Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Chase Scenarios, Best Of The Rest And Down The Stretch

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 / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Full Throttle & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short Track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744
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)
Matt Stallknecht “(IndyCar contributer)”

*The Chase field was set at Richmond after a wild night of racing and weather. Who are the early favorites, and can anyone be counted out before it even starts?*

Summer: Well, for starters I think you have to look at Hamlin. I would say _the_ favorite, though, is Jimmie.
Mike N.: You can’t ignore Hamlin. He’s been on fire the last few races, but Johnson has been strong since Indy and I just think they are poised for another one. The early favorites are Johnson, Hamlin, Kenseth and Biffle. In theory, none of the top 12 can be counted out, but I honestly don’t think Harvick, Kahne, Truex or Bowyer have a shot.
Matt S.: This is the strongest Chase field we’ve had in quite awhile, the best one since 2004 I would argue. As I wrote in my column last week, Hamlin is the prohibitive favorite going into this one, but I would look for Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., and Brad Keselowski to be the guys fighting it out in Homestead.
Amy: I think it depends on what you look at. Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart have almost half of NASCAR’s all-time Chase victories between them.
Kevin: I think we’re gonna see yet another Jimmie Johnson championship at this point, and at the very least I think he’s one of the guys to beat. I gotta throw Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle in there as well. And then, if Jeff Gordon can ride the momentum of even making it in the Chase at all, who knows? But that’ll be tougher, I think.
Summer: As for who’s out of it, I don’t think anyone seeded 9th on down will win and I think anyone from about 7th on down is a long shot.
Kevin: As much as I think it’d be cool to see it, I don’t really expect either of the MWR cars to be a factor. I’m not imagining higher than about seventh for Bowyer or Truex.
Phil: I disagree on Truex. He’s been very strong lately. He just hasn’t won a race yet.
Summer: I don’t consider Truex a threat for the title. I think he can finish in the top five but he won’t play a role in this championship.
Phil: Over the last few races, Keselowski and Gordon have scored the most points.
Mike N.: Johnson wrecking out at Atlanta hurt his point total. I’ll still take him against the field.
Phil: Johnson should be in the hunt. However, I cannot state that anyone is a prohibitive favorite right now.
Amy: Plus, Hamlin is on a hot streak while Johnson and Stewart are definitely not.
Summer: I think Johnson has been consistent, and we know what that means for points.
Mike N.: Johnson is going to finish 9 of the 10 races in the top 5 and probably win three of them.
Amy: As much as I hate the wild card, I think you can’t count out Jeff Gordon now that he’s got a second wind.
Summer: It’s so hard to predict because it’s been such a competitive field.
Mike N.: Gordon has made an amazing comeback from the depths of point oblivion. But he’s still only won one race. Stewart wasn’t riding the momentum Gordon is. The No. 24 could go on a tear, but I think they’ll probably go on a strong run of top 5s with two DNFs that will kill them.
Matt S.: Gordon is entering this year’s Chase very similarly to how Mr. Stewart did last year, and we all know how that went down…
Mike N.: Stewart wasn’t riding the momentum Gordon is. The No. 24 could go on a tear, but I think they’ll probably go on a strong run of top 5s with two DNFs that will kill them.
Summer: Right. He’s already too far behind.
Matt S.: Gordon is only 12 points out, Summer. That deficit could easily be made up in a race or two.
Summer: Not with the kind of competition we’ve seen from everyone else.
Phil: The only person I can think of that probably won’t be in the hunt is Harvick. But I think this might be the first Chase that everyone else really puts something out there. No one completely collapses and ends up 3 races out of the lead by Homestead.
Kevin: You’re probably right, Phil. I tend to forget Harvick’s even in the Chase sometimes. He just doesn’t really scream being a factor right now.

Which one of these guys is most likely be the last man standing with the Sprint Cup trophy at Homestead?

