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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Jumping the Gun on Restarts, Race Length & Hamlin’s Knee

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning The Flames)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice Of Vito)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)

Phoenix added 100 kilometers to its race on Saturday night. Did the extra laps give fans more bang for their buck, or was lengthening the race a mistake – one that could even cost them a second date with NASCAR’s restructuring?

Summer: Well, I liked their reasoning for making it longer, but it had already been dark by the time they got to their originally scheduled distance. At the same time, we got a better finish with the added laps than we would have had without them.
Amy: I think it was good. Of course, I say that because take off 60-whatever laps and Kyle Busch wins in a yawner.
Matt T: Amy, if the race is 60 laps shorter, someone gets crazy and wrecks then. It’s all relative. I typically enjoy the racing at Phoenix but, looking back, I didn’t think the extra distance was necessary.
Vito: If you are going to make the race longer, do it at night. The day race does nothing but blind people and make for crummy competition.
Jeff: I think it was just a gimmick, really.
Vito: Like the Aaron’s 312? Or Aaron’s 499?
Phil: The race just seemed to drag on. Admittedly, I didn’t realize that it took three hours and 48 minutes to complete until I checked late Saturday night.
Beth: I didn’t mind it at all.
Jeff: A race is a race, whether its 20 laps or 2,000.
Summer: Well, there’s always going to be a stretch of long green-flag runs at some of these tracks, but it’s how long they last that bugs people. I really didn’t mind the longer race.
Phil: I’d argue that Saturday night’s race looked almost identical to how it would have looked if it were still 500k.
Matt T: I always enjoyed the Phoenix races because they were a bit shorter. And I like the 1-mile layout. It’s another example of a company fixing something that wasn’t broken… you listening, NCAA?
Phil: Also, there might have been some more post-race coverage if FOX didn’t screw up the timeslot length.
Jeff: My girlfriend was there, but she never mentioned it was better because of an extra 100k… and she’s Canadian!
Phil: No, because the extra stuff was when the sun was still out and it was 90 outside. Although, it is Arizona, so they’re used to 90 degrees there this time of year. Those gnats, though. Cripes.
Vito: It wasn’t the extra 60 laps I had a problem with; it was the final three. The green-white-checkered finish is the real gimmick.
Jeff: Exactly, Vito. No one was ever crying that we needed three attempts at GWC. One GWC was enough.
Matt T: I’m with ya, Jeff. I don’t mind one GWC – but three? C’mon, that reeks of gimmicky-ness.
Summer: Honestly, I like the three GWCs. It always sucks when the race ends under caution.
Amy: I was hoping for another GWC or two.
Vito: But when a guy has a race won like that, and a caution comes out, he’s done. It should come as a shock to no one, however, that Scott Riggs brought out the caution. That is the real reason why cautions have decreased so much in recent years: not because of the complaining about phantom cautions, but because Riggs was not in the field.
Phil: Riggs can’t do anything about his tire blowing out. Plus, he was still on the lead lap at that point.
Summer: Barely.
