Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Settling Into NASCAR Spring

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)

Denny Hamlin’s second-place finish was easily his best of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing. Will that be the spark that salvages his season… or with crew chief rumors out in the press, is it simply a one-week stopper on a larger problem?

Phil: I think it’ll help him out. Maybe just being back home in the Richmond area will help.
Mike: I don’t think there is anything to the crew chief rumors. The win in the Short Track Showdown might do as much as anything to boost the team. He’s historically been a slow starter so I don’t think there is anything to worry about.
Amy: I think it’ll be a spark. Denny Hamlin‘s team nearly won the championship last year; they didn’t suddenly lose their equipment or anything. That said, there are plenty of guys who can turn it around at Darlington Saturday (May 7).
Mike: Hamlin is a beast at Darlington. If they go down there and struggle then we might have something to talk about.
Phil: Kyle Busch is a beast as well.
Mike: Busch actually isn’t that good at Darlington. Every other year he runs very poorly and this is one of those years based on numerology.
Amy: Hamlin needs a string of top-10 finishes without anything weird happening. If he can do that he’s right back in it.
Mike: Hamlin will get a win at Darlington and have a great run at Charlotte and all of this discussion will be over and done with.
Amy: Shall we write you down with that one, Mike?
Mike: Sure, you can write it down now if you’d like to.
Jeff: Denny will finish 17th.
Amy: There are a couple of teams in bigger trouble than Hamlin. The No. 11 team needs to be careful, but they should be alright.
Mike: Very true. JGR is getting things more and more figured out. They’re much better off than several of the other teams in the garage.
Jeff: The No. 31 has been the biggest letdown for me this year.
Phil: As to the crew chief thing, I think they’ll be fine. I don’t think the rumored swap will happen unless some shenanigans go down where irreparable harm is done to the Hamlin-Ford relationship.
Mike: The No. 31 and the No.1 have both been very disappointing.
Amy: I agree, Jeff. The No. 31 has been a huge surprise, and not a pleasant one. The No. 1 is also way, way off. The No. 24 has slipped badly in recent weeks too, though that’s due more to bad luck than anything.
Mike: I just don’t see where the crew chief swap would be a benefit to either team. Joey Logano is really starting to gel with Zippadelli and Hamlin and Ford have always started slowly.
Jeff: Not saying they will, but if they do swap, they will just be shooting both teams in the foot.
Amy: Agreed. The chemistry isn’t an issue here.

Jeff Gordon hit on a part of the Richmond track that’s sitting there without SAFER barriers. Should NASCAR mandate SAFER on the inside walls for all tracks… or penalize those that don’t have them with fines or even loss of dates?

