Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Matt Kenseth’s Punt, Merger Meltdown & NASCAR’s TV Tragedy

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:
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice of Vito)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

After 4 1/2 hours and two delays, ABC made the decision to switch coverage of the race to ESPN2 so they could show America’s Funniest Home Videos. Was that a serious blow to the sport or an unavoidable move due to race length? And if Jimmie Johnson wasn’t winning the race handily, would the network have made the same move?

Beth: America’s Funniest Home Videos could have waited – and it probably would have if Jimmie had been running the way he was last week at Texas.
Bryan: Regardless of whether or not it was contractual, it certainly didn’t help the sport to get moved for an overplayed TV crap-pot.
Amy: It wasn’t anything major. The announcers said it was a contractual obligation; as in, a legally binding document that dictated the programming. The contract was likely written months, if not years ago – meaning NASCAR should have looked at the fine print.
Vito: I don’t know, that last-lap track-clogging wreck was probably funnier than anything on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Anyways, I’ve always been a Bob Saget guy myself, so maybe I’m a little biased here, but had it been a baseball game between the Yankees and Red Sox, what do you think the outcome would have been?
Bryan: Exactly, Vito. MLB or NFL never would have gotten cut off early.
Amy: It would depend on the contract between MLB, the producers of AFV and ABC. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that.

See also
Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN on ABC... Sort Of? Why the Plug Was Pulled on a Playoff Race

Beth: We already know what it would have been, Vito. NASCAR coverage has had to wait on baseball to end before.
Vito: Why is that show even on anymore? Haven’t enough guys gotten whacked in the grapes and cats chased laser pointers enough over the years?
Bryan: AFV is now more staged than NASCAR.
Amy: That isn’t the point. The point is, there was a contract giving them precedence?
Vito: The best was in the mid-1990s when they delayed Sears Point because the SENIORS’ tour went into extra holes.
Amy: 3:00 p.m. is noon local and if it STARTED at 3:00 it would have been fine, but it started at 3:52. GREEN flag should be at 3:00 ET, 12:00 PT.
Amy: Because the other three big sports would have had the brains to make sure it was in their own contract. But look who NASCAR has in charge. The REAL issue here is the start times of races. There was NO excuse for the green flag being after 3:00.
Beth: But you have to think about WHERE the race was, Amy.
Vito: Contract, schmontract. Had it been the other three big sports, a show that was last popular when George H.W. Bush was president would just have had to wait.
Amy: East Coast races used to start at 12:30 most weeks, Beth. 12:00 local isn’t much earlier.
Vito: Well, it was on the West Coast and you can’t really start the race at 11:00 a.m. local time. Phoenix has always started at 3:00 p.m., even 15 years ago.
Beth: Exactly my point.
Bryan: How late they’re starting races is another issue in itself. Long and short, NASCAR’s title literally could have been decided in the last few laps of the Phoenix race, and it got bumped off its national network. That’s a big statement whether intentional or not.
Amy: Then NASCAR should have negotiated their TV contract better. Bottom line, ABC was under legal obligation to show funny videos.
Vito: It’s funny, NASCAR starts them later to gain prime national exposure, but then flips over to videos of some waterhead riding a dirtbike into a swing set.
Beth: I never looked at it that way, Vito, but you’re absolutely right.
Amy: It’s ridiculous, Vito, but it wasn’t a last-minute, knee-jerk decision like people seem to think.
Bryan: To quote Cool Hand Luke, “When it comes to the law, nothing is understood.” ABC could have found a way to cover the last laps of the race and run AFV a tad later. They didn’t.
Vito: They’re contractually obligated to show whatever they want. So what happens if the President wants to speak, or there is a hurricane, or a race runs long? I have a VERY hard time believing that America’s Stupidest Home Videos has some exclusive clause that it is the ONLY program that a network has refused to delay a few minutes because the previously scheduled program ran a tick long.
Beth: But I have no doubt that they would have made the knee-jerk decision to postpone AFV if Jimmie wasn’t dominating the race and Carl Edwards was making decent ground on him.
Amy: The race was scheduled to be over at 7:00. Had it started at 3:00, it would have been over on time and nobody would be complaining, but, no, we need 10 hours of pre-race instead.
Beth: The pre-race shows have been too long for a while now. I’d rather see less pre-race and more post-race interviews.
Vito: I don’t really have an opinion on it one way or another, but to be honest, I don’t blame them for switching over.
Bryan: This problem is not necessarily something ABC needs to be blamed for as much as it is commentary on where the sport currently stands.
Amy: A half-hour of network pre-race MAX.
Vito: It used to be most NASCAR fans would raise holy hell if their race got delayed or pre-empted. The fact that most everybody has cable now (or will in four months) makes it less of an issue, and with the championship being all but decided, I doubt all but a few would make a big deal out of it.
Bryan: I’d settle for getting 30 minutes of actual pre-race instead of an hour-plus of the network crews showing themselves doing stupid stuff on camera.

