Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: A Worthy Champ, Villainous Vickers & Series Identities

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
Tom Bowles (Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

The Sprint Cup title comes down to just two drivers at Homestead, three points between them. Does this mean that the new points system did what it was supposed to or was it just a lucky break?

Phil: I’d argue that it’s a lucky break. I don’t think anyone would have predicted the 10th-place guy at the start of the Chase battling for the title.
Tom: More of a lucky break than anything else. To be honest, it’s not too much different than the old system. Not enough points for winning, consistency rules, only two of the 12 drivers are eligible for the title. We’ve been in situations where five, six drivers have been eligible.
Amy: I really like the one-point spread, but really, it was luck. I like how much harder it is to gain points a lot. I don’t love that guys can still points race their way to a title. Wasn’t the Chase supposed to get rid of that?
Mike: Yes, Amy and it never has. It is what it is. There are times when you have good races and times you have bad ones. I could be mistaken, but I think this is one of the first years there have been only two drivers mathematically eligible for the title going into Homestead.
Phil: There isn’t a legitimate points system that would get rid of that, Amy.

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Monday Morning Teardown: 1 Race, 267 Laps for All the Marbles

Mike: Well, there is but it goes pretty far away from one point per position.
Amy: Big bonus for winning, Phil, then go to the one-point spread. We’ve been there before.
Phil: I still don’t agree with huge winning bonuses. It would make it so that people could all but cherry-pick races to get into the Chase, then pick their best tracks to excel at.
Amy: They couldn’t do that, Phil, if there was no huge bonus for any other finishing position – they’d have to go for a win every week.
Mike: Consistency is just how Carl Edwards has done it and how it has worked out. This is the first year I can remember someone made it through the first nine races without a problem. Carl has been on a good streak to not have a finish in the 20s, let alone the 30s. He’s had one finish outside the top 10 since Michigan and that was 11th at Talladega.
Phil: Edwards is going to be a tough guy to beat on Sunday (Nov. 20) in Homestead, especially if he has a car anything like he has the last couple of weeks.
Mike: Yeah Phil, but so will Tony Stewart. It could be very interesting if they come down to the finish battling for first and second.
Phil: That would be interesting. Judging by the last couple of weeks, that might not be out of the question. And that is very rare.
Amy: Here’s the thing with this Chase. You have one driver points racing and one racing to win. Which do the fans really want as champion?
Phil: You really think Edwards is points racing at this point, Amy?
Amy: Yes. The way the No. 99 pussy-footed the last pit stop instead of pushing it to try and win, that’s points racing.
Mike: Well if you can points race to finishes of fourth, eighth, third, fifth, third, 11th, ninth, second and second, you’re a damn good points racer.
Phil: You make it sound like Carl isn’t even trying. Does he have to win seven races to prove to you that he’s trying here?
Amy: They didn’t try to win, they settled for second. They’ve settled for finishes when they’ve been capable of more if they had taken a risk. To me, that’s the definition of points racing. Tony took risks to win those races.
Mike: Well, more power to them. They’re one point pussy-footing race away from hoisting the big shiny trophy and the fat check.
Phil: I don’t agree with you, Amy. Given the circumstances at Phoenix, I don’t think Edwards could have run down Kasey Kahne. Kahne had the better car.
Amy: But they didn’t even try. They lost time on pit road rather than to even risk a penalty. I didn’t see that with Stewart.
Mike: Maybe that is just smart. How many people told Juan Pablo Montoya he was an idiot for getting a pit-road penalty at Indianapolis? There is smart racing and pushing it. I would think risking a penalty when you’re in position for a second-place finish would be really stupid.
Amy: I would rather see a champion who took risks and raced for wins any way he could. Look at the way Jimmie Johnson finished second at Atlanta, Dover and Martinsville. That was giving it everything he had, to the point where he was almost wrecking. I never once saw that from Edwards this Chase.
Mike: I’d rather see a champion who scored the most points for the whole season, but that isn’t how it works. There is a points system in place and Carl has scored more points in the last nine races than anyone but Stewart, who has scored exactly the same number of points, and that is why they’re fighting for the title.
Amy: But I still think there needs to be an emphasis on winning, both in the regular season and in the Chase.
Tom: Look, I’m not bothered as much by one-win champions. And Carl has six runner-up finishes this season. But it does look absolutely ridiculous when a Chaser wins four of 10 – as Tony might do – and still doesn’t take home the title. Meanwhile, Carl wins zero times during that same playoff and takes it home. Explain that to a non-NASCAR fan – with a straight face – and see what they tell you. Apparently second place is the first loser, except in NASCAR! We love rewarding people for running third and fourth.
Amy: I wouldn’t be bothered by it under the old system, but the Chase was created to avoid things like that. So either NASCAR needs to get rid of it, or give the same bonus points for winning they give in the regular season, if not more.

