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Mirror Driving: Addington Angst, Rewarding Wins & Is Jeff Gordon Over the Hill?

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)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway illustrated the frustration that many fans have with the current points system, as race winner Denny Hamlin gained two spots but made little headway against points leader Jimmie Johnson – who stretched his lead over Mark Martin by finishing second.  How should NASCAR reward winning in its top series?

Kurt: Exactly as they do now, with a win in the win column. Seriously, what if there were 30 extra points for a win? Jimmie’s lead would be even bigger!
Amy: Is it REALLY not working?  The guy with the most wins is the points leader.
Jeff: How about the old points system, with a 100-point bonus over second for a win.
Tom: I think the whole issue is overblown. You can’t DNF twice in a row, win the next week, and expect to win a title.
Vito: Right, Tom, like Hamlin has any gripe to begin with. If it was the old points system, he’d be 465 points out right now.
Kurt: Besides, Jimmie did the next best thing to winning.
Amy: I think though, at the very least, they need to keep giving the extra 10 bonus points throughout the Chase. I think 100 is way too many… 25, though, would be good.
Tom: I don’t think they need it, Amy. I think they need a whole new stinkin’ format.
Vito: The guy who has won the most races is walking away with it, while the guy who has won one race and posted a top five and top 10 is within striking distance if something goes wrong… everything seems OK to me.
Beth: I don’t think there’s anything they can do to keep everyone happy.
Jeff: Get rid of the Chase?
Kurt: Well, it really doesn’t matter what the rules are, someone is going to make the best out of them.
Tom: Look, Johnson is averaging a 3.0 finish so far in the Chase. That’s going to win it no matter what you do to the points system.
Vito: I’m not a fan of The Chase, but the guy who should be leading is leading it. Conversely, if this was the old system, there would still only be three guys with a shot at it.
Jeff: Even if you added 25 under the old system, Matt Kenseth still would have beat Ryan Newman in ’03.
Amy: Maybe he should have in that case, Jeff. But rewarding winning should not mean that winning totally trumps DNFs and bad runs. If you win five races but finish 40th in five, is that really championship caliber?
Tom: I’m with you, Amy. Win it or wreck it is not a championship strategy for every week. Even the most aggressive racers know about risk management… and there’s ways to increase the aggression without everybody wrecking.
Vito: The thing is, nobody is really doing any wrecking. Except for Hamlin wrecking himself.
Kurt: I liked the points system Matt McLaughlin proposed a few weeks ago. At first, I thought it was nuts; then, I realized it would work quite well. But I think the last thing NASCAR needs to be doing right now is adjusting the points system. You gotta let it be and let everyone figure it out.
Beth: And it’s not like it’s the first time a driver has run off and left the rest of the guys in the standings behind.
Kurt: Right now, the Chase has made it possible for a Juan Pablo Montoya to finish top 10 every week and have a chance at a title.
Tom: What’s amazing to me is Juan Pablo has five top-five finishes this Chase. FIVE! And he’s 200 points out. That’s how good Johnson has been.
Kurt: That restart at Charlotte destroyed his chances. That’s the problem with the Chase – a DNF is devastating.
Vito: But if Johnson gets Carl-ed this weekend… everybody is right back in it.
Amy: Here’s the thing… you can’t revamp the entire points system because one guy figures it out… that’s what got us stuck with the Chase in the first place.
Kurt: True that.
Tom: I agree that we don’t need to make it so that five wins and 31 wrecks can win you a title. There’s got to be a happy medium… honestly, I think the concept of a Chase is the problem more than the point system itself. Yes, the system could use some tweaking. Yes, more points spread across the top five would be helpful. But to me, it’s the Chase….
Amy: It just seems silly for a guy to win a race and gain a whopping 20 points, even when he leads the most laps.
Kurt: Well, the people who think winning isn’t rewarded enough aren’t ever going to be happy with it until you score nothing but wins.
Tom: I think it’s amazing that three of the last five titles would have been closer under the old format… including this one.
Kurt: Well, I say this often… I had zero problem with how Kenseth won in 2003.
Vito: I don’t have an issue with the current system – if it is the one that must be used. I prefer the old way… seemed to work pretty well for a long time.
Beth: I never have liked the Chase, but they need to decide exactly what they want to do with the points and just stick with it already.
Tom: On the bright side, I think it’s nice to see Denny pick himself off the ground after the last two weeks. He’s getting better at the whole managing his emotions thing. But here’s what I want to see from the No. 11 team before they can call themselves title contenders. Winning on an intermediate track! Did you guys know six of his seven wins are at Richmond, Martinsville and Pocono?
Vito: Flat Tracks. Get him on banking, and he hits the wall. Literally!
Kurt: He can win on an intermediate, he just hasn’t yet. Denny is one of the best drivers out there relative to his win total. Guy finishes second and third a lot.
Tom: Kurt, about three dozen Cup drivers can say that. But until you actually win one… it’s all talk.
Kurt: Well Jeff Gordon is one No. 48 team DNF away from challenging for the lead, and he’s won once this year. Consistency matters more… and it should.
Tom: I don’t mean to insult his ability, Kurt. I’m just saying what he needs to do to improve. Like going from an A- to an A. Right now, he’s an A-.
Vito: Jamie McMurray is about on par with his win total….

