Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Chasing NASCAR’s Chase, Tiring Tires & Flipping the Bird

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:
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Vito Pugliese (Tuesdays/Voice of Vito)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Carl Edwards‘s win at Atlanta barely closed the gap between he and points leader Jimmie Johnson. Is the championship battle officially only between these two? And what has to happen for Edwards to win?

Matt T.: Johnson, Knaus, and the No. 48 team spontaneously combust.
Jeff: J.J. needs to crash often, hard, and early.
Bryan: The battle is over. The only thing Carl can do is spray sterno in J.J.’s engine.
Jeff: It could happen, though. Look at Clint Bowyer in the Nationwide Series.
Amy: I think there is still the chance for something weird to happen, but how ironic is it that this would be closer under the old system. Instead, Johnson could clinch at Phoenix.
Matt T.: Yup, this battle is all but an afterthought now. Even the guys on ESPN who want to make it sound more enthralling than it really is have admitted it.
Vito: Something would have to happen to the point where the No. 48 team could not shovel Johnson into the car, fire the car, and make one lap in it before a substitute could step in.
Matt T.: Again, the spontaneous combustion theory sounds good, V.
Vito: Is that Hale-Bopp comet coming by anytime soon, Matt?
Matt T.: I’ll have to check, but I think it’s not due for another 4,000 years.
Vito: I’m thinking if it entered our orbit and smashed the No. 48 hauler en route to Texas, maybe that might make things close.
Amy: Hey, big points leads have evaporated before. 1992.
Vito: The Atlanta race was like looking back in time to the late 1990s when Jeff Gordon and Evernham could do no wrong. They would take a 15th-place car and suddenly be running in the top five by the time the race was done.

See also
Voice of Vito: Jimmie Johnson - Modern-Day Legend? 3rd Consecutive Title Would Put Him in Rare Company

Matt T.: The No. 48 won’t let this thing slip away. They just don’t give up leads like this.
Jeff: If qualifying is not rained out again. Rain has played a big part, I think, and it’s not fair.
Amy: Rain hasn’t played that big a part, Jeff. The cars that were going to run up front ran up front anyway.
Bryan: Having that No. 1 pit stall all those weeks certainly did play a big part.
Jeff: I agree. Anything can happen during qualifying.
Amy: Maybe it did at Martinsville, but the No. 48 has won with other pit stalls.
Jeff: But why should NASCAR give him an advantage?
Bryan: I agree with Jeff. Qualifying is treacherous for any time, and that is a big-time advantage to dodge it when you’re going to start first.
Vito: I don’t think they’re giving him an advantage so much as their scheduling is completely screwed up.
Amy: Because starting tech at 4:00 a.m. to qualify on Saturday is impractical.
Vito: To the victor go the spoils. Lead the points this late in the year, you get a cookie of sorts.
Jeff: If rained out, they should draw from a hat.
Bryan: Amy, all they need to do is do tech while the rain is going on, impound the cars and qualify Saturday morning.
Amy: Be real, the rain is a convenient excuse for the Roush fans this year, but the real reason is that the No. 48’s worst Chase finish is ninth.
Bryan: No one’s debating that Jimmie has had a killer Chase (go figure). But that’s not to say that their run hasn’t exposed some major issues with the Chase and NASCAR in general.
Matt T.: So how much was Carl hating life when they told him in victory lane that the No. 48 ran second? That was priceless.
Vito: He even kind of got pissy with Dave Burns before the race when they were interviewing him. Whatever dude, you won a race, you didn’t blow out your chin doing a backflip… enjoy it.
Amy: I have never liked the Chase, but NASCAR brought this upon themselves and it serves them right for messing with a system that wasn’t broken!
Matt T.: I think this year just shows that when you have a team clicking on all cylinders it doesn’t matter the format. Jimmie’d be leading under the old format too. Props.
Jeff: I have no interest anymore, I’ll tell you that.
Amy: I had no interest before the Chase this year either, so what exactly has changed?
Vito: I look it like this: The Chase is no different than the other system. Sometimes you have years like 1990, 1992 and 2004. Other times you get 2000, 2003 and 2008. Not every year is going to be a nailbiter, nor should it be expected to be.
Matt T.: I think the fact that people see NASCAR trying to manufacture the excitement is where many have a problem.
Bryan: I agree entirely, Matt.
Vito: NASCAR needs to find a way to keep Jerry Punch awake during the broadcast.
Amy: Why should Jerry have to stay awake? Nobody else does.
Vito: What happened to the trauma surgeon-turned-pit reporter? The guy is out on his feet, reading promos for Monday Night Football and Dancing With The Stars.
Bryan: NASCAR is just suffering from the overall decline of ESPN.
Matt T.: Well, you’ll hear people bash on whatever network is broadcasting. It’s a no-win.
Bryan: Matt, if they put the MRN broadcasters in charge of the TV call, there would be no complaints.
Matt T.: Barney Hall rocks. The name itself is rock star worthy. But all I’m saying is everyone bitches regardless of the network. I just enjoy the race without letting the commentating bring me down. I remember when the races weren’t guaranteed to be on.
Vito: I always thought TNT and NBC did a pretty fair job. At least they seemed interested. Though remember Daytona 2007? Wally had already conceded the race to Kyle Busch as they were coming to the flag. It was like the race was interrupting the conversation that he and Weber were having.
Amy: NBC was better than ESPN. Anything is better than FOX, though. Bring back Bestwick. Anyway, give the No. 48 some props… they’d be in first anyway after being almost 400 out after Daytona in July. That’s flat-out hard work, nothing more.
Jeff: But Kyle would still be in it, and he would take J.J. out a time or two.
Amy: Kyle would be over 200 out at this point.
Bryan: It’s over. Give the No. 48 the trophy and tell him to skip the final three races. Then, market the Cup Series like this: The No. 48 will not win for the rest of the season. Money races.

