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)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ out Loud & Frontstretch Short Track Coordinator)
Bristol’s summer night race featured a good crowd, but it wasn’t the sellout that it once was. Was the racing Saturday night up to snuff, and if not, why…and what can be done about it?
Mike: The racing was fantastic. The night race is still a must see event and one of the best races on the schedule. The race was closer to a sellout than any other race this season with tracks that have far fewer seats.
Amy: I thought it was OK. A little tame by Bristol standards. It still comes down to the Chase…nobody is going to rock the boat and risk either not getting in or payback during.
Mike: Nothing needs to be done at all with the track or the race.
Phil: We had some decent racing out there. Yes, there were some empties there, but there were quite a few butts there too. I would be hard pressed to say that the drivers weren’t racing hard Saturday night. Brad Keselowski said he was so wiped out at the end of the race that he nearly “fell out of the seat.” Bristol might be the most taxing track on the circuit.
Amy: That’s true, Phil. It’s funny, because I don’t like drivers wrecking each other, but I do miss the days of the bump and run to win and of using Bristol to police a situation.
Mike: You can use Bristol to settle scores all day Amy. Hamlin said if his car would have rolled he’d have gone out and wrecked Harvick.
Phil: I did like Logano’s Mamma Jamma comment. That was funny.
Mike: Larson tried like hell to wreck Blaney in the Nationwide race and missed him.
Amy: They were racing hard for sure…I just expected a little more use of the bumper and a little more…desire to win
Mike: Pretty hard to have desire to win when the best car on the track gets out front. Kenseth hit his bumper when Logano got past him. That was it. Logano was gone after that.
Amy: There was a little of it. But I was looking for, say Newman to get all over Johnson after Michigan. There was none of that. No attempt at the bump and run for position at the end. Everyone was playing it nice and safe for the Chase. This race hasn’t been the same since NASCAR decided it had to copy football.
Phil: Using the bumper like that at Bristol is hard to do today and has been since the COT showed up in 2007. Granted, the effect is less so now than a few years ago, but the bump n’ run in general is not the same today. Newman and Johnson weren’t really near each other for most of the race.
Mike: The bump and run also doesn’t work on the high line. If you bump someone they bounce off of the wall and come back across your nose.
Amy: I did enjoy seeing guys like McDowell and Cassill being able to mix it up some. McDowell, in particular, had a great run.
Mike: I don’t have any desire to see the wreck and dash. I loved all of the side-by-side racing.
Amy: Bump and run isn’t wreck and dash. Bump and run does not wreck the other guy.
Phil: Yes, he did. 18th for Leavine Family Racing is a good night. They had a new sponsor in Thrivent Financial and things are looking up for him.
Amy: But yeah, the dependence on clean air has also hurt Bristol. More than Martinsville.
Mike: That is horrendous. Hearing Keselowski say he was in dirty air made me want to vomit. I pray they will switch to a package with less downforce next year.
Phil: We’ll see what happens with the new package. The drivers in Michigan seemed to like the lower downforce setting. I don’t know if they swayed NASCAR, though.
Mike: Exactly. The drivers have said they want less downforce for years except a few drivers. Unfortunately NASCAR puts more weight in their opinions than everyone else.
Phil: Makes me wonder who those few contrarian drivers are. Maybe their opinions hold more weight.
Amy: To me, though, the root of it all is still the Chase. It has pretty well ruined at least a month’s worth of racing because nobody will take a risk when they don’t need to. Better to have an uneventful top 5 than go for the win and wreck it…understandable under what they’re given, but not really good for the sport.
Mike: So who do you think wasn’t going for it? Keselowski had nothing to lose. Kenseth did everything he could. Kurt Busch was giving it everything. Stenhouse pulled a Top 10 out of his butt. I don’t know what you wanted.
Phil: I think we saw a fair amount of risk taking this month, Amy. Allmendinger and Ambrose took risks at Watkins Glen. They raced their trousers off there. Logano wasn’t sauntering around out there Saturday night. He was charging. Watching this weekend’s action at Bristol was like playing NASCAR Racing 1 for the PC, choosing Bristol and putting your opponents at 120%.
Mike: Exactly. Logano drove like hell to get from sixth to the front. Kenseth was letting it all hang out on old tires. I don’t know what else they could do.
Amy: Right, Allmendinger and Ambrose weren’t locked into the Chase, so they had nothing to lose. There are some guys who haven’t actually raced for a win in weeks.
Phil: I’d argue that there’s a difference between not racing for a win because you don’t want to and not racing for a win because you outright can’t get there.
Mike: Again, Logano and Keselowski were going for it. Bowyer had a damaged car. Biffle was not competitive. I don’t know that I saw much of Newman all night. I just don’t get your point.
