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/Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Tearing Apart the Trucks & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
The season kicked off with a literal bang in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout. Only half of the 25-car field completed the race and only 10 cars finished on the lead lap. Did we learn anything from that race about what we can expect on Sunday and is NASCAR’s new rules package a good one or a dud?
Amy: We learned that a lot of good cars are going to get taken out in wrecks not of their doing.
Mike: We learned that the best drivers in the world forgot how to race at a plate track without pushing each other around. The new rules package is a good one if you don’t like tandem racing and like to see lots of equipment torn up. Not so good if you like to see everyone finish the race.
Phil: Well, we learned not to bump dudes on the left side of the rear bumper in the middle of the turns. But I thought the race was quite enthralling on Saturday.
Jeff: I believe it is GOOD! We are getting back to actual racing. It ain’t perfect, but as long as there are restrictor plates, it never will be. ‘Tona and ‘Dega will always be crapshoots.
Amy: Totally a dud. The Shootout was terrible and even though it was an exhibition race, I think we are going to see way more cars involved in wrecks.
Phil: We had a buttload of dudes in wrecks last year. What’s the difference?
Beth: And the two-car tandem isn’t even completely dead.
Amy: No, but the plate races last year were SO much better than that POS race.
Jeff: But Amy, now at least the trophy can be awarded to one guy, not two.
Mike: I don’t think I’d call the Shootout terrible. The finish was about a foot at the finish line with a car that nearly wrecked twice during the race taking the big check.
Beth: I actually thought it was a great race (minus the destroyed equipment and scary ride Jeff Gordon took). And the fact that Kyle Busch managed to win the race, after being as good as wrecked more than once is talent.
Mike: Kyle’s saves were unfreaking believable. I don’t see how anyone can question his talent after those.
Jeff: I’m with you, Mike. I still personally don’t like any Busch (‘cept the beer and my girlfriend Lisa Busch … and not necessarily in that order) but his talent is undeniable.
Amy: Kyle’s saves were the only part I actually liked. The multi-car wrecks made it terrible. With the tandems, wrecks were typically 2-4 cars, max.
Jeff: A wreck is a wreck. And a race is, by definition, an individual thing – with tandem racing, it was not. Might as well have had them chained together.
Mike: I actually enjoyed the tandems, but I like the pack racing better because a driver’s fate is in their own hands rather than being at the hands of someone else and their spotter.
Phil: Remember, there was a huge crash early in the Daytona 500 last year. And 16 yellows. We won’t have that many this year.
Amy: I wonder if all the fans who whined about the tandems will still love the packs when Junior gets taken out again?
Jeff: Look, the drivers always said they hated the tandem crap. Now they say they are liking this a lot better. Who are we to second guess what a race should be to a racer?
Beth: Good point, Jeff. If the drivers enjoy it, then it’s a success.
Amy: In the packs, they’re going to just ride around all day. At least in the tandems, they moved around a lot and could get away from trouble somewhat. The closing rate with this spoiler is scary. But I’m guessing a lot of the fans who hated the tandems are the same ones who love the big wrecks, so I guess they’ll go home happy.
Mike: I am a little worried that we’re going to have more cars rolling over again. We’ll have to wait and see, I suppose. Also, was it me or were there a lot more sparks on Saturday night (Feb. 18) than normal? It seemed like, especially when a car hit the apron, that the shower of sparks was much greater than in the past.
Phil: That was mainly from Busch’s car. Otherwise, not really.
Beth: There was plenty of jockeying around and what was pretty impressive is how the cars managed to pull back together even when something spread them out a bit.
Phil: My best guess is that the race is going to be nutty on Sunday. The Duels will be good as well. They were kinda dull last year.
Mike: I guess we’ll see. I think there’s going to be a lot of jockeying because people are still going to be trying to figure out what it is going to take to get to the front from the back.
Beth: And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the strategy of staying in the back until late to avoid some of those Big Ones.
Amy: Only half the field finished on Saturday. i expect similar Sunday, just with some more cars limping around for points.
Phil: It’s going to be an interesting race. Amy is overreacting. There won’t be that much wrecking on Sunday. In fact, they’ll be more dudes on track at the finish Sunday than last year.
Jeff: Remember, the tandem thing was by accident and NASCAR tried their best to stop it from the get go. How can you say it’s in the drivers’ hands when one person screws up and a dozen or more good cars are taken out as a result? Not saying you have to like pack racing, just that it always has been part of it and we know that.
Mike: Because a driver can choose where they go and what line they get in. With the tandems, they didn’t have that choice. They had to follow their partner.
