NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Bristol Bust? Are Owners Impatient? & Was Patience Needed For Joey Logano?

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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

The Sharpie 500 featured by far the fewest number of leaders (three) since the introduction of the CoT. Passing for the lead can be difficult with the new car on bigger tracks, but was that the case at Bristol… or was it just that uncompetitive at the front?

Amy: I think… it was just that uncompetitive. It was good at the back… but at the front, it was the worst Bristol race I’ve ever seen.
Tony: Busch had them pretty much covered up front, coupled with the fact that it seemed like the top was the better groove – making it harder to pass.
Bryan: I saw plenty of passing on the track… just not for the lead. It was very similar to the Nationwide race at ORP, where from positions three on back, it was a good show. And let’s face it… Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were both hooked up on Saturday night.
Tony: Agreed. I think it was just a stinker up front. Those two also seemed to get through traffic well (outside of Juan Pablo Montoya). You usually see the front five or six bottle up when they hit lapped traffic, but it didn’t seem to happen that much Saturday night.
Bryan: Good point, Tony… it was definitely possible to get up through the field all night long.
Tony: I think a lot of that had to do with that outside groove opening up better than before. You can almost zip around everyone now instead of wait until they made a mistake – or the leader decides to use the chrome bumper.
Amy: Anyway… I really don’t get what’s up with the CoT. Several teams seemed to be OK with it last year… now, suddenly, only two guys can drive the thing?
Bryan: So true, Amy… just look at how far Penske Racing has fallen behind. They were on the cutting edge of it last season.
Tony: Meanwhile, Roush and to some extent Joe Gibbs Racing got whipped by Hendrick in the CoT last year – and they came back with a vengeance. It just goes to show that when you’re on top, it’s easy to get a little complacent. But when you are fighting to get there, that can be dangerous… there’s no telling what you can accomplish.
Bryan: You kind of get the impression that type of thing is what happened to RCR in the middle of the season… and they’re only just now starting to turn the corner again.
Amy: I have to say, I still think it’s a tad odd that JGR finds the need to cover their front ends when one of their cars crash. It makes me wonder what they’re hiding, and who they’re hiding it from.
Tony: A lot of times, when a team gets on a roll, you find out later that they found something that the other teams haven’t. Not necessarily something illegal… but something a little different. And remember, sports sometimes is all about playing mind games and getting into your competitors’ heads.
Amy: If it’s legal, then why tarp it? The other teams are worried about their cars on the track – not spying in the garage.
Tony: I don’t know about no spying in the garage. There are so many people allowed down there that you don’t know what is associated with who outside of the teams. It’s like if people were allowed in a football locker room. Maybe they are just innocent fans; but if I’m a coach, I’m keeping my playbooks locked.
Amy: The garage area behind the wall is virtually deserted during races, though.
Bryan: And after a crash, it’s hard to really take stock of what is and isn’t visible on the car.
Tony: Anyways, I think Bristol was a case of having two teams that are just far and above better than the rest.
Bryan: The new Bristol is still Bristol… Busch and Edwards owned the front, sure, but there was plenty of passing, plenty of action and a good short-track race.
Tony: Not many wrecks though… it’s a different Bristol.
Bryan: I for one was happy to see fewer wrecks.
Amy: How much of that is points racing, though. You have 10 guys – a fourth of the field – who were not going to race hard to protect their points position… I think that plays a role in the race. The Nos. 18 and 99 were locked in… but the rest aren’t yet. So, they play it safe and boring.
Tony: Although the bonus point concept did pay off… it made Edwards aggressive!
Bryan: And Amy, Kasey Kahne‘s wreck proved that theory doesn’t work at Bristol whether you’re trying it or not.

Joey Logano will make his Cup Series debut at Richmond – and it was announced Monday he’ll run the division full-time in 2009. Talent aside, is an 18-year-old really ready for the pressures of driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 at racing’s top level?

