Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Underdogs, Middlebrook, and A Nationwide Charge From Behind?

Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, 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!

Editor’s Note: At the time this column was written, the appeal for the No. 20 team had not yet taken place. The omission of discussion about the reduction of penalties for that team was dictated by time, not a desire to skip over it on our part.

This Week’s Participants:

Beth Lunkenheimer (Sundays / Tracking the Trucks & Thursdays / Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Managing Editor)
Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)

As heartwarming as it may have been to see the underdog team of Front Row Motorsports finish 1-2 in Sunday’s race at Talladega, it certainly wouldn’t have happened anywhere else other than perhaps Daytona. Does that “cheapen” the win or do they deserve their congratulations regardless?

Summer: It shouldn’t cheapen it, because they were all on equal footing. If anything, because restrictor plate racing tends to level the playing field, I think that speaks more to their driving ability. The way I see it, restrictor plate racing may be different and a crapshoot. But you still have to drive like hell to win and they certainly did that.
There are some drivers who are just naturally good at restrictor plate tracks, and that doesn’t happen by accident.
Phil: I wholeheartedly believe that Front Row deserves their congrats. However, it should be noted that it is a restrictor plate race. The playing field is a lot more equal.
Beth: I’d be willing to be if you ask either David Ragan or David Gillialnd, they’d say they won that race and deserve their congratulations.
Summer:Well, yeah, and Bob Jenkins for that matter. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else sees it the same way.
Phil: As I noted last week, Front Row has done a lot of great things in these plate races over the past two-plus seasons.
Amy: It doesn’t cheapen the win at all. In order to win, a team has to be the best on the day. When it counted Sunday, that was the No. 34. It doesn’t change the fact that plate “racing” is a massive roll of the dice, but it was sure nice to see this roll come up sevens.
Beth: It’s proof that those smaller teams can get to victory lane. And while restrictor plate racing may be just a crapshoot, you have to be around at the end of the race to even have a shot at victory lane, and that’s a big feat in itself.
Summer: The only bitter moment about it is that I wish we could see that from them more often. The only time we’d ever even come close to that sort of thing anywhere else is during fuel mileage. That’s not to say fuel mileage races aren’t commendable, too. My point is that these stories don’t happen as often as they do. Though you could make the argument they wouldn’t be as special if they did.

Amy: It wasn’t luck that Ragan won, it was the way he drove the end of the race. The luck factor comes in with the crashes…whether you get one or not they might as well draw from a hat
Summer: And that was my point earlier, Amy. Ragan and Gilliland were up front because they made the right moves to get there. There was no luck in that.
Phil: I agree. I have no doubt that the dudes that work on Front Row’s three cars work as hard or harder than the other teams in the garage. Not having high paying sponsors and Bob Jenkins footing “80-90 percent of the bill” (according to Gilliland) means that they’re not able to put their best foot forward. Hopefully, Sunday’s performance will help the teams acquire more sponsorship. The Peanut Patch backing on the No. 34 this week was already acquired before Talladega, I think (despite the team announcing it today).
Amy: Any small team will tell you that. They work harder, because one guy has to do the jobs of five at a big team. That anyone can win is the only good thing about Talladega, but it is part of the package. The big guns got outraced. Simple as that
Beth: And that’s why this win was so key for that organization, Phil. It’s hopefully a bit of a push that could help them out on the sponsorship side a little.
Summer:It was really nice to see them get their reward. I mean, yes, you hear the driver say “Man, I’d like to thank these guys”. But it just feels different with teams like Front Row.
Beth: Agreed, Summer. Those words seem to have so much more meaning…and that could be more of a sense of true gratitude since those drivers are probably working right alongside their teammates throughout much of the week.
Summer: Right. Ragan said he’d be right back in the shop the next morning.
Amy: Ragan is an excellent plate racer. He didn’t back into that one.
Phil: Oh, most definitely, Amy. This is someone that had he not screwed up, would have three restrictor plate wins instead of two.
Summer: I really hope no one says “Ragan may have won in Cup, but only at restrictor plates.” That’s not fair. He’s earned both wins and this one especially because of the equipment he’s in.
Beth: The bottom line is that the winner at Talladega is definitely a feel good story that the sport needed. And both Davids earned that one-two finish.
Phil: Front Row Motorsports is naturally on Cloud 9 right now. They deserve every bit of praise that they’re getting for the win.

