Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR Safety Gone Overboard, Catching Hendrick & Steve Wallace… Cup Driver?

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?)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

Saturday’s Nationwide Series race saw Joey Logano grab just his second career victory in the series. Is this the confidence builder he needs to get his Cup career on track, or was it simply further proof this series is where he should have been all along?

Amy: He should be in the Nationwide Series. NASCAR needs to require a full year of Nationwide experience before even considering a Cup license.
Kurt: No and yes. Let’s start with his having probably the best car on the track in the Nationwide Series. Driving the Cup car is a totally different animal.
Beth: He should be in the Nationwide Series full time. Period.
Amy: Will this win translate to Cup? Not likely.
Bryan: Right. That win will not translate into miraculous confidence that turns the No. 20 Cup car around. As Clint Bowyer said, a monkey could win in that No. 20 car.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Sliced Bread Keeps the Nationwide Series Stale Without His Presence

Kurt: I think he’s having an awful time adjusting to the new car, and he’s also learning most of the tracks for the first time – two problems in one. Joe Gibbs said he might have been better off with some more testing, but it is what it is.
Amy: My grandma could win in his Nationwide car. It’s a nice win but not really a great accomplishment in the grand scheme of things.
Kurt: Well he did have to beat Kyle Busch, give him that.
Bryan: It’s great for him to get seat time, but a Nationwide win in a top-tier car at Nashville doesn’t provide a lot that will translate to the Cup car.
Beth: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Joey is still young and there was no reason to rush him up to the Cup side of things before he was ready. It remains to be seen if Joe Gibbs has the patience for Joey to gain the experience and start winning races on the Cup side before that patience runs out.
Bryan: I don’t doubt JGR’s patience Beth, but I do doubt Home Depot’s. Remember, JGR was awful patient with JJ Yeley.
Amy: Gibbs should have gotten someone for a year or two and developed Logano properly and he easily could have; anyone with a pulse would love to drive a JGR car for a year or two. Bringing him up was a foolish idea.
Kurt: I think Logano will be all right if he is given enough of a chance. Hopefully Gibbs will remember his situation being unique. And Bryan’s got a point: A sponsor will only put up with so many 33rd-place finishes.
Beth: I was actually just going to say Joe Gibbs can be a pretty patient man. He stuck out a lot of years with the Redskins.
Bryan: Plus, with the Top 35 coming into play, Home Depot may have to race in before the season is out.
Kurt: This is the second guy in a row that Gibbs may have put in the car too soon. Perhaps he should let these guys have the Nationwide cars first.
Tom: I think it was a sad glimpse of what might have been. So ironic the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash program had to carry over because Logano isn’t eligible for the program. He could have carried that series back to prominence; instead, both Logano and Nationwide are on the verge of falling apart. Would you ever have expected one decision to have such far-reaching implications?
Amy: How could he have carried that series back to prominence? All he is is another Cup driver throwing money around. If he was in it instead of Cup it would be different. And even this win came with fewer Cup guys than usual in the field.
Bryan: I don’t think Logano would have necessarily changed the Nationwide Series. Brad Keselowski is just as capable of challenging Busch and Carl Edwards over there but ESPN is comfy with Kyle and Carl.
Kurt: You can’t really expect ESPN not to do that, Bryan. Not excusing it, but why should ESPN stand on principle there, when NASCAR, the sponsors or the teams aren’t bothering? And Tom, who is his competition in the Nationwide Series? It’s all Cup guys, unless he whoops on them all the time, he probably won’t do much for the series.
Bryan: The problem with the Nationwide Series is it bought into the Kyle vs. Carl scenario and that’s what they’re going to ride on all season long.
Tom: He’s at least another guy that could have given them a run for their money, Kurt. You’re not going to have instantaneous change, in my opinion. You need to have a couple of guys capable of tilting it back in the other direction… and that gets more owners and drivers thinking that they can start a program and compete against these Cup guys again.
Kurt: Perhaps. But if every full-time Nationwide guy has to be a superstar, where is the talent getting developed?
Amy: It isn’t, Kurt, hence the issue in the first place.
Tom: Right there, Kurt! The best Nationwide guys have become the future Cup Series talent back in the day. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Bowyer, all contended and/or won titles before moving up to the Cup level.
Bryan: Wasn’t it ironic to hear Edwards ask the cameras why Kelly Bires didn’t have a full-time ride?

