Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Safety Solutions, Underdogs in the Chase, and Blaney’s New Ride

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 & Wednesdays / The Frontstretch Five & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Wednesdays / NASCAR Mailbox & Frontstretch Senior Editor)

After being involved in a vicious crash during Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen, Ryan Newman was very outspoken about the need for updated safety features. Was Newman right, and how can the track best address the issue?

Amy: I think Newman was right about some areas. The problem with the Armco and the tires is that they act like a slingshot and send the cars right back into traffic.
Summer: Are SAFER barriers all the way around the track too much to ask for? I know it’s expensive but it’s better than the alternative.
Amy: I think the problem with that one section where the Boot runs off has always been a trouble spot because they can’t put permanent barriers there.

Ryan Newman was outspoken about the archaic safety features of Watkins Glen International. Was his opinion justified?
Ryan Newman was outspoken about the archaic safety features of Watkins Glen International. Was his opinion justified?

Phil: It’s not the first time these sentiments have been voiced. Problem is, that’s a tough spot there. The tires give you a “soft” place to hit, but I just don’t know what else will work. Where McDowell hit is a real head-scratcher as to what could be improved.
Summer: Even so, I can’t help but think there has to be some sort of alternative.
Amy: The obvious solution to that section of track is to run the Boot as was intended.
Phil: As for the SAFER Barriers, Rusty Wallace estimated a cost of $10 million to do it at Watkins Glen and I’m not even sure if that includes the Boot.
Phil: Also, I’d argue that hitting a SAFER barrier makes for a harder hit than hitting a tire barrier.
Amy: No, Phil, but SAFER barriers don’t throw you back into traffic. I don’t think concrete and SAFER barriers all the way around is necessarily needed, but they should be installed in certain sections.
Summer: Throwing a car into traffic is what the problem was there. I don’t know. It might just be the events of Saturday night but it’s hard to put a price on safety. I know Phil just quoted a price and that’s not an easy sum of money to reach, but it’s hard to sit here and say they shouldn’t.
Phil: Knowing that ISC is spending the kind of money to renovate Daytona that they currently are, I’m pretty sure that putting SAFER Barriers all the way around is not feasible at Watkins Glen for at least until Daytona Rising is done.
Amy: Unfortunately, you’re probably right. But seriously, why not run the Boot? That eliminates the worst section of track and might improve the already excellent racing. Yes, I know it means fewer times past the frontstretch stands for fans, but it makes so much sense. Also, maybe it was a bad idea to take out the kitty litter and pave. That stuff was a pain to deal with, but it did its job.
Phil: Take out the kitty litter where? That had nothing to do with Newman’s crash. There was no trap exiting Turn 9. That was just grass.
Amy: No, but it did help stop a lot of cars over the years. That area by the Boot is the worst, but it’s not the only place that cars crash, and the litter did help in some of them.
Phil: I’m not opposed to running the Boot. That’s something that’s been proposed in the past. NASCAR would listen, but I think they’d use a lot of the same reasoning that resulted in the short course being added to Sonoma back in the late 1990’s.
Amy: Yeah, and Sonoma was better before they did that.
Phil: I’ll agree with that, Amy. Granted, there were a number of races at Sonoma pre-renovation that weren’t the greatest, but you had more places to pass.
Amy: Overall, Sunday’s race was very good. That one incident put a damper on it though.
Phil: I feel like they’d shorten the race if they ran the Boot, not just in laps but distance as well.
Amy: You’d have to shorten the laps. Hopefully they would keep the distance similar.
Phil: With the short course, I’m actually in favor of lengthening the race, but if this stuff keeps happening, I can’t see that ever happening.
Phil: Minus the red flags, the race was under 2.5 hours. With them, it was almost 4.5.
Amy: Yeah, it was long because of that. What a great ending, though. And winner’s points for me in the Mirror standings…
Summer: Seriously, the red flags were miserable but the ending was worth the wait. And I’d have given anything to have been in the Pit Studio with Brad Daugherty in that moment.
Amy: ESPN handled that well, by keeping the cameras and mike off until afterward.
Phil: Brad Daugherty outright went nuts with legitimate joy. It’s great for him, but it’s another reason why he shouldn’t be on-air for ESPN. Makes the network look bad.
Summer: How? If anything that was a fantastic moment! Like Amy said, it’s not like he was sitting there cheering live on the air. I think that was done beautifully. He was left out of it after it ended minus the video of his jumping up and down with Rusty Wallace. Which was somehow adorable. I don’t even know.
Amy: It’s still a conflict of interest, but he has always been a professional.
Phil: It was interesting, but in his position, Daugherty has to keep his head on straight.
Amy: I respect his emotion, and it was handled right by the network.
Summer: I agree with Amy on this. Brad is always professional and it’s ok to have moments of personal triumph on display. I don’t have a solution for that area of the track if SAFER barriers aren’t an option. I wish we could flip a switch and have them everywhere and money wasn’t an issue.
Amy: I do think there are safety improvements to be made. Running the Boot could eliminate the worst zone, but there should be sand traps and SAFER barriers in at least some areas.

