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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Carl Edwards vs. The Media, Junior Flees Media Circus, And Dissecting The Memphis Massacre

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, feel free to 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)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice Of Vito & Fridays/That’s History)

Clearly, the last several laps were one of the weirder Atlanta finishes in recent memory. Is there anything NASCAR should have done differently?

Tony: Nope, and they shouldn’t. This stuff happens, and it’s the beauty of the sport that you can’t predict finishes – at least when there is no phantom debris caution.
Tom: NASCAR’s made some mistakes as of late, but this one wasn’t their fault. Nothing you can do about a car getting into the wall with a handful of laps to go.
Mike: What could they do, Tom? That happened, then Denny Hamlin ran out of gas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke.
Amy: Yeah, NASCAR called that one right.
Vito: It wasn’t really a NASCAR-related issue at the end. Sauter had a tire let go to start all this… although when the yellow did fly with fuel being a concern, I thought it was Phantom Caution rearing its ugly head.
Matt T.: Craziness. I’d have loved to have seen a finish, but ‘dems da breaks in racin’.
Mike: It happens.
Amy: Hamlin should have at least tried to get out of the way, though. He knew he was having problems.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t understand why Hamlin didn’t turn left.
Matt T.: That’s the million dollar question.
Tom: Maybe it was shock from the car not getting going, Amy? Let’s not forget this about Hamlin, too – he’s only in his second year. We’d forgotten that until the Kyle Petty – Dover incident.
Amy: Well, Hamlin knew it wasn’t running right, was trying to wiggle it before the restart… he should have pulled down before the green even flew.
Mike: I agree, Amy. I don’t know what he was thinking, just sitting there. He should have swerved left; not turned, swerved.
Tommy: I’d chalk it up to being a bunch of unpredictable circumstances. Hamlin was going to cause a wreck regardless of what he’d done.
Vito: In that situation, you’re better off just staying put. If you pull down to the inside, you’re going to get plowed into by cars – just different ones.
Tony: It was interesting. I always heard about the possibility of a driver running out of gas in front of the field. This is the first time I think I actually saw it. Tom has a point, though. Just like we talked about after Dover, we all forget that Denny is only a second-year Cup driver. He doesn’t have the experience to make the moves some of the veterans would.
Amy: But how much of a veteran do you have to be to know that if your car won’t go, you should get out of the way? I mean, the average driver on the highway knows to get off the road if it won’t run.
Mike: It was single file, guys; he could have pulled down.
Tony: It’s easy for us to say that up here. Hamlin had about three seconds to make a decision; yes, a vet who has been in that position before would be more likely to know what to do in that time frame. But it’s not easy.
Tom: Bottom line, guys, no matter what you do or who you are, if the leader slows in front of the whole pack like that, it’s almost impossible for everyone to miss him. The only weird thing about the Hamlin incident to me is the water in the fuel. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

BOWLES: DID YOU NOTICE? AFTER ATLANTA

Mike: I don’t understand how you have water in the fuel at the end of the race. That makes no sense to me.
Matt T.: Happened to Davey Allison in a Busch Series race in ’91.
Amy: But how do three guys have water in the fuel and nobody else?
Vito: Kind of ironic, the only place to find water in Atlanta all weekend was in the gas tank of three racecars. But seriously, folks, with that new cable-driven fuel pump, sometimes the car stumbles, then picks back up. He was way low on gas at the time as well; I don’t think it was all water.
Tom: My bigger beef is, why the heck didn’t more people try and stretch it like Hamlin? I mean, Dale Jarrett? Ricky Rudd? Some of those guys could have had top-five, top-10 finishes if they just didn’t pit. Why in the world get FOUR tires with three laps to go?
Amy: They knew they couldn’t.
Tom: But how do you know until you run out on the frontstretch? I mean, these guys have eight races at most left in their careers. I’d take my chances.
Vito: Tires make a difference at Atlanta – it’s Darlington with three more lanes.
Amy: And losing laps vs. positions in the Chase is huge.
Matt T.: I’m with Tom, though. Why wouldn’t Rudd, DJ and those guys stay out?
Tony: I thought we were in for a surprise winner until I saw almost everybody come in.
Matt T.: Yeah; I mean, what have you got to lose? Some weren’t that far off, and I was really surprised more didn’t risk it.
Amy: A lot of guys were three laps short or more, Matt T. That’s not a gamble, that’s suicide.
Tommy: Right, Amy.
Tony: I’ll still take track position over tires anytime with under five laps to go.
Matt T.: And here’s my beef with that: Everyone is making Knaus out to be some genius for only taking two. Well… who wouldn’t?
Tom: YES!!! Matt T., you hit the nail on the head. It wasn’t that Knaus was such a genius – it was that all the other crew chiefs were fools.
Tony: Pretty much. I wish I were a crew chief. I’d be a genius for a day… that’s one more day than I’m going to have in real life.
Mike: But Knaus had originally called for four and then changed his mind on the fly. That was why it was a good call.
Vito: When was the last time Knaus made the wrong call, though? That is why they contend for the title EVERY year.

