The Frontstretch: Mirror Driving : Phoenix by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday November 14, 2005

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Mirror Driving : Phoenix

Frontstretch Staff · Monday November 14, 2005

 

Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest news coming out of last week’s race weekend. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This week’s participants:
Tom Bowles
(Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Jeff Meyer (Thursdays/Voices)
Toni Heffelfinger (Fridays/Second Fiddle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/That’s History)

Tom: Based on what we know, did Jack Roush really have no choice but to suspend Kurt Busch for the final two races? Or did he see a little chance at payback and take action?

Jeff: He saw a little chance to get a payback, and why not?
Toni: Partially payback, but it’s also Roush not wanting to put the effort in at damage control that would have been inevitable had he kept Busch in the car. And why should he put in that effort, really?
Jeff: Exactly, Toni. Not his problem anymore.
Amy: I’m not sure this issue is clear cut either way. I think this decision was more a question of doing the right thing, which Roush did. I’m also guessing the sponsors had some say in the matter.
Jeff: Hey, Kurt dumped the sponsors, too, when he went to Penske. They may have also seen a chance for payback.
Toni: Exactly.
Tom: The biggest question I have is how much exactly the story has been blown out of proportion by a hungry group of media. Kurt Busch certainly has his tendency to lose his temper, but when you don’t have a confirmed alcohol test, no one can really know for sure exactly how much alcohol was in his system.
Jeff: The alcohol doesn’t matter now since he was not charged at that time. I have experience in these matters, unfortunately!!!
Toni: But it does matter in a way, Jeff, because it’s what the fans and media have latched onto, right or wrong.
Tom: And the possibility of Busch being durnk behind the wheel would certainly matter to a sponsor like Diageo. If the sponsors were getting involved, you better believe it was because of the suspicion of alcohol. Because if you take that out of the equation, for all the embarassing words Busch uttered to those officers, it’s merely no more than a serious traffic ticket.
Amy: Should it matter how much alcohol was involved, though? From what I understand, there was alcohol in his system, and just one drink can cause a driver’s reactions to be impaired and cause a tragic accident.
Jeff: I can drink a beer and still drive legally. But the LAW is .08 in most states. He may have caused suspicion in the field, but not blown over the limit initially.
Toni: I’m with Jeff. The way it seemed to read, the field test merely determined the presence of alcohol, but not the level. And smelling alcohol is not enough for me to declare him guilty. One drink makes a person smell like alcohol.
Tom: Right… being a .02 and a .12 makes a huge difference to me, Amy.
Amy: Legally, yes. But one beer can alter judgment enough to cause an accident. Legal, maybe, still a bad choice.
Tom: A bad choice that could have been overcome had Busch been even slightly cooperative with police on the scene.
Jeff: Obviously, Kurt has bad judgment to be going 60 in a 45, anyway.
Tom: Kurt reminds me so much of Tony Stewart when he couldn’t control his temper. It’s like he just snaps, and then he’s just out of control and it doesn’t matter what anybody says or does.
Amy: Not only that"¦but while refusing a sobriety test is legal, it certainly didn’t make him look too good"¦why not just do it if you have nothing to hide?
Tom: Exactly. I mean, if you’re going to get a traffic ticket, why be so difficult? No one in the media would have cared about a speeding ticket. To be confrontational with somebody in a situation like this is to me somewhat of an admission of guilt.
Toni: In some places, though, part of the sobriety test is saying the alphabet backward"¦ I can’t do that sober. I’d hate to think they are going to haul me in on that basis. Personally, I need to have a level over the legal limit before I’m willing to call him guilty, but a lot of people aren’t looking at it that way.
Amy: That’s because Busch DID break the law, whether he was legally drunk or not. Speeding, running a stop sign, refusing to pull over, and reckless driving are ALL illegal.
Tom: Well, the other thing is, besides a great article by Matt Crossman over at the Sporting News, the media are all too eager to roast Busch alive. It’s the Barry Bonds effect. Media bad boy does something bad, gives bitter media people all too easy of an opportunity to rip that person to shreds.
Jeff: That is true, but since there was no alcohol charge, the alcohol argument is out of the question. That means this is nothing more than a misdemeanor no matter what people make of it.
Tom: But it’s still a misdemeanor, significant enough to justify the dumping of Busch from Roush under any circumstances.
Toni: But is it enough to crucify someone over?
Jeff: In my opinion, no, and that is where the media is just going for a story.
Tom: Toni, that’s the thing though. The media has been waiting for this moment for years. Years! I tried to be conservative with my criticism yesterday, as some of the stuff written has been downright vengeful. Still, think of how many people in our field Busch has pissed off. I seriously picture certain writers foaming at the mouth with glee when this happened.
Toni: You have no idea how tired I am getting of having to take Kurt Busch’s side, but people need to put this in perspective.
Tom: You’ve got to wonder, though, if Miller and Penske would be so supportive of this had Busch actually FAILED that test. If he was drunk, lucky for Kurt the breathalyzer didn’t work.
Jeff: That would have been a whole different can of worms"¦
Amy: See, if he was an average Joe, would he have been let off when he was or would the officer have dragged his butt all over until they found a working breathalyzer?
Jeff: They would have taken ME to a machine that worked, of that there is no doubt.
Amy: If I were in that position, I’d do nothing short of DEMANDING the breathalyzer to clear my name if I was really in the right.
Tom: Amy, that’s a great point. Busch wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to take any of those tests, according to the police report.
Amy: Not taking the field sobriety test and then not asking for an accurate test smacks of guilt, even if he never touched a drop.
Toni: Actually, the report said he took the field breathalyzer test. He wasn’t willing to take the others. And I can understand that. They are subjective, not scientific.
Jeff: I believe that he DID get VERY LUCKY when the other machine was broken.
Amy: Refusing the breathalyzer in the field is an automatic DWI in many states, so I’m guessing he had no choice there.
Toni: And quite frankly a good opportunity for public embarrassment when everyone driving by sees Kurt Busch standing on one foot and putting his finger on his nose at the side of a public road.
Tom: Well, what should happen now is really the question of the day.
Jeff: Kurt sits out the rest of the season is what happens now. Roush made him a champion, only to see Kurt decides he wants to leave for more dollars a year later. Jack definitely used this opportunity for a wee little bit of revenge, and I think it serves Kurt right.
Amy: In this case, I think maybe he doesn’t deserve this"¦ but on the other hand, he’s made himself look guilty, and even without alcohol in the equation, what he did was arrogant and an embarrassment to not only himself but to the Roush organization.
Toni: The way Kurt’s temper has been lately, I think they need to let Spencer loose on him again like they did in 2003. He was much nicer the following season after that happened.
Tom: I just think we’re at a make-or-break point as far as he is concerned. To be blunt, the guy either (insert swear word here) or gets off the pot. End of story.

