Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Who’s Your NASCAR Chase Favorite? & Changing the Points… for Nationwide

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, 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
Amy Henderson (Mondays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Garrett Horton (Frontstretch Newsletter Contributor)

The race at Texas featured a swap of the points lead, with Denny Hamlin taking the top spot by a margin of 33 markers over Jimmie Johnson. Is it safe to say he’s got this one in the bag, or can J.J. or Kevin Harvick make a comeback?

Amy: Denny Hamlin’s had it in the bag since Loudon – just didn’t tip his hand. If you look at his late Chase stats last year, you knew he was going to be a contender.
Phil: But Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick could make a comeback; any of the three could easily walk out of Phoenix with the lead. Plus Johnson is very, very strong in Phoenix.
Garrett: I think Hamlin has it in the bag, because if he finishes 15th… of course it’s not in the bag!
Mike: Hamlin has absolutely nothing wrapped up. One blown tire that puts him in the wall and Johnson is back in front. If Johnson has a maximum points weekend and Hamlin finishes fifth, they swap it back. Hamlin and Johnson both wreck and Harvick is in the lead.
Amy: Last year, they were 1-3 at Phoenix. If Johnson leads the most laps and wins while Hamlin finishes second, it gains Jimmie virtually nothing.
Phil: That would gain Johnson either 20 or 25 points, Amy. A 13-point lead entering Homestead is nothing.
Mike: Amy, that is half of the deficit. There is no way that Hamlin has squat in any kind of bag.
Amy: Well, Hamlin is better at Homestead.
Mike: Johnson hasn’t had to be good at Homestead. The one year he was worried at all, he finished second down there.
Jeff: And the Cowboys were supposed to go to the Super Bowl, too.
Garrett: I will say it will be tough for Harvick, not because of the points, but because he has two guys to deal with.
Amy: I agree with that, Garrett. I feel worse for him than I do Johnson in any case. Hamlin’s points lead points out a major Chase flaw (as if the Chase itself wasn’t a giant flaw).
Jeff: And that is?
Amy: Hamlin would have been eliminated at Texas.
Garrett: That’s not really fair to say though, Amy. Hamlin and Harvick could have been racing differently knowing the Chase is ahead.
Amy: Maybe, maybe not.
Mike: As would Johnson. Comparing classic points to the Chase is a moot point because the teams test stuff during the season that they would not under the old system.
Amy: If you’re 10th in points in August, it’s not real likely you’d be able to do enough differently to win. I’d argue you don’t deserve to win… and I disagree about not trying stuff early in the season under the old system. Without testing, they’d have little other choice.
Mike: They wouldn’t test stuff if they were in contention for the championship.
Amy: But at what point does that happen or not, Mike? Daytona? Charlotte?  Indy? And at any point when they say, “OK, let’s stop trying stuff and go get it” is different from the Chase, how?
Mike: When they are mathematically eliminated, they’d test. With the Chase, Johnson started testing after Charlotte in May.
Amy: Again Mike, with no testing, how would they get to be contenders in the first place if they never tried anything in the first part of the season? And at what point are the races no longer throwaways?
Mike: When they were in the old system, they ran what they had and tested at tracks during the week. Now, they test during the season because once you’re in the Chase, you can test during races.
Amy: Testing during the week is very limited. So where do you get your best stuff?
Mike: That’s the point, Amy. In the old days, they tested and ran their best stuff every week. Now, they test during the season because they have to be good at the end. So the classic points don’t apply for comparison purposes because they test during the season. You get your best stuff from that or you send Matt DiBenedetto to Kentucky in an unmarked trailer.
Amy: Back to the question; Hamlin could get Hornished at Phoenix, but given past performance, that’s not likely.
Garrett: Hamlin doesn’t have anything locked up, and Phoenix is going to be a huge hurdle for him.
Mike: I will be shocked if Johnson loses to Hamlin this weekend at Phoenix.
Phil: Nothing’s locked up. Ask me next week if anything’s done.
Jeff: Amen.
Mike: I’m not saying Hamlin won’t be right behind him Sunday, but I am positive Johnson will be ahead on the track.
Amy: Even if Johnson beats Hamlin, though, Hamlin will leave Phoenix with the point lead.
Garrett: He might, but it won’t be very big if he does. And then we’ll all get the race at Homestead that Brian France has wanted since 2004.

Late in the race at Texas, No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus made the decision to bench Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew after two terrible stops cost Johnson seven-to-10 positions on the track, instead using Jeff Gordon’s crew to pit the car at the end of the race. Was that a good move to boost performance, or will it simply destroy the team’s morale for the last two races?

