Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Roush’s Rough Start, Prelude to More Dreams at Eldora & Pimping Pocono Out?

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)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)

After getting of to a fast start and winning the first two events, Roush Fenway Racing has struggled somewhat, which was apparent at Dover where the organization has often dominated races, including last fall’s. What does Roush need to do to regain the balance of power with Hendrick Motorsports and its satellite operation, Stewart-Haas Racing?

Kurt: Have NASCAR make another serious car change. Seriously, Roush’s strength is generally the speedways and we haven’t been at one of those in a while.
Amy: They did look off on Sunday, although Greg Biffle looked OK. But the rest never looked the way I had thought they would.
Kurt: Actually, Carl Edwards was good on Sunday, too, and of course Matt Kenseth challenged for the win. That said, Roush hasn’t seemed to be the powerhouse it usually is.
Bryan: They did have three cars in the top seven guys, and Biffle had a car that could contend for a good portion of the race.
Beth: Yeah, I didn’t think they looked that bad.
Amy: That’s true, Bryan, but they also never seemed to have a car capable of winning.
Kurt: Biffle could have won it, but there are a lot of oddball strategies and misfortunes in play at Dover too. Like Jeff Gordon running with the top-five cars at the end but he was two laps down.

See also
The Yellow Stripe: Is Roush Fenway's Slow Start a Case of Short Track-itis... Or a Sign of Something Else?

Jeff: I say Roush needs to just keep racing and don’t worry about it. Just keep getting top 10s. You don’t have to win a race to win a Cup, just be in the top 12 and then win a race or two! They got plenty of time to figure it out.
Amy: I disagree. You have to have good stuff all along, or you won’t know how to adjust your cars at the end. And Beth, they don’t look terrible, just not like they usually do. Biffle couldn’t keep up with Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson at the end.
Jeff: By that thinking, we should just give it to Kyle Busch or Jimmie now.
Beth: I’ll give you that, Amy, but I still say Greg Biffle looked pretty good.
Bryan: I don’t necessarily think that it’s a blanket problem at RFR, either. It looks like each team is dealing with its own issues. Edwards is off in both of his full-time rides and he keeps running back and forth between the Cup and NNS garages. Jamie McMurray is his usual self, Kenseth and Blicks are back to reality after the Daytona 500 win and Biffle was on the money Sunday. The thing is that David Ragan needs a crew chief change as bad as Dale Earnhardt Jr. did.
Amy: That I agree with, Bryan. If Ragan doesn’t improve, you have to wonder if Roush will rethink who is going to Yates next year.
Bryan: Ragan’s job is safe, Amy. Let’s not forget how much money UPS spent on that No. 6 deal.
Kurt: Look, Roush wasn’t bad at Dover, they just didn’t dominate, and that happens at every track. Other teams catch up. And I’m not sold that Ragan is going to be a star, either. I really haven’t seen anything really impressive skillwise from him and he still occasionally makes a big mistake.
Bryan: Ragan has got the talent to do well in Cup; he just needs a change atop the box. Fennig and he have gone stale.
Amy: You know, if you look at the numbers Roush only had three wins by Dover a year ago – so they’re not far off. The one program that seems to have really dropped off is the No. 99, though.
Beth: The No. 99 has had some problems in the pits this season where they’ve taken themselves out of contention.
Kurt: Yeah, Carl hasn’t been there. He hasn’t been awful, but he isn’t contending like he usually does.
Bryan: I’ll say the same thing about Edwards that I will with Busch: not enough focus on the Cup effort. They were on the money last year. Now, they’re behind the 8-ball, and you can’t catch back up with focus in two garages.
Kurt: That wasn’t a problem for them last year, Bryan.
Amy: Bryan might be on to something, though. That double for so long can wear on you.
Kurt: Maybe. But maybe it keeps a driver up on it, too.
Bryan: Plus, look at Edwards’s team and when they got hot last year. They got hot late after Blicks came in and turned the NNS effort around for him. Right now, Edwards’s Cup cars and NNS cars are both off. It’s easy to double when the cars are on a rail, but in Edwards’s case – in both series – his cars are missing something.
Kurt: See, I think Edwards hasn’t been all that bad. It’s not like people are calling for his crew chief’s head. And until Dover, I would have said these same things about Johnson.
Amy: Speaking of Jimmie, how awesome were the closing laps at Dover, even if Biffle couldn’t quite stay in it?
Kurt: A very good race, but I wasn’t in much doubt that Johnson would win it.
Beth: It was a great race.
Bryan: The last battle between Stewart and Johnson was fantastic.
Kurt: Good battle at the end, no doubt. Anyways, something else to consider is there hasn’t been testing this year; and I think, ultimately, that is Roush’s biggest weapon.
Bryan: Valid point there, Kurt. Five teams aren’t the advantage they used to be.
Mike: Five teams might be more of a drain than a help, especially when two of them are notoriously unsuccessful over the last three years.
Amy: Well, Roush looks just a little bit off. It might be serious, might not, but I think the Nos. 16 and 99 need to win soon if they are going to be title contenders.
Jeff: Well then, I guess the RFR cars should just give it up then because they ain’t won lately.
Kurt: There does seem to be more parity this year, maybe that’s why, but I think the Nos. 16, 17 and 99 will be fine.
Beth: The Nos. 16 and 99 don’t have to worry about anything yet.
Mike: No. 17 is fine too.
Kurt: But the Nos. 26 and 6….
Amy: I don’t know, guys, Stewart is the only Chase champion not to have won at least once by spring Dover, and he won twice in June that year. You just can’t stagnate at the Cup level and then expect to win when it counts.
Kurt: Why doesn’t Jack change the No. 26 back to the No. 97? He’s had a lot more success with that number.
Mike: Because he hates Kurt Busch that much.
Kurt: Maybe he could put Jamie in the No. 97 and learn to like the number again at least.
Mike: Or give the No. 97 to HoF.

