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/Voice Of Vito)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Fantasy Insider & Various/Nationwide Series Reporter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
Jeremy Mayfield stated that his positive drug test was the result of a mix of legal prescription and over-the-counter drugs – in effect, a false positive. Did NASCAR do the right thing with its “suspend first, ask questions later” reaction, or should they have ordered and waited for a more complete toxicology test and report… even given that some tests may take several weeks before results are available?
Mike N.: They did the right thing. It is better for them to err on the side of caution, because you just cannot take someone’s word for it when the test states something different.
Kurt: All I can say is that denials are often untrue. In a perfect world, I would say wait; but in racing, I don’t think NASCAR should take the chance.
Bryan: NASCAR had to suspend Mayfield, without question. This is purely a safety issue. If you’ve got a competitor testing positive, they have to be taken off the track… the rest gets figured out later.
Beth: I’m on the fence with that one – but NASCAR’s clearly said no tolerance, period. And they showed they’re serious about that.
Amy: I think NASCAR did the right thing. You can’t risk an issue by letting a guy drive for six weeks while you await test results. That said, if it does prove to be a legit medication from his doctor, I hope they will reinstate him immediately.
Tom: There’s no question in my mind they did they right thing. I just hope they’re right on with their findings. It would be incredibly embarrassing for the sport to make such a mistake.
Mike N.: Yes it would, Tom. Especially when it’s the first Cup driver suspended.
Amy: I will spring to Mayfield’s defense on one part… I know someone who had almost the exact same thing happen. They did a more in-depth test and she was cleared… but it took a few weeks.
Kurt: Right, Amy. Drug tests aren’t always accurate. They can’t distinguish ibuprofen from marijuana – although I sure can.
Tom: One thing that really bothers me is they never let us know the actual substance Mayfield tested positive for. Why the big mystery? Manny Ramirez, we knew in 48 hours… here, we know never.
Bryan: Well, they never let us know what they’re testing for in the first place. Why would they change now?
Tom: I just think it’s silly. There’s no need to cause unnecessary speculation by not releasing what it was. Every other sport known to man… heck, the freaking workplace often releases those test results.
Kurt: Tom has a point. All they revealed was that it wasn’t alcohol.
Mike N.: But what if they release it as, say, cocaine, and then it comes out that it’s not? Try as you might, you’re not going to shake that stigma.
Tom: Well, then NASCAR should be pretty darn sure of itself when it makes these decisions, Mike. The other big question of the day is… why let Mayfield practice and qualify when they knew the test was bad? Why? Who’s to say he’s not on this drug during practice and doesn’t take almost a dozen cars out of the race?
Mike N.: That I don’t understand, Tom. That makes no sense. He should have been parked immediately.
Bryan: It’s a valid point that needs to be brought to light.
Tom: That’s what bothers me… the secrecy surrounding the whole thing. Dictatorship vs. democracy, every single time… it drives me crazy.
Amy: I was thinking about that, Tom – correct me if I’m wrong, but if sample A tests funky, isn’t sample B then tested by another lab? Is it possible they didn’t get results before Saturday?
Tom: You’re right, Amy… apparently, that’s what happened here. But you still have a positive test on your hands….
Mike N.: I think you still err on the side of caution and sit him down. If you’re wrong, you can’t be faulted for being safe.
Kurt: What legal options are available to Mayfield to clear his name?
Mike N.: Just like Floyd Landis in the Tour de France, he can sue. He can try and dispute their testing techniques, or provide expert testimony to refute their claim.
Kurt: Or scream loudly about his innocence like Roger Clemens…
Amy: If I were him, I would take the same combo of meds and have it tested by several independent labs for all of those drugs individually… couldn’t hurt.
Tom: Well, here’s the thing. And this is why I said at the top NASCAR better have its facts in order… Mayfield does not sit down and be quiet. Ray Evernham can tell you that.
Mike N.: Or Roger Penske.