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 Pepsi 300 at Nashville

Amy: Just shows how out of touch the Cup guys are with the NNS, Bryan.
Kurt: I thought about that too Bryan. I like Carl but he needs to look in the mirror on that one.
Bryan: And the media coverage isn’t helping either. Bires flat made Edwards look foolish late in the race and they cut away from his pass.
Amy: The media coverage is horrible. All they show are the Cup guys.
Tom: As for how this effects Logano going forward, any win is obviously a confidence boost. But it comes at a track where he doesn’t run in the Cup Series, in a car different than the Cup car, so the jury’s out on how much it applies. At the very least, it may allow the criticism to subside a bit if he just hangs on to the Top 35.
Bryan: Logano won a NNS race that in all honesty he should have won. It has no significance.
Amy: Logano has shown that no matter how talented a driver is, you can’t replace experience in lower series.
Kurt: Well, the win won’t help Joey in the Cup Series. It was at a Nationwide track with a Nationwide car. No help in either form.
Beth: The win may help a little with his confidence level knowing he can get to victory lane, even if it was in a Nationwide car.

Joe Nemechek was prevented from finishing after a harrowing wreck in which his car landed on its roof, similar to Dale Earnhardt‘s Daytona wreck in 1997. Unbelievably, the car kept going, but despite its ability to stay up to speed, NASCAR wouldn’t allow Nemechek to finish the race – unlike what it did for Earnhardt 12 years prior. Is this the latest sign that the sport’s safety restrictions are spiraling out of control?

Amy: Absolutely not. NASCAR made the right call.
Kurt: Of course not. Nemechek should be cheered for that, but the car has to be safe enough to withstand a wreck.
Bryan: NASCAR was way off parking Nemechek. That was disgraceful.
Beth: There was really no reason to park him.
Amy: Why not? His car had a major safety issue.
Tom: The car was obviously in ridiculous shape. But there were only less than five laps to go here. The fans would have loved to see that car finish.
Bryan: The man drove his car away after he did a mid-air flip. You do that, you’ve earned the right to finish.
Kurt: There were a couple of reasons I think Beth. For one, you don’t know if Nemechek was injured in any way. He could have blacked out or something.
Beth: Jason Keller‘s crew was pretty happy with how Nemechek wheeled that car.
Tom: I’m torn, because technically it’s the right call and you don’t want to be inconsistent. But it’s a special case. Bryan said it best.
Amy: But then where do you draw the line next time Tom? “Well, we let him go five laps, we’ll let this guy go 10….”
Tom: I don’t think people would be looking for him to finish if there were 50 laps to go. It was the very, very end of the race. We all knew there were five laps left.
Amy: Do you keep doing that til you let a guy with malfunctioning roof flaps go half a race at Talladega and fly into the stands?
Tom: Nemechek could have wheeled it around on the apron for a couple of laps.
Beth: No one knew what extent Earnhardt’s injuries were in ‘97. Just let him finish the race.
Kurt: Didn’t Richard Petty say in the ambulance once that if they get his car fixed up he can win this thing?
Bryan: If the driver is capable of driving the car away from the wreck and to the pits, there is no reason to park him.
Kurt: But the guy was just upside down. He doesn’t even know how it has affected him yet. And weren’t there cracks in the windshield?
Tom: Exactly. I think Bryan’s on fire with this one. You’re what I’m going to start calling “over-safe.” It’s like the overprotective mother not letting her child play in broad daylight five feet in front of her because she’s afraid he’ll trip on a log or something.
Kurt: There isn’t any such thing as being over-safe. People get killed in this sport.
Beth: But Kurt if you just sit around waiting for a driver to be killed in this sport, you’re going to constantly worry. There were five laps left. What harm could really have been done? His rollcage was still in place, he was just missing the side of his car.
Tom: Yes Kurt, people get killed in this sport. And it’s awful… it’s not what anybody wants. But the chances of that happening to someone hanging at the back of the field at half speed are far less than someone going three-wide for a position under a green-white-checkered at 180 mph.
Bryan: Over-safe is the word of the day. Nemechek was obviously OK, he drove the car through the flip to the pits. If I were him I’d have driven back on track anyway.
Kurt: I believe there were some problems with the car.
Beth: If there was truly a problem with the car, then it should have been the team’s call to park it, not NASCAR’s.
Kurt: I will say this though: I love Nemechek’s attitude.

