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:
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/The Voice Of Vito)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
Editor’s Note: Keep in mind this week’s Mirror Driving discussion occurred before Jimmy Watts’ four race suspension was announced Tuesday afternoon. So, your favorite experts didn’t mention it in question 1 because they didn’t know what the penalty was going to be!
Both NASCAR and a crewman from the No. 47 team, Jimmy Watts, took a lot of flack for the yellow flag that flew in the midst of a pit cycle as a result of the crewman chasing a tire, causing several good cars to be trapped a lap or more down. But was either one really wrong in their decision?
Vito: I think his cousin is that guy who ran up to Matt Kenseth‘s car at Watkins Glen under a red flag and asked for an autograph. At least he had that BMX helmet on.
Beth: It was just plain dangerous, and Watts didn’t think. All he saw was a tire rolling out of control. NASCAR had no choice but to throw that caution.
Kurt: The rule is what it is… what I want to know is, why were the last cars on the lead lap restarting in front of the leader? I will never understand why NASCAR does that. Putting slower cars in front of faster ones on a restart is asking for trouble.
Beth: I won’t either, Kurt. It sure made for a nervous couple of laps. Of course, the same thing goes with starting lap down cars inside the leaders, but that’s another discussion in itself.
Amy: I don’t think anyone did anything wrong, though…. Watts was just acting on instinct, and probably thinking about avoiding a penalty.
Vito: Uh, the chimp that attacked that lady last week acted on instinct… that doesn’t really justify it.
Kurt: And how was he going to avoid a penalty? Say the tire was from his personal car?
Beth: The tire was already well out of the pit box before he started running after it, so they would have gotten a penalty anyway.
Amy: No, at that point, there was no avoiding it… but when he started after it, he was probably thinking he could maybe stop the tire?
Kurt: From going out onto the track maybe. I wonder how far he was going to go. Dodging 190 MPH traffic to get the tire…
Amy: The mind does funny things under the gun.
Vito: He was looking straight down and ran maybe what, 50 feet after it? These guys jump out in front of cars during pit stops all day… he probably didn’t think much of it.
Beth: I imagine that’s what he was thinking. Surely, he wasn’t thinking about how dangerous what he did could have been.
Kurt: I think the way Watts saw it, he wasn’t all that far from pit road.
Vito: Maybe we should go a little easy on the guy. He felt bad and didn’t do it maliciously. You could tell he felt like a heel.
Amy: Watts is getting a lot of flack for something that wasn’t a conscious decision… it’s not like he said, “If I run after that tire, I can trap a bunch of guys a lap down and really screw with their heads.”
Beth: I’m not saying it was a conscious decision. I’m just saying he shouldn’t have done it. I’m sure if he could go back to the exact same situation, he’d absolutely leave the tire alone.
Kurt: I don’t have a problem with NASCAR’s call, but they should have had the leader in front on the restart.
Amy: They should always have the leader in front on a restart, Kurt, but that is a whole other debate. They should have lead lap cars double file, too.
Kurt: But that’s the point of what happened here. What Watts did had big consequences for a lot of drivers because of the wacky restart.
Vito: Yeah, that whole tail end of the lead lap thing is stupid. If you’re going to arbitrarily tack on laps to the end of the advertised distance with the Green/White/Checker thing, you have to amend this pit sequence nonsense. We have electronic scoring, and transponders, and video…let’s stop acting like the technology doesn’t exist when it does.
Amy: Anyway… I just don’t think Watts meant to do anything wrong, and NASCAR didn’t make the wrong call, either. They made a safety call, and I will never fault them for that.
Kurt: I agree with Amy. But that restart wasn’t safe.
Beth: Surprisingly, everyone behaved and managed to make it an OK restart. But it could have been ugly.
Vito: The single-file restart change is good, and the new restart area idea is good… let’s fix the pit issues and take that element out of it as well. It will prevent instances when “team cars” try to take one for the team, too.
Kurt: The thing is that type of restart is pretty rare, so I don’t get why they can’t just bring the lead lap cars back around.
Beth: I never have been able to understand the whole tail end of the lead lap thing. You’re either on the lead lap on the restart or you’re not. It’s really that simple. Anyways… NASCAR made the right call, and I’m willing to bet that’s the last time Watts makes that mistake.
