NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Pebble on the Track… Throw the Yellow Flag! & Is It All Montoya’s Fault, After All?

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)
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)

After all the controversy on Sunday, how much of a boost does this Busch Series win give Juan Pablo Montoya over in Nextel Cup?

Amy: Not much… the competition in Cup is MUCH tougher. Especially since a lot of the big guns in Busch don’t go to that race, so there was a lot of inexperience in that field. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it does make his win less meaningful than if it was at, say Charlotte, with a tougher field.
Toni: I agree. It’s a Busch road-course win, everyone expected him to do well on a road course. And in Busch he has superior equipment – in Cup Ganassi is not so high up the ladder.
Tom: I agree with Amy, that field was so depleted. Like I said in my article Monday, it’s like beating a crappy team and then trying to plead your case to get into the NCAA tournament. A win is a win, but it’s not a quality win by any means.
Tommy: Yeah, this gives Juan Pablo Montoya only a very small boost, if that. It’ll probably work against him, actually, considering the way in which he won. No doubt there were some Cup vets watching that said, “Oh… so that’s how it’s going to be.”
Matt T: Reputation-wise, it will hurt… he was awfully overaggressive on more than one occasion. But this does wonders for team confidence. It was the “first hurdle.”
Toni: Scott Pruett wouldn’t have been as upset, either, if he’d been the one to knock Montoya out of the way in that race.

See also
Busch Series Breakdown: 2007 Telcel-Motorola 200 at Mexico City

Vito: Pruett didn’t seem as upset after he knocked Alex Garcia out of the way in the exact same turn.
Matt T: Well, I didn’t have much of a problem with Juan’s spin of Pruett… that’s hard racing. I thought he was overaggressive at other points, though.
Vito: He chopped down on Montoya. Juan locked up the right front trying to keep from hitting him, and ran up on the curbing. He was going to finish second anyway, and he ended up fifth. Pruett should’ve been using the big reflective thing seven inches from his forehead.
Tom: I think Scott had a beef, Vito. Montoya was going to win the race anyway… no need to be that aggressive when you know you’re about one second faster per lap than the guy in front of you. He got a little overaggressive and stupid, that’s all!
Toni: Maybe, Tom, but he’s not the first guy to get a little impatient. Case in point: Kurt Busch at Bristol last year.
Amy: Well, it WAS overaggressive on Montoya’s part with as much racing left as there was… he had PLENTY of time to pass clean, and a better car to pass in.
Tommy: Only four of the cars raced him from 19th to second in those few laps, too. He was a heck of a road racer; now he’s a NASCAR road-racing thug. Maybe it’s a feather in his cap.
Tom: What’s interesting is how quick Ganassi was to not point fingers, even though a finger should have been pointed. He knows where his bread is buttered. If I were Reed Sorenson and David Stremme, I wouldn’t be holding out for any special treatment.
Vito: You know, if Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon does this type of thing, it’s just racin’ or “THE BUMP AND RUN!” Juan does it, and half of the media that doesn’t know a jack bolt from a truck arm wants to crucifix him. It’s a Busch race in Mexico… it’s not the Daytona 500.
Tom: That is not true, Vito… people will hold Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. accountable. And this was Montoya’s first major test… he’d never been in that type of situation before in a stock car. It’s the make-or-break respect test you get when you’re challenging for a win for the first time, and Montoya chose the Kurt Busch approach rather than the Mark Martin one.
Amy: I would have no problem with moving a guy on the last lap… but there were eight laps to go – on a road course, that’s forever.
Matt T: The Cup guys were watching, and they’ll race him the same way at the Glen and Infineon.
Toni: Hey, did people hold Junior accountable when he knocked Waltrip out of the way at Charlotte?
Tom: No, and that’s because it was out of character for Junior, Toni. Montoya has no character yet on which we can judge. I mean, we know his reputation from other series… but you figure you come into a new breed of racing with a clean slate. Now, the chalkboard’s all dirty and there’s no eraser.
Toni: No, Juan doesn’t have a clean slate. Not really. He was known from his Formula 1 career for being aggressive. Why would we think that would change?
Amy: You come with a certain reputation, no matter how you look at it… and Montoya certainly did nothing to change the perception of him.
Vito: Well, I guess Juan just got sick of the “team orders” from his stint at Williams and it finally boiled over. But I think if anything was Busch Series about yesterday, it was Pruett’s reaction. Gordon put Ken Schrader on his roof in 1996. Schrader and Ricky Rudd wrecked hard at Martinsville in the early ’90s. Matt Kenseth took out Jamie McMurray at Daytona. They handled it a little bit better than Scott. I just don’t see how it’s all Juan’s fault when he has a nose in under him, and Scott cuts all the way a lane out down to the curbing in the middle of the turn. By the way… why is Brad Parrott always crying?
Tommy: He’s a metro-male.
Matt T: That was a little odd.
Toni: Well, Vito, I don’t think it’s all his fault, either. I think it was a racing incident. Maybe Pruett was a little impatient and didn’t pick his spot as well as he could have. But Montoya did have the nose in there and Pruett did cut down on him. Scott knew he was faster… so whey did he even do it? Especially if he knew he was going to get passed anyway?
Tom: Because you still give it your all to win the race, in my opinion. Let’s not forget, Pruett doesn’t get these opportunities too often anymore in these top-three series. He put his heart and soul into Ganassi’s program, I think secretly hoping for some oval races… and he’s trying to make the most of every opportunity so maybe he can get some.
Vito: He was upset about not finishing 1-2 in a Busch race. Like anyone’s going to remember it three weeks from now if they did.
Amy: Well, a nose inside is not position, Vito… it’s a wreck waiting to happen.
Tom: In my opinion, it was clearly Montoya’s prerogative to back off.
Vito: I don’t think Juan will carry over yesterday’s antics to the Cup Series, though. It was a Busch race in front of a welcoming crowd. I seriously doubt he’d turn something like car No. 8 at Bristol. A. NASCAR wouldn’t let him get away with it. B. And he’d never make it out of there alive.
Tom: Well, the funny part is Montoya will now go back to being a 20th-place car in Cup. And we’ll have to refrain from debating this until Talladega, at least… I don’t see him contending in any race before then.
Toni: That’s more to do with Ganassi equipment than his driving skills.
Amy: He definitely has the skills… but the Cup equipment isn’t there.
Vito: It hasn’t been there since Sterling Marlin broke his neck at Kansas in ’02.

