Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Jeff Gordon’s Wasted Win, Real Rivalries & Hornaday vs. Sauter

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)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Matt Taliaferro (Thursdays/Fanning the Flames)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Kurt Allen Smith (Fridays/Happy Hour)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)

Martinsville gave us one of the wilder finishes in recent memory, with Denny Hamlin charging from ninth to first after a bad call to pit for fresh tires. But with so many drivers that had a shot at it, which one should be cursing themselves over the “one that got away?”

Kurt: Jeff Burton. Especially given that he had such a great car all day.
Matt: Wow, that’s tough. It’d come down to Jeff Gordon and Burton in my book.
Mike: I’ve got a problem with the question. How is it a bad call for Denny if he won the race?
Summer: It was a bad call. Denny just did some great driving! And who had the lead on that last restart? Wasn’t it Gordon?
Mike: I thought it was crazy at first, but then thought there would most likely be multiple GWCs for Denny.
Kurt: I think it’s easier for Gordon or Matt Kenseth to swallow – they had older tires and got beat.
Phil: Yeah, Gordon led before he took the bump. Burton was the only one who could compete with Hamlin, and then he cut a tire trying to pass him. That bites.

See also
Fan's View: Last Laps and Short Tracks the Perfect Recipe for Fun

Mike: I think Burton should be bummed. He had the only car that was equal to Denny all day and a blown tire took him out.
Summer: It was kind of disappointing when Burton had his issue. It was shaping up to be an exciting finish and neither one of those drivers would give an inch.
Matt: I really thought Burton had the car to beat. People had been pointing to him since Friday.
Amy: I’m going out on a limb a little, because neither one was there all day, but given past success at Martinsville, I’m going to say Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.
Kurt: That is out on a limb. How about Mark Martin while we’re at it… or Kyle Busch?
Phil: Harvick couldn’t do anything about his issues. He was in the garage on lap 107. That’s way too early to do anything.
Mike: Johnson had no shot all day and Harvick was out of contention way too early.
Matt: Johnson just totally missed the setup. Said they were trying some “goofy stuff” for use in the Chase.
Phil: “Goofy stuff?”
Amy: So the No, 48 is a clown car now?
Matt: Goofy setups, Phil. Trying stuff out.
Kurt: Goofy stuff and he finished what, ninth? We’re all in trouble.
Summer: Jimmie said they were working on some different things for the rest of the season. “Goofy” may not be the correct word, though.
Matt: Goofy was the word he used.
Mike: The No. 48 was trying radical things and that will probably lead to total dominance during the Chase.
Summer: He used the word “goofy?”
Matt: Yes. Wacka wacka!!!!!
Kurt: There was a corsage in the rear quarterpanel that shot water at other drivers.
Summer: OK goofy, different, new, whatever. They did something they don’t normally do and it didn’t work. At least not for the win. They still finished pretty high.
Mike: Yes, Jimmie said goofy.
Kurt: Honk Honk!
Matt: Nyuck nyuck nyuck.
Summer: Goofy is a hybrid.
Matt: Why I oughta….
Kurt: That’s interesting they would try that given how well they already run at Martinsville. How much better do they need to be?
Summer: I guess that was their thought process, too.
Mike: They need to be better to make sure they win in October.
