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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Is Clint Bowyer a Flash in the Pan? Multi-Car Teams Bend the Rules… Because They Can & Dale Jr. in the News Again? Oh, Man…

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:
Tom Bowles (Frontstretch Managing Editor/Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch Senior Editor/Fridays/Rick Crawford Driver Diary)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/That’s History)

Clint Bowyer‘s win: Flash in the pan, or a statement that he can be a major contender for this year’s title?

Matt T.: Neither. He’s no flash, but he’s no title contender.
Amy: He’s no flash in the pan, Matt, but he’s consistent. While I don’t see a title for him this year, a solid finish of eighth-10th is what I’d look for.
Toni: I agree with Amy. Bowyer’s been knocking on the door all year – he’s a consistent top-10 guy, so he was bound to get a win sooner or later. And they just so happened to put it all together this week.
Mike: I don’t know that I’d call it a flash in the pan. If anything, he was one of the most consistent drivers all season long, which gives him a better chance at winning the title now that he has a win.
Matt T.: And what a win it was.
Tom: Oh, no doubt; it was a dominating performance, and I certainly don’t think it’s a one-time thing. But nothing from the RCR organization over the past month has convinced me that they are better than the two Chevy teams positioned in front of them: Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
Toni: Right. This win does not mean he’s a title contender by any means. No more, no less.
Tony: I actually agree with that. See: Jeff Burton, Chase ’06. This run just shows that he is not the automatic 12th-place finisher.
Tom: Yeah – the thing is, Bowyer’s great at collecting top 10s. It’s a hobby of his. But top fives – now, that’s another matter. He’s only got three – and three isn’t going to win you a title. For him to win this, he’s going to have to collect four or five more top-five finishes over the course of the next nine races, and I just don’t see him doing that.
Amy: Four or five top fives with guys like Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finishing behind him, Tom. And that’s not going to happen.
Matt T.: On the bright side, I couldn’t think of a better winner for NHIS. This win will do more for Bowyer than it would for J.J., Smoke or Gordon.
Vito: I think it’s been a long time coming. Gil Martin had been holding back, waiting for the Chase to start to bring out their best stuff. The way the No. 31 and the No. 29 ran, it’s clear they had different setups.
Tom: You know what Bowyer did that was cool? Blow the car’s engine during the burnout. Now that’s how you should celebrate your first win.
Vito: He should have flipped it over and lit it on fire. Oh, wait; he already did that at Daytona.
Matt T.: The No. 07 was fast off the hauler, guys. They had them covered all weekend, and rain on Saturday worked in Bowyer’s favor.
Tom: Well Matt, I think the rain really helps with the Car of Tomorrow, because no one knows how to adjust the car. With no practice time, if someone comes off the truck with a fast hot rod on Friday… you’re screwed on Sunday.
Matt T.: Right; if you hit it immediately, you’re usually good no matter what. Not always, but in Sunday’s case… yes.
Vito: It seemed like a replay of Martin Truex Jr.‘s win at Dover.
Tony: Give a call to his pit crew, too… the team never gave up track position. If they got caught back in the pack, I think that would’ve been it.
Tom: In other news… why the hell is Richard Childress in Mongolia? At the start of the playoffs, no less? Isn’t that a little weird?
Mike: Childress can only travel to hunt animals when they are in season; so unfortunately, he had to go to Mongolia now.
Matt T.: Yeah, he’s out hunting Yeti or something.
Amy: Is that related to JJ Yeley?
Matt T.: Second cousin, hairily removed. He goes to the JGR shop every Wednesday to see the waxer.
Vito: Whatever the reason, it clearly isn’t hurting Bowyer’s team not having RC around…
Tony: Yeah, and the No. 07 team may want him to stay away after Sunday.
Mike: He’s only going to be out of the country a couple of weeks. The shop pretty much runs itself; Childress doesn’t have to make any major decisions between now and the end of the season as far as the Chase contenders are considered.
Tom: Yeah, but still… if I had all three of my cars in the playoffs, I might consider going the next year instead. Especially when it’s been 13 years since Childress has won a title. But, that’s just me. He’s got six trophies and I don’t… so he can do what he wants.
Vito: In Richard’s defense, it wasn’t like he missed a whole lot. Pretty sure I was asleep for 230 laps of that race.

