NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Bristol Part II, Top-35 Taboos & RCR Who?

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:
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice Of Vito)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson In Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Despite the rain washing the track clean on Saturday, Sunday’s race – the second on Bristol’s new surface – seemed more competitive than the fall race last year. Is Bristol back after a brief hiatus? Or do teams just have a better handle on the new car?

Tony: I think the drivers have a better handle on it.
Tommy: Bristol Rocks! The progressive banking has made it great. And the new car is coming around.
Amy: I think it’s a combination. Plus, having a volatile pair up front like Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart doesn’t hurt.
Bryan: A tire that actually wore was nice, too.
Vito: I think it’s just more of the teams getting a handle with the new car. If you remember, last August’s Busch Series event was an awesome race.
Tony: In fact, last August was a pretty good Cup race. Just not up in the front, where all the attention is given.
Matt T.: Hiatus? Was it gone? I’d say the track will come in more over time – like most of them do – but having a better understanding of the car helps. And I honestly didn’t think the racing was all that bad in August.
Mike: The track is offering multiple lanes, which it didn’t before. Had they not had the rain this weekend, I think we would have seen a great race.
Kurt: I think Bristol got a little worn. I don’t think the car has improved that much. And yes, it will get better.
Tommy: Bristol has to be a big disappointment only for those that like a lot of wrecks and cautions. Otherwise, it is truly a great track now!
Tony: That’s a good point, Tommy. From a pure racing standpoint it was good, not Wreck-fest 2008.
Matt T.: I thought the racing was pretty enjoyable this weekend, too. I loved Jeff Burton‘s quote: “If you like wrecking, you liked the old Bristol. If you like racing, you like the new Bristol.”
Mike: It is still giving the drivers more than one lane to race on, and that is definitely a plus.
Bryan: I’m all for having less wrecks if it gives us three-wide on a half-mile. It’s fun watching racing there.
Amy: Three-wide didn’t go over too well, but it was sure as hell fun to watch them try!
Tony: One thing that we saw in the late laps is that drivers made runs on the outside rather than bumping competitors out of the way.
Matt T.: Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson three-wide around a scared s***less Dario Franchitti… that was great!
Vito: It’s why I like the new Bristol. I think after a couple more years, it’s only going to get better, as well. But with repaves and new tracks, the only way to get a decent competitive surface is to go with variable banking.
Tommy: I was a big proponent of putting progressive banking in. I never was a fan of the old Bristol. Now we need to fix Martinsville!
Amy: There is nothing wrong with Martinsville, you blasphemer!
Tommy: Nothing that a passing lane wouldn’t fix.
Vito: You need to fix Chicago. (i.e., dig it up).
Kurt: It was definitely a better race than we saw last fall – but I have to see a little carnage at Bristol.
Tony: Well, McMurray and Franchitti sure took care of your carnage addiction.
Bryan: I was surprised by Dario… he didn’t run half bad in the Nationwide race, but he was a disaster on Sunday.
Vito: He had no brakes on Sunday. Being able to slow down on a short track is kind of important…
Mike: It is amazing that 43 cars were running at the finish, though. That is a remarkable statement for the durability of the new car.
Matt T.: Bristol with the repave reminds me of Bristol, circa ’86. Very competitive, with room to pass – but also the possibility that someone takes off and dominates.
Vito: Was going to say that too, Matt. Reminds me of how it was when it was asphalt.
Kurt: Since Bristol seemed to take a couple of races for the pavement to come around, what will Darlington be like?
Tony: 200 mph into the corners at Darlington should be fun.
Mike: Very fast.
Amy: Scary fast.
Tommy: Really looking forward to Darlington.
Matt T.: Speaking of carnage, Darlington will be a carnage-fest. Bank on it.
Mike: You’re going to see cars run the bottom at Darlington. That is going to be a weird sight.
Vito: They might have to put a couple of 2x4s in the doors and quarter panels this time around.
Amy: I’m not sure I am looking forward to it. Darlington will be dangerous fast. It was not built for 200 mph.
Kurt: These guys can’t control the cars anyway. With new pavement at Darlington… people should be tuning in, that’s for sure.
Vito: Haha, maybe Goodyear will up the ante and show up with a new tire…
Tony: New record at Darlington: All 43 cars leave with a Darlington Stripe.
Kurt: As for Bristol, I’m glad it’s back.
Matt T.: Bristol was fun, as usual. And the surface will continue to cure. Can’t wait for the fall race.
Tommy: Is it possible to pick up the track and move it somewhere nice, then add about 60,000 seats without messing it up?

