Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Swearing Off NASCAR’s Bull… Well, You Know

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)
Cami Starr (Tuesdays/Hot or Not & Thursdays/Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Fridays/That’s History)

Tony Stewart‘s slip of the tongue on TV didn’t just cost him money… along with a $25,000 fine, 25 championship points were deducted. Is it wrong for drivers to lose championship points for over-the-line statements to the media?

Cami: Not if it’s a true over-the-line statement. But I don’t think that was over the line. It was cable, for F’s sake!
Vito: Depends on the context. Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s was more of an innocent slip of the tongue, Tony’s was more pointed, I felt. NASCAR also needs to be consistent with the precedent they started in 2004, so that’s why this happened. Tony seems to be cool with it, so as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I just kind of wish they’d leave points out of it and just fine them money.
Amy: I agree, it shouldn’t be points, but it should be a $50,000 fine. Like it or not, tame or not, there are kids watching and these guys are role models to them.
Cami: Yeah, but that whole role model thing is a cop-out in this case. If the kid picked up on it, then the parents need to step in and tell them what he said wasn’t right.
Amy: I agree that the parents should step in, but they probably also let their kids watch because they know the language isn’t allowed by NASCAR.
Matt T.: Blame the FCC more than NASCAR; that’s the reason NASCAR has been forced to take a hard stance. Oh, yeah; blame Janet Jackson, too.
Tony: If NASCAR is being told by the stations to clean it up or else they’re going to be fined by the FCC, then NASCAR’s hand is forced.
Vito: But Junior said his word on a network television station in primetime; Tony’s was on a cable station. There is a difference there.
Tom: Well, I think the whole thing was downright ridiculous. The same argument I used years ago with Junior still stands; how can uttering a swear word ever put you in a position to lose championship points? Are you telling me that if Stewart had a 24-point lead after Homestead, he won the race but then swore in victory lane, he’d lose the points title? I mean, think about what I just said for a second. How ridiculous would that be? Someone losing a title because of a swear?

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Tony Stewart No Excuse for Bad Behavior

