Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: NASCAR’s Consistency, Some Fight & Fuel-Mileage Racing… Again

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)
Summer Dreyer (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Brad Keselowski’s win Sunday moved him into 21st in driver points and potentially into position to make the Chase as a wildcard should he be able to move into the top 20 by Richmond. Is Keselowski consistent enough to move into contention – and will one win cut it for a wildcard spot in September?

Phil: At this point, who knows if one will be enough. He doesn’t think so. I think getting into the top 20 won’t be too difficult. He’s only seven points out right now. Brad Keselowski has been running a little better as of late. He needs to keep up the momentum.
Amy: I think he can get into the top 20. I don’t think one win will do it, though.
Summer His last four finishes show a little bit of an improvement and it should be enough to get him in the top 20.
Brody: Short term, the signs are there. Paul Wolfe and Keselowski have some definite chemistry there. But the long-term prospects aren’t so crystal clear. In fact, he’s kind of borderline at this point to even crack the top 20. Is he running better? Yes. Will it be enough to make the top 20? I’m not that sold yet on it.
Summer Anyway, a few more fuel-mileage races and Keselowski can get back in for sure. It worked at Darlington! And the way things are going, it looks like fuel-mileage races are the norm rather than the exception.
Jeff: No doubt – the norm on mile-and-a-half tracks this year anyway.
Summer We saw the way Penske Racing ran on Sunday (June 5) though… and I heard a lot of changes were made because of Kurt Busch‘s mouthing off over the radio. I can’t say that sits well with me, but I guess it worked.

See also
Emotion Equals Power -There's Something to Be Said for Childress's Outburst at Kansas

Amy: I agree, Summer. I don’t condone Kurt’s action, but the end result was improvement. But I think the change in engineering at Penske looks like a positive so far.
Jeff: Why not Amy? The squeaky wheel gets the grease! Obviously there was something wrong and now it is fixed or at least getting better.
Phil: For unity purposes, Kurt would have been better off taking his concerns behind closed doors. However, it would have created the same result.
Jeff: They pay Busch millions to be a top-notch driver, if he’s not getting top-notch equipment or service then he SHOULD bitch!
Summer I agree. There are definitely better ways to handle it than Kurt did, but sometimes public ridicule can be the swift kick in the ass needed to bring about results.
Jeff: But one win won’t get you in the Chase this year.
Brody: It’s going to take two wins. Plus guys like Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin have yet to win, so one definitely won’t cut the mustard. And I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of fuel-mileage races this year, despite the fact they’re, in my estimation, contrived endings to races.
Amy: Agreed. I think Hamlin can race in on points, and if he can do that, one win MIGHT squeeze a wildcard in, with a two-race winner in the other slot. If that happens, Keselowski’s probably out of luck. And I don’t see him passing Jeff Gordon in points even if Gordon doesn’t win again.
Phil: At this point, there’s no guarantee that any particular driver is absolutely going to win. I can’t foresee Hamlin being 11th in points after Richmond, though.
Summer I think Hamlin will start to steadily improve as we get closer to the Chase, though to be honest, originally I didn’t forsee making the Chase to even be an issue for Hamlin.
Brody: Hamlin’s getting better, but his only hope is getting in on wins. He’s not going to make the top 12 in points, in all likelihood. At least not without a win or two along the way. He MIGHT get 12th, but I can’t foresee any higher than that in the first 26 races.
Phil: Really, Brody? I don’t know about that.
Amy: Hamlin’s 11th now and hotter than Ryan Newman. In fact, Hamlin’s only one point out of the top 10 now and Newman has been mediocre at best.
Summer I disagree, Brody. Regardless of whatever has kept Hamlin from running like he was in 2010, there’s no reason to think they can’t make the Chase. They aren’t THAT bad.
Brody: Question is, have the JGR guys fully fixed those engine woes?
Amy: No reason to think otherwise. They haven’t had trouble lately.
Jeff: I’ll give you an answer after Richmond!
Summer I think Keselowski can get into the top 20, no problem, but I’m not convinced this one win will be enough. As you guys have said, there are a lot of good drivers without a win this year.
Amy: I think the wildcard spots will go to at least one multi-race winner and maybe one guy with a single win. But I think there will be guys higher in points than Keselowski to take the spots.
Phil: Keselowski can easily get into the top 20. Heck, he can do it Sunday in Pocono. The Chase might be a tough one though, though.
Jeff: In other words, he’s not in position for the Lucky Dog of the Chase.

Attendance was down an estimated 20% at Kansas Speedway after a second race was added. Was the second date too much for the track and will Kansas eventually suffer the same fate as Fontana, or will the casino opening next year be enough to boost attendance to a level that justifies two races?

