Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Stewart vs. Hamlin, Kyle Busch vs. the World & Jamie McMurray vs. the Weight of Expectations

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)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Truck Series Reporter/Commentator)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Hot or Not & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Mike Neff (Tuesdays/Full Throttle & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Tommy Thompson (Wednesdays/Thompson in Turn 5 & Fridays/Turn 5 Cartoon)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/That’s History)

Jamie McMurray’s win: Long time coming, or lucky son-of-a-gun?

Tommy: Long time coming, and well earned, too. He drove one heck of a race.
Cami: I think it’s a long time coming. He had a good car Saturday night; it clearly wasn’t a fluke.
Tony: I’m not ready to label him a championship contender quite yet, but Jamie McMurray should’ve been good for one or two wins a year for a while now.
Beth: He’s been waiting for this one since 2002. And it wasn’t luck that he was able to overcome a penalty and go for the win.
Tom: Oh, no question about it, Beth, he clearly persevered. I’ve written about the sport for seven years now, and that’s probably the most happy I’ve ever been for someone as an “unbiased” member of the media. McMurray had taken such a beating through us media and through the garage that it was so nice to see him finally get a win he really did deserve. I mean, Jeff Gordon said it best… that car was out of control.
Mike: McMurray has done well on plate tracks in the past, but was never able to seal the deal. He always gets caught up in someone else’s mess. Saturday night, he was lucky enough to miss it.
Tommy: But really…. guys aren’t supposed to admit to crying on national TV.
Cami: Gordon cried on national TV before.
Beth: More than once actually, Cami.
Tom: Look at Gordon after his first win at Charlotte. He had tears coming down like crazy!
Mike: Gordon should have cried Saturday night after Kyle Busch popped him for not helping him win.
Tommy: Well, I guess whether McMurray should have cried or not is besides the point. Bottom line is, there’s talent here. He and his crew just need to continue to gel.
Tom: It’s funny, with McMurray – even after he put himself in position to win, knowing his history, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I didn’t think he even had a chance until coming into turn 3 on the last lap.
Tony: McMurray was smart for taking the outside line, judging from the Daytona 500 finish back in February.
Tom: I mean, part of me is shocked that McMurray’s still even in the No. 26 car. This was a man we all had pegged to be fired by this point in the season. If he listened to us, the guy’d be out selling vaccums door-to-door right now.
Mike: He should be out selling vacuums; he’s about as average a driver as there is.
Tom: I was impressed with how many people congratulated him. Kind of like Casey Mears‘s win, in which you had a number of different drivers outside his team happy to see him break through. McMurray is a very popular, easygoing guy in the garage area.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: There's No Crying in NASCAR... Except for Jamie McMurray

Tony: Agreed. Jamie is a good guy and well-liked on the circuit.
Vito: The funny thing is, when you think about it, a gust of wind one way or another and it’s another hard-luck story for McMurray. It’s the way the sport goes. Luck can be very humbling to you… or the spark that sets off a five-win season.
Tommy: He came into Cup with tons of potential. Maybe it is just now coming to fruition.
Vito: He had a car capable of contending for the win at Daytona in February, so it was good to see him, as well as Larry Carter, get a win.
Cami: Larry Carter didn’t seem all that excited, though.
Tony: Judging by his interview, I didn’t think Larry was happy for Larry.
Tom: I think Vito makes a point about how one break can be all you need in a topsy-turvy year like this. I’m just wondering whether this is going to be enough to put Jamie in the Chase.
Cami: I doubt that, Tom. They are still too up and down. But if he does get momentum from the win, he did it at a good time.
Tommy: Well, you never know, he certainly looked fearless moving up through the pack.
Tom: The problem for McMurray with the top 12 right now is there’s no one to leapfrog except maybe Clint Bowyer. And he still has Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch to contend with around him.
Tony: Yeah, I think if Jamie starts pulling in the top 10s like he did earlier, he should get in. But he doesn’t have room for mulligans and stuff outside his control; that is the one wild card.
Cami: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Bowyer would probably have to tank for anyone else to make it in.
Beth: Not true! Anything can still happen with that top 12.
Tommy: He’s got room. Ninth through 12th in the Chase right now are all subject to slip out of contention.
Vito: Kevin Harvick is 181 points away right now and is vulnerable to falling out of the top 12. A blown motor and a pit miscue… it won’t take much to put him on the outside looking in.
Mike: Bowyer has definitely been sliding. Saturday night looked like it was going to give him a bigger shot in the arm than it did.
Tony: The one advantage Jamie has over people like Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer is that he’s been in the position before.
Tom: One other thing that should be mentioned is the way in which Carl Edwards pushed McMurray to the win. Teamwork and Roush didn’t seem to be as strong as it’s been in past years, especially with Greg Biffle struggling. So, that was a real positive sign for them that there’s starting to be some cohesion on that team after their transition away from Mark Martin.
Mike: Very true. Edwards could have hosed MAC out of that win easily.
Beth: Then again, had Edwards stepped out of line, a lot could have changed.
Vito: Carl wasn’t going to do anything short of stalling out his teammate. Nobody was going to go with him.
Cami: McMurray was lucky it wasn’t Matt Kenseth behind him. Matt couldn’t have pushed a lawnmower last night.

