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*:
Amy Henderson “(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/
*Brad Keselowski is the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, and is a bit polarizing with his “Bad Brad” moniker. How do you think Keselowski will be remembered as champion…and how many more will he win?*
Phil: Especially since Brad’s only 28, it’s a little early to say how many he’ll win. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he snags a couple of more.
Mike N.: Keselowski is going to be a great spokesperson for the sport. I believe he’ll be able to effect change, unlike some other champs because he is extremely smart and very introspective. I believe he’ll be remembered for changing the social media aspect of the sport, making it mainstream and speaking his mind. That, and drinking out of the biggest Miller Lite glass he could find after winning.
Phil: Yes, the suite of buzzed/drunken interviews Sunday night will be remembered for years to come.
Amy: I think he’s great for the sport, personally. He’s not a dirty driver; he races others they way they race him. He’s certainly not vanilla. He’s a smart dude, too, and interesting. I think he’s good for NASCAR.
Phil: He’ll be remembered this season for taking the battle directly to Johnson and not wilting in Johnson’s essence.
Amy: He and Johnson remind me so much of each other both in and out of the car, except Jimmie is so strangled by his sponsor and Brad is… um, not.
Mike N.: You can say that again.
Phil: If Miller had any issues with Brad drinking on live TV, they would have said something by now. Obviously, they do not care, as long as he’s responsible about it.
Mike N.: People think Keselowski flies off the handle and just says anything, but most of the time he is very thoughtful about what he says and almost always thinks before he speaks.
Phil: Brad does seem quite educated in his thoughts. He’s not a moron.
Amy: I agree 100%, Mike. And he really understands the sport, its history, and his place in it. He just gets it on a level that not all the drivers do.
Phil: The piece ESPN did last week shows just how well Brad works with Wolfe. They pitch ideas to each other and it’s a two-way street.
Amy: Actually, that “getting it” is something that seems to set many champions of the sport apart from others. Not every one, but a lot of them.
Mike N.: How many titles will he win? That is a crap shoot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take three or four and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him not win another one.
Amy: I think he’s good for another one because of how smart he is on the track and how in sync he is with Paul Wolfe. But there is so much talent capable of winning one right now that that could keep him from winning more than that.
Mike N.: It could be very interesting if he and Johnson end up battling it out for several years to come. It would be fantastic for the sport to have two guys going at it year after year. It has been a long time since we’ve had that.
Phil: Really, it’s been since the early 1990s with Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.
Amy: It would be a fantastic rivalry, Mike. They both race so hard and so clean. It would be great stuff.
Mike N.: Earnhardt and Gordon had it for awhile. Stewart and Gordon have gone at it somewhat but not like Petty/Pearson or Earnhardt/Wallace or Waltrip and everyone else in the sport.
Amy: I know a lot of people were unhappy that Brad was a bit…um, inebriated for his interviews. I didn’t mind at all. Thought it was pretty old-school and you know what? He’s a grown-up, and he didn’t have to go anywhere.
Mike N.: I agree Amy. I’ve said all along, he is genuine. You know what you get up front. I loved that the first thing he said in his Sportscenter interview was “I’m buzzed, I’ve been drinking a while.” I thought that was just real. Rather than being all stiff and worrying about what he said.
Amy: I’ve also heard some people say that Keselowski isn’t likable, or that he’s standoffish. I’ve never gotten that from him at all.
Mike N.: Me either. I’ve joked with him and Paul Wolfe quite a bit the last two years. They’re both very down to earth and approachable.
Amy: Right, Mike, and others have hidden that. Jimmie Johnson later said he literally drank himself sick after his first title, but the people who needed to see that side of him didn’t. With Keselowski, we did. And it was really cool to see.
Mike N.: Exactly. It is so great to see that drivers are human. Warts and all.
Amy: And let’s not forget Wolfe’s role in this, either (he’s from my hometown). His strategy, other than a minor hiccup Sunday, was nearly flawless. Far better than Chad Knaus in that department.
Mike N.: Wolfe is a really smart guy, too. I was dumbfounded that he is the only crew chief in history to win a Cup and Nationwide title.
Amy: Johnson has been behind when it comes to pit calls for a couple of years. What used to work doesn’t anymore, and they don’t adapt well all the time.
*With 2012 on the books, what moments will we look back upon years from now and remember – and which ones would we most like to forget?*
Phil: Well, how about the finish at Watkins Glen? And not just because I was there. That was epic.
