NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Attacking the Asterisk, Bubble Momentum & NASCAR on Wednesday?

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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)

David Reutimann commented after his win at Chicagoland that some people called his first career win in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600 “undeserved” because it was a rain-shortened race. Would you agree with that assessment, and should any win in the NASCAR record book ever come with that type of asterisk?

Amy: Absolutely not.
Jeff: No. Those people are morons.
Garrett: No. It’s part of the rules, so no asterisk should come with it.
Beth: The only wins that should come with an asterisk should be ones where the winning car was found to be in violation of the rules. I don’t care if you run 251 miles in a 500-mile race. By NASCAR’s rules, that’s an official race, and no driver should be punished because he/she won by NASCAR’s rules.
Amy: Exactly what I was going to say, Beth. The No. 00 played the strategy the best back at Charlotte, and kudos to them for winning the race within the rules given the situation.
Jeff: Right. To get that win in the 600, they took the gamble to stay out while the others pitted. Don’t know why he’d feel bad about a rain win anyway – that’s the only reason his boss has one of those Daytona 500 rings.
Garrett: Like Beth said, maybe a win like Jeremy Mayfield’s 2000 victory at California should have an asterisk.
Mike N.: Eh, there shouldn’t be one, except maybe for the one they stole from Ricky Rudd back in the day. A win is a win, and how you get it doesn’t matter. However, I am glad to see him win one the old-fashioned way.
Beth: Me too, Mike. Maybe it’ll finally shut up the people who have been whining about his “cheap” victory.
Garrett: With that said, it did feel like his first win. David Reutimann even seemed to appreciate this one more.
Beth: Well, that’s because he was actually able to celebrate it on the track.
Amy: It’s always good to see an underdog win, anyway.
Mike N.: Glad to hear he is getting a contract extension out of the deal. I am surprised he got a win this year before Martin Truex Jr. did.
Amy: But as for rain races, the win is always legit if the car’s legal. Any team could have played the strategy, and the one who does deserves the win… sans asterisk.
Garrett: I wish they would race in the rain, but that’s a whole other story.
Mike N.: Well, most rain wins are people that aren’t in competition for the actual victory and realize they have nothing to lose from where they are. But they still were the first one to take the chance.
Amy: Exactly, Mike. Anyone could take that same chance, so shame on them if they don’t and lose. I’d asterisk a race where the winner’s car is illegal (Carl Edwards’s win at Las Vegas comes to mind) before one won within the rules on a rainy day.
Jeff: That’s what I said at the beginning of the question! Reuti had to put himself in the position to stay out for the rain-shortened win.
Mike N.: I don’t know if he put himself there, or they were just that bad.
Jeff: They just chose not to pit while everyone else did.
Mike N.: True, but they were running 20th. If they were running fifth, I bet they would have pitted.
Jeff: But as you said, they had the kahones to take the gamble on the weather. Everyone else had the same radar that day.
Amy: Exactly, Jeff! We agree again.
Beth: Must be a full moon since all three of us are on the same page. That’s a rarity.
Amy: So this one should come with no doubt — Reutimann was hell on wheels the last 50 laps or so. And anyone who calls a rain win anything less than legit is clueless. Check.
Garrett: Hopefully, we can see more underdogs win this year.

Three drivers had their first top-five finishes since at least Memorial Day on Saturday night: Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray. Which of those three has the best chance to use their momentum and turn their season up a notch?

