Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Mark Martin’s Mortal Blow, Regan’s Risk & Tackling Top-Tier Ticket Prices

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:
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)

Both Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson gambled and lost on fuel mileage at Michigan and both slipped in the points, with Martin now only 12 points inside the Chase bubble. Why would teams at that level take the chance, and will the mistake be fatal to Martin’s Chase chances or hurt Johnson’s strategy for Fontana in the playoffs?

Bryan: They took a chance because they’re racing to win, like they should be. Good for both of them; and Johnson is locked into the Chase, so why not roll the dice?
Amy: In Martin’s case, I can see why they tried it – it worked last time. But I have no idea what Knaus was thinking, because there was no way on God’s green earth the No. 48 was going to make it.
Mike N.: It was certainly a gamble for Martin. Johnson is in, so it wasn’t really a big shot for them. I was rather surprised, with as close as Martin is in the standings, that they took that chance.
Phil: Martin had too much to lose by trying that move. He should have pitted with 43 to go, taken four tires and made a run for the win.
Mike: 51 laps was a ton of laps. I can’t believe Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers made it.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Brian Vickers's Quiet Confidence Pays Off In Spades

Bryan: I loved seeing them go for it like that though. It gave a lot of credence to Martin’s assertions that he’s here just to win races.
Phil: Being able to go 51 laps yesterday, along with the typical gains in fuel mileage, means that the Michigan races next year could be three-stop races again.
Mike: Maybe, Phil. But if they institute fuel injection, who knows what they might be like?
Phil: I don’t think fuel injection’s going to show up in Sprint Cup by next year. Maybe 2012, but I won’t give it much more than that.
Mike: I don’t know. They made it sound like it wouldn’t take very much effort to implement. Of course, we are talking about NASCAR, so I think 2012 might be optimistic.
Amy: If you think teams cheat now, just wait until they have fuel injection.
Mike: It will be incredibly difficult to police, but I’m sure NASCAR will come up with some plan where they issue all of the parts that they think can be cheated up.
Bryan: Meanwhile, the HMS cars were hooked up Sunday and the Stewart-Haas cars suddenly weren’t. You can definitely see that the Chase is approaching.
Mike: Ah, the conspiracy theorists are coming out.
Bryan: Well, Ryan Newman struggling didn’t surprise me a bit. Tony Stewart, on the other hand….
Amy: Everyone has a bad race. I wouldn’t read too much into it. I disagree that Martin or Johnson made the right move on Sunday. If Martin misses the Chase, he has that race to thank.
Bryan: Or any of the first four races earlier in the year that he blew up or wrecked in.
Mike: Johnson is in the Chase and they were taking a shot for bonus points, so I didn’t think it was that much of a stretch for them. If they get a caution, they win the race.
Bryan: Come on, they went for the win and lost. That’s never the wrong call.
Amy: Ask if it was the wrong call when they’re 13th in points at Loudon.
Phil: Yeah, that’s probably true. As far as Johnson’s concerned, he can do whatever he wants. Martin needed the points much more than the victory Sunday.
Mike: I did think Martin would take the conservative route, but it is true that he maintains he’s going for wins and that backs it up.
Bryan: This mentality that we need to think about points is boorrrrinnngggg. Amazing that it took HMS of all teams to go against the grain with regard to points racing.
Amy: To finish up, after all Hendrick threw at him this year, if Martin doesn’t make the Chase, it’s a wasted season.
Bryan: Martin’s won four races and had that No. 5 car all over the TV screens. He’s winning and the sponsors have to be happy – for crying out loud, that’s not a waste.
Amy: In that he’s had the best stuff at HMS all year – possibly at the expense of his teammates – 13th would be a total waste.
Mike: I don’t know about wasted. It will be a disappointing result, but he is having fun and has rejuvenated his career and his fans.
Bryan: Who cares if Martin makes the Chase? It’s not like winning a Chase Cup is going to make up for all the times under the old system he came up short. They’re not interchangeable.
Amy: It’s still a title, Bryan.
Bryan: Martin’s proven he’s still got it. He’s winning, he’s having fun – let the points fall where they may.
Mike: A championship is a championship, brother. You win it under the rules that apply at the time. And he would still love to win a title.
Phil: You sure Martin’s had better stuff than Gordon and Johnson?
Bryan: Oh, he’s got the best stuff in the house, Phil.
Amy: Yep, first pick of everything off the line.
Mike: If he’s had the best stuff in the house and he misses the Chase and’s been outrun by Gordon and Johnson, it validates my point that he sucks.
Amy: I don’t hate Martin, but if he misses the Chase at the expense of bonus points for Gordon or Johnson, then what’s the point?
Bryan: It proves nothing more than the points system doesn’t reward winning enough if he misses the Chase. To have the series leader in wins miss out would be ridiculous and it could happen.
Mike: I refuse to believe he’s had anything better than any of the other teams. I simply can’t believe that would take place at Hendrick. And yes, winning should be rewarded, but you can’t completely suck in more races at the same time. You have to be strong for the whole season and Mark has not been.

