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)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/The Voice Of Vito)
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 several late incidents at Chicagoland Speedway, several drivers blamed the double-file restarts for the problem. Was it the rule or the drivers themselves at the root of the problems on Saturday night?
Kurt: No one knows how to handle it yet.
Amy: Exactly. They need to settle down, take a deep breath and figure it out.
Bryan: Cautions breed cautions, regardless of whether or not the cars are racing for position or trying to outrun lapped cars. Wrecks happen on restarts. The end.
Jeff: Oh no, not again… We’ve always had double file restarts! It’s just lead lap guys screwing up this time.
Vito: I have no idea what Jeff Burton was complaining about. The accident happened because a guy blew a tire and collected some cars. That could have happened regardless of where cars were starting.
Beth: Cautions breed cautions… always have, always will.
Kurt: It’s happened to Burton four times on restarts, and he’s associating it that way — I don’t blame him.
Bryan: Burton just sounded like he was trying to latch onto something to blame. The No. 31 team, the entire RCR camp is lost, and the Chase is a pipe dream for them right now.
Amy: My favorite was Denny Hamlin, after body slamming two separate leaders out of the way: “It’s a product of the double-file restarts.” How about it’s a product of driving like an idiot…
Bryan: Driving aggressively is not driving like an idiot. Denny’s three-wide move for the lead was bold and awesome — so what if some paint got traded?
Amy: Denny’s move was bold, but far from awesome. Bump and run on the last lap is fine, but with 15 to go it’s dirty. And he did it to two different guys.
Bryan: Amy, Denny went three-wide for the lead — that was not dirty.
Amy: Going three-wide wasn’t dirty. Intentionally punting two cars out of the way was dirty!
Kurt: Hmm… sounds like Amy’s forgotten about Martinsville earlier this year. I think both guys realize it was hard racing. There won’t be any grudges over it.
Bryan: And there shouldn’t be. That was one of the few redeeming moments of the 400 miles.
Vito: I like how Jimmie Johnson excused himself from the Kurt Busch incident, saying that the No. 24 was inside of him. Uh, he was three cars behind him…
Jeff: I get sick of everyone thinking this is new. The only difference is we finally got the guys up front who should be there! Someone would just be bitchin’ about a guy not on the lead lap causing the wreck under the old system.
Bryan: Precisely, Jeff.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. Better to be punted for position than by some guy five laps behind you; but it’s not a free pass for dirty driving, either. In general, I like the rule, and if you drive like an idiot because of it, you have no cause to complain.
Vito: I thought it was good racing; however, I think this rule will fall flat on its face at Bristol, Martinsville, or Richmond.
Beth: Is it possible that maybe some of this is because these cars are crap and have trouble passing for the most part? They’ve got to do the beating and banging early if they’re going to gain a ton of positions.
Kurt: That’s why the rule was implemented, Beth. Drivers wanted a shot at the leader before he just pulled away.
Vito: Hey, 20 laps to go and everybody’s car is about the same — you gotta get what you can get while you can. It is, after all, SHOOTOUT STYLE!
Bryan: Let’s not forget that all the calamities used to happen on late-race restarts, though.
Jeff: Chicago is one of the suckiest tracks on the circuit, anyway.
Vito: Chicago is Charlotte with Down’s Syndrome.
Jeff: Chicago is Charlotte’s flat-chested sister.
Bryan: But Chicago’s got curves, Jeff!
Amy: And giant inflatable oranges, too.
Jeff: True dat.
Amy: As for the double-file rule, I can see the victim blaming the rule, and it is a bit chaotic at times — but when the instigator uses it as an excuse, it’s pretty low.
Kurt: Here’s the thing: the rule is there to give guys a shot at the leader, but if you can’t pass the leader before the start/finish line, then what’s the point? How about making a car that can pass instead?
Beth: Sounds like a great idea to me, Kurt.
Bryan: Trust me, Kurt, you don’t want passing before the line. That’s allowed (unofficially) at Bowman-Gray Stadium and it’s messy to a fault.
