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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Historic Blunders, Road America Wonders & Bad Behavior

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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
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)

Marcos Ambrose lost the race on Sunday after shutting his motor off on the middle of an uphill straightaway, losing his track position under NASCAR’s rules. Was that the correct call, and where does this blunder rank in the sport’s all-time history?

Summer: Based on the NASCAR rulebook, yes it was the correct call.
Garrett: It was the right call. It was very heartbreaking to see, but NASCAR got it right.
Beth: Yeah. As much as it stinks to say so.
Jeff: Definitely the right call, but I felt soooooo bad for him (and me, as he’s on my fantasy team).
Phil: It’s a pretty bad choke.
Mike N.: The rules are clear — and he came to a complete stop.
Phil: On TNT, they thought it was up there with Mark Martin‘s incorrect move in 1994 at Bristol. It’s on that level.
Beth: What I don’t get is why he really needed to save fuel. Unless they weren’t getting nearly the fuel mileage they should have been.
Summer: He said his team told him they needed to. So yeah, that doesn’t make sense.
Phil: He could have waited until exiting turn 3a. I knew he was going to find a way to screw this up.
Summer: I was honestly waiting for something to happen to him, too.
Jeff: I still think there was a miscommunication about the fuel.
Beth: There had to have been, Jeff. There’s no way with 30 laps on that tank that they shouldn’t have been able to go for at least one GWC.
Mike N.: He said that he was told to save fuel. It makes no sense, because he pitted several laps after everyone he was running with.
Phil: He pitted with 30 to go. He should have been fine. They were probably thinking that there was going to be another yellow and two or three GWCs.
Jeff: : He pitted one lap after Jimmie Johnson on lap 79.
Mike N.: And if there were going to be multiple GWCs, everyone else near him would have run out before he did.
Beth: Exactly. That’s why I don’t get the call to save fuel.
Mike N.: I completely agree, Beth. It made no sense, and that is why I think the announcers were so stunned.
Jeff: Ambrose just got out ahead of JJ coming out of the pits, too.
Beth: And that was incredible in itself. I thought for sure that was the key thing Marcos Ambrose needed for the win.
Mike N.: There is no doubt he had the race covered, but that is one of the all-time gaffers. Probably up there with Ray Evernham not fueling Gordon’s car during the Winston and him running out of gas in the T-Rex car.
Garrett: Maybe they didn’t get it full of gas….
Phil: That’s always in the cards, especially since they needed to get out in front of Johnson.
Mike N.: I don’t remember if they showed the catch can man on the pit stop. I would think they would have made sure he was full. Unless the gas man fell down or something.
Garrett: Like Phil said, they were also concerned about beating Johnson on the pit stop. It’s the only reason I can think of.
Beth: I guess I can see that. If he was told to save fuel, they must have had a good reason, but that had to be heartbreaking. I wanted to cry for Marcos when it happened.
Jeff: I’m going with the miscommunication angle. Even if it was a miscommunication between the gas man and the crew chief.
Mike N.: I’m sticking with the Chad Knaus intercepting the radio communication idea.
Garrett: Well, it was the most heartbreaking loss I have seen in a while.
Jeff: Most definitely.
Mike N.: It was a brutal loss, to be sure, and I give Marcos props for talking to the media afterwards when he didn’t have to. I have to think he’s going to be the man to beat at Watkins Glen.
Phil: Yeah, he will be in the Zippo 200 at the least. Maybe the Cup race as well.
Beth: Kudos to Marcos and how he handled his post-race interview. I’m sure he wanted to scream after that happened because he had no one to blame but himself.

Sonoma was filled with a lot of bad behavior Sunday with Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski on plenty of hit lists this week. What is the on-track rivalry that has the most sticking power, and were drivers being a little too aggressive Sunday?