One of the complaints at Mexico City was that NASCAR officials were quick to throw the yellow too quickly when they didn’t need to throw it for “local” spins. Is this something to worry about for the road-course races this year?

Vito: Oh you mean like if a car is upside down and on fire? You just pulled the pin on the Vito Grenade.
Toni: Hey, y’all bitched about the no caution at Daytona call. See what you’ve done?
Tommy: Did they do away with local cautions? That’s what I was led to believe.
Amy: I think this was ridiculous… they have separate road-course rules for a REASON. A spin-n-go does NOT warrant a full-course caution. It was an extension of the Cup race at California.
Matt T: Yeah, this problem speaks to the series, not necessarily the road courses. No difference this weekend… they wanted to give the international crowd a big show. Easiest way to do that is to bunch ’em up and cut ’em loose!
Tom: Right. This pansy caution-throwing crap has been going on for over a year now. Fans are losing interest because NASCAR’s losing credibility. It’s got to stop.
Vito: Well, in NASCAR’s defense, if there’s rocks all over the track and dirt in the middle of a turn… you kind of have to clean it up. Besides, they had to let Montoya catch… I mean…
Tom: I don’t know who upstairs put together that better ratings resulted from more yellow flags bunching up the field.
Amy: They were DYING to close up the field at the end.
Vito: With the way Juan was restarting in the middle of turn 6, though, I don’t think they needed to throw that many yellow flags. That No. 42 car sure seemed to have some motor down the straightaway, too…
Toni: I will agree with that; it made it easier for Montoya to pick them off if they kept bunching them up. And then, when it looked like Denny Hamlin could make it exciting, it was better to let him keep taking shots at Montoya. And we needed to keep getting cautions for him to do it.
Meegan: As I said in the last Mirror and Amy picked up in her column… the phantom debris has to stop… that, and throwing cautions for other “reasons.”
Tommy: Vito does bring up a good point, though, about needing to clean the dirt and rocks off the track after a spin…
Vito: At least they didn’t stop the race with five laps to go so they could spend half an hour sweeping the track off, trying to create “drama.”
Amy: Believe me, if there is a valid reason for a caution, I am the FIRST person to want it thrown… but there hasn’t been a valid reason for several of them lately.
Tom: And the thing is, NASCAR NEVER threw this many cautions at road races before. It would take crashes like Richard Petty nearly self-destructing his car back in ’91 for them to throw the yellow. F1 basically runs caution-free at all their road courses! I mean, the last 10 laps was out of control Sunday.
Vito: NASCAR’s kind of in a weird spot now after the Daytona thing. I think they’re trying to make up for it by constantly throwing caution flags for everything now, to help reassert their commitment to “safety.”
Tom: Well, there’s safe and there’s paranoid, Vito. In my opinion, there’s a difference. Everything is always inherently unsafe, they can only cut the risks by so much. Some yellows just don’t need to be thrown, as the increase in risk is just too small for them to be worried about it.
Amy: I wonder if they would throw a yellow for Jimmy Spencer in a Speedo?
Toni: I so didn’t need that image in my head, Amy. Again.
Tom: Must… ask… next… question…
Toni: That’s a black flag for sure, Amy!

