NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Shortened Fields, New Car Blues & Crying Over Kyle Busch?

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  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)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)

Sunday’s race at Talladega was kind to the top-three Chase contenders, with all three finishing in the top 10. Both Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson achieved their finishes in part by running at the back of the field for much of the day, with Johnson “turning it on” and jumping from 23rd to second in eight laps. Can NASCAR encourage drivers to race all day at Daytona and Talladega, or is it a lost cause? And does 87 lead changes still make for a good race with the real contenders in the back, just biding their time?

Phil: Well, NASCAR can’t force the drivers to race the way they want them to.
Jeff: People have been “riding it out” at plate tracks forever. Dale Jarrett was famous for it.
Garrett: There is still a risk involved running in the back.
Beth: The drivers are going to race how they want to race, and for some that means hanging back until late in the going.
Mike N.: I think 87 lead changes speaks volumes. There was plenty of racing going on throughout the day, even if some of the drivers were in the back for a big chunk of the race.
Phil: Also, Denny Hamlin just plain lost the draft. I wouldn’t call what he was doing voluntary.
Garrett: It almost backfired on Denny.
Amy: I don’t think much could be done save shorten the races. I’d be all for a 100-lap deal. Even then, they aren’t going to race all day.
Phil: Too short.
Mike N.: 500 miles for all races except the 600, Amy. The only way to get them to race more during the event is to pay points for leading at certain stages during the race.
Phil: This wasn’t even an issue prior to October 2000, since it simply was not possible. What really was the last straw was probably Speedweeks in 2000, where there were a total of 14 lead changes between the Bud Shootout, the Twin 125s and the Daytona 500. That was kinda boring, and that’s when they changed the aero package.
Mike N.: Well, the only thing that kept me awake Sunday was the racing. If you can’t stay awake for 87 lead changes, you need to find a new sport.
Garrett: I never understood people complaining about boring races at any track. We are watching cars go around in circles. You either like it or you don’t.
Amy: I disagree. Anybody can lead a race at Talladega if they have the horsepower.
Mike N.: Not if you don’t know how to draft.
Beth: Exactly.
Amy: At that level, they know how.
Mike N.: Well, the giant wreck didn’t happen. Sorry to disappoint those who were looking for it.
Amy: There were still too many wrecks. It just wasn’t 27 cars at a time.
Mike N.: There were what… three or four wrecks? How is that too many?
Amy: The best Talladega race I’ve ever seen was caution-free.
Phil: Which one was that, Amy. May 1997?
Amy: 2000. Dale Earnhardt‘s last win. There was a crash at the line, but it was basically caution free.
Garrett: I will agree that was the best race at Talladega, and in my opinion, the best of all-time.
Mike N.: The 1984 Winston 500 was the greatest race at Talladega.
Phil: The 2000 race wasn’t caution free. There were a couple.
Amy: It was damn close.
Jeff: And yet people complain now because there are not enough wrecks at Bristol… sigh.
Beth: We’ve seen more wrecks from other tracks, Amy.
Amy: Yes, but they aren’t usually as scary and don’t usually take out a dozen guys who were doing nothing wrong. That race forever sealed my opinion of Joe Nemechek, but I digress.
Mike N.: Sunday didn’t either, Amy. There was one wreck that took out more than one person who was minding his own business.
Beth: Well, there’s no way NASCAR is going to force the drivers to race how they want them to unless they make more changes — and I’m not thrilled with that idea at all.
Amy: I don’t think there’s much NASCAR can do, either, unless they take away the Lucky Dog for guys who don’t race and lose the draft. Or shorten the races.
Mike N.: Sunday’s race was great. I don’t know what the hell else you want from one with restrictor plates involved. My only complaint was that complete BS caution with eight to go.
Beth: Agreed, Mike.
Amy: I just want them to go. Plate races are a disaster and have no place in the sport.

With the loss of at least two RPM cars and Robby Gordon’s full-time entry in 2011, some races could wind up with short fields as the number of full-time teams drops to 28-30 cars. Is there a solution to this mess, or is NASCAR simply headed the way of the IRL, which hasn’t had a full field in years (with the exception of the Indianapolis 500)?

