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/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Full Throttle / Short Track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/
Summer Bedgood “(Wednesdays / Power Rankings & Thursdays / Fan Q&A & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/32575/
Kevin Rutherford (Wednesdays / Kevin’s Corner)
*Clint Bowyer’s win on Saturday night in Charlotte moved Bowyer into fourth in Sprint Cup points, 28 behind leader Brad Keselowski. Did Bowyer make up enough ground to put himself back in the title race, or is this one a case of too little, too late?*
Kevin: 28 points is a tough number to overcome, but it’s not impossible. If Bowyer keeps rattling off good finishes, he could be within striking distance by Homestead, if not earlier.
Mike N.: I think it’s too little, too late. It is one thing to gain points on one driver, but you aren’t going to jump over three of them when you’re still more than half of a race out.
Amy: He still has a _lot_ of ground to make up, and remember, he doesn’t just have Keselowski to worry about. I did the math, and not only does Bowyer have to beat Keselowski by an average of six spots every week, he has to beat Jimmie Johnson by four and Denny Hamlin by three.
Phil: Bowyer’s made up enough to make it interesting, but it is by no means an easy climb.
Summer: I’d call him a possible dark horse runner. But overall, no, I don’t think think he stands a chance.
Amy: That’s what makes it harder. Bowyer could make all that up if the other three all have a big issue.
Mike N.: I honestly think Hamlin still has an outside shot at best. This one is very close to being a two-horse race. Don’t forget, besides Talladega, Johnson hasn’t finished worse than fourth.
Amy: Unless Johnson picks up the pace, it’s going to be like Secretariat in the Belmont… sure, there were other horses _in_ that race, but nobody remembers them.
Phil: It’s not quite that bad. You make it sound like Brad’s already got a 50-point lead.
Amy: Seven isn’t much, but I think both Johnson and Hamlin have to beat Keselowski this week, and Johnson really needs a win to convince me he’s a threat.
Mike N.: Hamlin has to beat Johnson by two spots every race over the last five. That would mean he’s going to have to finish first or second most weeks.
Summer: I’m convinced Johnson is a threat just because he’s been up there literally every week. And he’ll eventually win. He won’t finish the Chase without at least one.
Kevin: I’m with Summer on Johnson… I mean, a win would help, but he’s been up there so much that I’m not sure he even _needs_ one, unless Brad just kills it these last few.
Mike N.: 2nd, 2nd, 4th and 3rd and Johnson’s not a threat Amy? Are you on crack?
Amy: Johnson has been running well, but is just a tick behind the other two. He’s running well while Keselowski dominates.
Mike N.: I think it is time for Mirror Driving to implement a drug testing program. Dominate? How are they dominating?
Summer: I don’t get that vibe. I get the sense that Johnson is basically just keeping himself in the game and is right where he needs to be. He doesn’t have to be in Victory Lane every week to be a threat, and the No. 48 team knows this fact better than anyone.
Amy: Both Hamlin and Keselowski had better cars at Charlotte than Johnson did.
Phil: Not that much better. He just got behind because of the two-tire gamble and never really was able to get that back.
Amy: True, the two-tire gamble was a huge part of it, but that’s a part of the big picture… whatever Knaus was thinking with the call, it took away any chance they had to win. The No. 48 might have run with Hamlin at the end if not for conserving fuel, but if earlier in the race was any indication, he wasn’t going to beat him.
Phil: Who knows how the race would have turned out if there were a caution with, say, 30 laps to go. It would have been an interesting finish to say the least.
Mike N.: Johnson finished third, for God’s sake. Meanwhile, Hamlin has run 16th, first, 8th, 14th and second. That is hardly dominating. BTW, Hamlin led 36 laps and Johnson led 53. How did Hamlin have a far better car than Johnson again?
Amy: Look at Dover, though, Mike. Kyle Busch and Hamlin had that in the bag if not for fuel mileage, and Johnson wasn’t quite as good.
Mike N.: Well Keselowski has been 1st, 6th, 1st, 7th and 11th. Again, I may be missing it but I don’t see how he’s better than Johnson at this point.