Jeff: Well, if it is an ISC track, there will be NO fine or loss of date. People forget that NASCAR essentially owns most of the tracks. They are not going to fine themselves or spend money they aren’t forced to.
Mike: There really isn’t much excuse these days for there to be walls without SAFER barriers on them at any Cup-level racetrack. That said, I can’t imagine them moving dates to any tracks that have them on all of the walls since none exist at this point.
Amy: Yes, absolutely. Give them a timeframe in which to work, though. No inside wall without a hefty amount of grass in front of it should be concrete. Really, there shouldn’t be any concrete walls left.
Mike: Grass in front of the wall won’t make a difference. If there is a lot of concrete in front it would.
Phil: I thought at first that Gordon went into that gap where Michael Waltrip crashed a few years ago. Remember that with the water barrels? Seeing the crash now, I’m not sure what you can do there. There really isn’t all that much space to work with.
Mike: Exactly Phil. The inside walls should have them but I don’t think they can fine or take dates away if they don’t. Granted, it is stupid not to have them because it is always proven that a car will hit where there isn’t one if you assume it won’t.
Amy: Gordon has pretty much single-handedly proved that.
Mike: Yeah, not just at Richmond.
Phil: Another example of that: Jeff Fuller‘s crash at Kentucky.
Amy: Iowa doesn’t have SAFER barriers?
Phil: Iowa is basically nothing but SAFER barriers on the outside wall. The inside might be another story, though.
Amy: And Darlington does. They could always use a second race.
Mike: We’ll see how many people are in the stands this weekend before we give Darlington another date.
Amy: I’m not saying they should have to do it tomorrow. Give them a year to work then consider date changes, higher sanctioning fees, etc.
Jeff: Nobody’s been hurt in a long time. NASCAR is not about to do anything more about safety at tracks until someone does get hurt again – and then it will depend on who it is. NASCAR is not about to spend money even though the recession is officially over… or so they keep telling us.
Phil: I mentioned that recently. It’s been a while. I don’t think anyone’s actually had to miss time because of a crash in the CoT.
Amy: True. Bottom line, there really is no excuse anymore. When Gordon hit that spot at Vegas, Bruton Smith stepped up and had a SAFER barrier there by the next race. If ISC made the same commitment, I missed it. Shame on them.
Mike: I think they’ll spend the money if some of the drivers raise enough stink about it. Unfortunately they shouldn’t have to. The track owner should just watch the video.
Jeff: You forget who you are dealing with Amy.
Amy: That’s true, and NASCAR is too complacent because of it, I fear.
Phil: Jeff took a flush hit to the left side there. If there were more room down there, I’d definitely go for a SAFER barrier there, but I don’t know if there’s enough room.
Mike: I never will understand why they don’t have all walls that are exposed to the racing surface covered with a SAFER barrier.
Amy: Say what you want about Bruton, from a facilities standpoint, SMI runs rings around ISC.
Jeff: Amen Amy. I’ve always preferred to go to SMI tracks over ISC.
Mike: There is no question about that Amy. Never has been. Put SAFER barriers everywhere. There’s no excuse not too.
Phil: You could place a SAFER barrier where Gordon hit, but I think some tracks look into the bounce-off factor. That might be an issue there.

After some heated moments at Talladega and Richmond, should anybody be expecting payback at Darlington? And is the Lady in Black the right place to exact revenge?

Mike: Darlington can be a great place for payback. The cars run extremely close to the wall and can be very slow in the middle of the corners when the tires wear out. I am sure there will be some retaliation going on.
Jeff: No, you need all you got to keep yourself off the wall at Darlington.
Amy: There could be. Then again, Darlington is hard enough to race on her own. Some guys will do better to concentrate on that end.
Mike: You’re right there Amy. If some people try and worry about retaliation they’ll probably end their own night before they ever get to the revenge part.
Amy: Probably, but a little poetic justice never hurt anyway.
Phil: Heck no. Darlington is way the heck too fast for that now. Aren’t they going near 195 at the end of the backstretch these days? I wouldn’t press my luck.
Amy: I agree, Phil, it’s certainly not a wise choice. But given the upcoming tracks on the schedule, there isn’t a slow track until Loudon.
Mike: When the tires are fresh. I believe, when they’re worn out, they’re going about 80 in the middle of the corners. Granted, that isn’t a good speed for wrecking and they should settle it in the garage, but that isn’t that bad compared to Atlanta.
Phil: You forget Infineon Raceway, Amy. Plenty of places to give someone the what for there.
Amy: That’s true. That’s still a long way off though. While revenge may be best served cold, drivers don’t always like to let it cool.
Mike: I’d still rather see them settle it in the garage instead of making their teams have to work harder to rebuild the cars after they have their little spats on the track.
Amy: Some of them are never going to settle it in the garage, though.
Mike: I agree, but all the more reason to not settle it on the track. If you aren’t man enough to face the guy in the garage, don’t be a punk and do it behind the wheel of the car.
Phil: It would be cheaper for the teams, but more expensive for the drivers. I’d imagine NASCAR, even with their “Have at it” thing might start throwing some 12-1s around.
Mike: If they were man enough to do it in the motorhome lot with no one else around there wouldn’t be any fines.
Amy: That’s a good point. On-track stuff isn’t expressly prohibited in the rulebook. Fighting is. And most of them don’t even go back to the motorhome before they leave after a race anymore.
Phil: Is fighting even listed in the rulebook? Or would it just be included in the blanket statement “Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing?”
Mike: Maybe not, but if Juan Pablo Montoya had intentionally torn up my stuff, I’d be waiting for him somewhere away from cameras.
Amy: Last I knew it was specifically listed.
Mike: Retaliation on the race track is always stupid. That said, I’m sure someone at Darlington will be wrecking someone.
Amy: The problem with Darlington is, it’s not a short track, and shouldn’t be treated like one.
Jeff: They’d be better off just minding their own business and racing, especially at Darlington.

