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 & Wednesdays / The Frontstretch Five & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Thursdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short Track Coordinator)
Jimmie Johnson won a record ninth time at Dover Sunday for his 68th career win and sits eighth on the all-time wins list. While Johnson is racking up Hall of Fame numbers, detractors claim his wins aren’t legit for a variety of reasons—how come fans don’t warm to the six-time champion?
Phil: I think that a lot of people don’t think he’s genuine. Problem is, he’s been the same for years. Also, some think it’s all Chad Knaus. If that’s so, Stacy Compton should have done far more with Melling Racing than he did.
Amy: Maybe it’s because he’s so shackled by his sponsor that he’s not allowed to be remotely interesting in an interview?
Mike: I blame it on the Chase. As a driver and as a team, they have been dominant. They have done more than anyone else over this period of NASCAR history but the fact that they haven’t won a season long championship seems to hold them back in the court of public opinion. I don’t think personality matters. Johnson has more personality than Gordon did during his run, in my opinion. I think it is just the fact that they’ve been winning Chase titles and not “real” titles.
Amy: True, Mike. And there’s also the fact that they are winning. Remember how much people hated Jeff Gordon when he was racking up 10 wins a year? And Dale Earnhardt before him, and…the list goes on.
Phil: Yeah, Gordon wasn’t just the dude that won every week back then. He elicited outright hatred at the time. Johnson’s never elicited the anger that Gordon or 6-8 other guys have.
Amy: What really makes me laugh are those few fans who seriously think the only reason he wins is because the cars are all illegal and they pay off NASCAR.
Mike: I think part of the reason Johnson hasn’t receive the hate Gordon did is because he’s taken the mantle from Gordon. Yes Tony Stewart has been a force during this time but Gordon was the one who won four titles and now it is Johnson with six. Gordon wasn’t as popular as Earnhardt or Petty so I think that is why Johnson hasn’t been despised like Gordon was when he took the mantle from Earnhardt.
Amy: In the meantime, they haven’t been legit caught doing anything funny to the cars in what? Seven years? I looked it up, and since 2007 or so, there are a lot of crew chiefs who have been penalized way more than Knaus. You don’t think he’s as despised like Gordon? If anything, it’s worse. I think part of it stems from the Gordon haters, remember who hired Johnson?
Mike: You must not remember when Gordon started winning. He received death threats. I don’t think anyone is offering to bump off Johnson.
Phil: No, I don’t think he’s anywhere near as despised as Gordon in the late 1990’s.
Mike: I agree on the illegal car thing. There isn’t a single team in NASCAR who has been taken to the R&D center and torn down as many times as the No. 48 over the last 10 years.
Amy: Johnson said that at one of his first Cup races ever—before he ever won a race, I believe—a guy told him he hoped he’d burn to death. Not exactly a threat, but…
Phil: True. They made a point of going over the No. 48. Especially after that C-post thing. Wow, that’s just ridiculous what the guy said to him. Whoever said that is psycho.
Amy: If anything, NASCAR penalizes the 48 heavier than others. Anyone remember the C-post violation on the 18 that they got penlized for and had to take to two appeals? Me either, because when they got caught a few months before the 48, they weren’t penalized.
Phil: NASCAR seemingly kept that C-post penalty quiet. Then went all out on the No. 48. I don’t think the officials like Knaus much.
Amy: I do agree with Mike that it’s not personality. Johnson is funny as hell. There was no penalty for the 18, Phil. They were allowed to fix it and reinspect, no harm no foul.
Mike: Gordon was the face of change when the sport transitioned from the good ol’ boy Southern sport to the corporate, sanitized stuff we have now. People who were longtime fans viewed Gordon as the reason for the change and truly hated him. I don’t think anyone truly hates Johnson like that.
Phil: Yeah, he’s got his moments. Dry sense of humor, but when he wants to, he can leave people holding their sides.
Mike: The dude fell off of a golf kart while “surfing” on the top of it. That is funny as hell.
Amy: I do think Jimmie is too self-conscious in front of a camera. He can come across as not genuine because of that, but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Johnson is a genuinely nice person.
Phil: That did happen. I just wish there was video.
Mike: Me too Phil. It would have won $10,000 on AFV
Phil: He seems the same in person as on-camera. Same thing with Paul Menard, for better or worse.
Amy: He also spent 500 miles at Baja hurling…in Robby Gordon’s helmet.
Phil: That’s the end of that helmet.
Amy: That’s a pretty funny story. The one about him and Vickers and Mears and the kite tube is pretty good, too.
Phil: Johnson’s in his 13th full year in Sprint Cup. If he hasn’t gained the respect of the fans, I don’t think he ever will. And it’s kinda sad.
