Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Vickers vs. Stewart, Daytona Rivalries & Kurt Busch as Champion?

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)
Summer Dreyer (Tuesdays/Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From the Heartland)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)

The Toyota/Save Mart 350 saw aggressive driving and payback between Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers. Did NASCAR finally make the right call by letting them “have at it” or should they have stepped in?

Jeff: They worked it out amongst themselves so let it be.
Beth: I don’t have a problem with NASCAR’s no call on this one. They’ve promised boys have at it and that’s exactly what this was.
Mike: Tony Stewart wasn’t mad so how can anyone else be mad. He said he knew it was coming and he was cool with it so it is all good. I didn’t really think Brian Vickers was blocking in the shot they gave of the initial incident. That doesn’t let you know what he was doing before that.
Summer: They absolutely did the right thing. I really got a kick out of Stewart’s “I don’t race people like that” comment. Since when exactly?
Mike: I don’t know that Tony is going to dump someone who doesn’t deserve it, but I also know Brian isn’t going to just take it either.
Jeff: I like his comment that he would have even punted Ryan Newman it it had been him blocking.
Mike: I’m sure he would. But I’m sure Ryan would dump him just like Vickers did too.
Phil: That guy would punt his own grandma to win.
Mike: He’d punt his own grandma if she was a lap down and wouldn’t get out of the way.
Summer: It looked like an ARCA race out there, though I’m definitely not complaining. Especially in those last 10 laps, I’m shocked the race ended under green.
Mike: I was very glad they didn’t throw the yellows like they have in the past.
Phil: I agree. They’re caution-happy at times. Not this weekend, though. We’ll see if this holds when they go to Watkins Glen.

See also
Full Throttle: Using Yellows the Right Way, NASCAR Officials Take Big Step at Infineon

Summer: I was too Mike. For some reason they were a lot more hesitant to throw a full-course yellow. Which was a good thing. It kept the action going.
Mike: I’ve been screaming for years that they don’t know how to use local cautions. They finally got it right this weekend.
Jeff: Everyone has, Mike.
Phil: I still wish they used actual local yellows instead of the blue flags. It’s weird.
Jeff: Ironically, it’s only after ‘everyone’ seems to give up on NASCAR that they finally see the light and do it right. The real idiot on the track was Juan Pablo Montoya.
Summer: And Jeff, I agree. Juan was driving like a bat outta hell.
Phil: He was just plain angry. Just ridiculous at times. He wants to win, but he’ll destroy his car trying to do it.
Summer: Both Stewart and Montoya could have won that race, but they were too busy moving everyone out of the way and damaging their own cars to do it.
Mike: I thought it was weird that Montoya finished 22nd and they interviewed him after the race.
Beth: I noticed that too, Mike. Seems to me they could have talked to someone else in the top 10 rather than Montoya.
Phil: Agreed, Beth. I mentioned that in the critique. They talked to the top three and a bunch of victims of wrecks. The rest were interviewed on the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-post-race show.
Jeff: Hey, they were giving him a chance to explain himself – or make a fool of himself. I would have interviewed him too.
Summer: I’m glad they interviewed him. I think the fans of the drivers JPM wrecked deserved to hear what the hell he was thinking.
Beth: NASCAR made the right call to stay out of this one. There were no other drivers in the area at the time and neither driver tried to sugar coat the incident.
Summer: Yes NASCAR absolutely made the right call in staying out of it. In fact, NASCAR did a lot of things right this weekend. Hopefully they continue with that trend.
Phil: I was surprised that they stayed out, but I’m fine with it. They’ll probably be fine in Daytona.
Beth: It was a simple case of “Boys Have At It” that NASCAR actually let them settle on their own. And from my point of view, it looks like it’s settled.
Jeff: All is good. They are both cool with it.

Kurt Busch has come on strong the last few weeks with three consecutive poles and a dominant victory at Infineon. But will the No. 22 team be a threat for the championship come Chase time or will they self-destruct once again?

