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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Tires Making You Pout? Will Carl’s Penalty Have Some Clout? & Mark Martin Spinning Someone Out?

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)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/The Voice Of Vito)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Top 15 & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Tommy Thompson (Mondays/Points To Ponder & Wednesdays/Turn 5)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
Bryan Davis Keith (Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

After both California and Las Vegas, it seems that tire issues could be a problem with the new car on intermediate tracks. How can this be remedied before this safety issue gets out of hand?

Tony: I think bringing a few drivers to one of these tracks for a tire session would be helpful; and with the testing restrictions, I think you will have your fair share of volunteers.
Kurt: When do tire problems ever get remedied, though? It seems as though Goodyear is always struggling to bring the right “compound” to the track.
Tommy: I don’t think it was all that obvious that there were tire problems in the first place. Some of the faster teams had issues; but they were probably also the ones aggressive with their front end geometry.
Kurt: I think this may be a tire problem, Tommy. When two champions wreck in the hardest hits of their career, I don’t think it’s driver error.
Bryan: Agreed… and new asphalt always has tire problems.
Amy: Yeah… these tires weren’t too bad last year with the old car, but they are not working with the CoT.
Mike: I don’t believe there is a tire problem, guys. There are teams that are pushing the limit on cambers and it has caught up with them on a couple of occasions. NASCAR doesn’t need a rule; they just need to let teams know that if you push the limit on cambers, you might get bitten.
Vito: Well, NASCAR could institute a camber limit; that seems to be the culprit most of the time. But then again, is that what the teams really need… more rules?
Tom: That’s a valid point. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s a bit of everything; Goodyear has struggled with compounds, but tire issues are going to prop up in general as teams transition to the different types of setups with this new car. It’s not just camber that’s the problem; as everyone has been saying all along, we’re dealing with a new animal the likes of which we haven’t seen before. It’s going to take a while for everyone to adjust to it.
Mike: But there were still only what, five blown tires? It was 20 at Charlotte in ’05.
Amy: Regardless, I’ve thought for a long time that it’s time to allow a little competition in the tire department. Hoosiers run fine in a lot of series.
Kurt: I agree with Amy. Goodyear might need incentive to improve.
Mike: Hold on a second, I am a big fan of competition, but historically a tire war has led to more tire problems than less.
Tony: I think what happens in tire wars is that tire companies go for faster, not always safer, and that’s why we have issues.
Vito: It doesn’t always equal an answer, either. Look at the Michelin debacle at the Formula 1 race at Indy a couple of years ago; and if you remember the tire wars of the late ’80s and early ’90s, there were a lot more tire issues than we are having today. I think this problem stems from a bigger issue, actually – and that is the travel tolerances created by these front splitter regulations. The teams are asking the tires and suspensions to do goofy things with the box that they are forced to work in.
Tom: I agree 100%, Vito; more than ever, teams are turning to tires because they’re one of the few things they can play with. And even if Goodyear is part of the problem, I think they’ll get a free pass for a while until competition with this car gets better. Not that it’s bad to start off with… but until the CoT has a good, solid history underneath it and then teams start having tire problems… Goodyear will get off easy. People are too busy trying to figure out things like bump stops, splitters and making this thing turn.
Tommy: Racers push the envelope or they wouldn’t be racers. Sometimes, they push it a little too far in their setups, and this is what happens.
Vito: The tires aren’t all to blame. Look at what has been done with these cars the last few years: soft front springs, coil binding, bump stops. The tire has become the suspension to some degree.
Tommy: Right, Vito. And bump stops might be the biggest culprit; the only thing left unsprung is the tires.
Tony: Yeah, I agree; but Goodyear still needs to make their recommendations clear at Atlanta. There is not such thing as a soft hit; if the teams want to push the envelope, so be it. They’ve been warned.
Tom: I just wonder if those recommendations will do the trick though, Tony. I think tires have been a problem ever since they went to the new tire package in what, 2005?
Amy: They have, Tom. The CoT is just compounding an old problem.
Vito: But it isn’t like this is the first time we’ve had complaints about tires. Anyone who remembers Dover in the early-mid 1990s remembers the rash of blown right fronts and resulting crumpled machinery.
Tommy: I can’t remember a time when a few tires didn’t blow in a stock car race. If Goodyear brings a tire that will last 200 laps, someone will try to get 300 laps out of them.
Tom: I will say this… like Tony said, I hope both the teams and Goodyear get it right for Atlanta. The hits Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch took were both downright scary. And when a tire blows in the middle of a turn like that at a place like Atlanta… watch out.

