Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: What to Take to Phoenix, NASCAR’s Weeknight Future & “Minor” Support

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 Editor)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Tearing Apart The Trucks & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)

The Sprint Cup teams head for Phoenix after a memorable Daytona Speedweeks. What lessons learned at Daytona will NASCAR, teams and fans need to pay attention to going forward with the 2012 season?

Mike: Jet dryers carry 200 gallons of fuel.
Amy: And jet fuel fires are hard to put out.
Mike: Speedways can patch a surface 8,472,985 times faster than the DOT.
Beth: Now that’s funny.
Phil: Well, let’s see. Teams need to be very careful with their injectors and fuel pumps. That stuff grounded quite a few teams.
Amy: Yeah, there were definitely some EFI issues that will need further attention.
Beth: I learned that anything truly can happen. I mean, consider Jimmie Johnson. He took home a whopping two points and after this penalty heads to Phoenix down 70 for the season. Not that I’m saying he’ll miss the Chase, but in the hole is not where you want to be trying to bring home another championship.
Amy: I don’t know that we got any clear indication from Daytona on any one team. Usually, you can at least look at some organizations and see what’s in store. I got zero sense of that.

See also
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Beth: I’m the same way, Amy. So many good teams were taken out so early, it was very hard to gauge who’s going to stand out.
Kevin: I think that after Daytona, fans need to keep an eye on Phoenix Racing this season and Phoenix Racing needs to keep an eye on their car count. What was that, three wrecked cars at Daytona by Kurt Busch? That can’t be a light hit for that team.
Mike: Three Cup cars and one Nationwide car. James Finch told Kurt to go for it and unfortunately he never even had the chance.
Amy: Meanwhile, I think NASCAR should look at the spoiler configuration at the plate tracks, but I bet they won’t. The racing this week (if you can call it that) was terrible across the board. Too many wrecks.
Mike: What’s to look at? Everything NASCAR set out to do they accomplished. They did away with tandem racing. They brought back pack racing. They tore up 85% of the field. That is what the fans wanted.
Amy: Did anyone else see the stat from the NNS and CWTS races … out of 79 race vehicles, over 60 were involved in wrecks. That’s not racing; that’s a demolition derby.
Mike N.: Sixty-five out of 79. Add in at least 30 from the Cup race and you’ve got nearly 100 damaged race cars in three races.
Amy: In one Nationwide wreck, out of 20 cars, 19 were NNS regulars.
Kevin: At least it’s keeping the fabricators busy, but that was ridiculous.
Beth: Consider how many of those trucks went out just in the green-white-checkered finishes. That was absolutely nuts! No wonder Kevin Harvick got out of owning a team. That carnage all weekend is going to add up big time.
Phil: Well, it’s a demolition derby when people lose their minds.
Amy: It was not fun to watch, that’s for sure.
Mike: I wouldn’t get that carried away, but it was expensive.
Beth: The drivers need to start holding each other accountable for their bonehead moves and maybe things would change.
Amy: I hated to see some guys with great cars get bitten by EFI issues, too.
Mike: We’ll probably see that happen for the first half of the season before this thing really gets hashed out. You can test EFI and simulate it to death, but actually racing it will really tell the tale.
Amy: And maybe someone more mechanically minded can explain this … why do they need restrictor plates with EFI? Can’t they just control the mixture with the computers to reduce HP?
Mike: You would think so. However, reducing the amount of air mixing with the fuel is still the easiest and cheapest way to do it. I don’t think they want to set the engines to cap at a certain rpm or something because that would keep the cars even closer together.
Phil: But most series that electronically limit rpms (V8 Supercars come to mind) do it at every track. It wouldn’t make the cars run any closer together than they do now.
Mike: Anyways, Phoenix is going to tell us a LOT more about what this season has in store vs. Daytona.
Amy: I don’t there’s a lot to take away from Daytona other than that we have three more weekends of carnage to look forward to and EFI needs some work.

