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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Setting the Chase, Kyle Busch’s Trifecta & Cutting Nationwide Purses

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)
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)
Kyle Ocker (Frontstretch News Reporter)

Just two races remain on the schedule before the start of the Chase. Is the field set, or can someone else still squeeze in?

Mike: It is all but set. It would take a pretty major malfunction by one of the 12 who are in to have them drop out since there is such a gap between 12th and 13th.
Amy: I think it’s set, but Jamie McMurray could still be a surprise contestant if he can win at Atlanta or Richmond and run top five at the other. 100 points is a lot for two races, but it’s been a weird year and anything is possible.
Summer: It’s set. I thought it was set a couple of weeks ago.
Kyle: The Chase field is set for this year. McMurray can’t provide the performance needed to make up 100 points. Neither can Mark Martin or the other guys still mathematically eligible.
Phil: The top 11 guys are in. McMurray could boot Clint Bowyer, but he needs to run well and get some help. That goes for Martin as well, since he’s only one point behind McMurray. However, Martin just hasn’t shown much lately.
Beth: All it takes is a couple poorly timed engine failures to change it….
Kyle: I doubt that will happen. ECR engines are unstoppable this year.
Jeff: Any engine failure is poorly timed.
Mike: Engine failures for RCR are not exactly common enough, let alone two races in a row.
Amy: True, and it’s very easy to lose 100 points, just ask Jimmie Johnson. If Bowyer has some colossal bad luck, things could change.
Mike: I just can’t imagine Bowyer having colossal failures at Atlanta and Richmond. If anything, he’s got a really good chance to win at Richmond.
Beth: Bowyer’s not bad at Atlanta either.
Kyle: Martin isn’t consistent enough this year. Those changes to improve the No. 88 killed the No. 5 team. And what do you know… Junior still stinks. Martin has no chance to make up those 101 points and actually will probably fall more in the standings.
Amy: Why is it that it seems easier to lose 100 points than to gain it?
Jeff: Same way its easier to spend $100 than it is to earn it.
Beth: Because sometimes you lose it through no fault of your own.
Kyle: Losing points is solely based on your performance. In order to gain, you have to outrun people. If you want to gain 100 points, they need to have some serious troubles.
Phil: And because these guys are generally good. This isn’t 1992, when the top points guys were falling out of races seemingly once a month. DNFs were the main reason that Alan Kulwicki was able to make up that 276-point deficit in the final six races back then.
Mike: That was back when engines had to be babied to make it 500 miles.
Amy: True Phil, and nobody has really shown that they want the title really bad this year.
Phil: They’ll want it bad once the Chase starts. For now, who knows… it’s actually really close if you exclude Kevin Harvick.
Mike: If Kyle Busch can win the next two races it will be really close at the top of the field.
Phil: If that were to happen, he’d be tied for the lead after the reset.
Amy: It’s been kind of a strange year. Nobody has shown they’re capable of putting together a sustained winning streak, but a few, including the defending champion, have shown they can put together a losing streak just fine. That’s why I’m not willing to seal that Chase envelope quite yet
Jeff: How are they supposed to “really show” they want the title?
Amy: By sustaining a streak they way drivers have in recent years, Jeff. This year, it seems top teams are throwing chances away.
Jeff: Well, I’d say, staying in the top 12 is a good way to show you’re serious about winning a title.
Mike: Johnson is good at putting together losing streaks to fine tune his package for the Chase. Don’t be surprised if they run really well in Atlanta over Labor Day.
Amy: The way they’re running, a top 10 would be a good day.
Mike: More like lead the most laps and finish top three.
Summer: I’m not worried about Jimmie’s “losing streak.” They’ll pick it up once the Chase starts like they always do.
Amy: Honestly? If you aren’t in the top five in real points after Richmond it begs the question if you deserve the title to begin with. I’ve never thought that the guy going in 10th deserves to be champion at the end.