Tom: Winless drivers Scott Wimmer and Dave Blaney were late contenders with old tires at Phoenix. As we head to Homestead, which one of the drivers currently winless on the season deserves to finish 2005 in Victory Lane?

Amy: Rusty Wallace. Or how about-Kenny Wallace?!
Jeff: Brian Vickers. It would be great to see Hamlin win one, too.
Toni: Ricky Rudd. Yes, I say Rudd for purely sentimental reasons because it would be cool to see him go out in Victory Lane. But hey, I like happy endings.
Amy: Rusty winning in his last race would be like Ted Williams hitting a monster homerun in his last at-bat.
Tom: What’s funny is that Rusty has been retiring the whole season and been oh-so-close to a win. But Ricky Rudd retires two weeks from the end of the season, and all the sentimentality magically turns to Rudd. I’ll admit it, I’m on that bandwagon. I think it’s a great story if Rudd ends the year with the Wood Brothers in Victory Circle. They’ve certainly had enough bad luck this year with good cars to deserve that reward.
Toni: Maybe the sentimental switchover is because we’ve all gotten used to the idea of Rusty retiring, but with Rudd we just got hit with it. So now, we have to pack all the fond farewells we’ve been giving Rusty all year into just two weeks for Ricky.
Tom: I’d really like to see someone like Elliott Sadler go out with a win too. He’s had a tough year where he should have won some races early. Then had the bad luck at absolutely the wrong time, right before the Chase to miss the cut.
Toni: I like Jeff’s choice with Vickers, too. I really thought he’d have one by now.
Amy: Yes, Vickers is getting closer to that first win every week.