Editor’s Note: When this question was asked, the crew chief swap for the No. 18 had not yet been made official.

Joe Gibbs Racing is contemplating a crew chief change for Kyle Busch, who is tied for third in wins for the season but who missed the Chase and had a poor showing in the playoff last year. Is it time for Steve Addington to go?

Jeff: If the No. 18 team wants to shoot themselves in the foot with a change… more power to them.
Kurt: Why on earth would people think that? They won four races this year!
Beth: Steve Addington isn’t the problem with the No. 18 team.
Vito: Denny has poor showings, too… does that mean Mike Ford has to go?
Tom: I think this is an interesting case. Similar to the No. 88, there’s not really a crew chief available who fit the bill for Busch (Editor’s Note: And we saw that with Dave Rogers’s hiring). But… just like Lance McGrew… I don’t really think Addington’s the answer here.
Amy: I don’t think Addington is the real problem… I think Kyle’s lack of focus is the problem.
Kurt: Busch’s focus is fine. The guy has 16 wins in all three series.
Beth: This season has been a combination of bad luck and Kyle Busch’s attitude.
Kurt: Right, Beth. Kyle missed the Chase because of a lot of bad luck, especially at plate tracks where he was dominant. That’s hardly Addington’s fault.
Tom: Well, I think you can only take so much abuse on the radio before you’ve had enough. It’s been two years for Addington… that’s enough. Case in point? Kurt Busch and Pat Tryson. Two years of Kurt going crazy and Pat taking it. Guess what? Pat had enough.
Kurt: But I think Addington would want to stay if they can work out their differences. A lot of drivers are bitchy.
Tom: It may be broken beyond repair though, Kurt. I know Kyle’s got the best equipment in Nationwide, but to win all the time over there and not take the momentum over to Sunday shows you something’s wrong.
Beth: Addington can only do so much with someone like Kyle Busch, Tom.
Kurt: Kyle was great in all three plate races and got the worst end of it. He could have seven wins this year.
Vito: That is true – getting turned head on into the wall at Daytona wasn’t advantageous.
Kurt: Didn’t he just come from 41st to finish fourth at Martinsville, too? Sounds to me like he can still do it.
Amy: Well, a driver with that kind of talent, that kind of crew, and that kind of equipment should easily make the Chase.
Kurt: But destiny can sometimes bite you in this sport. It was his turn.
Tom: I’d say it was a bad year. Yeah, he won… but too many wrecks. Too many DNFs. Too many times the car was out to lunch the whole day.
Beth: The No. 18 team is just taking heat because they fell apart in the Chase last season and haven’t won nearly as much this season.
Kurt: Right, Beth. People were expecting eight rapid fire wins again.
Beth: Honestly, I was too.
Kurt: But that isn’t necessarily Addington’s fault, either. Look at Joey Logano… he’d have been much better if they could do some testing.
Tom: I think Busch has still proved his talent in several ways, Kurt. But at the same time… you can’t run this badly and not have some sort of change. Think about Dale Earnhardt‘s bad luck year in ’92. 1993? They had Andy Petree come on board to replace Kirk Shelmerdine. And they ended up winning a title.
Beth: Have they thought about the fact that maybe Kyle is just spread too thin? Running full-time in two different series and racing in a third can certainly take a lot out of a driver.
Tom: Oh I don’t disagree with you there, Beth. You have a great point… but at the same time, I think the chemistry with Addington may be worn out.
Kurt: He hasn’t been running that badly, Tom. It’s like Gordon in 2005 and Stewart in 2006; sometimes, it’s not your year.
