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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Juan Pablo Montoya Better Than Expected?

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:
Ren Jonsin (Frontstretch Publisher)
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)
Toni Heffelfinger (Mondays/Busch Series Breakdown AND Fridays/Second Fiddle)

Does Jimmie Johnson‘s 2006 season (Daytona 500, All-Star Race, Brickyard 400, five points wins, Nextel Cup championship) rank as one of the best single-season efforts ever, or does it fall short of seasons such as Jeff Gordon‘s 13-win championship season in the late 1990s?

Kim: No, Johnson’s was not one of the best, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Tom: In my mind, it definitely doesn’t beat years like Gordon’s in 1998… he was just overwhelmingly dominant that year.
Toni: I don’t think it ranks up there with the best seasons like Gordon’s 13-win year, either.
Mike: It was certainly a great season, though. Johnson won the biggest events, I think it’s one of the top-10 best ever, probably. I think Gordon’s year and Dale Earnhardt‘s in 1994 still beat him, but it was definitely strong.
Tom: Oh, yeah Mike; it’s definitely one of the better seasons a champion has had in the 17 years or so I’ve followed the sport. Just not the best.
Amy: Then again, no driver has ever won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the Nextel Cup title all in one year.
Toni: I do think that’s impressive. It ranks up there with a classic Elway comeback that he won the title, too, after being so far back. But I mean, Johnson did still have a slump in there. He just actually made up the distance this time.
Tommy: Right, the comeback was one of the greatest! It wasn’t a dominating performance by any means. But, a deserving championship.

COMMENTARY: JIMMIE JOHNSON’S DESERVED CHAMPIONSHIP

Amy: This might have been one of the best single-season performances of all time if not for the first four Chase races.
Tom: You know, Jimmie would have won the title under both the new and the old system.
Mike: Yep, that is true.
Amy: You know, it’s funny… in their hurry to make the championship MORE exciting… NASCAR made this year’s less so… it would have been the closest title ever under the old way.
Toni: There is actually that weird quirk about winning the Brickyard and the championship. Lots of champions have won the Brickyard, but not too many have won the Daytona 500 and the championship in the same year.
Tommy: I don’t really see how any one race holds more prestige than any other one; except, of course, for the payout.
Tom: You know, the more I sit here thinking about this, what Johnson has done, it’s almost equivalent to the old Winston Million, you know. And that was SO hard to do… it was only won twice, by Bill Elliott and Gordon.
Tommy: What does it matter which race they won? Whether it’s the Daytona 500 or Infineon, it’s a win.
Amy: Prestige.
Tom: Pride.
Mike: History.
Tom: For the drivers, it matters, Tommy. You ask any one of them if they’d rather have a win at Daytona or a win at Infineon… they’d all say Daytona. Except maybe Robby Gordon.
Kim: I bet you can remember who won the last five Daytona 500s, the last five Brickyard 400s, the last five All-Star Challenges. Who won the last five at Infineon? Can’t tell me, Tommy? Believe me, it matters!!
Tommy: Maybe. But I don’t think there’s any more (with the exception of the Daytona 500) effort put out for any one race over another.
Mike: I guarantee there is more effort put into Indy that a lot of the other races besides Daytona.
Amy: Besides, at what other race do you have to kiss the finish line?
Tommy: What effort? It’s just another race. There’s no more they can do
Mike: Wind tunnel time, testing, development, research, engineering.
Amy: Like I said… ask Tony Stewart if that’s “just another race.”
Tommy: Points are awarded the same for Indy and Kansas.
Mike: But you win $1 million-something for Kansas and $4 million for Indy.
Tom: We’re getting off topic, boys, I wanted to bring up another point about Johnson. He is winning the championship at a time where people are being very critical towards NASCAR on a lot of things, and of course, Johnson is a really nice guy, usually on the politically correct side of the scale. So… I wonder if people are going to unfairly downplay Johnson’s title comeback because they’re not in tune with his personality.
Amy: Unfortunately, that could be true, Tom… which is too bad because that team flat deserved everything they got this year… while Matt Kenseth cruised through, they had to overcome every weird thing under the sun – and did.
Tommy: Looked like Johnson struck the right cord with his post-race comments though from the reaction I’m hearing. Especially from people that generally don’t like him.
Toni: See, now I think the angle that is interesting is the fact that Johnson did have to mount the huge comeback effort to win the title – especially when you consider the Chase almost cost him that very same thing. At least he would have won it under the old system, giving him the credibility of the real champion that some others (Kurt Busch) have lacked for those who do not like the Chase.
Tom: How much would he have won the title under the old system by? Four points?
Amy: Four… would have been the closest ever
Mike: Yep. Would have been amazing.
Amy: The new system actually TOOK AWAY from the excitement!
Tommy: You guys really got to get past the “old system” stuff.
Mike: Why do we have to get past it, Tommy? I’m still pissed NASCAR doesn’t run on dirt and they haven’t done that in 40 years.
Tommy: Well, keep waiting, maybe dirt will come back into vogue! Or go watch good dirt racing and enjoy Cup for what it is.
Toni: Look, I don’t know about the way the rest of his season will come out in history, I’m just really impressed with the comeback. I like a good comeback story.
Mike: Hell of a year for Jimmie. Probably one of the 10 greatest ever.
Tommy: Johnson left no doubt as to whether he deserved it or not.