See also
Fan's View: Nominating the Next NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion

Mike: Yeah, Tom, but Stewart finished 25th in a race. Edwards’s worst finish in the Chase is 11th and he has six top-five finishes.
Amy: Because he’s stroking. He’s not taking risks, just coasting.
Mike: NO, he’s not. Stroking is finishing in the teens. It is not finishing second two races in a row.
Tom: That is not true about Edwards. I don’t like that assessment. Edwards has been working his butt off to get back to third, fourth, fifth each week. You think he didn’t take chances at Kansas?
Amy: When has he taken a risk or driven the car to the point of wrecking to try and gain a spot, Tom? Not in this Chase.
Mike: I’m pretty sure he drove his ass off to be ninth at Martinsville.
Tom: That’s ludicrous. I think Carl’s had a fantastic Chase. Unfortunately, the bottom line is he hasn’t been good enough to win. Stewart has – four times, and nearly had a fifth on Sunday. Thank God he got that position off Jeff Burton … because how horrible would it be if Stewart won this Sunday, but Edwards ran second, led the most laps and the No. 99 took the title. NASCAR fans would riot.
Phil: I don’t think they’d riot, necessarily. Casual fans might riot. Those who have been around for a while would understand.
Tom: I think the ratings the last two races are crucial in terms of how many people are truly embracing this ending. Here we are, no Jimmie for the first time in years and how motivated will people be to watch? I’m telling you, if the ratings are down or level off – as they did at Texas – I think that’s telling.

(Editor’s Note: For those questioning the scenario presented by Tom, here it is for you. Assuming the two headed into Homestead with a four-point separation: Stewart wins the race and receives 47 points while Edwards finishes second after leading the most laps and receives 44 points (42 for second plus one each for leading a lap/most laps led). Therefore, Edwards would take home Roush Fenway Racing’s first title since Kurt Busch won the inaugural Chase in 2004.)

There’s a lot of talk about what makes a “good” champion in NASCAR. What separates one champion from another and which of this year’s candidates would make the “best” champ?

Mike: I haven’t heard any talk of that but I have yet to see a bad champion. People might not like Kurt Busch, but he was a great champion during the year he was the champ. Both of the drivers who are in contention would make fine, outstanding champs and I will be glad for either one of them.
Phil: Never really thought about it. I guess a “good champion” is one that represents the series well – either Stewart or Edwards could do that.
Amy: I think a champion has to be the best driver under the system he’s given, period. But it helps to have someone with class, I’ll admit. Personality-wise, I think these two are about equal. Stewart doesn’t try to be anything other than who he is and I do appreciate that.

See also
Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 15 After the 2011 Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix

