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 “(Editor-In-Chief / Mondays / Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays / Did You Notice?)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/359/
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Mike Neff “(Wednsdays / Full Throttle-Frontstretch Newsletter / Short Track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/
Kevin Rutherford (Wednesday Commentary Writer)
*In the past four years, since the tire debacle of 2008 NASCAR attendance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has dropped by almost 50 percent. What does the sport, or the track need to do in order to bring back prestige and popularity to what was the second-biggest race?*
Phil: I think that godawfulness from 2008 is still playing a role, along with a bunch of other factors. Indianapolis is also the toughest track to pass at in NASCAR.
Tom: I think the biggest problem has been the changeover to the Car of Tomorrow. This particular chassis just has never adapted to Indy; I mean, passing is almost impossible.
Kevin: Seems like it just needs to be a better car, maybe better tire. This wasn’t as much of a problem just a few years ago.
Beth: I wouldn’t blame the tire debacle completely. In fact, I’m more convinced that you’re right about the Car of Tomorrow, Tom.
Tom: Yeah Kevin, I completely agree. I think the tire debacle was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but if they had come back in 2009 with a strong performance the fans would have considered coming back. Instead, the last few races here have been, well… bleh, to say the least. The new car of 2013, you would hope would help things. But they’ve got to find a package and a tire that works; otherwise, they need to forget it. This race is becoming a single-file parade.
Phil: I think they’re still gunshy tire-wise because of the 2008 travesty.
Tom: Which is sad, because before that, not every race was as bad as they’re making it out to be. I remember a few Indy events that were pretty dramatic. Tony Stewart’s first win here comes to mind. Kevin Harvick’s victory here. And the first one in 1994, obviously.
Beth: Well, we have to consider that even a half full Brickyard, like what we had this year puts 125,000 butts in the seats. Not too shabby, if you ask me.
Phil: Yes, but perception is still important. And with 125,000 people there, it looks like Ghost Town U.S.A.
Tom: The reason that number’s so concerning, though is how far that’s dropped off. The year of the tire debacle, in 2008 they had 240,000… if you’re losing fans that quickly, it’s a big problem.
Phil: For the Nationwide Series, it was even worse. It looked like Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday.
Tom: Phil, I couldn’t agree more. I was talking with someone in the sport the other day, and he made a great point about the Nationwide side of things… where it really looked like a ghost town. He basically said, “Yeah, technically there was a few thousand more people at IMS compared to IRP but which scenario would you like better… all those people packed like sardines into the short track or spread out over 2.5 miles at Indianapolis?”
Beth: Of course. Those numbers are still concerning and until the drivers can once again pass, you’re will continue to see the declining attendance.
Kevin: Nationwide was just sad, and the race itself was even less spectacular. Just can’t figure how it’s better to have the race there.
Phil: I thought the Nationwide race on Saturday was actually better than the Cup race, Marty Reid’s complete brain fade excluded.
Kevin: It was better, but I still don’t think that’s saying a whole lot.
Phil: It’s just tough to pass at Indianapolis. I suppose it’s always been that way, regardless of what you’re driving. This year’s Indianapolis 500 was the exception to that rule.
Tom: Do you guys think they should shorten the race length? Will that make a difference? I brought it up, but I’m not sure that it will. The problem here is completely aerodynamic in nature, and if NASCAR really values this one as the second-biggest race on the schedule, they really need to put some time and effort into fixing it.
Beth: I don’t know that it would really make that much of a difference. 250 miles vs 400 miles won’t make a difference if the drivers still can’t pass.
Phil: Shortening the race. Heck no. This race is fine at 400 miles. I don’t want it any shorter. But, we have a one-groove track where the groove is somehow getting smaller over time. That doesn’t make sense.
Kevin: Yeah, and I can’t even see them shortening it anyway, if only to preserve the prestige of the race’s name (though I guess they sorta threw that out of the window with this year’s race name).
Phil: That’s the longest race name I’ve ever seen. Its ridiculous. No wonder ESPN scrapped it in favor of their own race name.
Tom: The sad thing is all that sponsorship is probably what’s keeping NASCAR from attempting major change here. As long as the money keeps flowing in… where’s the sense of urgency? I just think no amount of fan gimmicks, from free tickets to cheap concessions replaces the beauty of pure competition. And if NASCAR can’t make racing at Indy worthwhile to some small degree… this race will be in serious jeopardy within the next three years. 2012 ratings, as it is were down 17 percent.
