Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Kahne Turns Right, Chase Contenders & Pretenders, & Cup Teams Take a Hit… in Nationwide?

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)

The first road course of the year is in the books. Were there any surprises at Infineon and did we learn anything from this one?

Mike: Um yeah, Kasey Kahne freaking won.
Jeff: Kasey Kahne!
Kurt: Kasey winning – now that was a surprise! And not just winning but holding off Tony Stewart of all drivers.

See also
Kasey Kahne Wins a Wild 2009 Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Beth: Yeah, Kahne shocked me, that’s for sure.
Amy: RPM having three cars in the top 10 was definitely a surprise!
Bryan: That performance Kahne made to win the race was very impressive. Stewart was chomping at the bit and Kahne was flawless.
Mike: Kahne restarted what, five times next to Stewart… and never got passed? That was amazing.
Bryan: There wasn’t a driver in the field that would have passed Kahne the way he drove during the final stretch. My respect for Kahne went up big time after that race. He flat earned that one.
Kurt: How about Kyle Busch, Boris Said and Jeff and Robby Gordon all getting put back in the field?
Jeff: No sympathy for Kyle here. Kurt Busch maybe, but not Kyle. Had Kyle won, he would have downed the wine and dashed the glass on a stone!
Mike: Busch got wrecked. Said got wrecked. Gordon had a bad day.
Beth: Kyle Busch got wrecked by a guy that he managed to wreck first. He got what he deserved for once.
Mike: Robby caught a bad brake. He was going to make a run for that win and got caught by the caution.
Bryan: Robby was so close to winning this one. Man was he close.
Kurt: Jeff Gordon still finished ninth, but speeding on pit road is very uncharacteristic of him.
Amy: I was surprised at Said’s seeming lapse of memory about how to race at Infineon.
Kurt: Me too. Said seemed like a total amateur out there. And Patrick Carpentier didn’t do anything Michael Waltrip couldn’t have done.
Beth: He looked like a rookie on the track.
Mike: I wonder how many Saidheads put bags on their heads – or at least lost their wigs.
Bryan: Again Amy, I don’t think Boris forgot how to race, he just didn’t care. I’m telling you, the way this sport has forgotten him after all the favors he’s done to the entire Cup field really seems to have gotten to him.
Amy: I was really, really pleased with the double-file restarts, though. Nothing crazy happened and on tracks like Infineon, they are a huge benefit to the racing.
Beth: I agree Amy. They definitely made it more exciting.
Jeff: Too much was made of the double-file restarts. It’s the way things should have been done all along anyway. Just shows that the right way is the best way!
Amy: That was one of the best races of the season, actually. Totally strengthens my argument that a road course needs to be in the Chase.
Kurt: I agree, Amy. It had everything.
Mike: They didn’t have any big ones, which surprised me. When Brandon Ash got sideways in the middle of the pack and no one hit him, that was impressive driving by everyone back there.
Bryan: Poor Ash. Of all the guys to get trashed like that. He ran so well during the race too.
Kurt: Jimmie Johnson is another surprise. He drove very well.
Beth: Until he dumped Kurt Busch.
Jeff: That was a racing deal.
Kurt: Exactly – a racin’ deal.
Beth: Sure it happens, but you don’t expect a three-time champion to make that kind of a mistake.
Mike: I don’t even know that Jimmie’s was a mistake. It just kind of happened.
Bryan: I don’t know. He definitely put his car where no one normally does. He got away with speeding on pit road, too.
Amy: Johnson has worked his tail off to get better on road courses and it finally showed. And props to Tony Eury Jr. for that, by the way. He ran the No. 48’s road test.
Mike: Promise me one thing, though: Can we stop saying SHOOTOUT STYLE?!? PLEASE!!!!!!
Bryan: Amen Wally!
Mike: Good God that was so freaking annoying.
Kurt: What’s with TNT guys calling Wally WD?
Jeff: as opposed to Bill Weber?
Kurt: IS that the opposite of DW?
Amy: Totally agree, Mike. WD needs a 40 on the end.
Kurt: Anyhow, Kahne was the biggest surprise followed by Johnson and then all of the guys who usually do well that didn’t. And how about AJ Allmendinger‘s rebound? That was amazing.
Mike: Allmendinger was a big surprise. He was a weapon early on. And I thought Ron Fellows was a bit of a surprise, too. I didn’t expect that much out of him.
Jeff: And Marcos Ambrose! My boy!
Beth: Ambrose was pretty great.
Mike: Ambrose has been great all year.
Kurt: Allmendinger may land a ride yet.
Amy: Allmendinger deserves a good ride
Bryan: Well, with RPM going to Toyota, he may be OK where he is. Looks like Kahne may start running Toyotas this summer. He and Elliott Sadler will be in the Nationwide ranks anyhow.

