Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Kicking Talladega Out of the Chase, How Regan Lost the Race & Do DNFs Matter?

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 (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice?)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice of Vito)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

This week’s race at Talladega ended in controversy when NASCAR disallowed Regan Smith‘s last-lap pass on Tony Stewart, saying Smith made the pass illegally while below the yellow line. So, who really won the race?

Amy: Smith absolutely won.
Tom: In reality, Smith crossed the finish line first. End of story. But I learned long ago that NASCAR and reality don’t quite mesh all the time.
Vito: Smith was robbed. Not surprising, though. Seems to be the order of the day for the No. 01 car at plate tracks the last couple of years.
Matt T.: I gotta give it to Smith. From my viewpoint, the No. 01 was forced below the yellow line while trying to make the pass while still in bounds.
Vito: Tony ran him out of bounds down onto the apron through the tri-oval, then kept him there. You aren’t supposed to block like Stewart did, and he had been swerving and blocking the last few laps leading up to that.
Matt T.: What’s really at issue here is that NASCAR has never upheld a hard and fast yellow line rule. We’ve seen too many times when drivers got away with it and suddenly this week, they go all “black and white” on us. Again, no consistency in the call whatsoever.
Tom: The yellow line rule, as it stands, goes against the very concept upon which racing was based. NASCAR basically told Smith he shouldn’t have been aggressive on the last lap. And who wants to bet the guys in the control tower were eating a Subway sandwich when they made the call?!
Amy: NASCAR hasn’t made a correct call since it instituted the rule.
Vito: The yellow line thing is black and white with shades of gray. The sport suits the rules to cater to the finish depending on what track they are at and the personalities involved. Remember when Matt Kenseth forced Dale Earnhardt Jr. down there in 2003 and Junior’s pass was allowed to stand? Smith should have just held steady and let Tony wreck himself and go tumbling through the grass like he did last week at Kansas.

See also
Voice of Vito: Talladega Blights - Regan Smith Disenfranchised, Jimmie Johnson 1 Step Closer

Tom: See, I don’t know if I fully agree with catering, Vito, but NASCAR’s decisions are so inconsistent, they make you think the worst – and that’s the problem.
Amy: That’s the sad part. Even if they aren’t playing favorites, it’s easy for fans to think they are.
Tom: I want to also give credit where credit’s due to Smith. That pass under the yellow line was awesome in its own right. To do that, Smith had to hold his car steady on the apron. Not an easy task.
Amy: I hate wrecking, but I hope next time someone is in Smith’s position he holds the inside line and wrecks the leader and half the pack instead.
Vito: The yellow-line rule is a stupid rule. The track is that wide for a reason. To me, it creates the danger for more wrecking because a guy might get to the yellow line and just stop there.
Matt T.: Right. And in an instance like this, NASCAR has to have a predetermined rule that everyone is aware of (because they weren’t at Talladega) and stick to it. And for the record, I say screw the yellow-line rule. Isn’t the grass the true out of bounds line?
Tom: Right, Matt. You guys know my thoughts on this – I think we’ve gotten a little too conservative. These guys are racers and racing is inherently dangerous. The yellow-line rule is too subjective, anyway; and if removing it makes the racing so inherently unsafe, you wonder if we should even be racing at Daytona and Talladega under the current configuration.
Amy: I don’t have an issue with the rule, but NASCAR has never busted guys for forcing anyone down there, even when the checkers are in the air.
Matt T.: Amy, when the yellow-line rule was first announced, a driver who forced someone else down below it was subject to the black flag. I never heard NASCAR even mention that this time around.
Vito: And if the sport allows a 20-car pileup in the last lap just because it’s “behind the leaders” (think Daytona ’07) then who cares if you go below the yellow line? You aren’t coming back through there again, anyway. And Stewart has a sponsor in Subway that is sponsoring races while Smith has no sponsor… and without one, likely will not be heard from again.
Tom: Let’s also mention that we’re talking about the last lap here. The last lap! At short tracks across America, you will have five-car pileups heading to the line to get that win. And instead, you make a rule in your top series that inherently takes away a driver’s right to do anything possible to win with the checkered flag in sight?
Vito: NASCAR has had a credibility problem for the last four or five years and this isn’t helping anything. It’s just going to turn off more fans who see it as catering to the big names of the sport.
Matt T.: Yeah, there should be no judgment calls in a situation like this. It should be absolutely, set-in-stone, black and white so every driver, fan and official knows what the rule is. It currently isn’t that way, which lends NASCAR to being more WWE than a legit, major-league sport.
Amy: Honestly, I’ve never been a proponent of NASCAR “fixing” races, as I think there are too many variables, but I found myself honestly questioning if that had been someone other than a Regan Smith, would the result be the same?
Vito: Let’s face it. “The Establishment,” whatever it is – government, the banking industry, etc. – isn’t too popular with the average Joe in this country right about now. And for a sport that advertises it is one with the average Joe, this was a poor, poor decision – an indictment of the integrity of the sport.
Matt T.: And when the two-time defending champion says he thought the rule was something other than it actually was, I’m very concerned.
Amy: I agree, Matt. Jimmie Johnson‘s no rookie.
Tom: I just can’t imagine why they asked Smith to just sit down and back off. He hasn’t been near the front of the field all year and is about to lose his ride… yeah, I think he should just stay in line and finish second.
Vito: What’s worse is that they planted him back in 18th, the last car on the lead lap. For what? To prove a point, or to give more points to the Chase guys that finished in the top 10? I guess next time (if he gets a next time), Regan should just hold his position and put Tons of Fun on his roof.
Tom: I don’t think NASCAR thought that old quote from the ’07 truck race was going to be brought out, either.
Amy: Hell, NASCAR made a formal statement that the rule was something other than it was last year!
Matt T.: Pitiful. And embarrassing. You know how many friends and coworkers asked me what the hell happened? What was I gonna tell them?
Tom: By the way, I just took out the ’08 rulebook and there’s no mention of the yellow line or Talladega in there, which makes it entirely subjective.
Matt T.: And the last lap coming to the checkers should be anything but subjective. “We got hosed, Regan. We got hosed.”
Vito: And they wonder why people aren’t showing up or tuning in like they used to…
Tom: The only section that pertains is 11-2: “At the discretion of NASCAR, the official Chief Scorer may review the scoring results after the completion of the event and will make any corrections to the scoring results as deemed appropriate.” Translation: NASCAR has the power. We don’t. And that means controlled competition.
Vito: You forgot the section that says, “If it is a Hendrick, Childress or Most Popular Driver, the sanctioning body reserves the right to enforce the finish it deems appropriate.”
Amy: Don’t forget Toyota, Vito.
Vito: Eh, I don’t think it’s as much Toyota as it is a Chase driver who hasn’t won in a year and has a sponsor that is the Official Fat-Ass Sandwich Store of NASCAR.
Matt T.: Hey man, Jared is looking good these days.