First Jack Roush “partners” with newly-formed Yates Racing, and now GEM and Petty Enterprises are on the verge of doing the same thing. Do you consider this a violation of NASCAR’s four-team rule, and can this type of consolidation be stopped?

Toni: It’s not a violation. It’s a loophole if it’s anything, but a perfectly legit one.
Tony: And if there is one thing that NASCAR teams have been great at doing over the years, it’s finding loopholes in almost every rule.
Vito: The best teams find a way around the rules to make it work in their favor.
Matt T.: And it can’t be stopped – at least, not yet.
Tom: Which is the worst thing possible for the sport.
Mike: There’s nothing wrong with it. We all know that ultimately, you’re going to have just Hendrick, Childress, DEI, Gibbs, Ford, Dodge and Toyota. The Chevy teams are too competitive to consolidate, but the other makes aren’t competitive enough on their own not to.
Tom: Let’s assume Petty merges with GEM. Check this out: Petty-GEM has five teams, Roush-Yates has six, Hendrick has four, Gibbs has three, RCR will have four, DEI has four… that’s six teams taking up 26 starting spots.
Tony: The more NASCAR becomes like a business, the more it resembles the corporate world: bigger companies, less choices.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with some of these mergers, though, except for Roush demanding who he wanted in the No. 88 car and getting his way. Notice Yates hasn’t been in a big hurry to put him in before they absolutely have to.
Toni: So that’s why Travis Kvapil got the No. 88 car… I just put that together now.
Vito: Kvapil still needs a sponsor. I’m pretty sure they’d have an easier time getting one with Kenny Wallace in the car, but Roush Fenway Racing was created solely to obtain sponsors, so maybe they’ll not have such a hard time after all.
Amy: They could slap the Red Sox on it and call it sponsored, if they so chose.
Tom: And that’s the thing, Vito… now that we know M&M’s isn’t coming back to sponsor David Gilliland, Yates badly needed someone that could help him bring sponsors for two cars. Because they’ve learned the hard way all the big bucks are going straight to a few select teams. Think about it; Yates has been trying to find sponsors for two years, and they’re just not getting it done.
Matt T.: It all comes back to franchising, folks. I don’t like to say the “F” word, but look at the landscape.
Tom: As much as I hate, hate, hate the “franchising” word… I don’t know how you stop this if you keep it a free enterprise system. Because the “private contractors” have accumulated so much wealth, equipment and technology they can crush anyone else trying to enter the series.
Vito: I thought the CoT as supposed to fix all of that?
Matt T.: Read: Make it worse.
Vito: No kidding. The R&D money just goes elsewhere if they can’t go to the wind tunnel. Did I mention how much I hate the CoT?
Matt T.: The guys were bitching loudly about the CoT this past weekend. “Can’t pass.” “Can’t turn.”
Amy: The CoT makes drivers drive; it doesn’t perform miracles.
Tom: But Amy, it also evens the playing field in that there’s nothing to adjust on these cars… so driving styles can only make so much of a difference. Especially on cookie-cutter racetracks.

BOWLES: PERFECTION CAUSING NASCAR PERFECT HELL

Amy: But yet, the finishes are closer, and the good drivers have no problem driving them. The ones who can manhandle a car and drive with finesse are winning; the rest are whining.
Matt T.: No, the companies that are further along in development are winning, Amy. Roush Fenway is still behind.
Vito: Even the guys that win with them (Kyle Busch, Stewart, Gordon) say they don’t drive properly. Matt Kenseth says they’re even harder to get to pass people with than the old cars ever were, something that Chad Knaus said was going to happen at the end of last year. Burton and Kenseth were on Glenn Beck’s show on CNN Friday night, and both said the cars don’t drive very well simply because NASCAR doesn’t listen to them. They just do what they want.
Tony: Well, I think what we’re seeing is that the CoT isn’t all that different from the old car. Some races have close finishes, some are sleepers, and in the end the same drivers are running up front.
Tom: I think you definitely have to consider adjustability issues. These new cars, for whatever reason, NASCAR has stripped the innovation needed to adjust them. So, the cars can’t handle, the teams can’t adjust, and the times are so close together, teams spread out in single file and can’t pass one another.
Vito: Those big puffs of smoke out of nowhere in the middle of a corner make them look really well-engineered, too. I’m sorry; is that a $200,000 racecar or an ’85 IROC with leaky valve cover gaskets?
Amy: I agree they should be more adjustable, but it’s not anyone’s problem but their own if a team’s behind. And the races have a closer margin of victory by far and they make the driver work harder… both good things.
Mike: I don’t mind them not driving that well. It is making the drivers actually have to work at it a little bit. I think that is a good thing. It will be interesting to see them on 1.5-mile tracks.
Matt T.: Or boring.
Vito: I can’t wait until they get to a real nail-biter track like Pocono or Chicago with them next year. I’m really going to get some solid naps in for 2008.
Amy: Those are boring now, so not like it’s going to get worse.
Vito: Hah, just watch.
Tom: Look, all I know is races like Sunday are truly damaging. The number of new fans that were created after that race had to be in the single digits. And that’s not what you’re looking for when it’s the first race of the playoffs.

