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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Jacques Debris, Can Ford Bounce Back? & Peaking Too Soon

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)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)

After Denny Hamlin called out NASCAR for throwing what seemed to be another invisible debris caution at Michigan in the closing laps, many have complained about the frequency of these late-race yellows. But others have defended the move, saying that the fans buying tickets deserve a good finish to the race. Who’s right?

Summer: That debris was there.
Phil: Really, Summer? Where was it?
Amy: There wasn’t any debris.
Summer: They showed it on RaceBuddy, and Kasey Kahne even said he saw it. There was rubber on the racetrack.
Phil: Well geez, I had a two-computer setup on Sunday and didn’t see it.
Mike N.: Are you saying that they’re throwing cautions without debris? No way! Seriously, the fans are paying for a ticket to see a race, not a choreographed event.
Garrett: It’s been said there was debris, but TNT never mentioned it. The problem is, NASCAR has been throwing too many questionable debris cautions lately.
Mike N.: If you can get NASCAR to admit they threw a phantom caution, congratulations to you.
Jeff: I give Denny Hamlin two thumbs up for calling NASCAR out.
Summer: I would hate to think NASCAR would ever question its integrity, though, and pretend a fake caution was a real one. I don’t know that I’d even care if they had 20-lap shootouts, although that does seem kind of fake when you think about it.
Mike N.: DW talked on RaceDay about the fact people were bitching in the 1970s about phantom debris cautions.
Amy: Everyone knows when they happen. The best is when the shovel guy goes out and pretends to shovel up something.
Garrett: Think about it — the Chase is like a debris caution.
Jeff: Ha! Good point, Garrett.
Phil: I’ve never heard it described as such, but I do agree.
Mike N.: The Chase is like a festering boil on your butt, but that is a whole other question.
Amy: Did anyone read what Michael Waltrip wrote on Twitter Sunday night? He said it was better to throw the caution even if it was fake, so fans at the track got their money’s worth. Some media actually agreed with him.
Phil: Jeff Gluck agreed with Waltrip.
Jeff: That is wrong.
Mike N.: That is ridiculous.
Amy: I think it’s asinine, personally.
Summer: Again, I wouldn’t have a huge problem if NASCAR actually admitted to it. That’s something that should be saved more for the All-Star Race, but sometimes it’s almost needed.
Phil: It’s insane to think that it’s a good idea to throw fake cautions. Is Waltrip paid to bring contrarian viewpoints for Inside NASCAR? Is he Skip Bayless?
Garrett: If NASCAR wants to do that, they might as well throw a “competition caution” with 10 to go.
Summer: What I don’t get is like at Pocono, people were begging for a debris caution and when they called one, everyone was fine with it. We never saw debris.
Jeff: Why is it needed, Summer?
Summer: Well I don’t think it always is, but when people are complaining about the race being boring, NASCAR might worry that people will tune out. They don’t want that.
Phil: True. However, there are a certain contingent of fans that think almost everything is boring.
Summer: I’m not saying I want them to throw it, but I understand why they do — if they do it.
Garrett: It’s really a no-win situation.
Jeff: But like Denny said, we all knew it was coming. It makes NASCAR look more like a joke than anything.
Summer: I mean, I personally don’t care if they leave it green, but sometimes it’s a huge relief when there’s a late-race caution.
Mike N.: That is crap, Summer. Races are races, and sometimes they are boring. If NASCAR is going to try and manufacture finishes, they need to come out and say that they’re now the WWE so those of us who love racing can go find something better to cover.
Amy: Boring or not, I want the race to play out the way it plays out. NASCAR does not need to insult fans’ intelligence or their loyalty by making the finish contrived and fake. They have Morgan Shepherd on roller skates already. Slap on a few more pairs, and away they go.
Phil: NASCAR would never do that. They’d end up like RollerJam.
Jeff: But the thing is, Phil, NASCAR is only fooling themselves, not the fans!
Garrett: As long as the debris is shown on television, I am OK with debris cautions.
Jeff: Amen.
Summer: I am, too. I think sometimes they don’t show it, and I don’t know why. They didn’t yesterday on TV, though it was on camera.
Phil: Directorial screw-ups, perhaps?
Summer: That didn’t make sense. I mean, there was a camera on it, but they never really put it on the broadcast.
Jeff: I had just tuned back in to hear them say Denny had a 10-second lead, and immediately I knew. Sure enough, BAM! Out comes the yellow, no sooner than they said how big his lead was.
Phil: We’ve had that debate already. NASCAR does have a quick trigger on the yellow light. It’s only been like this for the last 10-13 years.
Amy: I think it’s a slap in the face to fans to tell them this is better racing. Fake is never better unless it’s whipped cream in a can.
Jeff: Mental pictures….
Mike N.: NASCAR throws too many cautions as it is, and the more they throw cautions for debris that the TV broadcast cannot find, the more they’re going to undermine their credibility.
Summer: Just because they don’t show it doesn’t mean they can’t find it. Sometimes, I swear TV is just trying to stir things up.
Jeff: Well, for the time being, they aren’t doing themselves nor the sport any good by not showing it.
Garrett: I just think we will never see a caution-free race again!
Phil: I think we will, Garrett. It’ll just be at a place like Talladega.

