NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers… Who’s Getting Screwed?

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest news from the past week or 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 (Frontstretch Managing Editor/Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot, Who’s Not AND Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Jeff Meyer (Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Race Trax AND Tuesdays/That’s History)
Mike Neff (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans AND Fridays/Full Throttle)
Toni Heffelfinger (Mondays/Busch Series Breakdown & Fridays/Second Fiddle)

Brian Vickers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson. Talladega. Discuss.

Jeff: Simple physics, and bad communication between J.J. and Vickers.
Amy: Vickers screwed up. Big time. You can blame him; you don’t bump and run for the win at a plate track.
Mike: Agreed; Vickers screwed up. Can’t blame him, but it sucks for J.J., Junior, and their fans.
Jeff: Vickers did not screw up that bad.
Toni: Vickers screwed up, but I don’t think he meant to do it. It’s a game of inches, and he misjudged.
Amy: He took out two Chasers with a dumb move… if that isn’t a screw up, what is?
Mike: J.J. was able to cause the Big One again, though. Glad he kept that streak intact!
Cami: Good point, Mike! Johnson is a baby. If the Chasers are off limits, they should run their own races.
Toni: That’s why J.J. complaining about Vickers cracks me up. There has never been another driver more prone to causing wrecks on these tracks than J.J. How many does this make?
Mike: At least five.
Amy: Junior was as responsible for the spring crash last year… Johnson caused the one in the fall.
Mike: Negative, ghost rider. J.J. was the one who caused that, Amy. Junior didn’t touch anybody.
Jeff: OK, here is the deal. J.J. should have been on the radio with Vickers. At the count of three, they should have gone TOGETHER. As J.J. pulled out, his car was slowed by wind resistance; Vickers tries to go with him, but that slightest bit of slowing is what caused them to touch.
Tom: The thing is, Vickers was trying to HELP Johnson, not hurt him. Johnson is lucky Vickers is trying to help him after he took the win away from Vickers in the spring.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Teamwork at Hendrick Motorsports? Jimmie Johnson Should Know Better

Toni: Yes, he was. I might be gullible, but I do believe Vickers was all set to follow his teammate and just finish second.
Cami: Why they all waited for the last lap in the first place is beyond me. I thought they were all gonna finish in a straight line.
Jeff: It is J.J.’s fault, if anyone’s, for not communicating with Vickers. They should have been talking to each other on the radio.
Mike: How wide was Vickers’s car? Three inches?
Toni: Vickers was aiming for the spot right behind J.J.
Amy: Brian was anticipating going for the middle, I think; only J.J. didn’t drop all the way down, and Junior dropped to try and block. But Johnson and Earnhardt raced the last lap clean; Vickers didn’t.
Jeff: Anyone who watched the replay and CAN’T see that was an ACCIDENT is just totally biased.
Mike: Yes, it was an accident. An unnecessary accident, but an accident nonetheless.
Cami: Why is Vickers not racing clean; because he made a mistake? Isn’t he paid to win races?
Amy: He was thinking of how to win the race, not how to race smart.
Toni: Racing smart is also not Johnson’s forte. If making mistakes on a plate track is the same as racing dirty, than J.J. is the dirtiest plate racer I’ve ever seen….
Amy: Nobody’s paid to put other drivers in danger to win. You do NOT bump-and-run on a plate track… they did, which was absolutely classless.
Jeff: HE WASN’T TRYING TO BUMP-AND-RUN! He was trying to slide in behind J.J.
Mike: He was not trying to bump-and-run. Put down the glue, Amy!
Amy: If he wasn’t putting on a bump-and-run, then he was bump-drafting in the corner, which is illegal… Junior got warned for it.
Cami: Only after Jeff Gordon whined on national TV about it.
Mike: Junior was pushing on the straightaway and didn’t quite back off quickly enough.
Toni: Make that three votes for Vickers not trying to bump and run in that situation, and I think anyone who thinks he was is clearly not being objective.
Amy: No matter what he was thinking, he screwed up.
Mike: Yes, he did make a mistake. No question.
Tom: You know what I hate about all this? Here we are talking about the melee, which I’ve already explained how I feel in my column. It’s all about who’s pissed off with who, this big drama, and Vickers’s first win was supposed to be about honoring Ricky Hendrick. He actually had some great quotes in his post-race press conference about how much he misses his best friend, how he wanted so hard to win for Hendrick. And that will always be lost among the hubbub of spinning out two Chasers to get it.
Amy: Ricky Hendrick would not have wanted any of the Hendrick cars to win the way Vickers did.
Jeff: Oh, give it a rest. The whole thing was an accident.
Cami: Good point, Tom. I felt bad he couldn’t talk about that in victory lane with everyone booing. And was Hendrick not at the track?
Mike: Yeah Tom, that is true. It would have been nice for his first win to have been about that. Unfortunately, the way it happened, it will not be remembered for that. Had Vickers not screwed up, he wouldn’t have won.
Toni: What I think is funny is that the Junior fans were up in arms; but out of it all, I didn’t hear one person, except Amy, mention J.J. Seems no one felt bad for him.
Jeff: Do you think J.J. was on the radio with Vickers during that lap? He should have been. I bet J.J. feels he is above talking to Vickers.
Mike: Well, since Vickers has been locked out of the team meetings, maybe Rick didn’t want him to win a race at the cost of another one of his teams.
Amy: J.J. and Vickers are actually close friends, Jeff. Rick Hendrick wouldn’t want ANY of his teams to win at that big an expense to a teammate.
Tom: Amy, I don’t know if they’ll be close friends after this!
Mike: They’ll be fine. Vickers screwed up. He got a win out of it, and it will probably cost Junior a title.
Cami: Look, Vickers made a mistake, J.J. was a crybaby and Junior was actually pretty cool about it. See how quick and easy that was?

