NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR Officiating Gone Bad?

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)
Kim DeHaven (Frontstretch PR Coordinator/Tuesdays/Numbers Game)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson in Turn 5)
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 Breakdown & Fridays/Second Fiddle)

After a debacle that included a safety truck stuck in the middle of the track as the green flag waved and an officiating call that forced a red flag to sort out, what, if anything, should be done to improve NASCAR officiating?

Amy: Um… officials with eyesight?
Mike: Well, I guess they need more spotters. I don’t see how they can spot all of the debris they do for cautions, yet they can’t see a freaking safety truck sitting on the backstretch.
Amy: Exactly, Mike… they can see a pin on the track, but not a TRUCK?
Toni: This was definitely not someone’s best weekend…
Amy: That was ridiculous though… how do you miss a SAFETY TRUCK?!
Toni: With lights on top…
Tom: What I don’t understand is the mass confusion that was allowed to happen… the TV truck, the NASCAR official who relays information, the fans, the drivers… everyone thought there would be another lap of yellow. Then, suddenly the pace car lights turn off and they go green. Someone, somewhere, made a HUGE booboo.

BOWLES: 2006 BANK OF AMERICA 500 AT CHARLOTTE BREAKDOWN

Mike: I was listening to the safety crew on the scanner at the time, and no one in race control acknowledged that truck out there. I don’t think it was supposed to roll in the first place. But it was sitting there when the pace car came by on the one to go…and it wasn’t moving then. That whole thing was just stupid.
Tommy: Clearly, someone needs to enter a good 12-step program and receive help. That was pretty much inexcusable.
Mike: I still don’t understand how a spotter for NASCAR wasn’t screaming that a truck was still on the track.
Tommy: To their credit though, that’s very rare. I feel pretty confident in saying NASCAR’s resolved the problem, too. You can’t have those kind of mistakes become chronic.
Tom: You know, in other sports referees are identified and held accountable for their mistakes. It’d be nice if this sport would do the same… admit who made the mistake, reprimand the appropriate party and move on.
Jeff: Dream on, Tom.
Amy: Someone’s inhaling glue!
Toni: Actually, it’s surprising they don’t if you think about it. NASCAR as an entity always takes the blame. It kind of makes them look inept. And given their usual take on things, you think they’d be anxious to scapegoat it on to someone and absolve themselves…
Mike: I think the safety trucks are track specific. So, I don’t think you could reprimand them for this “green flag” issue unless you tell them they can’t work the 600.
Kim: WHAT green flag? Remember, NASCAR claims they never went to green anyway.
Amy: The 43 drivers all imagined it.
Tom: It’s like it’s being swept under the rug. Well, I got news for NASCAR… millions of people saw that booboo. I don’t think they’re all going to forget.
Mike: The pace car pulled off. That puts the field in the leader’s hands. He starts at the restart line. Once the pace car was down, the green was theoretically out.
Kim: So, it was all Brett Bodine’s fault for pulling off the track! At least there is always a Bodine around to blame.
Mike: Yep. He should have turned the lights back on when he saw that truck wasn’t moving on the backstretch.
Tommy: Sometimes the best damage control is to just say “we made a mistake.” People are generally pretty understanding of that explanation. Well… except people that never make mistakes.
Jeff: New definition of “debris”… large truck.
Mike: I do give NASCAR credit. At least TV could show the debris easily since it was sitting there with flashing lights on it.
Amy: How’d you like to be the guy in the lead, you come off of the corner, and all of a sudden, “HOLY S@*%!!!”
Kim: I’ll bet the truck driver had to go change his underwear after the first car went whizzing by.

Were the tire and fuel combinations used for Charlotte the right way to go this year? Or was racing there a total bore? Is there anything the track, or NASCAR, can do to bring side-by-side racing back to Lowe’s?

