Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Final Thoughts on the New Bristol & Digesting the New Top 35

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:
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Fantasy Insider & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

It’s clear that 18 months after repaving, this isn’t the same old Bristol. That’s led to some mixed reviews from fans – but is the new Bristol a classic or a total flop?

Amy: Personally, I like it. Fewer wrecks, but still some good passing.
Mike N.: Most of the fans I have talked to are not liking it at all, but I personally like the new Bristol. I find it to be better racing with actual passing instead of bumping people out of the way.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Travis Kvapil Did Everything Right, but Today's NASCAR Left Him All Wronged

Bryan: Take all the freaking money that Ford is spending on Edwards’s Nationwide team and give it to Kvapil.
Kurt: How about NASCAR drops the exclusivity agreements, and then Verizon and Hoosier are available to sponsor a car. Ambrose wins the overachiever; Kenseth, the underachiever.
Mike N.: I thought Harvick stunk it up worse than Kenseth.
Kurt: Well that’s just the way this biz works sometimes. Guys get screwed. I don’t like it, but there it is.
Mike N.: That’s true, Kurt; but it’s not bad luck, it’s bad team loyalty.
Bryan: I know they needed sponsor dollars, but still. Kvapil led the effort to get Yates back to competitiveness last year.
Mike N.: Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was consistently average as always.
Kurt: How about Junior with two lucky dogs? Hmmm….
Bryan: Well, they didn’t want him to resort to spinning himself out again.
Kurt: I remember that. It wasn’t the spin so much as his saying “I DID THAT ON PURPOSE” on the radio. Back on topic, the Good List at Bristol: Ambrose, Kurt Busch, Reutimann. Bad: Harvick, Kenseth.
Amy: Kurt Busch was only good in the context of a messed-up car, Kurt.
Beth: True, but typically when that No. 2 car has any damage at all, it drops quickly through the field. That wasn’t the case yesterday.
Amy: 11th at Bristol for him is subpar.
Mike N.: Yeah, in Kurt Busch terms at Bristol, that was not good.
Kurt: Well, he started 23rd, finished 11th and got his nose bashed in. That’s a fair bit of driving.
Beth: I’m with you on that, Kurt.
Amy: Had his car been intact, he should have finished higher.
Beth: But Amy, you have to consider what happens during the race. To expect him to finish better than 11th in a damaged car is silly.
Amy: Of course, but I don’t think he had a better run than was expected of him, which was the question. I say Johnson’s run was very impressive. He’s not good at Bristol at all, but he finally looked like he had it figured out.
Kurt: I think Hendrick figured something out – Martin was good too. Martin isn’t usually great at Bristol.
Bryan: He doesn’t usually win poles, either.
Mike N.: Well when a three-time consecutive champ finishes third, even if it isn’t a good track for him, I’m not getting too excited.
Bryan: Thank you Mike.
Amy: Believe me, for Jimmie, third at Bristol was impressive – better than expected – which was the question. And as Beth said earlier, Newman also needed that good run.
Kurt: Off topic, but I’m very impressed with Stewart-Haas so far.
Bryan: I’m impressed with the No. 14 team only. The team as a whole has a ways to go.
Mike N.: Me too, Kurt. They’ve come out better than I thought they would, although Newman is not as impressive as Stewart; but then again, he never has been.
Beth: I’m not so sure about the No. 39 team just yet; but they’re starting to look like they’ve got something.
Mike N.: And don’t get me started on that whole Driver of the Year award….
Bryan: He deserved it in 2003, Mike.
Mike N.: JJ Yeley deserved it more.
Bryan: Anyways, Newman has always done well on short tracks. When the No. 39 scores a top 10 on an intermediate, I’ll buy it.
Mike N.: Seven wins on fuel and tire strategy was not as good as the triple crown.
Kurt: Newman at least twice exposed a flaw in the lucky-dog rule. He was a lap down in some of his wins, but then came back around a second time and gassed up. You can’t do that anymore.
Bryan: They figured out both the Goodyear tire package, better fuel mileage and the rules better than anyone in the field that year. They also were the guys at Indy who figured out on two-tire stops to yank the wrenches rather than have crew guys cut back to the wall.
Mike N.: The only tweak I want is to give the same points for 30th through last.
Bryan: Kenseth had a DNQ in ‘03 if the fastest 43 raced.
Kurt: Kenseth used more provisionals than any champion, I think.
Mike N.: I hate provisionals, except for a past champion’s provisional.
Kurt: The Top-35 rule is the symptom, not the problem. We need a new qualifying method – like heat races.
Mike N.: Nah, just two rounds of qualifying would do.
Bryan: Heat races would rule.
Mike N.: Yes, they would; but you’ll never see that.
Kurt: I wouldn’t want to give someone zero points for slipping in some oil on the track.
Bryan: Kenseth didn’t slip on oil at all through ’03; he just couldn’t qualify.
Mike N.: He didn’t have to. The system allowed him to make it in without it. Speaking about that, I want two rounds and no provisionals except for the past champion.
Bryan: Newman fan or not, by putting five points up for a pole you encourage teams to give a damn about qualifying.
Mike N.: Make it 25, and it will be more interesting.
Bryan: But if you make it 25 points, it should be a heat race.

