Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Turnaround at Stewart-Haas & Harvick’s Warning Heeded?

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 & Full Throttle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Was Sunday’s 1-2 finish at New Hampshire the beginning of a turnaround for Stewart-Haas Racing, and will finishes like Sunday’s save Tony Stewart’s Chase hopes even without a win?

Amy: This is the time of year Tony Stewart always gets hot.
Phil: True, it is. Stewart has had a lot of success at Loudon in the past. However, he’s been burned out of wins at least twice there because of fuel mileage in the past.
Summer: I think it COULD be, but one race does not a season make… unless it’s the Daytona 500.
Mike: Well, obviously if Tony can get on a typical summertime roll he can most definitely make the Chase, but it is still helpful to put a win on the board. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Stewart and Jeff Gordon battle it to the wire at Indy in a little over a week.
Amy: A month ago, I really thought a wildcard would take two wins to get. Now I think Stewart might be safe even without a win.
Mike: I don’t think so Amy. I really think Brad Keselowski is going to be in the top 20 by the time Richmond gets here. Penske is getting their act together and Kurt Busch is going to bring him along to the top 20 I think.
Amy: The No. 2 lost some ground at Loudon. They need to be super consistent for seven weeks to get there, something they haven’t quite yet done.
Mike: With this new points system there are still wilder swings than there ever were before. I think you could have three good weeks and move up 10 spots.
Phil: Keselowski is 25 points out in 23rd right now. With a wildcard in Watkins Glen still to come, its a toss-up on whether he could even make up the points at all. Without the other guy having issues, the best you can hope to do is make up maybe eight points a week.
Summer: Yeah but what’s making this tougher is the fact that those fighting to get in are having to rely on some bad luck from those already there. So yes, point swings like that are definitely possible, but only if the other driver(s) have some trouble.
Mike: You’ve got Watkins Glen and Bristol. Both of those races can ruin someone’s day without any input from them.
Phil: True. There is far less of chance of beaching yourself at the Glen now. But, there are still 30 or so drivers on the lead lap at the end of the race.
Summer: Well, technically that can happen anywhere. One puff of smoke from the motor and you’re done for the day.
Mike: It may be 25 points to 20th but it is 40 to 16th. He may not beat the 20th-place person but he very well might be 19th or 18th.
Amy: But I do think Stewart will have a win by Richmond. I think he’ll be a threat at Indy and Watkins Glen for sure.
Mike: I do too Amy. He’s in his stretch of the season where good things always seem to happen for him. Even if he’s been a little slow getting going this summer.
Phil: Stewart’s got five wins at Watkins Glen. Pretty much, it’s been him and Juan Pablo Montoya, along with Marcos Ambrose as the class of the field for the past few years.
Mike: Very true Phil. It would be fun to see someone totally unexpected win there this year.
Amy: Exactly. I think he’ll be fine when all is said and done. Actually, the way the trend is going, it will be Junior in danger of missing the Chase, not Stewart.
Summer: I was thinking the same thing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has fallen WAY off recently.
Mike: He’s just been having some crappy luck. This weekend was the first in a while where they weren’t good and they made a decent finish out of it.
Summer: I think Stewart is just being his normal late bloomer self and the win should secure Ryan Newman a Chase spot.

The No. 48 team was clearly frustrated with the work of their pit crew on Sunday after enduring a missing lug nut in the second half. Changes may be needed to save the team’s season, but does finding a new pit crew with just seven races before the Chase make sense?

Mike: It is a curious situation. They were a very solid pit crew for years and then all of a sudden started struggling last year. Now this year isn’t any better. But with that being said, it makes more sense to swap the pit crew now than in the middle of the Chase.
Summer: Are they wanting to change the ENTIRE pit crew? Not just a few positions? If the pit crew swap in the middle of a race in the middle of the Chase worked for them last season, it can certainly work for them before it even starts.
Phil: They haven’t had a set pit crew all year. They can just put some noobs in for Indy.

