Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Junior a Car Owner? Kyle a Truck Wrecker? & How to Change the All-Star Race

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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
Bryan Davis Keith (Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

The Sprint All-Star Race lacked the excitement of previous years. Why was that, and what can be done to revitalize the race in the future?

Bryan: Two reasons: the car and the tires.
Vito: That big ugly car was why. The only way NASCAR can change things is by doing what drivers and teams have been clamoring for over the last year and a half: Soft tires that wear out, and giving people cars they can adjust on.
Kurt: Everyone says it’s a problem with the new car, but maybe the race was just a stinker. It happens. The Showdown race was actually a little better.
Tony: Well, the drivers were certainly unable to pass. I think the race needs to be a little shorter, especially the last segment. It needs more of a “sprint to the finish” feel.
Tom: The segments were definitely too long. And it killed things to have no inversion.
Amy: The last segment should be no more than 10 laps. Make them go hard from the drop of the rag.
Bryan: And why didn’t they invert the field?!
Vito: Probably to keep guys from sandbagging to start up front in the final segment.
Bryan: Well, they definitely need the inversion with tires that hard.
Tom: You know what format we keep forgetting about that I thought worked well? Eliminating a certain number of cars per segment. With the All-Star fields much bigger now, at 24-25 cars, I think it’s better for them to start trimming the field as we go. It really adds some drama to that middle-of-the-pack racing.
Tony: Yeah; it wasn’t all that long ago NASCAR was taking five or six guys from the Open just to make a full field of 20 cars.
Tom: 24 is a lot. I say, cut it from 24 cars to 20, then from 15 to 10 during the race.
Bryan: NASCAR Knockout. I love it.
Amy: And was it just me, or was a burnout contest based on time a stupid idea?
Kurt: It’s not just you, Amy. I didn’t get that, either.
Tony: Ha! I had no idea that was even happening, Amy. They did a bad job of publicizing it; when they finally mentioned it Saturday night, I thought they were joking. I bet fans were in the same boat.
Vito: That contest was the dumbest thing ever, too. They were bouncing off a rev limiter that was set at what, 5,000 rpm? Some guy with permablack fingernails and a mullet with a worn out ’85 Monte Carlo SS could have done better burnouts.
Kurt: Would that guy be you, Vito?
Vito: No, I trimmed my fingernails.
Kurt: Well, I think the burnout contest would be a good idea if they had some kind of structure to it.
Tom: They didn’t have enough participants, as far as I was concerned. They need a bigger field – but different rules might make it so subjective to judge that I don’t know how feasible the whole thing is.
Bryan: The burnout session is one place where they need to throw the rulebook out the window with these cars.
Vito: The burnout contest is about as dumb as drifting is: A racing series not based on who’s the fastest, but who looks the best. Where was the school bus jump from years gone by??!!
Tom: Vito, do you want to deprive poor schoolchildren of their transportation?
Vito: School’s out in two weeks. They can deal with it.
Vito: There weren’t a lot of special paint schemes, either.
Amy: I loved the Grey Ghost, though.
Vito: Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s scheme was pretty remarkable. He even said he hoped Harry Ranier and Buddy Baker liked it.
Tom: But the thing is, all those gimmicks only work so much. The burnouts and the special paint schemes are like five-second attractions – in the end, if the racing sucks, you can’t hide it.
Kurt: Well, it was kind of neat to see AJ Allmendinger win the Showdown. There was way too much hype for the big show, though. It has to be a better race for all of that buildup.
Tom: You know, it’s weird to say – you don’t ever want to say people watch a race for the wrecks – but no cautions? None, nada, zilch. Seriously?
Vito: No one says it, but come on… you know there’s going to be one, and you want to see who starts it.
Bryan: Really? I was stoked to see no cautions.
Vito: Because it ended the misery sooner?
Amy: I don’t like wrecking, but at least the cars should have raced. I hate to admit it, but that just wasn’t aggressive enough for a non-points race.
Vito: I think a $1 million check would have provided enough enthusiasm for me.
Tony: I don’t think they could be aggressive, Amy; side-by-side battles went on forever. They all had to be careful not to wreck simply trying to pass someone.
Kurt: Well, I was expecting a Big One with everyone going for a win. No deal.
Tom: See, I’m still in that group that thinks, new car or old, Charlotte hasn’t been the same since that stupid levigation. I’m sorry, but it just hasn’t.
Kurt: I remember being at the race in 2005 when it all started. Charlotte hasn’t been right since.
Tom: I bet you $1 million Humpy Wheeler would take that decision back. I don’t understand why tracks need to repave all the time. Isn’t there something about old asphalt that’s intimidating enough?
Kurt: I agree, Tom. I guess you have to repave eventually, but it usually doesn’t improve the racing.
Bryan: I’ll never forget the infield sign that went up as the race went on that said, “So, this is levigating?”
Vito: Like Mark Martin said, “They took the greatest racetrack in the world and they ruined it.” And the fact that a faster car cannot pass a slower car, simply because he has caught him and is now behind him, is bordering on the ridiculous. It is not “close racing.” It is close racing by default.
Tony: You have to wonder if Charlotte is going to survive many more All-Star Races like that before they consider moving it – again – which would be a shame.
Kurt: Why? I think they should have it at a different track every year.
Tom: I couldn’t agree more. Last year, I wrote about the race needing a change of venue for Sports Illustrated, and I still believe that. I think you should have a rotating group of tracks that get it once every five or six years. Bristol, Martinsville (although there’s no lights there), Richmond, Darlington.
Bryan: Run it at Rockingham.
Tony: But Charlotte is the center of racing, and gives the drivers and crews a nice week off without having a week off.
Kurt: So have it at Darlington, or Richmond, or somewhere else not very far.
Tom: Well, I think Tony hit the nail on the head right there – without necessarily meaning to. It’s like, right now the schedule is constricting the way the All-Star Race is run, because these teams have their backs to the wall so badly. There’s no time off – I can only imagine the resistance teams will have to a rotating race.
Vito: Exactly. The All-Star Race is where it is so the teams can spend a couple of weeks at home.
Tony: It also gives fans a chance to spend up to a week in Charlotte and visit the shops. And soon, the Hall of Fame.
Vito: Well, back to the original question for a second: I say, take that stupid splitter and wing off to give them soft tires. That’ll improve the racing.
Kurt: Maybe if we give the car another year, the racing will improve for the All-Star Race – but I’m not betting on it.
Vito: Yeah – like SPEED really needed an All-Star Countdown ticker since February.

