Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Jimmie the “Great?” Earnhardt the Enraged & Spoilers

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. 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)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)

After his driver Jimmie Johnson won his 50th race in 296 starts, car owner Rick Hendrick wondered why Johnson is not being mentioned among the sport’s all-time greats. Why isn’t he? And at what point in a driver’s career is such talk appropriate?

Amy: At 50 wins, it’s certainly appropriate. I remember when Rusty Wallace got to 50, it was a big deal – and it’s a big deal now.
Jeff: You should be done with your career first before you start attaching labels.
Bryan: Why isn’t he? 1) The Chase. 2) The perception (and rightfully so) that the crew chief is the magic behind the No. 48 team far more than the driver.
Phil: Well, when did Jeff Gordon start being mentioned as an all-time great? He’s the only one that’s come along since I’ve been watching NASCAR.
Summer: Wait, since when is he not being talked of as one of the sport’s greats? Every week, you see someone trying to ask not whether or not he should be considered one of the greatest drivers.

See also
The Cool-Down Lap: A Jimmie Johnson Win We Finally Can Stomach?

Jeff: There are just too many all-time greats! What, is Rick worried his baby ain’t getting enough good press?
Phil: I think a lot of people believe Johnson wouldn’t be where he is without Hendrick or Chad Knaus.
Bryan: Exactly, Phil.
Jeff: And the thing is, we may never know. Let’s see Jimmie drive for a lesser team or equipment… or another crew chief.
Amy: A lot of drivers wouldn’t be where they were without their teams, though. I agree with Mr. Hendrick: People should be talking about this, as they did with every other driver to reach 50 wins. There are some great drivers without that many.
Summer: Jimmie shouldn’t be discredited as a driver just because of the Chase format or his crew chief. He’s a good driver. It’s a team effort; but contrary to what Clint Bowyer thinks, you can’t put a monkey in a car and expect him to drive. Jimmie would be a good driver no matter who he is with.
Phil: Like Mark Martin and Bill Elliott, and so on and so forth.
Jeff: I don’t discredit Jimmie. I’d just like to see him drive for someone else.
Amy: Again, you could say that about any of the great drivers, and the bottom line is: you can’t know the answer. Would Dale Earnhardt have won as many with a bottom-feeder team? Would Richard Petty have 200 without Petty Enterprises behind most of them?
Bryan: He gets discredited because outside of being under Knaus, Johnson has done nothing.
Jeff: OK, quick… three hip-hip-hoorays for Jimmie winning 50!
Bryan: Ever think that maybe people are just bored to death about talking about Jimmie? He’s become the robot that everyone thought Matt Kenseth was.
Phil: That’s definitely in play, Bryan.
Jeff: Exactly.
Bryan: His press conferences put me to sleep.
Summer: Yes, people are sick of talking about Jimmie, but I don’t think he’s discredited as a driver because of it.
Amy: I loved the one-man food fight at Bristol and the burnout up the ramp was awesome. Jimmie does his talking with his car.
Bryan: Amy, every driver does a burnout up the ramp. That was hardly original.
Summer: Well it’s pretty obvious that if Jimmie had a rivalry going with somebody, that people would probably be more interested. Right now, no one, not even his teammates, are contending with him. It is pretty boring. But just because he’s considered boring shouldn’t make him any less of a racecar driver.
Amy: Still, he talks with his lead foot. Since when does a driver have to be a standup comedian?
Jeff: Jimmie has been in top-notch equipment since the day he started. Most of the “other” all-time greats had to pay some dues first.
