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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Juan Pablo Montoya the Bully, Bonus Points, Silly! & Why No One’s Watching TV

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Truck Series Reporter/Commentator)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/That’s History)

Kevin Harvick refused to back off comments about Juan Pablo Montoya‘s aggressive driving after Sunday’s race, wreck… and fight. Is this the first of a long line of drivers we’ll see standing up to the Colombian, or was Harvick out of line for what he said? How long do you think we’ll see this rivalry linger?

Tony: There are a lot of incidents where drivers had the right to be angry at Montoya this year, but this wasn’t one of them. I’m glad Montoya stuck up for himself. He knew exactly what happened and used it to his advantage.
Amy: But Harvick was out of line from the minute he parked in front of Montoya. Frankly, they were both out of line for getting out of the cars and going anywhere but the ambulance or the rescue guys.
Tommy: But Harvick is a little bit of a bully… and the best way to deal with a bully is to meet him head on.
Beth: I agree that Harvick was out of line… but all he knew was that Montoya hit him. There are better ways to handle it, though.
Vito: Harvick has an issue with everyone he comes in contact with. Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Montoya, Joe Nemechek… you name it. Maybe he was upset at Juan for resisting his repeated attempt to hold his hand yesterday.
Tony: Harvick has a history of making an ass out of himself by directing his anger at the wrong person at the wrong time. I do think this rivalry isn’t done yet, regardless.
Amy: The thing is, Harvick should have apologized to Montoya’s team the minute he saw the replay.
Beth: And he won’t… at least, not for a few days.
Vito: Harvick reminds me of a telephone tough guy. Add Robby Gordon to the list of people he can’t get along with.
Mike N.: I don’t know that Harvick was totally wrong, though. I think Montoya was out of line for blocking Martin Truex Jr. like he did, and I still think he would have hit Harvick even without Truex’s help.
Beth: But Mike, Stewart has blocked like that plenty of times in the past.
Vito: Yeah, that’s road-course racing; you block all the way to the wall. It’s been done time and time again. And if anyone thought Juan was going to pull over because of the yellow stripe,
Amy: Regardless, after what NASCAR said about drivers on probation, they should both sit a week for what happened afterwards.
Vito: Well, John Darby said it was “cool as hell.”
Tony: Yeah, that was funny hearing Darby say that. It’s going to create a lot of “inconsistency” talk in terms of how NASCAR views fights, but it’s definitely the right view.
Mike N.: I didn’t see anything wrong with what they did. No one swung at anyone. No one was injured. They looked pretty foolish. I’m with Stewart. Call me when they take their helmets off. Then we’ll talk.
Vito: Yeah. It wasn’t Cale and Donnie 1979. If anything, it was Kyle Petty and Bobby Hillin, 1993… except they didn’t pull a Petty and flip the other’s visor closed.
Vito: That would have been hilarious.
Beth: They looked like kids fighting over a swing.
Tony: Yeah, everyone was all over them for fighting like fifth graders.
Mike N.: Fifth graders? They looked like nursery school kids.
Amy: Well whatever it looked like, shoving a guy by the mouth bar of the helmet could injure his neck. And a neck injury could end his season. So actually, Harvick is lucky it was Montoya he got in it with. NASCAR loves Montoya and can’t nail Harvick without getting him, too, so they let them both off the hook too easy.

BOWLES: MONTOYA THE MADMAN OR HARVICK THE HOTHEAD?