Tom: I think Stewart and Edwards would make a great champion in different ways. I know one a lot better than the other; but I’ve had a good media relationship through the years with each of the two. Stewart is so much less abrasive than people think.
Phil: Hold up, I need a clarification. Are we talking about the best representative of the series, or the best way of getting the title?
Amy: Both, Phil, but since we covered the points already, what about the person?
Tom: I think, at 40 Stewart is the perfect mix of spunk and measured maturity that would be a good fit. As for Carl, he’d be a sponsor’s dream for a champ. I think he’d be a little less politically correct than you might think, though.
Mike: Depends on the environment that you have Stewart in. Personally, I have had great interactions with him and he’s always been great with me in a one-on-one setting.
Amy: Does personality matter? I think to at least some of the fans, to some degree, it does. I’ll admit that to me, it does matter somewhat. Not to any degree that it would overshadow the driving, but I think a good champion needs class.
Tom: Carl would definitely be one of those personalities that could cross over into the mainstream, in a way Johnson never could. Nothing against Johnson, but when Carl is more “aw shucks” in public, well, that’s who he is. He’s naturally inquisitive. He’s naturally good-natured, most of the time. He’s not trying to pretend really, ever. I know a lot of people don’t believe that but I think now, especially at 32 with two kids, Carl has stopped caring what people think. And that personality may mesh more with the public.
Amy: I don’t know about that, Tom. Edwards’s personality is as carefully manufactured as Johnson’s, just from a different mold.
Mike: Wow, manufactured? And you wonder why people think the drivers are robotic. I don’t think Edwards or Stewart is manufactured and that is why they’ll both be great representatives. But with that being said, you’re never going to please all of the fans, and that is part of the beauty of our sport. I think either of them will be a great spokesperson for our sport and will pick up the torch that has been dropped by Johnson and run with it nicely.
Phil: If there is anything about Stewart that I know, it is that his personality is not manufactured.
Tom: Couldn’t agree more. Like I said, Stewart is spunkier, I just don’t know how much he crosses over into mainstream. In fact, here’s the difference. Stewart would be a better champion for hardcore NASCAR fans. I think if you polled the hardcore bunch, there’s more on Tony’s side than Carl’s. But for bringing new fans into the sport, getting them excited about it I think Carl will wind up the better fit.
Mike: That is probably true, Tom.
Amy: At least to me, Edwards comes across as very manufactured. The aw shucks is nice, but it doesn’t cover the temper behind it. Edwards has never come across to me as genuine. Ever.
Tom: You’re entitled to your opinion. I think neither one is a bad choice, though; it’s like comparing apples to oranges. And the great thing is, they’ve waged this battle with a genuine level of respect and admiration for each other. I think everyone appreciates that. You don’t have to be throwing punches to make things interesting.
Amy: Both have thrown their share, though Tom. Not at each other, but that’s what I’m talking about. Stewart makes no bones about it when he does it. Edwards comes off with “aw, shucks, I didn’t REALLY mean it.” That said, I like the contrast of characters they present. Last year, Denny Hamlin and Johnson weren’t different enough and neither one is the least bit controversial in general. I can see why that would be seen as boring by some.
Mike: Are you kidding? Hamlin is totally opposite of Johnson. He is extremely emotional, hardly ever cool and calculating, which is exactly how Johnson won five straight titles.
Amy: But neither one is particularly controversial, Mike. Other than Hamlin’s feeble attempt at trash talk, he wasn’t as engaging as either Edwards or Stewart. As for this battle, Stewart had Edwards pegged with the Eddie Haskell comment a couple years ago. The Cousin Carl persona is a good one for the sport, but I don’t know that it’s less vanilla than Johnson. Stewart, on the other hand, is certainly never vanilla, but he does rub some people the wrong way as well. Edwards is like two different people at times, Mike. One when the cameras are watching and one when they aren’t, or he forgets they are. I don’t think either one is bad for the sport and I think a different champion is GOOD for it. Johnson’s a hard act to follow, though. He’s completely genuine AND just that good.
Mike: I guess I need to pay more attention. When I’ve talked to Carl, with no cameras around, he’s been exactly like he is in front of the cameras – more so than any other driver I’ve talked to.
Amy: I’m including on the track in my assessment, Mike – because Edwards can be just as dirty on the track as Kyle Busch has gotten a rep for, and then act afterward like he’s just Mr. Nice Guy.
Mike: Yes, and he can also get out of the car and say “Yep, I wrecked him. I thought about how he would have treated me and I treated him the same.” I would never call Johnson completely genuine. I think there are many times that he’ll spew the corporate line and not give the honest answer if it won’t serve his purposes. I agree that Hamlin isn’t engaging, but he’s completely different from Johnson.
Amy: I didn’t mean in the corporate quotes, Mike. They all do that. I wasn’t speaking about how they face the media.