Amy: I agree with Beth… perhaps contain Busch to one series and keep Addington, who is a brilliant crew chief.
Tom: Well let’s put ourselves in Addington’s shoes for a second. Who says he even wants to come back for the abuse again?
Kurt: Maybe he could go to the No. 88 team.
Tom: Seriously… listen to a scanner over 500 miles when Kyle’s car isn’t working. It’s a movie that’s R-rated… at best.
Amy: Listen to championship caliber drivers on the radio… they spend a whole lot more time communicating what is happening in the car than bitching.
Jeff: So soon, Kyle becomes a driver that no wants to put up with long-term….
Amy: He’s a threat right now, and not necessarily the good kind.
Kurt: I don’t know what the story is with Addington, but Kyle has not been as bad as people think. And he shouldn’t take the fall for not making the Chase.
Tom: I don’t think it’s Addington taking the fall. He’ll be a great crew chief for someone else down the line… but it seems like the strategy of not standing up to Kyle just isn’t working anymore.
Kurt: What about no testing? Does anyone think that’s hurt Gibbs, Childress, RFR? I think they might be a lot better off if they could get the aero down.
Amy: Why shouldn’t Kyle take the fall?  He’s probably the fourth or fifth best driver in the entire garage… he should be making the Chase easily, not falling out because he’s stroking his ego in Nationwide and bitching more than helping on the radio!
Kurt: So he goes from 41st to fourth at one of the most tiring tracks the day after he finishes second in N’Wide, and he’s lost focus? I don’t endorse Cup guys in Nationwide, but I don’t think that’s a problem for him.
Amy: That was only his 13th Cup top 10 in 32 races Sunday. THAT is the number that is way, way below where it should be.
Tom: I’ll throw some stats out here for you guys. Short tracks this year: three Wins, five top fives in six starts. Everywhere else: one win, four top fives, seven top 10s in 26 starts.
Kurt: He’s been caught up in other people’s messes a lot, especially at plate tracks. He’s just had awful luck this year.
Amy: He also needs to listen to the radio broadcasts from Martin or Johnson when their cars are junk… they handle it right, and that is why they seem to have junk turned into a winning car at the end.
Beth: Exactly, Amy.  Kyle just lets himself get too frustrated when his car is junk and can’t work with it.
Jeff: And – don’t forget this – people are more apt to race Kyle the way Kyle races them now, too. They won’t be so hesitant to take him out if they want to.
Amy: Note how none of this is Addington’s fault?
Kurt: Addington is a perfectly capable crew chief.
Tom: But Addington is partially responsible for making the car better during the race. You can’t just leave it all up to the driver. If Busch were sucking it up in Nationwide, it would be one thing. But the guy is winning everywhere else. He hasn’t forgotten how to drive.
Amy: But if all the driver does is whine and complain and not tell the crew chief what the car is doing, how is the crew chief supposed to fix it?
Tom: Whatever problems they’re having are centered on the equipment they’re bringing to the track on intermediates. That falls on the crew chief.
Beth: But how can Addington make the car better if Kyle can’t communicate it to him correctly?
Amy: Exactly, Beth! That is why if the car is bad, it never gets better throughout the race.
Beth: That’s where he’s just like his brother. If the car is bad, he gets bitchy and complains rather than communicating clearly the problems so they can work on them.
Tom: Right, Beth. But that’s where you need a crew chief to get it out of him anyway.
Beth: You’ve got a point there, Tom. Kyle probably needs someone to tell him to shut the hell up and tell him what the car is doing instead of just complaining because it’s not right.

