Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Grading 2-Day Shows, 2-Race Chases & NASCAR’s Promotional Power

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)
Vito Pugliese (Wednesdays/Voice of Vito)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Some mentioned at Dover that 2009 is shaping up to be the best Chase since the format began. Two races in, does it deserve that billing?

Phil: No. I don’t think it’s the best. However, I can’t think of a better example at the moment. Honestly, it’s too early to tell after only two races.
Amy: It’s looking to be close and Juan Pablo Montoya makes it exciting because he will race no-holds-barred but calling it the best Chase ever is roughly equivalent to calling it the best turd on the manure pile.
Vito: I don’t think it’s that bad Amy. 2004 was probably the best to date. There will not be five or six drivers with a chance at it come Homestead. However, it may be the best two-man battle that will likely go down to the wire… or whoever doesn’t wreck or have a bad race.
Amy: My point is, the whole concept is that bad, Vito.
Beth: It sure is nice to see seven drivers within 110 points of the leaders, but it’s already shaping up to be a two-man Chase. And that’s certainly better than in the past.
Jeff: Maybe the best as in voting for presidential (or any post) candidates. It is what it is, which is not the worst type of thing.
Amy: Good point, Jeff. It’s better than some, I guess.
Vito: I think it’s too early to get too wrapped up into it, though I was surprised to see the majority of the media ready to hand Johnson the title already after a win and two events into it.
Jeff: Yeah, that gets old, Vito.
Vito: It’s not like it’s the first time he’s won a race at Dover – and he got to test here a few weeks ago for Godssake.
Phil: This is simply one of those questions that you need to come back to me with after Fontana. Then, I might be able to give you a better answer. I’m still not much of a Chase fan anyway.
Jeff: It’s just all too contrived.
Amy: Here’s what I’m wondering, though: Why are so many people turned off by the prospect of seeing something (four straight titles) that’s never been done before? One great thing about sports is seeing history made.
Phil: Because people are probably just sick of Jimmie Johnson in general, I guess.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Unfair Advantage for the No. 48? Jimmie Johnson Says Sour Grapes; Others, Not So Sure

Vito: Because of the guy he’s going to end up racing for it, the one who should have four titles by now, but has zero.
Jeff: When did JJ start in Cup?
Vito: 2002 full-time.
Jeff: See, and under the old system he wouldn’t have three in a row and Jeff Gordon would have five.
Beth: I think it has more to do with seeing a change at the top. There’s a feel-good story in seeing Mark Martin up there battling for the championship, and though he’s in a nice little hole right now, Tony Stewart would make a great story too if he were to be able to get up there and compete.
Amy: I feel like I’m alone in wanting to see history made – something you may never see again in your lifetime.
Jeff: With the Chase format Amy?
Amy: I know; and the Chase sucks, but the fact is it’s within the system we’re stuck with, so we might as well make something interesting happen with it.
Vito: With the Chase format, the chances are actually pretty good it can be done again.
Beth: Vito and Jeff are right. The possibilities of winning four championships in a row are much higher now that you’ve got just 10 races to decide the champ.
Vito: It isn’t so much as I want to see him not win it, it’s that even if he did win four, I don’t think I’d really see any impact from it. Two months later, everybody forgets about it, you go to Daytona and it starts all over again. The field is pretty diluted too.
Amy: No way, Vito, there are 15 teams capable of winning every week.
Vito: Then how come only four ever do?
Beth: And Johnson winning four in a row isn’t the only interesting that can happen with it.
Amy: No, Beth, but it’s the biggest.
Beth: Depends on who you ask, Amy.
Amy: What would you say is bigger?
Beth: I don’t know, maybe Martin winning the whole thing after being so close so many times.
Amy: Nice story, but hardly history. Lots of guys have one title.
Beth: Or maybe Stewart winning it in his first year as an owner/driver. I know at this point that may be a stretch, but he’s still in it.
Amy: For me, history is something never done before.
Beth: I never said it was history. I said there was more than one way to make the Chase interesting.
Jeff: The thing about the Chase is, we all know why it was made, and it has never worked except for the first year, when the ratings were up. After that, it’s been in the toilet and it will never, ever beat football.
Vito: I still think it’s foolish to compete with the NFL. There is no point in doing it and it makes you look silly.
Phil: I’ll agree with you there, Vito.
Vito: Brian France has since said he doesn’t mind that TV ratings are down. I guess that’s good, since he no longer has to worry about competing with the NFL.
Jeff: So, if it is more about winning, just give the winner substantially more points for a win and the whole thing is fixed! Frickin’ magic! Who’d have thunk it?
Phil: He should care about the ratings. It’s one of the indicators of the series’ health.
Jeff: To me the Chase and Cups won under its system will always be contrived, in my mind.
Amy: I don’t think you can call it the best Chase yet, though you certainly have an interesting cast of characters this year, more so than in years past. And I love the idea of something being done that’s never happened in this series in 60-plus years.
Beth: It still remains to be seen whether this Chase will actually be that great. We’re only two races in and a lot can change in the next few races to make this one sided once again.
Vito: 2009 will be remembered for one of two things: Johnson winning four straight or Martin winning his first championship, coming out of a part-time gig to do it. That will make it one of the best, but it is not going to be a five-man slugfest through Homestead.
Phil: Call me in a couple weeks and then I’ll tell you whether this is the best Chase so far.