Summer I don’t understand that statistic. The grandstands were darn near full from my point of view. They weren’t sold out but it looked pretty close. And no, the casino won’t really help matters.
Amy: I hope Kansas goes the way of Fontana with a single race. I think attendance at two races will drop off. The question is, at what point does the drop outweigh operating costs for two weekends?
Jeff: That casino will NOT boost attendance.
Phil: I don’t think the casino’s going to affect attendance at all. Remember, it was 95 degrees last weekend. Kyle Petty was stating that many fans were going underneath the stands to get in the shade during the race yesterday.
Brody: I don’t see the casino boosting attendance much, if at all. Maybe if Kansas made the first race a night race, it might boost attendance a bit.
Jeff: That casino is only there to get NASCAR as much money as they can BECAUSE attendance will always suck at Kansas.
Amy: I totally agree that it should have been a night race.
Phil: You were there, Summer. What was the weather like?
Summer Well the heat was BRUTAL, but I’ve heard they are trying to get a night race. There was no need to wear makeup. It was all gone by the end of the day. The lights are there, so there is no reason they shouldn’t.
Amy: Exactly. The track has lights, should be a no-brainer.
Phil: I actually thought when they announced the second date that it would be at night. Obviously, I was wrong.
Brody: Somebody didn’t think the idea of a Kansas race in early June during the day all the way through.
Summer Well between June and October, at the very least the June date should be at night. Brody, I live in Kansas and I thought the idea was completely asinine when I first heard it.
Phil: I’d imagine October isn’t that bad during the day.
Jeff: Of the two, yes, I agree. June at night.
Amy: But I don’t see the need for two races at Kansas at all. Another cookie-cutter track, another cookie-cutter race.
Summer They don’t need it, but if fans continue to show up, they’ll continue to have two dates. But I’ve been to the October races and they can get pretty hot too.
Brody: Had it been a night race, attendance might have hit sell-out levels. That said, what exactly has Kansas done to justify a second date?
Amy: They built a CASINO, silly! But will fans continue to show up with two races to choose from? Or will they pick one (probably one that won’t end with them dead of heat stroke) and call it good
Phil: Who cares about a casino? That’s probably a really weird place to build one anyway. I think the October races have basically been sell-outs since the track opened.
Brody: In this economy, especially if the ticket prices are high, they’re gonna pick just one. It’s already happening at Bristol, though that’s more of a ticket price and lodging issue.
Phil: Apparently, the gouging is actually getting worse around Bristol. Asheville’s jacking up the prices on hotel rooms for Bristol races now.
Amy: Yeah, because a bunch of people had to spout off about how great it was to stay there. Way to go.
Summer I’m going to wait to pass official judgment until the October race and see if the same amount of people are there, but ultimately I was impressed at the amount of people who showed up. Especially considering the truck race had so few people.
Phil: Truck attendance didn’t look too bad. However, I’m not sure what they were expecting.
Jeff: As has been pointed out before, all this talk about lack of attendance is asinine! The places are built to hold 100k-plus so they only get 80k… they are still far and away more than most other sports. NASCAR is still making a profit, just not as much of one as they’d like. This country is run on greed pure and simple.
Summer I agree Jeff and I’ve tried to make that point before. There are still a lot of people showing up to the track.
Amy: That’s true, Jeff, but 20% is a big drop.
Brody: True, but seeing empty sections on TV (which has happened a few times this year), has to be disconcerting to TV and NASCAR execs.
Phil: The race was incredibly hot on Sunday. People were apparently dropping in the stands.
Summer I also agree that Kansas didn’t NEED two dates, but if both dates have the numbers that they did last weekend, I would imagine they would keep them. Eventually fans will start choosing between the two, but right now I’m thinking the track was rather pleased.
Brody: The attendance at Kansas was not abysmal, but the fact it didn’t sell out can’t help the track’s publicity.

There were complaints from trace fans after both Charlotte and Kansas came down to fuel mileage, but unless there are wrecks, the alternative is the debris caution to bunch up the field and give the opportunity to pit for fuel within a certain window. Both draw irate complaints… but which is really the lesser of two evils?

