Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Franchise Talk, Victory Droughts & NASCAR’s Short-Track Future

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)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)

While Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak is one of the longest and most talked about in NASCAR, several drivers are in the midst of a drought. Among them: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Juan Montoya, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, and Martin Truex Jr. Which slumping driver is likely to break through to victory lane first and how soon?

Kevin: I’d go with Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards with the way Roush has been running this year. And in terms of how soon, I could see it happening very soon. Maybe even this weekend at Texas.
Phil: As far as Edwards is concerned, it doesn’t even feel like it’s been a year since he’s won. He’s always up there contending for a victory and just slides inside the top five instead. He’ll score one at some point.
Amy: Based on equipment and the organization as a whole, I think both Edwards and Biffle will win soon.
Phil: Well, judging by recent form, I’d say that the juniors have a slightly better chance. Martin Truex Jr., especially. He’s been knocking on the door since late last season.
Kevin: I would love to see Truex get there. Heck, it would be nice to see MWR in victory lane, period.
Amy: I still really like the way Truex is running, even if his stuff isn’t as good as Roush’s. Based on heart and hard work, I think he could be a visitor to victory lane very soon. Earnhardt is running well, but as a whole Hendrick Motorsports is not and I can see that bringing him down more than I can him elevating them.
Phil: Meanwhile, the Ganassi team has struggled quite a bit this season. I don’t see them winning before midseason, if at all. Maybe Juan Pablo Montoya can steal a win at Infineon. However, I think he’d prefer a win on an oval at this point; he’s still 0-for on those tracks since moving up to Cup in 2007.
Amy: I think Ganassi as an organization has a lot to work on before Montoya or Jamie McMurray become a threat to win. Crew chief changes could be coming if the finishes don’t improve; Montoya’s new one, Chris Heroy, is taking a lot of heat early on while “Bono” was lucky to stay with Jamie after last season’s nightmare performance.
Phil: Amy, you say that HMS isn’t running well … why? Is not winning 40% of the races struggling for them? They’ve still got two drivers inside the top 10 in points.
Amy: Not winning at all since Kansas is. Heck, Jimmie Johnson only winning two races last year was a poor showing by his standards. When two of the three top talents in the sport aren’t winning, it’s safe to call it a slump.
Phil: One of those teams will win within a month and you’ll probably forget that you said that.
Mike: I would think Earnhardt is looking about as ready as anyone. He was strong again at Martinsville and has had several strong runs this season.
Kevin: I agree. Hendrick may not be up to their usual standards, but I don’t see that lasting for too much longer. Of the group listed, again, I think we’ll see the Roush guys ending their winless streaks the quickest. Frankly, I’m surprised Edwards’s has even lasted this long.

After a terrible start, Rick Ware Racing is suspending its Cup operations and returning to the Nationwide Series for the forseeable future. Does RWR (or any other current NNS team) have a future in Cup or are independent teams stuck at a lower level for the foreseeable future?