See also
Petty and Earnhardt (Possibly) to Toyota? The Times They Are-a-Changin'

Jeff: Proof that the manufacturer debate is over.
Mike: Sadler had a great day too, which was good for him. He usually qualifies well and then fades.
Kurt: Kudos to Kahne. He didn’t make my top 15 and I may regret that now.
Amy: Wrapping up, I think that all in all, Infineon was one of the best races we’ve seen this year.
Beth: Infineon was a better race than I ever expected, and the double-file restarts were a hit in my book.
Kurt: Maybe even the best race so far. Certainly better than Talladega – and no one was hurt.
Bryan: It wasn’t as good as Martinsville. But mad props to Kahne for showing me something and for exciting restarts.
Mike: I’m not a big road-course person, but it was a great race.
Kurt: Put two more road races on the schedule and lose two plate races.
Amy: Amen, Kurt.
Mike: No more road courses until we get dirt.
Jeff: At night.
Kurt: And of course, my street course.
Bryan: How about no more intermediate races until we get dirt?

10 races remain before the 10-race Chase begins. Realistically, is anyone not in the top 12 going to get in?

Kurt: Jeff Burton could make it, but he’ll need to find something.
Beth: Yeah, Burton may get a chance to sneak back in there, but that’s about it.
Jeff: Hard to tell right now – that list is tight!
Bryan: Burton is out and RCR is floundering.
Kurt: Yeah, it could be tough for RCR to get in at all this year.
Mike: I think there will be one or two shuffled in and out, but if you’re not in the top 14 now, you’re done.
Amy: I think Burton may climb back in. Other than that, I think the cream is pretty much at the top.
Mike: Clint Bowyer’s looked good. The other two, not so much.
Kurt: Juan Pablo Montoya is in now, right? I don’t know if he stays.
Bryan: Kahne is a definite contender, though it will be interesting to see if switching from Dodge to Toyota midseason will trip the No. 9 team up a bit. Although between JPM and Kahne, I’d take Kahne.
Jeff: What? Different decals won’t bother him that much!
Amy: Kahne isn’t consistent enough to be a real threat.
Mike: Kevin Harvick really sucks right now and no one is talking about that.
Kurt: Harvick has these off years.
Amy: Yes, but this is beyond off. He’s last in points at RCR.
Mike: It is amazing that he isn’t the subject of any stories or rumors about leaving RCR again.
Bryan: Mike they may start up soon. Harvick’s sponsor deal ends after this year.
Amy: He may be if RCR has to cut teams as they have hinted.
Beth: Kahne is only three points out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Chase.
Kurt: I think he’ll knock out Montoya.
Mike: I think JPM is going to make it. That team has been doing outstanding this year.
Kurt: Outstanding for EGR, but that may not cut it.
Mike: Outstanding for most organizations not named Hendrick you mean?
Amy: Montoya has been the Matt Kenseth of EGR: quietly there every week. If either Montoya or Kahne make the Chase, I’d be very, very surprised if they were competitive in it, though.
Kurt: Right, which makes you wonder why 12 drivers make it.
Jeff: I wouldn’t say that Amy, but this year isn’t over yet.
Mike: JPM will make it and finish sixth or seventh. There will be the three or four guys who have crappy starts and mail it in to start testing for next year.
Kurt: RPM doesn’t have enough to keep up with the big hitters in the last 10.
Bryan: But they’ll have Toyota horsepower by then.
Amy: Who is winning on Toyota power except for Gibbs, who build their own engines?
Bryan: Red Bull’s motors have more than what RPM is running.
Mike: There will be five or six guys running for the championship and then there will be Montoya right behind them.
Kurt: Does anyone think David Reutimann has a shot? I don’t, but who knows?
Bryan: Reutimann, no. He’s consistent enough to push for a berth, but not to run for a title.
Mike: No. Reutimann finishes too close to 20th too many times to make it.
Jeff: Reutimann has a shot to be in the Chase but he won’t win it.
Kurt: Well he has been consistent. Maybe he makes it if he doesn’t DNF and gets some luck. Maybe. It’s just hard to look at the current top 12 and imagine anyone falling out, except maybe Montoya.
Bryan: Kyle Busch maybe.
Mike: You’re on crack.
Kurt: I doubt Kyle will fall out.
Jeff: Kyle Busch would implode on himself if he doesn’t make the Chase!
Kurt: Busch will rack up a couple of wins before the Chase starts.
Bryan: Kyle’s got to actually start running well again at some point – he’s looking awfully mortal of late. He’s too busy leading the most laps in the Nationwide races.
Mike: He’s had some bad luck for a couple of weeks but that’s been it. He’ll be there when the Chase happens and might just peak at the right time this year.
Kurt: Make take is that Montoya might drops out and Kahne would move in, but no other changes are likely. It’s a long way to go, though.
Amy: You may see a couple of changes at the bottom, but who’s in right now is about right as to how they have been running all year, so….
Bryan: Busch, Montoya and Kenseth are the guys I see as vulnerable to falling out, though Ryan Newman also has me worried. Their intermediate package is still lacking and they lost a golden shot at shoring up points this weekend.
Kurt: I think Newman will be OK. He’s been better than at Penske.
Mike: I don’t think you’ll see anyone out of the top 14 in it unless Ambrose makes an amazing run.
Bryan: Ambrose is a year away.
Mike: At least, but he could catch lightning in a bottle for five weeks and get in.
Jeff: Mark Martin better shape up, too.
Kurt: Martin will be in.
Amy: The only one I can see getting on a hot streak is Brian Vickers. I still think that team is on the verge of winning.
Kurt: They’ve been on the verge for a while Amy, but they aren’t there yet.
Mike: That team is on the verge of killing themselves by shooting themselves in the foot every single week.
Amy: OK, you guys ready for Question 3?
Kurt: Q3?
Mike: 3Q.
Kurt: WD.
Amy: 40.
Jeff: 3PO. C3PO.
Amy: R2D2.
Jeff: BMW!
Kurt: BM!
Amy: TMI.
Jeff: SMI!
Mike: ISC?
Kurt: BMI.
Jeff: LOL!
Kurt: ASCAP.
Mike: EIEIO.
Kurt: ELO.
Amy: WTF?!
Bryan: …Shootout style!
Mike: Shut the hell up, Bryan.
Kurt: ROFL.
Jeff: FS freak out. Acronym overload.

