Frontstretch Staff · Tuesday June 12, 2007
Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!
Editor’s Note : This week’s edition took place before the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rumors were revealed…so if you’re looking for that section of the site, navigate out to the main page and find our Dale Earnhardt to Hendrick articles for more information.
This Week’s Participants:
Tom Bowles (Frontstretch Managing Editor & Mondays / Bowles-Eye View)
Toni Heffelfinger (Frontstretch Assistant Editor & Sundays / Busch Breakdown)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays / Rookie Report)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays / Full Throttle & Thursdays / Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays / Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays / Turn 5 Cartoon)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays / Scanner Static)
Amy Henderson (Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays / Driven To The Past)
Alright, let’s get this straight…Robby Gordon’s car spews parts everywhere, and NASCAR throws a caution. Jimmie Johnson’s car does the same thing, and there’s no yellow flag. What gives? Did safety take a back seat to getting the race in?
Mike: That was complete crap. Johnson’s car was spewing debris everywhere and they don’t throw a caution because they knew the rain was coming.
Matt T.: It appeared so. And at the risk of cutting tires.
Amy: It was ridiculous. They're very, very lucky someone else didn't crash.
Toni: This is not the first time this has happened. Ask Kasey Kahne about it - he wasn't so lucky. He wrecked out of the lead at Dover once because NASCAR didn’t want to throw a caution close to the end of a race.
Vito: I seem to remember a race at the beginning of the year…
Tony: I agree, Vito. It all goes back to consistency with calls, Daytona 500 finish, no caution, boring race, spread out cars, caution, trying to get to halfway, no caution. Although I am glad I wasn’t there today because we were one lap short, I did see parts coming out of Robby’s car, and Jimmie’s incident looked like a carbon copy of Robby's from where I was watching the race from.
Tom: I think that, fair or unfair, everyone working with the sport was faced with the sport’s fourth straight rain delay in six weeks. And it’s to the point where people are getting run down. NASCAR just didn’t want to run the risk of this thing not getting to halfway.
Vito: Well, it’s a track where they run into one corner going 190 MPH, and another at 200 MPH. Anyone remember what Jeff Gordon’s wreck looked like last year? Isn't that enough of a reason to run under caution for a couple of laps?
Mike: I thought the whole thing was completely unsafe. If somebody barreled off into turn one and blew a tire and really tore the place up, they’d have really been taken to task. If I had paid for a seat at that race, I would have been really pissed off.
Matt T.: I saw some talking heads (on a network that shall remain nameless) covering NASCAR’s butt on this one. “There was no debris” is what NASCAR told them…just sparks and smoke. Whatever.
Vito: I like NASCAR's excuse of “Johnson’s car wasn’t throwing debris.” Right. Exploded tire causes 3400 pound car to ride on the sway bar, control arm, and K-member going 170 MPH. But yeah, there’s nothing coming off of it.
Tom: Look, it was completely unsafe. And I don’t agree with it one hundred percent…but coming from the perspective of being at the track every week, I can tell you where everyone was coming from. Four rain delays in six weeks…that was going to be very hard to stomach to have a race postponed yet again.
Toni: OK, but why can’t they run under caution? They hadn’t stopped it yet, and I know it takes longer to run laps at Poconoâ€¦ but by the time they stopped it, they had a few extra in the bank.
Amy: They can throw a yellow for invisible “debris,” but not a car dropping tire poop all over the speedway. The yellow should ALWAYS be thrown for a shredding tire or a blowing engine, no questions asked.
Tommy: It was a decision made weighing the risks versus the rewards. The risk we're discussing was that debris would cause a serious accident, but there was a reward, tooâ€¦ not finishing the race on Monday. NASCAR called it right.
Mike: Well, in my opinion there was no reason to not throw the caution and, if it rains, come back on Monday. Yes, it's hard on the people doing it, but this sport is about the fans. At least, that's what Bill France, Jr. used to say.