The fan vote winner also won the All-Star Race Saturday night. Does this make the whole fan vote idea more credible?

Kurt: Absolutely; but why wouldn’t it be credible in the first place? Something like that outcome ought to be the whole point of the fan vote… getting someone in who would ordinarily be there anyway.
Tony: Absolutely. It will make the fans think twice about voting in a sentimental favorite who has no chance to win next year.
Vito: Right; at least Bill Elliott‘s fans didn’t hijack it.
Tony: I think the Elliott fans might have been confused after years of voting for the driver in the No. 9 car for Most Popular Driver.
Bryan: Tony’s got it figured out.
Amy: Well, I always liked the fan vote, so I think it’s cool that Kahne won.
Bryan: From a racing perspective, I hate it. But as a gimmick, it’s great.
Vito: Not when said car struggles to a fifth-place finish in the also-ran race.
Bryan: Admittedly, I would have felt better about it if Kahne had blown through the field to win. Instead, he won on pit strategy.
Tom: Exactly. But I will say this; the Fan Vote winning the All-Star Race has me ready to hide from a whole bunch of rabid Kasey Kahne fans. Good for Kahne, though; ever since my story got published Monday, they’ve been emailing me and pulling my point of view apart left and right.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: A Fine Line Between Fans and Fairness - The All-Star Popularity Contest Gone Awry