Matt T.: True, Tom. I doubt he’d be penalized then.
Tom: That should be the standard by which all penalties should be judged. Would you be comfortable with enforcing this penalty if enforcing it cost the driver the championship? Like, in Kurt Busch‘s case, absolutely I’d be fine with that 100-point loss he incurred at Dover. But swearing? I mean, come on.
Tony: The problem is, NASCAR knows if they want to get a point across… any point, they have to hit drivers with points, not just the wallet.
Matt T.: Tony is right. We may not like it, but these guys can’t feel free to spout off whenever they get upset. It’d be like Eddie Murphy, “raw.”
Vito: Dale Earnhardt did it in 1989. His son did it in 2004. Tony did it in 2007. Sometimes it happens.
Tom: Again, I have no problem with people getting reprimanded in terms of a monetary fine. I have a problem with penalties affecting the season-long athletic competition. Fining someone $25,000 does not determine whether they win or lose a points title on the track. Penalties for points should not be imposed when it comes to things that have nothing to do with on-track performance.
Cami: Why didn’t Kyle Petty get fined for his incident? Kids could be listening on the scanner and it was on TV.
Amy: And I would never let a kid listen to any team’s scanner during any part of race weekend.
Vito: True, but NASCAR is always accused of wild inconsistency. Much like with their overreacting at Daytona in February, they have backed themselves into a corner. The Junior fine was more of a preemptive measure, because everyone was still in a tizzy over the Super Bowl “wardrobe” malfunction with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. But it’s their precedent.
Cami: I agree with Tom, though; let it be a monetary fine only. Points have nothing to do with swearing.
Tom: I mean, look at the line NASCAR’s crossed. Aaron Fike on drugs? Oh, my, let’s hit him with a 100-point penalty. No top-15 points finish for him! Johnny Smith cheated on his wife!! Holy smokes, 50 points off for him. We’re a family sport and he was a baaaad man. In all seriousness, points should not be used to determine moral values.
Matt T.: Once again, the FCC is breathing down networks’ necks. I don’t agree with penalizing points, but what else can they do?
Tony: I agree that it seems stupid to be fined points for something so minor, but still, if they want it to stop, they need to hit them with points. And they need it to stop, because the networks paying them millions of dollars need it to stop.
Tom: But networks paying millions don’t contribute to the pure definition of the sport, Tony. Never in the rulebook have I seen that you lose a race because you swear.
Cami: Well then, if we can’t hear Stewart say what he said, I don’t want to see those three bimbos running down the beach in that deodorant commercial.
Amy: Tony is right on what he said. This isn’t about NASCAR and what they think fans should hear, it’s the FCC and what’s allowed on ANY broadcast.
Tom: But what about fining lots of money!!!
Matt T.: Money is nothing to these guys. C’mon.
Tony: Exactly Matt, that’s the problem. And you’re right Tom, it isn’t a rules violation but this is the new NASCAR. Sponsors talk, money talks, so NASCAR has to keep those supporters happy.
Tom: Again, the one who crosses the last lap first with a legal car is supposed to win the race, and half the time that doesn’t even happen. That’s bad enough. It shouldn’t be “the one who crosses the finish line first on the last lap who has a G-rated mouth.”
Amy: There have been very, very few instances where the FCC has allowed the s-word on TV, and all of them were late night.
Tony: And if Fox/TNT/ESPN continually get hit with fines by the FCC, they’re just going to say the sport isn’t worth it.
Cami: But to ruin someone’s season over a slip of the tongue is pretty outrageous. As of right now, he’s top five in the Chase.
Amy: I don’t think 25 points is going to ruin Tony’s season.
Cami: No, 25 points won’t ruin his season, Amy. But it’s the whole point that it could have in a different scenario.
Vito: You could read his lips afterwards. “I bet that just cost me 25 points.” Once again, the bottom line is this penalty isn’t going to make a difference. Again, Tony is very understanding of it, admits he probably shouldn’t have said it, and isn’t going to challenge it.
Amy: I think taking points is stupid, but it is a deterrent. It would have to be way more than $25,000 for a monetary fine alone to make a dent.
Tony: Yep. If NASCAR deducted driver points for passing on the right, nobody would pass on the right. That is how NASCAR has to keep control of their sport.
Tom: Again, just because money doesn’t seem to be working shouldn’t mean we change deterrents. Fine them more money, then… enough where it matters.
Tony: What amount is that? $100K isn’t stopping teams from violating rules
Tom: $200,000. I think that would get someone’s attention.
Vito: I think they could have fined Stewart $100,000 and he wouldn’t have cared, though. Tony wants that trophy more than anything.
Tom: Well then, s**t happens, guys. I think it’s naive to think that any type of penalty is going to force people to be unemotional and politically correct.
Tony: I think we’re dealing with two different arguments here. Is it a stupid to issue a fine because someone is not PC? Absolutely. But is it necessary in today’s environment? Unfortunately, it absolutely is.
Cami: I just think since points are earned on the track, they should only be taken away for things that affect what happens on the track.
Tony: So then what does NASCAR do when they are dropped by a network because they’re sick of dealing with the FCC B.S.?
Vito: Well, this is racecar drivers with a slip of the tongue, not Howard Stern pushing the boundaries of the FCC.
Matt T.: You guys want to go Pay-Per-View so they can say what they want?
Tony: Sure, that’s the answer. Just like WWE! Watch me get fined for that.

Now that the Ginn Racing/DEI merger is finalized, who are the real winners and losers in this deal? How does this affect the driver selection for the No. 8 car next year?