Vito: Maybe they’ll just let Watts do Truck Series pit stops… that way he can only fuel the car, not be over the wall shagging tires. Just kidding – the guy made an innocent mistake, and it did not alter the outcome of the race up front. If anything, it picked up the lull that is usually the middle of a 500-miler.
Martin Truex, Jr. was able to race on Sunday after passing a kidney stone on Saturday night-but is it time for NASCAR to revisit an old policy and come up with a “substitute” system given the high stakes of both points racing and safety?
Kurt: The driver who starts the race gets the points… I’m fine with that. Truex could have always gotten out if it were really bad.
Beth: Right, Kurt. Truex could have easily had a sub come in and relieve him if the need had arisen.
Vito: Truex was able to race… he passed said stone. It wasn’t like he was drunk on Vicodin or something.
Amy: Right, Vito, but there are guys who race when they shouldn’t. I think absolutely NASCAR needs a sub system. But first, they need a single medical doctor in charge of making the decision. And if that doctor agrees they shouldn’t race, then they can have a driver start for them.
Vito: I say if you can start the race, you get the points. Getting out of the car is punishment enough, and a sub driver is in a car setup for another usually won’t run any better than 20th, anyway.
Kurt: I believe he had to start the race drug free so he couldn’t take any painkillers… if it’s so bad he can’t even start, well, don’t know what else to tell you. Maybe NASCAR could only allow drivers to make 34 starts a season, so they have a cushion.
Amy: I’m thinking of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a few years back, when he admitted he raced with a concussion… that was stupid and dangerous, and under the current rules, his hands were tied
Vito: How many guys take cold medicine and go to work at a metal stamping plant?
Amy: How many other people does that endanger, Vito…
Vito: No – but Junior made the conscious decision to race. How many guys have raced throughout the years with concussions or worse? Anybody remember Dale Earnhardt passing out on the opening lap of Darlington back in 1999?
Amy: But it’s not only that one guy in racing that gets affected… if his reaction time is off, he could seriously hurt someone else.
Beth: So what are you proposing they do about it then, Amy?
Amy: I’m proposing they hire a single medical director to make the call… if he/she says a driver can’t race, another driver may earn points for him until he is able to return.
Kurt: It’s actually an interesting question to bring up. The situation is rare, but I’d rather guys didn’t have to worry about barfing into their helmet.
Vito: These guys are all on the same page and in it together. If somebody has a beef with them racing when they shouldn’t, they should say something about it. I’m sure there’s an unwritten code.
Beth: I don’t think the decision should rest with just one person alone.
Vito: I’m sure they won’t be preferential or anything. This won’t cause any controversy. Junior is able to race every week, but Greg Biffle will be judged unfit. Kyle Busch, clinically insane…
Kurt: I think the rule we have now is fine. Most guys can start a race in almost any condition and run until the first caution. Unless, of course, they ARE the first caution. Think about what happened with Sterling Marlin in 2002… he could have been the champ with Amy’s suggestion.
Vito: Survival of the fittest, guys. This isn’t The Special Olympics. Not everybody gets a medal, and not everybody gets to be champion just because they should. If they did, Mark Martin would have four titles.
Beth: There’s really no need to change this rule. They can start the race and have a sub come in if needed.
Amy: There are just times they shouldn’t have to start the race… limit the sub to two consecutive weeks, then no more points. 99 times out of 100, a driver is going to race whether he should or not.
Beth: And that’s a decision that he has to live with, Amy. I think it’ll just open up for too much controversy.
Vito: And bribery.
Vito: Best ever.
Kurt: Given time, they will be the best, I believe.
Amy: They aren’t the Flocks, Allisons, or Labontes yet.
Vito: Yeah; they’re better.
Beth: They’re not there yet, Vito; but in time, they could be.
Amy: 20 years from now, they might be.
Beth: I don’t think it’ll take 20 years… not at the rate Kyle is going.
Kurt: Kyle is already putting up numbers that at this rate will top either Allison.
Vito: Five years from now, these two will have twice as many wins as Terry and Bobby.
Beth: Now, that I can agree with, Vito.
Amy: When Kyle wins a championship, they might become the best. But right now, they don’t have those numbers.
Kurt: Kurt already has a title. The Labontes, though, that might be tough to top. The Buschs have a little way to go, but they can do it.
Vito: The Buschs will never be accepted because nobody likes them outside of a few people in Las Vegas, and me.
Kurt: And me.
Beth: Hey, I like one of them, Vito.