Amy: I guess I just miss the days of guys like Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace trading bumps every Bristol race.
Mike: That was back when a driver made a difference Amy. With this car it is all about the car and only one or two are going to be up front. Getting there is nearly impossible unless you are really hooked up. The two cars that were really hooked up finished first and second. It just took Keselowski too long to get there after the final restart to make it a race.
Amy: People can deny the influence the Chase has had on racing, but it’s right there every summer. This new format didn’t change a thing.
Mike: I think you’re high but that’s your choice. The influence of the aerodynamic dependency of these cars is what influences the racing.
Amy: Really—you think the Chase hasn’t changed anything? If you don’t think teams have raced differently since the Chase, I think you’re high…
After a tough race at Bristol, Kyle Busch had a heated discussion with his crew chief during which Dave Rogers told him to “take your whiny ass to the bus.” Team owner Joe Gibbs dismissed the incident, but can Busch contend for a title if there’s internal strife on his team?
Phil: Not really. They have to get out of this funk they’re in right now if they plan on being in the Chase beyond Dover.
Amy: I don’t think so. Busch has always been his own worst enemy when it comes to the Chase. If his team is frustrated with him, it’s not going to help.
Mike: Busch can contend if their cars are capable of winning. Right now they are having a string of bad luck. He was leading early Saturday and had a speeding penalty that ended up putting him in harm’s way.
Amy: Busch has the talent to win multiple championships. What he hasn’t shown is whether he has the mental ability to match.
Mike: If they can keep their cars capable of winning and stop making mental mistakes they’ll contend. The problem right now is that they are making too many mental errors.
Phil: Kyle is a highly emotional guy, similar to his older brother. He has to keep himself in check in order to perform at his best.
Mike: I think this Chase format is perfect for Busch; they just need to get back to contending for wins every few weeks.
Amy: Right, Phil. The problem is, that’s easier said than done, and he hasn’t shown that he can do that.
Mike: Kyle getting emotional makes him the driver he is. It is when he gets disinterested that there is a problem. When they have a penalty or go a lap down he’s done. That doesn’t work when you want to win a title.
Amy: That’s always been his issue. If he’s not winning, he’s not in the game.
Phil: Would that be a conduit for Busch to relieve his aggression before going back to work.
Amy: He hasn’t shown that he can overcome adversity like penalties or bad luck on a regular basis.
Mike: Kyle is at his best when he races and contends to win. Racing in something different might help him vent a little.
Phil: I’d argue that Friday night’s the best example of what Amy just said. Finished 2nd and skulked off like someone stole his bike. Then, he dropped an f-bomb during his press conference.
Mike: He hates to lose. What is wrong with hating to lose? Especially when you feel like it was taken from you by someone not playing by the rules? Blaney was a full car length behind Busch coming to the restart. Kyle tried to get him to hit his brakes. Smith jacked Kyle’s car up and the race was over. I’d have been pissed too. He had the best car and got snookered on a restart. It will be interesting if he pulls that in a Cup race to see if they call him on it.
Amy: There’s nothing wrong with hating to lose. But you can hate to lose and not be a sore loser.
Mike: Yep. And people who aren’t sore losers don’t usually win as much as people who are.
Amy: I disagree with that. There are guys in NASCAR who win more than Kyle Busch who don’t act like spoiled 5-year-olds when they lose.
Phil: Been watching The Simpsons marathon on FXX recently. Does Kyle Busch’s behavior seem similar at times to Bart?
Mike: I don’t remember Dale Earnhardt being thrilled about losing. I never saw Rusty Wallace enjoy losing.
Amy: No, but I don’t remember him whining about it, at least not in the way that Kyle and a few others do.
Mike: I remember Earnhardt whining when he WON! I’ll take a driver pissed off and showing his emotion instead of being politically correct any day of the week.
Amy: Busch was mad on Saturday because he got beat at his own game by someone he thought was inferior.
Mike: We want emotion from these guys and then bitch when we get it. He was mad because Blaney started a full car length back when they are supposed to be nose-to-nose.
Amy: There are ways to express emotion without being a colossal asshat…
Mike: Yep. I’ll take the asshat.
Amy: And he has never, once in his career, tried to get away with something on a restart or at some point during a race? Please.
Mike: Not saying he hasn’t, but he’s been penalized for it or warned. They didn’t say anything to Blaney. They’re letting it happen more and more and it is going to come back to bite them during the Chase.
Amy: Not me, Mike. I think a little class goes a long way. You can be passionate and still have a modicum of that little thing called sportsmanship.
Mike: If you lose fair and square, I agree. If you get ripped off, you don’t have to.
