Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Judging Double-File Restarts, Benson’s Pink Slip, & of Course… Busch & Earnhardt

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)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice of Vito)
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)

NASCAR appeared to listen to drivers and fans with the new double-file restart rule. Did they make the right call?

Beth: Absolutely.
Bryan: Yes. Next question.
Kurt: You know, it really wasn’t that big a deal to me. I don’t care either way.
Amy: Yes. I’ve wanted to see that for years.
Jeff: Yes, but why now – all of a sudden – after I had written about it before the All-Star Race?
Mike: We’ll see. It works great at Pocono and Michigan, but let’s see how everyone feels at Martinsville or Bristol. I’m not saying I don’t like it, but we’re going to see a bunch of torn-up sheetmetal when we get to tighter tracks.
Jeff: Bristol will be no big deal with the new grooves.
Kurt: I suppose it’s OK, but I got a little confused with the whole “lap around” thing.
Vito: I actually don’t like the double-file restarts. It takes away any two-tire/four-tire/just-gas strategy. Everybody is just going to get four tires unless they’re running 30th.

See also
Voice of Vito: Desperate Men Doing Desperate Things, NASCAR's Actions Speak Volumes About the State of the Sport

Kurt: Hmmm. You may have a point. And what about a guy that is two laps down? The only real way to get a lap back now is the lucky dog.
Mike: No, they can stay out and get waved by. And I disagree with Vito. I think you’ll see people take chances, especially when being up front is more important, like at the short tracks.
Amy: My take: Better to be taken out by someone you’re actually racing against than someone six laps down.
Beth: If you call cars that are a lap down causing wrecks that take out the leader working fine.
Jeff: Right. Now we will just have wrecks amongst the lead lap guys.
Vito: I just don’t like it. Everything has worked fine for the previous 61 years.
Amy: Double-file has worked fine in every other racing series in the universe.
Bryan: It works on the local short tracks, so there’s no reason it won’t work on the Cup circuit.
Vito: Single file with 25 to go is ideal. Double-file restarts all race long sounds like just another gimmick to attempt to generate excitement.
Kurt: And that’s part of the problem I have with it, Vito. The tinkering continues.
Jeff: We’ve had double-file all along! Just now it is the guys that should be up there.
Bryan: Well said, Jeff.
Mike: Y’all didn’t see Martinsville during the late model races last year? It was a bloodbath.
Bryan: Still Mike, the Bailey’s 300 field isn’t the Cup field.
Mike: No, it’s not. Those guys actually work on their cars and give a darn if they get torn up.
Amy: Again, I’d rather be taken out by someone I’m racing than someone not even on the same lap.
Kurt: I wonder who will adapt to this quickest? It would seem the teams that have the most experiences to learn from will master it.
Mike: Chad Knaus.
Vito: I guess maybe in Cup it might be viable in that with these cars. It’s impossible to pass and by the end of the race, everybody not leading is pretty much running the same speed.
Beth: Frankly, I thought it created better racing on the restarts.
Kurt: I didn’t even notice, to be honest.
Bryan: I agree with you, Beth. There was some good racing at the front on the starts. And that racing actually meant something this time other than getting to clean air.
Amy: And a lot of fans wanted it.
Mike: So, back on track, I like it, but I still think we’re going to end up having some bigger wrecks than we used to.
Vito: And if your guy is a lap down, or two laps down because of a blown tire, he’s done. Race is over, might as well park it now.
Kurt: Well, pretty much the lucky dog is the only way to get your lap back now, but that’s pretty much the way it’s been.
Mike: I still think you can stay out and get waved around Vito, unless I misunderstood their interpretation. Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Logano got their laps back that way on Sunday.
Beth: And, for once NASCAR actually listened to what a lot of fans had to say.
Mike: Now, if they’d just listen about Digger.
Kurt: Or the Chase. There are other things I’d prefer NASCAR listened to fans on, honestly.
Beth: Hey Kurt, it’s a start. Maybe we’ll start seeing them listen more – although I’m not holding my breath.
Bryan: Beth, if they listen to the fans about Carl Long, I’ll buy that things are changing. It’s great that NASCAR listened; but come on, they threw the fans a bone and kept the chicken.
Mike: Very true, Bryan.
Jeff: What I did notice was that Miss Terri DeBris was at the track all of a sudden this week!
Vito: Oh, Miss Terri DeBris. She does the weather here in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Amy: And she has an amazing superpower too: she’s invisible!
Jeff: Anyways, I think with the new double-file restarts you will see drivers being more patient, knowing they are racing amongst themselves and not having to worry about lapped guys taking them out doing desperate moves in the front of the field.
Kurt: Well, I’m not saying it’s a bad change, but I’m not jumping up and down over it.
Vito: The only thing that really needed to be changed, in my estimation, is that stupid practice of starting guys in front of the leader if a caution comes out during pit stops. That was just downright dangerous – and unexplainable.
Kurt: Well, we’ll need to see a few more races with this to see if it works.
Bryan: It’ll be interesting to see how it works at Infineon.
Mike: That is going to be very interesting. When it is tough to pass on a road course, there could be some real carnage.
Vito: Vito doesn’t like it. More scrapping what’s worked for no reason other than to make a last-ditch Hail Mary effort to attract viewers by instigating a big crash.
Bryan: I’ll take the bone and say it was a good change. Great for the racing but not an indicator that NASCAR has reconnected with their fans’ voice.
Beth: I enjoyed it, and look forward to seeing how it will work at other tracks. Pocono was definitely a great place to start.
Jeff: Vito, we had big crashes all along but just by lapped guys.
Vito: Nature’s way is cruel.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another lackluster performance on Sunday, this time with a new crew chief, in part because Earnhardt missed his pit box… something he has done on multiple occasions this season. So, where does Earnhardt go from here with the No. 88?

