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)
Aaron Creed (Monday’s / Creed’s Corner)
Roush Fenway Racing had two of its three teams inside the top 10 at Sonoma…does that mean the team is gaining strength, and can they make some momentum out of their day?
Phil: I’d argue that Edwards did get a little lucky with pit strategy, but he was pretty strong all weekend. Biffle was a bit of a surprise. His most notable moment on a road course was probably the time Sterling Marlin called him a “Bug-eyed Dummy.”
Aaron: Or his tussle with Boris Said, Phil. I’m not sold that they are gaining strength, but it is always good to have some positive momentum going into Kentucky. They still have a lot of work to do in order to be contenders later in the year.
Amy: I think it’s hard to say, because it’s hard to say what’s really wrong. The cars aren’t that far off, the drivers haven’t forgotten how to drive. You have to wonder if it’s more discord than anything else.
Phil: These days, road races are kinda outliers when it comes to the rest of the season. Being strong on ovals doesn’t necessarily predict road course success. Some nervousness within the team is never good, Amy.
Amy: Everyone there is tight-lipped about the future. Could it be that everyone is so distracted by where Edwards and Biffle are going and who’s staying that they can’t find a groove?
Phil: It’s always going to be at the back of their minds. Technically, where they go may determine whether they have jobs in the future.
Amy: Now, road courses are different enough that they don’t mean the team has suddenly turned a corner. But I do think they can run better than they have been—they still have plenty of money and good equipment.
Aaron: It’s funny because even though they haven’t found their groove and with all the uncertainty, the 99 team is doing the best with what they can do. They are still sixth in points and definitely in the title hunt.
Amy: If they lack chemistry, or things are falling apart to a much bigger degree than anyone thinks, it’s entirely plausible that all the equipment in the world won’t help them pull together enough to contend for a title.
Phil: Yes, Edwards has been quiet at times this year, but he’s still quite solid. Granted, the win didn’t really help him that much in the standings, but it’s still good. My guess is that there is some strife within the team, but that it’s not a toppling tower.
Aaron: My thought is they’ll keep their composure through the end of the season and at the least have some sort of chance closing in toward Homestead.
Amy: Another thought…is RFR still Ford’s No. 1 team, or has that shifted to Team Penske?
Phil: At this point, I would say that it’s shifted, but Roush Fenway Racing still has 3 full-time cars while Penske has but 2.
Amy: The Penske stable has been very solid this year–as an organization, they’ve been more consistent by far.
Aaron: Based on performance this year so far, Penske has the upper hand, but I wouldn’t be so fast to say that it has entirely shifted just yet. Penske seems to have hit on the rules package. If the past is any indication, Roush will hit on it eventually and be back in the contending group again.
Amy: To be fair, RFR has one driver, in Biffle, who’s not getting any younger, one in Stenhouse who still needs experience, and one who’s looking more and more like a lame duck even though nothing has been announced.
Phil: If Edwards really is going to Gibbs, something is going to force that news out before September.
Aaron: And then there’s Bayne next year who still doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot of experience. It’s an interesting situation.
Amy: I’m not ready to say they’ve turned a corner until they’re running better on a consistent basis. I think Sunday was a good boost for them.
Phil: Anything helps. I’d argue that Kentucky will tell the team’s fortunes a little better than Sonoma, though.
Also check out: Five Things to Watch: NASCAR gettin’ bumpy in Kentucky by Matt Taliaferro
The race at Sonoma featured some drama as fenders connected throughout the day. Are road courses becoming the new short tracks in the sport, and is the time right to add more of them to the Cup schedule?
Phil: If you had asked me that in 1994 when I turned 10, I would have told you that I wanted more road races. I’d argue that I’d want more now, regardless of whether or not they’re becoming the “new short track races.”
Amy: It’s definitely time to add a couple to the schedule—the NNS races at Road America have been good enough that a Cup race there would be interesting for sure. They’re still different from the short tracks, but they’re always fun races to watch, and they bring some different drivers into the mix as well.
Aaron: You know, I heard over and over about Sonoma being the short track of road courses over the weekend which I didn’t agree with…until the race occurred. I see what they’re saying and it was great to see.
Phil: I’ve been hearing statements like that for about 4 years. There’s a lot of bumping and banging, but it’s like a short track where fuel mileage is key. In other words, it’s a hillier North Wilkesboro.
Aaron: I would say it would be okay to add one or maybe two; however, where do you pull those race dates from? If we add road races, is there still enough room to add a track like Iowa?
Amy: I have always looked forward to the road races. I think one reason that IndyCar racing is so good is that they have a better balance of road/street courses and ovals, which makes the championship picture very different. Unfortunately, Aaron is right about tracks losing dates because NASCAR won’t take away from ISC and Bruton Smith would have 75 lawsuits the next day if they tried to take one from SMI.
