NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Is Gas Mileage Great? The Drug Testing Debate & Mexico’s Upcoming Fate

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:
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Saturday’s race came down to a fuel mileage gamble, with a crew chief begging his driver to slow down for the win. Is fuel mileage racing good for the sport – or should NASCAR be looking for the invisible debris instead?

Amy: It doesn’t hurt the sport in the least. In fact, I thought the last 10 laps were really exciting.
Kurt: I hate when races turn into fuel-mileage runs. I wish it didn’t happen, but it’s part of the game, and Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team played it brilliantly.
Mike: Invisible debris is crap in my view. Fuel mileage is a great strategy call; and no one thought that anyone was going to be close to making it to the finish. The No. 48 did a great job of stretching it and making it work. There are usually two or three races per year that are fuel-mileage races like that; and it is always enjoyable seeing if that will work out when it happens.
Amy: I’ve never understood why people think fuel-mileage races are boring. I couldn’t sit still Saturday night.
Kurt: The thing I don’t like about it is that sometimes you get races where the 16th-place car wins because it pitted out of sequence or whatever, and the best cars finish 18th or 19th. This wasn’t really one of those races where a few drivers pitted off sequence and the 20th-place driver wins the thing, though. Just about everyone thought that they needed to come in.
Amy: It’s all part of the game, Kurt. More power to you if you can outsmart the competition.
Kurt: Remember in 2003 when Ryan Newman won something like three races on fuel mileage?
Mike: Yeah; but since they went back to tires that actually wear out, Newman hasn’t won crap apart from the Daytona 500.
Amy: It was kind of weird to hear Chad Knaus telling Johnson to slow down. That had to be killing him to let all those cars by, even if they were lapped cars.

GRADY: STRIVING FOR MEDIOCRITY THE ROAD TO VICTORY LANE

Mike: Oh, that’s not the first time, Amy. I remember one of Dodge’s first wins when they came back was a fuel-mileage deal at Michigan; they were begging Sterling Marlin, I believe, to draft off of anything and slow it down because he had the lead. So, it happens sometimes. I also feel like we should give Chad Knaus credit, though, for not only slowing Jimmie down but turning the season around. It’s impressive what the No. 48 has done, after being off to a start like they were, to finally get back towards the top of the point standings and take that gamble. If Johnson’d run out going into one with two to go, he’d have finished in the 20s.
Amy: That team has an amazing ability to overcome anything thrown at them.
Mike: Vegas notwithstanding.
Kurt: Great quote from one race: Jimmie and Chad were discussing whether they would be able to make it on fuel. Chad told Jimmie that they could probably do it, and Jimmie asked, “We’ll get a few caution laps, right?” Chad says, “We kind of had that figured in.” Did Chad lie to him? Like Cole Trickle?
Amy: He didn’t tell him it was a special matched set of tires, though. By the way, I liked Chad flat out lying to Jimmie on those last laps. He told Jimmie he had a 20-second lead when it was really about nine.
Kurt: I didn’t seriously think Jimmie believed that.
Mike: Yeah, but he wasn’t giving up five seconds a lap, so it wasn’t going to evaporate.
Amy: Jimmie had the fastest car, anyway.
Kurt: I thought Mark Martin was the man to beat, Amy, but Jimmie was good.
Amy: Jimmie’s car was better on the last run. He was coming fast. It would have been a race, for sure; the only reason Johnson wasn’t there sooner was they were off pit sequence. He had a dominant car.
Kurt: What happened to Junior at the end? He and Mark were having a great battle.
Mike: Mark was saving fuel. He was the fastest car for a long time; Junior lost the handle some at the very end, and changed two tires when they came in for fuel.
Kurt: Well anyways, fuel mileage is part of the game, and sometimes I guess it’s exciting to see who can and can’t make it. And who will gamble.
Amy: I thought it was exciting. I was as into it as I’ve been in a long time.
Kurt: I just don’t like to see the 20th-place car win, but that’s racin’. And by all means, don’t throw a phony caution to stop it!
Mike: Strategy rears its head in many fashions during a race. Fuel strategy is just one, and this wasn’t so much of a strategy as a gamble that paid off. I thought it was pretty exciting.

Since it was reported last week that Aaron Fike raced while under the influence of heroin, it has come to light that many of NASCAR’s biggest names have never once been drug tested. NASCAR remains adamant that it is the teams’ job to police its drivers and crewmen, but can teams alone be expected to make the right policy?