Bryan: To Michigan, where they won last year.
Kurt: He stops missing his pit box.
Vito: Just give up and quit – it’s too hard. Or, have a clown out there juggling in front of a strobe light.
Jeff: Activate the GPS (Guide to Pit, Stupid!). Honestly, we should ask this question after a few more races.
Mike: We all knew this wasn’t going to be fixed overnight, ya know.
Beth: Exactly, Mike. A new crew chief isn’t going to change everything in just two races. I think people are expecting way too much to change way too quickly after the way the season started. But to be fair, Junior wasn’t the only one who struggled getting into the pits.
Bryan: Beth, it was Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip. That’s not good company to be in.
Vito: Pocono has some pretty big-assed pit stalls, too. Isn’t somebody counting him down like every other team does?
Kurt: Junior has his voice on a GPS. Does it let you know when you missed your turn?
Amy: Here’s the thing. Listening to radios, the communication on that team has improved a ton, and I still think the finishes will come if Junior can get his head in the game.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: The Time is Now for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Tony Eury Jr. Departs

Mike: They had a good run at Dover, not so good at Pocono. I don’t expect much at Michigan or Infineon. We’ll see after that.
Kurt: Kyle Busch was bad at Pocono, too, so maybe several teams were having trouble with setups. Remember, there was no qualifying.
Vito: I think it’s going to take five races or so. You figure that the cars they are using now were Tony Eury machines with his stuff in them. Once they blow through the old inventory, things will turn around.
Amy: Junior is not a bad driver by any means – bad drivers don’t win 18 races, no matter how good the equipment is.
Vito: But he’s had his confidence shaken, and he’s being put to the test like never before. I have a feeling the July Daytona race will set the tone for the rest of the season.
Mike: I think you’re right, Vito. As long as they’re competitive in that race, even if he doesn’t win, things will be OK. If he sucks, it won’t be good.
Bryan: Daytona in July may well be the biggest race of his career.
Amy: Mike, that’s all well and good if they are competitive consistently every race from then forward – fans should give them that long, I agree – but they need to perform every week. While I think Junior is a better driver than the slammers give him credit for, he needs to focus. A lot.
Kurt: The thing is, what if he doesn’t improve?
Beth: In all honesty, Dale Jr. probably needs to take a step back and think about why he started racing in the first place. It couldn’t hurt to just go back to basics and see if that helps him focus a little better each week.
Vito: He seemed to do pretty well there after the worst thing ever happened to him a few years ago. He should run as much as he can right now, just for practice, and to keep people away from him.
Mike: Honestly, it might do him good to run a few more Nationwide races or get in a late model on a Sunday afternoon at Caraway.
Amy: At least a few more Nationwide races, I agree… just to practice pit timing.
Kurt: You know, Hendrick is throwing everything trying to improve that team, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be drastically improving. How often do you see that?
Vito: I don’t know, Kurt; the No. 5 car seems to be running a tick better this year.
Jeff: Mark Martin is a better driver than Junior, though.
Kurt: I’m talking about drastic midseason improvement, and I don’t see it often. Junior’s in a bad position right now. He is completely out of excuses.
Mike: That’s true, Kurt. No one left to toss under the bus.
Vito: I don’t know that he ever made excuses, though. He’s always owned up to everything and took responsibility for things not going right, even if they weren’t his fault.
Bryan: You can’t help but wonder what is on his mind right now that’s keeping his focus so scattered. It’s almost like he’s unhappy in the ride he’s in.
Kurt: I don’t think he expected these kind of runs, Bryan.
Amy: The thing is, though, Junior’s career numbers don’t suggest a driver on the low end of mediocrity. He has more wins than some guys who often get mentioned in conversations about the best of all time. So, it isn’t talent or ability that’s the problem.
Kurt: Here’s a thought: It must have been tough on him to leave his father’s company, and he just doesn’t want to diss family anymore. He left the decision to Rick.
Vito: Junior probably is unhappy. Wouldn’t you be if your best friend/brother just got fired from working with you, and they gave you a new guy you didn’t know, and you were expected to run like your championship-winning teammates all of a sudden, and everybody keeps getting in your face every week, asking you the same stupid questions?
Kurt: In a sense, you’re right Vito; but that’s what he’s paid for.
Jeff: I say, everyone needs get off his ass and let the new chemistry succeed or fail.
Bryan: In a perfect world, that’s what would happen, Jeff.
Vito: He’ll be fine as long as Busch keeps making an ass out of himself – it’ll deflect some attention away from him.
Mike: He’ll get there. He’ll win before the year is over. He’ll make the Chase next year. Just relax, everyone.
Beth: They’ve been all over Junior since he moved to Hendrick, expecting him to start winning races right away with a new team. And the problems this year have only made it worse.
Kurt: But that’s to be expected with anyone who moves to Roush or Hendrick or Gibbs. And it doesn’t often play out.
Amy: Beth, Junior’s problems are magnified by the fact that he is not on the same level as Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson – but the fans expect him to be simply because they are teammates. Gordon and Johnson are more talented than Junior when Junior is at his best. Junior is a very good driver, but those two are among the greatest of all-time. Junior deserves more respect than he gets for his talent, but that kind of talent it is not.
Beth: Amy, Johnson and Gordon have been with their team for awhile though. Can’t anyone just give the guy a break and leave him alone so he can get his head back into the game?
Jeff: Like I said the other day, maybe Junior just ain’t that good! As good as everyone wants or thinks he should be, anyway.
Mike: He’s still one of the top-10 drivers in the last decade. Do his fans expect more? Sure, but he deserves that credit.
Vito: I guess Kurt Warner should have quit five years ago, too. Oh God, I used a sports analogy… for shame.
Kurt: You think so, Mike? I have him currently 13th on my list.
Vito: Junior has the talent needed to succeed and win championships at this level. Go back to 2004: he would have won had he not lit himself on fire in Sonoma and still might have had he not wadded it up at Atlanta with 10 laps to go.
Amy: Win championships? I don’t know, but I’d put him top 10 in talent.
Bryan: He and the No. 88 car aren’t that far off. Let’s not forget he was a top-five car for some of the Dover race and that they got worse at Pocono. They’re learning adjustments that don’t work right now. At Dover, they went the wrong way, but they also learned some stuff that worked. In the two weeks with McGrew on the box, Junior has been nowhere near as lost as they were at Charlotte.
Beth: It’s those little improvements that will help the team in the long run, Bryan.
Jeff: And like I said in Voices last week, this crap about NASCAR ratings based on Junior is plain bull.
Kurt: OK, this thought is really out there, but does anyone think Junior feels guilty about all the attention Hendrick is giving the No. 88 team?
Bryan: Junior does feel guilty about it, Kurt. Remember at Dover? He finished 12th and in his post-race interview he said, “There’s 11 guys who deserve an interview more than me.”
Mike: Yeah, I’m sure he is uncomfortable with it and probably feels like he’s disappointing Rick when he doesn’t succeed.
Bryan: Maybe “guilty” isn’t the word, but he knows that his performance doesn’t justify the media coverage.
Mike: And that is probably his top priority.
Kurt: I was thinking that. He’s a pretty humble guy.
Beth: What no one has placed much emphasis on is the improved communication between Junior and Lance McGrew.
Bryan: They’re figuring each other out Beth, exactly. Again, they were so close at Dover.
Mike: I don’t know if it’s improved – but there is a level of respect I don’t think Junior had for Tony.
Amy: But I do think Junior needs time with McGrew to gel and to get the cars whipped into shape. When that happens, I’ll expect better from him – but the stupid pit road driver mistakes have got to stop.
Mike: And the pit-road crap does have to stop. That is Busch league. But remember, Junior was the best driver at Hendrick for the first 20 races last year.
Kurt: True that, Mike. Not sure how that drifted off.
Mike: Me either, Kurt. But it fell off the table hard.