Garrett: Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon.
Beth: I’m going to have to go with Martin Truex Jr./Gordon. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the way he was tearing through the field with little regard to those around him.
Jeff: I couldn’t believe Gordon.
Mike N.: There were some drivers that were driving way out of control. I think Jeff Gordon has at least five people gunning for him.
Summer: A lot of drivers attributed it to double-file restarts. I don’t think that they were being too aggressive, though, because all of that really didn’t start until the last half of the race.
Garrett: Jeff Gordon thought he was playing NASCAR Thunder on Sunday. I really think Truex will go after him this weekend, but Montoya will always be racing Gordon pretty hard.
Phil: It’s pretty much Gordon versus the world at Loudon this weekend. We’ll have to see if Truex actually lives up to his word. Having said that, I’ve never seen Gordon like that before.
Mike N.: I was amazed how many times Gordon obviously punted people. That was really out of character for him. I guess he was trying to keep up with Johnson, who had the best car for the first two-thirds of the race.
Jeff: I’ll go with Truex/Gordon too, but Joey Logano may have something for Juan in the future.
Mike N.: I’m willing to bet that if Truex gets the chance, he’s going to dump Gordon in a big way.
Summer: Truex is still pretty aggravated. He said on Sirius today that Jeff Gordon left him a message, but it really doesn’t make a difference.
Beth: Can you blame him, Summer? Truex would never have been in the red flag accident if he hadn’t been spun by Gordon in the first place.
Summer: I don’t blame him by any means. I thought he’d be over it by now after sleeping on it, but he’s still pretty ticked. Jeff didn’t try and play it off, though. He took full responsibility.
Beth: That he did, Summer, but he also got a top five while Truex got another DNF.
Jeff: Taking full responsibility doesn’t make it right, though.
Amy: I agree that Truex has the most reason to have it in for Gordon. That was pretty blatant, no matter how Jeff wants to play it off.
Phil: Truex is back to 19th in points after being in the top 12 recently.
Mike N.: The thing is, I think Gordon could have passed them if he’d have taken the time because he was faster. He was just driving like a man possessed.
Phil: I do think you have to be aggressive to pass anyone at Infineon Raceway….
Mike N.: I don’t think you have to be that aggressive, though. It is one thing if you dive in and hit someone in the right rear, but he was drilling people in the rear bumper and taking them out.
Amy: You do have to be aggressive, no question, but there is still a fine line between aggressive and over-aggressive.
Beth: I don’t have a problem with aggressiveness, but blatantly slamming someone out of your way when you can’t pass them any other way is just stupid.
Garrett: This definitely adds some excitement headed to New Hampshire.
Jeff: I wouldn’t be picking Gordon to win New Hampshire.
Mike N.: No kidding. Not much chance of that.
Amy: Again, it’s a fine line; but patience is a virtue, and at that point there was still time left.
Garrett: You also have to question as to whether Gordon’s losing streak played a factor in his driving.
Jeff: : That did cross my mind, Garrett.
Summer: That was probably a pretty big part of it. And after so many frustrating losses, can you blame him?
Mike N.: That, and Johnson waxing the field. That probably didn’t help things, either.
Beth: I’m sure it did, but like I told Summer on Twitter last night, he’s not going to get that victory if he has no friends on the track.
Garrett: Sure he will.
Mike N.: Not unless he can run away from them all.
Summer: Well, he still has Jimmie.
Beth: Not if people are gunning for him all the time, Garrett.
Garrett: They will get over it eventually. Jeff Gordon isn’t Brad Keselowski.
Phil: This might actually hurt Gordon in Daytona more than Loudon.
Mike N.: There still won’t be people trying to get payback at Daytona, I don’t think. Plate races are still too dangerous for paybacks.
Phil: True, but they might choose not to work with Gordon in the draft as a way of smiting him.
Mike N.: That’s possible Phil, but with six “teammates” on the track, he’ll have somebody helping him.
Amy: I’m trying to picture that phrase, Phil: “Hey guys, let’s get together and smite Gordon this week!”
Mike N.: Scott Speed can tweet it and everyone will know.
Beth: Hmmm … now that’s an idea, Mike.
Amy: I was surprised at Johnson’s win. Between Sonoma and Bristol, he’s learned something this year for sure, but I wonder if his team spent too much time on winning those races — neither of which are represented in the Chase.
Jeff: Johnson was surprised at his win, Amy.
Amy: Well, Loudon is the perfect place for payback. Jeff’s had a taste of that before. I do think Jeff might be hearing the chrome horn a little this weekend, and most likely from Truex.
Phil: I’m looking forward to it.
Jeff: I just hope NASCAR stays out of all of it.
Summer: They’ve done that so far.
Mike N.: The question is, which will get more air time: Bruton vs. the Police or Gordon vs. the world?

Bruton Smith has threatened to move a race from New Hampshire over the cost of police presence on Cup weekends. Is this a good reason to realign races, or just an excuse to move them to another SMI track?

