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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: A Hamlin-Petty Brawl, Are Dover Pits Too Small? & Team Orders Leave Us Appalled

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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice Of Vito & Fridays/That’s History)

Kyle Petty and Denny Hamlin got into it at Dover recently, after Petty confronted Hamlin in his car following a nasty incident that sent both drivers to the garage for repairs. Who should be apologizing to who – if anyone – and should NASCAR take action for this incident?

Vito: Hamlin has joined Kevin Harvick in the Jerkoff Hall of Fame.
Amy: And Kyle WILL be apologizing to NASCAR after he gets fined. The crash was all Denny, though.
Matt T.: Huh? I say no and no to those questions, Amy. The term “just one of those racin’ deals” gets used too much, but in this case it fits.
Mike: Right. Nobody should be apologizing to anyone, it was a racing deal.
Toni: And thanks to the Chase and the Top-35 rule, it got blown out of proportion.
Tony: Well, both were at fault because of how they made their confrontation so public. The crash was all Denny. Kyle went over to “talk” to him. At that point, it would still only be Denny – but Kyle pushed the envelope in a public forum, and now it’s both of them.
Mike: I will say flipping the visor down was a bit mean on Kyle’s part.
Amy: It’s Denny’s comments afterward that really bothered me. His drivel about how the Chase drivers are “more important” was just as uncalled for as Kyle’s smack.
Tom: To me, this opened up a bigger can of worms as to how drivers in the Chase feel about the non-Chasers. Because honestly, I think both drivers are at fault here. Denny could have been a little more patient… but Kyle also wasn’t leaving him that much room off turn 4.

