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/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)
Joey Logano‘s surprise win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway made him the youngest driver ever to win a Sprint Cup race. Where does his season rank among other active drivers’ rookie campaigns?
Jeff: Well, he’s probably the highest paid… But I am not surprised.
Beth: He has actually surprised me.
Bryan: Honestly, his rookie campaign hasn’t been all that impressive. Kyle Busch looked better his first year and so did Jamie McMurray back in 2003. He has definitely shown improvement, though. The talent level is there.
Jeff: His ‘class’ level is a thousand times that of Busch’s!
Mike N.: And he’s not up to Tony Stewart, that’s for sure, but at this point he’s doing better than I thought he would.
Amy: Better than Jeff Gordon‘s. He didn’t win it on track though, so he’s not on track with guys like Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, or Ryan Newman. He’s doing about what I figured he would, in general.
Mike N.: The talent level is definitely there, and with that team, he could still rip off another win or two. But he’s not shown like Stewart did his rookie year.
Bryan: He’s gotten to a point he’s finishing races consistently, and that’s a big stepping stone in itself.
Amy: Right Mike. He has his moments, but he was genuinely humbled and he’s finishing consistently, running top 15 to nearly top 10.
Bryan: I agree entirely. JGR has to be nothing but pleased with his performance.
Amy: I think more has been expected of rookies since Stewart came in. And Johnson had what is arguably the finest rookie season ever.
Bryan: And still couldn’t win ROTY, Amy!
Amy: I know, that system is crazy.
Mike N.: He’s already tearing up less stuff than I thought he would be.
Amy: Yeah, and Gordon tore stuff up every week as a rookie.
Bryan: I still don’t like the practice that Gordon started of having youngsters season themselves by wrecking Cup cars instead of coming to Cup seasoned a la Martin Truex, Jr. But Logano has done everything that could be expected and then some this year. He is definitely worth the hype.
Beth: And to be fair to Joey, he’s got some pretty big shoes to fill, following Stewart in that No. 20.
Jeff: Well, Gibbs aint ‘rushing’ him… I don’t think.
Mike N.: No they aren’t, Jeff. J.D. and Joe new what they had going in and they have stuck by their guns.
Jeff: Joey won’t have to ‘worry’ about a ride for awhile. Gibbs has shown that Joey is his man for the No. 20, even if moving up to Cup was a little faster than J.D. or Joe would have liked.
Mike N.: You’ve got that right, Jeff. They have tagged him as the man and they’re going to stick with him. David Ragan might want to take notice of that.
Beth: And it’s definitely refreshing to see a team stand behind their driver no matter what.
Jeff: Amen to that, Beth.
Mike N.: Well don’t forget, he tore up a bunch of stuff early in the season. It’s not like he came out of the box smoking.
Amy: That’s a part of the equation these days, Mike.
Bryan: The team aspect is what can’t be overstated enough: as good as Joey’s been, he’s with one hell of a race team.
Jeff: Yeah, arguably one of best crew chiefs.
Beth: He’s done exactly what a rookie should do: improve as he gets more time behind the wheel.
Amy: He’s had a learning curve for sure, Mike, and he did get lucky Sunday… and I’m not putting him down for luck — they were in position and that’s all you can ask for.
Jeff: You get lucky in racing.
Beth: Luck or not, it’s one in the win column for him.
Mike N.: Well, they were in position because they weren’t that good. Point is, he stole one, there’s no question. But sometimes that’s how you win ‘em.
Amy: But he’s not having a terrible year, and he’s probably not going to have a year like Johnson and Newman did in ’02, either.
Bryan: The win he scored Sunday does not catapult his year from something more than a rookie campaign. But it does serve well for everyone to take stock that he is well on his way to stardom.
Mike N.: And, for now, he’s the youngest winner ever in the series.
Jeff: That has to tear Kyle up.
Bryan: Kyle was certainly dialed down a lot this weekend. It almost seems like JGR finally gave him a kick in the ass before they went to Loudon. But back to Joey, it’s all been said. He’s the real deal, and it won’t be long before he’s winning races, not stealing them.
Beth: Logano is definitely doing exactly what he needs to be doing. He’s improving has he gets more experience behind the wheel, but he still has a lot to learn.
Mike N.: Logano is having a decent rookie year, but it would be more fun if Brad Keselowski was running for ROY, but oh well…
Bryan: How bout Kes? Another Cup top 10 finish!
Mike N.: He stole that too.
Bryan: He didn’t steal his Cup win this year, though.
Jeff: Kes will be another star, too.
NHMS has made several upgrades recently. Will this be enough for the track to keep two dates, or does the track need to go further?
Amy: I will admit I cringed when SMI bought out Bob Bahre but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They have done a good job.
Mike N.: It is hard to say, Amy. Kentucky is going to get a date once the lawsuit is settled, and it is coming from either New Hampshire or Atlanta.
Jeff: It should come from California.
Mike N.: California is an ISC track.
Jeff: Sigh… I know.
Mike N.: As long as Atlanta fans treat NASCAR like all of their other professional sports, then NHMS is probably safe.
