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)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Truck Series Reporter/Commentator)
Kim DeHaven (Tuesdays/Numbers Game)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/That’s History)
Kurt Busch was – in a word – dominant on Sunday. What’s made the difference over at Penske Racing in the past two months that has him primed to make the Chase? Can he keep up the momentum?
Amy: Two Words: Pat. Tryson.
Vito: Pat Tryson has been the answer – plain and simple.
Beth: Pat Tryson.
Kim: Pat Tryson.
Tom: Hmm – seems like there’s an echo in here, something about a Tryson that joined the team at some point and made a difference.
Tony: Tryson certainly helped, but Penske was coming around all year long, building up to this point. Preparation meets opportunity.
Tommy: I agree with Tony. Not discounting Tryson, by any means, but you’ve seen a steady improvement in both the No. 2 and No. 12 teams in recent weeks.
Tom: Honestly, I’m trying to remember a performance that was as dominant at a track as we saw on Sunday… I think you have to go back to Denny Hamlin at this very same race last year. I mean, Kurt just checked out.
Beth: And when someone else tried to, he caught them – and made the pass look easy.
Tommy: That was an awesome performance by the No. 2 team. They were strong in the beginning, middle and end.
Vito: It was also interesting that he didn’t go all Busch Brother and run into things with his car or spin it out.
Tony: Yeah, there’s been no bad luck for Kurt as of late. If that continues to happen, we’re going to have a new contender in the title Chase.
Vito: The key for Busch has also been big-time horsepower, and he’s paired with a crew chief who is having the chance to work on the flagship car in a two-car team… not a five-car monolith where he’s told what to do. And his Dodge didn’t look too aero pushy in traffic, did it.
Tom: What I thought was interesting was that Pat Tryson said this weekend this car was the first one where he’d had full input on building the car from start to finish. And all I can say about that is, well, I’ll just go with what Jeff Gordon said. “Wow.”
Vito: Which reminds me: Memo to Kurt. Stop… naming your cars after guys. It’s weird. The first person he sees when he hops out of the car is his gorgeous wife, and he names his car after the big guy.
Kim: At least he spared us the “snow angels” this time.
Tony: That was the first time I heard Gordon not give a 500-word answer to a question.
Tom: Man, I have to tell you, I feel bad for Dale Earnhardt Jr., though. To have an incredible run like he did and then still get knocked out of 12th spot is tough.
Amy: Why feel bad, Tom? NASCAR gave him a six-lap caution for a nothing spin so the car could get fixed.
Beth: Junior said himself that he’s not worried. It’s only seven points… Kurt made up nearly 300 in the last four weeks.
Tom: Impressive stat, and it’s bound to get better. The final five tracks are all good ones for Kurt, as well… he just better catch Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. in front of him so he’s more than safely in. But I think he will.
Amy: Kurt has been good recently… but also lucky, because he should have sat a few weeks two months ago.
Vito: Just think where he’d be had he kept his composure at Dover.
Tony: That’s true, too. Apparently, you just have to obey flags in NASCAR – running into competitors on pit road is OK.
Tom: You know, Pat came on right after that whole incident happened… and it seems to have totally changed the mentality of their season. And I guess Ryan Newman‘s mentality is solid now that he’s made the decision to stay at Penske.
Tony: Good points. I think Roger wanted the calmness of Pat to work with Kurt. And they’re both motivated. During a Sirius interview with Kurt about Pat, he said they both have a chip on their shoulder about Roush.
Amy: I don’t know… the team’s mentality is different, for sure, but I’m not sure Kurt will ever change.
Beth: Never say never, Amy. He’s definitely not the same guy he was a few years ago.
Vito: Kurt’s not even 30 years old. He just has a little growing up to do.
Tom: I think he can temporarily change when he needs to… see examples like Tony Stewart, 2005.
Amy: Maybe, maybe not – but he’ll never be a clean driver, either. And that “growing up to do” excuse is the WORST excuse I’ve ever heard.
