Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR Team Orders Gone Bad & Who Would You Kick Out of the Chase?

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest news from the past week or race weekend. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This week’s participants:
Tom Bowles (Frontstretch Managing Editor/Mondays/Bowles-Eye View)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot/Who’s Not AND Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson in Turn 5)
Jeff Meyer (Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Race Trax AND Tuesdays/That’s History)
Mike Neff (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans AND Fridays/Full Throttle)
Toni Heffelfinger (Mondays/Busch Breakdown & Fridays/Second Fiddle)

If you had the power to change the Chase field, would you replace one of the drivers currently in the top 10? Or did all 10 drivers deserve to make it in?

Jeff: No change! All who are in deserve it.
Mike: I don’t see a problem with the top 10. They all did the best throughout the year; well, Mark Martin was points racing all year, but that is what it took for him to get in. Kasey Kahne was more aggressive, but it still paid off.
Toni: Might I start off by saying that Jeff Gordon limped his way in with the most pathetic performance in the world, one of many he’s had this season.
Cami: I totally agree, Toni. If Tony Stewart wouldn’t have wrecked that primary car, Gordon wouldn’t have made it in the way he ran.
Amy: On another note, I’d like to trade Matt Kenseth for Carl Long.
Cami: Good plan, Amy; after 26 races, invert the field.
Amy: No, just Kenseth! Seriously, those 10 earned their way in. I hate that Stewart isn’t in it, but in all reality, he put himself in that position.
Toni: I know. Stewart’s season was nothing to write home about, which is why he still didn’t beat Jeffie even though he finished ahead of him. But Gordon’s problems sure ended up looking bigger than Stewart’s by Saturday night (Sept. 9) and yet, Gordon limps his way in and Stewart misses it.
Jeff: Points don’t lie though, Toni. Gordon had more.
Tom: It’s hard to justify kicking anyone out for Stewart.
Mike: I’ll tell you one thing. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Denny Hamlin are all glad that wasn’t the Rock ‘N’ Roll 500.
Tom: You know, I’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of days and there’s really nobody in this Chase who doesn’t deserve to be there.

See also
Bowles: NASCAR Still Has the Power to Leave You in a State of Shock

Tommy: Everyone in it should be there. They competed under the rules that were handed them at the beginning of the season.
Cami: I think it’s interesting the top three from last year are the ones fighting for 11th this year.
Jeff: That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Tom: The top three may be fighting for 11th, but they are fighting for 11th because they didn’t have the luck they had last year. Honestly, about 13 cars deserved to be in the top 10 and the 10 luckiest got in.
Amy: Well, Stewart’s problems started when he hurt in shoulder in the Busch Series race at Charlotte in May.
Tom: Stewart’s shoulder hurt him, it’s true. But he was also unlucky and pushed the issue a little too much. Similar to Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. So, the three of them paid the price.
Tommy: Stewart dealt himself a bad hand with some “bonehead” races this year. Sonoma comes to mind, remember he, through lack of patience, hurt a car capable of winning.
Tom: Don’t forget about that race Stewart had to sit out for Ricky Rudd because of his shoulder. That pit-road speeding penalty Rudd had really cost them, those points would have give Stewart a Chase bid.
Tommy: True. But Stewart bent some of his sheetmetal that didn’t need to be bent this year. He needs to sit this one out and reflect.
Tom: Well, the funny thing about the Chase this time around is that last year, there were at least one or two drivers you knew had NO chance of winning the title going in and had no business racing for a title. This year, it’s the opposite. This Chase is a funky thing.
Amy: Funky? Is that PC for sucks?
Toni: I disagree with you, Tom. With the exceptions of probably Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth, there were a lot of drivers with less than stellar seasons that did make it in.
Amy: Yeah … say eight of them.
Toni: The 10 in the Chase are the guys that had the 10 best seasons this year. Nothing in the rules states they have to actually be great seasons, just the 10 best. So yeah, I guess some years you will have one or two that really had a good year over everyone else, along with the eight or so that had the best luck or sucked the least.
Tom: WOW! You guys think the other eight guys had pathetic seasons? Kahne’s won five races!
Mike: Kahne has also had 10 finishes of worse than 20th. That is old-school Rusty Wallace racing there.
Cami: I don’t think they’ve been pathetic. They’ve done what they had to do given the Chase setup.
Tom: I think you had Johnson and Kenseth with outstanding seasons and 11 drivers with very good seasons. The eight drivers who showcased the most consistency made it in.
Jeff: What if Kahne had not made it in, guys, would you change things then?
Tom: That’s a great question. I wouldn’t, because even though Kahne has more wins, I put the 11 drivers behind Johnson and Kenseth in the same category.
Toni: I think I’d be more in favor of changing these 10 if Kahne hadn’t made it, only because he HAS the most wins. I know we had this discussion last week, but still,
Tommy: I kind of wished Kahne didn’t make it in only because I think it might have further prompted NASCAR to award more points for a win in the offseason.
Jeff: Tommy, if they had just done that in the first place, you wouldn’t need a Chase. A win should be worth at least 75 points more than second.
Amy: NASCAR should award more points for a win,
Tommy: What does that have to do with the Chase?
Jeff: If it had been that way before, Tommy, you wouldn’t have had guys locking up the title three-quarters of the way through the season.
Tom: Seventy-five points is a little too much, Jeff. That would have knocked Jeff Burton out and I think he and Martin both deserved to be in based on their consistency.
Mike: I still like Rusty’s idea that you award 500 points for a driver’s first win of the season. That will all but guarantee that the drivers in the Chase win a race.
Tommy: I can go for that. I was thinking in the neighborhood of 25 or 30.
Mike: All this extra point talk doesn’t matter now, though. The Chase is set, and they’re going to crown a champ based on this system. Let’s just hope it’s one of the two teams that established they were the best in the first 26 races who win the darned thing.

