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February 10, 3:00 PM ET
Chat with Matt Willis

Matt Willis
  (3:01 PM)

Hi All, it's 3 PM, and it's time for my chat. I've gotten a proper warmup with a ESPN rec league basketball game that may have included me bouncing the back of my head off the court. So if my answers are rambling...that's just normal.

Matt Willis
  (3:01 PM)

And, I'm running on the power of a burrito from my favorite burrito place (sponsorship pending).

Jack (Brooklyn, NY)

Willis! What can I expect when I attend my first Daytona 500 in 2 weeks? Pack racing? Tandem drafting? Potholes? Also, I think it's high time you gave me some recognition for winning your fantasy league (again) last year.

Matt Willis
  (3:03 PM)

First of all, it's a brand new year, Jack, the year of me winning the fantasy league.Second, I think the two-car tandems will be broken up to a certain degree with these rules changes, and we'll see a semi-return to pack racing. Not what you saw a few years ago, but somewhere in between. But at the end of the day, it'll be a race between two-car tandems.

Andi (KY)

Matt, as you know, there are Busch Brothers hating trolls who come here to cause trouble and I was hoping you can help us get rid of them. What do you suggest? Thank you for your help.

Matt Willis
  (3:04 PM)

I welcome all comers to my chat, I'm not nearly popular enough to be selective on who comes in here. I'll try to keep the questions balanced though.

Matt Willis
  (3:04 PM)

I'm still somewhat new to chatting, so don't criticize me too much. Can't spot the trollers!

Justin M (Boone, NC)

If a team with two drivers (I'm thinking Patrick/Blaney or Waltrip/Martin) are in the top 10 in owners points after the regular season but the drivers are not, do the cars still make the Chase in terms of owners points? and can there be a different set of cars in the owners Chase than the drivers in the drivers Chase?

Matt Willis
  (3:05 PM)

The Chase is just for the top 10 (plus two wild cards) in driver points. So while they can race for the owner titles, it's just driver points that matter for the Chase.Side note: I believe it'll be Reutimann/Patrick splitting the 10 ride, and Blaney will be in another car (35?) for Tommy Baldwin.

Kevin (CT)

Server issue in 5,4,3,2 and 1!

Matt Willis
  (3:05 PM)

(looks around nervously... takes deep breath as everything appears to be ok)

Vinnie (ATL)

Matt, count us as a reader who is sick and tired of hearing how Junior will finally have a break out season, contend and win multiple races. At 37 years old, isn't the question "if" Junior will ever win another race?

Matt Willis
  (3:06 PM)

I don't think he's quite at that range yet, to start thinking that he'll never win again. I think you keep hearing about how Junior will continue to grow and contend for wins this year because, just based on his popularity, it's one of the questions we get asked more often.

Crylie (Preschool)

What will happen to Kurt if he doesn't behave this year?

Matt Willis
  (3:08 PM)

I think sponsors will continue to shy away from him, and regardless of his talent behind the wheel, he won't be able to find a quality ride next year. He's on a one-year deal, and if he behaves himself, I wouldn't be shocked if he's picked up midseason as a replacement.

BK Nation (Galaxy)

Does Kyle Busch know what happens to the Rowdy character in Days of Thunder?

Matt Willis
  (3:08 PM)

I don't have a qualified answer for that, but I can tell you he's career's making quite a movie so far. I'd see it.

Hank Hill (Strickland Propane)

Interesting stat on new HMS drivers in their second year. How do you see Kahne doing? I personally think he won't start out at strong as the previous newcomers to HMS, but will be more consistent in the long run once he settles in.

Matt Willis
  (3:09 PM)

I'm glad you came in, because I was looking to purchase some propane accessories.

Matt Willis
  (3:10 PM)

But to seriously answer your question... I think this is going to be a solid year for Kahne, because he's keeping Kenny Francis around. The two have been a great team, and won a race in lesser equipment last year. I like keeping a driver-crew chief combo together, familiarity I think is very underrated.

