NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: California Snoozin’ While Jimmie Johnson’s Cruisin’

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:
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice Of Vito)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/ Happy Hour)

Once again, Auto Club Speedway produced a less-than-stellar race for the sparsely-attended Pepsi 500. What makes the track race so different than its multi-groove twin, Michigan International Speedway and was this week’s race simply the product of the CoT and one team stinking up the proverbial show?

Vito: Well, it’s a stones throw from the largest metropolitan area in North America, and still nobody shows up.
Kurt: I don’t actually think it was a bad race. I like when one guy dominates. Jimmie Johnson darn near threw a shutout last night.
Vito: 70,000 people. That’s it. More people go to Wrestlemania.
Kurt: But I was noticing that it was difficult to pass again, which I think is going to be a problem with this car forever.
Vito: MIS is in Detroit’s backyard so there is interest, (albeit tepid) from fans and the auto industry alike. And it’s difficult to pass in Fontana because of a stupid car with tires that are not designed with said stupid car in mind.
Amy: Michigan races better, though. There are more passes.
Kurt: I can’t understand how Fontana got a Chase date. That is beyond my comprehension. That would be like giving Mexico City the second to last race of the season.
Bryan: The turns at Fontana, as wide as they are, require the field to almost get in line on exit, so even though there is a ton of track to race on, it really screws up getting competitive runs down the straights.
Vito: From an area that wants nothing at all to do with an NFL team, why does Fontana have two NASCAR dates, let alone a Chase date now? Pepsi must have sunk a lot of money into that deal.
Bryan: Of course Fontana got a Chase date… do you honestly think on-track product even entered into that conversation?
Amy: Nope. Who needs good racing when you have a “market” to pander to?
Kurt: I wouldn’t say that the racing at California is terrible, but that track is kept poorly. I don’t think it’s any worse there than at any speedway.
Amy: I’d say so Kurt – it was falling apart during the race!
Vito: No, it’s uncompetitive. And the lights fall off onto the surface.
Kurt: But trash on the track, leaking asphalt and falling signals? For crying out loud! Someone upstairs at Fontana knows she doesn’t need to maintain her track very well.

GRADY: I JUST CAN’T TAKE CALIFORNIA RACING SERIOUSLY

Vito: There was the one shot of the whole field sideways coming off turn 4. That was aired once… the rest of the time they showed how much of a lead Jimmie had. Piss-poor coverage. I guess that’s OK, because it’s not like anybody was really watching anyway.
Amy: Maybe someone WAY upstairs was trying to tell NASCAR something…
Kurt: Not to get on Jimmie’s case, though. Got to hand it to the No. 48 team: they absolutely nailed it. Check the rear windshield… sorry, Jimmie fans, couldn’t resist.
Bryan: I, for one, do not like having to tape the end of races and wait until after work the next day to find out who won. Off day the next day or not, I don’t want to be up past midnight watching a race. And there were no red flags in this one! But just because one car dominates a race doesn’t mean you can’t have a good race. Richmond put on a good show when Denny Hamlin led 381 laps this year. And ORP put on a good one when Kyle Busch led all but three laps. Fontana on the other hand…
Kurt: I agree Bryan, it keeps you on edge waiting to see if they can finish the deal.
Vito: If it were run at Darlington at night, it would be acceptable. But at that cesspool posing as a racetrack… nope. Even as someone who covers auto racing, why should I have to cash a whole weekend to watch an awful race that nobody is even attending? Because it is unwatchable?
Kurt: Falling traffic signals. That says it all. This place is like Mexico City and NASCAR gave it a friggin’ Chase date. If only it had showed the same desire to prop up Rockingham.
Bryan: Fontana’s two race dates are the two weekends of the year I regret being a Cup race fan.
Amy: ACS sucks. Like K-Mart, only worse.
Kurt: Kevin, the floor is yours.
Vito: Give Darlington back its date, California doesn’t want and/or need it. The fans will come to Darlington. They do not go to California. SoCal is a little more populated than a tiny burg in South Carolina…
Bryan: I can’t wait to hear this year’s excuse for poor attendance. What did they hide under the bleachers this time to keep people out of their seats?
Amy: They were evacuating in case Gustav took an unexpected turn.
Kurt: Falling. Traffic. Signals. Wow.
Bryan: You know, ACS might just try to blame Gustav for the falling traffic lights.

Johnson absolutely dominated Sunday’s Pepsi 500. Was this the boost the No. 48 team needed to make it a Chase favorite or is it too little, too late for the defending champ to make a run at the three-peat?