Tom: Right. So if Mayfield feels like he’s getting screwed… he’s going to kick and scream on his way out. And based on the rumors you hear throughout the garage… he’s not the only driver who’s ever been associated with illegal drugs. He names names… there’s a major brouhaha.
Mike N.: His relative silence right now makes me think he’s more guilty than innocent, too.
Amy: Tom, he names names, those guys might get tested; but hell, they should have plenty of warning.
Bryan: He names names and he’s done in Cup racing forever. And drugs or no drugs, big mouth or not, I don’t think Jeremy’s ready to kiss racing goodbye.
Tom: Here’s the thing though, Bryan… he might be done with racing forever now. If his own team goes under, with the stigma of drugs he’ll struggle to get another ride – as good a talent as I think he is.
Kurt: He may do a Jose Canseco and speak up when he can’t get a job anymore.
Tom: Exactly. All I could think about when he got suspended on Saturday was Canseco and how he wound up being the whistleblower for baseball.
Amy: I’ll admit, he was about the last name to come to mind for a drug violation. I thought it was for sure going to be one of three other people.
Mike N.: Jeff Burton was the last name for me.
Tom: That’s the thing, guys. No naming names – to me, the speculation is purely irresponsible – but I can tell you no one out of all my sources named Mayfield as the guy. Instead, you had all these other names thrown out there… and if there are that many names swirling that are rumored to be associated with illegal drugs, that’s not good. I remember Amy and I talking on Saturday and wondering who out of the field of 43 we didn’t hear linked to this thing.
Kurt: I actually doubt there could be that many drivers using drugs – not on the schedule they keep. This job is too strenuous to pop pills all the time.
Tom: I hope not, Kurt. But I do think if they mistreat Mayfield… we’ll know that answer.
Amy: Anyways, NASCAR made a good decision here. You can’t risk letting someone run for six weeks who may or may not be taking something funky.
Bryan: NASCAR did a terrible job with the way they handled communicating it, though… go figure.
Mike N.: They had to do what they did. It was the right call… and if it turns out wrong, they were at least doing the right thing.
Tom: Let’s just hope they’re right.
The newly repaved Darlington was a different animal than the Darlington that many fans, teams, and drivers are used to. Was the racing noticeably improved by the repave, or was it simply better before it was resurfaced?
Beth: I thought it was a great race. It’s nice to see the tires actually last and bring other strategies into the mix.
Mike N.: It’s different racing. But it’s still rim-riding, and it still takes patience and smarts to win there.
Vito: I think it was about the same. Darlington has always been a driver’s track regardless of the tires or pavement age.
Amy: I didn’t think it raced badly, but I liked the old tire-eater better.
Kurt: I liked it either way. But I kind of preferred when it ate up tires. It isn’t the same when a two tire strategy might work.
Bryan: The old tire grater was better, for sure… it took all the stupid track position tire strategy out of it. But, as Tony Stewart said, give it a few years. The track is still so treacherous and challenging that the race was still one to watch.
Tom: I didn’t mind the new Darlington one bit. The only thing that was an eyesore was the stupid aero push out front – whoever took the lead just simply drove away.
Amy: I agree, Tom… the tire wear before helped with that, because you could pass despite the aero if you saved your tires better than the other guy.
Kurt: There were a few too many cautions, too, but that’s part of the game.
Tom: Well, the reason there was so many cautions was in part due to the speed. It’s just so freaking fast around there now… they’re averaging close to 180.
Bryan: They do throw way too many cautions.
Kurt: I disagree… a couple of times guys were backwards and the yellow didn’t fly. I thought that was inexcusable.
Tom: Well the Sam Hornish Jr. no call on that caution was insane. What the heck was up with that?
Bryan: What the heck was up with that? Tom, it was a spin… Hornish got going again. Just because a car spins out doesn’t mean that a yellow flag needs to fly.
Mike N.: True that, Bryan, but there are times when guys get sideways and get going again and they throw the caution while he’s sliding.