BOWLES: HAMLIN, PETTY FAIL TO TAKE HIGH ROAD AT DOVER

Vito: It’s one thing to wreck a guy. It’s another to wreck a guy, bad mouth him, blame him for it, then say that you wish you would have punched him in the face and choked him three hours after he confronted you about it.
Tom: “He should heed…” Sorry Denny, Kyle shouldn’t heed anything. Unless you want to cakewalk to your title with no competition.
Amy: I agree with Tom… Note to Denny… being in the Chase does NOT make you “more important” than anyone. Kyle had the position… if Denny had been patient, Kyle was going to let him go.
Toni: No, the Chase does not mean the other 31 cars move over and let you by just because you are a chaser. You still have to race 42 other guys every week.
Vito: If Kyle was so much slower, there should have been plenty of other lanes and opportunities to pass if he was so much more superior.
Tommy: The more we talk about this, I don’t know that apologies are in order by either driver. Denny learned a lesson. Let’s not forget he is only a sophomore… and is way behind in “bonehead moves.” Yesterday, he made one.
Tom: I think a lot of times we, as the media, can only give a sliver of what someone’s actual personality is, too. Like, we paint someone like Hamlin to not have a mean bone in his body… but he’s got a temper just like everyone else in the world. That hurts him in times like these.
Mike: Oh, there is no doubt that Denny has a rather over-inflated opinion of himself. Having to deal with Tony Stewart on a regular basis probably breeds that.
Matt T.: Well, I’m not even sure the wreck was Denny’s fault. You all are jumping the gun a bit.
Vito: Petty has been racing for almost 30 years. Denny’s been doing this what… a year and a half full-time? His FedEx commercials aren’t funny, and he has developed a habit of blaming everyone but himself. Hamlin was whining for weeks that Mark Martin tried to wreck him at Las Vegas, then again at Martinsville. Yes, that Mark Martin, and now that Kyle Petty.
Amy: And what Kyle was racing for in the Top 35 was JUST as crucial to his team as the Chase is for those guys.
Tony: Kyle might have been slow, but when you’re the guy in the back, most of the time you’re at fault.
Tommy: I really believe that Denny is feeling the pressure this time around in the Chase. Last year, he was to new to understand the significance of it.
Vito: The thing I have a problem with on Denny’s side is saying that he wished he would have punched him in the face because he shut his visor on him. Then, he said he wished he would have grabbed him by the throat.
Matt T.: I still don’t know that what happened on the track was Denny’s fault. I do know that what happened in the garage was of Kyle’s doing.
Tony: You know, we’re starting to see a little bit of Kasey Kahne in Denny… an early success, but when things don’t go right, they start to come apart a bit.
Matt T.: Look, we bitch when there are no throwbacks, then someone goes to fightin’ words and you all are crying foul. Can’t have it both ways.
Mike: I’m not crying foul. I’m glad he said he wanted to punch him. Maybe next time, he can actually get to him.
Amy: And the fightin’ words were utterly asinine…
Tommy: Can’t blame Denny for defending himself. Man Rules! You don’t let anyone put their hands on you!!! You guys know that!
Tom: Well, I didn’t have the problem with the words so much as the attitude. It’s all attitude and the rift that’s developing between Chase and non-Chase teams.
Tommy: But in the end, Hamlin’s going to be just fine. He has an uncanny ability to take care of his equipment normally. He’s learning some lessons right now that will only make him better.
Vito: But I’m saying, pick and chose your fights. If you’re going to try and be a tough guy, don’t do it with two pillars of the sport and with a guy who’s genuinely one of the best people on the planet.
Matt T.: He wasn’t picking a fight with Kyle. Kyle picked one with him.
Tom: Also, don’t think playoff position elevates you to be better than you actually are.
Mike: But I think you have to be pretty damn good to get into the playoff position.
Amy: You do, Mike, but that doesn’t make you “more important” than the rest of the field.
Tom: And that shouldn’t give you a sense of entitlement. Bottom line is, when those playoff races start, all 43 cars are created equal when they cross the green flag. Maybe not in points, but for that race.
Tony: Does anyone actually know what Kyle said to Denny? We all know the helmet “flick” set Denny off, but I don’t think I saw what was actually said.
Vito: Kyle went up to him to express his displeasure. After what Hamlin did, he earned an… oh, my… a helmet tap, and some loud talking, and a finger pointed at him.
Matt T.: Just because a guy ended up in the wall doesn’t mean it’s someone else’s fault. Again, did Kyle lift, just a bit? Did Darrell Waltrip ever go after Richard Petty or Cale Yarborough?
Mike: No, Darrell didn’t go after them because they’d kick his ass. Yarborough would fight his own momma if it was over a position on the track.
Tom: Matt T., I think that in cases where the blame is on both sides, both sides should eventually acknowledge the blame. Neither person is doing that at the moment. Sounds simple… but it’s not.
Mike: I don’t think there’s any blame. It just happened. Move on. It wasn’t that big of a deal.
Tommy: Right or wrong… you don’t let anyone get in your face. If you don’t let it be known you won’t tolerate it, it’ll continue.
Tony: Exactly. It was a racing incident. Denny and Kyle could’ve talked it out and it would’ve been fine. They did it while emotions were high and that was the mistake. However, we got some good entertainment out of it
Vito: And remember how hard it is to spin someone in the Car of Tomorrow? It’s supposed to be next to impossible.
Matt T.: Bottom line: “If the story is about Mike Wallace, it ends with him in the wall.” Sincerely, Loren Wallace.
Amy: Matt, Add sincerely, Kurt Busch and you’ll see why I made that statement.
Tony: There’s now 11 Chasers to get by instead of nine, so that could actually make the difference between Denny this year and Jimmie Johnson last year.
Amy: Kyle let everybody and their brother go, but he had to get off the turn first.
Beth: Had Denny waited until they were on the straightaway, we wouldn’t even be talking about this right now. Only Kyle knows, and at this point he’s not going to say either way.
Tony: Well, Hamlin learned a lesson, as someone pointed out earlier. He’ll know for future reference to be patient or risk getting taken out himself.