There were several disturbing reports of team orders on Saturday night. For example, Kevin Harvick would have reportedly given up the lead if Burton needed five extra points to make the Chase. There were even whispers Edwards intentionally spun Johnson to keep Kenseth as the points leader. How long before we see this type of thing make an actual difference in the final results, and how will the fans react?

Jeff: As long as there is a Chase, you will have that.
Toni: Agreed. That was definitely team orders, but then isn’t it part of strategy? Kevin Harvick‘s sponsor might not have been happy, though, to sacrifice a win for Burton.
Amy: The Harvick thing was blatant team orders. They said all that on the radio. Edwards, I heard that and I could frankly go either way on it. He’s made plenty of driving mistakes this year for sure and this looked accidental.
Cami: It didn’t do much good to wreck Johnson. He was already in.
Toni: He was already in, and wasn’t even the points leader anyway.
Amy: BUT, Roush Racing has made “mistakes” in the past that ended up padding a points lead heading into crunch time. If it had been any other team, it wouldn’t be a question.
Toni: I will say that if Martin needed positions, if you wreck Johnson you can control what Kenseth does if you are Jack Roush. That could have been big.
Mike: I was wondering about Kenseth reporting his brake issue. I was thinking that if Martin struggles, they take Johnson out and Kenseth drops out and the 400-point cutoff comes into play.
Tom: I still don’t see why Edwards would do it, though. I mean, we’re talking about five points. That’s the difference between first and second now. Who cares if Kenseth or Johnson is the points leader? And the 400-point scenario sounds farfetched to me.
Amy: I don’t know, Tom, I think having the points lead would have been HUGE for the No. 48 team, mentally.
Tom: I don’t think Roush would stoop that low. The Harvick thing, though, is definitely true, it’s been confirmed and speaks scary volumes about where the sport is headed.
Mike: I thought that Harvick’s orders were to let him lead a lap, not the last lap. That happens every week.
Tommy: We’ve been seeing teammates letting each other lead a lap for the five bonus points. I don’t like that and it’s hard to police. However, if NASCAR doesn’t get on top of team racing and let it be known that it won’t be tolerated, they are going to lose a lot of fans.
Cami: Sounds like Formula 1 to me, with the team orders. At least how they used to be.
Tom: Right … and no Americans follow F1 because of that. NASCAR is traveling a very slippery slope here.
Mike: What is wrong with that, Tom? It happens every week. And lots of people follow F1.
Tom: Not as many as follow NASCAR … and the fans who follow NASCAR, I don’t think, appreciate a car just pulling over and letting another guy win in order for them to make the playoffs. In no other sport will you see someone intentionally “lose” so someone else can win.
Mike: Harvick would have had to stop on the track, Tom. Burton was way too far back.
Tom: Mike, if Burton was three points out of the Chase with one lap left, Harvick would have slowed down.
Cami: Look, if NASCAR teams are going to use team orders, they can’t be so obvious about it, to a point they have been used before when there was racing back to the yellow.
Mike: They do this type of thing every week. Remember the Roush orchestrated lead dance at Chicago last year?
Tom: You make a good point, Mike; team orders would have affected the outcome at some point. But I don’t want to see it rather obviously in the season’s final race.
Jeff: It is something that is impossible to police.
Tom: At least in those other races, though, we can look the other way. Not at Richmond. Not when you have blatant team orders.
Mike: I don’t see how you can look the other way at one race and not another. Every race pays the same points.
Cami: I think if it gets blatant, NASCAR might have to do something. But there isn’t much you can do about it unless it’s just totally obvious.
Tommy: The answer is simple, team racing needs to be addressed by NASCAR before it becomes a problem. Not afterwards.
Jeff: As long as there are teams, there will be team racing.
Amy: There’s also a difference in team orders that say “let him pass you” and ones that say “take that guy out.”
Cami: Exactly, Amy.
Mike: True that. I have to think that would be addressed. But you are always going to have that lead changing deal now with the Chase in effect.
Tommy: I don’t think American race fans will stomach team racing. It goes against our grain and everything we think racing is.
Mike: American racing fans are already having to stomach it with the Chase.
Cami: Look, who complained when the race leader used to slow down in turn 4 to let his teammate pass to get a lap back when they raced back to the yellow?
Amy: Lap back was different than the race lead.
Cami: True, but it’s still team racing to a point.

