Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Cutting the Cord on NASCAR Fuel Mileage, Foreign Fan Suicide & Reviewing Road Courses

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)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & 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)

One of the fans’ biggest complaints after Michigan was that, again, it was a fuel-mileage race. Is there anything NASCAR can do to change the fact that many races come down to how much gas is in the tank?

Kurt: Throw more cautions for debris? I understand not liking to see your guy run out of gas, but it’s part of it.
Mike: No, they can’t. Michigan lends itself to long, green-flag runs and that can lead to fuel-mileage races. I’ve complained about them in the past, but this one was very exciting. I didn’t have a problem this weekend.
Beth: Running out of fuel is part of the racing game. If you take the risk, then you also take the consequences.
Jeff: Any race can be a fuel-mileage race if the green-flag runs are long enough.
Mike: Yeah, hell, Elliott Sadler won Bristol on fuel mileage.
Amy: I have no problem with fuel races, because the end is exciting and without tossing a completely illegitimate debris caution within the last fuel window, there is nothing that can be done on the track. That said, if they made a better schedule it would be a non-issue.
Beth: How can a better schedule ensure there won’t be fuel-mileage races?
Amy: Schedule tracks like Rockingham that don’t produce long green-flag runs.
Beth: So do you just want to see more torn-up racecars, Amy?
Amy: No I don’t, but it’s the only legit way to get rid of fuel racing. As I said though, I have no problem with fuel-mileage racing because the end is a nailbiter.
Kurt: Less speedways – they’re more conducive to it, I think, with fewer cautions. Road courses are often a fuel-mileage game.
Beth: Trading fuel-mileage racing for more wrecks doesn’t exactly sound like the greatest idea. People complain when there are too many cautions and then they complain when there aren’t enough. You’re never going to make everyone happy.
Kurt: Well, I know fans wouldn’t like a phony debris caution just to take fuel mileage out of it.
Jeff: What? You want them to have competition cautions just so everyone can have the same amount of gas?! It’s all part of the game, just like clock management in the NFL.
Mike: Sunday’s finish was awesome, and I’m normally not a fuel-mileage guy.
Kurt: Mark Martin, to his credit, played it perfectly even if he was just going for points.

See also
Voice of Vito: Number 5 is Alive - Mark Martin Outwits and Outlasts Opponents in 2009 Lifelock 400 at Michigan

Mike: Mark stuck to his plan while Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson did not.
Beth: We wouldn’t even be talking about this if Johnson had just played the fuel game and accepted a second-place finish.
Mike: If Jimmie doesn’t push or Greg doesn’t battle, one of those two win.
Amy: I hate that the best car didn’t win, but the end was great because you didn’t know who was going to run out next.
Beth: That’s a part of it, Amy. The best truck didn’t win the Truck race, either.
Mike: And the best Nationwide car didn’t win, either.
Jeff: Well, the best car/team doesn’t always win in any sport! If they did, what would be the point of having a race anyway?
Beth: There’s really nothing that should be done. No matter what happens, there will always be fuel-mileage racing.
Jeff: I agree. It’s a non issue.
Amy: I had no issue with the race, although I know others did. But the only way to avoid it is to schedule shorter tracks where the likelihood of it is reduced.
Kurt: I’ve got no complaints about how this last one ended even though the rest of the race wasn’t holding my attention very well.
Mike: Even with bigger fuel cells, they’d just stretch the gas further.
Amy: I’d love to see that anyway, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
Beth: Just like there will always be home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in baseball and touchdowns or field goals in the final few seconds of a football game, this will, from time to time, be part of the strategy. If your numbers are right, you become the beneficiary.

NASCAR has reportedly been in contact with foreign automakers that build cars in the United States in an effort to shore up support should GM and Dodge pull out. Would adding other foreign makes help the sport or hurt it?

