Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Carl Long’s Public Whipping, Gauging David Reutimann’s Upset & Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

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:
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

How does David Reutimann‘s win in the Coca-Cola 600 rate among the great upsets in NASCAR history? And does it salvage what, to that point, had been a rain-soaked, inconsistent 340-mile mess left at the mercy of Mother Nature?

Kurt: A great upset? I never thought of it like that. Casey Mears‘s win would have be an upset then?
Amy: I don’t know if I’d call it one of the greatest upsets, because it wasn’t as if Reutimann won it under green. But it was a neat victory and props to that team for playing their strategy cards just right.
Jeff: It rates right up there with his owner’s second win at Daytona as an upset. It was a win, yes, but just one of being at the right place at right time.
Kurt: Then Matt Kenseth sort of got an upset win at Daytona, right? You know, a lot of races are won on rain delay and fuel-mileage gambles, it’s nice to see a team get a win that way, but I don’t know if “upset” is the word I’d use.
Beth: Yeah, I guess you could call it a minor upset because no one expected Reutimann to win it, but it wasn’t a huge upset. Rodney Childers was the first crew chief to have the guts to make the call to stay out and it paid off for them.
Amy: I think to have an upset, it has to be won by racing, not strategy. However, I have to say the fans who say Reutimann “stole” the win… well, sour grapes much? That team won it because they put themselves in position to win if it rained and you can’t fault them for that.
Jeff: If it had gone green the full length, he would not have won.
Kurt: Very likely not. But they were in the perfect position for the gamble. It’s a “stolen” win, but that isn’t meant to be an insult; they played it right. Sometimes even the great teams “steal” wins.

See also
Full Throttle: Good Strategy vs. Dumb Luck

Beth: The team was well aware that they would have to pit if the race went back under green. He didn’t steal the win, they were up front when the race was final. End of story.
Jeff: No he didn’t ‘steal it’ because they could have stayed out too. This is more a crew chief victory than a driver victory. It’s all a part of racing. Rain wins are still a win.
Amy: True, but lots of teams win on crew chief calls.
Kurt: Yeah I don’t think most fans would begrudge that. I mean seriously, that’s why you take the gamble in the first place. If the race goes back green, the No. 00 is in serious trouble.
Beth: I don’t like rain-shortened races any more than anyone else, but the team up front when the race is over is who gets the win, regardless of whether it’s 600 miles or 340.5. Even Reutimann said it wasn’t what he envisioned his first win as, but you take them where you can get them.
Kurt: You can’t really blame the No. 18 team, either. They went with the best odds.
Amy: Do I think this win will turn things around for that team overnight? No, absolutely not. But enjoy it while you got it, because it may never come around again.
Kurt: The Coke 600 win didn’t do much for the No. 25 when Mears won it and I don’t think it will make much of a difference here. That said, they haven’t been that bad.
Jeff: Reutimann’s been good all year except for the last three races. You still have to be in the position to MAKE the call to stay out in the first place.
Kurt: He was in a perfect position, Jeff. The car was having problems as I understand it. They would have gone backwards anyway.
Beth: He has definitely improved this season, but I’m not ready to say this one win will put him in victory lane more this year.
Amy: There were murmurings that NASCAR would have been quicker to call it had the No. 18 been in the lead. I’m not sure I buy that, but I’m also not sure I don’t. Hence my upcoming column on conspiracy theories in NASCAR.
Jeff: What do you mean Amy? The team has been flirting just outside the top 12 all year.
Amy: What do I mean about what? I don’t think the team is ready to start winning left and right.
Jeff: Me neither, and I didn’t really with Daytona either.
Amy: But for what it’s worth, a win is a win.
Kurt: As far as the second part of the question, rain interruptions are what they are. I don’t have any issue with how the race was handled.
Beth: You can’t control the weather, and NASCAR did what they could to get in as much of the race as the weather would allow.
Kurt: They waited a long time to call it, which is fine with me. I wanted it to start back up, but there are limits. Now Daytona I took issue with because it started so stinkin’ late.
Amy: Looking at local radar, there was no way they were restarting and that was apparent long before they called it. I think that’s the reason.
Beth: There were a couple of drivers wondering why they didn’t go ahead and wait longer, but I think they did what they could’ve. The forecast wasn’t pretty for several days in the area.
Kurt: I think they were making an effort, sending the dryers out and so forth, and then realized that everyone was leaving. The announcers definitely wanted to get it over with.
Amy: There were also drivers in street clothes leaving the garage area. Personally, I wish they had called it an hour earlier. They waited too long given the radar.
Jeff: The whole time it was rain delayed the announcers kept saying that “NASCAR knows more than we do” concerning the weather. How idiotic! What, they got some ‘super meteorologist’ up in the booth? They looking at some ‘enhanced’ radar the rest of us can’t get? Give me a frickin’ break!
Kurt: Yeah, DW did say that didn’t he? We don’t know what they know?
Beth: You’re right Jeff, we can all look at the same radar as anyone else.
Kurt: I think he meant things like track conditions, curfews, union rules for track workers, etc.
Jeff: No, that is NOT what he meant.
Kurt: How many hot dogs everyone can buy, all that.
Jeff: Well, maybe that.
Kurt: Back to the question, it wasn’t an upset – it was a stolen win in the complimentary sense of the word. They gambled and won. Good for them.
Jeff: I agree!
Beth: This was definitely not a major upset and NASCAR did what they could considering the weather conditions around the track. The No. 00 team had the guts to roll the dice and they won.
Amy: Great win for Reutimann, but not a great upset. He likely would not have won it under green, and to me, that is a criteria for a true upset. Feel-good win, sure; upset, not so much.
Kurt: And they risked a lot trying it. They would have been screwed if they went back racing.

