Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Judging The Lady in Black, Throwing Your Crew Under the Bus & Yaw. Yes, Yaw

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:
Tom Bowles (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice)
Tony Lumbis (Mondays/Rookie Report)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice of Vito)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Darlington’s new paving job produced speeds never touched before at the track, and tires held up longer than ever. Darlington stripes came back into fashion, too. Was this the best race at the track held in years, and what does it mean for the future of NASCAR’s original superspeedway?

Vito: Not the best race ever, but acceptable. I think the new car is almost too resilient. You can bounce it off the wall all night and still win.
Mike: I don’t think it was the best it’s been in years. Passing was rather difficult. At least the durability of the tire added a little pit strategy. But give it two more years on the track for this pavement to settle, and the racing will be awesome.
Vito: Agreed, Mike. The weather will have its way with it in no time. Plus, this was the first time in a long time that we’ve seen that much green-flag racing and pit stops at Darlington.
Tom: I hope the weather ages this track quickly, guys. I was torn about the whole race all night long – I couldn’t figure out whether it was good or bad. The new track definitely brings more driver skill into the equation, but it was too hard to pass – even for Darlington.
Mike: It was rather amazing how hard some people hit the wall and just kept digging. I did appreciate that aspect more.
Tom: Oh, yeah! I couldn’t believe how many cars bounced it off the wall and went on like nothing happened. NASCAR is lucky the CoT is as strong as it is; because otherwise, three quarters of the field would have finished that race in the garage.
Tony: Exactly, guys. Darlington was just like the old Darlington Saturday night – a challenging track that will eat you up if you lose concentration for one second. I loved it.
Tom: Well, I think the amount of grip tricked drivers, Tony. As much as people hate hearing Darrell Waltrip is right, I think he was right on the money all week with that one. People were fooled into thinking they could go all out; but this is Darlington, and people that pushed too hard paid the ultimate price.
Mike: Tom is right – if not for the new car, there are 12 cars running at the finish of that race.
Vito: Had that been the old car, Wallmendinger would have been on the trailer on the way home. I can’t believe he made the race on his second lap.
Amy: That was impressive. But I liked that you could get the stripe and still make the race – or win it.
Vito: A stripe is fine. But to clobber the wall over and over… that gets a little ridiculous, don’t you think? Then again, that was the way it was waaayy back when… like, in the 1950s.

See also
Voice of Vito: So I Was Just Thinking... NASCAR Odds 'N' Ends

Tom: Right, Vito. I mean, do we look to Darlington as a passing track? This is why I’m torn – because I don’t think you do. I think you look at it as a track where the drivers race the track.
Amy: I agree with that, Tom. For me, I thought it was the best race so far this year. Of course, I think that every year.
Vito: The No. 18 seemed to have a little issue getting by anybody. But everyone else… the mid-pack racing was actually pretty tight and tough.
Amy: It’s utter stupidity that this track has one race.
Mike: Well that, and the idiocy that it isn’t Labor Day weekend.
Amy: Amen.
Vito: It is a crime that Cali-boring-ya gets a second date, but Darlington can’t get one… or that Chicago has any.
Mike: Or Phoenix. I’ll never understand why we race twice there.
Tom: Of course it’s stupidity the track only has one race. And to Darlington’s credit, the fans stepped up to the plate.
Amy: Again. They’ve sold out every year since the Mother’s Day switch.
Tom: And with the economy the way it is, that’s impressive. The fans aren’t going to let NASCAR take this one away; although, in all likelihood, they weren’t going to repave a track and then let it die.
Mike: And I think the fans will keep stepping up. Although, I think it would be better if they did it in September instead of the week before the All-Star festivities.
Tom: What I thought was interesting about the new Darlington was that people were talking about how their setups were more geared towards a track like Texas. That’s the only thing that concerned me a bit; an intermediate style setup for a track that doesn’t act like an intermediate?
Amy: Darlington is a weird beast, but the repave does change things.
Vito: So does this new car.
Tony: I actually thought the new car changed it more than the pavement. You usually don’t finish first if you beat your car up as much as Busch did.
Mike: Well, even with all the changes, I expect the track to be really good in two years once the pavement sets in. I was just surprised no one figured out how to hug the bottom and get around there with that much grip.

It’s been noted the last couple of weeks that several of the cars on track look “sideways,” the product of hanging the CoT body slightly crooked and producing an exaggerated yaw. It’s legal – but will it stay that way, and is it an area NASCAR needs to look at policing?

