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)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
As usual, Martinsville didn’t disappoint, with plenty of frayed tempers and surprise finishers throughout the top 20. Who has the most reason to be upset at whom, and what name near the top of the finishing order surprised you the most?
Jeff: Dale Jr. surprised me. Jeff Gordon has the biggest reason to be upset.
Amy: Regan Smith should be the most upset. Speed and Hornish’s little pissing match ended up with him in the wall.
Beth: I agree with Amy here: Smith got screwed.
Phil: Yep, Regan was running decent and not doing anything wrong. He just happened to be in the wrong place when Speed and Hornish got wrecked. Regan seems to be a nice guy, based on the three minutes I got with him in Watkins Glen. I guess they really do finish last.
Amy: The No. 78 team didn’t deserve that. They have little enough to work with.
Jeff: Regan may be a nice guy, but has nothing at stake Chase-wise.
Amy: So that makes it OK to knock him around?
Jeff: No, but that is just the way the cookie crumbles.
Amy: And his team has oh, I don’t know, a fifth of what the Chase teams do anyway. A wreck is a lot harder on his team than theirs.
Jeff: OK, but the rest of the fans aren’t giving a rat’s ass about Regan now.
Amy: You give fans too little credit, Jeff. The real fans get it.
Jeff: Not when the focus is on the Chase.
Mike N.: I think Gordon has the most reason to be upset after Kurt Busch completely dumped him because Gordon “rubbed” him.
Beth: Besides, Jeff Gordon’s wreck was payback.
Amy: Gordon got dumped, true. And he didn’t deserve it either. He rubbed Busch, he didn’t try to punt him.
Phil: That Gordon/Busch wreck was bush league. Kurt claimed that he paid Gordon back for years of abuse on the No. 2 — even abuse that happened when Kurt was still in the No. 97, or even before he entered Cup.
Beth: Sometimes it’s all about the history between two drivers.
Amy: Yeah, that was lame. Vintage Kurt Busch.
Phil: The “Old Kurt Busch” showed up? How does he compare to the “Old Kyle Busch?”
Beth: We’ve still got the old Kyle Busch…
Amy: Equal in terms of driving, but still way better than Kyle in terms of whining. But I still think what happened to Smith was worse. At least Gordon and Busch were actually racing each other … Smith was just there and Dumb and Dumber took him out.
Mike N.: Smith was just unlucky. I don’t think he can be that mad just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Amy: But Mark Martin was the shocker. I will admit I was a little bit surprised he wasn’t given team orders in the late going (pleasantly so). He was at least a lap down and the car was a mess.
Beth: Two laps down, actually. I was shocked he made it to second.
Phil: It was good to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. run well, too. He needs that confidence. And so does McGrew.
Mike N.: I think Brad Keselowski was the most surprising name in the top 10. He’s not shown that much in a Cup car, yet to have stayed out of trouble when there was so much swirling around on Sunday was impressive.
Phil: Brad was invisible on Sunday, but he kept himself out of trouble. That’s what is really important at Martinsville. And yeah, I was quite amazed at Martin’s form late in the race. Would have been cool to see Martin get up to Hamlin.
Mike N.: Martin was unbelievable; although I’m pretty sure his car was more than 60/1000s off after that race.
Jeff: It’s OK to be because of a wreck.
Mike N.: I see, so you have to be hit before the checkered falls.
Jeff: That was why Martin was so fast.
Mike N.: It sure didn’t hurt, Jeff.
Amy: That final, long green run sure had Chase implications.
Mike N.: Yes, it did. If they’d have had a caution in the last 40 laps, Johnson would be winning by more than six points right now. And honestly, the fact that Johnson didn’t lead a lap Sunday might very well be the most shocking thing out of the whole race.
Martinsville proved a pivotal race in the Chase, cutting Jimmie Johnson’s lead to just six points heading to Talladega. Is this Jimmie Johnson’s title to lose, Denny’s to win or a true toss-up between them and Harvick heading into the homestretch?