GM declared bankruptcy on Monday. What impact does the proceeding have on racing and on the teams who run under the Chevrolet banner?

Kurt: I really have no idea what’s going to happen.
Jeff: It will have none. It doesn’t matter if they remain in NASCAR or not, the racing will continue with or without the Big Three.
Amy: Rick Hendrick said indications were GM will remain in NASCAR. I hope he’s right – two manufacturers should not a series make.
Mike: It is hard to say. I am sure it will have an impact, but the company still has to advertise. So they’ll be putting some money in NASCAR, it just most likely won’t be as much.
Beth: I’m still not sure myself, but like Amy said, Rick Hendrick seems pretty confident it won’t have any impact.
Kurt: Rick Hendrick also had confidence that he was staying with Tony Eury Jr.
Beth: You have a point there, Kurt.
Mike: Eury Jr. isn’t leaving is he?!
Amy: A few smaller teams will suffer more than the Hendricks and Stewarts of the world.
Bryan: It’s too early to tell if GM gets to stay in. We don’t know what the government’s involvement in the company is going to look like yet.
Kurt: I shudder at that thought… government never improves anything. As I understand it, the manufacturers all took NASCAR to task over the sameness of the cars.
Bryan: I do as well Kurt, but I’m not 100% confident in GM getting a free pass to stay in racing. Let’s not forget that the Feds hit Chrysler very hard with regard to marketing.
Amy: So far though, Dodge has been able to stay, so that should be a good sign.
Jeff: Remember a few years ago when Dodge pulled out? The sun still came up, people.
Amy: When Dodge pulled out the first time, there were more than three other manufacturers, too. On the other hand, how many taxpayers really want to subsidize NASCAR on their dime?