Jeff: I would say Carl because he’s still in the top 12.
Garrett: I would say Carl because of the FR9. I am officially sold it on it now.
Amy: And I’m the opposite, Garrett. Clint Bowyer doesn’t have to worry about the FR9’s durability. I think Bowyer’s been slowly having better and better runs. Both Jamie Mac and Cousin Carl are still struggling to find consistency.
Garrett: True, durability is a question. But I believe the extra power will be worth it.
Beth: I’d say Bowyer, hands down. The other two RCR teams have shown marked improvement this season over last year, and it’s only a matter of time before the No. 33 team catches up.
Mike N.: I’m with Bowyer, too. He’s been running well and just having some bad luck. Ford is still out to lunch, even with the new engine. Bowyer will win before the year is over.
Beth: It looks to me Bowyer and his team need to work on qualifying a bit, though. While taking a look at this season’s stats, each time the No. 33 has started outside the top 15, he hasn’t managed to finish inside the top 20.
Mike N.: Nice nugget there, Beth. Frontstretch is your home for all the stuff you don’t need to look up, because we give it to you already.
Jeff: Beth Weber?
Beth: And we can’t forget Bowyer has 10 top-10 finishes under his belt in 19 races. That’s only one less than Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and more than half of the rest of the current Chase field drivers can boast.
Amy: Long-term, Bowyer and his teammates have had the most impressive turnaround by far. All three of them missed the Chase last year, and all three stand to make it in and contend for a title.
Garrett: This was only his second top five, though.
Amy: I think those will come, Garrett.
Mike N.: And he’s had a much more consistent season than Edwards. I think Bowyer is more poised for a strong run.
Garrett: It depends on how you define “consistent.” Carl is consistently in the top 20. Bowyer is either top 10 or outside the top 20.
Amy: But in this sport, you need to be consistently in the top 10 to make a title run.
Garrett: Carl is higher in the points, too.
Jeff: I’d bet on Carl before I would Clint.
Amy: True, Garrett, but Bowyer is on the upswing while Edwards stagnates around 10th.
Garrett: Not true. Edwards, I believe, was outside the Chase for a brief period.
Mike N.: Bowyer has been bitten by bad luck a couple of times this year that wasn’t of his making. Edwards has been running poorly and just scored more points by finishing top 20. When Bowyer gets on a roll, he’s going to blow by Cousin Carl.
Garrett: Carl is just as easily on the upswing as Clint. If the FR9 holds up for Carl, he will be just fine the rest of the year.
Amy: He was, but recently that team is fairly stagnant, and I’m feeling better about RCR’s stuff right now than Roush’s.
Beth: RCR looks better on the track overall than Roush has all season.
Jeff: The Roush team that has to worry is the No. 17.
Jeff: I cant believe Matt Kenseth is as high as he is in the standings.
Mike N.: The other thing I’m looking at is leading races. Bowyer has led 129 laps. Carl has led four.
Amy: I don’t see the new engine as the be-all-end-all savior for Ford. Their problems run deeper than horsepower.
Garrett: Funny thing is, Jamie McMurray has shown more potential than either of the two we keep talking about. Just too inconsistent, though.
Beth: Agreed, Garrett. I thought about him, but you’re right, they’ve been too inconsistent this season.
Mike N.: That has been McMurray’s problem his whole career. Although before, he would run 10th – 15th when he ran well. Now he runs top five when he runs well. But he is still too inconsistent to make a real run at a title, although he could make the Chase.
Beth: Returning to Ganassi was the best thing he could have done for his career.
Mike N.: Returning to Ganassi and having Randy Burnett as a race engineer.
Amy: I don’t see him in the Chase this year. He could squeeze in if someone falters, but if they ramp it up, he won’t.
Beth: They’re not quite ready for a title run, but if they can build on the progress this season, they’ll get there within the next couple.
Garrett: After Charlotte, I thought he was a lock to make it.
Mike N.: That’s what Jamie will do to ya, Garrett. He’ll suck you in and then break your heart. Although I think Mac will have a great run at Indy thanks to Montoya’s previous success there.
Jeff: I got five bucks that says Carl finishes higher that Clint at the end of the year.
Mike N.: I’ll take that bet.
Amy: I got five that says Jimmie beats them both.
Mike N.: Way to go out on a limb there, Amy.
Garrett: The only person that will beat Jimmie is the baby.
Amy: Yeah, that’s true. And by default, Denny Hamlin. I think when the smoke clears, Denny wins the title, but JJ still covers Carl and Bowyer.
Mike N.: I don’t think Denny even wins among the JGR contingency.