Tony: I think Logano’s an extraordinary talent, but I am a little worried with this one.
Bryan: Me too, Tony… this weekend at Bristol, I think, proved just how raw his talent still is. And let’s not forget that the No. 20 Cup car won’t be nearly as dominant as the Nationwide car he’s driving.
Amy: You know, Casey Atwood was an extraordinary talent, too. Everyone wanted him… I read somewhere Hendrick very nearly put him in the upstart No. 48 years ago. He’s a reason I thought making the minimum age 21 was the best idea NASCAR had all year… and naturally, they didn’t do it.
Tony: Exactly Amy, just what I was going to say. Even though I think Logano is more talented… the same concept applies.
Amy: And how responsible is an 18-year-old kid off the track? It’s not like he has a great mentor at JGR to teach him how to act. I just am not sold on someone that young being ready for such a pressure cooker.
Tony: I have to wonder how much pressure sponsors put on Gibbs to bring Logano up.
Bryan: And pressures of the Cup garage aside, just look at Logano’s on track record… he’s still learning track presence with 43 cars on track, still learning how to adjust one of these cars. Wasn’t Home Depot the same sponsor hesitant to sign Logano just because he’s not exactly conducive to marketing home improvement? I mean, if Gamestop was going to sponsor him I’d understand, but Home Depot going from Tony Stewart to Logano… that was JGR pressuring Home Depot, not the other way around.
Amy: Good point, Bryan… does he even own a home?
Tony: Maybe Home Depot can provide the lumber for his playground. Seriously, it was kind of like that CARQUEST commercial that had Busch saying, “I’ve been coming here for years.” What? A year and a half?
Bryan: It bothers me that Logano is being rushed like he has to get there now… it’s not going to hurt him to run a full Nationwide schedule, rack up some wins and possibly a title, and learn everything he should know before going full-time in Cup.

PUGLIESE: LOGANO RACING’S NEXT BIG THING AND WORST-KEPT SECRET

Amy: The kid races hard, I’ll give him that… but if he races some of these veterans too hard, they’ll eat him for lunch. Jeff Gordon totaled something like 17 cars his first year. And when you’re being raced the way Tony a lot of these guys will race him, he’s going to either give himself a bad reputation or get run over.
Tony: Agreed, Amy; I’m sure a lot of these guys will want to see just how good the “next best star” is. Owners need to keep in mind that no matter how good of a talent you have, you need to give him the best possible opportunity to succeed in order for the driver to reach full potential… and a lot of time that opportunities comes in the form of experience.
Bryan: You would really think after seeing how all the drivers this season that came in with little development time and got chewed up that owners would wake up. Attention, NASCAR owners… Scott Speed is driving in ARCA, winning and learning. Development works.
Tony: That needs to be posted on every hauler.
Bryan: Let’s look at the two dominant guys in Cup today… Busch ran a full Nationwide schedule before he went to Cup, and Edwards had multiple years in the trucks. Why not put Logano on that track? JGR is making a huge mistake here. They’ve got a premier Nationwide program… kick the purse-snatching Cup guys out, give Logano a full-time ride and enjoy plenty of wins and a probable title. Meanwhile, land someone good to keep the No. 20 warm until Logano is ready… it’s not like people wouldn’t line up for that ride.
Amy: I think that there is a maturity that you gain as a person that carries over to you as a competitor… and I’ve never met an 18-year-old in any sport who possesses that.

Many teams recently have made what appear to be lateral moves – releasing one driver in favor of another with seemingly the same ability level. Do moves like this really help, and at what point to they have potential to hurt a team instead?

