Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Ford’s Fight, 2-Car Talladega Drafts & Dale Jr. to Victory Lane?

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:
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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)

Ford grabbed its third win with its third different driver in seven races at Texas, all on tracks of 1.5 miles or longer. Chevrolet has two different winners in 2011; Toyota one. Does this make a Ford – any Ford the odds on favorite for this year’s title given the number of intermediate tracks on the schedule?

Phil: Not necessarily, but it’s not going to hurt them at all. It could be arguable that this resurgence is a return to form. Remember when the intermediates were Ford’s forte a couple of years ago before their simulations screwed them up?
Amy: Unless the Chevy or Toyota camps can come up with something the Fords haven’t hit on, I think it does make one of them a favorite.
Beth: I wouldn’t even start betting against Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus yet. But that being said, the Ford teams have started to look up and will be a threat from week to week.
Jeff: Oh, gee, one chance out of four. Who’s it gonna be? History and odds say Chevy.
Amy: I think the harder part of that equation is picking one as the favorite, and I really can’t, other than narrowing it down to Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards or Greg Biffle.
Mike: Early success certainly doesn’t hurt them but, as we saw with Denny Hamlin last year, there is more to winning the title than a car with more horsepower than everyone else. There is a long way to go before we hit the Chase and then can start talking about favorites. Just like last year, Johnson is still the favorite until someone beats him.
Beth: Agreed, Mike.
Amy: I think you have the four most talented drivers in the game in Chevys and a Toyota, but right now they can’t run with the Fords on an intermediate, so if it comes down to car, not driver then I see a Ford with the big trophy at Homestead.
Jeff: It drives me nuts when people try and predict something now “just because” about a season that don’t end till November.
Amy: I think you have to speculate a little, though, Jeff. There are some teams who are already working on putting themselves out of the Chase already.
Mike: Out of the Ford camp, I’d pick Edwards as the favorite just because he’s been the strongest this year but Roush has been known to screw up championships more than win them so that could always work against him.
Jeff: Look, no one likes Edwards more than me, but I will believe it when I see it.
Mike: I also don’t know about no one being able to run with the Fords. Tony Stewart should have at least one intermediate win this year.
Jeff: Oh crap!!! You mean it may come to down to winning races to get in???
Mike: The way we’ve seen people swapping positions in the standings this year with the simpler points system, I don’t know that there are too many people out of contention.
Amy: I do see Roush Fenway as NASCAR’s premier organization right now. Could that change by Chicago? Of course it could.
Jeff: Exactly. No one is “dominating.”
Mike: It could change by Charlotte.
Phil: It could change by next week. No one is that far ahead of the pack, but the FR9 is really doing wonders.
Mike: You’re right about that, Phil. Thirty or more extra horsepower covers up a lot of ills.
Amy: If you look at every type of track, I think that’s true. But on the intermediates, the Fords really have something extra.
Jeff: If anything, it is the nose and the “more tape, running cooler” deal.
Amy: Right, Jeff, but it’s the FR9 that allows that.
Jeff: Oh, don’t worry, NASCAR will make a change in the name of equal rights or something and make sure J.J. wins six in a row.
Amy: Jeff, I was thinking that they’re drooling at the prospect of someone actually beating Johnson and the Hendrick organization.
Phil: I think the era of near weekly performance adjustments for each manufacturer ended when the CoT showed up.
Amy: Agreed, Phil.
Mike: I miss the old days of teams whining for fractions of an inch off of the spoilers.
Phil: That complaining got a little bit out of hand at times. In Australia, the complaining actually ended a class of racing in the 1980s.
Beth: Ford has definitely turned things up in NASCAR, but it’s too soon to say they’re a favorite to knock Johnson off of his throne.
Amy: As of now, the Fords have an advantage. Whether or not that changes remains to be seen. They have the best package, but I still think the other makes have the best drivers. So, call it a draw when all is said and done?
Mike: Roush has always done well at intermediate tracks. Now, they have more power than everyone else so they’re looking like they’re back to that form. But Chevrolets have finished second in the two mile-and-a-half races, so I don’t think their wins at those tracks are making them any kind of favorite for the title.
Amy: I think Johnson is a favorite to knock himself of the throne the way things are going. He can’t get out of his own way.
Beth: But it’s not Chase time yet, Amy. Never underestimate Johnson/Knaus when it comes to the Chase.
Mike: Oh geez, here we go again with Amy on the Jimmie is his own worst enemy bandwagon.