The several hour long delays because of rain over the weekend were brutal, but both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series did make it to the checkered flag. Even once the race resumed green, though, racing conditions were still less than favorable with sporadic sprinkles and impending darkness. Was NASCAR right to restart the races?

Summer: I think NASCAR was right to start or restart the races. I’m torn on whether or not they should have called the races sooner.
I’ll be honest— I wanted them to race to the finish. But I don’t know that they should have.
Phil: In the case of the Nationwide race, it was basically like that for almost all of it. I was completely fine with it on Sunday. I understand what NASCAR did with shortening the race on Saturday. Honestly, I’m surprised they started it when they did. Kinda flies in the face of the whole “we’re not starting the race if we can’t get the full distance in” thing.
Summer: They got pretty darn close though. I really do commend NASCAR for trying but, gosh, I think they need to find a way to measure that sort of thing in situations like that.
Amy: They made absolutely, 100% the right call both days.
Beth: Honestly, I’d rather see them complete the races on Sunday than call them early. Neither day was a complete washout by any means.
Summer: Or, you know, Talladega could just add lights.
Phil: You got eight figures to pay for that, Summer?
Summer: Eh… crowdsource part of it. Do something. A race under the lights at Dega would be killer. Hell they could build a casino like Kansas did.
Beth: I’d love to see Talladega add lights so the daylight running out wouldn’t be an issue.
Amy: Killer might be a good word for it…
Summer: Nah. It’d just be awesome like Daytona’s July race.
Phil: Well, this is no less than the 4th time that darkness has crept up on Talladega races.
Amy: Hopefully, once they perfect the Air Titan dryers, it will cut the wait time. Aren’t they supposed to cut the big tracks to under an hour?
Summer: That was another thing Amy. The track didn’t dry any quicker with Air Titan than it did before. At least from what I could tell. I think NASCAR made the right call, in the end. Though I do wish there was a simpler solution to the problem.
Beth: NASCAR made the right call on both days. Unfortunately, we happen to watch a sport that’s directly affected by adverse weather, and sometimes delays like those are inevitable.
Amy: Yes, it was definitely the right call. Except for the caution on the whilte flag lap in the NNS race, but that’s another story…
Summer: Well .. yeah. Don’t even get me started.

NASCAR’s Chief Appellatte Officer, John Middlebrook, opted to reduce the suspensions for some of Penske Racing’s crew members. Was this the right call or should the original penalties been upheld?

Phil: Well, the decision does make the penalties less “season killing” than they were. Still not a whole lot in the way of explanations, though.
Summer: I think the suspensions were the only issues I had with the penalty. Way too harsh to keep all those guys away from the track for so long.
Amy: Again, as I’ve said all along…you can’t really answer any of these questions without knowing what the exact violation was. If there was an illegal part, the original penalties were fair. If there was not, they weren’t. We don’t know exactly what the issue was with the suspension.
Beth: I didn’t agree with a seven race suspension for that many team members, so that reduction is fine with me.
Amy: At least with the Kenseth violation, NASCAR told us what the exact violation was.
Summer: From what I heard, and from what is explained in the official announcement, it’s that the parts weren’t pre-approved. I mean there were a whole host of other issues with it, but that was the main one.
Amy: If that’s the case, they should have gotten whatever Joe Gibbs Racing got for the unapproved oil pans from a year or so ago. If it was unapproved and also illegal, then the suspensions were in line. Six races is pretty standard.
Summer: I wasn’t as much against the length of the suspensions as the amount of individuals who were suspended. I was hoping that would be reduced instead, but I guess the length is fine.
Beth: If the parts were unapproved and we go on the logic that their penalties should mirror that of JGR, then the fine should have been 50k and probation to the end of the year. Seems like this penalty is a hell of a lot larger than that.
Phil: 50 Grand’s still a hefty piece of change.
Amy: Right, but the oil pans were not deemed illegal, only unapproved. If the Penske cars were also illegal, the suspensions are in line with other teams caught cheating. Yes, it was more people, but as long as NASCAR is consistent going forward, I don’t have an issue with that.
Beth: NASCAR Consistent? You’re holding your breath, right?
Amy: If, in essence, the crew chief is responsible for the actions of his crew, then the car chief is responsible for the car being legal. And face it, if the crew chief is suspended and the car chief or engineer takes over, the team doesn’t miss a beat.
Beth: But in this case it’s different, Amy. The car chiefs, team engineers and competition director are suspended as well. You’re talking seven different Penske team members under suspension for the next three events (counting the All Star race).
Summer: Yes, Beth, that was what threw me. That they completely got rid of anyone who might have touched that car. I agree with the reduction, though I wish we had more specific details on what happened.
Amy: But, if you don’t suspend the car cheif and engineer, the team goes on as if nothing else happened. This way, they’re actually punished. And, if they actually were cheating, I don’t have a problem with that. If they were not, shame on NASCAR.
Phil: Penske Racing will be crippled for the rest of the month. They won’t be dead on arrival, though. Had everything been upheld, the season would have basically been over.
Phil: They’re still getting punished. However, Penske’s got a decent bullpen. They’ll survive.
Summer: I find it hard to believe NASCAR would have penalized them this hard in the first place if they weren’t cheating in some way.
Amy: I do too, Summer, especially since Middlebrook upheld the fines and points. I expected a reduction in some form from him—I think there have only been two instances where Middlebrook upheld everything NASCAR handed down.