Beth: That’s just it, Amy… but had it been with Gordon, they both would be missing Michigan.
Tommy: Expect more flare-ups involving Montoya, though – and don’t for one minute think that some of it isn’t due to the fact that he is a foreigner and Hispanic. We’re not dealing with a bunch of liberal leaning social-reformists in NASCAR.
Vito: NASCAR drivers must not have seen Montoya race open wheel. He’s always driven like he’s had fenders on his car. Personally, I think the guy’s great. He doesn’t take crap off anyone.
Amy: NASCAR has proved they won’t really penalize Montoya, though.
Vito: They don’t need to. It’s great exposure for a sport that is constantly whining about losing its soul, links to the past, and most recently… attendance and ratings.
Mike N.: What has Montoya done to be penalized for?
Tony: Nothing. He stood up for himself
Amy: He shoved Kevin by his helmet. Had he not touched Harvick, he wouldn’t have done anything.
Beth: But Kevin did his fair share of shoving too.
Mike N.: And he still had his HANS device on. He couldn’t have been hurt.
Amy: But Montoya went after him first.
Beth: I thought so too… but the camera angle didn’t give us a good look at what Kevin was doing with his right hand.
Tony: Yeah, I am glad to see at the very least they acted like men and took it up outside of the car.
Tommy: To your point, Amy, anything that happened to Harvick after he blocked Montoya in and came to his car is on Harvick.
Mike N.: I beg to differ. Harvick is the one who came over and started yip-yapping.
Vito: Maybe it’s best we don’t know. Harvick is a perfect example of being able to dish it out, but not being able to take it.
Beth: And Harvick shouldn’t have even pulled up in front of Montoya.
Vito: You could hear it when he tried driving it. That sound that resembled rocks being ground up wasn’t conducive so mechanical integrity.
Tommy: Notice again how fast Richard Childress became Harvick’s apologist. Just like years past with Harvick and Dale Earnhardt. Childress likes the aggressiveness.
Beth: You knew something was going to happen when Harvick’s involved. Shoot, you heard Donnie Wingo screaming at Montoya to stay in and then get back in the car.
Tony: That’s a good point. He probably knew Harvick would’ve been at his window net and defenseless, or at the very least not be able to answer back.
Amy: Well then, he should have left the net up!
Tony: Men have too much testosterone to sit in the car with the net up.
Tommy: And why should he hide from Harvick?
Vito: Keep in mind what kind of racing Juan is used to. If the car gets whacked in the rear wheels and shuts off, it ain’t startin’.
Amy: Then why did he get back in and try to drive it?
Mike N.: Because he checked it out and it looked like it could be driven.
Amy: Then he should have STAYED IN IT!
Beth: Neither one of them should have been anywhere out of their cars except to head to the ambulance. You stay in the car… try to restart it… and go if it will. If it won’t, you go to the ambulance.
Vito: I don’t know. If Harvick got out of his car and wanted words with me, I wouldn’t sit idly by.
Tony: Counting Daytona, this is the second incident with these two. Look for more altercations in the future, and hopefully NASCAR lets it go as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.
Amy: Well to me, there is no excuse for their behavior, and no excuse for NASCAR not holding them to the rules just because they fought like girls. I loved it – but that doesn’t change the fact that NASCAR needs to uphold their own rules… again.
Vito: To quote The Dude, “This aggression… will not stand… man!!!”
Tommy: Harvick is a hothead who is still enthralled with his high school wrestling accomplishments.
Mike N.: Harvick and Montoya settled it on the track. They should have swung a lot harder at each other. That being said, no fines or penalties were deserved.
Beth: But if they’re not gonna fine for shoving, then Jeff Gordon shouldn’t have been fined for shoving Matt Kenseth, either.
Vito: I guess pulling each other’s hair is out of the question? Geez, guys. They didn’t do anything worthy of a penalty. They just had an argument on the track. Big deal. This is stock car racing… not croquet.
Tommy: Notice the contrast amongst teammates involved in a wreck, though! Jeff Burton calmly walks over and tells Harvick to chill!
Tony: Yeah, I think that’s Burton’s role at RCR a lot more than we see on camera.

Considering the way in which drivers like Gordon and Denny Hamlin have gotten aggressive in recent weeks simply to collect those precious “bonus points,” has the new way in which the points reset for the Chase been a positive thing for the sport?

Mike N.: I have no idea. I don’t see where it is really going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Just give them all 5,000 and let them go after it.
Tony: I honestly think it’s too early to tell. Hamlin is the only evidence so far of someone changing race strategy.
Amy: I don’t think they’ve gotten “aggressive” at all – they race to win, just like always.
Vito: To me, this whole thing has reduced the incentive to win. You can win zero races and only be 40-60 points out of first. It’s the same guys winning races anyway. Gordon, Stewart, Johnson.
Beth: If anything, they’re a bit more conservative and points-minded.
Tony: At least those in the top five in points can be, Beth; although I don’t think you’ll see Team Hendrick get conservative. They did that a few years ago, and never could get the momentum restarted in the Chase.
Mike N.: True, Tony. Although I don’t think Jimmie Johnson is going to shut it down anymore since they fell apart a couple of years ago at the beginning of the Chase.
Vito: I don’t think you have to worry about that. I’m sure the last few weeks, Chad and Steve have been preparing things back at the shop.
Tommy: Seems like NASCAR is in a damned if they do damned if they don’t situation on the whole more points for a win deal. But I never thought it should be added on to the Chase after points are reset.
Amy: I do have issues with the seventh-place driver hopping over five guys come September, just because of what he did in March and April.
Beth: Me too, Amy… but then again, I have issues with someone in 12th with 10 races to go winning the championship.
Tommy: And now guys like Gordon and Hamlin have nothing else better to do than go for wins… and is that a bad thing, really?