Amy: NASCAR’s “policy” is a joke.
Kurt: I was absolutely blown away to find out that NASCAR did not have a true drug testing policy. If any sport should have one, it’s auto racing.
Amy: How many guys has NASCAR actually caught? And NASCAR did not catch Fike. It got lucky. They got lucky on Kevin Grubb too, catching him with a beer when he wasn’t even racing, because he was on some heavy stuff.
Mike: NASCAR tests anyone when there is a reasonable suspicion. Unfortunately, that usually means someone doing something stupid at the track. They’ve caught six drivers in the last six years, Amy. NASCAR’s policy works, but it could be much more aggressive, to say the least.
Kurt: But what in the wide world of sports constitutes “reasonable suspicion?” Eating a lot of food at the meet-and-greet? Fike finished fifth on heroin, so NASCAR is not going to find it that way. At least Shane Hmiel didn’t get the Steve Howe treatment. Two offenses and he’s gone.
Mike: “Reasonable suspicion” is either a person’s actions or a complaint from someone else in the garage.
Amy: Well, I suspect NASCAR needs to be testing three drivers every day of a race weekend, minimum.
Kurt: I agree, Amy. I still can’t believe it wasn’t. I’ve had to be tested at jobs for two different reasons; because I have access to classified information and because I was operating dangerous machinery.
Amy: We can be tested at any time.
Mike: So can the drivers and crew members, Amy. NASCAR can pull anyone in for a test at any time. If you have a NASCAR license, you can be tested.
Amy: That would be fine if NASCAR actually did. The problem is, it doesn’t.
Mike: NASCAR has, several times. Just not as often as it should. The sanctioning body asked Grubb.
Amy: NASCAR got lucky asking him.

MEYER: THINK TWICE BEFORE PLAYING POKER WITH AARON FIKE

Mike: But NASCAR did ask, so you can’t say it doesn’t.
Amy: I say, pick names out of a hat like they do for qualifying and hand them a cup. And if the car gets inspected in post-race, so should the driver.
Mike: Well, I don’t know that NASCAR needs to have a schedule. I think it should be totally random. However, it is notable that there have not been major problems in the sport with drugs; whether they have been lucky or people are just that clean, I don’t know.
Kurt: There can’t be major problems found if no one is looking. I’d sooner not have someone driving a truck in front of me that was flying on crystal meth.
Amy: Should owners be testing their employees? Yes. But they shouldn’t be the only ones. No driver is going to object to being tested if he’s clean.
Kurt: Other sports have mandatory testing. It’s not individual franchises.
Mike: But there isn’t a drug problem in the sport. There have only been a handful of people.
Amy: That’s the mentality, Mike: it couldn’t possibly be happening HERE, but it CAN. And frankly, I have friends out there and I want them safe.
Kurt: Exactly. You don’t know that, Mike.
Mike: I agree that NASCAR should be testing more, but the ratio of people busted for it in NASCAR versus other sports is very small.
Amy: But that’s because other sports actually test, Mike.
Mike: No, they get caught in strip clubs and bars at 4:00 a.m. Carmelo Anthony comes to mind; and that’s where your problem rears its head. NASCAR just does not have near the problems as you see in the other sports.
Amy: How do you know, Mike? That’s the thing. Without consistent random testing, we don’t know that.
Mike: Because no one in NASCAR has been pulled in on a gun charge at 4:00 a.m. No one in NASCAR has been pulled over with coke or dope in their car, except for Fike.
Kurt: I think Fike is a warning sign. The story shouldn’t be swept under the rug and ignored; the fact that he ran a whole race on heroin would have me concerned if I were on the track with him.
Mike: Look; I completely agree that I’d like to see the sport test more because I think that would reassure the fans that the sport is clean. But I seriously doubt there is any drug problem in the sport.
Kurt: I kind of agree that there probably isn’t a big problem, but Fike’s revelation shocked me, and if I’m Brian France, I look at this as something that NASCAR has an opportunity to keep from growing into a bigger problem. If people see that drivers getting away scot-free (and Hmiel did not), it won’t send a good message. By the way, why did Fike come out and say what he did?
Mike: Fike was trying to come clean, I think. But the bottom line is this sport grew out of moonshiners, and they should remember that before they start throwing everyone under the bus for partying a little bit.
Kurt: Not when they’re on the track, Mike. And heroin isn’t “partying a little bit” either. That’s serious stuff.
Amy: It’s easier to hide something that nobody ever looks for.
Mike: I just can’t believe Fike could operate a truck on heroin.
Amy: It’s not always as obvious as you think.
Mike: Apparently not.

Now that we can finally stop talking about how Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t won a race, what other teams should be performing better in 2008, and how can they make it happen?