Michigan is among a number of tracks that cut ticket prices for renewals. While that is a nice gesture, can the racetrack sustain two races a year if it slashes prices and the fans don’t respond?

Amy: I don’t think so, honestly. Unless you see a huge increase in fans at lower prices, it’s not going to make a difference.
Bryan: I was honestly surprised they had as many folks there as they did on Sunday.
Phil: The general idea is that, yes, the fans will respond. Attendance was 103,000 yesterday – not bad, but not a sellout. Also buried in that release was a lowering of seating capacity to 120,000, done by widening seats.
Mike: Humpy Wheeler and Bruton Smith have proven it for years: you make money by having fans at the track. It is better to charge less and maybe lose a little at the gate and make up the difference with concessions and souvenirs.
Amy: Bruton provides more bang for your buck than ISC.
Mike: Having 80,000 in the seats at a higher price will net you less than having 120,000 in the seats with a lower price because you sell more Cokes, hot dogs and diecast cars.
Bryan: Exactly Mike. A lot of promoters out there could learn a lesson from that. Those empty seats aren’t doing anyone, fans or promoters, any good.
Amy: But I really think that if NASCAR’s reason for taking races from Darlington and Rockingham was attendance, then they need to consider moving dates from tracks that perpetually undersell.
Bryan: Move where, Amy? The economy sucks right now. MIS isn’t the only track out there with attendance issues.
Mike: That would be a wonderful thing Amy, but it isn’t going to happen, other than Atlanta losing a date to Kentucky once the lawsuit is settled.
Phil: That line of thinking would definitely lead to Fontana losing a date. However, it’s yet to be seen what the new October date will do for the track.
Bryan: And don’t say Rockingham or Darlington, because it’s not gonna happen.
Amy: But you still have to offer a good product at the lower prices and MIS doesn’t do that.
Mike: Are you kidding me? That race was awesome. Cars were all over the track – four- and five-wide, passing like crazy!
Amy: The Nationwide race was great, but when was the last exciting Cup race at Michigan?
Phil: I can’t remember. They all seem to run together.
Mike: Yesterday was a great race. It was like a swarm of bees running around the track.
Amy: Sure, for two laps after the restarts….
Bryan: MIS offers a much better product than Indy and Fontana, just off the top of my head.
Phil: Yeah, Michigan is better than Fontana, I’ll give you that.
Amy: I do agree with that, Bryan. It’s as good as Pocono and better than Kansas.
Phil: Fontana’s pavement, albeit aged, has drainage issues. It may need to be ripped up soon.
Mike: I always enjoy Michigan races just because the cars run all over the track. I think that is cool as hell. Michigan’s asphalt is older than Fontana’s. It will come around.
Bryan: Well, slashing ticket prices is a good move, so let’s see what happens as a result. If MIS was the only track struggling to sell then moving a race would hold water, but every track is.
Amy: The bottom line, though, is that you have to have a better race to sell tickets in this economy.
Bryan: Slashing ticket prices is a concrete example that they’re trying to bring fans back in. Not every track out there with attendance issues can say that.
Phil: I’m definitely happy that they’re taking the initiative, but they should have done it a little earlier.
Bryan: That I agree with entirely, Phil. It’s not like this is rocket science.
Mike: I don’t know that they could have done it much earlier, but it would have been nice if they would have offered a $10 ticket for the few weeks leading up to the race.
Bryan: Yes it would have, Mike. Fill those bottom rows up, get people in there.
Amy: True, Mike, they probably would have sold more seats to people a bit farther away.
Mike: It actually would have probably brought in more local fans. People who wouldn’t have been going could have decided at the last minute and not had to worry about hotels.
Phil: What kind of amenities does ISC need to add to their tracks?
Amy: They could start with dropping the September 11 excuse and let fans bring a decent bag into the track.
Bryan: Martinsville is ISC, right? They let me bring in big-time coolers there.
Amy: That aside, they just aren’t as fan friendly as SMI tracks. Bruton might be a jerk but he knows how to treat fans.
Mike: Bruton has a lot of people who worked for Humpy working at his tracks, and Humpy always understood how important it was to take care of the fans.
Amy: Yes, but lowering prices and still treating fans poorly isn’t going to make a big difference in the long run.