After Kyle Busch smashed the hand-painted Gibson guitar trophy in Nashville on Saturday, many fans have suggested he should be penalized for his actions. But was it really ‘detrimental to stock car racing?’

Mike: Oh good God, no… c’mon. Penalized for smashing a trophy? Was it stupid? Yes. But did it have good intentions? Yes. Was it detrimental? Hell no.
Kurt: Thank you, Busch, for keeping us busy. He’s already getting chastised. But should he be penalized? No.
Bryan: The reps from Federated Auto Parts left victory lane. That’s pretty bad.
Amy: Anytime the race sponsor is so embarrassed that they walk out of victory lane, then yes, that is detrimental to the sport as a whole.
Beth: I don’t care what race it is. You just don’t smash the trophy.
Vito: He should be beaten with what’s left of the guitar, but not fined. Whether or not it was pre-planned and OK’d, it looked incredibly disrespectful and was done in poor taste.
Jeff: It is detrimental to Busch, but not the sport. He is just being an idiot.
Beth: Well, if you look at it strictly as Busch being a representative of NASCAR, then I guess you could say it was detrimental to stock car racing.
Bryan: Let’s make that clear: I hate what he did. It was detrimental to stock car racing. But no penalties are in order.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 Federated Auto Parts 300 at Nashville