Phil: Yeah, that’s a problem. Moving dates to road courses would cost Pocono, Indianapolis or Dover dates.
Amy: That said, I’d take them from Kansas, Texas, and Talladega if I were in charge of such things
Aaron: And the unfortunate part about that is unique tracks and geographical locations like Pocono and Dover would lose out.
Amy: I’d love to see a road race replace Indy on the schedule, Phil. NASCAR shouldn’t be racing there anyway. I was thinking of tracks with two dates, but I’d swap Indy any day.
Aaron: Yeah, Indy has become a bit dull recently, but it is still considered one of the more prestigious races just because of the venue.
Phil: I think that Sprint Cup should race at Indianapolis. Not so much the Nationwide Series. That race has been pretty boring and they never should have left Lucas Oil Raceway.
Amy: But with all the fan complaints about certain drivers winning all the time, etc. a schedule with, say, 10 road course dates would be an interesting answer. That’s one reason why IndyCar title battles are so compelling…it can come down to an oval guy vs. a road guy.
Aaron: Agreed. The Nationwide Series is a whole other story, but the balance they do have is three road races. Only modification I would suggest is spreading out those dates, but that’s tough to do with the part of the country all three are located in.
Amy: It’s a terrible race every time out, Indy. It’s prestigious, but for the wrong reasons. If NASCAR put the Southern 500 back where it belongs and hyped it accordingly, it could have the prestige it once did and Indy could fade a bit.
Phil: Yeah. They’re all in the northern part of the country. I feel like Nationwide should return to Road Atlanta (haven’t been since 1987).
Aaron: If you add that many road courses it would kind of lose its luster, in my opinion. Kind of like if the Truck Series would add more dirt races.
Phil: If NASCAR moved the Southern 500 back to Labor Day weekend, they’d likely get a one year boost, then it would go back where it was.
Amy: I think the addition of more road courses would let new drivers emerge as stars, make some others (I’m talking about you, Jimmie Johnson) work a lot harder to win, and provide more entertainment for fans. Disagree, Phil. That was the race to win for drivers for years, and it would be again if it was given the publicity and money that Indy has, and it would be a far better race.
Phil: I could see some former open wheel stars being able to prolong their careers in NASCAR with 10 road races a year. Also, you’d have a stream of V8 Supercar guys show up a few times a year on off-weeks. I could imagine Rick Kelly, Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes and maybe Mark Winterbottom showing up at a couple of them and surprising folks.
Aaron: I think the Southern 500 would get a good turnout if promoted right, but I don’t think the TV ratings would change much if back on the holiday weekend. That would be interesting, Phil, and would be neat if they would try their hand at NASCAR racing even with a handful of road courses today.
Phil: I feel like having it Labor Day weekend (if during the day) would hurt attendance because of the heat and humidity.
Amy: A date alone won’t improve TV ratings for any race, Aaron. The broadcast itself would have to drastically improve.
Phil: However, pumping more money into Darlington probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Home Depot, which has sponsored the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing for the last 15 seasons, announced this week that they will leave NASCAR at the end of the season. Should other teams worry that the value their sponsors sought is no longer there?
Amy: Yes, as long as the audience is shrinking, so is the value in advertising. But part of the problem here is that sponsors have priced themselves out. When the sport was booming, they all threw more and more money at teams until the cost to compete got too high to sustain.
Aaron: Yes, they should. Luckily there has been a positive influx of new sponsors in recent years, but we could fall into a situation from about a decade ago when very few companies were entering the sport.
Phil: It makes me very sad that Home Depot is leaving. However, corporations are fickle. All it takes is a couple of executives changing and the sponsorship’s in jeopardy. Doesn’t necessarily even have to do with anything other than the change.
Amy: The cost of running a competitive team has at least doubled, if not tripled since the late 90’s and that’s why only the elite teams have a chance anymore. There are a lot of companies who might buy in if they could have a competitive team for $10-12 million. Not so much at $25-30 million a year.
Aaron: 2004 was a tough season even with the introduction of the Chase. Some vastly underfunded teams emerged with the fact that they could simply start the race. I don’t see that happening if it cycles back to that again, mainly because of that staggering cost of running a compettitve team.
Phil: The problem is, you can’t cut costs. The teams will still spend the same money, just in different places.
Amy: In the late 90’s, $10-12 million could contend for wins. You can’t cut costs enough now as long as teams are independednt entities, that’s the sad truth.
Aaron: It’s a tough conundrum that may not have a solution.
Amy: Do I see Home Depot’s departure as the beginning of a mass exodus? Well, no, but it does open some interesting doors.
Phil: The testing ban just led to a bunch of money being spent on simulators and the seven-post rigs.
Aaron: The sad part is it’s seen at all different levels of racing. The costs escalate, but the purses stay stagnant.
Phil: I agree. Home Depot may be just one company. They’ve been in the series for 15 years, though.
