Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Playing by NASCAR Rules, Speed Dating & Silliness

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)

While the finish at Talladega was one of the closest in NASCAR history, it was not without controversy; race winner Jimmie Johnson appeared to touch the yellow line as he gained position on Mark Martin on the final lap. NASCAR didn’t penalize Johnson and the rule appears in question as it’s not formally published anywhere. Should NASCAR make its rules transparent for fans and competitors alike, or would that create more problems than it could hope to solve?

Amy: Absolutely, the rule should be published for all to see. Why the secrecy, if they plan on enforcing it fairly?
Mike: The rule, as I understand it, says you cannot go below the yellow line. He was not below the line.
Jeff: I was not aware there was controversy.
Amy: The only reason not to publish it would be to change it per the situation, which isn’t fair.
Phil: Transparency is always a good thing when it comes to rules. However, I couldn’t get a good view to be able to tell on Jimmie Johnson.
Mike: I’m sure he touched it but I’m equally sure he didn’t go below.
Jeff: You can go below the line, just not to advance your position. Touching and going below are two different things.
Mike: Exactly.
Amy: Right, Mike, but NASCAR didn’t clarify right away. On the line is OK; under, it is not. There is not a single photo that shows Johnson below the line. But apparently a lot of people didn’t know that was the rule. Lots thought on the line was illegal.
Mike: Guess they should read the rule book or trust the people enforcing the rules.
Phil: I’m pretty sure they clarified that rule in the drivers’ meeting. Is the yellow-line rule even in the rulebook?

See also
Voices From the Heartland: A Yellow-Line Rant of a Different Color

Amy: No, Phil.
Jeff: Like I said, first I’ve heard of any controversy is now. Media should not try to make something out of nothing.
Amy: LOTS of people were complaining on both Facebook and Twitter, including some well-known journalists. NASCAR should be more transparent. Nothing gets the conspiracy theory in high gear like the possibility of a “secret” rule.
Jeff: I bet the Masons are behind it.
Mike: That’s why you shouldn’t ever listen to Twitter.
Phil: You guys know my opinion of the rule. It’s stupid and adversely affects the racing at Daytona and Talladega.
Amy: Restrictor plates adversely affect the racing at Daytona and Talladega.
Mike: Restrictor plates save the lives of fans and drivers.
Amy: So would a smaller unrestricted engine.
Phil: We had the small engine conversation last week. I’m also not feeling the slow speeds in qualifying.
Mike: Did you watch the replay of Bobby Allison‘s wreck during the broadcast?
Phil: Yes. I watched that whole got darn race (1987 Winston 500) last week on DVD.
Mike: It might save the lives of fans, I don’t know about competitors.
Jeff: I’m not even getting into the plate argument again. That’s like beating a dead horse.
Amy: Qualifying at a plate track is about as exciting as watching dry cement dry some more.
Mike: Qualifying at almost every track is about as boring as watching anything unexciting.
Phil: Now, it just takes even longer because everyone’s three seconds a lap slower.
Amy: NASCAR isn’t exactly transparent and that leads to a lot of complaining from teams, fans and media about perceived rule bending. A lot of people cry favoritism because of it. Just publish the darn rules already.
Mike: I didn’t think there was anything controversial about the finish, but there is no question that people will bitch about everything even if they had the rulebook scrolling on the jumbotron during the race. They put out a rulebook that every person who has a NASCAR license receives.
Amy: True, Mike, but why does NASCAR hide the rules? What’s the point unless they want to be able to change them for the driver involved?
Phil: Maybe it’s like the Urinal Deuce episode of South Park, which concerned 9/11 conspiracies. They don’t manipulate, but they want people to think they do.
Mike: How do they hide them?
Amy: The rule isn’t even written down, Mike.
Mike: Do they have the rule about how to enter pit road at Bristol written down?
Phil: No, they just discuss that in the drivers’ meeting.
Amy: There was confusion about whether on the line was allowed or not. A written, published rule would have finished that. Kind of like pit road speeds. There is ZERO purpose in not posting them in real time, but NASCAR insists on the secrecy.
Mike: They explain it in the drivers’ meeting. The people who need to know the rule know it.
Amy: Actually, Mike, there were people AT the drivers’ meeting at Dega who were unclear on whether on and over were the same or not.
Mike: Did they not clarify the rule in the drivers’ meeting or are they people who were too busy sucking up to sponsors instead of listening to the instructions?
Phil: FOX showing those speeds in Texas is step one in publicizing them.
Mike: I’m not sure why they don’t post the pit-road speeds, but I think it is to prevent people from knowing who is gaining an advantage on pit road.
Amy: Maybe, but unfortunately, we need to teach to those these days.
Mike: If you’re too dumb to ask for clarification in the meeting then you shouldn’t be upset when you get busted by it.
Amy: Apparently in the meeting all that was said is something to the tune of, “This is your last warning, go below the line and we’ll have you drawn and quartered after the race” No mention of on vs. over.
Mike: Seems apparent to me. Go BELOW. That doesn’t say go ON.
Jeff: Pretty self-explanatory to me.
Amy: In, say, football, it’s specific – break the plane of the line and it’s a touchdown..
Phil: Transparency should be the standard. You don’t want people constantly questioning you.
Mike: I didn’t think there was a controversy so I don’t get what the upheaval is about. I guess people just need to listen more carefully during the drivers’ meeting
Jeff: Amen, Mike.
Amy: NASCAR needs to stop trying to guard the rules like a state secret and have some transparency if they want any credibility with the fans. Which, by the way, they have very little of.
Jeff: Media twitter junkies included.
Phil: Random thought: Should NASCAR stream the drivers’ meeting on their website for the general public to view?
Mike: No.