Summer: I agree. I think the Chase field needs to be smaller.
Kyle: I think if you keep yourself in the top five, regardless of win totals, that shows you are a championship contender. I think, unless Johnson really isn’t showing his stuff right now, that consistent performance coupled with a win in the Chase wins the championship.
Phil: I think Johnson will be fine in the Chase, but he’s wrecking more than normal this year.
Mike: Well, Bristol wasn’t exactly him wrecking. More of him being wrecked.
Kyle: Johnson’s got four DNFs this year… that’s two more than any other driver in the Chase field right now.
Phil: 10th going in can deserve a title, but only in a circumstance in which it was possible to catch the leader in the 10 races. Not likely, but theoretically possible.
Amy: But under the Chase, they don’t make up those points, they have them handed to them
Summer: Well, everyone plays by the same rules, so I don’t think it’s unfair, but I don’t think anyone as low as 10th in the standings is going to contend for a championship. There’s a reason they’re down that far. I mean, shoot, Bowyer is more than likely going to make the Chase but probably won’t contend for the championship.
Jeff: Oh, but think of the marketing power! Our driver was in the Chase ‘x’ number of years…. Sheesh.
Mike: And the drivers sitting fifth and ninth right now will be 20 points ahead of the season points leader when the Chase starts.
Beth: It’s going to take a disaster for much to change inside the top 12 over the next two races, in terms of drivers falling out and getting in.
Phil: McMurray needs to have a couple of great weeks. Another couple of third-place runs wouldn’t be a bad idea right now.
Kyle: If you start the Chase with less than two wins, you won’t win the championship.
Amy: Bottom line, the title is wide open between about four guys. 12th place is almost, but not quite, locked down, given Jamie Mac’s penchant for winning when it counts the most.
Mike: Bowyer is the only one who can fall out of the Chase, and it will take some major bad luck for that to happen. Richmond is actually going to be tremendously anti-climactic for the Daytona brass this year.
Jeff: That’s what it all comes down to.
Kyle: If Jamie Mac could make the Chase and then win the championship, it would probably be the best scenario for NASCAR. It would prove the Chase allows someone else to win the title that isn’t necessarily a Hendrick driver.

Kyle Busch set a NASCAR record at Bristol, becoming the first driver to win all three national touring races in a single weekend. Where exactly does this feat fit in to NASCAR history?

Jeff: It doesn’t because they don’t always run all three in the same week.
Summer: Well since it’s the first time it’s ever been down, he’s in a class of his own.
Amy: I said before that it sounds more impressive on paper than it really is.
Kyle: I think it’s cool, but it doesn’t have anything on winning four straight titles … or even one title.
Beth: I’d be more impressed if he’d done it without dumping people on his way to the front.
Summer: Yeah, but to beat every driver that competed in Bristol over the weekend — every single one — is still a pretty cool thing to be able to say.
Mike: It is something that no one else has ever done in the sport. It falls in with all of the other feats that were never done before: First person to qualify at 150, first person to qualify at 200, first person to win a Nationwide and Cup title, first person to win a Nationwide and Truck title. They all fall together.
Phil: It’s like the Bandit running to Texarkana and back in 28 hours with the 400 cases of Coors. It’s impressive to a point. However, he just seems to be… that much better than anyone in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series at the moment.
Kyle: Compared to the other records, actually, I don’t really care about a weekend sweep and will probably completely forget about Busch even doing it by Atlanta in two weeks.
Amy: When Harvick tried in Phoenix, it was a bit more impressive because he owned his truck and Nationwide car. But any of the Cup guys with five times as much funding winning in the Nationwide Series is about as big a feat as the Yankees winning the Texas League.
Jeff: Bottom line is it doesn’t mean diddly-squat to me or a lot of other people. I’ve done lots of things no one else has. Does that make me special?
Mike: You are very special Mr. Meyer.