Vito: Because they’re afraid people will throw cans on the track. BUT...the way they ended it, throwing a yellow as the 2nd place car is attempting a pass….
Tommy: Well, when they made the rain call was exactly right. The leaders had just went through a rainstorm, and the rest of the pack needed to be slowed down before they hit it.
Tom: And to play Devil's Advocate, Mike, there were a lot of fans in those stands that wouldn’t be able to see the race on Monday. And when NASCAR started the race at 4:50, it looked like we were in the clear for rain.
Mike: I agree Tom, but there are as many or more who could. Or wouldâ€¦because they paid for a ticket and want to see a race. And starting at 4:50, they weren’t going to get the full 500 miles in anyways unless the race ran really clean. In the last seven years, the average race at Pocono is 3:47.
Amy: Bottom line, it's better to toss the yellow then wait and see if there’s tire crap or oil all over the place by someone wrecking in it.
Tom: I agree, Amy. I’m not trying to completely justify it…but I see where NASCAR is coming from. I mean, did anybody see the interview with “Bono” Manion? He was explaining how he was missing a birthday party with his daughter. I mean, the extra day doesn’t just inconvenience fans…a lot of times it robs crew guys on the road of their only day off. You can sit on the couch on weeks off not at the track and say that is the price you pay…but put yourself in those shoes. Put yourself in the shoes of missing your daughter’s major eventâ€¦when you don't get to choose your weeks off. Would you want to run the race on Mondayâ€¦a day late for the fourth time in six weeks?
Vito: Better than smacking the wall going 200 and breaking your neck. That can put a dent in your weekend plans, too.
Mike: I would in a heartbeat, Tom. I’m really getting tired of hearing these guys that make a ton more money than we do getting to race for a living then bitch about the time. If you don’t like it, go run a late model. Or work at McDonald’s. The guys who used to race for the love of the sport would be willing to run anywhere, any day. Did their families suffer? Yes, they did. But they understood. These guys today are whining all of the time about how much they work.
Vito: Hey, I had to work on Monday!
Amy: I understand the rain thing, Tom, and it’s been an unusual year, to be sure, in that respect…but you can’t put personal time above safety. Mike is right, too; they know there’s the risk of running Mondays when they sign on. I’m all for spreading out off weeks and guys getting days off to spend time with their families…but not at the expense of safety.
Matt T.: OK, so there's another question here. Why race 500 miles at Pocono in the first place? Isn’t that overkill? If it’s a 400-miler, we may be getting the thing in.
Toni: Geez, Matt, I think you might be on to something.
Tom: Well, the 500 miles are about tradition, Matt. There aren’t all that many 500-mile races anymore, either. I look at Pocono as the biggest test mechanically other than the Coca-Cola 600. And shortening it loses that aspect of the race…I don’t think we should.
Vito: And if they did run it on Monday…seriously, would we really miss anything? It’s Pocono. Talk about “Prelude To The Dream”...it’s usually a 3-hour nap for people I know.
Matt T.: Tradition, Tom? There’s none of that left!!! I love 500-milers, but not at Pocono. In the meantime, NASCAR thought enough time had past since Daytona and we’d forgotten about “judgment calls.” Because this whole thing was Daytona, version 2.0.
Tommy: Well, I, for one, am glad they were able to get an official race in. But no doubt there was some creative caution decision-making in play to make it happen.
Mike: I just think the whole thing was crap. They let Kurt Busch off without a suspension when he almost pinned a crew member against a car, now they let debris lay all over the track so that they can beat the rain.
Amy: I agree with Mike…NASCAR preaches safety, but barely slaps a guy on the wrist for nearly and knowngly running someone down, and then they can throw a caution early for debris, but not a second time.
Tom: Well, I feel NASCAR was damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. If they run the race on Monday, thousands of fans don’t get to watch it live, and crew members continue to get run into the ground from a schedule that offers no relief.