Phil: Harvick’s chances seem to be dependent on his chemistry with Gil Martin.
Summer: They’re not going to make up for the ground they’ve lost in 10 races. And I don’t mean in points.
Mike N.: Harvick has had a strong few weeks since Martin has climbed on top of the box. I just don’t think RCR as an organization has what it takes to win a title this year.
Phil: The way you guys are talking, you’re done if you’re 10 points out of the lead. That’s Looney Tunes and almost Merrie Melodies. Yes, it might be a little hard to pick up spots this time of year, but I cannot rule anyone out just because they’re “10 positions” behind the leaders.
Mike N.: I agree, Phil… until you’re 30 points out, you’re still in the hunt.
Summer: It’s not crazy if you look at the kind of competition we’ve had this year. If you’re still behind the leader, it doesn’t matter if you’re one, 10, or 20 back. You’re still behind.
Matt S.: Fair point, but Gordon is driving the best equipment in the garage and has a wave of momentum going for him. 12 points really is nothing in the big scheme of things. Assuming Gordon runs top 10 the first 3-4 weeks, which is entirely likely, he will be right within the grasp of the leaders.
Amy: I said last year if you’re 20 or more back after Charlotte, you could be in trouble. But I don’t think anyone is out of it yet…unless they’re running chilly right now and can’t pick it up. A few are in that category and they need to get going soon if they want to contend.
Matt S.: Hamlin is a wild card in my mind. I went in depth on this last week, but his success is entirely dependent on his mindset. If he stays calm and composed, he has all the talent and equipment necessary to take the title. But thats a big if, given his checkered past in regards to emotional issues.
Amy: I almost wonder if Hamlin is peaking just a little too early. But then, I think a few of the others, like Johnson and Stewart are a little off, so who knows. If both are the case, someone like Biffle could sneak back in it.
Amy: Hamlin is his own worst enemy in this Chase.
Matt S.: I could not agree more, Amy.
Mike N.: Hamlin learned a lot in 2010. And now he has a crew chief who has been there and done it. He’s in the best position of his career to win a title.
Kevin: Yeah, it’ll be really interesting five races into the Chase if Hamlin is either leading or very close to the front, to see if he learned anything from 2010 or not.
Amy: If that’s the case, I’d give Johnson an edge simply because he can stay calm under pressure.
Phil: At this point, almost nothing would surprise me. Except someone getting fired for being an idiot. I don’t think that’s in the cards.
Summer: Kurt Busch is still racing, Phil. Nothing is too far fetched with him on the track.
Matt S.: I really believe we could have 5 or 6 guys with a legitimate shot at the title going into Homestead, a la 2004. It’s that tight this year.
Summer: I agree with that assessment. I just don’t think anyone towards the bottom of the standings will be able to make it happen.
Kevin: I hope that’s what ends up happening, Matt. It would be great to go into Homestead with that number one spot still up for grabs between many, kinda how the wild-card spots were at Richmond.
Amy: I don’t know about five or six, but three or four is reasonable _if_ it comes to consistency. If it comes to wins, it will all about who can reel off at least three or four.
Summer: Well last year we saw both scenarios go up against each other, so I’m not sure one is stronger than the other.
Amy: I still don’t understand the need for a Chase with this point system. It’s pretty redundant.
Matt S.: Truth be told, this is the most excited I’ve been for any Chase. I wholeheartedly believe this is the strongest and tightest field we’ve ever had. When Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 team is almost unanimously agreed to be the weakest driver/team combo in the Chase, you know you have a seriously competitive field.
Mike N.: I don’t see the need for the Chase with any point system, but that is another debate we have all of the time.
Summer: And totally unecessary this far into it.
Phil: These days, I cannot reasonably expect a champion to reel off 3-4 wins in the Chase. Doesn’t mean that it’s not possible (Stewart proved that it is), but I cannot expect that to be a requirement to win. Staying out of trouble and being consistent is still paramount.
Matt S.: Consistency is still the key.
Amy: I really think it comes down to whomever goes on a tear in about two or three weeks. If someone can do that, they’ll be hard to beat.
Mike N.: I think someone is going to win at least three races in the Chase. I don’t know that they’ll win it, but they’ll be the team to beat in Homestead.
Matt S.: There is definitely a huge advantage to being the guy leading the points after 2 or 3 races. Its mostly psychological I think, but history shows the guy up front after race 2 or 3 is usually in contention come Homestead.
Phil: Yes, getting a good start is definitely important. It’s part of the reason why Kyle Busch has always stunk here. He screws up the first race and can’t get his momentum back. Of course, he’s not around this time.
Amy: Who’s better off, the guy who’s one of several team cars in the Chase, or the one who’s the only one?
Summer: I think both have their pros and cons, but I would think that when you’re the only one, you are the focus of your team. If you’re HMS, you have all four guys playing against each other.
Phil: Hard to say, but if you’re alone, it might be a tough go. Probably no different than the argument of single versus multi-car teams.
Mike N.: I’d rather be the only one. Then you have all of the resources of the organization focused on your effort instead of being split among five cars.
Amy: I think I agree with Mike. Joe Gibbs can put everything, including his teammates, behind the No. 11. Hendrick or MWR can’t do that.
Mike N.: I don’t see how the teams can’t keep at least something close to the vest. It is go time now. It is different when it is all for one and one for all. Now, it is one for one…