The finish at Talladega drew rave reviews from those watching. The rest of the race? Not so much. Should NASCAR have an incentive program to encourage drivers to race for the lead all day long, such as bonus points or cash bonuses – or should they leave the racing as is?

Phil: I’m not sure what you can do at Talladega. You’re going to have the same action regardless.
Mike: What are you talking about? There were more than 80 lead changes. No one led more than seven consecutive laps. What do you want? What else can they do except stop every lap and put the leader to the back.
Jeff: People are always gonna hang back at plate tracks. Just another strategy.
Amy: I thought the race was great, but lots of folks were complaining about teams hanging back and they definitely do so at non-plate tracks other than short tracks. There did used to be an incentive award to the leader at halfway. Not sure why that was done away with.
Mike: Unless you pay points at intervals during the race, which I have advocated for years, you can’t make people race hard all day.
Jeff: Hanging back is just as viable a strategy as any other. Hell, I used to do it all the time when I ran the 800 in track.
Mike: They didn’t have an official sponsor to pay for it anymore, Amy.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. People are complaining about teams using strategy to win instead of simply racing hell bent all day long.
Jeff: Well again, Amy, those people are stupid and don’t really know racing all that well and should be ignored.
Amy: I agree, Jeff, but those are the people NASCAR caters to.
Phil: They still have a halfway award, but it’s really convoluted.
Mike: I heard Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. talk about it after the race. They wanted to save their bumpers instead of wearing them out all day long.
Amy: I do agree with what Mike says, though… a few cash awards for leading at various parts of the race would be beneficial.
Jeff: Obviously, if those are the people that are complaining, NASCAR is NOT catering to them! Then they should watch NHRA.
Mike: These are the same people asking for the races to be shortened. I think they should award points for the top-five positions after every quarter of a race.
Phil: Perhaps Clint Bowyer should have heeded that advice on Saturday, Mike.
Jeff: Gordon and Martin did it all day.
Phil: Yeah, they were together all day, but they weren’t beating the bejesus out of each other for 500 miles.
Amy: It avoided people like Kurt Busch. It’s a smart move at plate tracks. Racing for 500 miles is about way more than racing WFO hell bent for leather for 500 miles, but some fans, it seems, won’t be satisfied with anything less. Speaking of Busch, how do you think Monday morning at Penske looked? The Captain’s number one rule is whatever you do, don’t wreck your teammate. Kurt and Helio Castroneves forgot on Sunday.
Mike: Kurt wrecked everyone on Sunday.
Amy: I was waiting for him to take out Bodine in the pace car.
Phil: Yeah. He kinda took that well, actually. He didn’t want to step in like a teacher. He figured Helio and Will Power would talk it out like men.
Jeff: Hey, accidents happen at 195-plus mph.
Amy: Three of them by one driver, though?
Jeff: Sometimes.
Mike: I’ll tell you this. Dave Blaney‘s save was WAY better than Ryan Newman‘s.
Phil: Not the one that spun him, but the one where he slid into Juan Pablo Montoya.
Amy: He dumped Landon Cassill, then Brad Keselowski to trigger that mess, then punted Blaney.
Jeff: Only reason Newman saved the first one was he hit Juan. Had Juan not been there, Newman would have been in the garage.
Amy: Juan did one hell of a job there.
Mike: Exactly, Jeff. I was amazed Juan’s car didn’t turn left.
Jeff: I can’t believe everyone was going on about how Newman ‘saved’ it!
Mike: Blaney’s save was awesome. Newman was just lucky.
Amy: Newman spun the other way at an opportune moment. Montoya saved the hell out of it, as did Blaney and Jeff Burton earlier.
Phil: Blaney was having an excellent day until that mistimed bump. He might have benefited by just spinning out.

