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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/The Voice Of Vito)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Top 15 & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top Ten & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
After Sunday’s race, many people were looking for rivalry or animosity between Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson — but didn’t get any. Are people making something out of nothing, or should there have been more emotion out of the drivers?
Bryan: It would have been nice to see some kind of excitement from the drivers after that great of a race.
Beth: I disagree. It was Martinsville, and both drivers were beating and banging. I don’t really see where there should be a rivalry.
Jeff: The emotion was fine. If Denny could have got back to him, though, you would have seen him move Jimmie for sure.
Mike: Hamlin would certainly have been justified in being mad — just because he has missed out on some wins — but the incident was just good ol’ fashioned racing, and neither one was at fault.
Vito: Denny said he understood what happened. Johnson got loose, bounced off the curb, and inadvertently hit him. It was no different than what happened between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Richmond last year, except Hamlin hung onto it. I think because the short tracks don’t provide the racing, wrecking, and tempers as before, we’re trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Amy: I think it was definitely making something out of nothing. It was two racers racing like they should have been raced, and they both knew it.
Bryan: But between Hamlin moping around after the race and Johnson refusing to acknowledge that he did do a bump ‘n’ run… well, no one wants to hear that.
Amy: Denny couldn’t really be mad if he said he’d have done the same thing. And it wasn’t a bump and run, Bryan. To have a bump and run, you have to hit the other guy BEFORE you try and dive under him.
Bryan: Amy, I was in Turn 3 when it happened. That was not an accident —and that is OK. If Jimmie had actually owned up, I would have applauded him.
Tom: I think the funny thing is, we did see emotion here … out of the wrong guy! How Johnson was pissed even though he won the race was beyond me.
Bryan: I’ve got no problem with the bump ‘n’ run… but I have a problem with a driver who won’t own up to it. There was nothing dirty with Johnson’s move at all, but listening to him in the post-race you’d think Hamlin tried to take him out.
Jeff: J.J. did keep running him up until he got in the loose stuff — clear as day.
Beth: I’m glad I’m not the only one that noticed that, Jeff.
Mike: I don’t think Johnson had a choice. His car was sliding just like Hamlin’s, so I really don’t think he was riding him up there.
Amy: I agree with Mike: Johnson got in really hot, got loose, and then got into Hamlin. It wasn’t a bump ‘n’ run, because a bump ‘n’ run is planned. This wasn’t so much planned as it was a mistake.
Vito: Jimmie actually lifted and let him catch it, but Hamlin said he just got too much stuff on his tires and couldn’t do anything. The bump and run is punk; what we saw at Martinsville was just hard driving gone a little wrong.
Amy: Bump ‘n’ run isn’t punk — wreck ‘n’ run is. Moving is fine, spinning is not.
Vito: Jeff Gordon drilling Rusty Wallace in the middle of 3 and 4 at Bristol is a bump ‘n’ run. This was losing it and curbing it at the same time.
Jeff: Well, that’s not how it looked on TV. J.J. kept riding him up and bumping at the same time. But Hamlin came down on Johnson and pinched him first…
Tom: I thought Johnson had the inside line heading into the turn, personally – it could really go either way. What I’m a little surprised about is that we didn’t see a little more emotion out of Hamlin. This is a guy that hasn’t won a race in a year, he’s sat there playing second fiddle to Kyle Busch this whole time; and now, he gets screwed by a guy in Johnson who doesn’t need to win? I’d be a little pissed.
Amy: But how do you come out and say you’d have done the same thing and then get pissed about it? If Denny had done that, we’d all be sitting here calling him a hypocrite.
Tom: I wonder if Hamlin’s started to accept the fact something’s going to happen to make him lose late in races. Because that could really hurt him; remember, sports are as much mental as they are physical.
Bryan: Hamlin is psyched out right now, Tom. In the media center you could tell he was just going through the motions.
Vito: He’s bemoaning the fact he’s 28 and only has a handful of trophies. Boo-hoo. A few years ago he was living with his parents racing around Virginia. Suck it up, dude.
Tom: And I want to make sure I clarify my point: I don’t want Hamlin to go over and punch Johnson in the face. I want him to be, well, a little frustrated. What would have happened if that was Dale Earnhardt, or Kyle Busch? Bryan might be in the hospital right now, because he would have tried to ask a question and then gotten punched in the face.
Amy: But Denny didn’t do anything wrong any more than Jimmie did — they were racing for the win, for crying out loud! More guys need to race a little harder like that sometimes.