NASCAR came down heavily on Carl Long after an unapproved engine was discovered in his car after the Sprint Showdown last week. Does the $200,000 fine, 200 points and 12-race suspension for Long and his crew chief fit the crime, and what precedent does this set?

Amy: Personally, I think it was BS, but not because Long is the “little guy.”
Jeff: It is idiotic!
Kurt: Not having seen the engine itself, I don’t really know. It was more points than he had though, and in that sense it was pretty harsh.
Beth: If that’s what they’re going to do when something doesn’t conform to the rules, then NASCAR better darn well make sure they penalize the next guy the same.
Kurt: Right Beth. And they get harsh with these penalties. That could be problematic if it’s a bigger name.
Amy: Had he cheated, intentionally or not, in a points-paying race, he’d have deserved the same penalty as anyone else – and presumably anyone would have gotten the same for a big engine. But this was an exhibition race, with no points, no real competition, and it certainly didn’t give him a competitive advantage.
Beth: Now see Amy, I don’t agree with that. If you’re going to penalize teams for breaking the rules, then it needs to be done ALL the time. You can’t go easy on people just because it “doesn’t matter” as much.
Amy: My take: It’s an exhibition race so take all the prize money, strike his name from the official race record and ban him from that race for life.
Kurt: That’s a good point, Amy. I wonder how NASCAR would have reacted to the T-Rex car today. They just told Evernham to not bring the car back the next week.
Amy: T-Rex was a different situation as it was legal when it was raced. NASCAR promptly made it illegal thereafter.
Jeff: Long bought an engine from a reputable builder, which was still way under powered and the builder made the mistake. C’mon, .17 of a cc… give me a break!
Kurt: But Jeff that’s what the culprit always says. Remember Waltrip at Daytona? “I don’t know who tampered with the fuel….”
Jeff: It was not an intentional attempt to cheat.
Amy: How do you know that for sure?
Beth: You can’t Amy.
Kurt: You can’t penalize based on what you think the intentions were.
Jeff: Oh, so you think they ordered the builder to make it .17 cc oversize?
Kurt: An illegal engine is an illegal engine.
Beth: And as harsh as that sounds, you’re right Kurt.
Jeff: I disagree. And if it the engine was illegal because of the builder, then ban him. Long’s team shouldn’t have to tear it down and check it. If they did they’d be better off building their own in the first place.
Beth: Sadly, Jeff, their job is to ensure that every part of their car conforms to NASCAR’s rules. Since it didn’t, they had to pay the penalty.
Amy: So if a team with an in-house engine builder had an illegal engine that would somehow be different?
Kurt: I think a car owner should know what the specs are, certainly. The thing that gets me is this is a guy that hasn’t made a race all year. I didn’t figure him the cheating type, and if he is, he’s really bad at it.
Amy: Maybe, or maybe someone asked for “just a little help, just so NASCAR won’t notice?”
Kurt: I think maybe Carl thought he’d try something in a race that didn’t matter, not thinking the penalty would be so severe if they were caught.
Jeff: Look, if they had won with the damn thing, then I say throw the book at them, but it is Carl Long for God’s sake! They knew going in it produced 50 less horsepower!
Amy: See I don’t think it should matter who it is. To me the issue is that this is an exhibition race, and banning a driver from points races for that is wrong.
Kurt: OK, maybe I’m ignorant here, but is this an unprecedented penalty? I’ve never heard of a 200-pointer before.
Amy: Yes Kurt, and I do have a problem with that.
Beth: I don’t agree with the banning the driver from racing part.
Jeff: I’m not saying they shouldn’t be penalized, just not the amount or severity that they were!
Amy: Someone on our message board compared it to football, where if a guy gets a 10-yard penalty for something, but the next guy gets 15 for the same infraction – that wouldn’t fly.
Beth: But I don’t mind NASCAR handing out harsher penalties to teams in violation. They just better make sure they remain consistent in handing them out in the future. And until NASCAR lays out what the penalties are in black and white, it will never be consistent.
Kurt: And this coming right after Mayfield’s suspension… You have to wonder. The penalties can be as severe as NASCAR likes, but they have to be prepared to enforce them.
Amy: Jeff, would you feel the same if that was, say, Jeff Gordon?
Jeff: Yes, because it is clearly a common-sense mistake on the builder’s part. Someone read a caliper wrong or something. And going back to Amy’s conspiracy theory: The big penalty distracted people from the Jeremy Mayfield issue.