Kyle: A Cup driver winning in the Nationwide or Truck series doesn’t hold much weight in my mind. It just isn’t as competitive as the Cup Series.
Amy: It’s not hard for a thoroughbred to win a Shetland pony race.
Mike: Is it hard for a thoroughbred to win a Shetland pony race when there are 12 other thoroughbreds in the race?
Amy: Not when he makes sure the only horse who can actually run with him comes up lame.
Mike: I believe that other horse kicked his horse first.
Amy: Watch the tape. His horse wrecked his own self.
Summer: I agree Mike. There were a lot of good drivers in all the races. We constantly moan and groan about how many Cup drivers are racing in the Nationwide Series and last Friday night was no different. He was still up against some pretty stout competition, and the same goes for Trucks. It’s not surprising but it’s impressive. There were several drivers that ran triple duty this weekend and didn’t do near as well as Busch.
Kyle: I agree 100% with what Busch did to Brad Keselowski. So, I don’t consider that “dumping a driver,” but at the same time I don’t see the big deal with sweeping a weekend.
Summer: Keselowski could have lifted, but he didn’t and he shouldn’t have. But he also knew Busch’s driving style and kind of took that risk by not giving Busch more room.
Amy: Busch came up across BK’s nose and put himself in the wall, then dumped Kes for it.
Mike: His horse pulled off a perfect slide job, that happens a thousand times every weekend across the country. 90% of the time the other driver backs off and comes back for another shot, the other 10% of the time someone gets wrecked and peoples’ panties get in a wad.
Amy: And you can point to all you want at other Cup drivers who won in the Nationwide or Truck series… they weren’t trying to take the championship away from kids and veterans in lesser equipment.
Mike: Busch isn’t trying to take a championship away from anybody. He’s not even running the full schedule in either of the series!
Summer: He’s racing because he loves it, not to take an opportunity away from someone.
Amy: Busch isn’t, but Carl Edwards and Keselowski are, and their wins don’t impress me either.
Beth: And I maintain that I don’t mind him being in the Truck Series (except when he’s dumping people) because he’s running his own equipment.
Jeff: Amen Beth!
Kyle: All Keselowski needed to do was let off then drive it in deep to Busch’s inside.
Amy: In a perfect slide job, you’re actually clear of the other car. That’s kind of part of it
Mike: No, in a perfect slide job you’re almost clear and the other driver backs off so you both don’t wreck.
Summer: It was a risky slide job and a product of not giving the other driver any room. They were racing for the win! They shouldn’t give each other room!
Phil: And Busch dumping Jennifer Jo Cobb was basically an act of “get the deuce out of my way!” Complete and total impatience. That was stupid. That was 36 laps into the race. It was like it was lap 194.
Summer: Oh the Cobb spin? That was completely ridiculous. No need for it.
Mike: I agree he was way too impatient with Jennifer Jo. He should have waited on that deal. No question. The bottom line on the trifecta is that he had to win. There have been a lot of people who’ve tried it over the years. There’ve been a handful who won two and failed in the third. He’s the first one to win all three. Whatever you think about equipment or talent compared to the rest of the field, he’s the only one who’s ever accomplished it.
Jeff: My final thought: I could care less if he swept the weekend.
Amy: Bottom line, Busch won three races in the same weekend, which would have been more impressive if he hadn’t run over people to do it and if he was racing a full field of his peers in both experience and equipment.
Beth: The weekend sweep doesn’t matter much to me. So it was another first… big deal.
Kyle: Like I said earlier, I will probably forget Busch even pulled it off by the time we head to Atlanta in two weeks. In fact, I forgot about it until it was brought up here.
Mike: It is a first. It goes down in the record books with all of the other firsts. It isn’t something monumental, but it is the first time it ever happened. It will probably happen again in the future, but Busch will always be the first to have done it.