Summer Fuel-mileage races. Strategy coupled with driving ability. It’s very interesting to watch.
Amy: Mileage racing is part of the game. I have never understood the complaints. At least it’s not contrived, like debris cautions are. I find fuel races exciting, personally… the team with the best strategy wins. Isn’t that what racing is about?
Phil: I’m fine with fuel mileage. There were three debris cautions Sunday. I only saw debris once. Any idea on the other two yellows?
Brody: The lesser of two evils is fuel-mileage racing when you put it that way. Manufactured debris cautions can make you pull your hair out.
Summer No, it’s not contrived and I’ve never understood that argument. NASCAR doesn’t MAKE the teams run out of gas, that’s just how it plays out. And most of the time you have no clue who will end up winning, which is typically what people seem to like.
Phil: Yes, but people get angry about it because drivers aren’t battling each other on the track.
Jeff: Sure they are, Phil. They are betting they won’t run out and their competitor will.
Brody: Exactly, Phil! It bores your average fan and fuel-mileage racing is fine on occasion, but when it becomes the norm, there will be backlash, namely because NASCAR’s fanbase has to complain about something.
Summer Well yeah but if a driver dominates and wins a race by several seconds, they’ll bitch about that too. And if NASCAR calls a debris caution so that DOESN’T happen then all hell breaks loose. There is seriously no way for NASCAR to win here.
Amy: NASCAR can’t make the teams not wreck. That just happens sometimes, and it becomes a different strategy at play. Nothing wrong with that
Summer Well yeah it can be frustrating to watch drivers run half-throttle around the track, but you still have the “What’s going to happen next?” effect. But fans get mad about everything so that’s kind of irrelevant.
Amy: I don’t get what fans want sometimes. They hate fuel-mileage racing but also hate fake cautions. Sometimes it’s going to come down to one or the other. They “don’t watch for the wrecks” but complain when there are none that it’s BORING. They don’t like a handful of cars on the lead lap but long for the “good old days” when sometimes there were only one or two.
Brody: The more I think about the question, the more I see your point. Fuel mileage, while not flashy, is just a part of NASCAR.
Summer I swear, sometimes I think fans sit in front of their TVs and specifically seek out something to complain about. Because otherwise it doesn’t make sense.
Jeff: Fans need to realize the fuel mileage IS a part of racing and be done with it
Brody: They’re lying if they say they don’t watch for the wrecks. And the 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks are just tailor-made for fuel-mileage racing.
Phil: I’m pretty sure that some of them do, Summer.
Summer I’m waiting for the “I’m sick and tired of drivers winning by only taking two tires! That’s not REAL racing!” That’s about the only complaint I haven’t heard yet, but maybe I missed that memo somewhere.
Jeff: NASCAR will solve that by saying you have to take four when pitting under so many laps to go, Summer.
Phil: Now that would be a contrived rule, Jeff. Talk about taking the decision out of the team’s hands.
Amy: I think mileage racing is exciting as hell. Will he get there or won’t he? Can he coast? Who’s got enough? Holy moly, an underdog might win.
Phil: That was more or less the norm prior to about 1992. Teams couldn’t change four tires fast enough to negate the time penalty.
Brody: There’s some NASCAR fans that would complain if they won free tickets for the entire season because of the price of gas.
Summer And the alternative to cookie-cutter tracks is usually watching one driver dominate, with maybe a couple of other possible contenders that can’t win without a late-race caution. Occasionally you’ll have an all around competitive race, but normally you have to pick one.
Amy: True. The actual solution to all of these issues is race more at short tracks or bigger tracks like Darlington.
Summer I don’t think anyone would object to that – not that fuel mileage races would never happen there either.
Phil: Or, make it more affordable for short tracks to actually host events.
Amy: They wouldn’t never happen, Summer, but it would be a huge rarity because there would be cautions. Hell, race Martinsville four times a year.
Summer “Oh no!! There have been a ton of cautions today! NASCAR sucks!!!” –storms off–
Brody: Ideally, that would be the solution on paper, Amy, but don’t forget Richmond was fuel mileage too! But that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Phil: The Nationwide Series used to race at Hickory something like five times a year. Then, there was that race that was controversially canceled due to rain in 1986 and never rescheduled.
Jeff: Fuel mileage happens.
Amy: So does crap. Mileage racing is more exciting than crap.
Summer Well I think the main point made here was that fans bitch a lot, but overall, fuel mileage is a part of racing and is typically rather exciting and unpredictable. It always will be.
Brody: I don’t have to like fuel-mileage racing, but I do accept it as part of NASCAR.
Amy: Anything’s better than a contrived debris caution with 30 to go where everyone pits and they all line up nice and pretty.
Jeff: Amen, Amy.

Following the CWTS race at Kansas, an altercation took place in the garage between owner Richard Childress and driver Kyle Busch in which NASCAR assessed the blame solely to Childress and cleared Busch. Two questions here: did NASCAR handle the situation correctly, and does probation even mean anything?

Jeff: No and No. NASCAR could have stayed out of it altogether. Let the boys settle it amongst themselves.
Amy: No, they didn’t, and no it doesn’t. Did Childress deserve punishment? Yes. There is a specific “no fighting” rule which he clearly violated.