See also
Fan's View: Classy Joe Nemechek Proves Winning Isn't Everything

Amy: This isn’t a case of letting a safe car go back out. It had a major safety feature that wasn’t working properly.
Bryan: Motorsports… is… dangerous. It is dangerous to drive, it is dangerous to pit, it is dangerous to spectate. No matter what you do.
Amy: Yes it is, and it’s nothing short of stupid to let a driver race without properly functioning safety equipment, whether for five laps or 500.
Beth: Exactly Bryan.
Kurt: That doesn’t mean you don’t take steps to minimize the danger.
Bryan: That’s why we have big fences, rollcages and restraints, Kurt.
Kurt: And HANS devices that some drivers, including Earnhardt, refused to wear.
Tom: Look, NASCAR isn’t a kiddie amusement park ride where the kids go all single file at five mph. I’m sorry, but it’s not. Who watches that thing other than the parents? No one. And that’s what we’re on the verge of becoming. Look, racing is a borderline extreme sport. There is risk. You can minimize risk, but there’s a point you have to let go.
Amy: So would you ride a triple loop coaster with a broken seat belt or lap bar? Because that’s what Nemechek would have been doing.
Bryan: Amy I’ve rigged rollercoaster restraints so they didn’t work. The danger is part of the attraction.
Beth: Do you honestly think these guys aren’t aware of the dangers they face every time they get into their cars? If a driver feels like he can keep racing, then he needs to be allowed to race.
Amy: The driver can’t see the outside of his car to see if his safety features are intact, Beth.
Bryan: The safety in question was that of Nemechek’s. The fact that he got back to the pits tells me all I need to. He was able to drive, he wanted to finish and he did a kickass job to stay in the show. It was shameful of NASCAR to park him.
Amy: No Bryan, it wasn’t just Nemechek. If a roof flap malfunctions, you can have a racecar in the stands.
Beth: But my point is NASCAR should not be the ones to step in and make that decision for the team.
Bryan: Even with the roof flaps Amy, Nemechek’s car flipped. And that is a risk that all fans take when they sit in the grandstands.
Beth: And NASCAR isn’t the only place that can happen Amy.
Kurt: Fans can get hit with foul balls too Bryan, that doesn’t mean you don’t put a fence behind home plate.
Bryan: The fence in Nashville was still intact, Kurt.
Kurt: That wasn’t quite the point.
Amy: Right, and NASCAR made the right call not to let it out there with the flaps not functioning. Without them it could have flown. If you are at speed in the most volatile point in a race, you are certainly at risk of getting turned, and if you are turned in a Nationwide car, you are in very real danger of going airborne.
Tom: Let’s consider the speed he would have been running here. We’re talking 100-140 mph on the apron… for a track like that, that’s an easily controllable speed.
Amy: 100 on the apron is stupid, Tom. Ask Kevin Lepage.
Bryan: Kevin didn’t stay below the blend line Amy – you can’t compare those two.
Amy: There is a reason NASCAR doesn’t allow every damaged car in the race to putt around the apron at 50 mph below the minimum speed.
Bryan: Nemechek didn’t get a chance to prove if he could hit minimum speed though. Preemptive parking is not cool.
Kurt: Remember what happened in the aftermath of Earnhardt’s passing? Everyone wanted to blame someone. Bill Simpson got out of the seat belt business he felt so bad. If something happens that could have been prevented someone has to live with it.
Tom: Kurt, believe me I understand that. My worst fear is to cover a race where a driver ends up dead. But when you take away the awe factor from NASCAR, you take away a large portion of what made the sport successful in the first place.
Amy: Bottom line: if there is an obvious malfunction of any safety feature of a racecar, it is NASCAR’s obligation to not allow that car on track until the problem is fixed.