Vito: I guess he was running the Dick Trickle/Heilig-Meyers No. 90 Junie Donlavey throwback paint scheme.
Jeff: GWC came about because too many races were ending under caution. They made the good sense change to have GWC, and that was fine. But no one that I have ever talked to or heard from ever said we need three attempts.
Matt T: Agreed, Jeff.
Amy: I also agree, but I’d have had another “W” on the prediction chart if we’d had one more this week.
Beth: But this was simply because of a two-tire call rather than a four-tire call.
Vito: Interesting, though; if not for GWC finishes, Ryan Newman would have only one win in five years. Funny, everybody bags on Dale Earnhardt Jr., but not that little stat.
Matt T: The pit strategy combined with double-file restarts has made for some interesting outcomes. I’ll give ’em that. I admit I like the two-tire/four-tire decisions and how they play out amongst the leaders.
Amy: I do think the GWC is a better alternative than making no attempt and ending under caution.
Jeff: Well, why stop at three? Why not have 10 attempts or unlimited until it finishes under green?! One is more than enough, everyone knows the rules. With three, you may actually promote more crashing towards the end, simply because they know they can get another GWC attempt.
Beth: One was fine with me, but I can live with three as a happy medium to continued attempts.
Phil: At first, they were. Then, a bunch more races started ending under caution again.
Vito: Why not just have a bunch of 30-lap sprints like they do in World of Outlaws?
Amy: As Kurt Busch said, having to win the same race four times is a bit much.
Summer: Does anyone even care that they added 63 laps to the Phoenix race anymore?
Jeff: I don’t, Summer.
Phil: It was a bit much. It was almost midnight by the time the race ended.
Matt T: Summer, I didn’t really understand why they did that. I know they mentioned ending under the lights, but is that really that big of a deal?
Jeff: The extra length was just a gimmick to sell more food and beer.
Summer: Matt, I understood that because if you’re selling tickets for a night race, then you need to make sure that’s what they get. But the race was already under the lights when they made it to the 500k mark. So maybe they had the wrong sunset time or something?
Matt T: Is a racing ending at night really that bigger of a draw?
Amy: I don’t think it is, Matt.
Summer: Yes it is – from what the racetrack said. And it would be for me, I can tell ya that much.
Phil: Maybe in the middle of the summer, when it’s humid as all heck.
Matt T: Their reasoning is skewed if you ask me. I like the “sell more drinks, food, etc.” theory.
Summer: All I know is they said it was important to those buying the tickets and there was a huge crowd. Attendance wasn’t even an issue.
Vito: Extra 60 laps aren’t a problem, but just race the thing at night in the dark. I know we have standard start times now, but put up a billboard or something to block that sun.
Matt T: Or a mountain range.
Phil: You could argue that that’s why they built the suites in turn 1, Vito.
Phil: Ticket sales weren’t the best. They estimated 70,000 attendees at the race.
Beth: I think it’s less than 80,000, but I don’t really care either way. When you have west coast races, you’re going to have east coasters complaining about them ending too late. Same thing goes about east coast races starting too early for west coasters.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with the added distance, but it wasn’t really necessary, either.