Kim: Do you like the “I blame his parents” one better, Amy? That is the one I use for anything Busch!
Amy: Brian Vickers, Gordon and Reed Sorenson came into the sport just as young as Kurt and Kyle, and have never acted like that.
Vito: And two of the drivers you mentioned have a combined win total of 1. Kyle has much more.
Amy: So winning races allows you to act like a total ass? Somebody tell Richard Petty…
Tom: By the way, did anyone else get the feeling Rusty was kind of wishing he was racing that No. 2 car for a little while from the booth? It’s definitely got to be bittersweet to some extent to see your old car enter Victory Lane.
Vito: I think Rusty regrets getting out.
Amy: I think so, too.
After months of speculation, Kyle Busch has finally made his choice. How will he fit in at Joe Gibbs Racing… and more importantly, did he make the right decision on his future?
Vito: Solid choice. I don’t think he would have been able to deal with the pressure of driving the number 8. He’s had a hard enough time with car number 5.
Amy: And if anyone can teach Kyle how to act with class, it’s Coach Gibbs. I think it’s a good decision… three championships since 2000 is one more than Hendrick Motorsports has.
Beth: His cocky attitude isn’t going to fly at JGR, though.
Tommy: I see his future as face down in the shop toilet, with Stewart’s boot pushing down on his noggin.
Tom: I’m really surprised at this decision from all sides. I mean, Tony has made it clear that he and Kyle have rubbed the wrong way on several occasions. So Gibbs decides to make the two teammates?
Vito: But if you think about it, Tom, he and Stewart are a lot alike. He’s Tony at 22 years old.
Tony: Stewart will set him straight if he gets out of line, I think.
Tom: Great points, guys, but could the “new” Tony handle a younger version of himself at 22? That’s a big question mark.
Amy: People complain nobody at HMS “mentored” Kyle – and they think Tony is a good choice for that?
Tommy: That is going to equal a marriage from hell!
Kim: Well, Busch is an incredible talent, and Gibbs is experienced in dealing with “egos.”
Tom: But Denny’s 26 with half the temper Tony has, and Stewart still wants to cut the kid in two about once every three months.
Vito: Both Kyle and Tony act childish, spout off when there’s a camera or microphone in front of them, have temper tantrums… but they’re also probably the two most talented drivers in the series.
Tom: My question is whether DEI was struggling to get sponsorship put together for Busch, and that’s why he bolted to Gibbs. Because DEI just seems like a no-brainer for me.
Vito: I don’t see it being self-destructive. If anything, I think they’ll get along surprisingly well.
Tom: Everything I had seen and heard pointed to DEI. I’m just very surprised.
Tommy: Let’s hand it to Kyle, though. He’s 22… and he’s already burned bridges with the two most highly regarded owners… and now the third most respected one hires him.
Amy: If I was an owner, I’d have a hard time resisting that talent, too. Tommy. He’s five times the driver his brother is, so if you HAD to have one of them… I’d put Kyle in the top five racing today on pure talent.
Vito: I think they’re about the same. Kyle looks a lot faster because the car is just about out of control, but Kurt has learned how to back it down. A little bit, at least.
Tommy: I’m just shocked there’s a major sponsor that wants to be associated with Kyle in the first place.
Tom: Look, I don’t blame Gibbs for looking to replace JJ Yeley; things were just not working out with the No. 18. But if they were going to do that, why wouldn’t they go after Earnhardt Jr.? I mean, if they were going to make the move and Junior was dropping Bud anyways, removing sponsorship conflicts, why wouldn’t Gibbs make a play for him instead? I don’t get it.
Tony: Maybe it was more than a sponsor; with Toyota rumors looming, maybe they wanted to get their hands on another top talent. And remember, Junior was a Chevy loyalist.
Tom: Well, I just hope Coach Gibbs is going to be retiring from the Redskins this year. Because I think he’s going to be making a lot more emergency mediating trips in 2008… although I’m sure Kyle will win races here and there. How do Kyle and Denny really get along, does anyone know?