The current owner points are now being used to determine the starting field. Who is a surprise both inside and outside the Top 35, and how long will that last?

Bryan: Gilliland deserves a big hand for his job with the TRG bunch.
Beth: The No. 71 inside the Top 35 even with missing Daytona? Now that’s pretty good.
Bryan: ‘Dinger and Gilliland are definitely among the most impressive newbies to the Top 35 thus far.
Mike N.: It was almost surprising that Martin was outside the Top 35, too, but he saved that this weekend. If he had trouble like Greg Biffle at Bristol he’d have been done.
Kurt: I can’t believe John Andretti is in the Top 35.
Bryan: As for outside… well, Scott Speed isn’t exactly setting the world on fire.
Kurt: He looked like a ping-pong ball at Bristol.
Mike N.: Tell me Red Bull isn’t feeling stupid.
Beth: Speed being outside the Top 35 isn’t really a surprise to me. He’s another one of those that was rushed to Cup too quickly.
Bryan: It’s not a surprise; but man, if he misses Martinsville….
Kurt: I thought Speed would be better than he’s been. Red Bull looked better, and he did well in the Truck Series.
Beth: He didn’t run that many races in the Truck Series, though.
Bryan: It’s surprising to see Red Bull having such a discrepancy in its teams. At least when ‘Dinger made races, the No. 84 could run with the No. 83.
Kurt: I wonder how long Home Depot will tolerate runs like Joey Logano‘s been having. He’s on the bubble, too.
Mike N.: With Kvapil done and other teams about shutting down, there will only be 43 cars at the track soon, anyway.
Bryan: Don’t be so sure Mike, we’ve got 48 coming to Martinsville.
Mike N.: Doesn’t take a lot of technology to run Martinsville, though. Let’s see at Texas.
Kurt: You know, a couple more bad runs and David Ragan could be on the bubble. Wasn’t expecting that.
Bryan: Ragan has definitely taken a big step back this year.
Mike N.: Martin also has to be feeling some pressure starting off the season so poorly. I was sure he’d be in the Chase, and he’s not looking too good for it at this point. If he makes it now, it’ll be the biggest comeback ever. No one has ever come from this far outside after four races.
Kurt: Martin will go out there and compete his hardest every week; but he needs his car to stay together. He can still make the top 12 easily… there’s a long way to go yet.
Bryan: Hendrick may well be getting a blessing with him struggling, though. Now he wants to come back in 2010, and they might need that with the way Brad Keselowski is struggling in NNS so far.
Beth: Right now, Mark is only 143 points out of the top 12.
Kurt: How does anyone like Aric Almirola‘s chances to keep racing now that he’s out?
Mike N.: Better than Kvapil’s, but not as good as Gilliland’s.
Bryan: Almirola’s going to have to make something big happen at Martinsville. Short tracks are how he got his ride.
Mike N.: Yeah, and he led there last fall.
Kurt: Hard to believe where the No. 8 car is. Doesn’t make Teresa look good. She didn’t really have a choice, though: Lose the marquee driver or give him the team.
Mike N.: Selling DEI didn’t make Teresa look very good.
Bryan: It’s really sad from an EGR perspective to see the Front Row Motorsports team of Andretti that they supported running better than Almirola.
Kurt: Meanwhile, here’s a guy that I thought would be on the bubble who isn’t: David Stremme.
Mike N.: Stremme is another one who has quietly gotten it done this year. No big noise, but no big failures either. I’d like to say that I saw it coming, but I’d be lying.
Beth: I’ve actually been somewhat surprised with Stremme.
Kurt: Penske has improved their intermediate program and I think that has helped all of them. Even Sam Hornish Jr. is 32nd with a couple of DNFs.
Bryan: Stremme is posting the results that the No. 12 team has been posting for the last few seasons… not bad, but he’s not improving that ride either.
Kurt: Stremme didn’t do bad in the Busch Series – he just didn’t do squat for CGR.
Mike N.: Does he have the new engine, too?
Kurt: I would hope so.
Bryan: I think Penske in general is running the new motor, Mike.
Mike N.: I didn’t know. You always hear Busch talking about it, but they never talk to Stremme so I didn’t know.
Bryan: Stremme was complimentary of his engine’s horsepower when I talked to him in Atlanta. Doubt he’d be saying that about the old Dodge pieces.
Kurt: You know, say what you want about that guy; he’s a hell of a perseverer.
Beth: Well, to finish off this topic I’m extremely impressed with the No. 71 in the Top 35 despite missing Daytona, and I’m not at all surprised Speed is on the outside looking in.