Ox (Owego, NY)

Willis, I know you've advocated for a road course in the Chase for quite sometime. Which one do you think it should be? My hometrack Watkins Glen, Sonoma, Montreal, or another? Also, can you settle for us once and for all which is better: Chipotle or Moe's?

Matt Willis
  (3:11 PM)

Ox-man... I have a strong feeling on the Chipotle/Moe's report, but I don't want to upset any sponsors.I love me some Watkins Glen, but I think if we're going to see a road course on the Chase, it'll be Sonoma. But all three should be a part of the schedule. There are some great NASCAR fans in Canada who deserve a race or two.

Ron (Dalton)

How often does a top 25 driver in points get saved by the top 35 point rule to make the field? I suspect rarely.

Matt Willis
  (3:12 PM)

It happens occasionally when a driver spins or wrecks on his qualifying lap. It has bailed out a driver or two, especially if there were no provisional rule.

Todd (Ga.)

Hi Matt, why does RCR have all these rent-a-ride, rich kids like John Wes Townley, Menard and Gaughan working there?

Matt Willis
  (3:13 PM)

Hi Todd. If I could sum it up in three characters, it'd be $$$. But I like what Menard's been doing in his career, moving up and even with a win last year.Did Menard move to Cup more quickly because of his sponsorship situation? Almost certainly, but he did have ARCA and Grand-Am wins prior to moving to Nationwide.

Vernie (NJ)

Hey Willis, with Rowdy only running 13-15 NW races do you see Rowdy leading the Toyota resurgence and maybe winning the Daytona 500 and the Sprint Cup?

Matt Willis
  (3:14 PM)

Hey Vernie, I never doubt what Kyle Busch can do, and his skill across all tracks might be the best in the series right now. I like cutting back on NW races this year, because I think that was really hurting him in the Chase. His Chase numbers are generally pretty miserable, and you have to think fatigue plays a role.

Chris (Rutgers Grease Trucks)

Hi Matt: Who is your pick to be the Sprint Cup Champ in '12?

Matt Willis
  (3:15 PM)

I'll never shy away from being put on the spot. I really like what Matt Kenseth was doing at the end of last year. Take away a couple Brian Vickers-related breaks, and I think he's in the Edwards/Stewart mix in the finale. My pick for 3:15 on February 10th is Matt Kenseth.

Ashley Dulli-Thomas (Vermont)

What are your thoughts on Danica's first full season in nationwide? Do you think she'll score a win and if so, where might that come?

Matt Willis
  (3:17 PM)

I don't think she's going to win a race this year, but I foresee some top 10s and a few top 5s sprinkled in. If she does win, look for it to be a plate race, and I'm not ruling out the NW race at Daytona in a couple weeks.

Clay (NC)

Isn't it true that the majority of Petty's 200 wins came on Weds. nights against 12 car fields at places like Greenville in the Sportsman Divison (present day Nationwide Series)?

Matt Willis
  (3:17 PM)

I wouldn't say a majority of his wins, but a solid chunk of them came against teams that just couldn't keep up with the 43. NASCAR is so much more balanced these days, which is why I love the Petty-Pearson-Gordon debate. Each side has a great case to make.

Skee Bop (West End High Town)

Who has two thumbs, looks vaguely like Mitch Mustain and is totally awesome?

Matt Willis
  (3:18 PM)

This guy! I also get Philip Rivers occasionally. I think it's the hair.

Andrew Bernier (Phoenix, AZ)

Willdogg, while I applaud Nascar for finally switching to fuel injection I think it's ridiculous that the sport wastes so much fuel every year with cars that get 4 mpg. Is there any way they can be more sustainable?

Matt Willis
  (3:18 PM)

Let's go environmental folks. I know there's been a tremendous green push for NASCAR, and I think down the road, we're going to see them run ethanol. Might not be soon, but down the road.

Matt Willis
  (3:19 PM)

Should I be worried that Outside the Lines is doing a special on NFL head injuries, and I'm still a little lightheaded from bouncing my head off the floor at basketball today?