Many fans were critical of the race because of the two-car draft that has become the norm for restrictor plate tracks. But fans were also critical of the huge pack of cars that was the previous trend, and of the strung-out racing that occurred before that. What do race fans want to see and is there anything NASCAR can do about it?

Amy: I don’t get it, frankly. People say they hate the tandems, said they hated the packs, said they hated the strung-out fields. Then, what else IS there?
Mike: I don’t know what fans want to see, but the two-car draft will only be for a couple more years. Once that pavement ages a little bit more, it will be too hard to do the two-car deal and the packs will be back.
Phil: A lot of fans don’t really know what they want to see. Truthfully, I’m not really sure either. I’m not the biggest fan of the chain racing, but its just different.
Jeff: A bit early to call two races a “norm” but at least with packs, (not tandem) the car had to still be good. In this latest form, all you need is a partner and that is NOT what NASCAR is all about. So I’d say I’m partial to the packs than the current tandem crap.
Phil: The restrictor plate has gone through multiple phases since 1988. For the first couple of years, it was still possible (with an excellent car) to pull away. Then you had these small, single-file packs that would decide races. Then the big packs.
Mike: In the early years, there were still a handful of cars that were better than everyone else.
Amy: Look at the race that gets held up as “the” race. While Cale and Donnie are stopping in the infield getting ready to fight, Richard Petty is still coming around to take the checkers, because he was more than a mile behind them. That wasn’t any good, so NASCAR made changes and we got the freight train. That sucked, so we got the two-lane parade pack, which blew so we got tandems. What else IS there?
Phil: The roof spoiler year (2001) made the high english close up maneuvers the norm and people transferred those skills to cars without the wickers for the next few years.
Amy: There were 88 green-flag lead changes on Sunday. That’s not boring unless you’re mad that it wasn’t your driver.
Mike: No matter what happens, there will never be 100% satisfaction.
Amy: The two-car deals have more throttle response than 10 cars, making them more maneuverable and able to make more moves than before.
Phil: I’ll agree with that. I think a lot of fans would like racing that Talladega had in 1984. That was when they could still do 202 for an average, but still have a buttload of lead changes.
Amy: I think the two-car racing is way more exciting than the huge pack that doesn’t pass each other unless it’s the last 10 laps. I was amazed by people who said Sunday was boring until the final lap. What, exactly, was wrong with the other 87 lead changes?
Mike: They’re more maneuverable because the track has a ton of grip. It will change when it ages.
Jeff: I think it is crap, Amy, and NASCAR did too at Daytona. They tried to change it before the race, but now that there was the close finish Sunday, NASCAR is gonna play it for all it’s worth. Even the drivers don’t like it.
Amy: Why is it crap, Jeff? Explain to me why cars being able to race all day, get out of trouble and pass each other all over the track is “crap.”
Jeff: Because there is no way you can win on your own merit.
Mike: You haven’t been able to win a plate race on your own merit in 10 years.
Amy: When was the last time someone won a plate race without benefit of the draft? Hell, they used the draft way before plates.
Phil: 1990 or so, Amy. Dale Earnhardt‘s plate car that year was extremely strong.
Jeff: Drafting and chained together are two different things. This tandem thing is far beyond “using the draft.”
Mike: You used to be able to win a plate track without the draft (see Dale Junior in 2001). Junior passed six cars by himself at Daytona in July 2001. Without a drafting partner. It was all his car.
Phil: In ’90, Earnhardt would have swept the plate races if he didn’t have the infamous blown tire on the last lap of the Daytona 500. He also had a legitimate 25-second lead in that race.
Mike: Oh, crap, don’t remind me of that Phil.
Jeff: If this is what you want, Johnson AND Jr. should have both been in victory lane and doing burnouts.
Amy: Junior didn’t race all day at Daytona without using the draft, Mike. If he had, he’d have finished laps down.
Mike: No, but he ran from seventh to first by himself with no help.
Amy: Had Junior been able to push Jimmie by sooner, he’d have made the slingshot move, but he couldn’t. He used the draft. That’s what they do, and kudos to them for figuring out how to use it better.
Mike: Yeah, because Junior was overheating and Johnson wouldn’t make the switch with him.
Amy: Um, were you listening to the radio, Mike? Because Junior TOLD Jimmie to stay in front of him. That was all Junior’s call. Jimmie was prepared to let him lead.
Mike: When he was overheating with two to go? Junior said he had to back off because he was overheating and I didn’t hear Jimmie say let me push. I heard the conversation earlier in the race where Junior said he should push.
Amy: Junior never indicated he wanted to switch with two to go. He hardly “refused.”
Jeff: The point is you shouldn’t have to AGREE to switch to be able to win a race!!!!! I know the margin was the same, but Ricky Craven/Busch in ’03 was REAL racing. This finish was contrived.

