Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Grading the Spoiler, Raising Kahne & Teammate Drama

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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Summer Dreyer (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Frontstretch News Reporter)

Texas was the first real test of the new spoiler. What grade does it get?

Amy: I give it a solid B. I don’t think the racing was much different overall.
Summer: It’s almost too soon to give a grade on the spoiler. It was only the first race on an intermediate racetrack after the change. But so far, so good.
Phil: Well, I said that I wanted to wait until after Texas before giving a grade. I waited. A solid B. It didn’t adversely affect the racing at all.
Summer: I also didn’t notice a big difference as far as the aesthetics; and honestly, the drivers didn’t seem to notice much of a difference in the way it drove. The race was pretty competitive, though, and if that’s to be attributed to no wing, I’m all for it!
Beth: I didn’t see where it made too much of a difference. But with Texas being the first intermediate with this package, it’ll give the teams some data to work with for upcoming mile-and-a-half tracks.
Amy: It did allow drivers to take the air off a car and push it up track.
Phil: That’s definitely true, Amy. Jeff Gordon got Jimmie Johnson nice and loose in turn 4.
Mike: I’d give it a C. It did what it was supposed to. Didn’t do any more or any less. It did seem when two cars were side-by-side in the turns, the ones on the inside were getting a little squirrellier than they did with the wing.
Phil: That is definitely true. Not as much as in the Nationwide race, though.
Mike: I agree, and that is probably because the car pokes a bigger hole through the air in general.
Summer: Well, it’s nice they were able to even pass. That was a big complaint with the wing.
Amy: Now, does it look better? I suppose, although I haven’t seen a solid blade spoiler on a street car in about 25 years.
Beth: Oh, it definitely looks better.
Phil: It’s going to take some getting used to after dealing with El Wingador for the last three years, but I’m positive on it so far.
Amy: I do think they should have looked at making them out of Lexan, though. The spoiler now does nothing to improve visibility, which was a big complaint of the wing and the old spoiler. And as for the race itself, it was pretty decent overall. It doesn’t look like the spoiler threw a curve to any of the usual players as some thought it might.
Mike: True, the haves still have and the have nots still have not.
Beth: It was still a typical leader-runs-away-with-it kind of race, but I liked how others were able to reel the leader in (except Jeff Gordon) as the green flag run went on.
Phil: With the wing on the cars, you would have had a similar race, but I’m not sure it would have ended the same way it did.
Amy: It could have. I think what you wouldn’t have seen was the Johnson/Gordon incident. But more on that later.
Phil: I don’t think the big crash would have happened with the wing.
Beth: I think it would have. It was late in the race and time for the drivers to get up on the wheel if they expected a visit to victory lane.
Mike: I think it would have, too. When you get drilled in the rear when you’re already at a 25-degree angle, you’re going to swerve into the side of the car next to you.
Beth: Exactly, Mike.
Phil: I think that it would have played out a little differently. But it wasn’t that bad of a race on Monday. I think the spoiler definitely didn’t hurt anything.
Amy: For me, solid B. I don’t think it changed much on track, except for making cars looser when one got under another.
Mike: The spoiler did whatever it is a spoiler does. The cars weren’t out of control and there wasn’t a single-file parade because people were afraid of what they had underneath them.
Phil: The question is, are these cars still on the knife’s edge now, or not?
Mike: I still think getting the car to handle optimally is a very narrow window, but it does seem that cars that aren’t perfect can still be competitive.
Amy: Talladega will be the real test – to see if they stay on the ground.
Summer: Well, they stayed on the ground in that wreck, and that was a big concern for NASCAR… keeping them on the ground at intermediates.
Mike: I’m not going to say they’ll stay on the ground, but they’ll be harder to launch.
Phil: They’re mandating a 4.5-inch spoiler and the fin all the way to the spoiler at Talladega. We’ll see.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon went out of their way to call an on-track incident a total non-issue … but was it?

