Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: 2013 NASCAR Crossroads On Attendance, Talent, Rivalries

Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, 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 Co-Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)

We’ve already seen former teammates Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano butt heads at least twice in only four races this season. Going forward, should we expect this phenomenon to rear its head again at tracks like Martinsville — or is this rivalry just a bunch of hot air?

Phil: I wouldn’t be surprised if they “had at it” again at some point this year. The Twitter Duel looks ridiculous, though. That probably didn’t need to be public.
Summer: That whole thing was ridiculous. It was fun to watch, but it was ridiculous.
Amy: I think it depends on more than just the two drivers. If it were completely up to them, I think you’d see it continue for sure.
Summer: Joey has shown before he’s not afraid to retaliate or go after people. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that rear its head again. Don’t get me wrong… they both have a lot of hot air between their ears but can both be overly aggressive, too.
Phil: Eventually, they’ll work out their issues (which probably date back to when they were still teammates) but it’ll be a few weeks. I doubt they’ll talk to each other until at least after Martinsville. And that’s dependent on whether they get through Martinsville without trying to go Cole Trickle-Rowdy Burns on each other.
Amy: But I think owners and sponsors will have a say, too. And NASCAR… Hamlin is on probation, whether we agree with that or not.
Phil: Yeah, I can’t imagine the sponsors being happy with their spokesmen fighting on TV.
Summer: I don’t think Hamlin is the one seeking retaliation, though. I also feel I’m giving Logano too much credit to think he would wait to try it until a track with slower speeds.
Phil: You’re thinking that Logano will try to take out Hamlin in Fontana? That’s a crazy move. I wouldn’t do that.
Summer: Well you wouldn’t and I wouldn’t, but he might.
Phil: Getting into the back of someone at 206 is just bad news in general. I don’t think Logano will do it.
Amy: I think he’ll wait ‘til Martinsville. Most drivers understand that timing is important and that doing something stupid at a high-speed track is dangerous.
Summer: I don’t know. I can’t help but think in the heat of the moment, Logano will pull something if the opportunity presents itself because he’s mad at him and doesn’t care. It’s not like they have Gibbs behind the scenes telling them to cool it. Logano’s pissed.
Amy: If Logano got Hamlin back, I think there would be further retaliation, too. And if you’re Logano, why not try to goad your rival knowing he’s already in trouble?
Summer: Hypothetically, if they are racing for the lead at the end of the race… I bet you Logano pulls something. I’m not saying he’d hook his right rear in the corner or anything…but he’d make his point.
Amy: If Hamlin does something at Fontana to piss Logano off, then yeah. But if he doesn’t, there won’t be a heat of the moment event. Logano is young, but he’s not totally stupid.
Phil: Hamlin appeared to be willing to extend the olive branch for a sit-down. Maybe Logano will take the high road and agree to a conversation.
Summer: Neither of them sounded interested in that, though it’s possible they’ve fixed it behind the scenes already. Though I agree with Phil. I get the sense that this goes way back.
Phil: I only claimed that Hamlin was quasi-willing to sit down and talk because he talked about Logano having his address. That would be an invitation (to me) to come over and have a private discussion. Now, what would come of that is anyone’s guess.
Amy: I think you’ll see it in due time, but the timing has to be right for it, and I think they both know that.
Phil: Only one thing is for certain: until it ends, you’ll hear constant hyping of the dislike from people like Darrell Waltrip.
Summer: Well yeah, but that’s a given. Anytime they are within a few positions… “Oh and I see Logano creeping up on Hamlin. They had their issue in Bristol!”

Though this season is still young, there are several big name drivers who are buried deep in the standings. Even with the points reset with 10 to go, getting a good start to the year is still crucial. Who desperately needs to garner some momentum in Fontana in order to have some hope at finishing the year out strong?