Kurt: Well heck, Tom, you called all of Kahne’s fans a bunch of girls. What’d you expect?
Vito: You’re afraid of a bunch of 15-year-old girls and cougars, Tom?
Tom: Nah; they made great points, but I still stand by what I said: The fan vote was supposed to be symbolic, not a $1 million steal. It’s kind of weird to see someone who didn’t have “All-Star” credentials run away with the thing.
Amy: I have no problem with that idea of sentimental favorites. Look at baseball: the fans vote the entire starting lineup, so why not have one guy they really want to see in the field?
Tom: You know, I’m surprised Elliott wasn’t the one they voted in. You know, he’s in his final season, too; hopefully, he’ll get some of the media attention he deserves now that Jarrett is finished with his retirement tour.
Tony: His fifth final season now, isn’t it?
Vito: You know, I think Kahne’s win is not so much indicative of something being wrong with the win as it is showing how poor this racecar is. All you have to do is be out front and you have a shot to win if you have a car that is not in danger of being lapped.
Tom: As far as Kahne goes, if I was a driver who earned my way into the race on merit, I’d be scratching my head a little bit. I guess it’s not unfair under the rules… just weird.
Amy: Why? Kahne flat outran them all when it counted.
Tom: Yeah; but Kahne wasn’t an All-Star. He was a fan favorite; there’s a difference.
Kurt: Well, neither was Allmendinger, but he deserved to be in it. ‘Dinger made it in under the rules set by NASCAR – and so did Kahne.
Vito: Elliott Sadler may feel differently.
Kurt: Yeah, Sadler wasn’t too happy with him, but I was laughing at Sadler’s interview.
Vito: Kind of funny seeing one average driver berate another.
Amy: Back to Kahne; he wasn’t an All-Star because he had one bad year?
Bryan: Kahne is two for four in his career. He’s Mr. Inconsistency.
Tom: And it’s just weird to make rules for the All-Star Race based on merit – but then add this one random outlier to fill out the field. And I don’t think anyone looked at this closely in the past, because the people that won the Fan Vote weren’t going to win the race.
Tony: I guess it can be compared to Brett Favre making the All-Star Game in the years before last. One of the most popular guys in the sport, but he was throwing an interception like every four passes… it just wouldn’t have seemed right.
Vito: Favre’s comfortable throwing picks. He’s comfortable retiring, then wanting to come back. He’s comfortable… in Wrangler.
Kurt: But that’s the way the baseball All-Star Game works, Tom. I love Cal Ripken, but there were times when Derek Jeter deserved the start.
Tony: I guess another way to look at it is if Bobby Labonte or Dale Jarrett won it, would it still be legit? Yes, they are champs, but they haven’t won a race in a few years.
Tom: Well, I also have problems when you have fans of one driver being told to vote for another one – as was the case with Junior and Sadler. That hardly seems fair. But as many have said, this race is for the fans; and as a current media member and longtime fan, maybe I should just shut up.
Amy: Yes. NASCAR gives the fans so little these days, give them this.
Kurt: Good point, Amy.
Bryan: As much as I hate it from a racing perspective, I do like the fans having that gimmick.
Tony: Let’s put it this way; it’s giving a lot to the new fans, but taking a lot away from the old-school fans.
Vito: Hey, did Sadler actually win the fan vote, or did Kasey? I’m confused about that. Did NASCAR pick Kasey because Elliott wadded up his car?
Tony: The answer is being guarded like FBI files, Vito.
Amy: I heard Kasey had the lead, anyway.
Kurt: I don’t lose any sleep over the rules for the All-Star Race, and if the guy the fans voted in wins it, great.
Amy: I agree, Kurt.
Kurt: Tom just needs to stop blaming it on girls.
Tom: The bottom line is, like we all said, it’s an All-Star Race. The rules can be as wild and crazy as you can get. I just thought the race should be won by a true All-Star, that’s all. And that’s not saying Kahne is a bad driver. He had a great season… in 2006.
Bryan: Derrike Cope had a great season in 1990.
Vito: So did Brett Bodine.

Earnhardt Jr. hinted that a Cup effort may be in store for JR Motorsports this past weekend. Is the team ready for that, or is it too much, too soon?