TV ratings have been down a total of 20% for the Nextel Cup Series since 2005. How much do you think television broadcasting has played a role in the overall decline, and along those same lines, how do you feel ESPN has performed after three weeks of being back involved with the sport?

Tony: I think the increase in commercials has been one of the biggest contributors to the decreased ratings.
Vito: ESPN has done admirably. Yesterday, however, they kept breaking away from racing you could see happening in the back of the pack to focus in on the No. 24 driving away.
Beth: That’s always been the case with race coverage, though.
Tommy: You know, guys… I truly believe bad TV coverage is the biggest reason for the decline in viewers.
Mike N.: I think the television coverage itself has contributed some. The loyal fans have been turned off by how they dumbed down the coverage and the casual fans who were around for a few years have grown tired of it. For example, ESPN is still missing green flags, which just annoys the living crap out of me.
Amy: The networks just don’t listen to what the viewers want. Fans have been hollering for Allen Bestwick back in the booth for years, and the networks ignore them.
Mike N.: Very true Amy. And Bob Jenkins, too.
Tony: An hour and a half of pre-race coverage doesn’t help, either. Some people say it’s the boring races that’s the problem, but there have been snoozers as long as racing has been around.
Amy: I’m sorry, but if “fans” don’t know what tight and loose are, they can look it up… they don’t have to be told with those dumb graphics every week.
Tommy: I never understand the complaint of too much pre- or post-race coverage. Just don’t watch it.
Tony: True, but it also turns those off who want the race started by one and over by four or five.
Beth: I’d rather they spend less time on pre-race and more on post-race.
Amy: I agree with that – what about a half-hour pre-race max, but then a half hour after to talk to all the drivers you can after the race – even if they finished 30th.
Vito: Part of the problem with TV has to be with the network and the on-air talent thinking they’re the show, instead of the race. Case in point: The Hollywood Hotel. What the **** is THAT all about?
Tommy: Every time I get annoyed by the TV coverage, though, I remember back to when all I got was a one-minute radio blurb telling me who won and where Richard Petty finished. Then I’m okay with it.
Tony: That definitely puts things in perspective, Tommy.
Vito: That is true. We didn’t get actual NASCAR coverage in the local media up in Michigan until the mid-1990s.
Beth: No one’s coverage is going to be perfect, and at least we do get to see the races.
Mike N.: Do we really get to see the races, Beth?
Beth: Sometimes.
Mike N.: ESPN comes back late for a restart and then goes back to commercial after three laps.
Vito: That’s the thing though; why do we have to “accept” what’s given to us now, when there is so much more interest in it and it’s grown so much? It was better back in the ’80s and ’90s when not many were watching.
Tony: Yeah, I’m disappointed that the missed greens still continue, but overall, I think ESPN has been pretty good.
Mike N.: All the networks suck at it and I don’t understand. You know how fast the pace car is, you know exactly how long it will be before they go green,
Amy: But ESPN cuts off after two interviews post-race so they can hurry to the X-Games. Apparently, the three fans of X-Games are more important.
Vito: You mean you don’t want to see Kyle Busch mugging for the camera or Jamie McMurray making funny faces? 60 mph… 2-mile track… three laps… errr… quick!!! Run that stupid Alltel commercial again with Ryan Newman making prank phone calls.
Beth: And then you hear… crap, we did the math wrong!
Mike N.: Exactly, Vito. 2-mile track, 60-mph pace lap, run 90 seconds of commercial and then come back.
Mike N.: I vote the same.
Amy: My biggest beef with TV has always been not getting information on the WHOLE field and not being told if a driver is okay after a crash. The least that TV could do is tell us they didn’t get killed.
Beth: On the plus side, I do like Rusty commentating.
Mike N.: Rusty annoys the crap out of me.
Vito: Well… yeah. He’s Rusty.
Tony: Come on, Mike, that cat can talk about those hot rods like nobody else out there!
Mike N.: I wish I could hear him say been there, done that about 10 more times.
Tommy: A lot of fans had high expectations for ESPN’s return to NASCAR. The racing and the economics have changed, though, since they last broadcast the races, and that’s what they’re finding out.
Tony: To the networks: Less commercials, more restarts, and you’ll see some improvement, start with that.
Beth: ESPN has done no better or worse than NBC or FOX.
Amy: I don’t know which is worse-watching Rusty drive, or listening to him talk.
Tony: Apparently, there was some rumor of Rusty going to RCR that was just proved wrong.
Vito: He announced to the world that Childress wanted him to drive for him; Childress came back and flatly denied even remotely considering it.
Mike N.: RCR totally poo-pooed it.