Phil: People like Tony Stewart need good runs. He basically didn’t even get started before his day was ruined.
Summer: SHR as a whole needs a turnaround or none of them will be even a factor in the championship, yet alone the Chase. Though it’s not like Stewart hasn’t made an amazing comeback before.
Amy: I think, as we saw last year with Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, that there is still plenty of time to right the ship. Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman need to step it up for sure, as does Jeff Gordon, but so much of their problems have been bad luck. It’s hard to think that will continue. For Danica Patrick, she’s running pretty much where I expected – no shocker there. Jeff Burton is racing for his job, so he also needs to pick things up.
Summer: The bad luck for people like Gordon, Stewart, and Newman is certainly reversible. And there are several drivers who, for lack of a better word will likely start to suck as the season goes on. Menard, Stenhouse and McMurray certainly won’t stay where they are. By the way, I don’t see Burton improving just because he’s on the hot seat. I don’t think Childress would keep him in the car if he did anything short of winning the championship. Even then, he might still want to kick him out for one of the Dillons.
Amy: He doesn’t need to kick him out for Dillon, Summer. The 29 will be open and can be renumbered back to the 3. If anyone, Burton is in danger of Kurt Busch getting his ride, but Childress would be silly to do it. Which one of those drivers would you want mentoring your grandkid?
Summer: Well eventually, they’ll want both brothers in there. That would be the point.
Amy: Yes, so why not keep Burton around for a couple years to mentor Austin?
Summer: Because it’s not like Burton’s been doing that well anyway. I mean, you can’t really say Kurt Busch has been that much better, but I don’t think that’s the point. Sponsorship is also a huge part of that.
Phil: Kurt has run better than Burton has thus far, but neither driver’s results have really shown that (with the exception of Kurt on Sunday).
Amy: And as a former driver himself, who would Childress want to teach a kid the ropes? Jeff Burton vs. Kurt Busch? That’s a total no-brainer. But, Burton does need to pick it up a bit.
Phil: Jeff Burton is just an easy guy to learn stuff from in general. 19+ years in Sprint Cup, plus five more in the Busch Series goes a long way.
Amy: Not to mention the kind of ambassador he’s been for years.
Summer: I still don’t think that’s where the decision is for him though.
Phil: Since we’re talking about RCR, we should mention Paul Menard’s quietly consistent these days. It’s his third straight year starting out with this type of momentum.
Amy: Let’s also give a huge shoutout to Phoenix Racing for the start they’ve gotten off to.
Phil: Most definitely. They’re doing a lot with not so much.
Summer: Agreed. They continue to exceed expectations.
Amy: The new car does throw a wrench in the works for these teams as well. Some guys are adapting quicker than others to the changes. That’s why some of the single-car teams are doing well in the races…it levels the playing field for a few weeks. Once some guys learn it better, expect rapid improvement.
Summer: I think the guys at the bottom will have a chance to rebound. I’m still unsure of who I consider a favorite for the championship, but I wouldn’t count anyone out just yet. SHR has been so up and down the last few years, I don’t know what to think of them.

While ratings have been holding steady or are up over last year, attendance continues to dwindle. Theories are flying around, ranging from the economy to the racing to the Chase. What is to blame and how can it be fixed?

Amy: All of the above. Going to a race is crazy expensive, and people are hurting financially. That is part of it, whether some people choose to believe that or not.
Phil: For a place like Bristol, I’d blame anything from the economy to hotelier extortionists.
Amy: I do think people are losing interest in the sport in general because of the Chase. It has ruined the first two-thirds of the season and made the championship kind of a joke to a lot of fans.
Summer: But diehard fans still watch Amy. I guess there are some long timers who just don’t care anymore, but what about everyone else? They may not like the Chase, but one race is not the Chase.
Phil: I’d argue that it’s mostly hotels. The ticket prices are steady at a lot of places as compared to 10+ years ago.
Summer: Right. When I see fans saying they don’t go to the race, I see them mentioning hotel prices, gas prices, and ticket prices. I see very few die-hard NASCAR fans say “I didn’t go because of the Chase.” I’ve also been told really, really bad things about the hotels in the Bristol. It’s almost cheaper to camp.
Phil: A lot of the tracks aren’t exactly close to anything. For example, I’ve covered Watkins Glen the last four years for the site. To find an inexpensive hotel room, you’re driving for over 60+ miles from the track.
Summer: I think the TV ratings are indicative of the quality of the on-track racing. Attendance, I think, is an issue of economic and financial problems (or lack thereof).
Amy: People who might have scraped together the money for a race might figure “why bother” because the competition is weak. They watch on TV instead, because they have it on in the background but are doing other things.
Summer: I guess that’s true, but if it were more affordable they’d still go regardless.
Amy: Maybe. But if you know the racing won’t be top notch because half the field is already working on the Chase, why would you spend the money on racing vs. doing something else with the family? The diehards aren’t watching. That’s the problem.
Phil: I’d argue a place like Bristol has some of the highest ticket prices in NASCAR. It’s just not that much of a deal, especially the Spring race, where it can be anywhere from $30 – $75 to sit outside in the cold.
Amy: I don’t think it’s the ticket prices so much as hotel prices, food prices, flight and gas prices…
Summer: Yeah, I was just referencing ticket prices as a product of the whole. They usually aren’t too ridiculous.
Phil: Ticket prices are dependent on the track. It affects Bristol more than almost any other track on the circuit. Flight prices are also dependent on where you are. It’s a little tougher for me to get to a race than Amy.
Amy: Exactly, Phil. If you don’t live near enough to the track to make it a day trip, it costs a lot to go. And when over three quarters of fans say they hate the Chase, it’s hard to deny that it’s played a role in the decline… I’d even argue as to whether the ratings are up. Yes, that’s true for this year… but when compared to 2005, they’re down.
Summer: Yeah, but when ratings of any kind “peak” eventually, they’ll go back down. And I do think that is indicative of many people just losing interest for a variety of reasons.
Amy: And if the product is not up to snuff, why would you spend all that money?
Summer: Amy, I agree that it affects the ratings, but I still think most of the fans who do tune in—which is still significant—would go if they could.
Phil: The on-track product is starting to improve. The tires are probably next on the agenda. However, I don’t think we’ll see anything drastic on that end until Pocono in August.
Summer: Well, I’d say the on-track action at the last Bristol race was pretty good. And last Sunday’s race was great. So I’d be curious to see the attendance in the Fall.
Phil: Almost nothing is within a day trip distance from here. Lime Rock is, but that track hosts sports cars. I’d do that. I had fun there in September. But, it’s 220 miles to the Glen, 190 to Pocono (with horrible traffic) and 170 to New Hampshire (horrible traffic). You’re looking at a 16-hour day.
Amy: I think the cost is a big part of it, bigger than some people want to believe, but the product is also to blame. Through the years, they’ve changed track configurations, they’ve changed the cars and the points system… the common denominator is the Chase.
Summer: I guess that makes sense, Amy, because if you’re spending upwards of $600 to go to a track, then anything less than three-wide the entire race is not worth the cost.
Phil: There are plenty of issues affecting the Cup Series these days. They all play a role. NASCAR is trying to help make the racing better with the new Gen-6 car. But the Chase is undoubtedly written into the current TV deal. If it’s written into the next one, it’s here through 2022.