It’s been asked a lot in 2011, but with Talladega on the horizon… is this week finally the one where Dale Earnhardt Jr. stakes a claim on a win and as the best Hendrick motorsports driver so far in 2011?

Jeff: Is this finally the week I win the lottery?
Phil: Anyone can win at Talladega as long as they’re on the lead lap and not all crunched up at the end. So, yes he can. But, so could Johnny Borneman III. And my momma.
Amy: Is Junior the best driver at HMS? Not by a longshot. But the organization is throwing everything they can at him and it’s certainly paying off. It’s great to see him running so well.
Beth: It all hinges on whether Junior can stay out of trouble to be around at the finish.
Amy: At Talladega, Junior is the best plate driver at HMS, by a longshot. If he can stay out of other people’s messes, he has a great chance and I think that’s good for the sport as a whole.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: Educating Earnhardt - What Martinsville's Mayhem for Hendrick Could Teach Him

Phil: I know the crowd at Talladega would love a Junior victory.
Jeff: You saying he didn’t have equal equipment until now, Amy?
Amy: I’m saying he’s got better stuff now, not that he wasn’t equal before. A couple years ago, Hendrick threw everything but the kitchen sink at the No. 5 and it paid off big time. Now, it’s Junior’s turn.
Mike: As much as people like to think Dale Earnhardt Jr. is great at Talladega, he has as many bad finishes as good over the last five years so I don’t think he has any advantage. Actually, I’d think an ECR engine will most likely win.
Jeff: Uh ‘scuse me, there is this kid named Jeff Gordon. Four Cup titles, I think?
Mike: Who is that Jeff? Has he won any plate races?
Amy: That wasn’t a knock on Gordon, but Junior is one hell of a plate driver. He must have had a good teacher somewhere along the line.
Mike: The ECR engines are the best on plate tracks, so I’m thinking Junior’s only shot at winning at Talladega is being behind one of them coming to the line.
Jeff: Remember, Junior don’t drive like his “teacher.” We saw that this year already.
Phil: Yep. Although the Papyrus games definitely helped Junior’s plate racing education quite a bit as well.
Amy: Meanwhile, the RCR/EGR luck is not as good as their engines.
Mike: No it isn’t, Amy, but Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton will all be in the mix if they don’t have engine issues.
Phil: Engine woes could knock out quite a few contenders on Sunday. You just never know.
Mike: I agree, Phil but with ECR fixing their Daytona issues they’re going to win the race barring a major accident involving all of them.
Jeff: As with any plate race, it’s a crapshoot. Anyone can win.
Amy: Michael Waltrip‘s running, Mike, anything could happen. All I’m saying is that Junior has as good a shot as anyone out there.
Beth: Sure, Dale Jr. has a chance to finally break that winless streak Sunday at ‘Dega… but so do about 20 other drivers. It all comes down to survival.
Mike: Of course, that is assuming Trevor Bayne actually lets someone else win the race.
Phil: Bayne could be a factor once again.

The two-car drafts that dominated the scene at Daytona could make a return this weekend as the Cup series heads to Talladega for another restrictor-plate event. A lot of people didn’t like the tandem breakaways, but is there anything NASCAR can – or should – do to stop them?