Jeff: I’m still on the fence about that one.
Garrett: Great move. It may destroy morale on the old crew, but they are with the No. 24 now. All is good with the No. 48.
Amy: It was the right move, but it was eight weeks too late.
Phil: It’ll destroy the morale of Johnson’s crew.
Mike: I didn’t have a problem with them doing it for the race. The fact that they’re going to use them for the last two races is going to cause problems for next year. If they try and bring those guys back to the No. 48, it will be interesting.
Phil: Basically, everyone with the team is on notice. Then again, that ESPN feature on Sunday showed that it’s like that all the time.
Amy: Anyone who says Johnson only wins because of his cars and crew hasn’t been paying attention since July.
Mike: Pit crews are just like any other piece of the team and it is a performance-based business. They weren’t performing and haven’t been for a good part of the year, so it made sense.

See also
Fact or Fiction: A "Cryle"-Baby?, Hendrick Drama & Icing Title V

Jeff: OK, so what happens when the No. 24 crew has a 14-second stop? Get Junior’s crew?
Mike: They’ll hire Kyle Busch‘s crew for the last race. Wouldn’t that make for an exciting story?
Amy: One 14-second stop wasn’t the issue, Jeff. Johnson was losing 5-10 positions routinely on pit stops and he has absolutely carried that team on his shoulders for half the season. It had to be done.
Garrett: The funny part is how the No. 48 crew is on that AT&T Fastest Pit Crew of the year deal.
Phil: That’s partially a fan vote, Garrett, which means that it’s biased.
Garrett: I know the fans have a say in it but to me, it looks like they have all the say.
Mike: Junior’s crew has been on there all year and they’ve lost him spots almost every single stop this season.
Amy: I never got that fan vote thing. Either they’re the fastest or they aren’t. What exactly is the vote for?
Mike: I have no idea. It’s one of the stupidest things during the broadcast every week.
Jeff: Anyways, in the long run, I think this change will ultimately hurt J.J. and Chad.
Mike: For this season, it will be a good move, because the No. 24 crew has been quicker. Going forward, they’re probably going to have to hold tryouts for all positions prior to next season.
Amy: Money talks; they’ll get the best out there.
Mike: I agree. That is all they can do now. They can’t just bring the old guys back and expect performance and morale to be good again.
Phil: I agree with Mike. Wholesale changes could be in the offing.
Garrett: Yeah, Hendrick is the Yankees; he will buy the best this offseason.
Jeff: The Yankees have been using money for years, but I don’t see them in the World Series.
Amy: Or, maybe the swap could stick for good. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Mike: If I were Jeff Gordon, I’d be freaking screaming if they kept his team for next season. Those are his guys and if Hendrick just kept them over there he would be saying he would rather see Jimmie win.
Garrett: I was surprised Knaus made the call to swap the crews. I thought for sure that would be a Hendrick thing.
Phil: That was all Knaus?  He shouldn’t have that kind of power.
Amy: Ultimately, it was his call. Even if Rick Hendrick had initiated it, it was ultimately up to Chad to say yay or nay.
Mike: Right. But for next year, if Hendrick says he wants to keep that crew with Jimmie, he’d be saying he wants Jimmie to have the better crew.
Jeff: I still say this kind of thing hurts the “unity” of a team.
Mike: It will if they don’t hold tryouts during the offseason, Jeff.
Amy: Jeff got eliminated Sunday, so why not throw the best at the guy who has a chance at winning? It’s not favoritism, it’s trying to win the organization a championship.
Mike: I’m talking about next year, Amy.
Jeff: Yeah. Been a while since the organization won one….
