Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Making History, Penalizing Fairly & Winning NASCAR Fans Back in 2010

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)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Doug Scholl (Fan Participant)

Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive title last weekend, the first driver to win four in a row and fourth to win four or more titles in the history of the sport. But should an asterisk go into the record books because Johnson won under the Chase system?

Phil: I’d argue no because this is the system we have now. Richard Petty won his seven titles with something like five different points systems.
Doug: Right. Not unless you’re ready to asterisk Petty’s and Dale Earnhardt‘s because of different car models and engine rules.
Bryan: Absolutely there should be an asterisk. Jimmie has proven the best out there at going on a 10-race hot streak. He had shots at a title with 36 races and didn’t make it happen.
Amy: As much as I hate the Chase, no. You could argue an asterisk for Johnson, but you could also argue one for Petty’s titles under the pre-modern era system where you could cherrypick races and never run at a track you didn’t like.

See also
Appreciating NASCAR History Rewritten

Bryan: Petty still had to compete a full season to make it happen, Phil. The alteration to make 10 races worth more than 26 others is far more drastic than altering points for results. It has led to a minimization of two-thirds of the schedule.
Amy: Not really. A full season was 72 races and teams cherrypicked the ones they could get the most points at.
Phil: Some formats had different races being worth more points in the past. Today, such a format is rare. I remember the V8 Supercars used to have double points for the endurance races when Ambrose was still there.
Doug: Jimmie’s streak isn’t history yet. It’s current and a lot of people are having problems with comprehending the totality of his achievements.
Amy: Here’s the thing, though: If the Chase was made to put winning over stroking, then shouldn’t people be happy with this year’s title? Jimmie won the most races this year.
Bryan: That’s one of four Amy. This is actually the first year that Johnson should have won a title since his run began.
Amy: Why do you say that, Bryan? He would have won two more under the old system as well. I hate the Chase, but Johnson won his titles under the system given, with the rules given. As did Petty, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon.
Bryan: Would he?
Amy: One more, sorry.
Phil: I thought this would be No. 2 for him if they kept the old system.
Doug: What else could be changed to prevent Jimmie and Chad from winning another one? They’ve changed the car, testing and tracks. I don’t think it’s the tracks, it’s the preparation and time put in by that whole No. 48 bunch.
Amy: Right. You don’t know that they would have races differently under the old system and won under that one as well.
Bryan: Gotta go by the numbers, Amy. They didn’t have the results those years.
Amy: Neither did Kurt Busch by that thinking.
Bryan: I’m not defending Busch’s title, either.
Phil: It is definitely true that the Chase has changed the way that racing is done and I think that was NASCAR’s intention the whole time.
Bryan: Hold up now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The one track change in the Chase was to add Fontana, which is perhaps the No. 48’s best track.
Phil: Johnson’s been great at Auto Club since his rookie year.
Amy: That was to pad ISC’s wallet, Bryan, not because NASCAR cares if Johnson wins the Chase.
Bryan: And I’m not saying they did that to cater to Johnson, so lay off that argument. But, the “tracks aren’t a factor” argument doesn’t jive. They kept nine tracks they knew backwards and forwards, plus their best track added.
Doug: And a track that Roush has performed well at, too.
Amy: They are a factor, but do you change them just to penalize the No. 48 team?
Bryan: No, you weigh 36 races like 36 races.
Phil: You make a strong argument for rotation, Bryan. However, some of the venues are in undesirable places to have late-season races.
Bryan: If you’re going to do this 10-race crap, the tracks need to change every year.
Doug: I believe it was the No. 11 leading at California when he “figured” Juan Pablo Montoya wouldn’t push the issue.
Amy: Nobody liked penalizing success when it meant changing the Nationwide engine rule, so why would that be OK now? And I would like to see a rotating schedule, but that’s a lot to do to the track promoters.
Bryan: Who’s penalizing success Amy? I’m not raising the No. 48 as an issue, the issue is how 10 tracks have suddenly become the benchmark for a series title instead of the 36 races run each year. Ryan Newman could have won four Cups under this system and I’d still say it sucks because it guts two-thirds of the season.
Amy: Honestly, the No. 48 would simply change their focus to those tracks.
Bryan: Let’s see them do it instead of bending over and taking, “Oh the No. 48 can conquer anything thrown before it.”
Phil: That was the point I was making earlier, Doug.
Amy: I agree in principle, Bryan. I said before they need a greater variety of tracks in the Chase. The problems with rotating the schedule every year are numerous.
Phil: Remember when the season ended at New Hampshire in 2001 because of 9/11? Everyone thought it was going to be 30 degrees on race day. Luckily for them, unseasonable warmth permeated the region on race day.
Amy: But they got lucky. It could just as easily have snowed six inches. I’m from New Hampshire, I’ve seen it.
Bryan: And we’ve seen rain in Vegas, we’ve seen snow at Bristol… weather happens. Big deal.
Doug: I’m all for going back to the 2004 system! But I don’t want to hear the whining when the season is over with five races left.
Bryan: Then don’t rotate it and get rid of the Chase. Otherwise, get used to more and more fans like myself stewing about watching 26 races that mean nothing before watching 10 that, for no odd reason other than bank books, are suddenly more important.
Doug: Until another change (whatever it may be), we’re stuck with what we got and Jimmie and Chad are master manipulators of the system. Luckily we had Mark Martin this year and even Denny Hamlin could have been there if he didn’t have the DNFs.
Amy: But giving Johnson an asterisk? For winning within the rules given? No. Otherwise Petty would need one too.
Doug: Someone just has to step up and finally beat the No. 48.
Phil: I agree with Amy. No asterisk – unless he wins the championship but fails to win the owners’ title or something like that.
Bryan: Asterisk. Jimmie’s proven the best there is in going on a 10-race streak. Not that he’s ready to be listed among Petty, Earnhardt and even Gordon yet.
Amy: One thing nobody mentioned: The competition today is much heavier than it was 20 years ago. There are more cars capable of winning every race. That has to count for something, even if they are all from the same three or four teams. Winning now might be harder than it has ever been before.
Phil: I’ll agree with that.