Phil: It’s an excuse — and a really stupid one at that.
Garrett: Yeah, sounds like an excuse to me.
Jeff: Agreed.
Beth: Excuse.
Mike N.: It is certainly a good reason to move a race. The amount of taxes that a track pays should far more than offset the cost of police coverage.
Jeff: He could always hire out private security.
Amy: He can’t, Jeff, that’s the problem. But this is definitely an excuse. NASCAR should step in on that one.
Mike N.: Not to mention, as I think I read, they are the only track that is charged for police coverage.
Phil: He wants to hire out private, but the town won’t let him because they have an existing contract. He should have known about it before buying the track.
Amy: Right, because per the agreement with the town going way back, they can’t hire outside security.
Mike N.: I don’t think they’ll let private contractors control traffic flow. Anyone know how long the contract runs?
Phil: They want the private dudes on their property. The local smokies can handle traffic flow.
Jeff: There is more to this than we know.
Amy: NASCAR needs to make an amendment to their edict that owners can move races at will to say they can only move races at like tracks… problem solved.
Mike N.: Owners cannot move races at will. The moves have to be approved by NASCAR.
Garrett: Am I in the minority here when I say I would like New Hampshire to keep both of its races?
Beth: Not at all Garrett. I’d like to see it happen, too.
Amy: As would I.
Summer: I wouldn’t mind it going to a track that doesn’t already have one. Otherwise, I don’t mind.
Jeff: But everyone else in the media is very quick to jump Bruton and play the “move to Kentucky” card. It makes a better — and easier — story.
Mike N.: I think New Hampshire should keep its races until NASCAR decides to take a race away from all tracks.
Beth: There are other tracks that could do to lose a second date before NHMS does.
Amy: True, and NASCAR needs to not approve them unless it’s like-for-like. If Bruton wants a race at his new cookie-cutter, it should have to come from one of his other cookie-cutters.
Beth: Agreed, Amy.
Garrett: I really never thought of New Hampshire as a track in real danger of losing a date, but this recent news with Bruton has me questioning what will happen.
Mike N.: They weren’t in danger until this whole thing evolved. And Bruton is just ornery enough to do it.
Phil: It sounds absolutely stupid, but it’s the same tone of voice Bruton was using when Concord tried to kill ZMax Dragway.
Mike N.: Well, Concord was completely stupid about that, and they’re still trying to jerk him around. I won’t be surprised to see him still sue the pants off of them.
Phil: Sue Concord for what, Mike?
Amy: Non-payment.
Mike N.: They supposedly agreed to pay Bruton some cash and they are now trying to say they didn’t agree to that. Bruton has emails that say they would from current council members.
Beth: Emails are hardly official legal documents.
Mike N.: It is going to get ugly again. I would love to see him really move the place, just because they don’t think he will.
Phil: Why would the City of Concord, N.C. pay Bruton for anything? That doesn’t make sense. Are we talking tax breaks here.
Mike N.: I believe it is tax rebates rather than breaks.
Amy: Tax breaks and cash, I believe. They are paying him to stay in town.
Mike N.: Which they wouldn’t have had to do if they weren’t so stupid in the first place.
Phil: That’s ludicrous.
Amy: He would have built a new track just to prove a point. Of course, Concord’s reasoning was stupid anyway. Those people knew there was a racetrack in town when they built their fancy houses and then complained about the noise.
Mike N.: No, what was ludicrous was them screwing with him in the first place when the other three biggest employers in the county had all shut down, taking thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars away. They bought the houses near the track and complained about the noise. That is like the dopes that live near O’Hare and complain about plane noise.
Amy: Concord needed to tell the complainers in their McMansions to deal with it or move. The track was there first. In the case of Loudon, I think if they are smart, the town will settle. And if the state is smart, it will give the town some incentive to settle. Losing a race would devastate the local economy.
Phil: The sad truth is, those stupid people have precedent on their side. That argument has shut down many a track, and curtailed activities at others. Even Monza isn’t immune.
Beth: If you move in near a racetrack, you should expect noise. If you don’t like it, move in somewhere there won’t be that noise.
Mike N.: Why do you think their houses were so cheap? Fortunately for race fans, the dopes that bought their cookie-cutter houses by the cookie-cutter track got shot down by Bruton and his huge tax bill.
Amy: Bruton did get the last laugh in that deal. Not only did he get his drag strip, but it’s a four-wide drag strip, and twice as loud. I love it.
Garrett: Personally, I think a house near a track should be more expensive.
Beth: I’d buy a house near a track, but that’s because I would never have to worry about parking and could just walk to the race.
Amy: That’s a perk, Beth. But the drunken fans peeing in the hedge might be a turnoff for me.
Mike N.: Condos that are at the track are definitely higher priced than others in the area, but that is different.
Phil: Can’t you hear the racecars at CMS in Huntersville, let alone just off the property?
Mike N.: Yes, you can hear them. The complaint from the people was that the drag strip was going to be used hundreds of days a year. I don’t believe that is happening.
Phil: The V8 Supercars got kicked out of Canberra a few years ago because they were so loud, you could hear them on the other side of the city.
Jeff: So Phil, are you saying you would have bought one of the houses and complained about the noise? Sure sounds like you’re on the side of the city and the homeowners.
Phil: No. I think it’s stupid. But, history is on the stupid side, unfortunately.
Amy: Bottom line, the track was there first. If you move in knowing that, you have no call to whine about the noise and traffic.
Jeff: : Exactly. Amy, are you getting older and wiser or am I becoming more feminine?
Garrett: I don’t know how anyone could complain about the sound of a racecar.
Mike N.: And I still don’t think New Hampshire should lose a date, but I don’t blame Bruton for taking one if the city doesn’t back down.
Phil: Agreed. Speaking of Loudon, there are houses right across Route 106 from the track. I don’t think they’re complaining.
Amy: Look… Bruton got a nice settlement for his posturing and threatening to walk. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens in Loudon as well. If the town knows what’s good for them and the local economy, they will settle.
Beth: They’re pretty much going to be forced to, Amy. They really don’t have another option unless they want to lose all kinds of revenue.
Mike N.: New Hampshire fans have supported the races there for years and deserve to have two. The city shouldn’t screw that up by being greedy when the track is already probably paying more in taxes than any other employer in their city.
Phil: As for the police issue, let’s hope this goes away because it’s beyond stupid. Eventually, they’ll go to the bargaining table – hopefully before Bruton threatens to shutter the place.
Jeff: But if the city does screw it up, I have no sympathy for them.
Mike N.: I don’t either, Jeff. Some council members are far too shortsighted.

