Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Roush’s Posturing, Lapped Cars Jostling & Big-Name Pending Free Agents

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

This Week’s Participants:
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Editor’s Note: Tony Lumbis didn’t enter the fray until after the first question this week.

Jack Roush announced he would not seek legal action against Michael Waltrip Racing after MWR admitted it was the team that had been in possession of a “proprietary part,” which happened to be a sway bar, belonging to Roush Fenway Racing. Was there ever merit to his claims, or was it just Roush taking another jab at his new nemesis, Toyota?

Matt T.: I’m sure there was merit, but Roush played this one all wrong.
Amy: I have a hard time taking it seriously, personally. Roush has a long history of accusing teams who are beating him of stuff.
Mike: As I wrote last week, if it were a serious allegation, Roush would have sought legal action before he ever went public with the accusations. This is all part of the pissing match between Roush and Toyota. Or, more specifically, Lee White.
Matt T.: Roush kept it under wraps until White started spouting off after the Vegas infraction. It was only then that Roush made an issue out of it. If he was so upset, why not bring it up when it happened?
Amy: Geoff Smith went so far as to say that if White hadn’t said anything about the oil cover, RFR would never have even mentioned the sway bar. Actually, the best one-liner on this was before it was revealed as a sway bar; someone said it was the bolt that held down the oil tank cover.
Kurt: My question is, why wouldn’t Roush pursue legal action? If Michael Waltrip Racing has admitted to doing it, doesn’t he have a case?
Mike: I just think the whole thing was silly, and I maintain that Roush would have initiated legal action before it ever became public if he legitimately felt wronged.

See also
Full Throttle: Roush Continues Grudge Match With Toyota... But That's All It Is

Matt T.: I agree, Mike. Roush needed some ammo after Oil Cover Gate. But it looks like he’s decided against going forward with any legal action. So case closed, I suppose.
Bryan: Bingo.
Kurt: As far as Roush going to the media, maybe he was trying to fuel anti-Toyota sentiment. You know, someone said that Roush was trying to divert attention from his own mini-scandals, I’m thinking it’s like that; still, theft of parts isn’t too cool. I’d be pretty danged mad.
Bryan: But I don’t think there was any intent on MWR’s part to thieve and cheat.
Mike: Well, there can be a dramatic difference in sway bars, Bryan. Especially if they figured out something to make the geometry work completely different.
Kurt: Does anyone question whether Michael Waltrip has ethical problems with people that he hires?
Bryan: His staff is building quite the rep.
Kurt: Maybe Waltrip was trying to find a way to keep his street car from flipping over.
Amy: Maybe MWR needed a stir stick for the jet fuel.
Kurt: Seriously, I kind of thought it was hypocritical of Jack to be pointing fingers, but he has a legitimate gripe if someone swiped something from him.
Mike: I’ve had multiple people tell me that parts get mixed up all the time in the inspection area; but they are returned immediately, not months later.
Matt T.: I think this was a case of Jack spouting off and then regretting that he brought it up. I mean, what does Roush think will get accomplished by going to the media with this?
Amy: I agree. He was just spouting off.
Mike: Roush can be a bit hypersensitive when he feels like he is being wronged.
Bryan: You’d think the results on the racetrack between Roush and MWR would give Roush enough to talk about.
Kurt: My favorite Roush saying of the week: “He can’t even beat me with my parts!”
Matt T.: The other thing here, and I’m not justifying any thievery, is that if you think this is the first time a part has been swiped in the garage area, you’re crazy. It may not be commonplace, per se, but it happens.
Mike: Oh yeah. It happens all of the time. When mechanics move teams, they roll their tool chests down the street, literally. There are definitely parts that move between teams.
Kurt: Maybe we should have a “Tool Chest of Tomorrow” to limit this sort of thing.
Matt T.: I seem to remember the No. 24 coming up a tire short one weekend in ’98. Just after Jack accused the team of soaking. Hmmm…
Bryan: Further proof that Roush stole some headlines and got into another spat with Toyota. Case closed.
Kurt: Jack can’t have a serious case against MWR, or maybe he’s concerned that the lid will be lifted off of his own operations if he sues.
Amy: It’s like everything else. People went on and on last fall like the Patriots were the first team to watch sidelines. The bottom line is everyone does stuff, but not everyone gets caught.
Mike: On a side note, you know one thing I found interesting this weekend? Did anyone mention that Denny Hamlin was driving a Toyota? It was such a big deal when they got their first win. Now it’s old news.
Kurt: I think it was overshadowed by Hamlin getting his first Virginia win.
Bryan: That, and Hendrick being 0-6 now.

