Frontstretch Staff · Wednesday September 22, 2010
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 / Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays / Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays / Top 15 & Wednesdays / Full Throttle)
Kurt Smith (Fridays/ Happy Hour)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)
Sunday’s race in Loudon featured many drivers — notably some in the Chase — driving aggressively from the drop of the green flag. Can this continue as a new approach to the Chase, or was it just the drivers seeing what they had in the first playoff race?
Garrett: I expect to see it throughout the Chase, especially with Hamlin and Kurt Busch. They both seem sick of JJ winning.
Kurt: It was exciting to watch, although much of it was getting what they could on restarts. Loudon is like that.
Beth: It was exciting, and frankly I hope it continues.
Amy: I don’t think it would be smart of the Chase drivers to continue. It was a great race, and good to see what you have from the start.
Mike N.: I’m not sure what it was, but it was pretty enjoyable watching people actually racing hard from the drop of the green. It might have been a product of the fact it was a 300-mile race.
Phil: I think it’s more of a Loudon thing. So, I agree with Kurt. Dover might be quite different.
Kurt: It was a good race. I think guys recognize that they need to get top 5s and get great finishes to beat the 48 team.
Amy: The 48 did go really hard at first, but that was the position they put themselves in by qualifying poorly.
Beth: But I have a feeling those guys that took a big hit this weekend — Johnson, Stewart, etc. — will likely play it safe in the coming weeks.
Mike N.: I think the opposite, Beth. I think they realize they’ve already dug a hole and they better push it to get out of it.
Garrett: I expect Stewart and his team to go all out the final nine races, continuing to gamble on strategy.
Mike N.: 124 points is quite a bit already, so I think you’re right, Garrett. I think they’re going to have to go hard to try and make it up.
Amy: I’m kind of between Beth and Mike. They can’t keep up if Hamlin and Busch keep driving like that and they stroke, but I think they will all pace themselves a little. That was a lot of Chasers taking themselves out of contention right there.
Kurt: I don’t know if this is what NASCAR was going for so much as it was the first race of the Chase as opposed to the last. It was a good race, and even though it pains me to admit it, it was a good race because of the Chase. But the last race won’t have this kind of risk-taking; at least, I doubt it.
Mike N.: I was rather surprised to see Kurt Busch pushing it so hard. He was a lot like Jeff Gordon at Sonoma out there.
Phil: Yeah, putting yourself in the middle of three wrecks is not going to help your Chase out. He’d do well to watch himself in the coming weeks.
Beth: I’m sure he’d like to make a good showing for Miller Lite before he switches to Pennzoil.
Kurt: I like how Clint Bowyer “moved up 10 spots!” He didn’t move up 10 spots …
Amy: I know, Kurt. No, NASCAR handed him 10 spots … big difference.
Garrett: He wasn’t handed 10 spots, Amy. He was put in position to gain 10 spots and he capitalized on it.
Amy: I really question whether two guys who came in ninth and 12th deserve to win a title at all, even if they have won races.
Mike N.: How did NASCAR hand him 10 spots? Stewart handed him one, but he led the most laps and won the race so I don’t think anyone handed him anything else.
Amy: If NASCAR hadn’t reset the points, Bowyer would have moved all the way up to … wait for it … 11th!
Garrett: He wasn’t handed it. If he finished where Stewart did, it wouldn’t even be a debate.
Phil: In other words, he would have stayed the same, Amy. Under the old points, he moved to 11th after Richmond.
Mike N.: Yeah, because he won the race and that is what the rules say.
Beth: He did the same thing in ’07.
Kurt: Yes, he finished third that year.
Amy: NASCAR handed him, Hamlin, and Johnson — basically three drivers undeserving of a championship — all they needed after Richmond.
Kurt: I’ll always be opposed to the Chase on moral grounds, but I might not be so anti-Chase if non-Chasers were excluded from the races. It doesn’t make sense to have non-playoff teams in the playoffs.
Amy: I don’t think they should be excluded from the races, but there should be a separate points system.