Amy: The Ganassi teams need to step it up in a big way. But with them… the fact that their veteran driver is 22 years old is a telling factor. Evernham needs to find something, too.
Kurt: They haven’t been a top-tier team since the Sterling days.
Amy: Ganassi’s three drivers have a combined four years of Cup level experience between them.
Kurt: I didn’t expect anything big out of Ganassi this year. Let’s start with Penske. I thought they would have improved this year. Kurt Busch has not been running very well anywhere – not even at Bristol, if memory serves me right. Newman won the pole at Phoenix but didn’t last very long.
Mike: Penske certainly isn’t running that well, even though they did win Daytona. Evernham has shown minor flashes, but they still haven’t moved back up to where they belong.
Kurt: Winning at a restrictor-plate race is no indicator of how well a team is doing.
Mike: Ganassi’s problem is that they haven’t been there since Sterling almost won the title. And now, they are putting so much effort into getting Dario Franchitti into the field, the other teams are suffering. Not to mention Reed Sorenson just doesn’t have the motivation that he needs. He has a ton of talent, but he really doesn’t give a crap if he runs up front or not.
Amy: I don’t think that’s true, Mike. Reed’s had some very weird luck, but he runs hard.
Mike: He’s a 22-year-old millionaire. He doesn’t like to test. He doesn’t put the car at risk. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when was the last time you saw him really dueling with someone?
Kurt: I thought Reed was going to be great when he came up, but he seems to get worse every year. By the way, did anyone think DEI would run as well as they have?
Amy: DEI isn’t any better than they were last year, really… they can run in the top 10, but they haven’t contended for any wins except for Phoenix.
Mike: I’m surprised the No. 8 has been the better car at DEI this year. I really thought Martin Truex Jr. would be the flagship.
Amy: Martin, Mike. He’s a better driver.
Kurt: Martin will be great whatever you put him in. Their engines are still fragile, but they haven’t done badly.
Mike: They’ve run well with Aric Almirola in the car.
Amy: Almirola has been very good. Martin’s one of the best ever.
Kurt: Back to Penske for a second… didn’t they try this whole three-team bit before with similar results? Travis Kvapil?
Amy: Brendan Gaughan, too. They ran OK; but never as good as the others.
Kurt: Yes… and I remember Gaughan complained about getting the R&D stuff. But if the No. 77 is running at the back all the time, how does that help the Nos. 2 and 12 except for discovering what setups don’t work?
Mike: It doesn’t. But theoretically, Sam Hornish Jr.‘ll get better. He’s a rookie. Just because he had open-wheel experience, he’s still a rookie.
Kurt: Penske I thought would be much better this year, but it hasn’t worked out. They just need to keep grinding it out.
Mike: Penske has not done much for a while. I think they need to revamp how they approach everything.

Besides being taxing on teams’ budgets, the Mexico City Nationwide race requires a huge amount of security and health planning. It’s a well-attended race, but how safe is it, really?

Kurt: Just don’t drink the water. I think NASCAR probably thinks things through with taking the race to Mexico; but then again, this is the same gang that brought us the Chase.
Amy: I think it’s safe enough; I just think it’s a waste of time and money. Although I don’t like that guys need security escorts everywhere, either.
Mike: It’s Mexico. Its not like they’re going to Venezuela. They take good care of the haulers getting there. They have security everywhere in the hotels. I think it is plenty safe.
Amy: NASCAR and think don’t belong in the same sentence unless there is a “doesn’t” somewhere in there.
Mike: I agree that it’s a waste of time going down there, Amy, but they are making more fans. And that is what they were all about.
Amy: Making more fans, Mike, how? How many of those fans can even get the rest of the races on TV?
Kurt: I don’t think the drivers and everyone else aren’t welcome. They’re bringing in pesos and providing work for a lot of people. And you always have some local heroes in the race. Is the weather ever a concern there? I imagine it gets super hot at the very least.
Amy: Altitude is a huge issue. A lot of guys don’t feel 100% because of that.
Mike: I don’t believe it gets as hot as Phoenix does.
Amy: I’m just failing to see the need for this race. It’s ridiculously far away, expensive, and doesn’t play to a market that’s going to tune in to every other race.
Kurt: I wonder if NASCAR plans to have a Cup race there. I think there’s a few drivers that don’t want to go.
Amy: I like the course a lot, but the logistics for the teams are nuts.
Mike: They’re not going to have a Cup race there until they expand the schedule, either. Personally, I think the race is unnecessary. But the fact that they do go, and the attendance is great, I don’t see it going away any time soon.

OK, predictions for Mexico City? No points on this one, just glory.

Kurt: Juan Pablo Montoya.
Mike: Scott Pruett.
Amy: Is Robby Gordon in the No. 22 this week? If he is, I say Robby. Ugh, make that Adrian Fernandez. Robby’s in Europe.
Kurt: Seriously… Boris Said.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

Not sure which writer’s prediction to trust? Well, check out our handy predictions chart below to see which of our writers has had the best luck looking into that crystal ball this season! At the end of the year, we’ll tally up the points and award our Mirror Driving predictions champion. We have a new point leader this week – Assistant Editor Amy Henderson takes over the top spot from idle Bryan Davis Keith.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Tony Lumbis 1239 -0 9 3 4 6
Amy Henderson 1205 -34 9 0 3 5
Bryan Davis Keith 1160 -79 7 1 5 6
Matt Taliaferro 970 -269 7 0 3 5
Mike Neff 830 -409 6 0 3 4
Vito Pugliese 798 -441 5 0 4 5
Tom Bowles 594 -644 5 0 1 2
Tommy Thompson 399 -840 3 0 2 2
Kurt Smith 362 -877 4 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -898 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -1049 1 1 1 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -1145 1 0 0 0
Kim DeHaven 0 -1239 0 0 0 0

 

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