Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every week, your favorite columnists will sit down and chat about what went right, what went wrong, and what was just plain silly about last week’s race. And if you don’t like it, or don’t agree, well, just make a comment below and tell us how you feel!
This week’s participants:
Nikki Krone Frontstretch Editor
Tom Bowles (Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Dennis Michelsen (Making The Grade/Fantasy Insight)
Jeff Meyer (Thursdays/Voices)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/That’s History)
Toni Heffelfinger (Fridays/Second Fiddle)
Tom: With both races at the “new” Pocono under our belt, what’s the verdict? Do we like the “old” version with shifting and mechanical problems better, or is the “new” version with no rumble strips and no shifting the way to go?
Tom: I was going to start this off by saying True or False: Pocono was as exciting as watching paint dry on Sunday, but that’s a little unprofessional.
Toni: Well, I do feel like we saw two “follow the leader” snoozers. If the “new” Pocono is the reason why, I say bring back the “old” version. Besides, the challenge of building the car to last, as well as the driver not killing that car by missing a shift add to the competition.
Jeff: I say bring back the old. And did you notice, the good ol’ Goodyears still were crapping out, even without the rumble strips.
Amy: I do not like the “new” Pocono…all these tire problems are downright dangerous, and I’d hate to see somebody get hurt while NASCAR tries to manufacture better racing.
Nikki: Well, the end of the race was exciting…the last 1/4 of the race.
Dennis: The bad race had more to do with tires that limited agressive setups, as well as a track with too many bumps…not the shifting, in my opinion. But whatever the reasons, that Cup race was a snooooze…
Tom: Yeah…well, this is where the selfishness of fans comes in here. It’s hard not to be a hypocrite, because the “old” Pocono cost teams money when their engines and transmissions all went kaput, something us fans always complain about with costs getting higher and higher. But when you have a Pocono race in which there’s no attrition…and no shifting…well…it’s just not all that exciting.
Nikki: It’s sad though, Tom, that you say it wasn’t exciting because not that many people had trouble. It wasn’t exciting because there was very little side-by-side racing and passing.
Tom: Well, I don’t mean trouble by crashing, Nikki. I think a big part of Pocono was always building the car so it would last. So even if the leader had a big lead, you would never know what was going to happen because of the tendency of all the transmissions or engines to go bad. Believe me, I’m not wishing tire failures on anyone…those were horrible.
Nikki: I don’t think people losing tires or whatever makes it exciting, either….what makes it exciting is to see ACTUAL racing. Engine failures aren’t exciting to me.
Amy: Well, I thought Pocono was boring before, but now, it’s boring AND dangerous! Swell.
Toni: And it’s not just the fans complaining. Rusty has said repeatedly the no shifting thing is not good. There’s no power, and they can’t pass.
Tom: Man, some drivers were being downright nasty when talking about the track surface this weekend.
Nikki: I still love Mark’s comments. “It’s a bump. Whoop t’do.”
Dennis: They need to make a better tire that will give us better racing…and maybe some progressive banking in turn three would help, too.
Amy: What would really help the race is shipping one of those race dates to somewhere where racing occurs.
Tom: Well Amy, you better believe NASCAR is using this to speed up development of the track on Staten Island.
Amy: Pocono and Loudon will both lose dates to that one.
Jeff: Disagree…the next tracks to lose dates will be Martinsville and Pocono, in my opinion.
Toni: But with those tracks not built, NASCAR wouldn’t ship a date somewhere exciting. It would go to Kansas or some other place, just like the next race date that’ll be lost. They don’t send races to exciting tracks any more.
Dennis: I am all for moving one race from Pocono and one race from NHIS…Kentucky is deserving for sure.
Tom: Well, Kentucky may get one just by filing a lawsuit.
Nikki: Why is Kentucky “deserving”?
Amy: Moving a date to Kentucky is just moving it from one boring track to a cookie cutter. Which is awful, because I think the current scheduling at all these 1.5 and 2-mile tracks will hurt NASCAR in the long run. The series is selling tickets now because NASCAR is the newest big trend. But when the newness wears off, attendance and TV viewers will drop off if Nextel Cup doesn’t run at better venues.
Tom: Great thought, Amy.
Jeff: Teacher’s pet!
Tom: Well, no matter what new tracks pop up, I think Pocono is one of those unique places that should always have a spot on the schedule, even with the new rules.
Amy: I agree, Tom, but two spots is one too many.