Amy: Keselowski has two wins, Mike. Johnson has zero.
Mike N.: I just don’t see it. Johnson suffered from a bad tire call but still finished third. He led the third most laps in the race.
Summer: I’m thinking that after Charlotte, Johnson will start to show his cards a little more. I’m in no way convinced he’s out of it.
Amy: Like I said, when Johnson wins in convincing fashion, I’ll consider him a bigger threat.
Phil: The only way Johnson ends up out of it is if he wrecks sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Mike N.: Yeah, and he has finishes of 7th, 11th and 6th. Outside of Talladega, Johnson has one fourth. When he wins, I’ll consider it over.
Summer: I don’t think that’s necessary. I think the race between the three of them is just close enough that he hasn’t exactly stood out. But I wouldn’t go so far to say that Hamlin and Keselowski have an advantage, either.
Mike N.: I think he’s going to win it without winning just to show everyone it can be done.
Summer: The original question was about Bowyer, and I think he’s a dark horse at best. For the most part, though, I don’t think he has a shot.
Amy: Bowyer just has so far to go… beating all three of those guys by as much as he needs to every week without them having something go wrong is unlikely.
Mike N.: Bottom line, Bowyer has a miniscule chance at best. Hamlin is probably on the outside looking in. It is really Johnson’s to lose.
Kevin: 28 points is tough, and probably unlikely. Bowyer will need to rely on subpar finishes from those ahead of him. And that’s just probably not gonna happen.
Phil: Bowyer could easily challenge for third. However, getting to Keselowski and even Johnson might be quite a task if they don’t have something go wrong. However, since the chance of something going wrong is always out there, I can’t count him out yet.
Amy: That’s just it, though. Bowyer’s fate isn’t in his own hands where he is in points. He can win the next five races and if Keselowski, Johnson, or Hamlin finishes second, he can’t beat them.
Mike N.: Johnson’s average finish on 1.5-mile tracks is two spots better than anyone else this year and there are two more of those tracks left, not counting Homestead because it is a true oval. So Johnson is the favorite. Unless they have a mechanical failure, they’re going to win.
Amy: Average finish is nice, Mike, but how many _wins_ does Johnson have on the 1.5’s vs. the other two? If they’re winning, second won’t get it done. Keselowski is the favorite as long as he has the points lead
Mike N.: If they win and then finish 11th while Johnson finishes third twice, he makes up ground.
*Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made headlines when it was announced that he’s out at least through this weekend at Kansas with a concussion after he took it upon himself to see a doctor for his symptoms. Should NASCAR be taking a harder line on having drivers checked out for head injuries, or is relying on the drivers to do it themselves enough?*
Phil: They should. I’m surprised that Earnhardt was able to hide it, and thus have the wreck in Kansas written off as nothing major. Seems a lot worse than it actually was. Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that he hid the concussion because he did it in 2002. Probably had one when he crashed the Corvette in 2004, then claimed his father pulled him from the car.
Kevin: Ooh, that’s a tough one… I’d like to think that the drivers can handle this one themselves. But if we see other instances like Junior’s, NASCAR should probably start doing it.
Summer: They can’t handle themselves because they are afraid of missing the races. Yes, NASCAR needs to make sure that they’re being checked out.
Amy: Here’s the thing… how much harder of a line can they take? I do think NASCAR should take baseline tests for each driver, each year, but what else can they do? In Junior’s case, the MRI showed nothing, so the doctor had to rely on what Junior said. In cases like that, all the driver has to do is say he’s having no symptoms and he’s clear.
Mike N.: I don’t know. I generally think that people should be responsible for themselves and their own health, but there is the potential for a concussion to impair a driver’s ability and thus have a detrimental impact on those around them.
Summer: Mike, that’s why I’m in favor of it. They could be putting others at risk.
Amy: Should they force every driver to have a CT scan or an MRI every time they crash? I don’t know if that’s the answer, especially if they could get the car fixed. Not every wreck is equal, and not every driver gets a concussion every time. On the other hand, I totally agree that driving hurt endangers every other driver in the field and that’s unacceptable, too.