In the wake of the incident in which Tony Stewart hit and killed a driver who was walking on the racing surface at Canandaigia Motorsports Park, should NASCAR create a rule preventing drivers from exiting their cars after a crash until given permission from the safety crew?

Amy: Yes, absolutely. It would set the right example for smaller series and local tracks. With the exception of fire, the car is the safest place.
Summer: I’m really torn on this. I want to be sensitive and emotional and say “yes, YES it should be a rule” but, really, if drivers want to be stupid enough to take that risk, let them. And I mean no disrespect to Ward. But when you put yourself in that situation, you have to know what the consequences might be.

Could the incident involving Tony Stewart at Canadaigua Motorsports Park this past weekend lead to safety changes in NASCAR?
Could the incident involving Tony Stewart at Canadaigua Motorsports Park this past weekend lead to safety changes in NASCAR?

Phil: The rule currently is for drivers to use extreme caution when exiting their vehicle. Technically, what we have right now is fine. On the level of Canandaigua, drivers typically don’t get out of the car until the car is towed back to the pits. If you get out for any reason after an incident, you’re done.
Amy: Yeah, but in the heat of the moment, you aren’t thinking that you could get run over. If there was a hefty fine for doing it, you might think twice, though. The pseudo-rule we have right now doesn’t do anything. Drivers who walk on the track to gesture to others or throw stuff don’t get fined for being there.
Phil: So you’re saying that we need a hefty fine for stupidity? I just don’t think it’s going to happen. It would likely be the ultimate snap judgement here.
Amy: If they throw a helmet or flip the bird, I believe there is a penalty, but other than that, not really.
Summer: Yeah and I understand it. I wouldn’t be against it but I’m concerned that will bring unnecessary penalties for people who aren’t doing anything wrong but still violate the rule. Like if they get out of their car before safety crews get there but don’t run out on the track or anything.
Phil: They don’t get fined because of the “Boys, have at it” stuff. That’s what I think will probably be gone because of this.
Amy: When would that be, Summer? It’s pretty simple: stay in the car until you’re told to get out.
Summer: Yeah, Phil, that’s how I feel about it. Common sense speaking, if you’re going to run out in front of a bunch of cars, you’re not really asking for a lot of sympathy.
Phil: Basically, we’ll be back to NASCAR micro-managing personalities and ticking people off.
Summer: Yeah but what if they just want to get out? They’re mad, they’re frustrated, they just want to get out. Release some energy, even if it just means throwing their HANS device at their seat. I just think that rule is unnecessary.
Amy: I think NASCAR sets an example for other racing series, like it or not.
Summer: They do, but drivers need to use common sense. Yeah, I know, in the heat of the moment it doesn’t always work that way, but it’s not like the driver is running out there against their own will. They know what they are doing. Hell, maybe now that this happened, they WILL think twice about it.
Amy: The ONLY good that can come from a racer’s death is improved safety. So, it’s time to make something out of this senseless tragedy. Unfortunately, too often, safety changes happen only after a tragedy. Had that rule been in place at Canandaigua, a 20-year-old wouldn’t have been buried this week.
Phil: In all honesty, the situation Saturday night is a very rare, unusual instance. We don’t have all the facts yet. As a result, NASCAR shouldn’t be making rule changes based on anything yet.
Summer: Right. How many drivers have run out onto the track in anger and gotten hit? I can’t think of any past incidents, especially not recently.
Amy: Is it that rare, Phil? Drivers do that on local tracks all the time. There likely have been other accidents, but we haven’t heard about them because they don’t involve famous drivers.
Summer: I don’t know, Amy. I would think the motorsports community would at least know. It wouldn’t necessarily be national news, but it would be news in motorsports.
Amy: If it happened between locals at East Jabip Speedway, would we have heard about it?
Phil: I’ve never heard of anything like it. I’ve heard of marshals getting hit. That happened in Formula 1 in 1977 in South Africa.
Summer: I would think it would have gotten around. I agree the bigger the name (or track), the faster it spreads, but people in the motorsports community tend to care about each other.
Amy: They do, but that doesn’t mean we’d all know about a local incident.
Summer: It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t.
Amy: Local drivers get in some pretty nasty accidents and we never hear about it on the evening news.
Phil: It wouldn’t be leading SportsCenter, FOX Sports Live, or any of the ESPN shows like Pardon the Interruption or Around the Horn.
Summer: There have been plenty of no-name deaths around the country that have made their rounds through the motorsports community. They weren’t as big of a deal but we heard. And given that this was a fairly rare occurrence, I think we would have at least heard about it.
Amy: Even if this was the first time, all the more reason to make sure it’s the last.
Summer: I don’t like the idea of adding a rule like that. I just feel like drivers need to use common sense. There doesn’t need to be a rule for everything just because something bad happened. Drivers should be more careful but NASCAR doesn’t need to get super-involved in everything.
Amy: I think that such a rule would only make the sport safer, which is a good thing for everyone and hurts nobody. Remember, NASCAR had to mandate the HANS device because a few drivers didn’t use common sense. This is no different. A few drivers didn’t want to wear a full-face helmet or a restraint of any kind, even though both were common sense. If drivers didn’t use common sense then, why are they all going to use it now? They aren’t, not always.

