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)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)
When Phoenix became a fuel-mileage gamble, Denny Hamlin came up the loser, and his 12th-place finish cut Hamlin’s points lead in half. Which driver — Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick — has the best chance of knocking Hamlin off the top spot at Homestead?
Summer: You can’t bet against a four-time champion.
Amy: Anywhere else it would be Jimmie Johnson, but I’m going with Kevin Harvick for two reasons. 1) He’s the best of the three historically at Homestead and 2) He has absolutely nothing to lose.
Mike N.: The obvious answer is Johnson because he can actually do it without any help from Denny Hamlin. Harvick, even if he wins the race, still needs a bunch of help from the other two guys.
Phil: I’m not really sure. Johnson rarely has had to try at Homestead since it was last reconfigured. As a result, he’s an unknown quantity.
Beth: Based on stats alone, it’s Harvick, but 46 points is quite a bit if Hamlin doesn’t have any trouble.
Mike N.: 46 points is a huge amount for him to overcome, but he also has to overcome 31 points to Johnson. The odds of both of them having that bad of a day are pretty slim.
Beth: That’s my biggest hesitation with Harvick, Mike.
Jeff: So, Amy is putting her money on Harvick?
Amy: No, I’m keeping my money on Hamlin. Harvick is going to finish third even if he wrecks the first lap, so he can go balls to the wall all day and not lose anything. Hamlin, and even Johnson, will have to take a slightly more conservative approach.
Phil: If Harvick were to win, he would overcome Johnson if Jimmie finished fifth or worse.
Mike N.: Johnson can’t take a conservative approach. If he leads the most laps and wins the race he wins the title no matter what Hamlin does. Johnson is going to be all out from the drop of the rag on practice on Friday.
Amy: That has never worked for him in the past, Mike. But I think Harvick has a slight advantage over Johnson in being able to beat Hamlin.
Mike N.: It did at Charlotte last year. He won every practice, the pole and the race. He’s going to try and do that again this weekend.
Amy: But not at Homestead.
Mike N.: He hasn’t had to run hard at Homestead since 2005. It is possible he could wear his stuff out, but I am not sure that will happen with that team.
Phil: I agree, Mike. However, what happens if he becomes overaggressive? Possibly runs the tires off the car, or the car goes away late?
Amy: The last time he took that approach, he blew a tire and wrecked. The time before he lost the title as well. Charlotte is his personal playground. Homestead is the playground in the bad neighborhood with broken glass on the slide.
Mike N.: Wow, look at Amy casting aspersions at Homestead. I’m sure the Chamber of Commerce will be displeased with your analysis of their neighborhood.
Beth: Wouldn’t the two be tied in points if Johnson wins and leads the most laps but Hamlin finishes second, Mike? Or is my math wrong again?
Mike N.: I believe he’ll be five points ahead of Hamlin if he does that, Beth.
Phil: All we need for a tie is Johnson winning and Hamlin finishing second (and both leading at least one lap, but not the most).
Mike N.: Wouldn’t it be interesting if Hamlin won in that scenario. Everyone is bitching that wins don’t mean enough and it would be the number of wins that would decide the title.
Summer: A tie would probably be one of the best things that could happen this weekend.
Amy: I don’t know. If there’s a tie, there should be a race-off or something.
Summer: I like how they have the tie right now. Wins are the most important thing when it comes to that.
Amy: A tie would just illustrate what’s wrong with the Chase. Yeah, it would be close, but everyone knows it’s fake.
Beth: Everyone already knows it’s fake.
Jeff: I think Hamlin lost a lot of confidence in his crew chief Sunday. Thought the kid was gonna outright cry on national TV. He was just totally baffled after the race. That will still be in the back of his mind.
Mike N.: Hamlin is definitely a little shaken. If Johnson can come out and win the practices and the pole, I think he’ll really get in Hamlin’s head.
Amy: Based on his past, Hamlin needs to get his head back in the game. He can’t afford a meltdown this time.
