NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: What’s Next in Silly Season, Grading the Hall & Fixing Sabotage

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, 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
Amy Henderson (Mondays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices from the Heartland)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race featured four segments, but most of the racing — and the wrecking — happened in the last 10-lap shootout. Does the format need another tweak?

Kurt: It doesn’t really matter. Whatever the rules are, there’s going to be some eventful and some uneventful races.
Amy: I think it does need tweaking. 70-75 laps total is plenty for races like these; there’s no need for 100. Less than 70, and the fans at the track aren’t getting their money’s worth. But the first three segments were boring. Nobody was willing to mix it up.
Mike N.: I don’t know that it needs another tweak. While a straight 10-lap shootout would be great to watch, you can’t charge the fans the kind of money the track needs to make a profit for a 10-lap race. It would be interesting to use the Australian rule that the last car each lap is dropped from the race.
Jeff: I was gonna say that the charge is key for track owners. Remember, Amy, it ain’t about the crashing!
Amy: It’s not, Jeff. You could have a caution-free race that would be exciting. But they actually have to have some incentive to race instead of parade around.
Kurt: It’s supposed to lead up to the big finish. I don’t see what the problem is. Although if you set the race up for a million bucks and nothing for second on back, guys are going to figure out how to win it.
Mike N.: I do like that idea, Kurt. I think it is kind of weak that guys are making a good chunk of change for just showing up.
Kurt: The thing is, this is kind of like a local event. You have your heat races of sorts and then your main event, and only the winner is going to walk away with anything. That’s the kind of racing everyone likes. Well, maybe it isn’t really, but it’s fun in Cup one race a year.
Amy: There needs to be more incentive to race all night. I liked when they eliminated cars. Make each segment like a heat race, and only the top three from each of three heats transfer to the final race.
Mike N.: It would be interesting if they did heat races, advanced four or five from each of three heats, and then one from a last chance race.
Kurt: I’ve often said I’d love to see heat races. NASCAR should try something radical like that now.
Mike N.: I would love to see qualifying for all races be heat races, but they’re never going to do that. And for the All-Star Race, just forget the “segments.”
Kurt: I like the segments in the All-Star Race. You don’t miss too much racing to commercials.
Mike N.: I like the segments, too, because you don’t have the field getting too strung out and people can make changes to their car multiple times in a short race.
Jeff: Just make it 100 laps, winner take all!
Kurt: This isn’t the kind of thing I care about NASCAR tweaking too much. It’s a meaningless race except for money, no matter what the format. I would like to see the event at a different venue each year, though; that would be cool.
Amy: I agree with that to a point, Kurt, but if this is for the drivers and teams, the week at home is welcome.
Jeff: It’s more for the drivers than the fans. The “fans” don’t really care. It’s just an off week with a little race and a lead-in for the 600.
Amy: I don’t love exhibition races, but I do understand the need for an All-Star event. It just needs to be a real event.
Kurt: Imagine this race at Martinsville.
Mike N.: The All-Star Race is a great event, and the ending is always exciting. It would be nice, though, if they could make heat races instead of segments — but that is the only change I would make to the format.
Amy: NASCAR just needs to do something to ensure that they don’t ride around for 90 laps. I’d like to see the race shorter, with more incentives for winning a segment, and consequences for riding around at the back.
Kurt: Maybe, but you can’t force excitement. NASCAR should know that by now.
Mike N.: I think making $125,000 for winning the next-to-last segment is a pretty good incentive, but I would like to see a winner-take-all format instead of everyone making money for racing in it.
Jeff: Well, we know this much: they will tweak it. They do every year. Why would next year be different?

With Kevin Harvick re-signing, all the big NASCAR free agents are off the market… or are they? Has Silly Season peaked early, or have we seen the majority of driver movement in 2010 because of a contracting ownership base and a faltering economy?