Mike N.: I agreed with Kurt. If it was their own race I would feel differently, although I’ll still hate it no matter what.
Phil: A system such as that would nearly kill the sport, with 12 cars on track for the final 10 weeks.
Beth: Can you imagine how much ratings and attendance would drop off with just 12 drivers on track?
Garrett: Although I have had major issues and concerns with the Chase, it is best if we keep it this way. More changes will satisfy certain people, but then it will upset so many more.
Mike N.: Oh I completely disagree with that, Garrett. The points need to be redone and then returned to a season-long trek.
Kurt: I actually agree that they shouldn’t change it unless they’re getting rid of it. Carl Edwards even said if they leave it in place for awhile, it will legitimize it. I don’t necessarily agree, but he’s got a point.
Beth: Leave it alone or scrap it altogether.
Amy: I don’t care how they point the races or who’s in them — if you couldn’t win the title under the season-long point system, you don’t deserve the title.
Garrett: I would like for it to be season-long, but that’s not going to happen. And I think the points system is fine just the way it is.
Amy: It already takes away any historical significance of Chase titles. Changing it again would only bastardize the championship more.
Kurt: The Loudon race was the kind of thing NASCAR was going for. I don’t think they expected drivers to point race like they have been.
Amy: The Loudon race was a really fun race, but I don’t think they’ll keep racing like that. They’re too smart to take themselves out of the running.
Phil: I agree, Amy. Next week, you might see more wrecks than on Sunday.
Kurt: I wonder if drivers realize that just points racing isn’t going to get it done if a couple guys go all out, so they’re all going all out.
Garrett: Drivers have finally realized they have to push it harder if they want to dethrone Johnson.
Amy: No they don’t, Garrett. If they paid attention, they’d see that Johnson is doing a bang-up job of dethroning himself. You don’t think parenthood changes things? It’s changed Jimmie Johnson completely.
Kurt: I don’t think that at all. You have to set that stuff aside if you’re going to get into a racecar, period.
Mike N.: Johnson was in contention all day until the loose wheel cost him a lap. And in 2006, he started worse than this. The No. 48 will be fine.
Garrett: Yeah, Johnson had a bad race, but he is known to get streaky during the Chase.
Phil: Points racing won’t let you compete for wins. A lot of the guys are under the belief that they need wins to get a buffer over Johnson.
Kurt: Well, if NASCAR wants guys beating and banging for the title, at least they got one such race.
Many people want to write in or write off drivers based on the first race alone. Is there anyone we can seriously discredit as a title contender after just one week? At the very least, who moved down a notch in your eyes as far as someone who’s legitimately contending for the championship?
Beth: It’s way too early to start counting people out, just like it’s way too early to say someone is legitimately contending.
Kurt: I actually think Jimmie better find the horseshoe.
Garrett: Matt Kenseth is done, but that was true before we even got to Loudon.
Amy: I think the only legit contenders right now are Hamlin, Harvick, and Kyle Busch. Everyone else is just invited to their game.
Phil: It’s too early to count anyone out, but Matt Kenseth didn’t do himself any favors.
Mike N.: I think Kenseth is the only guy who is truly out of things but, like Garrett said, that was true before the race started. And this weekend may change that because he’s been really good at Dover. But I think the No. 17 just doesn’t have it this year.
Kurt: Kenseth hasn’t run well enough all year to make that up. And Stewart can’t afford another bad run.
Beth: You’re right Kurt, but he’s far from out of this one.
Garrett: Besides Kenseth, and probably Biffle, I think the Chase is still anyone’s.
Mike N.: Biffle is very good on the last two tracks in the Chase. If he can hang around, he’ll have a shot. Everyone else in the Chase, besides Kenseth, is still in contention. There are nine weeks left, for goodness’ sake.
Amy: I think more than 100 out is an awfully big hole to dig yourself into in just the first race. Based on the last few months, Kenseth’s done, Burton’s done, Johnson’s done. Jeff Gordon is almost done unless he wins and wins soon. Kurt Busch is too streaky, and can’t hold the car with someone outside him.