Amy: Liking them has nothing to do with it. They can both drive – but right now, they don’t have the numbers to say they are the best of all time.
Kurt: The thing is, right now Kyle is so good, he was making everyone forget Kurt until yesterday. But Kurt is a helluva driver, too. And Kurt’s still the one with the Cup.
Vito: Kurt has been saddled with a team that has been in disarray for the last three years. Keep in mind the Dodges were out to lunch with that new nose they got in 2006 with the old car.
Amy: Kurt is a good driver, but he’s not a great one. Kurt is a top 15 driver in terms of talent… Kyle is top five.
Beth: I think that’s a little harsh, Amy. Look at the junk equipment he had at Penske the last couple years. Pat Tryson’s doing a pretty good job with Kurt right now.
Vito: Kurt was as good as anyone from 2002-2005… he just wore out his welcome at Roush. He was as good as anyone when he had Jimmy Fennig keeping him in check.
Kurt: I think he is great. He was the best driver Roush had for a while. Kurt is as good as anyone on a short track. Five wins at Bristol… that’ s Jeff Gordon numbers.
Beth: Exactly, Kurt.
Amy: Right…but Jeff Gordon has those numbers at every track. That’s what separates them.
Vito: Hah, he’s also been doing it a lot longer and had Ray Evernham wrenching on his semi-legal cars for seven years.
Amy: Kyle is a Jeff Gordon/Tony Stewart/Jimmie Johnson type of talent. Kurt isn’t…
Kurt: I think Kurt suffered with Penske not being up to snuff… if Penske finds it, he’ll be contending for a title. He and Kyle could be going for it. The most unpopular title battle ever…
Vito: Kurt gets a bad rap because he got into it with Jimmy Spencer a couple of times, came off like a brash punk, and Jimmy is entertaining. He got ran out of the sport after he blasted him in the face at Michigan… that alters people’s perception of his talent, I think.
Kurt: Jimmy’s about as entertaining as my snot.
Vito: Interesting analogy. Jimmy is likeable… let’s try that.
Amy: Kurt was trying to cut Spencer’s tire at speed at Michigan. Ask Ernie Irvan how that goes… he also wrecked another driver in trucks way back when to improve his teammate’s points position…
Beth: He was young and stupid then. You have to admit, Amy, that Kurt has grown up a lot since Spencer slugged him.
Amy: Yes, he has grown up a lot… he’s really a very nice guy off the track.
Kurt: Amy, show me a driver who has never given in to his anger on the track, and I’ll show you Jimmie Johnson.
Vito: And how many guys did Earnhardt just flat out wreck… people didn’t seem to have an issue with that. Why, because it was overt… or because he was a Good Ol’ Boy?
Kurt: Well look, the question is where do the Busch brothers rank, and my guess is that at the end of their careers, they’ll be at least among the best.
Amy: I agree, Kurt, I think they will be… but it’s premature to call them the best right now.
Vito: I look it like this – if you ask if they are the best, I ask, “Who’s better and how/why?”
Kurt: The Labontes were both great at their peak, but they had big downward slopes at the end.
Amy: The Labontes both have a title, though. And with the Allisons… Bobby Allison has most of the wins, to be sure, but he has a lot more than Kurt and Kyle put together.
Vito: But Kurt and Kyle each have another 20 years of racing ahead of them. And Bobby raced well into his 50s.
Beth: That was a completely different time, Amy. A lot more drivers are competitive and there at the end now than they were then.
Kurt: Agreed, Beth. It’s a little bit of a tougher game today.
Vito: And you will never hear another driver call Kurt or Kyle overrated. Even Kevin Harvick said of Kurt Busch, “He’s an arrogant punk, but he sure can wheel a race car.”
Amy: Even so… you can’t call a driver in the middle of a career the best… until the numbers support it, he simply isn’t. What if Kyle did go Formula 1 for the rest of his career?
Vito: He’s almost too old for Formula 1… strange as that may seem.
Kurt: I think he’d kick ass in any series. He already does.
Beth: Wherever Kyle ends up, he’ll still win.
Amy: Right, but if Kyle left NASCAR right now, he won’t go down in history as one of the best ever… just a hell of a great driver who left for F-1.
Vito: Imagine that… a stock car driver who went to go drive Formula 1. And he has the perfect persona and attitude for it.
So far this season, Toyota teams have captured 12 of the 15 top five finishing positions in the Truck Series to date. With Ford and Dodge cutting back on their support of this division, is there anything NASCAR can do to level the playing field?