Evaluate Juan Pablo Montoya‘s Cup debut.

Kim: Rode. Wrecked. Ran his mouth.
Amy: Not bad, except for the on fire part. Oh, and the “bodyslam your own teammate” part.
Toni: Well, at least it made the highlight reels!
Tommy: I’d say he gets about a C+.
Tom: Definitely one of those “ran better than the final results will indicate” type of deals.
Mike: Very good. Ran competitively. Made his car better all day. Was moving forward at the end. Got a lap back and passed some good cars.
Tom: When did he slam his teammate, Amy?
Amy: He slammed up the back of Casey Mears at one point.
Mike: You guys are harsh! Montoya didn’t go ballistic when he wrecked, then showed great calmness when his crew seemed to spaz out. I’ll give him a B.
Tommy: His learning curve is ahead of the one I predicted for him. He definitely shows promise.
Amy: He’s about where he should be, given the equipment. And big kudos for Ganassi doing the right thing and leaving Casey in the No. 42.
Tom: True that, Amy. Let me tell you, the most impressive thing for me all weekend was how Montoya put that thing in the show. There were some good people that went home… Ward Burton, Michael Waltrip. And Montoya nailed it and got it in the field.
Kim: I have to admit, I expected his Cup debut to be a little more like Sam Hornish Jr.‘s Busch Series debut.
Toni: I think I am one of the few who thought he could really make this work. And I continue to think he shows a lot of promise.
Amy: I’m more worried about his attitude than his skill.
Mike: He’ll run it on the edge, that is for sure. Can’t wait to see him in the Budweiser Shootout in 2008.
Toni: As for the attitude, chalk it up to cultural differences maybe.
Tom: Well, Montoya’s attitude can only be a good thing. He’s going to inject some major personality into this sport… granted, it won’t always be the best personality, but he’ll get people talking.
Amy: He’s one hell of a racecar driver, period… but he needs to respect the rest of these guys, who, at this stage, are better stock car drivers than he is.
Tom: In his defense, it did look like Ryan Newman was retaliating for the earlier crash.
Amy: Yes, he was… that was blatant payback, actually.
Tom: Well, Newman claims it wasn’t. Hard to believe that… but he claims that.
Toni: Newman claims it was coincidence. I might just say Newman has just happened to be around when those he wanted to retaliate on or have out of his way have wrecked in the past. For me, anyway, that makes his claim suspect.
Tom: I would have loved to have seen those two in the NASCAR trailer, a Colombian pretty boy versus a quiet Indiana fisherman. Talk about culture clash!
Mike: I’m sure Newman gave an in depth dissertation on the increased yaw generated by the decreased air pressure on the spoiler as Montoya entered the vortex on the nose of the No. 12.

Of the five people who ended the rides with their current teams on Sunday (Brian Vickers, Dale Jarrett, Mears, Travis Kvapil, Mark Martin) who is making the biggest mistake?