Phil: Does that mean that he’s going to have a massive fall from grace in the near future?
Amy: Jeff, you really need to do some homework before you say that. Jimmie has paid his dues as much as any driver. More than some.
Summer: And so what? Even if Jimmie had gotten some big breaks, how does that discredit him? He made the most with what he had at the time.
Jeff: Oh, really? OK, my first column when I come back will solely be on how Johnson is the greatest ever, the Tiger Woods of NASCAR!
Amy: All I said was he’s paid his dues. Which he has, since he was about 12 years old.
Jeff: I’m talking about getting in the ranks of the top series, Amy – not since he had acne and raging hormones!
Phil: Johnson in Cup now is like Johnson in CORR in 1998. He’s a toughy. I’m willing to accept that, especially when you win one out of every six races you enter.
Amy: I think at 50 wins, any driver who gets there, you have to think of that guy a bit differently. That’s a big deal, no matter who your car owner is.
Bryan: When you look at the all-time greats, they all have something besides stats that make them that way. David Pearson was the Silver Fox: he won when he showed up and that wasn’t always predictable. Petty was the King, the greatest ambassador in the history of the sport. And Earnhardt was one of the most intimidating athletes to ever compete. What’s Jimmie’s calling card? His crew and crew chief. That’s why he’s not in the discussion, no matter what the numbers say.
Phil: The Luck Bank.
Jeff: No matter how good he is, the fact is he would not have four in a row if the format was never changed.
Amy: He’d still have 50 wins, Jeff. The titles wouldn’t change that.
Summer: And that’s not a great argument, either. Jamie McMurray wouldn’t have won the Daytona 500 without the green-white-checkered rule. Jimmie and his team have made the most of the situation they were presented with.
Jeff: The GWC is not on the same level as changing the points system.
Summer: No, but it’s still changing the circumstances where the outcome would have been different. My point is, a team has to make the most of any situation they are placed in. Chad and Jimmie are just good at what they do. I’d buy that argument if they had sucked with the previous points system, but they never finished any lower than fifth there, either.
Amy: You can have all the what-ifs you want, but the numbers are the numbers. What if Rusty had stayed with Blue Max? What if Gordon had signed with Bill Davis? What if Petty didn’t have Petty Enterprises behind him, or Pearson the Wood Brothers?
Phil: Well, Rusty would have nothing. Blue Max folded after 1990 because of money problems. He’d still have his title, though.
Jeff: Look, I don’t deny Jimmie’s talent, but you are never going to convince me to go all gaga over him.
Amy: Bottom line, 50 wins should be a free ticket to the Hall of Fame, and I think it will prove to be. Championships aside, Junior Johnson never had one – and would you discredit his accomplishments because of that?
Jeff: I’ll wait for next week’s JJ question when he has 51. I agree.
Bryan: Oh, then can we just recycle this question and save time on next week’s Mirror?
Summer: Well I don’t think any of us will, but he shouldn’t be discredited as a driver just because the circumstances were different.
Phil: Yeah, he’ll get in around 2026 or something like that.
Bryan: Jimmie’s going to the damned Hall, we all know that. But again, numbers or no numbers, Jimmie’s missing that special something that all those greats before him had. Jimmie wins races, but he hasn’t won the crowd.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied to finish seventh at Bristol and sits eighth in points after five races after being 19th at this time last season. Has the turnaround begun? And what does the No. 88 team need to do to sustain the momentum?

