Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: The Intentional Wreck, Cautioning Against Cautions & Kyle Busch Sets a Record

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)
Doug Turnbull (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Carl Edwards‘s win on Sunday cut his points deficit to 106 with two races to go. Too little, too late or is there an upset in the making?

Doug: I echo the sentiments of most. It is over. Unless Jimmie Johnson has bad luck, he will shuffle his way into the record books.
Amy: I think it could go either way, to be honest.
Bryan: Oh, it’s over, Amy. NASCAR made Johnson run a restrictor plate at TMS just to keep him from clinching next week.
Matt T.: What’s it at? 106 points? I’ll still take the No. 48. Carl will give it a valiant run to the final lap at HMS, but we all know who the team to beat still is.
Beth: It’s certainly possible there’s an upset in the making, but realistically, Johnson has this one. Sunday was a fluke, but Johnson and Knaus will be back to normal next week. They’ve been in this situation before and know exactly how to handle it. They’ll be fine.
Matt T.: Two wins in a row are impressive for Carl, but I think the No. 48 rebounds at Phoenix. I was shocked they missed the setup like they did at Texas – especially after being so strong at a bunch of 1.5-milers lately. Remember, J.J. has won two straight at Phoenix.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Carl Edwards and Co. Driving with Nothing to Lose

Amy: Johnson is better at Phoenix, but give the Roush boys the distinctive edge at Homestead. The No. 48 has the advantage of the best team in the business behind him, but there are so many other variables – I really can’t call it either way still.
Matt T.: Phoenix is the type of track I could see a non-Chaser – or non-contender, anyway – jump up and snag a win.
Amy: Actually, Biffle could really be the one to toss the wrench in the works. He’s in another time zone at Homestead.
Bryan: Johnson will be among the favorites at Phoenix and he’s good enough for a top 15 at Homestead. Edwards can’t make up that kind of ground.
Matt T.: Johnson still has to have major trouble come his way, and 15th-place finishes don’t qualify as “major trouble.”
Amy: I’d really like to see three in a row, though. I was five when Cale did it, and I wasn’t a fan quite yet.
Matt T.: Yeah, I was three and didn’t get to see it either. I’ll say this for Edwards: The boy is keeping a positive attitude about winning this thing still. And the team has a lot of momentum. Tons. I bet Carl’s kicking himself for the Talladega boo boo about now.
Bryan: They do have tons of momentum, enough to score wins in each of the last few weeks. But two races isn’t enough time to capitalize. Just give Johnson the Cup at this point and park him for the next two weeks.

Many fans were calling Sunday’s race, with its fuel-mileage victory and lack of cautions boring. But the same fans seem to also complain when too many “phantom” cautions bunch up the field. Where’s the happy medium – or will the fans complain no matter what NASCAR throws into the mix?