Bryan: There’s not much else Loudon can do. And frankly, it shouldn’t be in the discussion. Better facility now upgraded, and better attendance than Atlanta. End of discussion.
Beth: I was happy with the racing on the track Sunday, and I don’t think there’s a reason to take a race away from a track that puts on a good race.
Bryan: Atlanta’s crowd for the March race was a joke. An absolute joke.
Amy: NASCAR should make them take it from Atlanta. If they want a cookie cutter, fine, but take it from a cookie cutter.
Mike N.: NASCAR should give them a date and not make them take one from anywhere. NASCAR has never given Bruton a date, he’s bought every one he has. Like Phoenix needs two dates…
Amy: California needs two races like the desert needs more sand. But back to New Hampshire, I thought the double file restarts really made a difference.
Bryan: They’ve made a difference everywhere.
Jeff: Double files should have been done all along as I’ve said for years.
Amy: I agree, Bryan, but it really showed at NHMS this week. It was very, very racy. And seriously, NHMS is a very, very nice facility in every aspect, and the race was one of the best all year. That is something the track worked a long time for.
Bryan: Yeah, NHMS looked great on TV this weekend. Good crowd, the infield looked sharp.
Mike N.: I think New Hampshire is safe for now. But once Kentucky gets their date and Bruton buys Iowa, look out.
Bryan: I don’t know if I’m ready to say it was one of the season’s best races, but NHMS certainly can put on a good show consistently.
Amy: A lot of fans complain about Bruton, but SMI tracks are light years ahead of ISC in terms of fan friendliness and facilities.
Beth: I saw racing this weekend similar to the kind that got me into NASCAR 15 years ago. There is still hope for the future of NASCAR!
Mike N.: I’ve always thought New Hampshire had good races, except for that restrictor plate thing they threw at us.
Bryan: NHMS should not even be considered for a date cut. California sucks, and on the SMI slate Atlanta has done nothing to merit keeping two dates.
Beth: Take the date from Atlanta to give to Kentucky and call it a day. There’s no reason to take it from NHMS.
Mike N.: It is tough to pass, but there is a ton of side-by-side racing.
Beth: That was the appeal when I started watching NASCAR, Mike.
Mike N.: And I agree Atlanta loses one first, but once Bruton buys Iowa, I think New Hampshire is in trouble.
Jeff: I didn’t know he was shopping for Iowa.
Bryan: He will be. Iowa has to get money to expand from somewhere.
Mike N.: And where else is he going to buy?
Jeff: That’d be cool. I like Bruton.
Mike N.: I have mixed emotions with Bruton. I like what he does for fans and his facilities but he’s lied to my face and I don’t like that.
Jeff: I trust Bruton more than I do Rusty Wallace.
Bryan: Bruton’s a businessman. But in his defense, he doesn’t pretend not to be one.
NASCAR will announce the 25 nominees to the new hall of fame, a field that will be narrowed to just five inductees. So who should be in the first class to enter?
Bryan: Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson for starters.
Mike N.: I don’t know why they’re doing 25. That is such a waste of time. Earnhardt, Petty and Big Bill are in, no questions asked. After that there may be some debate. I personally think T. Wayne Robertson and Junior Johnson should be in but I don’t know that they’ll get enough support right off of the bat.
Beth: Earnhardt and Petty for sure. Junior Johnson definitely should be a part of that group.
Amy: My five would be Bill France, Petty, Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Lee Petty. Junior Johnson and Yarborough were tough for me. Maybe Junior, actually, now that three in a row is no longer solely Cale’s record.
Mike N.: Tim Flock and Fireball Roberts should be up there, too. Junior’s in because he was a legendary driver and owner — and he did so much to move the sport into the modern era.
Bryan: This is why there’s 25 of them. Besides the King, Dale and Bill France, there is going to be loads of debate.
Mike N.: I don’t think there’s THAT much debate, Bryan.
Jeff: Think Gordon would make it? Simply as a symbol of the new marketing era? And of course, those four championships.
Mike N.: You have to be retired, Jeff. So do we all agree on Petty, Earnhardt and Big Bill?
Amy: I think so.
Mike N.: OK, so we have two spots left.
Amy: Lee Petty.
Mike N.: My vote is for T. Wayne and Junior Johnson with Pearson and Bill Jr. getting honorable mention.
Amy: Bill Jr. would be a good choice as long as Brian France never gets in.
Jeff: Too bad Brian France cant be inducted… or indicted.
Bryan: Lee Petty and Pearson get my votes. Junior and Fireball are right in the running as well.
Mike N.: I personally think Pearson is the best driver ever, with Herb Thomas tight on his heels.
Bryan: Couldn’t agree more, Mike. Pearson is underrated to a fault.
Amy: If Junior Johnson gets inducted, he’ll have been inducted AND indicted.
Bryan: And damn if he doesn’t have something to say about today’s NASCAR! I take that back, Johnson and Pearson won’t get in, they’re too anti-modern NASCAR — it won’t market well.
Mike N.: Junior and David both.
Amy: Beth, what do you think?
Beth: I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to just two more, Amy. I’m leaning towards Johnson and Pearson, but then I start thinking of others that belong in there as well.
