Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR Talking Out of Turn?, Targate 2009 & Changing Pit-Road Rules

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:
Tom Bowles (Editor-In-Chief; Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice?)
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)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

During Sunday’s race, NASCAR sent a message to Brad Keselowski to drive less aggressively around the Chase drivers. Should NASCAR have made that call?

Phil: Heck no. Unfortunately, NASCAR does have a track record of doing stuff like this though. They’ve basically stated in the past that the other teams had better not mess with the Chasers, or else the consequences would be dire.
Jeff: No! No! No! If they want only the Chasers to race, then just leave only the Chasers on the racetrack.
Amy: I don’t like the way NASCAR warned him, as if they wouldn’t have if it were another driver. I don’t have an issue with warning a driver not to be stupid, though.
Jeff: Whatever. It was total BS.
Beth: Last time I checked, there are 43 drivers in a race, and all of them should be held to the same rules.
Amy: Right, Beth, but one of those rules is “no rough driving.” If he was just being warned for rough driving, it’s hardly the first time.
Beth: Oh please! NASCAR doesn’t need to police everything the drivers do on the track. Keselowski had a great attitude going into the race.  He said he would respect the Chasers on track as long as they respected him.

See also
Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Brad Keselowski Ending Hendrick Tenure on a High Note

Tom: I think what happened was one of the most ridiculous things NASCAR has ever done. More and more, the teams who don’t make the playoffs are being treated like second-class citizens. And there are going to be consequences. At this point, if you’re the sponsor of a team that didn’t make the Chase, why would you even pay for the final 10 races?
Vito: Well, it really isn’t anything different than what NASCAR has done in the past, even pre-Chase regarding championship challengers.
Jeff: And yet no warning to Kyle Busch?
Beth: It’s that NASCAR double standard again, Jeff.
Jeff: Indeed.
Amy: NASCAR has a habit of warning rookies more than veterans.
Tom: Amy, you’re right. But Keselowski’s rookie status should make no difference here.
Beth: Exactly.
Tom: Yeah, he’s had run-ins with a lot of people. But so did Dale Earnhardt. If that’s the way he wants to be, that’s the way he wants to be.
Amy: Keselowski should have been warned the same if he was racing Dale Earnhardt Jr. or another non-contender. NASCAR saying to stay away from the Chase drivers was ridiculous.
Tom: It’s just the latest example of an uneven playing field. Things have gotten so messed up, you don’t know where to even begin to reel them back in.
Vito: I think part of it is Brad’s attitude when he does get into it with guys on the track.
Amy: I agree, Vito. Keselowski has an ego on him for sure.
Vito: He is pretty brazen, a little too aggressive sounding in his tone and unrepentant for the most part. Not saying he has to lay over, Tom, but he does seem to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder for whatever reason.
Tom: So what’s wrong with that? I have a big problem with the sport manipulating how things play out. In essence, that’s what they tried to do with that call. What if someone got tangled up with him at Kansas, and that put them behind the 8-ball in the Chase. Stuff happens. Heck, Jimmie Johnson got spun out by his own teammate on the last lap in ’06.
Beth: That’s all part of the Chase game.
Tom: Things are supposed to naturally happen. I always think back to the battle at North Wilkesboro for the win between Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd in ’89. They both spun out, and those points Earnhardt lost were enough to hand the championship to Rusty Wallace.
Tom: I’ll never forget Bob Jenkins’s voice going back through puberty. It was like a time warp.
Vito: Earnhardt was Mr. Pouty Pants after that one.
Tom: Anyways… if you approached Earnhardt years later and asked him, “Would he have rather finished second and gotten the points that day to win him the title?” He would have laughed in your face. Of course he would have fought for the win all over again; that’s the type of racing that fueled NASCAR’s growth over the last two decades.
Beth: And that’s what we’re missing in today’s NASCAR.
Tom: Exactly. It’s “Everybody play nice, don’t touch each other, collect those points and smile for those sponsors at the end! And don’t worry, if we see the race getting boring, we’ll find a hot dog wrapper on the track and call a caution.”