*Let’s talk the rest of the field for a few minutes. What should race fans expect from the non-Chase drivers from here on out, and when the season is over, who will be the best of them?*

Summer: …Am I supposed to pretend that I care?
Phil: The best of the rest? I’m going to go with Ambrose. Kyle Busch is due to go into a tailspin.
Summer: Either Kyle or Carl, I would think. Probably Carl but maybe Busch will pick himself up by the bootstraps.
Mike N.: Carl Edwards might win a race. Kyle Busch might win eight.
Amy: I think it’s a tough row to hoe for them. On one hand, they can concentrate on nothing but winning, but on the other, they don’t want to be that guy who ruins someone’s Chase. Or at least most of them don’t.
Matt S.: I have a feeling Carl Edwards is going to have a 2010-esque run of success at the end of the season. The pressure to make the Chase is officially off of them and it finally appears as though Carl has begun to shake off the remnants of his 2011 hangover.
Mike N.: On the other hand, they may all just ride around and let the Chasers have the spotlight and be the R&D drivers for their organizations. We’ll see…
Amy: I like Ambrose, too as a spoiler. No teammate in the Chase and not signed for 2013. Motivation…
Kevin: I just don’t really care much because I’m far more interested in the Chase. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how Kyle Busch performs. Wonder if he’ll run more Nationwide and Truck races now to vent his frustration or something.
Summer: Or to go back to a series where he’s winning again.
Phil: The only thing that’s an unknown with Ambrose is the crew swap. We’ll have to see how well he works with Mike Ford.
Amy: See, Kevin and Summer, I just can’t share that attitude. Plenty of fans don’t have their driver in the Chase, and the rest of the season is vital for every team, not just the Chasers.
Matt S.: Call me crazy, but I actually believe Joey Logano is going to make some noise at the end of the season. Joey has no pressure on him anymore with no Chase and no 2013 planning to worry about. That ought to liberate him enough to drum up some momentum.
Mike N.: I find it interesting that Kyle had his worst year in Cup when he wasn’t running other series and yet everyone thought that was a distraction for him.
Summer: I think that whole lame duck thing will hurt him.
Amy: I don’t know, Summer. Since he’s leaving, maybe Logano can decide not to just be Kyle’s lackey and race
Kevin: I would like to see that out of Joey, really.
Matt S.: The most Joey has thrived in his Cup career was at the end of 2010 – a year where he had the least expectations placed on him and the least pressure to perform. The 2012 Chase is similar in that regard, and Logano lit it up at the end of 2010.
Amy: Not true. Top 35 at Daytona is important…and relevant in the scheme of things. New contracts, manufacturer and sponsor negotiations are still going on. All those things are relevant.
Mike N.: Assuming there is a top 35 rule next year.
Summer: I guess so. But the focus is the championship and deservedly so.
Mike N.: I suppose. I honestly think the racing would be a lot better if they paid a million dollars a race and the title was worth $100,000 and a leather jacket.
Phil: Even in the provisional era, top-35 was important. As I recall, it determined whether you got provisionals or not.
Amy: Read Big Six, Mike. I said that, except I believe the champion should get no extra payout. Just a pretty trophy and a trip to Vegas for the team… and a million to the winner of every event.
Mike N.: I don’t mind a nice little check, but $8,000,000 or whatever they get now is just too much and it forces teams to “point race.”
Phil: However, if they dump the top-35 rule, maybe they’ll revert to the previous qualifying system (and grid setup for the Duels), which makes Speedweeks a lot less confusing.
Mike N.: And a lot more enjoyable. I would love to see the Duels actually mean something again.
Matt S.: A driver that really needs to make something happen here soon is Aric Almirola. Not sure if anyone else caught it, but Richard Petty made a comment about Almirola’s contract that made me believe he is going to get booted at season’s end. He’s done nothing all year long, and Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, David Ragan, and Elliott Sadler are all much more accomplished free agents who could easily replace Almirola. Aric better make something happen soon or he’s out.
Kevin: Yeah, Matt, I really don’t know if we’ll see Almirola around in that car next year, especially if the crew chief change doesn’t do him any good.
Phil: RPM already tried to get Kurt Busch for this year, but no sponsor would have him. I just don’t think they could get backing for Kurt, especially with the amount of wrecking he’s done this year.
Matt S.: I personally thought they should have hired Ragan to begin with. Anyways, look for Edwards and Logano to step it up here these last 10 races
Mike N.: Ragan has had his shot. Let someone else get in the car. As for the best of the rest, I’ll go with Kyle Busch righting the ship and winning four races, then coming back next season and winning the title.
Kevin: It’ll be interesting to see how some of the almost-Chase racers will fare, mainly if Busch can pick himself up and have some good runs or if he’ll wallow in mediocrity the rest of 2012.
Amy: I think the rest walk a fine line. What I’m interested to see is which of the small teams can stir up some decent momentum for 2013.
Kevin: Other than that, Carl Edwards will probably perform the best out of them all.
Amy: Jack Roush wants the title however he can get it. I’m sure he’d rather Biffle win it, but I don’t think he’ll put Kenseth behind a driver who’s not even in it. But stranger things have happened.
Amy: Right now, the small teams that bear watching are BK (who are still mostly running 2011 equipment as they prepare for 2013) and Germain. But both have shown a ton of improvement this year and it would be fun to see if they can get a better start next year.
Matt S.: Germain is ready to make the next step. They have the right driver and sponsor to do it. They are the next Furniture Row.
Mike N.: Cassill is very underrated, but the team simply won’t make a dent because they don’t have the resources.
Amy: I agree with Matt 100%.
Mike N.: Which means they’re still not going to compete for anything except possibly one fluke win.
Phil: Germain needs to find something to supplement GEICO’s backing. It bites to see them have to park it multiple times each year.
Kevin: Agree, Phil. I always hope this year will be the year they can make it the whole year without parking at all, but it never really happens.
Matt S.: I see Furniture Row as the lowest rung of the “legit, competitive” teams along with JTG Dougherty. Germain could join them soon. But thats a story for another day
Amy: One win is better than no wins. Ask Carl Edwards if he’d like one win. I don’t beleve any win is a complete fluke, either.