Tony: NASCAR needs to let these crews have something! I say, let it go.
Mike: Actually, they aren’t hanging the body crooked. They are toeing the rear end to the right. They actually toed it to the left at Talladega to reduce drag.
Vito: It isn’t the body so much as it is the rear end housings are shifted over.
Tom: Well, whatever it is, according to Jeff Gordon it’s an area they should have policed for the No. 99 long ago. That type of movement was what everyone was trying to replicate in Lowe’s testing, because NASCAR hasn’t done anything to stop it.
Vito: Which is funny when you think about it; just about everybody had their car all cockeyed Saturday night. But Gordon had plenty to say after following Carl Edwards all year – he said the No. 99 doesn’t even fit on the scales properly.
Tony: Anyone associated with the No. 24 team should be the last to be talking about other teams cheating.
Amy: I’m of two minds here, guys. One is that the teams have precious little area to work on these cars; so, more power to them for finding an advantage. The other is that every time anyone finds anything that works but is barely legal, it gets outlawed – so why should this be an exception?
Tom: I always think in these situations that NASCAR allows the team that finds the loophole to have their fun for a few months and then they crack down. Or, eventually the other teams do the same thing and start catching up.
Tony: You’re right, Tom – that’s usually how it goes. Like Hendrick with his shocks a few years ago.
Vito: Jim Hunter said this will police itself and that they should stop complaining about it.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with the whole thing. Everyone can do it, and not everyone likes how the car feels in those conditions.
Tom: I look at it the same way as the shocks with Hendrick Motorsports at Dover a few years ago. What they did then was perfectly legal; so NASCAR patted them on the back and promptly made sure they couldn’t do it again.
Amy: Exactly, Tom. They found a legal advantage and NASCAR took it away.
Vito: You’re talking about the No. 48’s pogo shocks, the ones that jacked the rear of his car up half a foot so he could win?
Tom: Exactly, Vito, but NASCAR controlled it. With that said, there’s got to be some element of self-policing, too. If the No. 99 was compromising the safety of the car or others, it’s one thing; but they’re simply utilizing different ways to improve their setup.
Mike: I thought the shock thing was brilliant. Hendrick deserved a lot of credit for that.
Vito: That adjustable rear window Knaus had for Daytona in 2006 was pretty great, too.
Tom: Well, in the case of the shocks, NASCAR brought down the whip pretty quickly. This one, they’re letting hang out there for a bit… but keep in mind this just became public for a week. If Edwards wins another race or two in the next month, I would bet SO much money we’re going to see a rule.
Tony: But if it’s not against the rules in any form right now, then nobody should be crying about it.
Mike: It simply makes the car turn better through the corner – but there is little loss of horsepower.
Amy: If the car’s that offset though, how can it be legal? The tolerance is very small on the rear end, from what I understand.
Mike: The toe is only out half to three-quarters of an inch.
Vito: I think they’ll reign in the offset, though. The cars do look a bit ridiculous. Not ban it, but they’ll put a limit on it, much like they did with camber settings in the early 1990s.
Tony: That sounds reasonable, Vito.
Tom: It’s one of those gray areas. Again, it’ll either be self-policed, where everyone does it and the No. 99 loses its advantage – or the No. 99 will keep winning with it, in which case NASCAR will take it away.
Tony: It’s just a matter of how and when this all goes down.
Amy: Cheating’s like listening to Barry Manilow. Everybody does it, but nobody wants to get caught.
Mike: Keep in mind the No. 99 has won with it and without it this year, though. They didn’t find it right away.
Vito: This whole thing happened back in 1993 with raked cars. Roush Racing had a radically-raked car in which Mark Martin won four races in a row with it. They attributed that to lower gearing and more rear spoiler at the time. Two months later, everybody was showing up with a raked car and it got out of hand.
Tony: This is nothing new. And before NASCAR can even do anything about it, teams will be on their way to finding the next advantage.
Vito: I think you’ll see the templates on the body loosen up a bit, too. In a few years, they’ll be just as contorted and bent up as the previous generation was in 2007.
Tony: Well, the new car alone has already done its share to promote weird-looking cars. The rest will be a product of teams trying to find new ways to gain an advantage.