Speaking of Talladega, eight of 12 Chase drivers were caught up in crashes, and only Carl Edwards can blame himself for the one that took him out. Given the crapshoot that is Talladega, is it time to revamp the points system for the top 12 so that their driving, and not that of others, determines the champion?

Vito: Yeah, go back to the way it used to be.
Matt T.: I’d be afraid to see what new scoring system NASCAR would come up with this time.
Amy: I don’t think they should change the points, but take Talladega out of the Chase. If you have to have a plate track, take Daytona. It seems to be a bit less of a crapshoot.
Tom: Hmm. Well, I think Talladega is a crapshoot whether it’s in the regular season or the postseason. You can’t get around it and some tracks are just like that, where luck plays a serious role. I do think you need an adequate representation of all sorts of tracks in the Chase. So, oddly enough, I don’t mind that it’s there.
Matt T.: I don’t have a problem with Talladega being in the Chase either.
Vito: This is a poor argument. If Talladega isn’t in the Chase, then everybody pisses and moans about it all being 1.5-mile tracks. And if it’s all short tracks, somebody whines because they have a car that has crappy brakes, or you know, there are only three short tracks. Then, somebody cries that road courses suck and are boring and that they should be wiped off the schedule. Then, you get the argument that we need to bring back Rockingham and North Wilkesboro or race at a dirt track. Like any of these suggestions are plausible.
Matt T.: You know, if Goodyear hadn’t brought hand grenades instead of tires, some of the Chasers would’ve been alright.
Amy: If Carl Edwards had stayed home, even more would be alright, Matt. And replace Talladega with a road course, Vito. That eliminates that complaint.
Matt T.: I’ll take a plate track over a road course any day. And Carl’s deal was just hard racing, Amy. That mistake has happened to nine out of 10 of those guys.
Amy: But you can’t race hard at a plate track – that’s what happens.
Tom: Amy, there’s just as much of a chance for a Big One at Daytona as Talladega.
Amy: There is, Tom, but there doesn’t seem to be as many cars wadded up at the end at Daytona than an average Talladega.
Tom: Well, I just think you can’t take 10 “safe” tracks and say, “Here, fight it out amongst yourselves.” Because Vito is right – they’d all be 1.5-mile tracks.
Vito: That was a badass race, and one of the few that has been worth watching this year. Short of the head-shaking call by NASCAR ripping what would have been a very popular win, it was awesome viewing.
Matt T.: I thought it was great theater. I couldn’t look away. And I had a competitive fantasy football game going.
Amy: People can’t look away from a train wreck, either, Matt. I just don’t think that brand of racing is exciting at all. I spend my time worrying who will just survive when fans should be rooting for drivers to win. The end was great, but 500 miles of that isn’t.
Tom: I gotta agree with Vito, not Amy. That race had the most lead changes since 1984, and just before Carl and Greg Biffle wrecked, the racing up front was unbelievable. I wasn’t at the track this weekend, so I happened to be watching with some newer fans – and they were feeling good about NASCAR until the last lap.
Vito: Talladega is one of the last bastions of the sport that has yet to be bastardized, though yesterday’s call took a step in even negating that virtue.
Tom: Amy, tires and safety are clearly another story. But why we can’t look away is the reason the restrictor plates come back every year.
Vito: What do you suggest in its place, Amy? A 600-mile race at Kansas?