See also
Who's Hot/Who's Not: 2012 Daytona 500 Edition

Kevin: Drivers just kept making poor choices, that’s all I can really say. Like getting up on others’ rear quarterpanels in corners – bad things kept coming from it, yet it kept happening anyway.
Phil: Restrictor-plate races are, by nature, wildcards. It’s like these guys (that aren’t in them) don’t watch the preliminary races anymore.
Kevin: By the Cup race, you would have thought there would have been far less carnage because of what they might have learned from the other races. Didn’t look like that was the case at all.
Amy: Kevin, I think a lot of that had to do with how the cars closed so fast. They’d blow up behind someone and not be able to back off without causing a chain reaction behind them.
Mike: It is surprising that drivers can’t seem to stop bumping each other on plate tracks. They didn’t used to do it much at all. Now they’re doing it all over the place. I think they might need to make the bumpers misalign again.
Amy: But there was a lot of bad driving going on, too.
Beth: At least Jeff Gordon handled his blow up very well. That would have been ugly if the signal hadn’t been given.
Mike: That reminds me: three more things we learned. Gordon is in the Hendrick R&D car for 2012, while Danica Patrick gets to park on pit road after the race even if she finishes 38th. And people need to focus on the cars and numbers so they can remember who is driving for whom this season.
Phil: Might be a bit difficult with the two BK Racing Toyotas. They’re almost identical, especially from behind.

Television ratings for the Daytona 500 were down slightly from 2011 after rain forced a 30-hour delay in start time, but the numbers were still higher than the 2010 Great American Race. Does this open the door for NASCAR to possibly hold a couple of midweek Cup races in the future?

Beth: I love the idea. There are definitely ways to make midweek races easier, and I think for many fans, it was fun watching this race live when they would have had to see it on their DVR because of work.
Mike: The door was always open but they didn’t want to commit to it. Now that they’ve seen it happen, it certainly will be enticing. If you check out Full Throttle in the Newsletter you’ll see my full take on it.
Amy: I think a couple of Wednesday nighters would be fun, especially in summer when there’s nothing on TV for competition.
Kevin: I hope so. Prior to the red flag, I was having a lot more fun watching the race than I think I might have had watching it on a Sunday afternoon. There’s just something about these big races under the lights.
Phil: Midweek Cup races don’t really work under the current schedule, though especially since they stupidly cut out an off week. You would have to have an off weekend either directly before or directly after it.

See also
Full Throttle: Unintended Primetime Test Could Open Up the Schedule

Mike: Sure they do, Phil. You have them run Dover on Sunday, Wall Speedway on Wednesday and Pocono on Sunday. You do it as a one-day show and you’re good to go.
Amy: That would be an issue, Mike, as turnaround would be a nightmare. It would have to be at a track in close proximity to Charlotte to make it work.
Beth: Or it could be a track in close proximity to the weekend races.
Mike: They preached to us that this new car can run on any track. They can make it happen easily.
Beth: What if, as an initial test they made them exhibition races that didn’t hurt a driver that chose not to participate?
Mike: I say suck it up. We can get the schedule back up to 40-45 races and some small tracks can get some dates.
Amy: Or make them choose one race that week for points. But I don’t think they should add to the number of races.
Mike: Suck it up and race. If you can’t take it, there are 10,000 guys out there who would love your seat. Give some fans who can’t afford a Cup race the chance to see one at a local short track.
Beth: Today’s NASCAR is a lot different than the series that used to run 40-45 races a season.
Mike: Yes it is, Beth. It would be easier now than it used to be because people fly all over the place instead of driving from track to track.
Amy: It’s not the drivers, Mike, it’s the crews. The cars are so specialized now, turnaround on a car isn’t that fast. You’d have to have three crews building race cars every week, and most teams can’t afford that.
Mike: The cars aren’t supposed to be that specialized. That is the line we were fed when they sold them to us.
Amy: The cars can’t be flown to the track, though.
Mike: No. But you take the same car you ran at Indy, change the A-arms and shocks and run it at Toledo. Force the teams to cut down on all of this specialized racecar crap and give the little guys a better chance.
Beth: Plus you have to consider all of the other work that goes on during the week. There’s so much to be done each week at the shop, so adding too many races will cause quite a few headaches. Not to mention there are also sponsor obligations … and oh, by the way, you need more money to go that route.
Amy: Teams start prepping a car for a race six weeks in advance or more, Mike. Every car gets tons and tons of time spent on it. It doesn’t matter how many tracks it can run on.