Mike: I’m pretty sure Denny’s a lot frustrated deep down, though. He just kept his cool in front of the cameras. I bet he kicked his dog when he got home.
Beth: That would be perfectly OK, Mike, but he didn’t really even seem to care that he finished second.
Bryan: And if you’re Johnson, don’t try to say you didn’t do something on track that you did.
Amy: What are you talking about, Bryan? They got loose, both saved it, and Johnson made a clean pass!
Bryan: Amy, Johnson overdrove the corner, hit Hamlin, forced him up the track, and took the win. I loved it; I’d just like to see him actually own up to it.
Jeff: He didn’t hit him in the back! He had his nose there already.
Amy: Exactly, Jeff! So Johnson should have sat there in second and not tried to make a move?
Bryan: Amy, he should have done exactly what he did. But when you get to the post-race, don’t say you didn’t do a bump ‘n’ run when that’s exactly what happened.
Vito: The whole thing looked like the Nos. 18 and 88 in Richmond in ’08 — only this wasn’t a bump and run. It was a slide up into him and run.
Amy: It wasn’t a bump and run; in a bump and run, you hit the guy in the back!
Bryan: Same difference.
Mike: Earnhardt didn’t come down on Busch in Richmond. Hamlin came down on Johnson.
Jeff: No matter what you call it, it was a good pass. Exactly how you have to do it at Martinsville.
Mike: Here’s the bottom line: Johnson’s car moved Hamlin’s out of the way. There is no disputing that.
Tom: But if you’re Johnson, don’t get mad that someone thinks you did the bump ‘n’ run. Because even if you didn’t, it sure looked like it.
Mike: Very true, Tom. Be proud of the fact you did it without taking one or both of you out.
Tom: Yes! I just think Johnson should be proud, not pissed. That was great racing. I will say it was nice to see some public emotion out of Johnson anyways.
Bryan: Bingo, Tom. But he spent the entire post-race downplaying his own aggression…
Amy: Johnson didn’t do it on purpose, that’s what he took exception to. He screwed it up.
Mike: Oh BS. Johnson threw it in there. That was on purpose. That was not a screw up.
Tom: Here’s the great thing for NASCAR: we’re all talking about this like crazy. This is exactly what the sport needed, and at the right time.
Vito: Jimmie’s just really stoked to win, and wants to thank all of the employee owners of Lowe’s stores across the country. I can lip sync a Jimmie Johnson interview like I can the entire script of Top Gun.
Bryan: “They’re running the HMS victory lane playbook step-by-step.”
Vito: “BLOW THE ROOF!”
Jeff: Not a hard script there!
Several teams are still searching for sponsors, and some are in danger of coming to the end of the road if the dollars don’t appear. So which driver or team is going to give a potential sponsor the most bang for their buck, and what companies would find advertising heaven in NASCAR?
Kurt: How about A.J. Allmendinger?
Vito: Allmendinger all the way.
Mike: The ‘Dinger, for sure.
Jeff: A.J. I agree.
Beth: Yep, Allmendinger.
Bryan: ‘Dinger for sure. In terms of partial sponsorship… Ryan Newman, definitely.
Mike: After that, Scott Riggs.
Amy: I’d say based on past performance, Newman should not be without decals. After that, ‘Dinger is a sponsor’s dream.
Vito: Yeah, and his hair is gorgeous. By the way, I found it odd that Charter was on A.J.’s car this weekend when it just filed for bankruptcy.
Jeff: Bailout money.
Vito: I wonder if Obama will demand that Government Motors pull out of racing, since it is not a viable use of taxpayer dollars?
Mike: As for Newman, I’m sure he’ll come up with sponsorship. The Office Depot/Old Spice connection there will come through — and don’t be surprised to see some Pepsi products involved, too, from what I’ve heard.
Bryan: The No. 39 was hooked up late yesterday. 50 more laps, and he had something for everyone…
Kurt: Who else is in danger at this point? Travis Kvapil is already out, but I’d have had him on the list.
Bryan: David Gilliland is the next to fall, Kurt. And from what I extrapolated from talking to Geoff Bodine, the Gunselman team might not make it to Charlotte.
Tom: There’s Aric Almirola, too, although I think everyone expects him to just go away due to poor performance. In the meantime, I think the best bang for their buck out there right now is Gilliland’s group.
Kurt: I don’t know… I don’t see Gilliland on TV much. Sponsors won’t care for that.
Vito: Gilliland doesn’t get any TV time.
Jeff: Or respect.
Vito: Unless he wrecks, which amazingly, he hasn’t done yet.