Regan Smith and the Furniture Row No. 78 team are on the verge of returning full-time in 2010. But based on the results they’ve achieved this season on a limited schedule, is stretching their resources again a major mistake? And should the other single-car, part-time teams (Germain Racing, Wood Brothers, etc.) stay with the limited schedule plan or try and jump back up to full-time competition as well?

Phil: If they have the funding, I say why not.
Amy: If they are serious about racing full-time, though, they need to move to North Carolina.
Phil: Or someplace closer to North Carolina, like Indianapolis.
Bryan: If the No. 78 team has legit sponsor money, it should run full-time. Smith is a good enough driver to run Cup full-time.
Amy: They will never be competitive where they are, with what they have, because they don’t have good enough personnel. And they are not going to entice good enough personnel to move to Colorado.
Mike: If they are going to have some kind of affiliation, I think they can do it. It will be very difficult if they stay in Colorado. If they move to Mooresville or Concord and partner up with an established team, they can.
Bryan: But even if they don’t move, if the money is there, then race.
Amy: If I were Smith, that would be a true last resort.
Mike: But having Smith behind the wheel makes it easier because he doesn’t tear stuff up.
Phil: Yeah, Smith is quite easy on the equipment, yet still gets quite a bit out of it.
Bryan: Look, their last full-time campaign wasn’t a quagmire – they weren’t struggling to make minimum speeds, they’re a single-car team. That’s reality these days for them.
Amy: Neither did Kenny Wallace or Joe Nemechek. A pristine 40th-place car is still a 40th-place car.
Bryan: Nemechek tore up a lot of cars, Amy. And Kenny wasn’t near as consistent qualifying the No. 78 as Smith has been.
Phil: There were also more cars trying to qualify when Kenny was in the No. 78 than there are now.
Bryan: Valid point, Phil.
Mike: Smith can qualify and he has never had a DNF. A driver like that can be a great foundation for a team.
Amy: They had crappy motors when Kenny Wallace was trying to qualify the car. Smith’s grandmother could qualify the car with Hendrick power.
Phil: And that screw up with the brakes you mentioned that one time, Amy….
Amy: Right, Phil, which all goes back to not having qualified people to run and work on the team. Until you have that, it doesn’t matter how good the driver is.
Bryan: Enough with that damned brakes story, their last full-time campaign did not have mistakes like that plaguing it. With the field the way it is right now, the Furniture Row No. 78 can run top 25-30. Let’s face it, that’s about what a single-car team can hope for these days. If they have the resources to move to N.C., it’d be a huge help. But just because they’re on the other side of the country shouldn’t be an incentive not to try the Cup slate full-time. If the money is there, race. It’d be one more car actually showing up to compete instead of collecting a check and bolting.
Mike: That is what any team needs to make money in today’s NASCAR. If they can run 25th every week, they’ll be locked in.
Phil: This reminds me, Smith’s attempting Bristol this week as an addition to their schedule.
Bryan: I’ll put solid money on him making the field.
Amy: If he can’t make the field with a Hendrick engine, there’s something really wrong.
Phil: Are those Hendrick engines for all their races or just the plate events?
Mike: Horsepower isn’t that important at Bristol anyways. They better have the car handling or they won’t be able to use that power.
Bryan: They’ve got HMS power all the time ever since Nemechek ran the car.
Amy: But they won’t contend for good finishes and Smith is a better driver than that team.
Bryan: Smith also needs to be racing every week and this could be that ticket.
Mike: Unfortunately, teams aren’t beating down Smith’s door to drive for them.
Bryan: Tell me again why that Casey Mears guy still has a job?
Phil: I don’t know, but he had a good top 10 on Sunday.
Mike: Because Richard doesn’t want to replace him until the offseason.
Amy: Mears is having a decent year.
Bryan: By his standards.
Phil: It’s not his best season, by any means.
Mike: Yeah, by NASCAR standards it’s subpar.
Amy: Top 20 in points is better than a lot of guys.
Bryan: With a team that made the Chase no sweat last year….
Mike: Childress is having a terrible year in general and Mears is the dimmest star in their constellation. Same as Jamie McMurray – both their best seasons were with Ganassi.
Phil: Mears is actually ahead of Harvick right now in points.
Bryan: It’s also funny how the driver Mears replaced has his new RCR team knocking on the Chase door.