One week after NASCAR parked David Gilliland for the closing laps of the race at Texas for retaliating against a bump from Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth retaliated against AJ Allmendinger for an earlier spin, causing several cars to wreck coming to the checkers. NASCAR couldn’t park Kenseth as they might have earlier in the race, so what should the penalty be?

Beth: They have to do something.
Amy: Five laps off the top at Homestead.
Beth: Five laps sounds fair to me. Better than what I would have suggested: parking him.
Bryan: No penalty, just like they shouldn’t have penalized Gilliland at Texas.
Amy: That isn’t the question, Bryan. The fact is NASCAR did penalize Gilliland… and it has to penalize Kenseth.
Vito: Put him back as the last car on the lead lap.
Bryan: NASCAR doesn’t have to be consistent, Amy. It never has been and never will be.
Amy: They are at a place where they need consistency, though, because they need a shred of credibility with the fans.
Beth: But NASCAR has been more consistent lately. Sorta.
Vito: What do they always tell the competitors? “Be mindful of the Chase competitors….” Well, he wasn’t, so Matt swerved at him a little bit. I doubt he meant to wreck him and block the track like that.
Bryan: Here’s consistency. NO FREAKING PENALTIES FOR ROUGH DRIVING. Let the freaking drivers police themselves.
Amy: That’s great until someone dies as a result.
Beth: You can’t let the drivers police themselves if they’re retaliating with their car! Someone’s going to get seriously injured or worse.
Bryan: There’s danger of a driver wrecking and dying during every lap of every race, be it in conflict with another or in practice.
Amy: Yes, Bryan, and nobody needs to be selfishly and stupidly contributing to the danger.
Vito: Well, NASCAR didn’t do anything when Tony Stewart very well could have zapped Kenseth at Daytona in 2006, so why start now because he banged fenders with somebody.
Amy: Because they nailed Gilliland last week!
Vito: Hooking somebody head on into the wall at 180 mph is a COMPLETELY different circumstance than banging squarely into someone driving forward.
Amy: NASCAR should have bagged Stewart then, for the record, but they didn’t. But when you penalize for the same action a week earlier, you can’t blow it off the second time around.
Vito: Maybe Allmendinger should have held onto it. It’s racing, and that’s why there’s helmets and walls made of foam. The cars are made of foam now, too, I think.
Amy: Kenseth isn’t a clean driver, he just wants people to think he is. He started the issue with Stewart, too. When you watch a driver die, you will feel differently.
Bryan: And if the same drivers taking people out had in the back of their minds that it was up to their peers, instead of NASCAR, to prevent them from being hit back harder, I’d hazard they’d think twice about doing something.
Vito: Oh really? In this example, the “new one” swerved going 195 mph across five lanes of traffic, to spin him into muddy soup, then sliding back through 40 cars going 195 mph? Let’s take a deep breath here and examine the situation: The cars were side by side. Matt did not bump him very hard. He banged wheels with him and the other guy spun out. On the other hand, Gilliland made a deliberate move to hook a car in the right-rear corner panel with the intent of driving him head on into the wall at 180 mph.
Amy: It was avoidable and deliberate. It’s the same thing Gilliland did.
Vito: No, it was not. They are two clearly, and plainly obvious separate incidents with nothing at all in common – except that they were in racecars.
Amy: How are they different? Guy is pissed because someone would dare mess with him, so he takes him out. You all said last week that the non-Chasers shouldn’t have to pull over for the Chasers, but now you’re blaming ‘Dinger for getting in the way? Which is it?
Vito: It’s a guy bumping doors with another guy at a short track coming to finish line. Guy waiting for other car to get by him, jerking the wheel to the left at a 180 mph superspeedway so he hooks him head on into the wall midway through a race on the backstretch.
Beth: Well, the point is if it was intentional, then NASCAR has to penalize Kenseth. I’m not quite sure which race you were watching Vito, but Kenseth turned down the track into Allmendinger.
Amy: Kenseth has a cleaner reputation than he deserves. If it was Stewart or Kyle Busch, everyone would be out for blood.
Vito: Good for Matt. I don’t care. It was finally something mildly interesting on television.
Bryan: The only reputation that Kenseth lost, if any, was the notion that he is a robot. ‘Dinger wronged him on the racetrack, Kenseth got him back. The story should end there.
Amy: But the bottom line here is that NASCAR needs to enforce the rule, just as they enforced the rule last week. Who the driver is should not play into the ruling when it was so obviously deliberate.
Bryan: The driver isn’t the issue. It’s the circumstances that are in play here. NASCAR made the call to penalize Gilliland late, if you recall, only after the commentators spent 10 minutes demonizing Gilliland’s actions.
Amy: The circumstances are the same: guy gets hit, gets pissed and takes the other guy out.
Bryan: Here, the ‘Dinger/Kenseth incident got very little attention at race’s end. No time for the commentators to insinuate anything, no PR to worry about.
Amy: NASCAR gave Gilliland five laps right away, and then they parked him later when it was clear the No. 42 was done.
Vito: Had Montoya not have been there, he would have been fine. Well, it’s racing. Law of the jungle.
Amy: Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton were racing for the win and Gordon didn’t turn across the track with the sole purpose of hitting Burton.
Bryan: Why are we even talking about this wreck? For crying out loud, rubbing’s racing!
Vito: Thank you.
Amy: Rubbing is racing, deliberate wrecking is not and never has been.
Vito: Right. And Gilliland was a lap down, and hooked a guy going 180.
Beth: The fact that he was a lap down has nothing to do with it. If Gilliland had been leading the race and done that, the penalty should have been the same.
Vito: So they are not the same incident! Who cares. It’s a wreck at a NASCAR race. Like Dale Earnhardt didn’t do the exact same thing for most of his career.
Amy: Gilliland didn’t take out five others who had nothing to do with the original offense. NASCAR should make Kenseth pay for those cars.
Bryan: What’s next? Should Johnson have to pay for 20 cars when he causes another Big One at ‘Dega?
Amy: If it’s on purpose because he’s pissed at someone and then takes him out in retaliation, yes. If he makes a mistake, no.
Beth: That’s really not a bad idea, Amy. It sure would make the drivers think twice before retaliating with their cars.
Bryan: As far as I can tell, Kenseth’s spotter cleared the No. 17 a tad too late and Kenseth moved down early.
Vito: Allmendinger shouldn’t have wrecked, either. That’s all I’m saying.
Amy: Mistakes happen, racing deals happen, but retaliation at speed in a racecar does not just happen – it is deliberate.
Vito: He wouldn’t have if Montoya had not been there. Fine Montoya. He was the fulcrum in the incident.
Beth: Which is why NASCAR needs to penalize Kenseth in some way.
Bryan: Paying for cars wouldn’t change anything. That just means that drivers making less money than the big names would be on a less even playing field than they are now.
Vito: Make him take his baseball hat off after getting out of car.