Out of all the Nationwide Series regulars racing right now, which driver has the best shot at landing a Cup Series ride for 2012?

Jeff: Well, we know it’s not Elliott Sadler. Bayne would if it turns out my source is wrong, but he’s got bigger problems right now.
Amy: Steve Wallace, because his whole team is looking to move up eventually. There are no rides open for anyone else.
Mike: It is most likely going to be Stenhouse now that it looks like Trevor Bayne is probably out of the question.
Amy: Bayne already has a Cup ride, in essence. If he can’t race next year, then Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may wind up in the No. 21.
Phil: I would argue someone like Stenhouse. He’s really come on this season. I don’t know where he would have finished Friday had he not run out of fuel. Probably around fourth or so.
Amy: True, but the real issue is where the ride would come from. Not a lot out there.
Mike: David Ragan is most certainly out of a ride without a Chase birth and at least one win. So someone has to fill in that seat.
Jeff: If Steve Wallace moved up, Lord help us. He is far from ready.
Mike: Steve has come a long way as a driver but I think he still has a little more work to do before he moves up. However, Jimmie Johnson didn’t own the series either.
Amy: I agree, but he has a better than average shot as Rusty is looking to take the whole team up… gives him a leg up on some of the others. Not saying he’s a better driver. Johnson didn’t own the series, but he didn’t hit something every other week either.
Phil: I think Wallace regressed this season. However, that might be more his team than Wallace.
Mike: RWI doesn’t seem like they’re ready to run in the Cup Series to me. Steve doesn’t hit something every other week anymore. Now things hit him.
Jeff: How is Stevie’s money different from Paul Menard‘s? Steve wouldn’t have a ride at all if not for Daddy.
Amy: Agreed, Jeff. But look where it got Menard. I didn’t say he was the most deserving, I said most likely.
Mike: I still think Stenhouse is more likely than Wallace to get a Cup ride in Ragan’s ride. If he ends up in the low 20s to high 30s in points he’s fired.
Amy: UPS wants Ragan, they’ve made that clear. Roush can’t drop him if they stick around. And I’m not sure Stenhouse is ready for Cup in 2012, though. 2013, yes. There’s what, one ride we know of available and that’s Red Bull, who may bypass NNS and take Cole Whitt.
Mike: If you say so.
Jeff: I could see UPS getting out of the sponsorship role and just go with being the ‘official’ blah blah blah of NASCAR.
Mike: You asked who was most likely. Based on ability in the series, Stenhouse is the most likely with Justin Allgaier behind him.
Phil: Do you think Whitt would be ready for Cup in 2012, being less than two years’ removed from the K&N Pro Series?
Amy: No, of course not, Phil, but that doesn’t mean Red Bull won’t move him up anyway.
Mike: OK, the question was who was most likely to move up. What basis are we supposed to use to make that judgement? Oh, and by the way, Carl Edwards isn’t signed at Roush yet.
Amy: No, but again, where would he go? There just aren’t going to be a lot of rides available.
Mike: He could go to SHR or JGR. Or Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. But if we’re making up rides that are going to exist in Cup next year, put the No. 99 on the list.
Amy: Again, can’t see him fitting in at either of those.
Mike: Who said he would? We’re just making up random crap for this question anyway.
Amy: I think that bottom line, the most talented doesn’t mean most likely to get a ride. It hasn’t in a long time.
Phil: Not for about a decade or so. At that time, the sponsors started determining who would come up, then the pay drivers.

OK how about some predictions for Darlington?

Amy: Mike’s got Hamlin and I think I’ll go with one of the Roush stable: Greg Biffle.
Jeff: Harvick.
Phil: Cripes, I don’t know. I’m going to go with Jeff Gordon. Couldn’t think of anyone else.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 12 9 0 4 6
Amy Henderson 11 -1 9 1 3 5
Mike Neff 11 -1 8 1 3 4
Jeff Meyer 8 -4 9 1 3 5
Tom Bowles 1 -11 1 0 0 1
Summer Dreyer 0 -12 6 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -5 -17 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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