Jeff: Keep Junior focused.
Summer: Well apparently, Rick Hendrick has held true to his promise to make the No. 88 his focus.
Amy: They need to avoid penalties like they had on Sunday. And I think the little radio argument fueled Junior’s fire a little. That is absolutely key for that driver.
Bryan: Lance McGrew needs to keep the tough love coming.
Summer: It helps Junior to have someone pushing him like that. Ya think Junior Nation will finally accept Lance, too? They also need to steal Jimmie’s horseshoe. Junior has the worst luck sometimes.
Phil: I’ll agree with avoiding penalties. They need to keep Dale focused and amped up in the car.
Jeff: Why can’t we just skip all the hoopla, just put Junior with Pops and see how good he can be in Hendrick equipment?
Amy: I’d love that, Jeff, but Pops doesn’t want to do it. They can’t force him at gunpoint.
Jeff: Money talks, though. Enough money and Pops would do it – or maybe Pops knows something about Junior we don’t. I think Junior needs to realize that he ain’t all that and a bag of chips. Marketing-wise maybe, but not driver-wise.
Summer: He doesn’t really strike me as that kind of driver. He seems pretty humble. His confidence actually seems to have taken quite a hit and he needs to get it back.
Bryan: The biggest thing here is that McGrew can’t fold when Junior starts getting angrier. He obviously didn’t take well to being chastised on the radio, but because McGrew didn’t back down, the driver buckled down. McGrew’s got to keep that backbone.
Jeff: Junior needs to be told to shut up and drive.
Phil: I agree with Summer. It’s like Dale needs the townie from The Waterboy in his ear.
Bryan: Exactly. And this past Sunday, he was told that for the first time in a long time.
Amy: I agree. He needed to be told not to roll over on Sunday and he responded right – he got pissed and did anything but roll over.
Summer: Junior fans might hate me for saying this, but it seems like he’s kind of like Kyle Busch that way. They need someone really pushing them in that racecar, and someone that won’t back down when the driver gets ticked.
Jeff: Amen, Summer!
Bryan: It’s not a bad comparison at all.
Amy: No, it’s not. Junior has always needed to be a little pissed off at times. He had some serious feuds with his entire team early in his career and he won races.
Jeff: Bring Teresa back.
Summer: Put a picture of her on the steering wheel.
Phil: There’s anger, and then there is supreme anger. Supreme anger won’t do Dale any good.
Amy: Also, like Kyle, Junior may have a few too many distractions outside of his Cup deal to really contend for titles right now.
Jeff: Those distractions are never going to go away, Amy.
Amy: I agree, but I do wonder if he’s got too much on his proverbial plate.
Summer: Well, I’ll hold my peace with Kyle, but I think only Dale really knows his limitations.
Jeff: At least Junior has two Busch cups on his mantle… unlike someone else I could mention.
Bryan: Junior’s not ready to compete for a title right now. He needs to win a few races and, as was said, get that confidence back.
Phil: I think Dale can do it. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable.
Summer: Not this year it’s not. Let him show he’s a Chase contender first, then we’ll worry about a championship.
Bryan: Look, if they can get the No. 88 back to victory lane and be consistent this year, a title can happen down the road. But first thing’s first: McGrew has to establish himself as someone that’s going to push Junior hard. Bristol may have been a sign he could be up to the task.
Jeff: But Bristol is a lot of luck too, more so than other tracks.
Amy: Look, what happened after the penalty was the first time in a long time that team has bounced back from a mistake instead of getting dug in further. It could mean something. Here’s the cold hard truth, though: Junior is the fourth-best driver at Hendrick. How many fourth-best drivers on a team win championships?
Bryan: Put Junior in the No. 48 and see what happens, Amy.
Jeff: I don’t believe for one minute that Hendrick brought him into the stable for his driving prowess. He is there for the marketing.
Summer: Well, that’s why I’m saying let’s see him become a serious Chase contender first. Maybe he’ll start showing more strength among his teammates if they can get that part down.
Amy: Summer, my point was that as good as HMS is, I wonder if another team would be a better place for that to happen.
Jeff: You might have something there, Amy.
Summer: You could probably say the same about Junior bringing Danica Patrick in, so I’m sure he knows all about that. Amy, I honestly think we’ll see him bring JR Motorsports up to the Cup level in a few years. He just doesn’t seem comfortable at HMS.
Jeff: Maybe Junior and RCR would be a good fit. Hey, it worked for Dad.
Phil: I don’t think JR Motorsports has the money to move up. They’d also need to make a break from Hendrick. They exist as a borderline Hendrick subsidiary right now.
Amy: At 35, Junior needs an established team with Chase experience, not a start-up. In the end, the best fit might be Childress.
Jeff: Junior may bring JRM up, but he should not drive for himself. Tony is a much more mature driver than Junior.
Summer: Childress doesn’t have the equipment HMS does. And no, JRM doesn’t have the money right now, and if they don’t ever find it, it won’t happen. But if they do, I definitely think he’ll bring the team up.
Amy: Childress has Chase-caliber equipment. I think if the immediate goal is to make the Chase and win races, it would be an excellent fit, and with the No. 29 likely vacant come November, it could be a wise career move. Not because of sentiment, but because of fit.
Bryan: It’s too early to write off Junior being unable to succeed at Hendrick. He had a solid first season, then a regression. Now they appear to be on the rebound. For crying out loud, he’s top 10 in points heading to a track he knows how to wheel around! Hell, he’s got a great stretch ahead… he’s won at Phoenix, won at Texas, won at Talladega….
Phil: Right now, I want to wait and see with Earnhardt Jr. Come back in a few weeks and evaluate him through, let’s say, 11 races.
Jeff: I agree, Phil.
Bryan: McGrew keeps the fire lit under his ass, and the No. 88’s right on track. Sunday afternoon was a step forward on a number of levels and with the slate they’ve got coming up, they’re poised to hit it big through the spring.
Amy: I don’t think he’s unable to succeed, but it’s a weird dynamic at HMS. Popularity-wise, he’s number one by a mile, but talent-wise, he’s number four. Can they make that work? Maybe.The bottom line is, this is a team that needs to stop making mistakes, and when they do make them, they need to overcome them, not get further behind. They did that on Sunday, and if it’s a sign of things to come, it would be great. If they can build on this and win (I see that at Talladega, perhaps), then they can make the Chase and build for the future. If not, it may be time for Junior to consider a switch.