Kurt: It’s fair to say the No. 48 team’s California performance was a statement, but Jimmie won’t dominate like that every week.
Bryan: Johnson and crew hooked themselves up on a true intermediate track and with Homestead, Lowe’s, Texas, Atlanta and Kansas on the Chase slate, they definitely made a big statement on Sunday.
Vito: Nah, they’re just getting started. The same thing they did last year. They took it easy during the summer, and turned it up when it was time.
Amy: I think they can make a run, but I really am not sold on the No. 48 having the CoT dialed in the way the Nos. 18 and 99 do. But that team does come alive in the Chase…
Kurt: He will be right in it, though, I’ve always said that. And the Nos. 18 and 99 might wreck each other out of the Chase.
Vito: This was the same car they used to dominate at Indy, and I suspect it will return to do the same at Lowe’s, Texas, Atlanta and Homestead.
Bryan: The No. 48 put together an effort that rivaled what the Nos. 18 and 99 have been doing, and Team Lowe’s has more Chase experience than either of those guys. This has definitely become a three-driver race.
Kurt: They didn’t really take it easy last summer Vito; they did reel off two more wins in the last two regular season races.
Kurt: How was the No. 24 so weak yesterday in comparison?
Vito: Compared to what they did during the Chase, they were taking it easy last summer.
Kurt: Maybe, but I wouldn’t say they were coasting. Jimmie had a couple of DNFs if I remember correctly.
Amy: If the No. 48 wins Richmond, it will be looking to make the mother of all Chase runs.
Vito: Nah. They will not win Richmond. No need to go out there and make a mess of things. When the Chase starts at New Hampshire though, look out. As I have said all year long, the No. 48 is the team to beat.
Amy: I think that if anyone can come from behind it’s the No. 48. I have never seen a team overcome adversity the way they do…and they do it all the time. I think they can go for it at Richmond – the top five are locked in and have nothing to lose by going for a trophy.
Kurt: I still say that Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are the guys you’ve got to beat. The No. 48 was awesome yesterday, but it was only one race.
Kurt: They should take the week off and test somewhere.
Amy: I agree with Kurt there… I want to see a couple more solid wins by the No. 48 before I’m sold.
Vito: I’m pretty sure you will see three or four wins by the No. 48 come the final 10 races, Amy.
Bryan: It’s the perpetual “we’re the underdog” role that all Johnson fans try to play, Vito.
Kurt: I would like to see the No. 24 team turn it on and clean up the last 10… the Chase owes Gordon one.
Amy: The Chase owes Jeff Gordon two!
Kurt: I think all the teams that are locked in should take Richmond off. NASCAR would have a conniption.
Amy: If anyone can come from counted out to counting the money, it’s the No. 48. They have a steep hill to climb, but if anyone can get it done, it’s those guys.
Kurt: Final thoughts: the No. 48 team can definitely get it done in the last 10 but the Nos. 18 and 99 are both tough.
Bryan: I think Johnson and crew served notice on Sunday. They finally did what the Nos. 18 and 99 have been – dominant – plus their experience in the Chase makes them a legit contender.
Vito : The No. 48 is the team to beat. Once the Chase starts, they will be trailing by less than 100 points and that’s not a bad position to be in. These guys have won two straight titles for a reason.
Kurt : I don’t think there has been any doubt since the middle of the year when they started picking it up. But again, California was only one race. It’s very hard to consistently nail it like that.
Amy: I do think the Nos. 18 and 99 need to adjust their mirrors because the No. 48 is coming… what remains to be seen is if they can make a clean pass.

With one race to go until the Chase field is set, only five teams are locked into championship contention. Is anyone in the final seven spots safe and which outsider is most likely to be a surprise spoiler?