Phil: The Chase has unfortunately killed that type of racing. It hurts you too much. Although let’s remember that Keselowski was in the top five at the time the admonishment was sent.
Jeff: And he wasn’t supposed to be there, right? Kes had no frickin’ right to be in the top five! Who does he think he is, anyway?
Amy: The bottom line is the Chase killed any real hard racing. If NASCAR doesn’t want anyone racing the Chasers, they need to have separate races.
Phil: The whole idea of separate races doesn’t make logistical sense.
Amy: No, of course not Phil. But if that’s the case, NASCAR should expect them to have to race – although rough driving shouldn’t be tolerated.
Tom: Well if you’re a non-Chaser on a multi-car team at this point, you’re just being used for extra information to help your teammates. It’s like you become R&D. Oh, and I forgot; you lose your top pit crew guys to the people actually competing for a championship. And if you’re right in front of a teammate with one lap to go, you need to move over and give them the extra three, four, five points. It’s like you’ve lost your right to be out there and just race your own race.
Vito: What?! Did you forget Homestead in 2004? Or Jeff Gordon and Jimmie refusing to let each other lead laps a couple of years back at Atlanta?
Amy: Because they had to race like that.
Vito: I think what NASCAR did was right. They should give a mention to rookies who might be getting a little too fresh with the Chase guys out there. Besides, would you want to be the one that ended up costing some guy a championship because you’re driving like a tough guy for ninth?
Tom: Vito, I couldn’t disagree more. So what if Keselowski races them hard! Aren’t they supposed to earn every position they get on the track?
Beth: I’m with you there, Tom. Part of racing is that risk of getting caught up in someone else’s problem. It’s just how it goes.
Amy: There’s a difference between hard and dirty though, and the line is broader if you’re a rookie.
Vito: Keep in mind with this car, you can be three-tenths a lap faster, but just because some guy is driving aggressive and getting in the way, he can hold you up, block you, and impede your progress – for what, a middling finish? What’s the point?
Mike N.: There is also the issue of driving over your ability, or worse yet, your car’s ability trying to stay where you don’t necessarily belong.
Vito: I agree, Mike. Look at how many accidents blocking has caused. Sincerely, Carl Edwards.
Tom: But the bottom line is, this sport wasn’t built by guys tiptoeing around each other because they’re afraid of stubbing their toes. It was made by guys who went toe-to-toe with no fear of what the final result would be. I am so sick of these conversations, because we have got to stop eliminating risk at some point. The element of risk and unpredictability is what had fans coming to the track every week for years.
Mike N.: Y’know Tom, this sport was built on guys going toe-to-toe, but most of them finally raced in Cup when they were over 30. They raced a long time to get there. Now you have snot-nosed punks in the big time who were in Legends cars three years ago. And that is why you warn a rookie about what he’s doing.
Amy: And those changes mean more than just safety, Tom – it’s about better sportsmanship and class, too.
Vito: Look, there is nothing wrong with giving some advice to rookies, telling them to watch it around the guys who have a vested interest out there.
Tom: It would be one thing if Kes was racing around, say, Casey Mears. But he was racing around a Chaser, and the word “Chaser” was mentioned. That’s why I think the intentions were different than just warning a rookie.
Vito: As they should have been, because Mears is plenty capable of taking himself out. Seriously, all of the drivers are racing, most of the drivers are cognizant of who they are racing around – and most don’t want to be the ones who affect the championship by doing something silly.
Jeff: Just another example I why I find it extremely hard to take this sport seriously anymore. If I was Kes, I would have parked the car and flipped NASCAR the finger.
Beth: At some point, NASCAR is going to have to just step back and let all the drivers race. If you’re going to make the Chase just about those 12 drivers, then kick the rest of them out for the remainder of the season.
Tom: But they won’t change things, and that’s the problem. Even with the ratings down another 16%.
Phil: We’re getting into pre-2001 ratings now.

Kansas Speedway’s racing surface has a patch job on it that some drivers blamed for weekend wrecks. What responsibility do track owners have to fix that and ensure a decent racing surface?