Tony: DEI is the real winner here.
Cami: In particular Paul Menard, now he’s in the Top 35 for basically the rest of the season.
Vito: Winners: DEI. They get Mark Martin as a mentor and stabilizer in the organization, Ginn’s seven-post shaker rig, and cars that have a lot of Hendrick technology incorporated in them.
Tom: I think the real winners, in the long run, are Martin and Aric Almirola, because they were two pieces saved from a crumbling company. And in the end, they’ll be given quality cars with a chance to win every week.
Tony: They have their fourth team, which is in the points. They get the No. 15 in the point standings.
Matt T.: As far as the losers: it’s Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek. Duh. Also, lots of guys being laid off now. That’s a shame after Ginn proposed his grandiose five-year plan.
Vito: Exactly! Don’t forget that lots of guys who work at Ginn will find out this week if they have a job or not.

See also
Ginn Racing's 5-Year Plan Failing at Protecting Even Its Biggest Assets

Tom: Matt T., you can tell Joe was fired up when you saw him in the garage this weekend. He’s not like Sterling. He’s definitely got a couple of full-time years left, and he wants to prove he can still drive.
Amy: Sterling, Joe and the No. 78 all lost. OK, I still don’t get how the No. 78 buying the points makes them a fifth team to DEI though. If you buy something, then isn’t it yours and not the guy you bought it from?!
Tom: Yeah, but NASCAR won’t change the ownership of your points into your name because they don’t do that. That’s why they technically don’t “allow” transfers of owner points.
Amy: They “technically” allowed it with the No. 4.
Vito: People also need to back off Bobby Ginn. The guy sunk a ton of his money into that operation trying to make it work. Sponsorship just wasn’t coming with the drivers he had. It wasn’t like he bought it, played around with it for a few months, got bored and sold it trying to make a quick score. It was that or the whole deal folds up.
Tony: Unless Regan Smith is put in the No. 8, he is completely screwed out of a ride for next year.
Matt T.: Smith probably isn’t too happy now, either.
Tom: It really, really sucks for the No. 78 team though. That’s one of the biggest losers… they’ve been struggling big time, they could have used the boost.
Amy: And now they have no team to go to for any technical help, either.
Tony: I think the No. 78 has great potential, too, if they can just get over the qualifying hill.
Matt T.: The bottom line here is that Ginn made a lot of promises to a lot of people. Many of those people are now unemployed, Vito.
Vito: If it wasn’t for Bobby Ginn, they wouldn’t have had a job in the first place. The guy did what he could, and found a buyer who would at least keep some of the people on board.
Amy: Yeah – Ginn got a lot of people screwed.
Tom: Not unlike all those people he hurt at Hilton Head all those years ago. Once a man filled with empty promises, always a man filled with empty promises.
Tony: I think it looks bad for Bobby because this is the second time in his career that something like this happened.
Vito: Again, he isn’t JD Stacy. He had two past-their-prime drivers who he couldn’t get sponsorship for. If it wasn’t for him, Joe and Sterling wouldn’t have had a job to start 2007, period.
Tony: But he didn’t even allow the young drivers in his stable to try to save the situation.
Amy: And his reasoning for not doing so is less than sound.
Vito: Ginn blew $2 million on a piece of engineering equipment and was constantly building and expanding their shop. The Army would have left after last year had they not got the driver they ended up with.