*Now that Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano have officially sealed their futures and the Chase is about to get underway, is Silly Season 2012 over, or are there still moves to be made?*

Summer: I think that the major moves of Silly Season are over, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see some more shuffling.
Phil: I don’t think Ambrose is going anywhere, but you already mentioned that Almirola needs to impress. Teams like Front Row and Tommy Baldwin probably won’t set their lineup until January.
Amy: A rain win isn’t a fluke. It’s being in position and playing the right strategy at the right time. I think RPM could be making changes still.
Kevin: There will be more. I don’t think they’ll be anything huge, but they’ll exist. One is certainly Almirola, who I think really needs to show something good with the new crew chief before season’s end.
Mike N.: They were horrible cars that were nowhere in contention and won the race because they sucked out loud and stayed out when they were that far back in the field.
Amy: Also, RCR has talked of a new ride for Kurt Busch. Can’t see that being of benefit because four teams has never worked at RCR, but it’s stilll on the table.
Phil: I have no clue what Cassill and Kvapil’s contracts with BK Racing are like. Probably year-to-year. Wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to poach Cassill.
Matt S.: There’s a lot of stuff bubbling under the surface that is going to erupt soon. I’m telling you that 43 car is going to be open, and it’s going to be either David Ragan or Brian Vickers fighting it out. Remember, Ragan is on a one year deal at FRM and rumors are that he’s been casually looking around for 2013.
Mike N.: I’m not sure what is going to happen with Ryan Newman. Office Depot pulling out is a huge blow.
Phil: He already re-signed. Its just a blow to Newman driving the #39. If they can’t get additional backing, the #39 is Patrick’s.
Mike N.: That’s my point. What car is he going to drive?
Matt S.: I think the Kurt to RCR thing is a lot more realistic than most people think.
Summer: Who is going to sponsor him, Matt?
Amy: I think it’s realistic Matt, I just think it’s a huge mistake.
Phil: I’m not sure if they have anything for 2013 signed right now for Newman, either. We know that the Army is gone. Not sure about Outback Steakhouse, Quicken Loans or Tornadoes.
Mike N.: I don’t think it is a mistake at all, but I don’t know who is going to sponsor him.
Summer: Which is the main issue. Sponsors don’t want him.
Mike N.: I think some of that is there Phil, but they have a ton of open dates
Matt S.: Thats a good question Summer. From what I’ve heard, RPM was taking a hard look at Ragan in 2011 but Aric came in with money and took the ride.
Amy: Not a mistake, mike? Have you seen what RCR has done trying to add a 4th team? It doesn’t work.
Summer: Wasn’t there a team recently who wanted Kurt but couldn’t find funding for him?
Summer: I thought it was RPM.
Mike N.: It didn’t work in the past. But they’ve been saying they know what they did wrong.
Amy: Now, if they were going to sign Kurt for the No. 27, that wouldn’t be a mistake.
Matt S.: Ragan has a few sponsors attached to him, but RPM would definitely need to find more sponsors.
Kevin: Furniture Row was supposedly looking at Kurt, too. Not sure if that’s gone anywhere since.
Kevin: At least in that case, he wouldn’t have to worry about a sponsor, since Furniture Row’s self-sponsored.
Kevin: Though I’d hate it for Regan Smith if he got dumped as a result.
Amy: I’m not sure FRR would go all-in on a second car without additional money, though.
Phil: The No. 78 is self-sponsored. If they got Kurt, I think they would have gotten a sponsor for the second car.
Amy: Smith just signed an extension, so i don’t see that happening unless his performance really suffers.
