Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: A Cautionary Tale, David Ragan Rallies & Preseason Favs Fading

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
Brody Jones (Mondays/Running Their Mouth & Thursdays/Shakedown Session)
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)

There was a debate after the Coca-Cola 600 surrounding a multi-car crash on the first lap of a green-white-checkered attempt, which did not draw a caution and occurred while Dale Earnhardt Jr was leading and gunning for his first win in 105 starts. Was the non-call the right thing to do, a blatant attempt to try and assure a popular win, both, or neither?

Mike: I don’t think it was a good call but I also don’t think it was to try and get Dale Earnhardt Jr. a win. I think they were trying to let the race run its course with so many people about to run out of gas, but I think they should have thrown the caution.
Amy: Personally, I say neither. There was no way to guarantee Junior the win, caution or not. However, there should have been a caution. Some friends of mine were sitting over that way and said there was debris on the track.
Brody: I think it was both, to be brutally honest. There was no one blocking the track, so there was no need to throw a caution which would have really messed up fuel mileage, and I think NASCAR tried to ensure Dale Jr. the win, except it blew up in their face.
Amy: Here’s the thing with the Earnhardt deal. It doesn’t matter if NASCAR was trying to help him win. That the perception is there is bad for the sport.
Jeff: Like Bryan Davis Keith said in his piece, it was the right call, as far as racing goes, but it does play into the conspiracy freaks’ hands.

See also
5 Points to Ponder: Going the Distance, Danica's Done Deal & NASCAR Got It Right?

Mike: Some 100 or so laps earlier Kyle Busch spun through the front straight infield, gathered it up and hit pit road without much damage and they had the yellow out before he hit the grass.
Brody: I think it was a matter of timing in the Kyle Busch situation. Had that happened on the green-white-checkered, unless he stopped on the track, it wouldn’t have drawn the caution.
Amy: See, I don’t think there should be a difference. Either something should always cause a caution or it never should.
Mike: Exactly Amy. The rules for throwing the caution should be the same on lap 1 or lap 399. They throw cautions when people LOOK like they’re going to spin. They need to throw it when there is a major problem on the track, not when there is a water bottle in the groove.
Jeff: Depends on the track too. Some tracks you have to be more cautious.
Amy: That’s true, Mike, but when people in the stands are saying there was debris, it’s probably there.
Phil: Debris from Brad Keselowski hitting Jeff Burton? Wouldn’t be surprised. But, do you want debris deciding your race?
Brody: That I will agree on. You can’t just chuck the rulebook out to window with less than 10 laps to go.
Amy: A blown engine, for example, should always be cause for a yellow.
Brody: Well, the manufactured debris cautions haven’t been as prevalent this year. Not sure if anyone else has noticed that though.
Mike: I know Darrell Waltrip commented on it earlier this season. I don’t remember if he was paraphrasing someone else or his own opinion but he said they used to have a bumper in the groove before a caution would fly.
Amy: And that’s a safety concern. Suppose the favorite son had run it over and cut a tire and ended up out for several races for injury?
Jeff: NASCAR’s problem (like always) is consistancy. Either do it or don’t do it, but do it the SAME every time.
Mike: I don’t deny there was debris but anymore they throw it for any kind of debris, some of which is bogus. I was on the back straight at Darlington and had to talk a safety worker out of telling the race control that there was debris on the back straight when it was just tape. You could see the end of the tape flapping when the cars went by. And it still might have hurt a car if they hit it but you can’t throw it for everything.
Amy: I would always rather see a caution to clean up when there IS an incident than to see more problems from someone running through the debris.
Phil: That’s more or less what happened at Daytona last July. A piece of metal came off Paul Menard‘s car after the Big One and came to rest right in front of where I was sitting. They went back to green, then picked it up during the next yellow.
Mike: If they were going to throw the caution for Kyle Busch coming out of turn 4 and spinning then they should have thrown it for Burton spinning to the inside in turn 1.
Amy: I have to question NASCAR’s decision and I can certainly see why the black helicopters are rumored to be circling because there IS a question about NASCAR’s motives. And there should NEVER be a question.
Phil: I was fine with the no call. Even if it was someone other than Dale leading, I think NASCAR would have done the same thing if Burton was able to get back going (which he did).
Brody: At the end of the day, I think the right call WAS made, but one can’t help but wonder what NASCAR might have done if, let’s say, Dave Blaney was leading. Or at least that’s what conspiracy theorists would argue.
Jeff: There has ALWAYS been questions about their motives, Amy. Always will be. They are about making money, not racing.

Several teams that were among the season favorites back in February are struggling. Which team’s struggles are the most surprising and will they turn it around?

