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Mirror Driving: Magic Milestones, Insidious Infractions & Positive PR
Jeff Gordon carries the checkered flag after winning the 2014 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. (Credit: CIA)

Mirror Driving: Magic Milestones, Insidious Infractions & Positive PR

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 & Thursdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short Track Editor)

Jeff Gordon won his 90th career Sprint Cup race on Sunday. Gordon currently sits third on the all-time wins list, 15 behind David Pearson’s 105 wins at the Cup level. Can Gordon eclipse Pearson, or is it too late?

Phil: Well, he’s 15 short. It’s taken a while to get the last five (nearly three years, last I checked). If he keeps up this form, it’s within the realm of possibility, but unlikely.
Mike: Three years ago I would have said no way. He was done in 2008-2010. However, he’s picked the pace back up and, after hitting 90 this weekend, I think he does still have a shot.
Phil: I doubt Gordon’s even going to be in Sprint Cup more than another 3-5 years.

Could Jeff Gordon's triumph at the Brickyard launch him toward the 2014 title?

Could Jeff Gordon’s triumph at the Brickyard launch him toward the 2014 title?

Amy: I think he can, but it’s unlikely. He needs 15 more wins to tie Pearson
Phil: 100 is more likely than 105. I could see Gordon winning three more this year. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.
Mike: It is a longshot at this point in time but if he gets on a roll in the next year and a half and knocks out eight wins by the end of 2015, then it is definitely possible.
Phil: Regardless, snagging even the 90 he already has is nothing to sneeze at.
Amy: It’s taken him almost eight years to get the last 15. I don’t see him staying in it that long.
Mike: True Amy, but he had a three year stretch with one win. The way they are running now I don’t see that happening again. He’ll tell you himself that he was about ready to hang it up in 2011 but now he’s sounding like he has five years left. If that is the case, averaging three wins a year is still hard but it could happen.
Phil: Obivously, Gordon’s not going to regain his late 1990′s form, where he won 33 races in three years.
Amy: No, I agree. Considering how competitive the series is now, he’s forced his way into the conversation with Petty, Pearson and Earnhardt about the best ever.
Mike: You forgot to mention Johnson in that best ever discussion.
Phil: There’s always going to be a time where success drops off. The back injuries seem to contribute. Gordon’s already got back issues. Earnhardt had a swoon in the mid-1990′s where he went winless for 59 races. He only won seven more races after the broken collarbone and sternum in 1996. Granted, most of those wins were very spectacular, but an average of a little more than one a year for the rest of his career.
Mike: True Phil, but he had a neck issue that no one knew about. He got that fixed and was feeling rejuvenated. Earnhardt would have probably won another 10 races. As for Gordon’s back, it will always be an issue but it seems to be better the last few months.
Amy: True, but Earnhardt did have an excellent 2000 season and many had him pegged to win the championship in ’01 before his crash. He wouldn’t have reached 100, but he’d have had some more.
Mike: I agree on that one Amy. I’m in that group that thinks he was going to win the title in 2001.
Amy: But it’s true that the wins will stop coming for Gordon. Jimmie Johnson won’t win 100, I don’t think so at least. He started too late compared to Gordon.
Mike: I’m not counting Johnson out of getting to 100 but it is going to be a stretch. I’m with you, I think he got into Cup a little late to pull that off and you just don’t have 10 win seasons anymore.Of course, I say that and watch Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch win 25 races combined in a couple of years.
Phil: Earnhardt? I think 80 would have been his max. The general consensus today is that he would have retired at the end of 2002.
Mike: I agree Phil, it was going to be 80-85. The way that car ran in 2001 they very well could have won six or seven with Earnhardt behind the wheel. He was going to retire shortly after 2001 though from what I have been told.
Phil: Also of note, Rick Mast really was in contention to take over the No. 3 after Earnhardt retired. Childress referenced it in an article months ago, and Mast acknowledged it on Facebook.
Amy: Interesting.
Mike: Wow, that would have been a step down. I always thought it was Jeff Burton’s ride if he wanted it.
Phil: Johnson will be 39 in a couple of months. He’s less than 4 years younger than Gordon. I’d say 85 could be in the cards.
Amy: I think that 100 wins in Cup today would be a huge accomplishment. There’s no cherry picking of races, and there are 15 cars capable of winning every week. People don’t always appreciate how hard it is to win one race, let alone 90 of them.
Phil: True. I remember looking at the win numbers of Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison and thinking, “Man, getting there is tough.” Those guys had 25+ year careers to get there. Of course, they also stuck around quite a while after their final wins (Allison is the exception, given how his career ended).
Amy: Yeah, anyone who meets those win totals is an instant Hall of Fame driver.
Mike: 50 wins is still a magical number. There are a bunch of drivers today who are capable of getting to that number. From there to 75 is a very long distance though.
Phil: Would you be in favor of a setup for the NASCAR Hall of Fame where earning a specific number of wins automatically gets you into the Hall? Golf does this, and I believe their threshold is 25 victories.
Amy: Maybe. depends on the threshold. I think if they set it high enough, I’d be ok with it. Like at least 50, possibly 60 or 65. I think they’ve already lowered the bar too far for some people.
Mike: I’m pretty sure 50 is a given these days. Hell, based on the pace we’re currently putting people in, the number is going to be 30.
Phil: That’s probably because of the voting method. They’ve created a system where stuff that has nothing to do with accomplishments in NASCAR ultimately determine whether you qualify. I never had the pleasure of meeting anyone like Bud Moore, but one’s war record should not determine whether you get into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Amy: LOL I have no problem with Moore’s inclusion. The one I have an issue with is Dale Jarrett.
Phil: Neither do I, but they made a huge deal out of his war record. You think Jarrett didn’t win enough?
Amy: Not even close.
Amy: I think it should be 40+ wins unless there are multiple championships or extenuating circumstances.
Phil: Probably didn’t win enough for when he got inducted. If this were six years from now, I think you’d feel a little different about it.
Amy: Maybe. But with just one title and his win total, I doubt it.
Mike: I completely agree. I think Jarrett would have gotten in six or eight years from now but I think it was far too premature putting him in when they did.

