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)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)
Watkins Glen made a number of safety changes that sharply reduced the number of accidents on the Cup side, as well as the number of cautions. That resulted in what several drivers called a “tamer than normal” Glen race on Sunday, behind the Ambrose-Montoya battle up front. Do you agree? Or was this just an aberration on a day where the Nos. 47 and 42 cars had everyone covered?
Phil: Generally, yes I do. That was the talk all weekend at the track. There weren’t even that many spins in the race, either. Even the Nationwide race was fairly clean (outside of that big one).
Mike N.: Actually, I thought the racing in the pack was a little more aggressive because the danger of getting stuck in the gravel was no longer a problem. Several drivers made the comment that people were willing to take bigger chances and run harder because there was far less risk.
Summer: I thought it was a good race with fewer cautions, which is definitely a positive. And thankfully, we didn’t have any of those never-ending yellows while they try to get someone out of the kitty litter.
Amy: I agree that there were less cautions than usual, but it didn’t hurt the race any. That was loads better than NASCAR finding fake debris. I’ll say it again: I’d rather see a caution-free race than fake cautions any week.
Jeff: What does the Nos. 47 and the 42 running good up front have to do with the rest of the field in the back?
Phil: Because Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya stretched the field out. It’s worth mentioning, but there’s still plenty of risk racing hard at Watkins Glen. And as far as I’m concerned, there were no fake cautions Sunday.
Mike N.: I thought the caution for Clint Bowyer‘s heat shield was pretty fake. I don’t know about fake debris, but I just hope one of these days they figure out how to use a localized caution flag. If they can get that right, they’ll have a really good race at a road course.
Amy: I agree with that, Mike. And Marcos and Juan put on a driving clinic on Sunday. I was impressed with Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch, too.
Phil: That was a joy to watch. Lots of gasps from the writers during the race.
Summer: Jamie keeps impressing the heck out of everyone this season. And even though Marcos and Juan dominated, the battle for the lead between the two of them got pretty heated several times.
Phil: Juan Pablo was a little confused about Marcos’s aggressiveness. He thought that Marcos should have just ridden a while.
Mike N.: All in all, it was a quality road race. I do wish they’d use the whole track, though. I don’t know why they don’t want the Cup guys to run the boot.
Jeff: Well, the whole point of a road race is to have the turns. I thought it was lame they took so many turns out.
Phil: They’ve never run the boot. They run a course that was created for a six-hour endurance race in 1971 since “the boot” was not done yet. I think it could be interesting, though.
Mike N.: I do, too. You’d have a couple more chances to pass.
Jeff: Four less turns than Sonoma. I suppose we should take some turns out of that, too?
Amy: I’d at least like to see them try it in a tire test or something. The harder it is to race, the better.
Phil: It’s the same thing that caused Infineon to shorten the track for 1998. They probably think that the cars wouldn’t go by the crowd enough. I will say this: I’ve tried the boot configuration in a computer game before. Not easy.
Jeff: Pretty soon, they will just have four turns to make it safer… just a backwards oval!
Amy: As an aside, does Sunday’s race officially make Busch the most underrated driver in the garage?
Summer: No, but I think you could say that for McMurray.
Jeff: No, Amy. That’d be like saying Jimmie Johnson is the most overrated driver because of the way they’ve been finishing lately.
Mike N.: Amy, it’s hard to call a former Cup champion underrated.
Jeff: Every driver has ups and downs. Good years, bad years, mediocre years. Just the nature of the beast.
Phil: We discussed this in the blog. Kurt almost won this race in 2006 from the pole, but got busted for entering a closed pit right as a caution came out.
Amy: He doesn’t get the attention he should. I don’t like the guy’s style and never have, but he deserves more credit than he gets. Kurt may have a smidge less raw talent, but he is a better driver than Kyle Busch.
Summer: Are we talking in terms of smart driving, patience, and finesse? Because every driver pretty much has more of that than Kyle.
Jeff: Oh, I don’t know. On an oval, I might have to put my money on Kyle if they went head-to-head and I was betting.
Amy: Kyle is the one drawing headlines. I didn’t see a lot of media picking Kurt for the championship this year, and that’s unfair; he will be a factor.
Mike N.: Kurt won’t be. He’ll finish in the mid- to upper-part of the Chase drivers, but he won’t threaten to win the title.
Summer: I think Kurt could threaten for the title. He’s run consistently enough and he has the bonus points to start the Chase off strong. It wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Mike N.: I’ll take Kyle anytime. Imagine where he would have finished Sunday if he didn’t have to start shotgun because of that loose ballast.
Phil: I think he would have been fourth or so instead of eighth.
Mike N.: I think he’d have run up front with Juan and Marcos. He had to use his stuff up so much getting all of the way through the field.
Jeff: Then, he would have crashed them and himself out.