Beth: There were only five laps left. In my opinion, Nemechek should have been allowed to finish that race.
Bryan: My final thought: I wish I had been in the No. 87 car, because I would have gone back on track with or without NASCAR’s blessing. I just drove through a freaking flip, I’m finishing the damn race.
Amy: That’s why they don’t let guys race with a broken seatbelt, window net, etc. So if it’s OK to continue with five laps left, when is it not OK? Seven laps? 10? 50? 100? It’s a slippery slope NASCAR cannot afford to ride.
Bryan: Over-safety is the slippery slope, and NASCAR is out of control sliding on it.
Kurt: If it was a rule to enforce, then they were right to enforce it.
Amy: Have you ever seen a driver die? Seen them bring out the tarp to cover the blood? Seen the other drivers grieve while they try to continue?
Tom: But Amy, even with all these crazy restrictions someone else can still die. There’s a risk you can never take away. And if we want to 100% sure we keep everyone alive, you know what? Time to stop the sport of stock car racing.
Beth: Amy we all know this is a dangerous sport. But even with the restrictions and safety features drivers still die.
Amy: You have that factor Tom, allowing drivers to race without safety equipment is what takes it away, because watching a driver die takes away any awe in the blink of an eye.
Tom: Because throwing yourself in a car and driving 200 mph is inherently unsafe, no matter what type of car you’re in. The sooner we understand that, the better. The X Games people understand this.
Bryan: The final decision belongs to the racers, not the officials, if you ask me.
Amy: But the X Games officials wouldn’t allow a snowboarder to take even one jump witout a helmet, so why should NASCAR allow a car to continue without all its safety features intact?
Tom: Nemechek had all of his driver safety equipment on!
Amy: The roof flaps were the issue. Roof flap = safety equipment.
Tom: The athlete was intact. It was the car that wasn’t.
Beth: The final decision should always rest in the hands of the driver and the teams. When NASCAR starts to step in and deem a car unsafe after a wreck, you start to head straight into a gray area.
Tom: And shouldn’t we trust the athlete with his own equipment?
Amy: Equipment he can’t see? No.
Beth: The roof flaps didn’t keep him from rolling to begin with Amy.
Kurt: Tom, if there was a safety issue in the car, isn’t it the official’s moral obligation to prevent it from continuing? The officials have to have a say whether a car is able to safely continue. If I’m the official, I check out the car and if it doesn’t conform to safety standards, it sits.
Beth: Quite a few damaged cars do go back on the track. There’s nothing wrong with that. If it can run, let it finish!
Amy: If a driver wants to kill himself, maybe he should be allowed to, but you cannot risk the lives of fans in the stands, ever.
Beth: The fans take that risk the second they buy the tickets and walk into those stands!
Bryan: Amy, every fan that shows up in the grandstands is taking a risk by being there, period.
Tom: I’m sorry, but I don’t see how Nemechek returning to the race puts fans in the stands in jeopardy. I just don’t.
Amy: Sorry, but that doesn’t fly. Sure fans take a risk, but for NASCAR to not take steps to minimize it is morally wrong.
Beth: And they do. What do you think the tall fences are for?
Bryan: Yeah, tall fences, racecars that in all honesty are safer than what we drive on the highway, tons of restraint devices…
Amy: Like I said, get back to me when you see a driver die in front of you.

Two months into the season, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have positioned themselves as the two best cars on the circuit. What does everyone else need to do to catch up, and who’s best positioned to give them a run for their money heading into the summer?