Amy: It’s hard. I’m a little surprised that they aren’t putting more than five in in the first year.
Mike N.: I am surprised too. I thought they’d do 10 or 15 the first year.
Jeff: Well, like I said, I really don’t care who they induct. That kind of thing just doesn’t trip my trigger.
Beth: They should induct 10 or 15 out of the gate.
Mike N.: On top of the fact that there are two other stock car racing Hall of Fames already in existence …
Bryan: NASCAR has to do their own thing, they need more money, somehow. They’re having the same problem the feds are. The money bags (read: fans) are leaving where they’re being fleeced.
Jeff: Yeah, just like NASCAR to finally get around to honoring the men that made the family billions.
Mike N.: I was surprised to find out there is more than just NASCAR in the building. They’re renting out office space in the building. They should have endorsed the one in Talladega.
Jeff: How would you like to have NASCAR as your landlord?
Amy: I think this is one area where they do need to be on par with other sports, though. And there are too many new fans that have no clue about the history. If the HOF can teach them, cool.
Bryan: Please, the NASCAR version of the history of the sport will read like a fifth grade history text book saying Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, and that was all the Civil War was about.
Mike N.: I knew Bryan could bring the Emancipation Proclamation into this. You’re the man Bryan.
Bryan: I don’t trust NASCAR enough to have them tell their own story.
Jeff: Bryan never has loose ends at the end of the day! Do you?
The Nationwide Series will go to a double-file restart starting at Daytona. Is that a wise move for the series, or is it too much for some of the less experienced drivers to handle?
Beth: People keep making such a big deal about the double-file restarts, but these guys do it every week when they’re starting the race. If they would just treat it like the start of the race, they would be just fine.
Mike N.: It is a huge recipe for disaster. Although it will be nice to see Kyle and Carl Edwards side-by-side once Carl gets his act back together.
Bryan: They’ve always started double-wide. It’s just a difference of who is starting where in the double-file line. Bring it on.
Amy: I think it’s going to be hairy at first, and I do question them starting at Daytona, of all places. But it’s still a good idea.
Jeff: Oh give me a break! If Joe Schmoe can handle it every week at the local dirt track, these boys should be able to cope.
Mike N.: I don’t think Joe Schmoe handles it at the local tracks. There are more wrecks on restarts than any other time at local tracks.
Bryan: For crying out loud, the last Nationwide plate race was cleaner than the Cup race at ‘Dega! It’ll be all Cup guys up front anyway. And besides, since its a plate race, everyone is going to have to worry about staying in line to get the motors revved up anyway. We’re not going to have four-wide racing as soon as they drop the green.
Mike N.: The Nationwide cars crank up faster on plate tracks. They’ll be all over the place by Turn 3.
Bryan: If John Wes Townley doesn’t qualify (which very well could happen), the field will be safe.
Jeff: Like Bryan and I said about the double-file starts, it’s not new, it’s just new who is up there.
Amy: I think the restarts have really improved racing. I’m not sure there should be changes in race procedure at random times all year, though.
Mike N.: It will be interesting. I think we’ll have more wrecks, but that will bring out more fans. Just look at this past weekend: Biggest Cup wreck ever at New Hampshire.
Beth: That was just because Dale Earnhardt, Jr. didn’t get a good start.
Bryan: Look at the biggest wreck that happened at Dover back in June 2004. Right after a restart, and that wasn’t “shootout style.” Restarts, no matter who lines up where, are always hairy.
Jeff: That’s what I am saying. If anything, you won’t have as many wrecks cause all the guys up front have more to lose.
Mike N.: We’ll see. I think most of the guys up front won’t give a crap, because they’re not running for Nationwide points.
OK, how about predictions for Daytona?
Mike N.: Stewart.
Amy: I am going to go with Stewart too.
Mike N.: Oh crap, I can’t take what Amy did. I’ll switch to Junior.
Bryan: Smoke. The No. 14 is going to tear the field a new one for the next month and a half, and it all starts with another Pepsi 400 trophy. Oops… Coke Zero 400 trophy.
Beth: Decisions, decisions… Plate races are always a crapshoot. I was going to go with Junior, but I think I’m going to go with Gordon instead.
Jeff: Well, I’m an Edhead, so I got to go with Carl. He’s got to win one sometime.
Mike N.: Not in a plate car he doesn’t.
Jeff: Who? Carl? Carl damn near won the last one. Until he had that little problem with the fence.
Mike N.: Wow, no one is going with Keselowski?
Bryan: Kes scores a top 20 — I’ll come out and say that.
Mike N.: Kes flips before the race is over and finishes outside the top 30.
Amy: Darkhorse: Brian Vickers.
Mike N.: Darkhorse: Greg Biffle.
Bryan: Darkhorse: Dale Jr.
Jeff: Darkhorse: David Reutimann.
Mike N.: Pitch Blackhorse: Joe Nemechek.
Bryan: He’s going to park, Mike.
Mike N.: I know, that’s why it’s pitch black.
Bryan: I wonder if Vegas is taking bets on which team parks fastest these days?
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 14 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|
|Bryan Davis Keith||14||-6||15||*2*||*6*||6|