Carl Edwards will officially leave Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2014, with most speculation centered on Edwards joining Joe Gibbs Racing. Should he land at JGR, will Edwards contend for a Cup title in the next few years?

Phil: Not at first. We’d have to see what kind of a team that Gibbs can put under Edwards. I could see him struggling in 2015 while adjusting to a new team full-time.
Amy: I say…maybe. He’s talented enough, but I think JGR may struggle to make four teams work at first, and there’s not a lot of unity over there. Kyle is king, Denny is his lackey, and Kenseth is his own man. And he doesn’t like Edwards much.
Mike: I have no idea. I would have never guessed Kenseth would win seven last year and zero so far this year. He’ll have the equipment to make it happen, but who knows who his crew chief will be. We’ve seen it with every team in the series. Going to four teams is a major adjustment. They’re already ramping up their personnel and I’m guessing they will integrate everyone across all four teams. He will most likely contend for a title. I don’t know if it will be 2015 or 2019.
Phil: Yes, I’m reminded of that strange incident in Martinsville where Edwards and Keseth nearly came to blows.
Mike: That was a strange one Phil. I think it let us all see behind the curtain at Roush that day.
Amy: I think there are way too many egos at JGR and Edwards just adds to that.

Will Carl Edwards be driving for Joe Gibbs at this time next year?

Will Carl Edwards be driving for Joe Gibbs at this time next year?