Benny Gordon was disqualified after Nationwide Series qualifying this weekend after the fuel he used was found to be non-compliant with NASCAR rules. Harsh penalties may be coming as a result. Is this the right path for NASCAR to pursue? And if this had been a team other than a small-timer like Benny Gordon, would the reaction have been the same?

Kurt: I believe it would have been. You aren’t supposed to mess with the fuel.
Beth: It’s pretty simple to me. You mess with the fuel and you pay.
Kurt: In fact, I think NASCAR would have made sure to lower the boom hard. They did that for Michael Waltrip‘s first race with his own team.
Beth: They didn’t go lightly on Mikey, so why should they go lightly on someone else ’cause they’re a small team?
Bryan: The more I think about this, though, the idea that the fuel might have been left over from another series that Gordon competed in seems to make sense.
Kurt: Huh, Bryan? How does that happen?
Bryan: He’s been a stud in the USAR ranks, Kurt; but you know he’s recycling a lot of equipment.
Kurt: Of course, he’s a stud with that doctored fuel.
Beth: But Bryan, if you make that one little exception, then you start looking more into gray areas of the rules.
Kurt: Whatever the rule, NASCAR needs to just apply it and that’s it. No matter who it is.
Beth: I agree completely, Kurt.
Kurt: That’s easy in theory but not so much in practice.
Bryan: Now, the question is this: are further penalties in order? What kind of precedent do you set here?
Kurt: For fuel, it needs to be harsh. 100 points minimum. I don’t know about the fines. The crew chief should be suspended indefinitely, though.
Bryan: I’m not familiar with how they caught Gordon or the specs regarding the way they check fuel; but this doesn’t seem to me to be the same as Waltrip, where they found Sterno or whatever all over the motor.
Beth: The fact of the matter is that it was not an approved fuel, period. And penalties should be given based on that.
Kurt: Maybe it was Exxon. That would get NASCAR’s goat.
Bryan: Personally, I think that enough has been done here. The team got sent home. If NASCAR actually had the guts to do this to all teams, even if they were locked in, there’d be no need for us to speculate on points penalties and suspensions.
Kurt: Maybe; but NASCAR needs to be consistent, too.
Bryan: Points in this matter aren’t going to be a big deal. Gordon is running a partial schedule, the points mean nothing to them.
Kurt: If this is similar to what Waltrip’s team did, the penalty should be the same.
Beth: But Bryan, how do you pick and choose who to take points from? A team planning to run a partial schedule can change simply with enough sponsorship dollars.
Bryan: If NASCAR just sent teams home when they had issues instead of letting them race and penalizing after-action, we wouldn’t be picking who to take and not to take points from.
Kurt: If you don’t punish teams with points because they don’t worry about points, Bill Elliott could flaunt all kinds of rules.
Beth: I could live with that.
Bryan: True Kurt, but again, if NASCAR established a precedent of DQs like they did this week, the incentive to cheat goes away.
Kurt: Well, you have a point there. But that has already happened. It depends on what kind of example NASCAR wants to set. And they should be prepared to live with the precedent. If I’m running NASCAR and getting accused of inconsistent rule enforcement all the time, I’d be mindful of that.
Bryan: Exactly. So for the first time ever, set one that is easy to follow in incidents to follow.
Beth: The catch there, Bryan, is NASCAR actually sticking to the precedent they set.
Kurt: But the thing is if all a team has to worry about is being sent home, they’re good to go if they get past qualifying.
Bryan: Whatever they do, NASCAR also needs to be very clear about how the incident was discovered and dealt with when they make their release. The speculation amongst ourselves of whether or not it’s similar to the Waltrip incident makes clear that there isn’t enough communication when it comes to issues like this.
Beth: They’ve never been terribly specific on exactly how something has been found.
Kurt: Well, that’s a problem too, because the process isn’t cut and dried, as Bootie Barker found out last year.
Bryan: No time like the present to change bad habits, Beth.
Beth: Agreed.

Predictions for Martinsville?

Kurt: Jeff Gordon in the No. 24.
Amy: Johnson.
Mike N.: I’m going to go with Gordon.
Beth: Jeff Gordon.
Bryan: I’m going with Gordon as well; he’s got to break this streak sooner or later.
Kurt: This is the place for it.
Bryan: That grandfather clock will look good in his daughter’s room.
Kurt: He’s already got seven. I’m sure she’s got one.

Mirror Predictions 2009

Welcome to our third consecutive year of Mirror Predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Mirror Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through five races (and the Shootout) this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Kurt Smith 4 5 0 1 3
Bryan Davis Keith 3 -1 5 1 2 3
Tom Bowles 3 -1 2 0 1 1
Vito Pugliese 3 -1 5 0 0 3
Mike Neff 2 -2 3 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 2 -2 3 0 0 2
Amy Henderson 0 -4 6 0 0 2
Matt Taliaferro -3 -7 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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