Mike: I think the fuel cell could be bigger. I liked the fact that we had multiple green flag pit stops.
Tommy: Looks like Goodyear has gotten a handle on the tires. Some teams were going in for three refuelings before changing tires.
Amy: Yeah, the tires were much better than last year’s… but they made the small fuel cells completely unnecessary.
Toni: I agree with Amy. The tires were a huge improvement. The surface probably helped that a lot though, too.
Tom: Well, I think it’s ironic that the last place the Car of Tomorrow will be introduced is to the track that needs it the most – Lowe’s. The cars need to be slowed down. Period. Period. Period.
Mike: What? This is racing dude. The cars were running 180 mph during the race. That is fine.
Amy: I agree, Mike. Bring racing back into the equation somewhere! I just think there were just way too many pit stops.
Tommy: I kind of like the extra pit stops. Led to a lot of strategies being played out.
Toni: The extra pit stops do put more strategy into it but it makes pit road a circus, because there are 10 different strategies going on. There was a lot of contact and “almost contact” on pit road, it puts the crews at risk.
Amy: Once again, crew members don’t have the protection of a rollcage… anything to reduce danger for them is a good thing.
Mike: Not only would the crews be protected by slightly bigger fuel cells, but it would keep EVERYONE from coming in on every caution to top off. I would like to see the tires give up more, too, but it was better than having them blow after 20 laps.
Tom: I still thought it was impossible to race someone side-by-side Saturday night. The drivers admitted as much after the race. When people are having trouble keeping the car under control running by themselves… there’s a problem.

BOWLES: NASCAR NOT DOING ENOUGH TO FIX LOWE’S

Kim: Maybe after the new pavement cures some more, the racing will get better? We have seen it happen at other mile-and-a-half tracks.
Mike: I thought the racing was good. You could run multiple lines, and people could pass at either end of the track.
Amy: Absolutely… the best cars in the field were all over the place when they tried to pass.
Tom: What race were you watching? To me, it’s clear the cars are going too fast. Too many people are just losing control on their own. Look at all the people who spun out by themselves in either Busch or Cup… Jamie McMurray. Greg Biffle. Robby Gordon. Jimmie Johnson. Todd Kluever. David Gilliland. Reed Sorenson.
Amy: A tire that gives up a little would force teams to change them, which would make them have to perform.
Tom: A tire that gives up a little, Amy, would also cause speeds to go down. The thing is, I don’t know what NASCAR can do to slow ’em down other than the CoT.
Mike: Stop, Tom. They are not going too fast. They run faster at Atlanta, racing is about going fast. If you can’t handle it, go work at McDonald’s.
Tom: Well, the track workers will all be headed there shortly, because fans left before the halfway point in droves. The race was a bore.
Toni: They did? Then why the hell was I still in traffic for an hour, after I had already stayed an extra hour to wait for Kasey Kahne to come in so I could get a freaking quote to finish my article?
Kim: Note to self… teach Toni the back way in and out of the track when I am in town.
Tommy: Getting back to the main topic, I enjoyed the race. Matter of fact, I don’t think we’ve had a bad race in at least two months.
Mike: How was the race a bore? Jeff Gordon was in contention. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was up front. There were on-track passes for the lead. I don’t get it.
Jeff: The track itself should not get a bad rap for being too fast; no track should.
Tom: Guys, listen… we’ve seen cars be “too fast” for the track before. Notice the Indy track record hasn’t been broken in a while by the open wheelers. That’s because they SLOWED THEM DOWN to provide for better racing. The cars at Charlotte are going 200 mph into the turn. They don’t go 200 mph into the turn at freaking Talladega. They are going TOO fast.
Mike: They do at Atlanta, Tom. And Vegas, and Texas, and California and Michigan and Chicago and Kansas.
Toni: And no one complains about the racing being boring because it’s too fast there….
Mike: You’re nuts, Tom. Speed is not a problem. I have not heard a single driver complain about the speed.
Tom: Ha! Johnson complained about it in the media center Saturday night. That was one of the first things he said.
Jeff: Then J.J. should slow down.
Tommy: Well, Jeff Burton discussed it today on Dialed-in also.
Amy: I love racing, but I don’t love drivers getting hurt. Nobody did this time, but Mark Martin‘s angle with the SAFER barrier was vicious in his wreck, if speeds keep increasing, drivers will get injured. The SAFER barrier has lulled everyone into thinking they’re safe.
Tommy: Yeah, but remember there has to be an element of impending danger in these races… or we’d all be doing it.