Mike N.: No, he can’t Amy, but we’ve seen it happen before and Johnson started playing the mind games as soon as Phoenix was over.
Jeff: In Voices from the Heartland-land, Harvick will be the champion. But in real life, Johnson wins it all.
Amy: I think Harvick could surprise a lot of people this weekend. Nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose.
Mike N.: I think Johnson and the No. 48 team are going to come to Homestead kicking ass, taking names and win the entire weekend like Carl Edwards did in Phoenix.
Jeff: And then Denny cries on national television.
Summer: Hamlin and Johnson tie for the championship, with Hamlin getting the edge. Yes, I really, really want this to happen!
Phil: It’s going to be a close one. I don’t think Johnson’s going to do it, though.
Mike N.: Actually, how about this: Johnson and Hamlin tie for the title and then Hamlin fails post-race inspection, handing the title to Johnson.
Summer: Would NASCAR really take it away?
Mike N.: The rules are what they are. Everyone knows what the game is when they take the green at Daytona in February. I’m not saying NASCAR would do it intentionally. I’m sure it would be from their extensively thorough post-race inspection.
Amy: Mike, that’s ridiculous. If NASCAR wanted to do that, they could have handed Johnson the point lead at Phoenix. I still think Hamlin’s on top when the dust clears… and I still think that sucks, because Harvick earned the most points this year.
Jeff: No you don’t, Amy. You are proud as punch that you called it all at the beginning of the year.
Amy: I like being right, but I hate the process by which I’m about to be right.
Jeff: I cant believe you’re still single!
Phil: How could they have handed the lead to Johnson at Phoenix, Amy? Throw a random bogus yellow after Hamlin pitted.
Amy: Exactly. Trap Hamlin a lap down in 19th, Johnson walks away the leader.
Mike N.: Or, an even better scenario: Hamlin fails pre-race inspection, wins the race and then when the penalties come out on Tuesday it is 150 points and Johnson or Harvick is awarded the title.
Phil: They kinda already did pre-race inspection on the three contenders.
Mike N.: They still have to go through tech in Homestead.
Amy: On the other hand, if a contender’s car fails inspection at some point, shouldn’t NASCAR fine them points?
Mike N.: Yes they should. But just like they do every week, the points penalties come out on Tuesday.
Phil: Or Wednesday, or even Thursday.
Both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports agree that if a crew chief change is coming for the No. 88, it will be in the offseason. Does another change need to be made, and if it does, who is the right guy to right Earnhardt’s ship?
Mike N.: I think there needs to be a change and they need to put Pops Eury back on the box. Unfortunately, he isn’t leaving his gig at JRM.
Phil: I don’t blame Pops for not wanting the headache. Probably someone from outside of Hendrick Motorsports would be best.
Jeff: Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to drive for Richard Childress.
Amy: Agree while-heartedly with Mike and Phil.
Summer: Put Alan Gustafson over there when Mark Martin leaves.
Amy: I don’t think Gustafson is the right choice. I think you need an older guy who doesn’t take any crap.
Mike N.: The right guy for the job is actually Chad Knaus, but Mr. Hendrick ain’t pulling him off of the No. 48.
Phil: So if you can’t have Pops, who fits the bill?
Amy: I’m not sure.
Mike N.: I’d like to see Ray Evernham on the box, but Ray ain’t giving up his sweet gig, either.
Phil: Hendrick loves to hire from within, but they don’t really have any crotchety guys there. The problem with hiring older guys, though, is that a lot of them don’t have much CoT experience.
Summer: Why don’t you get Steve Addington over there? He seems to be a glutton for punishment.
Beth: I’m pretty sure Addington is signed with Penske for a few more years.
Amy: Yeah, but Addington would be a great choice.
Mike N.: Greg Zipadelli would be a good one, too.
Summer: How about Johnson’s car chief, Ron Malec?
Mike N.: Malec is the name being thrown around.
Amy: I don’t think you can put a first-time crew chief up there, though. Junior is too hard on crew chiefs to do that to a guy.