Amy: Yeah, if you think cautions breed cautions now, allow that and see what happens!
Jeff: Well, whatever you want changed, we know the rule was not to blame for the wrecks at Chicago.
Kurt: And the rule isn’t going to save NASCAR from the funk it’s in.
Beth: I agree the rule had nothing to do with it. Cautions breed cautions, and that didn’t change just because of how restarts are done.
Bryan: The only person I blame for anything all weekend was Jimmie acting like he did nothing wrong… Kurt was right to call him out. As for Burton and the restarts, he’s just frustrated. The restarts aren’t why the No. 31 is faltering.
Beth: I laughed like crazy when Kurt called Jimmie out. It’s about time.
With Silly Season underway, the most recent rumors have Yates Racing cleaning house at the end of the year, with Paul Menard and his father, John, shopping their sponsorship to interested teams. Editor’s Note: Menard and a source at Yates Racing have vehemently denied the claim, although we certainly stick by our story.
If Menard does end up leaving Yates, what’s the best team for him to end up with, and is a third rebuilding effort in three years the right decision for this organization to get back on track?
Jeff: I thought Silly Season was Jan. 1 thru Dec. 31.
Bryan: I could see Menard going to Penske. The No. 12 car’s going to need a real sponsor sooner or later.
Amy: Why is anyone worried about Menard leaving? It’s firing Bobby Labonte that’s nuts.
Vito: No kidding. Stupid.
Kurt: I would think someone would pick up Labonte. Maybe Childress… or even Gibbs.
Bryan: Labonte hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this year, Amy. His results have been about as flashy as both David Gilliland’s and Travis Kvapil‘s last year.
Amy: No, but maybe they need to look at other factors.
Vito: It isn’t like Yates builds awesome cars or something and they aren’t living up to their expectations. Labonte has won a championship, after all.
Jeff: Menard ain’t all that great a catch, although his dad’s money is.
Amy: And Labonte is about 50 times the driver that Menard is.
Bryan: No debate there.
Kurt: We know that doesn’t matter, Amy.
Amy: Nope; anyone who can drive a stick shift can buy a ride.
Vito: I think he’s decent. Look, they’re both running lousy; Paul just has worse luck.
Kurt: Paul was running pretty good in Chicago, as I recall.
Vito: He wouldn’t be any worse than Jamie McMurray if he were to go to Roush.
Bryan: Menard isn’t improving, though; that’s the problem. He’s had as many top 10s in Cup over the last few years than he did during his seven-race rookie tour in 2006.
Kurt: Menard isn’t a bad driver — he was great in the Nationwide Series. I really thought he would be a star someday.
Amy: Everyone runs well once in awhile… the Law of Averages. And Paul was mediocre in the Nationwide Series… hardly “great.”
Kurt: It does kinda look bad when your dad owns the sponsor.
Amy: The other one that floors me is JGR forming a fourth team for Gilliland — another mediocre driver. Yet Regan Smith is stuck at Furniture Row.
Bryan: What’s wrong there? Gilliland’s done well this year.
Kurt: I don’t get that one, either.
Amy: With JGR, I suppose the bridge is burned… but why not get Labonte if he’s fired?
Beth: Gilliland has done just fine this season considering what he’s been handed. Give him a decent ride and then see what he can do.
Bryan: Just because Smith got shafted by DEI doesn’t mean that Gilliland has done nothing. Gilliland’s qualified for every race sans Daytona this year with an upstart team; that’s no small deal.
Amy: Gilliland won one NNS race. How does that give him a top-flight Cup ride for life?
Bryan: Yates and TRG are hardly top-flight rides, Amy. Instead, Labonte should go to RCR and replace that joke of a driver named Casey Mears.
Kurt: Here we go again …
Amy: Mears could outdrive Gilliland blindfolded.
Kurt: What if Gilliland isn’t blindfolded?
Bryan: Mears has been in Cup for six years and hasn’t outdriven anyone without a blindfold.
