Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Montreal to Cup?, Atlanta Angst & Where Have All the Rookies Gone?

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:
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
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)

The Nationwide Series ran a wild and crazy race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday, with rain tires and a rollercoaster running order jumbling up the finish. Was the competition overall better than last year, and is this a venue where NASCAR should explore sending the Cup teams at this point?

Beth: It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t be too quick to move the Cup Series there.
Jeff: I agree; while I liked the race, the circuit is just not ready for Cup.
Amy: I’m with you two. I thought the race was decent, but in my opinion, it’s a good venue for a NNS standalone – and that’s it.
Bryan: Racing? What racing? And hell no, the Cup cars don’t belong on that road course. Imagine trying to slow those cars down on the straightaways.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Montreal

Phil: It’s not a bad place to race but Rusty’s right, it’s the toughest place in North America on brakes.
Amy: Brake management is part of the game.
Bryan: Well if they’re going to race in Canada, put them on a short track. That was not a good race at all. We saw 45 laps of green yesterday for crying out loud… in four hours.
Amy: That was NASCAR’s fault. Half of those could have been local cautions.
Phil: I’m thinking maybe seven of those yellows were legitimate.
Jeff: Really? Half the fun was watching Steve Wallace crash every other lap.
Bryan: He had a lot of help yesterday, Jeff.
Jeff: It was only Steve’s fault when he went three-wide and took out half the field in the turn.
Bryan: The only driver that looked truly foolish Sunday was probably Justin Allgaier because, man, did he take Ron Fellows out.
Jeff: Yeah, but Allgaier apologized and owned up.
Phil: These days, rookies aren’t really expected to be rookies anymore. That’s a rookie mistake; but it was definitely good that he owned up and apologized for that mess.
Amy: As far as Montreal’s future, I think that there do need to be two more road courses in Cup – but Circuit Gilles Villeneuve shouldn’t be one of them. For one, I like the standalone events and also because there are tracks that could better accommodate Cup cars.
Bryan: CGV is too technical a road course to have stock cars on it. Canada has plenty of short tracks – let NASCAR go to those and race.
Amy: I personally was glad they put the rain tires on, though. It’s not NASCAR’s fault half of them have zero clue.
Bryan: The rain-tire decision was the right one and the tires were not the problem in the latter portions of the race.
Amy: Nope, the drivers were.
Jeff: For once, NASCAR made the right decision – and quickly, I might add. Since they did qualify in the rain and on such a wet track, NASCAR had no choice but to finish the race in the rain, too.
Phil: But I thought that decision to try to wait for the track in qualifying was pretty stupid. Because of that decision to wait for the track to dry (which it never did), the session almost went into darkness. And Patrick Carpentier had to qualify in a driving rain on Saturday while Marcos Ambrose had only a light rain to contend with.
Amy: I’ll tell you what though, I didn’t really know much about Andrew Ranger before Sunday – but I was duly impressed.
Bryan: Ranger… man, that guy has the potential to be big. Judging from his Canadian Tire highlights, that boy’s got a mean streak to him, too. I was half expecting him to give Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards or someone the chrome horn.
Jeff: He raced very well.
Phil: And he’s very aggressive. Ranger got under Ambrose’s skin a little.  He’s been good in the Canadian Tire Series and in Champ Car.
Bryan: I was thoroughly impressed. I want to see more.
Amy: I probably read too much, but I half expected the Janet Evanovich character named Ranger to jump out of the car… he’d drive like that.
Bryan: He had Ambrose whining midway through the race, which is uncharacteristic of him.
Amy: Ranger’d be an interesting addition – a dirty driver who doesn’t give a rodent’s posterior that he’s dirty. Not many of those around these days.
Bryan: He reminds me of Donny Lia and how he won that Truck race at Mansfield last year. Bring Ranger to NNS, someone!

Yates Racing removed Bobby Labonte from the No. 96 at the request of a short-term sponsor, who prefers to have Erik Darnell in the seat. The economy being what it is, should teams take deals like this one, or does it do more harm than good?