Kurt: Edwards – if his pit crew stops screwing up. And Kyle Busch if he can stop taking his anger out on the 30th-running guys.
Bryan: Kyle Busch for sure, and if they keep it up, Tony Stewart.
Amy: I agree that Kyle can, if he stops making stupid moves.
Kurt: Tony, definitely. I’m very impressed with Smoke.
Tom: Looks like all Hendrick, all the time so far. But I agree, Edwards and Busch have the best shot.
Amy: But in all honesty, at this point it’s Johnson’s or Gordon’s to lose.
Kurt: I don’t know about that, Amy. Gordon won at Texas with a fast pit crew and an impossible-to-pass car. Carl had the car to beat but lost 11 spots in the pits.
Amy: Races have been won and lost in the pits for years.
Kurt: True, but I’m just saying it wasn’t like the No. 24 outraced everyone. He was maybe the fourth best car that day.
Amy: You only have to be good at the end.
Tom: I hink that if Kenseth can get his act back together, his team may have something for ’em. I mean, he was the class of the field the first two races.
Bryan: Smoke always hits high gear in the summer and the way he’s already running, he could pick up four or five wins come summer.
Tom: And Kenseth could have been in contention for a third if his pit crew didn’t go nuts. Kurt’s right, there’s something going on with the RFR crews that just isn’t quite right.
Kurt: How about David Reutimann? We keep writing him off and he keeps hanging in there.
Amy: Reutimann might make the Chase, don’t see him coming close to a title.
Beth: Don’t forget about Kurt Busch quietly sitting there in the top five.
Kurt: The No. 2 team seems to have figured out the speedways, and that could definitely make Kurt a factor.
Amy: It could if they figure it out anywhere else.
Beth: They’ve shown they’ve got a bit of work to go when it comes to the short-track program with the CoT, but Busch’s team has definitely hit on something during the offseason.
Bryan: I still see Kurt falling behind as the season progresses – unlike HMS, JGR and RFR, he’s not going to have anyone to lean on for help as the season goes on.
Kurt: The No. 2 car is good at plate tracks too. But I think if you’re great on the speedways you can be mediocre everywhere else and be OK.
Bryan: Penske always seems to get ahead, then drop like a rock.
Beth: I don’t know about that Bryan. They seem to have the 1.5-mile tracks down right now.
Amy: I don’t see the same chemistry with the No. 99 this year. The No. 18 is the biggest threat to Gordon and Johnson. And I would not count out Bowyer for a title run.
Kurt: I’m not worried about Carl. They’ll fix it.
Beth: The No. 18 may be the biggest threat if Kyle can calm down a little and not get himself in a deep hole early in the race.
Bryan: Before Texas I would have mentioned Bowyer, but man did they take a step back in Fort Worth.
Kurt: I don’t see Clint making a run until RCR gets their intermediate program in gear. Kevin Harvick was awful at Texas, too.
Tom: I like Clint. I like Clint a lot. But RCR just doesn’t run up front enough to be a title contender.
Kurt: RCR is good everywhere but the speedways, but that’s the bulk of the schedule.
Tom: I’m not fooled anymore. They need to lead laps, not finish fifth. Bowyer has done a fantastic job so far but he’s always going to be a third-place points finisher if he doesn’t win races.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: Clint Bowyer Still Flying Under the Radar

