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 “(Editor-In-Chief; Mondays / Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays / Did You Notice)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/359/
Amy Henderson “(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362
Summer Bedgood “(Wednesdays / Tweet & Greet-Frontstretch Newsletter & Fridays / Four Burning Questions)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/32575/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Kevin Rutherford (Wednesdays / Kevin’s Corner)
*With his win at Atlanta, Denny Hamlin is guaranteed at least a tie for the top spot in the Chase. Given that Hamlin is currently a distant seventh in points, should this be the case?*
Amy: Um, the words “hell, no” come to mind… it’s a massive slap in the face to the guys who have been the best drivers all year long.
Tom: Hamlin’s pulling a Tony Stewart 2011 as we speak. What an awful summer of being completely irrelevant, but that’s the way this format works — he deserves it based on the rules given to all the teams in February.
Summer: Very true. It’s not like everyone else wasn’t given the same “0” slate at the beginning of the year. Wins are the most important thing when it comes to this Chase. And I like it that way.
Kevin: I don’t really care. They decided to make it about wins, and Hamlin’s done well in that regard. If this is the way they want to do it for two years before they decide to change the format again, whatever.
Phil: Hamlin’s been great the last couple of weeks, but way too inconsistent. Just a couple of weeks ago, they couldn’t buy a good run.
Tom: I think the more interesting thing with Hamlin is did the No. 11 play their cards too early while everyone else “locked in” is holding back?
Kevin: I’m kinda wondering that myself, Tom. Hamlin’s streak just seems so all-of-a-sudden.
Tom: Remember, Hamlin got put behind the eight ball with all those wrecks and DNFs… they were towards the bottom of the top 10 and in danger of losing the bonus points. So they had to come out here, at the end of the regular season and give 110%… and look what happened.
Phil: I don’t think he played his cards too early. He kinda lucked into his two wins. Without McMurray blowing the tire, Truex wins that race Sunday.
Beth: Amy, it seems your problem is more with the Chase in general. Sorry, but there are bonus points awarded for race wins and those that come out with more get more points.
Amy: No, Hamlin is different. Tony Stewart started tenth and _took_ the point lead. Hamlin is having it handed to him when someone else earned it. I have no issue with bonus points for wins, but they should be awarded at the time of the win and then the drivers reset in the order of points accordingly.
Summer: Hamlin earned it based on wins. If Biffle (or whoever) wanted to keep the points lead, maybe they should have won more.
Beth: My point exactly, Summer.
Summer: It’s not exactly a complicated issue. If you want to keep your spot at the top, then get your ass into Victory Lane.
Tom: I agree with Kevin and Summer. Hamlin’s made it about wins… because he knew he was in the Chase. If they wanted to play around mechanically during the summer, using it as a test session… so be it. It’s the same model championship teams have used before (cough, Jimmie Johnson, cough).
Amy: The best overall driver should be the champion. That is not Hamlin, not this year. Biffle has zero finishes worse than 30th. Hamlin has several.
Beth: As it stands now, Amy, the best overall driver in the Chase _will_ be the champion.
Summer: So? He didn’t WIN. It needs to be about WINS.
Amy: Maybe, maybe not Summer. The best didn’t win last year. The guy who got handed a second chance in the reset won.
Summer: But he put himself in position to win. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Beth: The best IN the Chase won the championship, Amy.
Summer: Everyone else was given that same chance too. It wasn’t just Stewart. Why didn’t the others take advantage?
Beth: Exactly, Summer.
Kevin: That’s the way these playoff-type situations are though… it’s like that in many sports. Just because you rocked it in the regular season doesn’t mean anything if you can’t pull it off in the postseason. Without getting too much into why the Chase is bad or whatever, this is the current format, and other sports deal with it, too.
Beth: You’ve got a great point there, Kevin. After all, a team without the greatest record can continue in the playoffs after making it through the wild card round and go all the way. How different is that, really?