Tom: For what they’ve done though at TRG, it’s absolutely amazing. And how about Regan Smith in the No. 78?
Amy: Actually, they have a sponsor.
Tom: The No. 78 doesn’t have a sponsor for the full season.
Kurt: What happened to Joe Nemechek?
Bryan: It was so sad to listen to Joe’s team on Sunday. They had to park because they didn’t have the parts they needed to fix the car.
Mike: What make is Nemechek running?
Mike: You’d think Joe Gibbs would help a brother out.
Amy: As far as sponsors coming in, even in this economy, there are a few I’m surprised don’t jump in or go to full-time.
Mike: I’m amazed Wal-Mart doesn’t sponsor a team.
Bryan: They don’t for the same reason McDonald’s doesn’t all the time — they don’t have to.
Beth: The Wal-Mart question is simple: everyone knows who they are. Why spend the money getting your name out there when you’ve got plenty of customers to begin with?
Tom: My big thing for NASCAR is gas stations. What an easy way to market your product and get loyalty towards your brand. I know Sunoco is the official fuel of NASCAR… does that prevent some sponsorships?
Vito: Sunoco probably has exclusivity rights. Remember how Kevin Harvick had to minimize his Shell logo on his car after Sunoco complained?
Mike: Yes, Sunoco prevents the oil companies from sponsoring cars. How about some of the cellular companies? Oh wait, they can’t either.
Jeff: I will never buy Sunoco gas.
Vito: I got some on my way to the Michigan race last year. 94 Octane. All water.
Tom: See, that’s what’s killing the sport during troubled times… exclusivity. Just think, in five years NASCAR can have these sponsors ALL to themselves! They’ll be no one left on the starting grid, but just imagine… the executives will still get all these great discounts!
Kurt: NASCAR should lose the exclusivity agreements. The very fact that they have them says that other brands want to sponsor cars.
Amy: I know Gatorade does the Victory Lane stuff, but they’d look good on a car, too.
Mike: I think the federal government should sponsor anyone who doesn’t have a sponsor and give more money to teams who suck worse.
Bryan: Great idea, Mike. AIG to Prism Motorsports… done deal.
Jeff: The Army already has Newman. The National Guard has Junior.
Bryan: The Border Patrol had their applications go up 20 percent within two weeks of the start of their sponsorship.
Kurt: When is Frontstretch going to sponsor a Cup car?
Tom: Hmm… let me check the bank account… I think we can put ourselves on Norm Benning‘s Chevy.
Jeff: Hey, the price has to be getting cheaper! Next race I go to, I will get us some more exposure on Carl Edwards pit wall.
Vito: You’re going to expose yourself on Carl’s wall? Oh, wait…
Kurt: How about this: Kyle Busch lets us sponsor his car, and we give him a complete image makeover in the press. But back to the original question: we agree it’s A.J., then?
Amy: Yeah, I think A.J. and Newman.
Bryan: It’s the ‘Dinger – although Newman’s races are the best available in the Cup Series right now.
Mike: Wal-Mart should sponsor Allmendinger, and the U.S. Government should sponsor all of the other unsponsored cars.
Vito: Each state gets a car, unless the Government objects.
Mike: So should every Native American tribe, every casino, and every state lottery.
Vito: “Dances With Driveshafts.”
Tom: I think Allmendinger will be sponsored for the full season within the next few weeks. You guys just wait and see…
NASCAR announced prior to the start at Martinsville that there would be a competition yellow due to both the rain and the green track. Are competition cautions really necessary, though, unless a specific issue comes up during practice?
Vito: With 172 Goodyear tires out there? Yes!
Mike: There was some question about tire wear in practice. It was a good idea to have one.
Jeff: I agree. As long as Goodyear is the tire supplier, they need the competition yellow.
Beth: I don’t necessarily have a problem with them, especially with the limited practice time the teams had.
Bryan: See, I think they never should be necessary. But as long as Goodyear is the sole tire provider, I think they’re a necessary evil.
Kurt: I don’t have a problem with it. TV can get their stinkin’ big commercial break in then and not during the danged green flag. It didn’t help Kyle Busch and Edwards’ tires, though.
Bryan: Robby Gordon‘s crew screwed up big Sunday, too. When he had his big spin, it was because the team adjusted on the wrong side of his car.
Tom: Back on topic, I think competition cautions are a bit of a joke. I know they’re based on safety… but aren’t you saying there’s something inherently wrong with your product by throwing one?