Kyle Larson’s near win at Bristol Motor Speedway against Kyle Busch in last Saturday’s Nationwide Series certainly raised some eyebrows. However, it’s not the first time we’ve talked about Kyle Larson in terms of his talent. No doubt he’s been impressive, but is all the hype too much, too soon?

Amy: Both. It’s clear that he’s going to be a force in the Nationwide and/or Truck Series.
Phil: I’m still convinced that Busch tried to put Larson in the wall on the last lap Saturday.
Amy: I agree, Phil. He came up across two lanes to pinch him… Larson held his line.
Summer: Two words: Joey Logano. He’s nothing short of dominant in Nationwide but what about Cup?
Amy: Exactly, Summer. Logano was all that and a bag of chips in the lower series.
Summer: I think it will be the exact same thing. He’ll be amazing in Nationwide but Cup will be a new animal.
Phil: Larson’s hype is definitely the most since Logano. However, Larson’s done more in more types of equipment than Logano did before entering Nationwide.
Amy: We can’t say how good he’ll be in Cup until he gets to it in a competitive ride. He’s a huge talent in the cars he’s driving now… that doesn’t always translate.
Summer: You’re right. It’s not necessarily fair, but based on the results of other, hyped-up stars, it’s hard to believe in him.
Amy: Joey Logano was dominant in the Nationwide Series. Jeff Green owned that series and did less than nothing in Cup. On the other hand, guys like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson did next to nothing in Nationwide and have multiple Cup titles. It’s just not fair to say.
Summer: Well, they’re two totally different series. For whatever reason, Nationwide Series very rarely translates into success in Cup. You would think as a developmental series, it would, but it doesn’t.
Phil: Larson’s equipment in Nationwide is comparatively worse than what Logano had.
Summer: Not a bad point, actually.
Phil: I think it might be a year or two before we see Larson in Cup. When he gets there, he won’t be winning immediately, but I think he would be competitive. In contrast, Logano wasn’t really competitive for much of his rookie year.
Summer: Logano isn’t competitive in general.
Amy: That’s debatable. But while it’s not too early to safely say that Larson has the talent to be huge, in the NNS or CWTS, it is too early to make a call, long-term, on Cup success.
Summer: You’re right, he should at least be given a chance in Nationwide. Though he’s done a lions share of convincing early on.
Amy: I hope Larson isn’t rushed straight to Cup. Give him a couple of years to try and win championships, grow into racing at this level and he’s got a better chance of being a huge star later.
Phil: That was a huge problem with Logano. Got 22 races in Nationwide, then Stewart defected and Gibbs’ hand was forced. They didn’t want to go outside the company. Gibbs felt comfortable with Logano and managed to convince Home Depot that he’d work out.
Summer: It didn’t have to happen that way. I think that would be a huge mistake. But I think everyone knows that, too. Larson doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry about it. Why not just wait?
Phil: What’s indisputable here is Larson’s talent. He could win in anything. I’d like to see what he could do on a road course… and we’ll soon get the chance.

Predictions for Fontana?

Summer: Cue the broken record: Jimmie Johnson.
Phil: I’m going with Kevin Harvick for this week.
Amy: Kyle Busch.

Connect with Amy!

Contact Amy Henderson

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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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