Beth: Nothing more than a racing thing. If it had been any other two drivers involved, no one would even care. It was simply two drivers racing hard for position. I really don’t understand the big fuss.
Mike: It’s as much a non-issue as it ever was. Drivers are racing as hard as they can, and they are running on adrenaline. Sometimes people are going to get irritated. It happens.
Amy: I don’t think it was just hard racing, Mike. Johnson turned into Gordon intentionally.
Beth: Maybe because he’s not used to Gordon racing him that hard.
Amy: Gordon has raced him that hard before. And Johnson did almost take himself out via a blown tire. He got lucky.
Summer: I agree with you, Amy. Johnson admitted to doing it.
Amy: As I said in my column, the last thing a championship contender (which they both are) wants is unrest on his own team.
Phil: I’d argue that they want this tiff to be over as quickly as possible – and it probably will be. They’re probably chatting on the phone to each other about random stuff right now. It’s not like Gordon took out Johnson or Johnson took out Gordon.
Beth: Exactly, Phil.
Phil: You know, Johnson’s not really used to anyone racing him hard, with the exception of Kurt Busch.
Mike: Gordon has run into people before, too. It happens. I don’t think it was anything in particular.
Summer: I couldn’t help but chuckle at the comment Jeff made, though. “I think Four-Time is a little upset!” and “He expects people to race him differently.” Sounds like Jeff has a fire underneath him all of a sudden! Losing that many will do that to you, I’m sure.
Amy: Summer, Jeff was spinning a quote Jimmie used against him last year there.
Beth: And I’m glad to see it, Summer. That’s the Gordon I remember from when I first started watching NASCAR.
Phil: The Gordon I first remember was the Gordon with a mullet.
Mike: And the cheesy porn ‘stache.
Amy: As an aside: That is the way to self-police. Johnson certainly showed his displeasure with Gordon, but he did not wreck him. He did it right, though I was surprised to see him do it at all.
Mike: Sounded like Jeff was talking in the mirror. He sure sees things from a different perspective when he’s on the giving end rather than the receiving. I don’t see what Johnson had to pay him back for. Gordon didn’t touch him. He got close and Johnson got loose.
Beth: Honestly, this topic is a waste of space. Drivers run into each other every now and then, and just because they happen to be teammates this time doesn’t mean there’s unrest within the team itself.
Phil: FOX will make a big deal about this Sunday, but the drivers will act like nothing happened once they’re at Talladega.
Amy: I do sometimes wonder if Gordon is frustrated with Johnson… not because he’s beating Gordon, but because Gordon has struggled to beat him.
Summer: Well, Jimmie said not to make a big deal of it, but you really can’t help it. You don’t really see those two get riled up very often, let alone at each other.
Mike: It was no big deal. JJ got pissy, bumped Jeffy in the door, flattened his own tire. End of story.
Phil: Gordon is probably more frustrated that he hasn’t been winning much. One win in the last 84 races.
Beth: Any driver is going to be frustrated when he can’t beat the competition.
Amy: And when you handpicked that competition… ouch.
Mike: Gordon could always cut their budget or fire the crew.
Amy: I wonder if Jeff ever has a momentary regret that he didn’t hire Buckshot Jones.
Mike: All depends on whether he got paired up with Chad. That is the key to the whole thing. If Buckshot had Chad, he’d be a four-time champion!
Amy: Totally disagree, Mike. No crew chief can make up for a driver with no talent.
Mike: Hey, Buckshot has talent.
Phil: Makes me wonder: Where would Johnson be if Gordon didn’t handpick him for the No. 48?
Amy: Jimmie would be in Cup with Herzog, in less-than-competitive equipment.
Phil: And with Buckshot, it might have been more like Knaus with Stacy Compton in 2001 than what it was like with Johnson.
Amy: You mean when Knaus wrecked Compton’s car? Anyway, I will stand by what I said yesterday about Johnson and Gordon: this had better be the end of it because they have enough competition from the outside that they don’t need that at home.
Mike: Trust me, Rick Hendrick will not let this get out of hand if it ever comes close to festering into something.
Phil: If Together taught us anything, it’s that Hendrick Motorsports is a family. This is over.

Kasey Kahne announced his signing with Hendrick Motorsports for 2012, and owner Rick Hendrick has shouldered the responsibility for finding Kahne a ride – in a Chevy – for 2011. Who will bite at such a deal?