Garrett: Johnson’s not done! He just came off two third-place finishes! I don’t think points are an issue for anyone at this point. It is just how they have been running lately that determines whether they will be a threat.
Mike N.: Are you kidding me, Amy?
Kurt: If Johnson has another bad run, he’s in trouble – I don’t care how many times he’s rebounded from it. You can’t count on winning four races in a row every year.
Amy: He hasn’t actually been close to contending for a win since he won Loudon the first go round. He needed to get hot Sunday.
Mike N.: Johnson may not be able to count on four wins in a row, but he can count on four or five straight top 5s. He was running near the front Sunday before the got spun.
Garrett: He easily could have also won Bristol a few weeks ago.
Kurt: I don’t see anyone convincingly pulling away, either. Johnson is running well enough; I’m just saying he can’t have another bad day.
Amy: But if you have to count on other guys getting taken out to win, you aren’t good enough. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and the luck fairy ain’t helping.
Kurt: Isn’t this where the word “mulligan” starts to get tossed around?
Mike N.: The Chase is Jimmie’s and Chad’s playground, and there is no way I’m writing them off until they’re mathematically eliminated.
Beth: Same here, Mike. We’ve seen it happen too many times to believe it won’t again.
Amy: But we’ve seen it enough times to see that this year is different. The 48 doesn’t look anything like it has in years past — and hasn’t in months. I think ninth-12th in points have to have a stellar day at Dover while Hamlin has a terrible one … but given who those drivers are, that’s also a possibility for a comeback.
Garrett: Back to the original question. I really believe Stewart’s championship hopes took a big hit. Not really because of the finish, but just because of how demoralizing it is for the team. He can still get back in it, but man, that hurts.
Mike N.: I don’t think it was demoralizing at all. They led early, they led late. They got bitten by a strategy call. If anything, I’d think they’d feel buoyed.
Kurt: I don’t know that it’s demoralizing, either. They ran very well. That should be a boost. Just some fuel at the end stopped them. By the way, Hamlin recovered very well yesterday. I wonder if he would have done that a year ago.
Garrett: Stewart and the team ran well, had the winning car, and have nothing to show for it. It’s demoralizing to lose a race, especially a Chase race, like that. They didn’t capitilize on being the car to beat.
Kurt: Eh, Stewart’s been around this sport long enough, he knows to take the positives from it.
Mike N.: I think Kyle Busch showed a lot Sunday, too. The old Kyle would have crashed out and finished 30th.
Amy: I really think this is about a three man-race, though. You can’t count anyone out by one race, but you can look at that race as part of a pattern and make some good guesses.
Mike N.: My good guess is you’re insane if you are trying to count out Johnson.
Amy: I counted out Johnson last November, and so far, I’m feeling pretty good about that call.
Kurt: I don’t know if I’m ready to write anyone off yet, but Kenseth looks very much like a long shot now. Roush in general is a step behind, they’re just now getting up to speed but it may be too little, too late.
Mike N.: I think Kenseth was a long shot before it started. They just don’t seem to have any confidence.
Phil: Having three crew chiefs in one season doesn’t help.
Mike N.: Exactly. I know Jimmy Fennig can get it done, but as a team they just don’t seem to be clicking this year.
Garrett: There are probably five or six drivers outside the Chase that would do better than the 17 in the Chase.
Kurt: It’s anyone’s game. I’ve never seen as much parity in the Chase. I feel like just about anyone could win this. I’ll let you know who’s out at Miami.
Beth: Ask me again after Martinsville; then, I can tell you whom I would write off. Until then, it’s anyone’s game, though some have a much tougher road ahead than others.
Phil: Right, Beth. It’s a little early to count more than maybe one or two guys out of contention. Ask me again after Kansas and I might be whistling a different tune. Even though I can’t whistle.
Mike N.: It’s only one race. In the end, you can’t count anyone out and next week could easily throw it all in a blender again. Once Charlotte gets here, we’ll have an idea of who is in the real running.