Jeff: I expected better from Burton.
Mike: I think the No. 31’s struggles have been the most surprising to me. I thought Burton was going to be a factor this season. And they have not been competitive at all.
Phil: Ok, Burton’s struggles are rather sad. He just can’t get going. And Jeff Gordon hasn’t been all that good either, although he did get that win in Phoenix.
Amy: Gordon doesn’t surprise me as much. He got all Junior’s cars, which have a different geometry, based off older notes.
Brody: Penske & Kurt Busch have just been atrocious the last several weeks.
Amy: I think the most surprising is Burton. Even after he looked out to lunch a half dozen races ago, I really thought he’d have it turned around by now. The No. 22 is also a surprise given the strength they showed at Daytona.
Brody: Burton’s been somewhat of a shock. I mean, Menard’s outrunning him! And Gordon hasn’t been too consistent either.
Amy: Both Busch and Gordon are fighting equipment. But what, exactly, is Burton fighting? His teammates are running great, but Burton can’t find his ass with both hands and a flashlight… and I’d peg him as the best driver in that stable.
Brody: I don’t know about THAT, Amy. I mean, you’re selling Kevin Harvick a bit short.
Amy: Harvick is a great driver. I think Burton is smarter.
Phil: Burton comes off as smarter than most all of the drivers in the garage.
Mike: I guess Harvick isn’t that good. He’s only led nine laps in his three wins this season.
Jeff: I expected that the No. 11 would falter, so that is no surprise here.
Amy: After all the drama last year and extensive tryouts, the No. 48 is also looking terrible when they should be stronger and the No. 11 is just now getting over the Chase hangover.
Brody: I’m not that worried about the No. 48. But the No. 11 just hasn’t been firing on all eight cylinders this year. Figuratively and literally speaking.
Phil: Regardless of what you said about them in Big Six Sunday night, it’s not like Johnson’s having a terrible year.
Jeff: And I think last year at this time, Amy, you were hanging JJ out to lunch too giving it all to Hamlin.
Mike: Amy throws JJ and crew under the bus every year.
Amy: True, I thought Hamlin would win it last year. But this year, the No. 48 pit crew has cost Johnson at least one race win, maybe two or even three.
Mike: Yeah, they’re so bad he’s sitting third in points. However, Joey Logano‘s struggles have been a surprise too. They were outstanding in the Chase races last year and they’ve been pretty poor this season. However, after Sunday night they might be getting things figured out.
Amy: Jimmie Johnson is driving great. He has to to gain back all the spots his crew loses him every stop.
Phil: Ever think that Knaus is possibly too hard on those guys? He might be driving them nuts with the pressure.
Mike: You can’t put together an entire new crew and expect them to be elite in the first dozen races.
Brody: All that matters is the last 10 races anymore. Jimmie doesn’t have to be the points leader in the first 26 races. His team’s always been the best in the final 10-race stretch. And Logano’s not that huge of a surprise to me. I’m starting to think that he might not ever live up to the ungodly hype he had coming into NASCAR.
Mike: Logano was second in points during the Chase races last year I believe. He looked primed to break out this year.
Brody: One other surprise we haven’t mentioned is Tony Stewart. I can’t believe he hasn’t been a factor much this year!
Amy: The other surprise to me is Brian Vickers. I expected more from him though I suspect there might have been an equipment swap in the Red Bull garage.
Mike: Tony is almost never a factor early. He’s just a notorious slow starter.
Phil: I knew something was up when they gave him the silver car!
Jeff: Vickers is OK, but he never was like a real hot driver.
Brody: Vickers is in the B-equipment now, hence why he has the silver car. Didn’t work out for Scott Speed or AJ Allmendinger.
Amy: Vickers is an outstanding driver. He pretty much built his team from nothing to Chase in three years.
Jeff: I never said he didn’t have talent, but there are lots of guys in the garage ahead of him.
Brody: Vickers HAS talent, no doubt! Question is where is he going to go if Red Bull tosses him to the curb?
Amy: Why would they do that? Who are they going to replace him with, Mark Martin?
Brody: Stranger things have happened, Amy. I mean, I never would have guessed Mark would be sponsored by GoDaddy.com. I mean, the guy’s not as easy on the eyes as Danica Patrick, you can’t argue that.
Mike: I’m pretty sure Red Bull going to throw Cole Whitt into a Cup car soon. I hope it isn’t for another couple of years but I think it will be.

David Ragan’s second-place finish Sunday was his career best, but is it enough to keep the Roush Fenway driver in the seat of the No. 6 Ford, considering the success that both Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have had this year?