Mike N.: And that is why I’m torn. I think drivers should be able to determine if they race or not. Giving up a ride can have very long-lasting results and I’m sure there are many drivers who don’t want to take that chance.
Phil: If it’s a hard hit, there are tests that should be performed in the Infield Care Center. Simple as that. These cars have black boxes that show G loads. Use them.
Summer: That’s what I was talking about, Phil. After a certain amount, require some sort of procedure. And isn’t there a way to determine that there _might_ be a concussion without the MRI/CT scan/etc.?
Amy: Summer, they might suspect a concussion if the driver was acting funny, was unconscious, or vomited… but if there are no visible signs, there really isn’t. You don’t always have things like double vision or loss of memory.
Mike N.: Different drivers also have different tolerances. I remember a rookie driver dying at Indy when he crashed at 160 mph because he had a genetic condition. Other drivers take 50 Gs and keep on digging. I don’t think there is a black and white line on this.
Summer: There’s no way a doctor could see the potential? Like with something in their eyes or something? There has to be some way to judge it without overreacting for every crash. Gosh, I’m just not 100% convinced that there aren’t symptoms of a concussion that could be a baseline for NASCAR or some trained personnel at the track to wave the red flag.
Amy: Not necessarily, Summer. The problem still is that much of the evaluation still goes by what a patient says to the doctor if they aren’t acting weird and lie about say, headaches — how would anyone know they had a concussion?
Phil: This is another reason to have a traveling safety team. Bill Elliott and his wife pitched it to NASCAR in the mid-1990’s and they nixed it.
Amy: Still, Dr. Petty said in the press conference that not one of the clinical tests showed there was a problem with Junior, Phil. If Junior hadn’t told him of the headaches, he’d have missed it… and he’s a well-known and respected neurosurgeon.
Summer: Hmm…. maybe have a voluntary system? “Would you like to receive a test” or something like that? I guess that still goes on the discretion of the drivers.
Phil: That wouldn’t work. They’d all refuse. Here’s my idea; Darrell Waltrip was talking about Impact tests on Twitter earlier this week. This is similar to what is used in the NFL. Maybe sensors in the helmets could be utilized as well like what’s been pilot tested by North Carolina’s (I think) football team.
Amy: That might be worth looking into, Phil…put an impact sensor on their noggin and if it hits a certain reading, make them get evaluated further.
Summer: I think they need to use the measurements from the car and make it a judgment call. I feel like that’s the only way to do it.
Amy: Perhaps NASCAR needs to look at allowing a sub to earn points for a driver _if_ he is not medically cleared, or to go to a points system that allows them to drop their two worst finishes or something. That’s the only way they might get some guys to be truthful.
Mike N.: Well, we’ve been saying for years they need to stop paying points below 20th place.
Amy: I also like Phil’s idea of the impact sensors in the helmet… if they hit a certain number, the driver needs further evaluation.
Kevin: I like that idea, too. Seems to be the most attainable so far.
Mike N.: I think they should do a test at the beginning of the season and then have to pass the test again each week before they can practice.
Amy: Mike’s idea is a good one, but when do you have the time and resources to perform neurological exams on 43+ people every week.
Mike N.: 1) NASCAR has the resources. 2) They could do it as the driver walks out to do his mandatory open autograph session every week.
Amy: But again…what if the driver lies and says he remembers it all when he doesn’t, or that he doesn’t have headaches when he does… there’s no way to completely prevent them from driving injured, unfortunately. A neuro exam isn’t a five-minute thing.
Phil: The timeline we’ve just seen is a pretty good way to look at it. If someone has a big wreck, test them after that. Then, the threshold for testing would drop since concussion risk increases each time you get one.
Amy: Again, Junior passed all those tests… if he hadn’t said he was having the headaches, he’d have been cleared to drive. Bottom line, they could do more as far as using technology to measure head impact, but some guys will lie and drive hurt.
*AJ Allmendinger will be back in the seat of the No. 51 at Kansas after finishing 24th in that car at Charlotte. Is this a step toward a return to a solid ride in 2013, or will Allmendinger top out in a lower-tier ride?*
Summer: He’ll have lower-tier rides until the end of his career is my guess.