Amy: Oh, please. JGR has gotten away with more stuff over the years than anyone.
Phil: I’d argue that Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson showed that sportsmanship Friday night. They both could have gone on and on about “that so and so,” but chose not to.
Amy: People think Hendrick bends the rules…
Mike: Kyle Busch can win the title if he has cars that can contend, which they do, and doesn’t make mistakes. Right now he and his team are making too many mistakes. If he goes out and wins at Chicago, it will all be forgotten.
Amy: Until he learns how to lose gracefully, pick up the pieces, and move on, I don’t think Busch will be a serious title contender. Overcoming adversity is why guys like Johnson win titles. Busch has as much talent as almost any driver in the field, but he lacks the ability to focus when the chips are down.
Phil: Busch never really overcomes anything. He just annihilates dudes.
Amy: In the Nationwide Series anyway…
There has been much discussion among fans via social media, etc. about the role of the media in bringing NASCAR to the masses…what is the responsibility of the television media, and are they delivering?
Phil: Well, the NASCAR media is a little different compared to media for other sports.
Mike: The television media, in particular, needs to do a good job of telling the whole story on weekends. Right now I feel like they have their agenda and that is all we see.
Phil: I would agree with you when it comes to TV broadcasts.
Amy: The responsibility of the media is to bring the race to fans who are not at the track. In general, they do a lousy job because fans at the track can see more than five cars all day.
Mike: . The broadcasts have been lacking for years, and hopefully when NBC comes on board that will change.
Amy: I do think that there are storylines outside the immediate racing that should be told, but the timing has to be right and it should enhance the experience, not detract from it.
Mike: I don’t know if it will. We’ll have to wait and see. And hopefully FOX has heard the hue and cry as well. They are not making any friends with their coverage.
Phil: Yes. ESPN seems to be in love with Chase Elliott right now. I know he’s leading the Nationwide points, but there are other people out there. The Nationwide Series is full of interesting personalities. I just don’t think they take the time to get to know everyone.
Amy: I don’t have a lot of hope for it being different. The networks are too busy showing off their hi-tech stuff to broadcast a race the way it should be done.
Mike: The thing I worry about is NBC paid a boat load of money. They’re going to have to run a number of commercials we’ve never seen before unless they strong arm some sponsors out of a bunch of money per 30 seconds.
Amy: And if they do that, we’ll be stuck with them talking about those sponsors’ cars and nobody else.
Phil: That is a legitimate concern. $400 million + a year. They overpayed by so much, man.
Mike: Exactly Amy. And we’ve seen how that works with the FOX coverage. I’m amazed at the people in the Nationwide Series who are mid-pack drivers that are in the top 15 in points. It is almost Truck series-esque. I’m still dumbfounded that they paid that much. The salesman who landed that gig should be investigated for extortion.
Amy: Seriously. There’s no way they’ll make that money back because the ratings aren’t good enough.
Phil: It sounds like NBC may have been led to believe that there was another bidder. In reality, there was not.
Mike: Exactly Amy. They’ll either have to get sponsors to overpay based on the rate their ratings dictate or we’ll see 40 minutes of commercials every hour.
Amy: I also think there’s a responsibility to show certain things without exception, like why a car is out of the race and whether a driver is okay after a crash.
Mike: ESPN bid, they just bid about 20 percent of what NBC did.
Amy: I don’t care if the guy is 39th, I’d like to know why he’s out of the race.
Mike: Or if he is out of the race. How many times do you watch a race and all of a sudden a name comes across the scroll and says OUT and you don’t know why?
Phil: Take this for what you will, but Brian France stated during one of his rare press conferences that there is a maximum amount of commercial time that is allowed in races, as per the TV deal. I’m sure such a rule will be in effect when the new deal kicks in. Just couldn’t tell you what that number was.
Amy: There are two types of news: hard news (in this case, the race and what’s happening on the track) and soft news (stuff like, say, a driver’s charity work). There should be a balance of both, with enough soft news to make fans care about the drivers on a different level but not so much as to detract from the race.
Phil: Heck, I didn’t know why Kyle Busch was out Saturday night. It was only after the race that we discovered the walkout. The “soft news” appears to be stuff that should mainly show up during the pre-race shows. You shouldn’t be fluffing up the actual race.
Amy: Reporting should be fair…if possible, get someone on both sides of a situation.
Mike: We’ve seen how NASCAR enforces rules Phil. Just ask Denny Hamlin about not being allowed to walk on the apron. Agreed Phil. I don’t want to hear Make-A-Wish stories during competition.
Amy: I disagree. There is stuff to be shown during a race. The salute to Ward and Stewart this week, for example. When they showed fans standing for Earnhardt in ’01, it was meaningful. If the driver has a kid with him in Victory Lane from Make-A-Wish, an explanation would be perfectly acceptable.