Amy: Of course, the logical answer is Stewart-Haas. But I’m not sold on that.
Beth: Yep. That’s the place you’d expect, since it’s a satellite HMS team anyway.
Phil: More than likely, it will be Stewart-Haas. However, if it isn’t, who would it be? TRG Motorsports, as a result of a new alliance?
Mike: Oh, I don’t know. Anyone who runs Chevys. Most likely, it will be Stewart-Haas because I don’t see JR running a Cup car for a year.
Summer: I’m still thinking Stewart-Haas. Since they said Chevy, I don’t know anyone else that would take him. There’s no room anywhere else for him on a good team unless Kevin Harvick leaves for SHR and Kahne fills in.
Beth: You’ve got a point, Summer — especially with the news that Shell-Pennzoil is leaving RCR at the end of this season.
Amy: Here’s the problem there: Stewart isn’t really ready to go to four teams in 2011. However, if he takes Kahne, he probably loses the chance to sign Harvick full-time as Harvick will sign long term somewhere else. So if I was a small team like TRG or Keyed-Up, I would be all over that deal to grab Kahne. You get Hendrick equipment and a top driver to build the program and land a sponsor.
Phil: Such an alliance would be perfect for Keyed-Up, provided they survive 2010.
Beth: I could live with that, Amy. It would be great to see another team have a chance at being competitive in the future.
Mike: It wouldn’t surprise me to see James Finch jump at the chance, either. Hendrick helps him get a sponsor on his own car while putting Kahne in Hendrick-prepared stuff for a year. Remember, Finch gave Brad Keselowski his victory when Kes was a satellite Hendrick driver.
Phil: That is true. By the way, they’re going the distance this week.
Amy: If Harvick does sign at SHR, I just don’t see Richard Childress taking a short-term deal if he can sign a driver of Kevin’s caliber to a multi-year deal.
Mike: Who is he going to sign? Elliott Sadler?
Amy: Exactly, Mike. One of those small teams ought to be drooling. A big team, like SHR or RCR? Not so much. A big team wants to build, not take a one-year deal when they know the driver is leaving.
Summer: Well, that’s the only reason why SHR is considered as a viable option. Since they’re affiliated with HMS, I’m not sure it’d be as big a deal if he left. The RCR option is clearly a stretch, but nothing surprises me in this sport anymore.
Amy: True, Summer, but if SHR is looking at Harvick, they will miss the boat if they agree to field Kahne.
Mike: SHR will take the deal if it helps put some sponsorship on the No. 39 for the year.
Phil: Yeah, they have 19 or 20 races sponsored this year, right?
Summer: Well, the problem is we don’t know where Harvick is going, though he pretty much made it clear he’s leaving. He’s being all-too-secretive about it, too.
Beth: So who’s to say Hendrick won’t talk with RCR and Stewart-Haas about moving Harvick to SHR and Kahne to RCR to attract a new sponsor for the No. 29?
Mike: I wouldn’t say he’s clearly leaving. Childress made it sound like they’re working pretty hard at having him stay. I’d want to stay when my current owner had me leading the points for several weeks; when they’re running like they are, there’s no incentive to leave.
Amy: There’s incentive, Mike: racing for his BFF Stewart. I just don’t see Childress playing that game when they need long-term sponsorship. Finding a major sponsor for one year isn’t ideal.
Beth: The sponsor wouldn’t have to leave when the driver did.
Amy: But why would one want to stay? As a sponsor, I wouldn’t sign a multi-year deal with RCR not knowing whom I was going to get after the year was up.
Beth: Amy, as much influence as sponsors have in today’s NASCAR, I’m willing to bet they would be able to dictate who they would and wouldn’t accept.
Phil: Yeah, they would. Maybe to the Mears-over-Hamilton level back in 2003.
Mike N.: Hey, maybe they can get a sponsor for a year and GM gets back on their feet and comes back to the No. 29.
Summer: RCR could always move Austin Dillon up in 2012. That way, the ride was still open and active.
Amy: They might, but who’s to even say who will be available in 2012?
Mike: Martin.
Amy: If Harvick signs long-term elsewhere, who will be looking? Martin will be approximately 83 years old in 2012. At that point, he’s not exactly a long-term prospect.
Mike: Martin will drive for at least another five years if he’s as competitive as he is now.
Phil: He’s not a long-term prospect now. He’s almost like Harry Gant.
Summer: We don’t have to worry about that, though. The world is going to end in 2012 anyways.
Mike: Maybe that is why NASCAR doesn’t care about the horrible TV ratings.
Beth: Agreed, Mike. And Summer has a point (not about the world ending). By then, Dillon will have been racing in NASCAR for three years and may be ready to move to Cup.