Tony: For some reason, I can’t picture them ever talking.
Amy: Me either!
Vito: Regardless of whether they talk or not, Kyle will do fine. In fact, I predict he will get Toyota‘s first Cup victory.
Kim: Kyle will win races next year, no doubt, but I fear he will continue to make more headlines for his brash behavior.
Amy: If Gibbs can teach him how to act, he’ll be fine… but many have tried… Kyle has always been his own worst enemy.
Tony: Almost everyone except Yeley and Jason Leffler who drove for Gibbs experienced success, and I don’t think Kyle will be any different, as long as he doesn’t ruin himself.
Tom: The only advantages for Kyle at Gibbs is the prestige of being Toyota’s biggest future star along with Hamlin… and having a mentor like the coach himself, a special type of attention which he wouldn’t have had from the owner at DEI. But if Kyle wants to emerge from his teammates’ shadows, boy is he in for a big wakeup call on this one. As long as Tony drives, he’ll never be number one there. Stewart won’t stand for that.
Vito: I think there’s more of a onus on Gibbs to make sure Kyle does good. He always kind of seemed like he was left to flounder at Hendrick, regardless of where he was on the totem pole. And Gordon pretty much refused to offer any sort of mentoring to him.
Tom: Frankly, I can see Kyle No. 3 on the Gibbs totem pole for a long time… No. 4 once Joey Logano comes into the fold in ’09.
Tommy: Bank on him making headlines with bad behavior… and Kurt as well. No matter how much perfume you put on those two boys… the bad upbringing will always rear its ugly head eventually.
Tony: That’s what I was saying – if he wants to be number one somewhere, he’ll have to go to a lesser team and make a short term performance sacrifice.
Vito: What sacrifice? I’d almost see this as a move up. He’s on more equal footing at Gibbs than having to try and match up with Jeff and Jimmie Johnson. The No. 48 and No. 24 are their own separate race shop.
Tony: I think the Nos. 18, 20 and 11 can co-exist.
Vito: Yeah, they can. And if there’s one thing this year that has showed everyone, the only team that can go toe-to-toe with Hendrick in the CoT races is Joe Gibbs.
Amy: But if I was Interstate Batteries, I’d wonder how I got HERE from Bobby Labonte…
How will George Gillett change the course of business at Evernham Motorsports, and will the merger provide an immediate impact on their performance?
Amy: I think it’ll take a few weeks to have any real effect – because even with money, it takes time to build new equipment.
Vito: It will allow Ray to get back in the shop and figure out why his Chargers don’t turn in the right direction.
Kim: It’s someone to foot the bills, handle the business side while Ray handles performance.
Tom: Great point… because if there’s one thing the new Dodge appears to be, it’s a manufacturer that doesn’t feel like sponsoring cars anymore.
Tommy: It may not show big dividends immediately… but it helps to guarantee that Evernham will be around for years to come.
Amy: after that – if Gillett lets Ray dictate the day-to-day operations, they’ll be better off.
Tony: That’s the thing; I wish I could be a fly on the wall during those conversations about how that team will be managed.
Tom: Frankly, the team’s money is best spent in engineering, anyways… they are so far behind Chevy and Ford, it’s crazy.
Amy: Bud will more than pay the bills.
Tom: Frankly, there are rumors swirling Ray had “other” reasons to make this merger annoying… I hope they’re not true. But in the end, a merger like this should be nothing but a benefit for both sides involved.
Tommy: Richard Childress believes that there will only be 8-10 owners of full-time teams in the next few years. To do that, you’ve got to start getting your affairs in order to become a four-car team.
Vito: I also think you saw what happened here when he began turning his attention away from his two Cup drivers to his, ahem… “prodigy.”
Tony: Yeah, there were some rumors going around the garage about alternative reasons for the merger… on the other side, I also hear that it’s not a very good strategy if that’s the case.
Tommy: Mayfield got burned for saying what Evernham later admitted to.
Tom: All I can say is that Brooke and Jeff Gordon proved NASCAR divorce is never easy.