Amy: I think a team’s first instinct when things aren’ t working is to try someone new; but sometimes, maybe the driver isn’t the issue. I like what a few teams have done – put a veteran in for a few races to see where the real problem is.
Bryan: A lateral move is almost never a good one for the fact that you need consistency in feedback. When you switch drivers, you’ve got to give a team time to adjust – meaning you lose time actually solving the car’s problems.
Tony: But sometimes, different drivers with different styles just click better; that’s not necessarily a talent thing.
Amy: Look at AJ Allmendinger, though – that worked wonders for his team. They realized the driver wasn’t the problem and now they’re making every race – and if it weren’t for a little bad luck, they would be in the Top 35.
Tony: I think that can be true on a case-by-case basis, Amy. For an example that could go the other way, look at Michael McDowell; he was just learning to connect with his crew, and that move is now definitely slowing down the developmental process.
Amy: Well, there are some examples where I can see that side. The latest scuttlebutt has Reed Sorenson in the No. 10… is he really better than Patrick Carpentier? They have the same number of wins, and Sorenson’s been in the Cup Series three years.
Bryan: Look at Hall of Fame Racing, too… JJ Yeley sucked this year, granted, but doing driver by committee now like they are is not going to make their cars go any faster. Whoever gets the car for ‘09 is going to be way behind the 8-ball.
Tony: I’m shocked that GEM wants to replace Carpentier. He has done more with less than any of the rookies and some of the vets this year.
Bryan: I think Carpentier losing a Cup ride may well be the best thing for him… he’s definitely shown potential, so here’s hoping another team picks him up and actually develops him.
Amy: Carpentier has come so far in a short time, while Sorenson hasn’t really developed much as a driver in four years.
Bryan: If Sorenson takes over the No. 10, his career will be over in two years… that team is a trap. But while Sorenson hasn’t developed, it’s hard for me to buy that it’s all him… CGR is so far behind the curve right now.
Tony: I think CGR hurt from the lack of a consistent veteran presence on that team.
Bryan: Sorenson as the team’s veteran driver is a huge red flag.
Tony: A red flag with a Target on it, in fact.
Amy: As for Hall of Fame Racing, I don’t know why in the world they replaced Tony Raines.
Tony: And that is the question of the season, Amy. They were trying to get to the next level – just making races wasn’t good enough understandably – but they definitely made a huge error in their choice of replacement.
Amy: Tony, maybe the driver was never the problem… that’s my point. Maybe the No. 96 should have looked at engine builders or crew chief or someone else. It’s too fashionable to blame the driver, when sometimes it’s not him at all.
Bryan: Even if it is the driver, it makes no sense to release him and lose all consistency if you don’t have a replacement lined up that’s an improvement.
Tony: The team did have a crew chief change… but I see what you’re saying. I think the driver will always be the biggest component and takes most of the blame, though; just like a QB takes most of the heat for poor performing football teams.
Amy: Yeah, and there are examples of these lateral driver moves all over the place. Jamie McMurray went to Roush, Casey Mears went to Hendrick… and neither has done any better. But here’s a kudos that goes with this question – way to go Brad Keselowski for turning down a Cup ride to stay in a quality Nationwide ride another year!
Tony: Absolutely! And you can tell where the influence came from. His owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. did the same thing – hung around an extra year.
Amy: The bottom line is that I just think some owners are too trigger happy -they don’t give teams time to learn each other and to communicate. Then, they dump a guy and wonder why they don’t do better – it’s because they’re starting from scratch again!
Bryan: Spending a year struggling but getting consistent feedback is more constructive than doing driver by committee until a marketable candidate comes along.
Tony: The most successful drivers have had consistency in their careers… Stewart/Zippy, Johnson/Knaus, and the old Kenseth/Reiser relationship. With that in mind, these teams who are replacing drivers on a whim are behind in developing a championship effort already.

Although the Craftsman Truck Series is labeled a development series, the drivers in championship contention are all longtime NASCAR veterans. Does the series need the boost of an influx of young guns, or is there a good mix despite the points standings?

