Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Red Bull Reaction, Spoiled Oil & Nationwide Driver Swaps

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)

Reports have Red Bull pulling out of NASCAR at the end of 2011. With the demise of yet another smaller team, does NASCAR need to worry?

Mike: I don’t know that I’d call Red Bull a smaller team. They had as big of a budget as anyone in the sport. but yes, it is not good to have two more cars not coming to the track every week.
Amy: Yes, but they’ve needed to worry for a few years now and they haven’t started yet, so I can’t see this being any different.
Phil: Since this appears to be a move based on desire and not money, not as much as you would think. However, if investors aren’t found to save the team, it is a big problem.

See also
Bowles-Eye View: "Red" Alert, the Death of NASCAR’s Middle Class

Amy: I agree, Phil. NASCAR is a drop in the bucket to the owners.
Brody: I think Red Bull leaving might be a bit of a bad omen because I don’t see a single competitive team adding a car (save maybe Gibbs) and we could be looking at a great deal more start-and-park cars.
Mike: JGR isn’t adding a car unless they have full sponsorship for it I’ll promise you that.
Brody: If they get Carl Edwards, they might add a fourth car, but that’s pretty iffy.
Jeff: They aren’t getting Edwards.
Amy: They might or they might let Joey Logano loose. That seems to be up for debate.
Mike: That is very iffy. Although Carl’s going to move this time if he does because this is his last chance at a big paycheck.
Amy: Agreed, Mike, though I still don’t see him as a good fit at Gibbs.
Jeff: Uh, right. As if Roush ain’t gonna pay.
Brody: I could see Logano getting left out in the cold. Face it, he’s not lived up to the hype at all.
Amy: Roush will pay, but maybe he’s not offering something. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be rumors.
Mike: Carl is just exploring his options. You can’t blame him for that. He’s the biggest free-agent name of the season.
Jeff: And do you all remember what happens if Carl DOES leave RFR?
Phil: The No. 99 would be open and it would likely be a free-for-all.
Jeff: No, no, no… to me.
Mike: Oh yeah, Jeff leaves Frontstretch.
Amy: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would likely get it. RFR has said they aren’t even talking to other drivers.
Brody: That would open room at the Roush inn for Stenhouse and/or Trevor Bayne, depending on if David Ragan gets booted.
Mike: Any time you have two fewer cars coming to the track it is a big deal when we’re struggling to make a full field. It is great news for Brian Keselowski though.
Amy: I agree, Mike. Yet NASCAR keeps on adding “Official Whatsits” and doesn’t see the need to funnel that money into better use… like racecar sponsorship.
Phil: Makes me wonder how much those Official _____ of NASCAR deals are worth.
Jeff: At any rate, the sun will come up in 2012 and the cars will still go round and round.
Mike: I am curious about them pulling out though. Are they claiming they’re not getting enough exposure?
Brody: When the big teams gobble up the sponsors just for a small sticker on their car when it could easily sponsor a low-to-mid level team, something is clearly wrong with that.
Phil: They’re not really claiming anything. It’s just like they don’t want to be here anymore.
Mike: It is interesting that Jay Frye seems to be running another sponsor out of the sport.
Phil: How is Jay Frye running a sponsor out of the sport? I guess Mateschitz and the Red Bull brass didn’t like his idea?
Mike: All I know is Jay Frye has been with a couple of teams that have had quality sponsors and they’ve ended up leaving while Jay’s padded his bank account.
Amy: I kind of feel bad for Brian Vickers. He built that team and look at the thanks he gets.
Mike: From what I understand Vickers has been talking about leaving anyway. It is a shame if Red Bull leaves just because I like the dynamic they bring to the stands every week. Hopefully they’ll reconsider before the year ends.
Jeff: Red Bull leaving is not a death knell for NASCAR.
Phil: Red Bull doesn’t have much history in the sport. This is only their fifth full year.
Amy: No, Jeff, but it doesn’t help. They’ll be replaced in the field by start-and-parks.
Brody: Red Bull’s departure is definitely going to be felt in NASCAR and poor Vickers is going to be left scurrying for ANYTHING he can get.
Phil: Speaking of S&Ps, both Whitney Motorsports cars are going the distance in Sonoma this weekend.
Amy: Maybe JGR should look at Vickers. they could certainly do worse.

When unapproved oil pans were found on three Joe Gibbs Racing entries on Friday, NASCAR indicated that there could be monetary fines, but will issue no points or other penalties. Did the sanctioning body get it right?