See also
Top 10 Other Ways for Edwards, Stewart to Decide Cup Title

Mike: See, I was. I think Carl is totally genuine in front of the media, probably more than any other driver in the garage outside of Regan Smith.
Amy: But is he as nice a guy as he tries to come across as? That’s what I mean by genuine. Not how he answers questions.
Mike: And I think he is. I know of people who are close friends of his who he helps with things away from the cameras without any fanfare. To the best of my knowledge, Jimmie doesn’t even help his own brother with his race team.
Amy: I think a driver who goes out and drives his butt off and wins is always a good champion for the sport. If that driver has a good personality and acts with class on and off the track, so much the better.
Mike: I think both of them will be great for the sport and have a great reign as the face of our sport for the year before Jimmie takes it back.
Amy: Stewart is definitely the more old-school type of driver. He’d be good for helping older fans to reconnect with the sport. Edwards and his Cousin Carl persona are a draw for the casual fan. Either way, it’s good for NASCAR. Johnson was good for NASCAR as well – because he was a class act all the way and whether you like the points system or not, I think this year put in perspective just how hard what he did is.
Mike: There is no question that what they did over the last five years is amazing and it will be quite sometime, if ever, before we see it again. I think Carl or Tony will both go a long way in bringing fans back to the races, assuming the racing is worth it.
Tom: Amy, Johnson is a hard act to follow but it’s not like he was attracting new fans to the sport. Edwards has the potential to do that. Heck, anyone else has the potential to do it. People are sick of Jimmie.
Amy: Right, Tom, that’s why I said a new winner was great for the sport. That doesn’t make Johnson a bad champion, though. Genuine person, funny as hell and just THAT good? Hard to argue he wasn’t a great champ.

A week after a driver was parked for deliberately wrecking another driver, NASCAR did not penalize an incident that, to many observers, looked intentional. Should the sanctioning body have penalized Brian Vickers for his contact with Matt Kenseth, or was it a totally different situation?

Tom: I think NASCAR should have penalized Brian Vickers. However, I don’t think they should have parked him. I don’t care if Matt Kenseth‘s brakes were failing. It’s the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” syndrome in my opinion … all Vickers has been doing is mouthing off about how Kenseth has it coming to him. And remember, as our Brody Jones astutely pointed out, Vickers still thinks Kenseth wrecked him back at Phoenix in the spring (even though he had hardly anything to do with it).
Mike: Heck yes they should have parked him. That was completely BS that they did not sit him for the rest of the race. The premise that Matt stopped on the back straight is fine and dandy, but his tires smoking for 300 yards before he was pile-driven into the outside wall was ludicrous.