Amy: We shouldn’t even be talking about Hamlin as the points leader or the title favorite. He’s more than an entire race behind the real point leader. If he can make that many points up in the last ten he deserves to win. If not, he doesn’t. The math is pretty simple.
Tom: A postseason format, in any sport is all about peaking at the right time. The Packers did it to win the Super Bowl a few years ago. The L.A. Kings did it to win the Stanley Cup this year. Trying to “time” your hot streak while fooling around during parts of the regular season is nothing new. It’s just jarring for longtime fans because NASCAR used to never have a postseason.
Summer: And why is that wrong? Put yourself in position to even _be there_ and then go after it.
Amy: My point, Summer, is that handing any driver points he did not earn after the first 26 races with zero regard for what they actually earned is a ridiculous point system. In no other sport does the best team not get the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Tom: But who is the regular season champion, really, Amy? Who knows how many of those drivers were testing by mid-July? Maybe bringing an experimental package somewhere that could have hurt them if they were _really_ battling for the #1 spot over a full season?
Amy: Easy. The guy with the most points.
Summer: I don’t think so. We have a system largely based on wins, something the old points system was criticized for.
Beth: You’re not getting the point, Amy. We’re stuck with the Chase and we’ll just have to live with it.
Tom: Right. Amy, for you this question should read, “Should Hamlin get the #1 seed? No, because the Chase sucks”
Beth: But with that being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of a bonus for the regular season points leader. After all, his team did work hard for 26 races to put him in that position.
Tom: But to me, that’s not an answer to deny Hamlin the #1 spot. He earned it, fair and square based on the way that team won races.
Summer: That’s how I see it, Tom. They earned it because they were in Victory Lane. What did Biffle do? He top-10’ed everyone to death.
Amy: Why, Tom? His average finish is three positions below Biffle’s despite having twice as many wins. Why… because he also has twice as many crappy finishes.
Beth: Everyone knew _before_ the drop of the green flag at Daytona what it took to become the number one seed in the playoffs. How they chose to get there by the time the checkered flies over Richmond is _their_ choice.
Summer: You play with the system you have, not the one you want.
Beth: Bingo! Summer hit the nail right on the head.
Tom: I think Summer Bedgood should be my new lawyer. We all just got schooled.
Amy: But the system is badly flawed. A playoff in a sport that wasn’t built around playoffs.
Beth: Hate to sound harsh, but get over it, Amy. Until you’re in charge of NASCAR and can change everything you want to, we live with what we’re given.
Summer: Could the system be changed? Sure? But expecting NASCAR to go backwards is ridiculous.
Amy: I still think Denny Hamlin hasn’t earned anything except seventh place.
Kevin: The question is: does Hamlin deserve to be near, if not at the top of the standings after Richmond? The answer is YES, because that’s the current system. This isn’t about whether you like or dislike the system, it’s if he deserves it under the system. So, yes.
*The wild card race will be decided at Richmond. When all is said and done, who will get the twelfth and final spot?*
Amy: I think Kyle Busch takes it but without the win. Kyle is more aggressive than Gordon is. If he doesn’t take himself out because of that, he’s got it in the bag.
Kevin: Kyle Busch, basically. Look at his past results at the place — an average finish of fourth (ish), with four wins. Even if he doesn’t win, it’d take one of the other guys winning to really have a shot, because you have to expect he’ll be up front.
Summer: Kyle Busch with a top-5 finish. Jeff Gordon makes a helluva run but gets bit by Lady Luck again.
Phil: Kyle definitely has everything in his corner. A 12-point advantage, racing at possibly his best track where he won in the Spring. Things do not look good for Gordon.
Amy: Gordon was right, he should have moved Hamlin up the track at Atlanta. That he didn’t will cost him the spot.
Phil: Gordon couldn’t have done that. He wouldn’t have been able to even get to Hamlin to move him on Sunday.
Summer: I don’t know, he got pretty close.
Amy: He could have moved him on the GWC.
Summer: He was right up alongside him in turn 3 on the last lap. He just lost a ton of ground for whatever reason.