Amy: Maybe that crew can get it together with a change of scenery. Some of those crew guys have four championships under their belts. They didn’t show it this year, so the move was made, but can they find it again? That remains to be seen. Johnson is the only HMS driver in contention, so why on earth would you not do whatever is necessary to try and win?
Jeff: We better agree with Amy or we, as journalists, may get swapped out for these Mirror sessions.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with them doing it this year. I have a problem if they leave the crew there and leave the No. 48 guys on Gordon’s car next year.
Garrett: Really, Junior should get Jeff’s crew. Although this move might be good luck for Gordon — it has worked pretty well for Clint Bowyer.
Phil: I don’t understand this whole thing. The crew has one bad day and all of sudden they’ve been in the toilet for six months?
Mike: They’ve been having troubles all summer, Phil.
Jeff: Oh, so none of it is J.J.’s fault?
Amy: So he’s supposed to get out and change his own tires and fuel the car now, too?  The pit crew wasn’t getting it done. J.J. has carried the team. He’s had to race back 5-10 positions after half his pit stops and he’s done that week in and week out, without a complaint.
Phil: Morgan Shepherd changed his own tires once.
Mike: Well Amy, there were several solo spins this year that didn’t help the cause. Charlotte comes to mind and wasn’t there one at Texas, too?
Garrett: He spun at Charlotte, sped at Dover, pissed Gordon off at ‘Dega.
Amy: Maybe if the car had been set up correctly, he wouldn’t have spun. Just sayin’.
Mike: By the way, before this conversation goes any further, I’m calling Amy out: She’s been talking crap for weeks about how the No. 48 was totally out of contention and now she’s suddenly back on the bandwagon.
Amy: They are out of contention and this controversy is precisely why they have been out of contention. How does that equal a callout?
Jeff: Waiting with bated breath….
Garrett: They have seven straight top-10 finishes. Their longest streak of the year.
Mike: They’re 33 freaking points back. By that logic, they were out after Daytona in February.
Amy: The crew hasn’t gotten it done all year long, hence, J.J. is out of contention.
Jeff: If they are out of contention, then why are we talking about them?
Mike: They aren’t with him for the last two races and he’s 33 (!) points out. He is not out of contention.
Garrett: Ha ha! I almost want Johnson to win now.
Jeff: Best thing for the Chase — or the argument to get rid of it — is if J.J. wins again.
Amy: He’s not mathematically out of it, no. But Hamlin is better this year. Why is that so hard to accept?
Phil: Just because someone is better doesn’t mean that a 33-point margin is insurmountable. Too many “X” factors.
Garrett: Johnson has a better average finish, more laps led, more top fives and more top 10s than Hamlin. And under the old points, as everyone likes to reflect back on, Johnson has more points than him.
Amy: Then why does Hamlin have the points lead? Hamlin is better right now. That makes him the favorite to win. Sure, someone else could, but it’s just not likely.
Mike: The points were reset for the Chase.
Amy: True, but since you all told me the old system is meaningless, why is that suddenly relevant?
Mike: It’s not, but the fact that Johnson has better finishes and more top fives and 10s does matter.
Garrett: I forget what the original question was.
Mike: The original question was, “Is Amy back on the Johnson bandwagon after bashing him for months? Discuss and debate.”
Amy: I’m not on any bandwagon. I said the driver has carried the team and he has. As much as the Chase sucks, it’s the points system and under it right now, Hamlin is better.
Garrett: Until Johnson loses the title, he is the man to beat.
Jeff: Let’s move on to the question about the Cup guys making a joke out of the Nationwide Series.