Tom: Did Tony Stewart put the championship out of reach with his performance on Sunday? Or does anybody still have a ghost of a chance?

Jeff: Jimmie Johnson still has a chance, but Tony has to have trouble.
Tom: Clearly, the trophy is already engraved with Stewart’s name. All the guy has to do is keep four wheels on it and see the checkered flag on the lead lap to pick it up.
Toni: But having trouble is not a hard thing to do. So there is still a chance for JJ.
Amy: Yes, but only if Tony gets caught in somebody else’s mess.
Tom: And I just don’t see that happening. Tony’s been a little more conservative lately than he’d like us to believe, I think. He’s not putting himself in harm’s way, and I think that trend will continue now that he knows the title is within reach.
Amy: If Tony can drive his own race, then JJ will have to settle for second-AGAIN.
Jeff: JJ is turning into the Mark Martin of the "young guns!"
Tom: Johnson seemed to be limping heading into the Chase, and while he’s been relatively decent, he was never able to put up the run capable of truly challenging Stewart for the top spot.
Toni: Not to mention Stewart’s been on the Martin Truex, Jr. plan. Even on an "off" week, he’s still strong enough where you can’t really gain any ground on him.
Amy: At least this year, if Tony wins the championship he’s the driver who truly deserves it based on his season-long numbers.
Toni: Back in the early part of the season, I don’t think we considered Stewart much of a threat. I think we talked quite a bit about the sorry state of affairs at Gibbs and decided Tony being 4th or whatever he was in points was just a fluke. But now I can’t argue in the least that he has been a force since the start of summer. No one has been putting up the kind of numbers on a consistent basis that he has.
Tom: Truth be told, this was indeed Stewart’s title to lose from midseason. He would have already clinched when he started the race at Phoenix under the old system (nearly 300 points ahead). To be honest, the way Carl Edwards has been running, and with no real pressure on him, I wouldn’t be surprised if the real race is for 2nd place. If Carl wins and Johnson finishes 7th or so, he would pass JJ…and that’s very possible.
Jeff: Carl is the best rookie never to get Rookie of the Year.
Amy: Point of reference on Carl though, while we’re on the subject of the point system…he’d be sixth under the old system.
Tom: Not only would he be sixth, but Rusty Wallace would still be in the Top 5, I believe.
Amy: Under the old system, it would be Stewart, Biffle, Johnson, Martin, and Wallace.

Tom: How about this year’s Busch Series title? Truex has done everything he can to pull away, but he’s got Bowyer breathing down his neck.

Amy: Same story as Cup. If Truex can drive his own race, it’s his to lose…if he’s caught in someone else’s mistake, anything could happen.
Toni: I agree. Bowyer needs some help to catch the 8 team, because Truex will run strong enough to win the title if he doesn’t get in trouble on the track. But Bowyer should be commended. He has actually been having rotten luck the last few weeks, which he has overcome by driving from the back to the front. That’s pretty impressive.
Tom: No question about it, Bowyer’s performance in the second half of the season has surprised everybody, most of all Truex, it seems. I pretty much think that after Sorenson and Edwards faded, that team felt they would have a cakewalk to the title. What’s interesting though is that Bowyer isn’t leaving the Busch Series on a full-time basis. So even if he doesn’t win the title this year…there’s going to be more opportunities down the road.
Amy: Bowyer has done everything he could to get in the position to win it if the 8 team falters.
Jeff: I think Bowyer has surprised everyone. I’ve said it before, he will be a great driver in Nextel Cup.
Amy: Next year has a truly outstanding rookie class in the Cup series.
Toni: I’m looking forward to it. That’s going to be a heck of a shootout for Rookie honors.
Tom: Not only has Bowyer hung in there, but he’s shown the type of consistency and determination needed to succeed on that next level. I’m sure the only one not happy about it is Dave Blaney…this second half of the season likely cost him his job with RCR.
Amy: Truex, meanwhile has had a similar season to Tony Stewart in Cup"¦didn’t really come on strong until summer, and then no looking back.
Toni: Remarkably similar. And now as hard as the competition is trying, whenever the championship challengers in both series look behind them, Truex and Stewart are right there with them. Tough to gain ground on either of these guys.