See also
Darlington 2003 vs. Talladega 2011: 2 Photo Finishes, 1 Clear Winner

Amy: How was it contrived other than because the cars had restrictor plates on them? It was better because they went at it for the whole end, but this was hardly contrived.
Mike: I don’t know that it was contrived, but the finish was far greater in the Craven/Busch race than in this one.
Amy: If you made a move alone under the old system and nobody went with you, you were just as screwed as you are now.
Jeff: If this is what you want, you should just name two-man teams at the start and honor the both of them with a win.
Amy: OK, let’s just throw out strategy and race 500 laps WFO hell bent for leather, Jeff.
Mike: Anybody can shove or be shoved, Jeff. There are a lot of things that happen during a race that affect who wins. I like that idea, Amy, but you won’t get the other drivers to not hook up.
Amy: Not anybody, Mike.
Mike: Seriously? Blaney was leading with five to go.
Amy: Mike, racing like that in any 500 (300, 400)-lap race would just be stupid. That’s not how professionals race.
Mike: I know, but that is why people love going to short-track races because they race the whole race. They don’t “save their stuff” until the end.
Jeff: If this is so great, how come the drivers don’t even like it?
Amy: They use strategy, make their move when the time is right, and get the best finish they are capable of.
Mike: That’s not how Cale Yarborough raced or Earnhardt until late in his career.
Amy: Earnhardt had a lot of DNFs early in his career because of that lack of strategy… and a lot of wins once he figured out how to race. But NASCAR took away the short tracks and gave them the cookie cutters. You can’t fault the teams for racing them the way they have to to have the best finish.
Phil: Yarborough wasn’t exactly a garden variety racer. Unfortunately, I came around way too late to see much of his career (even on YouTube, there isn’t all that much).
Jeff: And that’s what we want? “Garden variety” racers?
Mike: If they didn’t have Lucky Dogs and wave arounds, there would be a benefit to running away from the field.
Amy: And then people would say the race was boring, Mike.
Mike: Right, but people enjoyed it more when he ran that way than points racing.
Amy: Did they? I don’t enjoy watching drivers wreck.
Mike: I do, if they wreck running for the lead. The video of Earnhardt and Waltrip wrecking is awesome.
Amy: The video of Kyle Busch running over Jennifer Jo Cobb at Bristol is less awesome and that’s a product of the same thing.
Mike: No, that is a product of stupidity. They weren’t battling for the lead.
Phil: Kyle Busch running over Jo Cobb was just plain impatience. It was Bush League.
Amy: So it’s OK to race like that for 500 laps if you’re in the lead the whole time but not otherwise? It’s either the right way or it isn’t.
Phil: By all means, race hard. Don’t be an idiot doing it, though.
Mike: If you’re battling for the lead.
Amy: So two cars can race all day?
Mike: Yeah, two cars can wreck all day. The ones in the back shouldn’t be wrecking.
Amy: If you’re only battling for fifth, should you stop? If you have a 12-second lead on the last lap, is it OK to take out three lapped cars because you’re battling for the win?
Mike: You shouldn’t wreck each other if you’re battling for fifth. You shouldn’t take out backmarkers, but you can take out the other guy running for the lead.
Phil: If you’re in that situation, why bother pressing the issue with the lapped dudes? They’ll just move over for you on the last lap.
Amy: It’s never OK, or smart, to wreck someone. If you’re good enough, you can do it without wrecking them.
Mike: But if they wreck battling for the lead, it is OK.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams are off this week before heading to Richmond on the 30th. Which teams can afford to take it easy and which ones are under the gun to have a working vacation?