Amy: He was close enough to get under him. Outside groove wasn’t as good was the reason.
Kevin: I think the dark horse of the group is Marcos Ambrose. He’s not a bad short track guy, and he’s got pretty much nothing to lose. I see him going for broke at this.
Amy: Unfortunately for other teams, I think Kevin could be right. Ambrose has been known to get overaggressive. If he does so and takes out a guy or two in key positions, he has a shot.
Summer: He’s not good enough to win. He can “go for broke” if he wants, but he’ll get beat by someone better.
Beth: I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Jeff Gordon manages to snag it. Sure, Kyle Busch has by far the best numbers at Richmond and won there in the spring, but he hasn’t quite been himself this season.
Summer: Neither has Gordon, Beth.
Beth: True, but Gordon has been hit pretty hard by the bad luck bug.
Amy: Gordon should have four wins this year, if it wasn’t for his terrible luck. Five, if you count Atlanta. By the way, why the hype over the twelfth-place driver? This is just silly.
Summer: Because it’s a last ditch effort. I don’t have a problem with it. They know they have no shot in hell of winning, but maybe they can get on stage at the banquet for their sponsors.
Beth: Because, Amy, it’s the system they’ve been given to work with. Doesn’t really matter if you don’t like the system because it’s here to stay… period.
Amy: Meanwhile, guys like Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex, Jr. are having legit Chase-making seasons and can’t buy coverage unless they’re wrecking.
Beth: I don’t know… both got quite a bit of coverage Sunday night.
Summer: They will, Amy, once they’ve made some noise in the Chase.
Tom: Nice discussion so far… I think Jeff Gordon’s going to take it. But I’m with Kevin, I really think the dark horse Saturday night could be Ambrose. He had a top-5 car at Bristol, he’s been good on the short tracks as of late and the No. 9 DEFINITELY has nothing to lose. I think Newman and Logano, put a fork in them — distractions for different reasons.
Kevin: Newman and Logano are just kinda there in my opinion… like, they’re in contention, but I don’t expect them to be a factor Saturday night.
Phil: I almost want to say that Joey Logano will crash on Saturday night. Don’t know when, but I think he will crash.
Amy: Ambrose will be charging, but he wrecks people when he does that…
Beth: I don’t know, Amy. He made some pretty darn good ground in Atlanta _without_ wrecking people.
Tom: Kyle Busch is the easy answer but he’s had so much weird stuff happen this year… Gordon has had more momentum overall the last two months. One of the other interesting scenarios is that Carl Edwards ends up winning but misses the Chase because of that engine problem. Remember, he dominated parts of Richmond in the Spring but lost it on “restartgate.” I smell a wild race.
Phil: Oh yes, the black flag for jumping the restart.
Summer: Wow, I completely forgot about that.
Kevin: I smell a wild race too, Tom. I’m honestly excited. I hope one of the guys we’re talking about ends up taking it rather than Busch just kinda getting it by default if he doesn’t have problems.
Summer: I think it will be a great race just because of all the implications around it.
Phil: Still think, in the end this is Kyle Busch’s Wild Card to lose. However, he doesn’t have it sewn up just yet.
Summer: I say Kyle Busch grabs it, barring something crazy like an engine failure.
Kevin: I think this is going to be one hell of a race Saturday. That said, I think Busch has it all but locked up. But if there’s anyone who can best him, it’ll be Gordon and maybe Ambrose.
Beth: I’m sticking with my original comment…despite Kyle’s impressive record at Richmond, Jeff Gordon could easily snag that second wildcard right from under his nose.
Phil: Of course, it’s all moot if Kyle somehow gets into 10th in points Saturday, booting Stewart.