Jeff: Kurt Busch is a past champion, even if you don’t like him.
Summer: It’s hard to say. There is still such a long way to go, and they have more than enough opportunity to screw it up.
Phil: Well, I don’t think we’ll see anymore days like Sunday (June 26) from Kurt for the rest of the season, but I think that the team can continue running well.
Beth: Four races does not make a season, but that said Kurt Busch and the No. 22 team have definitely turned their season around.
Mike: It is hard to say. The team is obviously on a roll right now. I don’t see why they can’t keep doing it.
Summer: Heck, Beth, even Brad Keselowski has turned it around to a point.
Beth: Penske made some major changes after Kurt’s tirade on the radio a few weeks back and that’s when the performance turned around.
Jeff: Kurt’s little rant a few weeks ago really seems to have lit a fire under the whole organization’s ass.
Beth: I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win at least once more before the Chase starts, but I’m not sold that he’ll be able to pull it all together when the pressure is on.
Summer: Though there were better ways to handle that situation, albeit less entertaining.
Mike: Very true Beth. He may have looked like an ass but it definitely made things better for the whole organization.
Jeff: Perhaps that was his last option, Summer – to take it public.
Beth: The tirade was simply a driver losing his patience. Yeah there were much better ways to handle it, but that’s part of Kurt’s personality. When he isn’t running well, you definitely hear it on the radio.
Mike: I kind of get the feeling that Kurt felt like that was his last option.
Summer: Well whatever works, I guess.
Beth: Maybe it was, Mike. It came after a stretch of seven races with only one top-10 finish and he was probably at his wit’s end about how the team was performing after such a strong start in Speedweeks.
Mike: I agree Beth. And I feel like he was complaining at the shop and it wasn’t working. They made the changes after that, reorganized things and have been doing well since.
Summer: As far as Kurt contending for the championship though, I’m not quite convinced of that just yet.
Mike: He can certainly contend. Will he? We’ll have to wait and see. And he’s been running better thanks to Penske actually sending engineers to the track.
Beth: Kurt Busch and Steve Addington have had chemistry pretty much since they started together last season. Whether they can keep that going through the final 10 races of the season remains to be seen.
Phil: That’s always a biggie. Used to hurt AJ Foyt’s team in the IndyCar Series that he never brought them to the track.
Beth: A dominant win doesn’t necessarily mean a strong run at the championship, but over the past several weeks, the No. 22 team has been headed the right direction.
Mike: Kurt’s certainly got a chance to contend for second this year. They’ve obviously been running much better the last month.
Phil: Well, Kurt Busch finally got over his bad luck during road-course races and parlayed his road-course speed into a victory. It was going to happen sooner or later.
Beth: The real key to being around come Homestead is keeping Kurt’s temper in check even when he’s struggling with the handling.
Jeff: Any past champion running well is a threat.
Beth: If Addington can manage to keep him calm even when things aren’t going their way, there’s a chance for Busch.

With multiple drivers involved in altercations at Sonoma – Vickers and Stewart, Keselowski and Montoya, Kasey Kahne vs. Montoya – there’s plenty of room for that to spill over at Daytona. Which of the three pairs is most likely to take out their frustration or is there another rivalry that’ll play out under the lights Saturday night?

Jeff: Montoya vs everyone else.
Mike: You don’t take people out on a plate track. Let’s wait for a little while for that one.
Summer: Keselowski and Montoya seem to be two that aren’t shy about retaliating.
Phil: I’d argue none of them. Too dangerous. They’ll settle things in New Hampshire.
Beth: I’m actually more interested in whether there’ll be any friction between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. They’ve been off probation a couple races now and have managed to behave themselves… for the most part.
Summer: I’m still watching Harvick and Busch too. Harvick has made it very clear time and again that this is certainly not over. Though at this point it’s starting to feel more like talk instead of actual action. But I’m waiting patiently.
Phil: There was apparently a handshake between Harvick and Kyle Busch after Sunday’s race. Harvick described it as surreal.
Summer: Yeah well he also said it wasn’t over.
Mike: They didn’t get too close to each other this weekend.
Beth: Though I have to agree that Montoya and Keselowski are most likely to be the ones doing the retaliating. But that said, I also agree it’s way too dangerous for that at Daytona.
Jeff: Since when did that ever stop anyone?
Summer: And since when does “dangerous” stop Montoya? Like his actions weren’t already death defying as it were in Sonoma.
Phil: If anything happens to Keselowski, he’ll be on the receiving end. However, I think Kasey Kahne would be most likely to do something here. I put it at 10% probability, though.
Beth: I’ve noticed some frustration coming out of Kahne lately. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fighting pretty hard to get to victory lane. Whether he’ll actually be involved in anything retaliatory against Montoya remains to be seen, but I’ll bet he won’t give Montoya as much room as others on the track.
Phil: Lately? He’s been frustrated for most of the last two years. It’s starting to run together for me.
Jeff: He may or may not. Whats he got to lose? He’s more focused on next year already. Not like getting into trouble will nix his deal at Hendrick.
Beth: I know he wants to win pretty bad in that No. 4 though, even if he is focused on next year already.
Mike: I just don’t think anyone is going to try and pay someone back at Daytona. It is just not done.
Beth: And like we said in the first question, the Vickers/Stewart thing is over. I don’t expect anything more out of them unless something else happens.
Summer: I’m kind of like everyone else. I really don’t expect anything to happen.
Phil: We won’t see much retribution due to how important partners will be this weekend.
Summer: No retaliations this weekend. Just some hard racing.
Jeff: I forgot all about the tandem thing. Gag!
Mike: It will be a great race.
Summer: I agree.