See also
Full Throttle: NASCAR Owners Should Know Better Than Drivers

Summer They could have handled it better, and has probation ever actually meant anything?
Phil: Probation apparently means that they watch you more closely.
Brody: No and no. To me, probation in NASCAR is like a granny wagging her finger at a toddler for breaking a vase and telling them “Don’t do it again!”
Jeff: Like fuel mileage, fighting has always been a part of racing too. I find it totally ironic and hilarious that both Busch brothers have been put in their place by ‘old men’ of the sport. It could be the best thing that ever happened to Kyle.
Amy: But no way was Kyle Busch totally innocent. There was no call for rubbing Joey Coulter‘s car after the checkers.
Phil: It is true that a rival car owner going after a driver is all but unprecedented in the highest levels of NASCAR. I’m not really sure what would be the proper call here. Most everyone thought that Childress would have gotten suspended, but that didn’t happen.
Summer Kyle is an owner, so there is not bit of leeway.
Brody: Kyle should have been disciplined twice in the last two weeks. Once for him going 128 in a 45 and the other for his post-race stunt on Coulter.
Amy: Hitting another car after the checkers was the reason Busch is on probation in the first place.
Phil: That was on pit road. NASCAR makes a distinction between doing it on the track and on pit road. Based on what NASCAR said after the Darlington incident, there was no way he was going to be penalized for bumping Coulter like he did.
Amy: Speaking of the speeding ticket, I heard an interesting tidbit. Apparently that wasn’t the first time he was stopped that day in that car. The first time was doing like 55 in a 25 and he was let off.
Jeff: But as pointed out the fight was between two owners
Phil: 55 in a 25? Never got a speeding ticket before, but that would be enough to get a “normie” arrested.
Amy: Didn’t even get an official warning, Phil. If he had and got stopped again, it would have been on record.
Phil: That dude needed to take the LF-A to a closed course. Then, none of this stupidity would have happened.
Summer: OK, so you’re allowed to have at it on the track, but not on pit road. Does this mean the garage area is off limits too?
Amy: I wonder if Kevin Harvick had done it if the ruling would be the same? And the wrong part is, I shouldn’t have to wonder.
Summer In that case, maybe Richard should have dragged Kyle’s ass to the start/finish line and had at it then.
Phil: If the cars are involved, right, Summer. I don’t know about fists of fury, though. I think the fans would have been a little confused about seeing that, but they would have still cheered.
Brody: I think they should have just cut the baby in half, so to speak, and punished both instead of throwing the book just at Childress. It sends a very mixed message.
Amy: When is someone going to tell Busch “no?” His parents faked a birth certificate so he could race at 15, NASCAR lets him run over anything and anybody, and he walks away with his license for something Mr. Average Joe would have been arrested and had his license revoked for.
Jeff: Time will tell if this lesson will do the younger Busch any good, like it seemed to do Kurt when Spencer punched him
Summer Right, because Kurt never runs his mouth nowadays. :-)
Jeff: Kurt mellowed a ton after that, Summer.
Summer I’m sure he did. But I had to be a smartass about it. Couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Brody: At this rate, it’ll take him burning down Mike Helton’s house and pouring sugar down Brian France’s gas tank for anyone to say no to him.
Amy: NASCAR would find an excuse and put him on probation and send him to “anger management.”
Amy: Bottom line, NASCAR pretty much lets Busch do whatever he wants and I’m not sure anyone else would get that luxury extended to them. That said, Childress absolutely did the wrong thing, but I can see where he was coming from. NASCAR lets Busch tear up his stuff whenever he wants, so he was going to do something about it.
Phil: I’m pretty sure that “preferential treatment” would end if he did something truly bad, like failing a drug test.
Summer I don’t understand it either. It’s not as if NASCAR and Kyle have the best relationship. Texas, anyone?
Brody: No doubt Childress was in the wrong, but for basically beating the crap out of Kyle, he’s now somewhat of a hero to some NASCAR fans.
Phil: Childress got approximately three good shots on Busch. That’s far from a beatdown.

OK how about some predictions for Pocono?

Amy: I’m going to go with Hamlin.
Brody: I’m gonna say Tony Stewart in a fuel-mileage race.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Summer Jimmie Johnson is due.
Phil: I’ll go with Biffle.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Mike Neff 14 12 1 4 7
Amy Henderson 13 -1 13 1 3 8
Jeff Meyer 12 -2 13 1 4 7
Phil Allaway 11 -3 14 0 4 7
Tom Bowles 1 -13 1 0 0 1
Brody Jones 1 -13 1 0 0 1
Summer Dreyer 0 -14 7 0 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -20 5 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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