Red Bull Racing announced Monday that AJ Allmendinger is out of the No. 84 for the immediate future, with Mike Skinner taking over while the team evaluates their issues. Was this the right move?

Amy: It’s a Band-Aid for a bullet wound, but it’s not a bad short-term solution.
Tommy: It’s probably a move out of sympathy for Allmendinger, if nothing else.
Kurt: Drivers are like managers in baseball. When the team doesn’t perform, it’s their head.
Bryan: But this was way overdue. Allmendinger needs to learn stock cars where qualifying isn’t as much of a problem.
Vito: I don’t think Allmendinger is the issue, though. It’s the lack of owner points.
Tony: I think it was a little premature. First off, AJ can’t be blamed for missing Fontana; and second, he needs more track time. Give him starts elsewhere – don’t move him to the sidelines.
Tom: That’s what they’re planning, Tony, although Allmendinger’s ride in a lower series isn’t set in stone quite yet. But I think this team’s hand was forced based on how he began the year – especially when you look at how teammate Brian Vickers is doing in comparison.
Tommy: Three attempts this year and no starts!
Tom: Tommy, it wasn’t as bad as you might think… Allmendinger was the first car out in both the Daytona 500 and Las Vegas. It’s not that he’s uncompetitive… he gets screwed by the Top-35 rules.