Amy: I suggest finding a way to reduce horsepower that doesn’t require a restrictor plate. A tiny mistake at ‘Dega causes a 25-car pileup. That’s not exciting to me.
Vito: It is to me. Did you see Johnson threading his way through those wrecks? It is the only track where the fans are in as much danger as the drivers. We’re all in this together, damnit!
Amy: While it was a great piece of driving by Jimmie, I was only hoping he wouldn’t get hurt.
Vito: He has a helmet, Amy.
Matt T.: And a few seat belts.
Amy: So did Dale Earnhardt.
Vito: His broke. And he had an open-facer.
Matt T.: Not even the same sport anymore, Amy. You know, lots of people like to bitch about the plate races, but when a driver wins one, it’s like the biggest thrill of his life in victory lane. Does that tell you anything?
Vito: Watch the Talladega race from 1986 when Richard Petty hit the wall like Denny Hamlin did at 205 mph. His sunglasses are half on and half off, and his body gets stretched over to the passenger’s side of the car.
Matt T.: NASCAR doesn’t like when footage like that gets out. Or mentioned.
Tom: The whole concept of Talladega is such a rough call. And again, this all goes back to whether people are willing to accept that racing is inherently dangerous. How fast is unsafe? What conditions are unsafe? And where do we draw the line?
Amy: I still contend that of course it’s inherently dangerous, but NASCAR doesn’t need to do anything to make it more so.
Tom: Recently, I almost feel like we’ve forgotten that it’s inherently dangerous. Talladega is going to produce tough conditions… and with the plates on, they’re a little less dangerous at 190 as opposed to 220.
Amy: 190 without a plate is safer than 187 with one.
Matt T.: Well, I thought yesterday’s race was as dramatic a race as I’d seen in quite a while. Maybe since the 500, which is telling me something. I guess I’m a fan of plate racing!
Vito: Back in the mid ‘80s when there was a wreck, it would take out 10-15 cars. Why? Because they were going 220 mph and couldn’t stop. Today, 10-15 cars are involved because they’re close together.
Amy: Now, it’s 25 cars because they have no throttle response. NASCAR needs to revamp the way they schedule and run restrictor-plate races, not the points system.
Matt T.: Well, the CoT caters to the plate tracks with the way the bumpers line up. Don’t tell me that was just a coincidence.
Amy: That’s true, Matt. At least now you can bump draft the way nature intended.
Tom: The issue with plate racing, and believe me, there have been times where I’ve been frustrated in the past, is we don’t have a better solution other than tearing down the tracks and starting over. Really? Tearing down Daytona? No one would EVER suggest tearing down Indianapolis. There has got to be a better way.
Amy: Sure we do, Tom, NASCAR just doesn’t want to address it: Smaller engines with less horsepower.
Vito: So what happens when those smaller engines are turning 11,000 rpm and making enough power to go 200 mph? Will NASCAR make them run even smaller engines? No, they’ll put a plate on it. There is nothing wrong with superspeedway racing. It is the one thing that the CoT does right.
Matt T.: But the CoT was supposed to be able to run without a plate. Yesterday, those guys were clocking in at just over 200. We’ll see smaller plates next year. And at some point, those roof flaps don’t work.

See also
Fanning the Flames: Talking Plates, Allmendingers and Last-Lap Dashes Heading Into Talladega

Tom: 195 mph, Matt. According to your comment last week from Rusty, that’s when it becomes too much and the roof flaps won’t hold.
Matt T.: Yep.

Kevin Harvick holds the current steak of finishing races, running at the end of 74 consecutive events. Is that really as impressive as it sounds, or is it simply an indicator of clocking laps?

