Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR Surprises And Disappointments In 2013

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)

NASCAR has announced they will not penalize any of the drivers involved in both Fontana’s last-lap mayhem and post-race fracas. Did they make the right call?

Phil: I’m surprised that no one got probation. That is what I thought would happen. It does show some consistency, for once.
Amy: With Hamlin and Logano, you can’t penalize hard racing or you undermine the heart and soul of the sport.
Summer: My gut reaction when I heard Hamlin was hurt was, “Logano should be suspended.” However, once I thought about it, I agree with the “no call.” Though I’m frustrated they felt like Hamlin’s Gen-6 criticism was worse.
Amy: Stewart got lucky that FOX ran on a delay and bleeped him.
Phil: Yeah, he would have been looking at something had his uncensored S’s made air.
Summer: Also, Stewart got away with swearing on TV several times yet Clements got suspended for something that never aired. Seriously, NASCAR needs to figure this crap out.

“Finally, my fight isn’t the center of attention anymore…”

Amy: As for the fighting… did anyone get suspended for the Gordon/Bowyer deal last year?
Phil: The crew chiefs got fined $5,000 each for failing to control their crew, and that’s about it.
Summer: Wasn’t Bowyer fined? I still don’t think anyone—drivers or anyone—should be fined unless it gets really, really out of control.
Amy: Right. So I was a bit puzzled that that didn’t happen here… every time NASCAR is inconsistent like that, they shoot themselves in the foot. The consequences should have been the same as last fall, nothing more.
Phil: The suspension for Clements occurred because there was a minion from NASCAR that witnessed what happened there. They would have done anything had they not reported it (or “tattled”) on Clements. Without that NASCAR rep there, nothing happens.
Amy: Well, unless it’s published.
Summer: I understand that, but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. Again, it’s only harmful if it gets out in public. If it wasn’t in public, it didn’t make a difference.
Amy: Had it been published, my guess is he’d have gotten more than 2 weeks and rightfully so.
Phil: Knowing that the guy from MTV was a blogger that wasn’t really interested in “hard news,” I don’t know.
Summer: Maybe there is an argument to be made with Clements. I don’t know. But the penalties they are deciding to and to not hand out don’t make sense. Anyway, back to Fontana. I’m glad that they decided to take a “hands off” approach. Again, though, I wish they had shown the same restraint with the Hamlin penalty.
Amy: I wish they had been consistent with the crew fine, because they need to be. Other than that, right call. Though it sure would be nice to hear Logano man up and apologize for his comments once he knew what happened to Hamlin.
Phil: Didn’t appear that the crewmembers threw any punches in this case. Seemed more like Stewart did. As for Logano, he tried to, but couldn’t reach, so he pulled a Rusty and threw a water bottle.
Amy: I heard Logano accidentally punched his own crew guy in the head.
Summer: I thought he did apologize? He did that interview with USA Today where he said he didn’t know Hamlin was hurt.
Phil: They’ve communicated via text message. Who knows how well that’s going to work.
Amy: I never once heard a public apology.
Summer: Neither did I. I meant I heard that he apologized at some point, in some way. It might be the text Phil is talking about.
Amy: He said he wished he’d known about Denny before making the comment, and he wished he hadn’t said it. That does not equal “I’m sorry.”
Summer: It expresses regret and remorse, though, which I’d say is pretty close to an apology.
Phil: That equals: “Geez, I didn’t know he was hurt. I look like a moron.”
Amy: If his sponsors were smart, there would be a public apology. His comments hurt him far more than the racing did.
Summer: Well, so? He wasn’t saying, “He deserved to be hurt.” He was saying, “He deserved getting spun through the infield.”
Amy: I disagree, Summer… it’s like doing something and being sorry you got caught, not sorry you did it. That’s what I’m getting from Logano. He only regrets that the comment was bad for his PR — not that he said it. Once you know the guy broke his back, a little humility and class goes a long way. The comment was classless to begin with and not apologizing just seals the deal.
Summer: I agree that Logano’s comments were unnecessary. As far as fines regarding what happened last week, I hope NASCAR continues this same approach. I’d hate to see the great racing we’ve seen end because NASCAR scares them away from it.
Phil: I’m thinking that Logano’s comments might have been enough for a fine, knowing when he said it and what was going on at the time.
Amy: As for Stewart, he has a shot memory. The 25 guys he wrecked by blocking at Talladega probably snorted up a lung when they heard what he said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leading the point standings, and surprisingly enough no one really seems to care. Is this phenomenon just a result of all of the other storylines? Is it just too early? Or has the allure with Earnhardt simply lost its luster?