Several Chasers took some major hits during the race at Lowe’s, as Jeff Gordon, Martin and Denny Hamlin had their share of problems, among others. Who suffered the most this weekend, possibly to the point where they can’t recover to win the title?

Mike: Gordon. He’s in 10th. He can’t jump nine dudes in five races.
Tom: I have to agree with Mike; Gordon’s done. Even if he wins Martinsville.
Toni: I’m still not convinced anyone is really out of it. I do think Gordon has an uphill climb, though. Not only does he need to pass nine guys, but he needs to gain a huge amount of points in just five races. AND he has to do it with a team that has no momentum.
Jeff: I still say one of the top 10 in points will win.
Tommy: I would have to say Martin’s done, too. His best chance was to have no mulligans early; now, he needs to either win or consistently be in the top five for the last five races. And he hasn’t demonstrated that he can do that this season.
Amy: Gordon, and maybe Kyle Busch are about done… but both are very good at the remaining tracks, too, so nobody is really out. It’s just very unlikely that anyone can make up more than about 150 points at this point. That said, it’s been done, so,
Mike: Gordon’s 216 out. That’s 44 points a race on NINE guys.
Tom: I think Gordon doesn’t have the capability yet to make the type of run Johnson did two years ago. You knew back then Johnson could rip off all those wins in a row. He’d had the car to beat all season. Gordon isn’t quite consistent enough to pull that off; I do think, though, his team took a huge step forward this year.
Toni: We said Kahne was done a few weeks ago. And Kyle Busch. And only Amy has mentioned Busch today. So again, I hesitate to say anyone is really done.
Tom: Tommy, Martin’s best asset may be that he DOESN’T think he can win the title now. He might be looser and go out and win Atlanta and Texas.
Mike: Martin won’t win because he is Martin.
Tom: I think Burton will hiccup between now and Texas though Mike, so that would leave Martin just 58 points behind second-place Kenseth… he’s got a shot.
Jeff: I’m to the point with Martin that I hope he doesn’t win. If Martin were to win the Cup, his plans for next year would change all over again.
Tommy: Anything’s possible, Tom. But I have to believe that as experienced as Martin is, it hasn’t been anxiety controlling his performances up to now. I just think he’s a seventh-fastest team. And I don’t think sevenths will get it done with five races to go.
Kim: It amazes me how unstellar everyone’s performances have been during the Chase.
Toni: I’m with you, Kim; even Kenseth and Johnson have struggled, and they were the guys to beat heading in.
Amy: If you look at average finish at the last five tracks, though… Johnson is ranked in the top two among Chase drivers at four of them.
Mike: Realistically, I think it is a five-horse race at this point in time. It would be a big stretch for someone to make up over 110 points with the way Burton, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are running.
Kim: Even 100 points is a big margin to overcome; not impossible, just improbable.
Tom: Couldn’t agree more. I think it’s between Harvick, Burton and Kenseth… with Earnhardt and Martin having outside shots.
Tommy: Will agree to a five-horse race, but that fifth horse is limping badly.
Amy: I really hate to count out the No. 48 and the No. 9 though… they should have two or three more wins between them. Bad luck can’t bite them forever.
Tommy: But points are tough to make up, Amy. Johnson finished second Saturday, and he only closed the margin by 10.
Tom: Johnson and Kahne need miracles… but I’ve seen stranger things. Kyle Busch, Gordon and Hamlin are done.

In the Busch Series race, NASCAR was forced to red flag the event in order to correct a scoring error. Was that the right call, or should we have lived with the bad officiating so the race could continue on as scheduled?