Amy: Actually, Mears is outdriving Kevin Harvick at RCR.
Beth: Harvick also can’t seem to catch a break this season, Amy.
Jeff: He even got beat at the gas pump.
Bryan: Harvick actually has accomplished stuff during his career, though.
Vito: Harvick is the second coming of Richard Childress, except he has won the two biggest races in NASCAR. I could see him going the Tony Stewart route and moving his team to Cup, becoming a satellite operation with RCR.
Bryan: If EGR wanted to do something smart, they should move Smith back into a seat once Martin Truex, Jr. bolts.
Amy: Seriously, how do you overlook Smith in favor of Gilliland? Or Brad Keselowski if SHR doesn’t expand?
Bryan: Keselowski is going to get an SHR ride… let’s stop kidding ourselves here.
Kurt: I don’t know if that’s much of a crime though, Amy. Gilliland’s got a little more Cup experience. Not that that is Regan’s fault, but…
Amy: Regan, in his limited experience has shown more talent, that’s why.
Kurt: Has he? I haven’t seen him do anything Gilliland hasn’t done.
Bryan: Gilliland has won before, Smith hasn’t. And Smith’s exploits in the No. 01 car were not better than Gilliland’s in the No. 38. Gilliland was also a contender in numerous plate races, Amy.
Kurt: At Talladega, pick a number — anyone can win there. May the best aero package win.
Bryan: And damn if Yates didn’t have some good plate cars!
Amy: I am so unimpressed with Gilliland.
Jeff: Really, Amy? We couldn’t tell.
Kurt: I think if a guy can win at a road course, he has to have some skills. Gilliland hasn’t done anything in Cup yet, but who knows?
Vito: Keep in mind that No. 8 car wasn’t Smith’s. He was basically subbing for Mark Martin once a month. If I were Smith, I’d stay put at FRR. That is a team that has a buttload of potential. If they got the money to run the whole season, and aligned with a major team, they could be a top 15 car every week.
Bryan: In the end, Mears and McMurray will land the biggest Silly Season rides, and deserving guys like Gilliland and Smith will be scrapping to find whatever. Silly Season never changes.
Amy: Getting back on topic, losing Menard is really no big deal. Drivers like him are a dime a dozen. Losing his daddy’s money might be rough on a team, though — and they’re nuts to let Labonte go and start over completely again.
Kurt: Yates needs to get a top Nationwide driver to get moving again.
Amy: I’d put Mears and McMurray in a car over Gilliland any day.
Bryan: You’d put Mears in a car, Amy? Your perspective is automatically void.
Jeff: I don’t see McMurray landing anything big.
Vito: Colin Braun — is he going anywhere with Roush?
Beth: Yeah, he’s moving to Nationwide next season.
Bryan: Maybe if Edwards got the hell out of the No. 60 NNS car, Braun would have somewhere to go…
With Ford’s announcement that it has not cut NASCAR funding while every other manufacturer has, should more teams be jumping on the Blue Oval bandwagon, or are the manufacturer’s days as a racing powerhouse in its past?
Jeff: No! They aren’t increasing funding either.
Kurt: Hardly. Ford will be back when Roush is allowed to test again.
Amy: I’m not sure Ford could support any more teams and a new engine, actually, so it could be a moot point.
Beth: It’s just a decal, guys.
Kurt: Beth’s right. Who can tell?
Bryan: They might as well put Econoline decals on these cars.
Vito: Ford’s budget is also just a smidgen compared to what GM’s is. Or was.
Bryan: I don’t think it’s a sign that everyone needs to flock to Ford. I think it just shows that Ford has been smart to avoid rampant expansion for expansion’s sake.
Vito: I wonder how long until Ford goes back to the Taurus?
Jeff: Funny, Vito.
Kurt: I think now it would be the Escort, wouldn’t it?
Vito: The new SHO is awesome — and the Fusion just doesn’t fit as a racecar.
Amy: The Taurus was certainly better-looking than the Fusion.