Phil: Nothing that NASCAR’s got up their sleeve would stop them.
Jeff: I don’t think it will happen simply because you are not racing on a new, flat surface.
Mike: The Talladega track is still smooth as glass, Jeff. They’ll be paired up again this weekend; they aren’t going to be able to stop them until the asphalt ages. Unfortunately, with the car and the nose the way it is that is how it is going to be.
Jeff: That never would have gone down the way it did on the old surface at Daytona.
Phil: If you remember the opening Nationwide practice in Daytona, they weren’t doing it, but they still declared the speeds too high. The rule changes that resulted brought the two-car packs into the series.
Amy: I thought Daytona was a great race, so I’m not complaining. It’s better than the 450 miles of parade laps they’ve been running at ‘Dega.
Phil: In other words, speed them up (slightly).
Mike: Well, they aren’t going to speed up with a smaller plate opening.
Jeff: They need to just take the damn plates off. You go too fast, you wreck. Don’t do that!
Mike: Can’t do that until they come up with another way to slow them down, Jeff. They won’t wreck from going too fast, but if they get turned they’ll go in the stands and kill some people.
Amy: I agree with Mike. They ought to just have a separate engine rule for plate tracks and be done with it.
Mike: I’d love to see them do a six-cylinder engine or some other carburetor. That would drop them down to 195.
Phil: Yeah, but what size should the engines be? 274 ci V6s, like the Busch Series had in the early 1990s?
Mike: Works for me, Phil.
Amy: But as for NASCAR mandating something? Absolutely not. That’s like them mandating no bump drafting or the stupid yellow-line rule.
Jeff: Ah, NASCAR. “OK guys, go race, But you can only go this fast!” It’s a farce.
Amy: I think the yellow line rule is the worst thing NASCAR has done for plate racing since the plate. Except the plate was necessary.
Mike: I don’t like the rule, but people going below that line on the straights caused more big wrecks than anything else in plate races.
Phil: I’ve never been a fan of it. The elimination of grass only gives that horrible rule purpose.
Amy: I really didn’t have a problem with the tandems at Daytona, though. They had more throttle response than a 10-car draft and could move around.
Mike: I just didn’t like that all of a sudden some cars would snap around that had been drafting for a while. Unfortunately, I don’t think they can do anything about that.
Jeff: Take the plates off, let ’em race. Put the fans higher in the stands (they ain’t gonna sell out anyway) and wave the green.
Phil: They need to look at what they have at Paul Ricard in France in their runoff areas and put that where the grass would be on the backstretch and just past the start-finish line. Problem solved.
Mike: I think spike strips below the yellow line would be a great idea.
Amy: That would certainly be interesting.
Jeff: An invisible fence, like for dogs.
Amy: With shock collars.
Jeff: Go below the line, driver gets a shock.
Mike: Shock collars would be a lot of fun. Give every fan a button they can push once during the race. And by the way, if you know you’re going to blow the tire going below the line you’d avoid it a lot more.
Phil: If you’re wondering, Paul Ricard has this special type of pavement in their runoff areas that is far more grippy and slows cars down.
Jeff: Well if ya know you cant make the corner at 220, you’ll avoid that.
Amy: True, Mike, but there are a few who would drive other guys down there.
Mike: Yeah, but they wouldn’t let them drive them down there if they knew it. See Brad Keselowski when Cousin Carl tried to run him down below the line. They can make the corner at 220, Jeff. For goodness sake, Rusty Wallace went 238 mph around there supposedly.
Phil: Rusty claimed that he hit 228 mph, and turned a 216-something average. Had to brake for the turns.

Kyle Busch has indicated that he’d like to take his Kyle Busch Motorsports operation to the Nationwide Series for 2012. KBM has been very successful in the Camping World Truck Series, but is it too soon to make the jump onto a more competitive series?