Kurt: He just tried to put on a show and didn’t think about it enough. I wouldn’t have done it, but everyone wants more color from drivers, and Kyle gives it.
Mike: He was on PTI Monday. When was the last time NASCAR was on PTI? I think Carl Edwards tearing down the fence might have made it. This is a Nationwide race that got coverage on a non-NASCAR ESPN show.
Bryan: Let’s see, Kyle got on PTI. Meanwhile, sponsor reps left their own race, Sam Bass was unhappy and the most coveted piece of Nationwide Series hardware out there was reduced to a child’s toy. There’s no positive here.
Amy: With the dearth of sponsor money these days, you cannot afford to lose a race sponsorship because one driver made an ass of himself. Again. I don’t think Federated will go that far, but they were not happy.
Beth: Had he talked to Sam Bass before and had a replica trophy to do that with, it would have been a lot different.
Kurt: Wait a minute Beth, that “trophy” was a guitar. To refer to it as a trophy suggests that Kyle would smash the grandfather clock at Martinsville, and everyone knows he wouldn’t do that.
Beth: That’s exactly the point, Kurt.
Kurt: No, that’s not the point. He was doing what rockstars do with guitars.
Amy: I agree with Beth. Imagine if Johnson had kicked a hole in that grandfather clock from Martinsville and then shoved it over.
Jeff: He’d destroy the grandfather clock to give pieces to his crew.
Vito: Yeah, and tosses a handful of gears at them. But for everybody who says he comes off as an arrogant, spoiled rich kid with everything handed to him… he pretty much just validated every criticism of himself in Nashville.
Mike: He was trying to smash the guitar to give pieces to his crew, that’s hardly selfish – stupid, but not selfish.
Vito: Maybe, but for many in the stands who saw that, like the natives of Nashville, it looked really bad.
Kurt: And I guarantee every member of his crew will keep their guitar piece until their last day!
Amy: Busch is not a rockstar.
Kurt: I do agree with Amy on that. He just didn’t think.
Vito: C**k Star, maybe.
Jeff: Oh God, that is probably next Vito – a Busch porn video.
Amy: And if it’s true that he planned to do that, he could, and should have asked for a replica with a print instead of the original artwork.
Mike: C’mon, let’s be realistic. Like they’re going to make up a replica on the chance Kyle wins the race and wants to smash it.
Vito: What if someone tried to do that to that big Cabela’s trophy and it tried to maul them?
Kurt: He did order two more from Sam Bass, though.
Beth: Yeah, two more replicas. You’re not going to get the same thing.
Amy: If I were Sam Bass, I’d tell him to shove his order. No way would I repaint those for him.
Mike: I would too, Amy.
Beth: Sam Bass said it best. He would have begged Kyle Busch to allow them to give him a prop guitar.
Kurt: The guy was trying to entertain. I believe him when he says he meant no disrespect.
Bryan: I agree with you, Kurt, I don’t think that disrespect was the intent – but that doesn’t excuse that kind of action.
Amy: And when Kyle said he’d planned it and they were OK with it, that was a blatant lie. Both Bass and Nashville Superspeedway had no idea he was going to do it.
Kurt: Kyle didn’t say that, Amy. He said he told his crew he would do it.
Mike: The crew was OK with it. They were the only people who knew about it.
Beth: Kyle only told his crew they were going to do it and that’s all he said. He never said the track and Bass were OK with it.
Amy: If you want to share with your crew, then ask for a replica and have it cut in the fab shop on Monday.
Mike: He said he spoke to Bass after the fact and Sam was OK with it. Whether that was true in reality, I don’t know.
Beth: But that’s just it. Bass was not OK with it. He was heartbroken to see him do that.
Kurt: I do feel bad for Sam.
Bryan: Sam Bass demonstrated a ton of class in victory lane and saved that race from becoming a nastier PR mess. Busch should take note.
Amy: I’ll admit, I might not have been as gracious as Bass, because I’d have either called him out right there or I’d have walked out with the Federated reps.: I still think the fact that race sponsor was so embarrassed they walked out on the victory lane ceremony is something that needs to be addressed.
Beth: What’s Sam supposed to say with all the cameras on him? Is he supposed to haul off and punch Kyle and say, “You idiot! How could you do that?”
Mike: Hell yes.
Kurt: OK, I’m not fully condoning what Kyle did, but we’re talking about it, aren’t we? Seriously, who gets NASCAR press talking like Kyle does?
Beth: Junior. We talk about him just as much, and we did it before Kyle today.