Sunday marked the first time that Richard Childress Racing placed all three cars in the top-three finishing positions. Does this signal the emergence of a new Chevy powerhouse team?

Kurt: No. Gibbs helped RCR big time; they just happened to be there to capitalize. RCR is doing well, but this is a short track. They aren’t going to run 1-2-3 every week.
Tommy: It has to be a positive for Childress, though.
Mike: And it’s pretty hard not to believe there’s some short of shift going on, considering RCR has all three teams in the top 10, and Hendrick has only one.
Tony: I disagree, Mike; I think it does show some sort of shift, Although it’s really the performance they’ve had all year long, not just Bristol. I’m not sure they have replaced Hendrick at the top just yet, but they are definitely knocking on the door.
Matt T.: Man, RCR has shown some muscle of late; very impressive thus far.
Vito: Not really. There were three cars that should have finished ahead of them that had trouble. Childress ran well, but it was more of a coincidence than anything.
Amy: They’re running better than Hendrick, though. Once Gibbs bailed to Toyota, Chevy has to think so… it’s their other good Chevy team.
Tommy: Apparently, the new alliance with DEI engines is headed in the right direction.
Vito: A short track is not a huge indicator of engine performance though. If anything, a detuned motor might be easier to drive there.
Tony: They’ve been doing well quietly well at the other tracks, too… consistent top 10s. And those will add up.
Matt T.: C’mon, guys, You weren’t impressed with a 1-2-3 at BMS?! What will it take? Geez, tough crowd.
Vito: If Burton repeats at Texas, I will be impressed.