Matt T.: I don’t think he’s clocking laps, but you know, different eras are hard to compare if we’re talking all-time finishing streaks.
Amy: It’s only impressive if you’re running an unscathed car at the end. Harvick has limped around to clock a finish on more than one occasion. Nothing against Harvick, and getting the car back out there every time says a lot for him and his crew, but the number really means nothing.
Tom: I don’t think it’s as impressive as it used to be with the Car of Tomorrow, but you have to give RCR credit: Those cars always seem to know how to finish. Three full-time cars, two total DNFs this year. That’s impressive.
Vito: Harvick hasn’t hit anything that hard, and those ECR engines seem to be pretty stout, too.
Matt T.: Well, that was Childress’s game plan when he started building cars, Vito: Make them so they won’t break. They may not be as bad-A fast, but they won’t break.
Tom: If Harvick beats the all-time record of Herman Beam, which is 84, I’ll be a little more impressed. I will say it does speak volumes about the engine shop. But, note that Beam never won any races during his streak. How many has Harvick won during his? Two. Johnson had that many wins in two weeks.
Amy: To finish first, you must first finish.
Matt T.: She’s a sage, folks.
Amy: That RCR organization goes about it the right way, that’s for sure. But logging laps with a torn-up, slow car when you can’t gain any positions, just for the sake of finishing – while it shows a lot of fortitude, it isn’t as impressive as actually being competitive in all of the races you finish.
Matt T.: This streak alone won’t put Harvick in NASCAR’s pantheon of heroes. And who’d have thought we’d be saying this about Harvick just a few years ago, anyways?
Tom: He’s totally changed around his driving style the last few years, and I think you’ve got to credit that to Jeff Burton.
Amy: I agree, Tom. Burton has been nothing but good for Harvick, as he would be for any team.
Matt T.: Don’t forget about Richard Childress. Let’s not forget one of the most respected men in the sport; plus, Harvick has matured on his own as well. We see it out of most drivers.
Tom: What’s so interesting about Childress’s organization is how it’s transformed. Eight years ago, it had the most aggressive driver on the circuit, completely unafraid to tear up racecars. Now, its whole strategy is around consistency and bringing the car home in one piece. As the circuit has molded to a Chase mentality, Childress has molded along with it. And with Earnhardt recommending Burton as his eventual replacement, it’s almost like the Intimidator saw that coming.
Amy: Harvick thought everyone wanted him to be Earnhardt, but once he realized they just wanted him to be Harvick, he was fine.
Matt T.: He needs to log a few more wins, though. I could say that about RCR in general. Consistently finishing 5th-12th is nice, but I’d rather have the No. 48’s track record.
Amy: He’d log more wins with a different crew chief.
Tom: You know, Harvick’s record speaks in defense of our current points system… at least to a certain degree. You can’t win the championship just by finishing races; you gotta lead laps, and you gotta win.
Vito: I still remember Bobby Hamilton Sr.‘s comment about Harvick: “He’s out there, thinking he’s Dale Earnhardt. Let me tell you something. He wouldn’t make a pimple on Dale Earnhardt’s ass.”
Tom: The Talladega comment about Carl was a glimpse back to the old Harvick, though.
Matt T.: He gets a little testy sometimes, but I think some of that is for the cameras – and I still think he’s more show than go. But hey, that’s just me.
Vito: Harvick always has to say something but it’s never that clever or funny, yet he still smiles and laughs at himself. Unlike Kurt Busch, who can come up with something genuinely funny and clever, and doesn’t laugh at his own joke.
Amy: No one else laughs at Kurt’s jokes either, Vito.
Vito: I do. I think he’s hilarious. “Decrepit old has-been… I guess never-was been is more accurate with that clown.” Classic.
Matt T.: “I’d like to invite everyone in America to go down to your local pub and get an ice cold Miller Lite and celebrate with us this week.” Ugggghhhh…
Vito: OK, that sucks, I admit.
Amy: Kurt Busch should seek sponsorship from Roget’s Thesaurus, but that’s another story.
Matt T.: Who says “pub” anyway?
Vito: Blokes. Chaps. Gov-nahs.

The Craftsman Truck Series has its final week off before heading to Martinsville, where neither points leader Ron Hornaday nor challenger Johnny Benson have won in 22 combined starts. Does the little half-mile hold the key to the title for these two drivers?