Should there have been any penalizing for bump-drafting, especially Earnhardt? Is there anything NASCAR can do to fix the problem?

Mike: They need to enforce the rule from the beginning of the race. If they penalize someone right off the bat, then it will stop. If you don’t do it at the beginning, they’re just going to push the envelope more and more.
Toni: I don’t understand what part of “Do NOT bump-draft in the turns” Junior didn’t understand.
Jeff: I don’t think it was a big deal. The race was really mild compared to most plate races. Gordon was the only one really complaining about it.
Cami: I don’t think they can fix the problem, either. Like Mike said, they let it go on too long, and then nobody knows the rules.
Jeff: I think that the smoothness of the track negated a lot of the actual wrecks from bump-drafting. It was so smooth that you could actually bump without disastrous results.
Mike: Most definitely, Jeff. People were in much greater control of their cars so it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been.
Amy: Agreed… the new paving job was a good thing.
Toni: It kept the cars from bouncing around as much so they had more control, and more opportunity to hang on if they got a good bump from behind.
Jeff: For a while there, I thought the might go caution free.
Toni: I think someone did comment on the huge amount of grip and the ease of saving a car.
Amy: All the comments I heard about the track itself were positive.
Cami: Didn’t Junior say something like it was easy enough to drive out there that even his mom could have done it?
Mike: Yeah, but his mom can wheel it.
Jeff: You know, everything that NASCAR has ever tried, from plates to smaller fuel cells, to break up the big groups has just utterly failed at Talladega.
Toni: Pretty much. The fuel cells work for a few laps while they are pitting. And then it just sorts back out into the big pack.
Mike: The fuel cell does break it up for a while though. It at least gives the drivers a little break.
Amy: Take away the restrictor plates, and these cars would spread out in a hurry.
Mike: Yeah, and they’d land in the stands when they wrecked.
Toni: Exactly. You can’t take away the plates unless you take away the banking. And then, guess what you’d have? A 2.5-mile D-shaped oval. A cookie cutter!
Jeff: How about a 2-mile Martinsville!
Amy: How about moving the plate races to Darlington, Rockingham and North Wilkes?
Cami: Nice try, Amy. Look, they won’t do anything to stop bump-drafting unless they penalize somebody for it right when it first happens.
Mike: The bump-drafting was fine on Sunday. If it wasn’t for Johnson, there wouldn’t have been any wrecks.
Amy: Why is that Johnson’s fault? A car 10 rows in front of him got loose and the field accordioned in a space where an accordion won’t fit.
Toni: I think four- and five-wide looked more likely to cause a wreck Sunday than bump drafting. But if they are going to police, it they need to do it right away and not let it get out of hand.
Cami: And do it no matter who it is.

Can Mark Martin win a race next year in the No. 01 car? Was that the right move for his career?