Johnson won in dominating fashion in Dover, but after the race his competitors cried foul, claiming that Johnson’s participation in a tire test had given him an unfair advantage. So is it time to revamp the tire testing policy or was this just a case of sour grapes?

Jeff: It’s like moving the outfield wall in in MLB.
Amy: I think saying it gave him an advantage is ridiculous.
Beth: Sure it gave him an advantage, but not necessarily a huge one.
Amy: Maybe he’s just good.
Phil: I’m trying to remember what the tires were like at Dover in May. Were they really bad back then, because that wasn’t a bad race.
Amy: There have been 14 tire tests at nine tracks this year. Johnson is the only participant in any of those tests to win at the track later. Stats do not support the idea.
Vito: It’s ridiculous letting a Chase driver – one that has a history of winning at Dover already – get a free test date a month before the championship starts.

See also
What's Vexing Vito: Practice Makes Perfect and Tire Test Puzzling - Chase Contenders Get a Leg up on Competition at Dover

Beth: Even Johnson said it gave them a little bit of an advantage.
Amy: It’s not even the same tire they tested, Vito. Montoya and Johnson had no advantage at all.
Vito: He’s good, true, but he does not need a free test session at a track he already dominates – particularly when they are bringing a tire that is 180 degrees different than what he won with in June.
Beth: Actually they did test that tire.
Vito: Yeah right. It looked like he had no advantage all weekend.
Amy: He dominated in June with no tire test, Vito. In fact, he led more laps in that race than this one. And Greg Biffle sure wasn’t whining when he tested tires in Atlanta.
Jeff: I don’t think the test had any bearing.
Vito: I just find it peculiar that Johnson was picked to test a track he dominates at. Yes, I know, he’s won virtually everywhere, but Dover? Come on.
Amy: Um, because Goodyear wants good data maybe? You’re not going to get that from someone who runs 35th.
Vito: Like Jeff Burton could not have provided good data and not taint a title fight?
Jeff: Many drivers had a shot at winning this last race.
Amy: But the drivers whining about Johnson’s “advantage” have all tire tested this year themselves! If it were so unfair, why didn’t they bow out?
Vito: Because it wasn’t a title track. Here’s the thing: if it didn’t matter, teams in the past would not have saved a test or two to use in the Chase. Any extra time you get working with a new tire, or get extra laps in at a track is going to help you.
Amy: And Johnson won Indianapolis after a dozen other teams tested – so much for an advantage.
Vito: If you are going to have a tire test, invite all of the drivers who appear as if they are going to be in contention for the title.
Phil: That wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Beth: I could live with that.
Amy: Whining that it’s such a huge advantage, but happily participating in them yourself when invited is just sour grapes.
Vito: What’s going to happen next – they have a tire test at Charlotte, and they let the No. 48 team test there too? Because it’s “Their House.”
Amy: They don’t need 15 teams’ data for a tire test.
Vito: Then why did they have 12 drivers do it at Dover?
Amy: No. 48 hasn’t won at LMS in three years, by the way.
Beth: That would actually play in their favor.
Vito: Here is who was at the August test: Nos. 48, 42, 47, 18, 12, 6, 96.
Amy: Eight teams. Two of each make.
Vito: Two truck teams, the Nos. 5 and 6. Now, of those teams which ones were legitimate Chase contenders? The only one locked in was the No. 48. The Nos. 42 and 18 were on the cusp of falling out – or out in Kyle’s situation.
Amy: He wasn’t locked at that time.
Vito: Yes he was. Unless he hung himself, he was in.
Amy: He locked in Atlanta.
Vito: Whatever, you know what I mean.
Amy: Sour grapes, Vito. If drivers tire testing were winning left and right, you’d have a case.
Vito: Look, I’m not a homer; the fact is, out of those teams that tested, one of them doesn’t fit in.
Amy: It happened once, on a different tire, at a track the driver is good at.
Vito: And it’s the one that won Sunday.
Jeff: I don’t think the testing had a bearing. Did I say that already?