Amy: That one was great. As always, I’d like to forget anything that happened at Talladega. Pretty much all of the fall Phoenix race was a black mark on the sport. But I also really enjoyed the way Keselowski and Johnson raced each other at Texas. So aggressive and so clean. Either one could have put the other in the wall and didn’t.
Phil: That was truly enthralling stuff at Texas. Keselowski nearly wiped out, but still kept the pressure on.
Mike N.: I’m with you on the Watkins Glen deal. That was a fantastic finish. Texas was a great race. And I, personally enjoyed the way the action on the track unfolded at Phoenix. I could have done without the stuff in the garage area.
Phil: Other moments; the high speeds at Michigan were pretty amazing, but I’d rather forget the tire issues there.
Mike N.: I’ll remember Bowyer wrecking Johnson and Gordon at Martinsville to give Newman the win.
Amy: So did Jeff Gordon, Mike… I thought the first Bristol race was better than the second, though I know I’m in the minority.
Mike N.: The second Bristol race was better than I thought it would be. Fortunately, they could still race side-by-side. And Darlington — Johnson winning the 200th for Hendrick will always stick in my mind.
Mike N.: As for things that I’d like to forget – Atlanta was really bad. The tragedy at Pocono. The abomination that is Chicago starting the Chase.
Amy: I’d like to forget David Reutimann not pitting at Martinsville to save Danica’s points.
Mike N.: I will remember Bowyer winning on a road course. I still can’t believe a dirt slinger from the Midwest won at Sonoma.
Amy: Both road course races were great.
Phil: Yep. I always liked Cup cars on road courses, ever since I was little.
Amy: Casey Mears running up front with a shot to win at Talladega was great… right up until the wreck. And how about Jimmie Johnson in the clown wig at Dover? Too bad he’s so boring…
Phil: That was pretty cool. Makes me wish that Johnson had naturally curly hair so that he could grow a real ‘fro.
Mike N.: Yeah, would have been awesome if he could have fit that in his helmet.
Amy: He posted pictures from a party he had wearing a giant ‘fro wig. Mears and Junior were there too… funny stuff.
Mike N.: I’m not sure if I want to forget or remember the jet dryer at Daytona.
Amy: That was…um… different. A one in a million deal. Though the way people blamed Montoya for doing it made me laugh. As if he planned it that way.
Mike N.: Oh yeah. I’m sure he wanted to run into a jet dryer at 160.
Amy: How about the porta-potty race between Junior and Keselowski. That was classic.
Mike N.: That was an entertaining moment, for sure.
Phil: Man, I was so tired the next day at work since that race didn’t end until 1:00 AM.
Mike N.: As much as people bitch about it, there is a lot of enjoyable, memorable stuff that happens during a Cup season. Too bad very little of it is about the actual racing.
Amy: For me, the most memorable races were at the road courses and Martinsville. The most forgettable were the cookie-cutters and the plate tracks.
*We’ve talked before about the so-called runner-up jinx. Will that trend continue in 2013, or will Clint Bowyer be able to buck the trend and thrive?*
Amy: I don’t think it’s a jinx. I think it’s the letdown and trying to rebuild something that was never really broken.
Mike N.: I know y’all think I’m crazy, but it usually bears out. He might buck the trend but, more than likely, his 2013 season will be forgettable.
Phil: I see no reason why they can’t compete again next year. Sure, I imagine that they were working quite hard on this year’s stuff, but it’s not like they disregarded next year.
Amy: If it happens to anyone in 2013, it won’t be Bowyer. It’ll be Jimmie Johnson.
Amy: Bowyer wasn’t the one who had his heart ripped out at Homestead, he just lucked into the runner-up spot.
Mike N.: I thought it was pure brilliance by the No. 48 team, when they realized the cause was lost, to drop back and allow Bowyer to grab the runner-up spot so that he’ll be cursed with the jinx.
Amy: This was the first time in his career that Johnson had a shot and flat threw it away. How he recovers will be interesting to watch.
Mike N.: Actually, they pretty much pissed it away in 2004 as well. I know the jinx has no basis in fact, whatsoever, but the bottom line is it happens more years than not. But Bowyer and Pattie have something going. Pattie is really smart and MWR has turned a corner with their car building. We’ll have to see what happens — but you can bet your butt that I’ll point it out next year when Bowyer is 15th in points with no wins.