Amy: I think if you are running up front and flat get beat, it sucks at the time, but it’s also a bitter pill to swallow when you know you should have a top five, at least.
Summer: Don’t worry, they’ll rally back from their “slump” and win at Phoenix.
Kurt: Meanwhile, I still think Burton should have had a top two.
Matt: Seriously, I thought Burton had the best look at it after Hamlin, and when he had his issue, I thought it was Hamlin’s to lose. Little did we know.
Kurt: The funny thing is that Hamlin was darn near the guy saying this one got away.
Mike: True, but the odds of not having a GWC when there is a restart three laps from the finish? Pretty slim.
Matt: That’s true. I don’t know that I buy the “genius pit call” stuff about Mike Ford. I call it a bad call that somehow went right.
Amy: I agree, Matt. They should have finished third or fourth, but they won. It was a “let’s salvage a good points finish” call, not genius.
Mike: I’m not saying it was genius, but four fresh skins at Martinsville is worth a bunch.
Summer: He wouldn’t have needed them if he’d have just stayed out. Denny would have killed them. I think Kenseth might have had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, too. He might have been able to pull it off. Worst-case scenario he finishes in the top three. Instead he got, what, 18th?
Kurt: Kenseth said later he should have taken the points. That’s what he gets for trying for a win. Just ain’t his style.
Mike: I love that Kenseth went for it. It is a shame he thinks that was a mistake.
Phil: Even if he backed off just a little earlier, he could have avoided the right-rear hook from Gordon.
Matt: I don’t know that he could’ve avoided it. Gordon was set on the No. 17 not winning.
Amy: As he should have been, Matt.
Summer: Seriously, I think it’s great Kenseth decided to screw the points and go for the win. A lot of guys would have just taken the points.
Kurt: You have to take the points sometimes.
Mike: Screw the points. You take points when you have a 10th-place car. Not when you’re running second on the next to last lap.
Matt: Well said.
Amy: And this is Martinsville, where you can make those moves, not Talladega.
Mike N.: I think you make that move anytime. Remember Carl Edwards with the dive-bomb move that almost beat Johnson?
Kurt: If you go for the win all the time, you end up like Kyle Busch last year: out of the playoffs. I don’t like it, but that’s the game.
Mike: Oh I agree, that is the game these days Kurt; but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Summer: Well I, for one, prefer the drivers that will go for the win rather than the drivers who will just take the points and go home.
Kurt: Kenseth won a title by taking the points, and I was fine with it, but if you only have to be 12th you’re better off taking the points.
Matt: I sincerely hope NASCAR takes this race into account when deciding on which track will lose a date next year. We rarely get that quality of a finish on the intermediates.
Phil: I hope so too, Matt. This was classic.
Amy: Agreed Matt, but NASCAR doesn’t care about racing when they have a casino!
Mike: If NASCAR takes a date away from Martinsville, I quit. Period.
Matt: I’ve seriously thought a lot about that lately, Mike.
Summer: I highly doubt they’ll do that.
Mike: I really didn’t even think it was possible until I read it several times this week.
Kurt: That would be the last nail in the coffin of the longtime fan. Martinsville is my favorite track.
Matt: It’s replaced Bristol as the last bastion of good ol’ fashioned short trackin’.