Amy: I think the ‘Dinger is kind of stuck, not because of his performance or his suspension, but because there are no rides.
Kevin: Probably lower-tier, at least for now. If AJ does something exceptional, he might go higher… but, like Amy said, there’s just no rides available right now.
Phil: True, rides are very hard to come by. Now, I hope he could do something in the short amount of time that he’ll get in the No. 51 before Earnhardt Jr. returns and Regan Smith gets in the car. My best guess is that he might be looking for a Nationwide ride next year.
Amy: Regan isn’t signed to the 51, Phil, and my guess is that as long as Dinger does well, he’ll keep the ride. Smith has been in talks with Hendrick and JR Motorsports for a full-time NNS opportunity… and he’s better off taking that than the Phoenix Cup ride.
Mike N.: He’ll probably be in a lower-tier ride until he wins a race. I’m still astounded he’s back in the series already. I feel bad for all of the other guys who didn’t get to come back so quickly.
Amy: Whether or not he gets something better a year from now will depend on his performance. If he continues to improve on performance at Phoenix Racing like he did at Charlotte, and can do that for Phoenix or another team next year, someone could well pick him up.
Kevin: At any rate, I think it could be a step toward something in 2013… it may not end up being much, but I think it’s better he’s out there now than having nothing to do for the remainder of 2012.
Phil: There’s only so much good that AJ can do sitting around on his tuchis. He needs to have a couple of good weeks in the No. 51 and hope for the best. Maybe someone will take notice of Allmendinger and take a chance on sponsoring him. That’s the only way I could see him driving for Phoenix Racing next year… unless they stepped back to Nationwide and went full-time there.
Mike N.: It is always a good Mirror Driving when you can drop tuchis in the conversation.
Amy: Here’s the thing. ‘Dinger had a decent night Saturday –better than his finish showed. He improved that car’s average finish by a full spot and had their second-best performance in four weeks… not bad for not having driven in four months. Kurt Busch can’t say the same for his race Saturday. He drove the 78 to its worst finish in a month and didn’t improve the average.
Phil: Busch didn’t improve the average but, like Allmendinger, he ran better than where he finished for most of the race.
Mike N.: I’m not sure it says how much ‘Dinger can wheel it as much as how easy it is to drive a Cup car these days.
Phil: It’s “easy” to drive these beastly creatures? Since when?
Amy: Yeah, really. And if it’s so easy, how come everyone isn’t improving their teams’ numbers?
Mike N.: Because they slot into their position at the drop of the green and then they drive around in the same spot until the caution flies. Then they pull into the pits, make a stop, get back in line and drive around until the yellow flies again.
Phil: I still don’t think that’s all that easy to do. It just looks that way.
Amy: I would bet money ‘Dinger didn’t do that Saturday. And I don’t think any of them do.
Summer: I don’t either, Mike. If it’s that easy, why aren’t any of us doing it instead of just talking about it?
Mike N.: Because none of us were able to drive the harder cars coming up to get a shot at a ride — and none of us have a daddy with big bucks to buy us one.
Amy: If you listen to those small teams on the radio, they’re not stroking. They’re giving it everything they have.
Summer: You can’t tell me most if not all of those guys out there on the track had to bust their butts to get where they are.
Amy: Or that they don’t bust their butts every week to get the best finish they can.
Mike N.: I’m never saying they’re stroking. They drive for all they are worth but these cars are so aero dependent that you can’t do anything with them. That is why you have parades like Saturday more often than not on tracks that are more than a mile long. And if you are leading 130 laps and then you drop a lug on a stop and come out, say, 11th, you’re not going to come back and win, period.
Kevin: Anyways, I think Allmendinger was pretty impressive given how long he’d been out of a car and the little prep time he had. I don’t know if he’ll be getting a ride next year anywhere, but it’s good to see him back in a car regardless.
Summer: I think A.J. Allmendinger will scrounge around in Cup, find an OK ride in Nationwide, and eventually all but disappear.
Amy: I think if Allmendinger can get decent performances in subpar equipment, he’ll get noticed. He also has a shot at a top ride in IndyCar should he decide to go that route.