Nikki: I think they just need to really listen to the drivers and make changes.
Jeff: And they’re just too close together, the Pocono dates.
Tom: What I always find funny is the track seems more suited for an Indy car race to me, yet they never run there anymore.
Toni: Indy cars got themselves kicked out years ago because they lost money. They wanted the facilities improved, but all the profits from the NASCAR races went to bailing the track out from the loss they took on the Indy cars.
Tom: I will say this…Pocono traffic in and out is downright horrific. That’s got to get better…not a big selling point for the fans to come there.
Toni: If you knew the right way in and out Tom…
Tom: Um, through the forest?
Jeff: No need to get personal!
Toni: Although you’re right, Tom, traffic can be a deterrent. I’ve never gone back to Dover since I sat in the traffic from hell.
Tom: What do we make of Jamie McMurray’s situation now and in the future? There’s awkwardness with the team, he went through his second tough race in a row, and he has two straight weeks of run-ins with drivers (Kenseth, Newman). Can he still be considered a realistic Chase contender?
Toni: He’s got a chance, but you have to wonder if being a lame duck driver is going to deflate his team a little bit. Even if he is a lame duck a year out.
Tom: I think the fact that McMurray came in and won the pole this weekend was a big statement for him. People think he’s going to lay down in that car now that Chip picked up his option.
Jeff: Any of the Top 15 can still be considered contenders, and McMurray’s in that group. Jarrett’s not resting easy in 10th, I know that.
Tom: I think Jamie’s different though, Jeff. If you’re an employee on the 42 car, and you know that this guy is going to leave you at the end of next year, are you going to work as hard?
Jeff: But Jamie is just an employee, too. I think the 42 team is going to work like business as usual.
Amy: Jamie is a racer, and he will do what it takes to contend for a championship…I’d say it’s more up to the team to follow through in that regard.
Dennis: Having a lame duck driver is never a good thing. That’s why we are seeing more and more teams make the change late in the year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see something happen on that situation by the time we head to Indy.
Tom: Well, the comments by Mark Martin on driving the 6 in 2006 aren’t getting so bright and cheery anymore. You can really see he wants to retire; I think this week it actually began to sink in that he WILL be driving next year if Chip continues to be stubborn.
Jeff: But he would kick himself if he didn’t help Jack out. And, he should retire from the 6 car in 06!
Dennis: Mark wants to retire for sure…but he is also as LOYAL as they come. More than anything else, he doesn’t want to let Pat Tryson down. Does any other driver brag about his crew chief more than Mark does?
Toni: Mark loves his entire team. He always gushes about them. Which is why I think they rally around Mark so much. The team appreciates that a lot.
Amy: It’s not like Roush couldn’t find a driver willing to drive the 6 for a year if he really wanted to.
Tom: Oh, there’d be people lined up in droves to take that 6 ride for one year. But I think Roush doesn’t want to expand to a six-car team, and would rather not deal with the pressure to do so in case a one-year driver does well.
Jeff: Now, like I said on What’s the Call this week, if Mark wins the championship, then by all means, go out on top!
Tom: You’d have to think Jamie would at least try and get out of that situation for 2006 though. It’s just hard to imagine knowing you’re a lame duck for a whole year and giving it 110%, which is why I give Jamie credit for showing some fire this week.
Jeff: That situation would make me want to do better all the more. Just to sort of rub it in Ganassi’s face.
Dennis: Jamie is a RACER…he wants to win.
Toni: I don’t think the problem there will be Jamie. I think it will be getting a team to rally around him. Like Tom said earlier, why work on building something with a guy you know is leaving? I can appreciate Ganassi and Sabates feeling like they want to fight off the bully by keeping McMurray. But is it worth it to shoot your own team in the foot for spite?
Dennis: Ganassi is fighting off a BULLY? Ganassi and Sabates have more money between them…it is not about money that Jamie left.
Tom: Agreed, Dennis…everything associated with Ganassi just seems to be in total chaos right now. The FitzBradshaw team even let go of Busch Series driver Tim Fedewa this week.
Amy: Sterling Marlin is driving the 12 Busch Series car this weekend.
Nikki: Although in that case, FitzBradshaw held on to Fedewa longer than any team would these days. Something really needed to change there.
Tom: Yeah, I agree with Nikki on that one. When you’re on crew chief #8 and something isn’t clicking…you think your problems might be driver related?