Summer: I doubt that happens. Regan has a ton of potential.
Mike N.: I agree, I’d hate to see Regan get pushed out. I think he’s a great ambassador for that team and has potential. However, I think they’re severing their ties to RCR which has to hurt them.
Amy: Depends on who they hook up with. Going it alone was a disaster for FRR once and would be again
Matt S.: Ragan is a lot better than most people give him credit for. I think he would do a decent job in the 43.
Summer: No, Matt, I think he gets the exact amount of recognition he deserves.
Phil: This is where Dodge pulling out is just going to kill Furniture Row. That was probably a pre-emptive move to hook up with Dodge and the carpet got pulled out from under them.
Amy: I think Ragan has reached his potential and then some. There are several better drivers
Mike N.: How is Ragan better than people think he is? He was in Roush equipment and couldn’t beat anybody. He won one race and that was a plate race. My momma could win a plate race.
Phil: Truth is, Ragan peaked in his 2nd year, then fell off badly.
Summer: Well I don’t want to take the win away from him. Daytona isn’t exactly an easy track. But that was the only win and he very rarely, if ever, showed any potential other than that.
Kevin: I don’t think Ragan really deserves to go anywhere else but Front Row… maybe the 43, but not much different than that. Just haven’t seen enough from him.
Amy: I think someone is nuts not to snap up Vickers. Elliott Sadler might not be a bad choice either.
Amy: Almirola hasn’t proved he can get it done. Neither has Ragan, and he’s been around longer
Summer: Sadler had his chance. He needs to stay in Nationwide. Kevin: I’m sure Vickers is going somewhere nice, I just can’t figure where yet.
Matt S.: Remember when Jamie Mac went from the bottom of the Roush pile to the focus of EGR? I think you could see a similar thing with Ragan if he went to RPM.
Matt S.: Ragan was never the focus at Roush, he was always playing second fiddle to Roush’s big 3.
Summer: But he didn’t make anything out of it. I don’t think anyone denies he was at the bottom of the totem pole, but he wasn’t running any better than the second- and third-tier teams.
Phil: Would Ragan want to go back to Nationwide full-time? If he did that, he might never get back to Cup.
Amy: Ragan hasn’t shown he’s improved much from his “dart without feathers” days. He caused like two or three wrecks at Bristol.
Summer: With that kind of logic, he should have been able to run between about 10th and 15th consistently. He didn’t.
Summer: Ok I don’t know who I confused him with then.
Summer: Wait, no, Ragan had a penalty or something, didn’t he?
Matt S.: Ragan was a chase contender in 2011 before UPS announced they were pulling the plug on Roush, and that killed the team’s momentum.
Amy: He was running up front til he jumped the restart and got busted, Summer. He then won the summer race
Summer: Ok that’s what I was thinking of.
Mike N.: And yet he didn’t do crap Matt. Even when the fourth team at Hendrick was getting complete junk they still contended once in a while.
Phil: I take it that you’re talking about when Nemechek and Vickers drove the No. 25?
Mike N.: Yes, Ragan changed lanes incorrectly and lost because of that.
Amy: Nemechek, Jerry Nadeau, Vickers, and Casey Mears all won in the 25.
Mike N.: Wally Dallenback
Summer: Well yeah but Ragan won in the No. 6. That doesn’t prove anything.
Mike N.: Dallenbach even
Summer: It doesn’t make him any better of a driver.
Summer: That’s one of those “blind squirrel finds a nut” things.
Mike N.: Schrader, Nemechek, Nadeau, Vickers, Mears, Kyle Busch
Matt S.: I’m telling you, Ragan deserves one more shot on a decent team where he isn’t playing second fiddle to someone
Mike N.: Take your pick, they all had occasional good runs. Ragan did nothing.