Marcus Terry (New York, NY)

Now that we have a full time female driver in Nationwide, do you think we'll see a full-time african american driver in NW or cup any time soon?

Matt Willis
  (3:20 PM)

I think we're closer than people think. Darrell Wallace Jr. is a tremendous talent and is going to win races at the Nationwide level. He's the real deal, so get in on him now.

Bart (East Bay)

Would you say of the NASCAR bros combos, that Kurt is more like Bobby Allison while Rowdy is the Donnie Allison?

Matt Willis
  (3:21 PM)

It's hard to compare the Busch drivers careers. Kyle has the impressive win total, but so many of those are Nationwide and Trucks wins. Kurt has the Cup title. It all depends which one you put more importance on.

Sam (Idaho)

How do you think Rowdy Brad will do this year?

Matt Willis
  (3:22 PM)

Love Keselowski this year. I think Paul Wolfe is a great crew chief, and I love the way he runs. Multiple wins and a Chase berth for sure. I don't know if he's on my short list of title contenders yet, but he's definitely that team's headline driver now for the first time.

Trident (Cali.)

Do you see Burton being replaced by Dillon before the end of the season or do you think RCR waits until 2013 to fire Burton?

Matt Willis
  (3:23 PM)

I think RCR lets Jeff Burton finish out his contract through the end of 2013. He's such a respected driver, unless things are worse than last year. From what I gather, they want Dillon to grow in the Nationwide Series and not rush him to Cup. Rushing a guy to Cup has seen some awful results (see Atwood, Casey).

Eric Dittelman (Imaginationland)

When are we going to Disneyworld again????

Matt Willis
  (3:24 PM)

My chat ends at 4. You book the flight.

18fan2hater (Md.)

As a proud Rowdy Busch fan, I was wondering if you think Rowdy, Dave and the #18 guys have regained their confidence and communication after the tragedy and devastation of 2011? Thanks!

Matt Willis
  (3:25 PM)

Yeah, I think Busch is going to be a regular threat to win races this year. They won 4 races last year, but they have to figure out what's holding them back come Chase time.

Greg (La)

Wat do u think logAno will do this year

Matt Willis
  (3:26 PM)

I like Logano to move in the right direction this year. I want to say I read somewhere that he's been seeing a sports psychologist. The pressure will be on though, he's a free agent, and Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger will both be free agents at year's end.

Andy Kleiman (Chicago, IL)

Matt, you seem like you're probably a ladies man so maybe you can help me out with this question: what track has the hottest chicks? I need to meet some girls!

Matt Willis
  (3:27 PM)

Andy, your first impression of me is sadly, incorrect.I don't get out to the tracks too often (Bristol is my home base during the season), but pick a warm weather site, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

MStall (Syracuse, NY)

How do you see David Ragan, and by extension Front Row Motorsports, performing this season?

Matt Willis
  (3:28 PM)

I find myself rooting for Front Row Motorsports, because I like the underdog teams that are attempting to go out there and run the distance. That being said, they'll be shooting for top 20s, not top 10s, this season. So, not a strong effort, but they're always in the picture at the plate races, look at Gilliland last year in the 500.

ChrisC (Memphis)

What's your opinion of the half way bonus for Daytona this year? Not a fan myself.

Matt Willis
  (3:29 PM)

I sort of like it, to be honest. Ryan McGee did a great job writing it up, and how it's a throwback to the old days when they used to offer it. The lead changes almost on a lap-by-lap basis at Daytona anyways, and if an underfunded team gets there, the $200,000 is more than you get than winning some races!

Sammy (Idaho)

Why do Brad and Jr mentor young drivers like Cole and Parker, but Kyle needs to drive his own Nw cars?

Matt Willis
  (3:30 PM)

Kyle just loves to race, I can't hold that against him. But, on the flip side, think of the opportunity sitting out there for a young driver who could even get just a few races in that ride. I think the Cup guys running Nationwide take away rides from drivers... but they do bring sponsorship.

Samantha (Idaho)

Now that the young NW only drivers know what sets Kyle and Kurt off, do you expect them to go after the 54 car? Kinda with a "you dont belong in the Nw series" message?