Amy: It’s been Denny Hamlin‘s title to lose all along.
Mike N.: It is still Johnson’s — win, lose or draw.
Phil: It depends on how they come out of Talladega. If one of them gets out clean, while the other two wreck, then we can be more definitive.
Jeff: Yeah, we have to wait ‘till after ‘Dega to call it.
Mike N.: Johnson will stay out of trouble at Talladega and then pull away at Texas and Phoenix so that Homestead doesn’t matter again.
Amy: If the most recent past performance is any indicator, Hamlin has been better at Talladega, Texas and Homestead.
Phil: I want to make a Match Game reference here, but can’t find the place to fit it in. Harvick apparently is the best of the three at Homestead, according to ESPN. Johnson will likely whoop everyone in Phoenix.
Amy: But if Denny beats him in three other races, Phoenix won’t matter.
Jeff: What does ESPN know?
Phil: They’ve got a stat department at ESPN and they’re very thorough.
Jeff: So does Racing Reference. We can look it up just as well. Anyway, I pray that J.J. wins it all again.
Mike N.: Johnson has never had to do well at Homestead except in 2004, and Kurt Busch pulled that one out of his ass. I guess it depends on your definition of recent history. Johnson has a win and three top-five finishes at Texas in the last five Chase races there.
Amy: Denny beat Johnson at Texas last time out. Hamlin’s “If I’m in a wreck, I’m making sure he’s in it as well” comment was out of line… but if Denny goes gunning for Johnson, well, that’s one way to end it. Johnson’s race on Sunday was terrible. Slow pit stops and at one point Knaus totally gave up on the racecar. They are not a championship-caliber team right now.
Beth: That’s just not like Knaus at all.
Mike N.: The spring races at these tracks don’t matter, Amy. Haven’t we gone over this one a thousand times? The Chase is what matters for the title, and Johnson is far better when the money is on the line.
Jeff: At the beginning of the year, you said Denny didn’t have a chance because of his knee.
Phil: Well, that’s repaired now.
Amy: I picked Denny to win in January.
Mike N.: I do seem to remember that statement, Jeff.
Amy: Yeah, I thought the knee could kill that, but Denny was tougher than I thought.
Beth: He was tougher than a lot of people thought. I figured the knee would hurt his chances, too, but I was wrong.
Mike N.: And Jimmie is apparently better than you think he is.
Jeff: I used to think Denny was OK, but the last couple years, I think he is a punk whiner.
Beth: Of course we’re all focused on Hamlin and Johnson, but we can’t count out Harvick. He has a way of sneaking up on the field.
Mike N.: Kevin Harvick is too negative towards his team, and a couple of bad pit stops at Texas will torpedo his chances.
Beth: Different crew…
Mike N.: That’s my point, Beth. He’ll rip these new guys, and they’ll tell him to pound sand. They haven’t been through the wars with Harvick like his old crew.
Jeff: Dumb move on Childress’s part, in my opinion.
Phil: I don’t think the crew is going to be that much of a factor at Talladega unless the race goes caution free. Of course, that’s happened three times before.
Mike N.: That’s why I said Texas.
Amy: Harvick is the best of the three at Talladega, for sure, but let’s face it; for Talladega, you could skip the race and pull names out of a hat for the finishing order and get the same result.
Mike N.: No question that ECR engines will have Harvick in front of Hamlin and Johnson at Talladega, but not by enough for him to take the lead.
Amy: So nobody thinks that Hamlin’s gunning for Johnson?
Mike N.: No. That was him spouting off.
Jeff: Denny is gunning for himself.
Beth: Only for the championship. He won’t intentionally take Johnson out of it.
Phil: I don’t think he’s going to do it, especially after he went public with those comments. If he does, game over.
Beth: He was just running his mouth.