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Mike: It only does because that is the line of crap we’ve all bought into, which is making racing so expensive. If they forced the teams to use the same car and make the turnaround in two days without going back to the shop, it would make it far less expensive for the teams.
Amy: I still don’t think your plan would work, Mike. But would it be cool to take, say the race at Atlanta and run it on Wednesday instead of Sunday, then have a few extra days before Richmond? Yeah it would.
Mike: I’d rather see them run at South Boston, Toledo, Thompson and Perris.
Phil: I feel like having a Wednesday night race might hurt the gate at a lot of places.
Mike: Oh yeah, Phil. If they try and run a full blown Cup race on a weeknight, they’ll have 40,000 in the stands. That’s why they should look at the local short tracks.
Amy: Mike, that’s just unrealistic. Not gonna happen. But they could run a couple of current races on Wednesday night, and it would be kind of cool.
Phil: Also, NASCAR would have to substantially drop their sanctioning fees for smaller tracks to have even a realistic chance of being able to afford to host one.
Beth: You’re right, Phil. And that’s a huge roadblock I hadn’t even thought of. Plus, how many of these places are properly set up to handle a NASCAR race, given the safety requirements?
Mike: Well, no Current Cup track is going to do their race on a Wednesday because they won’t sell half of the tickets they currently do.
Kevin: Do you think they could do it not with the Cup Series, but with Nationwide or the Trucks? Maybe having some midweek races with Nationwide going to some of the smaller tracks around the country? Though the question then is whether or not a major network would show it, which is probably not.
Mike: They could, Kevin, but the idea was doing the Cup Series. Trucks run at Bristol on Wednesday now.
Amy: Trucks do run Wednesday at Bristol, remember. I like that, personally.
Beth: Look, I’m not against giving midweek short-track races a shot, but I’m also not sold that it’s realistic to expect it to happen anytime soon.

The Daytona 500 will be one that is long discussed in racing lore, but will Matt Kenseth’s win and the finish of the race even enter the discussion?

Kevin: I don’t think so, at least not the finish. After all that build-up, it was kind of a letdown.
Beth: Exactly. After the long wait, that wasn’t exactly the exciting finish I was hoping for. After John King pulled off that upset Friday night (Feb. 24) and James Buescher snuck through on Saturday afternoon, Kenseth’s finish could almost be looked at as a disappointment by comparison, especially since we waited so long for the race to start and then get restarted after the big fire.
Phil: It was anti-climatic.
Amy: You know, I feel bad for Matt Kenseth. This victory is impressive, but it’s getting overshadowed by many storylines.
Beth: Not that I’m trying to take anything away from Kenseth’s win. I mean, it is his second 500 victory in four years.