After Jeremy Mayfield’s two DNQs to start off the season, his Nextel Cup crew chief was replaced. Is it too soon to be making those types of changes, or does today’s NASCAR world necessitate quick action over longterm patience?

Toni: Crew chiefs are like socks in today’s NASCAR. Maybe that’s harsh, but they get changed like them, at least. Casey Mears got a new crew chief before we even started racing.
Matt T: Well… something needed to change. If Bill Davis and Jeremy Mayfield thought the crew chief was the answer, you might as well pull the trigger now.
Tommy: Davis pretty much sacrificed last season working towards his Toyota debut, so I guess he expected the team to be further along than it was.
Amy: The truly successful teams are the ones that stay together and overcome adversity, though… so yes, this is too soon.
Meegan: I think the whole thing’s a bit unfair… but then again, this is the kind of business NASCAR is today. Hell, it might have been the guys in the shop that miscommunicated, not Derrick Finley. Who knows.
Vito: It depends who is being replaced and why. In Mayfield’s situation, they really have no choice. He’s a “name” driver driving for the top Toyota team and he’s missed both races. Tommy Baldwin is a top-tier crew chief, too.
Matt T: Agreed, Vito, and 360 OTC is a new primary. You’ve got to make one of the two. Baldwin would make for a great full-time chief, too, but this is only temporary.
Vito: It makes a lot more sense, though, than the circus at Roush Racing last year when Carl Edwards and Bob Osborne were separated because he got in a couple of wrecks.
Tom: Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that. Mayfield was part of a new team. You’ve got to give a new team a little bit of a chance… and the sponsor has to know going in missing races is a possibility.
Toni: Seriously, though, I know it sounds cliche to talk about chemistry, but sometimes, it doesn’t take all that long to know when you don’t have it. It might not even have been missing the races so much but seeing how they worked together that caused the change.
Amy: The team needs to look at the equipment and the engineering before blaming the crew chief, though.
Tom: But see, Mayfield nearly made the Daytona 500… he only missed it due to teammate shenanigans. And he was fast in practice there, so who knows? He could have had a top-15 finish… I thought pulling the trigger was a bit premature.
Vito: They’re a “new” team, but far and away the top Toyota team. BDR was the first team to run Toyotas in Trucks and Cup; their program is sound.
Tom: I still feel bad for Finley, though; it’s a sad sign of the times.
Vito: Not as sad as AJ Allmendinger not even coming close to making a race yet.
Toni: They know they are throwing Allmendinger to the wolves. They aren’t going to give up on him this fast.
Vito: They might not… but will he give up?
Tom: Allmendinger practiced well in California… he didn’t do that badly. I think he’ll make a race before Bristol.
Matt T: I don’t see how Toyota or Red Bull thought that team would make a race yet, but that’s a whole different ballgame. As for Mayfield, he’s a vet, and should have been able to place that car is at least one event.
Amy: It wouldn’t matter if Mayfield was a 10-time champ if the equipment wasn’t good enough.
Matt T: True, but a driver has to play the hand he’s dealt. The BDR program was supposed to be the best of the bunch. On paper. Just think about it… Mayfield has made the Chase, not once, but TWICE. He should be able to give the input needed to be competitive.
Vito: It is pretty sad, though. Scott Riggs, who leads the series in wrecking all by himself (narrowly over JJ Yeley), didn’t even last 10 laps. I’m POSITIVE Jeremy could have lasted a little longer.
Matt T: Anyway, I really think Mayfield’s team will rebound. It’s just tough not making the first two.
Vito: It’s a bad situation because as much as DNQs complicate things for you in 2007, it also means that 2008 is already shot too for the most part by you having to qualify on time. Hopefully, Vegas will treat them better.