NASCAR got involved in not one but two on-track incidents this weekend, penalizing Hamlin and Montoya one and two laps, respectively, for rough driving. Were those penalties fair and did NASCAR even have to get involved at all?

Bryan: No they did not. Let the drivers police themselves and get the hell out of the way. Trying to police what is and isn’t “aggressive” driving is inviting more gray area officiating.
Doug: Yes they did, because Denny called his shot and both Tony Stewart and Juan were warned to end it.
Amy: Turning up two lanes of traffic and accelerating as you run into a guy is pretty aggressive. NASCAR was right to penalize, but Hamlin should have gotten at least five laps. Frankly, I don’t think he should have raced on Sunday, but that would’ve been too consistent on NASCAR’s part.
Phil: Unless it’s really serious, no. And the dreaded consistency issue came up once again.
Doug: That’s the biggest issue, consistency – or lack thereof.
Bryan: Jason Leffler got a five-lap penalty for not even intentionally hitting Steve Wallace at Daytona, Hamlin gets one lap for intentionally hitting someone. That’s ridiculous and why NASCAR needs to let the drivers police themselves.
Amy: Yeah, and they parked Kevin Harvick for virtually what they slapped Hamlin on the wrist for.
Doug: John Darby addressed that to the media because everyone knew that was coming. His comment was NASCAR takes several things into account, including speed. He said they’re going to default to five laps at Daytona and Talladega.
Amy: What really frosted me was Hamlin being allowed to use the free pass.
Phil: I had to look up whether Hamlin getting the free pass would have been legal or not during the race Saturday. Turns out it is legal. He just couldn’t take a wave-around to make up that lap. Convoluted.
Bryan: Seriously, listen to Brad Keselowski and Denny’s post-race comments. That feud is ready to simmer now that Hamlin took his (albeit very weak) shot.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2009 Ford 300 at Homestead