Mike N.: Very well could have, Jeff. Then Kurt could have won.
Amy: He did a pretty good job of ruining his teammate’s day!
Phil: Back to the question, this race was by no means “tame.” It was pretty sweet.
Amy: I enjoyed Sunday’s race immensely. Only thing better would be if it were in early October when the leaves are changing.
Phil: That’s when F1 used to race at the Glen. That’s a very nice part of the country, say, the first weekend of the month.
Summer: Whenever they run, I can’t wait to come back next year!
Jeff: Sonoma was better.
Mike N.: The safety changes were very nice additions, and I’m glad to see that the track added them. However, I don’t think they made much of a difference in the race, other than some drivers taking a few extra chances.
Jeff: Next, they will take the chicane out….
Kasey Kahne is officially headed to Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season. Does the move make sense, and at whose expense will it be?
Amy: It makes zero sense for anyone involved.
Jeff: At this point, I am sick to death of hearing where Kasey Kahne is going to drive!
Phil: It sounds like an insurance policy on paper, just in case Brian Vickers doesn’t come back.
Amy: That’s great, Phil, but what if he does? RBR is adamant they’re not adding another team.
Phil: If Vickers can return, this means Scott Speed‘s out.
Amy: I hope that’s the case, Phil. Dumping Vickers without knowing if he can drive is beyond dirty.
Mike N.: They’re not dumping Vickers, I can promise you that. I don’t understand it from a Chevrolet perspective. I guess it makes sense if Speed is going to be gone. Otherwise, I really don’t understand it.
Jeff: It’s been done to overkill, and frankly I could now care less. And I think a lot of fans feel that way, too.
Amy: Maybe, Jeff, but what about the fans of the other guys?
Jeff: Hey, if Red Bull wants to alienate their fans just to have Kahne drive for one year, more power to them.
Mike N.: I just don’t understand why Hendrick is going to put a driver under contract into a Toyota.
Amy: Here’s what I wrote on the (insert shameless plug here) Frontstretch Message board: “IMO, it makes more sense for Hendrick to go to one of the start and parks, like Tommy Baldwin, give them full technical support, chassis, and engines the way they do with Stewart-Haas. HMS trains the pit crew and gets them up to par, and provides engineers. The little team switches to Chevrolet and gets to keep the cars for their trouble, which might allow them to be more competitive after Kahne leaves, which might help them attract sponsorship. Hendrick gets somewhere to store Kahne for the year that’s reasonably competitive. So it’s a win-win.”
Phil: If that were to happen, I think Hendrick would pitch that to Joe Nemechek.
Amy: Possibly. Though I think Nemechek wants to drive his own car.
Mike N.: I think James Finch and Phoenix Racing would seem like a more logical place to me. But Kahne driving for Stewart always made the most sense.
Amy: Any of those make more sense. Toyota just doesn’t. And given that the TRB brass in Austria are in love with Speed and that dropping Vickers would be a PR nightmare, there’s still the big question of who goes.
Jeff: Like I said, I’m already to the point I could care less. They are gonna do what they are gonna do, so I ain’t losing sleep over it.
Amy: My guess is that in the end, performance will win out and it will be the No. 82 for Kahne.
Phil: This is why I don’t like signing drivers in one year to a deal that starts the year after next. Jenson Button went through this stupidity a few years ago in F1.
Amy: I agree that it doesn’t make sense in the short-term. In the long-term, I guess owners do what they have to.
Jeff: I say, kick Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the curb, let him run his own team, and put Kasey in the No. 88. Or have Hendrick give Junior help to get a Cup car going for one year with Kahne driving it.
Amy: Junior has repeatedly said he doesn’t want the headache.
Phil: I don’t blame him for saying that.
Jeff: As opposed to the headaches he has now?
Mike N.: If Uncle Rick gave him the money, I’m sure he’d let Kelly have the headache.
Amy: I don’t think the deal makes any sense. Hendrick can’t give technical help, so what’s the incentive for Red Bull, unless they plan to change manufacturers and be a satellite like Stewart-Haas?
Jeff: Maybe in the future, teams will think twice before doing stupid stuff like this. I think Kahne is overrated, anyway.
Amy: And I agree with Jeff.
With Juan Pablo Montoya’s win on Sunday, Chip Ganassi became just the second car owner in 2010 to put more than one driver in victory lane, joining Joe Gibbs as the only owners with multiple winners. That begs the question: are three-and four-car operations really the best business model, or are they becoming simply R&D operations for their most successful drivers?
Jeff: Like I said in the other question, driver wins go in spurts. Some days it’s yours, some days it’s not.
Amy: I think it’s a double-edged sword. Teams need all the info they can get to stay competitive. There simply aren’t a lot of two-car teams that can run with the Big Boys. On the other hand, if two, three guys aren’t winning, it’s a lot of expense for a couple of test drivers.