Kurt: Is David Ragan in it yet?
Amy: I think seventh and eighth are safe. The rest… one bad mistake early and they could be watching the Chase from the outside.
Bryan: Ragan lost a golden opportunity this weekend with Clint Bowyer scoring a top 10. Now he’s gonna have to top Bowyer at Bowyer’s best track.
Kurt: I think the RCR guys are good. They usually run well at Richmond.
Amy: Richmond is a track where it’s easy to get caught in someone else’s deal.
Kurt: Matt Kenseth and Gordon would have to DNF out of it to miss the Chase.
Amy: All it could take is a Robby Gordon moment and someone’s Chase hopes evaporate.
Kurt: Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s probably breathing a sigh of relief that he doesn’t have to pull a Pickett’s Charge again.
Vito: Ragan might make it, but with Bowyer and Hamlin’s record at Richmond, it is likely to be heartbreak for the young man.
Kurt: Hamlin has been prone to bad luck this year, but I think he makes it. Unless his crew sabotages him.
Bryan: The only two guys currently in that I see vulnerable are Bowyer and Hamlin. Ragan was top five in this race one year ago, so Bowyer has to run near the front and Hamlin’s car needs to hold together.
Amy: Ragan will have nothing to be ashamed of if he misses. His dart grew some nice feathers this year.
Vito: Ragan lost his Chase chance at Watkins Glen. Kahne… hard to believe that he’s probably not going to make it until you realize that he’s Kahne, and he’s been on a roller coaster since he came into Cup in 2004. “Checkers or wreckers” fits him perfectly.
Kurt: Ragan has been gradually getting better. I think he makes it next year.
Bryan: Dodge has got to be sick.
Kurt: Kahne is always a possible wild card. He could win or hit the wall.
Bryan: GEM equipment is just so hit or miss, too. They’ll dominate a race and the next week be completely out to lunch.
Amy: Yeah, for GEM the equipment is a bigger factor than for some teams.
Kurt: I think that’s the new car, Bryan. The setup is very unforgiving with almost every team. Look at Busch, he was lucky to make the top 10 last night.
Bryan: Kurt, that’s been true of the No. 9 car since they started, though. Look at 2006 for Kahne: he dominates Michigan and wins, then the next intermediate race at Chicago he finishes a distant 23rd. That team has never been consistent. Period.
Kurt: Oh yeah, I’m not denying the inconsistency at GEM, but I think a lot of teams can be just right one week and horrible the next.
Amy: I also think that while he has a very outside shot, should Bowyer and Ragan get caught in something early, Brian Vickers could be a darkhorse.
Kurt: I hadn’t thought of that. That would be a real lift for Red Bull.
Vito: Eh, I think Vickers is all but out of it.
Bryan: Vickers and Red Bull still don’t have good enough short-track packages to put together the kind of run they’d need to do that.
Amy: It would take some real bad luck for some guys, but I’m not willing to write them off entirely. They’ve surprised me too many times this year.
Kurt: Richmond shouldn’t be the last race before the Chase. It should be an intermediate without plates.
Bryan: No way Kurt… what a boring way to end the Race to the Chase.
Amy: Richmond should be in the Chase. Make Atlanta the last one or something.
Kurt: I think that the chances of being taken out in someone else’s wreck should be minimized. It’s not that bad at Richmond, but it’s there.
Amy: I also think that Gordon could be in trouble.
Bryan: Ragan is the only guy not currently in that I see having a shot, but trying to overtake Hamlin or Bowyer at Richmond is going to be a tall order.

Two of the top-three drivers in Nationwide Series points are also poised to run for a Cup championship. Fairness aside, how big of a distraction (or advantage) is running both series and what impact does it have on a driver trying to concentrate on a Cup title?

Kurt: I doubt it has any impact whatsoever. These guys won’t have a problem.
Vito: As long as they aren’t bouncing around from track to track, taking helicopters and planes to run the junior series, I don’t see it as a distraction. If anything, it keeps them sharp, focused, and with much less time to having to deal with the media asking if they are distracted by running the other car…
Kurt: The fatigue they may experience is offset by what they learn sometimes.
Amy: I think it’s a bigger deal for Bowyer than Edwards. Bowyer is running for a fairly close title in one series and struggling to make the Chase in another.
Bryan: But in Bowyer’s defense, both of his teams are turning around, Amy. The No. 07 had a great run at Bristol and got a top 10 out of Fontana. His No. 2 car nearly won Bristol and was top 10 at Fontana as well. The one weekend that I’d look at it being a problem is when they’ll have to leave Martinsville to go to Memphis.
Kurt: I wonder if Mark Martin is going to try that next year.
Vito: I think personally it’s a waste of time to be running the Nationwide Series for these guys. Except for the money, what’s the point? You risk getting hurt like Tony Stewart did in 2006 or like Dario Franchitti did this year at Talladega. Besides, is anyone even watching the Nationwide Series anymore?
Kurt: The what series?
Amy: I still think about Stewart a couple years ago when he had the Busch Series wreck at Charlotte that took him out of the Chase, plain and simple.
Kurt: I think in the heat of battle, the adrenaline keeps you going. It’s probably good for Bowyer to get his mind off making the Chase. That’s a lot of pressure.
Amy: I think mentally it’s not a bad thing, unless they let one series distract them to the point of making mistakes.
Kurt: Still, when Kyle was told he was racing too much, he cut back his schedule a bit and immediately started winning again, so who knows. Maybe these guys do get tired.
Bryan: The injury point is a good one, and honestly, if I’m a car owner or team member, the last thing I want to see is my star Cup driver running to get into the second-tier car.
Vito: Bowyer is floundering in both series… maybe he needs to go get a race setup at his go-kart track.
Bryan: That scene at Bristol where the Cup drivers lost practice time to be at the Nationwide drivers’ meeting would have killed me if I were a crew member for one of them.
Amy: I’d have killed them if I was a crew member for them – pick a series and run for the championship.
Kurt: I would at least make sure that if the choice is Cup or Nationwide, that the priority is clear.
Kurt: If you own the lesser series car, you usually want your big name driver in it – or at least your sponsor does.
Bryan: In a perfect world, NASCAR would do what a lot of short tracks do and limit guys to running in one division a night. Or one a weekend.
Kurt: Go Bobby Hamilton Jr.!
Bryan: Hamilton Jr. is the man… awesome! I got to say that in Mirror Driving.