Phil: I’d argue that Stewart should have been docked a lap or two for his role in putting Montoya in the wall.
Amy: I agree with Phil. Montoya didn’t hit Stewart on purpose the first time, but Stewart turned down into him.
Bryan: So where was Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s penalty at Daytona after drilling Brian Vickers? Or wait, was that aggressive driving?
Doug: I knew the Junior-Vickers incident would come up. Who was more aggressive? Vickers’s blocking to the grass or Dale for “blending in?”
Bryan: Good question Doug, and different depending on who you ask. But that’s my point. I don’t know and NASCAR didn’t either. So hands off.
Amy: Blocking is legal, though. Turning up two lanes of racetrack for no reason but turning another car is another matter.
Phil: I’d argue that the blocking was more aggressive.
Amy: Hamlin’s lack of penalty just enforced the idea that NASCAR is letting the Cup guy run all over the Nationwide regulars.
Doug: I don’t think so Amy.
Bryan: Please… rubbing’s racing. Let ‘em do what they have to out there.
Amy: Hamlin has a history of dirty driving… this is nothing new. Keselowski isn’t much better, though. His ego has grown exponentially in the last two years
Bryan: How convenient that everyone forgets Denny’s history, Amy. Especially seeing as how Denny took the first shot in the Hamlin/Kes rivalry at Charlotte in 2008.
Doug: The bad part of this is the image that is left on Joe Gibbs Racing.
Bryan: That is so true Doug. Joey Logano is the most mature driver on that team. That’s appalling.
Doug: Whether or not Denny drove for CJM, Denny will always be associated with Gibbs.
Amy: I cannot stand what JGR is doing in the Nationwide Series, so let them have the bad rep. There was something ironic about the car that said “God Speaks” on the hood getting in the last shot, however.
Bryan: God Speaks was a perfect sponsor for Denny… it went well with his ego.
Phil: Yeah, the irony was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Bryan: He probably had Jesus painted across the roof where his name should have been.
Phil: Can’t vouch for that one.
Doug: Someone else said it. This was about Denny being right whether or not he was.
Phil: That sounds like Denny’s getting arrogant.
Amy: Denny is getting arrogant. Though possibly not as arrogant as Keselowski, yet.
Bryan: It drives me nuts to hear Hamlin, who’s been on the NASCAR circuit for four or five years, acting like he’s the veteran on tour. Give me a break, he’s still a new meat.
Doug: Well, I think the penalties were fair and hopefully a lighter hand coming from NASCAR.
Bryan: No penalties are needed. Hamlin may not be, but JPM, Brad and Stewart are men… let them sort it out themselves.
Amy: I think Hamlin should have gotten at least five laps and that’s being generous. Montoya got about what he deserved and Stewart got off light.

Many fans left NASCAR in 2009, citing disappointment with the racing. But what, exactly, should NASCAR do to win them back?

Bryan: Listening would be a good start. And cut the front air dam off these cars.
Amy: There’s the rub, but what exactly should they do? They aren’t going to scrap the CoT, nor should they, but they should find ways to for teams to tweak on it. And I would like to see a realignment of the schedule. Dump at least three cookie-cutter races in favor of racier tracks.
Phil: Dumping the wing might help, too. They thought the wing would harken back to the days of the Superbird, but that didn’t work. But the standardized start times are step 1 in what’s probably a 10-step program.
Doug: I agree with an increase with short tracks. Iowa was amazing for the CWTS and NNS. But NASCAR needs to tear up their media contract. It’s the broadcasting that’s the problem, not the product.
Bryan: Very valid point, Doug. The broadcasting is a huge part of the issue. Those telecasts are painful to watch. And the Nationwide Series had good telecasts that you could count on one hand this year.
Doug: Did anyone know from ABC that ‘Dinger finished top 10 for the second week in a row?
Phil: I don’t remember it being mentioned, which is a shame.
Amy: Something doable would be fixing the schedule and providing everyone with better tracks. But scrapping the car isn’t doable, benching Jimmie Johnson isn’t doable….
Doug: Memphis is also a loss next year for NNS and CWTS.
Bryan: Memphis hurts. That was always a good race.
Phil: Yeah, extra truck race in Nashville, extra Nationwide race at Gateway.
Bryan: Get the Rock on the schedule, two dates for Iowa, two for Darlington.
Amy: Yes. They need more than ever to return to tracks that are their roots. Rockingham and North Wilkes would be great… and bring back the real Southern 500!
Phil: They need more seats at the Rock to get a race back there. They’re down to something like 33,000.
Bryan: They moved ‘em out of there Phil, they sure as hell can move them back.
Amy: They could do trucks there.
Doug: I’d love to see the Rock back, but they need to totally revamp the seating and midway outside the track.
Bryan: SAFER barriers are also a must.
Amy: But see, that’s the main thing that can be done. Sure, make the car more adjustable, but schedule races at decent tracks and you get better racing. The new car races fine at decent venues.
Doug: Would you watch a 24-hour NASCAR channel on your current cable satellite plan?
Amy: Depends, Doug. What would they show?
Phil: NASCAR might try to charge extortion to cable companies, creating another NFL Network. I still don’t get the NFL Network because of that.
Amy: Would I watch old races and RPM2Nite-type shows? Yes. Would I watch more of what we’ve got today? No.
Phil: I would definitely like an RPM2Nite-type show. That might be what SPEED Race Hub eventually evolves into. In the late 1990s, RPM2Nite with Kernan was appointment TV for me.
Doug: Race Hub goes off the air after the banquet and will re-appear during Speedweeks.
Phil: They announced that they’re coming back Jan. 11, I think.
Amy: I haven’t watched a race show that wasn’t an actual race in two years. Except the banquet.
Doug: Well, NASCAR is moving NASCAR Media Group to the HoF in Charlotte so they would be central instead of Bristol or L.A.
Bryan: Back to the question in general, this isn’t rocket science here. Short tracks are the raciest. Good broadcasting is possible, as MRN demonstrates every weekend.
Doug: Change the media and refocus on short tracks.
Amy: Really, it’s tweaking the cars and schedule. Wholesale changes are not the answer. And, I agree, change the way races are broadcast.
Bryan: Hire a full-time camera crew and stream MRN, add more short tracks and cut the damned front air dam off.