Mike N.: Four-car operations are still the best if managed properly because you get economies of scale. A seven-post rig, wind tunnel time, pull-down rigs, engine testing, etc., gets spread out over more operations, and ultimately you get more of an advantage with the dollars you spend.
Jeff: I don’t think there is any new big trend, or some new business model or anything.
Amy: It’s not completely new, Jeff, but in the 1990s one-car operations won races. Now, they start and park.
Jeff: It all depends on who is driving your three or four cars. Put lower-tier drivers in Gibbs cars and they won’t win; the same with Hendrick, Roush, anybody.
Phil: Well, this discrepancy in performance amongst multi-car teams has been around for years. Remember when Roush first expanded to five cars in 1998? The general opinion was that Benson’s car was an R&D car.
Amy: There has been a shift, though. The No. 25 at Hendrick had that sigma for years, but the organization has done an about face this year with three cars not up to par and one winning. That used to be the other way around.
Mike N.: Who knows what is going on with Hendrick this year. They are hot and cold. Some weekends, everyone is running well, the next weekend they’re all out to lunch. Not sure exactly what is going on over there. And I’m sure they aren’t, either.
Amy: On the other hand, props to Ganassi for winning the biggest races of the year and putting both of his two cars in victory lane. I think the issue there is they don’t have enough to bring to the table to consistently contend — yet. I think by next year, they will.
Jeff: Notice how everyone always leaves out the “Earnhardt” part of “Earnhardt Ganassi Racing?”
Amy: What does the “Earnhardt” part of EGR do, exactly?
Phil: Yeah, I know. The team is the merged version of DEI and CGRFS, but Ganassi’s solidly in control. Teresa does something behind the scenes, but I’m not sure what it is.
Mike N.: She lets them use all of the cool equipment that came from Ginn when they merged.
Amy: She makes the occasional public appearance.
Jeff: Maybe Junior should go drive for Chip.
Amy: I don’t know what the best answer is, but this year it does seem like the big teams aren’t able to spread the wealth. Even at Gibbs, Joey Logano is 20th in points while the other two enjoy the spoils.
Jeff: Not everybody can be winning all the time.
Amy: True Jeff, but Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon… there are some pretty big names not even in the ballpark. They can’t win all the time, but they should be winning some of the time. And they’re not.
Phil: They’ve all had to cut down on costs over the past couple of years. Maybe this is the result of the cost-cutting.
Amy: In the past, the four-car teams had at least two or three winning cars and sponsorship on them. Now, they aren’t selling all the races on four cars as easily.
Jeff: They priced themselves out of the game. And potential sponsors are seeing that NASCAR isn’t the big thing it was or was hyped up to be.
Mike N.: Everything has priced everyone out of the game.
Phil: This is why spending caps are needed.
Mike N.: There’s no practical way to employ spending caps. If you limit it somewhere, they’ll spend it somewhere else.
Amy: It’ll never happen without franchising and collective bargaining.
Phil: And that just won’t ever happen here. No one wants that.
Amy: I really think that in the current economy, the big teams might be spread too thin. EGR may be putting all of their eggs in the big race basket, but they sure look good doing it.
Mike N.: The big race basket? Anything they learn for Daytona will work at Talladega. The success at Charlotte should at least partially transfer to the other cookie-cutter tracks. I don’t buy the big race idea… and multi-car teams are still the best way to maximize the benefit of money spent on development by team owners. There are no small teams in the Chase right now, or even contending for it. While wins may not have happened for the multi-car owners, consistent good finishes have… and that is ultimately what pays the bills.
Amy: It does, but how long do those drivers put up with being the R&D guys?
Phil: As long as necessary. Some will leave as soon as they realize they’re never going to win there. Others will stay regardless. I think two probably is the best way to go. NASCAR knew that a long time ago with their two cars per owner cap. However, this loophole created the current setup.
Mike N.: Who in the RCR camp is an R&D driver? Or at Hendrick?
Jeff: You can’t tell me that every driver doesn’t want to win every race. Although at Hendrick, it’s easy to name the R&D guy: Junior.
Mike N.: There’s no way they’re putting experimental stuff in Junior’s cars.
Jeff: Oh yeah, that’s right. He’s just not that good. Except for the marketing part of things.
Mike N.: They’re just not finishing the deals, and I can’t tell you why they don’t get it done other than mid-race adjustments are lacking. Maybe it is just really hard to win one of these races these days.
Phil: It’s not like Earnhardt Jr. isn’t talented. Heck, it was really hard to win back in 2002.
Jeff: Bottom line is that nowadays, it’s more of a crew chief’s race than a driver’s race.
Mike N.: That is a very true statement, Jeff.
Amy: Only to a point. Someone still has to drive the car and actually work the traffic. The crew chief can’t do that unless he’s got a remote on top of the box somewhere.