Should Joe Gibbs intervene in the Tony Stewart – Denny Hamlin controversy this week… or is it good for teammates to occasionally go through the type of competitive scrape the two got themselves into Saturday night?

Beth: Leave the two of them alone… they’ll work it out. Tony Stewart has a tendency to speak before he thinks, and shoving a camera in his face right after that wreck was a disaster waiting to happen.
Vito: Exactly, Beth. I think Joe is well aware that this is just another incident of Tony shooting his mouth off because there’s a camera in front of him.
Tommy: I disagree. Of course he needs to intervene.
Mike: Oh, I guarantee they’ll be making a trip to the principal’s office. There is no way he can have THAT kind of hostility going on in the organization.
Tony: It’s kind of hard for Joe to say anything, though, because nobody did anything wrong; it was a true racing incident. Denny Hamlin needs to talk to Tony, though.
Tom: I think we’re seeing a type of frustration level out of Stewart we haven’t seen in several years at this point. But he was 100% wrong Saturday night.
Tony: Absolutely, especially since Denny did the same exact thing Stewart did during the 500.
Tom: I was really surprised to see him call out Hamlin when he’s the one that’s helped tutor the kid to success.
Mike: I’m with you, Tom. When they showed the in-car of the incident, you could hear that Stewart never lifted when he ran into Hamlin.
Cami: Hamlin was the bigger man and took the blame for it just because they told him Tony was whining.
Vito: It’s pretty low-brow when you cause the wreck, then blame your teammate for it.
Amy: Tony has no brain-mouth filter whatsoever.
Cami: Accusing Hamlin of trying to wreck him all weekend, please.
Tom: I think Tony is looking at all the Hendrick wins and wondering when the breaks are going to start going this way. Remember, he should have had between four and five wins this year.
Beth: That’s exactly it, Tom. Tony is beyond frustrated and wants to see victory lane.
Tony: If he’s not careful, he could frustrate himself out of the Chase.
Vito: I think this whole thing screams out just normal hothead Tony. They’ll talk to him at some point this week, or he’ll mention something on his radio show about it, which, you know what, he already did. I don’t see it perpetuating itself at all.
Tommy: I like a driver that isn’t afraid to speak his mind as much as the next guy. But I have an aversion to sarcastic smartasses as well. In the meantime, I don’t know if Hamlin’s the bigger man or just knows who’s the alpha male at JGR.
Amy: Denny also has the tendency to pop off, but popping off about Tony is probably a bad idea from where he sits.
Tony: Yep, he’s got to focus his energy on other things.
Tom: Let’s look at it from Denny’s perspective. He’s coming off his first win and he has all the momentum in the world going right now. AND he never does well with restrictor plates anyway – so it’s not like the momentum would just disappear with one bad run. Causing controversy would be like shooting himself in the foot.
Vito: The thing that stood out to me was the “he tried to wreck us in practice on Friday” part of his rant.
Tommy: Does anyone have any knowledge of what happened in practice that Tony referred to?
Mike: I’d like to see that, too. I think I watched all of the practice that was aired and I never saw anything on it.
Tom: It’s because I believe it never existed.
Amy: I don’t think that Tony likes that Hamlin has been consistently better than him in CoT races.
Tom: That’s a good point, Amy. Check this out; since the second half of 2006, Hamlin has three wins and 11 top-five finishes. Stewart? Three wins, 11 top-five finishes. Amy may be right that Stewart’s getting jealous.