The Martinsville race featured a number of lapped cars getting in the way of and spinning cars on the lead lap. Is this an acceptable part of the game, or does NASCAR need to intervene?

Tony: That’s short-track racing at its best!
Bryan: That’s the reality of the Lucky Dog rule. Drivers are more aggressive than ever before to put themselves in that spot.
Kurt: It’s not acceptable, but NASCAR shouldn’t intervene. I don’t want to give away my Happy Hour column this week, but there are too many inexperienced drivers out there. You know, this was the first time Sam Hornish Jr. ever raced at Martinsville. Same with Michael McDowell.
Amy: Regardless, I think NASCAR lost the blue flag on Sunday. I don’t have a problem with lapped cars racing for position, but they got stupid about it at Martinsville.
Matt T.: They may have been stupid, Amy, but NASCAR should in no way intervene. That’s the last thing we need: NASCAR penalizing drivers arbitrarily because they don’t like the way they drive. The drivers, vets and rookies alike, will police this themselves on this one, and that’s the way it should be.
Tony: You take away the beating and banging, and you might as well assign the finishing order to be the same as the qualifying.
Amy: I have no problem with beating and banging, but I have a problem with lapped cars affecting the outcome of a race.
Mike: If you get right down to it, the drivers qualified and they have a right to be out there. But there should be some give and take between drivers who have been lapped.
Bryan: Kurt’s point is right, too… this is becoming a problem because it’s become acceptable for drivers not just to learn Sprint Cup, but to learn stock cars at the Cup level.
Mike: However, this is nothing new. If y’all remember, when John Andretti won at Martinsville for Petty in 1999, he was in second when the leader – I believe it was Jeff Burton – was having to fight like hell to pass everyone. Andretti just caught up and made the pass for the lead because the leader had used his stuff up.
Tony: If you are about to go one lap down, I think you have every right to fight for your life, but once you start getting multiple laps behind, there is no reason to hold up the leader.
Amy: NASCAR should intervene in two ways. One: Use the damn blue flag, that’s what it’s for. Two: When a car causes a crash going after the Lucky Dog, whether he spins or not, don’t give it to him!
Bryan: Amy, send that express to Greg Biffle.
Kurt: You’re right, Amy. Biffle benefited from a caution that he caused.
Tony: That’s a good point, Amy. I actually thought that was the rule all along until this weekend.
Kurt: That is supposed to be the rule. I think the officials just missed it.
Amy: I guess NASCAR doesn’t think causing it is the same as being involved. As for the lapped cars, particularly at the end of the race, NASCAR should have flagged someone like McDowell over. And what’s the consequence of ignoring a NASCAR flag?
Matt T.: Oh I agree there, Amy. But McDowell has just as much right to that real estate as Burton or Jeff Gordon, regardless of what lap he’s on. Is it a sensible way to drive? No, of course not, but still…
Mike: The blue flag is a courtesy flag; it is not mandatory.
Kurt: I’m not kidding when I say this: Michael Waltrip may have told McDowell that if the leaders come up on him, fight them for the spot and keep the sponsor on TV. Michael did that at Bristol last year, fighting Kasey Kahne even though he was two laps down.
Matt T.: You may actually be on to something there, Kurt.
Bryan: Agreed. MWR has more than 20 races left to sell on the No. 00.
Tony: I don’t like drivers affecting the outcome of the leader, but here is the catch: McDowell was in his own battle. If he moves over, he is taking the risk that those he is battling won’t do the same.
Mike: But I don’t want to see the driver in second get to just pass everyone without any effort while the leader has to battle them, either. That is how Andretti won the last race for Petty.
Tony: Yeah, it seems like that’s an unwritten rule Mike. Battle the leader, let everyone else go.
Matt T.: That’s always been an unintended consequence. But it’s the smart way to race if you’re a lap down.
Mike: Right, and I don’t think it’s fair. Once the driver has been passed by the top four or five, then yeah, let everyone else have the room. But they can’t just throw in the towel once they’re a lap down.
Tony: Unless you’re fighting for the Lucky Dog; then, you are fighting whoever is up front just to stay there.
Kurt: Towards the end of the race, McDowell had nothing to gain by fighting Burton except to keep the sponsor on TV.
Mike: Wasn’t McDowell on the lead lap until he got passed there at the end?
Amy: Yes, he was.
Mike: So, I don’t blame him for not just folding up his tent the instant he finally went a lap down.
Kurt: McDowell said he wasn’t intentionally trying to keep Burton behind him.
Tony: McDowell was battling the No. 16 and someone else
Amy: In his defense, Kyle Busch was in the way, too; but at least Hamlin was his teammate. That’s more acceptable to me, to help a teammate.
Kurt: Kyle got out of Gordon’s way immediately, though.
Matt T.: Look, McDowell was put in a bad situation this week. First Cup start ever and it comes at Martinsville of all places! So, of course he’s going to be a rolling roadblock.
Amy: Don’t even get me started on that, Matt.
Matt T.: That’s why I was surprised that Burton and Gordon teed off on him afterwards.
Kurt: True, Matt. It’s easy to sit here and criticize.
Bryan: McDowell ran better than David Ragan did in his first start, at least.
Tony: It’s actually a tough spot. Do you battle for position, or do you try to gain respect from the leaders? It’s a lose/lose situation.
Amy: If Mikey had enough sense to put an experienced driver in the car…
Matt T.: Such as?
Amy: Johnny Benson, Kenny Wallace, Mike Wallace, Johnny Sauter, Scott Wimmer, Jason Keller, Mike Bliss