Mike: They’re all in the need for a working vacation. You take time off during December for a couple of weeks.
Phil: Well, no one’s taking the whole week off. However, I’d imagine that Burton’s team needs to buckle down. He’s still back in the 20s.
Amy: The No. 21 really needs to regroup. So do the No. 13 and the No. 11.
Mike: The No. 21 is doing what you would expect except you have a Daytona Winner banner.
Amy: I agree, Mike, but they still need to step it up if they want sponsor dollars.
Phil: The Baynemeister just doesn’t have any luck. By the way, aren’t the Wood Brothers skipping Richmond in two weeks?
Amy: They say they may run if a deal comes through.
Phil: Germain Racing is really just about where I thought they’d be at this point. They just need to have a few more good runs to solidify their Top-35 position.
Amy: Germain needs to get their setups together. They practice and qualify decent, then fall apart. Denny Hamlin and Burton need to figure out how to stop the bleeding. The No. 71 needs to ramp it up before they fall further behind, but I think their driver choice severely hampers their effort.
Phil: Lally is quite inexperienced on ovals, and because of that, would benefit from a year in the Nationwide Series. However, the recent switch to Ford suggests that their previous equipment wasn’t really up to snuff either. Also, they’re already on Crew Chief #3 this season. Some continuity would do TRG a lot of good.
Amy: The No. 31 really needs a swift kick in the pants this week. No way should they be getting outrun by the No. 27 every week. Burton is five times the driver Paul Menard is.
Jeff: Holy crap! I have to agree with Amy.
Mike: I don’t know about five times. Menard was never in equipment like Burton was. The No. 27 is a good driver who is now in good equipment.
Amy: Menard is a good Nationwide driver in good Cup equipment. Burton should be a Cup champion by now. Menard shouldn’t be one ever.
Mike: I’m not saying Menard and Burton are equal but Menard is a good driver as you’re finally seeing. Burton should have a championship, but he’s apparently not a good enough driver who was in great equipment. Hmm, can you say Mark Martin? Why shouldn’t Menard be a Cup champion ever, Amy? If he scores more points than anyone else in the Chase he’d be a champion.
Phil: Furniture Row simply needs to step it up in the races. Regan Smith is great at qualifying, but it just doesn’t translate to the race.
Amy: Furniture Row needs to be closer to RCR. Racing out of Colorado isn’t a great model.
Mike: Furniture Row’s model isn’t that bad, actually. They get stuff every day. It’s not like they’re using the Pony Express. The only drawback is they can’t steal people from other teams easily.
Phil: The Colorado thing is mainly due to the parent company being based there.
Amy: Being isolated has always hurt that team. That, and the owner’s reluctance to test. Visser and whoever else that co-owns Furniture Row should make better use of Pikes Peak. It’s only a couple hours away from the shop and open to testing.
Phil: I guess they don’t have unlimited funds.
Amy: That’s the one advantage they could have and they refuse to use it. They have a seven-post shaker rig, they aren’t THAT strapped.
Phil: Furniture Row does need to use more of their available resources. In fact, they should go down to Fountain this week in order to help themselves prepare for Richmond.
Amy: Really, anyone near the Top-35 cutoff had better ramp it up this week… but so should teams like the No. 31 and No. 11 before it’s too late.

No Cup predictions this week, but how about a dual exhibition Truck Series/Nationwide pick? No points, just glory.

Beth: Since it’s not for points, I’m looking at a Kyle Busch sweep.
Phil: Interesting. David Reutimann‘s in a third Wallace car this week.
Jeff: Todd Bodine for the Trucks, Carl in the NNS (to make Mike happy).
Mike: Carl wins the Nationwide race, Kyle Busch wins the Truck race, although I’d love to see Nick Hoffman shock the world. Unfortunately he’s in a Ford.
Amy: My prediction is the Cup guy du jour wins both races, lucky for the fans who don’t have a clue about the real CWTS or NNS teams.
Beth: Oh boy. Don’t get me started about KBM and being a real CWTS team.
Jeff: My thoughts exactly, Beth.
Phil: I’ll go with Elliott Sadler for Nationwide and oh heck, Timothy Peters in the Trucks.
Beth: Peters isn’t a bad pick at all.
Amy: Elliott is interesting, given he’s never turned a lap at Nashville. Peters definitely has a shot, though.
Phil: I figured that KHI would be strong at Nashville, regardless of who’s driving.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Jeff Meyer 10 8 1 3 5
Amy Henderson 10 8 1 3 4
Phil Allaway 9 -1 8 0 3 5
Mike Neff 6 -4 7 0 2 3
Tom Bowles 1 -9 1 0 0 1
Summer Dreyer -3 -13 5 0 0 0
Beth Lunkenheimer -5 -15 4 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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