See also
What's Vexing Vito: Carl Long's Suspension and Fines a Cover-Up for Mayfield Drug-Test Fiasco?

Beth: But in the end, it’s ultimately up to the teams to ensure that their cars and all the parts in them conform to NASCAR’s specifications.
Kurt: And that falls on the owner.
Jeff: You have to have trust in the suppliers too. That was way too much of a penalty for what it was.
Kurt: And it’s a little surprising that Long got hit with such a whammy, given his success – or lack thereof – on the track.
Amy: I still say it wasn’t a real race and while the penalty should be severe, it shouldn’t cost them points they don’t have or money they didn’t earn.
Jeff: It will kill that team.
Kurt: Yeah, I don’t really understand the points thing, but maybe NASCAR thought that Carl was thinking the same thing.

NASCAR held a special meeting with all its top drivers and owners on Tuesday. What solutions do you expect to come out of it, and are we at the point where they have enough power to force NASCAR to make changes?

Amy: I expect nothing.
Jeff: That is laughable!
Beth: Well from what I’ve read from some of the drivers that were there, they seem pretty happy with the meeting.
Kurt: Look, maybe NASCAR is serious about trying to regain some things that they’ve lost.
Amy: I expect NASCAR told the drivers to stop talking about the drug list because they aren’t getting one.
Jeff: It is a PR stunt, pure and simple.
Beth: Mark Martin feels a better understanding of the drug policy now.
Kurt: And that’s fine. But it’s really simple: Just watch a race and you’ll see why ratings are down.
Beth: Or better yet, listen to what the fans have to say. Then maybe you’ll understand why a large number of them are turning away.
Jeff: Get Brian France out of the office and ratings will go back up! The guy is the biggest idiot I have ever seen.
Amy: I’d be surprised if it wasn’t more of a reminder to the drivers to mind their Ps & Qs and to not talk about drugs, rules or penalties or there will be triple-secret double-probation involved.

See also
Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Fixing a Hole in the Ocean NASCAR Destroyed