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Amy: They should have sat him for a few laps. The rest of the race, maybe. Beyond that, no. I don’t like what he did. It was dirty. But it wasn’t as dirty as hooking the right rear, which any racer will tell you is the dirtiest move there is.
Mike: I don’t mind them not fining him, although technically they should, but his butt should have been in the garage for the rest of the day because there was nothing, other than the green flag, that was different between those two incidents. He drove Kenseth all of the way into the wall. Whether he took the short route or the long route, Vickers still did the same thing.
Amy: I think the green flag WAS the difference, though. NASCAR has made it clear that under green, anything goes. IS that right? No, I don’t think it is. Vickers should have been penalized during the race and fined afterward. But the green flag appears to be the deciding factor.
Phil: I’d like to think that Vickers had been warned about Kenseth’s braking issues beforehand. Heck, ESPN had shots of Kenseth pumping the brakes repeatedly to get any stopping power.
Mike: That is really idiotic if that is the reason he wasn’t parked. And if NASCAR wants to live by that rule, they’re going to get some people hurt.
Tom: Mike, there was plenty different between those two incidents. Busch and Ron Hornaday had no history. Vickers and Kenseth did. That’s one. Two, Kenseth and Vickers wrecked under green, both times. Three. Vickers turned Kenseth to the left, not right into the wall. Slight, ever so slight difference because any type of contact can lead to serious injury.
Mike: All the more reason that Vickers should have been parked and fined more. He had his shot at Martinsville and wrecked himself, so then he pile-drives Kenseth at Phoenix, a much faster track. He didn’t turn him at all. He drove him straight into the wall. He was square in the middle of his bumper and didn’t let off until he thought it would keep his own car from getting torn up.
Tom: Mike, here’s one more. Four. Remember, NASCAR officials did hear Kenseth say his brakes were out. It was well known he was having brake problems; so technically, you could say it was an accident.
Amy: I have no doubt that Vickers should have been penalized, but it also is not in the same league of dirty as the Texas incident.
Tom: All those mediating factors have me on a three-lap penalty, not a parking. But Brian, man! I don’t know where all this anger is coming from.
Amy: Lack of ride, perhaps, Tom?
Phil: In other words, complete desperation.
Amy: Vickers is fairly clean, most of the time. He’s had his not-so-clean moments, but he also doesn’t have the lengthy history that Busch did. Wrecking Junior and his own teammate to win at Talladega was less than cool, but he’s generally pretty smart. No idea what’s going on lately.
Tom: It’s more than that, Amy. I don’t ever remember him being this much of a wrecking ball. The frustration of a disappointing season must be extra high.
Mike: Kenseth was still driven, for several hundred yards, by Vickers flat on the gas glued to his back bumper. That was totally inexcusable, not to mention it was uncalled for because he had his chance to get him back at Martinsville and wrecked himself because he’s not a good driver.
Tom: When one of your best friends (Johnson) is mouthing off on you, you know things are a little off. Don’t forget dumping Stewart at Infineon.
Amy: I wouldn’t go that far, Mike. Vickers is certainly a good driver. And even Stewart said he had that one coming at Infineon.
Mike: Whether he had it coming or not, there is a history of Vickers doing it.
Amy: A history, where? Stewart dumped Vickers, on purpose, in the same race. HE even said he had it coming.
Mike: Vickers is average at best.
Amy: Average at this level is pretty damn good.
Mike: Well there’s a reason he doesn’t have a ride for next year.
Amy: Yeah, there are no rides for next year.
Tom: I don’t think the reason has to do with driver aggression. He just had a God-awful year at Red Bull and people treat this as a business. The business side says Vickers could be damaged goods. Let me make it clear I do NOT agree with that assessment. But let’s not beat around the bush. Until he wins, some people will think the blood clots haven’t left him the same driver.
Phil: To me, he seems like the same driver from before the clots. Vickers can’t do much about the constant upheaval at the Red Bull Racing Team.
Tom: Phil, I agree the health issues have nothing to do with it. Vickers had a lot of bad luck early on this year and never quite seemed to get over it. But lately, in the past two months he’s driven like a man possessed … in a bad way.
Mike: If he was that good, someone would make a ride for him. For God’s sake, Mark Martin has a ride next year.
Phil: In all honesty, if I had a Cup ride, bumping is one thing, but I’d want to stay out of this wrecking dudes, then the dude retaliates against you thing. Nothing good comes out of it.
Amy: Did he deserve a penalty? Yes. Somewhere between a couple laps and the rest of Sunday’s race. But to say what he did was equal to what happened in Texas is misinformed.

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Mike: Misinformed? I have eyes. I saw the smoke rolling off Kenseth’s front tires. That was the same thing. PERIOD.
Tom: Agreed, Amy. Two completely different incidents. But I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens at Homestead. I don’t think Kenseth cares about the difference between third and sixth … I could see him punting the No. 83.
Amy: Red Bull never publicized it, but dollars to donuts there was an equipment switch at TRB this year, with Kahne getting the better stuff.
Phil: I came to that conclusion as soon as they unveiled the paint schemes back in January, Amy.
Mike: Oh, now we’re going with the equipment thing. You are delusional if you think an organization has A and B equipment that they give drivers.
Amy: A and B, no. But some chassis just run better. Anyone knows that. And for years, the No. 83 ran way better than the No. 82/84/4. Suddenly that changed. Mike, I thought you were a racer … any racer will tell you that hooking a car in the right rear is the dirtiest move you can make, period. Head on into the wall is worse than a sideswipe, even a hard sideswipe.
Mike: Yeah, the guy behind the wheel changed. Yes, hooking in the right rear is worse, but picking up the car in the middle of the straight and driving it into the corner is EXACTLY the same thing, and that is what happened. Vickers should have been parked. PERIOD. The fact that NASCAR didn’t park him proves, once again, that they are inconsistent with their decisions and that line that can’t be crossed was apparently in the sand.
Amy: They should have parked him, but for that race only – and maybe not all of it.
Tom: Mike, a three-lap penalty would have done enough. You have to show Vickers that type of contact won’t give him a chance to have a good finish. But a parking, or any type of penalty beyond that is too much. Let’s not forget, Kenseth started the whole deal at Martinsville. Vickers may have been a wrecking ball, throughout the race but the 83/17 contact was all Kenseth. Vickers tried and failed to retaliate back then. Turned his car into a crumpled soda can instead.
Mike: They should have parked him for the race.
Phil: The thing is that the differences between the Busch-Hornaday and Vickers-Kenseth incidents were enough to not get Vickers parked. I would be in Bowles’s camp here. Maybe add in an extra two laps to penalize Frye for arguing like Sabates got those years ago at Charlotte.
Mike: Oh whatever, his car was junk. Parking him for three laps meant nothing. All this did was, once again, cloud the whole issue. But Vickers tried to retaliate and failed. That is it. You don’t get to keep trying and trying until you finally succeed. It doesn’t work that way. You tried and you failed so you missed your chance.
Amy: I agree, Mike, and NASCAR should have done something. But not multiple races.
Mike: Oh, I agree that it should have just been the rest of that race because they already set that precedent with Kyle.

