Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Biffle Breaks Out, Is Busch a Bust? & the Trucks Brawl

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:
Ren Jonsin (Co-Publisher)
Tom Bowles (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice?)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)

Sunday’s New Hampshire race featured a variety of incidents that relegated Chase contenders to poor finishes. Can Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth overcome their lackluster showings and contend – or are they NHMS’ annual victims who will never recover?

Amy: Busch will recover. Kenseth, I just don’t see him as a serious contender this year.
Tom: I think those predicting Busch’s demise need to calm the heck down. He’s only 74 points out. As for Kenseth, he’s done. But he never put himself in position to have a chance anyways, so I doubt he’s bummed about it.
Bryan: A poor finish at Loudon hurts Kenseth way more than Busch. Kyle and his team have proven capable of going on a tear and winning multiple races – Kenseth has not. Plus, Loudon was going to be among Kenseth’s stronger tracks in the Chase.
Ren: The No. 17 team was a longshot at best, and they’re just going to be practicing for ’09 from here on out.
Tom: Exactly, Ren. Kenseth has looked more like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh than a championship contender recently. He may have been running decent, but the fact Carl Edwards was kicking butt within his own organization deflated thoughts the No. 17 could be a championship contender.
Amy: I agree. It seems that most of RFR’s resources have been focused on the No. 99 for most of the year. And you know, there’s always one guy who wrecks at New Hampshire and never gets back in it. I’d love for that to be Busch, but realistically it’s Kenseth.
Bryan: Kenseth absolutely has to win Dover to get back into the swing of it now.
Ren: On the other hand, I am certain that Busch can recover. He’s been strong all season, and this is probably just a minor setback. I think that the only Chase champ out of the four that’s had a relatively spotless 10-race run was Johnson in ’07; but other than that, everyone seems to get a mulligan.
Tom: I’ll tell you what, though, Busch should be running over to Chad McCumbee and shaking his hand. That late wreck gift-wrapped him about 20 points. Kyle and Greg Biffle… if Johnson won it and Busch fell 100 points out, it would be a whole lot worse for him emotionally.
Amy: How do you blame McCumbee for that? Michael McDowell and Johnny Sauter got together first.
Bryan: McDowell was a wreck waiting to happen all race long. I don’t know who was more dangerous at Loudon this weekend: McDowell or David Starr.
Amy: McDowell is a wreck waiting to happen every race.
Tom: I agree that McDowell’s not doing himself any favors for ’09, but that’s another story. What worries me about the whole Busch situation is now he’s going to be 125% everywhere we go.
Bryan: That’s not necessarily a good thing for Busch, though.
Tom: Exactly. For the fans, it may be – but as a driver, you better not get in his way. And I wonder if that’s going to press him to make a mistake.
Amy: I agree – although I think this is Karma coming to call on Mr. Busch. And seriously, if guys race you like you race them, he’s not going to be getting any slack in this – whereas Edwards and Jimmie Johnson are clean enough that they will get the benefit of the doubt. That’s a small advantage, but an advantage nonetheless.
Bryan: We’re finally going to see whether or not Busch has in fact matured this season. I’ve been saying all year that the No. 18 team has yet to hit true adversity. Well, they’ve hit it now. Dover will show us how good that team really is.
Tom: Like I said, the Biffle win and that wreck… that’s between 30 and 40 points Busch really needed. 74 is a whole lot better than 114, because I don’t know how much that No. 48 is going to slip up.
Bryan: Makes you wonder how Kyle is going to handle the pressure this coming weekend, doesn’t it?
Amy: Agreed. And overcoming adversity is not a question mark for the No. 48.
Tom: Oh, yeah. Johnson seriously looks like he’s going to be a top-five car every week. If that’s the case, Busch will need to win – and win a lot – to keep up the pace.
Amy: The No. 48 is probably better at overcoming stuff than anyone; and on those 1.5-mile tracks, the No. 99 has been nearly unstoppable. And there are five million of those tracks in the Chase.
Ren: Usually, Edwards, Johnson, and Busch are up front though, so Busch doesn’t have to worry about racing other drivers as much as the teams he’s competing against. If the No. 18 gets on a run like he was in the midpoint of the season – where he won half his races – this will be easy to overcome. And I don’t see Edwards getting out unscathed, either.
Bryan: And this goes without saying, but Talladega looms.
Ren: Yeah, and it doesn’t matter how they try to run that. By staying out of trouble or just taking what comes – it’s always a crapshoot there.
Tom: I will say this: kudos to Steve Addington for taking the high road in the face of adversity. Kyle got cranky and left him to take all the media questions. And Addington handled it with class, even though Kyle was busy whining to him on the radio all day. I give him so much credit as a crew chief. He’s the right personality to handle this whole thing.
Amy: But he’s not an ass or anything. Kyle, not Addington.
Tom: Well, Addington’s the class to Kyle’s occasional bouts with “ass.” And that’s why they blend so well; Addington’s willing to take any crap because he knows Kyle’s one hell of a talent. Let’s put it this way: it’s a pleasant change for him after dealing with crap finishes for so long. If I had to choose between fighting for a title with Busch or finishing 28th in points every year… I mean, that’s not even a choice.
Ren: Anyways, this week was a bump for Busch, but a huge setback for Kenseth’s team. Just from their makeup, you can be pretty sure that the No. 17 won’t handle this as well as the No. 18.
Amy: Realistically, Kenseth is probably done. They haven’t shown enough strength this year to say otherwise.
Bryan: Kenseth has to find victory lane, and fast, if he wants to stay relevant.
Tom: More and more, I feel like Kenseth is in his penultimate year at Roush. That contract is up the end of next year, and he may be ready to make a move similar to what Jeff Burton did a few years back.
Amy: But to where, Tom?
Tom: Ahh, the big question. I think Hendrick has a shot at him, I really do, for the No. 5 car after Mark Martin gives it up.
Amy: Martin is never retiring, and when he does Brad Keselowski will get that car – if he’s not retired already.
Bryan: But a third Stewart-Haas car would be an option, Amy; plus, JR Motorsports may well be in Cup by then. And who couldn’t see Kenseth driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Speaking of NHMS, Biffle’s win put him in the spotlight at just the right time. But is he a contender now – or will inconsistency plague him as it has all year?