Beth: It’s 100% up the tracks to ensure the racing surface is suitable for racing. And if it isn’t, NASCAR has to step in and tell them to make sure it is… or see ya.
Mike N.: Hello… it is their job. The surface needs to be race-ready for 3,400-pound cars going 200 mph. Maybe they need to sign on an official asphalt patch company of NASCAR.
Amy: The bigger question here is why NASCAR allows a shoddily maintained track to keep a Cup date. Oh, wait, it’s all in the family with ISC!
Jeff: ISC doesn’t have the money to fix this stuff right now. It’s got better things to do.
Tom: Of course! They just spent money making a new logo because they really needed it in these tough economic times. The most important thing with ratings down the tubes and tracks in disrepair is for your company to pour money into changing their graphic.
Amy: The “harsh winter” excuse doesn’t hold any water, either.
Beth: You’re right, Amy. Plenty of other tracks have endured harsh winters and they’re all right.
Vito: At least they didn’t try to levigate it.
Mike N.: When you throw up racetracks like tract houses, you’ll have some shoddy construction.
Tom: With that said, I think stuff like the tar patches gives a racetrack character – to a point. You don’t want to overcorrect those types of things.
Phil: I’ll be honest, I’ve seen worse. Nov. 1993 at Atlanta comes to mind. Volusia County Speedway in 1992 for Busch Grand National, as well.
Mike N.: Remember Pocono a couple years ago when they were basically going airborne over the tunnel turn?
Vito: Michigan 1994, too. That was atrocious. There was a legitimate Michigan-type pothole in the middle of turns 3 and 4. Martinsville coming apart back in 2005, throwing chunks of track….
Tom: OK, but those are all older speedways. I question how Kansas, that opened for Cup business in 2001, suddenly needs to be repaved just eight years later. How long has Daytona lasted without a repave? About 30 years?
Amy: Exactly. The track should not be this bad in the amount of time it’s gotten bad in.
Phil: It doesn’t need to be repaved. It’s just where they filled the cracks that separate the lanes. They should have just gone without the tar – it would have been fine.
Tom: Yeah, but that’s still part of the track maintenance, Phil.
Mike N.: Pretty hard to make it have no cracks without repaving it.
Vito: Every track is going to have problems, but you think they’d notice it before the race weekend. Maybe this is a case for allowing testing at tracks again – to test the track as well as the cars.
Tom: Well as long as the fans keep coming to the track, there’s no incentive for ISC to spend money to improve its product. And the way ISC and NASCAR think, fan attendance needs to be about 50 before they actually do something.
Vito: Like Mark said when they took out the Humpy Bumps in turn 4 a few years ago: “Yeah, there’s a bump there… whoopty damn do.” So just because a rookie driver wrecks on a track, I wouldn’t condemn the speedway over it.
Mike N.: There have been tons of tracks with sealed cracks over the years. You just drive around them.
Tom: Drivers complaining were the biggest issues surrounding this one, Vito. But keep in mind drivers complain about everything.
Amy: I think there needs to be a standard which all tracks are held to, and then it’s their responsibility to uphold it or lose sanctioning.
Jeff: Yeah, like an ISC track is gonna lose sanctioning!
Amy: I really, really hope someone grows a pair and pushes an antitrust case to court.
Tom: I’m a little torn about how I feel about the tar. But again, it’s just so hypocritical that ISC has no problem wanting to build a Kansas casino right by the racetrack, yet won’t do things like spend money to improve Fontana or fix these minor issues at Kansas. There’s a way in which they can patch up those cracks to give it character without spinning drivers out. You haven’t seen anyone crash on that Pocono patch in turn 3.
Vito: I’ve never had to sail a car off into a corner at 200 mph and straddle patches on a racetrack, so I’ll defer to the drivers here. But it didn’t seem like it was as big of an issue as some tracks have been in the past.
Mike N.: As long as the track isn’t so rough that it makes parts fall off the cars, suck it up and drive.
Amy: Bottom line, the track is in lousy condition, bad enough to cause problems with the racing. There is no excuse for that and there should be no tolerance either.
Jeff: Amy, there is a .006 tolerance… but no more!
Tom: I think they should take a look at it in the offseason with so many drivers complaining. But even if their criticism’s justified, I don’t expect much, if anything, gets done.

Word spread late last week that NASCAR had warned two Hendrick Motorsports teams that they were very close to NASCAR’s tolerances on a template rule. Is this a case of teams getting away with something, or the sanctioning body being proactive?