Tony: Or sports divorce for that matter… ask Michael Strahan.
Tom: I thought Ray at least took a major step in publicly admitting the way in which his relationship with Erin Crocker has affected things, though. For almost a year, we’ve been living in fear of mentioning that. Now, I think he made a statement that while it’s kind of sad, the situation is what it is, people are going to judge him regardless, but his team needs to get over it and move forward.
Kim: I pity the wife of the next guy that hires Crocker, based on her track record.
Vito: With the CoT going full time next year, Budweiser probably coming on board for Kasey Kahne, and trying to keep Dodge in the fold… this will work out good. Ray needs to be focusing on car performance, and leave the business end of it to someone else…
Tony: They should throw away 2007 and start preparing for 2008 with this new partnership.
Tom: Um, Tony? They already have. They’re spending the rest of 2007 running old 2006 setups… I think they’ve come to a point where they realized what they were doing wasn’t working. Too bad that hasn’t translated into on-track success.
Tommy: The cost of running race teams has exceeded what an owner can get just in team sponsorship money. They have to partner up and be creative to make ends meet.
Tom: They all still looked bad at Pocono.
Two words symbolize the race at Montreal: Robby Gordon. Were the penalties NASCAR imposed justified, and should additional penalties be forthcoming this week… or did the sanctioning body go too far?
Amy: NASCAR screwed Robby. I know if a guy spins and causes the yellow, he doesn’t get his spot back, fine… but Robby got punted after the flag was out for no fault of his own.
Vito: They were completely out of line… until Robby spun Marcos Ambrose after being parked.
Tony: They went way too far. The penalty for a black flag has always been to stop scoring the car – and that’s it.
Tom: I have to tell you, that was one of the craziest finishes to a Busch race I’ve ever seen. Or any race, for that matter. If NASCAR had made the correct call, that spin wouldn’t have happened.
Tony: I will say NASCAR needs to explain why the field wasn’t frozen while the yellow flag was clearly flying in the background.
Vito: Different rules for different drivers. Kevin Harvick clearly dumps two cars in one corner… and is allowed to win the race.
Tommy: Gordon clearly deserves a three-race suspension.
Vito: But he was spun under caution. I thought the field was supposed to be frozen.
Tom: Let’s put it this way… even in EA Sports’ NASCAR ’07, when you spin out to cause a caution… you’re put in the same position you were in heading to the green flag.
Amy: If you don’t suspend Kurt Busch for nearly killing a crewman, how can you suspend Robby for spinning one car.
Tommy: Well, there are two different issues here: NASCAR’s scoring and Gordon’s actions.
Tom: Correct. On NASCAR’s scoring, they were definitively wrong. So, the way Robby Gordon looked at it, I think, was you can’t win a protest by submitting to a wrong decision.
Tony: Exactly. He did what he felt he had to do.
Tom: So I would have NO problem with what he did… IF he passed Ambrose fair and square, AND he “won” the race and did it quietly.
Vito: Like I always say though… there’s nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing left to lose.
Tom: But he shouldn’t have done the burnouts and rubbed it in everyone’s face. That’s what I don’t like… and what I think rubbed NASCAR the wrong way.
Amy: But basically, Robby got parked for spinning out a guy on purpose and admitting it after the race… while Harvick dumped Scott Pruett, admitted it after the race, kept the WIN and raced Sunday.
Tommy: I think you guys have let Robby brainwash you on the black-flag thing. You get up to three laps to comply with the flag, only because there is a benefit of doubt given that the driver might not see it or understand it’s for them.
Amy: No, you can’t, Tommy – if you do they stop scoring you – that’s the rule, and that’s what NASCAR did – it was the only call they got right in this.
Tom: Tommy, I do think that rule gets relaxed at the end of the race. How can you have up to three laps to comply when you get a black flag with two to go?
Amy: Well, regardless of who was and wasn’t there, it seems like there’s any time a driver that NASCAR doesn’t want to win, something happens to prevent it.