BOWLES: AJ ALLMENDINGER ANNOUNCEMENT A SHOCK

Vito: Allmendinger barely missed Daytona, and California got rained out. I suppose it was his fault last year at Atlanta when the ignition failed as he was coming to take the green flag for qualifying.
Tom: Allmendinger would have been in two of three races under the old system.
Tommy: There’s still a good handful of go-or-go homers outqualifying him. But boo on the Top-35 rule, anyways!
Amy: Well, long-term, Team Red Bull would do well to keep ‘Dinger in a car in some series – he’s a hell of a talent.
Tom: It’s just too bad the team didn’t do this for AJ before they tried to rush him up to Cup. The kid’s immensely talented… he just needs some seat time in another series to adjust.
Bryan: Fortunately, AJ is young enough that this won’t kill his career… he’s young enough to go back and race in Nationwide for a while.
Kurt: I’ve heard lots of people who would know say the kid can drive. But I imagine Red Bull knows more about their situation than I do.
Mike: I don’t think this is a knock on AJ at all; it is just a short-term deal to get the team in some races. Allmendinger has done quite well in the Nationwide Series and he’ll probably be a good driver in Cup someday.
Tony: I just don’t understand why Scott Speed gets a development program, and Allmendinger got baptism by fire.
Vito: What you will most likely see is AJ get the boot and Speed replace him at some point in the not too distant future.
Tony: That’s what I’m afraid of, Vito I’m not sure why Team Red Bull themselves never fielded a part-time Nationwide ride for Allmendinger. Especially with the way that field is, he’d definitely be in every race he entered.
Mike: Speed isn’t any better a driver than Allmendinger.
Amy: Again, long term, AJ is worth investing in. And come on, you have to like a guy that calls himself “‘Dinger.”
Vito: But Speed is held in high regard by Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull’s owner. He’s a damn good driver, too; he just got stuck driving clapped-out Minardis with a cool paint job in Formula 1.
Tony: Speed may be better when he gets to Cup because he’s been brought up the right way.
Tommy: Fortunately for AJ, business might pick up in open-wheel racing with the unification, as well.
Tom: According to everything I’ve heard, the two are big-time rivals. And it’s got to stick in AJ’s craw a little bit that Speed is being brought up the right way – ARCA and Truck first – while Allmendinger was thrown into the fire.
Vito: Well, no one made Allmendinger quit his series-dominating Champ Car ride.
Tony: True, Vito; but the writing was on the wall at the time, the same writing Dario Franchitti, Patrick Carpentier and Sam Hornish Jr. saw: a possible death of American open-wheel racing.
Amy: I hope that Nationwide ride works out for him, I really do.
Bryan: Allmendinger will be competitive in his lower-tier ride quickly… so Red Bull better stay committed. There are going to be team owners out there in NASCAR that want him.
Vito: I kind of think it’s amusing, too that Skinner – the guy who could never quite win a Cup race – is supposedly the Band-Aid for whatever Toyota team is fumbling.
Mike: Well, due to the fact David Pearson wasn’t available, Skinner is probably the next best qualifier out there not already in Cup.
Tony: If Skinner can somehow get that No. 84 into the Top 35, then Allmendinger could have a new lease on life. I just hope it doesn’t become like the Bill Elliott situation where the Band-Aid never left.
Amy: On the bright side, Johnny Benson gets a chance in the No. 27 Cup car now. I do like J.B., even if the car isn’t very good.
Tommy: Skinner’s got to be feeling pretty good about it, and maybe Benson as well. I guess Cup drivers that go to the CTS do not necessarily go there to retire.
Vito: Johnny Benson: The Most Underrated Driver Ever.
Kurt: With Allmendinger and Jacques Villeneuve out for now, does anyone think that maybe owners are starting to think that open wheel isn’t the place to get Cup talent?
Mike: Ya think, Kurt?
Tom: And the interesting thing is that now, owners are scouting around the top-three stock car series… and realizing there’s no homegrown talent left. Oops! Guess we shouldn’t have let the Nationwide Series turn into crap, huh.
Bryan: Franchitti is going to be out of the Top 35 soon… the No. 40 is in big trouble. They’ve been off the pace everywhere.
Vito: Open-wheel drivers aren’t the issue; the issue is experience and owner points. With that said, let me reiterate something I’ve been saying for a year: Hornish is terrible.
Mike: Hornish is… um… not good.
Tony: Hornish may have been awful last year, but give him credit, he got taken out in two incidents not of his doing.
Tom: The key is the word finish though, Tony. Hornish has crashed out of as many races as he’s finished in Nationwide and Cup. This has not been a good year for open wheelers.
Tony: No, it hasn’t; but a freak accident at California and a blown tire at Vegas can’t be blamed on him.
Tom: Back to Allmendinger, I think the next two months are going to be critical to the future of his career. If he’s put in the same series with Speed, I think you’re going to see a knockout round ensue… whoever does better, gets to move up.
Bryan: Speed’s got to prove he can run ARCA before NASCAR.
Tom: True, but he’s got time, Bryan. At 51, Skinner’s not a long-term solution; so the seat is certainly open for whomever gets their act together first.

Carl Edwards‘s win was possibly tainted with word that an oil-tank cover was left off the car following his Las Vegas win, providing the No. 99 with some extra downforce and creating an aerodynamic advantage. This was a very similar infraction to some Nationwide teams at Daytona; but considering this latest violation was found after a race, is it time for NASCAR to take a stand and strip those in blatant violation of the rules of a win?

