The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving: Wild Card Battles, Right Calls And Probation Problems by Frontstretch Staff -- Thursday June 6, 2013

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Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:

Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor / NASCAR Truck Series Insider)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)

Tony Stewart’s win at Dover propelled him into one of the “wild card” Chase spots…for now. But it’s also Stewart’s only top 5 of 2013. Can Stewart maintain the momentum and make the Chase, or will the “wild card” spots be too hotly contested for him to hang on?

Beth: Tony’s hottest part of the year has only just begun…
Amy: Dover alone won’t do it for Stewart. He’s got to get top 10s, top 5s from here on out.
Beth: I disagree. Remember when he won the championship? How many times did he visit Victory Lane before the Chase? Oh, yeah… not at all. Don’t get me wrong…the one win won’t do it by itself, but honestly that trip to Victory Lane had to be just what SHR needed to reinvigorate them.
Phil: It does look like an outlier right now. But, Stewart’s not the best starter. He has only a couple career wins before June.
Mike N.: Yeah, the summer is when Tony heats up. While I don’t know that he’ll win five races, he will probably make a run that gives him a couple and locks him into the Chase.
Phil: However, he does need some better runs in general. He’s got some good tracks coming up. You never know.
Amy: The thing with Stewart is he is streaky. He can go on a hot streak or hit a terrible one; you just never know. Up ahead of him, there are so many good drivers in those 10th-to-15th-place spots… that’s why I think it will be tough. You have to figure they’ll grab a win or two.
Mike N.: I think Stewart is better off than Hamlin. The odds of Stewart winning a second race are better than Hamlin making the “Wild Card” at this point.
Beth: Agreed completely, Mike… especially after Dover’s disappointment for Hamlin.
Phil: True. That wreck on Sunday really hurt him. He’s right back where he was at Talladega.
Amy: Hamlin has a ways to go now just to get back into the top 20.
Phil: 70+ points. That is going to be a struggle, especially if these TRD engines keep acting up.
Mike N.: I know. And people are talking like it’s a given he’s going to win a couple of races; I don’t think he’s in position to win anything right now.

Will Tony Stewart’s win at Dover propel him to Chase contention this year — as well as provide some stability within the team despite recent rumor mongering?

Amy: Hamlin has looked good at times, but he’s not quite in winning form yet. He’s been trying really hard, and sometimes that means overdriving and using stuff up too soon.
Mike N.: Winning a couple of races would give him a big boost in the standings, but he has to make up six points a week on 20th at this point and that is going to be hard to do.
Beth: Getting back to the question at hand… who’s ahead of Stewart and not in the top 10 right now that’s most likely to get a win?
Amy: I think Gordon and Biffle can win for sure, and toss Aric Almirola in there too as a possibility. Kurt Busch has also been better than Stewart overall and is just one point behind him.
Beth: Jeff Gordon I’ll give you, but Biffle hasn’t exactly been burning up the track lately.
Amy: I’m also not yet sold on SHR turning it around based on one race. I’m wondering if adding a third car hurt them overall, like adding a fourth always seemed to bite Childress?
Beth: I don’t know if it’s so much the addition of a third car as it is the Gen-6 chassis. Some people have gotten it down rather quickly while others have struggled.
Mike N.: Adding a third has seemed to tax SHR a little bit. But I think the new car seems to be more of the problem. And that is odd, since there isn’t that much difference between the previous car and this one when it comes to the mechanical aspects.
Amy: I’m just not convinced that this win is the turnaround Stewart needs. One top 5 in 13 races isn’t exactly top form.
Beth: Neither is two top 5s in 19 races, but that’s what he did during 2011.
Mike N.: Don’t forget, Daytona is out there. David Ragan may add a second win to make things difficult, too. Ambrose and Montoya are obviously threats on the road courses.
Beth: But again… all those drivers would have to get inside the top 20 for that to matter.
Phil: Ragan’s still 27th right now. He needs a lot of luck besides that second win…

Jimmie Johnson jumped the final restart at Dover, costing Johnson the win as NASCAR penalized him – but J.J. said he tried to let Juan Pablo Montoya get the spot back. Did NASCAR make the right call with the penalty?