What are we supposed to take out of the two-day test with Earnhardt Jr. and his new gig at Hendrick Motorsports?

Tony: Nothing. We’ll see all we need to see in 2008.
Matt T.: Let’s get to January testing before we start dissecting. Cool old-school paint job, though.
Mike: At least they were able to stay consistent from the morning to the afternoon both days. They lost less speed than the cars that were in front of them in the morning. That’s about it.
Amy: The test wasn’t about posting the top speed, Mike… it was about Junior and the other guys switching rides, learning their new teams and the differences in geometry and setups.
Tom: What I find interesting is that there’s all this talk about Junior learning the Hendrick system. But in many ways, he doesn’t have to learn that much. He still has the same crew chief, he’s still driving a Chevrolet, he’s still got some of the same team members. The only thing that differs is the pressure – and you really don’t have pressure at Atlanta testing. I mean, this info Junior’s collecting won’t be useful to either Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson this year.
Tommy: And that’s the craziest thing I’ve seen out of the whole DEI/Teresa/Junior controversy. Why let Junior and Hendrick get a head start on next year; has DEI not noticed that they are already two steps behind them?
Vito: I will say this: Tony Eury Jr. is blown away with what he has to work with.
Mike: He said the processes were the same, but that Hendrick engineers go a lot deeper into everything than DEI.

NEFF: A NEW ERA BEGINS FOR DALE EARNHARDT JR.

Tom: Because there’s a lot more depth there, Mike. Hendrick is like the New York Yankees, or – dare I say it – perhaps now the Red Sox of NASCAR.
Mike: And DEI is the Chicago Cubs.
Tom: Yep. They’ve got all the resources and money they need to be successful, and can apply them in all the right places. DEI – for as much as the Bud sponsorship was – didn’t have the same resources.
Mike: They spend the money, just not in the right places.
Tom: That’s what four teams will get you.
Tommy: I don’t understand the concept of giving your primary competitor any help. Where’s the competitive spirit here?
Amy: Tommy, none of the teams switching was a real threat for this year’s championship… so there was everything to gain from switching and nothing to lose.
Matt T.: This test is for the engineers, not the drivers.
Mike: Bottom line, this experiment was successful from the perspective that all drivers ran OK and didn’t tear anything up. Other than that, nothing can be learned anyways.
Amy: I just wish Junior would run that paint all year next year… his new cars are fugly.

After what’s happened with Carl Edwards over the past week or so, is it fair for people to withhold their opinions about certain drivers – not showing their true colors until they feel the timing is right?