Kurt: It just seemed like the cautions were selective. Generally, when a guy hits the wall and slows down there’s a caution. Not always… but it seemed like it didn’t happen at all Saturday.
Amy: If a car wrecks and stops, or there is visible debris or something blows up, then you need a caution. If he keeps going and there is nothing in the groove, you don’t need one.
Mike N.: I don’t mind if they hit the wall and stop on track; but if they just spin, it should not be a caution.
Vito: We’ve been bitching for the last three years that NASCAR throws cautions for no good reason. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that there would be starters that had fallen off cars and were laying on the track and they wouldn’t throw a caution…
Tom: Well regardless, the great thing about Darlington is it’s always going to be single-file racing… but the track is so challenging, no one’s ever going to hate it. There’s just something about how the cars race there, the tradition, how they drive them into the corner… it’ll always captivate most any fan.
Kurt: It seemed like they were driving on ice.
Tom: Kurt, in a sense they’ve always driven on ice there. Again, with the speed it just makes it that much harder to run side-by-side.
Amy: Any pass at Darlington is exciting, so you can excuse the fact there are maybe fewer of them – quality over quantity.
Bryan: This was a good race, and again, as Stewart said in his post-race presser… nothing is wrong with Darlington. All the track needs is time, and we’ll be back to seeing the old Lady in Black.
Tom: What I did find interesting is last year, cars could slam the wall and wind up OK… this year, not so much. Kyle Busch wound up behind the wall after his Darlington Stripe.
Kurt: The Lady in Black always gets the last laugh, indeed.
Tom: I think the most disappointing thing about the “new” Darlington was the “new” style of Chase racing coming back to bite us in the end… Jimmie Johnson backing off and letting Mark Martin just take it.
Bryan: Not the first time Jimmie has chosen not to race for the win, Tom. It’s to be expected.
Beth: That was definitely disappointing. There’s no telling what would have happened had Jimmie kept trying.
Mike N.: Chad Knaus is still a freaking genius though after everything that happened to them.
Amy: Jimmie tried his ass off… that’s not fair. He didn’t choose not to try; his car gave up and they were very, very close on fuel.
Vito: Jimmie was backing off to save fuel, Tom, and he didn’t have anything for him. Is he supposed to keep going and driving over his head?
Kurt: Just about anyone else and Jimmie takes it from him.
Vito: No. Martin outdrove him… period. The only reason Jimmie caught up was when Mark let off thinking there was a caution… when there was none.
Amy: Jimmie didn’t have the car, and it would have been stupid to wreck it trying.
Kurt: If I were Jimmie, I’d have been ecstatic with a second after the night they had.
Tom: Mark did a masterful job, there was no question about that. And Jimmie did everything possible to put himself in contention. But Vito, if that’s Homestead and those two are running for the championship… Jimmie goes after it. There’s an old saying in racing that second place is the first loser… but since when did that become a win?
Mike N.: I think Jimmie knew he was beaten, and after that weekend, he took the money and ran. It’s not a win… but you also don’t total yourself when you know you can’t win and it’s the 11th race of the year.
Vito: Right. And Mark simply drove away from him. He was running just hard enough to keep him at bay and not slide the tires.
Kurt: Right VP. Jimmie isn’t locked in the Chase yet. Once they get in they can turn it on; but until then, they won’t.
Bryan: If we had a points system that actually made winning significant, I’ll bet the storyline Saturday changed.
Tom: And therein lies the problem. When you release that radio transmission on air about Johnson backing off… why the hell do any non-Martin fans have reason to keep tuning in? You’re telling the world you won’t have a side-by-side finish for the win. Yeah, it happens… but it was two teammates being like, “Oh, we’ll finish 1-2.”
Kurt: Tom, Mark might run out of fuel or make a mistake, that’s why people keep tuning in. It’s not over till it’s over.
Vito: And let’s give credit where credit is due. It wasn’t like Jimmie gave it to him. He tried really hard to get alongside of him a couple of times and almost walled it. Jimmie is one of the few guys who still spins out all by himself, too – witness qualifying on Friday.
