NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Schedule Slash, Middle Class Mediocrity And A Cautionary Tale

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*:
Tom Bowles “(Mondays: Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays: Did You Notice)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/359/
Amy Henderson “(Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays / Top News)

*After the fastest Coca-Cola 600 on record, runner-up Denny Hamlin and third-place finisher Kyle Busch said that they believed the lack of cautions is due mainly to drivers having learned the limits of the new cars, along with their fellow drivers competing within those limits. Is this assessment a fair one?*

Phil: Sure, it’s fair. I believe Ryan Newman said something very similar on Thursday. Honestly, that’s not exactly a bad thing.
Kevin: That’s probably a good part of it. Certainly makes some sense.
Amy: I think it’s fair. Plus, they’re very conscious of the importance of saving equipment. They aren’t going to go out and wreck each other if they can avoid it, period.
Tom: Right. What those drivers are saying to me is that everyone is driving not to crash, which drivers of their talent and experience can do. It’s just never happened in a way we can see so… publicly. This point system affords a good third of the field to run comfortably. And that’s exactly what they’re doing… running top 10, within reason, not taking unnecessary chances if they can’t win because risks cost them too many points.

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Denny Hamlin is no longer looking over his shoulder… because the Sprint Cup field appears to be racing “not to wreck.” The big question is… why?

Beth: These drivers are among the best around, so it makes perfect sense that they’d be able to race without wrecking each other.
Kevin: If these drivers are supposed to be among the best in the world, I’d rather see them drive like they are.
Amy: Plus, Hamlin had a point… you can’t count on a mulligan any more. If another driver doesn’t make a mistake, you don’t get it back if you take risks and finish 35th. The whole thing got me thinking about teams like Junior and Harvick’s. Junior’s in particular because they’re stabled with the No. 48 who have the Chase down to a science… could some teams already be in test mode for the Chase, as sad as that is?
Beth: You’re probably right about that, Amy. But the Chase brought that on, and it won’t change as long as there’s a Chase.
Phil: Technically, if you really want to go down that road, every time the car hits the track is “test mode.” You can learn something about your car every time it turns a wheel. People can learn things without even trying to learn anything.
Amy: Right, but are they so focused on testing that they will not risk the car going for a win?
Beth: Pretty much. It’s sad but true and it won’t change.
Kevin: Certainly not this early in the season these days.
Amy: No, Beth, it won’t change. And you can’t blame the teams for doing what they have to with the system they’re given.
Beth: Now if you’ve got a driver outside the top 12 that has a shot at making the Chase with a handful remaining before it starts, you better believe they’ll go for broke and try to get in on wins.
Phil: You sure it’s just teams not wanting to risk it, or the fact that Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 was legitimately better than anyone else late in the race? I don’t think anyone could have caught him.
Amy: Maybe not, Phil, and I do think that’s true most weeks, that one team just hits it… but perhaps the other teams are letting that happen instead of pushing the envelope for the win.
Beth: What I don’t understand is why NASCAR won’t change it. They act like they want to fix things and give the fans better racing, yet they won’t award a substantial bonus for winning, so what’s the point?
Amy: Because changing it would mean admitting they were doing it wrong.
Beth: But Amy, the best part of making a mistake and acting like an adult is knowing when to admit you were wrong and doing _something_ to fix it.
Phil: At the very least, they should bring back the last points system. It didn’t hurt quite as much to have a bad day with that.
Tom: I think the key word continues to be “comfortable.” What Kasey Kahne said to us Sunday night that got me thinking was how he used to overdrive the car, because he had such little experience on the Cup level. But now, he doesn’t do that because he’s a veteran with almost a decade under his belt. And then, when I stopped to think about it… that’s the _entire_ Cup Series right now. Remember, we haven’t had a rookie with full-time impact since Joey Logano in ’09.
Beth: And that’s probably a lot of it too, Tom. I mean we don’t really have very many drivers in decent equipment that don’t have a ton of experience.
Tom: Right. With the exception of Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, and Danica Patrick – when she races – everyone else is looking at well over 100 Cup starts. People have the veteran experience of car control, know these cars and most importantly – many of them are not being pushed right now. With a combination of what we’ve just said here about the regular season being a test session for the Chase (Johnson, cough, Johnson) and the reality, because of the sponsorship climate, on-track performance or otherwise no one is in _position_ to take their ride. So they’re comfortable… they all have their wins, for the most part. They have their millions. They’re racing comfortable. And it shows.
Kevin: That’s a very good point that hadn’t even occurred to me. With the lack of rookies or downright younger drivers, these drivers just aren’t going to make what we call “rookie mistakes” these days. That’s gotta be somewhat of a factor.
Amy: That’s true, Tom. With the possible exception of Danica Patrick, we don’t have drivers needing to learn and doing something silly while they do. As I’ve said before, if NASCAR wants to emphasize winning, they’d reassign the point fund to the race purses and give the champion a pretty trophy and a trip to Vegas instead of that huge bonus… and the rest of the top teams, too.
Tom: I just think… when Kasey said that, a light bulb went off. Because it’s been the same group of people, up front for a good 4-5 years now. When we had that in the ’70s, well… some of those superstars were racing for a paycheck, to survive. Not these guys. They’ve all won their fair share… and you can’t contend for a championship, in a sense before the playoffs start. So the Chase is promoting a culture of just riding… there’s no “young gun” (that this sport loves to say) stirring the pot.
Amy: Well, I’m talking about the race winner of every event taking home a million bucks, and no money for year-end points.
Beth: Works for me, Amy.
Phil: Amy, you’re basically advocating ditching points in general and making Cup like the PGA Tour before they introduced the FedEx Cup.
Amy: Not at all… there would still be plenty of prestige for being the champion.
Tom: I think there can be a good compromise between what we have now and what Amy suggests. Remember the Winston Million? That bonus needs to be brought back in some form. That would help.
Phil: Speaking of extra big bucks, is Sprint bringing back that Challenge they had last summer, the $3 million thing?