Summer: I don’t see that happening, Phil. Stewart will play it safe just to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Tom: Richmond in the Spring, for those who don’t remember… Busch 1st. Kahne 5th. Edwards 10th (but had a car that could have won). Newman 15th, Ambrose 22nd, Gordon 23rd, Logano 24th. Another little known fact on Gordon… people assume he’s Richmond awesome. Four-time hasn’t won there since 2000. Average finish the last four Richmond races: 19.3. I still believe, more based on the wacky things that have happened to Kyle but it’s a riskier pick than you think.
Phil: Anything can happen. Mike Bliss finished 4th in this race back in 2004 in a one-off drive.
Summer: I wouldn’t bet a LOT of money on Kyle, but I’d feel confident with what I did.
*Matt Kenseth will make the move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. What will be Kenseth’s impact on the team and does the move give Kenseth a better chance at a second Cup title?*
Summer: Gosh I’ve struggled with that question, but here’s one reason I say yes … Kenseth thinks it does.
Phil: Kenseth will be reinvigorated. He doesn’t have to worry about whether he’ll have a sponsor each week.
Tom: I’ll tell you what, the way the NASCAR sponsorship climate is going it gives Kenseth a chance at survival. That’s the main reason I think he did it.
Amy: I think Kenseth has a lot to offer the team. Unlike Joey Logano, though, he’s not going to be content being Kyle Busch’s lacky on the plate tracks.
Kevin: I think the move will bring nothing but great things for Kenseth. He’ll be a contender for the title in 2013.
Tom: I think Kenseth will be good, not great… he’s not the perfect fit at Gibbs. But he’ll put that No. 20 back on the fringes of title contention, which is leap years ahead of where Home Depot’s been with Logano.
Phil: We’ll see how the communication works out there. Kenseth will be the elder statesman of the team. However, his teammates are winners, so he doesn’t have to boost them up too much.
Summer: I think JGR will do more for Kenseth than Kenseth will do for JGR.
Amy: Here’s the thing with RFR…despite the best engines in the garage and equipment as good as any other team. Despite a stable of the best drivers in the sport… they don’t win championships. Something rotten in Denmark?
Summer: Well wait now. JGR hasn’t been a champion in awhile either. Granted, no one other than Hendrick really has, but still..
Phil: Hendrick-supported teams have won the last 6. Before that, it was JGR with Stewart in 2005.
Summer: I think JGR will do a lot for Kenseth as far as giving him fresh energy.
Tom: I think JGR wants to try something different, because like we’ve said the status quo wasn’t bringing them titles. Kenseth brings them a fresh face, years of knowledge and something they did not have anymore… _championship_ experience.
Amy: Exactly, Tom. That’s something Hamlin and Busch don’t have.
Summer: I think that mix of youthfulness and championships might propel JGR pretty close to the top.
Amy: I think the dynamic with Kenseth will be different than it was with Logano. Kenseth is a veteran who will not allow himself to be put behind his teammates… and that’s a good thing.
Kevin: It definitely might. Kenseth’s more of a level head than the other two, as well. Perhaps his demeanor will affect theirs.
Phil: Sounds like you’re thinking that Kenseth can and will push his teammates. Interesting. Good things may lie ahead.
Summer: I don’t think Kyle and Denny will be too fond of Kenseth if he comes in there attempting to throw his weight around. They’ve been used to being the leaders there.
Beth: There’s a difference between throwing your weight around and contributing to the team.
Amy: He will definitely push the No. 20 team… something I think Logano was hesitant to do. He won’t be content to let Hamlin or Busch run all over him. Throwing his weight aorund isn’t Kenseth’s style. But he will share when help is asked and allowed.
Tom: I think the teammate dynamic is the one to watch, though. Kenseth is very, very different from Busch or Hamlin, almost like an elder statesman. The good thing is I don’t think they’re going to ask Kenseth to lead in the same way he was asked to step up at Roush after Mark Martin left. Kenseth can’t fill the role of the charismatic leader… but he can lead by example. Maybe JGR is hoping that by showing Denny and Kyle that type of focus up close… they’ll adapt.
Amy: Neither Hamlin nor Busch is a true leader, despite how they’ve acted. Both are too volatile and self-centered. I think Kenseth understands the big picture better.