Predictions for Richmond?

Kurt : The No. 18 again.
Amy: I say Junior gets even and takes this one.
Vito : I’m going to go with Martin.
Kurt : Go with it, Vito!
Amy: Where, Vito?
Vito : To the bank. Bank on it. That’s right, Google that… look it up.
Bryan: Busch is going to win and not need a bump-and-run to do it.

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Bryan Davis Keith

Kahne is basically out due to 2 calls made by Nascar- Sonoma he is leaving the pits and is stopped at the end of pit row by nascar when they called a caution trapping him 1 lap down. Next Arimola spins him and Nascar didn’t call a caution again trapping him one lap down and another 30th place finish. Same spin as Arimola had and they called a caution for him.

The Michagan and Bristol events are racing bad luck deals.

Bryan Davis Keith

I have two things to say in defense of California:

One, Kyle Busch dominates ORP and Hamlin dominates Richmond, and those are good races, but Johnson dominates California and that sucks? I really think you’re so closed-minded and anti-California there could be a 3-way battle from turn 4 to the finish line and you’d still say the race sucked.

Second, Darlington holds 66,000 seats and that’s a sell out, but California has 70,000 people and that’s sparsely populated? Again, closed minded.

I cant defend the falling caution light. That’s as boneheaded as having loose lug nuts to start the race. Somebody forgot to check something.

Bryan Davis Keith

When NASCAR promoted the CoT they said the car would even the field and make it more competetive for the smaller teams. Anyone notice the Chase is dominated by four big teams – Hendrick, Gibbs, RCR, and Roush. A topic for your roundtable next week perhaps?

Bryan Davis Keith

Hey Kevin in SoCal,
All your points are good ones. I’m from VA and attended the California race in Feb. of 2007. I froze my ass off and it was a terrible race.

I have been a fan of NASCAR since the mid 60’s. I’ve been to races at Daytona, Charlotte, North Wilksboro, Rockingham, Martinsville, Richmond, Talladega, Atlanta, Darlington, Dover, Bristol, Texas, and Homestead.

I have seen bad races at all those tracks. BUT, I have seen GREAT races at all those track also! I’ve been at all those tracks when I didn’t see an empty seat, and when I saw many empty seats.

Once Californis has ONE great race I think you will see the critics calm down. As of now though, there have only been bad boring races at the Auto Club Speedway..

Sorry Man….

Oh! BTW, Be gald that Brian and family own the track!! You have nothing to worry about.. :o)

Bryan Davis Keith

Look Kevin you need to open your eyes – BOTH races in CA were awful. I know its your home track and you want to keep your 2 races (one you didn’t go to for sure) but the racing isn’t racing its watching cars go around in a circle. The first one being a leaky weepy seepy deal and the 2nd an outright bore. Your constant whining because no one sings songs of praises about your track is getting real real old.

Seems like every day you whine about how they are picking on the CA track. Get over it. If it produced exciting races or even good races I could see defending it. But it doesn’t.

I would be the first to admit Chicago our closest track the races are also boring. But it is our closest track so we go. But good racing it is not. We haven’t decided if we’ll go back in 09 or not. To get tickets you have to buy season tickets and we don’t go to the ARCA and IRL races so we waste to much money.

Sad to say one good thing about the caution light problem was that at least we had some restarts for some side by side racing for a short time. That was about the most excitement all night. Those cautions lights could have easily killed a driver if they would have fallen at the wrong time. Wonder if somebody lost their job over that careless job.

Way to go poor maintenance leaky-seepy- empty seaty CA track lets give you 3 races a year.