Amy: Yes, they did. Johnson clearly jumped the start. Montoya simply played him.
Mike N.: Absolutely. It would have been simple for him to give it back.
Phil: He jumped him something vicious. He went before the second restart line when it was Montoya’s call.
Mike N.: Exactly, Phil. At worst, he’d have finished second I believe. He would have beaten Montoya and I’m pretty sure he was better than Stewart, too. He didn’t try very hard to give that spot back because I am sure he could see Montoya in his rear-view mirror.
Beth: Would it really have been that difficult for Johnson to do that?
Amy: He did try to give it back, but Montoya didn’t take it. You can see Johnson going slow on the front straight. Montoya was smart not to take it and let NASCAR call the penalty instead.
Beth: NASCAR has made some questionable restart calls in the past, but this one was spot on. He should’ve slowed more… simply put, he jumped the restart. It’s really a cut and dry rule.
Mike N.: You know it, Beth. If he had slowed down more, he would have either let Montoya around or Stewart would have passed both of them.
Amy: Johnson didn’t really pick up the throttle until Turn 1, waiting for Montoya to pass him back. I was listening to him on the radio and he was totally confused.
Phil: I will agree with Amy that Johnson did try to wait for Montoya. Through the entry to Turn 1, I guess. However, I think that it was already too late by then.
Amy: Montoya knew exactly what he was doing. By letting him go and drawing the penalty, he’s assured he doesn’t have to deal with the No. 48 at all. He went slow to the line, drew the jump and then let Johnson take the penalty. Slick.

Jimmie Johnson’s late race restart penalty cost a win for the No. 48 team. As we saw in 2011, might a regular season slip up have title implications at year’s end?

Beth: But you can’t place the blame on Montoya. Johnson has been racing plenty long enough to know how to properly handle a restart. And it’s not like it hurt him all that much. Sure, he couldn’t win his record eighth time at Dover, but he’ll likely do that later this year. Plus, he’s still got a healthy lead on the field that will be erased come September anyway.
Phil: It’s pretty obvious that the race was Johnson’s to lose. He blew it. These types of restart penalties are pretty rare in NASCAR. Maybe once every couple of years does a restart penalty effect the outcome of a race.
Beth: The leader controls the start, according to NASCAR… not the other way around. So in the end, it was Johnson’s mistake that he made and had to pay for.
Mike N.: I was truly dumbfounded when I saw it happen. It was worse than Edwards at Richmond.
Beth: Me too, Mike. Honestly, it would have been a horrible no-call if NASCAR let it go.
Mike N.: And I honestly thought they were going to because they took so long to make the call.
Amy: NASCAR made the right call. Should there be a window for the leader to take the spot back before NASCAR lets them go? Maybe, maybe not. But score one for Montoya here – he knew his best chance for the win and took it.
Phil: Yeah, NASCAR would have lost a lot of respect if they didn’t make the call.
Mike N.: Johnson temporarily lost his mind. I don’t know if he was clouded by the motivational speeches of Knaus coming to the line but he definitely didn’t think things through.

Paul Wolfe was back on the pit box for Brad Keselowski Sunday after serving a two-race suspension for an unapproved suspension found at Texas. He’s on probation for the rest of the year after that incident… and the No. 2 was too low after the race Sunday. What was the right call for NASCAR here?

Beth: Well, when Truex’s car was found too low at Texas, it was a six-point penalty, so I’m thinking for Keselowski the same penalty is fine. As far as Paul Wolfe goes… he’s already on probation…
Amy: Since NASCAR already made the wrong call, I don’t think they can get it right. They said they won’t consider it a probation violation because it was a different infraction.
Mike N.: Provided they make a decent argument for whatever part supposedly broke on the car, I think no suspension was warranted.
Phil: Apparently, they proved it.
Mike N.: I haven’t heard what part broke, but they claim it caused the entire front end to be low so I’m guessing it had to be something with the sway bar. I’m just curious how he could actually race with the front sway bar broken.
Phil: I don’t know, Mike. If it was broken, then that Fusion would have been evil as heck to drive.
Amy: Well, not suspending someone because it’s a different infraction is ridiculous. Who’s stupid enough to try and pull off the same cheat twice? Kurt Busch got suspended for a different infraction than he was on probation for.
Beth: So if they proved a broken part, should they have dropped the penalty altogether?
Mike N.: I don’t know about altogether but it’s what prevented them from suspending anybody.
Beth: I could’ve sworn it was a broken shock that wouldn’t rebound on Truex’s car earlier this year… and he still got the points penalty.
Amy: Yeah, but six points isn’t much of a penalty. Kind of a “well, we had to do something…” Not a meaningful penalty.

Hey Paul, welcome back! By the way, here’s another six-point penalty, and we’re going to need another 25 grand, mmkay?

Phil: Yeah, that’s right. That was Truex’s Texas penalty. Thing was, Chad Johnston didn’t get suspended for that… and wasn’t on probation.
Amy: I do think Wolfe should be suspended. No, it’s not the same infraction. But what’s the point of probation if you can do whatever you want as long as it’s not what put you there to begin with?
Beth: Agreed, Amy. He’s already on probation and frankly, I don’t care about the violation. Unless it’s a broken part that caused the failure, Paul Wolfe should be at home for a few weeks.
Phil: But if they suspended him, the appeals would come all over again. Good lord. Like we need that silliness again.
Beth: I wouldn’t call it silliness, Phil. NASCAR needs those checks and balances to keep things under control.
Amy: If they proved a part broke, and not intentionally, then just take six points and be done with it. If they couldn’t, he needs a few more weeks off… the funny thing is, from NASCAR’s press release we’ll never really know.