Jeff Gordon’s winless streak hit 48 after Chicago, the longest of his career. Yet he has more top fives in his last 100 starts (44) since he was tearing up the series in the late ’90s. Is the glass half-empty for Mr. Gordon or half-full?

Garrett: Half-empty. You race to win.
Beth: That team is doing everything right except visiting victory lane.
Amy: It’s both. If you want to talk consistency, he’s got that in spades. Once upon a time, that won titles. Too bad for Jeff NASCAR took that away. But I think that Jeff is well aware of his winless streak (ironic that it’s 48) and is maybe pushing too hard for the win.
Mike N.: The glass is half-empty because Jimmie still wins more races. Jeff learned that a couple of years ago, when he averaged just over a fifth-place finish in the Chase and lost the title. He knows his career is winding down and he wants to make it to third on the all-time win list.
Garrett: Yeah, it’s hard to believe just a few years ago it seemed for sure he would pass David Pearson. Now, it doesn’t look like that will happen.
Mike N.: But as most everyone has commented during this streak, when he does start to win, he’ll probably win several in a row.
Amy: He should be able to do that, Mike. He’s not yet 40, and plenty of drivers have won into their 40s.
Beth: It all depends on how long he races, Amy.
Amy: I think he’ll race four or five more years, especially if he does win some more.
Mike N.: I think Pearson was still a stretch. But Jeff’s made it clear he doesn’t want to race for many more years. He needs to win three or four in the next couple of years.
Garrett: What if this is his last year? With Kasey Kahne replacing him?
Beth: That would be the best-kept secret in NASCAR if that’s the case, Garrett.
Garrett: I know he’s said he wants to race a couple more years, but …
Amy: I think he’s beating himself to some degree right now. They need to take a deep breath and remember that Jeff is still as talented as anyone out there.
Mike N.: I am relatively sure that Jeff isn’t going to quit when he’s been running as well as he has.
Amy: I highly doubt that.
Jeff: Careers are full of peaks and valleys. Jeff will win again; everyone just needs to stop making a big deal out of his winless streak.
Beth: He needs to quit worrying about how long it’s been since he visited victory lane and just go out there and do what he’s done best for more than 15 years.
Mike N.: He should just be glad his teammate isn’t winning, so the spotlight isn’t on him.
Garrett: Lets put it this way. Five years from now, if Johnson is finishing in the top five but not winning, do they see that as good or bad? Definitely bad.
Mike N.: Most definitely.
Amy: Compared to what? That’s probably the normal cycle of a career. In five years, Jimmie will be Jeff’s age now.
Garrett: Do they see it as good or bad, Amy? It’s a good or bad question.
Jeff: We may not have a NASCAR in five years….
Amy: I think it depends. If it happens overnight, it’s bad, but if it’s a slow decline and the numbers are among the best of his career? Hard to call that bad.
Mike N.: When you look at the standard that Gordon has set for himself during his career, he has to consider it half-empty because winning is what racing is all about. At least it used to be.
Jeff: I’m not worried about Jeff’s career just yet.
Mike N.: The hard thing for Jeff is going to be when Jimmie wins No. 5 before him. That is what is going to really eat at him.
Amy: True, Mike. And that I do see happening.
Jeff: If Jeff never wins another race in his life, I think he’s still not gonna have to get a part-time job to make ends meet.
Mike N.: I don’t believe that has been in question for 10 years or more, Jeff.
Amy: And if he retired tomorrow, he’d go down as one of the finest drivers to sit in a stock car, a certain Hall of Famer — but he wouldn’t be satisfied with retiring tomorrow.
Jeff: He’s got a gazillion bucks, a model for a wife, not to mention a kid! What more could a man want?!
Amy: Another kid? That one’s on the way.
Mike N.: Eight championships.
Amy: I don’t see Jeff winning eight as a driver. As a car owner, he’s got an outside shot. Very, very outside.