Tom: Briefly, what about the Truck Series title? It appears Musgrave may have things well in hand over there with Setzer struggling.

Toni: I wouldn’t say that. That comment makes me think about a few years ago when Brendan Gaughan had it well in hand. Musgrave is looking at just about the same task Truex and Stewart have. Stay out of trouble, get a decent run, and it’s his.
Amy: I agree with Toni. Of the top three series, I’d say trucks is the one most likely to have a surprise ending, just based on past seasons
Tom: That’s a great point. Everybody thought Gaughan was going to cakewalk…and then in walked Tracy Hines and Jim Smith.
Toni: I think Musgrave has the same magic number Stewart does actually.
Tom: Let me tell you though, no one in the Trucks deserves that first title more than Musgrave. He’s been just short so many times…and he’s one of the veteran pioneers that came in and helped turn around a series that had no direction.
Amy: Absolutely.
Tom: If it wasn’t for his success in the Jim Smith Dodges, who knows if this would have become a breeding ground for castaway Cup guys to come and be happy.
Toni: Actually, Musgrave and Setzer were the two most deserving drivers for a title in my opinion. So to see it come down to those two is great.
Tom: But too bad the hottest guy in the series is just too far back in 3rd to catch these guys. If Todd Bodine wasn’t with the 30 Truck the whole year, they’d be in the driver’s seat for the title going away.
Amy: That’s too bad because"¦?
Jeff: Yeah, what Amy said…we thought there was a Todd Bodine fan in Iowa once, but it was never proven.
Toni: You know, one of the most heartbreaking things I ever saw in a truck race was when Jim Smith thought his team won it with Ted Musgrave in "˜03. Same year as the Brendan Gaughan incident. And yet, viewers at home knew the whole time NASCAR was penalizing Ted and taking it away.
Tom: It’s that incident, Toni, that truly makes me feel NASCAR owes Ted the title in the same way people feel Mark is owed for that 1990 title incident in Nextel Cup.
Toni: Yeah, I have to admit that makes me feel like they owe Ted one too.

Tom: Predictions for Homestead? Race, Title, Anything goes in the final true predictions of the season.

Toni: Tony Stewart for the race and the title. He puts it away with authority.
Jeff: I say Tony to take the title, but Jeff Gordon will win the race and get that 11th spot. Jimmie Johnson will cry all the way home, while Kurt Busch will stay home.
Tom: I’m going sentimental for the race win and picking Rusty Wallace in a bit of a surprise. But in the end, the major players will coast to the drivers’ seat to claim what they’re fighting for. Tony Stewart will win the title, Jeff Gordon will grab 11th, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will hold onto the Top 20 in points.
Amy: Biffle wins the race, Stewart wins the title, and a Top 10 for the 97, too.
Tom: It’s so weird how Kenny Wallace always becomes the super sub for teams in need for the wrong reasons. I remember he got the 28 ride back in 1994 after Irvan was hurt. Then Kenny filled in for Steve Park while Park was hurt. Now, he fills in for Busch after he gets suspended.
Jeff: It would be cool for the 97 to win with Kenny.
Amy: Even if it isn’t a win, it would be great to see Kenny do well on Sunday"¦the opportunity couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Jeff: You are quite correct, Amy.
Tom: Meanwhile, I just hope that the season ends with some sort of climax rather than a whimper…hopefully someone can at least give Stewart a small run for his money.
Toni: Maybe Stewart can lose a wheel on the frontstretch while entering the pits, and just miss the end of the pit wall while the wheel continues down the track, bringing out the caution he needs to stay in the race and still win the championship. Oh wait, I think I saw that movie somewhere before. Like maybe last year.
Tom: Only time will tell if that’s a movie Kurt Busch will ever get the chance to repeat.

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