Beth: Of course there’s a solution: the sport is too damn expensive to participate in. Find a way to lower the costs and we’d likely see more teams.
Jeff: Amen.
Phil: Well, we’ve all heard the cost issues. The thing is, three years ago, we were at an all-time high for car count. I don’t think the fields need to be shortened, but the Top-35 rule does need to go.
Mike N.: We’ll have to wait and see if the series has a short field sometime next year. They have been predicted for a long time and haven’t happened yet.
Amy: Shorten the fields to 36, drop the stupid Top-35 rule, increase purses. When was the last time the car count was high and stable, meaning teams could all run full races?
Garrett: It looks like we will just have to have 36-car fields for the next few years. Until the economy gets better. And while I am not for a points system overhaul, a shorter field would be the perfect time for NASCAR to change it.
Mike N.: They’re not going to change the points again any time soon, unfortunately. Maybe when the new cars come out in 2013.
Amy: Smaller fields would actually make for better racing at some tracks because you weed out the slow cars in qualifying. And any rule that allows Kevin Conway to make the field over five guys who all ran three mph faster needs to go. Period.
Mike N.: If the story is true that NASCAR loses TV revenue if the field isn’t full, I promise they’ll have 43 in every race.
Beth: I don’t mind the Top-35 rule going away, but shortening the fields would likely lead to more teams choosing not to even make the trip each week.
Jeff: Who wants to bet that NASCAR will do the exact opposite of what is really best (whatever that may be) for the sport?
Mike N.: They’ll probably cut the purses for Cup in 2012 so that the tracks don’t have to put so much money into them like they are doing with Nationwide.
Garrett: Merge Nationwide with Cup. It won’t happen, but it makes sense.
Mike N.: They need to get rid of a bunch of the incentive programs and start paying most of the purse money for results on the track.
Jeff: I don’t care what anyone says, the best thing for the sport would be to oust Brian France. Just his image and reputation hurt the sport.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. The change needs to start at the top.
Mike N.: If NASCAR was a publicly traded company I think he’d be out already.
Beth: At this point, people are so fed up with him that they tune out whenever he has anything to say.
Phil: If NASCAR were anything but a family business, he might have never become CEO.
Garrett: Who would be the best person to replace Brian? Any ideas?
Mike N.: David Stern.
Phil: I don’t think David Stern would leave the NBA to run NASCAR.
Mike N.: I’m sure he wouldn’t.
Amy: Humpy Wheeler.
Jeff: Helton, actually, if he had free rein. Helton is more like both the Bills.
Amy: Actually, Helton would probably do a good job. Brian’s passion has been about making money from the get go and everyone knows it.
Mike N.: It needs to be someone who isn’t in the sport now.
Amy: I disagree, Mike. It has to be someone with a complete passion for the sport and who has a deep understanding of the sport’s roots and what it once was… someone from outside won’t have that.
Mike N.: I don’t think so. I think it needs to be someone who knows how to make a product that brings people in. The new Competition Director needs to be a person with a deep passion for the sport.
Garrett: I agree with Amy. I would like to see what Humpy could do if he were in charge.
Phil: Would Humpy want to be in charge like that?
Amy: Who knows?
Mike N.: I don’t know if he would or not. One thing is for sure, the pre-race shows would be off the hook. Mark Cuban would probably be a good choice, too.
Jeff: Darrell Waltrip! Just kidding… he’d be better than Brian, though. If the France family were smart, they’d form an alliance with Bruton and SMI.
Phil: Jeff, if that happened, there would be anti-trust inquiries.
Garrett: NASCAR doesn’t seem so bad with Brian now, does it?
Mike N.: NASCAR is about to completely collapse with Brian in charge, brother. Anyway, back to the original question, NASCAR isn’t going to have short fields if there is a loss of TV revenue attached to it.
Garrett: Let’s bite the bullet and have a 36-car field for the next few years until the economy recovers.
Amy: I think there do need to be some radical changes. Short fields are really the symptom of much bigger problems, not the problem itself.
Mike N.: The sport is in need of some changes, so maybe the threat of not having enough competitors will make some things happen. I’m hoping.
Beth: Don’t hold your breath, Mike.
Mike N.: Trust me, Beth, I’ve been around long enough to know better.

NASCAR is reportedly considering an entirely new car design by 2013. With the current design in only its third full year, is that too soon? Many fans would welcome a change, but it this one pennywise and pound foolish?