Phil: The only reason no one seems to care is because of the Logano-Hamlin insanity. Take that away, and it’s The Story heading into the off week.
Amy: I think it just got overshadowed by everything else. Junior Nation isn’t going away any time soon.
Summer: I agree, it had a lot to do with everything else that happened.
Phil: Having said that, it is big news. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been great thus far.
Summer: I don’t think it would be a huge freaking deal, but I think more people would be talking about it.
Amy: Plus, it’s so early, and his fans have been down that road before. If he’s leading five weeks from the end of the season, it’s all anyone will hear about.
Summer: I believe that is also true, Amy. It’s too early to be talking championship.
Amy: That said, Junior is driving like he’s out to prove that last year was no fluke and that he can contend for one. It’s great to see him so fired up
Phil: Junior’s going to be 39 this year. Who knows how much longer he can even contend for a title. This might be his best chance to snag one.
Amy: An Earnhardt title would be good for the sport.
Phil: That goes without saying.
Summer: Considering the fact that NASCAR has been making headlines lately, I think Earnhardt leading the points does help that. Overshadowed as it has been, it’s still yet another positive storyline the sport can run with.

Things are looking up for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. after charging out and leading the point standings through five races of 2013.

Amy: It would get a lot of people’s attention, and Junior is a genuinely likeable guy. He’s not his father on the track or off (he’s much cleaner on track) but that’s a good thing.
Summer: He doesn’t have to be his father to bring fans to the sport or at least get them to tune in. Nor does he have to be his father to be a contender.
Amy: And the Gen-6 is also good for Junior. He’s liked the way it drives from the start
Phil: Yeah, he is likable, I guess. If he weren’t Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I think a lot of people would have trouble connecting with him, not because of any lack of talent (it’s there) but because of his introversion. Although having said that, he does put a lot of thought into what he says.
Amy: He is an introvert, but genuine and not afraid to be himself. I give him a lot of credit for never trying to be something he isn’t.
Summer: It depends on how his season goes when it comes to this introversion, though. If Earnhardt’s having a good season, he’s upbeat.
Amy: I think he’s very, very shy, and that has a lot to do with the way he takes things on.
Phil: I’ve seen Earnhardt ecstatic before though; he completely warms up a room. An example was the 2010 Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona, when he won in the No. 3 car. He was outright giddy during his 40-minute winner’s press conference. That’s also when the casual profanity comes out as well.
Summer: Right. So I think him having a season like this one — if it keeps up — will be a great thing for the sport. Not only is Earnhardt very well known, but he can be very likable when he’s competitive.
Amy: Totally agree. And I think, last year, pre-concussion showed us that he can be. Now as to whether or not this will happen, and he will remain in contention, I’m not sure.
Phil: The performances we’ve seen definitely show that putting Steve Letarte with him was a great move. Maybe the new workout regimen’s helping him out as well.
Summer: Yeah, I’ve heard about the new focus on fitness and health. It seems to help all the other drivers who do that sort of thing. Anyways, I think Junior would be getting a lot more attention for this accomplishment if 1) it occurred later in the season and 2) the Logano/Hamlin/Stewart thing hadn’t happened.
Amy: Either way, it’s great for the sport, great for his fans, and he’s having fun. All good.

Things are looking up for NASCAR at this point. Ratings were way up for Fontana, rivalries are riding the storylines, and the sport has been a part of mainstream conversation since the season started. With that said, this weekend is the first off week for the sport. Is it a case of bad timing, halting NASCAR’s momentum with a growing audience or will it help?

Summer: I think it will slow the momentum somewhat, but all we need is a good pissing match at Martinsville and it comes back.
Amy: I think it could hurt a little in that NASCAR will be out of people’s minds for a week. But you’ve got the best track in the sport the week after, so hopefully that will keep people excited.
Phil: The teams could use the breather, but I wish there was something this weekend, maybe a truck race in Jefferson, GA or something to whet the palette. There’s bupkis. The biggest race I could find for this weekend was the British Touring Car Championship season opener in Brands Hatch.
Amy: If Martinsville is as good as it usually is, I think things will be fine. But a Saturday race would have been a good move.
Summer: I agree with you guys. A Saturday Nationwide race or something would have been good.
Amy: Like Trucks, that series has such a stupid schedule.
Phil: Who thought two straight weeks off in a 33-race schedule (over 39 weeks) was a good idea?
Amy: One thing I did notice this weekend, though was how much better the IndyCar broadcast was than the NASCAR one. I still think improving that is, in the long run, the key to keeping fans engaged.
Summer: I only saw some of it, but how did you think they did better?
Amy: The use of cameras was so much better. They used stationary cameras for the majority of the time, and that showed lots of cars racing through the field. They rarely focused a camera on one car. Even at the end, the battle for the lead was non-existent, so they showed a heated battle for third. Huge kudos to NBCSN for their coverage.
Phil: Agreed. NBC Sports Network has the Lingner Group producing their broadcasts. They’re the dudes who did Cup races on ESPN in the 1990s. Big improvement over ABC’s telecast last year.
Amy: The broadcast focused on the racing, not a select few drivers. It was just fun to watch. Everybody involved with NASCAR on FOX should be handcuffed to chairs and forced to see that broadcast from start to finish.

