NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: I’ll Take Blocking for $200, Alex… & A Yellow Flag on the Last Lap

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)
Toni Heffelfinger (Frontstretch Assistant Editor/Mondays/Busch Series Breakdown)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Hot or Not & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson in Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Scanner Static)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/Driven to the Past)
Meegan Sweeney “(Frontstretch Contributor)

Should NASCAR stay consistent with NOT throwing the yellow on the final lap if the wreck happens behind the leaders, as they did in the Daytona 500?

Tom: What NASCAR did was FINALLY the right thing; it’s what people have wanted to see happen since they stopped racing back to the yellow in the first place. It’s just a shame they finally got it right at Mark Martin‘s expense.
Vito: As much as most people wanted to see Martin win it under yellow, NASCAR did the right thing. It made for one of the greatest finishes in the history of the race.
Mike: I wish they had done something like this before the whole Dale Earnhardt Jr./Jeff Gordon fiasco at Talladega a few years back.
Toni: But NASCAR should stay consistent. Period. Make a decision on how you want to do it and then stick with it. Is that in the rulebook, by the way? Or is that one of those flexi-rules?
Mike: I’m pretty sure it’s a flexi-rule, Toni.
Amy: What rule ISN’T a flexi-rule? But I think whether they throw it depends on where the wreck happens… if it happens going into 1, throw it, but if it’s in turns 3-4, no need.
Vito: Yes. If the wreck is behind the leaders, then fine, race for the win. However, in the past they have always tripped the yellow lights whenever something happened. Remember Kyle Petty bringing out the yellow a couple of years ago while sitting harmlessly on the backstretch?
Matt T: We had one at Pocono last year too where they froze the field while they could’ve kept racing for another 1.5-miles.
Tommy: Guys, you’re being ridiculous. How did NASCAR get it right? The process is that a yellow is thrown, everyone backs off, and the field is frozen. Wasn’t that process developed for safety concerns?
Tom: Yes, but in this instance, Tommy, not throwing the yellow for that additional 15 seconds wasn’t going to make a difference. Clint Bowyer hadn’t even stopped flipping yet.
Matt T: Those guys in the field – where the wreck was happening – weren’t going to let up anyway.
Toni: That’s just it. In a way, this was a no-win situation. If NASCAR had done it the other way, we’d still be sitting here debating about it, saying how they ruined one of the potentially greatest Daytona 500 finishes ever.
Cami: I think the idea is they got it right by how the rule SHOULD be, but it’s not right because it’s not consistent. But what is with them? They never really stick to anything.
Tom: I compare this instance to the Petty thing Vito brought up and that time at Michigan where PJ Jones spun in the back of the field out of harm’s way, automatically ending the race when Kasey Kahne could have won. Remember the outrage then? NASCAR finally changed pace and did what they SHOULD have done years ago… now, they just need to stick with it to not be hypocritical. This is progress, not regression.
Mike: Amen, brother Tom.
Tommy: It’s all about consistency. When a driver sees a wreck in front of them, they have to know what is to be expected. Either they are expected to race to the flag or back off. It can’t be both.

COMMENTARY: AFTER DAYTONA, FOLLOW THE RULES!

Amy: Tommy has a point – it’s one thing for cars in FRONT of a wreck to race to the line… for the cars BEHIND it, it’s another matter. And they can’t have two rules, one for the guys ahead of a crash and one for the ones behind it.
Vito: I guarantee you, the next time this comes up, they’ll end the race with caution lights. Just watch! I hate to make the accusation, but if it wasn’t a Childress car, the ex-No. 3, no less, that was behind by a fender, the lights would’ve come on.
Matt T: I don’t know about the RCR thing… Martin is a better story than Kevin Harvick. Besides, NASCAR had what… three, four seconds to make or not make the call?
Tom: I want to make a point here. You replace Martin with Kyle Busch
Vito: Busch wrecks Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya wins.
Tom: No, no, no! Hold on, just put Busch in Martin’s position. Him and Harvick race to the line and Busch loses, I absolutely guarantee you there is NO fan outrage this week. I’m telling you, the fans wanted this rule to be changed. They’re just pissed it had to come the exact moment Martin’s about to finally win one of the big ones that’s eluded him.
Toni: You are completely right, Tom. There would be fan outrage only if they had thrown the caution and Busch was in front.
Tommy: To me, this question has nothing to do with the outcome of the race. We don’t know what the outcome would have been.
Tom: Well Tommy, replays clearly showed Martin was in front at the time they would have thrown the yellow… if they were going to. So in some sense, the outcome of this race was known.
Tommy: It wasn’t at all clear, Tom. At one point when the wrecking started, Harvick was ahead of Martin. The whole thing would have depended on NASCAR’s reaction time.
Cami: It was just funny they threw the yellow after the race was over. Why bother?
Matt T: Supposedly they did… when Bowyer spun. According to NASCAR.
Vito: I’m very glad they did not throw a yellow flag. Sincerely, Clint Bowyer. Maybe Scott’s should sponsor him now with that lap full of sod that he got.
Tom: Dude, for a split second, when Bowyer stopped flipping and all you could see was grass, I was really worried about him.
Mike: I was worried that his window net came down when he was upside down.
Matt T: Bowyer’s window net came down?
Meegan: “All I could see was… grass… sky… grass… sky…”
Toni: You know though, Bowyer has an awesome story to tell his grandkids now about the time he finished the Daytona 500 upside down and on fire.
Tom: Wrapping this up, while it’s sad Mark lost he was the guinea pig for NASCAR doing the right thing, now the fans might get a chance to see him run full-time all over again.
Vito: The funny thing is… Mark’s not really a fan of Daytona or Talladega. That would have been a nice consolation prize for not having had a championship.
Mike: Being a Martin hater, I wasn’t shedding any tears.
Tom: Ouch.
Cami: Before you react, fans, keep in mind that Mike has been known to kick small children.