The Sprint Cup cars will return to a blade spoiler at Martinsville this week. What impact will it have on the racing, and what can fans expect?

Summer: I really don’t expect much of a change, to be honest with you – except now fans will have nothing to blame for the boring racing. Well, I guess they still have Johnson.
Amy: I don’t see a huge impact on the everyday racing. Hopefully it will keep the cars on the ground, though.

See also
NASCAR Will Use New Spoiler at Martinsville

Jeff: I’ve said it many times: Both Bristol and Martinsville are stupid places to try new configurations on the car. The tracks are too small. What do ‘Dega and M’ville have in common? Not a darn thing. All this means is that NASCAR’s company that makes the spoilers has finally got enough for all the cars and is up to speed.
Phil: Impact this week? Nil. Ask me after Texas.
Bryan: It shouldn’t change the racing much at all and the chances of airborne racecars at M’ville are pretty slim. Phil’s right; it’s Texas that will tell the tale. Texas is where we’ll find out what teams had a narrow grasp on the wing and lost it.
Amy: Yes, the string of big tracks in April, May and June will be the gauge.
Summer: I think I’m more interested to know what they’re going to do with all those wings than the impact it’s going to have on the track. Should we keep an eye on eBay?
Phil: Maybe. I’d like to buy a wing and mount it on the wall here in my lair.
Jeff: We will see them where they belong: on the back of teenagers’ “tuners.” I’ll put one on my Subaru wagon.
Amy: Martinsville would race the same with the crew chief tied on the deck lid. But if the spoiler is as hard to pass with as teams were saying, it’s not going to help the racing at the already boring intermediates.
Bryan: Amy raises a good point. Look at how long it took teams to get a handle on the wing. Who’s to say it won’t take that long to get a hold on this spoiler? NASCAR should have done this change at the start of the season and opened testing accordingly. Want to make the racing better? Got to let the teams have at it and figure it out.
Jeff: Their company was not ready for that yet, Bryan.
Bryan: Then wait until 2011 to roll it out. And let the teams test when the company is ready.
Amy: I agree, this rollout makes little sense without allowing teams more than one major test. And I still think the aesthetic aspect was overblown. What was the last production car with a solid blade spoiler? A 1987 Monte Carlo?
Phil: I couldn’t tell you, Amy. I did see a Caprice at school with a homemade spoiler once.
Summer: I don’t get why they made the change in the first place without sufficient testing. Isn’t that what went wrong with the wing?
Amy: Not even close. They had a year’s worth of CoT tests with the wing.
Phil: I say they go back to the seven charged tests per year rule. But mandate no R&D/test teams.
Jeff: The fact that NASCAR is insisting that they issue the spoiler should say it all. At least with the spoiler, the roof flaps will once again be able to do their job. The wing just overpowered the roof flaps.
Bryan: Just another poor rollout for NASCAR here. It won’t change too much at first because no one is going to have it pegged.
Jeff: Mark my words: if the races are boring, NASCAR will say it is the fans’ fault for wanting the spoiler back!
Amy: I think if it makes fans happy with the way it looks, cool. But I don’t think it will really affect the racing other than to keep the cars on the ground, which is no small thing. I don’t think you’re going to suddenly see 20 more lead changes at every race.
Jeff: NASCAR’s loop stats will tell you that, though!
Amy: Loop stats are good if you know which ones to look at. Quality passes is actually the key.
Jeff: And who defines a “quality pass?”
Amy: The definition is a pass within the top 15 under green.