Amy: Maybe. David Ragan has looked close to a win for a few weeks. IF he can do that, it might buy him time. If he can’t consistently run top five, though, I’d look for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to replace him.
Jeff: Depends on the sponsor.
Mike: I don’t know that Trevor Bayne and Stenhouse have had great success, but they’ve not been any worse than Ragan, who’s had a bunch more time in a Cup car.
Amy: One is the Daytona 500 champion, and the other is the only actual Nationwide driver to win a Nationwide race, Mike. I’d call that pretty successful.
Brody: Plus Ricky actually did a lot better than anyone ever would have guessed Sunday in his first start in Cup. I don’t think people need to dismiss Stenhouse as this year, he’s been consistently better than Bayne.
Mike: After the Daytona 500 what did he do? He hasn’t done must since then Amy. You aren’t going to crown a guy a Cup Series champion after winning one race. But I’ve said from the beginning of the season, the No. 6 needs to end up in the Chase and win a race this year for Ragan to keep his job.

See also
Shakedown Session: Who Will Be the Odd Man Out at Roush Fenway?

Brody: Ooooh, this is going to be a very tough question. You have three drivers with talent, but really only room at the inn for maybe two in the Ford camp. Someone’s going to get the heave-ho from Roush, I’m afraid.
Phil: You make it sound like he’ll be fired the next time he gets wrecked.
Mike: I don’t think they’ll let him go before the end of the season, but I think he’s got to get it done this year if he wants to keep his job. I may be totally wrong. It is obviously just my opinion, but it would seem like it to me.
Phil: OK, he’s 18th in points with two top fives and four top 10s. Not horrible. However, he’s still fourth in the flagship car.
Amy: If UPS resigns, Ragan can breathe easier. They’ve stuck with him when RFR might not have otherwise. But if they go?
Phil: If they go, its a free for all, but Ragan would still be able to help himself.
Jeff: Kinda what I said, as in “Depends on the sponsor.”
Amy: Sure he would, Phil, but my point is he has to put up serious numbers. RFR is only going to wait on him so long.
Brody: Derrike Cope has pimped out his Daytona 500 win for 21 years now, so Bayne could very well do that if he has to.
Amy: That’s true, Brody. A 500 win is a virtual guarantee of a ride, especially if you look more like Bayne and less like Cope.
Phil: I don’t think Bayne wants to pimp out a Daytona 500 win like that. I think that with the current rules, a Daytona 500 win has been lessened in importance because of the lack of skill involved. Does Cope have the level of respect in NASCAR that his nieces claim that he does?
Amy: I disagree on that. There is a huge amount of skill involved at Daytona. It’s still a handling track, unlike Talladega.
Mike: No it isn’t. With the new pavement handling meant zero this year.
Phil: Even with the new, ultra smooth pavement, Amy?
Mike: Bayne has run eight races this year and the only top 10 he has scored is the Daytona 500. I think he’s got to do more than that to justify being in a Cup car full time
Brody: I hope he doesn’t have to either. The kid has talent, no doubt, but Ricky’s recent success and Ragan’s resurgence have made Bayne’s ascension to the top of NASCAR far from a certainty.
Amy: He’s in the No. 21, Mike. Who has done better in that car in the last five years?
Brody: Or the last 10 years, for that matter?
Phil: Maybe Ken Schrader in 2006.
Jeff: It’d be the same hype if AJ had won the 500 in the No. 43, and that’s all it is, hype.
Phil: Ragan’s showing some of the form now that he needs to show to guarantee his ride for the future. If he goes into some summer swoon, it could be trouble. Especially if its self-inflicted trouble.
Amy: Is Ragan’s job in jeopardy? Definitely. RFR has given him a ton of time and resources, and he hasn’t won with that. It’s time for him to ramp it up or someone else will get a tryout. Meanwhile, while Ragan has been stagnant, Stenhouse has made a 180 on the track and is driving the wheels of his cars. Has to make Ragan a little nervous.
Mike: Ragan’s job should be in jeopardy the way he’s run the last couple of seasons, but I’m not sure it is. He should be nervous about Stenhouse’s success.
Brody: Bet Jack still wishes he could have five teams now.
Jeff: And he should be able to Brody. That limit was just a knee-jerk reaction by nascar to the first Chase.

Speaking of surprises, which teams in the Nationwide and CWTS are most surprising, for their struggles OR for their success?