There was talk this weekend in the media of “Jimmie-proofing” the Chase – finding a way to keep the championship battle closer until the end. Should this be done, and if so, how? Jack Roush’s “mulligan” idea, or something else?

Bryan: Here’s an idea: Why don’t we just reset the points at Homestead? If we’re going to manufacture a close points Chase, why be subtle about it?
Vito: Or how about everybody has zero points until Miami, and the last race decides the title.
Matt T.: Please, no more knee-jerk changes!
Amy: Once again, NASCAR came up with the whole stupid idea to “Kenseth-proof” the old format. Now, it backfired. Go figure.
Vito: Ha. Points redistribution? Wow, socialism IS spreading in America – even to NASCAR. Joe Nemechek gets 800 of Busch’s points, since he doesn’t need them, since he isn’t close to winning the title.
Bryan: And Roush has to give some sponsors to Yates.
Jeff: Well, I still say the qualifying situation is bad. For the Chase, there should be NO rainout.
Amy: I still don’t see how that works, Jeff, short of qualifying at, like, 6:00 a.m.
Bryan: Amy, why can’t you qualify Saturday morning?
Amy: You can’t take practice from the support series. They’re in a championship battle too, and the Cup guys would cry like dogs if you took their practice times.
Matt T.: The rainout deal is a freak occurrence. We won’t see this again for 25 years.
Jeff: I didn’t say anything about taking practice time, just don’t set the lineup by points.
Matt T.: My thoughts on the Chase format is that NASCAR got it wrong from the start. It should be five races – must-see TV – with 10 drivers. A 10-race slate is too long to hold a nation’s attention. People can easily miss a week and come back without a hiccup. Plus, no mulligans. One and done, baby.
Vito: I like that idea Matt – if they aren’t going to have a traditional season-long battle. Look at Formula 1. It had been interesting up until the last race, but mainly because everybody keeps getting penalties. Kind of like football. Brian France would probably be all over that one since it’s like football. Maybe they can bungee-cord a ball to the roof as well.
Amy: There should be no Chase format. The best team from Daytona to Homestead should be the champions, period. And that hasn’t happened half the time under the Chase.
Matt T.: But it ain’t going away, Amy, so we might as well throw it all out there.
Jeff: Go back to the old format and give the first-place finisher 50 more points.
Bryan: You nailed it on the head Jeff.
Amy: I agree: Award more points for winning.
Jeff: Even in ’03, if Ryan Newman had 20 more points for winning, Matt Kenseth still would have won it.
Matt T.: It’s the system, they all know it. Deal.
Bryan: A rotating schedule I think would help “Jimmie-proof” more than anything. It’d be interesting to see if they could maintain these kind of late-season runs with changes in venues.
Matt T.: The truth is, NASCAR can’t “Jimmie-proof” the system because the No. 48 team will just figure out how to go about winning it another way.
Amy: But the fact remains that under the OLD system, the points lead right now is cut in half. A couple years ago you had a four-point title under the old tally. NASCAR needs to take a deep breath, suck it up and admit the Chase sucks.
Jeff: Brian France is too ignorant to admit he was wrong.
Matt T.: See, we’re wasting our finger muscles if we think NASCAR needs to fix something. What it needs to do is leave it alone before anyone else is confused about how our champion is crowned.
Vito: Maybe they can have a new sponsor next year and change the name of the trophy again. That will fix everything.
Matt T.: Hell, I know people that still can’t figure out how points are awarded on a race-by-race basis.
Vito: So what you’re saying Matt, is that maybe we don’t need CHANGE?
Jeff: Like me.
Matt T.: They ya go.
Amy: I think NASCAR made their bed, now lie in it
Bryan: Might I mention that the old, broken system is producing quite the title chase in the Truck Series?
Vito: Right. But who would want to watch that?
Amy: Nationwide isn’t too bad, either.
Jeff: How about making them all kit cars, like IROC?
Matt T.: I prefer the old system, but I’ve learned to play the hand that’s been dealt. NASCAR needs to just let the system be. And Brian said they would.
Jeff: Brian should have said that four years ago. All they had to do was award more points for winning.