See also
Voice of Vito: Big 3 Bankruptcies and New Government Mandates Spell Doom for NASCAR & Motorsports

Mike: On the plus side, Obama did try and get his mug on the No. 49 last year.
Kurt: We don’t have a choice, Amy. Remember that April Fool’s story?
Bryan: If I have to own a car company it’s going to race, dammit.
Mike: Well, back in the day, they all pulled out, and the sport survived.
Kurt: NASCAR isn’t going to go away if they lose a manufacturer, but emotionally it will probably bother a lot of people.
Jeff: My God people. Those companies do not rule the world! Things will be fine if they are there or not. They are all spec cars anyway!
Mike: The engines are different, Jeff.
Amy: True, Jeff, but can NASCAR withstand the loss of a significant number of fans on top of the ones already gone? You know, there are still fans that pull for a manufacturer rather than a team or driver.
Kurt: I doubt that the impact would be that great, Amy. Maybe a little, but not much.
Mike: On the plus side, we may get to see Hendrick develop a Dodge engine and run it in a stock car!
Amy: I’ve never understood pulling for a car no matter who drives it – but there is a large faction that do.
Mike: That’s true, but they generally pull for a number, not a manufacturer. I guess there are Ford and GM fans, though.
Bryan: What will dictate what happens regarding GM in NASCAR is whether or not racing dollars become a political hot-button. So far, racing has not been a target of politicians because it has not been a hot issue among the public’s discussion.
Kurt: Maybe Government Motors will subsidize NASCAR and then retired pit crew members can join the UAW and get $500,000 a year for relaxing.
Jeff: I hate Ford cars with a passion but my favorite driver of the past and present both drive/drove Fords.
Beth: It’s too early to tell what the impact may be, but I don’t think it’ll be that big of a problem, really.
Jeff: People, how on earth can the government screw up those companies more than they already are? Should we just give them billions and billions… here ya go guys, have fun! No oversight at all? It’s my money they are getting!
Kurt: Jeff, never challenge the government to be incompetent. If a hole appears, someone will fill it. That’s racing.
Amy: And a lot more fans will leave if Honda fills that hole, I fear.
Mike: The manufacturers pulling out would be a short-term blow, but long term it won’t be a big deal.
Amy: I think the impact remains to be seen, but if GM and Chrysler are forced to pull out, it will be a serious blow to the sport – not fatal, but debilitating.
Mike: I don’t think it will be debilitating, although it will hurt the TV side of things because those advertising dollars will be gone.
Bryan: Again, we’re a few inflammatory articles away from NASCAR being the latest talking point for the politicians regarding frivolous spending. The cuts that Dodge was forced to make to its marketing strategies following government intervention makes me worried that GM’s racing future may not be so certain with Nancy Pelosi and Obama at the controls.
Kurt: It won’t bother me. When car companies learn to run their businesses properly they’ll succeed.
Amy: From a purely taxpayer point of view, it is frivolous spending.
Bryan: I was going to buy a Chevrolet; but now that this plan is in effect, they will not be getting my business.
Kurt: I already drive a Mustang.
Mike: From a taxpayer perspective, funding the UAW’s bloated salaries and benefits is a HELL of a lot more frivolous than spending money on advertising through racing.
Amy: Agreed, Mike, but that’s union driven and a contract issue.
Kurt: OK, the point is NASCAR will survive with or without GM. Is that what we’re agreed on?
Mike: Yes, and a contract negotiated by the idiot management that the government should immediately void.

This week features the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, with several of NASCAR’s biggest names competing super late model dirt cars for charity. It’s been suggested by promoter Stewart, among others, that a summer dirt series be instituted with five or six similar events. Is there a future for this idea?