Vito: I’m glad they brought the Nos. 6 and the 96. That made sense.
Jeff: This is just media hype. Another good conspiracy thing to throw out there.
Amy: Exactly, Jeff. Sour grapes from the same people whining about the No. 48 winning another title.
Jeff: He ain’t won it yet. I’m not a fan of JJ like to Amy’s degree, but Chad and JJ are hard to beat any day. And Knaus doesn’t even cheat anymore. Not that we know of anyway.
Vito: At least he left his monster truck shocks at home this time.
Amy: You want it? Go beat them and quit whining. 12 other tests and not one of those drivers has won the next race at that track. Stats don’t support any advantage at all. Test No. 13 was Daytona and they won’t race there again until February.
Vito: I could care less if the No. 48 team wins a title or not, the fact is, it is a bit compromising when only two of the 12 drivers in the Chase are allowed to test at a Chase track and one wins handily at a track that is usually pretty competitive.
Amy: It’s not about liking them or not – I’d say the same thing if Montoya won Sunday. And the drivers whining the loudest were all invited to other tire tests and were not complaining then!
Phil: I’d argue that they should have used a bunch of mid-level teams for that test, like David Reutimann, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Casey Mears, etc.
Amy: They used a bunch of those all summer. Three of them are Chase tracks.
Vito: Not a month before on a dramatically different tire
Amy: It’s not the tire they used in the race! That was a different tire too.
Vito: Look, it’s not just me saying it. It’s the guys who had to battle an ill-handling tire all day yesterday and all weekend long.
Jeff: Like I said, multiple guys had a chance to win last Sunday.
Vito: What guys were those Jeff?
Jeff: Martin, JPM, lots of them that were running up front most of the day.
Phil: Was this the best tire from that test, or a more durable one they tested?
Beth: The did test the tire they used in the race, Amy.
Amy: It was not the one the drivers liked best. There was no advantage. Johnson won Dover because he’s good, not because he had a few laps in August on a different tire.
Jeff: It’s not like JJ ran away with it and lapped the entire field or anything.
Vito: All I am going to say is, it’s stuff like this that creates conspiracy theorists and has longtime fans questioning the legitimacy of a series that lets a certain team test at a Chase track a month before the race there.
Amy: How can you question the legitimacy when the policy for tire testing has been the same for years?
Vito: Johnson did not have to test this track. There were no other top-ranked teams at the time that came here, just B-team or backmarkers.
Beth: I’m with Vito on this one. If you’re going to give a couple Chase drivers extra time on a track in the Chase, then give them all the extra time.
Phil: There’s no debating that Johnson’s good at Dover. I think a lot of griping might have gone towards Montoya because he’s never done much at the track.
Vito: I would buy that.
Amy: So then no driver should ever test at a track where he’s good, is what Vito is saying? And Goodyear can try to glean info from backmarkers?
Vito: No, what Vito is saying, is if you are going to have a championship fight among 12 guys, don’t let one (or two) guys of that 12 test that track when nobody else in that group of 12 is, a few weeks before that race.
Amy: Again, there is zero statistical evidence to back up any advantage from tire testing whatsoever.
Jeff: I’ll bet they let JJ pick the tire for this race! Yeah, that’s what happened.
Vito: Well, they apparently think so. Why else would David Ragan and the No. 96 team be invited for a tire test? Whatever.
Amy: If there was any evidence I’d be the first to cry foul, but there is zero.
Vito: Right, testing doesn’t help. Then why leave the shop instead of on Wednesday to get to the track.
Jeff: Because you have to see how the tires will react at slow speeds too, Vito!
Vito: Or when making contact with the wall. Which by the way, did Kyle Busch blow a tire or did something break in the steering?
Amy: Tire.
Jeff: He ran out of talent.
Vito: I guess his test didn’t help either, then.