Amy: It’s a double-edged sword. You need manufacturers, obviously, but a lot of fans hate foreign makes in the sport; and if you lose the fans, you lose even more revenue.
Bryan: The money certainly would help, but Toyota hasn’t exactly won the masses over.
Jeff: They are kit cars anyway, so what difference does it really make?
Bryan: Jeff’s got a point.
Beth: Jeff has a very good point. But there are quite a few fans that will be very resistant to yet another foreign manufacturer. I mean, look at all the animosity towards Toyota.
Kurt: Well if Toyota didn’t drive them out, Honda won’t either.
Bryan: The animosity towards Toyota isn’t just being Japanese, it’s the way it has come into different series on its own terms because it has the money to do so.
Kurt: But right now you need manufacturers to put money into the sport, Bryan.
Mike: Does it really matter anymore?
Amy: I think it does matter.
Mike: The cars have no character other than decals.
Bryan: NASCAR would be better off courting domestic sponsorships than foreign automakers.
Kurt: I don’t like the idea that I’m supposed to buy American even if American products are inferior. Not saying they are, I just don’t like that mentality.
Bryan: You may not, Kurt, but NASCAR has a fanbase to maintain and a lot of them are economic patriots. It may be a stupid mentality, but again, the last thing NASCAR can be is ignorant of who its fans are.
Kurt: Well, if you need foreign manufacturers to keep the sport running, you have to do it. I want foreign companies bringing business here and employing people.
Mike: There are more Toyotas made in America than Fords, GMs or Chryslers.
Amy: I thought it was interesting that with all of GM’s issues, Team Red Bull is considering switching to Chevy. Brian Vickers should be winning a ton of races, and should have about five by now. Perhaps the sharing at Toyota is less equal than TRD wants us to think.
Mike: Red Bull feels like the reliability of the Toyota engines it’s getting is lacking, but I don’t remember Vickers blowing up a bunch this year.
Bryan: Look, if Red Bull wants better motors, it could get a deal with Gibbs. With the money that company has, it could sponsor the whole damn field.
Kurt: Back on topic, I think something like the Chase was a contrived ratings grab. But adding foreign manufacturers is a response to economic realities.
Jeff: If Brian France can make money off Honda, Porsche, whomever, he will.
Amy: I think that while money and new blood would be a plus, NASCAR has to be really, really careful about alienating any more of its older fanbase.
Mike: What is left of the older fanbase?
Bryan: Good question.
Mike: Seriously, if they tolerated the Chase and Toyota and the other crap they’ve been handed, Kia in Cup will be nothing new.
Jeff: “The fanbase” needs to get over the whole “manufacturer deal” anyway! It is just idiotic.
Amy: I agree Jeff, but it stands that this will cost fans.
Kurt: So if GM isn’t providing funding for Nationwide and Truck series entries, what is NASCAR supposed to do? Just let the teams eat the costs at times like this?
Bryan: Again Kurt, they need to be courting sponsors for the teams, not manufacturers.
Kurt: I don’t have a problem with rooting for a manufacturer, but don’t oppose another manufacturer getting into the game. America is a melting pot!
Amy: It takes years for a manufacturer to develop a NASCAR-specific car.
Mike: Not anymore.
Jeff: Engine parts, Amy, that’s all it is.
Bryan: Yeah Amy, and they get to write their own rules doing it.
Amy: True, Bryan, and get more horsepower and concessions than the ones already here.
Mike: With the CoT, all they have to do is print decals anyway.
Kurt: NASCAR did slow down Toyota last year based on the specs of an engine for a team that hadn’t even won.
Jeff: Here’s an idea: Just have crate engines and let the teams decide (based on who pays them the most) what decals to put on it!
Beth: In the end, NASCAR has to make a decision that will help the sport survive, but foreign manufacturers will cause some fans to walk away.
Kurt: Hey, if manufacturers are willing to pump money into the sport, bring ’em on.
Bryan: I’m of the opinion that there are other sources of money out there that NASCAR should be courting other than getting more foreign nameplates involved.
Mike: I don’t care if they have everybody in the sport, the cars have no unique identity anymore. The engines would be different, but they’re going to be pretty spec before long, too. Let them all in, I say.
Jeff: Dodge is now Italian anyway… and before that, it was German.

Heading to the road courses at Infineon this weekend, there are a number of road-course ringers displacing regular Cup drivers in their full-time rides. If the regular Cup drivers aren’t good enough to drive on a road course, wouldn’t that be a reason to get rid of road course racing in general?