The Busch Series has just spent the last two weeks hosting a variety of foreign drivers and road-course ringers in the series, after races at Watkins Glen and Montreal. With the series in need of a new star, which road-course ringer/Canadian driver impressed you to the point he should be given a full-time Busch Series ride?

Mike N.: Andy Lally. I thought he was pretty impressive.
Tommy: None. You can’t see anything in a road-course race. Never understood exactly why… but being a good road racer does not necessarily equate with being good at ovals
Tony: Patrick Carpentier is intriguing, and would be the right way to bring an open-wheel star to Cup.
Mike N.: I can’t vote for Carpentier because of the whole naked on pit road thing, though.
Tony: Oh, I think I missed that. What happened?
Mike N.: Carpentier won a race and he said if he did, he’d run down pit road naked. So they had a bunch of media types there to film it, and he took a checkered flag wrap off of a trash can and put it on and ran down the pit lane.
Tony: Wow, that’s like Mark Martin saying he’d run through the stands naked at Martinsville if he won a few years back.
Amy: How about Max Papis – get him a ride! The guy is a riot.
Vito: Mad Max is great. He was my favorite Champ Car driver after Greg Moore was lost in 1999. Also, maybe Danny O’Quinn should re-invent himself as an Irish racer… maybe he’d get a second shot in a decent car for a change.
Tommy: You know, I’m not a big fan of this question. Being American is one of this sport’s biggest appeals. Though admittedly… Toyota has changed that.
Amy: But to be honest, Tommy, the foreign drivers actually have some personality and haven’t yet been brainwashed by the PC/Sponsor police.
Vito: JPM, Marcos Ambrose, Carpentier, Mad Max… all of them are great for a soundbite.
Mike N.: I really like Ambrose.
Vito: Marcos handled himself really well after Montreal. He had every right to go off and say something, but he didn’t. He’s grateful for his opportunity, and people respond to that with flying colors.
Tommy: Yeah… but Americans don’t clamor to watch foreign athletes.
Beth: That makes three of us.
Tony: Yep, I hope he is allowed to develop the right way, he could be a force down the road.
Vito: Being someone of some ethnicity, I don’t have an issue with the foreign drivers. If you have the talent, you deserve a shot to be out there… not just because of what your last name is or where you grew up.
Tommy: That’s a noble position, Vito.
Mike N.: If you can bring a sponsor, you’re going to get a shot anyways.
Vito: It shouldn’t act as a barrier, but on the other side of things, it shouldn’t get you a ride just because you’re “different” or part of someone’s diversity campaign.
Tommy: But if I’m running an American sports entity, I’m going to do everything I can to keep foreign participants at a minimum. Just good business.
Mike N.: Not if you are trying to expand your audience to foreign markets.
Tommy: Americans are not as cosmopolitan as maybe they should be.
Amy: Exactly – just hire the best DRIVER, not the best (fill in the ethnic group here) driver.
Mike N.: Or to attract a Hispanic audience that is the fastest growing minority in America.
Tony: I think you can find a a good balance, people are just afraid of it becoming the CART series.

Predictions for Michigan?

Mike N.: Kenseth.
Vito: Kurt Busch. Pat usually shows up with a decent car there, and the No. 2 car never hurts for horsepower.
Tommy: Jeff Gordon.
Tony: Kenseth – and the Watkins Glen drunk fan is the first to meet him in Victory Lane.
Amy: I say Carl Edwards, as long as he can stop following Denny off-roading.
Beth: Stewart will have another one in him.
Vito: I have a feeling that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would make a great darkhorse pick. I don’t know why, but I feel it.
Tony: DEI was strong there in June.
Mike N.: And Junior has the best average finish over the last three races at Michigan. He and Gordon are the only two with three straight top 10s there.
Vito: You know, after this whole conversation today I feel I really can’t relate to Harvick, still.
Tommy: I can… had a buddy just like him. Evertime he got drunk – well, twice – he’d break my nose.
Vito: You need some new friends…

Not sure which Frontstretch writer to trust with predictions this week? Check out their success – or failure – with the current season standings listed below.

Writer Predictions Wins Top 5s Top 10s Average Finish
Tom Bowles 18 3 10 14 8.2
Tony Lumbis 16 1 9 12 9.2
Tommy Thompson 18 3 7 12 10.0
Vito Pugliese 21 1 10 15 10.5
Cami Starr 7 0 2 4 12.7
Amy Henderson 22 3 10 15 13.0
Matt Taliaferro 15 2 4 8 13.8
Toni Heffelfinger 14 1 5 6 15.8
Mike Neff 18 1 3 7 18.4
Beth Lunkenheimer 6 1 1 3 18.5
Kim DeHaven 2 0 0 1 23.0

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