Amy: I thought it was funny that all the same people who complain about fake cautions were complaining about the lack thereof at Texas. Make up your minds, people!
Doug: Even though there weren’t many passes for the lead, there was enough drama with Johnson going a lap down and other side-by-side racing to make it interesting.
Bryan: It was a good race as far as I’m concerned. Lack of cautions is not a bad thing.
Beth: See, I thought it was a typical TMS race – which means it’s a lose-lose situation for NASCAR. Whoever ends up out front will run away from the field.
Matt T.: I complained because of the aero problem this CoT is still struggling with. I don’t mind fuel-mileage battles – they’re a nice change of pace, if you ask me – but the downforce issues are just ruining racing at the big tracks.
Amy: Most of the race wasn’t good. “Great” was not the word I’d have used.
Doug: But the way the fuel mileage played out at Texas was great. That was not at all boring – watching Edwards manage fuel and decide whether or not to pit in the final laps. There was a lot of suspense there. If he runs out of fuel, Johnson loses no ground. He did what he had to do.
Beth: And had Carl run out of gas, the talk would have been different today.
Amy: It wasn’t boring, that’s for sure. I don’t think fuel mileage racing is ever boring.
Bryan: Fuel-mileage racing certainly isn’t a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t become pandemic like it did in 2003.
Matt T.: Thing is, the Atlanta race was slow at points during its mid-section; but for some reason, Texas was just painfully boring throughout. Guess it has to do with the multiple grooves at AMS.
Amy: I agree, Matt. The last 10 laps were the only remotely exciting part.
Doug: I thought that there was some good passing at Texas – just not up front.
Bryan: Exactly. Edwards was so hooked up, it overshadowed the pack, and that goes back to ESPN.
Doug: ESPN does need to do more to show the mid-pack racing.
Beth: And that’s where the problem really lies. No one cares to watch the leader drive out to a four-plus second lead. I’d rather see the racing wherever it is.
Amy: It’s insane that every car doesn’t get a minimum three minutes of coverage in a four-hour race.
Matt T.: Jimmie got as much airtime as usual all day. Even though he was a lap down and three mph off the pace.
Amy: That’s why Jimmie got the airtime though, Matt.
Matt T.: I understand, but still, he wasn’t contending. Not even close.
Bryan: There’s too much Johnson/Edwards coverage. Period.
Doug: This issue will be the death of networks covering NASCAR. People are going to start using TrackPass, Sprint phones and HotPass much more.
Doug: I think the announcers were uncomfortable with the notion that anyone but Johnson could win the Chase!
Beth: I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that noticed that.
Amy: Really, Doug? I thought they sounded ecstatic about J.J. losing all those points and Rusty said point blank, while the network was at commercial, that he didn’t care if J.J. never picked it up in the Chase.
Doug: Amy, I think that they were disappointed that Johnson didn’t come back like they predicted he would.
Matt T.: I just think the announcers were bored.
Doug: They were. Especially Punch. They are haphazard in how they cover the race and are reluctant to break from the lead pack.
Bryan: Right on, Doug. They wanted to do a last 30-lap call like they did at Atlanta. They’re just trying to manufacture drama where there isn’t any, same way the media is trying to make this election seem more close and dramatic than it is.
Amy: I never heard that. To me, they sounded absolutely giddy that Jimmie might not win after all.
Doug: I guess it just depends on the filter you hear it through. I always feel like the networks love when Johnson, Gordon and Junior run up front.
Bryan: Johnson got way, way, way too much coverage for being off the pace the way he was.
Doug: I disagree. Johnson was coughing up the points lead. That deserves coverage.
Matt T.: I never have as much problem with the booth as I do the quality of the product on the track. And Sunday’s was poor.
Bryan: Well, ESPN needs to remember that there are 43 cars on the track. It wasn’t that bad if you could follow the running order.
Matt T.: It deserves coverage, but not three straight minutes worth of the Lowe’s Chevy every 10 laps, just following him around. Show me David Gilliland & Juan Pablo Montoya instead!
Amy: I agree with Bryan. I sure as hell got sick of hearing about it, and where was the love for Montoya, who was having a great run until Happy Gilliland showed up?
Matt T.: I’ve just never been a fan of TMS as it is – never seen racing there that got me on the edge of my seat. By the way, who came up with the bogus “Great American Speedway” slogan or whatever it is? It should be dubbed the The NODOZ 500. I’d actually prefer a race at California.
Amy: I agree, Matt. Way to go, NASCAR, for awarding another second race to a track that doesn’t deserve it.

Gilliland was penalized five laps for rough driving on Sunday after he deliberately ran into Montoya, and then was parked for the rest of the race when it became clear that the No. 42 couldn’t return to the track. Was the parking too much punishment? Not enough?