Amy: Biffle hasn’t been inconsistent this year as much as he’s just been not quite good enough – and if RFR keeps pouring its best stuff only into the No. 99, he won’t be there come Homestead.
Bryan: But Biffle winning at NHMS was big for his team – he’s never had much success at that track before. Now we’re going to Dover and Kansas, two tracks he’s won at already. They may well be on the cusp of a breakout – and Biffle gets helped by the fact that Kenseth is all but out of the picture now, too.
Tom: I think the biggest sham in this whole deal is that we didn’t see this breakout coming. The Biff may not make the Chase every year, but he excels over the 10-race format. Only Johnson has more wins in that stretch since 2004.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Another Playoff Opener, Another Chase Cinderella - Why We Should've Guessed Greg Biffle

Amy: Johnson has more than twice as many wins in that stretch. There’s your Chase favorite, not Biffle.
Bryan: Johnson may be the favorite, Amy, but Biffle served notice at NHMS that he’s going to make him work for it. That pass he pulled on the No. 48 for the win was a real piece of work.
Ren: Biffle’s been up and down all year, because the team doesn’t have the consistency to put together 10 good races. And yes, the No. 99 will be getting a lot of the resources too, but there is enough at RFR to go around.
Amy: I just don’t see it, Ren. If RFR was spreading the wealth, Kenseth would have won by now – he’s the best driver they have.
Ren: It’s more than the driver though. there’s a team behind the driver that just isn’t meshing. Not that any of the RFR teams are really doing as good as they have been known to in the past.
Tom: Every year, we see a team come out of nowhere to be the Chase Cinderella. I mean, Biffle winning is a stretch, but Clint Bowyer started out strong last year and wound up finishing third. If you win that first race, you end up with enough momentum to usually wind up in the top five. And it isn’t like Biffle hasn’t been in title battles before.
Amy: I agree that Biffle could easily creep up to third or fourth. He is a player, but more likely for a top-three finish than the whole she-bang.
Bryan: If Biffle is going to make a charge for the title, the next two weeks are key with two of his best tracks on the circuit coming. He scores top fives on both of them, and we have player No. 4 in this race.
Amy: What could hurt Biff there is that those tracks are good for Edwards, Busch and Johnson, too.
Ren: Remember Biffle was second at Charlotte earlier this year, and he was good at Phoenix this spring. So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay in the forefront.
Tom: I think it’s a given that, unless Biffle gets involved in a wreck, he’ll get top 10s the next two weeks I think the key for him is to get through Talladega unscathed.
Bryan: Amazing how we’re all looking to that race already.
Tom: I also think Biffle understands how to make the most of this opportunity. Remember, we don’t have any new Chasers this year, but Biffle is the one with the longest drought – since ’05.
Bryan: It may be too early to add him to the Big Three list, but his win at NHMS was a convincing one – and he is capable of pouncing should the Big Three slide a tad.
Tom: Hey, when you pass Johnson in the final laps the way he’s been running, you jump up a notch in my book.

With merger talks swirling about both Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Bill Davis Racing, as well as Michael Waltrip Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing, is NASCAR destined to become a sport of a few conglomerates – or are these rumored deals a short-term fix for a larger problem?

