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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Race Trax AND Tuesdays/That’s History)
Mike Neff (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans AND Fridays/Full Throttle)
Did the series of shakeups at Roush Racing the last two months cost Matt Kenseth his shot at the title?
Amy: No, I don’t think so…running mediocre at best on the intermediate tracks cost them. It might have been a distraction, but that team has overcome distractions before.
Mike: Well, it certainly didn’t help, Amy. That organization’s chemistry has been messed up since the Edwards/MACMurray shake up earlier this year. I wonder how much pressure the other teams have been feeling to help MAC run better?
Amy: Can’t be too much, Mike…otherwise he WOULD be running better!
Tom: I don’t know if I agree with your assessment, Amy. When you have three out of five teams working dysfunctionally, and a fourth losing its driver at the end of the year…it’s only a matter of time before that illness spreads. You can only hold up a five car operation for so long…that’s what the No. 17 team was doing the entire year.
Amy: I don’t know about that, Tom…even if they were all in the Chase, they would be out for themselves first, not to help Matt.
Kim: Jamie McMurray all but dropped off the radar this season. Not only that, but Kenseth is still thinking, “Heck, Roush is losing Mark Martin!” Seriously, something is rotten in Concord!
Tom: Amy, I’m sorry but I just don’t see it your way. Jimmie Johnson, for all his hemming and hawing with Brian Vickers, has the option of help from ALL his teammates. The other Roush teams aren’t running well enough to help Matt to even be available FOR help. And it’s hurt them, I think.
Amy: Team orders may be helpful from week to week, but they don’t win championships.
Tom: Yeah, but teams will inevitably share notes over the course of the weekend. If there are no notes to share, and the other four teams aren’t doing all that great…there’s no creativity being shared at the shop. Not to mention that if the whole organization is running well…it boosts the morale of everyone on every team.
Mike: Look, MACMurray can’t run the same setups as everyone else, I think that has caused the whole group to struggle trying to figure out something for him.
Amy: I like Jamie…but when has he shown the ability to contend for wins and championships like the rest of the Roush guys?
Mike: Never. I’m curious if Roush will stick with him after next year. If he doesn’t show improvement, I think he’s gone.
Tom: I think the No. 26 has been a distraction for Roush all year. Of course, the other three teams announced this week they would have new crew chiefs, so they’re not blameless in this whole debacle, either.
Tommy: But Kenseth and Reiser have stuck together through all of this. They’re pretty much an island unto themselves.
Tom: Tommy, that’s the problem! With four out of five teams changing direction for 2007, to me that feels like Kenseth’s group has been working as a “single car” team during the Chase. And that puts him at a bit of a disadvantage. Saying that, by the way, is not AT ALL meant to take anything away from Johnson. He’s earned every bit of what he’ll likely get at Homestead.
Amy: Actually, if I had to pick the one thing that’s going to kill the No. 17 team going into Homestead, it’s Matt’s attitude. He’s all but handed the Cup to Johnson.
Mike: I’m not sure if his attitude is bad…or whether he was trying to light a fire under his team. That may have been a back handed way to push the team to excel.
Kim: Reverse psychology.
Amy: Well, it didn’t work at Phoenix. If he acted angry, I’d think it was motivation…but he doesn’t. He just acts…well, resigned.
Tom: That’s what I’m thinking, Amy…to me, this attitude comes from the fact that Roush is in disarray right now.
Tommy: Well, the drop-off at Roush might say more about Ford. This team is all Ford really has in NASCAR to brag about, and now they aren’t even all that competitive, with the exception of Kenseth, and to a much lesser extent, Martin.
Amy: Tommy has a good point.
Mike: Ford could really use another big team on their side. Yates is going the wrong direction for them.
Tom: Well, when you think about it, though, Roush and Ford were running just fine in May. Absolutely fine…Martin was challenging for wins, Biffle was leading the most laps in the series…just getting shot down by bad luck. Then, things started to unravel…to be honest, since Martin announced he was leaving for the 01, things haven’t been the same. I don’t think we can discount this whole John Henry/Red Sox merger talk, either.
Amy: If they put my Red Sox on, say, Biffle’s hood, I’ll barf.
Mike: If the Red Sox buy into NASCAR, how far behind is Steinbrenner?