Vito: It’s as big of a wild card as Talladega was for Cup. Martinsville is a mechanical battering ram, even in a shortened race like in the Truck Series.
Amy: It won’t decide the championship, but it could give an edge to the driver who stays patient.
Matt T.: You can’t win a title at Martinsville, but you sure as hell can lose one. I don’t know who said that, but it’s darn right.
Vito: Lots of stuff can go wrong there: broken gears, brakes going soft, Kyle Busch plowing into you….
Matt T.: Darts without feathers, busted radiators, third-degree fanny burns….
Vito: The pits are a challenge in and of themselves. Get a flat tire at an inopportune time (like there’s a good time to get one), and you’re down two laps, trying all race long just to make up one of them.
Amy: It should be a great race. The trucks usually are great everywhere these days, though.
Tom: Martinsville is definitely the only wild card left on the Truck Series schedule. The other tracks just don’t have the type of unpredictability.
Matt T.: The trucks should live on shorter tracks like Martinsville. Of course, I’ve always been partial to short track racin’.
Amy: Me too, Matt.
Tom: One other note – and this sounds weird – but you’re guaranteed a full 36-truck field at Martinsville. No start-and-parkers. That could cause a huge points swing if either Benson or Hornaday got in trouble early.
Vito: I think going down to the wire, Benson is the driver to beat. And not just because he went to my high school and I live two miles from his parents.
Tom: Benson has the hunger of never having won a championship before. But Hornaday is battle-tested. I actually think it’s his to lose. With the exception of the Nationwide Series, this is the year of the repeat champion. And even there, Edwards can’t be counted out.
Vito: Benson is tested, too, Tom. He’s won ASA and BGN titles against guys like Mike Eddy, Bob Senneker and uh… Chad Little.
Matt T.: Well, regardless of who wins, I always look forward to the Martinsville truck race. For that matter, I’d look forward to a bicycle race at Martinsville. And with a tight points battle, it’s all the better.
Vito: Martinsville is every bit the unknown as Talladega, and equally disastrous to championship hopes. Nobody asked, but my bet is on Benson.
Matt T.: Who do you think is gonna win it, V? There, someone asked.
Vito: Thanks man.
Tom: I think the Truck Series has so many good things going for it: Shortened season, seasoned veterans, fantastic points race. I know we say it here every week, but it’s a shame more people aren’t watching. I also think we can’t ignore the Kyle Busch factor. Busch at any of these truck races could inadvertently cause the championship to be decided with his aggressive driving.

And with that, predictions for Charlotte?

Matt T.: I’m playing it conservative, just like he was at Talladega and going with the No. 48. Which was pitiful, by the way.
Amy: I think this is the week that Brian Vickers finds his mojo.
Vito: Mark Martin wins the pole, but Johnson reclaims the track where he ran roughshod for so many races over the years and stamps his claim on the championship.
Tom: I have a sneaky feeling we’re going to have a surprise winner again. I’m going to go out of the box and say Matt Kenseth.
Vito: Not a bad pick.
Tom: This is usually when Kenseth steps up in the Chase lately… when it’s already too late. Oh, what do you guys think happens to Edwards this week? To me, that’s an interesting story. Not sure how he’ll bounce back.
Vito: He loops it on pit road again.
Amy: He races, he doesn’t win, Jimmie finishes near him, so it’s a moot point.
Matt T.: I’ll say top five, but the Nos. 16, 48 and 31 all have good finishes as well – so no separation this week amongst the frontrunners.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

Last year’s prediction champ Tom Bowles had the best week of any of our experts, coming oh-so-close with David Ragan. The driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford didn’t win at ‘Dega, but placed a strong third to keep Bowles’s late-season momentum going. But he’s too far out to contend for the title; instead, it’s Bryan Davis Keith and Amy Henderson who continue to battle right down to the wire. Neither one was even close with their pick last Sunday – Keith had Dale Jr., while Amy picked Gordon – leaving Keith with a 36-point advantage heading into the final five weeks.

But this week, Bryan missed Mirror, giving Amy a free opportunity to take the lead with a finish of 42nd or better. There’s just one problem; her pick this week, Vickers, finished just 42nd in the Coca-Cola 600 back in May. Stay tuned.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Bryan Davis Keith 4,161 -0 27 5 15 22
Amy Henderson 4,125 -36 31 2 12 17
Tony Lumbis 3,520 -641 26 4 9 16
Vito Pugliese 2,899 -1,262 22 2 8 12
Mike Neff 2,418 -1,743 19 1 6 9
Matt Taliaferro 2,105 -2,056 16 0 5 9
Tom Bowles 2,032 -2,129 17 1 5 8
Kurt Smith 1,705 -2,356 15 0 4 7
Tommy Thompson 710 -3,451 6 0 2 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -3,720 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -3,971 1 1 1 1
Ren Jonsin 155 -4,006 1 0 0 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -4,067 1 0 0 0

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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