Kurt: NASCAR also painted themselves into a corner by being so stiff about the car. Everyone’s going to want changes and adjustability, and if NASCAR allows it, out go all of the notes yet again and Hendrick and Roush return to the top.
Amy: Let Bruton Smith run NASCAR for a year.
Kurt: You want blackouts, Amy?
Beth: They did say some ideas were thrown around on ways to improve the CoT.
Jeff: I’d give Kyle Busch a bj before I palled around with Brian France! (that will prolly get edited I hope!)
Kurt: Nope!
Kurt: It’s in!
Amy: I’ll pay Tom to keep it.
Beth: I’ll add to the pot.
Jeff: LOL @ Amy.
Kurt: Count me in for $20.
Beth: Looks like that’s staying Jeff.
Jeff: LOL.
Kurt: I think the subsequent comment should stay too.
Amy: If NASCAR wants positive change, it’s fans and media they need to meet with.
Kurt: Number one thing they should focus on is the broadcasts. And I think all of them want to do something about the advantage a car in front has.
Beth: It’s not just the fans and media, though. The drivers have their own input on what will help them to put on a better race.
Jeff: Well, lets face it, while the drivers do have more contact with the fans, they too are still living in a bubble.
Amy: But until NASCAR has a reality check about what fans want, they can’t ask anyone else to improve.
Beth: I definitely agree Amy.
Jeff: NASCAR needs to ask us, the fan, “What would make you watch?”
Beth: If they don’t have the fans, there’s no one else who can keep the series going.
Kurt: You know, why is NASCAR doing this anyway? Are they getting a little concerned?
Amy: What they need to do is schedule tracks that promote good racing, not try to make racing on crappy tracks passably entertaining. No matter what car they use, a race at Rockingham would be a better race than a race at California.
Kurt: Agreed Amy, if they want it in the hands of the driver, lose the speedways. I wonder what kind of food was served at this meeting?
Amy: NASCAR doesn’t seem to understand that what most fans really want is simple: a return to simple, quality racing, not a lot of gimmicks with smoke and mirrors.
Kurt: Now who do you think was the most vocal driver in this meeting?
Amy: Jeff Burton, I hope.
Kurt: I’d say Tony, but I’ll bet Burton had plenty to say. And I think Gordon might have more to say behind closed doors than in front of a camera. Would be great to be a fly on the wall wouldn’t it?
Amy: NASCAR needs to return to its roots on many levels. The rest would fall into place. But calling the drivers together before they have a clear direction is a waste of everyone’s time.
Kurt: Well, a big part of it is the broadcasts. I’ll bet Digger chased away a lot of ‘on the fence’ fans.
Amy: No lie, I fell asleep during pre-race a couple of weeks ago and had a nightmare about Digger.
Kurt: Digger Trauma. At least they’re finally no longer saying shut up and drive.
Amy: I don’t know Kurt, I fear that’s exactly what was said at this meeting.
Jeff: Digger is really Bill Weber with goggles.
Kurt: We’ll know soon enough. I’m not sure, because I think there’s been enough backlash from fans lately. I would like to know what sort of things were discussed and what kind of food was served before I pass judgement on the whole thing.
Beth: I hope it did some good, but we won’t know for at least a few weeks – maybe months.

Mike Bliss‘s win was the first by a Nationwide Series regular in 11 races this year. With Bliss, Brad Keselowski, Jason Leffler and several other drivers all running well, will that be a start of a trend towards more Nationwide-only winners?

Kurt: I think it may be, but I couldn’t tell you what is driving the change. Maybe it is just circumstances at the moment.
Amy: I doubt it. The big Cup team will still buy the wins by taking sponsors and opportunities away from the real Nationwide teams.
Jeff: It was the upset of the year because of the rain!
Beth: It’s not that surprising to see a Nationwide regular sneak in and win a race, and frankly it was a nice change of pace. It would be nice if this was the start of a change, but I doubt that’s the case.
Kurt: I think some of the Cup guys may have tired of running full Nationwide schedules.
Amy: As thrilled as I was to see a real Nationwide driver win a Nationwide race, I wonder what the outcome would have been without the rain. Same old same old, I suspect.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 CARQUEST 300 at Charlotte