Bristol Motor Speedway had a unique approach to driver introductions, allowing drivers to introduce themselves. Stung from being intentionally wrecked in the Nationwide Series race the previous night, Brad Keselowski took the opportunity to say “Kyle Busch is an ass” at the end of his intro. Was this over the line, or a chance that more track owners should take and make drivers introducing themselves common practice?

Beth: People have been complaining they want to see more personality, so let’s see it.
Phil: Sure, go right ahead and do it. It’ll be fun.
Jeff: He only spoke the truth.
Amy: I thought the way the did intros was great. I wish they’d do that everywhere.
Kyle: Four words: “Boys, have at it.”
Summer: I agree. I wish they did it every weekend. We get to see a little more personality than normal!
Mike: I thought the introductions were great and I’d love to see it more often. At the same time, I think Kes should lose the same 25 points that Junior lost for saying “shit” on television a few years back.
Phil: Big deal, Mike. I don’t think the FCC has an issue with that word. They don’t like the S-word, though. I wish they aired it live on ABC. Then again, it might have happened before NASCAR Countdown came on TV.
Amy: You can say “ass” on network prime time. “Shit” you cannot. I believe that’s the determining factor.
Jeff: How about “shitass?”
Kyle: I was watching “Roseanna” today on Oxygen (please don’t laugh too hard) and there is actually a show called “Dance your Ass Off.” They said it right on TV, no problem.
Jeff: Both Busch brothers have the all-time record for boos at Bristol. More than Gordon or Earnhardt Sr. any day.
Amy: AJ Allmendinger‘s response to Busch and Kes was priceless.
Mike: Yeah, that was perfect.
Amy: Actually the only comment I thought was pushing the line was Busch’s. Mocking the fans is in pretty poor taste and pretty much shows he’s forgotten why he’s there in the first place.
Phil: Yeah, that was quite Bush League on Kyle’s part.
Mike: I think it is fun that Kyle plays with the fans.
Amy: Mike, he’s not playing with anyone, he’s mocking them. Big difference. I do think more tracks should look at doing that. The way they usually do it is too generic. Fans would see some more personality from a lot of drivers if they handed them the mic every week, especially if their sponsors would lighten up a little.
Summer: Kyle was just goofing off. He was mocking his haters, not the fans. There is a difference.
Mike: I think he was playing. I don’t think he was mocking them. Having these driver intros weekly would be a big step. Sponsors aren’t going to lighten up any time soon. They’re too worried about their corporate image.
Kyle: It was just Kyle being Kyle.
Beth: It’s just part of his personality. I’ll take personality any day even if I don’t like the attitude shown.
Amy: You can have personality without having a bad attitude.
Jeff: Just get in the cars and race! We all know who they are. That’s why they sell programs!
Kyle: I don’t even pay attention to driver intros… they are just another 45 minutes of pre-race that can go away.
Phil: For $10-15 a pop. I could care less about the free diecast car included.
Mike: Amen Phil.
Jeff: Well now, I do get the program with the car and have them all from 2001 to ‘10 from Bristol!
Amy: On a similar note, a couple of the songs the drivers chose cracked me up: “Born to be Wild” and Joe Nemechek?
Phil: Unfortunately, that didn’t get to play on Saturday since he DNQ’d.
Mike: That’s pretty funny for Joe.
Summer: Did they actually play the intros on TV?
Mike: A couple of them.
Phil: They only replayed Brad’s quote, Kyle’s mocking and AJ’s statement.
Amy: And out of all the thousands of songs in the world, Johnson had to pick “Funky Cold Medina?”
Phil: It says something about the drivers, to be honest. I wish some of them might come up with a funny song, though.
Jeff: Did Kevin Conway choose “Big Balls” by AC/DC?

NASCAR announced this week that it will cut Nationwide Series purses by 20% to make hosting a Nationwide race more profitable to racetracks. Will this initiative help the series to grow, or will it have the opposite effect?

Beth: I’ve got one word for NASCAR: Stupid.