Bryan: Junior said it best when talking about the costs of running the Nationwide Series and changing to the CoT… why not go to Cup?
Tom: What a great way for Hendrick to go from four to eight teams! That’s the first thing I thought of; it’s a real smart move on their part.
Vito: I’m sure it’s the right time, too. It’s going to be an extension of Hendrick Motorsports, so why not?
Bryan: And hello, Tony Stewart.
Kurt: If he can do it, I say go for it. The more competitive teams out there, the better.
Amy: I think it still might be too much, though. Even with Hendrick resources, it’s a lot for Junior to handle with his own career still in full swing.
Tony: I think Junior should get more established at Hendrick first. I’m not sure how much power he would have, but he went to Hendrick to concentrate more on driving championship racecars.
Amy: I’d hate to see owning a team take away from Junior’s driving in any way.
Kurt: It didn’t seem to hurt his father, Amy.
Amy: But ask Michael Waltrip, Kyle Petty or Robby Gordon if it doesn’t hurt them.
Bryan: That Hendrick umbrella he’s under will make this undertaking a lot less stressful for him than for any other driver, though.
Tony: I’m not saying that Junior is too inexperienced, but there is a lot more he wants to accomplish in his driving career before getting too distracted.
Vito: I hardly think it’s going to take away from his focus though, Tony. It isn’t like Junior’s in the shop wrenching on cars everyday. He will be as much a part of it as Gordon is being part owner of the No. 48.
Tom: Eh, I think he’ll be a little more involved than that, Vito. But at the same time, he’s been able to separate driving from business before. And look at his dad, what happened when he started the DEI program… as Kurt said, it didn’t affect him much.
Vito: But this is going to be a lot different than him fielding a car for Brad Keselowski and sitting on his pit box on a Saturday.
Kurt: Who would drive for Junior?
Bryan: Stewart. He gets Chevy equipment and ownership. It’s tailored for Smoke.
Amy: Stewart and Martin Truex Jr.
Kurt: What about Greg Biffle? He doesn’t seem too happy at Roush lately.
Tom: Biffle is a total wild card. But I don’t see him driving for Junior.
Vito: Nah. If Biffle goes anywhere besides back to Roush, it will be in a Penske Dodge.
Tom: Honestly, Keselowski may very well be driving for Junior. He’s performed well thus far – and Junior likes him. I hear Tony’s still set with Haas, anyway.
Bryan: Keselowski’s not ready for Cup yet.
Tom: You say that now, but perhaps by the end of the year he’ll have some wins under his belt in the Nationwide Series… and that’ll probably be enough in this environment where drivers are at a premium.
Tony: Keselowski may end up in the No. 5 car if Casey Mears doesn’t get things turned around.
Amy: Keselowski is nowhere near ready for that.
Vito: I’m not sure Hendrick needs a different driver for the No. 5 car. They always need one R&D car out there, and they have a driver who is competent and not a wave maker.
Amy: Mears belongs in the No. 5 for several reasons. End of story.
Bryan: We know, Amy, we know!
Tom: I think that’s why Stewart isn’t going directly to Hendrick… because they need someone who’s not a wavemaker for that fourth car.
Amy: That, and Tony wants to take Home Depot along.
Bryan: Back to Keselowski; he’s been great, and I’m sure he’ll win soon, but I’d hate to see his career messed up by a premature move to a new Cup team.
Tony: Don’t forget too that if the Top-35 rule stays, whoever goes to JR will be fighting to get into the first five races.
Tom: But despite all that, here’s one other thing to consider for Keselowski getting the ride – if Junior did somehow get someone like Stewart or Truex to drive for him, they’re not going to run around in mid-pack equipment. That’s not acceptable for them.
Vito: No way. That’s why they won’t go there.
Bryan: But wherever Stewart goes, the equipment will be good; Chevy will throw major dollars wherever he goes.
Vito: That’s also why he wants ownership, too.
Kurt: Why is everyone sure Stewart is leaving?
Vito: Because he is.
Kurt: I don’t think JGR is going to be so quick to let him go so easily.
Vito: I would be shocked if he did. If anything, Stewart seems like the odd man out at Joe Gibbs Racing now. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are tight, and they’re up front a lot. Stewart has been dragging a bit as of late. He wouldn’t have let it slip that he was looking at other options unless he was seriously thinking of heading out.
Kurt: I never thought I’d hear anyone say that, Vito.
Vito: Tony’s probably getting a bit bored where he’s at. He’s been there for 10 years. He’s probably ready for a new challenge.
Kurt: Yeah, but Haas?
Bryan: Haas has all the potential in the world.
Vito: If he gets to own part of it and it is reorganized to be an arm of HMS, then I do believe he would. He’s setting himself up for a career after he’s done driving.
Bryan: And a guy like Stewart in that situation will get his way, period.
Kurt: I don’t know. Awful risky.
Bryan: Chevrolet won’t let it be that risky.

Ron Hornaday was involved in an incident with Kyle Busch in the Truck Series race on Friday… but didn’t get penalized for aggressive driving. A little later on in the race, Todd Bodine bumps Hornaday down the straightaway… he gets sent to the back of the longest line. Was that fair – or was NASCAR allowing a little payback on the No. 51 with the discrepancy?