Vito: Junior doesn’t act like a jerkoff at every opportunity.
Bryan: But we’re not debating about the sport. We’re all sitting here having to act like parents dealing with a spoiled 24-year-old.
Mike: Yeah, because there are lots of 24-year-olds donating money to older drivers who need help or signing autographs in the rain at Charlotte.
Kurt: I did things at 24 I seriously regret today… far worse than smashing a guitar.
Jeff: We all have, but we ain’t megastars like Kyle who’s in the public eye all the time. It’s time to think before you act, and age 24 is way old enough to do that.
Vito: Ask yourself this: If you were a father and had a daughter, would you want Busch to date her?
Kurt: Hell yeah, Vito. He could buy me a beach house!
Vito: What if he was broke. You think he’d hook you up?
Mike: Sure Vito, cause he wouldn’t act that way if no one was watching.
Bryan: With those huge paychecks come huge responsibilities for conduct, and Kyle is really not the face stock car racing wants.
Kurt: So, do we have people here on record saying he should be penalized? I’ve seen less outrage for spinning people out on pit road.
Bryan: No penalties, but it’s just sad that NASCAR’s media is yet again having to call for a hugely talented star to grow up. And yes, the media needs to talk about this. Having title sponsor reps leave victory lane of their own event because of a driver’s actions is a huge deal.
Beth: No, absolutely no penalties. But he was just plain stupid.
Jeff: No penalties, he’s done enough of that for his own rep.
Mike: If they start penalizing for that, then are you going to penalize for burnouts?
Kurt: It wasn’t well thought out, but the guy was just trying to do something entertaining.
Vito: I don’t care that he did it. He was trying to look cool and instead looked like a jerk – as usual.
Amy: I don’t know if there should be penalties. Part of me says no, and part of me says that if putting your own sponsor’s sign on the roof of your car in victory lane is “actions detrimental,” embarrassing the race sponsor so much they wouldn’t even stick around should be too.
Vito: Yeah, remember how NASCAR went ape a few years ago when someone swiped Gatorade bottles off the roof of the car because they were sponsored by Coke?
Amy: NASCAR fined a team for putting its own primary sponsor on the car in front of that. This is the race title sponsor – there should be some consequence.
Kurt: And if NASCAR comes down on Busch, instantly the complaints about squelching personalities will be back.
Beth: Kurt’s right, and that’s why I don’t think there should be a penalty.
Amy: But if ever a personality needed to be squelched, it’s that.
Bryan: No penalties! This has to fall on JGR, though, to get their driver in line. He’s a jackass and now it’s not just race fans being turned off by his actions.
Amy: The problem is, Bryan, so far JGR has proven to be unable to do that.
Mike: Again, you can’t regulate common sense.
Bryan: JGR has proven unwilling, Amy. I’m a Skins fan, so I’m more than aware of the kind of people Joe Gibbs can bring back to earth.
Mike: There’s nothing to squelch. He’s winning and gaining attention and fans. Was this stupidity? It certainly it was, but don’t penalize.
Bryan: Mike, the numbers of fans out there beg to differ with that assessment of Busch. NASCAR is not gaining fans thanks to Kyle.
Mike: Have you heard the cheers? Busch gets cheers now!
Jeff: When he crashes.
Mike: No, when he wins. He never had that a year ago.
Kurt: Mike’s right. Kyle is getting his share of devotees with his antics, immature as they may sometimes be.
Bryan: He got a standing ovation for having to pit under green.
Beth: Who cares how many fans he has? Every driver has fans.
Mike: There are people coming to his side, and as he ages, he’ll gain more and more. Eventually he’ll be in the Rusty/Darrell category.
Kurt: If Kyle keeps it up, he’s going to have a Tony Stewart-size following or bigger.
Mike: Well, back on track, Kyle was trying to do something entertaining and share with his crew. What he ended up doing was stupid and hurt some people’s feelings. In the long run, I think he’ll learn a lesson from it and we’ll all be better for it. I read somewhere today that when you get the checkered flag, the trophy is yours to do with as you please. Most people just wouldn’t smash it.
Beth: But he should apologize to Bass, the track and the race sponsor.
Bryan: Fine, Kyle had the right to smash the trophy. But he angered the race sponsor and a longtime NASCAR artist. Now he can deal with the consequences of exercising his rights. Freedom to do something isn’t free.
Kurt: Watch, Kyle will do something for Sam Bass. But I doubt he’ll care what his detractors think.