The Nationwide Series just held its first ever race at Road America to mixed reviews. What did you think of the race, and does it deserve a return trip in 2011?

Mike N.: The venue is awesome. They most certainly should have another race. The drivers, on the other hand, need to pull their collective heads out of their butts and learn how to drive.
Amy: I think adding a road course was a great move, but NASCAR needs to learn how to use a local yellow at a track like that.
Garrett: Yes. The only thing wrong with that race was the length of the cautions. And the 30-minute red flag.
Mike N.: That, guys, or just not throw the cautions at all. Same with the Cup race. There were way too many.
Summer: I really liked Road America! The cautions were really, really long and that sucked, but the racing in and of itself was alright once the laps started winding down.
Garrett: I would love to see a Cup race there, but I suppose that is a different subject.
Summer: I’m curious why NASCAR never uses local yellows, though. That would have made that race so much shorter.
Phil: Cautions are cautions. With a 4-mile lap, they’re going to take six or seven minutes. I think they needed five of the yellows.
Mike N.: I can’t imagine how uncomfortable those drivers were sitting in those cars in the middle of the day for half-an-hour or for a red flag.
Jeff: What I don’t like, at Sonoma for instance, is the habit of paving well beyond the “curbs,” basically just giving the driver more of a corner.
Amy: I love road-course racing and always have. Road America is a great venue and should stay on the schedule, but it’s up to NASCAR and the drivers to figure out how to race on it.
Garrett: I realize the caution laps were long because of the track length, but it seemed like some caution laps could have been taken off.
Jeff: Well, it’s 10 times better than going to Mexico!
Beth: And cheaper, too, I would assume.
Mike N.: Nationwide races on road courses are always going to be wreckfests. They just need to give them more time to clear up spins before throwing cautions.
Phil: Whether the race stays in Road America is dependent on what happens in Milwaukee. However, they have a perfectly good candidate with RA.
Garrett: Most of the guys have never raced there either, so wrecks were to be expected.
Jeff: Well, anytime you got Steve Wallace driving….
Amy: Local yellows on a shorter road course like Watkins Glen might not work, but on a 4-mile track… use them!
Mike N.: I would like to see them have races in Milwaukee and Elkhart Lake, but I doubt that will happen.
Phil: They do need to do something about all those deep traps. That stuff really slows the race down. However, Colin Braun got stuck, got pulled out, and didn’t lose a lap.
Mike N.: The only problem with taking out the traps is if a car goes straight off, the driver will take a hell of a hit.
Phil: They used to be used at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, then the traps were added in the late 1990s, essentially kissing the local yellows goodbye. Even Sears Point (at the time) had traps and yellows caused by the traps.
Garrett: The amazing thing about Road America is Ron Hornaday broke his trackbar, went to the garage to fix it and he still finished 12th! A question within a question: Anyone in favor of a Road America or Montreal Cup race?
Mike N.: I would love to see Road America in Cup, but it ain’t gonna happen.
Summer: I don’t know. I’m not a huge road-course person. I liked Road America enough, though, to say it’d be kind of neat.
Phil: I would be cool with either one, however, those two tracks are perhaps the toughest on brakes in the hemisphere.
