NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Tired Of Tires, Who’s Haas Gonna Hire, & Whose Chase Has Caught Fire?

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)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
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)

All weekend long at Lowe’s, both complaints and concern centered around the tire Goodyear brought to the event. After seeing the race unfold, is the tire still too hard for this surface – or are drivers getting to the point of whining about something a little too much?

Amy: A little of both.
Tom: I did think that the racing was slightly better – but the cars spread out just too quickly. It’s easy to see clean air is so much more critical at Lowe’s than ever before.
Tommy: NASCAR should have been changed to a softer tire for this race. I understood the caution after the repave… but come on!
Tony: But Goodyear is damned if they do, damned if they don’t, Tommy. So, they are zeroing in on a compromise, and that will take a little trial and error.
Mike: What compromise? The tire is still too hard. I don’t understand what the fear is from Goodyear. There are always going to be punctures, but guys were running 100 laps on tires and they still looked new. That is just way too conservative for that place.
Matt T:. But the drivers always complain about the tires being too hard, Mike.
Tom: Hard or soft, I still think the bigger problem is that the cars are just going too fast. It’ll be interesting to see if slowing the cars down with the Car of Tomorrow does anything.
Tony: Good point, Tom; it’s probably why Goodyear isn’t jumping to conclusions with a CoT on the horizon.
Amy: I do wonder how many tire problems were caused by overaggressive setups and how many were something else. The No. 29 is blowing tires left and right lately – which makes me think it’s them, not the Goodyears. They can’t be getting every bad tire.
Tommy: Goodyear said Ryan Newman did not blow a tire there at the end, by the way.
Matt T:. Yeah, I saw that Goodyear said the tires were up. Newman swears differently, though.
Tom: Newman’s tires were all under full pressure – it looked like in that case, the No. 12 just lost it. Which we saw plenty of this weekend from some big-name drivers – Jimmie Johnson, for one.
Tony: That’s right. So, a lot of the times, we need to examine the true cause of the problems before jumping to conclusions.
Amy: You could see Ryan wiggle right before it went around, and it looked like he was trying to get out of it.
Tony: Not winning a race in a few years can get you overrevved.
Tom: You know, I’d be fine with the track being tricky enough that all these big names can just lose it on their own… except they’re not able to race side-by-side with this tire after a few laps.
Tony: Johnson lost it twice in the same spot in both the Busch and Cup races.
Matt T:. Turns 2 and 4 were nasty spots this weekend in general.
Mike: I think Matt Kenseth had some clearance issues Saturday night, too. They were definitely rubbing their tires.
Tony: I think at this point, guys, NASCAR would rather have the drivers complain about no control rather than blowing tires and wrecking equipment.
Tom: The only thing that bothers me is how Goodyear has known the compound they bring to the track is bad… and yet, they still bring it. Time and time again… it’s like they’re not listening to the drivers.
Mike: It’s Goodyear, Tom: they’re the only game in town. Use their ball or go home.
Amy: A lot of the spins weren’t tire related, though.
Tommy: What is the official explanation for all the spins? I don’t think the tire compound is so much bad… but it could be better.
Tony: I think that’s exactly it, Tommy, and how far they can push it is something they don’t seem willing to test.
Tom: Yet another nail in the coffin that is the 2007 NASCAR season of complaints.
Tommy: Complaints? I like to think of it as constructive criticism!

Halfway through the Chase, what has been the biggest surprise and disappointment for you so far?