Jeff: Let’s hope Silly Season is over! Good riddance to the “Silly Season.”
Kurt: In times like these, you get the deal done and move on. The last thing Kevin Harvick or Childress need is to spend the rest of 2010 hashing all of this out and then trying to find a sponsor.
Amy: I think you’ve seen most of it, but there are still teams with sponsorship up in the air (UPS rumored to be leaving the No. 6, CAT’s future with RCR may be in question) that you could see a late surprise or two.
Mike N.: There will certainly be driver switching as the year moves along, but yeah, we’ve seen the big names already settled. There is always movement at the end of the year, though.
Kurt: If I were a driver, I wouldn’t touch UPS. They make everyone slower. Maybe it’s the truck.
Mike N.: Something about brown cars. Don’t know why it is they seem to run slowly.
Kurt: The big question now is which sponsors are coming back, and that’s a tough one to answer right now. Drivers might be taking some pay cuts, too.
Jeff: And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Amy: I do wonder if there will be downsizing in the future for some of the big teams. Are two- and three-car teams the most that are sustainable long-term?
Mike N.: It is going to be interesting to see what RPM looks like after this season. If Ford cuts them loose, it could make the offseason very interesting.
Kurt: Yeah, without Kasey Kahne what are they going to do? Mark Martin to the rescue again?
Jeff: The peak in NASCAR has been like everything else… way out of control.
Mike N.: Very true, Jeff. People were living high on the hog, and it couldn’t last with this economy.
Amy: No doubt. It got too big and priced even the contenders out of the game.
Jeff: It’s time there’s a massive cutback, not only in ownership, but in what a sponsor has to pay. Time to get back to reality.
Amy: If you could run a competitive team for $5-10 million, you’d see sponsors come back in and small teams going the distance every week.
Jeff: Maybe all this “no sponsor” stuff will lead to young drivers having to spend more time in lower series, too, getting more seat time and experience. That’s not a bad thing!
Kurt: Well, Silly Season isn’t what it used to be. There used to be five or six drivers working things out and it took all season. There was more speculation about where Martin Truex Jr. would go last year than Harvick this season.
Mike N.: Truex wasn’t tied to a manufacturer. With Harvick’s ties to Chevrolet, his options were pretty limited.
Jeff: I never saw Harvick going anywhere, honestly.
Kurt: Harvick could have gone to SHR, but they’re just trying to run better now and they’ve just lost a sponsor, too.
Amy: Harvick also likes being top dog, which he wouldn’t be with most other teams.
Kurt: I don’t know that he’s top dog at RCR, I think they’re all about equal.
Mike N.: I thought he would go to Stewart-Haas, but once Kahne was signed at Hendrick and Tony Stewart lost Old Spice that pretty much killed that option for him. Clint Bowyer ought to be top dog at Childress, but he seems to be treated like the red-headed stepchild most of the time.
Jeff: Well, I don’t think he had any intention of going anywhere. He was just playing that card in hopes of getting more out of RCR.
Kurt: It also doesn’t make sense to switch teams when you have the points lead.
Mike N.: I totally agree there. Why would the points leader leave his team?
Kurt: I wouldn’t leave Frontstretch….
Mike N.: Of course not, Kurt. You never leave the best team out there.
Jeff: If another site offered me a headshot, I might!
Kurt: Anyways, Harvick was going to re-sign with RCR, so it’s not surprising. He just had a bad season last year and didn’t think the team was going anywhere.
Amy: Back to Silly Season, the one possibility for a big name switch depends on sponsorship at RCR. If Caterpillar leaves, can they find two huge sponsors, or will they cut the No. 31 and let Burton go?
Mike N.: It wouldn’t surprise me if they cut Bowyer the way they’ve treated him the last few years.
Amy: How did they treat Bowyer badly?
Mike N.: They yanked him out of the Jack Daniel’s car and gave his car and team to Casey Mears. He had to start from scratch with a new sponsor and team. The sponsor wasn’t a big deal, but taking his team, too, was not cool.
Kurt: Clint was much more of a Jack Daniel’s type of racer. Mears should have been the Hamburger Helper guy.
Amy: Give me a break! General Mills was a much richer sponsor, and Bowyer is still in the ride, isn’t he?
Mike N.: Like I said, they took his team. The sponsor is one thing, but taking your whole team is uncalled for.
Amy: It was General Mills’ decision. They brought in more money, so they chose the driver. I don’t feel too sorry for Bowyer.
Kurt: No, I don’t either, but I liked him in the No. 07.