Nikki: Fedewa is a great driver, but there wasn’t much chemistry there.
Tom: Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, and Kenseth each used up another mulligan in their bid to make the Chase on Sunday. Was it the last one for any of them?
Dennis: Well, there’s six races to go, and Tony Stewart made up 385 points in six races earlier this year. It aint over until its over…but all three are in BIG trouble.
Jeff: I’d say Kenseth is definitely done, and maybe Gordon, too. Stick a fork in ‘em!
Amy: I’d agree with Jeff. Junior has an uphill battle, too.
Toni: Junior might have a sporting chance, but he’s going to have be perfect from here on out. I think Gordon is done.
Jeff: Dale Jr. still has a long row to hoe.
Tom: You guys really think Gordon is done? Jeff’s still less than a full race worth of points out of 10th. He could move up to 10th with a win at Indy. Which is, by the way, one of his all-time best tracks. Gordon wins Indy, then comes back to win Watkins Glen like he should have won Infineon, he’s right back in it.
Amy: I think that Gordon has a better chance of making it than Junior. But I also think that Jeff Gordon not making the Chase will give Hendrick the edge in the Championship…I know that sounds strange, but it’s true.
Tom: Now, as for Junior, I think a poor run at Indy and he’s definitely done. Don’t care what he does from that point on if I don’t see him in the Top 10 at the end of the day.
Amy: Not only does Junior, Gordon, or Kenseth need to win two or three races, but they need to count on others having bad races.
Tom: Kenseth, man, he had everything going his way up until Sunday, and then the 17 just shot themselves in the foot (but congrats to spotter Mike Calinoff on his wedding!). That’s just a shame. He’s likely done now, too.
Dennis: Well, Gordon and Kenseth have tracks they do good on in front of them…and their teams are strong. Earnhardt Jr. took a big step backwards last week, and has a few bad tracks ahead.
Toni: You can’t bank on that 400 point margin, either. You have to get in the Top 10, which means Amy hit it on the head; not only do all of these guys have to have good races, they need the other guys ahead of them to have bad luck to pass them.
Dennis: The hope for guys on the outside looking in is that Dale Jarrett and Jeremy Mayfield can have bad streaks.
Jeff: DJ will step it up now, hide and watch. Remember how DJ came on strong in the second half last year.
Tom: How Jeremy Mayfield is sitting 8th in points, I have no idea. He’s been nowhere close to the front…it’s just like last year. He sneaks up on you with Top 15s and then suddenly, he’s just kind of there, sitting in position to possibly win a title.
Dennis: This whole thing is still a JOKE. Seven of the guys in contention have at least ten Top 10s in 20 races. Mayfield is a CONTENDER for the championship based on this formula, with only 4 Top 10s.
Amy: Well, we do know that both Jarrett and Mayfield CAN have bad streaks, but we cannot count on them happening when Junior and Jeff need them to.
Dennis: I still think the guys most likely to get in the Chase that are outside of it now aren’t Gordon and Earnhardt Jr., but Edwards and McMurray.
Tom: See, that’s who I think is LEAST likely to get in. How can you say Edwards, Dennis? He’s too inconsistent recently…and the short tracks are where he struggled in the Spring, which make up two of the last six tracks. Not to mention a road course he hasn’t raced on before.
Amy: And a big flat track he hasn’t raced on, either.
Dennis: Edwards will be returning to familiar tracks, and has Roush teamwork on his side, too.
Tom: Of everyone, I think Gordon’s the most likely to sneak in now that Kenseth’s out of it…with Harvick and a giant darkhorse in Joe Nemechek having a slight chance. Guys, have you seen what Nemechek’s done? They’ve slowly but surely moved up in the points just as much as Kenseth. That team was nowhere to be found for about a ten-race stretch early in the season.
Amy: Again, if Edwards doesn’t make it in, it will help Biffle and Martin in the final ten races, though. Having to spread the best of everything across three teams vs. two has the potential to hurt Roush’s chances…especially if Hendrick only has one car in to throw the best stuff at.
Dennis: I don’t get that spreading the wealth argument. Roush and Hendrick have enough money to spend.
Amy: Yes, they do…but they only have one “best motor,” “best chassis,” etc. at each track… and knowing who will get it should make a difference. And it goes beyond equipment…if it comes down to teamwork, Jimmie has 3 guys to help him, and there are three Roush guys going every man for himself.