Kim: They did the right thing red-flagging it.
Toni: Absolutely the right call. They cannot finish that race with the order all screwed up. NASCAR has to right things if they can untangle it. And they can’t sit there and use up laps to do it.
Tommy: Under the circumstances, it was the best call. But it’s pretty “bush league.” That’s something I expect to see at Southern Raceway on a Satruday night during the Hobby feature.
Mike: It was the right call to red flag it, but it was the wrong call the way they handled it. If they’re going to red flag it, they need to get it right and they didn’t. Kyle Busch was totally screwed with the way they reset the cars.
Toni: Now here’s something you don’t see every day – someone standing up for a Busch.
Tom: Yeah, explain that to the fans Mike… I totally didn’t understand the Busch thing, either, until you explained it to me the other day.
Mike: When they had the caution that caused the confusion, there were five or six cars that were on the tail end of the lead lap. Kyle Busch was at the front of that group and had the fastest car. Well, NASCAR paraded everyone around until 10 to go correcting their error, so when things got going again, they needed a single-file restart. Instead of leaving those cars on the tail end of the lead lap ahead of the leader, they moved them behind the leader, therefore putting them (and Busch) a lap down. With the subsequent quick cautions, Busch was never able to get up past the leaders and get back on the lead lap.
Kim: Busch did get screwed there, but at least this time NASCAR admitted there was a problem instead of pretending it didn’t happen like on Saturday.
Mike: Busch was easily the fastest car on the track at the end of the race. They should have left him in front of the leader with the other four cars, and then let them come around when the caution waved again.
Tom: I just don’t understand how somebody can run the stop sign and NASCAR not notice – yet they were so vigilant with Kurt Busch at Watkins Glen they made sure to screw him.
Amy: You know, the whole race was crazy anyways,
Tommy: It WAS a crazy race! Lending credence to the whole Friday the 13th thing….
Amy: I have to admit, even though it was clear Casey Mears blew off the red light, part of me was hoping they’d leave it… goodness knows NASCAR has screwed Mears out of enough wins.
Mike: A similar situation happened in the Cup race and no one said anything about it. I don’t think it would have changed the outcome, but it was weak. When they had the caution that left four cars on the lead lap, Kahne pitted when the pits were closed. He was supposed to start at the end of the longest line. But on the backstretch coming to the green flag, he jumped up to the outside line and passed like 12 cars before the green came out.
Toni: You know, I am not going to jump on NASCAR as bad as I might normally for losing track of the scoring. Only because I find it incredibly confusing when cautions come out during green flag stops. Some cars are lapped, some are on the tail end of the lead lap. And then when the leader pits under caution, it all changes around.
Kim: Well, people make mistakes. NASCAR’s high-dollar equipment isn’t supposed to!
Mike: I just couldn’t believe they screwed it up so much even with a red flag to figure it out. It was not a stellar weekend for Cup officiating.

Predictions for Martinsville?

Mike: Junior. Ken Schrader as a dark horse.
Amy: Johnson.
Tommy: Kurt Busch.
Toni: Harvick. Just because you all think he’s too much of a hot head to make it through a place like Martinsville.
Tom: I think Gordon wins, Burton spins, and everyone gets the mistaken impression the No. 24 is back in the championship race. That is, until he finishes 20th at Atlanta and Texas.
Jeff: I’m going with Bobby Labonte.
Tom: Wow Jeff, that is a great pick. You know, he’s quietly in position to finish in the top 20 in points.
Kim: Hmmm, I will pout all weekend cause I am not there. I would love to say Ward Burton, but he is in the No. 4 car! Ward is capable, the car is not. I am going with Mears… cause I closed my eyes and pointed to his name.
Toni: I just figured the No. 4 team didn’t want to run a Bodine at Martinsville.
Mike: Ward should qualify for them, too. The track is in Virginia, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the pole!
Tommy: Looks like Ward and who he ultimately replaced, Scott Wimmer, are equally cursed in their Cup careers. They’re kind of in parallel universes.
Jeff: And they both know Kevin Bacon!
Tom: I just can’t wait for Ward to be interviewed. That accent is sorely missed!
Kim: Virginia team, Virginia driver, Virginia track… watch out when Ward is introduced on Sunday!

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