The concept of team orders has been a concern throughout the advent of the Chase… and now, we have definitive proof they exist. Casey Mears‘ss No. 25 car was ordered not to pass Kyle Busch in the closing laps of the racing at Dover. How should this be handled by NASCAR, and is there any way to stop this movement from increasing?

Amy: I don’t think it’s NASCAR’s issue, frankly. It’s not really something that they can police.
Beth: NASCAR really has no business stepping into it.
Tony: Unless there’s radio proof, there is no way to ever prove team orders… only speculation. But if NASCAR starts monitoring radios for this stuff (and they shouldn’t) then teams will find away to communicate it differently.
Toni: I don’t think NASCAR has any real say.
Matt T.: NASCAR’s Chase has opened the door for Formula 1-type team orders. You made your bed…
Vito: There’s really no reason to stop it. That’s kind of the point of having teammates; helping each other out. They want this to be like other sports… well, here you go.
Toni: They don’t own the teams, so they don’t call the shots within a team. It’s unfortunate, and it should be discouraged, but it’s not a rules issue.
Mike: Team members are team members. Car owners have to answer to sponsors for how they run. If an owner chooses to do that, it is their call.
Beth: Ultimately, the call comes from the sponsors.
Mike: Exactly. Sponsors will hold owners accountable, you won’t have to legislate it.
Matt T.: C’mon folks… am I hearing you correctly? You are overlooking team orders??
Tommy: Team orders cannot be tolerated! This is a situation that will seriously damage NASCAR!
Tom: I agree. I think it’s honestly just another point-the-finger action that shows NASCAR heading the route of F1. And I think it’s a serious issue… because the minute that pure winning gets compromised, that threatens the very basis on how this sport was founded. And it shows how much the Chase is changing the way the sport is run. You’re not in the playoffs? Stay out of the limelight for the next 10 races. It’s not about you anymore. You’re a sponsor of a non-Chase car? Don’t spend your money…
Amy: The team orders yesterday were a direct byproduct of the Chase. Had the Chase not been in play, odds are, Mears would have been allowed to get his top five.
Tommy: This is a big concern as more and more of the field becomes controlled by fewer team owners.
Vito: But Kurt Busch did the same thing Mears did for Martin at Rockingham in 2002, so Mark could lead the most laps while contending for the title. It’s part of auto racing.
Matt T.: Look, helping a teammate is one thing. Giving him a spot… not racing… is something else.
Tony: Mike had the right idea from before. NASCAR can’t do anything about it, but sponsors can. If it becomes a habit, you’ll start seeing sponsors work this stuff into their contracts.
Vito: I don’t see how it’s of much concern, anyway; it isn’t like there are single-car teams in the Chase. Or in the top 20, for that matter.
Tom: But it’s a concern because car owners are single-handedly manipulating the finishing order.
Amy: Bottom line, right now there is no rule against it. The driver who did it made it very, very clear that he did not do it happily.
Tommy: Team racing is counter to everything auto racing is supposed to be competition wise. Shame on the team owner that orders it… and shame on the driver that does it.
Matt T.: NASCAR cannot dictate what a team owner tells his driver to do. That said, I think we’re in dangerous territory here.
Mike: What driver is going to ignore it? He races for a check. If the owner signs that check, you better listen to him. If it had been Johnson and Jeff Gordon, it might be a big deal. I just don’t see a lot of uproar over Mears.
Amy: Why? Mears gave up a top five and five points… and he’s out there to compete… to beat both Johnson AND Gordon.
Vito: There have been team orders ever since some guy entered more than one chariot in the coliseum. NASCAR was always seen as different just because there weren’t a lot of team cars until the last 10 years.
Tommy: Regardless, NASCAR should have an iron-clad rule disallowing it. Any driver or owner involved in it should be suspended from competition. NASCAR has every right to police it!
Beth: Tommy, how are they going to police the communications of every driver out there?
Matt T.: I don’t like team orders anymore than you, Tommy, but you can’t police this.
Tony: I really think it’s an issue between drivers, owners and their teams. We ask that NASCAR stays out of things and just lets them race, now we’re saying NASCAR needs to be more and more involved. Got to stay consistent here.
Mike: Don’t forget about sponsors, Tony. The sponsors are the ones that will put a stop to it.
Tommy: Not suggesting that they can catch every instance of it. But the threat needs to be there. And a statement of policy should be made.
Tom: Amy has such a solid point with how the Chase has made it such a big deal. Even though previous championships were blowouts under the old system, that allowed the focus to stay on the racing for all but two or three drivers throughout the course of the season. Now, with 12 drivers thinking they have a shot at the title, team favors are being pulled out everywhere. How must the National Guard feel?
Tony: I suggest Casey and the National Gaurd have a long talk with Rick Hendrick.
Tom: Well, in this case when I think about it, that talk won’t do much good. The National Guard got a pretty nice consolation present for being crapped on: Dale Earnhardt Jr. So, the chances they care are pretty minimal. Which means, without NASCAR support… there’s not much you can do here.
Vito: No kidding. I’m sure they’ll be getting plenty of exposure over the next few years.