Mike: Johnson will. It will be one of those deals like Waltrip had with Rusty. Larson or Dillon or someone else will wreck him and that will change it all.
Amy: Here’s the thing…winning makes you loved by some, hated by others. Johnson is winning a lot. I do feel bad that no matter what he does, he’s labeled a cheater because of stuff his crew chief did years ago. Maybe…he’s just really good at driving a racecar?
Phil: Having all his titles come in the Chase era doesn’t help his case. Thing is, I’m pretty sure Johnson and Knaus weren’t all over Brian France to implement the Chase. That’s Brian’s baby. Some people just don’t want to believe that he’s good. While Knaus undoubtedly plays a role, Johnson has natural talent. You don’t win a CORRtitle if you’re a scrub.
Amy: Yeah, the Chase happened at an unfortunate time for them. Though there’s nothing to say they wouldn’t have six titles anyway.
Mike: I’m pretty sure the Dover race last Spring proved that he could drive a race car. Earnhardt’s car was way better than Johnson’s and Johnson held him off for the win. Agreed Amy. Don’t forget the Brickyard a few years ago with Mark Martin too. Johnson out-drove him plain and simple.
There was a 22-minute red flag at Dover after a piece of the concrete racing surface came up on Sunday. Jamie McMurray hit the piece of cement, causing damage to the splitter of his No. 1 Chevy. Because this was not a racing incident, should his team have been allowed to repair the damage under the red, or would allowing that open a whole new can of worms?
Amy: Yes, there should be a provision that allows for an exception when the damage is from a non-racing incident. They made one at Charlotte last year.
Phil: The whole thing was a mess. Pemberton stood behind NASCAR’s policy, and there is precedent. Jeff Gordon got screwed over twice because of it.
Mike: I thought they should have let Gordon’s team work on his car when it happened at Martinsville a few years back. It isn’t the team’s fault like a blown tire or something. I don’t know why they won’t let them fix the damage.
Phil: However, NASCAR apparently makes a distinction if the TV partners are to blame.
Mike: Yeah, if the damage is from a video camera you can work on your car.
Amy: I understand NASCAR’s argument that the team could work on undamaged things, like changing shocks or control arms, using that as an excuse. So limit it to working on only certain things under red.
Phil: It’s the whole unfair advantage argument. Limiting people to the absolute bare minimum should be allowed. However, if that were to happen, would they get their spot back, or not?
Amy: Right. At first, I thought McMurray had a tire go down because Casey Mears gave him a pop just before, and that would have been different-a racing incident.
Mike: I’m pretty sure you could have the officials look and decide what could and couldn’t be worked on. At least while we still have living, breathing officials.
Amy: I’d say no to getting the spot back. They’d have to give up track position to work on it, but in most cases, they’ve already had to come to pit road.
Mike: I’d give them their spot back but I’m a giver, not a taker.
Amy: But this was clearly beyond the No. 1 team’s control. At the very least, they should have been allowed to repair the splitter, which was clearly damaged from the track breaking up.
Phil: Let’s go to the next level on this question. Dover’s “White Lightning” surface is now 19 years old, older than Bristol’s was before it was replaced. What should Dover do? Is it time to replace the concrete with either new concrete, or swap back to asphalt?
Mike: The concrete is fine. Patch it as needed but the beauty of concrete is you can do sections of it without doing the whole surface.
Phil: Even without being able to work on their car under yellow, McMurray’s team did a pretty good job repairing it.
Amy: I don’t know, Phil. There weren’t any other problems other than that one joint. I think there would be worse issues with asphalt given the track’s location and climate. That’s why they went concrete in the first place
Mike: They did a great job. Only going two laps down was impressive.
Phil: I only say that after reading Earnhardt Jr.‘s quotes in which he stated something along the lines of concrete losing the battle to asphalt as a preferred racing surface for 60 years.
Amy: I still think NASCAR needs to look at the rule. When a specific car is damaged by whatever caused the red flag and it’s not a racing incident, they should be allowed to work on at least cosmetic damage.
Phil: If that happens, everyone needs to be notified of exactly what can be touched. The team or teams allowed to work on the car will have a small fleet of observers to make sure they don’t try to pull a fast one.
Mike: The rule needs to be looked at. Penalizing a team for something that was out of their control doesn’t seem right. Flexibility can be used on occasion.
Amy: One thing about concrete, they can fix it way faster than asphalt. Remember the hole at Daytona when they had to borrow Bondo from teams to fix the track and it took forever and a day?