Beth: Penske’s got plenty of people in place—they’re far from crippled for the rest of the month. And frankly, with technology these days, you’ll have couch crew chiefing and it’ll probably come out smoother than ever.

The Nationwide Series championship points battle shifted rather dramatically on Saturday, with Regan Smith’s victory propelling him to the top of the standings. With Sam Hornish Jr. now 27 points back in second, the championship is currently a two main battle. Can Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, or Elliott Sadler catch back up before season’s end?

Phil: I can see Hornish getting back in the hunt if he resumes the form from earlier in the season.
Summer: I think Hornish has it in him for sure. Allgaier might, but he hasn’t had the consistency.
Amy: Sure they can. Hornish had a huge lead a couple races ago and Smith caught him. No reason others can’t do the same.
Phil: Allgaier, Kligerman and Sadler are a full race back. They’re going to need quite a bit of bad luck from Regan to get back in the hunt (or in Kligerman’s case, in the hunt at all).
Amy: I think the one most likely to mount a huge run is Brian Vickers. He’s had rotten luck, but want into the season as the favorite for a reason.
Beth: Remember, aside from the rest of the races on the schedule, the Nationwide Series has another trip to Daytona in their future, and things can change just as dramatically then as it did at Talladega.
Summer: I agree with that, Beth, though I’m really surprised Sadler and Dillon aren’t doing better.
Phil: Behind Smith and Hornish, third through eighth are pretty close (13 points between them). The idea of Vickers going on a run is possible. Kyle Busch winning all the dang time can’t be done in a vacuum. Some benefit should filter over to Vickers from that.
Amy: All it can take to change everything is a blown engine or two and a couple of times getting caught in someone’s mess.
Summer: I believe in a charge from Sadler more so than Vickers. Vickers will not only have to near dominate. Several drivers ahead of him will have to suck for a while.
Phil: Vickers is four points behind Sadler. That could be made up by a great pit stop Friday night.
Summer: I guess I never looked closely before. I didn’t realize that the top eight were only separated by 53 points.
Amy: Vickers is a better driver than Sadler and they have the best equipment in the series. On equipment alone, JGR should win the title.
Summer: I know, and that’s what’s so shocking about Regan Smith. I thought for sure he would be buried underneath Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. I think the championship will be a three man battle. I think Smith, Hornish, and at least one other. I’m leaning slightly towards Sadler.
Beth: There is so much season left, it’s really hard to count anyone out at this point if they’re inside the top 10.
Phil: It is true that Regan Smith has done very well in the JR Motorsports equipment. For JGR, Sadler simply has no luck at all. Wrecks, multiple engine issues. If it bites, it happens to Sadler. When that finally stops, then he’ll contend.

Predictions for Darlington?
Summer: I’m going with Jeff Gordon.
Phil: I’m liking what I’m seeing these days out of this team. I’m going with a mini-upset. Aric Almirola.
Amy: I think I’ll go with Keselowski
Beth: Well I’ll take the easy way out and go with Jimmie Johnson. He’s been pretty hot this season.

Connect with Amy!

Contact Amy Henderson

Connect with Beth!

Contact Beth Lunkenheimer

Connect with Phil!

Contact Phil Allaway

Connect with Summer!

Contact Summer Bedgood

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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