Amy: I certainly hope so. It would be the best racing of the year.
Beth: That would be fantastic.
Bryan: It’d be a tremendous success.
Kurt: Wow, that would be cool. Would they all be at Eldora?
Mike: Oh, it would make huge money. HUGE money.
Amy: Especially if Stewart, Schrader, Wallace, et al. run it and don’t let NASCAR get a hand in it.
Bryan: Amy just hit the nail on the head.
Mike: You’d see ratings through the roof and we might end up getting a Cup race on dirt again.
Amy: Eldora, Paducah, I-55 and Macon were a few mentioned.
Mike: Knoxville, Devil’s Bowl, Eldora, there’s three big ones.
Kurt: I doubt the Cup race on dirt idea will happen, although I’d love it. But let’s back up a bit… are we sure we’d be tuning in every week?
Beth: I definitely would.
Kurt: Isn’t what makes it special though, that it’s only once a year?
Amy: Six races? I’d watch. They would have to get a network deal of some sort, of course.
Mike: They’d get a deal. Have ya seen the money that the Prelude pulls in?
Bryan: Where’s TNN when you need them?
Kurt: How many Cup drivers would do that though?
Amy: I think you’d have a good number.
Mike: You’d have at least 12. There’s a waiting list for the prelude right now.
Mike: On a Wednesday night, you bet you would watch.
Kurt: Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea, but I wonder if it might be overkill.
Beth: I don’t think it would, Kurt. The excitement alone would be enough to keep everyone watching.
Bryan: Thursday Night Thunder!
Mike: God I miss that show. NASCAR would be brilliant to bring that back – one every three weeks.
Amy: Five, six races, spread out all summer – that’d be awesome.
Bryan: Run the races Thursday night, small-time network, the ratings and crowds will be there.
Jeff: But then, after one big wreck, Amy would be asking the question, “Should drivers be allowed to race in other series or is the risk too great?”
Mike: True that, Jeff! SAFER barriers at Eldora.
Amy: It is a risk, and I do think owners have a right to restrict them, but if it’s worth it to a driver to knowingly risk a Cup title, go have fun.
Beth: And I feel the same way now as I did then: If they want to race, let them race.
Kurt: I have to be completely honest, I’ve only seen replays of the Prelude, but not because I’m not interested. I just always forget when it’s on!
Mike: I just can’t afford pay-per-view. But I’ll be at the Lake Norman Sports Grille with Chuck Howard to watch it!
Kurt: I think drivers might do it once, but these guys are already stretched out pretty thin. I don’t think you could do it every year.
Mike: I think you could. You couldn’t do 12 races, but five or six would work.
Jeff: I would not PPV to see it.
Amy: I agree Jeff, they would need a TV deal.
Beth: If it’s only five or six races, I think they could handle it.
Mike: NASCAR tried the PPV idea with the Daytona 500 before. That didn’t work out so well.
Jeff: And then, the fans would be disappointed with the real NASCAR and it would hurt them in the end.
Mike: Next thing you know, Kurt will get his street race too.
Kurt: Dig it… a street race. Doesn’t F1 do that?
Mike: Get Humpy Wheeler in on this.
Bryan: They missed Humpy so bad at the 600, Mike. The 50th anniversary fell way short.
Mike: Humpy would have blown up a lot more stuff, I can promise you that.
Jeff: Well, back on topic this thing is a pipe dream, folks. The whole idea is nice, but ain’t gonna happen.
Beth: It’s definitely something to consider, but it’ll take some work to get it going. And I would definitely watch.
Bryan: The best racers in the country on dirt racing during the summer – pipe dream or not, make this happen!
Kurt: Maybe he could try two races a year and work up from there. Test the limits of the interest. The Prelude isn’t going to replace NASCAR.
Mike: I’ve been begging for Cup on dirt my whole adult life. This would be a great first step. I think it could happen, but Ken Schrader will have to spearhead it. Stewart is too busy.

The Camping World Truck Series is at Texas this weekend while the Nationwide Series is in Nashville and the Sprint Cup Series runs at Pocono with an ARCA race in support. Should there be a NASCAR development series at Pocono?