Phil: For Kyle Busch, I think his team could make the jump.
Amy: Possibly. He’s struggled to find sponsorship for his trucks and that’s less expensive than a NNS effort.
Beth: I suppose it wouldn’t be all that bad if they can line up sponsorship. But the big problem KBM has faced since they joined the series last season is being able to line up sponsors for drivers other than Busch.
Mike: I think Busch has the infrastructure in place to build the type of cars necessary to be successful in the series but, as Beth said, they’ll need sponsorship.
Jeff: I don’t really care, to be honest. It’s his money. He can make/lose it how he wants.
Beth: I mean, they had the results with the No. 18 truck last year, but not so much for the No. 56. If they’re going to make the jump, it’d be smart to plan for one team and work their way up from there.
Amy: The infrastructure isn’t really even a question – he’d likely do what Harvick does with RCR and become Joe Gibbs Lite.
Phil: Busch has got some the best personnel outside of Cup right now. If he focused on the Nationwide Series, he’d probably win there, too.
Mike: One thing that will certainly help them is if Kimi Raikkonen is able to succeed in Trucks. If Raikkonen wins, he’ll get sponsorship to come to KBM. And let’s not forget: KBM has a Truck owners’ title. I don’t know if it is too soon to jump when you have one of those trophies on the wall.
Amy: Again, though, they bought most of their equipment ready to race from another organization.
Mike: KBM does their own trucks so I don’t know why they’d get stuff from Gibbs for Nationwide.
Phil: Didn’t they inherit some stuff from Xpress Motorsports?
Amy: All of it, initially, Phil.
Beth: Sure they did, but that won’t do them any good with the Nationwide side of things.
Phil: I was just clarifying what Mike was saying.
Amy: But if they buy it all from JGR, Beth, that’s the same thing.
Beth: Busch has already said he’d likely get stuff from Gibbs if he needed to.
Mike: Really? Everything I saw in their old shop before they moved to the new place was stuff they’d built. They started with the Xpress stuff but didn’t really start succeeding until they built their own stuff.
Beth: They didn’t start succeeding until they built their own stuff? Hardly! Busch finished second in his second race with KBM in 2010 and won the following week.
Mike: They had some minor success when they first started, Beth, but started winning consistently once they transitioned to their own stuff around the fifth or sixth race of the season.
Amy: So if they go with JGR stuff, isn’t that basically putting his name on the team he runs now and calling it KBM?
Phil: Basically, Amy.
Beth: Just the equipment. They’ll still have their own people running everything else. Teams do it all the time. KBM is no different.
Phil: He’d still dominate like he does now.
Amy: It’s only slightly better than running for his Cup owner.
Beth: I don’t know about that, Amy. I think you’re looking at it with a double standard.
Mike: I think it is a lot different when they have their own people setting up the cars and making the decisions. It would be different if JGR was setting them up.
Beth: If he’s driving with his own money, regardless of whether he gets the equipment from JGR or not he’s driving for his own team that’s a different deal.
Amy: But his money can buy JGR equipment. That’s really no different than Gibbs buying it. For example, I had a lot more respect for KHI when everything was in-house instead of simply bought from Childress.
Beth: KBM will be doing the setups and running the week-to-week decisions, Amy. So they might buy their equipment from another team… big deal!
Mike: It is different, Amy, when he has completely different people setting up the cars.
Phil: If Kyle’s driving it, he’s going to have some input on setup. He’s still going to like the same things. Also, the cars might come with prior notes from Gibbs.
Amy: But if you can buy the best cars, it’s a lot easier to simply work on setups than if you’re actually building them and then working on setups as well.
Mike: With the new car design, just like the Cup Series, there aren’t many things that can be different on the chassis. Not when the chassis have to fit a very tight template.
Beth: Teams buy outside equipment all the time, Amy. Why such a big problem with Kyle Busch possibly doing it?
Jeff: So, If I brought you two apple pies, one I made myself and the other I bought from a pie maker, you’d like mine best??
Amy: I’d have a lot more respect for you if you took the time to make it yourself rather than simply stopping off at the bakery. Listen; if you go buy a top level intermediate track chassis, it’s a lot less work to set it up than if you have to build it first. Those teams can spend all their time on setups, while the smaller teams have to spend theirs getting the chassis up to snuff before they can work on setups.
Mike: Are there really small teams out there building their own chassis these days?
Amy: Some are, Mike, and others are buying lesser quality that they then have to put a lot more effort into them.
