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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Triple Crowns, Scheduling Snafus & Censorship Central

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
Tom Bowles (Editor-In-Chief; Tuesdays/Hot/Not & Wednesdays/Did You Notice)
Amy Henderson (Mondays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)

Jamie McMurray won his second race of 2010 Sunday, becoming only the third driver to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same year. Why does McMurray run so much better for Chip Ganassi? And can he finally make the Chase?

Tom: Simple: because he has an owner and a team who’s passionate about his success. Not that Roush was bad… it was just a different type of style that just didn’t work for Jamie McMurray. And I don’t know if Ganassi ever had a goal of making the Chase this year, guys. They don’t have sponsorship signed beyond this November for the No. 1….
Jeff: He won’t make the Chase, but maybe he’s running better because he’s the top dog at EGR.
Amy: I think it’s because he’s simply happier there, and that makes him looser.  I don’t see him making the Chase this year, either, but 2011 is a definite possibility given how much the No. 1 has improved.
Garrett: He needs more consistency to make the Chase.
Beth: It’ll take a miracle for him to make the Chase.
Phil: Jamie’s got a chance to make it. He’s 150 or so behind right now, so he needs to piece together some more good runs.
Tom: Well, he said it best: What do people remember? The guy who finishes third in points or the guy who wins races? They needed that car up front to secure its long-term financial future. And Jamie stepped up to the plate.
Amy: I agree with Tom. I think they have more than reached expectations for this year. Next year, I think they can focus on the Chase from Day 1.
Phil: Next year, it’ll be a disappointment if they don’t make it.
Garrett: I’ll tell you one thing; it sure increases his chances of having Bass Pro back next year. I thought for sure they would be gone after this season. Then again, I didn’t think he would have two wins already.
Amy: Apparently, they are very happy with Jamie Mac now. I really can’t picture him shooting anything, though – maybe fishing.
Jeff: Wouldn’t it be funny to find out Jamie is allergic to fish.
Garrett: That would be double trouble.
Phil: Apparently, he’s done a lot of fishing in his life, so I think he’s fine there.
Tom: Johnny Morris was the happiest person alive in victory lane on Sunday, so I don’t think Bass Pro Shops is going anywhere. Who would have bet on them re-signing with the No. 1 back in February? Odds on that must have been a million to one… and McMurray is just four points behind the guy Morris wanted to go with, Ryan Newman.
Phil: As for racing better for Ganassi, I’d imagine that since Jamie is familiar with that team, he’s more comfortable and less high-strung.
Garrett: He is the No. 1 guy at Ganassi as opposed to the No. 5 guy at Roush.
Tom: One thing Jamie said to me back at Homestead in November was that the No. 1 team has a lot of people that used to work with the No. 42 when McMurray drove that. He said when he was a free agent, those guys were texting him, urging him to come back to Ganassi and be the driver. There was definitely still a connection there.
Beth: That familiarity has got to be a big part of it.
Garrett: The confidence level has to be much higher as well.
Tom: Especially with the cars in the top tier of this sport so equal, there’s definitely something to be said for team chemistry.
Amy: It’s funny. He couldn’t capitalize on the great equipment at Roush, but at times at Ganassi in both stints he’s gotten better finishes than the equipment maybe should have.
Phil: Just goes to show that equipment isn’t everything. Although, it definitely can help.
Jeff: Maybe he is just luckier with Chip.
Amy: Chip must be glad he didn’t burn that bridge.
Tom: One thing I find so interesting about Jamie is that weird record in the “majors” this season: first, first, second, second and second in the old Winston Million events plus Indy. He says it’s coincidence… I agree to an extent, but I think Ganassi’s one of those guys who still aims for wins over titles. On a side note, you gotta feel for Juan Pablo Montoya.
Garrett: I don’t feel bad for Juan anymore. Not after he said Mark Martin needed driving lessons.
Jeff: Sorry, I don’t feel for Montoya, either. I feel sorry for Jimmie Johnson. His title hopes are all but crushed now….
Amy: I don’t feel that bad for Montoya. The team made a bad call, plain and simple, and it bit them.
Tom: Well, I thought NASCAR made a bad call with that debris caution, too. That’s being overlooked a bit; without it, Montoya wins that race. But you do have to roll with the punches… a crash could have easily happened a lap later, and the same call would have doomed them.
Jeff: Well, that is a given on any Sunday, Tom.
Amy: They had to pit again regardless, and would have still gotten the bad set of tires in all likelihood.
Jeff: Tires didn’t cause Juablo to wreck.
Garrett: He was simply trying too hard.
Amy: Well, given that Greg Biffle was stellar in the pits all day, had it stayed green there’s no guarantee Biffle wouldn’t have beaten him on pit stops. There are no guarantees in racing.
Phil: What would have happened if the green stayed out? Two tires for everyone? Fuel-only gambles?
Tom: Probably a bunch of fuel onlys. I think Biffle and Montoya would have pulled away to the point they could settle it amongst themselves, though. I will say this: that was one hell of a move McMurray pulled on Kevin Harvick during that restart. Very, very impressed.
Jeff: And he likes bunnies, too.