Newman won the race Saturday, but even he expressed surprise in victory lane that no one tried to stay out during the race’s final caution. Are you surprised at the outcome, and would you have made the same call as Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch?

Amy: I was a little surprised that nobody at the tail end of the lead lap stayed out.
Matt T: If I were 17th, I’d have stayed out. I still can’t believe someone didn’t try it.
Beth: Me either. I’m most surprised that no one on the lead lap stayed out.
Phil: Yeah, if I were Stewart or someone like that, I would have stayed out.
Summer: Based on everything else that had happened during the week and in past races, four tires was the right call. The problem was, there wasn’t enough time for JJ and Kyle to make up the time lost like there had been in the past.
Phil: I wouldn’t have done what Kyle Busch did, that’s for sure.
Vito: You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Nine times out of 10, four tires wins. Johnson nearly won it, and had there been one more restart attempt, either the Nos. 48 or 42 would have won. A ton of guys took on two tires. If you’re at the back of the pack, you should obviously stay out in that position.
Amy: Hindsight is 20/20. Four was the way to go at Martinsville, not Phoenix.
Vito: Four was the way to go at Martinsville, because Denny Hamlin hit three cars in one corner.
Beth: I can’t say what call I would have made. Vito’s right – it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.
Summer: As far as someone staying out, it hasn’t worked yet. Pitting late in the game has won almost, if not every, race this season.
Matt T: The No. 48 has won, what, two races already this year by taking four? Double-file restarts allow him to be closer to the front without lapped traffic impeding his process. I’d have probably made the wrong call and taken four if I were on the pit box.
Amy: Four almost worked for Johnson; it was a bad call for Kyle Busch, who gained no spots after the last restart.
Matt T: Kyle got beat around on the GWC. Jimmie did some beating and moved up to third.
Summer: If Jimmie had even just a couple more laps, he could and probably would have won.
Vito: But if you’re Scott Speed… why bother pitting? How many times this year has Speed made staying out pay off?
Matt T: No kidding.
Phil: It’s not even about winning so much. It’s about improving your finishing position.
Amy: I disagree, Phil. If you’re in the top five, maybe top 10, it’s about winning. I was listening to the No. 48’s radio… it was about winning.
Matt T: For the No. 48, it’s about winning. For the No. 82, it’s a different story. And that’s why I can’t believe someone like that didn’t stay out.
Vito: No kidding. Speed would have been a prime candidate. Then again, if you get turned around because you’re five mph slower in the middle of turns 3 and 4 then, well… your weekend has become a waste of time.
Phil: I was referring to someone like Tony Stewart.
Amy: I was really surprised that five or six cars didn’t gamble and stay out, Matt. I think perhaps they were counting on multiple GWCs, which would have been ugly on old tires.
Matt T: I’m convinced that these crew chiefs are half guessing with the tire call with these double-file restarts. Like Crash Davis, they don’t know where it’s going.
Phil: Yeah, just look what happened to AJ Allmendinger on the final restart. He dropped like a stone.
Matt T: ‘Dinger got pushed around – and will continue to get pushed around until he pushes back.
Amy: Exactly. I also think a few teams were actually counting on multiple restarts when they made their calls. I think the No. 48 was, to be honest, as well as those who didn’t stay out.
Phil: There’s no guarantee that if someone had stayed out, it would have caused a wreck. However, they would have been on 60-lap tires.
Matt T: I thought four tires would win it. I thought Knaus’s strategy would rule the day.
Beth: Actually, I think that was Jimmie’s strategy.
Vito: She’s right, Jimmie made the call for four.
Matt T: Jimmie, Chad, whichever. Is there any difference?
Vito: Hah, and then he said, “Absolutely, four was the right call.”
Amy: It was the right call if there had been another restart, but there wasn’t, so the four-tire stops didn’t pan out.
Matt T: Meanwhile, Newman made it stick on the inside going into turn 1 with two. Nice job. And kudos.
Summer: Kinda like Denny at Martinsville – sometimes luck plays more of a hand than the actual call. It’s just surprising that the No. 48 wasn’t the one on the receiving end, since they’re normally so lucky. By the way, since we’re on the subject of the No. 48… interesting stat: Between Kyle Busch, Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya, all three combined led every lap but… wait for it… 48.
Matt T: You’ve got too much time on your hands, Summer.
Phil: And those 48 were led by a combination of about 10 other guys.
Vito: Here’s the moral of the story. If you’re leading and there is a GWC finish, you are screwed and not going to win, ever, because everybody is going to either do the exact opposite of you or enough are going to get in your way so you can’t get back to the front in two laps.

Hamlin remained in the car for the entire race on Saturday night. Was toughing out his knee pain the right call, or should he have handed the wheel to the relief driver, Casey Mears, as soon as possible?