Amy: I don’t know, Mike, If Hamlin and Johnson get taken out at ‘Dega, Harvick could easily take the lead.
Mike N.: I promise Junior will take him out before any Gibbs driver can take out Johnson. Hamlin isn’t going to risk his title to try and take out four-time. Honestly, and there is zero basis for this belief, I think Harvick is going to have mechanical issues at ‘Dega just because he’s so freaking confident he’s going to run well there.
Amy: Hamlin has a tendency to have meltdowns, though. I can see him having one and going after Jimmie.
Jeff: Have Mark take him (Hamlin) out! No one would expect that. “Just one of them racin’ things.”
Mike N.: Amen, Jeff. Kind of like the wreck Martin caused in the Nationwide Series a few years ago.
Phil: The one where he took Edwards and Keselowski out at Las Vegas, Mike?
Mike N.: Yeah.
Amy: It’s been Hamlin’s title to lose since Loudon. He’ll take the lead at Talladega and never look back… and if he does, Johnson won’t be gaining on him.
Phil: This isn’t anyone’s championship to lose right now. It’s a toss-up… what happens Sunday will go a ways towards determining who wins.
Mike N.: The title is still Johnson’s unless he has a major gaffe at Talladega.
Amid reports that Richard Petty Motorsports will shut its doors as soon as next week, the team says that they continue to look toward 2011. Is that just wishful thinking? And is the team’s demise the result of a businessman’s bad dealings or is it a symptom of a much bigger issue in NASCAR?
Beth: A little bit of both, really.
Amy: I think it’s a little of both, too. Gillett isn’t a racer and had no clue what he was getting into. But until NASCAR pulls their head out of the sand, things won’t get better.
Mike N.: I would say it is more of an indication of a bigger issue within NASCAR, but part of it is the dealings of a businessman who isn’t a racer.
Jeff: Gillett had no business being in NASCAR in the first place.
Phil: It could be wishful thinking, but what happens if they can continue without being focused on the racing program? Toilet City.
Mike N.: There are lots of owners who had no business in NASCAR that have made a go of it and two or three times as many who didn’t. Gillett put people in place that should have been able to make it successful, but he got in at a bad time and probably overpaid for what he was getting.
Jeff: What makes Petty think he can get investors now when he couldn’t before?
Phil: I’m not sure. Technically, Petty did with Boston Ventures in 2008, but it simply wasn’t enough.
Jeff: And NASCAR was 100% in better shape in ‘08 as compared to now.
Amy: I said in my column on Saturday that NASCAR is the real house of cards here. If RPM folds, Tom and I counted 29 full-time cars next year.
Mike N.: One thing that is truly sad is NASCAR probably won’t do anything to try and help him keep the place afloat, and that is a shame.
Phil: They believe that everyone’s an independent contractor, so they won’t help out at all. Makes me wonder what they think of their officials.
Jeff: NASCAR is barely afloat itself now days, Mike.
Mike N.: I think NASCAR is afloat more than anyone knows; they just don’t share their bounty with the rest of the sport.
Jeff: I’m not saying the family is going broke, but their golden cow has mad cow disease.
Mike N.: That is very true, Jeff, but they aren’t on the verge of closing the doors in the next couple of years, unlike roughly half of the cars on the track.
Amy: I think they’re on the verge of a major fall, Mike.
Jeff: But they don’t care about the rest of anything.
Mike N.: I agree, but I wouldn’t call them barely afloat right now.
Jeff: They can’t see that far ahead.
Amy: “Investors” are part of the problem. Look at the successful owners, what do they have in common? They are racers first, businessmen second. Outside investors who know nothing about the sport aren’t a long-term solution anymore than casual fans are.
Mike N.: I don’t know that Joe Gibbs was a racer before he was a businessman.
Amy: Gibbs loves racing, though. He’s not in it as an investment; he’s in it because he loves it.
Mike N.: I won’t deny Gibbs loves racing, but he wasn’t a racer first.