Amy: I think it’s a combination of both. You’ll see more teams looking to merge for technical assistance, but it’s not going to help those whose organizations just aren’t there. For a team like Ganassi, there’s more wrong there than just technical help can fix. Ganassi has good equipment, good drivers – at least they do now – but they can’t find their butt with both hands.
Ren: Kyle Petty went off on this whole thing this weekend. It doesn’t matter what NASCAR does to control costs and limit the number of teams, it’s the money that brings wins; and the more principals you have on your team, the more cash there is at your disposal.
Bryan: It’s one of those situations where everyone else is doing it, so we should, too. And a Chase with four teams representing the top 12 says just about everything that can be said.
Tom: This is the No. 1 problem facing NASCAR today, in my opinion. No question about it. Worse than the CoT, worse than the criticism surrounding the Chase, even worse than the Mauricia Grant lawsuit. Four owners with eight teams apiece does not a league make. Do you realize that if these mergers happen, we’ll have six teams at or over the four-car limit? AND we’ll have two satellite teams in Stewart-Haas and Yates Racing. 28 cars controlled by essentially six people. Isn’t that unbelievable?
Amy: Scenarios like four owners with eight teams apiece doesn’t show promise for long-term stability, either. You have to spread your resources pretty thin – and eventually, it won’t work.
Ren: They have to do it, though. If they don’t increase their cash flow, they’ll be left behind.
Bryan: On another level, merging destroys the independent entities out there that make this sport so unique. With mega-teams growing as they are, NASCAR might as well go Formula 1 and franchise.
Tom: And if there’s one thing I’ve found these last few years, it’s that NASCAR fans don’t watch this thing to watch F1. The stock car version of F1 just won’t fly.
Ren: What independent entities, Bryan? I haven’t seen any that were actually a force for over 15 years.
Bryan: PPI Racing won in 2003 and the Wood Brothers nearly won Kansas in 2004.
Ren: That’s not really a force though. More of a one-off thing, like Ron Fellows winning at a road course… and certainly nothing like we saw in ’92.
Amy: NASCAR should be finding ways to help the smaller teams stay in it and be competitive, because it’s in for a rude awakening in a few years when Cup fields are at 28 cars.
Ren: They’re trying to, Amy. The CoT comes to mind as a cost-cutting measure, as does limited testing. And neither of those have worked.
Bryan: I don’t know if NASCAR has figured it out yet. In the Nationwide Series, we have fields of only 32-33 cars actually coming to run the distance – and they haven’t batted an eye. Low car counts don’t seem to matter to them.
Amy: They will when it’s Cup and it’s every week. NASCAR doesn’t give a rat’s rear end about the Nationwide Series anyway.
Tom: Getting back to what Ren said about those smaller teams: they kept the excitement brewing around the sport. New owners and new teams meant new people, new excitement, and new opportunities. It’s a sport that was born on independence and the signature that anyone could sign up and compete. Now? Drivers are aiming to be No. 4 on the totem pole with some mega-team. No new owners are coming into the sport, and it’s being increasingly run by business investors looking at the bottom line.
Bryan: Exactly, Tom. Bob Jenkins doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he’s still doing with FRM this year.
Ren: All I’m saying is that every time NASCAR does something it believes will help control costs, it has the exact opposite effect. Seems that teams want to win more than they want to see the little guy compete.
Tom: Which puts us dangerously close to franchising, Ren – and NASCAR’s appeal was it was never like that. Also, the four people with the most power are no longer spring chickens. What happens when Childress, Roush and Hendrick want to step away?
Ren: They have huge companies to sell at that point.
Bryan: Well, franchising will be the move that completely severs Cup from any semblance of stock car racing.
Amy: I agree, Bryan. What a sad day that would be.