By the time the 2012 season was three days old, two teams had already been found in violation of NASCAR’s rulebook: The No 48 with a C-post that NASCAR didn’t like in opening technical inspection and the No 15 with a car too low after qualifying. NASCAR has said that they will assess any penalties on the No. 48 after the Daytona 500 and that other than throwing out Clint Bowyer’s qualifying speed, no further penalty is expected for the No. 15. Were these the right calls or did NASCAR start the season off on the wrong foot?
Jeff: Its the right call for now.
Phil: Well, we’ll see. Jimmie Johnson‘s infraction is said to be quite blatant. They didn’t even measure because it was so far out of whack.
Amy: It passed inspection what, 20 times last year, Phil. I’m not sure it’s the right call when a car that actually competed illegally gets off lighter than one that never even got on the track.
Mike: I think the Clint Bowyer call was exactly right. I think the No. 48 stuff is stupid, just like I did when they got called for it at Infineon years ago. If the templates touch where they are supposed to touch, the car is legal. “It doesn’t look right” is a load of crap for a technical violation.
Jeff: But it has been changed, fixed whatever, way before the race, so I say what they have done is enough.
Phil: My guess is that NASCAR is under the assumption that the C-post violation is bigger than the shock.
Amy: Does anyone remember what opening tech used to look like at Daytona? Tables of confiscated parts with no penalties issued
Mike: Yes I do, Amy. It used to be that way all of the time at all of the tracks. Then they started issuing penalties, which I’ve always said was stupid. You present the car for pre-qualifyihg inspection to see if you’re legal. If you aren’t legal, they should tell you and let you fix it. Not fine you.
Amy: I agree with Mike. Especially when that car has been raced four times and torn down at R&D twice and not found in violation of anything. And the really stupid part about the Infineon penalty, Mike, was that 17 cars failed template in opening tech the following week. NONE of them were penalized.
Phil: They’ve always issued penalties for illegal parts. Although, I think almost all of those fines were for things caught during races.
Amy: If something illegal is found after a race or after qualifying, there SHOULD be a huge penalty.
Phil: That’s the thing. It got torn down. Perhaps it wasn’t rebuilt the right way.
Mike: Post-qualifying and post-race inspection I don’t have a problem with. But pre-qualifying inspection should be the equivalent of taking it for initial approval. I think it is ridiculous that you build a car that fits the templates that they tell you it has to fit and then they say you’re illegal because it looks wrong.
Amy: Mike is right on. Either that or every single car that fails template in any way should be penalized equally.
Beth: The thing is that NASCAR will never please everyone with their decisions.
Amy: And again, this is the same 48 car that ran all four plate races last year with the same C-post. There was no rules change to the C-post in the offseason.
Mike: I just don’t get how you come to the track and say “OK, is this legal to race?” and they say “No, We’re taking your parts, your crew chief is suspended, your owner is fined points and dough, your driver is fined points and dough. Now, go fix it and then we’ll look at it again.”
Amy: I do have an issue with NASCAR taking points when none were earned. If you race illegal, it should be a points fine, but points aren’t given in qualifying or practice and violations there should not result in taking points.
Phil: They can do anything they want. Everyone knows that.
Amy: I do have an issue with the qualifying being tossed and a car still being guaranteed a starting spot.
Beth: Well, that’s part of the Top-35 rule that we all know isn’t going away anytime soon.
Mike: I agree with that, Amy. If you fail post-qualifying inspection, you should be tossed.
Amy: If you’re a go-or-go-homer, you don’t stay for Sunday. Why is it worse when they cheat than a Top 35? That’s possibly the most unfair rule of all.
Mike: Let’s have them tech the cars every 25 laps and see who survives to the end of the races.
Amy: Seriously, NASCAR needs to have a better system for dealing with infractions and they need to deal with all infractions the same way. I wonder if any other cars had parts confiscated in opening tech? And, if so, why aren’t they facing penalties as well? It should be all or none, and if you cheat in qualifying, you shouldn’t get the automatic start even if you’re the points leader and it’s at Homestead.
Mike: I still think, if the car fits the templates, it is legal. This “it doesn’t look right” crap is for the birds.
When PGA star Bubba Watson was named grand Marshal for the upcoming Phoenix race, Watson was told by PIR officials he could drive his newly purchased General Lee on the pace laps. NASCAR nixed the idea, citing the Confederate flag on the roof of the car and the negative image it presents. Was the sanctioning body correct in banning what some perceive as a symbol of racism or did they cross the line of political correctness?
Mike: Oh, good grief. I know I’m going to get roasted for this but come on people. The General Lee is one of the most iconic cars in history. Whether it has the flag or not, it should be allowed.
Phil: Their move is incredibly PC, granted that this race is in Arizona. NASCAR will do anything in their power to never even reference the rebel flag.