Matt Willis
  (3:32 PM)

I don't think so, showing that you're willing to wreck other cars out there purposely doesn't do much for your job prospects going forward. I think there'll be some envy out there, but also they'll see that they do bring some extra viewers to the broadcast.

J. Logan Mosier (Van by the River)

Willis, what do you think of RPM this year? Will they take a step back now that they've lost AJ? Will Ambrose get that elusive win on an oval?

Matt Willis
  (3:33 PM)

I think RPM might take a little step back this year, AJ was a tremendous up-and-coming drivers, and we'll see that this year. Ambrose has had some strong runs, but think he needs to show more consistency. Of course, fuel mileage can also throw a wrench in there and get a guy an oval win.

Tyler (Greenfield,NY)

Darien was quoted as saying after he saw the JGR shops he wondered how HMS ever beat them. Do you see 2012 as the year when JGR takes over the dominance role in Sprint Cup?

Matt Willis
  (3:34 PM)

I don't they'll be dominant, just because I think Hendrick will be back in full force this year, and I don't foresee Roush taking a step back. But I do think JGR will get back to elite status this year and be in the conversation with those other two.

Bill Ontario (Canada)

Kyle Busch will not win the Sprint Cup title and his attitude will strike again this season. FACT

Matt Willis
  (3:34 PM)

I'm holding Bill to that one.

Mike Honcho (Cali)

Does AJ have a turn around year now that he has Brad to learn from?

Matt Willis
  (3:35 PM)

I don't think it'll be a turnaround year as much as just more growth. Think we're still another year away from a Chase berth, but every year he's moved up in the points and put up more top 10s. I expect the same this year, and maybe a win or two. Watch out for him on the road courses too.

Matt Zielinski (Buffalo, NY)

Whatever happened to RAYGORDONREID? He's usually here by 2:25PM.

Matt Willis
  (3:36 PM)

I think he waits until people can start making picks. Maybe he has something against me. I'll show him.

8Tbone8 (Texas)

Were you disappointed seeing the Stewart is running the Daytona Nationwide race while Rowdy and Edwards are cutting back on NW?

Matt Willis
  (3:37 PM)

I almost expect Smoke to run the Nationwide Daytona race every year, and usually to win it. the Feb. Daytona NW race is tricky, I tend to not even think of it as a NW race because it's so Cup heavy. With great money, comes the cream of the crop.

PJ (Boston, MA)

The reason Grubb was shocked by JGR's shop is because it is always on fire.

Matt Willis
  (3:37 PM)

That was funny, I'll try to post appropriate things that make me laugh.

Fatback (NC)

How come you didn't mention AJ's issues in your story with his DUI, drunken driving conviction?

Matt Willis
  (3:38 PM)

I deal mostly with stats and historical facts, it's almost a potshot to put a note about that randomly in the story, when the fact I was trying to get across was the success level of drivers going to a Chase ride.

Matt Willis
  (3:38 PM)

If you missed my article, I won't get too angry for now. Here's the link. http://espn.go.com/racing/blog/_/name/willis_matt/id/7559447/nascar-thoughts-danica-patrick-aj-allmendinger-dale-earnhardt-jr-richard-petty-43

George (Smith Mt. Lake, VA)

If Elliott has a good run in the 500 and Brenden follows that up with some good finishes and the 33 is in the top 15, do you think Brenden's dad would buy him the rest of the season in that car?

Matt Willis
  (3:39 PM)

If that ride's proving profitable for RCR and isn't taking away resources from the team's other three teams, I wouldn't be surprised if the car's still out there a little later in the season. It remains to be seen if that can be done though.

Joe Gibbs Racing Fan (Global)

Do you think Darien is out to make Stewart pay big time for firing him after winning the Sprint Cup?

Matt Willis
  (3:40 PM)

I don't want to speak for Grubb, but I know I'd be pretty motivated to show I had a big part in a championship team if I was let go following it. It's not like he got a big offer elsewhere, he was let go. I don't want to speculate, but I know I'd be super motivated to put a winning car out there every week.