Garrett: I will write a couple off after Dover. But these start and parks could make a difference. It bunches the field up.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally got in the swing of things at New Hampshire, finishing fourth, the best among the Hendrick cars. Obviously, the team will be looking to build on their momentum, but will teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson’s Chase hopes ultimately derail the teams of Earnhardt and Mark Martin by draining their resources? Or will it work the other way, their title bids propelling them to a strong finish?
Kurt: Well, there’s only one conclusion that I can draw from Junior’s fourth-place run, and that is that he is the greatest driver ever.
Amy: I think the fact that HMS is a little behind across the board is showing up. That said, this is the perfect time for Junior to flourish. There’s little pressure on him now that he’s missed the Chase, and he can go race for wins.
Garrett: I doubt it will hurt Gordon and Johnson. If anything, it probably helps the organization as a whole.
Beth: It’s funny how the commentators were singing Junior’s praises this week even though he hasn’t exactly set the NASCAR world afire this season.
Phil: It’s possible that Earnhardt, Jr.’s resurgence could be derailed to benefit Johnson or Gordon. However, what kind of crossover even exists now between the No. 88 and the other shop?
Mike N.: Junior ran well at Loudon last year in the Chase. The team has run well most of the year but fallen off at the end of races. With the race only being 300 miles, I think it prevented them from falling out at the end. I’m sure they’re going to be able to use the momentum a little, but one race does not make a trend.
Kurt: I don’t think it will have any effect on the other Hendrick guys. I don’t see how it could. The only real question I think is whether Junior will back off on passing Gordon or Johnson, and I don’t see that even being an issue.
Beth: And it shouldn’t be an issue, Kurt.
Phil: Junior admits that he never backs down.
Amy: I don’t see that being a problem, though HMS has issued team orders in the Chase before.
Phil: I wish NASCAR would ban those. However, the mess in F-1 proves that it’s impossible to police that.
Mike N.: I could see the No. 88 helping the other two teams if they find something, but in the long run I think the 88 and 5 are on their own island and won’t make a difference one way or the other for Gordon or Johnson.
Amy: I think the early concentration on the 88 may have hurt the 24 and 48 a little early in the year. Now, I don’t see that being allowed to happen.
Kurt: Unless Rick puts Chad Knaus on the 88’s pit box for the last five races …
Garrett: That is something I would love to see, Kurt.
Beth: Not gonna happen.
Amy: I doubt that would make a difference, Kurt. If Junior doesn’t communicate the car the way Jimmie does, that’s all out the window. And as soon as things go south, Junior stops communicating and starts bitching.
Mike N.: Chad Knaus would make Sam Hornish, Jr. a title contender.
Kurt: Some say he’s not good at saying what’s wrong, some say his feedback is just fine.
Amy: No crew chief can fix a car for a driver who can’t tell him what’s wrong with it in the first place. Besides, Knaus didn’t make Stacy Compton a winner.
Kurt: Chad is great, but Jimmie deserves credit too.
Phil: Knaus did get Compton a couple of poles at Talladega, though.
Mike N.: Did he have Hendrick resources?
Phil: Compton was decent, but the team just wasn’t there in 2001.
Amy: You just said he could make any driver a winner, Mike. Now that’s just any driver with HMS stuff?
Kurt: I don’t agree with that, because it suggests that Jimmie is an average driver, and he’s not.
Garrett: Johnson was below average in the Busch Series in a car that Todd Bodine led the points in the year after.
Mike N.: Johnson is above average — you don’t win four titles, no matter what car you’re driving, without some talent.
Amy: No Garrett, he was top 10 in points with a way subpar car. How is that below average?
Garrett: Because it wasn’t a subpar car.
Amy: Yes, it was.
Garrett: Like I said, Bodine led the points in that car the next year.
Kurt: Johnson raced for a team that was defunct after he left. Great drivers can’t do much with lousy equipment. I doubt he would have caught Jeff Gordon’s eye if he was lousy in the Busch Series.