Amy: It was exactly right – amazingly enough.
Matt T.: I agree. NASCAR got one right. Kudos.
Beth: It was just perfect. No matter what happens on the track, you absolutely cannot retaliate with your car!
Matt T.: Not at 185 mph, anyway. I honestly don’t have a problem with it on the track under caution. But Gilliland should have waited for Phoenix if he wanted to punt him headlong into a wall like that. That’s just flat dangerous at Texas.
Doug: Gilliland should be suspended for at least one race and fined, plus get parked for the rest of that race. Kevin Harvick got suspended for punting Coy Gibbs in a Truck Series race in ’02, so Gilliland should, too.
Bryan: I say let the drivers sort it out themselves. Montoya played rough with Gilliland and he played rough back. It happens.
Amy: I think if you deliberately wreck someone to where he can’t return, you shouldn’t return either. Gilliland blocked Montoya, Montoya bumped him with no intent to wreck him and Gilliland pummeled him. This was not Montoya’s fault.
Bryan: NASCAR should not be penalizing drivers for stuff like that. It’s too subjective.
Amy: How was this subjective? Gilliland had to come across two lanes to get to the No. 42!
Bryan: What’s subjective is NASCAR penalizing on-track incidents. Incidents like this – where drivers have disagreements on-track – should be sorted out by the drivers.
Beth: Both of them traded blows, and I’d blame both of them, really. And I don’t care what Gilliland said, it was clearly payback.
Bryan: Montoya is no choir boy. If I had Montoya making contact with my car, I wouldn’t be thinking that it was incidental.
Amy: Montoya said it wasn’t incidental, but he didn’t wreck him, and Gilliland started the whole thing – blocking a lead lap car while multiple laps down.
Matt T.: For Gilliland to turn dead left the way he did, even I thought that was uncalled for. And I’m usually the guy fighting tooth-and-nail with Amy on here about this very subject.
Beth: If you’re going to try to retaliate against someone on the track, you have to at least make it look like a racing incident. Like Amy said, Gilliland should never have been blocking Montoya in the first place.
Bryan: Good point, Beth. I will say it was a little too obvious.
Doug: And Gilliland also could have taken out Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr., not to mention seriously hurt Montoya. That was boneheaded.
Amy: Apparently, Gilliland has never heard of Tony Roper. You don’t intentionally turn a driver at a 200 mph on track. End of story.
Beth: But I wouldn’t really paint JPM as 100% innocent, either. He did his fair share of beating and banging, but the difference is that he was able to do it without wrecking either car.
Doug: Montoya didn’t help his own cause, though, by acting like he usually does and rubbing fenders with him.
Bryan: Montoya made the first contact, Gilliland retaliated. It’s Montoya’s job to clear lapped traffic, not lapped traffic’s job to stay out of the leader’s way.
Amy: Wrong, Bryan. That’s what the pretty blue flag is for. Gilliland caused the first contact with a stupid, uncalled for block. How that guy even has a Cup ride is beyond me.
Bryan: Blue flag is not binding, Amy.
Amy: No, but NASCAR has it for a reason – it is the lapped car’s job to get out of the leaders’ way.
Beth: You’re right, Amy, but JPM could have just as easily let it go and passed him cleanly.
Bryan: Amy, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Telling any racecar driver in any situation to get out of the way is the antithesis of this sport. If it was up to drivers, Gilliland would be getting roughed up on track for not showing respect. No blue flag or “officiating” from NASCAR needed.
Amy: I disagree, Bryan. There was no call to throw a block on a car that many laps ahead of you the way Gilliland did – make him race by you, sure, but what was the purpose of blocking like that?
Doug: I agree with that Amy. But I also believe Gilliland tried to rough him up and wrecked him instead. I don’t he think he really is that stupid.
Matt T.: Well, Gilliland is not a horrible driver as you claim, Amy. He just used bad judgement. Heat of the battle type thing.
Amy: He’s not a good driver. There are plenty of more talented drivers out there.
Matt T.: I could say the same thing about a number of drivers.
Amy: But, Doug if you aren’t good enough to “rough a guy up” without wrecking him, you aren’t good enough to have any business roughing him up.
Beth: Exactly.
Doug: I think that there are more deserving drivers, of course. Gilliland was just in the right place at the right time and got his ride. I do think that he holds his own decently in mediocre equipment.
Matt T.: I think Gilliland is a good driver who just let his emotions get the better of him. I could name five drivers immediately who aren’t as talented but have a ride in the series.
Amy: And I could name five, maybe 10, who are more talented and don’t.