Phil: Turn One Racing. That team was basically left for dead at the end of last year.
Amy: Again, Stenhouse has been a HUGE surprise. He’s gone single-handedly from wreckers to checkers. The No. 09 also. They’re probably 20th or so in budget, seventh in driver points. Had one top 10 before this year.
Brody: The No. 09 has done well in Nationwide. They have proven they can win in Nationwide and going from John Wes Townley (shudders) and Brian Scott to Kenny Wallace has been a night and day difference.
Amy: If the No. 09 NNS car doesn’t win this year, it won’t be because they don’t have a capable driver in it.
Brody: Have to agree, Amy. Kenny’s done great in some God-awful equipment.
Phil: I don’t know if I would call RAB Racing’s equipment “God-awful.” I’m pretty sure its better than Jay Robinson’s equipment that Kenny drove last year.
Amy: I haven’t heard Kenny this happy in a LONG time. And the equipment isn’t terrible, but it’s nowhere near the Roushes of the series
Brody: I didn’t say RAB’s was God-awful, more like Fitz and Jay Robinson. Those cars were NOT the greatest.
Mike: Stenhouse turned it around after he was benched last year. I don’t know that he’s done anything that surprising this year.
Jeff: Elliott Sadler is leading the points as was to be expected. A semi-good pro player who finds it much easier in the minors.
Brody: Success-wise? Turn One for sure. Struggle-wise, Travis Kvapil and Randy Moss Motorsports. That team can NOT be as atrocious as they’ve looked so far.
Phil: Kvapil has had no luck in either Sprint Cup or the Camping World Truck series. Gets wrecked on a regular basis.
Amy: I agree, brody, Kvapil has looked terrible. I’m also surprised at Todd Bodine‘s lack of… well, of anything.
Jeff: Todd is a bit of a surprise.
Phil: His team has had some turmoil behind the scenes. I think there’s a little more than just Todd’s issues going on there.
Mike: Kvapil has been struggling mightily and I agree Amy, Bodine’s struggles this year have been rather surprising.
Amy: Not really a surprise per se, but could this finally be Matt Crafton‘s year? He’s so consistently good yet falls short every year. I think ThorSport is going to take it home, but it’s a matter of which truck.
Mike: I still think Austin Dillon will have something to say about the championship this year.
Phil: Your guess is as good as mine on that one. Crafton does need to win again, though. One win in 11.5 years?
Brody: I think Bodine’s issues may stem from Germain going from two teams to four. As for ThorSport, I think Johnny Sauter takes home the title. Crafton’s got to start consistently winning to be a legit championship threat.
Amy: True. Germain should concentrate on two truck and one Cup team, IMO.
Brody: ML Motorsports is another team that just shocks me at how far down they’ve slid in a year’s time.
Phil: They’re still not officially full time, Brody. They’re just about where they were last year, actually.
Amy: I’m surprised that Rusty’s teams aren’t running better.
Mike: I don’t know what the deal is with Rusty’s teams. They have never found much success. I think that might come from the top down.
Brody: The RWI body shop has to be staying in business between Michael Annett and Steve Wallace.
Amy: Or from the seat. But that kind of money should at least be buying top fives.
Phil: Annett has regressed so far this year. Not good to see. I guess Germain’s No. 15 was a little better than I thought. I thought No. 15 to No. 62 was a lateral move. Guess not.
Phil: Anyone have thoughts on Mike Bliss‘s performance in the No. 19 this year? I think the team is doing fine for probably not having that much in the way of resources. Maybe they’re even overachieving a little.
Brody: Bliss has done fairly decent at times considering Tri-Star doesn’t really have much money to work with.
Amy: You’re probably right. Plus, Bliss still wins the all-time best quote, so that’s something.
Mike: I’m not sure that there have been many surprises from the success side of things this year and there’s only been one or two surprises from the sucking side. I agree Bodine is probably the biggest on the Trucks.
Phil: I forget. What was that gold standard quote, Amy?
Amy: Calling Bobby Hamilton Jr. a 10-foot ego in a four-foot body. Classic.

OK, how about some predictions for Kansas?

Amy: I think I’m going with Matt Kenseth. Charlotte left him hungry
Phil: It seems so weird to have Kansas this time of year. I was thinking it was a night race until a week ago. I’m going with Harvick for number four.
Mike: Carl Edwards.
Brody: Kansas prediction? Hmm… I gotta say Kenseth as well, guys.
Jeff: I gotta stick with Carl.
Amy: I SO had Charlotte pegged until that unfortunate GWC.
Mike: Not really. Greg Biffle would have won if it were not for the GWC.
Amy: Kasey Kahne had him dead to rights.
Mike: If you say so.
Phil: I think Biffle would have run out without the GWC.
Brody: I just hope to GET a point this week! I don’t want to be the Joe Nemechek of Mirror 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 12 races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 12 12 1 3 7
Mike Neff 11 -1 11 1 3 6
Phil Allaway 11 -1 12 0 4 7
Jeff Meyer 9 -2 12 1 3 6
Tom Bowles 1 -10 1 0 0 1
Summer Dreyer 0 -11 7 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -17 5 0 0 0

About the author

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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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