NASCAR has said there will be a major schedule overhaul in 2011, with one proposal that includes the season finale at Daytona and another with the year ending in Las Vegas. Where is the best place to end the season, and what other schedule changes should be made in the Chase?

Amy: Personally, I’d like to see a total schedule revamp. Start the Chase at Daytona and end it at home in Charlotte.
Beth: I still think they need a road course in the Chase.
Phil: Isn’t Homestead just fine to end the season? I could understand Las Vegas if you wanted to have the banquet the day after the race.
Garrett: I really expect to see Las Vegas be the finale. It makes the most sense with the banquet being out there. And I would like a road course and Bristol in the Chase.
Tom: I love both those ideas. Garrett said it all for Vegas, and Homestead instead of California makes it easier on everyone as far as travel.
Jeff: But who, in reality, is going to stay in Vegas from the finale to the banquet?
Tom: They’ll move up the banquet, Jeff. The East-to-West Coast swing right after the Daytona 500 has never, ever made sense.
Jeff: They ain’t that smart.
Tom: I think they are. Probably move up the schedule a week, then ensure the banquet is held the week after and get everyone home for Thanksgiving.
Amy: I was thinking on it earlier, and here’s my dream Chase: First, schedule off weeks so the regular season ends on Labor Day weekend, then end it with Bristol and Darlington. That leaves a Chase consisting of: 1. Daytona, 2. New Hampshire, 3. Dover, 4. Watkins Glen, 5. Martinsville, 6. Atlanta, 7. Michigan, 8. Richmond, 9. Phoenix, 10. Charlotte.
Garrett: I heard Daytona hosting the final race, but I would hate that. At the expense of the July race? No way!
Amy: Not so much the July race, Garrett, but a plate race for the finale just turns the championship into a crapshoot and that’s not right. One race should not determine the champ.
Tom: A little birdie told me something outrageous, guys. Check this out: Supposedly, Bruton Smith put in two requests for date changes. Kentucky for the March Atlanta date, and… the second Las Vegas date for Sonoma. According to that little birdie, NASCAR turned them down.
Garrett: Wow.
Phil: That’s good. I don’t want Sonoma to lose their date.
Beth: Agreed.
Garrett: Hell, I don’t want Atlanta to lose their date, but it looks inevitable.
Tom: Anyways, the Vegas finale/banquet can be done, especially when you’re getting into a cost-cutting mode. And with ISC suddenly not making a whole lot of profit, trust me, you’re going to cut costs and make things that aren’t being followed less outrageous. Who watches the banquet, anyway? Answer: Hardly anyone. So it’s common sense to streamline things for the teams so it’s not costing a ridiculous amount.
Garrett: I would enjoy attending it in person. Especially in Vegas.
Amy: It used to be fun to watch, but they moved a lot of actual banquet stuff to the luncheon and replaced it with “entertainment.”
Jeff:. Guys, we can sit here and come up with the perfect schedule, but you know NASCAR will screw it up outrageously. We just don’t think on their level!
Beth: Sad but true, Jeff.