Matt Willis
  (3:41 PM)

Phew, lots of questions today. Love it, but don't be upset if I don't get to you!!!

Jake (TX)

Who takes over the 20 next year after Burnt Toast is let go?

Matt Willis
  (3:42 PM)

I'm not going to kick Logano out of the car yet, but he needs to up his performance to stick around. If Kurt Busch keeps his nose clean and stays out of trouble, it could be him. If Gibbs doesn't think he can handle a double Busch, AJ Allmendinger makes sense.

Erin Melnick (VT)

Ithaca College? Isn't that the school from Road Trip?

Matt Willis
  (3:42 PM)

Different school, but I still think Tom Green's sneaking around someplace.

Brian (PA)

Can someone give Mears Gang a competitive ride again!

Matt Willis
  (3:43 PM)

Casey Mears seems like a good guy, but he's made the rounds pretty much around the garage. If he wants to get back into a top-level Cup ride, he might have to drop down to the NW level and show he's capable of running up front.

Ted (Conway, Ma)

Nobody has been saying much about Edwards these days. I wonder why? He is one of the best...

Matt Willis
  (3:44 PM)

I think he's a lot of people's picks, but the guy who's finished runner-up in the points recently has followed it up with a substandard season. Edwards was so consistent last year though, but expect to see them go more for wins now.

Ron (Smithville)

Since Morgan Sheppard is 71 years old and still racing in NASCAR do you think Rowdy Busch will still be racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the year 2057?

Matt Willis
  (3:45 PM)

Wow, I think that all depends on how Busch's career is going by then. Tough to speculate that far in the future, but I will predict that Kyle Busch will not be roller skating down pit road and chasing down robbers outside of the WalMart. Love me some Morgan Shepherd.

Vernie (NJ)

Matt, since you understand comedy central, what do you think of this joke: Stewart tells Addington to get him something that goes from ZERO to 200 in less than 5 sec. Addington gets Tony a bathroom scale.

Matt Willis
  (3:45 PM)

Vernie will be here all week, folks.

Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

Who will be the Sponsor of the #10 Chevrolet in the Races that David Reutimann Races in Filling in for Danica Patrick?

Matt Willis
  (3:46 PM)

I believe Tommy Baldwin said he has some sponsorship available for those races, but I haven't heard who that could be yet. I'm rooting for a John Deere car to get back out there.

Mark Hejduk (30000 Feet)

Do you think my man Regan Smith has a shot at the Chase this year? Maybe via wild card? His win at Darlington was the most exciting moment of the season last year.

Matt Willis
  (3:47 PM)

Regan Smith... representing Upstate New York! Don't think he's going to threaten for a wild card, but if we had talked about him at this time last year, I wouldn't think he and that team would be running on the lead lap regularly... or winning the Southern 500.

Henk (SC)

Do you think NASCAR should be for 100% NASCAR drivers like The Busch Brothers and open wheel, Indy car drivers like Stewart, Danica, Hornish, Mears, AJ should stay at Indy?

Matt Willis
  (3:48 PM)

No, I'm all for NASCAR being for the best 43 drivers out there every week. Stewart especially has really added to the product out there on the track.

Rowdy Smoke fan (MD)

Who are your top 12 preseason?

Matt Willis
  (3:50 PM)

Hmm... off the top of my head for Chasers. I like Kenseth, Edwards, Gordon, Johnson, Kahne, Hamlin, Ky. Busch, Brad K, Stewart, Harvick, Biffle and Earnhardt.

Matt Willis
  (3:50 PM)

That's not in order, by the way.

8Tbone8 (Texas)

Do you think Stewart, Harvick, Burton, Kenseth, Biffel, Menard and these other "Busch wackers" will cut back on NW like Rowdy and Edwards have done?

Matt Willis
  (3:52 PM)

I think if we see Busch/Edwards be more successful after cutting back, yes. Several of those guys only run 4-6 NW races a year now. I think there should be a race limit on this guys for a year. I don't want to see cars not out there because they can't line sponsorship up for a non-Cup guys, but I want to see more drivers get a shot to run up front and make a name for themselves. Phew, long answer.