Amy: I don’t think losing five or 10 teams because they can’t afford to show up is going to grow anything.
Summer: I thought the reason for the move was that tracks weren’t making a profit.
Kyle: It might get rid of the start and parkers, so for some fans, it’s a good move.
Mike: Um, let’s see. The series pays for crap to begin with, so let’s reward teams for showing up by paying them even less. It is freaking stupid. As I wrote for my Full Throttle column, the sanctioning body should be putting more into the series to make it easier on track owners, not slashing prize funds.
Beth: Exactly, Mike. They’re going about this in all the wrong ways. It’s alright to try and help tracks make a profit, but penalizing those teams that show up week after week isn’t the way to do it.
Amy: NASCAR had better not say word one about start and parks… that number should about double.
Jeff: They did this with Cup and I wrote about it. All it does is save ISC (aka the France family) the most money!
Amy: Exactly, Jeff. It’s not about the tracks, it’s about lining the France family coffers.
Kyle: Maybe NASCAR should lower the fees it charges tracks to even host a date… or help out a little more with paychecks. Oh wait, that would require France to take a pay cut….
Mike: NASCAR is making billions and instead of increasing the prize funds, without making the track owners put in more money, they’re cutting the prize funds to “save” the track owners money. In the meantime, the series that pays ridiculous purses to begin with is now going to pay the competitors even less. It won’t be long before the series is dead, in my opinion.
Amy: I agree with Mike. The Nationwide Series will soon be all Cup guys and a few development guys from the rich Cup teams.
Kyle: Well, the series was already dying for lack of marketing by NASCAR. The series pretty much doesn’t draw anything for a crowd these days — except for Iowa, which sells out the race.
Mike: And Kentucky.
Amy: Kentucky won’t anymore, now that they have a Cup race.
Mike: I think Kentucky will still fill up pretty well for three or four more years.
Phil: This is not going to help at all. Maybe next season, it will be a little easier to get some sponsors, but this is the absolute worst time to cut purses since they’re going to full-time use of the new car in 2011.
Mike: Very true, Phil. What incentive do teams have to invest the money in the new cars when they’re going to make 20% less?
Amy: Where does the money come from? The Cup guys take the sponsors and some of the smaller teams run on purse money alone… take that away and those teams go away.
Mike: You’ve got it, Amy. There’s no way they’re going to have full fields next year.
Amy: They may have full fields, but about 20 cars will be start and parks.
Mike: I don’t think they’ll have full fields because I think more teams are going to say ‘screw it, if we’re going to build new cars, let’s build Cup cars and start and park for a lot more money.’
Kyle: Well, pretty much every team is struggling to stay in the black, including JR Motorsports. If anything, they should have increased purses by 20%. Same thing in the Truck Series. Those purses are even more ridiculous… and NASCAR should help the tracks out more by lowering sanctioning fees and putting some of their cash into the purses.
Amy: They should also be giving the Cup guys all last-place money and distribute the rest accordingly.
Jeff: Wow… I just realized that the 10 percent they cut this year was “across the board” for all three series! So this is an additional 20% for the Nationwide Series! That’s 30% in two years!
Mike: Yep. It actually works out to like 28% since they already reduced it this year. The additional 20 doesn’t add, but is reduced off of a smaller amount. Still ridiculous no matter how you slice it.
Amy: I feel bad for the teams that are in the series for the right reasons, because they are the ones that will suffer. Especially since NASCAR has pretty much decided they won’t limit the Cup guys from the title. Perhaps they should have just cut prize money for Cup drivers altogether. They save the cash and the real Nationwide teams benefit.
Kyle: Well, this season, after a pay cut from last year, the Nationwide Series lost Gateway and is struggling to find a track for a 35th date for next year’s schedule. So obviously that pay cut didn’t work… but they are going to try it again anyway. If pay cuts made the series more profitable for track owners, then tracks wouldn’t be leaving. It didn’t work this year, it won’t work next year — Hello, NASCAR?!