Bryan: I definitely don’t think there’s a problem right now. Erik Darnell‘s been a contender this season, Chad McCumbee‘s a threat on intermediates and Donny Lia‘s an entertaining short tracker.
Amy: I love it the way it is… however, I’d like to see some young guys with solid teams coming in as the older guys retire.
Tony: Right, Amy. I think there is a good mix, although it would be nice to see a few more “Scott Speeds” come through the ranks to give the series even more flavor.
Amy: I think the series lends itself very well to the mix it has – the old-school veterans giving the young’uns a schooling in racing, while occasionally getting beat at their own game. I think it’s the mix that makes me enjoy the series so much.
Tony: Definitely… not to mention it gives fans one last chance to see some of their favorites before fading into the sunset.
Bryan: It’s a place for the non-marketable Cup guys to run well, race hard, and show they’ve still got it.
Tony: Exactly. Although it would be nice to see some drivers actually start there, go to Nationwide, and then to Cup.
Bryan: It worked wonders for Denny Hamlin, even on a limited basis… again, makes you wonder why JGR’s ignoring precedent with Logano.
Tony: If you think about it, almost from the first time these guys strap into a car, they are thinking about getting to the next level. So, there’s always that pressure to bring your A-game. Not that they don’t do so in the trucks, but you could probably call it “A-Lite.”
Bryan: The fact that there are so few Cup drivers racing in trucks makes it more appealing to me than seeing them “be themselves.”
Amy: I don’t feel having the full-time vets in trucks takes away from the series like the Cup guys does in Nationwide, though. They aren’t running for two championships, so it’s totally different.
Bryan: I agree with you entirely… drivers like Ron Hornaday in trucks are comparable to Jason Keller in the Nationwide Series.
Amy: Yeah – not in it to take from the kids, but to make it a career.
Tony: I feel like that absolutely ruined the Cup drivers’ presence in the Nationwide Series, when they got the bright idea to go for a championship. What I’m actually surprised about is that more teams don’t pair up their developmental drivers with their ageless wonder drivers in the Truck Series instead – what a great learning experience that would be!
Amy: Trucks is great with the mix – but they do need to have some kids winning as the vets think about retiring.
Bryan: Again, see Speed and the young guys are already showing in the trucks, Amy… Justin Marks and Chrissy Wallace with Germain, Colin Braun with Roush, Michael Annett with BDR… they’re coming.

Predictions for California?

Amy: It will be more boring than any race we’ve seen all summer. Oh, and Jimmie Johnson will win the home game.
Bryan: Edwards is absolutely red hot right now… and he’ll keep it up at Fontana. The entire east coast will just read about it, though, because they’ll be asleep by lap 50.
Tony: I think Roush continues to roll; but this time David Ragan surprises all and boosts himself into the Chase. We all thought his biggest challenge would be to just survive Bristol; but he passed that test with flying colors, so he’s definitely a threat.
Bryan: Way to give Ragan props, Tony.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

All season long, Bryan Davis Keith has been our most reliable Frontstretch predictor, but he fell short at Bristol – his pick Kenseth finished ninth. In fact, Vito Pugliese was the only one who selected winner Edwards; but luckily for Keith, he’s not a threat for the season title, over 1,000 points behind with 12 weeks left to go. In all, seven Frontstretch writers collected just one top five finish with their picks, a symptom of that half-mile’s unpredictable short track luck.

In the overall standings, Keith is still battling Amy Henderson and Tony Lumbis for the top spot, both of whom either held serve or lost ground with picks Kenseth and Kurt Busch. Can they turn it around this weekend at California? Time will tell.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Bryan Davis Keith 3449 -0 22 4 13 19
Tony Lumbis 3391 -58 25 4 9 16
Amy Henderson 3221 -228 25 1 7 12
Mike Neff 2418 -1031 19 1 6 9
Vito Pugliese 2402 -1047 19 1 7 9
Matt Taliaferro 1802 -1647 14 0 4 7
Tom Bowles 1633 -1816 14 0 3 6
Kurt Smith 1439 -2010 13 0 4 6
Tommy Thompson 710 -2739 6 0 2 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -3108 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -3259 1 1 1 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -3355 1 0 0 0
Kim DeHaven 0 -3449 0 0 0 0

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