Beth: The Taurus was better-looking than any of the CoT cars.
Jeff: Oh, and it shows on the track, too!
Amy: The Fusion is the ugliest sedan on the road.
Vito: If they bring out a new car (or stickers of said car) then they might go after a new team or two. I think it’s a nice road car, but with the Taurus being reintroduced, it makes more sense to use that as a marketing tool.
Beth: I mean maybe there’s a little extra money for the teams, but other than that it’s just another sticker on the car.
Kurt: Surely, some teams will be seeking Ford’s services, since so many other manufacturers are cutting back.
Jeff: I don’t think so, Kurt.
Bryan: There aren’t any big name teams out there that will have Ford going “we have to sign them.” Ford has, over the last decade or so, kept their teams relatively tight — they haven’t been one to go out and branch into loads of different teams.
Vito: With Ford, you only have one company to supply engines: Roush. Chevrolet has a few teams at least to pick from. So you have Roush with the bastard child Yates cars, and the Woods when they show up once a month. That is not to disparage the Wood Brothers — it just illustrates there is only so much to go around.
Amy: But what would keep a team from switching to Ford and building engines in-house?
Kurt: I was talking to my uncle who works at a Ford dealership — everyone knows this but he confirmed it for me — no one buys a Ford on Monday anymore.
Vito: I bought one on a Friday three years ago.
Amy: They had more teams running their logo a decade ago, too.
Bryan: Well, Ford’s done well to maintain a presence they can maintain.
Jeff: They were still losing millions every quarter.
Bryan: They will be again as soon as Government Motors, in all their infinite wisdom, gets cracking.
Amy: It’s not like there are a lot of really great-looking, unique street cars running around out there to begin with.
Vito: Yes, there are – and they’re going to be racing them in the Nationwide Series. The Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger…
Amy: And none of those meet Cup standards.
Vito: Did you hear the new CEO of Government Motors, by the way? “I know nothing about cars!” Oh, that’s comforting… maybe I get to be head of Boeing.
Jeff: Chevy will start racing the “Obama.”
Kurt: I think all of the manufacturers are taking issue with NASCAR’s uniform automobile these days. And NASCAR never told a Chevy driver that they aren’t gonna stink up the show.
Jeff: No one is going to flock to Ford.
Kurt: Ford was dominant some years ago, but they need another Roush to pick them up.
Bryan: Ford’s in a position to keep what they’ve got; they’re not in a newfound position of strength.
Beth: Again, it’s just a decal. I don’t expect anything to change anytime soon.
Bryan: Besides, the way they’re running they need to get what they’ve got back on track.
The Joe Gibbs Racing cars continue to dominate in Nationwide Series, with either Kyle Busch or Joey Logano winning four of the last six races. Should the series take Rusty Wallace’s suggestion and “tear down” the cars to figure out if they have a significant advantage over the field, or would that be unfair to a team that’s simply going out and beating everyone fair and square?
Vito: The Nationwide races stink regardless of who wins.
Beth: They did it to the Toyota teams in the Truck Series when they were stinking up the show.
Amy: Just like Joe Gibbs is right now. Perhaps NASCAR should do a teardown on them every week… it’s certainly not unprecedented.
Beth: Exactly. Why not do it to these cars, just to see what they’ve got?
Bryan: It’d be different if NNS regulars were driving the cars. You’ve got Cup guys carpet-bagging every dollar and trophy, and the crowds and TV ratings are sagging as a result.
Vito: How about taking off those dumb spacers they make them run. But wasn’t Roush Racing winning everything a couple of years ago in Nationwide? And wasn’t RCR doing the same with Harvick/Bowyer/Burton a couple of years back?
Kurt: If the cars pass inspection, then it’s up to the competitors to get their game up. I can’t stand this “punish the successful team” crap.
Beth: I agree, Kurt, but using NASCAR’s reasoning, it makes sense to tear them down.