Beth: Agreed, Amy. Junior really needs someone that can keep him in line when he gets upset at a poor handling car. Complaining isn’t going to get the car fixed.
Phil: What about poaching someone like Mike Beam from Roush Fenway?
Amy: My other choice would require a shakeup I don’t see happening… but I’d like to see what Gustafson could do with the No. 24 and relocate Letarte to the No. 88.
Summer: Letarte doesn’t seem to be very popular with Gordon fans. I don’t think Junior Nation would be very accepting of him, which is why Ron Malec would be helpful.
Mike N.: Letarte ain’t done a whole lot of winning on that No. 24 box.
Jeff: Personally, I don’t think anyone can help Junior but Junior. Never thought I’d say this, but Teresa was right: Junior needs to decide if he wants to be a racecar driver or a celebrity.
Mike N.: I’m really not seeing Junior being much of a celebrity these days. His name wasn’t even mentioned on TV during Texas and he hasn’t garnered a lot of publicity in the last year.
Jeff: Bob Osborne wouldn’t take any crap from him, but I don’t want to see Carl lose him.
Amy: Malec has also been with Johnson since he races in ASA. I’m not sure he’d give up that gig for Junior.
Phil: He came along from Herzog Motorsports? If so, maybe he dates back to Johnson’s SODA/CORR days.
Amy: He tells a hilarious story about Jimmie trying to figure out how to drive in snow. He hit a lot of stuff.
Phil: Nobody’s perfect.
Jeff: A lot of people do that in the snow.
Amy: Yeah, but apparently Jimmie did it in rather spectacular fashion.
Mike N.: I also think Pat Tryson would be a great choice if they could lure him away from Waltrip.
Summer: I agree with the decision to change in the offseason, but I don’t think a first-time crew chief could necessarily be a bad thing.
Amy: I’d love to see a veteran up there who takes no crap. Someone like Addington, Tryson, or Jimmy Fennig would be interesting.
Jeff: Junior’s been in the “best” equipment for how many years now? Going to Hendrick was supposed to save his career and highlight his talents, but I haven’t seen it yet. It leaves one glaring possibility: he’s just ain’t that good. Occam’s Razor.
Summer: Yeah, but look at Jamie McMurray when he was with Roush. You could have made the same argument with him and look at him now.
Jeff: Jamie had a good year. He isn’t exactly an “elite” driver yet.
Summer: I didn’t say he was elite. My point is, chemistry makes a difference and Junior doesn’t seem to be happy with his position.
Mike N.: I think McGrew and Junior could win if they stay together, but I think it would be better for Junior to have another person on the box. The bottom line, unfortunately, is that unless they change the specs with the new car and get them off of the bump stops I don’t think Junior is going to win a lot in the future.
Amy: Junior has never figured out the new cars and I don’t think he’s trying. He keeps trying to make them handle like the old car instead of adjusting his driving.
Mike N.: Junior and Gordon have both struggled mightily since the new car came around. It requires you to drive a loose racecar to be fast, and apparently, they must not do that very well.
Amy: I don’t think that’s it, Mike. Junior used to drive the old car pretty loose.
Phil: I don’t think Gordon was struggling in 2007 with it.
Jeff: They’ll just get it figured out by the end of 2012 and BAM! NASCAR’ll go and change the car again!
Carl Edwards’s victory celebration at Phoenix included a visit to the stands, and other drivers have come up with impromptu celebrations as well. Should NASCAR place a limit on what a driver can do to celebrate, or are celebrations like Edwards’s needed to increase fan/driver interaction in the sport?
Beth: I thought Carl’s celebration was great… it made me smile. There’s no real reason for NASCAR to even step in on a driver’s victory celebration.
Jeff: Carl loves to be with his fans.
Summer: Oh yeah, let’s have NASCAR implement another rule. This time, enforcing something like celebrating… yeah, great idea!
Amy: The only limit should be not allowing to do something on top of the car that would cause it to flunk post-race inspection.