Amy: Depends on your definition of racer, I guess. He wasn’t a driver, but he became an owner for pure love of the sport. That’s a racer, too.
Phil: By that definition, Amy, we’re all racers, even though I’m not sure if any of us have ever turned a wheel.
Mike N.: Meyer wheels a wicked go-kart.
Jeff: I used to.
Amy: Owning the cars counts. It’s more than just loving the sport, it’s fielding a car every week for the pure love of it or driving it or building it or going over the wall.
Jeff: I loved working on my go kart.
Beth: Well, I don’t blame RPM for looking ahead to next year. If they don’t, they’ll be in serious trouble if they manage to pull it off.
Jeff: In the end, when RPM goes under, I feel bad for AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.
Mike N.: It will be sad if there isn’t a Petty involved in the week-to-week races of the Cup Series in the future, although that day will inevitably come. I’ll feel worse for the RPM employees.
Jeff: What makes them different from the rest of us laid off in the last two years?
Mike N.: Nothing. I feel bad for anyone who loses their job these days. And I feel worse for the employees who are working hard to make ends meet rather than the million-dollar athletes who will probably get a job somewhere else much more easily than the guys in the shop.
Amy: I don’t know about that, Mike. Top wrenches are in demand, too.
If they’re better than someone else, they’ll find work — same as the driver. But I agree with Beth. They have to think best-case scenario – although it’s more likely to be worst-case and that blows for ‘Dinger and Ambrose. I feel bad for everyone in this scenario except George Gillett.
Mike N.: I thought they had sponsorship for ‘Dinger for all of next year and more than half for Ambrose already.
Beth: Ambrose at least has a backup plan.
Ron Hornaday took his first Martinsville win on Saturday, the 47th victory of an illustrious Camping World Truck Series career. With all the Hall of Fame talk recently, is Hornaday a shoo-in for what he’s done? And with KHI’s team unsure of sponsorship for 2011, is this season the last one we’ll see him behind the wheel of a truck full-time?
Beth: Ron Hornaday is most definitely a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame once he retires.
Amy: He should be, but he’s not. He’ll get in eventually, when there are no Cup drivers left.
Phil: We haven’t seen anything that makes it seem like anyone whose main body of work is in the Trucks would make it.
Mike N.: I didn’t realize KHI was in dire sponsorship straights, too.
Beth: They’ve been struggling for a while, Mike.
Mike N.: Anyways, Hornaday will be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he won’t be inducted for at least 10-15 years.
Jeff: I agree with Mike.
Phil: I don’t think Hornaday’s getting into the Hall of Fame anytime soon. He’s 50-something now. He’ll be at least 70, maybe 75 when he gets in, if at all.
Amy: At least. Possibly not first ballot if he retires in the next five years.
Mike N.: No chance he’s first ballot, probably in the next 10 years.
Jeff: If the HoF is around that long…
Phil: They spent more than enough money building that place. They have to give it a chance to make its money back.
Jeff: It’s not exactly raking in the bucks like they said it would.
Amy: Because nobody can afford it, Jeff.
Jeff: I got no desire to go.
Mike N.: You should, it is a very cool place.
Beth: I’d love to go, but I’m not spending $20 apiece for tickets.
Amy: The best driver in the history of the series should get in. It’s the NASCAR HoF, not the Sprint Cup HoF.
Beth: Exactly, Amy.
Amy: But it hasn’t worked that way so far, so it’s entirely possible that Hornaday’s day is going to be a long time coming.
Mike N.: I completely agree it is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and that is why he’ll get in. But there are drivers in the Nationwide and Modified ranks that accomplished more in their series than Hornaday has in his.
Amy: You don’t see them getting in either, Mike. That was my point.
Mike N.: I most certainly do see them getting in.
Jeff: Good Lord, Amy! They take what, five a year?! It’s going to take awhile.