Tom: Well, if you deal with the two changes Jim Utter was reporting, Homestead in February would be great. Las Vegas at the end would be fantastic, too… but that’s yet another intermediate in the Chase. Although it does replace a 1.5-miler… I want the Chase to have much more variety. People talk about different tracks getting upset they’ll lose their Chase date. 1. Less fans are watching during the Chase than the early part of the season, and 2. ISC and SMI own them all! Who are you going to piss off… Dover?
Garrett: Here are the 10 tracks I would like in the Chase: Talladega, Watkins Glen, Atlanta, Darlington, Bristol, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Richmond, Homestead, and while I know it’s not on the Cup schedule right now, Iowa.
Amy: That’s why I chose the tracks I did. It was a great variety and eliminated the worst of the crapshoots.
Tom: Rotating the Chase tracks, if you’re keeping the playoff system – which I think we’re stuck with – is a tremendous idea.
Phil: I still wish they’d just kill that stupidity.
Beth: We all do, Phil.
Jeff: The elimination thing they are talking is just moronic.
Tom: We had a poll where we asked fans, would you like to keep or dump the Chase? Last I checked… it was about 95% dump, 5% keep.
Phil: They’re ripping off the Countdown to One with the elimination option, which rips off the Chase.
Garrett: Once NASCAR gets rid of the Chase, fans will be complaining how much better it was than whatever system we have in the future. Trust me. Elimination, brackets… even going back to the old-school system.
Tom: I agree with that to a certain extent, Garrett, but the way the Chase has changed the style of racing over all 36 events is what’s the biggest problem. What we saw Sunday from McMurray – someone just going for the win – is very, very rare. Everybody likes to lay back and collect points.
Jeff: I still say just make a first-place finish worth 100 points more than a second and do away with the Chase altogether.
Amy: I’d go with that, Jeff, but make it 50 points.
Beth: Works for me. Then they’d start actually racing for wins again.
Jeff: We can’t have people racing for wins… that would be bad for the “product!”
Tom: Anyways, back to the schedule. Homestead, Las Vegas changes are good. I think we’re on the tip of the iceberg here, though; all I can tell you about the theme of my NASCAR cell phone calls the last two weeks is “Change, It Is A-Comin’.”
Garrett: I’m praying Atlanta doesn’t lose a race. It’s the new Darlington.
Amy: Bottom line, if the Chase must determine the champion, it needs the biggest variety of tracks with the fewest crapshoots possible. Plus, make the last two races of the regular season two of the most difficult tracks.
Jeff: What they need to change is the CEO.
Tom: Not happening, Jeff.
Phil: That wouldn’t hurt, but do you have any suggestions for a replacement CEO?
Jeff: Besides me? I’d do it for one quarter the current salary.
Amy: How about an actual racer to do the job? Get either a driver or car owner.
Phil: You’ll have a CART situation if you do that, Amy.
Garrett: How about Jeff Burton? Although I think he would have some rather conservative rules….
Phil: Like what, Garrett?
Garrett: Getting rid of double-file restarts. He hates that.
Phil: That’s probably only because it gets him wrecked a bunch.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that NASCAR has fined some drivers, including some top names, for disparaging comments about the sanctioning body. Is this over the top on NASCAR’s part, or a necessary evil for a business in a struggling economy?