Why wasn’t there anything done by NASCAR about the amount of blocking that was done in the race, especially after everything that happened last year?

Matt T: Because Tony Stewart didn’t raise hell about it after the Shootout.
Cami: I was surprised we didn’t hear any reports about blocking warnings.
Toni: Where was NASCAR when Kurt Busch was blocking like crazy AND it was pointed out by the broadcasters?
Mike: I don’t know. But Busch blocked the hell out of Stewart, Stewart finally got in front of him, then Busch wrecked him.
Tommy: Blocking? When has there ever been any problem with blocking? Blocking is racing!!! Geez… “You first. No, after you, no…I insist, you first.”
Toni: And here’s another thought off that – is it blocking when the leader does it, or is it the leader’s prerogative to draft off the faster line?
Cami: I think the leader has the right to hold his position, but the constant swaying back and forth, I thought they were busting people for blocking on that in years past.
Meegan: Look, I don’t have any issues with blocking… but there’s a time to do it… and that’s near the end of the race.
Vito: In my opinion, the only big block I saw was on the last lap, and that was because Kyle Busch spun and took Matt Kenseth with him. There were 41 cars on the lead lap with a handful of laps left, that’s not too bad for Daytona. I thought bump-drafting was supposed to be curtailed as well, though… someone might want to tell Kenseth and Jeff Burton.
Toni: If Kenseth wasn’t bump-drafting, Harvick doesn’t win the race.
Tom: I think, honestly, NASCAR may be backing off because everyone is doing it. It really is impossible to police. You could have found a way to penalize all 43 drivers for that on Sunday… well, everyone except Michael Waltrip, he was running too slow to really have a problem with that.
Vito: I think it had to do with the “CHEATING” tag that was being blown out of proportion by NASCAR and the media earlier in the week. It does not look good for the sport if you have guys being called for cheating during the race.
Amy: Blocking is OK, bump-drafting is OK… just doing either in a place where it’s dangerous is stupid. I think it was the tire causing the wrecks anyway, at least in part… Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, both champions, lost their cars and wrecked. It wasn’t aggressive blocking in those two cases.
Cami: I think the tires did cause some issues, but I don’t think it was the reason Stewart wrecked. It was the reason a lot of good cars were in the back, though, smacking the turn 2 wall each time around.
Vito: You know, Gordon went below the yellow line clearly passing someone, and wasn’t penalized for it. The only penalty was Tony’s pit road exit speed violation.
Tommy: That’s the new Johnny Benson exclusion, Vito. It’s OK for some drivers to pass below the line.
Toni: Yeah – Benson was clearly below the yellow line in the truck race crossing the finish line.
Amy: Gordon didn’t gain position, though. He already had the spot.
Vito: And JB was “forced” below the yellow line. Travis Kvapil did swerve a bit, Johnny just overcorrected. Personally, I think they should have out of bounds zones where you CAN go below the yellow… like on the backstretch and the frontstretch going into the short chute to turn 1.
Tommy: But they don’t, Vito!
Amy: They never enforce “forced” either.
Vito: Right. But they should, and Johnny was pushed. Just like Humpty Dumpty.
Tommy: So… we all agree the Benson is a “big fat cheater?”
Vito: He’s wearing glasses again, too… combined with his laser eye surgery, the guy must have like superhuman vision now.
Matt T: With Clark Kent hair.
Amy: Maybe he can see through the pit lizards’ clothes….
Tom: Benson, superhero? Um, time to get to question 3?
Toni: My driver’s super power would be an incredible ability to attract a wreck. He can suck a car right off pit road and into his front end.
Vito: You must be Ken Schrader, Toni!
Toni: Must be.