Phil: Kurt did say that Phoenix Racing’s cars are roughly 4 years old. Part of the reason that’s so is that Kurt wrecked darn near every newer car the team had. Regardless, I think AJ did just fine for not being in a car since July. He’ll be looking to do even better in Kansas.
Mike N.: I give AJ props for scoring the finish he did. I’m still not going to agree that he should be in the series at all yet, but it was a good finish for him.
Amy: Why not, Mike? He completed NASCAR’s requirement for his return, period.
Mike N.: Because there are a lot of other guys who have completed the program and don’t have the same opportunities.
*Just fourteen drivers have attempted the entire NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2012. Should this number be of concern to NASCAR, and what can be done to attract new teams to the series?*
Mike N.: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe pay more than the handful of loose change they do for their purses?
Amy: It’s definitely a problem. Purses are a big part of it, as is sponsorship. Perhaps the Official Bacon-Flavored Motor Oil of NASCAR would be better served on a race car than on NASCAR’s wall?
Mike N.: Ya think? Or the official farm equipment. Do they honestly need the official farm equipment of NASCAR? I want to see Brian’s ass on a freaking tractor.
Phil: I wouldn’t mind seeing that.
Kevin: It’s starting to look like ARCA’s been the last few years, where just running the whole season and maybe getting a top 10 or two might get you in the top 10 in standings overall.
Amy: It’s not healthy for the sport as a whole. That series used to be thriving because teams could come in with a smaller company for a sponsor. The sponsor could afford the whole season and the car could be competitive. It was Roush who changed that with the Gain sponsorship… got huge money and it all took off from there.
Phil: I’d argue it changed with the engine compression rule change. It just so happened to coincide with when Gain showed up.
Amy: I don’t know, Phil… it seems like if the money hadn’t spiraled out of control, the engine changes wouldn’t have taken 20 teams out of the game. There used to be full fields of moderately competitive cars and start and parks didn’t happen.
Phil: Yeah, Busch/Nationwide races used to be quite competitive. I also think that a lot of these teams are sadly still adjusting to the COT. Takes them a lot longer to get good stuff than Cup teams.
Amy: Yeah, but the problem started long before the COT came into play. I’d say the issue started at least 12 years ago but NASCAR ignored it.
Kevin: And it doesn’t seem like it’s gonna go away anytime soon.
Mike N.: Here’s one for you. Last place at Charlotte in the Fall Nationwide race, in 2000 paid $9,185. Friday night, last place paid $9,060. Can you explain any other reason that the series is in trouble? Think about it. Beside a Compaq 486 and a Chevy Chevette, is there anything else that costs less now than it did in 2000?
Amy: That’s definitely a problem, Mike. If you don’t get a top-10 finish, you don’t make enough to pay the tire bill.
Mike N.: Hell, let’s look at that. In 2000, Jeff Burton finished 10th in the Fall Nationwide race and won $16,450. Michael Annett finished 10th on Friday and won $21,818. The purses are simply embarrassing.
Phil: Purses aren’t the primary reason the series is in trouble, but it definitely isn’t helping.
Amy: Add that sponsors aren’t making up for that and you have 14 guys racing. The problem is that NASCAR doesn’t see the problem because, points or no, the Cup guys are filling up the fields, so the races are moderately competitive.
Phil: I’d argue that NASCAR should be steering some of these prospective sponsors towards the Nationwide-only teams since it’s a nice way for them to dip their toes in the water.
Mike N.: Yeah Phil, we’d all argue that, but it isn’t going to happen.
*How about some predictions for this week at Kansas?*
Amy: I’m going to take Denny Hamlin for the W.
Mike N.: Jimmie Johnson, please.
Kevin: Brad Keselowski will pad his points lead with a victory. Phil: I’m going with Tony Stewart. This new Kansas might be like Las Vegas, and Tony won there in March.
Summer: I’ll go with Greg Biffle.
Phil: As far as I’m concerned, Kansas is a near complete unknown. My best guess is that this track will be similar to Las Vegas, just in a more moist environment.
*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
Bank of America 500