Tony: Frankly, Tony has found a reason to get pissed at everyone except for Martin and Jeff Burton this year.
Vito: I still can’t get over him giving Jimmie Johnson the finger passing him for the lead while barely even getting that close to him. One time, Tony got mad at Martin at Texas in 2005 when he side-drafted off of him. Mark went over to apologize, and Tony tried to walk away. Mark grabbed a handful of uniform and told him he was sorry, and to get over it, then patted him on the shoulder. He was being a total girl about it. Wouldn’t look at him, kind of gave him the cold shoulder, then Mark grabbed him and got his attention. This from the guy that just LOST the race because of no-neck holding him up for three laps.
Amy: I did find it impressive that he managed to save a very loose racecar with one hand WHILE giving Jimmie the finger, however.
Cami: Back on point, I think this whole incident at Daytona resulted from the heat of the moment. Stewart was pissed off because he thought he was finally going to snag a win this year, finally.
Tommy: You think the king might be fighting to keep his throne?
Vito: And with the rumor that Busch might be coming to Gibbs (his other favorite person on the track), maybe Tony is starting to feel a little heat.
Mike: I have to think that Stewart is feeling some pressure since Hamlin has been running as well as he has. It’s been a while since Stewart had that in his own organization.
Tony: To Mike’s point, yeah, this is the first time he’s been in a situation with his teammate competing on the same level. Even though Bobby Labonte won the championship in Tony’s second year, he slowly declined while Tony has slowly risen within JGR.
Cami: Plus, Denny got his win last week.
Tom: The only thing that I have to say in these guys’ defense is it is normal for teammates to get fired up at each other on occasion. Just think how Jeff Gordon and Johnson reacted at Martinsville… but of course, they didn’t wreck each other out.
Cami: It’s Tony being Tony, but it was still wrong to call out his teammate like that when it was a racing deal, or more likely, his fault.
Mike: I just think Stewart needs to be the one to initiate the conversation this week, because he was clearly at fault on this one.
Beth: Leave ’em to their own devices. They’ll apologize and get over it. It’s OK for them to get mad at each other every now and then.
Tony: Next week, they’ll be asked about it and everyone will say everything is fine.
Mike: I would imagine that Stewart will fix it up, but if he doesn’t, it could fester for a while.

Kyle Busch openly complained after the race he wasn’t getting help from his teammates. Is it just Kyle being Kyle – or is it true? If it is, how fair is it that a team starts ditching their own teammate when there’s still 18 races left to go?

Beth: Kyle wanted that win. Bad.
Vito: He was pretty much on his own there at the end. The Roush cars were lined up. The only one who was going to help him was his brother.
Tommy: What’s he want, thee teammates and a brother helping him?
Amy: Kyle didn’t seem to care about teammates when he went with Bowyer and hung Mears out to dry earlier in the race.
Beth: And for quite some time, Johnson was behind Kyle, and Kyle did his share of jumping out of line and leaving Jimmie alone.
Amy: Kyle wants teammates only when Kyle wants a push. He doesn’t want to BE a teammate.
Mike: But Kyle’s claims were totally true. Gordon left him out to dry completely and it was blatantly apparent. He was pushing McMurray past him for the lead, and then there was a huge gap behind Kyle that he could have slid into, but he didn’t.

See also
Full Throttle: NASCAR Teammates - For Good or for Evil?