AJ Allmendinger’s win at Watkins Glen puts his No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing team in the Chase. Can Allmendinger, and fellow Chase underdog, Aric Almirola, actually compete for the title?

Summer: Nah… I don’t think so. But it sure is cool that they’ll have the opportunity.
Amy: For the entire Chase, that’s unlikely. Can they survive an elimination or two, sure.
Summer: The cream will rise to the top with this format, I believe.

Will AJ Allmendinger be a legitimate threat in the Chase?
Will AJ Allmendinger be a legitimate threat in the Chase?

Phil: Surviving Elimination 1 will be the goal for those two. I think it’s possible. Beyond that, who knows?
Summer: I think they might survive the first round. It depends on what happens to the other competitors. But they won’t be one of the final four and I don’t believe they will be true contenders.
Phil: Just getting in makes their seasons gravy.
Amy: That said, if they finish 15th every week while some guys get a 5th, a 15th, and a 34th or something, they could make it through on points racing
Summer: I might argue that if there were a road race in the Chase, Allmendinger might have a better chance, but otherwise no.
Amy: If one of them can squeeze into the final four, they have as good a chance as anyone else.
Summer: I don’t think a 15th every week will win anyone a championship. That’s not how it’s set up. I doubt that very much. Allmendinger vs…who? Johnson? Harvick? Busch? Can he really beat any of them? I just don’t see that happening. Not when it’s equal like that.
Amy: Not how it’s set up, but how it could play out depending on how the others decide to play the game.
Summer: I think that’s wholly unlikely.
Amy: You don’t even have to have a win, really.
Amy: Unlikely, yes, but possible.
Summer: I guarantee you that whoever winds up making it through the rounds will have won races. Since a win moves you on to the next round anyway.
Phil: I don’t think there’s a game to play here. Finish as well as you can, don’t get wrecked at Talladega. That’s about all you can do.
Amy: There’s always a game to play. I’d love to see one of them win it by being consistent and waiting for the others to make mistakes or wreck each other.
Summer: It’s uber-competitive right now. I think that will only grow when the Chase starts.
Amy: It’s already been proven that it can be won without a win.
Summer: The “Dale Jr. would have won a championship” doesn’t prove anything.
Phil: Yes, it can be won without a win. But, it wouldn’t hurt to reach pay dirt.
Amy: Except that you can indeed win it without winning a race if you play it right.
Summer: It’s possible but I just don’t see that happening, especially when the regular season has already had so many different winners and contenders.
Amy: Someone will be in it at Homestead without winning a Chase race, I think. This year hasn’t had any more winners than usual, actually.
Phil: Allmendinger was winner No. 12 of the year. That’s not a huge number. Not record breaking by any means.
Summer: I’m not saying more than normal. I’m just saying it’s been a very competitive year. There are several drivers who are championship worthy. I don’t think Almirola and Ambrose are one of them but several others are.
Amy: By that standard, every year is competitive. This one hasn’t really been any different than any other in recent memory. Some people want to make it out as more competitive because of the new Chase, but reality doesn’t really support that.
Summer: I know it’s not been other-worldly, but there isn’t a runaway team. There’s no clear-cut favorite heading into the Chase. I’m saying that this level of competitiveness will probably only grow once the Chase starts.
Amy: It could…but if it does, that actually makes it easier for an underdog if the others are all equal than if one or two run away with it.
Summer: I just go off of what I hear the drivers and crew chiefs say. The competition is different. The numbers may not be different in terms of winners, but the way they strategize has changed to reflect the new system.
Amy: And I think there are a couple of teams who aren’t showing their hands yet.
Summer: Yeah but they have to make it there first, and what I’m saying is that with a system that emphasizes winning in order to move to the next round, it’s going to be hard for underdog teams to make it all the way there.
Amy: The way they strategize always reflects the system given to them.
Phil: Winning’s the only guarantee to the next round, but running well is still important if you don’t win.
Summer: I don’t think Almirola or Ambrose have a shot in hell of winning the championship, but I’m happy for some underdog teams to at least be in the spotlight for a while. Makes for a good story.
Amy: Exactly, Phil. If you win, you move on…but if you win, then finish 40th and 27th, it leaves room for someone to also capitalize on that.
Amy: I don’t think Allmendinger or Almirola will win, but they can play the system and make it past the first round, maybe the second depending on Talladega. Which, by the way is just stupid—”depending on Talladega.” Except for the guys who win the other two races, everyone’s chance to advance depends way too heavily on a single race.