NASCAR is considering a move to more two-day shows in 2010 as a cost-cutting measure for teams. Will this help teams and keep the fans happy or does cutting practice time mean cutting the quality of racing as well?

Amy: It won’t hurt the overall quality of racing.
Vito: This proved to be an epic failure the first time it was introduced a few years ago. Junk racing.
Amy: I think what it will hurt is the individual tracks who get revenue on all three days.
Jeff: Anything that NASCAR says or does as a ‘cost-cutting’ measure for the teams results in a fiasco. It ends up costing them more.
Vito: If that means IMPOUND racing, that is the dumbest thing that could ever be done. Talk about doomed to repeat history.
Phil: The tracks will get hurt, revenue-wise, that is true. The teams will probably get to leave a day later.
Vito: It isn’t like it draws more fans in anyway.
Amy: Trying to fit a minimum of two hours of Cup practice, another two of support series, qualifying for both races and the support race in the same day is a lot to try and do.
Jeff: The teams will spend whatever money was saved no matter what.
Vito: Take me for example. If I go to Michigan for a weekend, it is not going to motivate me to show up on Saturday if they cram a bunch of stuff into one day, even though I live an hour and a half from the track.
Phil: The impound stuff did not work the first time. Falling out of the Top 35 in that scenario is a death sentence. I think this may only be doable at tracks with lights and minimal support events.
Amy: Teams will save money on tires, but that’s about all.
Vito: Not really… they will have a 90-minute practice session like they do some weekends, right?
Jeff: No, Goodyear will have to raise the price to lease the tires to make up for what they are not getting.
Beth: Brian France mentioned he doesn’t expect to add anymore two-day weekends to the schedule for next season.
Amy: And tracks will raise ticket prices so nobody goes to the Nationwide race. Great thinking, NASCAR.
Phil: Some tracks already can’t get people to go to the Nationwide race, like Fontana.
Vito: They can’t get people to go to the Cup one either though. I guess it gives the guys an extra day or a half day free maybe. But still, you’d have to get there Friday anyway, so I don’t see where the benefit lies.
Jeff: Remember the one-engine rule was to save the teams money too. With all of France’s save-the-teams-money schemes, you’d think the teams would be in the black by now.
Amy: According to Robin Pemberton, they’re considering it for 2010 as of Saturday.
Beth: What I read from Brian France was as of Sunday.
Phil: Let’s not do go down this road. It’s more or less fine the way it is.
Amy: Kudos to having a consistent 1:00 p.m. ET start time for east coast races though. I hope that happens! I just don’t think two-day shows would save anyone enough money to make it worth doing.
Vito: We’ll see. Start time of the green flag falls at 1:00 p.m., or they start covering the race with a pre-pre race show at 1:00 p.m.?
Amy: From what Pemberton said, start time. 1:00 p.m. east coast, 3:00 p.m. west. For Sunday races.
Phil: I hope so too with the earlier start times. Also, I hope the Nationwide Series does it. Did you hear about Auto Club Speedway’s race start time vote?
Amy: Who voted?
Beth: I think it’s a great idea for them to let the fans vote.
Jeff: All 100 of them.
Phil: I did. You could vote for either 12:00 PT or 4:30 PT.  I voted for noon.
Vito: Maybe they could race when they aren’t driving into the sun in turn 3 at 205 mph.
Amy: Maybe they could race at another track. Problem solved.
Vito: I like that idea.
Jeff: Best one yet!