Mike N.: True, but when the car can only do it if it is working perfectly, there are a lot of guys who could win races. Unfortunately, the guys who can get the cars to handle perfectly are pretty few.
Jeff: Well, Chad has put Jimmie in a position to win more than Jimmie has. I still say JJ wouldn’t have half the wins he does if Chad wasn’t on that box.
Amy: Maybe not, but Chad isn’t driving the car, either. Ask him what happened the last time he tried that. And the best drivers can win in a fifth-place car. The fact that they aren’t tells me they don’t even have a fifth-place car, and that means they’re off from where they were a year or two ago.
Mike N.: I don’t think you can win in a fifth-place car. That used to be the case… but not anymore.
Richard Childress Racing recently announced that it will suspend its Nationwide Series operation at the end of 2010, concentrating on two Camping World Truck Series entries for Austin and Ty Dillon in 2011. Will this be detrimental to the organization when Austin Dillon is ready to move up, presumably in 2012, or will information from Kevin Harvick, Inc. be enough for the team to pick up where they left off when it’s time?
Summer: I think KHI will be to RCR what JRM is to HMS.
Phil: That is definitely in the cards, Summer.
Amy: I don’t think DeLana Harvick is as pliable as Junior, Summer. And I think it will hurt the drivers, especially with the new cars.
Summer: Maybe she isn’t, but it’s not like they wouldn’t have already discussed this with her and the team.
Mike N.: I thought the plan was that Austin Dillon would drive a KHI car when he moved to Nationwide, assuming he does and doesn’t go straight to Cup when Jeff Burton retires.
Amy: And even if you have the info from KHI, unless you’re going to take over the whole shebang as well when Austin comes up, you’re behind with building and adjusting the new car. RCR would be better off putting a veteran NNS guy in there for a one-year deal. Someone like Jason Keller.
Jeff: Maybe, as Summer was hinting at, this is already a done deal and was part of Kevin Harvick’s new contract at RCR.
Mike N.: RCR is going to run their Nationwide stuff through KHI. I’m sure there will be plenty of information sharing.
Amy: Could be. But I think it still puts them behind if there’s not a team already in place for Dillon when he comes up.
Summer: He may end up sharing a ride with someone in a ride that already exists.
Phil: Maybe Dillon would just end up in the No. 33.
Jeff: That’s what I see happening, Phil. You already have a team in place with KHI.
Amy: But that team has a driver, Jeff.
Jeff: Since when has that ever stopped anything?
Amy: In this case, the owner is the driver — so he kind of dictates that. I think Harvick will still want to play when he can.
Phil: Harvick himself? Harvick doesn’t want to drive the No. 33 full-time, and might be unable to. Dillon’s done very well this year in the Trucks.
Mike N.: Oh, I’m sure there will be a ride for Austin. It may be fielded out of KHI, but there will be a ride for Richard Childress’s grandson when Richard feels he’s ready. I think he’s going to have another year in Trucks at least, and then he’ll move to Nationwide or up to Cup if one of RCR’s Cup rides becomes available. If not, Richard will have KHI field a full-time Nationwide ride for him.
Amy: But Dillon will need a full-schedule ride to develop. That means he needs his own team, not sharing the No. 33.
Jeff: Like I said, maybe that is all part of Kevin’s new contract with RCR. We don’t know.
Mike N.: He’ll have a full-schedule ride. I’m sure Richard will make that happen.
Summer: What he could do is gradually work his way up there. Run a full Truck schedule next season as well as select Nationwide races.
Mike N.: I believe that is the plan right now, Summer. Possibly even the next two years. He’s going to move into a RCR ride run through KHI. That is what the announcement said. RCR will run their Nationwide stuff through KHI. They’re not shutting it down.
Amy: Unless Childress funds a second full-time KHI ride in 2011, in which case, as I said, put in a veteran on a one-year deal.
Jeff: A great place for Kahne! It’s a Chevy!
Amy: Right now, KHI is a one-car team. That was my point. If they don’t start a second team in 2011, but wait ‘til 2012, they will be behind the 8-ball.
Mike N.: I don’t think so. If they are successful in 2011 with one team, they’ll be able to ramp up to two. And I’m sure that Childress and Harvick are going to employ some or all of the RCR guys who’re losing jobs, if any are.
Jeff: You know, I was expecting a “Six of the top 10 in the Nationwide race were Cup regulars…” question this week.
Summer: I think we’ve beat that dead horse enough, Jeff….
OK, how about some predictions for Michigan?
Amy: I think I’ll go with Johnson. That team is too good to suck forever.
Phil: I’m going with Greg Biffle.
Mike N.: Since Amy claims he’s so underrated, I’ll go with Kurt Busch.
Summer: I’m picking Edwards, too.
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:
+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|
|Bryan Davis Keith||4||-30||3||0||1||2|