Beth: Sure, why not? I’d love to see a road course in the Chase, and one of those would be a perfect opportunity.
Summer: I don’t think we should make it a point to put another road course on the schedule, though.
Amy: I’d like to see both. Teams have to build special cars for road races, so in essence, they are building cars for two races right now. I know some drivers have said there should be four for exactly that reason.
Mike N.: I’d like to see one in the Chase, whether they move one of the existing ones or add one.
Amy: There should definitely be one in the Chase, no question. I’ve always thought there should be one, from the day NASCAR instituted the stupid Chase. What drivers are good or not on them is irrelevant.
Phil: Watkins Glen the first weekend of October would be very nice. Brings back some memories of the F1 weekend from 1961-1980.
Mike N.: And a dirt track, too… but that is a whole other topic.
Beth: So let’s move one of the current ones to the Chase and stick either Road America or Montreal in the vacant spot.
Garrett: I’ve got a feeling there aren’t as many cries for a road course in the Chase now that Johnson finally won a road race.
Beth: Yeah, but he got it because Marcos messed up. That race was won until he shut off the engine.
Phil: What gets dropped, Garrett? Auto Club?
Garrett: For Road America? Personally, I would want Fontana gone.
Phil: If you were to move one of the road races to the Chase and give the old road race slot to another road course, something in the Chase would have to go. Which race would it be?
Amy: Fontana has no place in the Chase and barely one on the schedule. Ditch it for a road course.
Jeff: No question.
Phil: And move Fontana’s one remaining race back to April, where it belongs.
Garrett: I am scared it would end up being Martinsville.
Mike N.: Actually, I’d rather see a mile and a half go. Fontana is the only 2-mile track in the Chase. I’d dump Kansas myself.
Jeff: Not before Fontana.
Mike N.: Fontana is the only two-mile track in the Chase. There are four 1.5-mile tracks, so out of Texas, Charlotte, Homestead and Kansas, I’d dump Kansas.
Summer: Well, then take a track with two dates out. Kansas only has one.
Mike N.: For now. Kansas is going to have two soon.
Jeff: Oh, well yeah. Of those three, Kansas definitely.
Amy: I agree with Jeff. If it’s one of those, it should be Kansas. It’s the worst racing of the three.

Predictions for NHMS?

Jeff: Not Jeff Gordon.
Phil: I’m going with Kurt Busch this weekend.
Amy: And I’ll take Kyle Busch.
Jeff: Kasey Kahne.
Garrett: Denny Hamlin rebounds from this week’s disaster.
Phil: My Hamlin pick hurt big time in Sonoma.
Beth: Tony Stewart.
Summer: Even with all the drivers after him, I’m still going to go with Jeff Gordon. I can’t seem to pick even close to save my life, so I might as well go with someone who already isn’t expected to do well.
Mike N.: I’m going with Jeff Burton.
Garrett: Anyone know if it’s raining in New Hampshire this Sunday?
Summer: When doesn’t it rain at NHMS?

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
Amy Henderson 26 16 2 7 12
Phil Allaway 23 -3 14 1 6 11
Beth Lunkenheimer 16 -10 10 1 6 7
Mike Neff 10 -16 6 1 2 4
Summer Dreyer 7 -19 10 0 3 5
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -22 3 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 4 -22 2 0 1 2
Jeff Meyer 3 -23 10 0 1 5
Matt Taliaferro 3 -23 3 1 1 1
Tom Bowles 3 -23 2 0 1 1
Kurt Smith 1 -25 4 0 1 1
Garrett Horton 1 -25 1 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -26 3 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -26 1 0 0 0

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