Saturday night, we had some comments by a few drivers that could be construed as cutting down their crew. Greg Biffle was critical when a loose wheel could have led to a faulty transmission, and Kyle Busch was critical of… um… just about everything. Did these drivers go overboard in perhaps throwing their crew under the bus? And where do you draw the line with keeping your mouth shut and publicly expressing that frustration at your team?

Amy: Well, I swear; if Kyle Busch bitches about his car from victory lane one more week, I’m going to hunt him down and barf in his helmet.
Mike: I guess it depends on the history. If it is the first time that it happens, yeah, it’s probably too early to go public. But when a pattern has developed, maybe you need to call the crew out.
Tony: I agree, Mike; after enough times, the driver gets tired of it.
Vito: Well, the next time a driver wads one up, the crew chief should say, “They don’t run real fast when the engine is shoved into the firewall.”
Tom: I think that calling out the crew in public carries a whole lot of inherent risk. If they’re not performing the way you want them to, it could psych them up, realizing they’re not meeting your expectations. But if the crew thinks the driver’s a little egotistical to begin with – it could alienate them. Especially if the owner doesn’t respond by making changes.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Having a NASCAR Villain to Hate Never Felt So Good

Amy: I think to a certain extent, a driver should try to light a fire under his guys… but it’s a fine line.
Tony: Martin is one that’s always been pretty good with defending his crew, even when there are problems. And sometimes, the problems don’t go away. Denny Hamlin rode his crew’s butts last year, and that’s what he needed to do to get results. If problems keep reoccurring, well, there is only so much defending you can do.
Mike: But when Denny went public, Joe Gibbs changed things up immediately. So, I’m thinking Biffle feels like changes should be occurring and they aren’t. But I don’t know the whole story.
Vito: Biffle hasn’t signed a contract yet either, guys. I know he says it’s 99% done, but until the ink is dry…
Tony: I think in Biffle’s case, he’s telling Roush, “What are you going to do to keep me here?”
Mike: I can’t blame Biffle. He’s had some hideous luck the last two years. Now this year he’s running better, and mistakes are hurting him.
Amy: But if you do this too much – without enough praise thrown in when it’s needed – you risk alienating yourself.
Vito: If you’re going to rip your crew on TV, don’t expect them to sacrifice time away from their family to work 80 hours a week on a car that you might very well destroy one weekend.
Tony: It’s also what we’ve talked about in the past, about how drivers are treated differently when they wreck others. If Jeff Burton or Martin or Bobby Labonte complain out loud, then it’s probably justified. When Busch does it, people view it as whining.
Mike: They played the radio chatter from the end of the race from Busch on TV Monday night, and he was praising his pit crew big time after they took the checkered.
Tony: I wonder if he still would have if he didn’t win that race.
Vito: Well, at least he wins.
Tom: I think Kyle can get really moody inside the car simply because he hates the Car of Tomorrow. I think that sometimes, people confuse that hatred with taking it out on the crew.
Vito: Hey, it’s hot, you’re going 195 mph on a track that isn’t even a mile and a half, and you’re in traffic. You might get a little testy. And if I was Roush, I’d be more worried about losing Matt Kenseth instead of Biffle, because right now they are not the same team. Not by a long shot.
Mike: I believe, in Biffle’s case, it was one of those “in the moment” things. Although you usually don’t see Biffle gaining spots on pit road – so, maybe he is calling for some help.
Tom: You’d hope that anybody calling out their crew in public would have done so multiple times in a private setting… almost like a warning to get them to act up. I’d be interested to see how these crew chiefs handle the situations on Monday, too. Do they act like an assistant coach to pump their teams up? Or do they back their driver and say, “You know what, boys, we need to step it up?”
Mike: It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall during some of those Monday morning meetings.
Tony: In some ways, you can kind of relate it to a boss at work. Those that are laid back can get taken advantage of, while those who are strict and put the fear of God in people, get results, even if you disagree with the methods.
Amy: There is a fine line between passionate and overboard. The best walk it, but some go right on over the edge.
Tony: I believe that it’s best for a team’s problems to stay within the team; but if nothing else seems to work, then this is pretty much the best last resort.
Mike: I agree. If behind the scenes efforts have been exhausted, then calling a team out on TV may be the last option. But it definitely needs to be after a lot of other options have been used up.

The Craftsman Truck Series in in action this week at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for their sixth race of the season. Is there an early title favorite emerging from the pack yet, or is it too early to make any predictions?