Tony: That so many of the Chasers have fallen off so much so soon – like Denny Hamlin and Kenseth – and that Clint Bowyer is one of Jeff Gordon‘s biggest threats.
Tom: Actually, a lot of things have gone about as can be expected. The only major surprise is that Bowyer is performing as well as he is.
Matt T:. Bowyer is the biggest surprise, no doubt.
Amy: As for biggest disappointment, how about that NASCAR still has the damn thing at all?
Mike: Kenseth not being able to get out of his own way has been the biggest disappointment for me. I think Kyle Busch running like he has is a bit of a surprise.
Tom: Yeah Mike, my article this week was on how Kenseth’s Chase could have easily gone the other way. Do you know he’s led more laps in the playoffs than all but one other contender? The problem for him – and the theme of this year’s Chase – is that no matter how good you are during the race, you still have to make it to the finish line.
Tommy: As an advocate of the Chase from the beginning, for me it’s disappointing there aren’t more teams in legitimate contention for the championship.
Tom: Well, I thought going into this Chase it was going to be a three-car race… and right now, it is, with Bowyer in there and Tony Stewart barely hanging on in fourth. So, everyone that was expected to contend has contended – it’s just a select few that were good enough.
Amy: I think Tony is realistically out of it now. Gordon flat deserves to win it, anyway.
Matt T:. Amen, Amy.
Tony: Well, it’s one Gordon DNF from tightening up again… the problem is, he’s having one of those years where he doesn’t mess up.
Amy: Not only does Gordon have to mess up a time or two, but so do Johnson and Bowyer for Stewart on back to have any chance.
Tommy: With all respect to Bowyer, Gordon’s one DNF away from Johnson winning it.
Tony: Imagine the outcry if Bowyer ends up overtaking Gordon, though.
Tom: Stewart’s got a slight chance… but he needs to get on a roll starting now.
Amy: A roll won’t help if the Nos. 24, 48 and 07 all continue to reel off top-10 finishes. It wouldn’t gain Tony enough points.
Matt T:. 200 back… with five races left? Get outta here, Tom.
Tom: Three wins in five races would close the gap though, guys… and don’t forget how far back Johnson was at this point last year.
Mike: There is always the possibility that HMS gets some bad engine parts at say, Texas, and all of their cars fail to finish – then, it is a whole new ballgame.
Tony: This discussion may not even matter. You know, when the leading car mysteriously crashes with a few laps left to give you the win, then you know its one of those years for Jeff – and there may not be a thing anyone can do about it right now.
Tommy: You know, Hamlin’s implosion is pretty surprising, as well.
Tony: I agree, Tommy – there have been some races where that team has just been off, period.
Amy: Hamlin has been a beast lately.
Tom: I think the bigger eye-opener is the way in which he’s showcased some immaturity. Remember, this kid is still in his second year… he’s got a long way to go.
Tony: You see the true character of someone not when times are good, but when things aren’t going right. Not to say that Hamlin is a bad guy – because I don’t think he is – but it does show he has some growing up to do yet.
Mike: Hamlin has had some terrible luck.
Amy: Yes, and then he’s taken it out on everyone but the milkman.
Tommy: Hard to believe Hamlin would have an attitude with a guy like Tony to mentor him.
Tom: I know, right?
Amy: Tony on one side, Kyle on the other… remember, Hamlin’s still the good one.

For all intents and purposes, there appears to be just one full-time ride left in the Nextel Cup series for next year, unless a new team pops up on the horizon – the driver of the second Haas CNC Racing Chevrolet is as of yet still unnamed. Which one of the free agents remaining (David Stremme, Jeremy Mayfield, Johnny Sauter, Ken Schrader, etc.) is most deserving of that, allowing them to stay in a full-time Nextel Cup seat for next season?

Amy: Schrader. He may be past his prime, but the other three are wreck magnets.
Mike: Deserving? It’s Schrader. Most likely to get it? Stremme.
Tony: I’m not a huge Sauter fan, but the point that he put a new team in the Top 35 in points shouldn’t be overlooked.
Matt T:. How about Sterling Marlin?
Tony: It’s Sterling if they want to bring someone else up and split time.
Tommy: I would give the nod to Stremme because of his potential. But as an owner, given those choices I’d take Mayfield.
Tony: The thing about Stremme is that he was never given the chance to develop, in Busch or at Ganassi. He may have some potential that we haven’t seen yet.
Amy: I’ll tell you one thing, though – I wouldn’t take Mayfield if he was the last driver on Earth. I’d take Schrader or Stremme before I’d take him. And on pure talent, Sauter is better, too.
Matt T:. Why, Amy? Mayfield has two Chase appearances for cripes sakes!
Tom: I think Mayfield is honestly the best driver left out there.
Mike: Mayfield is the best current driver out of the group. But he is blackballed thanks to his mouthing off about car owners in the past.
Amy: Based on what, Mike? Schrader’s the smartest racer; Sauter’s far more talented.
Tommy: Ah, come on… Schrader? Let’s let the guy just go out quietly, much like his Cup career.
Tom: Frankly, I think Schrader should go the MWR seat they’re planning to fill with development drivers. I mean, are you serious? Michael McDowell?
Tony: That’s the huge problem with the latest trend, Tom. McDowell has the talent, but you just can’t throw a driver into the Cup fire like that.
Tom: As for Mayfield’s situation, what I’m hearing is that it’s not what he said about Evernham that is causing him problems… it’s what he said about Penske that’s burning him, from when he left that organization back in 2001.
Mike: I would agree, Tom. Everyone knew Ray was involved with Erin Crocker and not focusing on the team. But bashing Penske – now, that’s a death knell.
Tommy: I don’t know; I thought that was all water under the bridge. Him and Rusty get along great now.
Tom: Mayfield also made the Chase twice with Evernham – the same amount of time as Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. To me, that’s not a number to be ignored by a potential car owner no matter what they may think of his attitude.
Tony: Maybe twice in the Chase, but the first time he backed in.
Tommy: Mayfield’s solid behind the wheel, though.
Tom: I think Mayfield could do some damage – old Penske teaming up with new Penske (Matt Borland) over at Haas.
Mike: Bottom line, he was in the Chase for two years which is more than most of the drivers in the series can say.
Matt T:. Bingo, Mike!
Tommy: But… I still want to see what Scott Wimmer can do with competitive equipment in Cup. Saw some sparks there this year in that Busch car.
Tony: Yeah, I really wish RCR would give Wimmer that chance, but other teams should look at him if RCR is not.
Tom: The bottom line is, Mayfield made the Chase twice – and that’s a pretty solid stat to be carrying around in your pocket to potential owners.
Tony: I think it does, Tom. Besides, you need to look at an entire season for driver potential, not just the Chase. This Chase is dominating the NASCAR thought process way too much.
Amy: I agree with Tony… the Chase is nothing but an excuse for hype.
Mike: The most popular driver in the series should dominate the thought process, even if he is running mediocre.
Tony: It is unfortunate that Tony Raines will be without a ride, most likely. Maybe he loses against Mayfield, but not against anyone else.
Amy: Raines is a very, very underrated driver.