Tom: The biggest thing to look at in the next two years is whether Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs and Childress can get together and eat a giant slice of humble pie. Because if they don’t, I worry about the future viability of this sport. And I think Kyle Petty is speaking out because he knows the future of Petty Enterprises is out of his hands. You know, there’s no sponsors for either one of those Petty teams yet. No guarantee that with the current economic climate, these investors will see this thing through. Maybe that’ll be the wake-up call… if the Pettys fall by the wayside.
Amy: They already have, Tom, and the really sad part is too few people care.
Bryan: The Wood Brothers have fallen and Petty Enterprises has been irrelevant for years. Those teams failing won’t change the powerhouse teams’ minds.
Tom: I will say one thing, though: it never seemed like Chip Ganassi knew how to succeed in NASCAR.
Bryan: Chip Ganassi Racing is an exception to the current problem. NASCAR could be booming and it’d still suck.
Tom: Yeah, Ganassi nearly won the ’02 title with Sterling Marlin, but that was just after he took that team over. It’s been a constant personnel shuffle over there. Now Bill Davis Racing – that’s just sad. You feel for someone like that. I hear there’s little to no hope for the team to survive on its own; it’s not a matter of if it’ll be bought – but when.
Ren: You know, there’s a lot of fans out there who complain that racing isn’t what it was back in the day; well, it’s not back in the day anymore. It’s a different sport now. Nobody is going to get out there in actual stock cars, and David Pearson isn’t coming across the stage for driver introductions. And I think a lot of people would enjoy the sport a lot more if they quit crying about that not happening, and just try to enjoy what is there now. Or just watch ARCA, ASA or trucks instead.
Amy: But the principles and what the real fans want to see is the same, Ren – it was, and should be about good racing, not gimmicks and kowtowing. NASCAR needs to take a long, hard look at the health of its racing series; and not just at the money, but at its viability for years down the road.
Bryan: Bruton Smith, form your True Stock league. Now!
Tom: Ren, I think the proof is in the attendance as to whether or not people are actually enjoying what’s going on in the sport. Just look at how many empty seats there are.
Ren: But I think the problem is that a lot of folks are expecting great racing every time out, and it was never that. You just remember the great races and the truly hideous ones, like that NHMS race with the restrictor plates which very well may be the reason that people say that NHMS races are boring – because of that one race.
Amy: You’re right, Ren, it was never that way; but at least NASCAR tried to make it so by having many teams that were competitive and running on decent tracks.
Tom: Honestly Ren, those drivers were more aggressive back in the day. And that’s what people look for in racing – aggression. Maybe not spinning each other out every lap, but side-by-side, go get ’em, stand up out of your seat heart-pounding action. Pulling over for your teammate to lead a lap on the straightaway or calculating how many points you need to finish 12th and make the playoffs isn’t exactly what fans go to the track for.
Ren: Aggressive or not as smart, Tom? Look at what you have now. Everything is professional – nobody in a car today is a local. There are no real morons out there to spice up the racing. We need to get Buckshot Jones back out there!
Tom: Maybe he and Randy LaJoie can come back as a package deal.
Ren: The heck with looking for the next Jeff Gordon, look for the next Jones! That will give you great racing.
Tom: Good God, Buckshot back. Casey Mears complains he can’t see in the CoT because he’s too short. We’d be lucky to get Buckshot in position to see the windshield.
Amy: Maybe he could sit on a phone book or something.
Bryan: Seriously, it’s unfortunate that the sport has evolved to the point where nine of 10 guys at a local racetrack will never be considered for NASCAR regardless of how talented they are. I have hope that Donny Lia is the guy we’ve been waiting for. He ticks off everyone around him, including his car owner.
Tom: I think the bottom line in all this is that sports are always personality, parity and record driven. You need people to draw you in, enough competition over a long period of time to hold your interest… and occasionally, someone or something that blows you away. NASCAR’s losing some of those characteristics.