There have been reports of a possible schedule shakeup within the Camping World Truck Series, with some races moving to midweek. Would this move help the series gain momentum with a unique identity, or would it hurt overall?

Amy: I think a few, maybe a total of three or four – would be pretty cool. Especially if they choose good venues like they’ve done with Bristol.
Beth: Like I said in Tracking the Trucks, it all depends on what NASCAR’s definition of “some” is. If it’s an additional three or four on top of the Bristol Wednesday race we already have, I can handle it.
Garrett: I would love midweek races.
Beth: The bigger problem with the Truck Series schedule is the balance of off weekends versus race weekends.
Amy: I agree with that, Beth.
Beth: But you’re likely to see a decent attendance dropoff if too many are moved to the middle of the week (and the series really can’t afford to have an attendance dropoff).
Garrett: Attendance would hurt, for sure.
Mike N.: It all depends on how they’re going to structure the schedule. Are they going to add more races? Right now, when they take months off at a time, they’re never going to gain any momentum. They need to run about 45 races, and then they could do them on weeknights.
Beth: Not even close, Mike. There’s no reason for teams to be expected to run 45 races on the pathetic purses they get. It’s enough of a struggle for them to run 25.
Mike N.: Yeah, I know Beth, but every time they start to build momentum they take a month off and it just kills it.
Beth: I agree completely Mike, and I’ve been complaining about that for a few years now. At least they’re finally going to get a stretch to build some of that momentum.
Mike N.: NASCAR should still be ashamed of the purses they pay in the Truck Series.
Amy: That’s true. They need to ramp the money up and market the hell out of the series. That series is different from anything they’ve got, and NASCAR could take huge advantage of that. But they don’t.
Jeff: All with a supposed marketing genius as CEO….
Beth: I’m surprised they’re not doing more for the series, because they’re missing out on a serious cash cow.
Garrett: My truck is a rebel without a cause.
Mike N.: They are without a doubt the best races that NASCAR hosts in the national touring series. If they did it right, they would be able to make a mint with the series, but they don’t market it well at all.
Beth: I still think they’d do well to work on a different television deal. Quite a few people are missing out because they don’t have cable. Instead, it’s just an afterthought to NASCAR since it was just an experiment to begin with, and that’s just a shame.
Mike N.: I think anyone who lives in the 21st century without cable or satellite doesn’t deserve to see racing.
Beth: How about those who just can’t afford it, Mike? Given the choice of getting cable or putting food on the table for my family, my family will eat and do without cable TV.
Amy: Some cable still doesn’t carry SPEED, Mike.
Mike N.: DirecTV and Dish Network do, and their package is basically the same cost as cable.
Amy: If you can get them. If you live in a woodsy area, satellite is out. So it’s not as easy as you think.
Jeff: Or you still just can’t afford it.
Amy: I love DirecTV, but it doesn’t work for everyone – hence the need for a more accessible TV contract.
Mike N.: So the people without cable aren’t going to see any races the rest of the regular season?
Beth: Every race for the remainder of the season is on SPEED.
Mike N.: I meant Cup, Nationwide and Truck. The rest are on cable until the Chase, aren’t they?
Beth: The rest of the Nationwide season is on ESPN or ESPN2.
Mike N.: Wow, actually the schedule shows only one Chase race on ABC. Guess the Chase didn’t pull enough interest to keep it on ABC for all 10 races.
Jeff: Well, I’ll put it this way: If NASCAR were to change something and I couldn’t get the races on my current cable package, I ain’t spending the extra money just for them.
Amy: I do think the Truck Series needs to be given an identity separate from Cup and NNS. A few Wednesday night specials would be great, but not too many, as they do still draw as a support series and that’s a sure thing.