Denny Hamlin won his fifth race in his last 10 starts, sending a strong message to other teams that he’s a championship contender. But others are cautioning that the No. 11 team is peaking too early. Is that possible? And if so, who will be the next to go on a hot streak and make a title statement of his own over the summer?

Phil: Of course, it’s possible to peak too early. Look at Kyle Busch in 2008.
Garrett: Hamlin is peaking too early. Denny is having a similar season to Greg Biffle in 2005. Biffle and Hamlin both had five wins through 15 races, but a little inconsistency as well.
Mike N.: I don’t know if you can peak too early. In racing, you peak when you can peak. I think Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch are both going to start a streak in the next month or so. And then, of course, Jimmie Johnson will get hot the week after Richmond until Homestead.
Jeff: Stewart usually fires up during the summer.
Summer: Yes, it’s possible Denny’s peaked too early, but that doesn’t mean he’ll follow the trend. I’m expecting Stewart and Johnson to start picking it up over the summer, too.
Amy: Hamlin had a hot streak in the Chase last year late. Nothing’s to say they couldn’t cool off for the summer, then still come back in the Chase and win it all. They have that look right now.
Jeff: But it is impossible to know if he’s peaking. Maybe he’s just kickin’ ass this year!
Amy: Jeff has a point. Maybe this can last that long, though it would be unusual.
Mike N.: It could certainly carry through the rest of the season. Somebody has to break Jeff Gordon‘s win record eventually.
Phil: I don’t think anyone’s winning 14 races this year. That’s just not in the cards.
Mike N.: I agree, Phil, although Hamlin could come very close at this pace.
Summer: I don’t think he’ll keep winning race after race for the next several months, but there’s no reason to think he’ll completely shut down once the Chase gets here. There’s no reason to think he won’t, either. It’s so hard to tell.
Garrett: I think Kevin Harvick is more of a threat for the title than Denny is.
Amy: Harvick needs to win races to be a real threat. Consistency isn’t enough in the Chase format; you have to be spectacular.
Mike N.: Harvick hasn’t been a threat to win for awhile. If you’re not winning races, you won’t win the championship.
Garrett: Mike, you don’t need to win races to win the championship.
Mike N.: Actually, you do Garrett. If you look at the bar that Johnson has set, you can’t win it without winning races now. Johnson is still the man to beat this season, I don’t care how he’s running now.
Garrett: Stewart didn’t win a single race in his ‘05 Chase.
Mike N.: That was ’05, Garrett. Last year or the year before, it took a fifth-place average finish to win the title. I believe that would have scored you fourth in the championship last year.
Garrett: If you finish in the top 10 in every Chase race, you can win the championship without winning a race.
Amy: But it’s changed since ‘05, Garrett. I don’t see a champion not winning at least twice in the Chase.
Phil: It doesn’t hurt to win a couple now, but you can’t get yourself too far behind at the start of the Chase by not winning early.
Summer: That’s especially because of the bonus points. Hamlin has 50 now. Someone is really going to have to go on a tear if they’re going to beat that.
Jeff: Streaks now don’t really matter. It’s the last 10 races when those come into play. Where is Jeff Burton in the points?
Phil: Eighth.
Jeff: Maybe Burton is just getting warmed up to go on a tear.
Mike N.: Burton is getting warmed up to finish third in the points.
Garrett: The thing I worry about with Denny is whether he will have any mechanical issues in the Chase like last season. It can happen to any driver, but the No. 11 team seems more prone to it.
Phil: The mechanical issues can definitely come out later on. For now, he’ll be fine.
Summer: Remember, wrecks played into his Chase finish, too. He crashed at Fontana last Fall.
Mike N.: I worry more about Denny’s mental state. When something goes wrong, he can really turn south in a hurry.
Garrett: I’m not really worried about his mental state as much. He has learned from his errors last year.
Mike N.: Listening to his voice when they had that fuel pickup problem on Sunday reminded me of him when adversity has struck in the past. I don’t think he’s changed much.
Jeff: A bit panicky, was he?
Mike N.: I don’t know if I’d call it panicky. It was more total dejection.
Phil: I think that was mainly because that issue bit him so many times.
Summer: Hamlin handles that kind of thing a lot better than he used to. I think meltdowns are more Kyle’s thing.
Amy: Well Mike does have a point. Hamlin hasn’t handled adversity well in the past, but if you don’t have any adversity, you don’t have to handle it, either.
Jeff: I still don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Denny/Kyle clashes. They could keep each other from winning a Cup.
Amy: Well his other competition, Johnson, isn’t focused. Hamlin is. Advantage: Hamlin.
Mike N.: Of course not. Johnson was only dominant in last practice and ended up top six at Michigan.
Phil: I don’t know, Amy. The stretch after Daytona is prime real estate for Johnson.
Summer: And Johnson always does this. He fools everyone into thinking he just doesn’t have it this year.
Amy: Johnson is never good in high summer, except at Indy… and with a new baby? I doubt he’ll have the focus.
Summer: I’m not calling Hamlin the champ, but he should be fine if they can just stay consistent. Just like anyone else.
Jeff: I’m not giving anyone the Cup yet. It all depends on who NASCAR wants to be the champion and how they throw their yellows!
Amy: I’ll be surprised if Hamlin isn’t the champion when the smoke clears. But if someone else hits a hot streak over the summer or in the Chase, there’s plenty of time for things to change.