Starr and Todd Bodine‘s two teams were involved in a serious brawl after the Truck Series race Saturday afternoon. What, if any, penalties should be assessed – and was Bodine’s team wrong in starting the melee?

Bryan: Here’s the freaking problem right there! NASCAR does not need to penalize teams for fighting!
Tom: Well Bryan, I wouldn’t go that far. I think you need to establish some type of order when the entire team is going at it.
Ren: Maybe a little. Enough to make them think if it’s worth fighting over.
Amy: Technically, the teams were wrong – the sport has a no fighting rule. Whether it was justified is another story, though. I was surprised Germain didn’t have two other teams helping them out!
Bryan: And Bodine’s crew was completely justified. Starr’s conduct on the racetrack Saturday was embarrassing.
Tom: But just look at baseball, Bryan: in brawls, they punish the worst offenders. The crewman that put a finger in Starr’s face should get something.
Bryan: I disagree entirely, Tom. That was what the sport should be wanting to see. Starr acted a damn fool all race long, trashed both of the team’s trucks – and they let him know how they felt the only way they could.
Amy: Starr wrecked everyone but the pace car. I mean, Bodine is a loose cannon and even he was in the right here.
Tom: I have to tell you, I was really surprised Starr came out swinging though – he had to be really provoked. I’ve talked to him a bunch in the years he’s done our Driver Diary, and you’d think that man wouldn’t hurt a fly. But I guess when someone takes down your window net and puts it in your face…
Amy: Yeah, but if you’re surrounded by a group of hostile people, you might do something drastic – even if it was your fault they were there and hostile in the first place.
Bryan: When you cause three-plus wrecks in one race, that type of fight tends to happen.
Tom: I’m not saying Starr is blameless, guys. It’s not like this type of thing doesn’t happen on the track all the time.
Amy: But three times in the same race because of carelessness, Tom?
Tom: Well, I’m not saying they didn’t have reason to be pissed…
Amy: Come on. That doesn’t happen all the time. That was Starr not thinking!
Ren: Hey, that’s what makes racing great! Ineptitude like that.
Amy: As for penalties? There is camera footage. Put the guys involved on probation and be done with it – that’s all they’ve done to anyone else this year.
Bryan: And I applaud Bodine’s crew for showing some passion for their equipment rather than saying, “That was unfortunate, I’m not happy with David right now,” and sulking off.
Tom: But here’s the thing, though: when David Ragan wrecked everyone and their mother in Martinsville a couple years back, nobody went after him. People yelled and screamed, sure, but to put down the window net and put a finger in someone’s face? That’s a little extreme. Yeah, you can’t argue with the on-track mistakes. But where you draw the line is the issue.
Amy: Ragan was a rookie, Tom. They cut him slack for that.
Bryan: I don’t know if Ragan destroyed an entire team’s stable at Martinsville, either. Starr got both Germain teams.
Amy: And three times in one race? Bodine’s team was justifiably angry. They might have taken it too far, but they didn’t just go visit Starr for kicks and giggles.
Ren: A slap on the wrist is enough for any fight, as long as they aren’t throwing jacks at each other. It’s just blowing off steam. You just can’t let it go completely unchecked, or otherwise you have the NHL from several years ago.
Bryan: This is a conflict between teams, and that’s where the line should be drawn. Let the teams police themselves. NASCAR needs to back off and let Germain have their deserved venting – this incident isn’t one that needs to cause concern. It’d be different if Bodine’s crew had tried to destroy Starr’s truck, but come on: it’s pushing, shoving and cursing.
Tom: If I were Starr, I’d stay away from both those trucks on-track the rest of the season. I’m sure what goes around will come around in some way, but I don’t think he was trying to be a jerk. And I have a problem fighting someone unprovoked who wasn’t trying to intentionally be a jerk – it was three very unfortunate accidents.
Bryan: But Starr made the same mistake repeatedly in the same turn, no less. No excuse for that. Even the SPEED TV crew was getting exasperated covering it.
Amy: I agree with Bryan. He wasn’t trying to be a jerk, Tom, but he wasn’t trying very hard to avoid being one, either. It was a mistake that could have been rectified by simply backing out. If it doesn’t stick the first time, it’s not going to stick the second or third times.
Bryan: Exactly. The in-truck with Starr made it clear he wasn’t rolling out early in turn 1 after the first incident, and he was still picking the gas up way early in the same spot. All I know is if I had to go to work Monday to find my two race trucks in pieces because one veteran couldn’t race clean, I’d be pretty darned ticked.