See also
Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 15 Drivers You Aren't Seeing on Sunday

Mike: But McDowell did a great job all day, and I don’t think he can be blamed for not just rolling over once he lost his lap.
Kurt: He did do a good job, but he shouldn’t have been fighting the leaders with less than 10 to go.
Tony: I was just as surprised as anyone with McDowell, but I still say he should have a year in Nationwide first; that being said, he did a hell of a good job on Sunday.
Mike: And I don’t blame him for battling until he was passed by the fourth-place car, at least.
Amy: He kept at least two good cars from a shot at winning!
Kurt: I wonder if a Cup regular had been doing that, if he’d have gotten punted. Like a Kurt Busch or someone.
Amy: I think he would have, Kurt.
Matt T.: I’m actually surprised McDowell didn’t get the boot.
Mike: Carl did move him. Hamlin had to work hard to get around him. Why should Burton get to just waltz on by?
Amy: I just don’t think lapped cars should have that big of an effect on the outcome of the race.
Matt T.: Ideally, no. But it happens. That’s racin,’ as they say.
Kurt: Well, it’s not something that should be legislated, but this is the kind of thing that gets you on other drivers’ bad sides.
Tony: It’s one of those deals where it’s not a rule, but you can be damn sure that people will remember it when the roles are reversed.
Bryan: Getting Burton ticked at you isn’t the best way to start your Cup career, either.
Mike: I agree, Bryan. You really have to work to get Burton to threaten to dump you.
Amy: And next time, someone isn’t going to cut McDowell the slack they did this week.
Matt T.: I’m just glad everyone refrained from using the term “gentleman’s agreement” here. I so hate that phrase.
Kurt: It’s racin’. Sometimes guys tick people off.
Mike: I thought Carl Edwards handled it perfectly. Push him into the turn and drive under him.
Tony: Right. Things are fine just the way they are… no rule, let them act how they want. And know that what goes around, comes around,

Biffle and Martin Truex Jr.‘s contracts came up as issues this weekend, a reminder that there are a number of drivers approaching free agency in 2009. While each said it would be a while before their contracts were signed, how long is too long before it becomes a distraction and affects the team?