Amy: This one was extra stupid, too, considering there had already been a caution.
Vito: Well, they threw a caution for an empty freaking Coors Light can… so why not?
Jeff: Flagman dropped his beer.
Vito: Like anyone is going to waste a beer…
Tom: This gets back to the whole “racing is inherently unsafe” thing. By no means do I want to get anyone killed. But it’s all about finding the balance between being so over conscientious no one watches your product… and being too careless you’re putting drivers in harm’s way. Competition cautions swing that pendulum way out of balance — why not just make the race 460 laps instead of 500?
Mike: There were some cars having wear issues in practice, Tom. And they were on a truly green track.
Tom: And there were cars having tire issues throughout the race, Mike. What I find so amazing is that these competition yellows usually don’t improve the product over time. If the tires are bad… they’re going to be bad for 500 laps.
Amy: Back on topic, I think that if a caution comes out before the competition yellow is thrown, they should cancel it. But if there is an issue in practice, like at Indy last year with the bad tires, then yes, you need them for safety.
Jeff: But at Indy last year, they only needed two, three at most. Once you know the pattern, you don’t have to keep throwing them.
Mike: I didn’t agree with it at Indy last year, and I wouldn’t if they did it again. One caution, get your readings, and race.
Vito: Well, if something did happen at Martinsville, everybody would be complaining. It’s 500 laps long… you got time to get some racing in.
Mike: So it was worth taking a look.
Bryan: All of the tire problems I saw on pit road Sunday looked like the result of brake heat problems, though… I didn’t see any cords.
Tom: I just think that in any of these situations, you’re going to have to race with what you got. You know, because that’s the nature of an athletic competition… I think it’s too much extra help.
Kurt: But if they don’t have any practices after qualifying… no one knows when the tires will go.
Mike: And giving them an idea of what the wear is at the outset lets them plan their strategy.
Amy: Some tire problems can always be attributed to teams’ setups, and at Martinsville, you’re going to melt some beads… a competition yellow won’t change that.
Bryan: Speaking of, the tire that came off of Kyle Busch’s car was so hot it scalded one of the Goodyear guys looking at it.
Vito: What was with that black smoke billowing out of those things? Looked like an Iraqi oil fire out there Sunday with the Gibbs cars.
Jeff: They said they were doing something new with the engines that made them like a jake brake.
Tom: I just think competition cautions are yet another nail in the coffin for Goodyear. As it is, I can’t believe they’re trying to delay the new tire until 2011. I know they want to get it right… but isn’t it an emergency when at every track you have it wrong?
Kurt: There isn’t any excuse for that, Tom. They had seven years, for crying out loud.
Amy: The tire should have been done when the CoT was… there’s no excuse for it not to happen.
Bryan: That’d make too much sense, Amy.
Kurt: Goodyear is the blind man who is given a Rubik’s cube.
Bryan: Which means until we get a competent tire provider, you’ve got to give the teams one chance to get a read on tire wear.
Mike: There’s no problem with a competition caution if they are on a green track and haven’t had much practice. Let’s them get a reading and plan strategy. No need for more than one, though.
Amy: I think they’re a good thing if there is an issue; but it’s silly to have one if the yellow comes out anyway five laps before they’re scheduled.
Vito: The bottom line is, it prevents a catastrophe and people complaining. Or it promotes it.
Kurt: Bring back the tire wars!
Vito: Anything for more Digger airtime.
Bryan: I laughed at someone in a Digger t-shirt Sunday.
Kurt: That’s just asking to get your ass kicked.
Bryan: I wish they’d have tried… I had eight Martinsville dogs in me, I was invincible.
Vito: I saw some guy have on one in the Las Vegas airport last week. I was like… you actually bought that?
Mike: Did you throw a tomato at him?
Vito: Nah, went with the Ric Flair backhand chop.
Harvick followed up his first Nationwide Series win in his own car with another Camping World Truck Series win for Kevin Harvick, Inc. Could this be a team that’s capable of being successful in Cup as a one or two-car operation down the road?
Beth: I don’t think Harvick is quite ready for Cup yet… but he’s definitely working on it.
Jeff: Like we need another Cup team.
Kurt: Well, we’ll have to see… it seemed as though Junior had that in mind, but so far he’s done nothing about it.
Bryan: There is no team that can be successful in Cup as a one car team right now. The infrastructure is definitely there to be successful in Cup when they make the jump, and they’ve done well with sponsorship — but they’ve got to go with at least two cars.
Mike: I don’t know that Harvick himself is ready to make the jump yet — but they will be in Cup within five years.