When the caution flew on the third green-white-checkered attempt during Saturday’s Nationwide race at Road America, Ron Fellows was the first driver to take the checkers, but after reviewing the video, NASCAR came to the conclusion that Fellows passed Reed Sorenson after the caution flew and awarded the win to Sorenson. Did the sanctioning body make the right call?

Phil: Yea, they did. Reed Sorenson was slowing down for the yellow when Ron Fellows blasted by him.
Summer: Yeah, they made the right call.
Jeff: I’ve never known NASCAR to make the wrong call.
Phil: Dale Earnhardt did something similar to Mark Martin at Watkins Glen in 1993, but you could race to the yellow back then.
Summer: Man nobody even knew who won AFTER the checkers. It was pretty incredible.
Phil: The only way that Fellows could have won is if NASCAR determined that Sorenson had slowed down too much when Justin Allgaier ran out of fuel.
Phil: NASCAR gave the confirmation of Sorenson’s win at the end of the cool-down lap. Of course, the cool-down lap took like four minutes. Who knows what would have happened with the broadcast if they had to watch the replays for another 10 minutes? Maybe no interviews at all.
Beth: No question that NASCAR made the right call even though they originally gave Fellows the lead under the white flag. I don’t know what Fellows was thinking flying by Sorenson when the yellow was clearly flying.
Phil: He might have known that he was in the wrong, so he tried to make Sorenson guilty of another offense.
Beth: And where was his spotter during all of it since Fellows kept racing around the track well after the caution already flew? Looks to me like someone dropped the ball there, but it wasn’t NASCAR.
Jeff: The radio went out and Fellows is colorblind.
Summer: ESPN showed an in-car shot that showed he never lifted. That was enough for me to side with NASCAR. Even if Sorenson ran out of gas, though, there was no reason for him to keep running at those speeds.
Beth: Exactly, Summer.
Phil: True, Summer. It would have been pointless, since no one could pass him anyway.
Jeff: Accelerator stuck, brakes didn’t work.
Summer: What are you Jeff? His lawyer?
Jeff: I make a good one.
Mike: Nothing worse than calls from the tower settling races but they got it right this time because the caution was out.
Summer: They made the right call. There is no doubt in my mind. Jeff, your client has been found guilty.

OK, how about some predictions for Daytona?

Beth: I’m going with Kurt Busch to keep the momentum going and finally get that points-paying plate win.
Summer: I’ll go with Matt Kenseth.
Mike: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff: Carl Edwards.
Phil: Well, it’s up in the air. I’ll take David Gilliland. If he avoids the wrecks, his FR9 should keep him up front for the finish.
Jeff: Wow, that’s out in left field.
Beth: Agreed, Jeff. I didn’t see that one coming.
Phil: Yes, it is. But he finished third in February.
Mike: Yeah, which means he’ll finish third.
Phil: Don’t sleep on Front Row. OK, sleep on the hybrid team. I can’t see them doing much.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Mike Neff 16 14 1 5 8
Phil Allaway 15 -1 16 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 15 -1 16 1 4 9
Jeff Meyer 13 -3 16 1 5 8
Summer Dreyer 3 -13 8 0 2 2
Tom Bowles 1 -15 1 0 0 1
Brody Jones -1 -17 4 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -22 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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