Amy: If the economy doesn’t improve, there go a couple more teams.
Mike N.: It is actually good timing for the change. The manufacturers are going to be switching models at that time, so it would be the ideal time to do it.
Phil: They would have to make sure that the new car design doesn’t deviate too far from the current chassis in order to keep it cost effective.
Mike N.: There isn’t going to be a change to the chassis — it’s purely cosmetic from a competitor standpoint.
Amy: I don’t think another wholesale change is the answer. I say why not make the current car more adjustable, make it look a little more like an off-the-shelf version.
Mike N.: They said the chassis will not change. It is just going to be different sheet metal.
Garrett: I’d like to know more details of the new car design.
Phil: They don’t really have any yet.
Amy: I agree, Garrett. I hope it’s not pony cars.
Phil: What do you want, Amy?
Amy: What NASCAR was built on and meant to be: full-size cars.
Jeff: I think I made my points clear on this last week.
Garrett: I expect the Mustangs and Camaros to be part of the changes they are talking about. Get the brand identity back, and I’m all for that.
Amy: Get the brand identity back with the right cars then.
Mike N.: They aren’t talking about pony cars at all, just making the sheetmetal have more of the characteristics of the street cars. They’re talking about putting creases in the hoods to match the actual cars, making the front end look more like the street cars, like the new Nationwide car does.
Amy: That would be fine. I’d love if they went back to the mid-1990s where the body template also had to fit the street version at most points.
Phil: They want more than that based on what I’ve read, Mike.
Garrett: I hope the changes aren’t too radical, as a die-cast collector all these changes make it expensive for me. If the car changes each year, I feel I have to buy the replica.
Phil: Going to the CoT jacked up prices by $20.
Mike N.: The one change I’d like to see from an engineering standpoint, besides losing everything below the front bumper which will never happen, is get them off of the bump stops. If they got rid of those, it would make a big difference.
Amy: The cars need to be more adjustable and less aero-dependent, but they also need to be they type of car the division has run for 60 years.
Phil: They basically can’t do that anymore, Amy. No one makes those cars anymore. Today we race four-door, mid-size sedans.
Jeff: Interesting quote on Monday from an unnamed source in the auto industry: “NASCAR was not sold on the idea of revamping the look of these (Sprint Cup) cars. But Joe [Balash] pushed hard for it in the Nationwide Series, saying it was important to give those cars a distinct, stock-appearing look. The manufacturers were thrilled with the results, and once NASCAR saw the fan reaction that came with the new Nationwide car, they started thinking seriously about similar changes on the Cup side.” Just goes to show you that it is all about money with The Family.
Mike N.: There’s no question about that, Jeff. It has been for a long time.
Amy: I also think that too many wholesale changes aren’t good for the sport-we’ve seen that. And honestly, if big changes are made, I’d rather see them made with engine packages, not the bodies.
Phil: Smaller Engines? How small do you want to go?
Amy: As small as it takes to dump restrictor plates.
Phil: You’re looking at 4.0 liters, maybe. That isn’t happening.
Jeff: Three-cylinder Geos.
Amy: Not at every track, but separate engines for the big tracks.
Mike N.: I think they could do six cylinders at the superspeedways and get away from the plates.
Jeff: Fuel-injected six cylinder.
Phil: I like the sound of a swarm of bees on track. Seriously, I like watching old-school Busch Grand National races on YouTube.
Jeff: You can still make a six sound throaty.
Mike N.: Not knowing how fuel injection works, can they tweak it to make the plates go away?
Phil: Yes. That was actually one of the big issues against going to fuel injection for so long.
Jeff: They could control the speeds from the tower!
Mike N.: Like a slot-car race!
Garrett: I like the how the body looks for next year.
Jeff: If the Frances see money in it, they will change the cars how they see fit.
Amy: The other thing that needs serious improvement way more than the body is the tire package. There are better places to spend the R&D money than on another body after teams have just learned this one.
Mike N.: It will be good to see some brand identification back in the series. I hope they can make it work without a lot of interference from the rules. By the way Amy, what’s wrong with the tire package now?
Amy: Plenty.
Mike N.: Like?
Amy: Hard as rocks, not enough wear, not enough grip.
Phil: There is a lack of durability these days.
Garrett: Stupid technological advances…
Mike N.: Everyone was screaming when guys would blow tires, now you don’t like it because the tires don’t blow very often?
Amy: Need to go back to the days when tracks chewed up tires before a fuel run was over.
Phil: That only happened at a couple of places, Amy.
Garrett: I don’t want to see tire blowouts, but I would like to see greater fall off in lap times.
Mike N.: You can’t do that because the teams don’t want that.
Jeff: I say Goodyear has been better this year than in the past. And you know I’m the first one to say good riddance to Goodyear.
Amy: A softer tire, with more grip and less durability would make the racing better with fewer fuel-mileage races.
Mike N.: How many fuel-mileage races have we had this year? Three?
Amy: How many in the last three or four years? A lot.
Phil: About that: There have been a lot of late yellows this year.
Garrett: I enjoy a good fuel-mileage race every now and then.
Amy: I do too, Garrett, but most fans complain about them.
Garrett: Fans just like to complain.
Mike N.: There haven’t been nearly that many fuel-mileage races compared to early in the 2000s.
Jeff: Fuel mileage is all part of the game. It’s no different than clock management in the NFL.
Mike N.: When Ryan Newman won Driver of the Year, he won all but two of his races on fuel or tire strategies.
Amy: Here’s the rub: radials are crappy race tires and bias-ply tires can’t hold up to racing conditions these days. So, seems to me, someone needs to be developing a better race tire.
Phil: Radials aren’t bad race tires. What do you want from them? To be infinitely adjustable?
Mike N.: So let’s get this straight. Amy wants the cars to run 150 mph on tires that wear out after 20 laps. Is that about right?
Garrett: That’s a race at the old Darlington.
Mike N.: Or Rockingham or North Wilkesboro. Shorter tracks wear out tires faster.
Jeff: Goodyear Eagle Racing 20s.
Mike N.: I still maintain that they need to develop a soft, medium and hard tire to bring to almost all of the tracks. Make the teams figure out how they want to deal with the compounds and make their own decision about what tire they want to run at which track.