Nationwide Series points-leader Kyle Busch was vocal in his complaints about the way Brian Vickers raced him late during the Carfax 250. Was the part-time NNS driver, in Vickers, over the line in the way he raced Busch?

Bryan: Hell freaking no. The end.
Mike: Nope. You try and beat the cars you’re racing. Vickers was trying to slow Busch down, get back by him… and he did whatever it took to do that.
Amy: No, he was not.
Phil: Heck no. Vickers had every right to defend his position. Now, had Vickers punted Kyle, then Kyle would have a case.
Amy: Vickers raced 100% clean. Cleaner than Busch usually races.
Bryan: For the record… what a finish!
Amy: One of the best NNS races this year. Even when Vickers ran Busch low, he was giving him plenty of room.
Bryan: I am kind of surprised that Vickers’s spotter didn’t make the No. 88’s presence a little more clear to him. Vickers really did forget about Brad Keselowski racing Busch as hard as he did.
Amy: Me too, Bryan. I honestly don’t think he knew the No. 88 was there. With the equipment in the cars these days, there’s no way he was going to see the 88. His spotter had a brain fart.
Mike: I was surprised about that, too. Vickers said after the race he had no idea Keselowski was coming.
Bryan: And that very well may have changed how Vickers ran down the fronstretch that last lap.
Mike: I think it would have, because he might have been thinking about staying second instead of holding up Busch. Although he ended up second anyway.
Amy: I don’t know, Mike. The objective was still to hold off Busch in order to finish second.
Bryan: Vickers also may have moved to the top to slingshot around with Keselowski and leave Busch to make something happen on the bottom.
Amy: Kes had the best line.
Bryan: Yes, he did. Keselowski was in position and he flat beat them both.
Mike: The top showed that most of the day, although Busch was never really able to make the top work. Had Kyle been able to make the top work, he would have been able to come back around on the last lap and make it an even better finish.
Amy: I’m always glad to see a real Nationwide guy win, too.
Phil: Total agreement there, Amy.
Amy: Busch’s response to the whole thing was totally uncalled for, though.
Bryan: What else is new?
Mike: I agree.
Bryan: I laughed out loud at that reaction – and Vickers went after him in the post-race presser, which was great.
Amy: He should at least get probation for running into the No. 32 on pit road.
Phil: Of course. Kyle looked like he wanted to go after Vickers on pit road.
Bryan: Nope. There needs to be no penalties. Kyle lost the race and left looking like a damned fool, that’s penalty enough.
Amy: Vickers had the line of the week in his interview.
Phil: “I didn’t realize this was the Kyle Busch Show.”