Toni: I’m not sure any of them are. Vickers was not in a good situation at Hendrick, though.
Tommy: It’s Vickers.
Mike: Vickers. Hands down. Red Bull is going to struggle, and Hendrick is on top of the heap.
Amy: Vickers. Mears will win in the No. 25 in ’07.
Ren: Yeah, Martin’s at the end of his career, so Vickers is the only one. And really, it’s not THAT big of a mistake since he wasn’t in one of the top teams at Hendrick.
Toni: Vickers was always just going to get the crap from Hendrick, which is OK if you want to ride around getting out of your teammates way.
Mike: I’ll take a bad situation in top-notch equipment over a new team with no experience any day.
Tom: Mike, how could you say that when Toyota is throwing MILLIONS at Vickers? I think the Talladega thing truly revealed how badly he was treated at Hendrick… don’t you think he wanted his career to mature?
Toni: That’s what I’m saying. For their own individual situations, I’m not sure anyone really made a mistake, to be honest. Even Vickers needed the change.
Amy: I don’t think Brian was badly treated at Hendrick… I think HMS was too much of a reminder for him of Ricky.
Mike: Look, Vickers can have all of the money in the world. It is still going to be a struggle getting a new team up to speed with a large crowd of new teams on the circuit.
Kim: Vickers will be in great shape once they get the Toyotas up to speed in a few years. He is young so he has the time to invest in the Camry development.
Toni: I’m with Kim, I think Vickers has put himself in a pretty good spot, really.
Tom: Well, I’m gonna have to disagree with the majority on this question. I say Martin. But even then, I don’t think there will be that much of a drop-off… by and large, most of these moves made sense.
Kim: I agree with Tom.
Amy: Martin’s move seems strange to me… I’d like to really know what went on at Roush to force that one.
Kim: He wasn’t the least bit nostalgic on his way out. He almost seemed relieved at the end.
Tommy: Why Martin, though. He wanted to race a limited schedule, what better option did he have?
Mike: I think Roush backed out on letting Mark buy into the team, and he thinks he’ll get that at Ginn.
Tom: I’ll give you that, Kim. I was just talking with my roommate today – an avid Martin fan – and we were discussing how a few years from now we’re going to know some stuff that went on this year that we don’t know about now. There is definitely something going on behind the scenes there, this Red Sox thing has me thinking more and more that Roush is setting up his departure… as much as he denies it. And he wanted to make sure his legacy – his teams – remained secure.
Tommy: I just think Ginn offered a boatload of money to Martin to race part time. No reason to overthink the situation, guys.
Mike: I would love to know the details. I still think Mark was offered part ownership to come back and drive this year, and then Jack balked when push came to shove.
Tommy: In the end, Martin and Jarrett did the same thing. They saw an opportunity to grab a bundle on the way out and went for it.
Kim: I don’t blame then though, they are at the age where they KNOW there time is very limited. I would take the cash and ride off into the sunset, too.
Toni: Who wouldn’t, really? Spend 25 years or more risking your life, I’d think you’d take whatever you can get for it.

The Busch Series title was officially won by a Cup driver this year… and while this was supposed to be a one-year wonder for most veterans, several drivers are suddenly taking open Busch rides in hopes of doing it again. Is this the beginning of a trend (Cup drivers taking the title) or a one-year aberration?

Toni: I really hope this is not the start of a trend. Really, really hope.
Mike: I think it is a trend if Cup teams are going to continue to use the series for extra track time for their drivers. I hope it is an aberration, though, since there aren’t supposed to be as many Cuppers doing the full season next year.
Tommy: With the COT, I think it will be a one-year trend.
Tom: JJ Yeley taking a Busch-only ride with Finch really concerns me, though.
Toni: It kind of annoys me that after everyone saying they would not do full seasons next year, the number of drivers doing it has grown anyway.
Mike: Who’s running the full schedule next year?
Amy: Carl Edwards and maybe one other.
Toni: David Reutimann.
Amy: Yeah, but he needs all the seat time he can get.
Toni: Yeah, I can concede that point on Reutimann.
Mike: Reutimann is a rookie, I’m cool with that.
Tom: Well, with the Cup drivers leaving, the possibility exists that the series will have short fields next year. I mean, what new teams are coming in besides Finch’s No. 7?
Kim: They will get full fields, even if NASCAR has to pay for it.
Ren: There are plenty of teams that will show up to fill a spot.
Mike: Maybe not. James Hylton has officially retired.
Toni: If there are fewer Cup guys, some of the smaller teams will come back, or new ones will form, as long as they feel they might have a chance to make the field.
Amy: Well, they’ll have full fields without Cup drivers, but remember, field-fillers in Busch are NOT pretty.
Tommy: If NASCAR will limit Cup team’s involvement in Busch, maybe some upstart teams will be able to get sponsorship.
Amy: Well, rest assured there will be plenty of Cup guys in 2007… many are running limited schedules.
Ren: Yeah, what IS Buckshot Jones doing these days now anyway?
Kim: Developing land and racing on a road course… I think I read that last week!
Mike: I’ll never understand why Remington didn’t put together a sponsorship deal with Buckshot.
Amy: That would have been great.
Toni: Match made in Heaven there!
Mike: It’s just like I can’t understand why RaceGirl doesn’t sponsor a female driver.
Ren: That makes no sense at all to me.

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