Amy: Absolutely not. Maybe it’s time for those drivers to learn how to drive a road course!
Mike: Nope. If you are going to run with the big dogs, you have to run all of the courses.
Jeff: Amen, Mike.
Kurt: No, of course not. Road racing is an oddball test of a driver’s true skills.
Bryan: Hell no. Just because Michael Waltrip can’t turn right is no reason to abandon a true racing discipline.
Mike: The only regulars getting ousted are ones who are at the bottom of the standings.
Amy: If anything, they need to add at least one of these tracks in the Chase.
Kurt: You notice there aren’t ever any plate-race ringers?
Amy: Except for Mike Wallace.
Jeff: I’ve never thought of Mike Wallace as any kind of ringer.
Mike: Mike Wallace is a plate-racing stud.
Kurt: I’m fine with two road courses a year. But the fact that some drivers get pulled out of the car suggest that road-course racing is much more about driver skill.
Amy: I agree, and at this level, the lack thereof is no reason to abandon the races.
Kurt: We need street courses!
Amy: I’d love to see a street course.
Bryan: Street course, dirt track, everything needs to be here. This is the premier racing circuit in the U.S. Every conceivable racing discipline needs to be represented.
Jeff: Amen.
Bryan: If some big-name driver can’t cut it turning both ways, tough luck.
Amy: Exactly, Bryan. And if you can’t drive it, learn or get a ringer, but don’t ruin it for everyone else.
Kurt: If there were, say, four road-course races in a season, you’d probably see fewer ringers because guys would be forced to learn it. I say replace Talladega with Montreal and Millville.
Beth: Just because a few guys can’t race the road courses doesn’t mean we should just dump them, either. Those drivers need to accept the fact that they need to improve or step out for someone who knows how to race them.
Amy: Road racing takes a different kind of skill than oval racing. A road course in the Chase has the potential to completely change who the favorite is.
Kurt: I don’t think there should be a road course in the Chase unless there are four of those races a year.
Amy: As there should be, Kurt. If we’re stuck with a Chase, it should include a road race in my opinion.
Mike: It takes a lot different skill to succeed in them, for sure. And that’s why you see some of the best still up there while others only shine on road courses.
Bryan: Precisely. And I almost like the idea of adding more to force drivers to learn how to do it instead of hiring ringers. It does nothing but add legitimacy to the Cup Series to have right turns to complement the ovals – especially to those outside stock cars. And if they wanted to dump set distances in favor of time limits, then I’d be willing to talk change.
Mike: Road racing is interesting – maybe one more on the schedule and a street course for Kurt. But that’s it.
Beth: I wouldn’t be against adding more road racing, either.
Kurt: The only downside is road-course races have a similar luck factor to plate tracks. Someone could run out of fuel or be off on a pit sequence and finish 33rd. But just their presence on the schedule helps shut up the “they just go around in circles” crowd.
Jeff: What will a “chicane” be called this year?
Amy: Don’t know; I’m still trying to get over the shock of seeing “Mike Wallace” and “stud” in the same sentence!

There were two Cupwhackers at the Nationwide Nashville event and only three at Kentucky, respectively. Is this a sign that the series is beginning to stand on its own two feet, or is it still a negative for the sport because both races were won by full-time Cup guys in standalone events?

Jeff: A guy that is running every race in both series isn’t really a ‘whacker.’
Bryan: It’s not a sign that the series is standing up, it’s a sign that sponsors weren’t willing to spend big money to send drivers from Michigan to Kentucky and Pocono to Nashville in this economy.
Amy: It’s a sign NASCAR should schedule more standalones far, far away from Cup races to discourage more from making the trips.
Kurt: Why not totally revamp the Nationwide and Truck schedule and scratch the backs of some struggling tracks, like, say, Rockingham?
Mike: Amen, Kurt. And most Cup teams don’t feel there is a benefit if the races are not at the same venue. It’s not that they’re going to stop running them, they just don’t want to spend the money.
Bryan: Exactly, Mike. The only reason that more Cup guys didn’t run the last two races was purely cost.
Amy: It’s not a sign of the series’ health, it’s a sign of the economy and the fact that if it’s not usable as a test, the Cup guys won’t shell out the cash to go.

See also
Throw the Businessmen From the Train: Kentucky Speedway Deserves a Cup Race Now