Five hundred laps at Martinsville leads to plenty of chances for payback. Which on-track incident is most likely to cause problems for someone down the road?

Kurt: Ehhh, I think most of the guys accept Martinsville racing.
Summer: Marcos Ambrose and Greg Biffle “had at it” for a while.
Mike: I don’t know if it is one incident, but I think Ambrose is going to get a little love from someone down the road. To quote someone else, he hit everything but the hot dog cart.

See also
Bubble Breakdown: Ambrose's Antics, Gilliland Great Despite Front Row-tation

Phil: Probably Gordon. Kenseth’s not too pleased with that move on lap 507.
Matt: Hard to bet against the Gordon/Kenseth deal. Matt was pretty quiet about it afterward. Maybe he’s saving his talking for PIR.
Amy: I agree, though Gordon and Kenseth have a long-standing on-and-off rivalry going. And a Gordon/Kenseth rivalry would be great for the sport.
Summer: Matt and Jeff have had deals in the past. I would love to see it continue.
Kurt: Kenseth isn’t a guy that holds grudges, though. They’ll probably talk it out. I think the two of them respect each other.
Amy: But both Gordon and Kenseth can make a dirty move if it suits them, so they could simmer for a while.
Matt: Kenseth doesn’t let himself get sucked up into it, though. It could manifest itself on the track down the road, but not in the media, a la Harvick/Edwards.
Mike: Kenseth and Gordon won’t go out and try and settle it. But if the opportunity presents itself, they will. Although it won’t ever be settled.
Summer: Just keep an eye on these two when they’re battling for the win next time. It never seems to go well for either of them.
Matt: Honestly, I don’t see them going at it at PIR, but Kenseth will put it in the memory bank.
Mike: Exactly, Matt. Kenseth will get him sometime, but it won’t be at Phoenix unless it presents itself to him.
Summer: He won’t wreck him for 10th, but he might wreck him for the win.
Matt: Kenseth is stealthy-sneaky about his paybacks.
Amy: Frankly, I have a lot less of a problem with what Gordon did at Martinsville than what Edwards did at Atlanta. That was for position, possibly the win, in the closing laps. That was racing, not revenge.
Kurt: Amy, that’s what separates guys like Edwards from guys like Kenseth. I doubt Kenseth would have pulled that one.
Amy: I agree, Kurt, and neither would Gordon.
Mike: But Ambrose hit so many people. He’s going to be near somebody he pissed off very soon.
Kurt: Biffle and Ambrose, now that would be fun.
Phil: I don’t really foresee an Ambrose-Biffle rivalry. Now, if Biffle were Greg Murphy (New Zealand touring car racer), then the sparks would fly.
Mike: Ambrose is going to get dumped by someone and most likely next weekend. You can bet on it.
Matt: Ambrose has been doing a good job of dumping himself lately. And Mr. Biffle has a top-10 streak going. Anyone notice that?
Kurt: That’ll end soon. It’s Biffle.
Phil: Six in a row to start the season, right?
Mike: Yeah, Biffle is the only man to do it every race this year.
Kurt: That is noticeable, because Biffle isn’t one of the more consistent guys out there. One week he’s the second coming of Earnhardt, the next he’s the second coming of Steve Park.
Summer: Oh, I don’t think we’ll get an Ambrose/Biffle “rivalry.” But I don’t think we’ll see a lot of respect or patience between the two, either.
Mike: I’m tellin’ ya, Ambrose hit a lot more cars than Biffle’s. Somebody is going to wreck him.
Phil: Who? Kevin Conway?
Mike: I don’t think Conway can go fast enough to wreck anyone.
Kurt: Maybe Ambrose was told to be aggressive. New guys get pushed around a lot at Martinsville.
Mike: You have to get to the bumper at some point to wreck them.
Matt: He goes backwards fast!
Mike: Yeah, maybe he can brake check somebody as he falls through the field after being lapped.
Matt: Go for the radiator. Good strategy, Mike.
Kurt: Anyhow, I don’t see any future rivalries over this week. Martinsville bumping is more easily accepted.
Matt: For the most part, I agree with Kurt.
Amy: I do, too; although I’d like to see a rivalry, I don’t think it will happen.
Summer: The only incident I see going anywhere is the Kenseth/Gordon deal, and even then, it’s not like we should hold our breaths any time they’re near each other.
Matt: The only question is whether we’ll see some retaliation by Kenseth the next time he’s racing Gordon for a win.
Phil: And that is quite probable, Matt.
Matt: Chicago ’06, was it?
Mike: I don’t think there’s any question that will happen. Kenseth doesn’t forget, but he’s smart enough to not go out and just destroy his car.
Kurt: Fans like rivalries, but a driver knows he’s better off not getting into a wrecking contest. I think a good rivalry would be someone seriously challenging Johnson for the title.
Amy: A rivalry does not need to be a wrecking contest.
Kurt: Right. You know what I mean.
Mike: But they’re a lot more exciting when they are!
Matt: Especially on the short tracks.

Hamlin undergoes surgery today to repair a torn ACL. Is the timing right for the surgery and was Casey Mears the right choice to stand in for him? And realistically, what can we expect from Hamlin for the rest of the year?