Kyle Busch was parked for two laps on Sunday for unsportsmanlike conduct after making an obscene gesture toward a NASCAR official following a pit-road speeding penalty. NASCAR has said that more fines could come because the incident was captured on Busch’s in-car camera, which was broadcasting at the time. Is that fair, since Busch had no control over what camera angle was being shown at that moment? And what does this incident mean for Busch?

Amy: Yes, it’s fair. NASCAR didn’t force the team to have the in-car camera, the teams pay to carry them – not the other way around. The sponsor should be ashamed that their driver did that crap on camera.
Jeff: The penalty was fair. They fined Shane Hmiel for it.
Phil: Hmiel got busted for swearing at… was it Mike Wallace? …after wrecking that time.
Mike: Hmiel got fined for flipping off Dale Jarrett and I screamed that it was total crap then, too. As for Kyle’s penalty, I think it, too, was complete, total and utter crap. They penalized him because he was on camera and would not have if he weren’t.

See also
Full Throttle: NASCAR Lets TV Push Them to a New Level of Stupidity

Phil: It bites, but NASCAR has multiple precedents here.
Garrett: I think because it was Busch, they parked him. And that’s not fair. But I really think Joe Gibbs should put Kyle in a time out for the final two races. It could go a long way towards making Kyle grow up.
Mike: If I were Joe Gibbs, I’d tell them to take their in-car cameras and stuff them in an undesirable location.
Jeff: It’s like getting caught for holding, the big ref saw it! You do that in the NBA, you get a technical or thrown out. Same in most sports. You don’t do that to the officials.
Amy: Because he made an obscene gesture to a NASCAR official and got caught, he got parked.
Mike: I know it scores more bonus points for sponsors, but if they can’t fine you for what you say on your radio they should not be able to penalize you for what you do with your fingers. I also feel if they just fined him after the race, it would be acceptable, but the fact they parked him for two laps and basically took him out of contention was completely wrong. There are guys flipping people off the entire race, some of them are shown on TV and they do not get parked.
Jeff: He flipped off an official. That warrants a penalty.
Phil: You don’t have to flip off an official in the NBA to get a technical foul — they’ll T you up for looking at the official the wrong way these days.
Amy: Exactly. Try flipping off a MLB umpire and see if you are still in the game afterwards.
Mike: MLB umpires are the most pompous officials in the world and most of them deserve to be flipped off.
Garrett: I felt bad for the official Busch was flipping off. He was just the messenger, as Andy Petree mentioned on the air.
Mike: It is still crap.
Jeff: I was proud of NASCAR for once for doing the right thing, at least at first. No more penalty was warranted in my opinion, though.
Garrett: I’d really like to see Kyle try picking a fight with a driver, official, anyone really.
Amy: Kyle paid the consequences for his own actions.
Jeff: NASCAR should have just let it rest as it stood.
Amy: Agreed. He paid a fair price for his own action.
Jeff: Wow, I agree with Amy.
Phil: Take the unsportsmanlike penalty away and Busch probably would have finished 10th or so after getting a Lucky Dog. By the way, ever heard the term “unsportsmanlike conduct” in NASCAR before Sunday? I never had.
Mike: They usually call it rough driving. My point is that NASCAR took a contender out of contention during a race because of what was shown on television. If it had not been on TV, they would not have issued the penalty. And that is crap.
Jeff: That’s the price you pay for being a marquee player, though. You are watched more.
Amy: And how do you know that for sure, Mike? That’s the big rumor, but NASCAR hasn’t confirmed it.
Mike: Then why didn’t they penalize Brad Keselowski for calling Kyle Busch an ass on television during pre-race introductions at Bristol?
Amy: Because the FCC allows you to say “ass” on TV.
Mike: NASCAR will never confirm it, but I promise that happens almost every time someone gets held for a lap.

With the Nationwide title already in the books (decided once again by a huge margin) and the Truck championship all but a formality, is it time to consider a restructuring of points in those two series?  And considering most fans’ feelings about the Chase, how could the system be restructured to not include a Chase but still make for an exciting finish?