Amy: Look at it this way…does it make sense for Lowe’s to stay involved at the level they are if they no longer need to compete with Home Depot for airtime?
Phil: Not really, but they clearly love working with Johnson. They’re getting a decent return on the millions they’re spending on NASCAR.
Aaron: As long as Jimmie Johnson is still involved I think they’ll stay. As his career winds down, they could pull out or reduce support. On the other hand, Lowe’s is based in Charlotte and they have been a constant supporter of NASCAR even before they were as big as they are now.
Amy: Of course, because he wins, but at some point they will make a fiscal decision, and that may not be to stay at the level they do. Then again, if they’re the only one, they could find they get more business by staying. It will be something to think about.
Phil: True, this is Lowe’s 20th consecutive year as a primary sponsor in Cup. Hard to believe.
Amy: There was a time when fans were intensely loyal to sponsors. As in, they bought Tide detergent because it was on a car. If there were rivals, like the beer cars used to be, they’d use that to support their drivers. Now, do the new breed of fans do that?
Phil: Some people do, I guess. Others, not so much. Hard to breed that kind of loyalty when the sponsors change so often, though.
Aaron: Definitely not as much, and that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the sport. It’s more about choosing what is most affordable in many cases these days. The fact that several companies sponsor one car in most cases it’s hard for customers to be loyal as well.
Amy: That’s true, Aaron. The economy no doubt does play a role. But I also just don’t think fans are as fiercely loyal as they used to be, either.I don’t think that’s necessarily true about multiple sponsors. It used to be, if a race fan needed tape, they bought Scotch because 3M sponsored a car and they wanted to be a part of that. So while several companies might sponsor a car, it shouldn’t effect them individually unless they’re direct competitors in some way.
Phil: Exclusivity deals don’t help the case either.
The Nationwide Series encountered some weather issues on Saturday which resulted in a slight delay, but that series, unlike the Cup Series, can and does run rain tires on road courses. Should Cup follow that lead, or should NNS do away with the practice…or is the status quo just right?
Phil: The whole thing Saturday was ridiculous. Not only should they have rain tires, but they should leave all the decisions on when to use them and when not to use them to the teams. That goes for Sprint Cup, Nationwide, the Camping World Truck Series, and both K&N Pro Series.
Amy: Honestly, I think NNS should do away with them. Some will argue that every other series runs them, but open-wheel or sports cars are a whole different thing. The problem with them in NASCAR is the cars fog up too much in the rain, not the tires.
Aaron: I’m not a big fan of stock cars racing in the race, especially with some chaos being known to ensue. With that said, it would make it a little more interesting in Cup with virtually no contenders having experience racing in the rain unlike Nationwide which still has its share of ringers.Yes, there are more factors in addition to the tires. It just doesn’t make for very good racing as far as I’m concerned.
Amy: When they’ve run them before, drivers had a hard time seeing anything because the windshield fogged up so much. It made for crappy racing. Plus, if I pay for a race ticket, I don’t know that I want to sit in the rain to watch a race, frankly.
Phil: It would be interesting, that’s guaranteed. I was surprised at how much the pace slowed down on Saturday. It was more than a minute a lap slower than in the dry. 3:22 to lap Road America.
Amy: It would be interesting to see what fans think—would they rather sit out a lengthy delay someplace dry, or watch racing in the rain?
Phil: A 79 mph average around a 4 mile course. Also of note, Road America grinds their track every now and then, so it was probably even more slippery than the average road course in the wet.
Aaron: Even when the Trans-Am cars practice in the rain the day before the few that took to the track were even nearly a minute off the pace.
Phil: Road racing fans probably wouldn’t care. They’re used to it. I know that was the case the couple of times I’ve been to Lime Rock in the rain.
Aaron: I think you would get a mixed bag of reactions from the fans. Those that follow road racing regularly probably wouldn’t mind, while the week-to-week followers may be against it.
Amy: But road racing fans aren’t necessarily NASCAR fans or vice versa.
Phil: That probably sounds more like what you’d get, Aaron. Not everyone that goes to NASCAR road races are just NASCAR fans. A number are fans of road racing in general.
Amy: True, Phil, but a lot of NASCAR fans don’t follow other forms of road racing.
Phil: Maybe I just watch too much racing in general.
Amy: All in all, racing in the racing just hasn’t worked in NASCAR. The cars just aren’t made to deal with it in several ways
Let’s get down to business…Kentucky picks?
Phil: I’m going with Brad Keselowski.
Amy: I think I’m going with Matt Kenseth to finally nab a win.
Aaron: Hmmm…haven’t thought much about it. I think Hendrick continues their reign on the intermediates. Jeff Gordon wins.
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
Toyota/Save Mart 350
|Amy Henderson||Clint Bowyer||10th||+1|
|Summer Bedgood||Marcos Ambrose||8th||+1|
|Phil Allaway||David Gilliland||21st||-1|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-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 filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living 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.