Kurt: I don’t think Hamlin’s knee was a problem – he blew out a lot of tires. I think he’ll be fine so long as the surgery isn’t done by Big Bob’s ACL Repairs.
Matt: I was surprised by the timing, but I guess it was hurting him outside the car too much. If you have to do it, do it on an off week early in the season, I suppose.
Amy: Yes and yes, given the choices. And he’ll limp (literally) for a few weeks, but if he makes the Chase, he will be ready to go. If he makes the Chase. I think he’s going to be hurting for longer than he thinks he is.
Mike: I’m assuming Hamlin realized the knee was part of the reason they’re running like Fido’s rear end this year, so the timing was probably forced on them.
Summer: I think at first it will be an issue, but after the first few weeks he should be fine.
Kurt: Hamlin certainly made a statement Monday. The thing is, how good will Mears be taking over the No. 11?
Phil: This is probably the best timing he could get for the surgery. As for Mears, he was basically the best available, so I don’t blame them for taking him on.
Matt: Yeah, I don’t know what other choice they had.
Mike: I honestly think they would have been smarter to have Matt DiBenedetto be the relief driver. DiBenedetto is smooth enough and doesn’t tear up equipment, and that would have given him a lot of experience.
Amy: DiBenedetto is nowhere near being ready to race in Cup, especially at Texas.
Phil: I doubt NASCAR would approve him.
Mike: I still don’t see why DeBenedetto driving as a fill-in wouldn’t be a good choice to gain the experience. He’d keep the car clean and gain knowledge and respect doing it.
Kurt: Aric Almirola would be a good choice. Denny owes that guy a big-ass favor. It would be a nice role reversal seeing Denny get yanked out of the car for Almirola.
Matt: Sweet justice!
Phil: Almirola is committed to the No. 09. At best, it would have to be a setup like Sam Hornish Jr. was going to have Monday (had he actually gotten out).
Amy: I’d have preferred Kenny Wallace, but Casey is an OK choice. He’ll keep the car clean every week and that’s what JGR needs him to do.
Summer: At least he won’t have to qualify it in on speed.
Kurt: Casey has experience, but he’s never set the world on fire and he’s had some great equipment. I don’t know if he would have been my choice.
Matt: Mears is a good choice from the perspective that he’s well-liked among his peers. Drivers will give him a little extra room if needed. Again though, don’t expect any wins. I really don’t know what other logical choice there was.
Mike: Mears will be in the car probably six to eight times.
Amy: Total ACL replacement has a long recovery.
Mike: This knee is not going to feel better before Charlotte like some have said.
Kurt: What about one of those start-and-park guys like Dave Blaney?
Matt: Pffssst. Please.
Mike: Sterling Marlin would be a good choice, but I think he’s too different in body size.
Matt: Sterling said he’s done. “Ain’t goin’ racin’ no more.”
Mike: Yeah, so is Terry Labonte. Hell, how about David Pearson. I’d pay extra to see that.
Phil: Labonte’s not retired at all. He just doesn’t have a ride.
Kurt: My cousin had ACL surgery done and her golf swing is better than ever, so maybe Denny will come back and go on a tear. No pun intended.
Matt: I like the Mears pick. He’s perfect as a substitute.
Summer: This might help Casey a little bit in getting a ride. He’s only been in one race this year. If Denny needs as much help as people seem to think he’ll need, maybe it will be good for him.
Amy: Mears probably won’t set the world on fire, but he’ll keep the car clean – and who knows, maybe it will work out for him. I’d love to see Casey in a JGR Nationwide car.
Summer: I highly doubt JGR will give him a ride. But maybe someone else will.
Kurt: Mears is a good guy and everything, but I don’t see him getting another top Cup opportunity.
Amy: Me either, but he can and should get a good NNS ride. Casey is a sponsor’s dream.
Mike: There aren’t any top rides left he hasn’t been in besides JGR and Roush. So after this stint, Roush will be the only one left.
Matt: Mears is actually decent at Texas, so that’s kind of a natural. PIR, not so much. But again, he has the respect and trust of others already, so he’ll get breaks others may not on track.
Mike: Yeah, except for the winning races and running up front part.
Phil: Someone in our Blog on Sunday claimed that Conway is a sponsor’s dream.
Mike: Wow, that is a stretch.
Kurt: Danica Patrick is a sponsor’s dream. So what?
Mike: Damn Kurt, what were we thinking? Have Danica be the fill-in driver.
Matt: Anyone who would subject himself to the kind of garage area ridicule Conway must take has to be a sponsor’s dream.
Amy: Sponsors don’t care about winning anymore, and Casey is as nice as they come – well-spoken, and looks good on TV.
Kurt: Fans care about winning.
Matt: I think sponsors do care about winning. But many are realistic about it.
Amy: Many fans do, Kurt, but also, most fans believe their guy can win. There are too many good drivers without sponsors and too many mediocre ones with to make me believe they really care about winning that much, Matt.
Matt: That’s the business of it. Some don’t get the break they need. Sponsors, though, do care about the exposure winning provides.
Summer: Well, it’s not that they don’t care. Remember, there were a few long-time sponsors that pulled out, too, or at least weren’t full-time anymore. But a lot of them just don’t want to spend the money. DeWalt and Kenseth stick out in my mind. He’s well-spoken and doesn’t win a lot, either.
Amy: Back to Hamlin: once he’s totally healed, he’ll be fine, but that’s likely to be early summer at best.
Kurt: Denny will be OK. The concern should be whether Casey can be competitive enough to keep him in the playoff hunt.
Amy: Keep him in it, Kurt? As of right now, he can only get him in it.
Matt: Casey must hold serve. Keep the thing 15th and let Denny come back and do the rest.
Summer: I guess the bigger question is whether Denny will play basketball again once he’s finally healed?
Mike: I’m sure he will. You can’t live your life in a bubble outside of the car.
Matt: I was playing ball with a guy who popped his once. Dropped him like a sack of potatoes. SNAP!
Mike: I had a fat kid fall on the side of my knee in high school. Folded it sideways like a cheap table.