Tom: I think so, but am not 100% certain, Phil. With the points, minimizing the payouts… Amy has had that solution in the bag for awhile, we’ve talked about it and there are days I really like it. And there are days I still think points should matter, to some degree… just not the degree they do now.
Amy: But as far as the drivers playing by the rule book right now, nobody is doing anything wrong. They’re racing their asses off, and not wrecking while doing it. I’m pretty sure that’s actually their job.
Phil: If we did Amy’s system, Beth, it’d be something like an extra $220,000 a race to hand out. Definitely not worth sneezing at, and it would soften the championship quite a bit.
Amy: Again, the prestige of being champion wouldn’t go away, only the money. It would be more than that, Phil… remember, the top 25 teams get year-end payouts.
Beth: Plus, you could offer maybe first pit stall selection to the champion for each race the following season or something like that. The money doesn’t have to be the ultimate end goal. And I still maintain that we don’t need cautions to have good racing…
Tom: Well the Indy 500, looking back on Sunday was not defined by its cautions. It was defined by its competition. Even if Sato hadn’t spun out on that final lap, we would still be talking about it. But there was enough action, a wreck or two to the point people were unsure that something would happen. That’s where crashes play a part. People don’t watch for the wrecks… but at the same time, they add to the unpredictability that makes racing worth watching.
Phil: We don’t really need cautions for good racing, but it’s hard to see good racing when someone runs away and hides.
Beth: Maybe we wouldn’t see good racing for the lead, but there are 42 other drivers out there (OK, 36 or so with start and parkers) that can still put on one heck of a race.
Tom: You know the other key to Indy? People could close in on the leader and pass them without their handling being affected. Driving skill, not aerodynamics was defining that… people were using the draft to their advantage. These are all things we didn’t see in Sunday’s 600. Passing shouldn’t be as difficult as it is.
Phil: They had a heck of a draft with the new aerodynamic package at Indianapolis. Cannot discount that. Definitely made the race more exciting. The past couple Indianapolis 500’s have been quite boring.