Amy: I think the team does have the wherewithal to make it in Cup, if they had a sponsor to help them get top resources and people.
Vito: I could see Harvick doing what Tony Stewart did, aligning himself with Hendrick. He could do that with RCR.
Amy: If they worked with RCR, it could be a fruitful endeavor.
Kurt: I say go for it. Harvick seems to handle this owner thing pretty well.
Tom: I’m torn on that whole deal. I think sometimes the KHI thing distracts Harvick too much from his own Cup operation. It’ll be a growing pain for him if it does move up to Cup … that’s for sure.
Kurt: Doesn’t seem to bother Stewart, Tom. I get the feeling Harvick doesn’t take any guff as an owner. He was tough on his drug users, if I remember correctly.
Bryan: KHI as an organization is impressive… when they go Cup racing, they’ll get it right.
Tom: Kurt, Stewart’s driving those same cars as well as owning them. He’s not doing two things in two separate places. I just remember Earnhardt struggling a bit in ’98 and ’99 as DEI went full-time in Cup the first two years.
Kurt: Maybe, but he is still wearing multiple hats.
Vito: Earnhardt was also falling asleep at the wheel, Tom. Literally… remember Darlington? If Tony can do it and run top 10 every week, I’m sure Harvick can figure it out. He already has the nuts and bolts in place.
Mike: DeLana runs the organization over there more than Kevin does. I don’t think it would distract him, but I still think it’s three to five years away.
Tom: I will say Harvick would actually do a good job of picking a driver based on talent … not marketability. Just look at what he’s done with Ron Hornaday.
Beth: That’s the best thing Harvick has going for him right now, Tom. He knows how to pick a driver based upon talent.
Amy: I think long-term, Harvick can do what Stewart did, aligning with RCR so he’s getting good stuff and has the resources.
Tom: Because, you know, we’re all better off if Roush, Gibbs, Hendrick, and Childress have eight teams apiece. Let’s just play the entire NFL schedule with the AFC East and see what happens…
Bryan: RCR’s got talent in the wings … Stephen Leicht will be good with more seat time.
Vito: Don’t forget about Richard’s grandson coming up, too. Everybody will wig out if they talk about bringing the Number 3 back … and the only way Richard will do it is if Austin Dillon wants it.
Amy: Exactly… Dillon is working his way up.
Bryan: By then, Casey Mears will be due to be fired, Vito.
Vito: Mears. Take a walk on the mild side.
Mike: Mears is already due to be fired. Anyways, adding a Cup car to a garage isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot more to build a Cup chassis than a Nationwide or Truck chassis.
Tom: And right now – the more I think about it — in this economy, to bring KHI up to Cup as a starter team Harvick would have no choice but to drive it. And with him signed with RCR through 2010, that means it’s going to be awhile. He can’t even get sponsorship for Cale Gale right now in his lower-tier programs… and Gale is young, marketable, and talented.
Beth: I don’t think Harvick is quite ready to move the team to Cup, but he’ll definitely be ready within the next 3-5 years.
Tom: I think Harvick is better off staying with Childress… for now. 3-5 years is plenty of time to build the Nationwide team to the level of his Trucks. Then and only then do you move up… when your other two houses are in order.
Bryan: Though if Ricky Carmichael keeps running well, they might get a full-time sponsor.
Mike: Carmichael is doing a great job. I think he’ll win soon…
Beth: Poor Carmichael had a tough day today at Martinsville. But it wasn’t his fault… I don’t doubt that he’ll be the first (and maybe only) rookie to win this season in the Truck Series.
Predictions For Texas?
Amy: AKA the Stupid Cowboy Hat prediction, round I.
Vito: Kurt Busch.
Mike: Kyle Busch.
Tom: I agree with the No. 99. I think Edwards is going to punch back now that Johnson has gotten in the win column.
Kurt: Hamlin rebounds from the tough loss.
Bryan: Kurt, I’ll put money that Hamlin doesn’t do that. And Edwards wins the race.
Amy: I’m going to say Kasey Kahne – he’s good at Texas and running pretty well.
Mike: Kahne is the dark horse, just so he’ll look really stupid in that big hat again. But Kyle Busch is going to run away and hide this weekend, kiddies. Don’t forget, he kicked butt at Vegas.
Vito: I wonder if Kyle Busch would turn those guns on the media in Victory Lane.
Beth: Now, that would be funny!
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:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
Through six 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|
|Bryan Davis Keith||6||-1||6||1||*3*||*4*|