Only five drivers of the 10 have been in the Chase before. Does that make them the favorites going in? Or does it really matter?

Mike: Nope.
Amy: It doesn’t matter. If anything, it puts more pressure on those guys to get it done – the new guys have nothing to lose.
Toni: I don’t think it matters. Of the five newbies, some are veteran drivers, and they understand how the game works. It’s still points, whether it’s manufactured into a Chase or not.
Cami: To a point, it’s all luck from here on out.
Tommy: All luck? Maybe a little skill and teamwork?
Cami: No, Tommy, one bad race and your goose is cooked.
Amy: Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. See Busch, Kurt.
Tom: I don’t think it’s all luck, I do think experience makes a difference. However, it’s teams, not drivers, that will feel the heat. RCR doesn’t seem to have a strategy. They just think it’s race hard all 10 races and that’s not necessarily the case. In the end, them not being there before will likely doom Harvick.
Tommy: There is no strategy. You go out and fight for every position you can without wrecking.
Cami: That’s good in theory, Tommy, but you have to make sure you’re finishing each race. You can’t afford to go all out, at least not this early.
Mike: RCR doesn’t need a strategy if they finish top five every race. Harvick is on fire, Tom. If Kenseth slips at all, Harvick will win the title.
Amy: I think there’s more pressure on Johnson and Kenseth. They’ve been in and haven’t gotten it done.
Toni: Why would no experience doom Harvick? He’s not smart enough to figure it out? Experience doesn’t seem that big to me. Johnson has “experienced” the Chase every year and still hasn’t figured out how to win it. And no one has figured it out twice.
Amy: The first two guys to figure it out aren’t even there this year.
Mike: Harvick is hitting on all cylinders. They have a very real chance to win the title in both series.
Amy: It’ll be interesting to see how NASCAR treats the non-Chasers this time around. They parked Kahne for wrecking Kurt Busch last year.
Tom: Amy, it’s already started. They parked Jeff Green for slamming into Johnson’s car.
Toni: Since you brought up the Busch Series, Mike, so, the guy that holds a 619-point lead in Busch by points racing and getting the best finish he can each week doesn’t understand how to do the Chase?
Tom: Toni, the Busch Series is different for the Cup guys. All the Cup guys give it 110% every lap.
Amy: Harvick doesn’t have the huge equipment advantage he enjoys in Busch, Toni.
Toni: But what I’m saying is Harvick has not been running around like a madman in the Busch Series. He just goes out and gets what he can, be it first or 10th.
Tom: Harvick isn’t going to get beat by some guy running fifth, because no one is GOING to run fifth.
Toni: Harvick doesn’t push the issue in Busch though. Much like he’ll need to do in Cup.
Tommy: Harvick seems to have really come into his own. Smart but aggressive this year.
Toni: I mean, I’m surprised as anyone that he hasn’t had a meltdown even once.
Amy: Harvick has a better chance of beating himself than some of the others, though, simply because he lets his temper get the better of him.
Tom: That’s a trait that will doom Kyle Busch for sure, Amy. That meltdown should happen around race five or six.
Mike: Harvick hasn’t finished out of the top 15 in the last 10 Cup races. That team is getting it done.
Amy: What will doom Kyle is his average finishes at the Chase tracks. Of the Chase drivers, he’s bottom third at all but one or two.
Tommy: Kenseth is the guy to beat.
Toni: That I will agree with. Kenseth is a machine.
Tom: Me three.
Jeff: Oh My God! Me too.
Toni: This has to be some kind of record.
Mike: Kenseth is the favorite right now, but if he gets taken out just once, I think Harvick will take it.
Amy: I had a really hard time choosing a champion. On paper, Johnson is better than Kenseth at eight of 10 tracks in the Chase.
Tommy: I wish Kenseth would send Stewart a tape of Daytona with a smartass note!
Tom: Johnson just always goes in limping though, Amy.
Amy: Right, Kenseth has the momentum and I think losing the lead hurt the No. 48.
Mike: The No. 48 team isn’t running well right now, Amy, and the No. 17 is hot. 12.4-second pit stops are awesome.
Amy: Johnson won four races in 2004 during the Chase.
Mike: And still didn’t win because they limped in like they are this year.
Toni: Exactly. You can set your watch by the No. 48’s midseason meltdown.
Tom: Next week is critical for Johnson more than anyone else. He HAS to right the ship, and quickly.
Tommy: Funny; no one seems to be giving Gordon much respect.
Toni: I’ve never felt Gordon’s team was championship material. I look for them to be out of it quickly. If they couldn’t put together a consistent stretch to races to this point.
Tom: I think Gordon’s still rebuilding. He is a year away, as is Dale Jr. and Burton. Not that they won’t make some noise this year.
Tommy: It’s a tough call. I guess that’s why they were all in the top 10. They are all pretty damn good.
Mike: I don’t know about that, Tom. DEI has finally figured out intermediate tracks. I think Junior will be a threat.
Amy: Burton could be a surprise, but that team needs to stop fading at the end of races.
Tom: Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone won, except if it was Burton or maybe Hamlin. That’s how good this field is.
Tommy: Junior getting in surprised me. I didn’t think DEI had it together enough. I was wrong.
Mike: Wait until Burton wins the title without winning a race. Boy, will there be an uproar then.