*Rusty Wallace has one proposed solution to the drop in ratings and fan interest: reduce the number of races on the Sprint Cup schedule. Do you agree?*

Amy: Yes, 100% Provided the races cut were the right races, all 1.5-mile tracks and a few other tweaks were made. It’s supply and demand. Look at Fontana… attendance did go up slightly when they dropped the second race.
Kevin: I definitely think it should happen, although I’m not convinced that it’ll fix the fan interest/ratings issues. But reducing the schedule is definitely a plus.
Tom: A couple of years ago, Rusty might have had a point. Erase the more boring intermediates… drop the second date at Kansas we have now, for example. Drop one at Michigan. I could see us losing a few more. But now, in 2012 we’ve seen the racing struggle everywhere… so reducing demand won’t help balance the supply if the quality fails to improve.

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Could empty seats like these be the result of an oversaturated schedule? Rusty Wallace certainly thinks so, recommending NASCAR drops four dates from the Cup slate going forward.

Phil: Uh, no, Tom, dropping places like Kansas wouldn’t happen. Historically, NASCAR wouldn’t cut 1.5-mile races off the schedule themselves. Don’t think they’ve ever done it before (Atlanta was an SMI shift). You’d see stuff like Darlington and Martinsville lose races before Kansas. The Ethanol thing has made Kansas even more important now than ever before.
Amy: Swap Darlington and Atlanta’s dates, too… it just needs to happen. I think it would help single race attendance at some tracks. It would certainly help the smaller race teams. For that matter, more media would be at fewer races, I think.
Tom: Rusty wanted to cut four dates. What tracks would you guys lose? I’d drop one at Michigan, one at Kansas, cut Chicagoland altogether (it’s just not working out) and … I have to think on the fourth.
Amy: I’d drop one at Kansas, Kentucky, Chicagoland and one at Michigan.
Phil: Kentucky’s only had one race. Next month, we’ll see if Bruton’s infrastructure fixes help out things.
Beth: Why not drop one at Texas? It’s a mile-and-a-half track that for the most part just doesn’t put on a race that’s all that exciting.
Tom: Beth, those other races are also arguable to drop because of attendance… Texas, I think would be the fourth if it wasn’t for the fact so many people show up. And I’ll be honest, I love Dover and it is one of my home tracks but the attendance there too has dropped considerably. The Monster Mile has to have better competition, like back in the day and tires that give otherwise they’d be the fourth – as much as I hate to say that.
Amy: As usual, I never even thought about attendance… just the racing, because that’s how the decision should be made.
Beth: Really? Did you not see the picture that I sent out on Twitter from TMS last November? It was despicable to see such a _huge_ gap in the stands on the frontstretch.
Tom: I’m not going to argue with you on that, Beth. But Texas has more grandstand capacity than some of these other places. So you may see big gaps in the stands but the sheer numbers alone are still well over 100,000.
Kevin: I think Texas could stand to lose one. I’m not so sold on Pocono having two, either.
Amy: If they cut one at Pocono, I think Dover would see an upswing in attendance.
Beth: I may be in the minority, but I really enjoy the Pocono races, so I’m alright with them keeping two. Besides, they’re one of the few tracks that’s still family owned.
Phil: In Dover’s case, they overbuilt the place and the Monster Bridge made roughly 35,000 seats useless.
Amy: Didn’t Dover take out seats this year?
Tom: I think they’re trying to reduce capacity. By the way, attendance at Charlotte, at least for the Nationwide race was despicable. They said 45,000, it looked like 15,000 in the stands. Cup was more reasonable… it was still nowhere close to 140,000 though.
Beth: There was a time when they could fill up Texas, Tom. But that was back in the days when there was good racing going on there. It’s changed so much the last few years with the CoT.
Tom: OK, attendance at Texas for 2012 was listed at 159,200. That’s more than this year’s Daytona 500.
Amy: If it’s accurate. NASCAR likes to overinflate their atttendance estimates.
Tom: OK, well I just looked it up. Texas is the number one attended race all year. That makes it hard, in my mind to cut from two dates to one even though the racing has struggled. When you have numbers that good… you don’t cut the most popular racetrack out there people are paying to see.
Beth: NASCAR.com lists grandstand capacity at 159,585. There’s no way there were less than 600 empty seats, and you’re fooling yourself if you believe that.
Amy: Back on topic. Overall, I have been saying for a long time that less would be more in terms of the schedule. the problem is, does anyone trust NASCAR to make the right decision when cutting it down?