Mike: There are too many egos everywhere. If anyone knows how to control egos it is Coach Gibbs. I don’t think egos is a problem as much as ramping up to four teams.
Phil: True. That experiment could crash and burn at any time.We know Fastenal’s staying at Roush Fenway. Any chance that Edwards’ other sponsors (especially Subway) follow him to Gibbs or ?
Amy: I think that, in order to make a four-team model work, the four teams have to get along and be able to work together. That didn’t happen at RFR, and I think it’s ultimately why they were never quite as good as Hendrick. My guess is that Subway and Aflac will follow.
Mike: Carl had a Personal Services Contract with Aflac before they got on his car at Roush from what I understand. I would assume they’ll come along, although they don’t have much of a role this year. I’d be surprised if Subway doesn’t come along.
Amy: Then again, I’m surprised at how well the Stewart-Haas drivers seem to get along, so maybe Gibbs can make it work.
Phil: I suppose you never know for sure until you try it.
Amy: I think that JGR is a bit dysfunctional as a team, though. There doesn’t seem to be chemistry between teammates at all there, and I don’t see Edwards changing that. Even at SHR, Stewart and Harvick were close friends before Harvick signed.
Phil: True. In the case of Harvick, he’s driving for a guy that grabs his butt and the butt of his wife on a regular basis and he doesn’t go crazy. They’re pretty tight.
Mike: Until you’ve had Tony Stewart grab your butt you don’t know where you stand.
Amy: Also, adding that much personnel and having to build a new fleet of cars doesn’t happen overnight. Expansion takes time to do it right. Hendrick couldn’t make four teams work for years. Roush and Childress never could. It will not be an overnight success. Or if it is for Edwards, someone else will likely suffer (my money’s on Hamlin).
Phil: Yeah, that sounds about right. That’s also assuming that something unusual doesn’t get Hamlin first (ACL tear in a pick-up basketball game, metal in the eye, etc.).
Mike: Everyone keeps trying to write Hamlin off at Gibbs. I don’t see it. It has been his home his whole career. FedEx loves him. Why would he go somewhere else? I don’t get that. Edwards will win and eventually contend for a title. It may be in 2015, it may be in 2020.
Amy: I don’t think he’ll be shuffled off the team, Mike. But he’s bottom of the totem pole there now, and he’ll have one more head on top of him in Edwards.

NASCAR confiscated the rear-end firewall block-off plates from the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin after Indianapolis. According to NASCAR’s new penalty structure, this was a P5 infraction, with a mandatory fine of $50,000-125,000, 50 driver and owner points, a six-week suspension for Darian Grubb (they also suspended car chief Wesley Sherrill), and probation until the end of the year. NASCAR also can (and did) take additional points, docking a total of 75. Was this a fair assessment?

Phil: I’m trying to see how that would constitute an advantage. Even if those pieces were lighter than normal, the car would still have to make minimal weight. Also, at that level, the penalties are all-inclusive. I don’t think Grubb’s going to have to sit out at all, but they’ll fine his butt.
Mike: As for an advantage Phil, it is allowing air out from under the car to vent out the back. Dave Moody said he was hearing 15 – 25 counts of downforce which translates to 25-40 pounds. That is a LOT of downforce on these cars today.
Amy: The penalty seems right if what I’ve seen about the parts in question is true. If he could have gained 30 or more pounds of additional downforce (by circumventing a safety feature), that’s a significant performance advantage. That said, the rules are still a bit vague…the infraction could be seen as a P3 (parts that fail their intended use) or even P2 (hollow components, expiration of certain safety certification or improper installation of a safety feature, or minor bracket and fasteners violations.)
Phil: Unfortunately, I’m no technical expert. We’ll have to go by what the dudes at the R&D Center determined. If they claim it’s a P5, then Hamlin’s got some problems.
Amy: JGR has had some fishy things in recent years. People like to complain about Hendrick, but JGR is certainly not above creative engineering, and have had several issues.
Mike: The thing to remember is, unless they suspend the driver it doesn’t matter. Take points and cash away, Hamlin still has a win and he’ll still make the Chase. It may be an expensive day for Darian, but he’ll make up for that with his bonus from the Chase.