Chip Ganassi Racing is reportedly involved in merger talks with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Would such a merger save the resulting team, or would it do more harm than good?

Amy: A merger might make a difference in the short term, but it’s like applying a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.
Vito: Well, DEI has four cars and one sponsor and Ganassi has two cars and one sponsor – and a manufacturer who might be going away. They kind of need each other, but I don’t know what sponsors are going to want to slap stickers on five average racecars in this economy.
Amy: Average is generous, Vito.
Bryan: If I’m DEI, this move would concern me. I know they need sponsors bad, but CGR frankly isn’t too rich in dollars themselves, and CGR makes DEI look functional by comparison.
Amy: I don’t know if I agree with that. DEI is so far from the vision it was founded on it’s a different company, anyway – and not in a good way.
Beth: I can’t imagine why anyone would think combining two teams who are struggling to land sponsors on their own would help. Sure, the combined funds might help in the short term, but without sponsors, no merger is going to help.
Amy: Long term, unless those teams resolve their internal issues, nothing is going to make a lick of difference. Neither team has a solid direction, neither has a real foundation for the future.
Bryan: Exactly.
Beth: You made it sound so much better than I could, Amy.
Vito: The No. 8 car is decent, but the whole crew is leaving to be Ryan Newman‘s next year. The owner is hiding out with Dick Cheney in her undisclosed location. I wouldn’t want to get involved.
Bryan: You’ve got to wonder how much longer CGR is going to stay in NASCAR anyway. It’s been nothing but an IRL team with a NASCAR farm club for years now.
Bryan: Well, CGR and Penske are both learning the hard way right now that NASCAR can’t be a side project.
Beth: Gosh, don’t get me started on Penske.
Vito: I don’t think Penske treats NASCAR as a side project. I mean, they did win the Daytona 500, you know.
Beth: Yeah, but a restrictor-plate race win can come down to just staying out of trouble and being at the right place at the right time.
Bryan: And they also have fallen further with their CoT program than any other team out there by miles, Vito.
Amy: Penske has gone steadily downhill on the NASCAR side over the last few years, though.
Vito: I really thought they would have done something when Kurt came on board.
Amy: They’re losing Alltel, too. Do they have a sponsor lined up?
Bryan: Alltel is staying for 2009. David Stremme, from what I’ve heard, keeps Alltel and associates Mobil and Avis.
Amy: Yes, but they can’t stay long term once Alltel becomes Verizon.
Vito: They have been testing their ass off the last three months, and I think it’s finally starting to pay off. Ryan was running well at Phoenix until that sway bar broke.
Bryan: There’s been a tad too many “untils” for Penske this year. But back to CGR and DEI, I think DEI in all honesty has stuff there they can sell. CGR is on their way out, there’s no question. Montoya can get a ride somewhere else and apart from that they’ve got nothing.
Vito: Yeah, DEI has stuff to sell: Earnhardt t-shirts. Junior leaves, everybody else takes off. Mark Martin leaves, team leaves to join Stewart-Haas Racing. And they need something more than two absentee owners, too.
Amy: I don’t think a merger alone will save either team. They need a solid vision and a management team that will formulate a plan and follow it through.
Beth: And if either team can do that, they won’t need a merger.
Vito: Teresa doesn’t want to get involved, Ganassi is only there if there isn’t an IndyCar race and Felix, I think, just wants to retire. I believe Teresa needs to just sell it to Max Siegel and get it over with. If Dodge folds up like it did in the late ‘70s in NASCAR, which it will, that is Ganassi’s exit strategy, assuming Toyota gets the go ahead to field a new team in NASCAR.
Bryan: “Don’t talk about the merger, Ned. Don’t think about the merger, Ned. Don’t even mention the word merger, Ned.”