Amy: Sure… otherwise nobody would care, and it would get buried. As long as it’s true, timing is everything.
Mike: It is up to the individual person. People handle situations differently, and I don’t have a problem with them doing it either way.
Vito: That’s part of the issue with today’s spit-polished for TV, sponsor-friendly packaged product though. In the old days, these guys would have been taking swings at each other a loooonnng time ago.
Matt T.: Vito’s right. Edwards got crucified for doing what many drivers have done – or followed through with doing. I say, let’s give the boy some slack.
Mike: I didn’t see any big deal with it. They are co-workers , and nobody likes all of their co-workers.
Amy: It’s not what he did, though… it’s him trying to come off all “golly, gee, whiz” and acting like that behind the scenes.
Tony: Exactly, Amy, and it can work both ways. Sometimes, people will hold their opinion until something bad happens; like anything in the news, negative news gets more attention than the positive.
Mike: I’m surprised you haven’t heard from any of Jack’s ex-drivers what a pathetic people person he is.
Vito: Well, the big criticism of Carl comes from his current teammate and a former one. Matt Kenseth painted a picture of a bipolar nutcase, and Kurt Busch basically called him a phony.
Tommy: What certainly was wrong is Kevin Harvick‘s “roid rage” comment. Coming from an expert on displaying self-control that he is!
Vito: Even Mark Martin when asked about it said, “you got guys you like, guys you tolerate and guys you can’t stand.”
Amy: Elliott Sadler, though… I give him some real weight in this, only because he doesn’t just badmouth guys on a whim.
Tommy: What purpose is served by a driver offering his likes or dislike of another driver on a personal level? Sounds like a bunch of old “washer women.”
Tom: I’m going to take it even further, Tommy. The problem I have is that all these drivers were afraid to say what they thought about Edwards before this incident occurred. That shows a lack of trust with both the media and with the general public, that what they say can and will be turned against them. And as the media, it’s our job to try and make that relationship better.
Amy: No, it isn’t. It’s out job to cover what happens, not try to change the facts.
Tom: I feel like it showcases that people are so afraid they’re going to be crucified, that they just go and hide behind something and that’s that.
Mike: I don’t believe that. We report what is said. Not embellish, not sugarcoat. If this was more commonplace, nobody would get crucified. They’ve all chosen to hide it, so when someone slips up and acts honestly human, it is big news.
Tony: This stuff happens in every sport, though; it’s what happens when you put 43 of the most competitive people in the world together every week.
Vito: This is why guys like Tony and Dale Jr. are popular with the fans. No pretense, they say what’s on their mind, and don’t try and cover it up with niceties. As much as I don’t care for Harvick’s act, at least I know it’s sincere.
Tom: I just think it wasn’t fair to let one incident suddenly dictate a change of opinion of one person.
Matt T.: Well until anything additional is uncovered, I’m good with Carl being PO’d at a guy and letting him know about it. Wrong time, wrong place? Yes, but he learned the lesson.
Tony: Yep, I’m sure every driver in that garage has went off on somebody at one time or another – just some do it at better times.
Tom: But if you dislike someone, come out and say it from the start – don’t just kick a guy while he’s down.
Vito: Maybe that’s what Carl needed, though… someone to pop his balloon a little bit and let some air out.
Tommy: Yeah, but say it to the guy. Don’t play the media. Man up!
Mike: My opinion hasn’t changed. I still think he’s one of the nicest guys in the garage.
Tom: It’s interesting how many people came out about this situation and said, “well no one knows except us.” Well, we don’t know the situation unless someone tells us the truth. Otherwise, how or what are we supposed to report?
Amy: But it’s not one incident, Tom… it was Tony, and Junior, and Elliott, and Matt. When you add them all up, there’s a pattern emerging that contradicts the persona he wants us to see.
Vito: He rolled up on Dillner and Matt during an interview and starts pushing Matt around, then acts like some big dumb jock, and fake-punches him and laughs and walks away. That little snippet tells you A LOT about the guy.
Tommy: Let’s face it. Had Carl jacked-up a Busch… the fan reaction would have been considerably different. And sadly… the media’s as well.
Amy: Kenseth had the right to be pissed, but that was so long after the incident, he had PLENTY of time to choose better words, or to just not say anything at all.
Vito: You didn’t really see anyone jumping to his defense… that should tell you something, too.
Amy: I just do not like the pattern that’s emerging. Matt isn’t exactly always innocent… and they STILL flocked to his defense over Carl.
Tony: It will be interesting to watch as time goes on. But to me, it’s kind of like when a clean driver wrecks someone. It happens to everyone… it doesn’t mean he’s suddenly an awful driver.

Saturday’s race at Memphis suffered from a near-record 25 caution flags. In a race where the standalones were supposed to shine, they instead just spent the day spinning each other out; what do you think was the cause of all the madness?