After all the cheating scandals of the past week, who leaves Daytona in the worst shape, and where do they go from here?

Amy: Kenny Wallace.
Mike: James Hylton. He’s out of a ride.
Tom: (Laughs) CHEATING scandals, Mike!
Mike: Oh, Sorry. HEHEHE.
Matt T: Reputation wise, it’s clearly Waltrip. Racewise, it’s Kenseth and Kahne.
Amy: I think Waltrip’s in trouble, in the long run. Poor guy has less owner points than the ones who DNQ’d.
Mike: Hyder is in worse shape. That dude’s not going to get a job for years.
Vito: What a scapegoat. Hyder needs to change his name to Oswald.
Cami: I agree, Waltrip will suffer in the long run. It’ll be hard for him to get into the Top 35 sitting negative right now
Toni: The guys with the cheating penalties, with the possible exception of Waltrip, will get by though. Even Waltrip made the race. I still say the guys that missed it completely are in worse shape.
Cami: With 12 in the Chase now, Kenseth and Kahne should be able to make up theirs. The win bonus should help them, too.
Tom: I don’t think Kenseth and Kahne are in bad shape by any means. They both had top-10 cars at Daytona… even if they suffer over the next month, they’ll have plenty of time to make up their penalties. I think Waltrip is in big, big trouble though. He’ll be qualifying in on time again all year. Toyota’s going to have a lot of fun seeing its drivers knock each other out of the race during qualifying every Friday.
Tommy: Yeah, but Waltrip has money and Toyota. It has to be one of the small one-team owners that missed the race really puckering right now. Like BAM Racing, I hear the death rattle.
Vito: Don’t forget about the big teams that missed, too. AJ Allmendinger might be on the phone with Forsythe Racing right now, asking for his old gig back.
Matt T: That BDR team with Jeremy Mayfield was supposed to be one of the better Toyota outfits. Not making that race really hurt that bunch.
Tom: Matt, how crazy was it that Mayfield missed the race because of team orders? It seemed Sterling Marlin slowed down there at the end to make sure Joe Nemechek made the field for Ginn Racing… if he doesn’t do that, Mike Wallace doesn’t make it and Mayfield is in.
Vito: Also… how much of a bummer was it to see Hylton miss the race because of all things, a faulty clutch on a car with a whopping 425hp.
Mike: Getting back to the cheating, tech inspection at plate tracks is always tight. You’re going to get violations because it is all about fractions of inches.
Cami: I don’t think they’ll nab that many again for that big of infractions that soon.
Toni: We are going more caught as the year goes on, though – we always do.
Meegan: I think that the microscope is now on the crew chiefs who break the rules… and the teams that did in the past. We’ll see what happens.
Tommy: Cheating will continue. There’s too many cars for too few starting positions. Desperate people take drastic measures.
Vito: Personally… I think it was a publicity stunt. They blew some rules violations out of proportion to create a stir about the race, and when it got out of hand by the 150s, the “casual” media that doesn’t follow the sport every week was portraying NASCAR drivers as a bunch of cheaters.
Cami: Some guys are probably removing some stuff for the California cars right now, though.
Toni: At least you know somewhere Chad Knaus is smiling because no one is ever going to poke at him for being the big cheater anymore.
Matt T: So what happens at Bristol? Will those who do not pass tech with the CoT get nailed like the guys at Daytona or do they get a break?
Tom: Well, this whole CoT will discourage innovation. Every year, it seems more and more things are taken out of the crew chief’s hands for them to play with.
Mike: So innovations just have to come in smaller and smaller ways.
Vito: That just means more money for R&D, more engineers and more guys trying to get around the ever-tightening rules.
Amy: It’s becoming IROC without the cool pink car.
Toni: Those guys used to fight over who got the cool pink car. Or was that who got stuck with the cool pink car?
Vito: Just watch ESPN Classic, and you’ll see for yourself.

The truck race at Daytona was spectacular once again, but was anyone watching? When is the Truck Series going to get the kind of national media coverage that it deserves so that it can start drawing crowds like the Busch and Cup series? AND with their design the closest to the new CoT, is last Friday’s race a sign of things to come with the CoT races in Cup?