Dennis: Look out…INCOMING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dennis: Oops, sorry guys…just my neighbors “hog” firing up. BLAM BLAM BLAM….wow, that was close…sure glad I had my Frontstretch Kevlar Vest on.
Tom: Well, if Hendrick only has one car to throw the best stuff at, Johnson may be a formidable foe. But again, I’m sure we’ll hear from the 24 before this is all over with.
Tom: With Carl Edwards now falling well over 200 points behind the leader in the Busch Series standings, is it time to stop pulling double duty when Busch isn’t in Cup-town and concentrate on the Chase for the Cup?
Toni: You ask that after it was just pointed out that Stewart made up 385 points in six races? Although Truex is a bugger to make up points on. Even if you go out and win all the races, he’s still right there behind you in 2nd at the end of the race.
Tom: That’s the thing, Toni. And not only is he right there in 2nd, but you got Carl Edwards tired out and flying cross country just to take those 5 points off the lead.
Jeff: Is there some sort of contract that says Edwards HAS to race the full Busch schedule?
Dennis: Charter signed up based on the same guy in the car for all the races.
Jeff: Thats what I mean…so Edwards may be stuck with this. But he is young and full of spirit. So I think he can handle it
Amy: I’d guess that he is tied in at this point.
Dennis: I don’t think it will hurt him, though. Remember when Kevin Harvick did it…and Harvick never has finished as high in points as the year he doubled up.
Dennis: But if he wins a few Busch races, the back flips MIGHT catch up with him!
Jeff: He’s been practicing that flip for years, so I don’t worry about that. Now, Tony Stewart falling off the fence…
Toni: And we’re talking so few stand alone Busch races anymore, too, so this may not be that big of an issue. And the worst one is now behind him.
Tom: I just don’t see the point anymore for him, though. I really don’t. Which would you rather do…finish 2nd in points, or make the Chase for the Cup and have a shot at a Nextel Cup title? And it does hurt him when he goes away to these tracks. Someone else has to qualify the Cup car, and then Edwards starts in the back. Yeah, he can make it back to the front, but one of these days there’ll be a wreck at the back of the pack he can’t avoid.
Jeff: But what we’re saying, Tom, is that I don’t think he has the option.
Toni: And without the extra track time for the majority of the companion Busch races, he might not do as well in the Cup races, so he wouldn’t make the Chase anyway. And the majority of remaining races are companion events. Being obligated to do it by the sponsor agreement also tends to make it a non-issue. I mean, it’s make the sacrifice and do them all, or don’t have a sponsor to run the companion events.
Tom: But, I think Charter would understand if Hank Parker, Jr. drove one or two races just so Edwards could focus on his Cup duties should he make the Chase. It’s not like Parker is unmarketable, or incapable of driving the car to a solid finish.
Jeff: Who knows, maybe something like that is in the works. I’m sure we’re not the first ones to question it.
Toni: I’m all for seeing Parker out there a few times, but it’s up to Charter, not me.
Amy: After this month, the schedules align pretty well, though.
Dennis: This type of talk is exactly why Biffle said no to the double duty full-time this year. But Charter shouldn’t get to decide…WE should! All those in favor of Hank driving the next time the series are in two different towns raise your hand, please.
Tom: Hand raised.
Jeff: Hand up.
Toni: Hand up.
Dennis: OK…now who’s gonna call Charter and tell them?
Tom: No Nextel Cup race this week, so any predictions for Gateway in the Busch Series?
Jeff: Man, you gotta go with Gordon at Indy, much as I hate to say it.
Toni: Get with the program, Jeff! We aren’t doing Indy.
Jeff: Oh! Edwards at Gateway then.
Dennis: I am going to take WALLACE at Gateway.
Amy: Which one, Dennis?
Dennis: I am going to take all three and cheat!
Toni: Truex at Gateway for me.
Tom: Cheater cheater, Dennis. But if you’re going to cheat, I might as well be a copycat and go with a Wallace, too. One of ‘em should win it.
Dennis: I thought it was like the horse races…1, 1A, 1X…a three horse entry.
Amy: As much as I want to go to Victory Lane (literally!) at Gateway, I’m thinking Truex will continue the roll he’s on.
Tom: Gateway’s another one of those tracks that you wonder if they’ll ever get a Cup date.
Jeff: Never, Tom.
Dennis: They sure draw a crowd for Busch and do OK for Trucks…but until ISC buys them out, forget a Cup date.
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