Beth: Depends on who you’re talking about harming. For the team, they need the money and it helps them out – but it really screws up the driver.
Amy: I think it harms them. Labonte’s got a decent-sized fanbase Yates just pissed off royally… and Labonte’s apparently at least as pissed as they are.
Beth: I don’t blame him, Amy.
Amy: Me either. He got screwed.
Bryan: You know, Hall of Fame Racing tried this whole changing drivers thing last year with Brad Coleman and Ken Schrader. It didn’t really work out that well.
Jeff: Yeah, Yates Racing is on life support at this point. I hope they flatline now.
Amy: Speaking as a fan instead of a journalist, Jeff, I have to agree. This is strike three in my book.
Bryan: It’s a risky move for Yates, but maybe it’s one worth taking. Labonte, bad cars or not, has done nothing in that No. 96 car over the summer and Darnell’s been lights out when he’s gotten to race this year. It may prove worth trying.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Is Erik Darnell's Best Chance Bobby Labonte's Last Hurrah?

Phil: I’m not a fan, but I wonder what Darnell can do in a Cup car.
Amy: I don’t think Darnell is ready to be in a Cup car.
Phil: Northern Tool and Equipment is definitely involved in the move. They’ve got the money to put Darnell in the seat.
Amy: I’m guessing there are more diehard B-Lab fans than Darnell fans. It could hurt the sponsor as well if they make enough noise.
Jeff: This move won’t help Yates as a company in the long run.
Amy: I hope Labonte walks. I bet EGR will take him in the No. 1 car.
Phil: He seemed so happy a few weeks ago, despite the substandard results.
Jeff: Unfortunately, EGR is only marginally better than Yates.
Bryan: Yates really doesn’t seem to have realized that Labonte commands a huge fan presence. And man, if HoF doesn’t have a terrible record with drivers to begin with – even though this decision was out of their control based on the way Yates commanded money. We all know how the dumping Tony Raines for JJ Yeley experiment went, as well as trying to put Coleman in a Cup car midway through last year.
Phil: Coleman was already signed to the team to drive a second car, but when Yeley tanked, they panicked. That lasted a week, right?
Jeff: HoF got on my bad side when they dumped Raines for Yeley after he put the car in the Top 35. Yeley promptly ran it out and I’ve had no sympathy for them ever since.
Amy: Yates was already on mine, so them together just moved up a few notches.
Phil: Coleman has done nothing to help his career this year in the Nationwide Series, by the way.
Bryan: He didn’t run that bad this year, Phil.
Phil: Well, he tore up a lot of equipment.
Amy: I bet the Coyote begs to differ, Bryan. Back on topic, I think dumping a proven fan favorite for some kid is a bad move all around. Short-term, it gets a few bucks. It also pisses off a lot of fans… and fans have buying power.
Phil: I agree there. Although while I’m pretty sure Bobby’s got plenty left, he’s really struggled at times this year.
Bryan: It’s a desperation move. Labonte, for all his fans, has not improved the way the Yates camp is running on track. They need sponsor dollars and they’re taking a chance that Darnell proves to have something a la Denny Hamlin behind the wheel of a Cup car.
Jeff: It’s like Hendrick giving the No. 88 to Keselowski!
Bryan: Well, it’s a very risky move, but the way they’re running, it’s not like the sponsors and fans Labonte brings are a sure thing for 2010 anyway.
Jeff: I had respect for Robert Yates but I have none for Doug.
Amy: Who’s going to want to drive for an organization with the reputation for screwing drivers over?
Bryan: Amy, Cup drivers have lined up to drive for Phoenix Racing since they canned Mike Bliss. If there’s a car, there will be 20 drivers ready to wheel it.
Amy: Well there’ll be no sympathy from me if Darnell trashes some cars. It’s just a crappy thing to do. Bobby is a class act – too bad the same can’t be said for Doug Yates.
Beth: It wasn’t the right decision and though it helps today, it doesn’t do much for the future.
Bryan: I want to take Labonte’s side and say it’s ridiculous that HoF is doing this, but seriously, for a past champion driver the impact Labonte’s had on track this year has been non-existent. They have got to try something.
Jeff: Hey, at least they get Jamie McMurray next year!