Tom: HA! Watch the Yankees be the new sponsor for the No. 4 car, Mike.
Amy: Man, then I’d have to hate Ward….
Tom: Wahhhhd Burton driving a car sponsored by New Yorkers. What a trip.
Mike: I’m thinking more like the No. 25.
Tom: Well, it would be appropriate for the Yankees to go to Hendrick. NASCAR’s two biggest superteams sponsored by the two biggest baseball teams. It’d take the rivalry to a whole new level.
Tommy: Well, Steinbrenner would spend the money, anyways!
Mike: Yes, he would. How interesting could it be to have George going into Brian France’s office on a weekly basis stirring the pot? Could get very interesting.
Amy: Dude, that would really mess with my head!
Does NASCAR need to clarify its policy about throwing the red flag at the end of the race versus riding around under yellow until the green-white-checkered? Or was the way the race ended on Sunday completely fair?
Mike: I thought it was fine if the TV people had told us what the problem was. They threw a red flag to clean up the track, but never told us that Bowyer’s oil pump had failed as the reason why. They were saying Bowyer had a tire rub… I couldn’t believe they didn’t have a single commercial during the red flag and never went to the pits to talk to Bowyer’s crew chief.
Kim: I had it on the radio then. They did do a good job explaining the red flag.
Amy: Well, the red flag confused me, too. I thought they threw it bacause there wasn’t much room for cleanup. And it does makes total sense, taking the oil into account.
Tommy: Glad they did it, too, but there needs to be some “rule of thumb” on this red flag thing. It can’t happen just when it’s convenient for NASCAR to throw it.
Tom: What I don’t understand about the whole thing, why does the red flag need to be thrown when you have a green-white-checkered rule?
Tom: At New Hampshire in the summer, everyone was running out of fuel, there was a late wreck, but instead of throwing the red flag, they let everyone circle around and have people run out of gas. I just don’t think it’s fair.
Amy: I agree, Tom. But then, if NASCAR got consistent all of a sudden, they’d lose half their fan base to heart attacks.
Kim: The only consistent thing in NASCAR is inconsistency.
Tommy: I like the idea of not burning laps off under caution. But there needs to be some kind of set policy on it. Not just left at NASCAR’s descretion. Or the networks…time allowing….
Kim: I am sure there is a set policy, but it is super, double secret.
Amy: It’s so secret, NASCAR doesn’t even know what it is!
Tom: Written with invisible ink, Kim.
Kim: Nah, wrote in the dust on France’s car’s dash…until that coke spill washed it away.
Mike: Now that’s funny right there.
DEI is reportedly interested in purchasing the No. 88 owner points for 2007, giving Robert Yates an influx of cash while downsizing his operation to a one car team in the process. Would that be the right move?
Mike: It’s a good move for DEI. I don’t understand it from Yates’ perspective.
Amy: Well, if Yates can’t find a sponsor and driver…running an unsponsored car would drain resources from the No. 38 team. I see why they’re considering it, this way, RYR will have money to improve the team that has the solid sponsorship.
Tommy: Sounded like DEI basically needs the building more than anything from what I’ve gathered. Either way, I don’t see this as a good thing for Yates. A one-car team in Nextel Cup? That can’t be good.
Tom: A one car team is going against time. NASCAR isn’t going back to single car operations anytime soon…by the end of next year, there will be practically none left. Even the underdog operations are doing two car teams…it’s the only way.
Amy: Yes, it is…but a two-car team just for the sake of having two cars on the track is not the answer, either.
Tommy: I had faith in Doug Yates to rebuild, but am starting to have my doubts. Robert talks more and more about his son taking over, but then there was the recent “stress” news.
Tom: I wonder if Robert Yates is having more than the “stress” problems he’s letting on. I’m very concerned about their inability to land a sponsor, even in the face of improving performance. The 88 has gotten back to a top 20 car at the end of the year. That’s much better than they have been…and David Gilliland isn’t crashing cars anymore.
Amy: I agree with that…I wonder if Yates is slowly pulling out altogether.
Tommy: The whole Dale Jarrett/UPS deal may have affected Yates more than we know.
Mike: It is just a shame to see a team that has been around forever not land a big time sponsor in today’s sport.
Tommy: It is a shame. But that is racing.
Amy: They aren’t the first to go that way.