Ron Hornaday scored a desperately needed top-five finish on Saturday, but not before angering a number of competitors with a rough ride to the front. With Johnny Sauter also running very well at the start of this season, does the Truck Series have a championship-contending rivalry in the works? And who was more at fault for that wreck?

Phil: I put complete blame on Hornaday for that wreck. No patience at all right there.
Kurt: I haven’t followed Sauter’s career much, but he’s caused some problems.
Matt: The Truck Series always has something simmering just below the surface. That’s part of its appeal.
Amy: I think that Hornaday and Sauter have to be considered among the favorites in that series. It’s the perfect place for both of them, and for the kind of rivalry they could form. Sauter is a mess in a Cup car, but really good in Trucks. A lot like Todd Bodine… wrecked everyone in a car, contends for wins in a truck.
Mike: First of all, it is not all about rivalries these days. Second of all, it is the Trucks. Thirdly, it is Martinsville.
Matt: Mike drops the hammer.
Mike: At Martinsville, in the Trucks, it is all about getting to the front. There is no time to play nice. Get there however you can.
Summer: I don’t think that deal is to the point of “rivalry” yet. If they start running together more often, and it looks like they will, there’s definitely potential.
Kurt: Mike is right. The race is short and you gotta get there. Sounded like Sauter was pretty ticked, though. We may see some payback on this one.
Summer: Well Hornaday was completely at fault. I didn’t really buy into the “[No.] 5 was getting into me” excuse. You bumped him to get by. I would have understood that for the win but they were, what, fifth?
Matt: And Hornaday has always been pretty aggressive in a truck. Put that truck at Martinsville, that driver in a bad points spot, and the recipe is complete.
Amy: None of the Sauters are known for their forgiving nature, either.
Mike: Oh yeah, you’ll see more spinning going on, assuming Hornaday can get his act together and Sauter can get close to him.
Matt : Hornaday has to worry more about getting back into the points race, not getting caught up in some stupid rivalry. He can’t afford that right now.
Summer: Well, if Sauter decides he needs to retaliate, it may not be up to Hornaday.
Matt: Point taken.
Kurt: Maybe Harvick will take care of it for him.
Summer: That would be a shock.
Mike: Yeah, he let Ron lead this weekend; maybe he can settle his score for him, too.
Amy: True, this could end up with Sauter against a tag team. I’m sure Harvick doesn’t like his trucks wrecked and he’s as likely to get riled as the other two.
Summer: Sometimes, I think Harvick is on the racetrack for the sole purpose of babysitting his driver.
Matt: He has those moments, Summer.
Summer: Too often.
Mike: I think Harvick runs the Truck just to prove to his team and driver that the equipment is good enough to win. I don’t think Hornaday appreciates his kind of babysitting, though… since it means he gets beat.
Kurt: Just picturing Harvick as the picture of calm. Kinda funny.
Summer: Hornaday is good enough. That’s why he won five races in a row and the championship last season. He doesn’t need Harvick to do that for him.
Mike: I think he does it as motivation, and to make sure he is happy with the product they’re putting out.
Matt: Those two haven’t always played nice in the same equipment, either.
Phil: Harvick claims that he’s an “R&D driver” when he races. He just so happens to kick butt when he does.
Kurt: I think you may see one retaliation from Sauter and that will be it. Both of these guys need to finish clean.
Matt: Sauter is kind of a loaded gun. If he sees an opportunity to settle the score, he likely won’t wait.
Kurt: Sauter’s not the most patient guy – reminds me of Tony Stewart a little bit.
Amy: Hornaday gets props for letting both Harvick and Johnson live in his house. Can you imagine?
Matt: Party at Ron’s!
Amy: Harvick and Johnson? All I can picture them doing is fighting over the bathroom.
Mike: They’d be sharing hair care products. That is, of course, when Harvick had hair.
Amy: Maybe that’s why he doesn’t. Jimmie hogged the Rogaine.

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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