Kyle Busch won his fifth Nationwide Series race in a row at Texas on Monday, putting him in a category with just Dale Earnhardt and Jack Ingram of five-time consecutive winners at one track. But Busch’s accomplishment was not particularly well received. Should it have been?

Summer: I think at that point, not many people cared. The race wasn’t really very competitive and people were still thinking about the Cup race. It wasn’t like it was a shocker to see Kyle Busch in victory lane in Nationwide.
Mike: What do you mean it wasn’t well received? Fans cheered. For Kyle Busch. I’d say that is well received.

See also
Full Throttle: It’s History No Matter How You Look at It

Phil: I will admit that it’s pretty impressive. But Busch has a significant advantage over most of the field. The Nationwide Series grid is quite depleted now as compared to Ingram’s time, or even when Earnhardt was winning the Goody’s 300 every year.
Amy: No, it shouldn’t be well-received. For all those complaining about Johnson messing up the Cup Series, what Busch, Carl Edwards et al. are doing to NNS is far more damaging.
Mike: Have you not heard fans cheering for Busch lately? He’s truly building a fanbase and it could get rather large if he figures out how to run in the Chase.
Beth: There were far more cheers from the crowd Monday afternoon during Kyle Busch’s driver introduction than I expected.
Mike: I’m telling you, Kyle is getting more and more cheers. The fans are coming around to him.
Amy: He said he’s thinking of running the full schedule in Nationwide, too, meaning he will. Edwards is stumbling and Kyle smells another meaningless championship.
Mike: I think Harvick is going to do it just to give Kyle the competition.
Summer: Well yeah, he said after the race he’d like to but just saying it doesn’t make it official yet.
Amy: Yet.
Phil: Busch doesn’t need to. As far as I’m concerned, he’s taking a ride or two away from a deserving driver at this point.
Summer: I don’t think the sponsor would be there without him.
Mike: I’m curious if Kyle can win the title without running the Elkhart Lake race.
Phil: Probably.
Amy: All he has to do is finish in the top 20, and he could do that.
Mike: Road America is going to be interesting. That is a very technical road course and the Nationwide boys aren’t the most technical drivers.
Summer: He actually made a comment after the race about trying to gain a strong enough lead that he could skip Road America. I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not, but I guess that’s a solution.
Amy: Should he go do it? No. But can he? Probably. Busch has the best of everything – including planes – at his disposal. It’s not like a real Nationwide driver trying to do the same thing.
Phil: If he were a real Nationwide driver, he’d have to fly commercial and be tied to their whims.
Amy: Back on topic, I don’t think Busch deserves accolades for winning five in a row at Texas. It was much more of an accomplishment for Earnhardt and Ingram, because there was real competition for them in those races.
Mike: I completely disagree with that, Amy. Earnhardt had no competition in those races. He totally dominated them. And it was just like Mark Martin back in the day. When he ran Nationwide, he owned it. He just didn’t run it every week. Ingram, on the other hand, was running against guys who were competitive with him. His accomplishment is truly impressive.
Amy: Back in the day, the Cup drivers didn’t always win every week. Martin did, and sometimes Earnhardt, but a lot of them lost. Here’s the thing: when a young up-and-coming star in the series tells you he has no realistic chance of winning the title these days, and veterans tell you they think the championship is a joke, it’s a serious problem.
Phil: As for the record, Ingram did his five in a row on the .357-mile version of South Boston – no easy feat. That place was difficult.
Mike: It still is brutally difficult.
Amy: Not if you have five times the money and ten times the equipment as everyone else.
Mike: He may have that compared to the full-time Nationwide teams, Amy, but he is running against other Cup guys in well-funded teams, too.
Summer: Busch’s accomplishment is impressive, guys – it’s just not interesting.
Amy: It would be difficult for someone like Jason Keller, but for Kyle Busch? It’s as difficult as a major leaguer winning a Pony League home-run derby.
Mike: I disagree, Amy. Harvick, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer were all in the race. He’s not completely outclassing everyone. I’m actually more upset about McMurray and Bowyer running this week than I am about Busch winning.
Phil: Bowyer is in there basically as a favor to Childress as part of John Wes Townley‘s time out.
Amy: I’d rather have Bowyer in that car, actually. It’s safer for everyone else. I’d rather see a real Nationwide guy get the No. 21 long-term, but anything’s better than Townley.
Mike: Y’all whine about drivers not getting a chance to develop because the Cup guys are in the series, and then two guys get yanked out of rides without getting a true chance to develop. I’d rather see Townley than a Cup guy.
Amy: Junior is putting in a development driver, but that couldn’t happen overnight; Arpin is tied to his ARCA contract.
Summer: I don’t get upset with the teams as much as I get frustrated with sponsors for not giving them a chance.
Phil: I want to see Townley actually develop. What kind of experience did he have before doing touring series?
Amy: I think Townley is about as good as he’s going to get. His daddy’s the CFO of Zaxby’s… need I say more?
Mike: I don’t think the sponsor had anything to do with the JR Motorsports deal. I think that was pure ego.
Amy: Other then Keselowski, Junior’s track record of keeping drivers is almost as sketchy as James Finch’s.
Mike: Yep, and the constant in the whole thing is Pops. If the driver can’t drive the way Pops sets up the car, he’s out.
Amy: Mike’s right. Pops isn’t going anywhere, so the drivers do. But Junior has put in young guys. And actually, I don’t care so much whether it’s a young guy or a real NNS veteran, so long as it’s not a Cup driver all the time.
Summer: It doesn’t help to put in young guys if you aren’t going to keep them long enough to let them learn.
Mike: Amen, Summer.
Amy: I’d have loved to see Keller or Kenny Wallace in the No. 88 as much as a young guy, actually.
Mike: I would have liked to see them instead of McMurray.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with it as an interim solution, Mike because it’d be awfully hard to get a real NNS guy out of a contract in a week or two. And Jamie Mac’s only in for nine races.
Phil: Kelly Bires is, what, the third burgeoning talent to fail to last a full year in the No. 88?

