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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: “Taming” Richmond, Debris Disaster & Kyle’s Truck Future

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)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice Of Vito)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)

The Richmond race is often one of NASCAR’s most competitive. Instead, its 12 lead changes were the fewest we’ve had all season. Cause for concern, or still a great race – just without enough passes for the lead?

Summer: It was a boring race, but that’s not cause for concern. It happens sometimes.
Jeff: I agree, Summer.
Amy: I wasn’t impressed. Actually, I was disappointed because I usually count on Richmond to be a great race.
Phil: I don’t think it’s cause for concern though, Amy.  This race just so happened to have long green-flag runs.
Amy: I will say there was some decent racing in the pack, which FOX didn’t show enough of.
Summer: It still seemed fairly competitive. There was more than one guy who had a shot to win it – you just had to be out front.
Mike N.: I thought it was a great race. There was all sorts of activity all over the track; it just so happens a couple of guys were able to get out front and not let people get past them.
Vito: It was a great race courtesy of gimmicks like the wave around. Why do 20 cars just get their lap back? I also like how the caution came out just as Jimmie Johnson went a lap down.
Mike N.: It was one of those perfect storm deals, where it just so happened everyone had pitted when the caution flew so they could all gamble on the wave around. Although I do have a problem with the debris caution right as Jimmie is getting passed, then they don’t show the debris.
Vito: That should silence all of the conspiracy theorists…
Phil: I think that almost no one thought there was going to be a run long enough for green-flag stops to occur.
Vito: That was actually pretty common back about 15 years ago… long green-flag runs. Why were there like 30 drink bottles on the backstretch, too?
Mike N.: I have read and heard from a lot of people who turned it off when the caution flew to allow Jimmie to get back on the lead lap.
Vito: That was a bit convenient, eh Mike?
Mike N.: Uh, yeah.
Vito: The only debris visible was the Lowe’s car holding up the leader.
Amy: We’ll get to that in a minute. But besides the silly debris, Richmond needed… something. I can’t put my finger on what was missing. If I were a casual fan, I’d have probably gone to bed.
Phil: I think a lot of them did, looking at the overnight Nielsen rating.
Mike N.: The only thing I saw missing was a prolonged battle for the lead. In the past, there have been battles for the lead that lasted 15 or 20 laps with two cars side-by-side. The on-track passes for the lead didn’t take long Saturday.
Phil: I’ll agree with you on that, Mike. Late in the race, the passes were over with really quick. I still thought the race as a whole was interesting, though.
Mike N.: I thought Jimmie did a great job of battling Kyle Busch with a less than race-leading car, although they had made it better on the pit stop directly before.
Amy: It was the kind of race that happens and you have to deal with it, but it was a disappointment given the track it was at. If you had that same race at a cookie-cutter, we’d be calling it great. I just thought the end was too predictable, I guess.  I could have written the story with 25 to go and I would have been dead on right.
Mike N.: I thought the race was still one of the best of the year from a competition all around the track standpoint. I enjoyed the final pass for the lead. I hoped Harvick would get back to Busch, but unfortunately, he couldn’t get by Gordon.
Vito: Good race, not epic, but then again, not every race needs to be a barn-burner, SportsCenter moment. At least nobody is blaming the spoiler….

The race at Richmond left fans once again questioning debris cautions, wondering if NASCAR was using them to give some drivers an advantage. Is this a real or imagined problem; and whose problem is it, NASCAR’s or the network’s?