Tony: Bobby just really gave the impression that he was throwing in the towel early, because he did.
Vito: But sponsoring two cars that are barely in the Top 35 in points out of his own back pocket? Sorry, but you can’t fund a racing team on good intentions.
Tom: And Ginn wasn’t selling off his whole team in dire straits. Like it or not, he kept the teams going for half a season, making promises he could never fulfill. And he never acted like he couldn’t fulfill those promises until it was far too late and people were in the position of losing their jobs. That’s just pure irresponsibility at its finest.
Tony: The team owner needs to learn the saying “it’s not personal, it’s business.”
Amy: Yeah, but it is personal to all the guys who have no jobs now.
Vito: He kept it afloat as long as he could. He bought a sinking ship to begin with, and DEI was looking to buy it a year ago. All he did was build it up and make it more attractive and get them some new equipment to work with.
Tom: We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention Smith. It sounds like “future plans” are “no plans” the more we hear about this thing.
Tony: And I understand that about the two cars, and as much as it sucked for Sterling, I don’t understand why he didn’t give the Smith deal a chance to work out
Matt T.: Bobby talked a big game, a huge game, even when he was on less than stable financial footing. I know he was in a tight spot, but come clean with the employees anyway. Sterling was told at Daytona he was fine. Next Monday… gone.
Tom: Unless Menards sponsors the No. 15 for him, or he shares the No. 11 with Martin Truex Jr., I don’t even see a Busch ride in Smith’s future with the team.
Vito: Having been unemployed for six months last year, I can relate, I understand, and I can empathize. It’s unfortunate, but let’s not be casting Bobby Ginn out to be human incarnate of all that is evil.
Amy: How many teams are adding 70 or so employees right now? Because right now is when they have to feed their families.
Tony: It’s just really shady, the way it all went down. I think that’s why so many people are having a hard time understanding Ginn’s decision. One minute they are “restructuring,” the next minute, they are folded… merged… acquired…
Amy: I agree with Tony. He wasn’t up front with any of his employees.
Vito: He was holding out until the last minute to land a sponsor. If it takes $15-$20 mil a year to run a Cup team, and you have almost none of that, what else are you supposed to do? Bankrupt yourself so Sterling can pick up a check?
Tony: Nope, let Sterling go and see what Regan can do, as was the plan for five days.
Amy: Also, if he’d said two weeks before it happened, “Well, guys, I’m sorry, but here’s how it’s gonna be in a couple weeks…”
Cami: For a while there, he was talking all this big talk about going after Junior. I don’t think Junior alone could have saved the whole organization.
Amy: In the end, I don’t see this merger being a HUGE gain for anyone. DEI still has to find and keep a sponsor on another team when the first three were mediocre at best. And the HMS technology they did gain will be outdated by the Chase
Tom: As far as who drives that No. 8 car now, to me it would make it even more attractive for Kyle Busch.
Tony: Or David Stremme, as it seems.
Matt T.: Yeah, where the hell did that start? Dave Moody?
Tom: Honestly, I feel like DEI threw that out there to try and posture with Kyle. Everything I’ve heard has Kyle pretty much in DEI’s arms.
Tony: That was out of nowhere. Maybe he saw how Casey Mears and Jamie McMurray‘s career picked up somewhat after they left.