NASCAR inducted its inaugural class into the new Hall of Fame on Sunday in a ceremony based on nostalgia that was well received by all in attendance. How can NASCAR capitalize on that connection in other areas without abandoning their vision of the future?

Kurt: I heard on Sunday, “You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” That was just rich. That said, I liked the ceremony. It was cool to see the King get in.
Mike N.: I like that they’ve had older drivers being grand marshals and taking active roles in races of late. I think, if they can continue to keep the drivers of the past around, it will spike some interest by fans in the history of the sport.
Amy: I agree, Mike. Making those drivers available to the fans as much as possible is key. Educating new fans on the history of the sport is important, though I fear it’s a lost cause.
Jeff: The thing about the HOF is it should have been built 35 years ago. NASCAR just never wanted to spend the money.
Amy: I think they could do some things like schedule races at historic tracks, because they race better and have a real history behind them.
Mike N.: It would be really smart to see some standalone Nationwide races at Rockingham, North Wilkesboro or some other historic tracks.
Kurt: They can sit still and not screw with the rules constantly. You see that NASCAR had all of this great history, and there wasn’t a Chase, green-white-wreckers, Lucky Dogs and even restrictor plates if you go back far enough.
Mike N.: Remember when drivers also ran cars that looked like the ones people could buy from the showroom? That would be a novel idea.
Amy: You also have PR reps trying to make the guys coming into the sport fit a corporate mold even before they race a late model. It’s kind of creepy.
Kurt: That can only get worse the more the sport promotes Danicas.
Amy: Well, the lesson here is NASCAR didn’t need gimmicks. They didn’t need to tell the drivers to be themselves, because the sponsors wanted the drivers as they were… novel concept these days, huh?
Mike N.: That was the cool thing about the Hall of Fame induction. There weren’t sponsor plugs or canned speeches. It was very real.
Amy: The induction ceremony was awesome. It was about the racing and about racers — nothing more, nothing less.
Jeff: This one was real. But just wait till they sell all the “sponsorship” that they plan to! Soon, it will be the “NASCAR Hall of Fame presented by….” Personally, I think that the novelty of it will soon wear off and they won’t be getting near the number of visitors they think they will, except when there is a race in town or nearby.
Kurt: I think the Hall of Fame is an important thing for NASCAR. It should do well and keep doing well.
Mike N.: The whole sponsorship thing is annoying. I don’t mind having sponsors in the building, but the thought of one on the outside turns my stomach.
Kurt: Why would someone sponsor it? Doesn’t anyone think it might come across as bad taste? Ah, who am I kidding….

One of the stories in the garage at the Camping World Truck Series race was the 11 loose lugnuts found on the No. 18 after impound. Austin Dillon also blamed his crash on a loose wheel; was it sabotage, and how can NASCAR better police this type of thing so it doesn’t happen again?