Silly Season is not over yet. Whose jobs could be in jeopardy as teams make final decisions for 2013?

Phil: Dallenbach got a year and a third in the 25/50. That was around the time they were throwing around the idea of changing that car to a Pontiac.
Summer: I just don’t see any potential from Ragan. Even if a driver is in crappy equipment, you can still tell by the way they drive if they’re any good.
Mike N.: Who in the hell is going to make him the number one seat on a good team Matt?
Kevin: Well, then he might get that shot at RPM, if anything, Matt. But I don’t really see him going anywhere else, unless he defies expectation and really runs super well there.
Mike N.: You think Hendrick puts him in the No. 24?
Phil: I think the No. 9 is the No. 1 seat at RPM right now.
Mike N.: Or RCR puts him in the No. 29?
Summer: Ambrose has earned it moreso than Ragan has.
Matt S.: No no, I’m talking about an RPM or an EGR.
Mike N.: So you’ll put him in the No. 42 and you think he’ll set the world on fire?
Mike N.: Have you seen what that team has been doing this year?
David Ragan isn’t winning squat in that car.
Phil: Montoya has been a mess this year, hitting everything under the sun, and then some. Those dudes in the Body Shop better be getting some overtime.
Matt S.: Not necessarily set the world on fire, but I certainly think he could at least produce at or slightly better than what Almirola is doing in the 43, and he could certainly match Ambrose’s production.
Amy: Ragan causes too many crashes for a team like RPM to take a chance on him. They can’t afford to replace the cars.
Matt S.: There’s much more to this Silly Season than meets the eye
Summer: That’s the biggest issue with Ragan. He tears up equipment.
Phil: At least we have a rook battle for next year.
Summer: I think this silly season is a lot less interesting now that the two key players in it are signed, sealed, an delivered. But it’s nowhere near finished.
Phil: I can agree with that.
Matt S.: I wouldn’t count out Brian Scott taking his family money to Phoenix either — stay tuned on that one
Amy: There is, Matt. RCR could make a late play, so could RPM, or even JGR if they get funding for the right driver. If Sadler goes to JGR, he’ll tear it up in the NNS/.
Phil: I don’t think Brian Scott’s good enough for Cup yet.
Matt S.: I think we all can agree there, but money talks
Amy: I’m not sure he’s always good enough for Nationwide.
Kevin: I don’t think he’s good enough for Cup either, but that hasn’t stopped JWT from progressing through the ranks.

Amy: and speaking of Nationwide, on to Q3
Matt S.: I’m not even sure Brian Scott is ready for iRacing sometimes
Amy: er, 4
Kevin: So I could totally see him going to Cup if the opportunity’s there.
Phil: His pappy might be the richest dude in Idaho, but Shore Lodge and Albertsons money can only get you so far in Cup.
Summer: He’s mediocre in NW. He’ll be the worst non-start-and-parker out there.
Phil: Also, Scott is quite a bit more skilled than JWT. Mike N.: David Ragan didn’t have a single top five in 2009 or 2010 in Roush equipment.
Summer: He doesn’t tear up as much equipment, but the results arent’ there.’
Amy: Remember when Albertson’s was with ppc? They got their money’s worth there!
Mike N.: Yes they did
Kevin: I never said he wasn’t more skilled, actually.
Summer: Geez, Mike, just photoshop a picture of Ragan onto a dart without feathers and move on, will ya?
Amy: Jason Keller was one hell of a driver, though. He could teach Brian Scott a thing or 50.
Mike N.: Thanks for making me scroll up to make sure I wasn’t having an aneurism.
Phil: What’s Keller doing these days? Haven’t heard from him since 2010 in the #35.
Mike N.: I haven’t seen Keller in a while.
Amy: Nobody would take him…they’d rather have young guys with half his talent.