Mike N.: Of course, if they put more races on Wednesday night, maybe we’ll get more Cup drivers to race in the series. You’d probably see Kyle Busch win the title, which I know would make Amy ecstatic.
Beth: He’d do it in his own stuff, so who cares. There’s a really fine line for NASCAR to stand on when it comes to considering midweek races. Right now, Bristol is that rare treat, but adding too many could be the death of the series. And that would be a damn shame.
Amy: A few of them could breathe new life in, though. Especially if they make midweek travel prohibitive for Cup drivers.
Mike N.: How are they going to make midweek travel prohibitive? Jimmie went home from Chicago for the night to be with Chandra and the new baby. Speaking of which, awesome job by Jimmie and Chandra to name the kid GM.
Amy: It could still be as difficult as possible. Find them a few sponsor responsibilities on Wednesday afternoons and Thursday mornings, making the race venues 2,000 miles apart.
Beth: And NASCAR is supposed to do all of this? Oh please!
Mike N.: I don’t see that happening.
Amy: I said they should, not that they will. Should and will are rarely the same thing in NASCAR.
Beth: It’s not up to NASCAR to set up sponsor responsibilities for individual teams. To even suggest that is just plain crazy.
Amy: There are NASCAR obligations — commercials, photo shoots, Winner’s Circle stuff — it could be done.
Mike N.: Just thinking they’re not going to do that when they have to struggle to fill Truck fields at this point.
Beth: Granted, quite a few have been start-and-park efforts (caused by the pathetic purse money), but there hasn’t been a short field yet this season. I’m not against adding a couple more midweek races, but NASCAR would do well to fix the schedule to better balance off weekends first.
Amy: NASCAR does need to overhaul the series. Some schedule tweaks would be a good thing. I think they either need to start the season later or add maybe three or four races to the schedule.
Mike N.: NASCAR needs to work on spreading the schedule out so that there aren’t weeks upon weeks without races. If they can do that, they can run a few times on weeknights.
Beth: I’m not against one or two Sunday afternoon races, either. It was nice to curl up and watch a nice short race from Iowa yesterday afternoon.
Mike N.: They need to focus more on promoting the series, and they really need to pay some better purse money.
Beth: I’d be more in favor of adding a few races to the schedule if they actually increase the purse money. But I’d rather see the season start and end the way it does now, with a tripleheader weekend including Nationwide and Cup.
Mike N.: I vote for a 45-race schedule with weeknight races that make sense. Run at Indy, then St. Louis, then Kentucky, then North Wilkesboro, then Hickory. Make races where they can go from track-to-track without having to travel long distances.
Amy: That needs to be done. And as with Nationwide, NASCAR needs to not pay that purse money to anyone in the top 35 in Cup points, period.
Mike N.: If the UMP dirt cars can run 27 races in 32 nights during the Hell Tour, the Truck Series can run more races on small local tracks. The purse money in trucks is an embarrassment. Max Papis finished 42nd in the Cup race and made almost double what Austin Dillon did this weekend in prize money.

No points this weekend, but predictions for the Nationwide Series race?

Jeff: I’ll take Edwards.
Mike N.: I think Brad Keselowski wins it. Johnny Sauter in the Trucks.
Amy: If we’re going for glory, I’ll take Reed Sorenson.
Beth: Ron Hornaday in Trucks.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top Fives Top 10s
Amy Henderson 30 19 3 8 13
Phil Allaway 26 -4 15 1 7 12
Beth Lunkenheimer 21 -9 13 1 8 9
Summer Dreyer 9 -21 12 0 4 6
Mike Neff 10 -20 8 1 2 4
Matt Taliaferro 4 -27 4 1 1 2
Jeff Meyer 4 -27 12 0 2 6
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -27 3 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 4 -27 2 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 3 -28 2 0 1 1
Kurt Smith 1 -30 4 0 1 1
Garrett Horton 1 -30 3 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -31 3 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -31 1 0 0 0

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