After a nasty incident on pit road that sent No. 55 gas man Art Harris to the hospital, it raises an important question – is NASCAR doing everything it can to keep everyone safe on pit road? What can they do better?

Mike: I think NASCAR does everything they can to be safe. A few years ago, he would not have had a helmet on and it could have been much worse.
Amy: The tire rule and the helmet rule have made such a difference.
Matt T.: NASCAR is doing a good job… Dover is not. That’s a nasty pit road.
Vito: Thank goodness they make everyone wear safety equipment. Dover could stand to knock pit wall down and move it back about 10 feet.
Matt T.: C’mon, Dover… 42 pit stalls. Hello!?!?!

MCLAUGHLIN: THINKIN’ OUT LOUD AFTER DOVER

Tom: Here’s what I don’t understand about Dover – the Cup garage is about half the size of the Busch garage. Makes absolutely ZERO sense, in my opinion. I mean, what are they doing?
Toni: I think NASCAR has done everything you can do, really. Accidents will still happen no matter what. It’s what they’ve done that kept that from being MUCH worse.
Mike: You’re dealing with 3,400-pound racecars. Things like that can happen. That’s why they can’t let everybody and their brother on pit road during the race.
Vito: It’s an occupational hazard. In 1990, Mike Hill was killed on pit road when Ricky Rudd crashed into Bill Elliott, mainly because there was no pit-road speed limit. Even with that in place now, it’s hard to believe there haven’t been more fatalities when you see what goes on… guys jumping out in front of cars going 65 mph.
Beth: NASCAR has done well with protecting the guys out there doing their jobs. Accidents are going to happen… you can’t stop them all.
Tony: Yeah, bigger pit stalls is about all you can do for Dover.
Tom: I know the bankroll there isn’t the level of an SMI or ISC – but Dover is selling out their Cup dates. They should have no excuse – get the money together and get the job done.
Tony: Yep, other tracks, like Darlington, have made the necessary improvements, why not Dover?
Tommy: 43 cars pitting at one time has always been insane!
Tom: Well, a lot of these pit roads were built at a time when there would be 20 cars on the lead lap by, say, lap 75, and about 5-10 cars out of the race by halfway. It’s one thing to say you have 43 pit stalls – another to say you have 43 that can all be used at one time. One’s a requirement, one’s planning for a worst-case scenario – and a lot of tracks didn’t plan for that worst case.

At Las Vegas, Jacques Villeneuve and Buddy Lazier both came out of the gate to less than spectacular finishes. What did you think of their debuts, and can they be successful in Trucks the rest of the season?