There was a second merger announced this weekend, with Robert Yates Racing finally taking on the financial partner they’ve been looking for. With M&M’s leaving the fold, is this an organization that can be saved?

Matt T.: Sure. Newman/Haas will bring technology, money, know-how and sponsors. I’m also proud to say we reported this first in the Frontstretch newsletter!
Cami: I think they made a smart move by going with an organization that is involved in racing. They can get some sort of benefit from that, so it’s just not extra money coming in.
Tony: I think this presents a very good opportunity for McDonald’s to come back to Nextel Cup if they so choose.
Vito: As far as I’m concerned, this really isn’t an organization in peril. Robert Yates has zero financial worry; he simply has a competitiveness problem, and this was the situation he needed to fix it. He needed to partner with a group that understands racing, has engineering resources, and will let him run his race teams on his terms. In the meantime, Yates has clearly gotten the brown-end of the stick from the Roush-Yates Ford engine program. That’s the problem; he gave away 80hp and received minimal technical support from Roush.
Tony: Yeah, the Roush thing never worked out to their advantage.
Vito: What Robert Yates needs is some commitment from Ford, dedicated engineering support and a different driver for the yellow car.
Tom: From what I’ve heard, Ford was a major player in getting this marriage together.
Amy: I think this is totally different from the Ginn/DEI merger, too, because I truly think all parties stand to benefit. With that said, it won’t happen overnight. Both teams are behind in technology and that isn’t a quick fix.
Tom: From what I was told by a source, it was a desperate last-minute maneuver to make sure the Yates team stays afloat. Obviously, sponsorship doesn’t look good for next year.
Vito: Well, Yates announced a couple of months ago he had no use for an investor or someone looking to get involved with his teams just to make money. He doesn’t need the money, he needs some help making his cars go fast.
Tony: And he should get it. If you look at the two other teams with open wheel connections, Ganassi and Penske, they are doing well, Not great, but better than RYR.
Tom: Vito, Yates doesn’t need the money at the moment… but with no sponsors for either of his cars for 2008, you better believe he was going to need the money at some point.
Matt T.: RYR does need money – money to buy technology. Now, Newman/Haas brings it all in one tidy package.
Vito: But their success was a decade ago in a different era in a different mode of racing.
Cami: The open-wheel connection may not help them a ton, but it’s not going hurt them at all.
Tom: I think you’ll see Ricky Rudd leave. The interesting thing is now which driver is going to step up to fill Rudd’s shoes next season. My money’s on Stephen Leicht and CitiFinancial. They’ll run a two-car team with David Gilliland and Leicht. Now THAT’s a young organization.
Matt T.: I thought CitiFinancial was leaving though, too. To Evernham Motorsports.
Tony: I’d also hate to see Leicht get thrown in this early.
Vito: If Gilliland and Leicht are their drivers, I have a pretty good idea where those 70 guys from Ginn can get a job repairing beat-up racecars.
Tom: Honestly, I think this merger is more important within Ford circles than anything else. Because I think they’d like to see another team succeeding other than Roush. Quick, when’s the last time the top-finishing Ford wasn’t from the Roush stables? Try the Coca-Cola 600 the end of May; one of two times Roush hasn’t been the highest-finishing Ford all year. And let’s not forget, either, this aligns Kyle Krisiloff with a Cup team. Not a bad thing, even though the kid hasn’t shown much in Busch yet.
Vito: Just what a struggling team needs, another 20-year-old.
Matt T.: Figures.
Amy: The way things are, it doesn’t matter how Krisiloff does – one good Busch run and he’ll have a Cup ride anyway.

Why have the Busch Series teams had much more success with Toyota than their Cup Series counterparts? Now that the Busch teams have gotten over the hump with the first career victory, will that momentum continue – or even carry over to the Cup side?