Amy: I agree, Phil, but I think this one went a bit too far. I don’t think people look at the General Lee and immediately think of racism.
Mike: It is funny that a sport that used to have the Rebel 500 is now banning the Confederate flag.
Phil: I’ll agree with you on that, Mike. I’m not a big fan of the rebel flag, but the Dukes were not bad people.
Amy: And if that’s going to be banned, they need to ban the rebel flag at all ISC tracks, including the camping areas. How do you think that one would go over?
Phil: Oh boy, banning fans from flying it on their campers would go over like a stale fart. Then, after the fart, anger would erupt.
Beth: NASCAR will go out of their way to be politically correct, even if it means alienating the more long-term fans.
Amy: Here’s the thing. I don’t think the General Lee is or ever was meant to be a racist symbol. I do think that a lot of people do fly it as a symbol of racism and while that makes them jerks, even jerks have First Amendment rights.
Mike N.: I guarantee it wasn’t Amy. In the ’70s the Confederate flag was a symbol of the South. It wasn’t racist, it was about Southern heritage. But, in our modern, judicious society, you can’t display it anymore because it is offensive to some. I wonder if they’d do the same thing if there was a cross on the roof and people complained that they were offended by that?
Jeff: Before I cuss and offend Amy’s family, I will bite my tongue and just say that Brian France is an idiot and the negative press this type of thing generates will only hurt NASCAR in the long run. I proudly wear confederate do-rags all the time! It’s not a racist thing.
Mike: I have a Confederate flag decal on my truck bumper of my older, work truck. It isn’t a racist thing. It’s a Southern thing.
Amy: A symbol of Southern heritage in which extreme racism was a way of life. You can’t separate the two completely. But the Constitution of the United States, of which the South is still a part, guarantees them the right to express pride in that heritage, whether anyone likes it or not.
Mike: Like I said, I’d really like to see what they’d do if someone had a cross on a car and the ACLU came in complaining about it.
Phil: Well, we already have drivers with crosses on their cars. I guess they haven’t noticed yet. I doubt they’d care at this point.
Mike: Not one that is the entire roof of the car.
Jeff: Racing with Jesus?
Amy: Again, the crosses represent a personal statement … freedom of speech. IF they made a rule saying EVERYBODY had to have one or that nobody could, they would be infringing on that right.
Phil: I don’t think anyone has any problem with what Morgan Shepherd‘s doing. Except (possibly) for sponsors.
Amy: And here’s the other thing. If NASCAR is suddenly so against racism, why don’t they acknowledge how badly they treated Wendell Scott and offer a public apology?
Phil: The general opinion is that NASCAR doesn’t want to believe they’re wrong about anything.
Amy: That would be making the right move. Not banning the General Lee.
Phil: By the way, are you referring to the shenanigans in Jacksonville back in 1963, or just period?
Mike: Yeah Phil, but you have to stop. If Jesus gave him unlimited fuel in his tank it would be helpful. He could start up front every caution period.
Beth: NASCAR’s decision is a simple attempt at being politically correct about something that’s not so awful after all. And it truly stands out as something that the tracks and the sanctioning body need to be on the same page about BEFORE a decision is made. We wouldn’t even be talking about this if PIR and NASCAR had been on the same page in the beginning because it never would have been news.
Mike: I personally think NASCAR is being ridiculous about this whole thing. Unfortunately, they own the track and they’re constantly worried about public image, so we’ll have to deal with it. I’d like to see an SMI track invite Bubba to drive his little orange car around before one of their races.
Jeff: NASCAR needs to worry more about running their own business and less about what offends people.
Beth: Agreed completely, Jeff.
Phil: You’re right, Mike. Someone’s going to jump on this and Bubba’s General Lee will get its time in the sun. Maybe that’s something up Eddie Gossage’s alley?
Both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series kick off their seasons in Daytona this weekend. There were lots of changes in both series in recent months. Which development will have the biggest impact on each series and why?
Beth: Aside from the absence of Busch in the Truck Series, there are so many things to watch this season. I mean, you’ve got a pretty good rookie race shaping up. From Dakoda Armstrong in a ThorSport truck, to Max Gresham with a four-time champion as his teammate, to Ty Dillon, who has had some pretty impressive numbers in ARCA and the couple of starts he’s already made.
Mike: I don’t know that there will be much of a change in either series, in the grand scheme of things. The Cup guys are still going to run, just not full time. The Trucks are going to be hurting for full-time teams. The Nationwide Series is going to be looking at the same teams up front.
Beth: Actually, there’s around 30 teams planning for a full season in trucks at this point. Not bad considering how the fields have been the last few years.
Amy: I think the bigger deal is the loss of several high-profile teams from both series.