Unless something drastic happens at Homestead, both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series will crown first-time champions for 2011. Has the one-series rule done its job to give these series their own identity?

Tom: I think the Truck Series always had an identity, regardless of what Cup drivers were competing. Over in Nationwide, it didn’t at the beginning. But now, in the final few races the tide is beginning to turn.
Mike: I don’t know about their own identity, but it did let them crown first-time champs.
Amy: It’s helped, but NASCAR doesn’t do enough to market them. I don’t know the CWTS numbers, but look at Bryan’s column. 81% of races still won by Cup drivers is not solving anything.
Tom: No Cup drivers will be running full-time in the Nationwide Series next year. You’re going to see the series regulars start to take over, but is it too late?

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Wypall 200 at Phoenix

Mike: It is too late if they’re not going to increase the purses and start racing at tracks where the Cup Series doesn’t. It is just a Band-Aid on an artery at this point.
Amy: Exactly, Mike. The series needs its own identity in more than just drivers, but in tracks as well.
Mike: If they really want to draw some attention to the series again, they need to separate them from the Cup Series and that starts with going to different tracks. Then they need to have more people in the series and that will only come if they start paying purses that are worth a darn.
Phil: Yeah. They might have to lower purses even more to do it, though. Especially if NASCAR’s not going to lower their sanctioning fees.
Mike: No need to lower purses. Instead, NASCAR needs to put some of their money into the sport instead of expecting the track owners to make it work. They need to drastically reduce or eliminate their sanctioning fees for a year or five and go to some tracks that they don’t race on now. In order to do that, they’re also going to need SAFER barriers and NASCAR should pick up the tab for those, too.
Amy: NASCAR needs to market these drivers as aggressively as they market Cup ones. All we see are championship commercials for Cup and the same old NNS ones. Are there even CWTS ads? I rarely, if ever, see any.
Phil: There is one where they show the Truck Series drivers with I guess determined stares. A couple of those drivers (Jeffrey Earnhardt, Johanna Long) didn’t even run the full season.
Mike: Yeah, that is the main one they run, Phil. I think there might be another that is just a generic Truck Series one with no drivers in it. I don’t remember for sure. Obviously, their marketing campaign has been very memorable.
Amy: Those series need aggressive marketing and a separate identity. I think Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon could help if anybody felt like they knew them the way they feel they know the Cup guys. Stenhouse is hilarious and very, very likable. He could be hugely popular if he wasn’t overshadowed everywhere he turns.
Mike: I think Ty Dillon could be a huge boost for the Trucks if NASCAR marketed him properly. We’ll have to see if they will.
Tom: It’s notable that for both series, the car count will drop next year – but neither series will die. You’re still going to have Eddie Sharp Racing take over Harvick’s teams; you’re going to have Germain still run at least one truck.
Mike: And RCR is going to have two or three trucks.
Tom: Right. The aforementioned Ty Dillon will take Austin’s place; there’s still plenty of good racing to look forward to over there. Nationwide is in far worse shape.
Mike: Not really. I think you’re going to have roughly the same number of full-time teams in Nationwide as you do in Trucks.
Tom: Not the case, Mike. What new teams are entering the Nationwide Series other than Danica Patrick? If anything, you’re losing teams with Roush. Roush will only have two. Sponsorship for Steve Wallace, Mike Wallace, several others are in question.
Phil: Patrick is driving for an existing team. The No. 3 is a new team, I think.
Amy: Roush will only have two, but they’re the two they should have had all along.
Mike: You just named six teams that will be full-time in Trucks. You’re going to have two RCR teams, two JR Motorsports teams, Joe Nemechek and probably Morgan Shepherd. Not to mention Jennifer Jo Cobb will probably run most of them again. So it will be about the same.
Phil: And Tri-Star. Don’t forget about them. They’re finally starting to get sponsorship on the No. 19.
Amy: Turner will still have what, two NNS cars? And RAB, who have been a very pleasant surprise.
Mike: So you’re going to have 7-10 full-time teams in each series. That is deplorable. And the only reason that is all you have is because it is too expensive to make almost no money.
Tom: I’m looking at team charts right now. I see only about 25-27 confirmed, full-time Nationwide teams that would go the distance. Looking at about a dozen start-and-parks to fill the field.
Phil: Ouch.
Mike: Wow, that is WAY more than I thought there would be. I’m impressed. The series is in far better shape than I thought it was.
Amy: That sounds about right. What a shame. I remember when the NNS races would have more cars show than the Cup races and so many were competitive rides.