Mike: I think that was a conscientious decision not to show that Amy.
Amy: I’m sure it was, Mike, but in my opinion, it was a wrong decision.
Mike: I agree. Don’t know what the logic was. We probably won’t ever hear.
Phil: I don’t have an answer for you on that issue right now, Mike. I did ask, and got what amounted to a no comment.
Amy: Anything that might affect the racing should be reported. Danica getting a dog isn’t important, but someone racing after say, a death in the family, is worth mentioning
Phil: I’ll give you that one. That’s par for the course for any sport.
Mike: TV Broadcasting of races has been subpar for years. Whether we’ll see an improvement any time soon, I don’t know.
Amy: I think there’s also the responsibility to report on the entire field at several points during the event. It must suck to be a fan of some drivers who never get mentioned at all.
Phil: That’s not just a racing thing, that’s just reporting in general. As a fan of Johnny Benson for a number of years before I started writing, I wholeheartedly agree. It’s hard being a fan of someone who isn’t in contention to win every week.
The Chase may be closing in for the Sprint Cup Series, but championship battles are heating up in the Nationwide and Truck Series as well…who’s got an edge as those series start down the homestretch?
Mike: I think Chase Elliott has the inside edge in Nationwide but it is far from over. On the Truck side, it is wide open. You have two seasoned veterans chasing that title.
Amy: I agree, Mike. Elliott is strong right now, but he’s not untouchable.
Amy: The Truck Series could have a heck of a championship battle this year. As it usually does. Without a Chase. Imagine that…
Mike: Nope. Smith has been there before and Dillon is already talking about the points.
Phil: Elliott is quite strong, but all it could take is a flat tire and Regan Smith’s right there. Dillon could contend as well, but probably needs a little help.
Mike: The Trucks always have great battles. They run fewer races and the handful of drivers who can contend are usually the guys in the point battle.
Phil: As for the Trucks, it is pretty much wide open. ThorSport is quite strong, but they’re not infallible.
Amy: I think Dillon needs another year. Smith is a big threat, though.
Phil: Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. have been way more flashy and right up in the hunt for wins, but they’ve also had more problems.
Amy: I feel bad for Ron Hornaday. He was in great trucks and he’s probably the best full-time CWTS driver ever. Bummer he doesn’t get to make his title run. The young guys haven’t learned the consistency of the veterans yet. They’re still contenders, but not favorites.
Mike: There are only six or seven Trucks in contention for the most part. A bad week isn’t going to kill someone.
Phil: My guess is that Crafton will repeat.
Amy: On the NNS side, it’s hard to say Sadler and Scott are out of it, but it’s hard to say they’ve ever been serious contenders, either.
Phil: Brian Scott needs to get that win. He’s been very close this year. I think he’s run quite a bit better than some people thought he would.
Amy: I think he’s run about where I expected him to. He’s got good equipment with RCR. Sadler just isn’t the focus at JGR and that’s hurt his chances.
Mike: Hornaday was running good enough to win at most of the remaining races. Sauter is running well. Crafton is Crafton. He’ll still be there when Homestead rolls around.
Amy: I agree, Mike. Neither of those three wining the CWTS title would surprise me.
Mike: Sadler always seems to stumble when he gets close. I don’t know what it is but he never has been able to seal the deal.
Amy: It doesn’t help that Gibbs cares more about getting the owner’s title for the 54. Blaney and Wallace are still very much in the Truck hunt if they can be consistent, and if he can grab a win, German Quiroga is not far out of it.
Mike: German ain’t winning it. He’s pissed off too many people to win the title if he’s even in contention at Homestead.
Amy: I don’t think he’s a real contender right now…but if he wins, he can keep himself in the conversation. He won’t win it all, but he won’t go away, either.
Phil: German’s 54 points out right now. At best, he would need quite a bit of help. He would likely need to win, or at the bare minimum, get consistent top-5’s for the rest of the year and not get into any more shenanigans.
Mike: Yeah, not happening.
Phil: Quiroga’s been strong at times. Getting that win might not be out of the question. Might be this weekend, for all I know.
Mike: Oh I agree, but there is no way he makes it through the rest of the year to win the title.
OK, let’s talk Atlanta…predictions?
Amy: I’m in with Jeff Gordon this week.
Mike: Of course you are. Let me have Matt Kenseth.
Phil: I’m going to go with Kasey Kahne. Should be an interesting 500 miles.
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:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
Irwin Tools Night Race
|Amy Henderson||Kyle Larson||12th||0|
|Tom Bowles||No Pick||—||0|
|Phil Allaway||Clint Bowyer||17th||0|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|