Tom: Honestly, and I know this sounds strange but only two off weeks has been one of the best things for NASCAR this season. A lot of people watch certain sports or sporting events out of force of habit. Remove that obligation…
Amy: But what if they had an off week after Richmond? Wouldn’t that only make the Chase better because the teams would have more prep and rest?
Tom: Ditching Chicagoland would do that. The Chase would be shortened to nine races, perfect since you’re shortening the schedule.
Phil: If NASCAR were to do that, could we kill the Chase too? That might be hurting the series more than anything right now.
Tom: I bet a number of fans would agree with you, Phil. By the way, the other thing people forget about when reporting attendance, too… that number counts all of the RVs and people camping in the infield, who don’t necessarily have a seat in the grandstands. In the past, Texas attendance has been close to 200,000.
Beth: There were some pretty large spaces between the motorhomes in the infield from where I saw it, but I’ll give you the actual figures as to why they wouldn’t drop that date. Sadly, the quality of racing (which is what should ultimately matter when dropping events) doesn’t deserve it.
Tom: Again, at this point I think the quality of competition is what matters most here. Cutting the schedule is semantics when you’re discussing “boring” racing at places like Bristol and Richmond.
Amy: The quality of competition _does_ matter… cutting the worst races would be a step in the right direction.
Tom: Yeah but you need top-notch races to focus on and build around… let’s work on getting the cars right first. When NASCAR was growing in the early 2000s, no one seemed to care about 36 races.
Amy: But we’re not talking about cutting top-notch races, we’re talking about weeding out the chaff.

*Richard Petty Motorsports has two teams inside the top 20, both winless in 2012 while Chip Ganassi Racing has one. Can a so-called “second-tier” team break through and make the Chase?*

Amy: No, they can’t. A year ago, I thought they had a chance. Now, even Chip Ganassi, a team with more money and resources than RPM has no prayer… another problem in the sport today.
Kevin: Doubt it. Would be cool to see, but I just don’t see any of them making a charge to get up into the Chase at this point barring a real tear.
Tom: Well, RPM would be in decent shape with Ambrose if they had brought Mike Ford on, say in early March. And yes, I know he crew chiefs for Aric Almirola but his presence seems to have helped organize that two-car team.

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When your season starts with this explosion, well… it’s kind of hard to recover. No wonder Ganassi’s struggling…