Tommy: Gordon did at one point push McMurray. But let’s not forget, when a driver pushes someone forward, it’s to also move forward themselves.
Tom: And as Kyle even said, teammate help or not, in the end he lost the race himself. He times the side draft differently, he’s out in front when it matters the most.
Vito: But Gordon iced him on pit road after the race, too. That’s what really took him aback.
Cami: I think it’s Kyle being Kyle. But I don’t ever remember more than Jeff and Jimmie ever being real “teammatey” over there.
Tom: You know what, with 10 laps to go I actually thought Mears was going to win. Because he and Johnson were like a drafting machine – and those two are so close they’re practically brothers. And then even JIMMIE left Casey out to dry! To me, that says it all. With 10 laps to go at a restrictor-plate race, you have no friends.
Tommy: Exactly Tom… your friend is pretty much whoever is behind you at the time. And Kyle had his brother behind him.
Amy: That is true – 10 to go, you get what you can get.
Tony: No friends within 10 laps… unless your teammate is Edwards, who is friends with everybody.
Mike: But if a teammate is going to help someone, shouldn’t they help their teammate?
Amy: If you hang guys out all day, you can’t really expect them to be in a hurry to help you.
Tony: And even if they were at fault, Kyle shouldn’t be complaining on TV about that. He’s still got to work with these guys for 18 more races.
Cami: Good point, Tony. But will his whining win him any friends on his new team?
Tom: I also think that he’s the type of guy that is going to sell you under the table pretty quickly.
Vito: I think we saw this when Brian Vickers announced he was leaving Hendrick. When you go against “The Family,” you’re dead to them. Hopefully Fredo’s boat doesn’t start blowing motors. Then you’ll know what the deal is.
Amy: Actually, the most disturbing of his comments was the insinuation that his team might sabotage him the rest of the year.
Mike: I agree, Amy, the thought of them deliberately sabotaging his cars was extreme. Now, if there is any mechanical issue, it’s going to blow up.
Tom: See, I just disagree with him. I think Kyle’s jumping the gun. But I do think he’s still very hurt by being left out in the cold…the whole Hendrick thing completely blindsided him.
Tommy: I’m sure Kyle’s continued whining is really endearing himself to future owners and sponsors. He had a perfect opportunity to make himself look a whole lot better.
Tony: Does anyone know if Kyle has been kicked out of team meetings?
Mike: I don’t think he has yet, but I bet it happens soon.
Beth: Well, had Kyle tried to be more a part of the HMS family, he probably wouldn’t have been left out like that.
Vito: I’m sure there’s more going on beyond the scenes then just what happened those last five laps. Even on pit road he tried to talk to Jeff… and he turned his back on him.
Cami: I guess he did try to congratulate Jeff, but Gordon didn’t want any part of it.
Tom: Did anyone else notice Kyle Busch talking to Truex extensively during driver introductions? I thought that was kind of interesting, considering how much A) I never thought those two would get along and B) he’s been mentioned as a DEI finalist.
Tommy: My prediction: Kyle imitates his brother and doesn’t finish the year at HMS.
Tony: Wondering if this will initiate an Earnhardt/Busch switch.
Tom: I don’t think that’ll be true, Tommy. Who would HMS put in there to fill the seat? Junior’s not leaving the end before the end of the season… with the way they’re running right now, I don’t think he’d want to.
Mike: As long as he is in Chase contention, I think Hendrick will suck it up.
Tom: And he won’t slip out of contention. I mean, the kid just finished second!
Amy: Kyle needs to go somewhere where teamwork isn’t emphasized the way it is at Hendrick.
Tommy: I’m telling you guys. Kyle’s not stable. The boy is going to crack.
Tony: Yeah, I think the fact that he is out is eating him alive inside, and it will continue to coming out in sly comments.
Vito: There’s nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing left to lose. I say go for it, Kyle!
Cami: I think Kyle will be a bit more aggressive, and you certainly won’t see him cutting his teammates any slack the rest of the year.
Tom: You know, I just can’t help but feel bad for him though. In a sense, I think he is paying a steep price for his immaturity. You never like to see anyone kicked out, no matter how stupid they can be. However, he definitely needs to grow up and learn a few things.
Vito: I don’t know about that. He’s still auditioning for a job. As far as immaturity: He’s 22 years old. He’s SUPPOSED to be. Stewart is immature and he’s won two titles.
Amy: No, he isn’t supposed to be. Reed Sorenson is younger and he doesn’t act like a spoiled child.
Vito: Right, because he’s essentially mute. I think I’ve heard him talk twice.
Cami: I don’t think you can say his age is the reason. Even when I was 22, I knew I couldn’t go whining and crying and bitching about my co-workers and everything little thing that was wrong at my job.
Tommy: It’s all in the upbringing. Compare the Labonte and Burton boys at any age and I’ll guarantee you there’s a dramatic difference.
Amy: Kyle could take a few lessons from Reed on behavior.
Tom: Amy, the irony is that Busch has a real chance to replace Sorenson at Ganassi. Rumor is they’ve been going after him hard. Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle on the same team – they might as well rename it Chip Ga-Wrecki Racing.