Phil: I don’t think they’re having a 35th race next year, Kyle.
Kyle: They want 35 dates, but only have 34 now. They said when they announced the schedule they will announce that date (as well as another Truck race) later this year.
Mike: They’re hoping Martinsville, Iowa or another short track will step up and take a second date.
Amy: Martinsville doesn’t have a first date and Iowa already got a second date.
Mike: My bad, I thought Martinsville had a Nationwide race already.
Phil: Not since 2006.
Amy: Martinsville would be a great choice, though. They should run the Nationwide race at Martinsville in conjunction with the Mods.
Phil: That wouldn’t be horrible. Do they still have big late model cards at Martinsville? If yes, then they could double up with them.
Kyle: But why would they do that? Iowa already has two races next year, so three would make zero sense and Martinsville hosts the Cup Series, so why go through the effort of hosting an unprofitable series? I think they should add Eldora to the schedule… that would be a packed house for sure!
Amy: Run mods, K&N East and NNS — it would be a great weekend. The Mod/K&N weekend this year was a blast. Martinsville is also close to Charlotte, so it’s a cheaper trip for the NNS teams that just had their purses cut.
Kyle: It would be great, but it wouldn’t get the promotion it deserves. NASCAR’s marketing team is failing miserably when it comes to promoting any other series but Cup.
Mike: Yes, they still have over 100 late models show up for the big show.
Amy: Mods ran the week of first Pocono, so that would be a great weekend for NNS to be at Martinsville. Run a triple header starting at 11:00 or so.
Phil: A triple-header might be a little much, Amy. Maybe a doubleheader with the modifieds and pair the K&N Series with the late models.
Kyle: Cup is still drawing decent ratings and was recently like the second rated program in sports at Michigan or something like that. It beat the WWE….
Beth: Bottom line is this was a poor move by NASCAR. There are other ways to help tracks make a profit besides cutting the purses for those who bring the money in in the first place.
Kyle: Maybe the NNS needs to just stay in the Southeast.
Mike: This is undoubtedly one of the stupidest things NASCAR has done in a long time, and that is saying something after a lot of what they’ve done over the last few years. They’re going to kill the series if they don’t turn around and step up to help the teams that compete in the series.
Jeff: My final thought still stands: “After all, we all know that the France family isn’t about to make any kind of ‘goodwill’ gesture unless there is something in it on the bottom line for them.”
Amy: I agree with Mike. This is hands down the worst decision NASCAR has made since the Top-35 rule.
Phil: Yeah, this purse cut is stupid. Who came up with it?
Mike: I don’t know, but I bet their monogrammed shirts have an “F” on them.
Amy: On another note, there’s a minivan race on “Top Gear” right now.
Kyle: If NASCAR wasn’t so money hungry, this decision would have never happened. If they really wanted this series to succeed, they would have put some of their own money into track purses and cut sanctioning fees. And then they would market the hell out of it.
Mike: I honestly think NASCAR is doing everything they can to kill the series so that they don’t have to hassle with it anymore.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top Fives Top 10s
Phil Allaway 37 20 2 *10* 15
Amy Henderson 34 -3 24 *3* 9 *16*
Beth Lunkenheimer 23 -14 17 1 9 11
Summer Dreyer 18 -19 15 0 5 9
Jeff Meyer 13 -24 15 0 5 9
Mike Neff 11 -26 11 1 3 5
Matt Taliaferro 4 -33 4 1 1 2
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -33 3 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 3 -34 3 0 1 1
Vito Pugliese 2 -35 3 0 1 2
Garrett Horton 0 -37 5 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -37 3 0 0 0
Kurt Smith 0 -37 5 0 1 1
Toni Montgomery 0 -37 1 0 0 0
Kyle Ocker 0 -37 1 0 0 0

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