Amy: I see them getting in, but far later than they deserve to get in.
Mike N.: I would have put Richie Evans in before Ned Jarrett or Bobby Allison this year.
Phil: Once the first 25-35 get in, look for a change in the voting structure so it’s even harder to get in.
Mike N.: I would rather see that than the other way, Phil, which is what so many people are whining about.
Amy: Back to Hornaday; it would suck if KHI can’t find sponsorship for the guy. He’s the best driver in the history of the series. What the hell more do sponsors want?
Phil: Someone they can market around. What kind of products can Hornaday sell?
Jeff: Look what happened to Johnny Benson.
Mike N.: Well, you can send a big thank you note to the FDA for their idiotic ban on tobacco advertising. I’d love to see KHI sue the agency for hurting their business.
Beth: Being a champion means nothing to sponsors anymore.
Amy: True. I still don’t know when looking good on TV became more important than actual talent.
Mike N.: Hornaday is a hoot. He could sell anything if a company gave him a chance. When was the last time you saw a Truck Series driver in a sponsor commercial?
Phil: Hornaday with Copart last year, maybe?
Mike N.: What sponsor commercial is he in?
Jeff: Doesn’t he do a energy drink commercial?
Mike N.: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Monster commercial.
Jeff: I could be wrong.
Amy: Kind of sad that sponsors care more about how their driver looks than how he looks in Victory Lane.
Phil: Sponsoring a vehicle in NASCAR is all about exposure. I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want his or her vehicle up front.
Mike N.: Kind of like when Sterling Marlin got dumped from Coors Light. I never saw David Stremme in a single commercial or stand up or anything. Marlin was a great driver for them. They used to imitate him saying Cuhrs Laight Dudge on SPEED all of the time. They got tons of free exposure because of that.
Jeff: I am at the point (have been for awhile) that I don’t buy because they are a part of NASCAR.
Phil: That’s why a lot of companies are avoiding NASCAR like the plague. Backlash.
Beth: I buy products based on need in my household, not because they sponsor a driver.
Mike N.: I personally buy sponsor products from NASCAR sponsors if I have to buy a product and one of them is from a NASCAR sponsor.
Amy: Back on topic, it’s sad that a HoF lock is A) without a sponsor and maybe even a ride, and B) not a lock for years after he should be one.
Mike N.: Hornaday will make the Hall of Fame, but it will be years from now. He’ll have a ride next year with KHI, although it might end up being in a Nationwide car instead of a Truck.
Beth: It’ll be a shame if we don’t have Hornaday full-time next season, but something tells me KHI will find something for him even if they have to piece it together.
Mike N.: I don’t understand how you put a timeframe on when he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Jeff: My final thought is that it is pointless to worry about who gets in the HoF every year, but that is just me.
Mike N.: Would you put him in before Jack Ingram?
Phil: I think Ingram has a larger body of work than Hornaday, but a lot of it is lost since the late model sportsman records were thrown out.
Mike N.: Ingram was the best driver in the Nationwide Series for as long or longer than Hornaday was the best driver in the trucks. My point is, there are at least 40 or 50 people I think should be in the Hall before Hornaday.
Jeff: Goodness… let the man retire first!
Beth: True, Jeff. And even then, it’s a minimum three years before he’s eligible.
OK. Predictions for Talladega?
Amy: I think I’ll go with Junior. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.
Mike N.: Jamie McMurray.
Beth: Tony Stewart. He’s got nothing to lose championship-wise.
Mike N.: McMurray was second at Charlotte, and then won. He was second at Talladega, so he’ll win there.
Phil: Talladega is a game of chance. I’m going with Paul Menard. Came close two years ago. Why not?
Mike N.: Wow, you are really hanging onto the Edwards prediction thing, aren’t you Jeff?
Jeff: Checkers or Fences!
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 32 races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top Fives||Top 10s|
|Bryan Davis Keith||4||-46||3||0||1||2|