Mike: I really don’t know if I understand the move.
Jeff: I don’t understand it, and I am sick of hearing about Martin. If he doesn’t want to quit, then he should just come right out and say it.
Amy: That move stunned me – absolutely stunned. I think he can’t just walk away, and that’s what it boils down to.
Cami: I’m glad I didn’t spend the money on a retirement gift for him last year. As for the move, well, it depends on what he wants out of the rest of his career. I don’t see him contending for championships over there, but he’s not running for a title. He’s a better driver than Joe Nemechek ever will be, but that may not be enough in that equipment.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Mark Martin Finds Part-Time Work Away From Roush... & It's OK

Toni: I don’t think he cares about contending for championships.
Mike: I still think it is all about having control over Matt Martin‘s career. I think Roush didn’t want to give him enough of an ownership stake, so he went where he could get that.
Toni: I think he wants to ease out of it, like just about everyone but Rusty Wallace is doing. And you know you’re not going to contend for a championship running part-time. His job is to prep Regan Smith, and he’ll eventually take over for Martin full-time.
Mike: Well, at least now Martin admits he doesn’t want to run a full schedule. Is MB2 going to put a truck together for him?
Amy: I don’t think so.
Mike: Even so, I think getting Smith in the deal was the real coup for MB2. Smith is going to be good. I’m glad I didn’t buy a Salute To You t-shirt though.
Toni: You like how no one talks about that anymore? Sweep the whole retirement tour under the rug….
Cami: I wonder if the track that gave him a rocking chair asked for it back.
Amy: I’ve always liked Mark, but this has made me lose some respect for him.
Jeff: I agree with AMY!
Mike: I used to respect him, but I have gotten tired of the whole bit. He is in the best cars with the best team and the best sponsors, and yet he doesn’t win.
Cami: I agree, too. I don’t have an issue with him. But he shouldn’t have made a big deal about retiring until he knew for sure that was what he was going to do.

A number of teams have been picking up sponsorships in the Truck Series recently. Why have so many teams there been able to get the money they need while Busch Series teams continue to struggle to find sponsorship?

Mike: Because you can run a Truck on 1/4 of what you can run a Busch car on.
Jeff: More bang for the buck in Trucks. You don’t have to pay big bucks to be competitive.
Toni: You’re right, it’s much cheaper. Also, the stars of the Truck Series are in the independent teams’ trucks, so they have the best drivers in the series to offer a sponsor.
Amy: And because of that, there are more teams that are competitive and, therefore, get TV time.
Mike: The announcers actually mention the sponsors on the broadcast, too. I bet they mentioned 30 teams’ sponsors.
Tom: I think the Truck Series offers you an opportunity that Busch Series does not – TV time regardless of whether you race in the Cup Series. In Busch, the Cup guys dominate so much it’s impossible to get the TV time and exposure you need.
Toni: TV for the Trucks would be SPEED, who understands who pays the bills for these teams. And gives them their due. And mentions ALL the drivers. They update on veterans even when they are having a bad day. It’s a genuine effort to let you know what is going on with every driver and every truck in the race.
Tom: Amen. Well, I think the Busch Series will be taken care of next year because it’s always on the same network. It will be a focus never before seen on the Busch Series. Because with ESPN doing the race while FOX or TNT does the Cup race the first half of the season, ESPN’s sole focus will be on Busch. And I think the quality of coverage will be high because of that.
Amy: The real problem once again stems from all the Cup ownership in Busch, though – if a sponsor can’t be on one of those cars, they won’t get the exposure to make the investment worthwhile.
Toni: Western Sizzlin’…
Tom: Well, with a different TV package you’re marketing something different to sponsors. And you can make that attractive in your own way. The Busch Series will make its comeback.

Predictions for Charlotte/Lowe’s?

Jeff: Junior.
Cami: Carl Edwards.
Mike: Kasey Kahne.
Amy: Kahne.
Toni: Johnson. Someone has to make the obvious choice.
Tom: You know, I’m two for my last three when it comes to predictions, in case anyone was paying attention… and Martin got third at Kansas.
Toni: Not that he likes to boast or anything…
Tom: Well, Martin’s the only one of my last three predictions to not win… so I’ll take him once again. He’s in position to win a title. For serious.
Toni: Yes, he is.
Mike: No, he’s not. The team is going to quit on him. There is going to be internal bickering and crap. You watch.
Jeff: Hey, there’s another factor that I just thought of about why Sunday was relatively wreck free… Todd Bodine DNQ!
Toni: He caused a Big One on Saturday in the Truck Series race.
Mike: Yes, he did. He drilled Derrike Cope.
Toni: Mike Skinner also caused a wreck in the Truck race.
Jeff: Really! You’re lying!
Mike: Nope. Honest to God. I know you can’t believe it, those two, getting themselves in trouble like that.
Jeff: Neeeever would have thunk it.

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