Amy: Absolutely. They cheated during a race! And anyone who says it’s tradition to let the win stand needs to find a history book.
Mike: If they take a win away from someone, people will quit pushing the limits.
Bryan: Until the penalties actually mean something to major teams with deep pockets and personnel, cheating will continue. 25 points and a crew chief suspension doesn’t get the job done… telling a team no trophy will.
Amy: And the penalty for Carl had better be at least 100 points and a six-week suspension for Bob Osborne.
Bryan: But will it be 100, considering it wasn’t a CoT-specific violation?
Amy: Who cares if it’s CoT-specific? It was a blatant attempt to circumvent the rules.
Tom: I don’t think it’s going to be 100, Amy, based on the way it was penalized elsewhere. Check this out: David Stremme and the No. 64 team in the Nationwide Series had a very similar penalty, based on what I’ve heard from sources at the track. And you know what? The NSCRC granted their appeal Monday on this very same violation. When do you ever hear about people winning appeals? And Tuesday, it was the same ol’ story with Johnny Sauter‘s program. This doesn’t seem to be as big an advantage as you might think.

THOMPSON: CARL EDWARDS PENALTY DECISION SHOULD BE SIMPLE

Amy: Tom, the NWS cars were said to have the cover loose – on the No. 99 it was gone. And aero cheat during a race is way worse than the wrong sticker putlines or anything found before the cars even practice, Tom. Edwards should get a worse punishment than Robby Gordon.
Bryan: My question is this: wasn’t the NNS decision made because it helped avoid the spacer? Would it still be an advantage on the CoT?
Tony: Can someone explain how this is supposed to be an advantage, anyways? I’m not a technological guru, but I just can’t see how that’s supposed to help. Was it really cheating?
Amy: It provided more downforce, and gave an aero advantage.
Mike: The air being able to flow out of the oil-tank top allows it to suck more in from under the car and create more downforce.
Vito: It is common knowledge that the oil tank cover removed causes negative pressure – which helps suck the car to the ground.
Amy: If FOX Sports was correct, this is the second week in a row the No. 99 won with a questionable car… I have an issue with that.
Tony: I guess we need to define what is questionable. If I had to guess, every car out there probably has something that is “questionable.”
Vito: What NASCAR needs to do is actually apply and enforce penalties that make sense. What doesn’t make sense is fining Edwards for quarterpanels that create a performance disadvantage.
Tommy: Vito is correct, as far as I understand it, on the competitive advantage. But shouldn’t matter. It’s legal or it’s illegal. Everyone has a story.
Amy: But teams are getting busted for stupid stuff like Robby Gordon’s nose before the car even took to the track, shouldn’t the penalty for actually racing with an altered car be stiffer than what Gordon got?
Tony: That’s a good point, Amy. Maybe NASCAR needs to form a committee that is devoted strictly to devising a penalty system. We keep saying it’s probably impossible; but we need to test that theory.
Tom: The difficult thing is NASCAR’s set the bar high with the 100-point, $100,000 fine and six-week suspension tacked on to Gordon’s team. If the intent to create a competitive advantage is proven here, this penalty has got to be higher.
Tony: In theory, yes.
Vito: I like Robby’s thinking, by the way: If they fine me, screw it. I’m going to run Indy.
Tom: I just want to know how big a hole we’re talking. Ramsey Poston was having trouble even explaining this violation to the media Sunday night.
Tommy: Look; anyone that wants NASCAR to exercise good judgment based on facts and fairness must be new to the sport. They can’t do it. Intentional, unintentional, competitive advantage, no advantage… it has to all be the same.
Amy: If a winning car is illegal… they should not receive the 10 bonus points come Chase time.
Vito: Amy, it’s not like this is a big engine or soaked tires – it’s a lid off the oil tank. 25 points and $50,000 should be enough.
Tom: I think there needs to be varying degrees of penalties. What if rolling the tire outside the pit box was a one-lap penalty Sunday? We wouldn’t be talking about this win, because Edwards wouldn’t have won. I bring this up because the variety of pit-road penalties vary based on the degree of the infraction; we should have the same thing in NASCAR.
Tony: Tom, I agree with you, but unfortunately I see no way of patrolling that. You get on really shaky ground when you use judgment as to what degree of an advantage you have.
Mike: Very shaky, Tony; that’s why they can’t do it.
Vito: This is the same sanctioning body that can’t tell when there is garbage all over the track, rain or a 30-car pile-up to throw a caution; but if there’s a Gatorade cup on the apron, out comes the pace car.
Tommy: There should be a 100-point, $100,000-fine first time a car roles through inspection with an unapproved part, then progressively more severe after that. Simple.
Tony: Here’s a thought; post-race infractions get judged by a panel of crew chiefs that know exactly how much advantage an infraction provides.
Tom: To me, jet fuel was the biggest offense I’ve ever heard of… far more of a competitive advantage than the freaking oil cover. Let’s wait and see what happens here… I want to know more about what type of advantage this creates before the penalty is decided. And no one can tell us more about it until NASCAR’s Research and Development Center figures it out.
Vito: If anything, Carl should be fined points for those stupid backflips.