Dover marked the halfway point of NASCAR’s “regular season” as well as the final 2014 race for FOX…many fans have had negative comments for the FOXbroadcasts, so with the network expanding its role in NASCAR next year, is it time for some changes for 2015?
Phil: I detailed some changes in my critique.
Amy: I think it’s time for massive changes, both in terms of on-air personalities and in how they cover a race. But it won’t happen.
Phil: I believe that Michael Waltrip needs to go because he is biased and cannot be trusted to be impartial.
Mike: Yep, it is time for a near total shakeup of the booth. I don’t know what would work and what wouldn’t but the coverage now is not working.
Amy: Anybody but Darrell Waltrip.
Phil: They need to put a fourth pit reporter back on pit road. It’s been two years since Dick Berggren retired and FOX has only hurt themselves there since.
Amy: Yeah, Michael, too. Make it a Waltrip-free zone.
Mike: They need to show more wide shots. They need to show more racing in the pack. They need to not allow personal services contracts for the people in the booth.
Phil: They need to shore up Jeff Hammond’s role. Whatever that ends up being.
Amy: They need professionals, not goofballs. An IndyCar grid walk by Robin Miller is great. Michael Waltrip’s version? Lame.
Mike: The fact that people in the booth are sponsored by entities in the sport is undoubtedly a conflict of interest.
Phil: So, you don’t want the booth commentators promoting things?
Amy: I agree, Mike.
Mike: I don’t want booth commentators on the Toyota payroll.
Amy: No, Phil, not really…
Phil: Agreed, Michael’s Grid Walk is annoying, and has been since Day One.
Mike: The grid walk could be great if it wasn’t treated like a side show.
Amy: Right, Mike. See: IndyCar. They also lean towards bias for certain people, and it’s annoying and fuels the conspiracy theorists.
Phil: The bias is a big one. That’s why I don’t want Michael on the telecast. Besides, he doesn’t bring anything to the show.
Amy: Darrell is just as bad, Phil.
Phil: Darrell is annoying with his Boogitys. That stuff wore out its welcome long before I started at Frontstretch. Now, we just finished Year 14. FOX clearly believes that Darrell’s their star and that he’ll stay as long as he wants to. Provided that Darrell stays in good health, he’ll probably be there for most, if not all of the next 10 seasons.
Amy: They have done a slightly better job of covering more teams this year…but they still miss too much action if it’s not among a select few teams.
Mike: I agree Amy. I don’t know why they can’t cover everyone.
Amy: Radio manages to, every race, several times.
Mike: Yes they do Amy. And usually make even the most boring races sound incredibly exciting.
Phil: I don’t listen to races on radio unless I have to (and I have Sirius available). If I don’t have Sirius, it’s impossible to listen to races on radio (they’re on very low power radio stations that I all but can’t pick up).
Amy: Racing, like baseball, is a sport made for radio.
Phil: I find that FOX’s pit reporters are underused, especially in pre-race coverage. Apparently, knowing your information makes you look bad these days.
Mike: I think there is too much talking in general during the telecasts. I used to enjoy ESPN in the old days because they would go multiple laps without talking.
Phil: The problem with that approach is that you have a lot of dead air, Mike. My thoughts are that you need to get in, get across what needs to be said in a reasonable matter and get out. I don’t think you can get away with just not doing anything for laps at a time.
Amy: Agreed, Mike. The “crank it up” segments are the best part of FOX’s broadcasts.
Phil: Disagree. You can’t tell what the deuce is going on in half of that segment. It’s just shots from the speed shot cameras.
Amy: I’d rather they used a wide angle camera to show the action better, but any part of the broadcast where the Waltrips stop talking is a good one.
Mike: And if they show wide angle shots and let you watch what you want to that is great. I don’t need some dope talking over the action.
Amy: I think that’s what the broadcasts used to do and what people miss…those wide still shots that showed all the racing. IndyCar broadcasts still use those shots well.
Phil: They do need to shoot wider shots, but that isn’t only a FOX problem. A lot of it is an attempt to show off their wares.
Amy: FOX’s main problem is their on-air personalities. They try to make the show about them, not about the race
Phil: That works for a sport like Basketball, not so much Auto Racing.
Mike: And that is the problem. The racing should be good enough so that they don’t have to tell you a bunch of nonsense.
Amy: Fancy high-tech cameras and graphics and the like are ok in their place, but a big part of the reason fans are saying the racing is boring is because they’re not seeing any of it. Instead, they get tight shots of the same few cars, all day long.
Phil: It’s nice to be able to get all the way in there and make the race an immersive experience. The camera they had on Hamlin’s car Sunday is an example of that. However, FOX has proven a tendency to overuse such technology in the past.