On Wednesday in Dallas, the Dale Earnhardt Jr. situation will finally be resolved with the announcement he’ll be driving the No. 88 Mountain Dew/AMP/National Guard Chevrolet. Considering the options out there for both driver and sponsor for Dale Jr., was this the right fit for him? Did Yates do the right thing by selling the number?

Amy: You know, I don’t think it matters.
Toni: I don’t think it does, either.
Tom: Hmm. I think it matters more than we’re giving it credit for, actually… it’s just that the story was blown so out of proportion, people are sick of hearing about it.
Amy: But Tom, it’s just a number on the side of a racecar. And sure, RYR won a title with that number, but those days are long gone.
Mike: I was glad to see Yates was willing to part with a number faster than Teresa, but that’s a whole another story.
Toni: The way I see it, Yates was being a nice guy – and remember, it’s Doug and not Robert now.
Tony: For his fans, this still matters; those with a tattoo only need an extra 8 now.
Mike: It is a good fit. AMP is targeted at the casual fan audience that NASCAR and Junior want to go after. From that perspective, it is good.
Matt T.: Hell yes, PepsiCo is the right decision. They are in with Frito Lay, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut… the list goes on and on. His cutout will be everywhere.
Vito: I agree, too; I think the sponsor is a good fit. He is the poster child for NASCAR, the most recognizable one who’s out there. Junior’s a throwback to the past in a way, and I’m sure there will be a throwback Mountain Dew paint scheme like the one DW ran in ’81 and ’82.
Tony: But for Junior himself, it wouldn’t matter if he drove a pink No. 69 car. He’s driving Hendrick horsepower, and that’ll make all the difference, not what’s listed on the side of it.
Matt T.: Screw the number… I think everyone is over it.
Tom: But when it comes to Earnhardt… I mean, can you imagine the Intimidator not driving the No. 3, Matt T.? Personally, I’m glad Junior gets to keep the 8s. Also, kudos to the Yates team for being a class act… although I’m sure they got compensated handsomely for their efforts.
Tony: That was a nice move by Yates, considering it’s the number of his only championship… a real class move there.
Amy: Also, Pepsi is a great decision… makes Junior more marketable to kids. Before, kids’ stuff had to say just his name… this sponsor can both sell it to them and market to them.
Vito: The No. 88 will look right as long as it’s the stylized 88… or the DiGard 88.
Amy: Who cares what the numbers look like? Jeff and Jimmie win. That’s the one thing they want to know.
Mike: We are going to see more paint schemes than we can shake a stick at on the No. 88.
Mike: Diecast budgets are going to be blown out of the water.
Vito: I think it’s good that he didn’t take the No. 8 with him. Cut the ties and start over fresh on every level, that was one of the worst looking cars ever.
Tom: I feel like now that this number/sponsor thing is announced, it’s going to be a huge weight off Junior’s shoulders, too. There’s nothing more to be decided for 2008, and there’s no championship to race for at the end of this season. I think we’re going to see a huge sigh of relief from him, and I think he’s going to come out and win a few races.
Mike: Oh yeah, Junior is going to be very happy not to have to answer the same question over and over again.
Tom: He won’t have any more questions to answer, Mike. Except for if he tests with that team before the end of the year… which I doubt will happen. And I don’t think Hendrick would do that to the No. 5 team if they were seriously in championship contention.
Matt T.: I think we’ll see more AMP than MD on this car. But don’t forget, the Nat’l Guard is in there, too.

After a year of investors invading the Cup Series, now the Busch Series has seen its fair share of them as well. Brewco Motorsports had its majority ownership sold to a potential investor last week; is this the type of thing organizations like them, Rensi Motorsports, and other Busch Series-only operations need to catapult them back to success?