Jeb Burton is currently second in Truck Series points, 30 behind leader Matt Crafton. Can a rookie win a championship in one of NASCAR’s top divisions, or are the odds stacked too much against that happening?

Phil: It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.
Beth: Can a rookie win it? Absolutely. Remember how close Ty Dillon came last year? But with that being said, he’s going to have to fight pretty hard because Matt Crafton and the No. 88 team are on fire this year.
Phil: Jeb has shown that he has a lot of talent. He was limited quite a bit last year by the equipment and lack of backing at Hillman Racing.
Amy: And if this accomplishment could happen anywhere, it would be in Trucks, because the driver is a bigger piece of the equation there.
Beth: I’d say that with the entire Truck Series rookie class, it’s Jeb Burton that’s shown the most promise.
Amy: I agree, Beth. He’s very good.

Jeb Burton is a rookie and all of 20 years old. Does he have the chops to contend for a title this early in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career?

Mike N.: There’s no reason he can’t, and Turner Scott has proven they can build winning Trucks.
Beth: I’d argue that he’s the best on their team at this point in the season. Granted, we are only six races in, and things can change, but he’s outperformed everyone else… even the defending champion.
Phil: Speaking of the defending champion, Buescher has really struggled this year. I don’t think James really expected his issues.
Mike N.: Well the season ebbs and flows, and when you start having to do it week in and week out in the Fall it could put more pressure on Burton, assuming he’s still there.
Amy: In Cup… one rookie has led the points in more than 60 years. Odds are pretty stacked against it. I do think experience will play a role in CWTS, though. Like Mike said earlier about trying too hard… veterans know better than to do that.
Mike N.: It would be a very surprising development in Cup, but I could see it in Nationwide or Trucks.
Amy: A rookie is still so hungry that they’re more likely to overdrive.
Beth: And Kansas was a perfect example of that. Burton ran so well for most of the race and then got behind and drove too hard trying to get to the front again, causing him more problems. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him (or Darrell Wallace, Jr. for that matter) in Victory Lane before the season is up.
Amy: I wouldn’t either, Beth. Not at all.
Beth: With the way TSM has performed on mile-and-a-half tracks, that win could come as soon as this Friday.
Amy: That’s what’s fun about the Trucks. There are so many talented youngsters with a real chance to win and prove themselves.
Phil: Well with Jeb (is that short for something, like “Jebulous?”) I think he’ll get his win pretty soon. He’s been strong on nearly every kind of track.
Amy: There is so much talent in the series right now. Between the young guys and the veterans, it’s just great to watch.
Phil: Darrell Wallace, Jr. will probably win the first race at Iowa, for all I know. He’s definitely going to benefit from the Camping World/Good Sam Club sponsorship.
Beth: Phil, as far as Iowa goes, I think Wallace, Jr. does have a shot, but there he’ll also have to contend with Chase Elliott. That kid is so entertaining to watch race and I can’t wait until he’s running in the series full-time.

Predictions for Pocono?

Phil: Well, I’m going with Carl Edwards. Why not?
Amy: I think Johnson is pissed off and that could mean that bulldog focus he can get into…
Mike N.: I’m going with Kyle Busch, assuming his engine will stay together.
Beth: I’m torn between a couple drivers… let’s go with Denny Hamlin shaking off his Dover frustrations. I still think it’ll be very difficult for him to make the Chase, but he’s pretty darn good at Pocono.
Mike N.: Very true, Beth. I think, the perfect thing for NASCAR is going to be Hamlin having to win at Richmond to get in.
Beth: Agreed. What more could they ask for as far as excitement coming into the Chase?

Connect with Amy!

Contact Amy Henderson

Connect with Beth!

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

Connect with Mike!

Contact Mike Neff

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…
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Tony
06/06/2013 12:58 PM
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Too low in the front is usually a broken shock. That’s not an advantage so I don’t get why there is a penalty for it.

Carl D.
06/06/2013 04:37 PM
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I’m with Beth picking Denny Hamlin this weekend. Like she said, “he’s pretty darn good at Pocono”.

Steve K
06/06/2013 04:39 PM
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A lower car is an advantage. If the broken part negated the rule, then teams would design cars that would break in certain places as soon as they make a lap to gain that advantage without the threat of penalty.

Remember Michael Waltrip winning the truck race on a plate track? The spoiler broke on the back which made him faster. It wasn’t hit fault but he gained an unfair advantage. You have to draw the line somewhere. NASCAR used discretion by not suspending Wolf (not Wuff!) again.

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