Kurt: NASCAR can get the hell out of the way for once. If leveling the playing field is so important, run all the races with restrictor plates.
Beth: Toyota has run well since they came in the Truck Series. Leave the trucks alone and let them run.
Amy: I don’t think there is anything they can do if the others aren’t supporting their teams as heavily.
Vito: NASCAR doesn’t have a choice. Toyota is the only manufacturer that is keeping that series afloat.
Beth: NASCAR can’t step in just because a manufacturer pulls support. The teams choose who they’re going to run with.
Amy: And unless there is a specific, measurable advantage, NASCAR has no right to do anything.
Kurt: NASCAR already slowed down Toyota once in the Nationwide Series.
Beth: And they slowed down Toyota last season in the trucks.
Vito: Yeah, they really threw the brakes on them. You know, Dodge is non-existent, Ford has a couple of decent rigs, GM may have to cut back out of racing entirely… maybe they’ll just call it the Toyota Tundra Series, and ask Camping World to step aside?
Kurt: Would there be a demand for leveling of the playing field if Chevrolet were dominating? Just asking.
Beth: Probably not.
Kurt: Well, in 2007 Chevy dominated… and I mean DOMINATED… the Sprint Cup series. I didn’t hear any complaints.
Beth: The other makes should just work harder to help level the playing field. Why should NASCAR step in just because one manufacturer is dominating?
Kurt: Exactly Beth. How far does it go?
Amy: I remember a few years back, Chevy had a rear bumper cover that gave extra downforce… Ford whined until they got one, then Dodge did the same. It’s like that… as long as NASCAR allows them to all keep up, it’s fair.
Vito: With Toyota, I can see why NASCAR tries to keep other manufacturers in the game. They have a history of running roughshod through racing series like the Mongols and then just dispappering.
Kurt: I don’t think they’ll do that with NASCAR, Vito… and if they leave, apparently a lot of people will be happy anyways.
Vito: With trucks, it’s a more sensitive emotional issue. Trucks are an American staple. So is NASCAR. This is just adding insult to injury.
Beth: The Truck Series still puts on one hell of a race each week (with the exception of California two weeks ago). Why fix what isn’t broken?
Vito: Well, the Truck Series is as big of a disaster as the Nationwide Series is. That ridiculous pit stop rule, Cup guys running Truck races, nobody goes to them, and they run them at impossible hours of the day with no promotion. And to make matters worse, its defending champion can barely muster a ride and sponsorship, while another truck regular wins the biggest race of the year and is running up front every week — and he might have to sit out the rest of the season without financial support.
Beth: The new pit road rules were one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. But it sure does make for some interesting pit strategy.
Amy: I don’t have an issue with the pit stop rule. It does save teams, no doubt, and it makes them work strategy… there’s nothing wrong with making them think.
Beth: I can’t stand it, Amy. They already had all sorts of strategy moves.
Vito: Maybe limit the amount of manufacturers that can compete in it? Again, probably not an option with as hard as it is to fill fields with today’s situation… but that is another argument. They’re just race cars, and there are plenty of established cup teams that run domestic brands that can bleed off technology and parts to the Truck teams.
Kurt: People forget the struggles Toyota had their first year in the Cup series. They didn’t ask for help. They made it on their own.
Kurt: Well, they hired Joe Gibbs anyway.
Beth: I agree completely. NASCAR has their hand in way too many things as it is on race day. Leave some of it in the hands of the teams.
Kurt: On top of that, every time NASCAR does try to level the field, they end up helping the bigger teams.
Vito: I think the big issue here is Toyota can afford to dump money into racing and dominate. With the Big 3, the Government is going to be controlling the purse strings here. The money simply isn’t going to be allocated to help race trucks go fast.
Beth: If the other teams in the Truck Series don’t like the dominance of Toyota, then they can either change manufacturers or work harder to get more power from what they’ve got… within the rules, of course.
Kurt: As long as Toyota isn’t cheating, let the other teams catch up.
Beth: Leave Toyota alone! If the other manufacturers want to catch up, then they need to work harder.
Amy: NASCAR shouldn’t do anything unless there is a clear, single, definite advantage. If there is not, props to the ‘Yotas for being better than the rest.
Beth: And if the manufacturers can’t give the teams what they need to be competitive on race day, then the teams need to look at making a change.
Kurt: Hire away Kyle Busch…