Kurt: Jimmie made the right call. If he didn’t have it for Martin, don’t wreck the car going for it.
Tom: But do people go watch races for drivers to settle for second? I’m serious… it’s a valid question.
Bryan: I’ll give Johnson credit – he knows how to points race. But I don’t care to watch him do it.
Vito: Well, better to be Johnson and finish second than be a tough guy like Busch and blow a tire to take yourself out of the race. If anything, the new Chase format is good for going for the win since it’s based on wins for seeding.
Amy: Jimmie was pretty rattled for a while, too. He absolutely went off on the radio when David Ragan tried to boot him. I have never heard him upset, ever…
Tom: So? The point was in the end, Johnson was willing to settle instead of go for the win. The ratings are down 15%… need I say more? When did Dale Earnhardt ever give up on the win?
Mike N.: Lots of times when he was a 10th-place car with 10 to go.
Kurt: Earnhardt took the points a lot, Tom… that’s how he won seven titles.
Vito: And using that mode of thinking, there were 41 other guys who gave up, too.
Bryan: OK, Johnson points raced well. That keeps him in Chase contention… but also opens him up to criticism. Because a lot of fans out there still want to see guys “win it or wreck it.”
Amy: Jimmie’s a bulldog… if there’s a way to win, he will hang onto it.
Tom: Umm I just pictured Jimmie’s face next to a bulldog… and I just don’t see it. Robby Gordon maybe… but bulldogs are probably too smart a comparison for him.
Vito: He literally looks like a bulldog.
Tom: He even acts like a bulldog from the driver’s seat. Did you hear what Robby was saying on the radio Saturday? Told everyone how cool it was his crew chief missed pit practice to go have lunch with his wife. Attaway to insult the guy you hired… right from the driver’s seat during the race! Guy cracks me up.
Bryan: Robby’s radio is always a trip.
Vito: I love Robby…
Two rookies scored top finishes at Darlington, while a third had a less-than-stellar performance in a borrowed car after failing to qualify his own. Is the Lady in Black a good indicator of which young drivers are the real deal – or does the track Too Tough To Tame make it too tough to tell?
Kurt: I think Darlington proves a driver’s worth more than any other track on the circuit, save for maybe Martinsville.
Amy: I think it’s a great indicator. If you run well there, you can learn to run well anywhere.
Vito: It’s a perfect litmus test – more so than a restrictor-plate track.
Mike N.: Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin ran well there as rookies, and they seem to be doing OK.
Tom: I know I’m on a kick about this, but Brad Keselowski made a serious statement. He’s really making a push to get a top-tier ride for next year. As for Joey Logano… it’s nice to see him come around.
Kurt: I’m far more impressed with Keselowski and Logano now than I was after ‘Dega.
Bryan: I don’t know how much I’d read into it, Kurt… Logano has a team with a great notebook.
Amy: A notebook doesn’t mean much at a track like Darlington, Bryan. You have to drive that track.
Vito: Plus, it’s a 500-miler on a hot and humid night. By the way, Logano’s radio traffic is hilarious. He sounds like he’s eight.
Kurt: Keselowski was MIGHTY impressive, too.
Mike N.: And Keselowski’s not leaving Hendrick, Tom.
Tom: No, of course not Mike. They’ll just kick Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the No. 88 for next year then….
Beth: I hope you’re ready for the hate mail, Tom.
Mike N.: Beth, if it wasn’t Junior, they would do it.
Bryan: Keselowski has Cup on the brain right now.
Tom: I wish he would just man up and declare for Rookie of the Year in Cup. It could still be a heck of a battle – even though he won’t have as many starts as Logano.
Vito: He just seems to be developing that attitude though of somebody who’s owed something….
Kurt: Who, Kes?
Mike N.: I don’t think so. I think he’s just confident.
Kurt: Well Vito, it’s our job to squash that attitude and do it now!