Summer: Does it matter, Amy? They THINK they are. And you’re going to have issues internally if there is a fight for power.
Tom: Summer, that is a very good point. We are dealing with neutered Kyle though.
Amy: If they want to win championships, they would do well to sit back and pay attention.
Phil: I don’t think there’s going to be a power struggle. There’s way too much to lose for everyone involved.
Summer: Again, Hamlin and Busch have to believe that there is something to lose by backing down. If they are too stubborn to believe that anyone else can step in and help, it won’t matter.
Amy: Switching gears, I’m not sold on another title for Kenseth. Not because he isn’t capable but because the No. 20 has been allowed to fall behind and Kenseth is already 40, which doesn’t give him forever to rebuild the team.
Summer: I’m not convinced on a championship either, but I do think he’ll be happier.
Kevin: I’m just happy for Kenseth that he won’t have to worry about sponsorship as he has recently anymore. That alone may do wonders.
Tom: I still think JGR is just a small step behind winning a title right now. And that’s going to continue, even with Kenseth there. But they should get all three teams in the Chase, easy now and win a bunch more races with Kenseth.
Summer: With Kenseth leaving Roush, it will put JGR right around second. Behind HMS and barely. That’s nothing against Biffle. But he alone won’t be able to carry that team to a championship. That put JGR above them.
Phil: For next year, I say Kenseth wins 2 races and finishes 4th in points.
*All of the top 3 drivers in Nationwide series are either signed to a different ride for 2013 (Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.) or heavily rumored to be moving to a different team or series. Will this have an impact on the title race… and does it give Austin Dillon an advantage?*
Amy: I think it gives Stenhouse the advantage. He knows he’s going Cup racing and that has to give him a ton of confidence.
Kevin: I think it might hurt Sadler, if anyone. Since he won’t even be with the same team next year.
Tom: Right. I don’t think it gives anyone an advantage as much as it hurts one in particular: Sadler. Stenhouse and Hornish, at least are staying within the framework of their current organizations. Sadler is jumping ship… and the second you put the words “lame duck” next to your program…
Summer: I agree that this year it will hurt Sadler a little bit. Stenhouse has no worries right now.
Amy: I think it hurst Sadler the most (though he’s getting the best for next year)
Beth: Stenhouse has got an advantage. He’s got the confidence knowing he’s going Cup racing and will want to go out with a bang. Plus, Sadler’s departure from RCR puts him in that lame duck spot, and it’s likely more attention will be given to Dillon’s team knowing he’ll still be with the team in 2013.
Amy: Hornish kind of got screwed by Penske, so that may affect his state of mind.
Summer: I think Hornish’s place is best served in NW and he needs to accept that.
Phil: Ultimately, I don’t think anyone gets an edge. People are going to want to run as well as they possibly can. That won’t change regardless of the situation.
Amy: According to Sadler, he wasn’t offered the chance to stay with RCR. Which is silly. Ty Dillon should be in Trucks another year
Summer: If that doesn’t speak volumes about where the company’s head is, nothing will.
Phil: Sadler got stiffed by the team. He’s ticked and apparently taking OneMain with him. He’ll have full backing wherever he goes.
Tom: Marketing, Amy. The Dillons are all about marketing. Easy to attract sponsorship and attention when the brothers are racing against each other in the same series. Remember… Childress is losing his investor… money is needed.
Summer: Do you honestly think deep down Childress would rather see Sadler win this title than Dillon?
Amy: I think he knows Dillon isn’t quite ready to win it and Sadler is…he’d be crazy not to encourage that.
Tom: I agree with Summer… trouble is brewing for Sadler here. And Roush, with only a part-time second team can throw all the resources behind the No. 6 car.
Amy: If Pastrana doesn’t break them first…
Phil: Is Pastrana even going to be in the No. 60 for more than one race?
Amy: That I don’t know.
Phil: If not, I don’t think it’ll ultimately matter what he does.