*Both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are featuring tight championship battles as those series hit the final stretch of the season…which one is going to have the tightest battle, and what will be the keys to taking a title in those series?*

Summer: Can I say they’ll be about the same?
Phil: I think the Truck battle will be the more thrilling of the 2. You could have five dudes battling for the marbles.
Matt S.: Nationwide will. And it’s going to come down to whoever can be the most consistent and avoid trouble…which there seems to be a lot of lately
Amy: Usually Nationwide is kind of a yawner, but this year it could be very close. I think both have great battles… without a Chase, showing once again how stupid the Chase really is.
Summer: I think both will come down to two people at Homestead but they’ll both be competitive.
Mike N.: At this point I’d say the Trucks will be the tightest because I think RCR is going to fall apart with Sadler being a “lame duck.”
Kevin: Trucks will be the better of the two, if I have to pick one. There’s a lot of guys in contention there.
Summer: Wow, yeah, I forgot about the Sadler/RCR deal. I don’t know, that’s hard to say.
Kevin: I think the Nationwide one will be interesting as long as all drivers remain in contention. And who knows with Sadler.
Amy: Austin Dillon is right there, too, though, and if they treat Sadler like a “lame duck” they’ll just throw everything at him
Summer: Yeah that’s what I was thinking. Whatever degree Sadler falls by, Dillon will grow by that much.
Matt S.: I feel like Hornish is just gearing up for a championship run.
Amy: Usually trucks is the better of the two and I think it will be very close this year between Peters, Buescher, and Ty Dillon.
Phil: Nationwide might be a three-man show. Austin Dillon is starting to fall off a little. Also, I kinda want to see what Stenhouse’s car looks like this week. They have sponsorship from Blue Bird, you know the school bus builder?
Mike N.: Dillon is all but out of it. I know it is only 30ish points, but that is a long way back with the current point system.
Summer: It’s 30 points exactly.
Matt S.: I should probably have rephrased that. I really meant that I could see him going on a run of success soon.
Amy: Hornish is pissed, so I could see that, Matt.
Kevin: Seriously? Blue Bird? That’s awesome.
Matt S.: That 6 team looks mighty strong though, and they know how to win a title. Thats going to be big when it comes down to crunch time
Amy: 30 points is iffy, but one good early crash or failure for Peters and Buescher and Dillon’s right back with them. Same for Hornish in NNS, though 50 is a stretch
Mike N.: I hope we have a race where Blue Bird and the New York cab medallion company both sponsor cars.
Phil: That might happen pretty soon. Used to see a lot more Blue Bird buses here. Then, the local distributor (Leonard Bus Sales, a sponsor of Sean Corr) dropped them in favor of I-Bus.
Mike N.: The main thing the No. 6 team has going for them is that most of the races down the stretch are Intermediate tracks. That will play into their hand big time.
Phil: Yes. With the Cup dudes in play, they’re the only ones that can hold their own.
Matt S.: There’s times in these Nationwide races where it looks like Ricky and Elliott are the only two non-Cup drivers who even have a clue as to what is going on.
Amy: I think both series are about equal as fas as a few teams being legit in it and the rest just a tick behind
Mike N.: Six out of eight tracks left are mile and a half tracks. Phoenix and Dover are the only two that aren’t.
Matt S.: Dover will be a JGR love fest
Matt S.: They’ve got the concrete Nationwide races covered this year
Amy: I think the Roush program is a little stronger on the 1.5-milers, so edge there.
Phil: Well, the Spring race was. I think RCR could give them heck at Dover.
Mike N.: A shame they only have two concrete tracks left.
Mike N.: That’s my point Amy. I think Stenhouse has the advantage because of Roush’s strength on Intermediate tracks.
Amy: In trucks, I don’t see such an advantage, though.
Matt S.: I’d love to see one of the bigger and higher-banked tracks, like a Chicagoland or a Las Vegas, reconfigured into a concrete track. But thats beides the point.
Mike N.: I’d like to see most of the Intermediate tracks reconfigured into 3/4-mile tracks, but that is beside the point too.
Phil: At this point, that’d be a waste of money. They’d probably race like Nashville.
Amy: I think NASCAR needs to look harder at these series and see what they’re doing right. Two super tight championship battles without a big fat gimmick, and, if you look at CWTS, a huge number of different and first time winners…great stuff.
Summer: I’d like to see all tracks reconfigured into figure eight tracks with random explosives and banana peels thrown in. …But that’s beside the point.
Matt S.: And I’d love to see Auto Club turned into a 28 degree banked monster. We can all dream.
Amy: New Chase gimmick: every Chase driver gets one banana peel and one stick of dynamite at the start of every race.
Matt S.: I’m not convinced that we won’t see the Chase migrate to the lower series in some form within the next 10 years.
Summer: They’d have to get rid of the crossovers first.
Phil: Cripes. I like CTR: Crash Team Racing as much as everyone else, but gee whiz.
Mike N.: I actually think the Chase is going to leave Cup, but I may be mistaken.
Amy: Personally, I hope neither series gets better than the other. Two tight, Chase-free championship battles is what the sport needs
Mike N.: The thing that would save Trucks, Nationwide and Cup is more short tracks and less Intermediate tracks, but that isn’t going to happen, so we’re wasting our breath.
Phil: Someone threw around the idea that Johanna Long could win this year on the Team Onion Twitter earlier today. If this were 1990, I’d agree. Not so much now.