If the race this weekend is successful, Las Vegas will likely be clamoring for a second date. If they get it, where should that date come from? And do they even deserve another date?

Vito: Please. For the love of God and all that is holy, take a date from California or New Hampshire.
Toni: If they get it, it should come from California. Because Vegas is sold out – was Fontana?
Tommy: Give them one of those crap races at Bristol or Martinsville.
Matt T: It makes sense to go to Vegas twice. Without getting into all the SMI/ISC stuff… I’d say Pocono.
Amy: I say, take a snoozefest from California or Michigan instead.
Vito: Michigan always sells out, though. 120,000 in the stands, 50,000-plus in the infield.
Tom: I agree that California is where it should come from.
Amy: Better yet, take the SECOND snoozefest from California, put Vegas in the Chase, give Darlington Labor Day and all would be right with the world.
Tom: The problem is, I don’t know if that will ever happen. And Vegas should NOT be in the Chase.
Amy: If the racing is good, it should. Lose Kansas or something.
Tom: The Chase should be a broad cross-section of all the different tracks, Amy, not Kasey Kahne‘s personal playground.
Vito: NASCAR obviously dosen’t care about the product on the track. They care about revenue. More people show up, more tickets are sold, more $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
Tom: Well, right now ratings are down 10%. So, perhaps NASCAR’s concern should lie elsewhere.
Amy: If the racing at Vegas is better than Kansas or Texas, put it in the Chase and move another race out.
Vito: They need a road course in the Chase as well. I also think it should end at Charlotte, not Homestead.
Matt T: NASCAR has painted themselves into a corner with the Chase venues, though. They can’t just take one.
Tom: I think the race at Martinsville is the one in trouble, personally. As much as I hate to think they would take it away.
Matt T: If Vegas gets a Martinsville date, I quit.
Vito: In a perfect world, Rockingham would have a date, and someone would go pull the weeds out of North Wilkesboro and race there, too. But sadly, as with the Big Block cars… it isn’t coming back, ever.

Predictions for Las Vegas?

Tommy: Kevin Harvick.
Vito: Martin.
Meegan: Kenseth.
Toni: Jeff Burton.
Tom: Damn Vito! You took mine. I’m going with Martin, too.
Amy: Jimmie Johnson.
Matt T: Tony Stewart. He looked good on the practice speed charts in testing; it’s a brand-new place and he’ll adapt quick.
Vito: I’m a Martin Myopian. I’ll probably pick him every weekend until he takes a seat.
Tom: I think he wins in the Army car, taking a 50-point lead into Atlanta and turning the media questions about him coming back into a downright riot. I’m half expecting to be called before Atlanta and told there’s a media stakeout from Monday through Thursday at Martin’s house until he says he’s running full-time.
Vito: Speaking of stories to watch in the future, Junior says they found out what the problem was with their engines.
Amy: Paul Menard doesn’t go fast enough to break a motor.
Tom: What… that Teresa didn’t do her Sunday morning double check? What a shame! Someone really should look into firing her, oh wait, she’s on the same plan as her son. Maybe not.

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