With Kyle Busch winning the Nationwide title, has he learned lessons that will help him win one on the Cup side in 2010? And who’s the favorite to win the Nationwide Series next year with the champ is scaling back to part-time?

Amy: 2010 Nationwide Series champion is Carl Edwards. Do we really have to run all those races?
Bryan: It’s Edwards. Give him the trophy.
Doug: No, Kyle hasn’t learned anything that will help in earning a Cup title, and Logano will win the Nationwide Series one if he runs the full schedule. If Joey is part-time, I agree that Edwards is the man.
Phil: Edwards is probably the prohibitive favorite at this point for next year in the Nationwide Series. But I’m not sure what the series is going to look like next year, to be honest.
Amy: No, Busch hasn’t matured enough to be a Cup contender. There’s more to it than having the best car every week.
Bryan: Kyle didn’t learn anything from his NNS title run this year. It’s not like in the Trucks where he does have an impact on the No. 51 truck. The No. 18 car was top three at every track all season long. They never had to adjust, they never were threatened for the title after Las Vegas, the third race of the year… that was just going through the motions.
Phil: Kyle learned what it feels like to win a title. He’ll want to repeat that in the Cup Series as soon as possible.
Bryan: He learned how it feels, but not what it takes to win the big one.
Doug: I’ll agree with JGR that a change was needed with the removal of Addington, but to move Rodgers into the “hot seat” was a surprise instead of bringing up his NNS crew chief.
Bryan: Give the No. 18 Cup team $50 million for a season and maybe they’ll get to where his NNS car was this year.
Amy: It’s a pretty sad day when the series veterans, who have raced in that series for years and give their heart and souls to it, now consider the championship meaningless.
Phil: Yeah. That’s what happens when too many Cup drivers come in, run the full season and steal money away from other drivers.
Amy: That’s exactly it, Bryan. It’s easy to win when you have five or six times the budget of the regular teams. When a three-time Most Popular Driver can’t find a sponsor, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Bryan: It says a lot when Jason Keller is top 10 in points and openly says his team isn’t to a point where they can win races. Something is really wrong there.
Doug: That’s why I applaud Harvick for doing it in his own equipment now. I wish Carl would step up to the plate and run a program similar to KHI.
Phil: I think Carl would have to buy into an existing team to get into ownership. It just takes too long to build a team from the ground up.
Doug: Well, that’s uncertainty and look at the revolving door on the No. 5 car – JRM lost Fastenal to Roush and Edwards for next year on the No. 60.
Amy: Harvick did it. If you don’t have the patience to do it, well, then you don’t have the commitment to do it right.
Bryan: But back to the question, Kyle Busch was never in a situation this season where he legitimately had a title on the line. They were up front all year and were never seriously challenged. That’s not going to happen on the Cup side.
Doug: 100% agree! When he was challenged he still finished top five.
Bryan: And until you taste that pressure and beat that pressure, a Cup title isn’t going to happen.
Amy: Seriously though, imagine Junior not being able to find a soul to sponsor his Cup ride, but that’s what you have next year with the No. 28 in NNS.
Bryan: You can’t expect to unload top three every weekend on the Cup side, nor stay top five for 500 miles just by driving hard. Adjusting is obviously still a struggle for Kyle and that’s why Addington’s out of a job.
Amy: That’s exactly it, Bryan. And Kyle hasn’t figured that out yet. To say nothing of John Wes Townley buying his way into a top ride. Yuck.
Phil: I still want to eventually interview Townley.
Doug: That’s become the nature of the business with Paul Menard and Townley.
Amy: “So, John Wes… you suck. How does it feel to be taking up space and money that a good driver could be using?”
Phil: I wouldn’t ask him that question. That’s just mean. I wouldn’t be able to get anything out of John Wes that way.
Bryan: To his credit, and I’ve certainly given him plenty of grief this year, he was finishing races the last two months of the year. And you can’t point the finger at either of those drivers or the teams that hire them. The finger goes right to NASCAR, and how they’ve let stock car racing become too expensive to be sustained. It doesn’t take $20-million racecars to make good racing.