NASCAR dropped the hammer on Denny Hamlin's #11 team earlier this week due to infractions committed in Indianapolis. Did NASCAR go too far with their penalties?

NASCAR dropped the hammer on Denny Hamlin’s #11 team earlier this week due to infractions committed in Indianapolis. Did NASCAR go too far with their penalties?

Amy: Which is just stupid. The penalty system fits a pre-Chase points system. Now, this becomes a slap on the wrist because of the point reset. They should make penalties take effect after Richmond. You can’t let them screw with safety. Just no. Plus, it’s a blatant attempt to change the airflow, even if it’s not a templated body piece. NASCAR thought a C-post that didn’t look right warranted six weeks. This should be considered equally serious. Then again, JGR wasn’t penalized for a C-post that didn’t look right, only made to fix it and reinspect, so…
Phil: The supposed downforce gain is not that great. My guess is that the points will be coming, but since Hamlin already has a win, it probably wouldn’t knock him out of the Chase.
Mike: You’re right Phil, they won’t knock him out of the Chase.
Phil: If this were along the lines of the cheat that Chad Knaus came up with in 2006 for Daytona 500 qualifying, then I could see that.
Amy: From what I can tell, 30 pounds of downforce is a lot. Maybe Mike can add somehting on any effect on performance?
Mike: In a sport where five pounds of downforce can translate into a tenth of a second thirty pounds is enormous, especially on a track like Indy where the track is so flat and downforce makes all of the difference.
Phil: You ever seen these block-off plates? I cannot recall what these things look like.
Amy: Here’s the other piece of this. Ambrose was fined $25,000 for throwing a punch at Casey Mears. While I don’t agree with that, I am glad the fine for actually breaking the rules during a race was a good bit stiffer.
Mike: The thing I consider interesting is, was this a shot by JGR to see what they can get away with? Did they float a trial balloon just to see what might happen? These plates are used to block holes in the firewall that are there for when other things might run through the firewall. Brake cooling ducts being the most obvious. If the duct is used the plate is removed so the duct can go through the hole. If the duct is not used, then the plate has to be securely fastened so that fire cannot leak into the driver compartment if it starts in the trunk.

NASCAR has said that they are not interested in limiting Sprint Cup drivers in the Nationwide and Truck Series. If that’s the case, how can NASCAR improve its marketing strategy to make fans warm up to the Cup stars?

Amy: I’m not sure that they can. Fans aren’t easily swayed.
Phil: They still don’t want to limit them, eh? Doesn’t surprise me. Kyle Busch will almost always overshadow pretty everyone else in town in either series. ESPN’s strategy is to overexposure one regular, Chase Elliott. I don’t think it’s working.
Amy: I also don’t think NASCAR is the problem, or at least not all of it. If the networks would stop fawning all over the Cup drivers and give the majority of the coverage to the series regulars, the problem would be hugely diminished. Not eradicated, because there’s still the problem of them winning too many races, but it would be better.
Mike: The way racing works you can race anywhere you want. Kyle Busch ran the Super Late Model race at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday in Indy and it was a huge deal. I probably had 50 people ask me which car Kyle was driving before the race started.
Amy: Even ESPN puts the Cup guys first, Phil. They interviewed at least two Cup drivers to start the NNS broadcast Saturday before they talked to a regular.
Mike: That said, the network needs to work with the sanctioning body to do features on the up and coming drivers or seasoned veterans that run in the series full-time every week. Get the stories out there and then follow up with them. Build up fan interest and help them relate to the drivers. Getting to know the developmental drivers will build interest in the series.

Can anything be done to spice up NASCAR's minor leagues?

Can anything be done to spice up NASCAR’s minor leagues?