Summer: What was the debris for? Did they ever show it?
Vito: Do they ever?
Summer: Occasionally….
Mike N.: I think it is NASCAR trying to adjust the flow of the races. They didn’t show us the debris that caused the caution after the round of green-flag stops when Kyle was lapping eighth place.
Jeff: Whose problem?! Of course it is NASCAR’s problem.
Amy: I’m not sure who’s to blame, Jeff. If FOX chooses that moment to show Digger or something else stupid instead of something on the track, does that mean it’s not there?
Jeff: Yes it does, Amy.
Summer: I think sometimes NASCAR throws the caution to tighten up the field… but I found the debris caution right before Jimmie got lapped rather annoying. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but that was almost too convenient.
Mike N.: It’s also ironic that it happened when it would be convenient for 2/3 of the field to take the wave around and still be competitive.
Jeff: Well FOX, especially FOX, knows how the fans feel about cautions. DEBRIS ALWAYS NEEDS TO BE SHOWN!
Phil: They do need to notify the public what the debris is every time they throw a debris caution.
Amy: There have been times when there’s debris on track that the TV coverage simply chose not to show. I think to a certain extent, they do it on purpose to rile up fans and create excitement… the same reason NASCAR is accused of using it.
Vito: Mark Martin told me once he remembers 10-15 years ago seeing starters lying on the track and they’d never throw a caution. Now it’s prime time, commercial fodder, and NASCAR tries to keep people from tuning out to see something else.
Jeff: But in doing so Vito, they have turned it into a farce. Almost all aspects of NASCAR are a total farce now.
Phil: This whole issue reminds me of the debris crackdown that FOX did three years ago (and may need to do again). I remember a garbage bag on track drawing a yellow in Phoenix.
Vito: Apparently the most lethal thing in motorsports is a paper Gatorade cup lying on the track. Or even worse, a rubber one… with a STRAW.
Phil: There was the yellow for a crushed bottle and spring rubber mentioned earlier.
Amy: Well, if FOX doesn’t show the debris, the fans light up their message boards calling NASCAR’s decision a fix. FOX loves that.
Phil: FOX (and ESPN and TNT) all claim that they do their best to find the debris to show it on-air.
Vito: Can’t you just follow the bright white truck with the flashing lights on it to where it goes to pick up the trash?
Mike N.: That’s the point, Vito. Sometimes they never stop to pick anything up.
Vito: …because there is nothing to pick up.
Jeff: Well, SOMEONE had to call it. They got radios; can’t that guy who calls it identify where it is???
Amy: NASCAR needs practice when it comes to throwing cautions. There should always be a caution for a blown engine in the racing groove.  There should never be one for debris that doesn’t exist, is not in the racing groove, or is made of paper.
Mike N.: I think the debris cautions generally fly too freely. Hell, I think the cautions fly too freely. There should be a NASCAR official with every cameraman so they can pinpoint the debris when it happens.
Phil: That wouldn’t be a bad idea. How about a cameraman in some of the observers’ stands?
Vito: Seems to me it’s a pretty simple task. At least Jimmy Spencer and Robby Gordon had the decency to throw stuff on the track to make it easy to spot.
Phil: I can remember races not having debris cautions with actual metal on the track (the 1995 Goody’s 500 at Bristol is an example).
Amy: Speaking of… how much did it suck to be the guy who had to go pick up the flaming mystery part?
Vito: I’d use a gigantic pair of tongs.
Mike N.: I’m sure they used a shovel. Just like when they pick up the octopus in Detroit.
Vito: Toss it into the stands as a souvenir!
Amy: Set one lucky fan’s hair on fire as a super special bonus prize?
Summer: Well, I’m sure they put it out first!
Mike N.: The winner gets free tickets to next year’s Barack Obama 400.
Phil: Sometimes, stuff comes off the cars and becomes a souvenir. Like the TV panel off Dale Jarrett‘s car at Bristol, March 2007.
Vito: Or Jeremy Mayfield’s hood at Michigan in 1997.
Amy: Back on topic, I think the problem is shared. NASCAR needs to be a bit less liberal with the yellow sometimes, and the networks need to show it.
Phil: NASCAR needs to also do a much better job at pointing out the debris for everyone to see so that no one thinks that some kind of fix is in.
Mike N.: The phantom debris caution is easily solved if they put a NASCAR official in every camera position and have them point out the debris when the caution waves. Otherwise, it better be the size of a college fridge or don’t throw the yellow.
Phil: If the networks can show it, they generally do. Like when Mike Wallace‘s rear end failed Friday night.
Mike N.: Never a good day when your rear end fails.
Jeff: Point is, it’s hard to show something that isn’t there!
Amy: I disagree… there have been plenty of times when drivers mention the debris on the radio and the networks don’t show it when the yellow comes out.
Mike N.: Generally, drivers are begging for a caution and talk about debris everywhere.
Amy: Not always, Mike. Not when it’s multiple drivers.
Mike N.: Well, if they all see the same thing, I have to believe the TV camera can, too.
Jeff: Amen. It’s still NASCAR’s problem, though. They need to tell the network to show it.
Amy: I still say it riles up the fans, and that’s why networks ignore the debris. It can be good for NASCAR.
Phil: I don’t see how having people angry at you is good for NASCAR.  Eventually, those people get fed up and leave.
Jeff: Exactly, Phil. It cannot be good when half the people think the race is fixed.
Vito: Well, in Formula 1, the track needs to be blocked or a guy injured before they throw a caution. Here, they stop the action if somebody is too fast.