NASCAR’s schedule moves the Atlanta race to Labor Day weekend and Auto Club Speedway into the Chase, pushing back Talladega to just four races from the end of the season. Was anything positive accomplished by this move, or was the old alignment a better 10-race playoff?

Phil: It seems that the second Fontana race is a necessary evil on the schedule, but pushing it into the Chase doesn’t really help it out.
Bryan: Nothing’s been accomplished at all. We still have Fontana twice on the schedule and no Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. Who gives a crap about shuffling intermediate race dates around?
Beth: Bryan’s right; it accomplishes nothing, really. Fontana usually puts on a boring race and having it be a part of the Chase stinks.
Amy: Let’s not forget that was also accomplished was putting a crapshoot far, far too late in those playoffs. Talladega is going to take the title away from someone.
Jeff: I think that move was a pathetic attempt to get some of the old-time fans back over the whole “Labor Day tradition” mess, but it was transparent at best.
Amy: I’m not buying it, Jeff. I can read a map. I know where Darlington is.
Jeff: I agree, but I’m just saying that NASCAR thinks moving the Labor Day race “back East” will make a difference.
Bryan: Well, considering that only 60,000 or so fans actually show up at Atlanta, it’s not going to appease many at all.
Amy: Bryan is right – Atlanta is as bad as Fontana as far as attracting fans. But the date’s going to Kentucky in 2011 anyway. Just watch and wait.
Phil: If I actually lived anywhere near Atlanta, I’d go to Sunday night’s race as a fan. Unfortunately, it’s well over 1,000 miles away and Frontstretch isn’t sending me to this one.
Amy: I’m going to make the trip to Atlanta as a fan, actually. But for the record, Darlington is closer.
Jeff: I’ll be at Iowa Speedway watching the Trucks with my girlfriend and some “first time” race fans. Editor’s Note: Our own Doug Turnbull is Frontstretch’s “at the track” representative this weekend.
Amy: Back on topic, NASCAR is missing the point. It’s not about the race being in the South – it’s the track that was the tradition.
Bryan: Precisely, Amy. Atlanta Motor Speedway is a far cry from Darlington Raceway.
Amy: And I hate the idea of ACS in the Chase. NASCAR should at least be attempting to make those 10 races decent.
Bryan: Please… the Chase is already half intermediates. Obviously, the quality of racing is the last thing on their minds.
Amy: I also really see Talladega being in a stupid location, schedule-wise. Jimmie Johnson got dumped there three years ago and was able to come back and win the title. But I don’t see a driver being able to come back if they get caught in someone else’s stupid mistake with the new date.
Phil: I agree. Nov. 1 will be a nice time for fans there, but it’s ill-situated for the Chase.
Bryan: Amy, if the points leader’s far enough ahead based on their prior results, what difference does Talladega’s timing in the Chase make?
Amy: That’s a big if, Bryan.
Beth: Well if a driver’s really supposed to win the championship, one race isn’t going to make the difference.
Bryan: Right. If a guy scores eight top 10s and has two DNFs in the Chase, what difference does it make what races they happen in? You get 10 weeks to post results. Heck, they could run Talladega first and the same scenario regarding recovery would apply.
Amy: It takes a lot of races to make up the 100 points you stand to lose at ‘Dega if someone gets stupid.
Bryan: Amy, if you lose 100 points you lose 100 points. Assuming Jimmie causes his inevitable Big One at ‘Dega and loses 100 markers, chances are he’s earned them earlier because he ran well on those tracks.
Phil: History tells us that multiple guys are going to lose serious points at Talladega. It’s not just going to be one of the 12.
Bryan: And I seem to remember that drivers like Kyle Busch had that nightmare happen just this weekend on the road course at Montreal. So under this philosophy, why do we need a road race in the Chase, Amy? The chance is there for any driver to be taken out by someone else at every track on every lap, not just at Talladega.
Amy: If Mark Martin has a 50-point margin going into Talladega, gets wrecked and loses 100, what are the chances he recovers in three weeks?
Phil: About none. He’d be meat. He might get half of that back.
Amy: See? It’s so much easier to recover in six or seven races than in three. I think it matters.
Bryan: Amy, why didn’t Martin accrue more than a 50-point lead earlier in the Chase on the intermediates he’s owned? The point is, you accrue points over 10 races. So stop complaining about ‘Dega – it’s plate racing, it’s a discipline and it is possible to run your race and get through it. It has just as much a place in the Chase as any track, and in terms of deciding the title, it matters naught.
Phil: Eh, I’m with Amy on this one. The order of the races can determine how a driver may approach certain events.
Amy: As it is, I think Daytona should be in the Chase, not ‘Dega, but that’s another story entirely.
Jeff: I think it is the same for everyone, so therefore it doesn’t matter.
Hell, I say run ‘Dega last!
Bryan: Hell yeah, Jeff – four-wide for the title! Let’s do it!