Amy: It’s a case of NASCAR doing what they routinely do.
Mike N.: NASCAR was just giving them a heads up. They have done it with other teams in the past.
Amy: The cars were within the tolerance, not outside as Lee Spencer originally spouted off.
Vito: I think it is a case of NASCAR putting a story out there to try and generate some drama and intrigue around the Chase.
Jeff: But you don’t get a warning for being totally legal. I got pulled over and the cop warned me that I was right at 55! Yeah, right.
Tom: I honestly think it’s one of the stupidest stories to come out all decade.
Mike N.: I’m with you, Tom. Somebody was just trying to generate some headlines on a slow news week.
Beth: It’s a waste of text, honestly. If they were within the guidelines, then what’s the point in even bringing it up?
Tom: “Oh my God, they almost failed inspection.” That’s like saying the Steelers came close to losing the last Super Bowl. Oh well, they didn’t. So who cares?
Vito: “The first- and second-place cars have been deemed legal… but barely…” Is somebody going to get five points for being “Exceptionally Legal?”
Amy: Agree, Vito. The racing is boring, so let’s make a story that’s not a story sound like a story! It’ll be fun!
Vito: And Curtis Granderson almost didn’t drop that pop fly Sunday.
Tom: I can’t believe a championship-winning team would be pushing the limits of what they’re allowed in order to get as much of an edge as possible! I mean, why try and cut it close? Why not put in a half-assed effort and finish 15th? The only thing that worries me is if they really were caught cheating, and NASCAR needed to send something out to try and sweep it under the rug and claim they didn’t. But that’s a little too conspiracy theory for me. None of my sources have come out and said that’s the case, and I just feel like the reporter in me says we’d have smelled something fishy by now.
Vito: I liked Chad’s response: “That was the equivalent of eight pieces of paper. We were at five pieces, so we had plenty of room.”
Jeff: Well, was the car .006 over tolerance or not? Either it was or not.
Amy: No, Jeff, it was not.
Jeff: Then NASCAR’s original story was wrong?
Amy: No, Lee Spencer’s story was wrong. NASCAR got it right when they did it correctly.
Vito: Well, I don’t like it because it implies they are trying to cheat while in all truthfulness they’re just pushing the car to the edge of being within the tolerances like they should.
Beth: I’ll say this again: so what if they were close? If they were, in fact, within the guidelines, then why make such a big fuss over nothing?
Amy: Because NASCAR is desperate to get fans talking about something, Beth.
Mike N.: Everyone pushes everything to the edge. If you don’t, you don’t compete.
Vito: Wasn’t this always part of the sport – trying to find some way to push the envelope waaayyyy past the sticky part? Let’s be honest here, we’re talking thousandths of an inch, not a 28-gallon fuel tank or a big engine.
Mike N.: Tell that to Carl Long, Vito.
Amy: Well if you want a conspiracy: After 18 years of crap from fans for screwing Mark Martin out of a title for an inconsequential violation, do you really think NASCAR wants the PR of doing it again?
Mike N.: I think NASCAR wants the team to know that they know. Kind of one of those “we’re watching you” kind of warnings. It happens all of the time. I think, because it was the race winner, they let something get out about it.
Vito: You know what’s funny, though? Virtually every driver interviewed this weekend was basically praising them for building a superior product. And who finished first and second this weekend? Right, the other Hendrick cars – while the two in question finished seventh and ninth.
Tom: I feel like we’ve already given this too much space on our site. Call me when they’re actually cheating, NASCAR. Otherwise, I don’t care.
Mike N.: Me too.
Phil: I agree.
Amy: Exactly, Tom… the whole thing was the biggest un-story I’ve ever heard – yet fans are all excited over it.
Beth: If they’d just take a step back and let the drivers race, we wouldn’t be wasting time on whether or not two of the Chasers’ cars were “close” to failing inspection.
Tom: Guys, I just want to let you know you were all almost fired. Just be a little more careful what you say in Mirror next time!
Mike N.: Blow me.

Nearly a year after NASCAR imposed the rule that allows Camping World Truck Series competitors to take either fuel or tires, but not both, on a single pit stop, NASCAR is reportedly considering changes for 2010. How should the rule be tweaked to make it more popular with competitors, and should the trucks also consider double-file restarts?