Amy: The 15 just wasn’t quite there this year, and they weren’t really in it for the second half of the Chase.
Mike N.: Like Amy said though, this year might be different because the No. 15 team wasn’t in the second spot going into Homestead. They were coming from behind and just happened to end up in the second place. There’s a decent chance the jinx might miss them next year.
Amy: I bet it bites the 48 instead, if anyone. They’re already a tick behind, and this Chase didn’t help.
Mike N.: Yeah, they were so far behind that they were leading the points with two races to go.
Phil: If anyone had told me that Johnson would lose an entire race’s worth of points in the last two weeks, I would have accused them of lying.
Mike N.: I agree, Phil. He brought the blown tire on himself at Phoenix driving the car harder than he should have and then had the lug nut issue at Homestead. Both were very surprising to me when the championship was right there. Kansas was still a long way from the end.
Amy: They were leading the points with two to go and dropped a stinkbomb at a track where they should have dominated. Again, though based on his record at Kansas, it should have been a slam-dunk top 5 without that wreck. They couldn’t get it done at Dover, either… Johnson’s team pretty much threw this one away, plain and simple.
Mike N.: They had it at Dover and it turned into a fuel mileage deal.
Amy: Had being the key. It only matters where you are on one lap.
Mike N.: The No. 48 team, from the driver on down, didn’t get it done when they certainly could have. BTW, in case you missed Thinkin’ Out Loud, Keselowski would have finished third by three points last year.
Phil: I’m not willing to say that Johnson threw the title away. Keselowski was toe to toe with him all the way.
Amy: Keselowski was more than toe to… he was better than.
Phil: Stuff like rear ends burning up is not necessarily the team’s fault. That just happens.
Mike N.: True Philip, but Johnson has several tracks in the Chase where he is all but unstoppable, and he was stopped at most of them while Keselowski stepped up and got it done.
Amy: OK, final thoughts on this one?
Phil: Keselowski brought his “A” game to the Chase. All the stats said that he’d stink here and there, and he didn’t. He channeled Emeril Lagasse and kicked it up a notch.
Mike N.: Clint Bowyer finishes the 2013 points race in 15th position.
Amy: If anyone is behind going into 2013, it’s Johnson, not Bowyer. Bowyer had a solid Chase and just wasn’t good enough from the start. Johnson could have won easily and just threw it away. By the way, the runner-up without the Chase? Greg Biffle.
*Let’s take a look back at the 2012 Nationwide and CWTS seasons. What was most memorable, and what does the crystal ball say about 2013?*
Phil: The Truck Series had a number of winners, 16 in all, including nine first-timers. The Gale victory on Friday night was completely unexpected.
Mike N.: The finish to the year was cool in the Trucks. Cale Gale winning at Homestead was great.
Amy: That was a great finish, Mike. Hard racing at it’s best. Gale didn’t wreck Busch, just didn’t give him a line.
Mike N.: Well, he ran him into the wall, but he did what he thought he had to in order to win.
Phil: Heck, I thought Gale’s driving career was over 18 months ago.
Amy: The Rockingham race sticks in my mind, of course. Along with nine — NINE! — first time winners…that was great to see.
Mike N.: Nine first-time winners and 16 different winners.
Amy: For NNS, again, I enjoyed the road course races. I missed IRP, though. Having them at Indy is just a terrible idea.
Mike N.: Oh yeah, Raceway Park not being on either schedule was criminal.
Amy: I was really disappointed that Rockingham isn’t on the Nationwide schedule next year.
Phil: Yeah, IMS just wasn’t that exciting. Seemed like a ghost town, racing wasn’t all that great. Marty Reid made a fool of himself. Not much good came out of that. Except perhaps Jeremy Clements getting a new car out of the deal.
Mike N.: Busch was ground against the wall to kill his momentum. I may be mistaken but I don’t think he’d push them into the wall.
Mike N.: I don’t believe Rockingham wanted to be on the Nationwide schedule. The amount it costs to put on a Nationwide show, they would lose a bunch of money with the turnout they had for the Truck race.
Amy: No, he was trapped inches from the wall to kill his monentum. He did touch it, but he wasn’t deliberately wrecked or turned. There’s a difference.
Phil: The place was like 90 percent full for the truck race. You’re basically saying that it isn’t profitable unless they add seats.
Mike N.: Nationwide at IMS this year will be hideous. I was surprised how many people were there this year. It will be empty in 2013.