Phil: Had to check the notes. It was two Cup driver interviews. Harvick and Kenseth before the weekly Chase Elliott interview.
Amy: It was more than 10 minutes into the broadcast before we saw a NNS regular. Shameful. I think NASCAR is missing the point, and I don’t think a Cup driver should be able to drive for an owner who fields a Sprint Cup team. That alone would solve some issues without limiting the drivers.
Phil: Yeah. With the exception of Elliott and Ty Dillon, essentially any regular in Nationwide will be underexposed. The problem is less so in the Camping World Truck Series.
Mike: The drivers not driving for Cup owners in the series is an option but the problem is, getting sponsors willing to commit to Nationwide regulars is usually tied to getting some time on a Cup driver’s hood in a Nationwide race. Don’t forget Rockwell at Milwaukee years ago on Aric Almirola’s first Nationwide win. They wanted Hamlin in the car and pulled Almirola during the race to make that happen.
Amy: I think as is, it’s a hard sell, PR wise, to the fans who don’t like the Cup guys winning every week. Even though they do help the NNS guys gain experience, the fans don’t like the way it is right now. True, the trucks are somewhat better because there are fewer Cup guys doing it and they aren’t racing for their Cup owners…that’s a big part of it.
Phil: I asked Landon Cassill about the Cup driver in Nationwide issue. His response: “I wouldn’t mind seeing the Sprint Cup drivers not allowed to race in Nationwide. I just don’t think it’s necessary to see Kyle Busch and those guys in the Nationwide Series. I just don’t think it is.”
Mike: That is funny considering Cassill is a Cup driver running in Nationwide.
Amy: No, he’s not. He’s a Nationwide driver running in Cup. He earns NNS points, so he is a Nationwide regular. I still think that if television dropped the bias toward the Cup guys, it would make a big difference. I don’t have a problem with guys like Larson, a rookie, running NNS to gain seat time. After the rookie year, though, I’d love to see a limit. But as long as TV loves them, which makes them a cash cow for NASCAR, we’re stuck with them.
Phil: It would help, but that would assume that the Cup drivers weren’t winning all the time. With the status quo, if you didn’t give the Cup drivers some kind of focus, you wouldn’t actually be telling the story of what happened. Of course, that’s another problem.
Mike: For those who didn’t notice, a Nationwide regular beat the Cup guys again this weekend. That has happened more than once this year. It doesn’t happen enough but these drivers are getting better and it is because of the Cup guys racing them.
Phil: And yes, Kyle Busch doesn’t need to run 26 Nationwide races a year. Seems like that guy just doesn’t have anything better to do.
Amy: He likes the shiny trophies. A lot. He’s like a raccoon… I’m not sure there is a way to put a real positive spin on them. Perhaps if they split some races with a young talent and mentored that driver along, it would help.
Phil: Sorta like what RCR did with Bowyer in 2003.
Mike: I know people will say I’m full of crap and the stands don’t prove it but I’m telling you, from what I see and hear at the track, when Cup guys are in the race the fans clamor to see them. There’s no line to take pictures of Tanner Berryhill during the qualifying session. You can’t get near Kyle’s car. Actions speak louder than words.
Amy: Something like this: take the 54. Put Busch in for maybe 10 races, and Bubba Wallace for a bunch. Show Busch helping Bubba by being on the radio with him, walking pit road before practice, etc., and maybe it would put a positive spin on things.
Phil: That wouldn’t be a bad move. I’m sure Kyle’s helping out Darrell on a regular basis in the Truck Series. He’s doing great so far this year. I just hope his career doesn’t stall.
Mike: I’m hearing rumors that Darrell is moving up to Nationwide next year with a very big national sponsor on the car. That is a fantastic deal for him.
Amy: Yeah, it is. Anyway, there are ways the Cup guys could make some PR moves. Whether they will, or whether their owners, who are hooked on that owner title, will let them, is another story.
Phil: Also, the Cup guys get paid to do these Nationwide and/or Truck races most of the time. They’re not putting in the seat time out of the goodness of their hearts.
Mike: If you really want to eliminate the majority of the Cup guys in Nationwide races, keep having events like this coming weekend.