Phil: I’m fine with what Carl’s doing. It’s not like he’s simulating dropping trou. Jeremy Mayfield learned that the hard way.
Mike N.: Seriously? Why the hell would they limit celebrations? For goodness sake, it is a win and you should be able to do whatever you want.
Amy: I liked Carl’s foray. It was perhaps a little dangerous, but no more so than his day job.
Summer: Carl is one of those drivers that actually makes an effort to connect with fans. He could probably earn himself a few more that way. He might not want to do that if he ever wins at Talladega, though. Those people frighten me greatly.
Mike N.: Imagine Junior going into the stands at Talladega. They wouldn’t see him again for a week.
Jeff: Why? Because he’s such a celebrity, Mike?
Phil: If Dale Jr. went in the stands at Talladega, some woman would rip his uniform off. It’d be a mess.
Jeff: Well, he’s got to win first!
Amy: What I don’t want to see is NFL-type celebrations that disrespect the other teams or the fans.
Phil: That is why I referenced the trou dropping.
Amy: Yeah, mooning the crowd might be in poor taste.
Mike N.: I’m not sure simulated mooning is so bad.
Phil: It got Randy Moss fined for the NFL’s equivalent of violating Section 12-1.
Amy: I don’t know, Mike, I don’t see a need for simulated mooning. But it would be better than real mooning!
Mike N.: As long as nudity isn’t involved, I’m pretty good with it.
Phil: I don’t think I’d want to see any drivers’ butt cheeks, thank you very much.
Jeff: I’ve seen Carl in spandex bike shorts several times!
Mike N.: Although I could live without the Kurt Busch snow angel, too. I understood it, but it just didn’t work for me.
Amy: That one was lame.
Summer: It was lame, but NASCAR shouldn’t enforce a rule against it.
Amy: And I hate Kyle’s condescending little bow.
Beth: Love it or hate it, that’s how he likes to celebrate.
Mike N.: I love Kyle’s bow. It isn’t condescending. He’s taking a bow after a successful performance, just like an actor.
Phil: Kyle Busch as a thespian. Interesting.
Amy: The only restrictions should be on anything that compromises the car passing tech or something that truly endangers driver, crew or fans.
Mike N.: Be careful with that one, Amy. I’m pretty sure back flipping off of a car is endangering a driver.
Amy: I meant, like, Jimmy Spencer shouldn’t be swan diving into a pit crew.
Jeff: But, NASCAR already has restricted celebrations: You can’t knock stuff off your car in victory lane, even if it is a direct competitor to your sponsor.
Beth: They don’t even need to regulate something that compromises the car. That oughta be a driver’s choice… they know the penalty and they take the risk.
Jeff: Kyle Busch would be afraid to go in the stands.
Summer: He should never go in the stands. He’d probably end up with a black eye.
Beth: More like a pair of them, Summer.
Amy: Some chick in a checkered flag bikini and a Junior tattoo would kick his ass.
NASCAR’s latest plan for the Nationwide Series is to let any driver run the whole schedule, but to make drivers running a full Cup and NNS schedule declare in February which championship they will be eligible for. Will this move legitimize the Nationwide title or make it a comedy of errors?
Summer: Not a lot of Cup drivers run for the Nationwide title, anyway.
Mike N.: It will not make much of a difference but it will be fun to explain how the guy that has scored the most points in the series is not going to win the title should that happen. I think all it will do is eliminate the people flying from California to Wisconsin for the double.
Jeff: It would clear the way for Elliott Sadler to win next year, for sure.
Beth: Well, at least Nationwide drivers would have a chance at the championship, but it’s not like they’ll get much more attention because the Cup guys will still be winning the races.
Amy: I don’t think it does what it’s supposed to. Fans can calculate points, and while a real points champion is nice, a part of me also says that that’s as fake as the Chase.
Phil: It’ll make the series a mess. You’ll have different colors for names in the scroll all year. Fans who aren’t diehards will be confused as all heck.
Jeff: So why not have a fake champion in the Nationwide Series? It gets them prepared for the big leagues!