Tommy: You know, here we go again…Ford! They said they were going to help Yates out with a sponsor.
Kim: This whole thing sounds like Morgan McClure, Take 2.
Tom: Hey, Morgan McClure has something, guys! I heard pretty strong rumors in the garage they’ve got one sponsor signed and another on the way.
Kim: But enough to get them back the way they used to be, Tom?
Tom: Yeah, valid point, whether the sponsor actually “sticks” like the “fake” one they had a few years ago, I don’t know.
Tommy: Bobby Ginn is the guy to watch! There’s a lot of shaking over there, big money being spent.
Amy: Yeah, because Sterling Marlin is running SO well…
Kim: If Ginn isn’t careful, he will just be the next guy to lose big money in the world of racing.
Mike: I was talking to a guy from MB2 at the track last weekend. He said that they have seven drivers, but don’t even have a schedule for next year yet to build cars. He’s worried that they need more focus.
Tommy: Let’s remember, Ginn just took over ownership in just the last couple of months. This’ll take time, his marketing plan is a little different. It will be a tie-in with his other interests, kind of like the Red Sox outfit wants to do.
Tom: But time’s not on their side. If they start next year with two of three cars outside the Top 35 in owner points, it’ll be a big hill to climb. Especially with Toyota struggling to fill those final eight slots.
With one race remaining, this much is clear; a Toyota will win a Truck Series championship for the first time in history, regardless of whether it’s Todd Bodine and Johnny Benson. With the manufacturer moving to Cup next year, will this title be the peak of their dominance? Or will their advantage only get bigger as the offseason looms?
Amy: They will stay dominant in the truck series. In Cup, they’ll have more competition with more factory backing. They’ll be like Dodge was…a few top 10s, then top fives, then a win, then they can think championship.
Kim: I don’t see the CTS dominance slowing down just because they are launching their Cup program.
Tom: Well, Martin needs to drive a Ford truck, because other than Rick Crawford, I don’t know who else will challenge the Toyotas. The No. 16 truck might go away. Dennis Setzer might leave the No. 85…
Amy: Along those same lines, you also have to take into account the driver lineups of other manufacturers…not exactly a group of Cup contenders to go against Toyota.
Tom: Meanwhile, all the big teams remaining are driving Toyotas…Bill Davis Racing. Germain. Waltrip Motorsports.
Tommy: Except for Roush trucks, Ford has about, as has Dodge, pulled out of the CTS.
Amy: Yep, greener pastures…
Mike: With the waning support of Chevy and Dodge and the poor performance of Ford, it could be a Toyota series for a long time until Honda comes in.
Tom: Supposedly Bobby Hamilton may not come back next year…that’s a big blow to Dodge.
Tommy: Dodge had already downsized their sponsorship dollars to Hamilton.
Tom: Ron Hornaday is the only real hope for Chevy…Martin, Travis Kvapil, and Erik Darnell for Ford. You know, I remember not too long ago when Toyota somewhat of a “laughingstock” with that whold BANG! racing deal. Not anymore!
Kim: This championship is not the peak, it is just the beginning of Toyota’s reign in the series.
Predictions for Homestead and the championship?
Amy: Tony Stewart wins Homestead.
Tom: Martin wins in his final race with Roush.
Tommy: Denny Hamlin takes the checkered flag, while Johnson wins the title.
Kim: I say Smoke for the race, Kenseth for the championship.
Mike: Kevin Harvick wins Homestead, while Kenseth takes the title when Johnson is taken out early.
Amy: If Johnson loses, it won’t be to Kenseth. Kenseth gave up, and that doesn’t win championships.
Tom: You know, I’m not daring enough to pick against Johnson. But because Homestead was so awful to them last year, you can’t necessarily say the title is over.
Tommy: No, it’s not a done deal.
Amy: I will not predict a champion, though. It’s bad luck!
Tom: Well, Jimmie does deserve the title. Five consecutive top two finishes…that’s impressive enough for me down the stretch.
Mike: Oh yeah, he certainly does.
Tommy: Whoever wins the title will deserve it!
Amy: Johnson’s been impressive all year.
Tom: You know what, though; the way this whole Chase has gone, if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wins it, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Not one bit! I’d just shrug and say, “the luck of the Chase.”