Open-wheel star Danica Patrick has hinted at a NASCAR career in her future. Is this a wise move for Danica or her possible future team?

Mike: No. Next question.
Beth: Not at all.
Bryan: Not NASCAR. What is she thinking anyway? Money? There has to be exceptional talent to make the jump, and let’s face it, Danica is no Montoya.
Amy: Marketing-wise, it’s a good move, but very few open-wheel drivers have made NASCAR work.
Kurt: It would be a smart move for Danica and the team that lands her – they’d be the most marketable team out there.

See also
Thompson in Turn 5: NASCAR a Tough Decision for Danica Patrick

Mike: And for Brian France. And Danica’s merchandising company.
Jeff: Well, if she crashes and takes you out, you’d better make sure your crew chief isn’t heard calling her a ‘stupid b****’! (Sorry girls… I should be suspended indefinitely.)
Kurt: Good point, Jeff. I’m about tired of hearing it. I just wish the gal would pee or get off the pot.
Mike: Her team will kill themselves repairing her torn up cars.
Beth: Kyle Busch is enough spoiled brat for NASCAR. We don’t need Danica too.
Amy: Kyle Busch would love to have her – she makes him look mature.
Mike: I would love to see her get in Smoke’s face like she did with Dan Wheldon. That would be some classic video.
Bryan: Whose crew would work harder: John Wes Townley‘s or Patrick’s?
Amy: I think she’s both bane and boon to a potential car owner. Good for marketing, bad for everything else.
Mike: That would be the ratings boon of the century. NASCAR would outdraw the NFL if it happened.
Jeff: Not hardly, Mike. Maybe one week, but that is it.
Mike: Jeff, if NASCAR played it up right, it could last the entire Chase.
Kurt: She’s wearing this out. Well, maybe she isn’t but the press is. Not us of course.
Bryan: Exactly, all we’re doing by giving this rumor legitimacy is feeding the Danica Machine. So let’s stop, accept the fact that she wants to be nothing more than a big sexy fish in a small pond and get back to talking stock cars.
Amy: I think it would be a lot harder than she thinks it would be. I’d like to see her test a Cup car a few times and then see what she thinks.
Bryan: I’d pay to be at the test. With a scanner and a tow truck.
Kurt: And you have to ask what team would take her? It would probably be a struggling team looking for a sponsor.
Mike: How about race an ARCA car? There’s an idea.
Beth: Or how about trying out a Truck or Nationwide car first?
Amy: Gibbs might add a fourth team. What fun that would be. Roush was saying that she’d need two years of Nationwide experience first.
Mike: Can we move on now please?
Kurt: I don’t see her going to a major team. More likely to a place like EGR. With mediocre results.
Bryan: Fine, let her go to EGR, the graveyard for driver prospects. We’re done here!
Jeff: EGR is about dead, but Ganassi may have an inside track.
Amy: Seriously, it would be great for marketing and not so great for her racing.
Mike: Danica, please don’t come here. I don’t want you. Most of my friends don’t want you here. Just stay in your open-wheel cars and run seventh every week but Indy.