Goodyear brought a new tire to Atlanta, one that had more grip but wore faster. How did this tire rate against that one used in the spring, and is this type of tire – grippy with fast give – going to help the racing with the CoT?

Jeff: The tire was 100,000,000 times better than the spring. The longest green run in the spring was 19 laps.
Vito: Most of the drivers couldn’t tell a difference. At least it wasn’t exploding, so it’s a start I guess.
Bryan: Seeing Johnson do what he did with these tires validates them in my book. They actually wore out!
Matt T.: It was better, but the drivers still didn’t like them.
Amy: It was SO much better, and it seemed to make the cars more adjustable in other areas, at least from what I heard on the radio. Anything was better than bringing Fred Flintstone’s Goodyear’s back.
Vito: The problem is, they’re racing a tire that was designed with the old car in mind – the new car changes everything and is still the stumbling block.
Matt T.: Yeah, all I heard were guys trying not to say anything bad about Goodyear for fear of NASCAR busting their chops.
Vito: That fits in nicely with the “shut up and drive” edict from Michigan in June.
Amy: I agree, Vito that NASCAR has to lay down the law and make Goodyear design tires for the CoT or find someone who will. On the other hand, this was the tire that every driver in the tire test voted for.
Vito: That’s like picking the leper with the most fingers, Amy. It’s NASCAR that is the problem here. Goodyear can make anything they want but it’s NASCAR that gives them the specs and what they’re looking for.
Matt T.: That’s why I placed as much blame on NASCAR as I did Goodyear at Indy and Atlanta in the spring.
Bryan: Goodyear’s complacency and, for lack of a better word, laziness this year is unacceptable. There had better be tire test at every single track on the circuit in the offseason.
Jeff: And it’s not like Goodyear didn’t know about the CoT and its specs before it came out.
Amy: And Hoosiers are fine in other series, including series in NASCAR. How would they be bad for Cup if they could make a decent tire? The bottom line is NASCAR mandated the CoT, and NASCAR needs to mandate CoT-specific tires.
Vito: You have a tall heavy car with no suspension travel and bump stops that halt travel immediately. The tire can only do so much.
Amy: Atlanta was a step in the right direction, though, but it was a baby step and NASCAR and Goodyear need to make strides in that direction.
Vito: Tires didn’t seem to be an issue at Atlanta in 2004, when one of the best races at Atlanta was held. The constant here in all of this is the CoT. Everything else is the same except the car. The tires are ill-equipped for the machine that they are being run on. It’s like putting snow tires on a muscle car. They aren’t going to work very well with the rules and constraints that they are forced to work with. NASCAR is telling them to make a square peg to plug in a round hole. Their stupid car doesn’t work with the old tires.
Amy: The teams would agree with you, Vito. They all think the car would be much better with tires designed for it.
Bryan: This just goes to show you how NASCAR really rushed into the CoT program. Before you put your sport’s stars in a new car, you freaking test the living hell out of them rather than letting competition suffer to figure the car out. Goodyear doesn’t need change, they need competitors and a kick in the ass.

An interesting scenario arose at the end of the Nationwide Series race at Memphis when Bobby Hamilton Jr. had words with Landon Cassill following a last-lap incident. Hamilton’s wife made a gesture on camera that would have been an instant fine had it been a driver or crewmen. So what does NASCAR do in this situation?