See also
The Yellow Stripe: Pit Crew Struggles Nothing New for Jimmie Johnson & No. 48 Team

Amy: I think the No. 48 is in a catch-22. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. On paper the No. 48’s finish yesterday looked very strong. In reality it was a disaster. Johnson is a very strong driver. He’s able to compensate for screw-ups.
Summer: He shouldn’t have to though Phil.
Mike: I don’t know that I’d call it a disaster but it wasn’t one of their strongest efforts.
Amy: When the crew chief comes on the radio after the race and says “This pit crew f&#$ing sucks,” there is something bad wrong.
Summer: Wow. I bet that boosts team morale.
Mike: Sometimes it can Summer, sometimes it backfires. Chad is pretty good at motivating people. Everyone screws up once in a while. I only saw the one bad pit stop and I think the fuel strategy hurt them as much as the pit crew dropping a lug nut.
Amy: The bad stop cost them the win Sunday (July 17). As far as they had to come back as a result, if they had started where they were and gained that much, they’d have run away with it. This is the third race they lost because of the pit crew.
Mike: The fuel strategy very well cost them the win too. I don’t know why they’re struggling so much this year. Probably because every week they think they can lose their jobs. I don’t agree with the weekly try out idea.
Amy: You can’t win races if you have to spend time after every pit stop making up the positions you lost before you can try to gain.
Phil: That would assume that Johnson would have never spun out. Not sure I can state that for sure.
Amy: I don’t know, Phil. That bad stop put him back there with Montoya. Most stops, they lose at least one spot this year. Worst case, they should be maintaining most of the time.
Mike: They don’t have to make up after every pit stop. They had one bad stop all day on Sunday.
Summer: I’m sure there are pit crew problems but I’m not even going to count them out for the championship. Chad and Jimmie always find a way.
Amy: I’ve kept track during some races. During one they lost at least one spot every stop, all day long. Wish I could remember where. I really think they went about assembling this crew the wrong way. Some of them had very little pit crew experience.
Phil: There’s no unity there. That’s the problem when Knaus is basically having open auditions every week. Pick a crew and stick with them.
Mike: I agree Phil. There comes a time during the season you have to pick the crew and live or die with them for the rest of the year. With crew members looking over their shoulder every week they can’t help but make mistakes. I don’t mind guys not having experience. They just need to let the members know that they’ve won the job and they’re going to be there the rest of the season. Pit stops take extensive choreography and changing elements every week is asking for mishaps.
Amy: They should have done what most teams do and made money talk to the best crewmen out there. I also think their pit coach bears some responsibility. They have not been as good since he came on board a few years back. In the first few years, the team was brilliant, but it’s dropped off. I think the No. 48 is backed into a corner. They should easily have four wins this year and because of pit stops, they don’t. But they aren’t going to get anybody good midseason, so they need to pick one group of guys and go with it. And then make the cars faster so Johnson can keep making up the spots they cost him.
Summer: They will get it worked out. No way am I at all concerned about their performance.
Mike: I’m sure there were times in the early years of Jimmie when he lost races because of mistakes. I think they just need to pick a crew and live with it.
Amy: Knaus’s comment wasn’t really incorrect. They don’t look like a top-tier pit crew. Everything they have done this year has been in spite of the crew, not because of them.
Phil: I think that once a bonafide crew is chosen and they work together constantly, then they’ll get their cadence down and the spot losses will disappear.
Mike: They’re certainly not a top-tier pit crew but they don’t look like they’re pitting Brian Keselowski either.

Kevin Harvick’s frustrated radio transmission during Saturday’s Nationwide race revealed that while his probation is officially over, Harvick is still very much under NASCAR’s scrutiny to the point of feeling “handcuffed” while racing for position. Given Harvick’s on-track shenanigans at Pocono, was the warning necessary or is NASCAR going too far?