The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Homestead with just three points separating leader Johnny Benson and second-place Ron Hornaday Jr. Who has the edge at Homestead to take home all the marbles?

Bryan: Hornaday, easily. Benson is a top-10 truck right now, Hornaday is a top-three truck. Do the math.
Beth: Statistically, Hornaday. But Benson will put up one heck of a fight, and if he can remember he’s running for a championship, he’ll be fine.
Amy: Hornaday has the edge because he’s been there before. Well, to be fair, so has Benson – but not as recently.
Amy: I’d love to see JB win it. I also like the idea of him, Labonte and Biffle being dual champions.
Bryan: That team’s not unsponsored, Amy. Toyota is pumping plenty of money into that ride. JB winning would be a great story, but let’s face it, the No. 33 truck is about as hooked up on intermediate ovals right now as the No. 18 is in Nationwide. Hornaday is going to have to mess up big to lose this title.
Vito: I cannot believe Benson made that mistake Friday night. If there was ever a night to stroke it and points race, that was it.

See also
Voice of Vito: You Were Always On My Mind - Johnny Benson Ponders His Future in NASCAR

Beth: Me either, Vito. Had he been able to race cleanly by TJ Bell, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
Vito: I like the idea of somebody other than myself being the pride of Forest Hills Northern!
Amy: It still amuses me that the Truck Series does this every year without the Chase.
Bryan: It’s hard for me to root against Hornaday. Though subtly, he’s lived up to his teaching Kyle Busch a lesson in that series.
Vito: I like seeing guys go out on top, and with Johnny’s future being up in the air, I think it’s fitting for a guy who has been nothing but a model of class and civility win the truck title.
Beth: Agreed.
Amy: I second that.

OK, predictions for Homestead?

Beth: Gimme Greg Biffle.
Bryan: Biffle. He flat owns Homestead.
Amy: Biffle wins race, Johnson wins it all.
Vito: Johnson wins the race and the title.
Bryan: The No. 16 team always finds a way to score the win at Homestead once their shot at the Chase title is gone.
Beth: Which is why I went back to Biffle, Bryan.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

It’s official; we have a new Mirror Driving predictions champion! Amy Henderson took the 2008 crown in style, capturing her fourth “win” of the season by correctly picking Johnson at Phoenix. With a 380-point lead over the rest of her competition, Henderson can breathe easy knowing that even if her Homestead selection finishes dead last, she’ll still be in front at the end of this 38-week Sprint Cup marathon.

Kudos must go to Bryan Davis Keith, the promising predictions rookie who finished his first full season in second place. Tom Bowles, the ’07 champ, had a miserable year and will wind up well outside the top five in the final standings.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 4,964 -0 36 4 16 21
Bryan Davis Keith 4,614 -380 30 6 16 24
Tony Lumbis 3,520 -1,444 26 4 9 16
Vito Pugliese 3,294 -1,670 25 2 9 14
Matt Taliaferro 2,607 -2,357 20 1 7 11
Mike Neff 2,418 -2,546 19 1 6 9
Tom Bowles 2,242 -2,722 19 1 6 9
Kurt Smith 1,900 -3,064 16 1 5 8
Tommy Thompson 710 -4,254 6 0 2 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 438 -4,526 4 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 289 -4,675 2 1 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -4,774 1 1 1 1
Ren Jonsin 155 -4,809 1 0 0 1

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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