BOWLES: JEFF BURTON’S WIN, DALE JARRETT’S DEPARTURE

Amy: At least it’s more than Hendrick can say.
Tommy: But let’s not forget: the Yota’s were the cream of the crop Sunday. They just didn’t close the deal.
Bryan: JGR was scary good this weekend.
Kurt: In fact, Gibbs could well have finished 1-2-3 if not for its troubles.
Matt T.: JGR will never finish 1-2-3 because its three drivers don’t have the patience to line up that way on the same weekend.
Amy: But there’s only one lap you gotta lead, and RCR led it!
Matt T.: Shoulda, woulda, coulda. That’s called racin’, folks. You have to survive, and RCR did. Again, I’ve been impressed for a couple of weeks.
Tony: Gibbs definitely is the best team in NASCAR, but in terms of the Chevy camp, RCR is the top team right now.
Tommy: Burton seems to always be near the front.
Amy: I’m definitely impressed, for all three to have even been in that position.
Kurt: RCR is running better than they were last year, but I still don’t think it’s competitive with Gibbs or even Roush yet.
Mike: RCR has three drivers in the top 10. How are they not competitive with the other teams?
Vito: I don’t know, that No. 88 car seems to be pretty consistent every week.
Amy: Yeah, but that’s one car.
Tony: I think it’s also important for Bowyer to run well and prove that last year was not a flash in the pan.
Kurt: The No. 24 has been running well most of the time, too. Just some bad luck.
Matt T.: I don’t buy the ‘bad luck’ card. You make your own luck.
Vito: Funny, everybody was dogging Dale Earnhardt Jr., saying how he was going to be a weak addition to Hendrick and was going to get Jeff Gordon and Jimmie’s leftovers.
Kurt: I actually still think that to a point, Vito.
Amy: I think they’re the ones getting his leftovers, but maybe that’s just me.
Tony: Hendrick has been good, no doubt about it, but they are not dominant like they once were. In fact, everyone seems to have their fair piece of the pie in terms of wins right now, except for Hendrick.
Mike: Well if Junior hadn’t blown up nine times last year, he’d have been right there with them in DEI stuff.
Vito: Absolutely, he would have.
Tommy: Once the No. 24 and No. 48 teams hit their stride, we’ll be back to talking about Hendrick domination.
Kurt: I believe Hendrick is gonna find it at Martinsville.
Tony: I think Hendrick will win and win often this season, but I’m not so sure they will be dominant. Things appear to be very even so far.
Matt T.: Here we go with the weekly Hendrick talk again… wasn’t the question about Childress?
Mike: It always comes back around to Junior, Matty.
Amy: Yeah, we always end up there because it’s an anomaly. Someone missed that memo.
Tony: RCR vs. Hendrick for the Chevy lead, it seems.
Amy: RCR is the best Chevy team right now. Will that change? Remains to be seen.
Kurt: 1-2-3 was very impressive for RCR, but it did have a fluky element with Tony and Denny Hamlin being taken out very late.
Mike: Childress was very strong last year, but Hendrick was in another universe. But RCR has persevered, while Hendrick has struggled this season.
Matt T.: I don’t call Hamlin and Stewart’s problems ‘flukes.’ Denny has had the problem before, and Tony’s was faulty pit strategy.
Matt T.: I don’t know. Tony isn’t falling into the No. 29’s clutches if he has tires.
Bryan: Yeah, RCR solved the ‘Stewart problem’ themselves, that wasn’t a bad pit road call.
Mike: Stewart’s car was not fast on new tires. That was a good call on Zippy’s part. He would have finished higher because he would not have wrecked, but that was their only shot at the win.
Tony: This happened a lot last year too, those JGR teams appeared to shoot themself in the foot more than anyone.
Vito: I’m not sold on RCR being the dominant Chevy team. I think they are the top “interim” Chevrolet team until Hendrick gets things sorted out. RCR is DEI with a little more organization.
Matt T.: And better drivers
Tony: Yep, and here we go again. That will keep JGR from winning it all, Hendrick teams usually don’t become their own worst enemies
Mike: At least we heard about that, though. Carl Edwards dropped off of the face of the race and we didn’t hear anything about it.
Matt T.: Because DW couldn’t tell us.
Vito: DW sounded like he was gargling with Drain-O.
Amy: So did the No. 48 at the end.
Tony: Yeah, Carl was actually running a solid top 10 for a good portion of the race,
Mike: The No. 48 ended up on the lead lap.
Kurt: I think the No. 48 had a flat.
Tommy: I just thank the Good Lord blessed Burton with the win due to the Christian behavior he demonstrated last year by not punting Kyle Busch and taking the win.
Matt T.: Amen, St. Thomas.
Tommy: Thank you brother.
Kurt: Could be, Tommy. Except Mark Martin should have a championship by now.
Amy: Karma helps, Or kicks your ass, depends!
Vito: Think you have a point, Tommy.
Mike: Oh good lord, here we go with Martin again,
Tommy: I think Vito is going to make Martin a saint.
Vito: Let’s not do this.
Matt T.: Our weekly Marky Mark talk.
Bryan: Martin’s karma is down a quart after Vegas.
Kurt: Ouch!
Vito: Saint Martin of Batesville.
Tony: I think the No. 6 Ford appeared on my pancake this morning

With Bristol in the books, the Top 35 in owner points must survive on this year’s merit. Who is the biggest surprise this year in, out or on the Top-35 bubble?