Phil: Crown Royal was the only major sponsor at IMS this weekend. Everything else at the big track (Rolex Series, CTSCC, Nationwide) didn’t have one.
Kevin: This event seems to be just another case of a race ruined with the type of car package they’re running right now… seems like we have this conversation every few weeks. Just sucks that it’s a place like Indy in this case.
Beth: On a side note, I’d really like to see a Grand-Am race at that track when it’s dry.
Phil: That race was looney tunes on Friday. Still haven’t watched all of it, but I haven’t seen a Grand-Am race that wild in years.
Tom: It’s definitely showing some promise. A lot of people have actually said stock cars should race the road course. How about this one as an alternate plan? Indy, as a road course in the Chase? There’s no better way to make it relevant… and the road course would challenge teams and make it worth building those extra cars for more than just “regular season” races under this system. A thought…
Phil: Indy’s road course doesn’t have a great track record either. But, I’m willing to give that a chance. Problem is, I don’t think anyone would go.
Beth: I’m all for seeing Cup run the Indy road course. They’d really need to work at it to succeed, though.
Tom: Why do you guys say that?
Phil: Well, a lot of people would believe that NASCAR, even though they don’t have all that much history at IMS, belongs on the oval. Remember, we’re talking about a series that road races twice a year.
Beth: And the idea of more road courses has been brought up numerous times. I think it might bring a little excitement to a rather ho-hum track (history aside, of course).
*55 points now separate tenth-place Clint Bowyer from Kyle Busch with 11 races left. Are the top 10 in points now who we’re going to see at the Richmond season finale? If so, how does it change things for the other drivers fighting for a spot?*
Tom: Honestly, this Chase field (as far as the top 10 goes) seems the most set to me in several years, if not the most ironclad field ever as far as points go. I’d be shocked if anyone drops out; only in 2007, when it was a lame duck Dale Earnhardt, Jr. chasing the final spot have the postseason hopefuls looked this secure.
Phil: They won’t finish in the current order, but all are pretty much OK. Unless Bowyer collapses, I can’t see Kahne getting by.
Tom: I don’t see Kahne, Edwards, _or_ Kyle Busch getting by even if one catches fire. You’ve got to have someone have two DNFs… and the other guys would have to have six top-5 finishes.
Kevin: I can’t really see the top 10 changing. It’s just gonna come down to who gets the wild card spots, really which means you’re going to see the guys on the outside going for wins more than ever before.
Tom: Don’t you think Jeff Gordon is looking at some of that early-season luck and wondering what might have been? If the No. 24 had one less DNF on their resume, I’d say he had an outside shot. It would not surprise me if they ended Richmond in September 11th in points.
Beth: I’d be surprised if the top 10 drivers don’t remain that way (even if they rearrange among themselves). I’d say we’re pretty much set barring a _major_ disaster from someone inside the top 10 — several consecutive sub top-20 finishes — and that’s not likely to happen. With that said, you’re likely to see much more aggressive moves on the part of those drivers from 11th through 20th in an effort to visit Victory Lane.
Phil: Gordon could be 11th by Michigan. He’s only 24 points behind Kahne. But I don’t really know if any of the guys going for the Wild Card could win between now and Richmond. Wouldn’t be surprised if Kahne got a 3rd win, but no one else breaks through.
Beth: I’d argue Jeff Gordon would likely have something to say about that, Phil. After all, he’s got a pretty impressive resume and has been the victim of some terrible luck this year.
Phil: I think Gordon could get one. Just one. Of course, that would mean that he would have to leapfrog over Kyle Busch and Newman in the points.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s what makes this wild card race so interesting to me — that it’s possible that one win could still get you in. Makes it a little more wide open than if someone had to rattle off two or three wins to have a shot.
Tom: I agree, Kevin. I don’t think Kyle Busch has an overwhelming lead by any means. Everyone says Gordon has to win two, and I once though you did… but I’m backing down. Now, I’d argue he could win just one, keep running inside the top 5 and be fine. This year, more than any other might be the one Hendrick gets all four drivers in. Add Tony Stewart, and they’d basically have five out of the top-12 drivers. And that would also mean no Kyle Busch… and no Carl Edwards. Who would have ever guessed that?