Amy: How is doing a more complete teardown on a winning car punishment? If they don’t have any advantage, what have they got to lose?
Bryan: Kurt, the NNS is on thin ice as is right now. The last thing a series struggling financially needs is its product to completely suck because two drivers who are double-dipping are overwhelming everyone else. If this was Cup, I’d be the first one to tell the field “tough,” but the NNS teams out there can raise their games to 150 percent and they still don’t have the resources to contend with those JGR Toyotas.
Amy: NASCAR tore the crap out of the No. 48 every other week for about two years after they were caught and after the JGR NNS teams got caught last year faking test results – so, why not tear them down to the last nut and bolt?
Jeff: Because the economy is bad and Brian France is barely making it!
Vito: Because it’s a Toyota and they’re metric.
Kurt: There is a pre-race and post-race inspection. There’s enough stinkin’ rules already! I’m with you, Amy, in that I would like to see some future stars in the series… but that’s not a reason to go after Joey and Kyle.
Jeff: NASCAR can’t afford the extra expense.
Amy: Sadly, JGR is the latest example of Cup teams who buy away the races and championships in Nationwide. Kenny Wallace said it best: a lot of those guys think that championship doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Jeff: It doesn’t.
Kurt: He’s right, it doesn’t. I’m not impressed in the least when a Cup guy wins it. That’s like the Yankees winning the AAA championship. Then again, you do have to beat a lot of Cup guys to win the title.
Amy: If you were racing them on equal footing, that might mean something, Kurt; but they aren’t.
Vito: Mark said it after he won Michigan in the press room: “People get so wrapped up about the championship that they forget, it’s about the race… the race is what matters and what counts every week.”
Bryan: As much as I hate over-policing a sport, the way the NNS is going financially it can’t stay viable for much longer. If you’re not a Kyle or Joey fan, it’s getting very hard to justify watching a NNS race.
Amy: The Cup guys snatch up all the good sponsors and compete with twice the money or more of the best-funded NNS teams.
Kurt: Isn’t a team allowed to be good, though? How much do we need to IROC-size the Nationwide Series?
Jeff: NASCAR could put a stop to it by simply limiting the number of NNS races a full-time Cup guy can run a year. But you’d still be bitching if they won the ones they could run.
Beth: We’ve been saying that for awhile, Jeff. What makes you think NASCAR is going to do it now?
Bryan: NASCAR is just going to milk the NNS until it dries up, then they’ll shut it down.
Jeff: On the other side of the coin, new young drivers ain’t gonna draw sponsors for the NNS, so the series hurts there as well.
Amy: What I can’t stand is hearing Kyle whine about finishing second six weeks in a row. A lot of teams would give their eye teeth for what that ungrateful little ass thinks is so disdainful.
Kurt: I’m not justifying the Cup guys in the Nationwide Series, but NASCAR shouldn’t just arbitrarily yank down all the crew members’ shorts whenever a team gets hot.
Jeff: NASCAR does that? Those kinky devils!
Amy: Why, Kurt, they do it all the time in Cup.
Kurt: You can’t do that objectively. At what point do you start? Three straight wins? Five straight top fives?
Bryan: Unless it’s gotten to a point where the racing product and the ability of regulars to even remotely compete is hindered, Kurt. Like it or not, the racing has to be good for the series to exist, and it’s not right now because no one, not even Cup guys, can keep up with those Toyotas.
Jeff: You bitch about Carl Edwards in the NNS… but what’s he won? One frickin’ race all year?
Kurt: It’s GM’s, Ford’s, and Dodge’s problem, not NASCAR’s.
Bryan: If you hold the NNS to the same principles as Cup, it’s not going to survive much longer. It’s freaking AAA — there should be some rules there to level the playing field.
Kurt: If Toyota is kicking ass and cursory inspection doesn’t find anything wrong, guess what — you gotta figure out how to beat them.
Amy: The fact is, the JGR NNS teams had a major blatant cheating deal last year. They should be scrutinized more heavily because of that.
Kurt: No, they should pay the penalty and move on.