The latest casualty of the sliding economy is reigning Camping World Truck Series champ Johnny Benson, whose No. 1 CWTS team will shut down effective immediately while Red Horse Racing teammate TJ Bell remains in his ride. Is this a wise move by team ownership and sponsors, or is it short-sighted?

Mike: It is NASCAR.
Bryan: I don’t think it’s really up to ownership. Bell brings sponsor dollars.
Mike: The sponsor wants young and marketable, so that’s what stays in the ride.
Beth: If the sponsorship isn’t there, then it’s not there. It’s just a shame that the defending champion got the bad end of that deal.
Jeff: It is ludicrous!
Mike: Forget about the champion. It sucks, but it would seem to me that the marketing department should be fired before Johnny.
Amy: On one hand, it’s the right thing to do. On the other, it’s short-sighted to fire a proven champion, who is more than capable of doing it again, for someone has yet to prove he’ll ever be championship caliber.
Bryan: It is, but that’s not up to Red Horse Racing. Bell brings the dollars, he gets to race.
Kurt: Well I don’t know the whole story there, either. Maybe Benson offered to take the fall to help the younger guy. Maybe Benson has another offer.
Mike: I doubt it, Kurt.
Kurt: Maybe Benson will be taking over the No. 18 in the Nationwide Series!
Beth: I don’t understand why Benson can’t get a sponsor.
Jeff: The defending champ can’t get a sponsor, err, oops… could get one, but the networks nixed the deal.
Amy: This isn’t like firing Mike Skinner for a young guy in Cup. It would be more like firing Johnson to keep Brad Keselowski.
Mike: And if Johnson didn’t have a sponsor, and Keselowski did, they’d do that Amy.
Bryan: Bell always brings sponsor dollars. He brought them to McGill Motorsports in NNS, he brought them to Roush, to TRG last year and now to Red Horse.
Amy: But yet, Bell couldn’t stay in any of those rides.
Beth: If they dump Bell, you automatically take out a young driver who can develop in the seat. No matter the decision, someone is going to be unhappy.
Vito: Hands down, the dumbest decision ever. Really nice they do it the same week the series is coming to Michigan – his home state and home track in the same race he nearly won last year (and I’m still not so sure he didn’t).
Beth: It’s not fair, but that’s part of racing in NASCAR. You bring in sponsors and you race, you don’t and you risk losing your ride.
Bryan: Here’s hoping Johnny at least finds a late model to run at Berlin.
Kurt: Benson was seventh in the standings, Bell 20th. Hmmm.
Mike: It is the same in all forms of racing. Probably more so than in NASCAR. There are idiots in open-wheel cars solely because they have sponsorship dollars.
Vito: Defending Series champion, Busch Series champion, Cup Rookie of the Year. Nah, let’s keep this kid who we don’t have to pay. Benson is the Chuck Norris of NASCAR.
Mike: Actually, Benson is the Rodney Dangerfield of NASCAR.
Amy: I think it will come back and bite them, personally, Vito. They won’t contend now. There is a reason Benson is seventh in points and Bell is 20th when theoretically Bell, with a sponsor, is getting better equipment.
Bryan: They’ll stay on the track though, Amy. And seriously, Bell’s not a Kyle Krisiloff or John Wes Townley – he’s actually shown talent before.
Vito: John Wes Townley. Like he doesn’t sound like an axe murderer.
Bryan: He might as well be one with the number of wrecks he causes.
Amy: No, he’s just a racecar murderer. But seriously, you don’t dump the defending champion for some guy who’s 20th in points and expect to perform.
Mike: It’s not about performing, it’s about staying afloat. And the only way to stay afloat is race the one bringing you the money.
Amy: And pretty soon the sponsors will run out of patience.
Bryan: They will not, Amy. TJ has had the same sponsors since he was racing with the McGill team back in ‘05 or ’06.
Beth: Is it at all possible that the sponsors had their say already? If the sponsors are with a certain driver, there’s probably a reason.
Kurt: Possibly, Beth.
Vito: …But the week before he comes to his home track… maybe you let champion driver come home, run a race, have a shot at winning and attract a sponsor to keep said operation afloat.
Amy: It’s not performance, so what is it? I understand marketability.
Beth: It is performance, Amy.
Mike: It’s money. Plain and simple.
Kurt: There are a lot of examples of guys in rides without the performance.
Amy: It’s not performance; otherwise, you’d take the guy who actually performs!
Beth: Bell hasn’t run that bad this season, and like Bryan said, he’s had some pretty bad luck.
Bryan: Amy, Red Horse has enough money to keep one truck going. So they put the driver who brought their money on the track. That’s all there is to it.
Amy: He’s 20th in points! Benson is seventh in the second truck!
Bryan: They’re not dissing Benson and they’re not lifting Bell on a pedestal, Amy. He has money to race. He gets to race.
Kurt: Benson may just be in the situation Ward Burton and Sterling Marlin were in. Good drivers, but how long were they going to do it?