Phil: I don’t think so. It’s consistent with what they did in the 1990s, but they’ve been on points penalties for a while now.
Amy: No, but when has NASCAR EVER been consistent on these types of infraction? They aren’t going to start now.
Mike: I think they did. I don’t really understand what the deal is with the oil pans. I realize they are heavier but I don’t think they’re any different shape or anything so why should they have to submit them?
Amy: They should have held the cars out of practice and qualifying.
Phil: I think it has to do with center of gravity.
Brody: No, because to me, if you have ANY questionable parts, you deserve to be penalized, no questions asked. But it’s typical inconsistency by the “brain trust.”
Mike: What is inconsistent? The oil pans were shaped the same. Is there a rule about how much an oil pan can weigh?
Amy: And absolutely the extra weight adds an advantage, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.
Jeff: Were the cars that much better?
Phil: We don’t know. They got busted before they got on the track.
Jeff: So then who cares?
Amy: If you can add 30 pounds low, you can take it away higher up. That lowers the center of gravity in the car, making it turn better. Absolutely a performance advantage.
Brody: One has to wonder if this had happened to, let’s say, FAS Lane Racing, if NASCAR would have thrown the book at them?
Mike: I’m not saying the weight being lower on the engine isn’t an advantage but the oil pans were the same, just heavier. I don’t see why it is a violation.
Phil: I don’t think FAS Lane Racing would have the money to pull off what Gibbs did with these oil pans.
Amy: Because any oil pan used has to have prior approval by NASCAR, Mike, these did not.
Mike: I guess I just don’t know the ins and outs of parts approvals. I find it hard to believe that every time a team comes up with a lighter part they submit it for approval.
Amy: Had they submitted them ahead of time and been granted that, it would be a non-issue.
Mike: Every oil pan that goes on every car has to be approved?
Phil: Pretty much every part has to be approved, Mike.
Mike: So every single part that goes on every car has to be approved? That is insane.
Amy: Bottom line, any performance advantage should be treated the same, whether that’s a points penalty or loss of practice/qualifying. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s body, spoiler or under the car.
Amy: The oil pan is one that specifically DOES require approval, Mike. All JGR had to do was submit it and ask, but they didn’t.
Mike: Wow, I didn’t realize that. That seems really stupid that every single oil pan going on every engine in the garage has to be approved.
Brody: Exactly, Amy! You can’t slap one team on the wrist and throw the book at another for an identical infraction.
Phil: The rules basically state, “…if you don’t know if it’s legal, ask. If you don’t see it here, assume it’s illegal.”
Amy: The problem is, NASCAR creates the impression that they pick and choose based on teams, not on violations. Not good for credibility, if they had any to begin with. The oil pans weren’t just a little heavier, they were five or six TIMES heavier.
Mike: Yeah, but they were shaped the same and they worked the same.
Amy: But they created an advantage, Mike.
Mike: It is like if they built a brake caliper out of a lighter material, but it was shaped the same and worked the same then they shouldn’t have to have it approved. Did Chad submit his shocks from Dover for approval a few years ago? No, he didn’t because they were just like all of the other ones, they just worked differently. The oil pans were the same, just heavier. I don’t understand why they had to be approved.
Amy: But the rules say they do, so, all teams must abide. JGR didn’t. Therefore, they should have been penalized as the Hendrick cars were for a very similar infraction (body modification that fit NASCAR’s template but wasn’t approved and potentially created an advantage). Bottom line is, NASCAR said they had to be approved. Whether anyone agrees with that is not the question. It is the rule, period, and the team should have been penalized accordingly. They were not.
Brody: Odd how the big teams can do things like this and get a slap on the wrist and a smaller team does it and they get killed on penalties. Things that make you go “Hmmmm…”
Mike: They obviously weren’t really out of the box or they would have hit them with points.
Brody: There’s a line from Animal Farm that comes to mind… “All NASCAR rules should be equal, but some more so than others.”
Mike: I just don’t think it is such a big deal. I think it was really smart and I think NASCAR is wrong for penalizing them at all.
Amy: I said earlier this week, there should be two types of violations: ones that create an advantage and ones that don’t. All infractions within those should receive equal penalties.
Phil: If that’s true, then there would be only one violation. Aren’t they all designed to create an advantage?
Jeff: NASCAR is consistently inconsistent, so why do we act all surprised about it and spend all this time talking about it? Happens every year, sometimes multiple times and what changes?
Mike: I think this is a crock but that’s just me. If the pans were just heavier and nothing else then I don’t think they should get any kind of a fine.
Amy: Bottom line, any infraction that potentially provides an advantage but is found in opening tech should follow the precedent NASCAR set: no practice, no qualifying run.
Phil: If you’re a go-or-go-homer, would that mean you would just withdraw?