Amy: He runs close enough to the front. He doesn’t have to win every week.
Tom: No, I agree with that Amy. But he has to at least run up front every once in awhile. You can’t lead nine laps all season and then expect to contend in the playoffs. Terry Labonte could win titles under the old points system, but the Chase? It’s much harder to do it with that style.
Kurt: When you run consistently in the top 10, you can get in the Chase and all, but a DNF will kill you.
Bryan: For Bowyer to have a true title shot, he has to win Loudon and the short tracks – not top fives, but wins.
Amy: Which, in my book, puts Bowyer as serious competition. Only Johnson has proved he can win like that in the Chase and run up front in every Chase race. With Talladega so late in the Chase, I think it will play differently this year. Consistency could trump wins if the consistent car comes out of ‘Dega with a top five.
Kurt: That’s the big challenge ultimately: Who can topple the No. 48 in the Chase? I say if anyone can do it, it’s the No. 99.
Bryan: The No. 24 team can as well.
Kurt: By the way, has anyone been noticing that No. 5 car creeping up the standings?
Bryan: The No. 5 car is still the third-place car at HMS.
Kurt: I don’t know about that. Save for the broken engines he’s been right up there with them.
Amy: It was bound to happen, Kurt. They’re getting the best of everything at Hendrick. It’d be hard not to get better.
Tom: I think Mark Martin‘s good for the Chase, but in his first year behind the wheel there I find it hard to believe he’d be able to climb all the way up into championship contention.
Amy: The No. 5 is the third place-car at HMS and at this point in his career, Martin is the third-best driver at HMS.
Tom: There’s still a big difference between the 24/48 shops and the 5/88. And with turmoil at the No. 88, you wonder if they could bring the No. 5 down a bit.
Kurt: Hendrick is probably the best organization out there, but there’s no reason why Roush Fenway and Gibbs couldn’t put one of theirs on top. I’m not counting the No. 11 out, either. And as for Junior, he hasn’t been running terribly, but I seriously wonder where his head has been in several races this year. He’s missed his pit box how many times now?
Bryan: I agree Kurt. The driver seems to be the issue in that camp this year.
Amy: Junior’s head really isn’t in the game, but I don’t think that, in itself, effects Martin.
Kurt: No, it doesn’t. I sincerely hope Martin makes the Chase and is in the title hunt to the end.
Bryan: It does though Amy, because Junior’s seat is safe, which means whether its driver or not, the team is under the gun in the 5/88 shop. They will impact each other.
Amy: What effects Martin is he’s 50-plus. Physiologically, he’s not the driver he was at 30 or even 40. That’s not a knock on him, that’s biological fact.
Kurt: Martin takes pretty good care of himself. I think he’s in as good a shape as most guys out there.
Beth: That has nothing to with his engine failures this season. That’s why he ended up in the hole in the first place.
Tom: He’ll be the first driver to win at 50 since… get this… Morgan Shepherd in 1997.
Kurt: Right, the engine failures and busted tire destroyed his standings position.
Amy: Win? Sure. But champion? He’ll fall short.
Bryan: And that’s why he’ll announce soon that he’ll be back for… one… more… run… in 2010.
Beth: Best chance to beat JG and JJ? Edwards or Kyle Busch. But I wouldn’t count out that No. 2 car. They’ve only finished off the lead lap once this season and even when they had a decent amount of damage on the car at Daytona they managed to pull out a top 10. I’m not sure he’s championship material yet this year, but I’m willing to bet he’d give Johnson and Gordon a run for their money.
Kurt: The top guys at Roush Fenway and Gibbs will be right there, and I’m not sure the No. 24 is back to form just yet.

Rusty Wallace says that he is considering moving his two-car Nationwide Series operation to Sprint Cup for the 2010 season – but are they ready for the big time?