Phil: No Chase, please.
Mike: Oh good God, no.
Amy: Hell, no. No Chase.
Garrett: Agreed. No Chase for either.
Jeff: Make all series the same system, with 75 more points than second for a win.
Amy: I think it will be closer next year in NNS if NASCAR follows through and makes the Cup guys declare one championship or the other.
Garrett: I am really excited about next year for Nationwide. It looks like the Cup regulars won’t be competing for the title.
Amy: Yeah, but they’ll still be stinking up the show every week.
Garrett: A Nationwide regular will win the championship next year, but not win a single race. That’s a real possibility, and I hope NASCAR realizes that.
Jeff: I predict Elliott Sadler wins the Nationwide title next year.
Amy: I’d like to see a points system closer to what the IRL does. That championship almost always comes down to the last race without a fake points reset.
Jeff: Why do the point systems have to be so convoluted? My God, this whole Points vs. Chase crap is the easiest thing in the world to fix!
Phil: Yes, but they don’t want to fix it.
Mike: It will be exciting if they have a fight like we did this weekend between Burton and Gordon!
Amy: Why are people acting childish exciting?
Jeff: They’re entertaining.
Mike: Because fights are fun. I just wish the officials acted like hockey refs and let them go until one of them hit the ground.
Garrett: Yeah, I was pissed when the officials got in the way.
Phil: That’s what happened that time in Mexico City in the Grand-Am race, Mike. JC France was throwing punches.
Jeff: Why? Did someone steal his coke?
Mike: Except the other dude had a helmet on. Fights aren’t good when the helmets are still on. At least Gordon didn’t try and kick Burton. I thought he was going to at one point.
Amy: And Testosterone Fest 2010 rages on. Fights in Cup races aren’t going to decide a Nationwide championship, guys.
Mike: Well for the record, I do not believe Burton — no matter what he says, he was not trying to pull up next to him. He drilled him in the back bumper.
Amy: Anyways, I think what NASCAR should do here is use the lower series to try a new format and if it works to keep it exciting without being fake, them move it to Cup. But a new points system would make it a whole other show.
Garrett: I am perfectly fine with the points system we have.
Mike: The current system works fine. It rewards the driver who runs the best all season, which is what we want in the Cup Series.
Amy: Right now it rewards the Cup driver with the most money to blow.  But maybe that will change.
Phil: The Trucks definitely don’t need a restructuring. Aside from Kyle and Kevin, no one “whacks the series” with any regularity.
Jeff: I still say make a win significantly worth more than second in all series and the whole problem is fixed.
Mike: Oh Jesus, the points are the points — it doesn’t matter who drives. The person who scores the most points wins! If you start limiting people based on their resume, then it really is a contrived championship.
Amy: True, but if NASCAR is hell-bent on tightening it up, wouldn’t it be better to find a way to do it that’s not fake? So if they’re going to do something, is there a better solution than a Chase?  I think so.
Phil: Well, what do you want? Do you want a contrived system, or something that rewards the whole season?
Mike: If NASCAR wants to tighten it up then tighten it up, but if a driver runs all of the races and scores the most points, they win. Don’t be putting artificial limits on the thing. If you don’t want Cup guys to win it, then run some Nationwide races on Sundays where the Cup guys can’t get to the track and compete. Run the Nationwide race at another track right before or right after the Cup race.
Phil: They used to do that back in the late 1990s. Watkins Glen for Busch at 1:00, Sears Point for Cup at 4:00. Same day.
Amy: Yeah, that’s great for falling ratings, Mike. The IRL system is tight and rewards the whole season without giving away free points at any point in the year.
Garrett: But they only have like 15 full-time cars. It’s way easier to have a closer points battle with less participants.
Amy: They have more like 20. But why not have 20 quality teams instead of the 20 you have now plus a bunch of not-so-quality ones?
Mike: Make up your mind what you want. If you put Cup drivers in the series, the ratings go up. But you don’t want that, you want a Nationwide driver winning. You can’t have both, so pick one. If there is this mass army of fans you say will come running back to the series when it is all Nationwide guys, they’ll be all over it.
Jeff: NASCAR — Cup or Nationwide — will never out-rate the NFL or college football in the fall, it’s as simple as that.
Amy: True, Jeff.
Mike: Yeah, for those fans that try and come up with some crap excuse about races being on cable hurting ratings, check out the football ratings for football on ESPN. They’re crushing the races.

How about predictions for Phoenix?

Jeff: Hamlin flips off an official, costs him the Cup.
Amy: I say Johnson wins and Hamlin leaves with the points lead. I think Johnson and Hamlin finish 1-2 Sunday, Hamlin leads the most laps.
Mike: Don’t you dare take Johnson, Amy.
Amy: Why? He can win the race and not the title.
Mike: But his team is so bad and he’s been carrying them….
Amy: I can be right on both counts. And now he has a pit crew who can get it done.
Mike: Oh good grief. I give up. Fine, I’ll take Harvick. But he’s eliminated from the championship.
Garrett: Yeah, Hamlin has clinched it.
Amy: Not eliminated, but he has a long row to hoe to get there.
Phil: I’m going with Martin. He’s great at Phoenix. In the Chase, I think Hamlin will lose about 30 points of his lead on Sunday, if not all of it.
Garrett: I will go with Johnson.
Jeff: I’ll take Carl Edwards.
Amy: Jeff’s weekly Carl pick is like the old weekly Jeff Burton pick… he will probably be right eventually if he keeps it up long enough.
Garrett: How many points do I need to win the Frontstretch Cup?
Jeff: Under the new or old system, Garrett?
Phil: For the Mirror Driving points, only Amy and I are still alive.
Garrett: Damn! I was really hoping to pull a Kulwicki.

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 34 races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top Fives Top 10s
Amy Henderson 52 34 4 15 23
Phil Allaway 51 -1 30 5 13 20
Summer Dreyer 29 -23 20 1 10 13
Mike Neff 25 -27 20 2 8 11
Beth Lunkenheimer 19 -33 22 1 9 11
Jeff Meyer 18 -34 21 0 7 12
Garrett Horton 6 -46 9 1 1 4
Kyle Ocker 6 -46 5 0 2 3
Kurt Smith 5 -47 8 0 3 3
Matt Taliaferro 4 -48 4 1 1 2
Bryan Davis Keith 4 -48 3 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 4 -48 4 0 1 2
Vito Pugliese 2 -50 3 0 1 2
Tony Lumbis 0 -52 3 0 0 0
Toni Montgomery 0 -52 1 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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