Amy: Jimmie made that car look good, but even he’s said since that they didn’t have near the resources as the teams they raced with. And Bodine led the points in cars Jimmie prepared for a team that then had two years’ experience under their belt.
Garrett: Excuses, excuses. Jimmie didn’t make that car look good. Plus, he hasn’t done anything spectacular in any other series.
Amy: He was never in any other series long enough to be spectacular!
Garrett: 91 Nationwide starts … one win.
Amy: In crap cars.
Garrett: Hendrick cars too, Amy.
Kurt: Garrett, look at his record in places like Martinsville or Darlington. You don’t just do that with great equipment.
Garrett: Listen, what Johnson has done in Cup is spectacular. I just find it odd how he hasn’t had much sucess in other series.
Phil: The Busch/Nationwide Series is about the only one he hasn’t dominated.
Amy: The HMS cars were with a part-time crew, and that’s not really a recipe for anything spectacular. Besides, weren’t y’all saying last week that the NNS means nothing and the only series that matters is Cup? Jimmie has plenty of Cup wins.
Garrett: By the way, I am picking him to win this weekend!
Amy: Back to Junior; I think he may have started on the road to recovery, but as broken as his team was, it will be a long and arduous road.
Kurt:: I think Junior had one good week, and it doesn’t mean much on its own.
Beth: I said it earlier this season, and I’ll say it again: One decent race does not make a trend. If they can continue their forward motion, the No. 88 team might be finally improving, but they’ve got a long way to go before they’re there.
Mike N.: Junior had a good run at a track he’s run pretty well at in the recent past. It was a momentum builder for the team, but it isn’t anything more than that. I can’t imagine it helping or hurting Gordon or Johnson. Unless the No. 88 team figures out something that will help the other two, but I don’t see that happening. Those other teams won’t experiment in the Chase.
Phil: I want to see what Dale does at Dover and Kansas before determining that this is a resurgence of form.
Following next week’s race at Las Vegas, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be off for a month before returning to action for the stretch run. Does this scheduling format keep enough fan interest in the series, or should NASCAR make changes, either by lengthening the series’ season, or by running a 25-race schedule that does not begin at Daytona or end at Homestead?
Beth: I like the season starting and finishing with the triple-header at Daytona and Homestead. NASCAR could do a much better job of spacing out the off weeks, though.
Kurt: A month off!? I think there’s a lot of logistics involved with that, because I don’t think arranging the schedule is that easy.
Phil: I hate these long breaks. It’s ridiculous.
Garrett: A month break is ridiculous at any time of year.
Amy: I know we’ve talked about this in the spring during the bajillion off-weeks, but the month off now makes it relevant again. Talk about a momentum killer for both the teams and the series as a whole.
Mike N.: The Truck Series schedule is as stupid as it gets. I don’t understand what they are thinking, but there is no way that taking months off at a time can help a series.
Kurt: There ought to be a month off before the Chase.
Amy: They either need to start later or end earlier. The off weeks do not help keep fan interest. After a couple of weeks of, “Is there a truck race this week?” people stop asking and do something else.
Mike N.: The trucks should run more races, period. And never have more than one week off between race dates.
Amy: I disagree, Mike. I think the 25-race schedule is good for those teams and their budgets.
Garrett: I would love for the trucks to race during the Cup offseason, on Wednesday nights. No bye weeks; it’s a short offseason.
Beth: Too much risk of winter weather, Garrett.
Garrett: Yeah, I didn’t think about that.
Kurt: I hear that suggested, but I don’t know how mid-week races are a good thing. I don’t know how much traffic there is at truck races, but people will have to go to work the next day. I like the races being Friday nights; I don’t think that should be changed.
Amy: I think they need to decide if they want to start at Daytona or end at Homestead … which is more important?
Phil: Let’s see. I’m fine with ending the season at Homestead and OK with it starting at Daytona, but they can’t have two month-long breaks in the middle of the season. Insert a southern short track somewhere in that early interval (Gresham, Five Flags, something like that).