Summer: No it wasn’t necessary!! They either need to keep their word or let the fans know they don’t want their drivers racing aggressively.
Phil: No, it’s not necessary. It’s stupid. If they did the latter, Summer, NASCAR would tick a lot of people off. It would be like the “protest” at Talladega in 2009.
Summer: At least they’d be being honest, something they CLEARLY aren’t doing now.
Amy: Absolutely NASCAR is going too far. Incidental contact, even a bump-and-run is not dirty. Kevin Harvick should be able to race hard and not have to worry about incidental contact.
Summer: Also, I found it somewhat entertaining that Harvick was essentially saying he couldn’t beat or pass Kyle Busch without running into him.
Mike: I don’t know what to believe in this whole thing. Harvick acts like an ass sometimes and Kyle acts like an ass sometimes. I don’t think NASCAR needs to give him warnings before something happens but it doesn’t hurt for them to let Kevin know they’re watching.
Amy: By all means, if he drives Busch dirty, park him. But there is a lot of contact between racing hard and racing dirty. A driver should NEVER feel like he’ll be penalized for racing hard, EVER.
Mike: I agree Amy. And I find it hard to believe they told him if he touches Busch at all he’s going to be parked.
Summer: I think what he was worried about was if he raced Kyle hard… maybe slid up the corners into him (and I heard him say that), that NASCAR would take it as intentional (maybe it would be) and park him for it.
Amy: Exactly, Summer. There was a lot of just that kind of contact being made.
Phil: You can do a lot of stuff before “dirty” would enter the equation. Here’s a question. Would Kyle Busch be held to the same standard as Harvick here? He hasn’t mentioned anything along these lines.
Amy: There was a lot of contact made at Loudon making passes. Most of the time cars weren’t wrecked doing it, but there were a lot of tire donuts. Busch has NOT been given the same warning.
Mike: How do you know he wasn’t given the same warning? I am sure Kyle would be held to the same standard.
Summer: He said he hadn’t heard about Harvick’s, let alone been given a warning of his own.
Phil: It’s bush league. A classic double standard that should not be tolerated.
Mike: Interesting. I’m willing to bet it all stems from Harvick driving like a total tool at Pocono then.
Amy: And moving a guy out of the racing groove is racing, as long as that guy isn’t turned around. A driver should not feel he can’t race for the win because NASCAR might take incidental contact the wrong way.
Summer: To be honest, I’d have a hard time believing any contact between Harvick and Busch was “accidental.”
Mike: You might want to check out the modified race at Thompson last weekend Amy. They penalized Keith Rocco for that and he and Woody Pitkat came across the finish line in a photo finish after Rocco bumped him up in turn 3 on the final lap.
Amy: Bottom line, if Harvick intentionally wrecks Busch, he deserves to be parked. But if he pulls a bump-and-run on him for a race win and Busch doesn’t spin or hit anything? That’s called racing.
Phil: They wouldn’t penalize someone for something like that at Lebanon Valley if no one spun out. Of course, it is a dirt track.
Amy: Perhaps NASCAR needs to be warning Steve Wallace about wrecking guys while he’s at it. Talk about intentional.

See also
Talking NASCAR TV: Favoritism Kills ESPN At Loudon

Mike: No kidding, Amy. That was BLATANT.
Summer: Yeah that was the big deal I saw was that they weren’t letting Harvick race Busch hard but Wallace could wreck whoever the hell he wanted. Didn’t he cause four or five wrecks?
Mike: It was awesome listening to Rusty try and make it sound like it might not have been.
Phil: Yeah, that was pretty blatant. Quote: “He kept hitting me and hitting me, I got tired of it and then he wrecked himself.” Silly.
Mike: Oh yeah. Said he hit him like five times and Steven got tired of it so Jason Leffler wrecked himself.
Summer: Gee, I don’t even know how to respond to that.
Amy: Yeah. I’m positive Leffler was wrecked intentionally.
Summer: Would an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree comment suffice here?
Phil: Even Craven was trying to make it look like Steve didn’t do it intentionally.
Mike: I don’t know that Rusty Wallace wrecked too many people on purpose. Especially after he wrecked Darrell Waltrip for the Winston.
Amy: And that’s a HUGE double standard. Harvick can’t even race Busch hard, but Wallace can run roughshod over the field? Either let them police themselves or don’t
Mike: I still don’t think Harvick was specifically told he can’t race Busch hard. I’m betting he was told that they would be watching him. And after that stupid crap at Pocono he deserves it. Harvick isn’t afraid to race. He was grandstanding to try and get people to feel sorry for him because Busch was whipping his ass.
Amy: NASCAR needs to back off Harvick. If he blatantly wrecks Busch, park him until his driving shoes grow moss. But don’t make him afraid to race. That doesn’t hand Busch a huge advantage on track or anything.
Summer: Yep. And he felt he couldn’t move Busch out of the way to do it.
Amy: We don’t know the exact words said, Mike, but Harvick was worried enough that he backed off on Saturday instead of racing for the win. And that’s a crying shame.
Mike: He either backed off or couldn’t get there and tried to pawn it off on NASCAR.
Summer: If Harvick can’t beat Busch without bumping him, what does that really say about Harvick anyway? I know passing is difficult but the way he described it, it sounded like it was more than that.
Amy: Harvick’s car was as good as Busch’s Saturady. I don’t buy he couldn’t have made the pass. But he might have had to use a little bumper to do it. Which there is nothing wrong with, by the way
Mike: I agree Amy. And if he did that and NASCAR penalized him then he could take it to the court of public opinion, not to mention his peers, and see where it fell out. I don’t think they’d penalize him for a bump-and-run.
Amy: There’s a far cry between a bump-and-run and a wreck. Perhaps he’d have moved him if he didn’t feel like he was being punished.
Summer: What does he care anyway? It’s the Nationwide Series. Unless he thought they’d park him in Cup for a Nationwide move.
Phil: I think that is what he’s thinking. Remember, that’s happened to him once before. But the bottom line is NASCAR needs to stop with the stupid stuff.
Mike: Just freaking race how you want to race and if NASCAR punishes you so be it. It was in the Nationwide series anyway which neither one is running for the championship in.