Bryan: Keselowski is seeming to struggle with the Cup success a tad… his Nationwide performance on Friday was embarrassing.
Tom: I agree that he’s looking toward the future – and just because he’s Junior’s buddy doesn’t mean he’s tied to Hendrick. Look at Martin Truex Jr.… he stayed at DEI when Junior left. Keselowski will get a similar blessing if someone like Penske comes calling. Or Gibbs. Or Childress.
Vito: He paused for a while this weekend when asked if he was disappointed on losing out on the No. 5 car for next year… and then came up with a diplomatic, Jimmie Johnson-esque canned response.
Bryan: Keselowski will stay in the Hendrick camp… there’s nobody who can offer him better equipment.
Vito: Joe Gibbs Racing?? Fourth car??
Tom: Let’s put it this way: Keselowski knows better than to wait for Martin or Jeff Gordon to retire.
Amy: Meanwhile, how much do you guys think TRB misses AJ Allmendinger?
Mike N.: I hope Red Bull is soiling themselves every race watching Allmendinger kick but in Petty junk.
Tom: Well, I think Allmendinger, Montoya, etc. have proven that Scott Speed has about a 2.5-year learning curve to look forward to. It looked like Speed was going to beat that when he came to Cup… but then again, so did Juan Pablo Montoya after winning in his first four months.
Amy: If I was an owner and had the choice of ‘Dinger or Speed… well, that’s not even a choice.
Vito: Scott still runs great when he jumps in a Truck or a Nationwide car though. He’ll be fine, he’s just with a small team – and it wasn’t like the No. 84 was ever that consistent. It missed a ton of races both years with AJ.
Kurt: AJ hasn’t been great the last few either. In fact, since he got the job at RPM he’s been kind of weak.
Amy: He’s still qualified for all the races, which is more than Speed can say…
Bryan: Speed is where ‘Dinger was his rookie season… completely overwhelmed in Cup, but proving talented enough to handle stock cars in everything else he drives.
Tom: I think Red Bull may be hurt by the fact they only run two cars, too. Remember when they were going to run three cars? Not doing it was likely a big mistake… the era of even the two car team is over.
Kurt: Stewart-Haas runs two cars, Tom.
Tom: Sorry Kurt… it’s over for everyone but a two-car team pretending to have someone else as an owner while part of the HMS umbrella.
Kurt: Yes, just like Haas was Hendrick stuff last year. 35th and 43rd.
Bryan: That’s not the same analogy and you know it.
Vito: Anyways, Scott also needs to be with a team that has some veteran mentorship. I don’t think Brian Vickers provides that.
Tom: I don’t think it’s Vickers’s fault. He loves driving for Red Bull, and he’s dedicated to being successful. I just honestly think they’re in a losing battle to catch up to teams that have greater resources.
Bryan: Red Bull has good cars, but they don’t have a driver development network like they should. They’d be better off running their own NNS team instead of farming development off all over the place.
Vito: We’ve been saying that for three years. They are a pretty small team comparatively – they just have a big-name sponsor and some really good people working on the car and with that team.
Kurt: I’m kind of surprised Speed isn’t running well. I thought he would. He did well in a truck.
Tom: I think Speed just got caught off balance by DNQing for that first race at Texas. Once you DNQ for one … you get behind. And for a rookie, that can be a huge blow to your confidence… he’ll get it together in time.
Amy: I think that Speed is overrated – but Kes and Logano both proved they’re the real deal with top-10 finishes at the hardest track to drive on the circuit.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to the track on Friday as little more than an undercard to the Sprint All-Star Race. But should that series – along with the Nationwide division – be getting All-Star races of their own? Or is the expense simply too great to make such races feasible?
Amy: I think the Cup All-Star race is a waste of time and money… but if they have one, so should the other series. AAA baseball has an All-Star game, and so does the AHL.
Bryan: Frankly, I don’t like the Cup All-Star Race as it is done right now. Seeing two more races like that won’t interest many.
Mike N.: An All-Star race for Nationwide and Trucks would draw flies. It isn’t worth the time or money.