See also
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Mike: Yeah, but there were lots of local guys who’d show up to try and do one-off races because they could make money. Now they make more money running a PASS event.
Tom: Looking like 23 confirmed full-time teams in the Truck Series.
Mike: So there you go. About the same ratio in both series.
Tom: So in some ways, it’s about the same. The Trucks only have 36 starters and there’s a lot more part-time teams who enter there with the intent of going the distance. Plus, you don’t have 10,000 Cup drivers trying to enter every race. Compared to Nationwide, where you still have 4-6 more each week trying to win the race and dilute the number of victory lane trophies going to other drivers.
Amy: I’d like to see NNS field drop to 36, actually, especially on the short tracks. It would only improve the final product.
Tom: I think Stenhouse is a good champion for the Nationwide Series because he’s likely to stay there next year. Will help give the series its own identity even more; and with Austin Dillon and Danica going full time, they’ve got some star power. NASCAR made these changes just in the nick of time.
Mike: The series are in trouble, but it is because they don’t run at enough short tracks and spend all of their time on the coattails of the Cup Series. If they would run them at local short tracks for half of their schedule, they’d have a HUGE resurgence.
Phil: The Nationwide Series has seen a little more focus on the series regulars, but Cup drivers still ‘whack often enough that it really hasn’t done anything. Edwards, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have still won nearly half the races by themselves.
Tom: Over in Trucks, they’ll still be OK. Love the fact Johnny Benson will be coming back; there’s still a nice mix of youngsters and veterans. But Hornaday, Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague need to find themselves some rides.

How about some Homestead predictions?

Amy: I think I’ll take Smoke for number five … and number three.
Mike: I’ll take Harvick at Homestead.
Phil: Brad K.’s my pick for Homestead. Just a hunch.
Tom: OK, Homestead. Ugh. I think it’s a toss-up, honestly. 50/50 tossup. I will go with Edwards to run second … to Johnson. I just have a feeling the No. 48 is going to go out with a bang. Stewart runs top five but the No. 99 takes the title.
Amy: The way the No. 48 team has been running, Tom, I wouldn’t be surprised … but probably not the kind of bang you had in mind. More like the bang of hitting something, or the engine detonating.
Mike: I think Stewart is going to win the title. I honestly think Carl’s luck is finally going to catch up to him and he’s going to have a bad race.

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

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Phil Allaway293511117
Mike Neff28-12921115
Amy Henderson28-1342819
Summer Dreyer14-1514155
Jeff Meyer11-1817158
Beth Lunkenheimer8-2115145
Tom Bowles4-256023
Brody Jones0-295002

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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