Tommy: It was a tough call. But NASCAR was up against the wall on getting the race inâ€¦not a call I would have wanted to make.
Penske Racing was breathing a sigh of relief after Kurt Busch didn’t get suspended. If you were Penske, what would you do with your driver in that situation? Is it fair that points penalties assessed could prevent a driver from making the Chase?
Tony: Absolutely, if points can cost a driver the championship (ahem…Mark Martin, 1990), then they should be able to cost a driver the Chase.
Mike: Hell yes they can, and they should. I think Penske was weak in not sitting Kurt Busch, too, even though NASCAR didn’t. That would have sent a hell of a message.
Amy: Honestly, I’d have sat his ass myself.
Toni: You know, I have to think of the time that Tony Stewart got fined by his own sponsor. So, personally, I think there should be some sort of team sanction on him as well as the NASCAR one.
Vito: Well, I don’t think Kurt should be maligned the way he has been, although what he did was inadvisable. Yes, he certainly does deserve the point fine to miss the Chase.
Matt T.: Of course, point penalties could prevent a driver from Chasing. But if I’m Penske, I breathe a sigh of relief, tan his hide, and say, “Go get ‘em.”
Vito: If I’m Roger Penske, I’m saying, “Last Chance.”
Mike: I have to think Kurt’s been in the office already.
Tommy: I’m not sure what Penske says to Kurt to correct his obvious lack of a proper upbringing, though. I’m sure Jack Roush is glad he isn’t his problem anymore!
Amy: Bottom line, Penske should have sat Busch…it’s not like they didn’t have a replacement lined up, because they thought NASCAR would suspend him.
Vito: After seeing how Jamie McMurray has been running, I’m pretty sure Jack would like to have that problem again. But look at Kurt's track recordâ€¦he gets busted for making a scene with cops in Phoenix before he even starts with Penske. He's been wrecking cars worse than he used to in 2000 and 2001 left and right. Kurt’s not exactly acting like a Penske driver.
Tom: I disagree, Vito. I think that Kurt’s been on the right track, but the problem is every time it gets on that right track, he ends up making a painful mistake.
Mike: The real Kurt Busch comes back to the surface, Tom.
Matt T.: It’s immaturity. And it runs in the family. He’s not a bad guy, and I know there was no intent to hurt anyone. But Kurt needs to grow up and Penske needs to lay down the law with him.
Tom: Well, the thing with this situation is that your reputation follows you wherever you go. If you look at the grand scheme of things, and yes what Kurt did was ridiculous and I think he should have been suspended, but it certainly doesn’t help things that he has his shady past to carry around with him. Because in some ways, I think Kurt HAS gotten better.
Mike: Well, I will agree that in some ways Kurt has definitely gotten better. He’s a lot calmer and more fan friendly than he used to be.
Matt T.: Eh, Kurt hasn’t changed as much as people like to think. He’s just gone to Charm School for the camera time.
Amy: And whether he had the intent to hurt anyone or not, he KNEW that crew guy was there, he KNEW he might not be able to get out of the way…and he did it ANYWAY. That’s beyond immaturity…my 12 year old 4-H kids know better.
Tom: Yeah Amy, that’s what drives me crazy. It’s like a rehab patient you see getting better. It's someone you actually want to root for, and then they go off and do something completely uncalled for and stupid that tops anything they've done in the past. I mean, what do you do?
Tommy: Just wish that Jackman could have gotten to Kurt and pulled some slack out of his chain!
Vito: I have a hard time believing Kurt was going to actually make contact with him.
Tom: Yeah Vito, but the chance for contact is there. I’m sure Busch saw that guy…but imagine if he loses control.
Amy: Well, he was coming around the car…it was PIT ROAD. Did Kurt think NOBODY was going to pit Tony’s car?
Mike: The crewman was on the passenger side and jumped back onto the front of the car. If he hadn’t moved, he could have been hit. I saw a guy get crushed by a track packer at Charlotte. It is not a pretty sight. He lost both of his legs, so I don’t think the maiming comments are out of line.