Gordon has had eight second-place finishes this year, the most in a single season since 1983, yet Gordon isn’t really a title contender.  Once considered the driver most likely to break the record of seven Cup championships, will Gordon ever take home a fifth – or at 38, is his time already past?

Kurt: He is hardly out of it this year yet. A DNF for the Nos. 5 and 48 and Jeff is the champ.
Beth: But as long as there’s a Chase, he’s not going to be able to beat Johnson and Knaus.
Jeff: Amen, Beth.
Amy: Gordon doesn’t drive the way he did ten years ago… whether that’s age or something else, I don’t know.
Tom: Ironic, isn’t it, that Gordon’s biggest mistake in getting to seven was calling up Rick Hendrick and saying he had to take a look at some kid named Johnson.
Beth: But I wouldn’t say he can’t win another championship.
Jeff: This would all be a moot point if we didn’t have this stupid Chase.
Tom: I think it depends how much longer Gordon wants to race. With Johnson there and Martin still looking for his first, I feel he’s third on the Hendrick totem pole. And one knock on Gordon has always been he doesn’t know how to close….
Vito: His time hasn’t passed – he’s just a victim of his own success, which is now being cannibalized by the No. 48.
Amy: Remember, he’s been screwed by the Chase twice. If not for Brian’s Big Idea, Jeff’s got six and we’re wondering if he can tie Earnhardt and Petty….
Tom: But this is the system we have, and it doesn’t exactly play to his strengths. With the exception of 1998, I feel like he faltered down the stretch even when winning his titles. He’s more of a first half driver.
Kurt: As long as Gordon is racing, he will be a threat to win it all. He’s been very close twice in the last five years. In 2007, he was great till the very end. Just not great enough.
Amy: Gordon’s Chase in ’07 should have won the championship… but Johnson’s was better.
Tom: Gordon even said it himself the other day, that under the old format you could have a great first half, then coast in the second and still take home the title. I think that was his old strategy under Evernham… kick ’em in the teeth early and often. Even with the Chase, Gordon can’t win enough in the last 10 races, Amy. He never could.
Amy: He averaged a fifth-place finish in ‘07, Tom… that should by rights be enough to win the Chase.
Kurt: And that was just two years ago. He’s in good shape and not that old, with great equipment and a smart crew chief. They could pull two or three championships out.
Beth: If anything is going to stand in his way of another championship, it’ll be his back or a decision that he’s done racing. That and the Chase.
Vito: There is just so much competition from within Hendrick – that is now his biggest obstacle. If he was driving Jimmie’s cars, let’s face it, he’d be winning often.
Kurt: Only one driver in a Chase was better than Gordon in ’07 – and that was Johnson. I actually think Chad is the difference… I’m not knocking Jimmie, but Chad just outruns everyone.
Tom: Yeah, I’m not saying Jeff has lost a step per se. He just doesn’t excel in this format… and he’s teamed with someone who does.
Amy: Earnhardt only had three of his titles by the time he was Jeff’s age, so it isn’t that Gordon’s past his prime as a driver.
Beth: I agree with Kurt on Knaus. One of these days, I would like to see him work with another driver for a while. It would be interesting to see what he can do.
Vito: Wonder if Rick will ever pair him with Junior. He said he needs a dictator….
Amy: Gordon also hasn’t adjusted well to change, while drivers like Johnson and Stewart have.
Vito: He has adjusted to change. To say he hasn’t is just wrong….
Tom: Look, Gordon’s a great driver. First ballot Hall of Famer. Would love to see him win five. But if he’s done after 2010… it ain’t gonna happen.
Amy: He won’t retire next year.
Tom: Well, even if he’s done after 2011… I don’t see it. He needs to run for a while, and only one win the last two years shows me they’re not quite at the level they need to be right now. They’re close… but third on your own team doesn’t cut it.
Kurt: But I think when the car is right, Gordon is still one of if not the best out there, and he isn’t out of this year’s title fight yet.
Vito: The No. 24 is just a little off… and Jeff might be getting burned out a little bit. He’d do well to pull back for a couple of years like the driver of the No. 5 did… seems to have worked out pretty well for him.
Beth: His time hasn’t passed, but if he decides to retire in the near future, he won’t get number five.
Kurt: I don’t think he’s burned out. I think the guy still lives and breathes racing.
Tom: Wow. That’s the first I’ve heard of Gordon cutting back. I’d recommend that… but if he does it, I guarantee he’ll never go back to full-time.
Amy: I agree with Tom there… he’s not going to be like Martin and never retire.
Vito: He won’t quit anytime soon. He’s not a quitter. If he gets his back fixed, he’ll drive for another five years. But Gordon has nothing left to prove. He’s 38, not 58. Though I would like to see him try to run Indy.
Kurt: You know, it’s making me feel old talking about Gordon retiring. It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was just kicking everyone’s butt up and down the street. Even then, I was surprised that he was younger than me.
Vito: He should grow that moustache back he had in 1993. Then he’ll start doing awesome again.
Amy: Maybe rock that mullet, too!
Vito: I remember when Gordon hosted SNL, he played some hick with a mullet and a moustache. I was like… yeah, he kinda used to look like that.