Tommy: Jamie McMurray. How can anyone fall that low in Roush equipment?
Kurt: I’m not totally surprised about McMurray, but I didn’t expect him to be out. I’m surprised that Sam Hornish Jr. is in it, too.
Tony: McMurray, definitely. I never expected that team to be this far off.
Vito: McMurray, although in our pre-season predictions, I picked him as the first driver fired.
Amy: As far as the bubble is concerned, I am really, really surprised to see Casey Mears on it. I really expected this to be Mears’s breakout year. And it still could be, but I’m surprised that team is running so poorly.
Tony: I’m very surprised about Regan Smith, too. With several starts under his belt, a Top-35 team to start the season with and Doug Richert on the pit box, I thought he would be in a lot better shape.
Matt T.: We’re supposed to say McMurray, but I’m honestly not surprised by that. I’m saying Dave Blaney. They’ve been pretty lost.
Bryan: McMurray has been bad, but I’m also surprised to a degree about Smith. That No. 01 has been way off the pace.
Kurt: Aren’t all three of the MWR cars in the Top 35? That’s kind of hard to believe.
Vito: J-Mac is not long for Roush Racing, I am afraid. Don’t know if it’s the new car or being lost in the shuffle there, but whatever it is, he seems to be getting worse, not better. He fared much better at Ganassi. And to be fair, I’m not so sure this is all Jamie’s doing. Roush Fenway Racing is a weird place. Either your championship caliber or out to lunch.
Amy: The best surprise has to be Brian Vickers. He was eighth in points coming into Bristol and is running great. He’s 17th now, but that’s still like 20 places higher than last year.
Tommy: Another guy I looked to have a bad season was Robby Gordon, with the manufacturer switch on top of his obvious hurdles. But so far R. Gordon is hanging in there!
Bryan: Vickers has done well, but he’s still got to figure out those short tracks.
Tony: Big time with Vickers. He was Toyota’s rising star until Kyle Busch switched, but Brian is making sure we don’t forget about him that quickly. Adding Jay Frye and Kevin Hamlin have been big pickups at that team as well.
Vito: And Red Bull isn’t as big of a team as everyone thinks. They’re a pretty small operation, comparatively.
Bryan: Vickers has been running real well for being essentially a single-car team… you know they aren’t getting much help from the No. 84.
Mike: Am I the only one that didn’t see Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs making the Top 35?
Tony: I’m with you on that one Mike, at least for Riggs.
Vito: I was going to draw the analogy that Red Bull reminds me of MB2 Motorsports a few years ago. And with Jay Frye running the show, there’s a reason for that.
Tommy: I think we’re starting to see some of that talent that was so touted about Vickers when he first came up with Hendrick.
Vito: He did win a Busch championship. It isn’t like he Vickers just sailed under a lucky start and was given a ride.
Mike: I know Vickers is strong, but I thought he’d be close to the Top-35 cutoff, he’s just higher than expected.
Tony: Hornish, Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola are the only three rookies guaranteed a spot going forward, and Hornish is the only one who “earned” it himself.
Matt T.: Vickers is talented but I don’t know if he’s the guy to lead an organization yet. I think the bigger question is which team(s) outside of the Top 35 pulls an owner-points swap?
Bryan: Petty will. Roush, if they miss a race.
Kurt: I’ve heard Kyle Petty is going to try some kind of points switch now that he’s out of the Top 35. But you can’t blame teams for looking for a loophole in the rule until NASCAR closes it.
Matt T.: Another scary proposition, Kurt: Drivers with a PCP just starting a race only to hand over the reigns.
Kurt: Whatever works within the rules I guess. You have to make the sponsor happy.
Matt T.: NASCAR set a real dangerous precedent with the Penske points swap at the start of the season and we’re about to see a few teams play that card again.
Mike: Oh yeah, Matt. We’re about to see a bunch of them.
Tony: I don’t see this happening, but swapping the Nos. 26 and 17 could be an option.
Amy: NASCAR needs to take a long hard look at this, in my opinion.
Bryan: Put Hornish on track at Martinsville and we may see Penske swap redux in a few weeks.
Mike: Petty, Roush, Penske again.
Matt T.: Ganassi, Petty, MWR, Roush, Penske (again). Heck, even Hendrick could pull it with Mears and Johnson.
Tony: Hendrick has the trump card here having the most recent champion, too.
Vito: I think that was a really, really poor decision on that No. 77 to the No. 2 points-swap. Talk about exploiting a system that is already completely flawed.
Bryan: NASCAR could argue they’ll only allow it to start the season.
Tony: Poor by NASCAR, genius by Penske.
Vito: Well, Mobil 1 is kind of a big sponsor and will be there for several years… I don’t see Furniture Row being the official couch of NASCAR.
Tommy: Good thing about the France dictatorship is that they can change their rules anytime they choose and NASCAR needs to choose to put a stop to point swapping.
Amy: Oh, like NASCAR has never changed any other rule mid-season.
Kurt: They change rules mid-race.
Vito: NASCAR does not make up the rules as the go along. Sincerely, the 2007 Daytona 500.
Matt T.: I doubt NASCAR will change midseason, Amy. Not this rule.
Bryan: NASCAR can control the situation if they say ‘no’ to any in-season swaps and define it like that.
Mike: When you’re talking about sponsors not seeing cars in the race, I can’t see them not allowing it after they did it for Penske.
Matt T.: Next year they may have to. I mean, what’s the difference between the idea of franchises and what team owners are doing now… from a cosmetic standpoint, anyway.
Bryan: I thought the Top-35 rule was supposed to help sponsors… sigh.
Matt T.: It helps owners keep sponsors.
Kurt: It doesn’t really bother me that teams exploit the holes in the Top-35 rule. But maybe NASCAR needs to rethink it.
Tony: As long as we have rules, there will always be loopholes to find.
Vito: If there is anything that is just flat out sad about this, is that the Wood Brothers keep missing races.
Tony: The Wood Brothers don’t appear to have any sort of plan right now, and that is making a bad situation worse.
Vito: And there really is no end in sight for their problems.
Mike: I still think Riggs and Mayfield being in the Top 35 after five races is far more amazing than any other drivers in the standings.
Tony: I thought Riggs would be the first driver to be fired Mike, so I agree there.
Matt T.: I’m not as surprised with Riggs and Mayfield, Mike. I figured the open-wheel imports would fare worse. There is a pretty weak “rookie” crop in the show at the moment.