Amy: Well, I wonder who they found those weeks to shake down his cars in practice when he couldn’t do it? I know for a fact they had to resort to that in at least one race this year. He flat couldn’t drive it in practice, so they put in a driver who could at least give them some feedback
Phil: Someone like Travis Kvapil, I guess. And Boris Said at Watkins Glen.
Bryan: Townley came up too quick. He wasn’t even a steady top 10 in ARCA before making the jump. He should have stayed another season in ARCA, it’d have done wonders. Anyone listing top-15 finishes in ARCA on their career highlights is not ready to be racing Nationwide full-time.
Doug: But in ARCA he’d have limited exposure, and they could afford exposure.
Amy: And the series veterans who know how to drive don’t have a chance. Between the Cup guys stroking egos and guys like Townley throwing money before talent, what’s left for the Kellers and Wallaces of the world?
Doug: The Kvapils, Riggs and Sorensons all get filtered out, but look at the resurrection Aric Almirola and Johnny Sauter have had in the Trucks.
Bryan: Kvapil may be back next year. It all comes to NASCAR again. They’ve created this monster because of, again, the expense that it has become.
Doug: Well Kenny Wallace re-signed with Robinson Racing….
Amy: He had no choice; there were no other options. And they have sponsorship for only eight races.
Phil: Who’s sponsoring the car for those eight races?
Amy: I don’t know. I haven’t asked.
Amy: The problems with Nationwide make the Cup Series look like the greatest run and raced series in the world.
Phil: I don’t know what to expect out of the Nationwide Series next year. We’ll probably see an even more out-of-whack season.
Bryan: Kyle, heck everyone at JGR is not ready to contend for the Cup, NNS successes notwithstanding. And Edwards will be your 2010 NNS champion. So since I cover the Nationwide Series, can I just take next year off?
Amy: Sure, you can write all your recaps in advance, too.
Phil: No, that’s lazy. You still have to report on what you see.
Doug: No, because the Allgaiers, Cassills, Bires and Clausons still need their story told.
Bryan: Well, scratch Cassill and Clauson from that list. And Bires might not even get to run full-time because they can’t find sponsor dollars.
Doug: Still hope they’ll get an opportunity somewhere.
Bryan: As do I.
Amy: Where? There are no opportunities because there are no sponsors unless you’re a Cup driver.
Bryan: Phil Parsons. I’m sure he’d love to expand MSRP to meet a four-car cap.
Doug: You had to go there? The S&P is currently an abomination making a normal situation look horrendous.
Amy: “Driver Wanted. Short workdays, good benefits. Inquire within.”
Phil: What did Bryan Clauson do this year?
Bryan: Clauson ran some USAC and other midget races.
Amy: See, I don’t like the start and parks that do it every week for no apparent reason, but the No. 49 is a S&P so the No. 28 can at least try to have a fighting chance.
Bryan: That’s an issue in itself that it takes running S&Ps to actually race.
Doug: Who else quit on a team besides Danny O’Quinn Jr.?
Bryan: Matt Carter. Though he did get fired. He quit in the middle of a race and was fired after it.
Phil: 2010 is going to be a tough year for the Nationwide Series. Expect short fields in some races (especially the ones with the new CoT) and dominance by Edwards.

No predictions this week, unless you want to go all in on the best banquet blooper.

Bryan: Won’t be watching the banquet – couldn’t care less. Let me know when they’re testing at Daytona. Oh wait, darn….

Mirror Predictions 2009

Congratulations to our 2009 Mirror Predictions winner… Beth Lunkenheimer! The final standings from this year’s competition are listed below.

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Beth Lunkenheimer 52 36 4 16 22
Bryan Davis Keith 37 -15 29 5 12 16
Amy Henderson 35 -17 38 4 11 18
Kurt Smith 29 -23 23 4 8 12
Mike Neff 24 -28 20 2 7 12
Vito Pugliese 24 -28 19 1 6 11
Tom Bowles 22 -30 13 1 7 8
Jeff Meyer 14 -38 28 1 8 13
Phil Allaway 4 -48 9 0 2 5
Tony Lumbis 0 -52 1 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro 0 -52 2 0 1 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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