Dario Franchitti is scheduled to make his first NASCAR start in the Truck Series this weekend, following in the footsteps of fellow open wheeler Jacques Villeneuve a few weeks earlier. Is that the proper series they should be racing in to get a jump on their NASCAR experience – or is the Busch Series a better fit, considering the similarities between the Busch and Cup cars?

Tony: Those with only open-wheel experience… both, and add ARCA in there if possible. Anything and everything with fenders.
Amy: With the Car of Tomorrow, Trucks is an excellent start.
Mike: The CoT is much more like the truck than the Busch car.
Tom: I think that the Busch Series is honestly a better fit for these guys, though. Look how quickly AJ Allmendinger improved overall after they stopped putting him in the truck on the side – and got him a Busch ride. The cars are more similar, you’re racing against competition you’ll face in the Cup Series, and the races are slightly longer.
Tommy: Truck racing is as good a primer as any.
Amy: I’d still like to see NASCAR require steps… so many truck, then Busch, then Cup races for these guys.
Tom: I think the Truck Series is its own special breed of animal… an excellent series, but its own breed nonetheless.
Amy: NASCAR should require no less than a full year of stock car experience before allowing Cup races for guys who have never driven a stock car.
Matt T:. I saw that coming, Amy!
Amy: Why just non-U.S. drivers, too – there are U.S. open-wheel drivers who have never driven stocks either… should we let them right in?
Tony: Exactly Amy, they hit this gray area now with guys with years of experience, but none in stock cars.
Tommy: They only should be required to prove their abilities for a year in a touring series,
Tom: I think even then it gets a little shady though, Tommy – I don’t know if that’s a rule that could work. Just think of how many guys have been immediately successful at NASCAR’s top level within a year of crossover. I think you can’t put those types of restrictions on it, because there will be exceptions to every rule.
Mike: I don’t think you can say an IRL champ or a CART champ should have to put a year in before they can race Cup.
Tony: Maybe the compromise here is to regulate what kind of tracks they make their appearance on, such as nothing over two miles. With all due respect to Jacques, but that success he had recently – it won’t happen all the time.
Mike: I think the series belongs to NASCAR, and they can let whoever wants to play, play.

Predictions for Martinsville?

Amy: Johnson.
Tony: This slump can’t go on forever: Hamlin breaks out at Martinsville.
Tommy: Kurt Busch.
Mike: Gordon: the train rolls on.
Matt T:. Train kept a-rollin’, Gordon. I’ve seen no reason to bet otherwise lately.
Tom: I’d like to keep putting myself on the Stewart bandwagon – but after seeing all the luck that’s on Gordon’s side, I feel like I have no choice but to go with him.
Tony: Tom, going out on a limb again!
Tom: Tom, still kicking all your butts in Mirror Predictions – again!
Amy: Tom is only kicking butt because we don’t have a real point system.

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.

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