Mark Martin‘s Nationwide Series wreck eliminated the hopes of teammate Brad Keselowski‘s first win in the series, while taking out championship contender Edwards in the process. However, Martin wasn’t taken to task for his mistake due to his reputation; should that make a difference when you’re talking about racing incidents like these?

Vito: Uh, yeah – it’s a racing incident by the cleanest driver in the sport. Martin made a mistake and got into the back of another car. It happens.
Tommy: Certainly, any driver that has built a reputation as clean should get consideration when they do mess up. They are racing within inches of one another, mistakes are inevitable.
Bryan: After the career that Martin has had, I think he’s earned a bye on this one. He was really subdued in victory lane.
Kurt: Whether it should or not, reputation does make a difference.
Tony: There is no tried and true way to determine what a driver’s intentions are.
Mike: I disagree. Martin freaking punted a driver in a potential race-winning car out of the way to get to the front. It was a cheap maneuver.
Tony: Did he tell you that, Mike?
Amy: Martin is the cleanest driver on the circuit – he’s lost races rather than spin someone for the win.
Mike: Watch the tape, Amy. Martin was closing fast and never attempted to slow down.
Tom: Mike, I think Martin never attempted to slow down because the two cars in front of them slowed down by attempting to side draft off each other. Take a look at the tape… just before the hit, Edwards gets a little loose side-drafting off of Keselowski.
Vito: First of all, let’s clear the air here. Keselowski was up there because he didn’t pit – not because he was fast. I don’t like seeing him wrecked but come on – the No. 5 was the fastest car out there, and the outcome was inevitable.