Mike: Let me watch the track and pick out which drivers I want to watch and what racing I want to see.
Amy: Exactly, Mike! I’m pretty sure I don’t need to be told who I want to watch in a race. I am not looking forward to expanded FOX coverage next year. What we already have is more than enough. Way, way, way more.
Phil: In other words, you’d rather have a setup like RaceBuddy and not watch it on TV at all, Mike?
Mike: I remember the announcerless football game when I was a kid. Maybe we can try that with NASCAR. I would enjoy it if I got to pick my own cameras Phil. The problem is the Racebuddy cameras don’t have wide angle shots either.
Amy: The best way to watch a race, in my opinion, is to watch the broadcast on mute with the radio broadcast on and listening to in-car audio. It would be way better with some wide shots to show the racing, though.
Phil: Since I write a critique, I cannot do that, Amy, and will not.
Amy: True, Phil, but fans can do it…and they should give it a try sometime. I know many who already do watch races that way…that’s how I learned about it, actually.
Phil: All of this being said, they can definitely improve what they have at FOX. They can be more inclusive, give updates on as many teams as they possibly can, give coverage to racing all over the dang place instead of just saying “they’re racing everywhere.”
Speaking of big changes…Nationwide Insurance will not be the title sponsor for what’s now the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2015. Who do you think will (or should) sign on for that series?
Phil: NASCAR is reportedly leaning towards some kind of automotive company for the sponsorship. AutoZone, perhaps.
Mike: There are a ton of options. I’d love to see Busch back but I doubt that will happen. Wal-Mart would be an obvious option. Husky or Kobalt. I’d love to see Hoosier too but that won’t happen.
Amy: As it stands, I think that series will be a tough sell.
Phil: NASCAR shouldn’t get greedy here. They’re asking for a $360 million commitment ($12 million a year for 10 years for the title sponsorship, plus double that a year for activation). I doubt Hoosier has that kind of money.
Mike: Hell, they sold the Truck Series and that is a bigger piece of crap right now than the Nationwide Series.
Amy: Fans are disgruntled with the series in general, NASCAR does a poor job of marketing it, casual fans don’t know the drivers…
Phil: They got Camping World to re-up because the sponsorship actually brought a tangible return to Camping World/Lemonis.
Amy: The racing in trucks is better, Mike. And there are fewer Cup interlopers.
Phil: Camping World is a bigger company now than it was in 2009.
Mike: They don’t get full fields, there are eight guys legitimately capable of winning races and the stands are vacant for their races.
Phil: The thing with the now-Nationwide Series is that it’s struggling to create an identity. Losing their exclusive TV deal and folding back into the Cup TV deal is probably not going to help the series long-term.
Amy: The lack of full fields is because it’s too expensive to compete on a limited basis anymore. Lots and lots of teams used to do that in Trucks and Nationwide, and they could have a decent day. Now, they’re priced out of the market.
Mike: The problem with the series is they don’t run enough standalone events. They need a lot more short tracks and events with IndyCar or Trucks.
Phil: My guess is that they’ll end up having a company already involved with NASCARin some way take the title sponsorship. NASCAR might have to drop their price, though. Yeah, they don’t have enough standalones. That’s been a problem for over a decade.
Mike: And yet NASCAR doesn’t understand that. Apparently they don’t have the right people in their focus groups.
Phil: When I first saw then-Busch Grand National races on a regular basis, they had 18 standalones a year. Getting those races televised was an accomplishment. TNNentering the fray in 1991 helped big time.
Mike: The thing about it back then was it was mostly short tracks. Now they try and do all of these big tracks because they are companion races that allow them to get the events on TV. I’d love to see them put the series on MAVTV and run 80% of the schedule as standalone events.
Amy: True, Mike. Standalones would improve the series about a thousand percent.
But would they attract the casual fan? They’d have to learn all those drivers…
Phil: And you’d have a series that very few people could watch if it went exclusive toMAVTV. I wouldn’t put anything on there until they expanded their number of households. They’ve got something interesting going at MAVTV, but they need more households. Simple as that.
Mike: MAVTV will be SPEED before too long. They are going to be THE source for local short track racing and that is where the motorsports fan is going to go in the near future.
OK, guys, let’s have those Pocono predictions.
Mike: Jimmie Johnson
Phil: I’m going with Carl Edwards.
Amy: I think I’m going to use my points lead to go out on a little limb and take Kurt Busch. Eventually, they’re going to give him a car that can keep up with him.
Phil: Let’s hope so, because this season has been a stinker.
Mirror Predictions 2014
Welcome to our seventh 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
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
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