See also
A Dream Cut Short: Kelly Bires Latest Casualty of JR Motorsports' Development

Amy: Back on topic again, the accomplishment of a Cup guy in the Nationwide Series is really nothing these days. Five in a row at Texas for Kyle Busch isn’t worth more than a footnote. Ingram’s five in a row at South Boston against real competition is something to write home about, though. It’s as noteworthy as Zenyatta winning a race for two-year-olds. Now, if one of them beat her, it would be a story.
Phil: Kyle Busch’s accomplishment, albeit noteworthy, is just one more sign that the Nationwide Series is not all that healthy.
Mike: Winning five races in a row at a facility is an accomplishment no matter what the circumstances. Winning a race takes more than just pulling onto the track. Everything has to go right, so it is quite a feat. When only three people in the history of a sport have accomplished something, it is worthy of more than a footnote.
Amy: I’d be impressed if he’d done it on a Nationwide budget, but I’m not impressed as it stands. Anyone can win a Shetland pony race riding a thoroughbred.

How about predictions for Talladega?

Amy: I’m actually going to go with Junior. He’s been strong lately, and he’s ripe for winning at his best track.
Phil: Well, I’m going with Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s a toss-up, so I’m fine with it.
Summer: I’m going with Denny Hamlin because I can. He doesn’t need any brake there, so I figure he’s an OK bet.
Beth: I’m going with Johnson this week.
Mike N.: I can’t do it… I’m going with Junior. My head says to go with McMurray, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Beth: I thought about that too, Mike.
Mike N.: McMurray has always been a good plate racer and now he’s got a good plate engine program. We saw how that worked out at Daytona.
Beth: And that’s exactly why I considered it. I’ll be kicking myself Sunday if he pulls it off.

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 22 8 2 5 8
Phil Allaway 15 -7 7 0 3 7
Beth Lunkenheimer 15 -7 6 1 5 5
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -18 3 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 3 -19 2 0 1 1
Summer Dreyer 2 -20 5 0 1 2
Tony Lumbis 0 -22 3 0 0 0
Kurt Smith 0 -22 1 0 0 0
Mike Neff 0 -22 0 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -22 1 0 0 0
Jeff Meyer -1 -23 4 0 0 1
Matt Taliaferro -2 -24 2 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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