Bryan: On the other hand, it certainly was good to see so few Cup drivers the last two weekends. The Nationwide regulars have actually been the stars of their own telecasts!
Kurt: At the very least, NASCAR should throw a few more curveballs like this on the schedule, so that it’s difficult for a Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards to run for a title in the Nationwide Series.
Bryan: Kurt, NASCAR wants Kyle and Carl running for the Nationwide title.
Kurt: I don’t know that NASCAR specifically wants it, but sponsors do.
Beth: I still say NASCAR should have more Truck/Nationwide companion races with Cup on the other side of the country.
Mike: Me too, Beth. That would make perfect sense.
Amy: And at ridiculous times for the Cup guys to make it in time.
Beth: And can we please take the Trucks away from California?
Kurt: It would take some pain; but in the long run, both series would be better off.
Bryan: The Sonoma/Milwaukee double is a great one. Always pray for Wisconsin rains and thunderstorms that Saturday night.
Mike: Yeah man, love that cross-country thing.
Jeff: Unless you make a rule that says Kyle or Carl can’t run for the NNS title, they should be free to do so if they want. Like I said, they are running every race.
Kurt: True, Jeff, but I’m not moved by a Cup guy beating up on minor leaguers in inferior equipment.
Jeff: Don’t have to be moved by it. You need the little ones to race against the best, don’t you?
Kurt: No Jeff, the little ones should get enough seat time before they’re racing against the best.
Bryan: Kurt scores.
Jeff: That’s owners making poor choices and rushing up guys that aren’t ready!
Mike: Anyways, the series needs whackers and the young guys say they like running against the Cup guys – to generate interest. Just not a field full of them.
Bryan: Not all of them do, Mike. The ones in the back aren’t enjoying facing JGR every week.
Mike: They’ll be facing JGR even if it wasn’t Joey and Kyle.
Bryan: Back to the topic at hand. Let’s not kid ourselves: The last few weeks have been a great reprieve for the Nationwide Series, but it’s not a sign of things changing. It’s simply a sign that unless a sponsor committed to the full season, the teams don’t see a need to fly their drivers around. If the economy was better, we’d have seen Biffle and others at Kentucky.
Amy: Exactly, Bryan. It’s a sign of a poor economy, not of any series’ good health. It was fine when you had five or six Cup guys in each race, but not the same ones every week and not running for the title on better stuff and more money.
Jeff: And yet the defending Truck champ got dumped because he didn’t have a sponsor.
Amy: If they did it because they loved to race so much, they would be willing to self-fund.
Beth: Why self-fund when the money is there for you?
Mike: Kyle runs Ballew’s stuff for nothing in the Truck Series.
Beth: Exactly, because he loves to race.
Amy: But he still has a sponsor who could be on a full-time team. If he paid for the thing to run, I’d be impressed.
Kurt: A driver’s fans want to see him run in other series, which is why they’re there. And if you have a chance to put Kyle in your truck, you’re going to do it.
Mike: Yes you are, Kurt. And he pays for his late model team to run.
Amy: Good for him. Then let him go race it all he wants.
Bryan: When he proves he can score a top 10 in a Cup car again, I might be impressed.
Beth: That’s just ‘cause you don’t like him.
Amy: All full-time Cup guys should have to self-fund if they race in a lower series.
Jeff: I disagree, Amy.
Kurt: It’s nice to propose rule changes, but it’s not going to change. And in these times, I think both series need to draw attention. I don’t like it, but I’ve found serenity with it.
Amy: Busch can still afford way better stuff on his Cup salary than the local guys on their factory pay – if they still have it.
Bryan: We’re getting off topic with yet another Kyle debate. Anyways, Kentucky proved nothing about the health of the Nationwide Series – except for the fact that they have great fans.

OK, how about predictions for Infineon?

Beth: Tony Stewart.
Kurt: Juan Pablo Montalban.
Bryan: I can’t resist: the Rocket shakes off a bad weekend at MIS and beats the boss to victory lane.
Jeff: I pick the ‘Dinger! AJ Allmendinger for me.
Amy: I’m going to say Kevin Harvick.
Kurt: Out on a limb there, Amy.
Mike: Wow, you’re on crack. Hope Frontstretch doesn’t test you.
Beth: Wow, way out on a limb there. He’s run well at several tracks but hasn’t been able to do much of anything this season.
Amy: He has run very well at Infineon in the past.
Kurt: Not a bad choice, in my opinion – Harvick’s good turning right. He’s won at the Glen.
Mike: As much as I want to pick Robby Gordon, I’m sticking with the tried and true and taking Jeff Gordon. As long as he doesn’t start 43rd. But although I didn’t pick him, wait until you see Montoya run away with it this weekend.
Bryan: SHR will have a thing or two to say about that, Mike.
Mike: I know they will, and Hendrick too, but Montoya is in a better piece than he’s ever been in before.

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 15 races, the Bud Shootout, and the All-Star Race this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Beth Lunkenheimer 17 16 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 14 -3 17 2 5 7
Bryan Davis Keith 14 -3 14 2 6 6
Tom Bowles 14 -3 6 1 4 4
Kurt Smith 13 -4 14 2 4 7
Mike Neff 9 -8 11 0 4 5
Vito Pugliese 6 -11 10 0 1 5
Jeff Meyer 4 -13 10 0 2 4
Tony Lumbis 0 -17 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway 0 -17 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -20 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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