Phil: RWR moving to Cup was a silly idea. Poynt wanted to go Cup racing when they really belonged in the Nationwide Series. Plus, MaxQ’s inventory was not the best. They had a lot of trouble making races last season.
Amy: Right. The team wasn’t ready. They aren’t even a competitive NNS team yet.
Mike: I don’t know of any team in NNS that really looks like they’re ready to run Cup at this point in time. It is a major jump and there aren’t any Nationwide teams dominating the series yet. I suppose Turner Motorsports might take a shot at it but I think they’d be better served waiting a few more years.
Amy: The only one who might have been viable was JR Motorsports.
Mike: Well they’re not exactly dominating the Nationwide Series these days either. If the No. 88 wins three or four races this season, then maybe they can talk about it.
Phil: Busch/Nationwide teams moving up have never really done well, even after winning in Nationwide. Anyone remember the AG Dillard team in the mid-1990s? That’s just one example of many failures.
Amy: I can’t see a lot of those teams even wanting to go Cup racing. It pays more, but it also costs more and none of them have the resources to be successful. There was a time when a small team could be viable in Cup, if not competitive, but those days are long over.
Phil: Right. Ideally, the goal would be to eventually move up to Sprint Cup from the Nationwide Series, but the difference in cost is so much that it’s no longer feasible.
Mike: I’m sure, eventually, Kyle Busch Motorsports will go Cup racing, but I imagine that will be several years off as well.
Amy: Yeah, I’d say at least a few years, unless Kurt Busch can’t find another top-tier ride. Then, I could possibly see the timetable moving up.
Phil: If they showed up in Nationwide this year and started dominating, I think you could have seen them in Cup by 2013 or 2014. Now, I don’t know.
Amy: Honestly, I sometimes wonder if both series went to franchising if it wouldn’t be beneficial.
Mike: I always hear people talk about franchising but I have no clue how that would work.
Amy: It would work like it does in any sport. NASCAR sells 43 franchises who race every week. It would allow for things like a spending cap.
Mike: I still don’t understand what that means. What would NASCAR control versus what the teams would control?
Amy: That would depend on a collective bargaining agreement, most likely.
Phil: Well, I think that there would be some kind of bond that each owner would put up at the beginning of each season for a salary cap. That’s what you can spend for the season. It’s a generalized nightmare just waiting to happen.
Mike: I’m with you Phil. It sounds like an enormous fiasco with people circumventing caps and coming up with methods of bypassing controls.
Amy: Maybe. There would be a lot to work out, but it may become necessary down the road if the current business model continues to flounder.
Phil: Makes me wonder what the NASCAR equivalent of a “Larry Bird Exemption” would be.
Mike: NASCAR screws up things enough now without running what the teams do on a daily basis. If they start meddling into what the day-to-day operations are for each of these organizations, we’ll really be on the path to glorified IROC. Can you imagine? Public knowledge of what drivers and crew members are making? That does not sound like a good idea to me.
Amy: I don’t see what difference it would make. I mean, we know a ballpark figure as it is. Would knowing exact numbers make a difference?
Mike: Really? When Dave Rogers finds out he makes half of what Darian Grubb makes, it won’t cause dissention within the team? (By the way, that is hypothetical.)
Phil: It could. However, Grubb has a championship-winning pedigree in Cup.
Amy: They have a choice, Mike: Stay and settle for less, try and negotiate a better deal, or leave
Mike: I just think it makes for fans being more turned off by the sport, people on teams being envious and before long, a union for crew members.
Amy: I don’t love the idea, but I do think it could be coming if teams don’t find a way to rein in costs on their own.
Phil: Some of them will find a way to rein in the costs, but others don’t really care.
Amy: Until there is some kind of cost control, you won’t see new, competitive Cup teams unless the owner is willing to spend millions out of pocket.
Mike: OK, this is Cup racing. You should have to spend millions to go racing. As for franchising and the cost of racing, welcome to capitalism. The sport has always had haves and have nots. At this point it, is more equal than it has ever been.
Amy: That only goes so far, Mike. As it is, because of the current model, finding full, competitive fields is next to impossible in Cup or NNS.
Phil: True. Depending on the week, any one of 20-plus teams could win with the right breaks. However, I’d argue that Cup is a little less competitive then it was 10 years ago.
Mike: When was the last time we had a full, competitive field?
Amy: Before start-and-park became a business model?
Phil: 2008 or so. We had 43 full-time teams, no S&P’ing in Cup that year.
Mike: That wasn’t the question. Full competitive field. In 2008, there were maybe 15 cars that could win. I don’t believe there has ever been a time when every car on the grid could win.
Amy: By competitive, I meant all cars competing to the finish, not necessarily for the win.
Mike: Oh, so you want 43 cars running to the end with 10 that can win rather than 30 cars running to the end when 20 of them can win.
Amy: Yes. For some, competitive might mean fighting for 30th, but it also means running all day to do that I remember in the late 1990s thinking that 20 cars had a shot and there were no start-and-parks
Mike: If you thought 20 cars had a shot in the late ’90s, you were delusional. Anyways, I would rather have 20-25 cars that could win rather than 10 that can win and a stirring battle for 30th.

In a recent poll conducted by NASCAR, over 70% of fans said that they enjoy the Nationwide Series more because NNS regulars are winning races and over 80% said they did not miss the Cup regulars in those races. Given those numbers, could this open the door for that series to return to more standalone events and if so, could they survive?