FOX this week indicated an interest in moving some of its Sprint Cup races to SPEED Channel in 2012. Is this a good idea and should NASCAR allow the move to happen?

Amy: It’s a terrible idea. The only redeeming quality would be if FOX let SPEED use their own broadcast team, but dollars to doughnuts they wouldn’t.
Phil: No. I talk about this in my critique a little. Some people would lose access to certain races. It wouldn’t affect anyone outside of the U.S.

See also
Talking NASCAR TV: Will SPEED Be Driving Away With Sprint Cup Come 2012?

Mike: I think it is a horrible idea unless SPEED has suddenly found a few billion more viewers. The biggest complaint about the Truck Series is that there are a lot of people who can’t see the races.
Jeff: If they get rid of most of the FOX crew, I’m all for it!
Brody: It could be a sign of declining viewership.
Mike: I’m sure it is in anticipation of SPEED eventually being the NASCAR channel.
Phil: Mike, they’ve been saying that for almost 10 years. Still hasn’t happened yet. The only difference would be that FOX’s own pre-race show might get usurped in favor of NASCAR RaceDay. Would you guys be in favor of that? Or do you not care at all?
Amy: Too many people still don’t have access to SPEED. They would lose viewers who wanted to watch and couldn’t, and on top of losing those who just don’t want to watch would be a huge hit.
Jeff: Hey, if you really are a fan of something on tv that you want to watch, you will find a way to watch it.
Brody: But if they’d just get DW and his obvious Kyle Busch and Dale, Jr.-biased voice out of the booth, I’d be happier.
Amy: Not always that easy, Jeff. And not all fans will decide they want to see it bad enough to drive a half hour to watch.
Mike: I would love to see them do away with pre-race shows all together.
Brody: I see no point in pre-race shows myself. It seems like a waste of time to me.
Phil: We probably don’t need upwards of three hours of pre-race coverage today, but we do need something.
Mike: It can definitely be a pain in the ass to have to go out and find a place to watch a race, and I don’t think the ratings will reflect people who do that. As far as pre-race shows go, I think we need 10 minutes to recap the previous race, the points and anything that happened during the week.
Phil: True, they don’t. Ratings are estimates. True ratings could probably never be gathered because it would be too intrusive.
Amy: Not going to happen, Mike. So if they’re going to have one, might as well make it good
Mike: Well then they need to scrap what they do now and start over
Brody: Or why not just shorten the races a hundred miles given NASCAR fans’ ADD-esque attention spans? Just throwing an idea out there. Don’t see it happening, but one would have to give it some thought.
Jeff: Pre-race shows don’t mean diddly to me. I tune in for the start of the race.
Mike: I think shorter races suck. This weekend’s race was over way too quick.
Amy: No it wasn’t, it was perfect.
Phil: 2:36 for the race length.
Mike: No, it was too freaking quick. Every race should be 500 miles. If you want shorter races, watch the Nationwide Series.
Amy: I like a mix, though, because it forces teams to change up strategy.
Brody: Length-wise, it wasn’t bad at all.
Amy: If every race was 500 miles, there would be no strategy 75% of the time. All the cookie-cutter races would look even more like clones than they do now
Jeff: Or 500 laps, Mike.
Mike: Every race has its own identity and depending on cautions the strategy is fluid.
Brody: Five-hundred miles on a road course might be interesting.
Phil: I disagree with that, Amy. Formula 1 races are uniform length (with the exception of Monaco) and they’re all different.
Amy: F1 races don’t run on virtually identical tracks every week.
Mike: Five-hundred miles at Martinsville would be awesome.

Reed Sorenson lost the points lead to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Saturday (June 18) after being relegated to an “extra” car and crew to accommodate Mark Martin in the No. 32. Should NASCAR make a rule to prevent this or is it just part of the game?