Beth: I don’t see why the organization can’t do it.
Amy: The organization, perhaps… but not with those drivers.
Kurt: I’m not sold that Steve Wallace is ready for it.
Amy: I don’t think he’ll ever be ready. Steve would be a great drag racer.
Beth: And Brendan Gaughan has run in the Cup Series before, and that didn’t work out very well.
Bryan: No and no. They haven’t won in over a season, and both Wallace and Gaughan are not Cup ready.
Tom: I think it’s a bit of a desperation move. I think RWI is getting tired of hunting for sponsorship at the Nationwide level and thinks they can do it better in Cup. Little do they know being RCR cars No. 7, No. 8 or whatever they would be probably won’t make them much more than mid-pack contenders.
Kurt: Gaughan might be OK. He was in the Truck Series for a while and spent a season in Cup.
Amy: Gaughan might be ready – he kind of got the short end of the equipment stick last time round.
Kurt: I think you’re right, Amy. I thought it was sour grapes on his part, but Travis Kvapil ran just as bad.
Bryan: Steve is much improved, but he’s not Cup ready.
Tom: God no. And at this point will he ever be Cup ready?
Amy: No. You need to possess a certain amount of talent to be Cup ready.
Kurt: The 5-hour Energy drinks might help.
Beth: He’s got a long way to go before he’s Cup ready. But not everything he does on the track is bad.
Amy: No, his pace laps are usually decent.
Bryan: Hey, Wallace is not running that bad this year. His charge back to ninth this Saturday was impressive. I wouldn’t write him off yet, but it is way too premature to even speak of taking him Cup racing.
Beth: Did you miss the save he made Saturday in Nashville, Amy? He kept the car off the wall and still finished ninth.
Amy: If he was the first driver to have a great save, I’d be impressed. It’s not just on the racetrack, either. Maturity-wise, he is NOT ready for the pressures of Cup.
Beth: And you don’t think keeping the car off the wall when you’re spinning across the track in front of the field isn’t at least a little bit of talent?
Amy: Sure it is. But to be a great driver, you have to show that talent consistently… and he never has.
Beth: No one ever said he was a great driver. But he’s not the talentless driver most people make him out to be.
Bryan: On paper, neither was Johnson for a while.
Amy: Jimmie never took out a fence in the garage.
Bryan: That we know of….
Tom: Jimmie may have sucked in the Busch Series, but he was WAYYY better than Steve. Not even a comparison. Meanwhile, I think Gaughan is dedicated in trying to give himself a second chance. He’s definitely done well in RWI equipment, but passion can only count for so much.
Kurt: Gaughan was hanging with the Cup guys in the standings for a while. He may soon have a Cup ride regardless. There’s a lot of guys that need replacing out there.
Bryan: RWI is, as a whole I think, making progress. They’ve got two competitive cars week in and week out, Wallace has improved dramatically from where he was and Gaughan has done better than he was doing in the trucks. They need to be patient and keep doing what they’re doing.
Beth: I understand the desire to move up to the Cup Series, but if RWI makes that move too soon, they risk the entire organization going under. Since they’re making improvements, they really should just stay put for now.
Bryan: Precisely, Beth.
Tom: Steve Wallace seems to have unlimited immunity driving an RWI car. So if that’s the case, why rush it? Why not wait for him to be ready?
Amy: Because he won’t be, Tom.
Bryan: Steve 2009 >>>>>> Steve 2007.
Beth: Do you have a crystal ball that shows you the future, Amy? You never know what can happen with enough track time.
Kurt: I sure hope Amy doesn’t have to interview Steve someday.
Bryan: I’d pay to see it.

OK, predictions for Phoenix?

Amy: Johnson.
Bryan: Gordon makes it two in a row and serves notice that the Drive for Five is going to culminate this year.
Beth: It’s hard to bet against the guy who has won the last three races at the track, but I think this is the week that Stewart finally shuts his critics up and pulls into Victory Lane.
Kurt: This is crazy, but I’m gonna go with Martin.
Tom: I think I’m going to go with Martin too. He’s owed one here from last year. And I just think he’s been running well enough for Hendrick to give him the car he needs.
Bryan: I’m going to laugh when his engine blows.
Amy: Racing doesn’t owe anybody anything, Tom.
Bryan: Except Nemechek.
Kurt: The Chase owes JG a title.
Tom: By the way, the darkhorse could be Bowyer, though. I’m going to get a lot of flak for that, seeing as I spent a lot of energy saying how he can’t win. Phoenix is a good track for both him and RCR.
Bryan: Here’s a bold prediction: Dave Blaney will not finish the race.
Kurt: Boris Said will not start the race.
Tom: And Logano will surely crash in the race.
Bryan: I’ll take some of that action… oh, and Ken Schrader wins at the Rock this Sunday, speaking of being owed something.

Mirror Predictions 2009

Welcome to our third consecutive year of Mirror Predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Mirror Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through seven races (and the Shootout) this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Kurt Smith 7 7 0 2 4
Bryan Davis Keith 6 -1 7 1 3 4
Mike Neff 5 -2 5 0 2 2
Amy Henderson 5 -2 8 1 1 4
Tom Bowles 3 -4 3 0 1 1
Vito Pugliese 4 -3 6 0 0 4
Jeff Meyer 2 -5 4 0 0 2
Matt Taliaferro -3 -10 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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