Tony: Right now, momentum will come in the way of more top 10s and consistency, just like it did this weekend. But I don’t see any more Toyota teams ready to get into victory lane this year.
Cami: I don’t think it will translate too quickly. The problem on the Cup side is that the Toyota teams have a terrible time even getting in the race. The Busch guys don’t seem to have that problem, when they only send home a few teams (if any) a week.
Amy: Look at what Rick Hendrick lost, and his teams aren’t sliding down the tubes.
Matt T.: It won’t translate this season. Toyota may have a bit more success going to tracks a second time, but no wins.
Tony: I think Dave Blaney, Brian Vickers and David Reutimann, if they can fix the reliability problems, will be the hope for the rest of the year.
Tom: I think that Toyota’s building their program in the Busch Series the same way they built it in trucks. In another year or two, they’ll be very much in contention.
Tony: And the same will hold true for Cup.
Vito: It’s a harbinger of things to come. They’ve been steady in Busch all year long. What they lack is a strong alignment with a major team like Gibbs, Penske or Ganassi to get them over the hump.
Amy: I agree. In Cup, there are too many big name teams with too much money invested for Toyota teams to have a cash, equipment or even a driver advantage.
Matt T.: My question to Toyota is this: Besides Blaney, none of your teams are near a Top-35 spot. Why not concentrate on CoT races only? At least you’ll be more prepared for next year.
Amy: In the Busch Series, even with the Cup owners, throwing money around will get Toyota further. Plus, Jason Leffler is an outstanding Busch driver.
Vito: Look at the equipment though, too. That was a short-track race with only a handful of Cup guys in it.
Tom: Well Vito, in Leffler’s defense he has run well all year. Easily the best Busch-only driver in the Series.
Amy: Meanwhile, in Cup, they have one guy past his prime, one guy who barely HAD a prime and some more guys who have done OK in good equipment.
Cami: True, Vito. But they have been pretty competitive in other events, too.
Tony: Leffler is creating a third comeback for himself.
Tom: Amy, I do agree with you that the driver lineup in Toyota for Cup is suspect, and that’s half the problem. But it’s also new teams vs. established teams. Again, teams like Braun Racing in Busch have been around for several years. That’s what really made the difference.
Matt T.: I’m not surprised to see Toyota win a Busch race. Now they only have to concern themselves with building ONE fleet.
Vito: Toyota has a way to go in Cup, but what they’re doing in Busch is respective of where they will be in Cup, once they land a comparable Cup team.
Tom: Right. Vickers is going to be a great driver someday, but he can’t work miracles with a brand new team.
Amy: I agree that new vs. established is a big deal. Ask any new team in any series.
Vito: Vickers is a great driver now. They’re just constantly fighting with one arm tied behind their back. They’ve got to focus on getting two cars in the race, one of which is miserably slow (the No. 84).
Amy: And NASCAR, via their stupid Top-35 rule, makes it even harder than it should be.
Vito: The No. 84 is usually in the wall. AJ Wallmendinger.
Matt T.: I hear Toyota is bringing it to Gibbs. They need them.
Tony: Penske can’t be far behind either. He has manufacturer ADD.
Tom: I think Reutimann will give Toyota a Busch win before the end of the year. And frankly, the way Todd Bodine ran in the Busch Series at Gateway, wouldn’t be surprised to see him steal one, either. I could definitely see that team moving on up to Busch and doing a great job, but we shall see.

Predictions for Pocono?

Cami: I’ll say Ryan Newman.
Matt T.: Newman wins for the first time since Sept. ’05. I think that’s right…
Vito: If he brings that same car from Indy and keeps second gear in it this time, I’m going with Martin to put an end to this DEI/Ginn nonsense.
Amy: I’ll say Jimmie Johnson turns it around – because he has to. But Denny Hamlin still beats him.
Tony: Yeah, I think Hamlin keeps the JGR roll going.
Tom: I agree with you, Tony; I’m picking Hamlin too. There’s honestly no reason to think he isn’t the favorite. Frankly, I still thought he would have pulled out the June race if not for the rain. But man, does that guy need a new pit crew. Did you see them on Sunday? Looked like a bunch of confused school kids when that car came down pit road out of gas.
Vito: Isn’t Denny on his second pit crew already this year?
Tom: They replaced a few people, but at this point it seems like they need to start from scratch. Either that, or find some way to instill confidence. Right now, it doesn’t look like they have much of it.
Tony: He should take JJ Yeley‘s crew; they’re not doing much.
Vito: Yeley’s crew… only have to work half a Sunday, get paid for a full one.

Not sure which Frontstretch writer to trust with predictions? Check out the updated standings below to find out who’s really been on the ball this season:

Writer Predictions Wins Top 5s Top 10s Average Finish
Tony Lumbis 14 1 8 11 7.7
Tom Bowles 16 3 9 12 8.6
Tommy Thompson 16 2 6 11 10.5
Vito Pugliese 19 1 9 13 10.9
Cami Starr 6 0 2 3 13.7
Matt Taliaferro 14 2 4 7 14.3
Amy Henderson 20 2 8 13 14.0
Toni Heffelfinger 14 1 5 6 15.8
Mike Neff 18 1 3 7 18.4
Beth Lunkenheimer 5 1 1 2 20.4
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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