Truck Series rookie Aaron Fike got arrested this weekend for drug possession of heroin and several other substances. He joins Shane Hmiel, Brian Rose, Jamie Skinner, Kevin Grubb and a growing list of other youngsters suspended by NASCAR. Is this a growing indication that we’re seeing an underground drug problem start making its way into the sport?

Mike: It is definitely disturbing that people are showing up with drugs that are that intense. I am sure there was cocaine usage in the ’80s, but I have to think this is very serious.
Tom: Honestly, I think the pressure on young drivers is higher than it’s ever been. And this is beginning to be a byproduct of the way certain drivers are starting to handle that pressure.
Amy: It’s an example of very young people with a lot of money and little supervision.
Mike: That said, I am pretty sure NASCAR will not let it get out of hand. There are too many people that want to drive in the sport for them to bow down to anyone and let them slide.
Cami: I agree Mike, they can’t have that going on. It’s not like a person in the NBA or NFL doing it.
Tony: No, they can’t. Drugs are evil to begin with, but when you are driving a car at 180 mph for a living, it’s a whole new deal, a dangerous one.
Tom: I don’t know if it’s anything NASCAR can control, Mike. You can’t control getting five, six, 10 races to prove yourself or your career is toast. You can’t control the pressure of competition, of trying to keep your head above water in a dog-eat-dog racing world.
Amy: I agree, Tom – you put SO much pressure on yourself in competition. I do it at horse shows – and that’s not my livelihood.
Vito: It’s kids who are essentially winning the lottery, making a ton of money, and having that racecar driver mentality of “nothing’s going to happen to me.” But HEROIN? It’s not exactly a recreational drug.
Beth: We can’t go convicting Fike of using it until we see a drug test. You know how it works… innocent until proven guilty.