Ok, let’s get on to Pocono predictions.

Amy: I’ll take Kyle Larson. He was fifth there in June, and I think he can win.
Phil: I’m going with Joey Logano.
Mike: I’m probably going to regret not taking Tony Stewart. I feel like he was poised to win the last race before the pit road speeding penalty. That said, Keselowski was so strong the first race I am going to take him to rebound from the trash incident of the last race.

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

Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400

Writer Pick Finishing Position Points
Amy Henderson Brad Keselowski 12th  0
Mike Neff    Jimmie Johnson  14th 0
Phil Allaway  Paul Menard  34th -2

Standings

 Writer Points Behind Starts Wins Top 5 Top 10
Amy Henderson 20 20 1 6 9
Mike Neff   12 -9 11 0 4 6
Tom Bowles 9 -11 5 2 2 4
Phil Allaway 7 -13 19 1 3 8
Aaron Creed 4 -16 5 0 1 4
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -17 1 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 3 -17 1 0 1 1
Summer Bedgood 2 -18 2 0 0 1
Jeff Wolfe 2 -18 3 0 1 1
Brad Morgan 0 -20 3 1 1 2

About Frontstretch Staff

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.

6 comments

  1. Wish they would have it that a license was good for 50 races max in the top three series. It would allow some limited crossover and would eliminate “declaring” which series you are running for points in. Silly when Bayne won the 500 and should have been sitting on top of Cup points but wasn’t because he’d declared to run NWS. No way to turn a big win into something bigger, but it could have with this proposal.

  2. As the lead Nationwide driver for NASCAR’s house team, Chase Elliott’s exposure is well and truly justified.

  3. No limits to cup drivers in NW and CWTS races? Fine. I hope both series fail to the point that they cease to exist.

    My Pocono pick is Matt Kenseth. Can I make it two in a row?

  4. On the endless debate about Cup guys in the Nationwide Series, just take a look at the attendance at Chicagoland for the stand-alone race with only 2 Cup guys (neither Kyle nor Brad). Looked to be about 25 people in the stands. Next look at the excitement and quality of racing at IRP/Lucas Oil when Kyle raced John Hunter Nemechek for miles and just got by at the Checkers. Next, stop calling Kyle a “raccoon hunting shiny objects” for racing every chance he gets. You don’t say that about Tony Stewart when he takes his money and experience into the sprint cars. Kyle is the same, loves to race, loves to win, and that, people, is the whole point!

    And what have you got against Chase Elliott, Phil? Did he steal your lunch money?

  5. I stopped watching both trucks & Nationwide. It simply doesn’t interest me seeing Cup drivers in all 3 series every week. When it was a once in a while thing, then it was fine, but week after week, come on, that’s just a non-starter for me.

    Here’s hoping Gordon gets to 100 wins. 105 would be really awesome, but I’d be happy with 100.

    Carl Edwards, boy, didn’t Roush make sure he stole Carl’s thunder. Talk about a sourpuss. I don’t know why everyone thinks Gibbs is so great at personality management. What I usually see with him is he sort of acts like if he is just super nice to all of them (and I don’t feel like that persona is genuine but that’s just my opinion) then they will all join hands and sing happy happy joy joy songs together.

  6. Your comments on the lesser series is proof positive of how group think in an echo chamber can blind entire groups to the obvious. Fact, no fans, no NASCAR. Fact, CWTS, no fans, NW, fewer fans week to week. Right or wrong the fans do not want to see a Cup Vanity Extended Practice Parade billed as an actual competition. Free fall attendance and dwindling tv ratings should tell you that whatever this mess is it is not garnering much interest. The truck series is close to finished if not done already and NW needs action NOW if the series is to be saved. Wait long enough and nothing will bring back the fans. NASCAR tends to be fan deaf. By beating them over the head with the obvious you could provide a voice for the fans. Or, you could just keep reaching farther and farther to deny the obvious.