Beth: I don’t care what he says — Carl Edwards truly has become the victim of the runner-up hangover.
Kevin: I’m honestly amazed that Carl Edwards isn’t in and doesn’t seem like he’ll be a factor at all. But yeah, runner-up blues, I guess.
Tom: Well the engine problems this Sunday, to me were just the icing on the cake. You never even got to see how Chad Norris would react on top of the pit box. I still think Edwards has a shot though… not a good shot, but a shot. Pocono is one of his best tracks, and Michigan is one of Roush’s. Plus, in the Richmond regular season finale, the No. 99 could have easily won there in the Spring. So that’s three good chances for them to cash in. It’s not inconceivable. But Carl’s going to have to take a leadership role, to make it happen and I think he’s doing that. Listening to him on the radio Sunday… some took his reactions to the problems as criticizing the team. I didn’t see it that way. I think he was trying to lead from the cockpit. Sometimes, that can be a bad thing but in this case I think it’s necessary in order for this team to remain a contender.
*Goodyear will run a new tire compound this month at Michigan International Speedway that is a combination of the tires used in the April test as well as a softer version of what ran on the 2-mile oval in June. After the blistering that plagued some of the teams through practice in June, did Goodyear make the right call?*
Tom: Yes. I think slowing down the speeds was a no-brainer… I’m just not convinced there’s going to be more side-by-side competition.
Phil: They absolutely needed to do something to get rid of the blisters. That was just embarrassing. I think the slower speeds will help the racing a little. Not much. But a little. You’re still going to see a pole speed around 199.5.
Beth: Goodyear had to do something but I fear the problem that will remain is the lack of the ability to really race rather than just play follow the leader.
Tom: 200 miles an hour average speed is really a magic number. I think safety issues, along with Goodyear’s ability to handle the load of these cars seems to tail off once you hit that number. One other thing that’s always interesting to note… look what a great job Pocono did with their repave compared to Michigan. Who owns Pocono? An independent family whose livelihood in part depends on the success of racing at the facility. Young people looking to try new things. Who owns Michigan? International Speedway Corporation… who has a history of poor repavings (Richmond, Phoenix for starters) and has been reluctant to make aesthetic improvements to better the competition.
Beth: And honestly that’s something more tracks on the circuit need. If the powers that run the places depended on the income the way the Mattioli family does, I bet they’d take more pride in everything they do each and every weekend.
Phil: It’s way too early to say whether the repave at Michigan was a “poor” job. There has been a poor repaving there in the past, though (1986).
Tom: When is the last time we’ve said a repaving that’s immediately improved the quality of racing? That, right there should tell you something
Phil: As for Richmond, what’s wrong with it? Bupkis. A track like that doesn’t naturally have side-by-side racing in the years immediately following a repave. It’s fine the way it is now.
Kevin: That’s what I was thinking. I can’t remember the last time a repave really did much at all that was positive.
Phil: Repaves aren’t necessarily designed to improve racing. It’s an improvement to the track itself so we don’t have to deal with stuff like potholes and weepers.
Tom: It’s to the point where you’d think tracks would only consider that in the future when it’s absolutely necessary. There’s safety… and then there’s almost being too safe. You can’t make it so easy to race everyone does the same speed. And that’s what we’ve seen at some of these facilities. You can’t go wide open the whole time… that’s too easy. Just too easy… how is that putting it in the driver’s hands? But I digress.
*Elliott Sadler was black flagged for jumping a late-race restart when leader Brad Keselowski spunhis tires in the inaugural Nationwide race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . Did NASCAR make the right call or should they have considered Keselowski’s spinning tires and the push Sadler received from teammate Austin Dillon?*
Phil: They apparently did consider them, and still penalized him. Looney Tunes. Probably should have penalized Austin.
Tom: Bad call. No two ways about it, made worse by two things. 1) The fact NASCAR was blatantly inconsistent in the same race. 2) Mike Helton tried to explain restarts the next day and left everyone – from drivers to media to fans to crew members – even more confused. Not the way you want to clarify a rule.
Kevin: Not the right call. NASCAR should have considered both Keselowski’s spinning tires and Dillon’s push… or even if they had considered just one. Just wasn’t right.