Kurt: What, Kyle winning?
Amy: Kyle or Carl Edwards… or someone else on an over-inflated budget and ego.
Jeff: You’re comparing Carl’s ego to Kyle’s?
Beth: I don’t know, Bliss had a fast car Saturday night.
Jeff: Yeah, that team has been fired up. And Bliss is no slouch.
Kurt: Maybe NASCAR could promote the Nationwide-only guys a little more and get people excited about the prodigies.
Beth: Now Kurt why would they do that when they can get more attention by throwing a few Cup drivers’ names out?
Kurt: I know, sad state of affairs. It’s a vicious cycle, because Cup drivers unfortunately bring more interest and higher purses.
Amy: I think anyone who competes in both series like they do either has a huge ego or has so little self-esteem that they need to feed their ego by taking away form those that have less.
Beth: You don’t think it’s possible these guys just love to race and will whenever they get the chance?
Amy: If it was just because they love to race, they wouldn’t mind doing it in self-owned, unsponsored cars.
Jeff: Amy, that is BS! But you are entitled to your BS… I mean opinion.
Beth: Don’t get me wrong, I do have a problem with Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series, but I can’t fault them if it’s part of their love of the sport.
Kurt: I think Beth’s right, you have to love it to do it that much. But by the same token, there are other guys who love it just as much and don’t get the chance because of that.
Amy: I love to ride horses, but I don’t need to compete against beginners just to put more blue ribbons on my wall. Luckily, in my world, there are rules against doing that.
Beth: That’s a little bit different Amy, you can ride whenever you want. It takes a bit more for these Cup guys to race.
Jeff: Well then, don’t blame the guys, blame the sanctioning body.
Kurt: I often think what would happen if all of the Cup guys stopped racing in the Nationwide Series. Would people watch? I would, but that’s just me.
Jeff: I agree that there should be a limit and I have said so!
Amy: If it was about loving to race, they would race a late model with no sponsors and a volunteer non-Cup crew at places like Hickory.
Beth: And they have….
Kurt: I would like it a lot better that way Amy. They’d be better off trying to market the young stars, then maybe sponsors might pick them up instead of demanding a Cup guy.
Jeff: If you win a championship in a lower series you should move up and not be allowed to compete full-time in that series anymore.
Beth: I don’t know about that. If you win the championship, you shouldn’t be kicked out of the series. I mean are you going to kick Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner, Ron Hornaday, etc. out of the Truck Series just because they’ve won a championship?
Amy: Or, if you are running in the top 15 in a higher series, you shouldn’t either.
Kurt: Here’s a really strange idea: why not make the NNS equal to the Cup Series in stature and have two leagues, like the NL and AL? That way everyone’s on the same wave.
Jeff: Have a limit. If you are full-time in Cup, you can only run ‘X’ number of races in the NNS.
Amy: I agree, Jeff, and for no points and no money.
Kurt: Or have the Nationwide races in different venues on race weekends so that it’s much more difficult.
Amy: Agree with that also. I used to love the NNS. Now I can barely stomach to watch.
Beth: They should run more Nationwide/CWTS companion weekends.
Kurt: The thing is I think a lot of people enjoy watching their favorite driver in the Nationwide Series, too. I’d pull for my favorite driver if he ever raced there.
Jeff: I just like watching the cars go round!
Kurt: But that said, I’d still prefer it to be a full-fledged minor-league division and not Cup Lite, that way the Cup rookies wouldn’t have to come from elsewhere.
Amy: My favorite driver does race there Kurt, that’s partly why I’m so frustrated. He’s a real NNS driver and gets no coverage and because of that, no money to really compete.
Jeff: Amy, in all honesty, your favorite is a super-nice, personable, likable guy that everyone loves. He just ain’t that good.
Amy: Wrong Jeff, he is that good. Watch him race dirt sometime.
Kurt: NASCAR can improve the situation but not by legislating against Cup guys. Just market the Nationwide guys better. Build a foundation for the future that way.

Predictions for Dover?

Kurt: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins with his new crew chief.
Beth: Martin.
Amy: Jamie McMurray pulls one out.
Kurt: Some bold predictions happening here.
Jeff: I’m gonna say Tony Stewart.
Beth: Well, mine’s not exactly a bold prediction – Mark does have four wins at Dover.

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 12 races, the Bud Shootout, and the All-Star Race this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Beth Lunkenheimer 17 13 1 5 6
Tom Bowles 14 -3 6 1 4 4
Kurt Smith 13 -4 11 2 4 6
Amy Henderson 9 -8 14 1 4 6
Mike Neff 8 -9 9 0 3 4
Vito Pugliese 7 -10 9 0 1 5
Bryan Davis Keith 6 -11 12 1 4 4
Tony Lumbis 0 -17 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway 0 -17 1 0 0 0
Jeff Meyer -2 -19 7 0 0 2
Matt Taliaferro -3 -20 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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