No. 16 Nationwide Series crew chief Eddie Pardue was fined $30,000 for violating NASCAR’s sealed engine rules.  But Pardue’s Roush Fenway Racing team discovered the mistake themselves and submitted the engine to NASCAR upon that discovery – so should a team have received the penalty despite turning themselves in?

Beth: Absolutely.  If you allow a team to get away with breaking the rules because they turned themselves in, other teams can just follow their example – cheat and turn themselves in before NASCAR catches them.  That’s a huge mess waiting to happen.
Vito: Yes, they should. If they didn’t, being Roush, they probably would have took away 200 points, and Carl Edwards too….
Kurt: I think if you turn yourself in and don’t run the car, NASCAR should check you out thoroughly in case it’s a decoy.
Amy: I go back and forth on that.  They turned themselves in after they unsealed the engine, and that means things could have been altered before they presented it to NASCAR.
Vito: And how do you “accidentally” unseal the engine?
Amy: Exactly, Vito.
Jeff: So they fined ‘em! No big deal.  It’s done and over.
Tom: I think the whole thing is a little bit disturbing, to say the least. It’s nice they turned themselves in… but they shouldn’t change the penalty.
Kurt: They honestly broke the rules.
Beth: And there are penalties you have to pay when you break the rules.
Kurt: I don’t know. I think at best when a team turns itself in, NASCAR should watch them a little more closely. But at the same time, if they’re on the up and up and didn’t run the engine, then no harm no foul. I’m also surprised that Carl Long‘s name hasn’t come up yet in this conversation.
Tom: Well, I think this particular penalty was assessed the same way it would if they had found it in inspection.
Amy: It was not raced, but it was not presented to NASCAR for inspection and permission to break the seal. About to hit the scrap heap.
Tom: Right. The difference with Carl’s engine (and I disagree with what they did, don’t get me wrong) was that it was raced.
Kurt: They were still way too harsh on Long.
Beth: I think we all agree on that one.
Tom: I do think sealed engines are the way to go though over time in the Cup Series. That’s what’s causing all these cars to start-and-park. Too much to rebuild engines after one race.
Vito: Cuts the power a bit, too, if they need to be more durable. I remember how engine failures went way down in 2002 after they couldn’t use qualifying motors.
Kurt: I think guys would be starting-and-parking regardless in these times, Tom. Anyways, I think the penalty was probably just, and kudos to Roush for manning up and admitting it.
Tom: What a weird incident. Let’s just hope there isn’t more of this happening behind the scenes we don’t know about.
Beth: Good for the team for admitting their mistake. But they really had to penalize them… period.