Amy: I think calling it sabotage is kind of silly.
Jeff: Check the airgun, stupid!
Mike N.: I was amazed to find out that they did not have security cameras in the garages. There is supposed to be a NASCAR official with each car/truck the whole time it is in impound, so I’m not sure how it happened.
Kurt: I think if it was sabotage, the culprit should never be allowed near a racetrack again. Maybe the security official is dirty. Nothing worse than a bad cop.
Mike N.: I agree, Kurt. If they catch who did it, they need to be banned for life.
Amy: I think it’s a lot more likely that somebody didn’t do their job and won’t admit it.
Jeff: I agree with Amy! Wow….
Kurt: Someone missed 11 lugnuts? That’s a pretty big thing to miss.
Mike N.: I could see one or two lugs being loose, but 11 nuts is a ridiculous amount. And Austin Dillon’s truck was parked right behind Kyle Busch’s in the impound. The teams torque their lugs before qualifying, so there is no way Busch qualified on pole with 11 loose lugnuts.
Amy: Dillon only had a couple loose. And the way he’s been running, who would bother?
Kurt: Maybe he stole someone’s girlfriend. I hear that happens a lot.
Jeff: Faulty air guns or air pressure.
Mike N.: But they torqued the lugs after they put the lugs on, Jeff. So it wasn’t the airgun that failed. Unless their torque wrench was broken or not set correctly.
Amy: I just have a hard time buying it was sabotage. There are officials at the impound lot.
Kurt: Who is responsible for getting to the bottom of it? The team or NASCAR?
Mike N.: NASCAR ultimately should be investigating, because it had to happen when the truck was in impound.
Amy: Right. Just because it was marked off on the checklist doesn’t mean it happened. If something did happen in impound, that’s NASCAR’s fault and NASCAR’s problem to deal with.
Jeff: I’ll bet it was someone from the media trying to create a story… but who? Is there a grassy knoll near where the trucks were?
Mike N.: Well, there is no way to know for sure unless someone has a videotape of the guy actually torquing every lugnut. But that is a very basic thing that the teams do every time the truck is going on the track except during race conditions.
Amy: Which makes it that much more likely that if you were responsible for it and forgot, you’d want to cover the mistake up.
Kurt: It could have been some freak thing. Sabotage is something pretty rare, at least as far as I know, from a distance.
Mike N.: But why would you check it off of a checklist if you didn’t actually do it?
Amy: Uh… so you wouldn’t get chewed out for not doing it, maybe?
Mike N.: Sabotage happens. I remember AJ Foyt’s Indy team had proof someone was in their garage the night before the 500 when the garage was supposed to be locked down the night before the race.
Amy: I think what this proves is that NASCAR needs to install security cameras in the impound area.
Kurt: You could then pay someone off for the video of the No. 48 setup.
Mike N.: I am sure there will be cameras when they get back to Charlotte in the fall. I was very surprised that they didn’t have them already.
Amy: And/or have several officials watching it. After all, if this was deliberate, who’s to say there aren’t guys going in there and doing things to their own cars to gain an advantage?
Jeff: Like Chad Knaus.
Amy: He doesn’t need to.
Jeff: Some still remember his days of “cheating.”
Mike N.: If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.
Kurt: I call it “creative interpretation of the rulebook.”
Amy: One other thing: If you bring an air wrench into the impound, it’s going to be noticed. It takes time to loosen 15 lugnuts by hand. It seems like a long time to risk being caught.
Jeff: Faulty threads.
Mike N.: I suppose that is possible.
Amy: Especially if you were using nuts with too few threads or something to start with.
Jeff: All I can say is, if it was sabotage, someone has a big set of nuts!
Mike N.: Well, they have rules about the number of threads that have to be on the studs and the lugnuts.
Amy: I think it’s far more likely someone didn’t do his job, had an “oh crap!” moment, and went back and marked off the checklist to save his ass.
Mike N.: I just hope they come up with something to put some closure on the thing, because it’s not cool to think that someone messed around with a car that was going to take to the track and run 180 mph.

OK, how about some predictions for the 600.

Amy: I’m going with Jimmie Johnson. They were too strong in the All-Star event to bet against.
Jeff: Jeff Burton. He’s been on the cusp all year.
Kurt: JJ.
Mike N.: I’m going to stick with Kyle Busch. He should have won the All-Star Race and he’s never won at Charlotte in a Cup car, so he’s motivated — although he should have won it last year.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 23 12 2 6 9
Phil Allaway 22 -1 11 1 5 10
Beth Lunkenheimer 13 -10 8 1 5 6
Summer Dreyer 8 -15 8 0 3 4
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -19 3 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 4 -19 2 0 1 2
Jeff Meyer 4 -19 7 0 1 4
Kurt Smith 3 -20 3 0 1 1
Tom Bowles 3 -20 2 0 1 1
Mike Neff 1 -22 2 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -23 3 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -23 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -2 -25 2 0 0 0

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