See also
Fan's View: Trying to Crash the Kyle Busch Show? Good Luck

Amy: And Vickers is precisely the reason that you cannot use Busch’s age as an excuse for having no class or sportsmanship.
Bryan: Amen to that one. Especially considering how much Vickers has done in his career already with the situation at Red Bull.
Mike: I won’t go that far. Busch has more drive and desire than Vickers does. That’s why he has a lot more wins.
Amy: That’s total BS, Mike. And hitting cars on pit road endangers crewmen. There were people over the wall and a car can easily be pushed into them. Busch has no regard for anyone but himself.
Mike: How is it total BS? When I have interacted with him in person, he has been one of the nicest guys in the garage.
Amy: It’s BS because Busch doesn’t want to win any more than any other racecar driver. He’s just a bigger ass when he doesn’t get his way.
Mike: Check the record book. He’s got more wins than Vickers and he does things with a racecar that other drivers are afraid to try.
Bryan: Busch wouldn’t have been able to handle that awful first season. Kyle’s not mature enough to deal with a season like Toyota had in 2007.
Phil: I think maturity would have been forced upon him if he had to put up with Vickers’s 2007 season at Team Red Bull.
Bryan: What Vickers has done at 25 in his Cup career is really impressive. And that he won in what is essentially a single-car team (Scott Speed isn’t helping the No. 83 at all) is a big deal.
Mike: That’s your opinion. If I have the option to have Kyle in my car, or most of the other drivers in the series, I’ll take Kyle because he wants to win, period.
Amy: I can’t believe Joe Gibbs puts up with his crap. I’d take Kyle because he’s got talent, but he doesn’t want to win more than anyone else wants to win.
Phil: I thought JD’s in charge of the team and Joe’s a figurehead.
Bryan: JD is the leader Phil, you are right there.
Mike: Joe knows that winning races brings in the attention it takes to attract sponsors and make the team run at its best.
Bryan: I’ve got to trust Gibbs on this one. The players he handled in the NFL… it’s not like a whiny racecar driver is going to prove too much for him.

OK, predictions for Bristol?

Amy: I’m going to go with the other Busch… Kurt Busch at the bullring.
Phil: I’m going with Kasey Kahne.
Bryan: Bristol this weekend goes to… hmm… gonna go out on a limb here and go with Jeff Gordon.
Mike: Just because y’all are having so much fun with it tonight, I’m going to take Kyle Busch.
Bryan: I can’t wait to see him eat it this weekend.
Amy: Though if Vickers can capitalize on the momentum and have a decent night, I think he’ll make the Chase.
Mike: I look for Martin to get taken out by Robby Gordon and miss the Chase because of it.
Bryan: That could happen, though I say David Stremme causes it.
Mike: Or McMurray.
Bryan: Or that Mears bloke.
Amy: I second Stremme.
Mike: Look for Kevin Harvick to make a little noise this weekend, too.
Phil: I think either Stremme or Michael Waltrip causes a pretty good-sized wreck Saturday night.
Mike: Can’t wait to see the modified race.
Amy: Modified race will be the best race all week.
Bryan: Is it televised?
Phil: 7:00 p.m. Wednesday on SPEED, Bryan.
Bryan: Freaking awesome.

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 23 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 32 24 2 10 14
Bryan Davis Keith 25 -7 21 3 9 11
Amy Henderson 22 -10 25 3 8 12
Kurt Smith 22 -10 18 3 6 10
Vito Pugliese 20 -12 14 1 5 9
Tom Bowles 15 -17 7 1 4 5
Mike Neff 10 -22 16 0 4 8
Jeff Meyer 10 -22 17 0 5 8
Tony Lumbis 0 -32 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway -2 -34 2 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -35 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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