Sammy (Idaho)

You should chat more! You are better than the others

Matt Willis
  (3:52 PM)

Spread the news! Shout it from the rooftops!

Howie (Ga.)

Assuming Rowdy and Kurt go easy and behave themselves this year will Harvick and what's his name in the #2 become the hated drivers?

Matt Willis
  (3:53 PM)

With 36 races and a lot of itensity, I'm sure we'll see some feuds and controversy. That's just part of the fun. If nothing brews on the track, maybe I'll tackle Marty Smith on an episode of NASCAR Now.

Ron (Dalton)

In the last 15 years only 2 drivers that won the cup raced more than 5 races in NW & truck that year.

Matt Willis
  (3:54 PM)

The numbers speak for themselves. And I love me some numbers.

Becky (Boston)

Is pack racing with restrictor places really that much less of a tossup than tandem racing?

Matt Willis
  (3:55 PM)

I think drivers do control their own destiny more in the pack racing, they're not so dependent on just getting a push from the back.

Ryan (real one) (Ventura, Ca.)

Good stat. analysis today on Kahne, Mears Martin. What's your analysis on how long Stevie lasts as cc on the #88? You think he gets fired before or after Charlotte in May?

Matt Willis
  (3:56 PM)

I think we see Stevie on the box for the 88 for awhile. Junior needs consistency, and he did take a big step forward this year.

Hendrick Motorsports Fan (Key West)

Hi Matt, do you think NASCAR will relax the # of cars per owner rule so Mr. H can enter all of his cars under the HMS banner instead of these silly satelite teams like Phoenix, Shr and now Baldwin?

Matt Willis
  (3:57 PM)

I think we're stuck with the 4 per team rule for the time being, even if teams have found ways around it. Truth is, with bigger teams, there are always teams there that underachieve, and teams might not get that much bigger if they're spreading out resources.

Andrew (Ohio)

Hey Matt, when people bash NASCAR NW and trucks series as minor leagues or 3A, isn't that disrespecting the the fine people who work in those series, sponsors, teams, broadcast partners and especially the fans who support NW and Camping World Trucks? Thank you!

Matt Willis
  (3:58 PM)

I think we can regard the Cup series as the premiere stock car racing in the country. That being said, there's a great product being put on the track, not just at the NW and Trucks races, but right down to the local short tracks on Saturday nights!

Matt Willis
  (3:58 PM)

2 minute warning!

Ned (Lake Norman)

With Mark Martin, Darien Grubb and Clint Boyer all joining Toyota and bringing HMS/RCR/Cheve knowledge, do you see Toyota gaining from this technology?

Matt Willis
  (4:00 PM)

Yeah, I think Grubb brings not only knowledge, but now a championship pedigree to JGR. Earlier I said I like consistency on top of the box, but Hamlin needs a new voice in his ear. Martin brings something unique to MWR that you're not going to get anywhere else. He's been in the Roush/Hendrick garages, and he's seen it all!

John (Il.)

Do you think Samantha and the other wives should be required to wear firesuits in the pits like Mrs. Harvick pretends to be part of the crew?

Matt Willis
  (4:00 PM)

As long as the high heels stick around, those things are crazy.

Chris (Endicott, NY) [via mobile]

It's a great day to be a bomber, Willis. How about some love for Upstate New York? Can Regan Smith win another race this year?

Matt Willis
  (4:00 PM)

I've already covered Regan Smith some, surprised with how well he ran this year, but to win another race, he might need it to be another fuel mileage deal or a plate win.

Matt Willis
  (4:01 PM)

But that seems like a good jumping off point, because EVERY day is a great day to be a Bomber!

Matt Willis
  (4:01 PM)

Thanks for joining me everyone, I'm out of time. Wish I could've gotten to everyone's questions.

Matt Willis
  (4:01 PM)

Enjoy your afternoon, a burrito of your choice and a refreshing beverage to start your weekend off right!