Predictions for Dover?

Amy: I’m going to go with the No. 99, as much as it pains me to do so.
Bryan: I’m jumping on the Roush bandwagon – but with someone else. Biffle wins two straight and throws a monkey wrench into this Chase.
Ren: I’ll try Kevin Harvick.
Tom: You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if Busch bounced back in a big way, especially with everyone writing him off. I think I’m going to take him… but let me tell ya, don’t be surprised if Biffle bags two in a row. He led the most laps in the spring. Burton could be strong, too. He’s the other one that really surprised at New Hampshire, but just slipped under the radar.
Amy: And don’t count out Dale Earnhardt Jr., either.
Tom: Fans have been saying I’m a Junior-hater lately. That couldn’t be more untrue. I love Junior… I just don’t like seeing good people trapped in a bad marriage. And that’s what Tony Eury and his cousin are in.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

With 10 races left, we didn’t need a Chase for the Championship to set up a great battle amongst our Frontstretch experts. With the absence of Bryan Davis Keith last week, Amy Henderson wiped out her points deficit after pick Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth at Loudon. It wasn’t a victory, but more than enough to put her on top by 19 heading into the final two months of the season. Each one of our writers was close but no cigar last week, as Vito Pugliese and Matt Taliaferro’s predicted winners both finished in the top 10.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 3,741 -0 28 2 10 15
Bryan Davis Keith 3,722 -19 24 4 13 20
Tony Lumbis 3,520 -221 26 4 9 16
Vito Pugliese 2,704 -1,037 21 1 8 11
Mike Neff 2,418 -1,323 19 1 6 9
Matt Taliaferro 1,940 -1,801 15 0 4 8
Tom Bowles 1,633 -2,108 14 0 3 6
Kurt Smith 1,562 -2,179 14 0 4 6
Tommy Thompson 710 -3,031 6 0 2 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -3,400 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -3,551 1 1 1 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -3,647 1 0 0 0
Ren Jonsin 0 -3,741 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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