Amy: I can’t see a fair rule to prevent it, But shame on Turner Motorsports and shame on Dollar General for letting it happen.
Phil: I don’t really understand why they needed to put Martin in the No. 32. Why would Dollar General want their team unity broken up?
Mike: It is legit. You drive what you drive. I can’t believe they didn’t have his normal car with different sheetmetal.
Jeff: Yeah Amy, like we need ANOTHER NASCAR rule.
Amy: I can understand the sponsor wanting the added exposure, but it’s spitting in the eye of Reed Sorenson.
Mike: Mark Martin is more famous than Reed Sorenson.
Brody: It probably was part of the package with the Hendrick support “You put in one of our drivers for X amount of races or sponsor goes bye-bye.”
Amy: Read for comprehension, Jeff. I didn’t say they needed another rule.
Phil: That would assume that Hendrick got Turner Motorsports the Dollar General deal, Brody. That deal was already with the team prior to this year.
Brody: To me, it’s a really irritating way to do things and a heck of a way to screw up team chemistry.
Amy: The team does the same thing to Jason Leffler whenever Kasey Kahne wants to play in their sandbox, too. And they did before he signed with Hendrick, so I doubt it’s HMS.
Mike: I don’t see that it is that big of a deal. You race what you can race.
Amy: Just another way for the Cup guys to screw the NNS guys is all.
Phil: Think about Stewart Cooper, crew chief of the No. 30. He’s had no chemistry for years since they keep giving him a new driver almost every week. This week, it’s Ricky Carmichael.
Jeff: I’m with Mike. If you were that good in the first place, you’d have a better ride and wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Brody: For a series that claims they want to focus on Nationwide-only drivers, it just screams hypocrisy.
Amy: Not that big a deal? Perhaps the cut-rate crew was part of the reason he lost the points lead.
Phil: I’d argue his commitment cone violation played more of a role. A crew can only do so much to hurt a driver’s chances. Sorenson screwed himself. Granted, he did get a Lucky Dog later on, but that put him way behind.
Mike: Good point Phil.
Amy: I agree, Phil. Was just saying it’s a crappy thing to do. Completely unsportsmanlike, but hey, every other owner does it, why not Turner?
Brody: That’s sadly the mentality of most every NASCAR owner in the garage these days, Amy.
Mike: Unsportsmanlike? Really? Turner got a chance to put more money in their coffers and you think that is unsportsmanlike?
Amy: The only possible rule NASCAR could make would be to say a driver can only earn points under one number or a car can only earn points with one driver. Which could never work because guys switch teams for legit reasons.
Jeff: Nothing in racing is about honor or commitment anymore. It’s all about the money and has been for a while.
Phil: Everyone needs money today. Apparently, Dollar General pays more per race that Martin’s in the car as compared to Sorenson?
Amy: They could have put Martin in the extra car. They could still have put Dollar General on it but given Reed his own crew.
Mike: Not to mention that team owners are more interested in having money than points.
Brody: It’s a darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation.
Phil: We’re talking about the No. 30 like its some part-time team full of scrubs. That is a full-time team as well, regardless of the fact that something like six different dudes have driven the car this year.
Brody: It’s treated like the weak sister in the Turner organization, however.
Amy: But Sorenson has chemistry with HIS crew and the No. 32 cars are built for him, not some other guy.
Mike: Do you really think they stuck him in a chassis that wasn’t one of the ones they built for him?
Amy: Just a crappy thing to do to a guy who works his ass off every week instead of a few times a year when he feels like it
Jeff: If Sorenson isn’t all riled over it, then no need for us to be.
Brody: If he had a different group of guys working on the No. 30 instead of the No. 32, maybe the No. 30 guys didn’t know quite how to set the car up to Sorenson’s liking.
Phil: We don’t know if Sorenson is riled over it. If he wasn’t allowed to race at all due to this, then he’d be ticked for sure.
Amy: As if he’d be allowed to say anything other than the company line.
Mike: He can say whatever he wants. We live in a free country.
Amy: He can say whatever he wants, but he can also be fired for doing it. Not a chance most would take.

How about some predictions for Sonoma?

Amy: I’m going to say Marcos Ambrose doesn’t make any mistakes this time and takes one for the King.
Brody: I’m going out on a limb and saying Paul Menard. That first win’s coming soon!
Jeff: That’s a small limb, brother!
Phil: I’m going to go with Kahne. He’ll overcome the team issues and claim win number two at Sears Point.
Mike: Actually, it isn’t that small. Menard has won on a road course before.
Phil: Yea, a Re/Max Challenge race at Road America.
Mike: Ok, I’m going to take Juan Pablo Montoya since Amy grabbed Ambrose.
Brody: His background was in road-course racing, I believe.
Jeff: I’ll take Carl for the win, Alex!

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Mike Neff 17 13 1 5 8
Phil Allaway 15 -2 15 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 12 -5 15 1 3 8
Jeff Meyer 10 -7 15 1 4 7
Summer Dreyer 3 -14 8 0 2 2
Tom Bowles 1 -16 1 0 0 1
Brody Jones -1 -18 3 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -23 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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