Bryan: NASCAR lets it go.
Vito: Not worry about it, since nobody is watching anyway.
Matt T.: Absolutely nothing.
Amy: I disagree. NASCAR would have fined Hamilton and taken points.
Jeff: Fine the team. She IS a member, so fine him and the crew chief or whoever they say is responsible for the actions of the team.
Vito: Thank God that something actually happened worth showing on television.
Matt T.: You’re going to fine HIS WIFE? Did Nicole and Busch’s wife get fined for their Texas run-in?
Bryan: No, they got mad airtime.
Amy: A wife’s hard card says ‘crew’ on it, so I think she should be treated as such: fined and points taken. If it had been a tire changer, NASCAR would’ve.
Matt T.: C’mon, you guys are serious?
Jeff: Yes.
Vito: It’s a short-track race. Why are we fining people? Seriously, who really cares?
Matt T.: I think we’ve lost sight of what racing is all about here. And I don’t mean fingers.
Jeff: I’m personally not offended, but what is she doing out there if she’s not a team member?
Bryan: For crying out loud, they actually showed some emotion! The Hamiltons actually give a damn about the Nationwide Series. They should be freaking applauded.
Amy: Nicole and Eva didn’t do anything their husbands would have gotten fined for, Mrs. Hamilton did.
Vito: This must be the beginnings of this ‘police state’ I’ve read so much about.
Amy: I have no problem with showing emotion, I have a problem with a double standard.
Bryan: Well, let’s just hope that it’s not a double standard, but the establishment of a new standard.
Matt T.: Did she know she was on TV?
Amy: It doesn’t matter, Matt. NASCAR has said that before.
Jeff: Did they fine Shane Hmiel for flipping off Dale Jarrett at Bristol?
Vito: No, they fined him for smoking weed.
Amy: Yes they did, Jeff.
Matt T.: Yes it does, Amy. You gonna fine a driver if a camera picks up an in-car bird?
Amy: They fined Martin Truex Jr. for flipping off Mike Wallace. NASCAR does fine drivers for flipping off on an in-car shot. That’s my point.
Vito: Do I get fined for giving somebody the finger in the stands?
Jeff: No one cares about you, Vito.
Vito: And nobody cares about Bobby Jr.’s wife.
Matt T.: That’s so ridiculous. It’s like the NFL fining a linebacker if a mic picks up a curse word said in the heat of the game. Gimme a break.
Vito: If this is what it’s come to, I am going to find a new series to watch. This is stupid.
Jeff: I agree, but I didn’t ask the question.
Bryan: It’s getting really tempting to shove NASCAR to the side and follow ARCA full-time in 2009.
Amy: It may be, but the issue is whether anyone who is designated as ‘crew’ should get the same treatment for an infraction.
Jeff: They should, but they won’t.
Vito: Ahhh, wasn’t NASCAR’s directive at the beginning of the year to let these guys be themselves?
Matt T.: Amy, you think you’re going a little hard-line on us here?
Amy: With the rule or the standard?
Matt T.: With your argument.
Amy: The rule is stupid, but having the same standard for everyone is not too hard-line.
Vito: This is kind of a non-sequitur. NASCAR already said this year that it wasn’t going to be fining people for showing a little emotion. So if it isn’t going to do anything and said it wasn’t nine months ago, why are we talking about it?
Amy: I don’t think that applied to obscenities, Vito.
Bryan: The question should be whether or not something like a heat-of-passion gesture should even be a cause for penalty. And it shouldn’t… be it the driver, the crew or his wife.
Amy: That’s not the question, though. It’s whether every crew member should be subject to the same rules.
Bryan: I know it’s not the question. I’m saying it should be.
Matt T.: NASCAR was built on emotion. It’s an adrenaline-rush sport. What happens when you neuter or spay the competition?
Jeff: They can’t reproduce. And some shouldn’t.
Vito: Bob Barker would have applauded that, Matt.
Matt T.: Actually, I applaud Bob. Every day.
Vito: You are a total ’80s man, Matt.
Vito: Spend three hours in a stock car and get in an accident at 100 mph and see how calm you are. Or if it is a loved one in the same situation.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with showing emotion (though I don’t care for obscenity on television when kids are watching) but I think if one team member would be fined for something, you have to fine any other team member. That’s all I’m saying.
Matt T.: OK then, Amy, my answer is still a flat no. She should not be fined. I say don’t fine team members or drivers or wives. Period.
Bryan: There definitely should be no double standard. So, to make sure there isn’t one, stop penalizing drivers, teams, etc., for outbursts. Let them sort it out amongst themselves.
Vito: So long as nobody is swinging an axle at somebody’s head, I don’t see what the big deal is. In England they riot and in Brazil they burn down stadiums over soccer. Giving someone the finger isn’t that big of a deal.
Amy: Different scenario then. What if the driver’s wife put magnets under the gas pedal? Then what?
Matt T.: That’s totally different, Amy. Working on the car – making it illegal – is totally different.
Amy: Why? It’s a rules violation.
Matt T.: Letter of the Law and Spirit of the Law. And rules violations are not all one and the same.
Amy: I can’t walk up to a student breaking a rule and say, “I don’t agree with the rule, so you don’t get in trouble.”
Bryan: Yes you can, that’s why we have jury nullification, Amy.
Amy: I agree again, but if you are going to fine one member of a team for one, you have to fine ANY member of a team for one.
Jeff: And then apologize to Landon for his wife’s rude behavior.
Amy: Haha! He should do that, Jeff.
Matt T.: Was she keeping lap times? Is she really a member of the team? Do we know this?
Amy: A spouse’s hard card says “Crew,” Matt.
Jeff: Why was she in pit lane over the wall?
Bryan: She came over with the Rensi team guys that pulled Hamilton away from the car.
Vito: They could say that she is their Communications Director and that she was simply directing communication towards Cassill
Matt T.: I just think this whole discussion is a little out there right now.
Vito: Yup. Landon… that is not a racecar driver’s name, anyway.
Amy: I think it’s valid. NASCAR would have fined the 10-foot ego had he done it.
Matt T.: I’ve seen 100-times worse.
Jeff: It says something for the state of the sport if this is all we’ve got to talk about.
Bryan: It’s not everything we have to talk about – the Memphis race had tons of stories in it – but, alas, no one seems to care about Nationwide anymore.
Vito: Landon, Brandon, Connor, Tucker. Like George Carlin says – soft names make for soft people.
Matt T.: I’ll take ‘Bobby’ any day.
Vito: Nobody pushes around Joey or Bobby or Vinnie.
Matt T.: Or Vito.