The Camping World Truck Series returned to the track at Iowa Speedway after a month’s absence with Matt Crafton grabbing the second win of his career. Can the win give Crafton’s team enough momentum to make a championship bid?

Phil: It’s amazing that Matt Crafton can race this long in the series and only have two wins. He’s gotta have a few more excellent weeks in a row, perhaps another win or two to have a chance.
Mike: Sure. Crafton has always been a good racer and can run up front. You don’t have to win in the Trucks to win the title but it doesn’t hurt. It is still open to several people. Johnny Sauter is going to have to have a slump to make it really possible but it most certainly could happen.
Amy: They would really need to pick it up to win. I think his teammate is ThorSport’s best shot by far. But Crafton is a veteran race, and if he can put together a string of top fives? Maybe. I think he and Sauter could finish 1-2, but I still think Sauter has the edge.
Summer: ThorSport has been pretty incredible this year, so I definitely think he can. I agree Sauter had the edge, but Crafton could certainly make a run at it.
Mike: It is amazing Austin Dillon is still there with some of the misfortune he’s faced this year.
Summer: Yeah Mike, the sophomore slump seems to have bit him some. Though he didn’t win until around this time last year either.
Amy: Yes. And both Cole Whitt and James Buescher have been quietly consistent. Remember, every point is a position on the track. To gain five points, you have to beat a guy by five spots. And to do that you need four other guys to also beat him.
Mike: I know but he’s been wrecked by other people and then the hood flying up deal. Weird stuff. Oh, btw, this wasn’t the first time back to the track in a month, that was last week at Kentucky.
Phil: Still too many long breaks in the middle of the season.
Mike: Oh don’t get me started Phil. The Truck series still has the worst schedule in touring auto racing.
Phil: They just want the synergy of starting and finishing at the same time as Sprint Cup and the Nationwide series. It’s pointless to start in February and end in November with the current schedule.
Mike: I don’t mind that Phil but there should never be three weeks off. Work the schedule so that at worst you race every other week.
Summer: Then either add more races or spread them out a little better. Not five here, three there, two here.
Amy: Exactly, Phil. They have 10 fewer races than Nationwide, so trying to fit their schedule is pointless. And no, adding more races is NOT the answer.
Mike: They have two month-long breaks and then race like 20 straight weeks.
Phil: I would be for making the schedule run March-October.
Mike: I like adding more races as long as they are all at tracks shorter than a mile.
Amy: I agree with Phil. Adding to the schedule would hurt the series. It’s hurt Cup and NNS.
Phil: I think they did that back around 1996 (with Disney World as an exception to the rule).
Summer: I don’t think the drivers would mind adding more races because they seem to hate the long breaks as much as we do.
Mike: They can run 50 races if they want. Throw them on the dirt too. And put in four road courses. Make it WoO in trucks with road courses too. But getting back on topic, Crafton finishes third in points behind Dillon and Sauter, who battle to the last race.
Summer: And yes, I think Crafton can definitely contend for the championship.
Amy: A title would be an uphill battle for Crafton, but he’s with a team that can win races. I’d call it an outside shot.
Phil: Crafton simply needs to stay out of trouble for now. Try to get another victory somewhere down the road as well.

How about some no-points NNS and truck picks?

Amy: Give me Sauter in CWTS, and I’ll take Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Nationwide.
Phil: Let’s see. I’m going with Trevor Bayne in the Nationwide race and Parker Kligerman in the Truck race.
Summer: Any Cup drivers? I’ll go with Elliott Sadler (assuming no Cup drivers?) and Dillon.
Mike: Let me have Sadler in the Trucks and Carl Edwards in Nationwide.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 21 19 1 7 10
Mike Neff 14 -7 16 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 14 -7 18 1 4 10
Jeff Meyer 11 -10 17 1 5 8
Summer Dreyer 6 -15 10 0 3 3
Tom Bowles 1 -20 2 0 0 1
Brody Jones -1 -22 4 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -27 7 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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