Beth: We’ve seen that call go both ways so many times, it’s such a subjective thing. I mean, if the leader spins his tires, the driver that restarts second will cause a big pileup behind him if he tries to hang back and compensate. As long as both started within the restart zone (and they did), Sadler definitely shouldn’t have been black-flagged. Even then, what option did Sadler have? With teammate Austin Dillon tucked under his back bumper, Sadler was going forward whether he wanted to or not.
Tom: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this many fans so upset over a call in this series. Beth, I have to think back to a similar type of call at Texas that wound up costing Johnny Sauter a shot at the Truck Series title. Am I right? Wasn’t that last year?
Beth: That’s hardly his fault and it’s certainly not right that he was penalized for that. Sauter’s call was a lane change violation. That part is black and white.
Tom: Right, but the same type of gray area incident where it cost him the points he needed, right?
Beth: The difference there though is that no one forced Sauter to change lanes.
Phil: If Sadler had backed off, we could have had one heck of a crash. Maybe Jeremy Clements would have ended up winning had that occurred.
Tom: Right… and that’s one problem I have with NASCAR’s call on this. You’re basically telling your competitors, “If that situation happens again, well, you’re going to have to wreck the leader.” I hope they’re prepared for the consequences. With no Chase, you certainly don’t get those types of mulligans. And the problem for Sadler is, unlike the young drivers chasing him he doesn’t seem capable of racking up multiple wins in a row with this team. As far as a solution, I agree with Bryan’s suggestion in “5 Points”:https://frontstretch.com/bkeith/40759/ this week that the flagman needs to control the restart.
Beth: That works for me–it would help take the gray area out of the restart and prevent the leader from laying back and trying to force a black flag on the second-place driver. I’ll really be interested to watch the points battle as the season wears on. Obviously we all agree the call was a poor one, but how much of an impact will this have on Sadler’s championship hopes. He may hold that slim one-point margin still, but what would it have been if he’d not been black flagged?
Tom: That’s the best way to ensure fairness for all… because then you’re putting it directly in NASCAR’s hands. It’s like the racing back to the caution, in a way… the gentlemen’s agreement wasn’t working, so the sport needed to take firm control. I don’t agree with the lap back rules as they are now, but at least the sport did something and made it consistent.
Phil: Honestly, I’m surprised NASCAR even gave Sadler’s team the ability to dispute the black flag. They should have stopped scoring him two laps before he stopped.
Tom: Why, Phil?
Phil: I thought the rule there was three laps, then the black flag with the white (or silver) stripe. Technically, you have no recourse for that. I can think of only two black flags that were ever overturned. One was the ridiculousness at Rockingham in 1995. You might remember that.
Tom: With Dale Earnhardt … absolutely. What was the other?
Phil: I cannot recall off the top of my head, but it was in a Nationwide race a couple of years ago. They didn’t throw a caution just to fix things, though. They waited until the next one, then gave the driver a lap back. It was real quiet-like.
*OK, time for some Pocono predictions.*
Tom: I’m going to say Jeff Gordon, with the roll he’s on is going to pull the upset. He’s knocking on the door.
Phil: I’d mess with you guys and go with JWT, but I’m not that much of a masochist. Instead, I’m picking Marcos Ambrose.
Kevin: Jimmie Johnson. Dude just looks great right now.
Tom: Ambrose! That’s a darkhorse if I’ve ever seen one. See, I like the J.J. mojo, but Hendrick knows the goal right now: four cars in the Chase. The No. 24 is going to get opportunities if they’re good enough.
Beth: I’m going to go with Denny Hamlin.
Phil: Also, before we go, thoughts about how JWT will do in his Cup debut on Sunday?
Beth: No comment…I’d rather see him just turn around and leave once the Truck race is over. He’s nowhere near ready for the Cup Series…even on a limited schedule. Heck, he’s barely ready to run the Truck Series as it is.
Kevin: 32nd, five laps down or something like that.
Phil: That might not be too far from the truth for Townley, Kevin. We’ll have to see how the cautions play out. I would have preferred Townley to debut at a place he’s actually raced prior to this weekend in NASCAR. I think he might have one ARCA start there.
Kevin: Honestly, I expected him to have debuted at a plate track like Daytona in July.
*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:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd