Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: The Death of NASCAR Road Ringers, the Great Rain Debate & Truck Talk

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)
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)

Marcos Ambrose had two top-two finishes at Watkins Glen, but most of the top spots on Monday went to the usual suspects – the same drivers who run in the top 10 or close to it most weeks. Is the road-course ringer a dying breed?

Amy: I think so, which is kind of a bummer.
Kurt: Boris Said was talking about that. He thinks the regulars have a better feel for the new car… but there were still quite a few in the field.
Vito: I don’t think so. Max Papis ran well, Boris had a good run going and Ambrose had the best car all day (and while he isn’t a ringer) they are definitely his specialty.
Bryan: I wouldn’t call it a dying breed as much as the ringers are now playing on a more level playing field. They’re still proving capable of delivering solid finishes. Ron Fellows ran well on Saturday and Patrick Carpentier was top 15 at Sonoma.
Jeff: But look at the history… how many times has a ringer won? Not very often.
Amy: Also partly due to the Chase, ringers aren’t going to get a decent ride anymore. But there is still a small niche for them among those struggling to stay in the Top 35.
Jeff: They were always there for the lesser teams to get a good finish! That’s who always hired them.
Kurt: I don’t know that I’d miss the ringers that much. I haven’t seen spectacular performances from them too often. And Boris had a bad day again. Papis ran out of gas but he was doing well.
Bryan: Boris had a heck of a race on Saturday, though. Scoring a top 15 in that No. 09 car took some work.
Amy: I think not running in the series, or in the cars, consistently hurts the ringers. It’s harder to jump in and drive than it used to be.
Beth: This car isn’t exactly something you can just drive part-time and expect to have a good feel of.
Kurt: Yes, I think the car more than anything else has been a problem. It’s hard for the Cup guys to drive on road courses, but they drive it every week.

See also
Marcos Ambrose's Pit Strategy Doomed His Chances at Watkins Glen

Bryan: Plus, the Cup guys have taken road racing much more seriously over the last decade or so.
Kurt: A lot of the road-course ringers drove for teams that are now defunct, too. I think the attrition of weaker teams has played a part. You used to see guys like Tom Hubert driving for some start and park team.
Bryan: Very good point there, Kurt. PPI Motorsports is gone, MB2 Motorsports is gone….
Jeff: Like I said, traditionally the ringers were hired by lower-tier teams just to ensure a good finish.
Amy: It seemed like the bigger teams would sometimes spring another car for a ringer or two, though, and you don’t see that much anymore.
Vito: Because it isn’t 1995. The cars are too close and the drivers are all that much better. There isn’t a guy in the Top 35 that shouldn’t be out there.
Bryan: Amy, you don’t see big teams springing out extra cars period these days. Big teams used to roll out extra cars for plate races, some R&D cars, etc. There’s just no money to do that anymore. But the way I see it, the ringers still have a place in these events and we’ll continue to see them. The difference is, the guys running for the Cup have come to take road racing seriously and they’ve gotten very good at it. Plus, when you’re facing the same two courses year after year, it’s a lot less picking up a discipline and more learning two racetracks.
Jeff: How many ringers have won at the road-course races over the years? Not many.
Amy: No, not many, but they do tend to make it interesting.
Vito: You’d have guys run well. The closest one came to winning was Tommy Kendall in 1991, but he got a flat on the last lap.
Bryan: Fellows won last year – in the Nationwide Series, but he still took a race.
Kurt: They’ll also get a better finish than the full-time Cup guy, too, and that’s more prize money.
Amy: Does anyone else think the drivers show more emotion on the road courses?
Beth: Absolutely.
Bryan: No. We just see more contact and stuff because the stock cars just aren’t meant to run on those circuits.
Vito: See, I think it’s yes because it’s so much harder to pass and the cars are constantly on the verge of wrecking.
Kurt: They do kind of get fired up more. I haven’t seen David Reutimann so irritated as when he road races.
Bryan: That’s because he sucks at it.
Amy: In my opinion, they seem to get aggressive and mix it up – retaliation and all. I really enjoyed the races this weekend, more than most of the summer races so far.
Vito: I love the road courses. I just wish there were more of them and the cars were more adept to it. Whether that means making them lighter, using bigger tires or a different track configuration, I think they need another date or two.
Kurt: I’d like to see a road course with banking.
Vito: Daytona?
Amy: I agree. There need to be four of them, and one needs to be in the Chase.
Bryan: I’d be fine if it stayed two road races, but mix the courses up. Take these guys to Road Atlanta.
Kurt: I don’t know if there should be one in the Chase. I don’t lose sleep over it. It would be OK – I wouldn’t argue it – but I don’t really mind that there isn’t one.
Amy: How can you call someone a champion if he doesn’t have to race on one kind of track to win it?
Kurt: I hear you; but I also think a champion should be the best over 36 races, not 10.
Amy: I agree, Kurt; but if you’re going to have the Chase, it needs a road course.
Vito: I always thought that would make a good championship series – one of each track, at least. As it is, it’s a bit convoluted. At least have one of each in the Chase for posterity. Look how many times over the years that the champion has won on a road course that year.
Bryan: Amy, by your rationale none of these guys are champs because they haven’t won on dirt. Until they put a dirt track on the Cup slate, it doesn’t matter if there’s a road course in the Chase. The Cup slate doesn’t offer up every racing discipline, so why should the Chase try to act like it does?
Amy: I love dirt racing, but its time has passed at this level.
Vito: Because they aren’t running claimer engines and ‘85 Monte Carlos.
Kurt: Dirt racing would be tough in Cup because of the car. You couldn’t run that splitter on dirt.
Bryan: Then rip the damned thing off! Why not? Let’s race on the real Pikes Peak. The beauty of the CoT is you can run it anywhere, remember?
Kurt: OK, sold.
Amy: Remember back in the day? Teams cherry-picked races, some chose not to run dirt, others only ran dirt and some ran both.
Kurt: Instead of trying to get a Cup race on dirt, why not have a dirt-track series? To go with the Truck and Nationwide series… the Lowe’s Dirt Series.
Bryan: No. NASCAR could and would screw up dirt racing if they got into it.
Kurt: Well, back to the original question. The road ringers are still there but are less in number because there are fewer small teams and because they’re having trouble adjusting to the new car.
Amy: You won’t see as many ringers anymore, except for teams trying to get in the Top 35. The days of fielding a ringer in an extra car for bragging rights are over.
Jeff: The ringers have all just been a media thing. History shows they never win; so by definition, they aren’t ringers!
Bryan: The ringers will always be there and steal some good runs.
Kurt: What kind of a name is “Ringer?” It’s “Winger.”
Jeff: Like ‘Dinger.

After two nasty crashes in the carousel turn at Watkins Glen, both incidents in which a driver was catapulted back across the track, does the track need to make a change to that corner for safety?

Jeff: No.
Beth: What are they going to change?
Amy: I don’t think they should reconfigure. But could they use a different barrier or a dirt trap up there? Maybe.
Bryan: A dirt trap isn’t a bad idea, Amy.
Beth: A dirt trap that small wouldn’t slow them down that much, though.
Kurt: Wow, I never even thought of that… but those crashes were pretty scary. Some kind of SAFER barrier maybe would help, too?
Bryan: I definitely think they can improve that. Put up some kind of barrier that runs like a wall across that turn.
Jeff: Racing is dangerous. For you readers out there that don’t know: stuff happens.
Kurt: Well, you have to look out for safety, Jeff. If it keeps happening, maybe they should look into it. Or some kind of cushion on the wall that would keep cars from rebounding somehow.
Vito: That was pretty remarkable how it just flung Sam Hornish Jr. and Jason Leffler‘s car up in the air like that. They originally put in the bus stop to slow the cars down after JD McDuffie was killed there in 1990.
Amy: If those guys had buried it in the dirt, they wouldn’t have been slung back onto the track. And it would keep them from entering so hot.
Bryan: I definitely don’t think they should change the track configuration, but there’s no reason not to work on the walls.
Amy: That’s one area ISC could improve on all-around. ISC is much less proactive than Bruton is in terms of safety.
Jeff: So then if they have a bad wreck somewhere else, we’ve got to fix that, too? Why don’t we just go back to racing on Daytona Beach.
Bryan: Why not race on the beach, Jeff?
Vito: Hey Bryan, you’d get that dirt date you’re pushing for.
Jeff: That’s what I’m saying. Plenty of room, no one gets hurt.
Kurt: If you have the same kind of wreck, Jeff, they have to look at it. Like at Loudon.
Amy: Exactly Kurt, especially since Jeff Gordon and others knew exactly what was going to happen because it always happens that way.
Vito: They could push that barrier back a little bit without affecting the older Formula 1 portion of the track.
Jeff: But people, danger is part of the sport. It’s being able to not crash there that separates the men from the boys. You can’t just have generic tracks everywhere.
Bryan: Jeff, it’s not going to take anything away from racing at the Glen to change the walls. That’s like saying that we shouldn’t put SAFER barriers up because drivers fear hitting the wall less.
Kurt: NASCAR can never accept that racing is dangerous and do nothing.
Beth: I don’t have a problem with some safety improvements there, but I definitely don’t think a reconfigure is the fix.
Bryan: No reconfiguration is needed.
Jeff: I have no problem with changing the walls, but don’t change the track.
Bryan: Then we agree.
Jeff: Yes.
Bryan: The track is fine. With all that space outside the carousel, there is plenty of room for work to be done on new walls, barricades, etc. without altering the racing groove.
Kurt: A comprehensive, well-thought out solution is needed here, one that I cannot provide on the spur of the moment in this space.
Jeff: C’mon boy! Think on yer feet!
Kurt: How about banking the turn?
Bryan: For crying out loud, just put fences on both sides of the carousel, just like in the esses.
Jeff: Plates! That’s the answer!
Bryan: Plates and splitters. We need more of them.
Jeff: And wings. With sauce.
Amy: I don’t think that after a nasty wreck like we saw two of this week, that you just do nothing.
Jeff: You going to say that about every nasty wreck, Amy? Racing produces nasty wrecks.
Amy: If there is something that could be done to improve safety, then of course. A few years ago, you didn’t have SAFER barriers. Now you do and it hasn’t hurt the racing.
Jeff: And look how many racers didn’t die all those years without SAFER barriers. I’m just saying it’s all relative.
Amy: Look how many have died since, Jeff. But seriously, every time an improvement can be made to safety, it has to at least be looked at. Nobody is served by burying your head in the sand and saying “wrecks happen.”
Jeff: Was anyone hurt at the Glen?
Amy: The right question is could anyone have been hurt. And if the answer is yes, then you ask what can be done to minimize that risk.
Jeff: I’m not against safety! But you are never gonna make it totally safe? It’s the risk of death that draws the competitors and the fans.
Amy: I disagree, Jeff. I’ve seen a driver die. It wasn’t fun. Not taking every possible measure to improve safety is negligent!
Jeff: I’m not going there, Amy.
Bryan: Taking every possible measure means to park the cars for good.
Amy: And the risk of death isn’t what draws everyone. I’m not saying they need to ruin the corner, just look at ways to make cars less likely to be catapulted out in front of other cars.
Bryan: Even if it’s not, Amy, we all accept the risk when at the track, be it behind the wheel or in the stands. Everyone who takes part in any way in this sport puts their lives on the line to do so. We’ve said that millions of times. Now fix the damned wall, leave the track alone and see you next August.

Goodyear says that the company could easily make a rain tire that could stand up to the pounding of the Sprint Cup cars. So is it time to bite the bullet and race in the rain at the road courses… ensuring that the teams and fans will not have to return on Monday to fit the race in?

Amy: Hell yes. Every other major racing series in the world runs rain tires.
Bryan: Bring on the rain tires. Montreal was great. Tell Goodyear to get off their butts and get developing.
Beth: Absolutely! It worked just fine in Nationwide last year.
Vito: Yes. They’ve been dinking around with this for 15 years now. Get it over with already. They raced without incident in Japan in 1997 and last year at Montreal was fun to watch.
Jeff: Goodyear can barely make a regular tire to stand up to the CoT, though.
Kurt: I’m with Jeff on this one. Speaking for myself, I have no interest in watching a race in the rain. I’d rather the race run on Monday.
Amy: I do see where Kurt is coming from, though I’m not sure I’d want to pay to sit in the rain. But if I had to work on Monday, I’d rather sit in the rain than not get to see the race.
Kurt: Being in any sports venue in the rain is not fun.
Beth: Well, that’s a risk you take. People do it for football and baseball. What’s the difference? If Goodyear can bring a rain tire that stands up, then let them race.
Vito: Think how many people build a vacation around a race weekend. If it rains and the race is pushed back a day, your vacation might be shot.
Bryan: For crying out loud, the weather isn’t always grand just because it isn’t raining. Should they have postponed Martinsville in March of ‘08 when it was windy, 30 degrees and drizzling all day for the sake of fan comfort?
Kurt: What about thunderstorms? Could lightning hit a metal grandstand? No thanks.
Amy: If there is danger to the fans from lightning, you have to clear the stands, no question. But just showers? Go race.
Vito: If anything, it’s good just for the morbid curiosity and entertainment value of cars spinning around.
Jeff: So they make a good rain tire – next it’s the wipers that are making the racing unsafe and no can figure out a good wiper configuration for the CoT.
Bryan: If Dale Earnhardt taught us anything, it was that it doesn’t take a wiper to clean a windshield.
Vito: Jake Blues taught us this as well.
Amy: They do need to find something that defogs the windows to make it safe; but if you can do that, it’s fine.
Bryan: Enduring weather is part of any sporting event. Attending these races isn’t just a walk in the park, it’s a rite of passage. I love bad-weather sporting events – the spirit of “we’re all in this together” is great.
Vito: I agree wholeheartedly. It used to be a brotherhood of fans, camping in mud, heat, snow, you name it.
Kurt: Well if people are willing to buy tickets to see it, fine, but I wouldn’t go if I was going as a fan. I’ve sat in ballparks during rain delays. It sucks.
Amy: If I’m sitting in the stands and I paid good money for my seat, I’d be pretty pissed to have to throw it away.
Kurt: You wind up sitting in a venue all day in the rain though, for an extra three hours longer than you planned.
Bryan: Exactly, and a ton of race fans have to be at work on Monday.
Jeff: Then pick your races and plan for rain accordingly. That’s what we have always done; I always planned for a rainout when going as a fan.
Kurt: I agree, Jeff: have a contingency plan for the possibility. It’s not like it’s new. By the way, if they didn’t start the races at 2:30 they might get them in.
Amy: Whole other can of worms, but an earlier start would once again have made the difference between racing and not.
Vito: Exactly. Had they started at 12:30, they could have got most of the race in and finished after drying the track.
Jeff: That’s just common sense.
Kurt: It’s all because of the west coast audience. Blah, blah, blah.
Bryan: I’m not going to debate the start times, but if there is a way to run the race on the date it’s scheduled, do it. The end.
Kurt: Of course, we’re arguing this point under the assumption that rain races would be safe, and we don’t know that. There would be less visibility and who knows what the tires could handle.
Bryan: Goodyear proved what it can do at Indy, though, when it actually buckles down and does its job. They can make a rain tire for this car.
Amy: I agree, Kurt; and yes, it would have to be safe, no question. But if it can be, then there’s no reason not to.
Bryan: And if Goodyear can’t, bring in another tire company that can.
Jeff: Bridgestone!
Kurt: I wonder what the drivers think? They probably would be for it. They’re sick of not having Monday off this year.
Amy: Drivers, from what I’ve been told, have mixed feelings.
Bryan: Well I say race in the rain. It’s good for TV and in terms of fans – it’ll separate the men from the boys.
Jeff: Amen. The race goes on rain or shine.

Absent from the road-course schedule this year is the Camping World Truck Series. Should the series add some right turns to the schedule?

Amy: Yes! They put on the best show at every track they go to – they should absolutely run a few road courses.
Jeff: No… Ron Hornaday can’t turn right! It would screw up his “accomplishment.”
Beth: No way!
Bryan: As long as it doesn’t require the teams to build unique trucks. Otherwise, if ARCA regulars can do it, the Truck guys can.
Kurt: I haven’t seen a truck race on a road course, so I don’t know. I’d say your opinion probably falls on whether you like road courses.
Amy: They used to race at the Glen.
Kurt: Given how the cars beat and bang, I’ll bet road courses with trucks would be fun.
Bryan: Put the trucks on a tight road course like Lime Rock or someplace similar. It’d be great.
Vito: Yeah, whatever happened to Heartland Park in Topeka?
Amy: Lime Rock would be good, as would the Glen. Or Mid-Ohio.
Vito: Road Atlanta would be cool.
Bryan: Hey, good idea: Team up ARCA and Trucks for a Millville weekend. I like it.
Jeff: Wisconsin. I need more beer.
Kurt: How about the Glen without the chicane?
Amy: Seriously, there is no reason to not do it and every reason to throw some in.
Bryan: It really depends. If the teams would have to build unique trucks to handle that race, I’d oppose it. The last thing they need is to spend more money.
Vito: Keep in mind the Truck Series needs to keep costs down and road-course racing involves a completely different truck, brakes, etc.
Kurt: And what would get taken out of the schedule?
Beth: Exactly, Kurt. There’s not really any race I’d like to give up.
Amy: Cookie cutters! Any of the cookie cutters.
Beth: Even the cookie cutters put on a good show for Trucks. There’s not a single race on the schedule that I’d like to see go.
Kurt: It’s a tough call in that and the Nationwide Series. They race at all the places Cup should race.
Bryan: Fontana?
Amy: Toss Kansas and Fontana.
Kurt: But here’s a thought: with truck races being much shorter, wouldn’t most all of the races be about the fuel mileage? There would only be one pit stop each race.
Bryan: Getting back to what Vito said about the costs, that really is my only concern with this.
Beth: And it’s a huge concern, since the majority of the teams aren’t in great shape as it is.
Amy: The poor Nationwide teams manage.
Bryan: But then again, ARCA swapped over to road racing just recently and even the guys like Brad Smith and Darrell Basham are still showing up.
Vito: Because it’s probably easy to find a used up old Cup car in road-racing guise.
Kurt: I’m actually surprised that the Trucks don’t run on a road course. You would think they’d at least have one.
Amy: I’d rather watch a road course than Fontana any day of the week.
Kurt: Everyone picks on Fontana.
Amy: They’d have to add at least two venues to justify building a road-course truck.
Kurt: Maybe when things look up a little bit financially. It would be fun to watch them beat and bang.
Bryan: The Truck Series field is pathetic right now.
Beth: I don’t like the idea. It’ll cost the teams more money they don’t have and it’ll take away a race on the schedule that I don’t want to see go away. Even some of those teams that are still racing don’t know if they’ll have a sponsor to finish out the season.
Amy: Neither do several NNS teams.
Bryan: And let me clarify, I’m not taking shots at the trucks still racing. It’s the fact that 33% of the field is starting and parking that’s pathetic.
Amy: On no planet would a road race not be better than any race at Fontana.
Beth: Well then I guess you and I are on a different planet, Amy.
Bryan: I like the idea, but now is not the time to force yet another chassis on teams that don’t have enough money as is. Now, if NASCAR did something about the pathetic purses….
Beth: And the fact that they’re not promoting it nearly enough.
Vito: Agreed. I’d like to see a road-course truck race, but we need to attend to more pressing matters first: i.e., getting half the field to the first pit stop and getting people to watch it.

OK, predictions for MIS?

Beth: Mark Martin for the sweep.
Kurt: Tony Stewart for two in a row.
Amy: I’m going to say Jimmie Johnson has enough fuel this time.
Bryan: Johnson for the W.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Vito: I’m going with Edwards, too.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Beth Lunkenheimer 34 23 2 10 14
Bryan Davis Keith 27 -7 20 3 9 11
Amy Henderson 24 -10 24 3 8 12
Kurt Smith 22 -12 17 3 6 10
Vito Pugliese 17 -17 13 1 4 8
Tom Bowles 15 -19 7 1 4 5
Mike Neff 10 -24 16 0 4 8
Jeff Meyer 7 -27 16 0 4 7
Tony Lumbis 0 -34 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway -2 -36 2 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -37 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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