Mike N.: I think they should run 30 races and the purses should be tripled so that it is worthwhile running the series at all.
Beth: They need to worry about the purses first and give the teams a few years. I like the night races in general whether they come Friday or Saturday night.
Amy: I agree with Beth. They need to worry about purses and a better TV package for the series before they even think of expanding the schedule.
Phil: I can take or leave night races, to be honest.
Kurt: Really? What’s wrong with night races, Phil?
Phil: I admittedly don’t care whether they’re at night or during the day.
Amy: I like the night races for the trucks, especially on Fridays. When they run on Saturdays with the NNS, I think too many fans choose just one race to watch.
Beth: NASCAR can easily fix the problems with the schedule by realigning where the off weeks fall.
Mike N.: With the crap purses they pay, I’d love to see them run a lot more on tracks close to Mooresville so that the teams could do the whole thing without having to book hotels and spend the additional funds to put the teams up for a night somewhere.
Beth: And then you alienate fans everywhere else, Mike.
Mike N.: I don’t think so, Beth. If you make the schedule 30 races and add the five races within a three-hour drive of Mooresville, the teams would do it. There are only 17 teams that have run all of the races this year as it is.
Garrett: I would drive up to NC for the truck races. Not every week, of course.
Kurt: That’s where a lot of the best tracks are.
Amy: I’d love to see it regionalized a bit more. West Coast trips are a huge strain on those teams and they don’t race that well at Vegas or Fontana, anyway.
Phil: Fontana’s already gone. Vegas this Saturday will be OK, but who’s going to be there? It’s a standalone race, I think.
Mike N.: All of the people are in town for the Barrett-Jackson auction.
Phil: It’s going on right up to race time. No setup this week.
Garrett: Forgot the casinos, when I go to Vegas, it’s for racing!
Phil: As for the schedule, fix your off weeks and maybe add a short track race. Close to the base for teams.
Beth: The schedule needs to continue to start at Daytona and end at Homestead, but I’ve been saying for years that NASCAR needs to completely realign the schedule to balance off weeks. And 25 races is way too short of a season to visit tracks twice. Every track on the Truck Series schedule should be visited only once.
Phil: As it stands, there are 12 in the Truck Series.
Mike N.: A month off is ludicrous. Whoever makes up the Truck schedule is a dope and should be tarred and feathered.
Garrett: Four off weeks a year is what I would like to see. I’m sure the drivers would, too. And not all in one month.
Mike N.: I don’t mind six or eight off weeks, but split them up. Start at Daytona, end at Homestead, run 30 races and pay the teams some real money to compete in the sport.
Amy: Either start at Daytona and end around the time the Chase starts, or start in May and end at Homestead.
Phil: Start in March somewhere. The series does not need to be tied to Sprint Cup and/or the Nationwide Series.
Beth: Nah, stick with the triple header. We all bitch enough about the things NASCAR changes. Where the season starts and ends should stay.
Mike N.: NASCAR just needs to put some of their billions of dollars into the sport. The racing is the best they offer and they don’t promote it. Did you watch the race this weekend? I know Amy hated it because it was Cup guys up front, but the racing for the lead was awesome.
Phil: How do you think they should go about promoting the series? That racing for the lead was pretty good, though.
Mike N.: Put some commercials on stations other than SPEED and ESPN to let people know there are Truck races that are going to be in their area.
Phil: Make ESPN actually advertise the series.
OK, how about some predictions for Dover?
Amy: As much as it pains me, I think I’ll go with Carl Edwards.
Kurt: Concrete Carl.
Garrett: Carl is a good pick, but I’ll go with Jimmie even though I gave him a hard time.
Phil: I’ll go with Truex. Real wild card pick there.
Mike N.: Give me Kenseth.
Beth: Guess I’ll go with Jeff Gordon. Sooner or later, they’re going to win.
Mirror Predictions 2010
Welcome to our fourth consecutive 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
Through twenty-seven races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s|
|Bryan Davis Keith||4||-39||3||0||1||2|
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