Bryan: Gilliland also paid his dues now, let’s remember. He drove West Series for a while, moved east and drove in lower rides. He’s earned that No. 38.
Doug: I think he is good, not great. He is not totally undeserving of the ride, but there are more deserving. This is how the sport is.
Matt T.: Well said.
Amy: But lots of guys have worked just as hard for just as long or longer, and are better drivers are sitting in NNS, trucks or at home with no ride at all.
Matt T.: Well, dem’s the breaks, as they say. That’s the nature of NASCAR, circa 2008.
Doug: I would love to see Gilly succeed because he is a nice guy and has a great underdog story. In Yates equipment, I don’t see that happening though.
Beth: There’s nothing wrong with racing in the Truck Series, Amy.
Amy: No there isn’t, but there are better drivers in lower series while guys like Gilliland and Travis Kvapil get rides in Cup. I don’t get it sometimes.
Bryan: Well, Gilliland broke through at Kentucky when Yates was looking for a driver. That’s how it works.
Beth: That’s exactly it.
Matt T.: It’s been this way for a while now; you realize that, right Amy?
Amy: Yeah, it has, but it still sucks to see.
Bryan: Let’s not forget that Johnson wasn’t the most talented guy out there when he got Jeff Gordon‘s own car to drive.
Amy: Johnson has always had the talent.
Bryan: If this business was strictly based on talent, we’d have little to talk or write about.
Doug: Here’s another example: David Ragan sure was not deserving of Mark Martin‘s No. 6 car.
Amy: Ragan has learned, though. I haven’t seen signs of that in Gilliland.
Matt T.: Different equipment. That’s a tough call to make. They may be quasi-teammates, but you’re nuts if you think Ragan and Gilliland are getting the same stuff. Doesn’t work that way, and therefore makes that a hard call.
Doug: It is tough to gauge Gilliland’s development in second or third-tier equipment. Gilliland has been in Cup longer and, as Sunday’s race shows, still sometimes makes boneheaded moves. Ragan learned.
Bryan: Gilliland has come a long way as a driver. He’s not a hazard to those around him like he was when he took the No. 38 over.
Amy: If you want to talk equipment, Matt, then how about the drivers who never had better equipment than what the No. 38 has, but raced better than that?
Matt T.: You’re pie-in-the-sky view is admirable, Amy, but ultimately detrimental to your argument. Because we all know there are great talents out there that never get the shot for one reason or another. But that’s the nature of this business, and has been for 25 or 30 years.
Amy: Why, Matt? I’m just saying there are a half-dozen guys who deserve that ride just as much who don’t drive like Gilliland did on Sunday. And that makes it right because?
Matt T.: This didn’t just happen this past April. I didn’t say it makes it right, but that’s the reality. Complaining about it in this context is chasing your own tail.
Amy: No, but Gilliland never should have gotten that ride in the first place.
Bryan: Who should Yates have put in the No. 38, Amy? The only development guy they had at the time was Stephen Leicht.
Amy: Johnny Benson, Kenny Wallace, Mike Skinner, Jason Keller… there are at least a half dozen drivers out there who have paid their dues and are better drivers.
Matt T.: I knew who you had loaded before you fired the gun. But Gilliland’s not 18, ya know. He came up paying his dues – won in underfunded equipment in the Busch Series and got the call. That’s how it should be done.
Bryan: Benson, Wallace and Skinner all also had their shots at Cup. And I hardly think that Gilliland deciding to rough JPM up is grounds for him to lose his ride or have what he has accomplished taken from him. Gilliland was very accomplished on the West Coast, and let’s face it, that Nationwide win he got at Kentucky was one of the greatest upsets the sport has ever seen. And would they have even left the BDR trucks they were in for Yates in the shape it was when Gilliland came in?
Beth: Hey! Leave Benson and Skinner outta this! I want them to stay put. They’re great for the Truck Series and I certainly don’t want them going anywhere!
Doug: All those drivers you named, Amy, are in the waning years of their careers, at least according to sponsors. They are more deserving on paper, but try pushing it in a corporate boardroom. Maybe Yates thought that Gilliland was a better package and proved he could drive because of the equipment he won in.
Amy: …and the No. 38 has such lucrative sponsors with Gilliland in it.
Matt T.: Are they really more deserving, Amy? Just because they have more experience? Then why haven’t they got the call again? I just don’t buy that. Benson was a winner in what was essentially an MB2 car and Skinner was in a damn RCR Chevy!
Bryan: Let’s not forget that Yates Racing has gotten better since signing Gilliland.
Doug: The veterans all had their shot and it passed. Gilliland came in at the right time and will eventually get the boot if he doesn’t put up the right numbers.