Beth: Before he signed with RHR, Benson was thinking about retiring, or at least racing part-time.
Vito: I wonder if he has any Toyota ties that would keep him out of something.
Mike: Maybe Kevin Harvick will put Johnny in a truck for Michigan?
Vito: Screw it. Now Johnny can go back to Cup where he belongs. Remember who he was dropped for: SCOTT RIGGS! Awesome decision, Valvoline. Now, I use Mobil 1.
Mike: Maybe Tommy Baldwin will put him in the car to start-and-park.
Bryan: Skinner stole that gig, Mike.
Jeff: Didn’t Johnny drive for Ganassi?
Vito: No. MB2, then MBV when Valvoline dropped him.
Kurt: Riggs took over just before it became an Evernham team, if I recall.
Vito: Valvoline bought part of the team. They wanted some ownership, and wouldn’t give Roush the money that boner pill company would.
Bryan: Maybe Parsons will get JB to run his MSRP car. Use a champion’s provisional here and there.
Mike: Maybe Red Bull will put him in place of Scott Speed!
Kurt: Speed. There’s a guy not living up to his name.
Vito: Johnny would fit in perfectly with Red Bull’s image: mid-40s, boiler glasses, from Michigan.
Bryan: Personally, I’d like to see him take Townley’s Nationwide ride.
Kurt: Johnny Wes Benson.
Mike: I’d like to see him take Casey Mears’s Cup ride.
Vito: Johnny: The Man in Black Returns to Cup. I can write that.
Jeff: Well I, for one will never buy another Red Horse!
Amy: Anyhow, I just wonder how these sponsors are getting a return on their investment. From a sponsor’s point of view, I would think someone who can take you to victory lane now is a better gamble than a guy who has been in it for five years and never won.
Bryan: Bell’s got potential. The sponsors backing him aren’t crazy.
Vito: And the ones NOT backing Benson ARE.
Bryan: Amen, Vito.
Beth: Bell’s sponsors obviously want to back him for a reason.
Amy: But he’s been around six years, is almost 30, hasn’t won a race, has only led one lap and has only one top five. This over a multi-series champion! How is there money in NOT WINNING?
Mike: I don’t know. Ask Mears and Jamie McMurray.
Amy: They have wins, Mike. More than Bell has.
Bryan: Three in a combined what… 15-plus years?
Vito: And how is there money being given to guys who have proven that they are failures and are not going to succeed but the series champion, and a guy with 15 years of NASCAR performance on his resume, is looking for a ride?
Bryan: Let’s not get confused about the sponsors here. These aren’t new sponsors. The sponsors in question have been with Bell for years. It’s not like it’s a choice between Bell or Benson. There are some out there that stick with a guy and that’s respectable.
Beth: I actually like that from a sponsor, Bryan. Shows they’re truly loyal to the driver they’re backing.
Amy: But how does that get you more money than a guy who had better stats in eight races this year?
Jeff: They probably have a contract and a lawyer. RHR doesn’t have the say so to oust Bell over Benson.
Amy: It’s admirable, but, well, that’s pennywise and pound foolish.
Beth: Well when you sponsor a team, Amy, you can choose whatever driver you want to. In the meantime, Bell’s sponsors have chosen him, and sadly, that’s how it works in NASCAR.
Kurt: You could question why Hendrick let Busch go instead of Mears. I’m not comparing Benson to Kyle, I’m just saying it’s not just performance all the time.
Jeff: So, because of a network’s political views, we as fans and the series suffer the loss of a good team and good driver? Is ***hat more acceptable to print than ***hole?
Amy: Yes, but Benson is a champion and not a colossal ***hat.
Kurt: That’s not what I’m saying, I’m just saying you have other reasons.
Vito: I still fancy “jerkoff.”
Kurt: But seriously, based on results alone, Kyle kicks Mears’s butt in every way possible.
Bryan: Look, this is not a matter of a team hanging out a past champion for a young gun. This is a team battling for survival, and the way for them to do it is to have their funded driver race.
Amy: Seriously, I understand wanting a guy to look good in commercials and make the pit puppies swoon, but performance is what gets airtime during races – and airtime during races is what gets sponsors a return on the investment.
Bryan: Argue the business sense of Bell’s sponsors all you want, that is the business. Benson deserves a ride, but that’s no reason to criticize Bell keeping his.
Kurt: Right, Bryan. It’s especially tough in the Truck Series at the moment.
Bryan: The Truck Series is in trouble, Kurt. Nine trucks parked early out of 33 Friday. That’s awful.
Jeff: So, why ain’t we railing on the network?! They will advertise to make me “perform” better but won’t allow a gun manufacturer?
Bryan: If the network did drive a potential sponsor away from Benson, shame on them. That’s disgraceful.
Jeff: They did, Bryan. Don’t you read my stuff?
Bryan: I do read your stuff. I edit it most of the time, but I didn’t remember it being conclusive.
Beth: You got the word from SPEED yourself, Jeff. They said they didn’t discourage anything.
Bryan: Anyway, I hope Bell runs well and that Red Horse does well. They’ve stuck with the Truck Series for years, they deserve to survive.