Beth: Until you have consistently full fields in the Truck Series, there’s no reason to be thinking about an All-Star Race.
Vito: The Trucks can’t even get a sponsor for their championship driver, either. There are bigger problems for them right now than the lack of an All-Star Race. High school football games sell more tickets than the Truck Series….
Beth: Teams are barely surviving as it is. Add another race weekend, and it will cost them way too much to do it.
Kurt: It might work if there was a big payday, Beth.
Tom: Don’t they have the Toyota All-Star Showdown for up and coming drivers? Why don’t they have that as part of the All-Star Weekend in May? You hold it on the ¼-mile short track inside the speedway – and include some of the best drivers from the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series along with some other up-and-coming superstars. Now that would be a huge hit.
Bryan: Exactly, Tom. If you’re going to run the format we are, it has to be on a short track.
Mike N.: If you pay a million dollars for them to win one of those All-Star races, I’d be all for it. But NASCAR isn’t going to put up that kind of money for them
Amy: Even a half million would be huge.
Bryan: I just think if we’re going to have a NASCAR All-Star Race, have a NASCAR All-Star race. Bring in the NNS, Cup and Truck series race winners and let them all go at it for $1 million. Zero to everyone else…
Mike N.: That’s how it used to be, wasn’t it? Winner take all….
Vito: And add a wildcard… let a fan drive in the race!
Kurt: “Explain in 25 words or less why you should be in the All-Star Race!” I can drive very, very, very, very, very, very fast… anyways, I think they could try this thing a couple of years. It might be worth tuning in.
Vito: Now, if they could just get people to watch it and show up to see it in person, they’d be all set.
Tom: I think the All-Star Race for the other series is a great idea as it would give some attention to the drivers of the future. Right now, NASCAR doesn’t have any “must see” up and coming drivers that people are trying to watch.
Bryan: I love the idea… but nobody will tune in. There’s a legitimate NNS title chase and nobody watches. Nobody watches Truck racing. Why would they suddenly start watching them in a different format?
Vito: If you want to see up and coming drivers, watch Hooters Pro Cup, ARCA, or some 10-year-old in a quarter-midget.
Kurt: I wouldn’t say nobody watches, Bryan. They get a few viewers.
Bryan: Not enough to justify an exhibition race.
Mike N.: Although I still say if you pay a million to the winner and nothing to anyone else, people will watch and the racing will be awesome.
Kurt: I like the idea of it in the Truck Series, but Nationwide would be tough with all the Cup guys.
Mike N.: Yeah, unless you included them you’d have nobody running from NNS that anyone wanted to see. Except the Jason Leffler and Jason Keller fan clubs. And Kenny Wallace‘s whole army….
Bryan: Run NNS and Trucks at Eldora. That would get viewers.
Beth: Now that I would make the trip for.
Mike N.: Eldora is the solution for everything.
OK. All-Star predictions?
Vito: I will go out on a limb and say… Clint Bowyer.
Kurt: Stewart for the Winston.
Bryan: Damn you Kurt, that was my pick! Alright then, I’ll say the Rocket Ryan Newman steals the race on tire strategy.
Beth: I’m standing by Stewart.
Mike N.: Junior. Screw it.
Vito: Is that before or after Tony Jr. is replaced?
Mike N.: Neither. He’s gonna shock the world and save Tony Eury’s job.
Vito: Maybe he’s wrecking on purpose, thinking he’s going to get Gustafson….
Kurt: Eury will work at the DEI museum.
Tom: Mike, I think Eury will already be gone by then if he’s going to go… there’ll be an announcement now if they’re going to split up. Oh, and I think it’s going to be the Busch brothers in a duel to the finish, by the way. Kurt takes it.
Amy: I’m going with Vickers racing in and winning it all.
Tom: WOW. That’s a gutsy pick Amy… I love it though. He’s definitely one to watch.
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 11 races (and the Bud 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||-6||10||1||4||4|
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