Justin Allgaier‘s win on Saturday was a boost for Nationwide purists who would like to see a limit on Cup drivers in the series … but let’s talk bottom line: Could the series survive financially without the Cup drivers?

Summer: No. If it did, it would be quite a struggle.
Amy: Ultimately, yes. But it would take a large shift in thinking to do so. After all, it did for many, many years.
Jeff: No it couldn’t, but neither could the Cup drivers’ egos!
Phil: Yes, but in a very different form. It would need to be more regionalized and a few races would need to be dropped.
Bryan: Maybe not in its current form, but it could. There’s no reason it should be costing $5-8 million a year to run NNS teams.
Amy: Exactly. Eliminate the Cup drivers demanding those numbers and you would see an influx of both teams and smaller sponsors.
Bryan: Scale the schedule back to 25-30 races, reduce West Coast travel and let the actual value of the series come out.
Phil: Yeah, cut the schedule down to 29, cap team budgets, make rules for how many Cup drivers can drive and include more short tracks.
Amy: You’d have to go to a lot of standalone races and short tracks with a unique brand of racing. I don’t think you’d have to regionalize, per se. But the travel to the West Coast is a huge deal for those teams.
Phil: I just fear that NASCAR priced themselves out of a lot of those venues in the 1990s. Having said that, if I were anywhere near any of those venues, I’d go.
Bryan: Well that’s just it Phil, they need to let the real price of the series come down to where it should be. Right now, you’ve got 10-15 teams dictating what it takes to really run up front and it’s limiting the chances for anyone else to enter and be competitive.
Phil: And that is what? A $1-2 million budget for the year, perhaps? Might not be feasible with the current way the series works.
Bryan: Like Amy said, it would take a real re-calibration on the part of NASCAR and fans.
Amy: I think it would be, Phil. If there were no Cup guys demanding those prices, the big sponsors would cut back and the small ones could then compete. I’d travel to a good short track for a real Nationwide race before I’d travel to most Cup venues.
Summer: But Amy, how many people would actually do that?
Amy: I just think NASCAR needs to market the series regulars and the series as a whole better.
Summer: Isn’t that why Danica is here?

OK. Predictions for Martinsville?

Summer: Jimmie wins again.
Jeff: Jeff Burton.
Phil: I’m going with Denny Hamlin. He’s going to get out of his funk this weekend.
Amy: I’m going with Gordon. He’s due a win and has to be sick of getting his butt handed to him by Jimmie every week.
Bryan: That said, I’ll take Johnson.

Mirror Predictions 2010

Welcome to our fourth 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 five races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 13 5 2 2 5
Beth Lunkenheimer 9 -4 4 1 3 3
Phil Allaway 6 -7 4 0 1 4
Bryan Davis Keith 3 -10 2 0 1 1
Summer Dreyer 3 -10 3 0 1 1
Jeff Meyer 1 -12 2 0 0 1
Tony Lumbis 0 -13 3 0 0 0
Matt Taliaferro 0 -13 1 0 0 0
Kurt Smith 0 -13 1 0 0 0
Tom Bowles 0 -13 1 0 0 0
Mike Neff 0 -13 0 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -13 0 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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