PUGLIESE: MARK MARTIN’S BAD, HE’S NATIONWIDE

Amy: He was closing fast, and the reaction time it would have taken to back out and slow down significantly enough to avoid Edwards was infinitesimal.
Vito: Carl got beside the No. 88, slowed him up a bit, and Mark got against him coming out of the corner. It was a racing incident: nothing more, nothing less.
Mike: Keselowski wasn’t going to win that race, but Edwards very well could have. And the tri-oval is a corner.
Tommy: I agree with Vito – Keselowski was hoping against hope. But it’s still an unfortunate accident.
Kurt: I would think if anyone should have been mad, it was Edwards… and he wasn’t, so I don’t think anyone else will be.
Vito: Mark kind of reminds me of Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down. Buzz cut, bulging temporal vein. One of these days, he’s going to go off on someone and it isn’t going to be pretty. It’s probably best he bleeds off a little steam from time to time.
Bryan: In the meantime, Keselowski has lost his first NASCAR win in every way possible… remember the Truck Series race at Memphis?
Vito: Well, Carl could have hung on to it, too… just saying…
Mike: But Martin’s bump-draft was too hard, and he didn’t hit him square and dumped him. If it hadn’t been Martin or Jeff Burton, people would be calling for the driver’s head.
Bryan: But it was Martin; and that does make a difference.
Mike: It shouldn’t.
Amy: The first thing he did was apologize. He’s a class act.
Mike: Sure he apologized! He was in victory lane.
Tommy: Anyway you look at it, Mark made an error. It happens, but not often in Martin’s case.
Kurt: This was like Vickers at ‘Dega. Stuff happens in the final laps when guys are going for the win.
Amy: When was the last time someone dumped a guy on purpose and apologized for it later?
Mike: It was just totally unnecessary, because Martin was fast enough to get by Keselowski in turn 1 and then take on Edwards for the win.
Vito: Martin’s run into guys before. Elliott Sadler at New Hampshire in 2005 – that cost him getting into the Chase. But when he makes an error, he owns up to it. Something a lot of guys can take a lesson from.
Tom: Oh, no question about it, what Martin did in victory lane was a class act. It’s just interesting to me how reputations change treatment of drivers in the public eye. If that was Kyle Busch and not Martin, we’d be all over him for taking those two cars out like that… wouldn’t we?
Kurt: Didn’t Jimmy Spencer apologize to Kurt Busch?
Bryan: With his fist, maybe.
Tommy: I just want to know what in Martin’s long history would convince anyone to believe he dumped anyone on purpose?
Vito: I have only seen Martin get into someone on purpose twice in my life: Geoff Bodine at Bristol after the race was over – a race he won – and Steve Park at Bristol in 2000.
Vito: That No. 5 car never had a mark on it all day, and I’d be surprised if it even has a scratch on its bumper. And that’s after having to come through the field three times due to pit issues.
Tony: I think when you drive a racecar for 20-plus years, there are going to be some incidents you’re going to apologize for… for anyone.
Tommy: There’s a reason his peers believe him when he says it was a mistake. They’ve raced with him side-by-side. They know what kind of driver he is.
Mike: All I know is I saw him making the run before he ever got to Carl and I thought, “Man, he better hit the binders or he’s going to dump him.” And right at that moment, he dumped him.
Tony: But he’s a clean racer, Mike; and nine times out of 10, if Mark can’t win it cleanly, he won’t.
Amy: Not a lot of drivers will take second place if it means not wrecking someone… Martin has.

Atlanta Predictions?

Mike: I think Edwards continues his streak, with his oil lid in place.
Kurt: I certainly think Carl can do three backflips in three weeks. Why not? He looks awful tough right now, and it’s the same type of track.
Tom: See, I was going to go with Edwards, but now I don’t know if it’s the type of deal where he can go out and win three in a row. You know, I’m going to go with a bit of a surprise… Burton. The RCR cars were strong at Vegas, a surprise considering their weakness was in the CoT last year… and Burton had two top fives in Atlanta in ’07.
Bryan: Speaking of surprises  Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets off the schneid.
Amy: The No. 48 overcomes whatever bit their butts this week, and Jimmie Johnson wins.
Kurt: What was up with them in Vegas? I’ve never seen the No. 48 run that bad for an entire race.
Tom: Looks like Chad Knaus spent a little too much time at the craps table and rolled the dice on a shaky setup.
Vito: Back to predictions, Stewart and Toyota win their first race of 2008.
Tommy: I think Toyota wins their first race with Kyle Busch.
Tony: I agree. The Toyota power comes through at Atlanta – where horsepower is key – and Kyle Busch comes out on top.
Vito: Before we go, let’s give a monster shout out to Travis Kvapil‘s top-10 run this past weekend. It’s good to see the No. 28 back out there on a Yates Ford where it belongs.
Kurt: Yeah, how ’bout that Travis!
Mike: It was a great run for Kvapil, that’s for sure.
Tom: Heck of a race for Travis, I agree. Who knew he could do better in an unsponsored Cup car than with Penske Racing.
Tony: I just hope someone is seeing how much air time that blank No. 28 is getting, and sponsors them before it’s too late!

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