There were four Fords in the top 15 at Michigan, but only two in the top 10 and one in the top five — at arguably their best track. Will the new engine be enough to turn things around in the Blue Oval camp long-term, or is something else going on?

Summer: Michigan is always a good track for Ford. I’ll believe it if I see them do as well next week and in the coming weeks.
Phil: The engine will help, but there’s something else wrong with their setups.
Mike N.: The new engine will make a difference once everyone runs it all of the time. This jumping back and forth is killing the Ford crowd.
Phil: Sunday was the first time that everyone ran it.
Mike N.: But they still aren’t going to all run it full-time yet, Phillip. It is the longest rollout in the history of NASCAR.
Phil: The last race for the old engine is Watkins Glen. The R6P8 rollout for Dodge took about this long.
Amy: Where’s C3PO?
Jeff: Pick an engine and stick with it is what I say.
Garrett: I wasn’t that impressed with Ford this weekend. Kasey Kahne was good, but Roush still struggled.
Mike N.: Roush is struggling because they are relying too heavily on engineering and not enough on driver and crew chief input.
Amy: I think the new engine will help. Kahne said they were able to suck up to another car for the first time all season. Will it be their be all, end all? No. I think the Ford camps are also off on their setups and with Kahne as a lame duck, they don’t have the talent pool they had a few years ago.
Jeff: They still have Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards… that’s still some talent.
Amy: Three drivers is not really all that deep. Three good ones… and some mediocre ones. AJ Allmendinger has the talent, but not the equipment.
Jeff: ‘Dinger’s got the ‘tude, too! I like it!
Mike N.: ‘Dinger ain’t winning too many friends these days. But Ford in general is running like Fido’s rear end, and they need to figure out how to shake this monkey.
Phil: Ford has never been lacking for talent. The problems are different for Roush in Sprint Cup as compared to the Nationwide Series. In Nationwide, there’s just too much wrecking.
Garrett: As much as Roush is struggling, it’s hard to believe Kenseth is fifth in points.
Mike N.: Kenseth is fifth in points with no chance to win the title.
Jeff: And he shouldn’t, Mike. It’s all his fault we got this damn Chase in the first place!
Mike N.: Maybe he’ll win the Chase without winning a race and they’ll change it again, just for Garrett.
Amy: I do think that Roush has hurt themselves by relying on computer data and not driver data. While other teams are at Rockingham, they’re in the wind tunnel.
Phil: The Fords will win sometime soon. Kahne’s the defending champion in Sonoma, so it might be this weekend.