Vito: I know, I’m just saying back off on the maiming and attempted murder comments. He acts like a dick, but I don’t think he’s out to injure people.
Tommy: I don’t think it was Kurt’s intention to hit the crewman. That’s not really the point. It’s the screwing around on pit road that has to be addressed better.
Matt T.: I don’t agree with Kurt Busch’s actions — let’s get that straight — but I think people are really piling on him at this point. He was mad, it got away from him.
Amy: No, it was not his intention…but that does NOT change the fact that there is ALWAYS that possibility, and hitting another car on pit road should be an automatic one race suspension. You sit a guy for a race (I’d like to see two) for hitting someone on pit road. Period. Every time, no matter WHO he is, because it’s stupid and dangerous. That’s not out of control, that’s sending a statement
Vito: Well, at the very leastâ€¦Kurt’s taken the heat off of his brother.
Tony: Yeah, it's like they rotate years or something.
With Lewis Hamilton’s win in Formula One and Danica Patrick’s near-win in IRL...where is NASCAR’s knight in shining diversity armor? How long before we see those types of things happen in stock car racing?
Tony: We're a year or two off. It took Danica a couple of years to get in this position. Lewis is an anomaly, but it took him some near misses, too.
Mike: Marc Davis. He is a development driver for Gibbs. He’ll win in Cup before he is done.
Toni: Yeah, but Mike, they never seem to get past development driver status.
Matt T.: We could have already seen it. Problem is, there is no one talented enough yet to have earned the gig.
Vito: Juan Pablo Montoya already won a Busch Race this year.
Toni: Chrissy Wallace won at Hickory, too, but good luck to her finding anyone to sponsor the car. Because that’s what it always comes down to. When it comes time to put the money on the table, it’s not there.
Tom: That’s the thing, Toni; it’s almost like NASCAR is playing lip service to the whole thing. For all the development drivers in the system, who’s broken through to the top three series? Instead, the same drivers keep getting recycled over and over.
Toni: And the big owners that could get it don’t step up.
Amy: I’d like to see stats on young kids in racing and demographics and how many quit when they get to be teens and it isn’t “cool” for a girl any more.
Tony: Right now Juan Pablo is the best hope for diversity, and I don’t see him breaking into Victory Lane until probably next year.
Vito: Juan will be up there at Watkins Glen and Sears Point.
Tommy: Of course Juan Pablo is the best bet. But long term…I don’t think the Driver for Diversity program is producing any legitimate candidates yet.
Matt T.: I got a ‘NASCAR Diversity Internship Enters Eighth Year” email from their PR Department today. Thing is, I don’t see it much at the track.
Mike: And do you not think, if you have a driver who is a diversity driver and one who isn’t, that NASCAR isn’t going to push for the diversity driver to get the ride?
Vito: Well, does NASCAR really need a diversity king? Every time they find someone suitable, they rush them out there in subpar equipment that can barely make the race, and then the driver gets a bad rap, because they get stuck wheeling junk around the track.
Tom: The thing is, though, Vito, for NASCAR to grow to the next platform they need a Tiger Woods-like character like Lewis Hamilton. But it seems like there’s no push to get that type of guy in there. I mean, look at Chase Austin…he just got picked up by Rusty Wallace. But Hendrick picked him up at 14 for him to be a development driver, and didn’t even end up bothering with him because their stable was full.
Tommy: I agree Tom…for NASCAR’s future growth, they are going to have to have drivers that our diverse population can identify with.
Mike: That’s why I think Davis is going to get a shot. He’s 16 and doing very well.
Matt T.: What happened to the almighty Magic Johnson and his seat as Chair for the Drive for Diversity program? What a joke…no one has seen him since then introductory press conference.
Vito: Tragic Johnson.
Mike: That’s funny right thereâ€¦ I don’t care who you are.