Phil: At this point, they’re nearly two races out of 10th in points. They’re not getting in unless they start winning like right now.
Beth: It’s going to take multiple wins for them to make the Chase, and I’m not convinced either team is quite ready for that, yet.
Tom: To be honest, there aren’t that many “second-tier” teams. Michael Waltrip Racing has to still be considered one… right now, they’re the only guys with a shot.
Amy: I don’t think MWR is second tier any more. They have the money.
Tom: I think the lines right now are very blurred. Like, for example do you refer to Stewart-Haas Racing as second tier? Technically, they only have two cars. The top six: Hendrick, Roush, Penske, Gibbs, and Childress (with Stewart-Haas Racing, if you consider them separate from Hendrick) appear to stand out. They have 17 full-time cars on the grid.
Amy: I don’t care about car count, they spend the money. It’s money and sponsorship, not number of cars.
Tom: Well, who else is there? MWR (3 cars), Ganassi (2 cars), RPM (2 cars)… then you’ve got JTG (1 car), Furniture Row (1 car), Phoenix (1 car – only listed because of Kurt Busch). That’s 27 of your 43 cars on the grid… I would argue no one else has a chance in you-know-what of making the Chase. Front Row (2), TBR (2), Fas Lane (1), Germain (1), BK Racing (2). There’s your 35. Personally, I would still consider MWR second-tier because they haven’t made the Chase yet.
Amy: And right there, I think we hit the nail on the head with the ratings and attendance issues. Why pony up that kind of money if you’ve known since Daytona that half the field has no chance?
Phil: Looking at the points right now, there appear to be a different set of “tiers” forming amongst drivers. The top 4 (Biffle, Kenseth, Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr.) are Tier 1. 5-12 (Johnson, Truex, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Stewart, Edwards, Keselowski and Bowyer) are Tier 2. Tier 3 is Menard, Newman, Kahne (charging at the moment), Burton and Logano. Tier 4 is where Montoya, Almirola, Ambrose and McMurray are (those drivers are separated by 10 points).
Tom: I think what Phil is pointing out is just how far the second-tier guys have to climb. Right now, Ganassi just doesn’t have the resources or the top-tier equipment. And they’re coming off a massive offseason personnel overhaul. Again, the hope lies with MWR, who has never made the Chase _and_ struggled to get sponsorship in the past until this year. Remember, until recently Bowyer had a ton of races unsponsored.
Amy: Michael Waltrip also has more sponsors than God.
Tom: Uh huh. You know, they’re still trying to back some of the races Vickers is going to run. Sponsorship doesn’t make them solely top tier. It’s a combination of money and past performance to me.
Amy: I think current performance trumps past.
Phil: For the sake of this argument, we’ll consider Vickers’ race at Martinsville to be unsponsored.
Amy: Bottom line, there is a clear line between teams with a chance to get into the Chase and those who have no chance. There is no in between and that’s bad for the sport.
Tom: Ganassi and Richard Petty Motorsports are acting like the second-tier teams they are. If you want to root for an underdog this summer, your best bet is MWR, if you still consider them second-tier (which I do).

Phil: Heck, we had more teams that could have gotten in the Chase last year than this year is shaping up to look like.
Tom: Martin Truex, Jr. is going to be the little Chase hope that could. But I even see cracks in the armor there… he was so frustrated on the radio Sunday, to the point I thought he was going to send out an S.O.S. signal. Zero wins and less than 40 points ahead of 11th isn’t good enough right now. Dover is huge for him.
Phil: RPM qualified great this past weekend and Ambrose definitely could have finished in the top 10 had his hub not failed.
Amy: I was at a function on Friday and someone said something that really made sense to me. She said it’s not Junior’s losing streak that’s making fans tune out. They still get to see him for a huge part of the broadcast. There was a man there from Australia who said he doesn’t watch the races anymore because they never show his driver, Marcos Ambrose. How many other fans are not watching because they don’t see their favorite drivers?
Phil: Ambrose will need to put together a bunch more runs like the one he had on Sunday. Almirola is starting to show signs of improvement.
Amy: Ambrose did have a good run, but the “wild card” is already going to come down to multiple wins. If Ambrose wins both road courses, he might have a very outside shot, if he can stay in the top 20.
Phil: Also, I have noticed that MWR is starting to drop off. Bowyer’s back to 12th in points now and Martin had an engine failure at Charlotte. He’s been very quiet the past couple of weeks.