Mike: I don’t believe it will move to more standalone races because the purses would suffer if they were running at the smaller venues. Sadly, that is what it takes to keep the series full of teams.
Amy: I disagree with you. It could open up the schedule, but there are a couple of things that would need to happen. First, people would have to rethink what a successful crowd for those races is. It’s not going to be a Cup crowd, it just isn’t. Second, the sanctioning fees would need to come down so that the tracks could at least break even.
Phil: Could the series survive with more standalone events? Sure. However, NASCAR would need to do something to make sure that the smaller venues could afford to host the series, like Amy says. That is the problem.
Mike: Break even? Really? What businessman wants to bust his ass to break even? If the tracks can’t make money, they won’t do it. That’s why Martinsville doesn’t host a Nationwide race.
Amy: True, Mike, that’s why I said “at least.” Or there’s no incentive to try for more next time. The other issue here is if Nationwide comes to race at some of these local short tracks, they would need some help up front to install SAFER barriers. That’s a million-dollar project and it is (rightly) required.
Mike: I think all of the NASCAR sanctioned tracks should have SAFER barriers and that NASCAR should help all of them put them in place, but that is a whole other story.
Amy: Also, there is no reason the NNS teams need to be on the West Coast. They didn’t go west of the Mississippi until the 1990s and the series was at its best in those days without those venues.
Mike: I wouldn’t alienate the West Coast fans like that, but they could either work out a deal to have a West Coast swing where they ran three or four races in a two-week period. Or maybe you could have a Nationwide West Series.
Phil: They had 60 dudes attempting a lot of the Busch races in the mid-to-late 1990s on the East Coast, then had to get extra cars to S&P for Fontana and Las Vegas.
Amy: I think they need to do what it was like in the 1990s when the Winston West Series, while not quite equal, kind of took the place of NNS on the West Coast. Not split the series, just elevate and promote K&N West for those fans.
Phil: That wouldn’t be a bad idea. Plus it leads to coups for West Coast drivers, like the first West race at California Speedway airing on ABC in 1997.
Mike: I just don’t think it is fair to the West Coast fans. You’ve given them Nationwide for years and now you’re taking it away.
Amy: But if you had a better established series like the old Winston West, you’d have your own stars and have the same caliber of racing
Phil: Winston West had a number of regulars and less driver development in the past. When they did companion events with Cup, you knew who those dudes were and that they weren’t a bunch of 19-year-olds.
Amy: If you add Nationwide West, you deplete an already thin pool of decent teams too much by making them choose. You elevate and improve the series they already have so that it grows its own stars and you have the same result without splitting the NNS.
Mike: The K&N series should be the less established drivers with a Nationwide West series showcasing the more established West Coast drivers like Greg Pursley.
Amy: I don’t think K&N needs to be less established drivers. It should be a mix, like the old series and Busch North were. Let the kids learn from the vets and at the same time, you have the established stars who make a career there.
Mike: So why have a K&N East?
Amy: I’d like to see K&N go back to what it used to be in both Winston West and Busch North. It was never a broken system. It was changed because the Nationwide Series was the broken system. They were changed to development series because all the Cup guys running full-time NNS made development within that series impossible. When they were more their own entity and a mixture of development drivers (Truex Jr. came through Busch North for example) and veterans (Martin Truex Sr. was always a regional racer), it was often the best race on the card for the weekend.
Phil: Anyways, I’d love to see more Nationwide races at short tracks. We’ve mentioned in the past that Myrtle Beach would work well. South Boston could work, too, but most of the other venues would need significant capital improvements to make it work. I think a Nationwide race would need more than 10,000 people there no matter where it is.
Amy: I do think more standalone events for NNS would be great. Hopefully Rockingham will get one next year. Milwaukee would be one they could easily bring back.
Mike: I’d love to see more standalone events, but I just don’t think it will happen because NASCAR wants too much for a sanctioning fee and the purses can’t keep up when the stands aren’t able to handle enough people to make the purse that the teams need.

How about some predictions for Texas?

Amy: I’m going to go with a Biffle win.
Kevin: Matt Kenseth.
Mike: Tony Stewart. Phew, got that in before Phil stole him.
Phil: OK, then I’ll go with Earnhardt. It’s time, now. It’s going to happen.

Mirror Predictions 2012

Welcome to our sixth 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

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford145234
Mike Neff11-36134
Amy Henderson4-106024
Beth Lunkenheimer4-106012
Phil Allaway0-146002
Jeff Meyer0-141000

About the author

 | Website

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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via