Amy: Beth’s right. The Cup guys will still get all the TV coverage with maybe the occasional nod to the point leader.
Summer: That’s something I wish would change. I wish the sponsors and car owners would discourage running more than one series. There are certain drivers you just don’t see running more than one series, and I can’t help but wonder how much of a say their sponsors and owners have in that.
Mike N.: Are they also going to prevent the owner’s championship from going to a team that has drivers not running for the title drive their car?
Amy: I haven’t heard that, Mike. They should, of course, so they probably won’t.
Mike N.: I can’t think there would be a way to do it. Unless they just didn’t count points for Cup drivers toward the owners’ title.
Amy: Sure there is: If the Cup guy is ineligible for points, make the car owner ineligible as well. If the points are earned by an ineligible driver, no points to the owner. That would encourage sponsors and manufacturers to rethink their position.
Mike N.: As long as they’re getting the TV time when the Cup guy is in the car… that is all they are interested in.
Amy: It would also keep the Cup drivers from being locked in every week, which I’m all for.
Mike N.: I’m good with that, too, although I can’t imagine a Cup driver having a hard time qualifying for a Nationwide race.
Jeff: So Amy, you still gonna be mad at Carl when he wins a NW race if they make that change?
Mike N.: She will unless he is in a car that he owns.
Amy: I still don’t think he belongs there. He might have more than one Cup win in the last 70 races if he concentrated on that ride.
Summer: It made a difference to Hamlin when he stopped running so many NNS races. It’s kind of hard to make that argument for Harvick, though. He consistently runs all three series and does very well in all of them. Same for Kyle Busch, but to a lesser extent. He’s kind of streaky in Cup.
Mike N.: True, Summer, but Harvick doesn’t do the doubles unless the two races are at the same track.
Amy: True, but then look at Johnson. He concentrates only on Cup and is a four-time champion. Maybe he’s got something there. Or maybe he doesn’t have to prove himself in a development series…
Summer: I don’t think they’re trying to prove themselves. They’ve more than done that.
Amy: I don’t look at it like that, Summer. The Cup champions don’t need to prove anything running over the NNS guys. Obviously some guys do.
Mike N.: I agree with Summer. I think they just like to race.
Amy: I still say take away the money and the TV time and see how much they still love it. Put them in the No. 49 car and see how much they love it.
Mike N.: Kyle Busch drove Trucks for Billy Ballew for nothing.
Amy: Put him in the worst car in the field and see if he still loves it so much.
Mike N.: I’m pretty sure other guys get in Ballew’s trucks and don’t win as often as Kyle. Maybe he’s just a good driver.
Summer: There’s some that I don’t think would, but I’m pretty sure guys like Edwards and Brad Keselowski would.
Amy: Loving to win is not the same as loving to race.
Summer: I thought winning was kind of the point of racing.
Jeff: Amen, Summer!
Amy: The guys who really love it go out every week knowing they have no chance of winning or probably even finishing in the top 10.
Jeff: Give it a rest, Amy.
Beth: So suddenly because a driver has a great truck, he doesn’t really love it since he knows he can compete for the win?
Summer: How about when Brad Coleman and Matt DiBenedetto get in the No. 20 and No. 18 cars? I don’t see them doing the same thing as Joey and Kyle do with those cars. I think they’re good drivers.
Mike N.: I’m not sure there are too many drivers anywhere that want to climb into a car that doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning.
Amy: Yet plenty do it every week, Mike.
Summer: There are a lot of former Cup greats who are still competing in Cup and Nationwide because they just love it.
Amy: I’m saying I’d like to see if they would be willing to race the worst car in the field with half a pit crew and used tires off the trash heap every single week. That’s love.
Summer: That’s trying to make it. That’s survival, not love.
Mike N.: Right. That’s either trying to get noticed or doing something because you don’t want to get a real job.
Amy: Mike, that’s BS. That’s racing because you love it and it’s either do that or don’t race. I’m pretty sure Kenny Wallace doesn’t do it because he doesn’t want a real job.