Vito: Not a clear favorite… although I thought that this was the year Johnny Benson would put it together and bring home a title.
Tom: Honestly, I don’t think Ron Hornaday Jr. has missed a beat. Which is surprising, considering he’s got a new teammate that’s also one of his biggest rivals in Jack Sprague. But that team is chugging along – I think the defending champion is always the favorite to a certain degree when he starts off strong.
Amy: I still like Mike Skinner‘s chances, too.
Mike: Well at this rate, I think Busch is going to be up there for the title even though he misses six or eight races – because he looks like he’s going to win 75% of the rest.
Vito: No kidding, Mike. Had it not been for Martinsville, Kyle would have an average finish of like 1.5. That doesn’t suck.
Amy: How about our own Rick Crawford? He’s been a pleasant surprise this year.
Tony: I don’t think you can ever count out Todd Bodine, either.
Mike: Seriously, it always seems it’s Hornaday and Skinner that are probably going to battle to the finish. But I still think Busch has a shot. Long shot, but shot.
Amy: Please, God, no.
Tony: Busch can definitely can make a run at staying up there; but I think even as good as he is, this has to fizzle out at some point.
Tom: I think the big thing going on in the Truck Series right now is how easily the veterans have held off all these young guys who run the series full-time. I mean, look at the past few years, all the people that moved up from that series: Busch, Edwards. But now, guys named Erik Darnell and Colin Braun are just getting beat into submission by Hornaday and Skinner every week.
Mike: Busch and Edwards didn’t win titles, either.
Amy: I agree, Tom, and as messed up as the Nationwide Series is, the Truck Series is a better feeder series. You race every week against Cup veterans without the ridiculous lack of parity.
Tony: I think it also goes to show that experience is needed in any series. Owners were bringing drivers into Cup too early, and sometimes it showed. Now, maybe they’re even brought into the Truck Series too early.
Vito: Well, Braun has what, eight starts in NASCAR? I think he’s doing remarkable for how little experience he has. Couple that with the fact that Ford gives little, if any, support to its truck teams compared to the Toyota camp.

Predictions for the All-Star Race?

Amy: I’m going to go with Kurt Busch sticking it to little brother… or sticking him in the wall, as a thank you for last year.
Mike: I think the Shrub is going to continue his success, with Edwards following him to the finish.
Tom: I like it the other way around, with Edwards coming through in the All-Star Race. It’s a 1.5-mile track, and those teams are just on a roll at that facility.
Tony: Well, even though this is exactly Kyle Busch’s type of race, I’m going with a darkhorse this week in Martin Truex Jr. It looks like that team is starting to gain back its momentum.
Vito: I’ll pick Junior. He has to win eventually, and in front of the home crowd sounds like a good place to start.
Tony: That would make Junior three for three in non-points events this year.
Vito: 3!!! Well, there you have it. So it is written, so it shall be done.
Mike: I would be in your camp, Vito; but watching Junior during the test, with Michael Waltrip, Joe Nemechek and Jeff Green running him down, I lost some faith. The No. 88 was good in the daylight. But when it got dark, they were junk.
Vito: Eh, they know what works already. They were just testing what they didn’t know about.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

Not sure which writer’s prediction to trust? Well, check out our handy predictions chart below to see which ones have 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.

Once again, there’s a new leader atop the standings, as Amy Henderson was so intimidated by the Lady in Black she never even offered a prediction? Tony Lumbis came through to take over first place, riding Burton’s 10th-place finish to a healthy 123-point lead. But don’t be afraid to trust some writers a little further down the list; Vito Pugliese is doing his best impression of Kyle Busch in the Truck Series, scoring six top-five finishes to go with his eight predictions he’s made so far this year.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Tony Lumbis 1,597 -0 12 3 5 8
Amy Henderson 1,474 -123 11 0 3 6
Bryan Davis Keith 1,351 -246 9 1 5 7
Vito Pugliese 1,187 -410 8 0 6 7
Matt Taliaferro 1,094 -503 8 0 3 5
Mike Neff 1,070 -527 8 0 3 5
Tom Bowles 734 -863 7 0 1 2
Tommy Thompson 500 -1,097 4 0 2 2
Kurt Smith 435 -1,162 5 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -1,256 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -1,407 1 1 1 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -1,503 1 0 0 0
Kim DeHaven 0 -1,597 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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