Kyle Busch tied Sam Ard‘s Nationwide Series record for wins in a season at Texas. But will his accomplishment go down in history in the same breath as Ard’s, or is it overshadowed by the fact that Busch’s wins came with the backing of a Cup owner, with a Cup driver behind the wheel?

Bryan: Um, overshadowed ever so slightly. There are literally dozens of drivers that could win in that No. 18 if they got behind the wheel of it.
Beth: I do think this will be overshadowed a little, but it’s still a record just the same. And yes, it’s a completely different era.
Amy: Again, different eras. Stats don’t really compare. But I do think that Ard’s run was more impressive given that he didn’t have a Cup team’s money thrown at him.
Doug: I think it was easier to win back then than now, so they are at least the same. Busch’s deal may even be more impressive. The whole game has changed a lot since the mid-1980s.
Matt T.: Well, give them both credit. Yeah, Kyle’s in great equipment, but so is Edwards. And Kyle’s won with Braun Racing this year, too. Good job, Kyle. Great job, actually.
Bryan: The budget of Busch’s Nationwide cars this year just blows away who he’s racing against, though. For crying out loud, with the cars he’s got, Busch damned well better win 10 races!
Matt T.: He still has to wheel ’em to victory lane.
Amy: But as good as those cars are, anyone could wheel them to victory lane. I don’t think it was easier to win back in the 1980s, either. The competition was, if anything, closer – because it wasn’t dominated by a few Cup-owned or driven teams.
Doug: Yeah. Busch has to beat a lot more competitive cars than Ard had to, but that is another argument altogether, man.
Bryan: Busch beats 10 or so competitive cars and 30 that are completely overwhelmed. Even Childress really doesn’t win that often.
Amy: Childress won the owner’s championship the last two years.
Bryan: RCR won a lot of races – until this season.
Matt T.: I think Ard’s accomplishment was awesome. And being in that era, we look back on it with much more fondness now. Meanwhile, Kyle’s season hasn’t had a chance to sink in with us yet. In 20 years, we’ll be waxing poetic about 2008, too.
Amy: Only because the NNS will be gone in 20 years, not because what Busch is doing is good for the series. And any Cup owner can buy NNS wins, Doug.
Beth: But Amy, that’s a completely different monster in itself.
Bryan: Well, we all know Busch is talented. He doesn’t need to be mowing down the development ranks to prove it.
Doug: Either way, the margin of error for Busch is much greater now than it was back then.
Matt T.: Look, it’s impossible to compare drivers of different eras, and therefore accomplishments of different eras. Both had unbelievably successful seasons, and both deserve the acknowledgement.
Amy: I agree, Matt – although I tend to think doing it on a lower budget is more impressive.
Bryan: I don’t think what Busch has done is all that impressive. If I’m Joe Gibbs and I’m pouring in all that cash and have cars that good, I expect 10 wins.
Amy: But I don’t think you can compare head-to-head; the stats don’t translate.
Matt T.: Everyone was on a lower budget back then, Amy. It’s all relative.
Doug: I think they are equally impressive. 10 wins are 10 wins.
Beth: You can’t really even talk about budgets. They were so much different then than they are now.
Bryan: But the disparity in budgets has grown a lot, too.
Amy: Relative, yes, but accounting for inflation, there was still no Cup backing and money being thrown at them. Cup drivers weren’t trying to steal their championship.
Matt T.: But that’s the playing field of today, just like Ard’s was back in ’83. Again, it’s relative to the times. Congrats to both.
Beth: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series, but that’s what we get right now. That being said, if a driver wants to race, let him race, no matter what the series is.
Amy: Cup drivers don’t belong in the series any more than Olympic gymnasts belong in a beginner’s competition.
Bryan: Congrats to JGR for their total dominance, but the gap they have over the majority of the Nationwide field this year really diminishes their accomplishment.
Matt T.: Drivers have been double dipping since Ard raced, ya know. Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt were running the Busch Series a lot then.
Amy: Waltrip and Earnhardt never tried to take the championship away from the real series drivers, Matt.
Matt T.: They dabbled.

OK, predictions for Phoenix?

Doug: Jeff Gordon. Why not?
Bryan: Kevin Harvick.
Beth: Tony Stewart.
Matt T.: Gimme Truex. I’m going outside the Chase. His teammate was a race winner before his crew chief screwed him in the spring.
Amy: Johnson wins, but doesn’t clinch.
Doug: I do think Johnson will run well, and do more than he needs to do to protect his lead.
Bryan: Johnson won’t clinch, but he will seal the Chase up.
Beth: Johnson will run well enough to have a comfortable lead going into Homestead.
Amy: I hope so. I want to see history made for sure.
Beth: I don’t necessarily see him in victory lane, but I definitely see him in the top five.

2008 Mirror Prediction Chart

Bryan Davis Keith picked a winner last week, but it wasn’t enough to make a major dent in Amy Henderson’s predictions lead. While Keith took Edwards with his pick, Henderson also rode the fuel mileage of Gordon to a second-place finish, giving her a 301-point lead with just two races left on the year. Barring a disaster, she’ll be headed to her first ever title in the second year of the Mirror Predictions competition.

Behind her, Vito is gaining rapidly on Tony Lumbis for third place, but neither is in contention for the title. Two of our five writers picked winners last week. This time around, who will you trust?

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 4,769 -0 35 3 15 20
Bryan Davis Keith 4,468 -301 29 6 16 23
Tony Lumbis 3,520 -1,249 26 4 9 16
Vito Pugliese 3,294 -1,475 24 2 8 14
Matt Taliaferro 2,573 -2,196 19 1 6 11
Mike Neff 2,418 -2,351 19 1 6 9
Tom Bowles 2,242 -2,527 19 1 6 9
Kurt Smith 1,900 -2,869 16 1 5 8
Tommy Thompson 710 -4,059 6 0 2 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 341 -4,428 3 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 289 -4,480 2 1 1 1
Danny Peters 190 -4,579 1 1 1 1
Ren Jonsin 155 -4,614 1 0 0 1

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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