Jeff: The thing that has hurt these series more than anything these last few years is the closing of smaller tracks like St Louis, Nashville, ORP, Milwaukee Memphis, etc.
Amy: I agree, Jeff.
Jeff: Iowa was about the only bright spot.
Phil: Iowa is just about the only standalone place left that packs their stands.
Mike: You’re right, Jeff. We now have more companion events than ever, which means more Cup guys running in the series. Just not full time.
Amy: I think the return of racing to the Rock is a huge deal … and if fans ever want NASCAR to listen to anything they say again, they had better come out in droves.
Mike: They will this year and next year. 2014 will be the year that will make or break that decision.
Beth: Rockingham is huge for the Truck Series. I just hope it lives up to the hype.
Phil: Here’s something no one’s mentioned about Rockingham; that area is getting an Interstate built through it. Access will become easier as time goes on.
Beth: And the fans support the move because if they don’t, it won’t be long before they don’t go there anymore. I’m also not thrilled about losing three more Truck races. As if the season wasn’t full of enough long breaks already.
Amy: Right, Beth, and if that happens, don’t expect NASCAR to listen to fans again when they complain about the racing.
Beth: It’ll be interesting to see how well Miguel Paludo and Nelson Piquet Jr. can work together on the same team.
Amy: On a positive note, there is sponsorship trickling in to these series, and not just for the Cup guys. That’s a very good sign. It’s not enough, but at least it’s something.
Mike: Yeah, Turner can build some pretty fast vehicles. Hoping they are able to fund all of their teams.
Phil: I think they’ll do well. Got a good group behind them. They’re both going into their second full season in the series. Working with other Brazilian drivers is something Piquet is on record as saying that he wants to do. What’s not to like?
Beth: And while I’m still not happy about how he ended up there, I’m thrilled at the thought of David Reutimann returning to the Truck Series. I mean, in his last full-time season, he only finished outside the top 10 in six races. It’ll be interesting to see where he stands come August or so.
Mike: I’m just glad Reutimann has a job. I’ve never been a big fan of his driving ability, but he was totally hosed by MWR.
Beth: I know Daytona typically attracts a lot of teams, but it’s refreshing to see 44 drivers on the entry list right now.
Phil: True. I’m more surprised with the 50 on the Nationwide entry list. I was having trouble coming up with a full field.
Mike: We’ll see how many show up at the next race.
Beth: And how about Ward and Jeb Burton planning to share a ride? That’s going to be fun to see this season (Ward’s driving Daytona).
Mike: Daytona is a different animal.
Beth: That was my point, Mike. I know Daytona does attract a lot more than usual and we’ll get a better idea in a few weeks. But it’s encouraging just the same for a series that hasn’t filled a field for every race in a season for a while.
Phil: For the trucks, its a month before race two. Stuff can happen between now and then.
Beth: And plenty can happen to give guys like Todd Bodine and Mike Skinner the funding to continue.
Mike: Jeb has done some pretty good driving in late models. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in a truck.
Beth: With so many things to look forward to in the Truck Series, I’m excited for Friday night. I just wish NASCAR wouldn’t have trimmed even MORE races off of the schedule.
Phil: The Trucks are definitely going to be the more interesting series in 2012. You got plenty of guys who have the potential to win (Jason Leffler, Parker Kligerman, Ron Hornaday, Matt Crafton, Dillon, Johnny Sauter, Piquet, etc.). Random note: I think RCR got points from Shepherd to lock Austin Dillon into Saturday’s race.
Mike: I look forward to all racing and I wish there were more races for every series. I’m still holding out hope that they figure out a way to get back to Lucas Oil Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
Beth: I certainly hope so, Mike. That one really hurt.
Mike: Yeah. And the folks at NASCAR claim they’re trying to get it worked out to go back.
Phil: Are they really going to get that many more people at IMS for the 250-mile Nationwide race than they would have if they left the race on the short track?
Mike: Hell no. I will be very surprised if they get 10,000-plus people there. It is going to look like the post-split IRL days.
Predictions for Sunday?
Amy: I think I’m going to go with AJ Allmendinger, grabbing one his first time out for Roger Penske.
Jeff: Marcos Ambrose.
Beth: Well, after that bit of driving I saw from Busch Saturday night, I’m going with him for the 500 as well.
Phil: I’m going to go with Tony Stewart. He’s strong once again. Never count him out … unless he blows an engine on lap 2 like he did in 2002.
Beth: How about the biggest surprise in the top 10? Anyone that stands out to you? I expect Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can finish well if he takes care of his equipment all day. But I suppose now that he’s a Nationwide champion, it’s not all that surprising, huh?
Mike: I think Ambrose will be a surprise, again assuming he finishes. Paul Menard will be in the top 10 at the end but that really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
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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