Mike: People not driving smart. The cars were a handful on cold tires, and the continuous yellows kept the tires cold.
Vito: I guess we can stop whining about Buschwackers and start the process of welcoming them. We’d at least stand a chance of finishing a 250-lap race in under four hours! I mean, even Edwards was spinning by himself after pulling away from the wreck he was just in.
Tommy: That might have been the worst event I’ve ever witnessed at any level of stock car racing! Too many young, inexperienced young men with way too much horsepower to play with. If that’s an indication of how Busch races are going to be now without the Cup regulars… watch ASA races, they’re great!
Amy: Well, the Busch guys are not getting any seat time because the Cup guys take it all.
Tony: Smaller track, less experienced drivers… it happens. Then, you get three dozen guys with little experience at this level all at once.
Vito: Cars are a handful on cold tires – especially when you’re not that good.
Matt T.: Rumor is, Cup guys in the Top 35 will not be awarded Nationwide points next year.
Mike: No kidding.
Amy: About time, if that’s true. From the DUH! category…
Tony: I’m glad they’re talking about it.
Mike: I’d like to see them add to that that it be guys with more than two years of Cup experience.
Tom: Basically, this is what happens when all the Cup guys take all the Busch rides away, and you give these young kids one chance to prove themselves. I was talking with one of the independent teams today – with a car owner whose team actually finished well – and he was saying about the sense of urgency everyone felt on at Memphis Saturday. Even on the standalones, you’ve had 8/9/10 Cup guys there at times. This race, there were only five Buschwackers. So, everyone felt they had to be the next Jeff Gordon to have any shot of getting sponsors, keeping a ride in the series. It’s really quite sad.
Amy: It’s not a surprise though… the way the series has become Cup Lite, nobody should be surprised that this is what you’re left with when the Cup guys don’t show up.
Vito: Hmm… well, for those of you who weren’t around in the early days… this was the Busch Series in the early 1990s, too. Loudon, 1990: 17 cautions. Volusia County: 16 cautions. 1992 Hickory: 26 cautions – the record-holder. It was almost as bad as an ARCA race. Almost.
Tommy: Vito has a point. When you put 18-20 Cup regulars in the lineup, you get some pretty good races as compared to a much lesser number.
Tom: Amy, they could be good if they were allowed to RACE. For example, why is the ARCA race at Daytona always so crazy? Because people in them haven’t been driving stock cars. And half of those bumps in the back screamed desperation – no one had time to be patient. Their careers depended on it – rather than a scenario in which half those guys had full-time rides lined up.
Amy: Not just the owners… the sponsors who wouldn’t stand up for what was right.
Matt T.: The owners can dictate a lot and they give in to demands. And that’s fine, but they need to realize what the long-term implications are.
Tony: Oh, yeah; we need trendsetters to start doing what is best for the sport so others will follow.
Tom: The CoT is going to make things even worse – because now, any new teams who wanted to start in this series are going to throw their hands in the air and say, forget it. Why would they buy cars only for them to be useless after one year?
Tommy: Good point, Tom. Next year ought to be interesting – anyone entertaining thoughts of entering Nationwide will probably wait until ’09.

Predictions for Texas?

Tommy: Kurt Busch.
Vito: Kyle Busch.
Tony: Kyle Busch… adding to the irony that this is where the great “driver switch” took place in the spring.
Mike: Screw it; Junior. He has to make it to the end one of these weekends.
Amy: Johnson takes the trifecta… and looks like a complete dork in the big 10-gallon hat.
Matt T.: JGo calls and raises JJ. I know he doesn’t have a good track record at Texas, but how can anyone bet against those Hendrick boys?
Tom: Me. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Kenseth.
Tommy: Wow!
Tom: Yeah, man – the No. 17 has run a whole lot better in the Chase than their finishes have shown, and Texas has a tendency to be a Roush track. It’s their time.

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 (writers must have at least five predictions to be listed).

Writer Predictions Wins Top 5s Top 10s Average Finish
Tom Bowles 24 4 13 17 9.4
Amy Henderson 33 6 15 24 10.9
Matt Taliaferro 21 2 8 12 11.6
Tony Lumbis 26 1 10 15 11.7
Tommy Thompson 24 3 7 13 13.1
Vito Pugliese 29 2 12 18 12.5
Cami Starr 7 0 2 4 12.7
Beth Lunkenheimer 13 1 2 7 15.1
Mike Neff 28 1 9 14 15.3
Toni Montgomery 20 2 6 8 16.9

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