Amy: But apparently they must not like the Richmond car very much…
Phil: Pastrana is improving in the Nationwide Series. Now that the spotlight isn’t on him every second of every day, he can actually develop for a change. The wreck Saturday night was basically due to worn out, 50+-lap tires.
Amy: However, if Roush were to steal Pastrana away from Waltrip, would Trevor get the same benefit Stenhouse is now?
Summer: Hah, yeah we’ve already seen what Bayne means to Roush.
Amy: Honestly? Penske should have looked at Bayne over Logano for the No. 22 if they weren’t going to keep Hornish like they should. Bayne deserves way better than what he’s been given. But so do half the drivers out there, I suppose…
Tom: Well I have to say, Pastrana impressed me Friday night. He has improved remarkably in a short period of time. Bayne is going to get the No. 6 car full-time in 2013, so what does he care he’s not in the No. 60 for one race? He’s running the No. 21 in a few extra Cup events.
Kevin: I’m just glad Bayne’s finally getting a full season in something again… at least, I hope that’s what ends up happening.
Tom: In the meantime, with this championship I’ve always felt Sadler had the edge, so to speak until this RCR/JGR news came out. Now, I think it’s back to a tossup. You can throw out any of those four names as champion and none of them would surprise me except Hornish.
Kevin: Yeah, Hornish would be a big surprise to me. I think he’s a good driver, I just don’t see him besting any of the other three despite being in contention.
Amy: I think Penske running keselowski in the 22 is sapping resources from the 12.
Summer: Yeah but that’s where sponsorship goes.
Phil: That’s possible. I’m thinking that Discount Tire is insisting on Keselowski driving it, though.
Amy: Keselowski did say he was going to cut back a lot on NNS, so we’ll see.
*How about some predictions for Richmond?*
Amy: I think I’m going to go with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Second in May and due for one there.
Kevin: I’ll take Denny Hamlin with yet another win.
Summer: Hamlin. Three in a row.
Kevin: I’ll give that one to you, Summer.
Summer: Ok fine. Kyle Busch. I was slower… I’ll take Kyle.
Tom: You know… I’ve been thinking this whole time. I think Saturday night is going to be wild, to the point I’m going to pick a surprise winner.
Phil: I’m listening?
Tom: I think Ambrose takes it.
Summer: No freaking way.
Tom: Huge surprise. Gets in the Chase. Lots of wrecks, yelling, craziness.
Kevin: He really is the dark horse, I think there’s something there.
Kevin: Lots of yelling in this column the week after, too. ;)
Tom: I’m telling you, that team is clicking right now. And they’ll take a gamble to try and get in. Why not? Nothing to lose.
Phil: Interesting. I’m going with Edwards to win the race. But, there’s no way in the heck (heck is drawn out) that he’s getting in the Chase with that, though.
Tom: The “pick with my head” decision is screaming someone like Harvick. The No. 29 suddenly looks like they have it together. Another darkhorse is Mark Martin. He’s just there to win… and wouldn’t he love to spoil everyone’s party…
Beth: I thought I had this one figured out earlier, but I’ve changed my mind so many times since we started. After a solid (and fast) run in Atlanta, I’m going with Kevin Harvick.
Phil: Just goes to show that they shouldn’t have split up Harvick and Gil Martin at the end of last year.
Tom: Just goes to show Harvick shouldn’t have demanded they get split up. I just hope Gil gets an “I’m sorry” when they’re back contending for a top-5 points position…
*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:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
|Amy Henderson||Jeff Gordon||2nd||3|
|Beth Lunkenheimer||Carl Edwards||36th||-2|
|Summer Bedgood||Tony Stewart||22nd||-1|
|Kevin Rutherford||Kasey Kahne||23rd||-1|
|Phil Allaway||Trevor Bayne||16th||0|
|Mike Neff||Jimmie Johnson||34th||-2|
_You can “click here”:https://frontstretch.com/md/37520/ to see race results from the full season._
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s|
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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