Toni: I thought it wasn’t as bad as all that for first time ever in a stock vehicle for Villeneuve. He is more of a champion than Montoya. He’ll be fine.
Beth: Don’t forget, he had a great qualifying run… started seventh. Lazier’s problem was that had to start at the back of the pack after unapproved changes.
Mike: Sure, they can be successful. They stayed out of trouble for the most part, other than Jacques running into someone from behind. I thought it was a decent weekend for a first effort.
Tony: But it’s still hard to judge based on the first race. I think they can both be successful if given the time to gain experience.
Beth: I agree with Tony. They got some much needed track time, and it’s tough to tell based on one race how well they’ll run for the remainder of the season.

LUNKENHEIMER: TRACKING THE TRUCKS AFTER LAS VEGAS

Tom: Neither one lit the world on fire. But I think expecting a top 10 out of either guy for their first stock car race was an unrealistic expectation.
Amy: Not sure I’d call 21st and 24th “spectacular.” “Average,” maybe.
Tom: With that said, Ryan Mathews has taken the truck team Villeneuve was in to top-five finishes this season… so it’s not like he went above and beyond what the former driver had done. And Villeneuve was involved in a wreck.
Vito: Villeneuve did OK. One lap down, first truck not on the lead lap. For your first start on an oval track in a truck coming from open wheel… he did as well as could be expected. I think BDR’s attention is elsewhere right now.
Toni: Jacques has to get used to NASCAR brakes. They aren’t anywhere near like what he is used to, so I give him a pass on running in to someone.
Tom: I think both have a lot to learn.
Mike: They will. It is going to take some time, but they’ll be competitive.
Tom: As for Lazier… him coming over to stock cars is a product of how little opportunity there is in open wheel, and how that has caused these guys to infiltrate the sport.
Toni: That’s fine. I want to see the best drivers in the world. I don’t care if their names are Villeneuve or Juan Pablo Montoya or Stewart or Gordon. As long as I am seeing the best.
Amy: I agree with Toni, these are some of them.
Matt T.: Well, I want to see the best stock car racers in the world. There’s a difference there.
Mike: I don’t know that I’d call Lazier one of the best drivers in the world.
Vito: Lazier is not one of the best drivers in the world. He is adequate at best.
Toni: He’s got an Indy 500 and an IRL championship on his resume!
Vito: Yeah, they had a lot of ringers in the field when he did it too…
Tom: That’s good enough for me though, Vito. I think Lazier is very underrated.
Amy: Who’s to say that with time, these guys won’t become the best stock car drivers in the world?
Tony: Well, whether you agree with the trend or not, it’s an interesting and exciting time in NASCAR from that aspect. It’s viewed as the top racing series in the nation, and everyone wants to be there.

Predictions for Kansas?

Mike: Johnson.
Beth: Jeff Gordon.
Toni: Matt Kenseth.
Matt T.: I’m with Mike: Jimmie and Chad.
Amy: Gordon wins Kansas, and gets the point lead that’s rightfully his by a bigger margin
Tony: I’m going with Martin. It’s the site of his last win and the No. 01’s last win. Could be a good combination.
Tommy: Kurt Busch – Ugh!
Vito: Was going to pick Mark, too… eh, screw it, I will. The little guy needs some love. Mark and the No. 01.
Tom: You know… I think I’m going to go Roush on this one. Last year, it was Hendrick dominating Kansas, but Roush won in ’05 with Martin and has the momentum going. I actually think Kenseth is going to come out and take it.
Mike: Wow, Tom, last again. I think next week we should make him pick before anyone else.
Tom: Hey, you’re just jealous of who’s leading mirror predictions, Mike. Just because I do a little actual research before I pick…
Mike: Hey, a blind pig in an oak forest finds an acorn once in awhile.

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 Bowles21311158.9
Tony Lumbis211101410.2
Vito Pugliese262121811.2
Tommy Thompson21371311.2
Amy Henderson28412011.6
Matt Taliaferro18261012.6
Cami Starr702412.7
Toni Montgomery1726716.3
Mike Neff23161115.9
Beth Lunkenheimer1011616.6
Kim DeHaven200123.0
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