Despite having only four Cup regulars in the field this weekend, these drivers again dominated the Nationwide race at Kentucky. Only the wild card of Road America remains before the standalone month concludes for the Series. At this point, can anyone join Justin Allgaier as NNS regulars to find victory lane this year?

Phil: Hmmm. We’ve got 43 on the entry list this weekend, and plenty of ‘ringers. There’s a chance.
Mike N.: I doubt it. I don’t think we’ve got anyone who is a Nationwide regular that’s an outstanding road course driver.
Garrett: Yeah, I don’t see it happening. I think Ron Fellows will win at Road America.
Amy: Road courses aside, I doubt anyone else will win anywhere this year. Fellows has been out of the series too long, but he’s got a shot at the Glen.
Garrett: Well, I don’t see Brad Keselowski or Paul Menard winning this weekend.
Mike N.: Fellows is a road racer, so he’s always got a shot on a road course, although I’d pick Boris Said if he were running.
Garrett: And the only other Cup guy will be Carl. He will contend, but won’t win.
Amy: As for all the other races, maybe Brendan Gaughan has an outside chance in a standalone race now that RWI has bought into Gibbs.
Summer: Even then, the Cup drivers usually outdrive them by quite a bit.
Amy: As long as the Cup guys come and take all the good toys, the real NNS teams have to settle for the matchbox car with the broken wheel.
Summer: I feel like we have this Nationwide/Cup argument every week.
Phil: We kinda do.
Summer: I think all of our readers have determined everyone’s opinions on it by now, don’t you think?
Amy: Telling in itself, Summer. There’s nothing else to talk about in that series.
Jeff: Groundhog Day.
Phil: I think Tim George Jr. might be able to do something in the No. 21 this week. He’s got a road racing background, but he’s been running ARCA this year.
Garrett: I agree, Phil.
Mike N.: Michael McDowell will have a real shot this weekend.
Garrett: I wish Andrew Ranger was racing this weekend. It’s fun to watch him on the road courses.
Amy: Ranger did really well at Martinsville last week. I was impressed.
Phil: Agreed. He’s pretty good.
Jeff: Ranger is the Canadian, right?
Garrett: Yeah.
Mike N.: He is a wheel dude.
Jeff: I gotta pull for a Canuck, seeing how my girlfriend is one.

OK, how about some predictions for Sonoma?

Amy: I’m going to go with the point leader. Harvick.
Summer: Kyle Busch.
Mike N.: I’m going to take Juan Pablo Montoya.
Jeff: I’m picking Burton (again).
Garrett: Tony Stewart.
Mike N.: Jamie McMurray is my darkhorse.
Phil: I’m going with Mattias Ekstrom. No, I’m not (but he’ll run well in his debut.) Instead, I’m going with Denny Hamlin. He’s got a good track record on road courses.
Garrett: I’m sticking with my Stewart pick, but if Marcos Ambrose doesn’t spin out, maybe he could pick up win No. 1.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top Fives Top 10s
Phil Allaway 25 13 1 6 11
Amy Henderson 23 -2 15 2 6 11
Beth Lunkenheimer 16 -9 10 1 6 7
Mike Neff 9 -16 5 1 2 3
Summer Dreyer 9 -16 9 0 3 5
Jeff Meyer 4 -21 9 0 1 5
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -21 3 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 4 -21 2 0 1 2
Matt Taliaferro 3 -22 3 1 1 1
Tom Bowles 3 -22 2 0 1 1
Kurt Smith 1 -24 4 0 1 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -25 3 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -25 1 0 0 0

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