Jeff: That’s just your perspective, Amy. Not the facts.
Amy: Neither is your perspective, Jeff.
Jeff: Fact is, neither you nor I, unless we are the person, know why they do it.
Summer: I guarantee you those drivers with half a pit crew and a back-marker ride would leave as soon as someone offered them something better. And I don’t think there’s a driver out there who doesn’t love to race.
Amy: I never said they didn’t.
Mike N.: What the hell else would Kenny do if he wasn’t racing?
Phil: Heck, Kenny’s got a contract to do SPEED through the end of next year, I think.
Amy: Exactly. He doesn’t need another job.
Mike N.: That’s not a real job.
Summer: Kenny loves to race just as much as Kyle does.
Phil: If he retired from driving, he could expand his role on TV. It’s a job. It requires work.
Mike N.: It is still racing and it lets him get in that bad car every week. And I still promise you if Roush came calling Kenny wouldn’t say, “Nah, I’m going to stay in the No. 28.”
Amy: I bet Kyle wouldn’t have raced that car all year.
Mike N.: I bet if Kyle had race it, he’d have scored a lot more points than Kenny.
Amy: I wouldn’t be so sure. Kyle would have pitched a fit about how bad it was and the crew wouldn’t have been able to communicate over the whining.
Summer: Again, I’m sure Kenny loves to race but that’s also survival mode.
Beth: If Kenny were offered the spot Carl has, would you lose respect for Kenny?
Amy: Depends, Beth. If he had a $25 million Cup ride and a $20 million NNS ride, I’d wonder how fair that was.
Mike N.: The only reason Kenny races on that budget is because he can and that is the only way he can get in a car. Kyle would have made that car better. They may have lost crew members and gone through some stuff, but I promise that car would be better.
Summer: And I’m not sure Kyle would totally reject that ride if he didn’t already have another one.
Mike N.: I’m pretty sure Kyle would take that ride if it was his only option.
Summer: What about drivers like Michael McDowell who does both Cup and NNS? And actually does start-and-park rides sometimes in both? Is there a loss of respect there?
Amy: No, Summer, I have a ton of respect for McDowell.
Beth: I just don’t get the big fuss. If the team and sponsor want the driver and the driver loves to race, then more power to them! Who cares if they race in multiple series?
Summer: I’m the same way, Beth. It doesn’t really bother me.
Beth: Sure, I’m not crazy about seeing Kyle Busch win in the Truck Series, but it’s even better when one of the Truck Series regulars come out on top when he’s in the field.
Phil: The idea is that the Nationwide Series is supposed to have its own identity. If Cup drivers are full-time, then that identity is lost.
Amy: And on top of that, it makes it nearly impossible for the NNS guys to gain that identity.
Jeff: Trevor Bayne seemed to get noticed.
Mike N.: I like to see great racecar drivers race and I don’t care what they’re driving or where.
Summer: If that’s the case, Amy, then Kyle shouldn’t compete in the Snowball Derby or anything else because then no one else exists.
Phil: Now, it’s a small group of Cup drivers, and seemingly whoever else shows up that weekend. We have 150 drivers a year starting races.
Amy: I love to watch Olympians compete, but that doesn’t mean they belong in competitions against beginners.
Mike N.: The Nationwide Series doesn’t have an identity anymore because you can’t make enough money running in it and there aren’t any spots for drivers to move into when they’re developed in the Nationwide Series.
How about some predictions for Homestead?
Amy: I’m going to go with Edwards winning the race and Hamlin taking home the title.
Beth: Greg Biffle.
Summer: I’m going with Edwards winning back-to-back and making the title run even more interesting.
Mike N.: Johnson wins the race and the title. On a side note, Dale Jr. finishes 24th.
Jeff: Juablo steals the show!
Phil: Biffle’s a good pick. However, I’m going with Matt Kenseth. I need to score a top five to take this title from Amy.
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||-51||3||0||1||2|