Want to see racing this weekend? Head to your local short track, because NASCAR’s schedule goes silent between now and next weekend.

Phil: As for NASCAR, they’ve got nothing this weekend. Baseball’s starting their regular season and the NBA and NHL are in the final push before their playoffs. I felt they really needed to stand out in some way.
Summer: I almost hope that a driver appears on some sports telecast or something. This year really has been a great start for NASCAR in terms of mainstream.
Phil: The Logano issue is still getting play on PTI and SportsCenter and it’s midweek. That’s not typical.
Summer: True, Phil, but will that continue for another week? I doubt it. Especially not after several other sporting events have run its course.
Phil: No, it won’t last that long in the news cycle, especially with the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 this weekend.

While still in its early stages, the Nationwide Series season has had its share of rollercoaster moments. Even though there is still much racing to be done in the season, after five races, who has been the biggest surprise and who has been the biggest disappointment?

Phil: I think the biggest surprise to this point is Alex Bowman. He was OK in his races last season, but he’s been quite strong so far in the RAB No. 99.
Summer: I’ve honestly been surprised by Sam Hornish Jr. I didn’t expect to see him doing this well this soon.
Amy: I agree, Summer, I didn’t think Hornish would be as strong as he is.
Summer: He was giving Kyle Busch some serious grief last weekend. Who ever gives Busch a run for his money? Though Larson did that the week before.
Amy: Larson is fun to watch, but not exactly a surprise. The biggest disappointment to me is Brian Vickers, through no fault of his own. And a note to Joe Gibbs… maybe you want to consider giving the good cars to the guys going for the championship instead of the guy who just wants to add to his trophy collection?
Phil: As for a disappointment, I guess Nelson Piquet, Jr. The wreck at Bristol didn’t help his case, but he has been nowhere all season. A non-factor.

Kyle Busch, winning every week in the Nationwide Series is good for his confidence… but bad for other competitors trying to make a name for themselves.

Summer: Amy, I’d agree on Vickers. I too expected him to at least be doing a little better.
Amy: Piquet is just learning the cars still. I expected Vickers to be where Hornish is by now… an easy point lead.
Summer: Me too, or at least in the top five. Basically around the same area Regan Smith is.
Phil: I didn’t know what to expect with Vickers. I thought that he’d have to learn the Nationwide COT, like Amy claims that Piquet is currently doing. He had only driven one or two races in the current car before Daytona. Having said that, I think he’ll make a run next month.
Summer: I think he’ll be there at the end of the year, but in terms of disappointment I was surprised at how little Vickers has done. Piquet… I didn’t expect much out of him. He’s done well, but I didn’t think he was going to be this huge thing this year.
Amy: No surprise here, but Kyle Busch winning every other week is bad for the series.
Phil: Yeah, Kyle Busch being on pace for 13 wins isn’t benefitting anyone except for Kyle Busch, JGR and Monster Energy. Everyone else looks like a bunch of chumps.
Summer: It’s not fun to watch, anyway.
Phil: You have to train yourself to look away from the Shrubbery. Kinda tough with what we get from ESPN on a weekly basis, but that’s what has to be done.
Amy: I was talking to some friends who are race fans and we were talking about the Cup guys in NNS. Here’s an easy solution. After a certain number of races, NASCAR should charge their Cup team a test date. Problem solved.
Summer: That would make sense. Anyway, I’m intrigued to see how well Hornish keeps this up. I’ve been very surprised by him. On the flip side, I wonder how well Vickers will end up.
Phil: Hornish has done very well this season. I figured that he could have breakout potential after last season’s fourth-place finish in points. I wasn’t exactly expecting what he’s done to this point, though. Still don’t know how he drives vehicles that are so loose…

Connect with Amy!

Contact Amy Henderson

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

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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