Jeff: Idiotic. Are they going to fine the Citizen Journalist Corps next?
Garrett: It would be nice to know for which comments the drivers were fined over. I have an idea on at least one of them.
Tom: Hamlin’s definitely one. That’s been confirmed by just about everyone who’ll talk, although his camp won’t admit it yet.
Amy: I think Logano is one.
Garrett: I was surprised not hearing anything about Denny Hamlin‘s comments after Michigan — as far as no penalty being announced.
Phil: It’s incredibly bush league. At least other leagues actually disclose who gets busted for that.
Tom: Right. I think that’s the problem… full public disclosure.
Amy: You know, there are a couple things at work here that make it not so simple. In any other business, if you badmouthed your employer to the media you’d be fired and rightfully so. What makes it murky here is that the drivers are independent contractors.
Tom: Right, Amy. At face value, I don’t actually have a huge problem with this. I think the bigger issue is a set code of standards for why they’re doing it and acknowledging that fines have been given. You know, NASCAR would be so much better off if they just cut the CIA crap and threw everything out in the open.
Phil: If you’re going to allow people to speak their mind, you can’t turn around and fine people like that.
Amy: Why not? They tell them to race, then turn around and penalize for a bump and run. If I go out in public and badmouth my principal or my school, I’d be looking at a transfer if I were lucky. So from that standpoint, I get it. When the economy is bad, the company line will be toed.
Tom: For some reason, they feel like publicizing these fines leaves them more open to criticism. But NASCAR being open is the best possible thing they could do. Fans are much more understanding when they have all the information in front of them to judge.
Phil: Yeah, definitely, Tom. No one knows where the line is.
Amy: That’s what I have a bigger issue with, Tom. Say who it was and what they said.
Jeff: So what is the point of even interviewing a guy? You know you are only going to get a strictly PC answer.
Tom: There are two sides to that though, Jeff. If there was a basic idea of what you would get fined for, it puts NASCAR in line with other sports. So then, people can decide in the heat of the moment if they want to get fined for stepping over the line.
Jeff: As it stands now, they just act like they are in line with other sports.
Tom: Where you are absolutely right, Jeff, is that by keeping things secret, no one knows where this line is.
Phil: The only thing that’s known for sure: Swearing on network TV = points and you pay the FCC fine.
Beth: All I want to know is why. I don’t really care who. I want to know what was said that was so awful to get some secret fine.
Amy: “Actions detrimental” is too broad a brush. There are so many levels of what could have been said as it is.
Garrett: NASCAR doesn’t care what you say, as long you don’t speak bad about the product.
Beth: Then I guess quite a few of us are guilty as well, Garrett.
Tom: So when you do interview a guy, he has no choice but to be politically correct. Just like with drivers, they have no choice but to play it safer after this Carl-Brad ruling.
Garrett: Well, they can talk smack to other drivers in interviews. Just like Kyle Busch did Saturday night.
Tom: When the line is gray, you can’t play around because there’s too much to gamble. You’re going to play it safe… and that’s what kills their personalities.
Jeff: So, in the end, the “product” is tainted.
Amy: Fans complain about vanilla drivers – but if they’re afraid to say anything, that’s what you end up with. There’s a huge difference between saying that you hope Brian France dies a slow, painful death before Daytona and saying the Nationwide purses are too low … but where is that line?
Jeff: “So Jamie, nice finish today… What’s your favorite color?”
Amy: “Checkered, of course.”
Garrett: It relates to how NASCAR announces its penalties — with no consistency.
Tom: The whole theme of everything NASCAR’s done this year is to make sure drivers don’t end up afraid to speak their minds. Now in my opinion, over the last two weeks with the way they handled the Carl-Brad situation on top of this story, they’re on the verge of erasing any progress.
Garrett: They still can speak their minds, Tom, as long as they don’t say “phantom debris caution” or “fake.”
Tom: So then they keep their mouths shut and accept the fact they lost a win because of that?
Garrett: But a $50,000 fine — that might be worth it to some of these guys.
Tom: Amy, that private contractor thing you mentioned earlier is what NASCAR’s going to throw in our faces about publicly announcing these fines. They’re going to say, “Oh, well since we’re a private company, you don’t have to know our business.” But that’s not the type of operating procedure that’s going to win you fans.
Amy: Which is ridiculous, by the way. They announce all the other fines and penalties.
Tom: The bottom line is now that the cat is out of the bag, the best thing would be for the sport to publicly release who has been fined and for what. Because you better believe on Friday we’re all going to ask every single driver in that media center who’s been fined and for what until someone says yes.
Amy: They also must define exactly what can and cannot be said.
Jeff: What pisses me off is that NASCAR had seemed to finally see the light. They were finally on track to win back some older fans, get back to the basics – then they do asinine stuff like this. And you think I trust them not to totally screw the schedule?
Amy: Do you think the drivers will admit to it, Tom, or have they been threatened with more fines if they do?
Tom: Now that is the million-dollar question. I am very, very interested to hear what the responses are going to be. My guess is at least one says yes. I don’t think this story will stop growing legs. But we’ll see.
Jeff: Could be a million-dollar fine for the answer too, Tom!
Tom: And most people think Pocono is boring…
Beth: Not this weekend.