Saturday’s Truck Series finish was one of the closest in NASCAR history. It was also one of the most exciting… but the whole ending remains shrouded in controversy after Kyle Busch’s wheels dipped below the yellow line to pass Aric Almirola. What’s your take on the incident, and did officials make the right “no call” by letting Busch keep the win?

Amy: Actually, that was the first correct yellow line call I have ever seen NASCAR make.
Phil: It looked like Kyle Busch got loose and went down there to recover.
Beth: Like I said in my column, NASCAR made the right decision.
Mike N.: Busch was ahead before his tires went below the line so he wasn’t advancing his position. The right call was made.
Amy: He was ahead of Aric Almirola when his wheels crossed the line.
Garrett: There should be no controversy.
Phil: However, Jimmie Johnson did the same thing in his Twin 125 in 2002 and got black-flagged for it.
Amy: He didn’t advance his position.
Beth: It’s the same thing that happened with Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray in the spring.
Garrett: Busch got hit, and he was sent below the yellow line. There was nothing he could have done different.
Amy: NASCAR gets those calls wrong 99% of the time. They got this one right.
Garrett: Regan Smith, on the other hand, could have backed off or maintained his line. That is the difference.
Mike N.: Smith should have dumped Tony Stewart.
Phil: I’ll agree with that. I have no problem with Kyle keeping the win.
Mike N.: I also don’t think he was below the yellow line. He touched it but I don’t think he went below it.
Amy: Two wheels went over the line. That’s below. Busch was below the line, but he never gained position down there.
Mike N.: It was a great race. As most truck and plate races are.
Amy: Because trucks have the right aero package for a plate race.
Garrett: Anyone that thinks Busch should have the win taken away should also think Junior should have been penalized in the ‘03 spring race at ‘Dega.
Phil: There was a difference there, Garrett. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove himself down there in 2003.
Amy: Look, NASCAR called it right. But once in 10 years isn’t exactly a good track record, and the rule needs to either be revised or enforced by someone who didn’t leave their glasses at home on the nightstand.
Garrett: My point is, I believe a lot of people against Busch on this one are biased. And they need to remember that their driver didn’t get his win taken away.
Amy: My problem with this call, and almost every yellow line call NASCAR has made is this: I cannot honestly say I believe they would have made the same call with the roles reversed. That’s a bigger issue than one correct call.
Garrett: NASCAR needs to get rid of the yellow line rule on the final lap at the very least.
Phil: I’m anti-yellow line rule. Can ISC please get some fieldturf and put it down on the backstretch? And on the skidpad exiting turn 4 and entering turn 1?
Beth: That would take care of it altogether.
Amy: Not really, unless you eliminate the apron altogether, and you can’t do that!
Mike N.: They need to put some spike strips on the yellow line. Touch it and your tires go flat. Anyway, the call at the end of the Truck race was right. I’m glad to see they didn’t screw it up.

OK, predictions for Texas?

Amy: I’m going with Hamlin winning and taking the points lead. He has the best average finish among active drivers at Texas.
Garrett: Johnson. I have to boost my Fronstretch prediction stats.
Beth: Kurt Busch.
Mike N.: Johnson wins for the first of two times in a row as he puts this thing away again.
Phil: I’m going to go with Harvick. I’m pressing my luck.
Jeff: Mark Martin. Just so I don’t pick Carl Edwards and get Mike all fired up!
Mike N.: Ha! Vito will be so pleased.
Garrett: Denny will choke this weekend.
Amy: Denny will put a chokehold on the title this weekend
Garrett: Harvick will complain about something during the race, forget that he is winning, and end up wrecking.
Mike N.: Johnson would have beaten him in the spring if the race was one lap longer. He’ll beat him this weekend.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top Fives Top 10s
Phil Allaway 50 29 5 13 19
Amy Henderson 47 -3 33 3 14 22
Summer Dreyer 29 -21 20 1 10 13
Mike Neff 24 -26 19 2 8 10
Beth Lunkenheimer 19 -31 21 1 9 11
Jeff Meyer 15 -35 20 0 6 11
Kyle Ocker 6 -44 5 0 2 3
Garrett Horton 5 -45 8 1 1 3
Kurt Smith 5 -45 8 0 3 3
Matt Taliaferro 4 -46 4 1 1 2
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -46 3 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 4 -46 4 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 2 -48 3 0 1 2
Tony Lumbis 0 -50 3 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -50 1 0 0 0

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