See also
Matt Kenseth Wins Oft-Delayed Season Opener at Daytona

Mike: Kenseth gets no credit for being a great plate racer. His first win was plagued by rain and the second by fire. I’m guessing he’ll win it again when the race is shortened by locusts.
Beth: But with so many other things to talk about coming out of the weekend, a Kenseth victory just doesn’t really top the list of headlines people will remember (unless they’re fans of his).
Amy: He ran a great race late, but he did also get lucky that Denny Hamlin couldn’t hang with Junior on the last restart.
Mike: I was confused about that, Amy. Hamlin seemed to be able to do a lot on his own and when that final green flew he looked like he lost power.
Amy: Had Hamlin been there, it would have allowed Junior to make a move sooner, and made a race of it. But he wasn’t, so … compared to recent plate finishes, this one was pretty much predetermined from the second the three of them broke away.
Beth: And sadly, one of the things that’s really being overlooked is that the Daytona 500 victory was the 300th for Roush Fenway Racing and that’s no small feat in this day of incredible competition.
Phil: Kenseth was all but unchallenged for the final 20-something laps of the race. That almost never happens these days.

See also
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud: 2012 Daytona 500 Race Recap

Kevin: I think it could be a race remembered if Roush Fenway continues to be dominant at the plate races this season. But, by itself, this Daytona 500 almost paled in comparison to the other races that weekend.
Mike: If that rain cell hadn’t broken up, we’d be talking about Dave Blaney winning and it would be a far more talked about event.
Amy: That’s true, Mike. A Blaney win would have generated a lot more talk.
Kevin: A Blaney win would have capped off an entire week of upset winners. Alone, it would have been big enough, but combined with King’s and Buescher’s, it would have been a weekend that I think would have gone down in history as one of the most unpredictable.
Mike: Well, I don’t know that the finish was any better. I also don’t think the race was any better. But we didn’t have tandems and we were able to see three big wrecks.
Phil: There were a lot less lead changes this year (25, after 88 last year).
Mike: Oh yeah, the lead change records are going to be safe for a while unless the drivers decide to play with that number.
Kevin: At first, I was excited to see the competition get back to pack racing, but after the racing Monday, I wonder if tandem racing was actually the better way to go. Too much carnage this year and the racing wasn’t really any better.

Both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series enjoyed ratings increases in Daytona. Can these series continue the trend throughout 2012 and what will it take to do that?

Beth: I’m not really surprised at the ratings increase for the Truck Series race since last season posted increases across the board, and the drivers did what they needed to to help keep those ratings headed upward. When they were all facing the right direction, the racing on the track rivaled that in the Cup race Monday night.
Amy: I think both series can build momentum, but for it to actually happen, NASCAR will need to put more of an effort into promoting them and into making them unique in the future.
Mike: I don’t know if the Trucks will keep their increases long term because their schedule still sucks ass and now there are even more long layoffs.
Beth: They’ve always needed to put more of an effort into promoting them, Amy. However, I’ve been pleased to see several commercials for both series throughout Speedweeks.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: John King Prevails in Wild NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona

Amy: The series still largely lack their own identity. One or two commercials starring their drivers won’t cut it.
Phil: Good on-track action will help a bit, too. But in Nationwide, ESPN seems to be staking themselves on substantial Danica pimping. Mark my words, that’s going to backfire.
Kevin: That’s a good point, Phil. Shoving Danica down viewers’ throats each and every week will probably get very old for the casual viewer.
Mike: The Nationwide Series will probably continue the upswing solely because Austin Dillon is driving the No. 3. Assuming he doesn’t get totally obliterated in the points standings.
Beth: Well, he started off alright, so we’ll see on that one.
Phil: Austin will do fine this year. He has a good team behind him and a “buttload” of talent.
Amy: I don’t think that’s enough to carry it long, though. The novelty Phil speaks of will wear off and that won’t be enough.
Mike: If he’s in the points race, it will get more people watching than watched last year. You cannot underestimate the power of the stylized three. As for Danica, if she can compete and stay in the top 10 in points, then it probably won’t backfire. If she’s 15-18th in points, people will tire of it.
Amy: Agreed. I think she’ll stay top 10 on equipment alone.
Mike: Oh, she has top-10 equipment, but that doesn’t keep drivers in the top 10 in Cup and it won’t do it in Nationwide. There has to be some talent and some chemistry with the crew chief.
Amy: In NNS, though, there aren’t many teams in the top tier, equipment-wise. In Cup there are 25.
Phil: Her stuff sells like hotcakes, but I don’t think her presence really drives Nationwide ratings as much as you’d think. Had an argument with an unnamed, behind-the-scenes guy from ESPN about this topic last fall. As for the Trucks, they were already on a ratings upswing from last year.
Beth: And that will continue, Phil. There are just so many stories to follow this season and King added yet another reason to pay attention.
Mike: I just can’t believe, the more I think about it, that they cut three more races off the Truck schedule. They should be adding races at short tracks. That and I hope they figure out how to get back to Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
Amy: I agree, Mike. I really hope Myrtle Beach can get a race next year.
Phil: Yes. That would be sweet. Myrtle Beach put on decent Busch races back in the ’90s.
Beth: I agree completely. And with 22 races on the schedule, there’s no reason to visit any track more than once.
Kevin: I’m really rooting for Andy and the Rock’s Truck race this year. I hope a good turnout will send a good message to the higher ups.
Amy: Have you spoken to anyone from Rockingham lately, Mike? How are ticket sales for that race?
Mike: I’ve spoken to a couple folks but I did not ask about ticket sales. I know Andy said it “looked good” at Daytona, but he always looks good.