Mike: That just seems like a really poor business decision when they have to meet such a tight set of parameters. It would make much more sense to buy them from the people who have them available already.
Amy: Look, I respect Kyle’s talent behind the wheel, but the fact is, I’d have a lot more respect for him if he was racing equal equipment to the rest of the field every week.
Mike: I just don’t see how, with the new car, he won’t be running equal equipment to everyone else, outside of engines if he gets them from Gibbs. The chassis are all the same. Other than some weight difference.
Amy: No way Gibbs chassis aren’t better than say, Jimmy Means?
Beth: Oh please! So because KBM would bring more money to the table, you don’t have respect for them. Go figure.
Jeff: OK, the only way to even the field as per this discussion is to enact a spending cap.
Beth: Amen, Jeff!
Amy: Yes, Jeff.
Mike: Where did Jimmy get his chassis?
Beth: Let’s not open up another large can of worms.
Phil: Well, the Means team wouldn’t have had to use old-school cheating moves in order to get their car to handle at all Friday night.
Mike: There is no way to enforce a cap.
Beth: Like I said… large can of worms.
Jeff: Sure there is, and NASCAR could reap the benefits. How about if you can only buy from NASCAR approved vendors; everything from spark plugs to chassis to engines.
Amy: As for Kyle, I’m still not sure that NNS isn’t its own can of worms, given the sponsorship issues he’s had with his CWTS teams. Then again, dollars to donuts that’s the real reason for the “new” Kyle… wooing sponsors.
Phil: Someone came to him last year and said “Quit being so surly, or we’re dropping you like a bad habit.”
Amy: I do think there are ways to share the wealth in the NNS. You’d start with not giving owner points to the Cup owners running Cup drivers. That would give several more NNS teams points fund money at the end of the year.
Mike: Here’s an idea. Don’t give them squat at the end of the year and pay out all of the money to the drivers in the races who earn points. The end of year point fund crap is out of hand.
Phil: That would get a lot of Cup drivers out of the series there.
Beth: The bottom line is that KBM has the people in place that they could handle any transition. However, it’ll all dependent upon whether they can pull together the sponsorship.
Mike: I’m with Beth. I think the organization is in place for them to go to the Nationwide Series, but they’ll need to have some sponsorship dollars to make it happen.
Amy: If Kyle drives his own stuff, does that open up the No. 18 for a development driver? Or does that team just become KBM? If it’s the former, at least that’s a positive. Unless, of course, JGR just slaps Denny/Joey in there.
Mike: Probably puts Denny in it. For most of the races, anyway.
Amy: Well, then it’s a total waste.
Phil: I’d argue the No. 18 becomes the KBM team. Sounds about right.
Mike: Amy, you are the one that says it is OK for Cup guys to race as long as they’re driving for their own team. Now you’re putting additional caveats on it?
Amy: Because if they’re simply buying their Cup owned team’s stuff and racing it as their own, it’s barely different. If it’s totally in house, more power to ’em.
Mike: If it is totally in house, they’re morons because there is no reason to build your own stuff on a shoestring budget when you can buy it from other organizations.
Jeff: I know… I’ll get the baker to come to my house and make the pie!!!!
Beth: So it’s alright for other teams to buy stuff from bigger teams, but if a Cup driver wants to buy his stuff from another team and race in it on his own dime it’s not OK? Talk about a double standard.
Mike: Amen, Beth.
Amy: As I said before, I respected Harvick when his team was all in-house. Is it all on his dime? I’d guess RCR is sending him some dimes to prep his team for Austin Dillon.
Mike: RCR is spending enough of their dimes on Trucks, modifieds, late models and other vehicles for Austin, Ty, Joey Coulter and Tim George Jr.
Phil: Speaking of George, he’s got Applebee’s sponsorship for this weekend’s Nationwide race.
Beth: OK Amy, I think we’ll just agree to disagree.
Jeff: And my bottom line is? I could care less.

How about some predictions for Talladega?

Amy: I like what I’ve seen from Junior lately, I’ll go with him.
Mike: Harvick.
Phil: Well, it is the toss-up to end all toss-ups. In that case, I’m going with Ryan Newman. If he can keep himself from getting flipped again, he’ll do fine.
Jeff: OK, I’ll take Carl.
Beth: It’s a crapshoot, so I’ll go with Jamie McMurray.
Amy: Jamie Mac’s a good choice.
Mike: Jamie Mac needs to turn things around. They’re hurting themselves quite a bit this year.

Mirror Predictions 2011

Welcome to our fifth 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 seven races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 10 7 0 3 5
Jeff Meyer 9 -1 7 1 3 4
Amy Henderson 7 -3 7 1 2 3
Mike Neff 3 -7 6 0 1 2
Tom Bowles 1 -9 1 0 0 1
Summer Dreyer -3 -13 5 0 0 0
Beth Lunkenheimer -4 -14 3 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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via