Predictions for Michigan?

Jeff: I pick Carl for Michigan.
Mike: Put me down for Greg Biffle.
Kurt: You never go wrong with Johnson, so I’ll take him.
Vito: Ryan Newman.
Bryan: Edwards finally breaks through at MIS. He ran markedly better in both the Cup and NNS cars this week, and that will carry over.
Amy: I think Martin wins this time.
Kurt: I hope so, Amy. My team needs a rebound after Denny Hamlin this week. One of my drivers lasted 500 feet!
Vito: Mark has had a top three car the last three weeks and finished 17th, ninth, and 19th. Pretty sure I know where Tony Eury Jr. ended up.
Beth: I’m probably going to regret this, but I’m picking Kurt Busch.
Kurt: Not a bad pick, Beth. He is good at speedways this year.
Bryan: And has multiple wins at MIS.
Beth: I’m a little hesitant because the first time I picked him this season was his worst race.
Kurt: Beth, I know you will never believe it, but repeat after me: I cannot influence a race by who I pick.

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 14 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 16 15 1 5 7
Tom Bowles 14 -2 6 1 4 4
Kurt Smith 14 -2 13 2 4 7
Bryan Davis Keith 11 -5 13 2 5 5
Amy Henderson 9 -7 16 1 4 6
Vito Pugliese 7 -9 9 0 1 5
Mike Neff 6 -10 10 0 3 4
Jeff Meyer 1 -15 9 0 1 3
Tony Lumbis 0 -16 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway 0 -16 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -19 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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