Kurt: Well, let’s start by saying that both teams should re-sign both of these drivers. That said, I don’t think it’s usually a problem. It doesn’t seem like performance is affected by contract negotiations in NASCAR like it affects performance in other sports.
Amy: At this point it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you do talk, it’s a distraction; if you don’t, still a distraction.
Mike: But once we get back to Daytona, it is time to you-know-what or get off the pot. Until then, it isn’t a distraction. But by July, talks need to be serious.
Matt T.: I honestly think it’s a unique case with every team. We saw what finally signing on the dotted line did for Harvick a couple years back. They went on a tear immediately. But the same cannot be said for Kyle Busch and his ouster at HMS.
Bryan: Agreed. And Truex’s situation is a lot different from anyone else.
Tony: But I don’t think drivers and teams should even start looking at the situation until the offseason before the final year of the contract and ideally, get it done then.
Kurt: I can’t think of any evidence of a team falling behind because they were distracted by contract negotiations, unless you count Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Teresa; but that was a special case. There was acrimony all around there, which isn’t the case with Truex or Biffle. Unless Truex decides he wants ownership of the team.
Mike: I think there is some acrimony with Biffle, because Roush hasn’t exactly given him the best environment to succeed, and he’s arguably their best driver.
Matt T.: But Biffle has been threatening to jump ship for years now. It’s the same ol’ tune. Thing is, he’s running well at the moment, so depending on how they look around midseason will most likely dictate his decision.
Tony: That’s true, Matt. I feel like we’ve been down this road before, and it always seems like he gets really good towards the end of his contract.
Kurt: Biffle usually gets pretty good equipment, but it’s very spotty. Great one week, mediocre the next.
Matt T.: Biffle would be unemployed for all of two minutes if he walked.
Mike: I still think Biffle is going to be the first driver to win the title in all three series assuming Roush, or whoever his new team is, puts the effort behind him.
Matt T.: No argument there.
Kurt: Where would Biffle go though? Childress’s much-anticipated fourth car?
Matt T.: Seems that’s spoken for, Kurt. Someone would make room, though.
Amy: Yeah, not a lot of top-caliber rides open. DEI and the No. 8, perhaps, if Aric Almirola doesn’t pan out.
Tony: If Regan Smith doesn’t continue to improve, maybe DEI and a reunion with Doug Richert?
Bryan: DEI’s No. 1 might not be out of the question, either.
Kurt: I think Biffle stays where he is. Not so sure about Truex, though. He might get an offer.
Matt T.: I really don’t think Truex is in any rush to leave, and I honestly don’t think he’s really thought much about ’09 yet. That’s the impression I’ve gotten.
Amy: I agree, Matt. I don’t think Truex has signed his exit papers yet. He’s top dog at DEI and would not be anywhere else.
Mike: That is very true, Amy, and I don’t think Truex is going anywhere unless he can slide into a ride at Hendrick. And that isn’t happening next year.
Bryan: I disagree. Truex will not be back at DEI next year.
Tony: Truex and DEI are off to a slow start. He will have to see an improvement like the one he did last year in order to stay.
Bryan: Truex to Petty?
Kurt: Seriously doubt that. Truex to Roush, Biffle to Hendrick, Mears to Petty.
Mike: No way is Truex going to Petty. I’ve shared this with Matt, but I could actually see Jamie McMurray getting let go and going to Petty. Anything’s possible.

Predictions for Texas?

Mike: JUNIOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Kurt: Dare I say, Jeff Gordon finally nabs his first Texas win?
Bryan: Burton stays hot.
Matt T.: Burton should be real tough, but I think I’m going to go against my gut and say Kenseth takes it.
Tony: I’ll go with another Roush Fenway driver; Biffle ends this speculation for now, and becomes the second driver to win twice at Texas.
Amy: I agree with Biffle. The bonus is that Biffle would look spectacular in the hat.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

Not sure which writer’s prediction to trust? Well, check out our handy predictions chart below to see which of our writers has had the best luck looking into that crystal ball this season! At the end of the year, we’ll tally up the points and award our Mirror Driving predictions champion. Last week, Bryan Keith Davis was slowed down the only way he could be – by missing a start. Tony Lumbis and Amy Henderson took advantage, sliding past with top-five finishes to take first and second in the standings. Can Bryan work his way back up to the top? He’ll need a little help from Burton, that’s for sure…

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Tony Lumbis 1,059 -0 7 3 4 5
Amy Henderson 1,025 -34 7 0 3 4
Bryan Davis Keith 1,010 -49 6 1 5 5
Mike Neff 698 -361 5 0 3 4
Vito Pugliese 660 -399 4 0 4 4
Matt Taliaferro 657 -402 5 0 2 3
Tom Bowles 424 -635 4 0 0 1
Tommy Thompson 399 -660 3 0 2 2
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -718 3 0 1 1
Kurt Smith 207 -852 2 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -869 1 1 1 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -965 1 0 0 0
Kim DeHaven 0 -1,059 0 0 0 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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