CWTS driver Ryan Blaney will make the jump to the Cup Series next year, taking over the No. 21 Wood Brothers ride currently driven by Trevor Bayne. The team will reportedly align with Team Penske. Is this part time ride the best step for Blaney and Team Penske?

Summer: I don’t know if it’s the best option but I don’t think it’s a terrible decision.
Amy: I think it’s a decent step for Blaney. Yes, they only run part time, but they’re dedicated to running well when they do race.
Phil: Will he just be doing that, or will he still be full-time with BKR in the Trucks as well? Haven’t heard much about that.
Amy: I think it does for Blaney what it did for Trevor Bayne with Roush Fenway…gives him a little experience while keeping him indirectly in the Penske pipeline. He can race full-time in another series and earn points there as Bayne did. Bayne is Rookie of the Year eligible in 2015. Which is ridiculous, but we can all thank Danica for that one.

Was Ryan Blaney the right choice for Wood Brothers Racing? (Credit: Mike Neff)
Was Ryan Blaney the right choice for Wood Brothers Racing? (Credit: Mike Neff)

Summer: I think he should do that. That way he can still race competitively where he’s at but still gain experience in Cup.
Amy: I don’t see Penske giving him a Nationwide ride, though.
Phil: Getting Cup experience is important for Blaney. He’s clearly considered to be an up-and-coming talent and the Wood Brothers will give him good equipment. The pressure won’t be as tough as it would be if he were in a legitimate third Penske car (No. 12).
Amy: No, but if he does well, it keeps him close when and if sponsorship is found for a full season in the 12.
Amy: There aren’t a lot of opportunities for young drivers right now, and the No. 21 might be the best currently out there.
Phil: That’s true. While I wish that the No. 21 was a full-time team again, they seem to be doing fairly well with their current business model.
Amy: It’s working for them, and you have to respect them for doing that instead of starting and parking. I think Blaney has the talent to do well. The 21 is consistently competitive among the small teams when they do race.
Phil: That’s true. Especially at the intermediates.
Summer: I hope he still races full-time in either Trucks or Nationwide, depending on what’s available. It’s unlikely that he’ll be competitive in Cup and it would help his confidence to keep racing and winning somewhere else while he gains experience in Cup.
Phil: Blaney in the No. 21 will be a very interesting combination. While he would only be running 12 or so races next year, it’ll be a good gauge as to where he is in his development.

Time for those Michigan predictions!

Amy: I think Junior makes it an even four this week.
Phil: That would be interesting. One of my friends picked him to win the title this year. I’m going with Matt Kenseth, though.
Summer: I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and say Kenseth finally breaks through this weekend…Oh, well crap. Phil beat me to him. Ok, never mind. Jeff Gordon.

Mirror Predictions 2014

Welcome to our seventh 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

Cheez-It 350 at the Glen

Writer Pick Finishing Position Points
Amy Henderson AJ Allmendinger 1st  5
Aaron Creed Clint Bowyer 27th -1
Mike Neff    Marcos Ambrose 2nd 3
Beth Lunkenheimer Tony Stewart DNS 0
Phil Allaway  Kurt Busch  3rd 3


 Writer Points Behind Starts Wins Top 5 Top 10
Amy Henderson 25 22 2 7 10
Mike Neff   14 -11 13 0 5 7
Phil Allaway 13 -12 21 1 5 10
Tom Bowles 9 -16 5 2 2 4
Aaron Creed 3 -22 6 0 1 4
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -22 2 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 3 -22 1 0 1 1
Summer Bedgood 2 -23 2 0 0 1
Jeff Wolfe 2 -23 3 0 1 1
Brad Morgan 0 -25 3 1 1 2

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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So happy for Blaney. That young guy has big talent. I bet he turns heads in the 21 next year. Good to see these 2nd generation drivers come up!


That one can be declared the Champion without actually winning anything is the fundamental flaw in not just the Chase but every format since 1948. If winning isn’t the point what is? The Champion should be the driver with the most wins period. Consistency, top 10’s and the rest should be used to rank 2 through 43.

Carl Kaminer

Logano at Michigan. Bank on it.

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