Toyota will reportedly pull its support from Nationwide and Truck teams, leaving both series with virtually no manufacturer support. Will this leave both series floundering without a life jacket?

Amy: Interestingly enough, I don’t think it would. It might actually weed out some of the Cup teams if the manufacturers aren’t footing the bill.
Kurt: Just how much do they contribute anyway?
Bryan: I don’t think it will either. There aren’t many NNS teams out there that rely heavily on manufacturer support as it is.
Jeff: No, the series will survive.
Beth: The teams that are well established will be alright, but teams wanting to make their break in either series are going to have a hard time.
Mike: I don’t think it will. It may make it nearly impossible for independent teams to be competitive. Although, for the most part, they’re competing that way already.
Bryan: Most of the independent teams out there already have help from bigger ones. Look at how many teams drive Chevys that KHI hung bodies on.
Amy: Not necessarily, Mike. While the big teams are losing money, smaller teams are losing virtually nothing.
Kurt: This would be a good time to reduce the size of the field.
Bryan: Can’t do that Kurt, then Phil Parsons couldn’t carpetbag a fortune out of the series every week.
Kurt: They’re going to have a hard time regardless. That would weed out the pretenders.
Mike: Maybe we’ll get to see 25 cars start and park every week.
Amy: I asked Kenny Wallace about it. He said that while teams like KHI lose a lot of money, his team doesn’t lose anything, because they didn’t have it to begin with.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: Kenny Wallace on the Fan Car, Big Changes and Using Your Imagination

Beth: The Truck Series needs their pretenders right now. That’s the only way the fields are even close to full.
Jeff: Well, I for one have lost respect for Joe Nemechek with having Extenze as a sponsor.
Bryan: It wasn’t Nemechek, Jeff, it was Kevin Conway. But wouldn’t it be great: Have the NNS become too cost prohibitive for Cup teams to ransack… awesome!
Jeff: Isn’t Conway driving Joe’s car?
Bryan: Yes, but come on, at least a NEMCO car was running the distance.
Mike: You have to get money where you can get it, Jeff.
Jeff: I know, but c’mon!
Amy: At first I really thought the move would kill both series, but now I’m not so sure. It might actually help in some respects.
Bryan: I agree Amy, I like this in all honesty. The only teams that are going to get hit by this are the big guys.
Mike: I agree. When I first thought about this question, I thought it would be bad for small teams, but you’re right, Amy. It really might help.
Kurt: I don’t think it will be too bad on its own, but with everything else, it’s just more tough times.
Beth: I’m still not convinced this will be a good thing in any way. However, with Toyota talking about pulling support, all of the teams would be on a more equal playing field.
Kurt: You mean Ford isn’t going to dominate?
Bryan: I mean seriously, the best way to get back to older-school racing is to get the technology out of here. The closer NNS gets to ARCA, the more excited I get.

OK, how about some predictions for New Hampshire?

Kurt: The 24.
Beth: Kurt Busch.
Mike: Kyle Busch.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Amy: Johnson.
Bryan: Johnson.
Bryan: Jinx… buy me a Coke.
Amy: Hell no, I said it first.
Bryan: I caught you.

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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