Amy: The Trucks will get exposure when NASCAR gets it a better TV deal.
Toni: That’s when NASCAR decides to put some effort into marketing it….
Cami: I think they need to put the races on something besides SPEED.
Vito: True. ESPN2… are you listening?
Tom: Well, two of the Truck races are scheduled to be broadcast on FOX for the first time. That’s a step in the right direction.
Mike: I hope that ESPN will give the Trucks their due. They put on an awesome show every week and no one sees them. When people realize how great the racing is, I hope they’ll get more fans.
Tom: Well, if they get more exposure it’ll be FOX, because SPEED is more like an extension of FOX than anything else.
Cami: ESPN2 would be a GREAT double package with Trucks and Busch, though.
Vito: The trucks race a lot on Friday night, too. Sad to say, but I’m usually out the door by 9 p.m. on a Friday night.
Tom: Sponsors need to give them a closer look, too… there were way too many trucks unsponsored in that race, or with one-race deals. They might not get a full 36 at California, and that’s not good.
Toni: See, they missed a golden opportunity this weekend to market that truck finish all over the Daytona 500. If they had an interest in promoting the Truck Series, that footage would have been splashed everywhere. Look how exciting the Truck Series is!
Cami: I agree with you there, Toni. They are missing a great opportunity. It’s almost like they don’t care! Go figure.
Tom: In defense of what marketing they do have, I think the SPEED shows have gotten MUCH better. The pieces on Bobby Hamilton and Benny Parsons during the pre-race show were amazing. They’re doing a better job of covering the series… although the series can speak for themselves.
Amy: SPEED HAS gotten better… but it still isn’t on basic cable everywhere.
Matt T: I think CTS needs to run in conjunction with Cup more.
Mike: You got that right. Run Trucks with Cup, and let Busch standalone.
Tom: But why would they ever do that, Mike? Then all those big rich Cup owners don’t get a Saturday test session in Busch.
Tommy: As for the CoT part of the question, I believe that the CoT will make the Cup cars more similar to Trucks. And that’s a good thing
Vito: I think the aero package on the Trucks, which was the inspiration for the CoT, is proof that the CoT will work once raced in competition, not a test session with everyone carping and complaining about it.
Amy: Well, the truck splitter is a different animal altogether, I think. AND the trucks don’t have restrictor plates at Daytona – THAT’s why the race is better.
Matt T: Trucks equal dirty air, and dirty air equals side-by-side racing.
Tom: On the restrictor-plate tracks, the Truck package is a tried and true winner.
Amy: But as soon as Kurt Busch topped 190 mph with the CoT in testing, they slapped a plate on the car.
Vito: Ugh. Like Marlin said back in ’01: “They need to be runnin’ 200 mile an hour. Guess we jes… take ’em back ta Deytona…. wreckum ageen…”
Tom: I think it’s funny Kurt went 191 mph in the first test run and NASCAR got scared… when they’re flirting with 190 mph speeds at Texas, Atlanta and Charlotte. Heck, Geoff Bodine averaged 197 mph at Atlanta not too long ago. And they turn a blind eye there!
Toni: Well, we’ll be finding out just how fast they go at Talladega in the fall.

Predictions for California?

Mike: Kenseth wins Cali.
Toni: Kyle Busch.
Meegan: Someone from Roush, I’ll go with Kenseth.
Matt T: Tough to call for Cali… I’ll go with Greg Biffle and Tryson.
Cami: I’ll say Biffle, too.
Vito: Really? Biffle + Tryson equals 13th place. I guarantee you.
Matt T: Biffle dominated this race last year only to puke a motor… Roush will give him the same setup, regardless of the crew chief.
Vito: But Tryson will stop and put on four tires, even if it’s raining under caution. Mark ALWAYS had to make the pit calls last year. Whenever he would wash his hands of the situation, Pat would always do the exact of opposite of what he needed to do.
Tom: Amen to that, Vito… that’s why I can’t pick Biffle, even though I’d like to.
Vito: I’m going with Kurt Busch to win. But watch that black No. 01 car, he will be up front again this week.
Amy: I say Burton.
Toni: There we go.
Amy: Someone had to.
Tom: For California, I would pick Kenseth, if he only had Robbie Reiser… I’m going to go out on a limb a bit and pick Burton, too. RCR looks strong to start out the year.
Meegan: If Matt K. couldn’t win, I’d go for Burton.
Tommy: I’m going with Burton. Let me remind everyone that I also picked Burton to win the 500. I was almost right, now y’all are jumping on MY bandwagon.
Toni: Wow! Three for Burton. He’s getting to be a popular guy.
Mike: Burton should be an honorary guest on this site. We give him more love than his Fan Club.
Tom: Hey, did you guys know that Cingular is the new AT&T?
Mike: Really? I hadn’t heard that.
Tom: Figured I’d help Jeff out with that. Hadn’t really heard it before.
Mike: Go figure. Guess I should pay more attention.

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