See also
Tearing Apart the Trucks: Aaron Fike's Fall From Grace

Cami: I doubt he was holding all that stuff for the girl that got caught with him.
Vito: If it’s true, no one just “does” heroin. It becomes a lifestyle. He’s lucky he got caught this early in the game. Smoking pot at a party is one thing. Shooting up with the deadliest of drugs outside of an amusement park… that’s the kind of stuff that precedes death.
Tommy: But drug use is NASCAR is pretty rare. And even more rare as drivers ascend up the ladder towards Cup. I don’t think hard-drug use and achievement in auto racing can go hand in hand.
Tom: Well Tommy, look at Hmiel. In both cases, he was just about to get a full-time Cup ride when he was caught. Less than a year away… so I don’t agree with that.
Tommy: My point… Shane and who?
Tom: Grubb wasn’t a bad Busch Series driver. Point being, Tommy, one day you’re going to see it ascend to the highest ladder. Especially in a world where one strong run by these young drivers can mean the difference between Cup and sitting on the sidelines.
Tony: So here’s an interesting question, relating to penalty consistency. If Aaron is convicted, does he get a chance to come back like Shane did, or is he banned for life because his drug is much more dangerous?
Mike: I just have to think NASCAR is going to start ramping up testing if more and more people start getting caught with stuff like this.
Tom: That’s a great question, Tony. I think you still have to give him a chance to come back from rehab… but as we’ve seen so far, everyone who’s come back has simply been suspended again.
Tony: Yeah, I think maybe it affects the amount of time Aaron is banned, but he should be given another chance.
Vito: I don’t think you have to worry about him finding a ride or landing a sponsor. If you have Smack attached to your name, unless you’re a musician from Seattle, no one is going to want anything to do with you.
Tommy: It’s not the kind of PR they want to deal with.
Mike: Very true. Heroin is a very taboo word to hear.
Amy: You know, I read a poll of drivers and the majority are in favor of random testing – thought that was interesting.
Tony: The way NASCAR is today, if you’re over 25, you’re old news. So the penalty for Fike is almost a lifelong one. It’s so much harder to come back regardless of your past once you’re out of racing for that long and you are that “old.”
Vito: Hmiel got a second chance because of his dad. I think in this age of getting fined points for inadvertently cussing on TV, drug use attached to your name is a career killer.
Tony: Yeah, it will be hard to get a sponsor to touch that. Imagine having that mug shot of a face on your commercials.
Tommy: Drugs and cars going 200 mph don’t mix very well. An offender would certainly have to jump through some major hoops before being able to compete again.
Beth: This is such a shame. Fike had plenty going for him and he threw it all away. But don’t convict him until we know more details about it.
Amy: I interviewed him last year – nice kid.
Tommy: It’s a shame for Aaron. I watched him in open wheels, and it looked as if he might have a great future. But wish him luck. Not competing in a racecar is the least of his problems if he in fact is using.
Cami: Even if it comes out that he didn’t do anything, like Beth said, a certain amount of damage has already been done. More people will remember the big headline accusation, than the quiet oh yeah, forget that.
Vito: It’s the same in the “real” world too, though. Young guy with a good job gets pulled over with drugs in his car. He’s going to jail and his life’s over too.
Tommy: Drug abuse is a national epidemic. There’s hardly a family that hasn’t been touched by it.

Predictions for Chicagoland?

Tony: Kenseth avenges last year and he passes the random drug test.
Amy: I agree, Kenseth gets Roush Fenway on a roll.
Vito: Chicago is like a mini-Michigan, and the Roush cars have it figured out on those types of tracks with the old-school car this year. That’s what’s nice about a big organization like that. They can develop both the old car and the CoT.
Cami: I’ll say Harvick. As long as they don’t test for Rogaine.
Vito: Edwards.
Beth: Stewart gets over his beef with Denny and gets the win he wanted at Daytona.
Tommy: OK… I’m saying Hamlin.
Mike: I’m going to go out on a limb and pick a team on a roll, I’m going with Truex.
Cami: I see Tom thinks he’s so smart, he has to wait for everyone else to be done with their picks before he honors us with his.
Tom: I’m so torn all over again. I guess I’ll say Stewart comes back from the controversy and breaks through at Chicagoland. He always seems to bounce back from things like this. I know I’ve picked him a bunch of times this year, but when summertime hits, you just can’t go wrong with Stewart.

2007 Nextel Cup Prediction Standings

Writer Predictions Wins Top 5s Top 10s Average Finish
Tony Lumbis 12 1 7 10 7.9
Tom Bowles 14 1 7 10 9.6
Tommy Thompson 15 2 5 10 10.6
Vito Pugliese 17 1 8 11 11.4
Matt Taliaferro 14 2 4 7 14.3
Amy Henderson 18 2 6 11 15.3
Cami Starr 5 0 1 2 15.6
Toni Heffelfinger 14 1 5 6 15.8
Mike Neff 16 1 3 6 17.9
Beth Lunkenheimer 4 0 0 1 25.3
Kim DeHaven 1 0 0 0 37.0

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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