Beth: It was a call only Denny could make, and clearly he did. I remember reading a post-race quote from him saying he would have been embarrassed to hand a car that awful over to Mears.
Amy: I think he should have gotten out when they had the battery trouble, personally.
Phil: Especially after he had the electrical problems, he should have exited.
Vito: Gutsy call, but a bonehead move.
Matt T: Hard to say, since the car got beat up and then had battery issues. Had they not had those problems, we’d have seen how it affected him more.
Summer: I was kind of surprised after going two laps down that he didn’t get out. I think his doctors said it didn’t really hurt him, but I can’t imagine it really helped, either.
Amy: Pain is nature’s way of saying, “Stop.” We have a pain response for a reason.
Vito: That wreck with Kurt Busch was a little reminder of why he shouldn’t have stayed out there. What if he got tagged in the other door?
Beth: We can play the “what if” game all we want. It’s ultimately the driver’s call if he’s got the doctor’s OK. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite him later this season.
Jeff: Once he was out of contention, he should have gotten out. End of story. A relief driver would have done no worse.
Matt T: I don’t think he can reinjure the knee any further in the cockpit, so it’s just a matter of dealing with the discomfort. Once the car was a couple laps down, I don’t think it mattered who was in there.
Summer: Mears is used to running two laps down anyways. I have to commend him for hanging tough, but at the same time, it didn’t make much sense. He wasn’t doing himself or his team any good.
Amy: Could a bad wreck damage the knee more? I don’t know, but if the pain slowed him using his brake foot, even a fraction of a second, then it could cause him more problems. Mears would have brought the car home clean, which was all they really need him to do.
Vito: I realize Mears isn’t exactly Mark Donohue, but come on. Even Dale Earnhardt got out of his car at Indy for the betterment of the team.
Beth: What I’m more interested in is what kind of painkillers he has for the knee.
Vito: Mark Martin walks with a limp to this day because of a broken kneecap in 1999. I wouldn’t want to take the chance at his age.
Amy: The doctors drained a lot of fluid off the knee Saturday afternoon. Denny showed a picture of it on Twitter.
Summer: Yeah Amy, that was a picture I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing. I got a little bit dizzy after looking at that.
Amy: TMI, Denny!
Vito: So why take the chance on getting mangled up? He said he wanted to prove to his team that he’d give his left leg for them. Uh, OK.
Amy: There’s a fine line between brave and stupid. I’m not sure Denny didn’t cross it on Saturday.
Vito: Good thing Twitter wasn’t around when Stewart won Watkins Glen a few years ago….
Matt T: Smoke stunk up the show. Literally.
Vito: He unloaded on the field.
Phil: Weber didn’t do any favors to us at home that day with, “He’ll be back after getting a fresh uniform.”
Summer: Guys. Please. This is worse than Extenze jokes.
Vito: He’ll be back in a minute. He has some $#^% to take care of.
Matt T: The driver crapped out… the car didn’t!
Vito: Rolling brown outs were very common that summer.
Matt T: The eternal question was answered in Watkins Glen.
Amy: OK, that about wraps up this question.
Summer: Thank you Amy.
Matt T: Yeah, we’ve hit the skids!
Vito: We should start a new feature on Frontstretch: Vito and Matt’s Poop Joke Parade.
Matt T: I like V’s idea. Saturday feature… slow news day.

The Nationwide race at Phoenix featured a pair of controversial calls on restarts. Did NASCAR make the right call on both incidents, and are these penalties the start of the sanctioning body being more careful to scrutinize those zones?