Joe Gibbs Racing has now won three of the last five races after a slow start. Have they usurped the momentum of Hendrick Motorsports, or should we still look at HMS as the team to beat?

Mike N.: Nope, HMS is still the team to beat. I think JJ’s going to win seven in a row.
Phil: That’s not happening, Mike.
Mike N.: I disagree. I think, barring something drastic, JJ can win seven in a row. That will get everyone’s panties in a wad, and only God will keep him from winning eight straight.
Jeff: If he wins five in a row, it’s the end of NASCAR for many people.
Summer: Please, let’s just get to five first… before we worry about the rest.
Phil: I still don’t think it’s happening this year.
Summer: Thinking of him winning seven or eight in a row makes my head spin….
Jeff: Heck, you’re young yet Summer! You may see him win 15 in a row (when the rest of the world stops watching)!
Amy: Back on topic, my season pick from Day 1 was the No. 11. I had a few doubts with Denny Hamlin‘s knee, but he’s put them to bed for now. He’s the one to beat in November,
Mike N.: The way the No. 18 car is looking, I’ll take Kyle if JJ doesn’t do it, but I still think Jimmie wins again this year.
Amy: I still don’t think Kyle is focused enough to do it. And I think this “new Kyle” talk will last exactly as long as it takes him to have a race not go his way and storm off whining again.
Mike N.: We’ll see.
Amy: He’s already done that on more than one occasion this year… it’s easy to be nice when you’re winning.

Kyle Busch’s Truck Series team supposedly owes contractors upwards of $3 million on their building. Busch said publicly it’s not really his problem; do you disagree, and how do you think the accusation will affect his program, if at all?

Amy: How, exactly, is it not his problem?
Jeff: Yeah, really!
Phil: I’d argue that it is his problem. He owns the team himself, unless he has some silent investor he’s not talking about.
Mike N.: In the end, it is his problem. I’m sure this is one of those deals where he’s paying the property manager and they’re sitting on the money.
Amy: And a lot of those subcontractors getting shafted are small local businesses that can’t afford the kind of loss we’re talking about.
Vito: I think, ultimately, it will be his problem should the creditors come calling.
Mike N.: I’m sure this will end up in court.
Amy: It’s not like he can’t pay his bills, though.
Mike N.: I would hope he can do it. Although I didn’t see the size of the rock he bought his woman.
Vito: Like Mike said, there are enough ins and outs regarding this deal involving those he has hired to oversee the construction of the building and shop. It isn’t as if he is there at 6 a.m. making sure the carpet is the right color.
Jeff: I’m sorry, but like the commercial thing, if I was a ‘small contractor,’ I would not do business with him just because he is Kyle Busch.
Mike N.: See, that’s exactly why I would, considering Cup drivers are some of the few people in the world who are still making money hand over fist. That, and overrated first basemen.
Amy: The building is nicer than some Cup shops… if Busch couldn’t afford it, he should have built something less pretentious.
Vito: Having a family and number of friends who are independent contractors, I know how they feel the pinch when somebody is late in paying them.
Amy: But property manager or no, ultimately if Kyle owns the building, he’s the one who owes the money.
Jeff: I agree with Amy.
Amy: Holy crap, Jeff, that’s like the third time in three weeks….
Mike N.: Jeff’s lost his edge thanks to this sabbatical thing.
Jeff: Jeff’s lost a lot of things….

Predictions for Darlington?

Amy: I say Jeff Gordon bounces back at the track he once owned.
Summer: Gordon.
Vito: Put me down for the 24 as well. It has to end sometime.
Mike N.: I think Kyle Busch makes it two in a row.
Jeff: Jeff Burton.
Phil: I’m going with Ryan Newman.  It’s worth a shot.
Amy: And in case anyone doesn’t know it, it’s NOT the real Southern 500. No matter what the marketing people say.
Mike N.: Nope, that only takes place on Labor Day weekend.
Vito: At least now it is in Atlanta, not California.
Mike N.: Until it moves to Kentucky….

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 10 races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Amy Henderson2210258
Phil Allaway18-49148
Beth Lunkenheimer12-108155
Summer Dreyer5-177023
Bryan Davis Keith4-183012
Kurt Smith3-192011
Tom Bowles3-192011
Jeff Meyer2-205012
Tony Lumbis0-223000
Mike Neff0-221000
Toni Montgomery0-221000
Matt Taliaferro-2-242000