Ryan Truex clinched the Camping World East title on Friday at Dover and the MWR development driver is hoping to add a few Nationwide Series races to his 2010 docket. But you rarely hear news of either side of the Camping World Series – East or West. Does NASCAR have a responsibility to promote these development series?

Beth: Of course they do.
Amy: I think they do and they’re failing badly. I don’t even know if the West Series is over and if so, who the champion is. The East Series website is weeks behind in updating results.
Vito: They might want to… so people watch them.
Phil: You’re dang right they do. I ranted a little in last week’s critique about how the modifieds aren’t promoted enough.
Jeff: These series aren’t the traditional cash cows for the Frances, so why bother? That is their thinking.
Vito: It isn’t like those series ever really got a ton of promotion anyway, outside of their respective regions. But with as much time as they spend blathering on all day on Saturday during practice, the same crap being regurgitated every weekend… show something different and interesting.
Phil: The West Series is over. Jason Bowles won the title.
Jeff: Tom’s brother.
Amy: There are some awesome races in CW East and some great rivalries as well.

See also
Fan's View: Wishing Money Didn't Make NASCAR World Go 'Round

Vito: Like I really need to see Biffle slurping down a Coke all the time telling me how the No. 16 team is working really hard and the car is getting better, but it starts out tight.
Phil: The Toyota All-Star Showdown shows how competitive these series are. NASCAR needs to capitalize on that.
Amy: I agree with Vito. I’d way rather watch a CW series race on Saturday than a Cup practice session. As it is, you can catch them on Thursday afternoons at 2:00 p.m., two weeks late. I know this because I wanted to see the race I pit crewed in – two weeks later, it was on.
Phil: Which bites. It’s almost as bad as the treatment the V8 Supercars used to get on SPEED before they got dropped.
Amy: We had a camera in our pit all day and they never once showed the car, let alone the pit… go figure. The funny thing is the CW East and modifieds are consistently the two best shows at tracks like New Hampshire, twice a year, every year. NASCAR should be promoting the hell out of them.
Beth: I agree. People are missing out because NASCAR rarely even mentions them.
Jeff: I don’t think there is any argument that they should, but they just wont do it, end of story.
Phil: I don’t know what kind of crowds those series get at their other races, to be honest. I would think that they darn near sellout their short track races. Heck, the East Series (formerly Busch North) and modified races from Loudon were televised live back in the 1990s on TNN.
Amy: I remember. I always used to tape them. TNN is missed.
Jeff: How do you go from a North/South Series to an East/West series just by a name change? And where is the line anyway?
Amy: NASCAR has lost a lot of credibility for destroying the development series. Here they have two very good ones and aren’t willing to tell anyone about them.
Phil: NASCAR essentially has untapped potential that will seemingly remain untapped.
Vito: Hard to develop a series when nobody watches it “develop.” It’s because of this we get the same group of recycled drivers year after year.
Phil: They stopped calling it the North Series when they started to add more southernly races to the schedule, like Greenville-Pickens and South Boston. Of course, even when it was Busch North, they had conjunction races at Daytona, Rockingham and Richmond.
Jeff: It’s probably still the North/South line, they never changed that. It didn’t occur to them.

OK, predictions for Kansas?

Jeff: Carl Edwards. Finally.
Amy: Stewart. And for the record, he didn’t tire test there.
Phil: I’m going with Gordon.
Jeff: Carl didn’t either. I don’t think.
Beth: Martin.
Amy: They didn’t run one, Jeff. I was just trying to alleviate a perceived illegitimate advantage.
Jeff: Vito is formulating his answer… “Well then my guy is good!” …Safe from the conspirorists!
Vito: Johnson. And he won’t even have to tire test there. How’s that?
Jeff: Maybe they will have one this week. On Wednesday maybe.

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 28 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 36 28 3 11 16
Bryan Davis Keith 29 -7 26 3 10 14
Amy Henderson 24 -12 30 3 8 14
Tom Bowles 21 -15 9 1 6 7
Kurt Smith 21 -15 19 3 6 10
Vito Pugliese 20 -16 14 1 5 9
Mike Neff 16 -20 18 1 5 10
Jeff Meyer 10 -26 21 0 6 9
Tony Lumbis 0 -36 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro -3 -39 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway -4 -40 5 0 0 1

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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