Summer: I’ve heard the explanation for the penalties a few times now, and it makes perfect sense to me. Kyle screwed up both times. Though I have to say, I enjoyed the “I got NASCAR back by winning” comment in victory lane.
Jeff: I saw the replays, and to me NASCAR made the right call both times.
Beth: One wrong call, one right call: Kyle Busch did pass Brad Keselowski before the start/finish line when he got penalized, but Keselowski did the same thing just moments before.
Phil: Well, I think that NASCAR did make the right call. However, I also think that NASCAR should not have made Kyle do a pass-through.
Summer: At first I didn’t get the pass-through, either. Apparently, he didn’t give it back fast enough. I was under the impression that as long as he gave it back after he was warned that he was OK.
Amy: He didn’t give the spot back until NASCAR told him they were going to flag him, Phil. That’s too late. He has to realize on his own that he jumped the start and give it back without NASCAR’s intervention.
Matt T: And that just doesn’t happen on a restart, Amy.
Phil: I remember someone getting burned in the Busch race at Texas in 2003 – Brian Vickers, I think – in a scenario similar to what Vito described.
Matt T: I think it was NASCAR sending a message to Kyle… and Kyle sending ’em one back. Not so much controversial as entertaining.
Summer: It was contro-taining!
Matt T: That it was.
Amy: Anyways, back on topic… the refs made absolutely the right call, both times. The broadcast did an excellent job of pointing out the mistake both times. I kind of hope NASCAR will stick to enforcing the restarts. There are a few guys who back way off, and Kyle did a wonderful job of wrecking 12 cars and showing why it was a stupid move.
Phil: He gave the spot back to Brad. In the IndyCar Series, what Kyle did would have been enough (this came up at the start of the race Sunday).
Vito: Agree with Matt. If the green flag waves, you kind of have to go. The second place guy can’t wait around. What if he had a problem and couldn’t accelerate?
Matt T: Yeah, the brake-check job was what started the whole thing. “Busch” league. Obviously, Busch’s jump (the second one) was a thumb of the nose to NASCAR. He had to know he had a penalty coming.
Phil: In IndyCar, race control issues the demand to move back. If it is disobeyed, then the black flag comes out. Here, you don’t get that warning.
Amy: The worst part of that deal was the 12 cars – almost all real Nationwide teams – that got wrecked because Kyle was playing with Keselowski and trying to get him to jump the start. Typical Kyle, but still a mess.
Phil: That was kinda sad, Amy – a result of the narrowness of the frontstretch at Phoenix.
Amy: It was not. It was the result of a Cup driver trying to be The Show.
Matt T: I’m not going to get into that argument with you tonight, Amy.
Vito: How about the guy waving the flag starts the race.
Matt T: Actually, that’s what Keselowski went on, Vito.
Vito: Exactly, they should do that all the time. Or have a green light like in Formula 1. Well, not green light… the red just goes out.
Matt T: The rule says if the leader doesn’t go at the restart line, the second place driver can go on the flag once it’s displayed.
Amy: Right, Matt, and when the No. 18 didn’t go, the No. 22 capitalized. Busch just didn’t like that he got caught.
Vito: He said afterwards that, “We’re going to talk about it. It’s still an issue.” So I guess he’s calling the shots now.
Matt T: Again, Busch didn’t like the initial call and did the same thing blatantly to send a message to NASCAR.
Vito: Next week, they will be waiving a 10-gallon hat instead of the green flag. And add a little Yosemite Sam character dancing around, firing six-shooters into the air when they have a “Double-File Restart, Shootout Style.”
Amy: Anyone remember when the Looney Tunes were on the cars at Richmond? They had a golf cart race and Jeff Gordon fell out, Johnson ran him over and Mike Skinner and Yosemite Sam saw their opportunity and won it. And is it just me, or is whining about a (correct) call after you won the race a little bit of overkill? Dude, shut up already. You won the race.
Phil: Yes, it is a little stupid.
Vito: They have to do something to make it competitive with the Nos. 18 and 20 in the field.
Beth: No worse than a certain driver whining about being taken out by another driver who just plain got loose a few weeks after it happened.
Summer: Yeah, but I have to say it was so fun to watch. NASCAR and Kyle going at it. If I were a betting girl, though, I’d still bet on NASCAR.
Matt T: Kyle got the ultimate revenge.
Vito: I wouldn’t be saying anything until my car passed inspection. “Hey, looks like you’re a little low. Weird.”

OK how about some predictions for Texas?

Amy: I’m going to go with a bounce back for Kurt Busch.
Beth: I’ll also take Kurt Busch for back-to-back wins at TMS. I’d imagine he and Addington will be determined to get that No. 2 car back to victory lane after it dropped eight spots in the standings this week.
Phil: Well, I’m going to go with Greg Biffle. Clearly guessing here.
Vito: New track, new spoiler… I’ll take Mark. He’s had a car good enough to win two of the last three races. Maybe they can finish one off at Texas.
Matt T: Well, we’ll see if there’s anything to this spoiler deal… gimme Carl Edwards to break another winless streak. And if it comes down to it, take four, Carl!
Jeff: I pick Carl, too.
Summer: I’m going with Stewart.

Mirror Predictions 2010

Welcome to our fourth 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 five races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Amy Henderson197247
Phil Allaway14-56036
Beth Lunkenheimer12-75144
Bryan Davis Keith4-153012
Summer Dreyer4-154012
Tom Bowles3-162011
Jeff Meyer1-183001
Tony Lumbis0-193000
Matt Taliaferro0-191000
Kurt Smith0-191000
Mike Neff0-190000
Toni Montgomery0-191000