Tom: It's not just drivers that are struggling. All these minority owners out there trying to get in the sport…I’ve talked to Rick Clark, Tim Brown, Terrance Mathis, several people who are trying to break in. And it’s like they’re on an island on their own…minority owners as well as drivers. I think if we can get a minority owner, the driver will come. But it’s impossible to break into NASCAR ownership these days.
Vito: You don’t really see to many of those NASCAR diversity commercials anymore, do you? “Thank you, Wendell Scott. Thank you, Bill Lester. Thank you, Sam Belnavis.” Well. 3 guys in 40 years.
Tom: Don't forget, Erin Crocker was in those commercials, tooâ€¦that's part of it. And her reputation hasn’t exactly flourished as of late…
Amy: The one they used to have was creepy.
Burney Lamar was prevented from competing for another Busch team this weekend due to previous contractual agreements with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Danny O’Quinn is also still contracted by Roush, even though they can’t find sponsorship for him for a Busch ride…should these car owners continue to have this type control of these drivers in feeder series trying to advance their careers?
Tommy: The drivers signed the contracts. Unless they signed them under duress, they should honor them.
Mike: They’re paying them, they can do what they want with them.
Tom: But forcing them to sit out, Mike? That’s rough. I think this is a product of young drivers not realizing the magnitude to which they sign their life away. They make their first contract sink or swim, and then they get burned.
Matt T.: The drivers signed on the dotted line. Sucks, huh?
Toni: They might be paying them, but it doesn’t do much for their career path.
Vito: “They can’t find him sponsorship.” Rookie of the year. FIVE Busch cars.
Mike: I still don’t understand the whole O’Quinn thing. But if the driver wants to give the money back, I bet they could get out of the contract.
Tony: Maybe drivers need to start asking for a clause to drive for other teams if their primary team can’t field a car for them.
Tom: I think that’s exactly what needs to be done, Tony. But these young guys, they’re so excited to get themselves in the car they’ll sign anything.
Tony: Yeah, exactly Tom, another problem with people coming up through the ranks so young, they don’t even think about having lawyers look over their contracts. Don't forget, too, Roush ran the 97 one year and the 99 another for almost the entire season without a sponsor.
Toni: And Burney Lamar doesn’t need the money – his wife can support him.
Tom: This is a great point.
Vito: No kidding. Why race? Just stay at home and look at her.
Amy: While it’d be the nice thing to do to release O'Quinn for other teams, he signed the contract, which obviously had a clause in it for this or Roush-Fenway would be in breach.
Predictions for Michigan?
Mike: Kenseth. Wins the second Ford race of the year.
Tommy: Jimmie Johnson.
Toni: Ryan Newman.
Tony: Yeah, absolutely on the Fords, Mike. This has been their house.
Vito: I was going to pick Newman but I’ll go with Mark again, what the heck. Guaranteed Top 10.
Matt T.: Hard to bet against Jeffy at this point, but I’m going with Matt Kenseth.
Amy: Matt Kenseth.
Tom: See, I just don’t think the Fords have been strong enough this year to pull it off. So, I’m going to break the mold and say the Gibbs bunch finally breaks through this season…with Tony Stewart.
Tony: Ah, Stewart season is starting, could be a good pick
Matt T.: True. This is where his ’05 run started.
Amy: He’s bound to heat up now for sure.
Tom: Right…which is why I think people handing Gordon the Cup are a little premature. In the old system, yes…in the Chase, there’s still plenty of time for Tony to shine.
Vito: Tony, he did pretty good at Pocono. That was a Top 5 car, and he was out there on old tires at the end.
Amy: I still say Mattycakes wins it though.
Tom: I thought Mattycakes was Matt Yocum’s nickname? Amy, we need to get your Matts in a row.
Toni: I almost spit soda out my nose on that one.
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Not Sure Which FS Writer To Trust With Predictions? Check out the 2007 Nextel Cup Prediction Standings Below:
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