Mike: No, unless they’re going to get a backer who is willing to do it. No Busch team can compete at the top of the series with the Cup-backed teams unless they are willing to lose a fortune.
Matt T.: The money could certainly help them. Problem is, an investor may not know racing from croquet.
Tony: Exactly, Matt… these investors are pretty much just an open wallet. I think they would benefit more from the Cup teams backing their cars out on a full-time basis.
Amy: What’s going to save their butts is changing car makes.
Tom: I think honestly, the practice time is what’s hurting these teams more than anything else. The Cupwhacker teams have Cup support, and drivers who get practice time with their Cup cars on the same track along with Busch have an advantage. The Cup cars and Busch cars have become very similar.
Vito: The Busch-only teams will come back into prominence in about 2-3 years, when the Busch Series starts racing pony cars, not Cup cars. There will be less technology transfer, and the bigger teams will probably not put the emphasis they recently have into Busch Series programs.
Matt T.: I can’t wait to see them racing the pony cars.
Vito: The Challenger, Camaro and Mustang will be about as similar to the CoT as the current Busch cars are. Flat front ends, long hoods, short rear deck.
Mike: Don’t count on it, Vito; they’ll still all look the same except for the decals.
Tom: Well, like Vito said Mike, I think the pony cars will change all that. It will begin to develop its own niche again. But still, if you have drivers with more experience constantly invading a feeder series… the drivers in that series won’t be successful.
Toni: Anyone wondering how NASCAR really would run that without a title sponsor? And I don’t think the search is going as rosy as they’d like us to think…
Matt T.: They have slashed the asking price by more than half.
Toni: And corporate budgets are set already. How do they believe they will find anyone with that much cash laying around, even at half the price?
Tom: NASCAR has so much money, though, Toni, I really don’t think it’s an issue. Brian France has so much cash stashed away… they know they need that series to exist. They’ll be fine.
Amy: BF isn’t going to spend that money, though… he might miss a drink if he did that.
Tom: I just can’t imagine life without a Busch Series though. What would NASCAR’s main feeder series be?
Matt T.: IRL, Tom.
Toni: Yeah, Busch isn’t the main feeder series now. How many new drivers are coming out of the Busch Series next year?
Tom: There’s a couple that will be out in 2009: Marcos Ambrose, Stephen Leicht
Vito: I know a few who could stand to go there from Cup…

Predictions for Dover?

Tony: The last few years, it hasn’t been unusual to see a sweep at Dover. I think we’ll see one this year: Martin Truex Jr.
Mike: Yeah, I think Truex does the season sweep.
Amy: I say Truex, too.
Toni: Denny Hamlin.
Vito: Kurt Busch. I think Pat and Kurt will bounce back strong next week with a little bit of poetic justice – I find it ironic the track that almost cost him making the Chase will be where he rebounds from a tough weekend in New Hampshire.
Matt T.: Johnson and Chad Knaus win this one.
Tom: Hmm, I think it’s got to be Truex. After what he did in the spring… it’s hard for me to see anyone challenging him. For him to be that for out front in the first CoT race…
Vito: But a Penske car was second in that race…
Matt T.: They said this weekend that CoT notes aren’t necessarily transferring well. We’ll see.
Mike: Kyle Busch waxed them at Bristol in the Spring. He sure didn’t set the world on fire in the night race.
Vito: Also, notice as the year has worn on, the CoT finishes have gotten worse, not better.
Tom: Well, I hate to say this… but nothing could be worse than last Sunday’s race. Oh, no, what did I just spout off now? Please don’t prove me wrong, please don’t prove me wrong, please don’t prove me wrong…
Amy: Uh, Tom? You’re safe. It’s called California.

Want to see which Frontstretch staff member is on board with your Chase picks? Click here to see what all your favorite staff members decided upon.

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

WriterPredictionsWinsTop 5sTop 10sAverage Finish
Tom Bowles20311158.7
Tony Lumbis201101410.1
Vito Pugliese252121810.5
Tommy Thompson21371311.2
Amy Henderson274122011.6
Matt Taliaferro17261012.5
Cami Starr702412.7
Toni Montgomery1726715.1
Mike Neff22161116.0
Beth Lunkenheimer1011616.6
Kim DeHaven200123.0
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