Predictions for Talladega?

Jeff: Tony Stewart.
Kurt: Kyle Busch.
Beth: What the heck… Kyle Busch.
Amy: Edwards gets redemption.
Kurt: Edwards stays out of the fence. But Chasers get taken out in the Big One.
Vito: A Ford will win. I will go with Edwards.
Tom: Alright, you guys ready for this? This is the type of race where you see a major upset….
Kurt: You’re not going with Logano, are ya? Actually, that might not be a bad pick.
Amy: Or McMurray?
Tom: Nope! I’m leaving the door wide open for Marcos Ambrose to take it. He’s been good on the plate tracks this year, and you know MWR has the equipment to get the job done at Daytona and Talladega.
Kurt: WHOA!
Vito: Hey, if Keselowski can win… not that far fetched.
Jeff: I’d love to see it.

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 32 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
Beth Lunkenheimer 46 32 3 14 20
Bryan Davis Keith 34 -12 27 4 11 15
Amy Henderson 29 -17 33 4 9 16
Kurt Smith 29 -17 21 4 8 12
Mike Neff 24 -22 20 2 7 12
Tom Bowles 24 -22 12 1 7 8
Vito Pugliese 23 -23 16 1 6 10
Jeff Meyer 14 -32 24 1 7 11
Tony Lumbis 0 -46 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway 0 -46 7 0 1 3
Matt Taliaferro 0 -46 2 0 1 1

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Bryan Davis Keith

Yeah, Kyle’s the one who’s bitchy, but the bottomline is the driver & crew chief have to have a successful working relationship, and he & Steve Addington are strained at best. Time for a change.

Bryan Davis Keith

Jeff Gordon is in the top 4 in points and is still a threat to win the championship if Johnson should falter. It seems silly to be discussing whether he’s over the hill because he has a bunch of second place finishes and doesn’t have championship No. 5. Also, I don’t think Jeff’s driving style has changed one bit. He still races agressive when he has to and safe when he doesn’t.

Let’s face it, guys… JJ and Chad are making the whole field look “over the hill”.

One last comment… making Chad Knaus Earnhardt’s crew chief would probably make Junior better but not a champion. Knaus would be the big loser there and I’m sure he knows it. So I don’t see it happening.

Bryan Davis Keith

Amy said: _”Remember, he’s been screwed by the Chase twice. If not for Brian’s Big Idea, Jeff’s got six and we’re wondering if he can tie Earnhardt and Petty…”_

How many times do I have to say that Jeff would NOT have won the title in 2004 under the old system? Jimmie had a huge lead in Summer 2004 and started “testing” new setups before the Chase that didnt work, so he lost a lot of points and let everyone else catch back up to him. Under the old system, Jimmie doesnt “test” and probably maintains his lead all the way to Homestead. You cannot apply Chase points to the old system because there is no way you can know that the drivers will race the same and finish the same under two different systems. Only in 2007, where Gordon would have clinched after Texas, can you say he would have won the title.

Bryan Davis Keith

On the RFR penalty…I thought this engine WAS INDEED raced, then re-sealed for a second race. NASCAR never did actually check it.

Smells fishy to me…they got off VERY easy.

Bryan Davis Keith

Can we please just have “the Onion”, or any Bodine, on the track this weekend. That way we can be assured this points race will tighten up. As many cars that they’d bounce off of, JJ’s bound to be one of them.

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