For one of a handful of times this year, the Truck Series will run on a Saturday in conjunction with a Nextel Cup race the following day. Is this something the series should do more often to gain a bigger fanbase or is it more important that they stick to running at different places to keep from a “Truckwhacker” invasion?

Amy: They should absolutely do it more often. For one, it would help the Buschwhacking problem, and it would put more fans at CTS races. It’s a win-win.
Mike: I think it is great. I think the Busch Series should do a lot more standalone races and let the trucks be the companion events.
Cami: I don’t think Truckwhacking pays off the same way it does for running Busch, either. Trucks need to get the fanbase so people can see good racing.
Jeff: Trucks are so different, you don’t have, and will not have, a “Truckwhacker” problem.
Toni: I think if they split the two series more and let both Busch and the trucks be the companion events, it would serve both series.
Tommy: NASCAR needs to do whatever it needs to do to get the CTS more exposure. I would like to see the day that the trucks are able to draw 75,000 fans on their own.
Jeff: But if they do more companion races with Cup, smaller tracks will lose out on the truck races.
Tom: I think that the Truck Series is starting to establish its own identity BECAUSE it is running at separate places. Like Mansfield. I also like the combination Truck-IRL weekends.
Tommy: There’s too many deserving tracks that need good race dates, certainly more than the Cup Series will ever be able to satisfy. Trucks might be the answer one day to providing more top-notch racing.
Amy: Three or four Cup guys in trucks at companion events, running a handful of races, would be good for that series, though, like it was good for Busch 10 years ago.
Mike: Trucks still put on the best races of any major NASCAR series.
Toni: The Truck Series seems to be NASCAR’s designated ambassadors. They are the ones that always get sent out to run with other sanctions, like the IRL or Champ Car. And that’s kind of a cool thing; but I still think the Truck Series could really benefit from being with Cup a little more. Not every week, just a little more.
Tommy: I think NASCAR’s biggest growth potential is with the trucks, but I’m not sure they recognize that.
Mike: You’ve got that right, Tommy. I think when you get a couple more older drivers in there like Martin and maybe Dale Jarrett or Bobby Labonte, you’re going to see the fanbase increase.
Tom: Those fans should come over with the drivers, Mike, I agree, and when they do, you’re going to see the ratings increase in their own right.
Toni: Once they build the audience more with companion events, they can always branch the trucks back off on their own.
Cami: I think trucks running more frequently would help them. When they take a month off, it hurts the momentum they build up with fans.
Mike: If they ran companion events with Cup and put Junior out there a couple of times, they’d draw a huge crowd.
Tommy: NASCAR needs to promote the trucks more. Boy, a TV contract with a major network would be a good thing.

Predictions for New Hampshire?

Mike: Burton.
Cami: Damn you, mike!
Toni: Burton, finally. I don’t care if Mike typed faster than I did; I’m taking Burton, anyway.
Jeff: Kenseth.
Tommy: Kenseth.
Jeff: Stop that, Tommy! I’m getting scared.
Mike: Got a stalker there, Jeff?
Tommy: It’s weird, Jeff; it’s like I’m channeling off of you.
Cami: Um, OK; well, I pick Stewart.
Amy: Reed Sorenson has the fuel to get it done this time.
Tom: I think you guys are all wrong. This will be Kyle Busch’s moment to shine … he wins New Hampshire and takes the points lead, peaking at exactly the wrong time.

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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