Amy: Maybe, but NASCAR does it to other teams in Cup. So why should JGR be any different?
Kurt: I’m not sure about that. I would think they’re successful right now because that car is so good. Logano won in just his third try in it. Everyone should be subjected to the same rules. We all went nuts at what happened to Carl Long; but it would be OK to do it to Joe Gibbs just because they’ve been successful?
Amy: It would be OK to do it to any team if they had an illegal engine in a points-paying race. Long got screwed because it was an exhibition race. Had he done it in a points race, then he’d have deserved the penalty.
Bryan: Precisely. Huge difference. Long didn’t try to hide what he was doing, either. And as it is, the Nationwide Series is not viable with Cup guys there. Take the Cup guys away, let the series establish its value, less or more than it is now, and let the sponsors get the appropriate bargain with an up-and-comer. Until the Cup guys leave, they’ll dictate sponsorship and the cost of competing in AAA, and they’re going to keep the series crappy because no one outside of those 12 double-dippers will be able to regularly compete.
Jeff: Oh, give it a rest. Nothing will change until NASCAR limits the number of races a full-time Cup guy can run. End of story.
Bryan: Jeff’s right. And that’ll never happen, so the NNS will continue to be what it is until the money finally dries up. And the last thing the NNS needs right now is for races like Chicago to keep happening.
Kurt: If NASCAR hasn’t caught them cheating, then their process isn’t strong enough. The last thing NASCAR needs to do right now is to punish its achievers.
Vito: It appears their only crime is winning. If they pass teardown, then they’ve won. If Jack Roush or Richard Childress have a problem with it, tough.
Jeff: Who says they aren’t tearing them down, anyway?
Kurt: Yeah, don’t the winning engines get sent to the R&D Center?
Vito: They’re clearly passing their tech inspection.
Bryan: I doubt JGR is cheating. I also doubt that the NNS can afford to do nothing when the product has become as crappy as it was Friday night.
Vito: This isn’t the first time a team has won a lot of races, you know. They are capitalizing on the rules as they are: low horsepower and keeping the engine wound up in the RPM band. What hurts the NNS is the NNS itself. A bad engine rule has ruined the racing (or a certain black car — and I’m not talking about Davey’s No. 28).
Bryan: The engine rule certainly hasn’t helped, Vito.
Amy: But it’s unfair to teardown JGR after they got caught cheating?
Vito: They didn’t get caught cheating. One crew chief put a magnet under a gas pedal at a dyno session — the cars were never found illegal.
Bryan: Exactly, they tried to screw with an inspection, nothing on-track.
Amy: Why? To hide something or get them an illegal advantage.
Jeff: They weren’t on the track!
Amy: It’s still cheating.
Vito: It had nothing to do with competition. And even then, when down 15 horsepower after they put a smaller spacer on, they’re still winning.
Amy: Hence, they deserve the teardown.
Kurt: Amy, my point was that NASCAR can totally decide who will be scrutinized and who will be allowed to win based solely on whims and “what’s best for the sport.” That’s my problem with it.
Beth: Can we just agree to disagree on this one?
Kurt: Consistency in the rules. That’s all I’m asking.
Vito: The bottom line is this: The worse the series, the better Toyota does.
Bryan: I don’t care what NASCAR does, I just wish they’d do something. JGR’s playing by the rules and winning, but anyone who’s not their fan is paying a heavy price for it.
No Cup prediction this week — so no points, just glory — but any thoughts on what Cup driver will win the NNS race this week at Gateway?
Bryan: I predict that Kyle Busch wins at Gateway and Edwards finishes second.
Beth: Kyle Busch. We might have more fun picking a Truck Series winner…
Kurt: Yep. Kyle.
Vito: Who is even racing? I’ll say Steven Wallace, just out of spite.
Amy: I’ll go with Kyle as well — although I’d love to see him finish second just to watch him implode.
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 19 races, the All-Star Race, 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||20||-5||17||3||7||8|