Predictions for Texas?

Jeff: The lineup will be set by points. Carl wins.
Bryan: Edwards.
Matt T.: Jimmie.
Amy: I say Jeff Gordon. He’d look like a total doofus in the hat.
Vito: Trying to think who looks the most ridiculous in that Cowboy hat firing those SAA .45s into the air…
Bryan: Marcos Ambrose would look funny.
Matt T.: Michael Waltrip would, too. And David Reutimann… heck, anyone at MWR I guess.
Jeff: Don’t forget Kyle Busch.
Vito: Everyone is picking Carl or Jimmie.
Bryan: Go out on a limb, Vito. Save us from predictability.
Vito: Hmmm…
Matt T.: Do it again, V….
Matt T.: Do it…
Amy: Save Mark Martin for Homestead. At least he’ll be in a decent car.
Vito: Nah, I’m going to go with Kenseth, but I hope his toupee comes off in the cowboy hat.
Amy: Mattycakes wears a rug? Really?
Matt T.: I know it looks weird, but I think it’s real.
Vito: No way that is real.
Amy: I think it’s real… who’d pay money for a rug that bad?
Amy: Except Sterling Marlin.
Vito: Or Jimmy Spencer.
Matt T.: Hell, if I had a wife like Kenseth’s, I’d shave my head bald just to rub it in everyone’s face.
Vito: Katie is pretty smokin’.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

It was a record weekend for our Frontstretch writers, as three Mirror Driving experts correctly predicted Edwards to take the checkered flag at Atlanta. Only Vito Pugliese fell short with a last-minute switch to Martin, who came home in 22nd place.

And just as Johnson all but locked up the Chase, Amy Henderson appears to have done the same with our predictions championship, securing her third win of the season. Now 321 points in front of runner-up Bryan Davis Keith, it would take nothing short of an epic disaster to keep her from taking this year’s title trophy.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 4,594 -0 34 3 14 19
Bryan Davis Keith 4,273 -321 28 5 15 22
Tony Lumbis 3,520 -1,074 26 4 9 16
Vito Pugliese 3,156 -1,438 24 2 8 13
Matt Taliaferro 2,455 -2,139 18 1 6 11
Mike Neff 2,418 -2,176 19 1 6 9
Tom Bowles 2,242 -2,352 19 1 6 9
Kurt Smith 1,900 -2,694 16 1 5 8
Tommy Thompson 710 -3,884 6 0 2 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -4,253 3 0 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -4,404 1 1 1 1
Ren Jonsin 155 -4,439 1 0 0 1
Jeff Meyer 94 -4,500 1 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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