NASCAR has also said that it will make some changes in the Nationwide Series, such as limiting Cup driver participation and instituting a Chase system. What overhauls does the series really need?

Amy: It needs a limit on Cup drivers, but it does not need a Chase.
Phil: It needs a bunch more standalone races, but no Chase. Like, 15-plus standalone events.
Amy: Agreed, Phil. And on non-Cup tracks, so there’s less value to the Cup drivers to run those races.
Beth: Limit the Cup drivers’ participation.
Phil: You could even have those races at Cup tracks, just on weekends that the Cup Series won’t be there. Like what the series used to do at Martinsville. Oh yeah, and no West Coast races.
Amy: Some, Phil, but then race at North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, etc., as well.
Tom: I love the idea I heard last week of six standalone events that make it impossible for Cup drivers to participate.
Garrett: At first, you think eliminating Cup drivers is a great idea, but I am afraid that would drive away sponsors and you would see even more start and parks.
Jeff: Well then, limit full-time Cup drivers to “X” amount of NNS races a year. You pick your races.
Tom: I think we’re going to have short-term pain for long-term gain here. Short fields are almost a guarantee next year. But you have to repackage the series and market it to new owners who would like to dip their feet in. The new car is part of that. Separating the Cup drivers is part of that. They can still come play – just not the same motley crew every week.
Amy: I think that with the Cup driver option taken away, sponsors would fund the NNS teams. They’d actually get some TV time with the Cuppers gone.
Tom: I would agree with you, Amy, with this caveat added – “because it would be less expensive.” They won’t sponsor up-and-comers at the price tag it costs right now.
Amy: But that’s fine, Tom. Bring the price of competition down and even more sponsors might pony up. If teams have to accept less, they will have to compete for less. That brings the haves and have nots closer, and might bring sponsors who can’t afford it right now but could if the cost were lower.
Garrett: Track attendance might hurt without Cup drivers in the Nationwide races, as well.
Tom: Eh, Iowa is selling out this week, Garrett. Not that many Cuppers in that race. Moving beyond that, I think Nationwide honestly needs an infusion of new… people. I love what Jack Roush did for Nationwide, but right now the bottom line is he doesn’t have any openings in Cup. So, his Nationwide program is pretty much filler.
Garrett: When I got into NASCAR, my very first race was a Busch race. It was mostly non-Cup guys. So I was completely lost, but I ended pulling for the only Cup guys in the field because I knew their name.
Amy: Is ignorance an excuse though, Garrett? It’s not as though fans can’t find out who the drivers are. And if the Cup guys weren’t stealing their thunder, we would see a lot more of them. See, if I’m a sponsor now thinking about say, Brendan Gaughan, I’m not going to get much return on investment. Eighth in points, no chance at a title, a longshot for wins. There’s no TV time compared to Cup guys. But you take them out, he’s third in points, in contention for the title and race wins. Now we’re talking.
Tom: What we need are owners that would one day like to move up to the Cup Series, or better yet stay in Nationwide and put their money into the series. They need to support drivers who, through the years, will build up the results that justify them moving up to Cup.
Phil: We had that not too long ago, Tom. Maybe 1993 or so.
Amy: You used to have exactly that until the Cup guys ran them all out.
Jeff: Limit Cup guys to 12 Nationwide races a year. They won’t be winning titles on just 12 races.
Tom: I think 20 is just fine. I don’t think half the Cuppers involved in the series would even run 20.
Garrett: I would love to see Cup guys stop dominating on Saturdays. I think everyone would. I am all for it. I am just scared that, long-term, there might be downfalls to it. It’s like with everything NASCAR has done these past few years — sounds great at first, but once it’s put in play, more problems arise.
Amy: What the series desperately needs is its own identity. Give it that, and it’s a great series with fun drivers and great racing, as well as a great place for smaller sponsors.

How about some predictions for Pocono?

Amy: I’m going with Hamlin this week.
Beth: Kurt Busch.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Phil: Tony Stewart for me. It’s about time.
Garrett: I know it’s not one of his better tracks, but how about Kyle Busch?
Tom: I think I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer. My head says Hamlin, but Bowyer had the fastest car in June until Kevin Harvick got in his head. He’s due.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top Fives Top 10s
Phil Allaway 31 16 2 8 13
Amy Henderson 29 -2 20 3 8 13
Beth Lunkenheimer 24 -7 14 1 9 10
Mike Neff 10 -21 8 1 2 4
Summer Dreyer 9 -22 12 0 4 6
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
Garrett Horton 1 -30 3 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -31 3 0 0 0
Kurt Smith 0 -31 5 0 1 1
Toni Montgomery 0 -31 1 0 0 0

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