Amy: And NASCAR needs to fix that, Mike. That’s the same reason Martinsville isn’t on the schedule and it’s a trevesty for the fans.
Mike N.: It was more like 80% full. They would need standing room only and even more campers to make money with a Nationwide race.
Phil: That’s a toughy.
Mike N.: I agree Amy. But NASCAR has made the business decision to not make it profitable for smaller venues. One thing I’d like to forget about from the Truck Series is the gigantic gaps in the schedule. I know they could fix it with more dates but whatever it is they have to do something. I’m tired of it.
Phil: I thought they’d have a schedule out by now. Guess I was wrong.
Mike N.: They said today it will be out next week. They are crossing Is and dotting Ts.
Amy: I agree. I’d like to see them either start in April or end in September.
Phil: Apparently, CTMP (Mosport) is a go, and they’re working on Eldora and Greenville-Pickens.
Mike N.: I have also heard that they’re going to Myrtle Beach in 2014.
Phil: I’ll make a note of that. Chad McCumbee will be happy about that.
Mike N.: I’m still not pleased about them going to tracks and not mandating SAFER barriers. I think NASCAR should put them in for these small tracks and then go race there.
Amy: I have some mixed feelings with the Truck schedule. While part of me loves the idea of a dirt race, part of me thinks NASCAR is getting complacent with safety, and the precedent they are setting isn’t cool.
Mike N.: I agree, Amy.
Henderson: If they let Eldora race without them, pretty soon, they’re backed into a corner by some other tracks….
Mike N.: They are looking at it but, from what Bob Lutz told us on the radio show a few months back, it wasn’t in the immediate plans. Exactly Amy. They need to be putting them in everywhere.
Phil: Are there any dirt tracks with SAFER Barriers? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
Amy: So that’s a problem already.
Mike N.: Not that I know of.
Amy: But it certainly gives them a leg to stand on with NASCAR if they let Eldora host.
Amy: See, I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue AT Eldora. I think the real problem is the precedent it could set.
Phil: I don’t think you’d see tracks remove their SAFER Barriers if that were to come to pass.
Mike N.: I think it is an issue at every race track that has the NASCAR banner flying out front. If they are serious about safety they’d put them in at every track.
Amy: That aside, I think adding a dirtt track is a great idea as far as the racing goes.
Mike N.: I hope the race is great. If they prep the track properly it will be fantastic. If they make it a parking lot like Springfield and DuQuoin do for the ARCA races, it will totally stink.
Mike N.: It is going to be a great story though. I hope it is a huge success and they add a few more for 2014.
Phil: From what I understand, it’s not always a “parking lot” at the dirt miles for ARCA. It’s just that they don’t really do any prep after the practice sessions start. Or, if they do, it’s minimal.
Mike N.: Right. They need to work the track so that it is racy on multiple grooves.
Phil: Parker Kligerman described driving the Springfield Mile in practice as being similar to wheeling a modified.
Amy: The Nationwide Series needs more standalones. They should be going to some of these tracks with the trucks instead of going with Cup.
Mike N.: Nationwide on dirt, coming to a race track in the Midwest soon.
Amy: The thing I enjoyed about the Homestead truck race was that because it was short, they raced hard all night long…there was a sense of urgency. In Cup, there isn’t. With the Cup races, why not split them completely? Run 150-200 miles, award points, then line them up and race another 150-200 miles, no break, and award points again?
Phil: I just don’t want that kind of racing in the Cup Series. It didn’t really work all that well at Texas last year for the Izod IndyCar Series.
Amy: Mybe the TV side needs to be addressed in negotiations… split both series between Fox and ESPN or something. Really, I thought it was cool in IndyCar
Phil: Maybe it was that strange “pick your starting spot” thing that soured me. I liked it better as a straight 550k race.
Amy: Yeah, that was lame. But the split race was cool, beceuse there was a sense that it was always go time.
Mike N.: I’d like to see heat races to determine starting position and then a feature if y’all are so determined to make the races shorter.
Amy: I’d love to see that, Mike. You could do that and have them all add up to 500 miles. That way, you still test the durability and stamina, but also force them to race more.
Phil: I gotta say. Those types of shows take forever. Believe me. I’ve seen my share of five and six-hour Saturday night shows. I’d rather that Cup races don’t stretch out that long.
*Mirror Predictions 2012*
*Congratulations to 2012 Mirror Driving Prediction Champion Amy Henderson!*
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
Ford EcoBoost 400