*Predictions For Chicago?*

Amy: I’m going with Clint Bowyer and his 10.2 average finish. He has momentum on his side, too.
Summer: Jimmie Johnson.
Amy: Johnson has to win at Chicago sometime, I suppose…
Kevin: Jeff Gordon.
Phil: I’m going to go with Martin Truex Jr. The track has similarities to the now-defunct version of Kansas Speedway that he dominated earlier this year.
Matt S.: Pick for Chicago? I like Keselowski. He tends to run well at the flatter 1.5 milers
Amy: I disagree, Matt. If you got rid of the designated hitter rule, it wouldn’t negate every American League World Series win.
Mike N.: I’m going to take Matt Kenseth at Chicago.
Amy: T most, it would get a notation that there was a different system in place at the bottom of the page
Mike N.: Remember Matt, Richard Petty won his titles with either three or four different point systems. It doesn’t negate anything when they change the system.
Phil: Heck, they don’t even note the various point system changes in most stats.
Matt S.: Perhaps negate was the wrong word, but from a business standpoint it just looks bad to scrap your whole vision for the future like that. I would hate to see NASCAR take a step backward in that regard.
Matt S.: My opinion has always been that if we’re going to have the Chase format, NASCAR needs to stick by what it believes in and not change it anymore.

*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

Federated Auto Parts 400

*Writer* *Pick* *Finishing Position* *Points*
Amy Henderson Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 14th 0
Beth Lunkenheimer Kevin Harvick 10th 1
Summer Bedgood Kyle Busch 16th 0
Kevin Rutherford Denny Hamlin 18th 0
Phil Allaway Carl Edwards 17th 0
Tom Bowles Marcos Ambrose 15th 0

_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
Mike Neff 33 22 *3* *9* 14
Kevin Rutherford 33 19 2 *10* 13
Amy Henderson 31 -2 23 1 9 *17*
Phil Allaway 25 -8 25 1 7 13
Tom Bowles 8 -25 5 2 2 2
Rick Lunkenheimer 5 -28 1 1 1 1
Matt Stallknecht 5 -28 1 1 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -30 17 1 2 5
Tony Lumbis 1 -32 1 0 0 1
Summer Bedgood 0 -33 3 0 0 1
Jeff Meyer 0 -33 1 0 0 0
Jesse Medford -2 -35 1 0 0 0
Vito Pugliese -2 -37 1 0 0 0

*Connect with Amy!*

“Contact Amy Henderson”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14352/

*Connect with Mike!*

“Contact Mike Neff”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

*Connect with Summer!*

“Contact Summer Bedgood”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/28526/

*Connect with Phil!*

“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18440/

*Connect with Kevin!*

“Contact Kevin Rutherford”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

*Connect with Matt!*

“Contact Matt Stallknecht”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/38642/

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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