Amy: I think it was fair. Busch seems to think it’s OK for him to wreck anyone and anything this year. That said, I didn’t think Bodine deserved a penalty either.
Kurt: Didn’t Ron owe Kyle one after Martinsville?
Bryan: The entire field of all three series owes Kyle a little something.
Vito: Ron wasn’t trying to wreck Kyle – he lost it and got up into him from my perspective. The Bodine thing, come on. He’s a Bodine. That’s what they do. If there was a call that NASCAR blew, it was punishing Johnny Benson for avoiding a wreck on the restart.
Bryan: I agree that the Kyle/Ron incident was simply a case of someone losing the truck.
Tom: Even so, I think that considering all the wrecking Busch has done, you’d be hard pressed to find a Truck Series driver upset that the wreck cost him the win.
Kurt: But I don’t think NASCAR was allowing “payback” per se. I don’t think they think that way – even if it seems so sometimes.
Vito: Well, in the end, Hornaday got a bigger penalty from not getting penalized by NASCAR. Funny how things work out that way.
Tom: As for Bodine… yeah, he wrecked him down the straightaway. But what about Earnhardt wrecking Waltrip down the straightaway at Lowe’s a few years ago? It was an accident… stuff happens. How can you not be aggressive with less than 10 laps left and the race on the line?
Amy: I agree Tom, it was go time. Was Bodine’s move stupid? Yes. But NASCAR’s let far dirtier moves go.
Bryan: NASCAR needs to stop getting so touchy-feely with gray area contact incidents. Let the drivers sort it out themselves.
Tony: It will never be a clear call; drivers’ reputations and circumstances will always dictate NASCAR’s rulings. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever see consistent calls with aggressive driving. It’s nearly impossible.
Bryan: Exactly. So stop making them!
Amy: You know, Busch has had that attitude that it’s fine for him to run you over – but touch him and he cries about it.
Bryan: Just ask Steve Wallace.
Kurt: Yeah, but what driver doesn’t have that attitude? A lot of them get ticked when they’re run into, even if they do plenty of it. Bristol was famous for that.
Tom: Yeah, but I will say that a key difference between Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Busch – seeing people have made those comparisons – is that Senior would never cry about getting wrecked.
Kurt: True, Tom.
Amy: I agree 100%.
Vito: Hah, oh yeah? Anyone remember North Wilkesboro in 1989?
Tom: Well, that’s just one race, Vito. I do think that sometimes, when you cause as many wrecks as you have over the course of the year like Busch has, you just have to eat it. Especially when you’re not going for a points title – even though you’ve been deluded into thinking you are.
Kurt: That’s what I’m saying. Most drivers get mad at some point, even the mild-mannered ones.
Amy: But in the end, it comes down to respect. Nobody wrecks Jeff Burton because Burton doesn’t drive like an ass. Well, Kyle is going to get his ass handed to him if he doesn’t start respecting other guys
Vito: Like I said, these things have a way of policing themselves. It isn’t so much him running into guys, is his attitude about it afterwards.
Kurt: Kyle Busch is one of the best things to happen to us, really. He brings a lot of website hits.

OK, how about predictions for the Coca-Cola 600?

Kurt: I’m going to go with Carl Edwards this week.
Tony: This race is famous for first-time winners, so I’m going to go with David Ragan.
Vito: I like that pick, Tony. So much so that I’m going to go with an underdog and the guy that should have won it last year: Brian Vickers.
Tom: Vito, that’s seriously an excellent pick. I think Brian’s going to have an awesome car this weekend.
Bryan: Him winning wouldn’t go over well, though. There’s a lot of Lowe’s fans still bitter about Talladega ‘06.
Amy: I say Kahne wins it, and gets in the All-Star Race next year in the process.
Bryan: Nope! Dale Jr. breaks the streak before the hometown crowd.
Tom: Personally, I think Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are going to come back with a vengeance and clean house. They may have stunk up the All-Star Race, but that was their wake up call to get it together.
Amy: The No. 48 isn’t even close, Tom.
Kurt: Gutsy call, though; you might be right.
Tom: 600 miles is a looong race, guys… a long time to get it together.
Vito: The No. 48 is right when it counts. After listening to Johnson’s interview, they’re not worried about the 600.
Tom: And think about Johnson’s record at Lowe’s; I think they’ll be OK.

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.

Last week, Tony Lumbis padded his lead on top of the standings, even though pick Truex had a disappointing 16th-place run in the All-Star Race. Actually, none of our staff writers were All-Stars last week – the closest anyone got to picking the winner was Vito Pugliese selecting Earnhardt Jr., who finished eighth.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Tony Lumbis 1,712 -0 13 3 5 8
Amy Henderson 1,571 -141 12 0 3 6
Bryan Davis Keith 1,351 -361 9 1 5 7
Vito Pugliese 1,334 -368 9 0 6 8
Mike Neff 1,171 -541 9 0 3 5
Matt Taliaferro 1,094 -618 8 0 3 5
Tom Bowles 873 -839 8 0 1 3
Tommy Thompson 500 -1,212 4 0 2 2
Kurt Smith 435 -1,277 5 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -1,371 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -1,522 1 1 1 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -1,618 1 0 0 0
Kim DeHaven 0 -1,712 0 0 0 0

About the author

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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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