Vito: It’s NASCAR. The rulebook is only a guideline.
Tony: I don’t think anyone is arguing the fact that ignoring the black flag is wrong… it’s getting suspended for ignoring one.
Vito: The last time I saw anything remotely like that was at Sears Point in 1993 with Ricky Rudd and Davey Allison. And nobody got suspended.
Tom: And that’s why I do feel 100% badly for Robby, despite the fact he went overboard. In the meantime, much respect was earned by me for Ambrose Saturday. That kid deserved to contend for his win fair and square… instead, he wound up a sitting duck.
Tony: Yeah, Ambrose had every reason to go apes**t and didn’t.
Amy: Well, he didn’t look like he tried all that hard to avoid Robby, either, with four laps to go.
Vito: And Pruett has to feel like some sort of tackling dummy. If he’s running up front at a road course with a lap to go, he knows he’s getting punted. At least once.
Amy: You know, Harvick was parked way back in 2002 for admitting he’d wrecked a guy on purpose.
Vito: That was a different situation. Harvick was trying to get his truck back out with the express intent of wrecking someone, and that was aired over the radio.
Tom: Frankly – and I know we’re talking about Robby – but Harvick really could have been penalized for his actions. No one is talking about that – you look at the way the No. 21 car accelerated in turn 2 there. Clearly looked like an intentional punt of Pruett to me.
Vito: I guess when you drive a Chevrolet for Richard Childress, the rules don’t apply.
Tony: And he kind of admitted it afterwards… when he said Pruett should’ve given him a racing lane.
Kim: At least they followed precedent – Gordon was parked, and he will get a $35,000 fine and probation.
Tommy: So… if a driver disagrees with where they are scored, they should ignore the sanctioning body, black flags – everything – and just continue to race where ever they feel they should?
Vito: Well, we don’t have instant replay in NASCAR… what if Robby’s in the right? Which he was. They should have just red-flagged the race to begin with to get the scoring figured out, instead of idling around for five laps.
Tommy: So, Vito… if a driver thinks he’s right, they should ignore the race officials?
Tom: What’s confusing to me, Vito, is that NASCAR initially said, Robby, line up in second, and then they changed their tune. I wonder what caused that.
Amy: Let’s count NASCAR’s FUBAR’s on this one: 1. Letting Ambrose wreck Gordon under yellow and not giving Robby his position back. 2. Letting Harvick do the SAME thing Gordon did, sans ignoring the black flag, and still awarding him the win. 3. Parking Gordon. 4. Parking Gordon, and NOT leaving town for a bit.
Vito: The thing is, 90% of the public is on Robby’s side, as is the garage area. NASCAR stands to make a big PR and credibility mistake with this if they bully him. Place yourself in the cockpit with two laps to go. You know for a fact that a mistake has been made. Do you just lay over and take it, and surrender a win, or give them time to fix it?
Tony: To Tom’s point before, Robby knew that was the only way to fight at that point. NASCAR never withdraws a black flag once thrown, so if he’s going to appeal, he needs to show that he would’ve won the race.
Beth: Well, the bottom line is that NASCAR messed up – plain and simple.
Predictions for Watkins Glen?
Vito: Robby Gordon.
Beth: Jeff Gordon.
Amy: I like Mr. On-A-Roll, Stewart.
Tommy: Torn between Smoke and Jeff Gordon… but going with Smoke!
Kim: I’m going with Mr. Road Course, Jeff Gordon.
Tony: Even though I don’t like his recent actions, I’ll go with the defending champ, Harvick.
Tom: I think I’m going to go with Jeff Gordon, too.
Vito: Way to go out on a limb there guys… Jeff Gordon at a road course.
Tom: The guy is due at the Glen – he hasn’t won here since 2001. But let me tell you, now that Robby Gordon’s racing… he’s going to be a tough guy to beat.
Tony: If he races and his car doesn’t mysteriously catch fire, at least.
Not sure which Frontstretch writer to trust with predictions this week? Check out their success – or failure – with the current season standings listed below.
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