*CWTS regular Joey Coulter finished tenth in his Nationwide debut Saturday. He’s currently tenth in the CWTS standings as well, but has no more NNS races planned at this time. Will a full NNS stable at RCR become a roadblock to Coulter’s future?*

Amy: Maybe. If Childress isn’t willing to yank his Cup guys from a car, it will. But anyway, Ty Dillon is likely first in line for a NNS ride if he has a halfway decent season, or in 2014 at the latest. If RCR fields four cars and Ty Dillon goes to the No. 21, where does that leave Coulter?
Beth: I don’t think it’s a real problem for Coulter at this point. He’s only in his sophomore season in Trucks and doesn’t have a win yet. Plus, he scored his first top 10 of the year last weekend and would really benefit from more time in a lower series before moving up. And I’d agree that Ty Dillon is more likely to move up first. I’ve been impressed with him so far, but with only five races under our belts, there’s so much that can change. He’s had the best start by a rookie since 2001, and that was some pretty impressive driving he did at Daytona.

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Joey Coulter’s strong Nationwide Series debut – where he finished 14th – has many wondering if he’s ready to move up sooner than expected.

Tom: I think Coulter is developing at a nice pace. His run in the Truck Series has been really impressive… and he had a good Nationwide start on Saturday. If Childress can keep him, full-time in Trucks while the Dillon brothers move forward… and it takes another year or two to move into the Nationwide Series… what’s the big deal?
Phil: I do believe that Coulter will be hurt by a continued insistence in keeping the No. 33 as a home for Cup drivers and other various part-timers for Nationwide. Of course, that’s depending on whether Elliott Sadler could win a title and possibly go back to Cup.
Amy: I don’t see a home for Sadler opening up in Cup, Phil.
Beth: And that’s not a bad thing because I do think he’s a good driver to have in the series.
Amy: I agree with that. I think it would be great if a few young, talented drivers decided to make each of these two lower series a career and really see what they could do with it. For example, you could go after Hornaday’s records. It would be great for NASCAR.
Phil: Here’s the thing. Will potentially spending five years in the trucks hurt Coulter’s progression? Could he simply get jaded and fall off and never get to full-time in Nationwide? Best case, Coulter’s probably looking at another year or two in Trucks if Childress can afford it before being able to do anything. Ty will move up to Nationwide when Austin goes to Cup, and maybe Coulter will get Ty’s truck when Ty goes to Nationwide.
Amy: I think five years in a development series will give team owners pause if it’s a driver who doesn’t intend to stay there.
Phil: So perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the series to have another Rick Crawford around. However, he was much older than Coulter when he entered the series (35-ish, I think, after a long career of late models in the Southeast). Also, what would the Camping World Truck Series even look like in five years? Would they even still be racing pick ’em up trucks?
Tom: Childress has been practicing patience with the Dillon boys, and it’s been paying off. Two years in each series is perfect for development in their cases… and if it’s three or four with Coulter, that’s fine too.
Amy: Tom, that should be industry standard, but it’s not anymore.
Beth: Agreed. There’s absolutely no problem with him spending more time in Trucks if he needs it. In fact, I like that better than rushing him through the ranks much more quickly.
Phil: Childress is in a position where he isn’t pressed to move either one of them up too quick. It’s a good place to be.
Amy: But the reality is that future owners could look at it more like “He’s been in trucks for five years and RCR hasn’t moved him up by now. What’s wrong with him?” And if Coulter’s labeled as damaged goods, truth or not, he’s screwed.
Phil: I referenced Crawford earlier. Here’s a question. Did Crawford intend on staying in the series for a decade, or was Cup the overall goal for him? I think he might have gotten one chance to ever qualify for a Cup race in his entire career (he DNQ’d). That’s what I really fear here. Coulter will probably leave RCR in 2 years if he’s still in Trucks. That’s my opinion. By that point, I’d like to think that he would have won a couple of races.
Amy: I think Crawford was content in the CWTS. He had a really good deal with Circle Bar when he was doing a diary for us and seemed to be happy with that deal.
Phil: Plus, he was operating for the better part of 20 years (back to his All-Pro days) as a de facto owner/driver (Yeah, Tom Mitchell owned the team, but he stayed back in Ozona).
Amy: I don’t think Crawford’s ultimate goal was Cup.
Tom: I think the bigger issue we’re dancing around with Coulter here is his lack of available choices. It used to be, in the past there were several car owners out there that could provide options for promising drivers. Like, for example if Coulter was running well in Trucks Turner Motorsports could sign him for the Nationwide Series.
Phil: Yeah, that’s true. Even if Coulter were to leave, there just isn’t much out there. He’d have to bring money, and it would have to be more than whatever Rip It Energy Drink pays him.
Tom: Exactly. Right now, there’s no other owners and no money available, so guys like Coulter are stuck in the pipeline. Heck, Trevor Bayne has the same problem.