Amy: Yes, absolutely there should be. You have a handful of Cup guys who have never seen the place and it is a monster to drive.
Jeff: That is your reason? Then race the ARCA as some are doing.
Mike: ARCA is plenty of support. Let the other series run on their own and differentiate themselves a little bit.
Bryan: No, no, no. The last thing on earth we need is an excuse to turn more weekends into companion weekends.
Kurt: Well, it’s a two-pronged question. On the one hand, guys should race there at least once before coming to Cup. On the other, this helps keep Nationwide its own true series and not Cup Lite.
Beth: Why not? Getting an early chance to become familiar with the track can help in the future.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with Trucks or Nationwide at Pocono, just do it on a different weekend.
Amy: I agree they should have standalones, but there needs to be somewhere for development drivers to learn tracks. They should not have to learn from a video game.
Bryan: It’s ARCA this weekend, Amy.
Mike: Old Cup cars. Perfect learning ground.
Bryan: Joey Logano‘s running a 200-mile race on Saturday.
Kurt: Learning from a video game worked pretty well for Denny Hamlin when he swept the events his rookie year.
Jeff: Except the getting gas part.
Kurt: But that said, I agree they should race there in something besides Cup.
Mike: ARCA races at Pocono the same weekend. Run the ARCA race!
Amy: The competition in ARCA isn’t the same level.
Kurt: Nowhere near.
Mike: But the track is and you’re worried about them learning the track. Or at least that’s what you said.
Amy: I think a Truck race at Pocono would be a good race, actually.
Mike: What would they run? 50 laps?
Amy: 100-150 laps.
Kurt: Nationwide and Camping World have fairly good schedule diversity, but Pocono would help that. 250 miles, 100 laps.
Bryan: I wonder how the tapered motors would be able to handle that huge frontstretch.
Kurt: I never thought of that Bryan. Might be like a plate race.
Beth: 100 laps at Pocono in the trucks would be a great race.
Mike: They’d probably finally get wound up.
Amy: It would make a couple of good races. Run ’em while Cup is at California or some place and call it good. If you did that, you’d guarantee the two best races of the weekend.
Mike: Because, then again, you’d be getting your rookies training on the track instead of in a Cup car. Or not.
Bryan: Hey, if the Cup guys aren’t there when they do it, run NNS and Trucks at Pocono. Just no more companion races.
Kurt: Does anyone know why they don’t run at Pocono in the first place?
Mike: I’m guessing the owners don’t want to pay for it.
Amy: I love Pocono, so I think a Truck race there would be a blast to watch.
Mike: Could be a blast, could suck. It might turn into a parade.
Kurt: The Trucks would be fun to watch in the Tunnel Turn.
Bryan: I think it’s the same risk as with any other race at Pocono: Some are great, some are parades.
Mike: Very true brother.
Kurt: I love the Cup races at Pocono, but it doesn’t break my heart that there aren’t any other races there.
Jeff: They need to go back to shifting!
Bryan: Amen, Jeff!
Mike: They can shift if they want to, it just doesn’t do them any good.

Predictions for the Cup race at Pocono this week?

Kurt: Jimmie gets two in a row.
Bryan: Smoke.
Beth: Kurt Busch.
Mike: Yep, Kurt Busch rings up another one.
Amy: I’m going to say Kenseth gets No. 3 on the year.
Jeff: The Kid, Mark Martin.
Mike: Dang, no love for the rejuvenated Junior campaign?
Kurt: I picked him last week Mike.
Mike: That could be the darkhorse for the weekend
Kurt: He did well enough to wonder why Rick waited so long.
Bryan: Junior did look much improved, I’ll give him that.
Amy: Junior sounded much improved – focused on the racecar instead of on bitching.
Kurt: They stopped using the magic 8-ball to determine setups
Mike: I think being in a semi-competitive car lifted his spirits.
Beth: From what I heard, Junior sounded better than he has all season.
Jeff: Is Kyle gonna fly all over and do three races this weekend?
Beth: Nope. Brian Ickler is in the No. 51 at Texas.
Bryan: Yay, a truck race without Kyle!

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 18 14 1 5 7
Tom Bowles 14 -4 6 1 4 4
Kurt Smith 13 -5 12 2 4 6
Amy Henderson 9 -9 15 1 4 6
Mike Neff 8 -10 9 0 3 4
Vito Pugliese 7 -11 9 0 1 5
Bryan Davis Keith 6 -12 12 1 4 4
Jeff Meyer 1 -17 8 0 1 3
Tony Lumbis 0 -18 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway 0 -18 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -20 1 0 0 0

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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