With Danica Patrick’s likely NASCAR denial, the series is currently staring at no full-time Sprint Cup Series rookies for the first time since 1992. With several up-and-coming stars stuck in the Camping World East and West series, what does the sport have to do to bring them up the ranks and re-establish driver development from within?

Amy: Easy: boot the Cup regulars out of the development series. But since NASCAR isn’t going to do that, they need to hype the hell out of the real development series.
Phil: They would need to establish limits to the Nationwide teams using Cup drivers so that development drivers can get more seat time. And by limits, I mean no more than 10 races a year – not 25.
Bryan: Boosting the purses to where teams could run with less emphasis on big names and bringing big sponsors would help, too.
Jeff: It’s on the team to do that though Bryan, not the sanctioning body. And what is so bad about not having any rookies, anyway? It’s not like someone’s not gonna win the Cup ‘cause there were no rookies running that year.
Amy: Meanwhile, you see commercials for the three top series and for the locally based All-American Series, so why the hell isn’t NASCAR plugging their three “other” divisions – East, West and Modifieds – that produce the best racing in the first place?
Phil: A lot of development drivers have gotten chewed up and spit out so quick, I don’t know why they’re not hyping those three series that actually have them. I think better TV deals for those three series would also help in the long run.
Amy: Jeff does have a point, though: part of the onus is on the teams as well, to sign and keep development drivers in their programs – and run them. We should give kudos to Gibbs for making a quality program for Matt DiBenedetto to do just that.
Phil: By the way, in the aforementioned 1992 season, Jimmy Hensley won Rookie of the Year running 25 races (he took over the No. 66 after Cale Yarborough fired Chad Little).
Jeff: And where are they both now?
Amy: While we’re on this topic, I say shame on teams like Hendrick, who have signed and then dumped at least four development drivers in recent years.
Phil: Blake Feese, Kyle Krisiloff, Boston Reid and Landon Cassill, I think? I actually wonder what those guys had to do to keep their jobs.
Amy: I forgot about Krisiloff. Make it five then with Jarit Johnson.
Bryan: Don’t forget Yates and Matt McCall.
Jeff: Sounds like a hospital. So… none of them must have been that good.
Amy: Or, they just got dumped for the Cup guys. It never mattered if they were good or not, HMS never kept them around long enough to find out. But I do think NASCAR needs to put a lot more effort into marketing those series – it’s some great racing with both young guys and vets.
Phil: Especially the Modified Series. The race at Bristol was the first modified race I’d seen on TV since 2000.
Amy: And the East and West series are buried midweek on SPEED at, like, 2:00 p.m. on Thursdays.
Jeff: Yeah, that is prime golf time.
Phil: They’re heavily edited as well.  When it was still on HDNet, those races were flag-to-flag. Give them a time slot like what the Hooters Pro Cup Series used to get.

OK, how about some predictions for Atlanta?

Phil: Well, I’ll go with Kurt Busch.
Amy: Brian Vickers puts himself in the top 12 with the win this week.
Bryan: I’m taking the other guy to win and make the top 12: Kyle Busch.
Jeff: Carl Edwards is finally gonna “salvage his season,” as Bowles seems to think.
Beth: Agreed. Edwards finally gets his win.

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 24 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 24 -8 22 3 9 11
Amy Henderson 23 -9 26 3 8 13
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 15 -17 17 1 5 9
Jeff Meyer 10 -22 17 0 5 8
Tony Lumbis 0 -32 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway -3 -35 3 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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