Amy: Exactly, Tom… that’s what “my column Friday”:https://frontstretch.com/ahenderson/39410/ was about. Some young stars would be great for NNS/CWTS, but there’s no room in Cup to move them up right now.
Tom: Bayne can’t get another owner with money and a sponsor to come calling, and he’s struggling to bring in his own funding. So that leaves him in “no man’s land…” stuck in line at Roush Fenway for a full Cup ride until someone like Kenseth retires. At best, he’ll get the full-time gig in the No. 6 in 2013 when Stenhouse moves full-time to Cup.
Amy: _If_ Stenhouse moves full-time to Cup. That’s dependent on a sponsor emerging.
Tom: So for Coulter, he should be happy with what he’s got and know that, as a twentysomething time is on his side. There’s plenty of people who don’t even have the opportunity; if he keeps running well, you would think RCR would be able to move him up eventually, if not with them directly with a satellite team.
Beth: Bottom line, a full NNS stable could hurt Coulter in a couple years, but for now, he’s fine right where he is.

*Predictions for Dover?*

Amy: I think I’ll go with Martin Truex, Jr. He considers Dover his home track and has been knocking on the door for a while.
Kevin: I pick Carl Edwards.
Phil: Matt Kenseth.
Tom: I was going to go with Truex… but then he hit the panic button a few weeks ago at Darlington, is frustrated with not winning and hasn’t recovered. So I’m going to go blue chip pick and say Jimmie Johnson.
Beth: Well I wanted to pick Martin Truex, Jr., but since you picked him, Amy, I’m going with six-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson to grab that trophy he didn’t manage to grab in the 600.
Beth: Crap… beaten to the punch again. Oh, what the heck. Jeff Gordon _finally_ shakes that monkey off his back all the way to Victory Lane.

*Email the Mirror Guys ‘N’ Gals!*
“Contact Amy Henderson”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14352/
“Contact Beth Lunkenheimer”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14353/
“Contact Kevin Rutherford”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14345/
“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18440/
“Contact Tom Bowles”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14345/

*Mirror Predictions 2012*

Welcome to our sixth 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

Coca-Cola 600

*Writer* *Pick* *Finishing Position* *Points*
Amy Henderson Jimmie Johnson 11th 0
Mike Neff Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 6th 1
Phil Allaway Jeff Gordon 7th 1
Kevin Rutherford Kyle Busch 3rd 3
Matt Stallknecht Kasey Kahne 1st 5
Vito Pugliese Mark Martin 34th -2

_You can “click here.”:https://frontstretch.com/md/37520/ to see race results from the full season._

*Points Standings*

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Kevin Rutherford 24 9 *2* *6* 8
Mike Neff 19 -5 12 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 17 -8 12 1 5 *9*
Beth Lunkenheimer 9 -15 8 1 2 3
Phil Allaway 7 -17 12 0 2 6
Matt Stallknecht 5 -19 1 1 1 1
Tony Lumbis 1 -23 1 0 0 1
Jeff Meyer 0 -24 1 0 0 0
Tom Bowles -2 -26 1 0 0 0
Jesse Medford -2 -26 1 0 0 0
Vito Pugliese -2 -26 1 0 0 0

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