See also
Truckin' Thursdays: Can the King Keep His Crown? & Other Daytona Lessons

Amy: I like Andy a lot. Nice guy, loves his track.
Phil: I’ve never seen him in person before. That dude is dedicated, though.
Mike: Andy loves racing.
Kevin: Cutting dates off the Truck schedule was and still is kind of ridiculous. It just seems like there’s so many tracks that series could be going to but aren’t. But do those tracks have the updated facilities NASCAR would want?
Phil: Most of them don’t, Kevin. The standards have definitely increased in recent years.
Mike: No Kevin, they have to put in SAFER barriers and NASCAR doesn’t help them. Apparently the lives of guys driving in the weekly series don’t mean as much as the guys in the national series.
Amy: Anyways, I’m hoping they fill enough seats at the Rock to get an NNS date next year, and by then maybe Myrtle Beach and Milwaukee can get their stuff together, too.
Kevin: Both series are off to a great start this year, but it’s going to be tough to keep it up for the Trucks with the long breaks in the schedule. Nationwide seems to have the better chance of maintaining solid ratings.
Beth: Momentum will definitely break, Phil, but there are so many storylines to keep an eye on, it should bring viewers back each week. Plus, it’ll be a lot easier for fans to know when the races are coming up with everything that goes on all over Twitter and Facebook.
Mike: The Trucks, as we get into about every other week on here, need to be having more races away from the Cup Series and on more short tracks. Sadly, that isn’t going to happen so they’ll need to have great racing. I think Ty Dillon is going to make a strong run, and a close points battle will do wonders for their ratings.
Beth: It’s funny you bring up Ty Dillon, Mike, because I have a feeling he’ll be a draw as long as he keeps racing like he did Friday night. After all, there is that curiosity in him about whether he can follow Austin’s lead and win that Rookie of the Year title.

Predictions for Phoenix?

Amy: After all that’s happened … Johnson. He’s come through in this situation before.
Beth: Well, Amy, I was going to go with Johnson, but you beat me to it.
Kevin: I have a good feeling about Hamlin this week. That team came out strong at Daytona and Hamlin almost always runs well there.
Phil: I’m going to go with Jeff Burton. I think he may be due.
Beth: I’m having such a hard time, because I’m completely convinced Jimmie’s going to win this weekend. But I guess I’ll go with Gordon to shake off the engine.
Mike: I was going to go with Tony Stewart but I’m pulling an audible at the last second and going with Kyle Busch.

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Mike Neff31011
Phil Allaway0-31000
Jeff Meyer0-31000
Beth Lunkenheimer0-31000
Amy Henderson-2-51000

About the author

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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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