What should fans expect from the Nationwide Series points race over the next few months? Which NNS regulars look to have the best shot at a front-row banquet seat in 2008?

Matt T.: Surprisingly, there are actually a few.
Mike: It will be Edwards vs. Bowyer for the title. Unless Kyle Busch changes his mind and runs the whole schedule. Mike Bliss will probably be the top Nationwide-only driver with Bobby Hamilton Jr. hot on his heels.
Bryan: Kyle Busch needs to find a way to finish a Cup race before he goes full-time Nationwide. Bliss, though, was awesome before the rain started last weekend.
Amy: Bliss has looked great so far.
Tony: Jason Leffler will be stong again with Team “Yota.”
Vito: Mike Wallace, maybe.
Kurt: Brad Keselowski was running pretty well at Vegas until someone (ahem) took him out.
Vito: Edwards? Yeah, I know. I can’t believe he lost it like that. Anybody else would’ve hung on to it.
Kurt: It’s hard to say. You don’t even know if these guys will be running the whole season.
Tony: Keselowski is one of the few “young guns” in the NNS that is coming up through the ranks the old fashion way. I think he will definitely be strong.
Matt T.: Bliss, M. Wallace, Keselowski, Hamilton… Kelly Bires has been great.
Tommy: “Bull Dog” Hamilton has been a pleasant surprise.
Amy: Bires has been a really pleasant surprise.
Vito: Bires, 11th in points? When was the last time you heard that name mentioned during a race?
Bryan: Mike Wallace is only going to get faster. Germain has been a solid NNS team even as a part-time operation.
Matt T.: Leffler will always be solid. We know that.
Mike: Hamilton, Leffler and Bliss will be the top three.
Vito: I wish to God Rusty would get out of the booth. Not because he’s grating, but because if Steve Wallace had a little bit of guidance from his dad, I seriously think it would work wonders for him on raceday.
Tommy: Mike Wallace seems to fit well in that series.
Matt T.: Mike finally has some equipment.
Amy: If only he can keep Loren out of the cars.
Matt T.: “I never said I wouldn’t go fishing with the man…”
Vito: “I’m 100 miles away son. Ready to strike.” I’ve actually tried working that into normal conversations at work. Bliss I don’t see being much of a threat, mainly because the team he drives for seems doomed to failure year in and year out. For whatever reason, they’re cursed.
Kurt: Keselowski may be up there. He’s running well and he’s got good stuff. I’m pulling for Kertus Davis too, just ’cause he’s got a cool name.
Bryan: Keselowski will win multiple times before the season is out.
Vito: Brad is driving psuedo-Hendrick cars.
Matt T.: That said Vito, Brad is making more out of this opportunity than Mears is on the Cup level.
Tony: That’s what I was thinking too, Matt. There could be some room at the inn next year, depending on whether or not Casey can turn it around.
Tommy: Kesolowski seems to have some ability. Hope he drops that attitude over the Martin deal, though.
Vito: No kidding. He needs to remember he’s Keselowski and he was up front because he had more gas than anyone else.
Mike: I’m really looking forward to watching where Joey Logano ends up by the end of the season. And I bet he wins a race before the year is over, too.
Kurt: What happened to Stephen Leicht?
Bryan: Leicht to Finch… here’s hoping.
Amy: I want Kenny Wallace there.
Mike: He got dropped when Yates quit running Nationwide.
Bryan: Leicht belongs in a ride full-time.

Nationwide predictions for Nashville?

Mike: Edwards on concrete. It’s a given.
Bryan: Edwards.
Kurt: Edwards.
Tony: David Reutimann.
Matt T.: Hamilton Jr. wins one for the home folks!
Vito: I’ll go with Edwards. Safe bet, since I am not sure who all is running this weekend.
Amy: I’ll go with Hamilton Jr. too.
Tommy: Shoot. Hate to jump on the wagon, but I have to say Edwards as well.
Matt T.: If I weren’t a homer, I’d go with Bowyer.

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