Phil: This might be a step back for JTG Daugherty.
Amy: It blows for Daugherty and Germain both.
Mike: Like any move, it is going to be all about chemistry. I don’t know if Bowyer will click with the Waltrip folks or not. It worked for a while for Martin Truex Jr. but seems to have slipped recently.
Phil: Germain Racing could lose their crew chief in the deal. Doesn’t Bootie Barker still technically work for MWR and crew chiefs the No. 13 on loan?
Amy: That, I don’t know. We’ll try to find out this weekend. I do think that under the circumstances, RCR was right to avoid that deal. Sad that you can’t run a decent team for $13 million.
Mike: You can run a good team for $13 million dollars. There is a tremendous amount of waste in the Cup garage.
Phil: True. It’s just that everyone believes that you need $22 million … or more.
One option NASCAR is discussing for both the Nationwide and CWTS schedules in 2012 is dropping at least one race from each (possibly two from NNS) after losing Nashville and IRP. Is this a logical move or should NASCAR look at other options?
Amy: On the Nationwide side, dropping races would be an OK move, but NASCAR won’t drop the races they should drop, so it won’t really do anything. It will be slightly cheaper for the small teams, and that could be good. The option they need to look at is lowering the sanctioning fees so tracks could afford race dates.
Mike: Um, let’s see. It’s freaking stupid! Hello! Get the racing back where it belongs: on the short tracks. Take some of the billions of dollars that you have in the bank and help the small tracks in the Southeast put on races. You took a race away from Lucas Oil Raceway Park, so I don’t want to hear something that stupid.
Phil: It sounds like they couldn’t find takers for those fees. And I really don’t think NASCAR has billions in the bank.
Mike: The fee is obscene. I would love to see how much NASCAR spends on a weekend to justify those fees. And I bet you they do have billions in the bank, well disguised so you can’t see them.
Amy: I’m not against both Cup and NNS dropping a couple of races. I think it would actually be good for them and better for the bottom line as well. But for that to be good for Nationwide, the races they need to drop are the companion races at the 1.5-mile and bigger tracks.
Phil: Your guess is as good as mine for the licensing fees.
Mike: No, they keep every freaking dime they get and don’t help out the people that make it for them. I get a kick out of the fact that basketball and football are having labor issues over sharing revenues and the people that make the money for the owners are getting more than 50% of the revenue. Can you imagine if NASCAR gave even 30% of their revenue back to the teams and the tracks? The tracks get some money from the TV deal, but I bet it is nowhere close to 30%.
Amy: NASCAR’s idea of helping the tracks is lowering purses.
Mike: Yeah, which does nothing but hurt car counts.
Amy: And the sanctioning fees are outrageous!
Phil: Makes me wish NASCAR were a public company instead of a family business. Then, we could see what their revenues are.
Mike: I just don’t think it is that hard to do. What are there, 60 officials at the track a weekend? Do they spend $1,000 for each of them?
Amy: I think they could stand to drop one race from NNS only. There are two open dates, but surely there must be someone who can host a race?
Mike: Like I said, I’d love to see an itemized breakdown of what that buys the tracks. Tracks can’t afford to host the races and it is going to come to a head in the next year or two. The series will either get better or fold. There are plenty of places that can host a race if NASCAR would come in and put in SAFER barriers for them.
Phil: We know dang well that NASCAR’s not going to pay for SAFER barrier installation. Andy Hillenburg’s paying for his own, right?
Amy: There are at least 43 inspectors for both Cup and NNS and they aren’t all the same people in different uniforms. Just travel for that many is huge.
Mike: Another $100,000 worth of equipment and such.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with tracks paying for their own improvements. Most host races other than NASCAR.
Phil: They probably don’t even negotiate.
Mike: You don’t have a problem with South Boston not having SAFER barriers? It’s OK for the local guys to get injured, just not the big names?
Phil: In this sport, I think the tracks could end up boycotting NASCAR. This has happened on the local level before, but never high up.
Mike: There’s no negotiation. You pay it or you don’t get a race.
Phil: Of course, ISC won’t.
Mike: Exactly Phil. It would be a fiasco if it came to that. I think we’re very close to seeing the Truck Series go away.
Amy: For a standalone NNS race, 50 officials is probably a decent estimate. Figure $500 apiece for airfare, $100 each a night for hotels and however much they make … that is a lot, but it’s not the whole sanctioning fee. Say, $60-75 grand for officials?
Mike: It’s not even close to the whole sanctioning fee. I bet you NASCAR pockets at least half of the sanctioning fee.
Amy: I’m sure, Mike.
Phil: Is the fee something like $1,000,000 a race?
Amy: $750,000 for NNS, I believe.
Mike: It is somewhere around that Amy. And half a million for a Truck race. That’s why there won’t be a Truck race at Darlington this coming year. They weren’t making any money.
Phil: Sounds about right. No local track could afford that kind of extortion, especially if the event wouldn’t sell out.
Amy: Rockingham was hinting that there may be a NNS date in the works. Is that off the table?
Mike: I have not heard anything. I’m hoping to get down there and get SAFER barrier pictures when they start putting the tubes up. I’ll see if I can find anything out.
Phil: That won’t be until December, right?
Amy: In any case, NASCAR needs to look at lowering the cost of hosting a race and perhaps even getting some competition for holding races.
Mike: NASCAR needs to help these series and track owners. They talk about the economy being so tough and yet they aren’t doing anything to help their constituents through the tough times.
Amy: Dropping one race isn’t a bad thing for NNS (lower the supply, increase the demand), but the problem is, the cuts won’t come from the right tracks. CWTS needs to keep 25 races or shorten their year.
Phil: Just for the sake of asking, what would be a proper fee for these series? That would be beneficial for both parties.
Mike: Again, it would help if I knew what their expenses were but I would think $250,000 for a Truck or Nationwide race. That, or NASCAR pays half of the purse.
Phil: Maybe, at that price point, it could be doable for a short track.
Amy: It’s hard to say without knowing the actual costs of personnel and equipment. If the $200,000 estimate is close…
Mike: There are a lot of things that could be doable at short tracks if NASCAR gave a crap about racing. They are out to make money not put on good shows. I realize that a business needs to make money but sometimes there are loss leaders necessary to make it work.
Phil: I’m pretty sure NASCAR could figure out something to do with a cool $3.5 million.
Mike: They could do a lot of things. I don’t know that they’ll do any of them.
Amy: And you can make money, and lots of it. If NASCAR made $100,000 on every national touring series race, times what, 106 races? That’s still an obscene amount of money.
Phil: Ideally, there would be more short-track races in the Nationwide Series. Problem is, the series abandoned smaller short tracks starting in the early 1990s.
Mike: I would just love to see NASCAR’s books. If I’m wrong and they aren’t making any money I’d gladly fess up to being wrong but I would bet you a bunch of money they’re making way more than they need to and the product is hurting because of it.
Predictions For Charlotte?
Amy: And let’s have some predictions for Charlotte. I’m going to go to the driver with the best average finish there the last three years … Joey Logano.
Mike: I’ll take Johnson in the house that Jimmie built, even though they’ve struggled there recently.
Phil: I’m going with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Saturday night. Maybe it’s finally time.
Mike: That is a very good call, Phil. You might be right on that one.
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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