Bryan Davis Keith

I’m fine with California having one race a year. We did just fine, sold out, and there wasnt any complaining. This all started when NASCAR was stupid enough to give us the Labor Day date.

Connie, why is it I’m whining, but the people complaining about California and Darlington and Rockingham are not whining? I’m tired of hearing how much California sucks just as much as you all are tired of not going to Darlington on Labor Day. Yes, we get your point, but the only way you’ll get your message across is to send it to NASCAR in Daytona Beach, not on this website. I dont mind bitching about the Labor Day date, (I completely agree with it) but the constant crap about how much California sucks, and it shouldnt even have one race is way overboard and unnecessary. Every track deserves at least one date, so we can spread NASCAR across the whole United States for everyone to enjoy. Its no longer a Southern sport, and the sooner you realize that, the lower your blood pressure will go.

No, I didnt go to either race at California this year. In fact, the last race I went to was April 2003, and at Phoenix in Nov 2002 before that. I wish I had the money to spend $250+ for myself and a friend to go (my wife wont go), but I dont. I live in California, all my money goes to pay my mortgage! LOL

For all the people who said they wouldnt watch this race, there sure are a lot of comments all week and discussion about the race.

Jeff, thank you for being rational. Sometimes we get some great discussions on these boards, and other times its just a whine and cheese festival.

Bryan Davis Keith

Cali vs. Darlington is just another example of decisions coming straight from the sandbox….

Why?

Because you have a boy trying to fill a man’s shoes. It isn’t working and never will, because you can’t pour brains in an empty, coked-up, liquored-up head.

Rockingham should still be on the schedule no matter how many folks showed up.

As long as the Rock did their due diligence to keep the facility in good order, then they should have kept one race, or even alternate years.

It isn’t like ISC or Nascar is going to be hurting in the wallet in the next 1000 years…

Bryan Davis Keith

Ah, Kevin, you’re missing our point. It’s not about the racing being in the South or on the East Coast. Labor Day should be spent in Darlington because of tradition-the Southern 500 was once the oldest race in our sport before NASCAR forgot its traditions.

I don’t complain that Rockingham doesn’t have a date because it’s in North Carolina-I complain because Rockingham had great racing every year and the tracks that replaced it don’t.

I also don’t think Auto Club Speedway sucks because it’s in California. It would suck anywhere. I would not complain about racing twice a year in California if the races were at a track like Rockingham, Richmond, Iowa, or Darlington. It is NOT about the location of the track, it’s about the track. NO track deserves a race date if it can’t produce good racing. ACS does not produce good racing.

Finally, the ORP and Richmond races were not good from the point of view that Busch and Hamlin dominated. BUT, the difference between them and the latest parade at ACS was that there WAS passing behind those lead cars. There was very little passing anywhere on Sunday.

You don’t seem to care much about the rich history and tradition that built today’s NASCAR. That’s a shame, because there was some great racing mixed in with that tradition-and both are all but gone now.

Bryan Davis Keith

I’m still waiting for Vito to explain why 66,000 at Darlington or Rockinham is a sell out, but 70,000 at California is sparsely attended. Also, L.A. would love to have another NFL team, but the NFL wont expand the teams again to give us one, and no teams are fed up with their current home enough to want to move here. As I said in another column, the Rams left because they were getting second fiddle to the Angels and wanted their own place. The Raiders left because the city wouldnt upgrade the stadium they play in. We still have huge NFL fans, of all 32 teams, here in SoCal.

Also another point I forgot to bring up, is what’s the point of comparing Wrestlemania to California? That’s not a fair comparison. Wrestlemania is the biggest event for the WWE, and yes, California is far from it. Wrestlemania would best be compared to the Daytona 500. And you can stop whining about California having Darlington’s date now. Atlanta has Darlington’s date next year.

Amy, you have me there on history. I’ve only been watching since late 2002. But do you have any data to back up your claim that there was no passing at either California race this weekend? I’d be interested to see the “quality green flag passes” statistic. Or are you just going by the lackluster race coverage brought to us by ESPN?

Bryan Davis Keith

Everyone has been a new fan at one time, but to truly be a fan, you gotta understand and respect the history of the sport. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand the wide ranging affects of dim witted decisions made by the sports owners. Givin the current record of King Brian, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Daytona 500 going to ACS or some other “market”.
Lack of history = lack of hardcore fans = lack of NA$CAR.
Oh yeah, I hate Al Davis too.

Bryan Davis Keith

Connie, do you plan on not using your ARCA/IRL tickets this year either? I’d be more than happy to go in your place and I’m very close by!

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