Amy: The pit rules should be taken out completely. It didn’t work. And yes, they should have a double-file restart.
Jeff: I agree with Amy on both points.
Beth: The pit-stop rule is by far one of the dumbest rules I’ve ever seen. And it’s only because of those that NASCAR wouldn’t allow double-file restarts in that series this season.
Phil: Add one more crew member to over-the-wall stops so that fuel and tires can be done at the same time again. As for the double-file restarts, I could care less about it at this point.
Tom: I think the pit rules should be changed back to normal for 2010. It’s certainly not the answer to stop the start-and-park situation.
Mike N.: The rule is stupid. It does accomplish what it was intended to do, but only for the teams who are on shoestring budgets.
Amy: The teams were still going to hire the same number of people and put them to use elsewhere.
Tom: Right. We “cut costs” and a third of the field still shows up to run about 40-50 laps. So you might as well let the competitive teams go back to competing.
Vito: They should undo the rule. It might save some money but it makes for a poor product on the track and relegates it to little more than local track racing. This is still NASCAR and Trucks are supposed to be one of the top-three touring series in the country.
Mike N.: I’m not sure about double-file restarts, though. They wreck enough on restarts without it.
Beth: Double-file restarts in the Truck Series would be the best thing to happen to it.
Tom: Well Beth, I am a little torn on that, I guess. I always looked at the Truck Series as the last place where everything was “old-school.”
Amy: What’s not old-school about a double-file restart, Tom?
Tom: As much as I love the new restarts, it was kind of nice to know the old way was still used somewhere in NASCAR’s top-three divisions.
Beth: Tom, I want to see the frontrunners racing each other instead of having to worry about some lap-down driver running a few miles an hour slower than the rest of the field getting in the way.
Amy: I can’t think of a local stock car track that puts the lapped cars next to the leader and the fifth-place guy mired in traffic. It’s better to have to get around someone you’re actually racing.
Vito: But the start & park phenomenon coupled with double-file restarts would ensure only eight trucks finished each race. The Trucks can pass at least. The Cup cars had to go to double-file restarts because nobody could pass anyone anymore.
Tom: And the lapped cars always give the competitors an extra obstacle to have to get around. I don’t think it was always a bad thing to have them.
Beth: It’s when you have something like Norm Benning at Vegas last week that it’s a problem, where he was just consistently slower than the rest of the field. I guess that’s a bad example, because he wasn’t an issue just on the restarts. But at the same time, I can’t tell you how many times there would have been a pass for the lead on those restarts if there wasn’t a lap-down truck in the way. I thought from the beginning that the pit-road rules were stupid.NASCAR never should have changed them in the first place.
Tom: Oh well, at least we can all agree on the pit rules. That whole thing reminds me of how NASCAR tried to control pit road in 1991 before installing speed limits. Anyone remember the old odd/even system? That was about as ridiculous as what they’re trying to do now. Good intentions, but we could all see by race three they weren’t working. I wish they changed back in the middle of the season.
Phil: Oh yes. It was stupid. Kyle Petty apparently drove 500 miles at Daytona on the same left-side tires. At least NASCAR dropped the odd/even thing after six weeks or so in 1991, but not before making about four other changes.
Amy: One of those things that sounds like a good idea at the time.
Tom: But then again, considering how much we criticize NASCAR for flip-flopping, maybe it’s good they stuck with the rules the whole season.
Beth: This one was one of those that I would have praised NASCAR wholeheartedly for changing.
Amy: I don’t think flip-flopping would be bad if it was because NASCAR admitted they were wrong.
Beth: I agree, Amy. If NASCAR would just come out and say, “we were wrong about the pit-road rules and we’re switching back to the old way” I would be happy.
Amy: Meanwhile, I hate for some guy a lap or more down to determine the outcome of a race.
Vito: Well, if we get all fired up about a lap down guy determining the outcome of a truck race, why are we so outraged when NASCAR warns a rookie to be mindful of the championship guys he’s racing against in Cup?
Amy: He wasn’t a lap down, Vito. It’s a whole other deal.
Beth: Back on topic: the bottom line is that the pit-road rules we’ve been dealing with this season have got to go.
Phil: Yeah, drop the current pit rules, and allow a sixth guy over the wall.
Mike N.: Either that, or change it to two tires and one can of fuel per stop.

OK, predictions for Fontana? Other than the length of your nap?

Jeff: Johnson, and this time his car is barely, barely legal! It’s what NASCAR wants.
Amy: Going to go with Brian Vickers.
Mike N.: Johnson.
Vito: Let’s see… 48, 5… 48, 5… 48, 5… I’ll take Martin. Johnson will run out of gas again like at Michigan.
Tom: I’m actually going with Greg Biffle. Roush Fenway finally breaks the slump. But the No. 48 takes the points lead. Finishes third.
Phil: I’ll go with Edwards.
Tom: I’ll stick my neck out and say both Montoya and Martin have some issues, too – which means suddenly, the No. 48 is in control of the title chase. Expect NASCAR to panic.

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 29 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 37 29 3 11 17
Bryan Davis Keith 29 -8 26 3 10 14
Amy Henderson 29 -8 31 4 9 15
Tom Bowles 21 -16 9 1 6 7
Kurt Smith 21 -16 19 3 6 10
Vito Pugliese 20 -17 15 1 5 9
Mike Neff 16 -21 18 1 5 10
Jeff Meyer 11 -26 22 0 6 10
Tony Lumbis 0 -37 1 0 0 0
Phil Allaway -1 -38 6 0 1 2
Matt Taliaferro -3 -40 1 0 0 0

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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