Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Paul Menard’s Win, Carl Edwards’s Contract & a Silly Rule

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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

With his win at Indy, Paul Menard becomes the first entrant into Sprint’s $1 million Summer Showdown Bonus program. He’ll be joined by the winners of the next four races. Will anyone win the bonus, and is such a program relevant in the series today?

Phil: It’s way too early to be able to tell if someone’s going to win that bonus. However, such a program, if promoted correctly, can bring some fire to a part of the year that’s all but a throwaway with the Chase in play. I don’t think they’re promoting it right, though.
Amy: I think if anyone wins, it will be someone like Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch. I don’t see Paul Menard winning another race this year. It’s an OK program, I suppose. I always liked the Winston Million better than the No Bull 5, which this is more like in nature.
Brody: Too soon to say if anyone will win the bonus or not, but I think a promotion like this is a good attempt to try and generate fan interest. The old-school fan in me liked the Winston Million better as it seemed a bit more difficult to pull off.
Phil: It’s kinda right in the middle between those two, Amy.
Amy: Exactly, Brody. You couldn’t get lucky and win the Winston Million. And, it’s cool to get the charities involved, and some fans could wind up very happy, so it’s not a bad thing.
Brody: After all, this IS a fan-generated sport.
Phil: That was simply whoopin’ serious tail in three different types of racing. Only Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon won it. Only three other guys were ever eligible (Darrell Waltrip in 1989, Davey Allison in 1992 and Dale Jarrett in 1996).
Amy: I do think it’s a good thing to keep anyone from getting complacent before the Chase. A few guys who might otherwise stroke will go for it. Some won’t change their Chase preparation for the money though.
Brody: It might bee a bit of extra incentive for those drivers in 11th-20th in points to go for wins.
Phil: Definitely. However, those guys would be going for it anyway with the wild card setup.
Amy: Speaking of Menard, do you all think he gets the wildcard Chase spot? I’m still thinking David Ragan ends up with that, personally. Denny Hamlin will probably get the other one unless Hamlin passes Junior in points – then they could both get in. I think Ragan is the better driver of the two, but only marginally.
Phil: Well, Ragan has to surpass Menard in points. Menard only has five over Ragan right now. Anything can happen.
Brody: It’s a toss-up, really. Both have been solid at times this year, but at other times, they have been non-factors.
Phil: That isn’t out of the question, Amy. He was doing pretty well Sunday (July 31), but got burned by the pit setup late.
Amy: A lot of guys got burned by that Sunday. And Menard extends them his utmost thanks!
Brody: One man’s misfortune is another man’s windfall, Amy.
Amy: True. The old adage about lucky proved true once again this week. Cough, Casey Mears with money.
Brody: Yeah, Menard is going to be hard-pressed to pull off another one like that.
Phil: I’d never seen a race like Sunday’s, to be honest. Yes, fuel-mileage races happen multiple times a year, but they’re not like what we saw yesterday.
Brody: This was actually an interesting fuel-mileage race.
Amy: In any case, the bonus program isn’t particularly difficult, but that’s OK, because it gives a fan a better chance to cash in.
Phil: NASCAR didn’t do a great job explaining it. It came off as confusing to me. Maybe it was the way they explained it, or the lack of fanfare given to it.
Amy: Yeah, it wasn’t given as much promotion as it could have been, but the format is pretty easy to follow, actually.
Brody: They definitely could have been promoting this better for sure.

Jeff Gordon said Friday that if Carl Edwards does sign with Joe Gibbs Racing before the year is out, it will destroy Edwards’s 2011 title bid. Is Gordon right, or can a driver like Edwards defy the odds and take the title in a lame-duck situation?

Phil: It wouldn’t do any favors to his title bid, that’s for sure. Sure, there’s the whole “let’s do this one more time” thing, but if he announces that he’s off like a prom dress at the end of the year, they’ll have to move on and prepare for 2012.
Amy: I think it’s possible that he could, but I wouldn’t put money on him like I would if he extended his contract. Not so much because he’d give up, but because if I was the car owner, I’d look to be giving the best of the best to Matt Kenseth, who’s actually sticking around. That said, it has happened that a driver leaving a team has won it. Not sure if those happened after the driver announced he was leaving, though.
Brody: I think we’re already starting to see signs of Edwards’s title bid falling apart at the seams. I mean, he’s not been that consistent lately. Kenseth has to be feeling like a second banana with all the attention seemingly lavished on Edwards for naught.
Phil: Kenseth’s essentially been a second banana at Roush Fenway for the last 3-5 years.
Amy: Which is too bad, Phil. Kenseth has been the most loyal driver Roush has had. Oh, and he has that little trophy too.
Phil: He has the old-school wooden one, but it’s still a championship trophy.
Brody: Kenseth has stuck with Roush since, what, 2001? Yeah, if that ain’t loyalty, I don’t know what is.
Amy: Exactly. 2000 at least – longer actually since he raced the Busch Series under Roush colors as well. And year in, year out, he’s their best driver. Also he’s made every Chase. Only one other driver can say that. But as for Edwards, if he jumps ship, it will breathe new life into half a dozen other teams’ title hopes
Brody: Yeah, the competition has to be chomping at the bit over all this.
Phil: Most definitely.
Amy: I sort of feel sorry for Denny, but that’s another story
Brody: If Edwards announces this during the season, then he may as well say goodbye to his title hopes.
Amy: Championships require 100% dedication and concentration. A lame-duck driver gives a team neither of those.
Phil: Let’s expand on that. You’re basically saying that by JGR bringing in Edwards, Gibbs has no confidence in Hamlin as a team leader.
Amy: Well, no, but let’s go with that. I just meant I’d feel sorry for him with Kyle Busch and Edwards as teammates.
Brody: I feel kind of sorry for Joey Logano as it looks like he’ll get Atwooded at the end of the year.
Amy: Yeah, Logano gets screwed in this as well. Especially with Red Bull out of the picture as a potential seat.

Speaking of Edwards, if the driver does defect from Roush Fenway racing, it’s likely that his seat will be taken over by an internal candidate. So, which RFR youngster should get the seat – or is Roush Fenway making a mistake by not actively seeking an outside driver?

Phil: I don’t know if it would be considered a mistake or not. At this point, it would probably be Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the No. 99 if Edwards leaves.
Amy: Honestly, I think while Stenhouse is the obvious choice, he’s a year away from being ready. Which could well leave him in the exact same situation as Logano in a year or two. But can you find someone willing to drive the car for one year?
Brody: Based on current body of work, I think Stenhouse should get the ride over Trevor Bayne, but that Daytona 500 win could work in Bayne’s favor.
Phil: Stenhouse only has the one start, but he impressed at Charlotte. And to answer your question Amy, people would come out of the woodwork wanting to drive, but it’s not realistic to just put someone in there as a placeholder.
Amy: I’d like to see Bayne get the No. 60 NNS car and go for that title again next year.
Phil: I would be fine with that move, especially since Edwards won’t be full-time.
Amy: You end up in the same situation for a year was you do if Edwards leaves now. I get that. But putting Stenhouse in too early could make him another candidate for the Atwood Award.
Brody: The only guy I could see taking the gig for one year is Mark Martin. That would depend on if Martin burned bridges or not.
Phil: If they were married to a one-off in the No. 99, then give it someone like Martin or, oh heck, Scott Wimmer, Sadler, anyone like that. Is Martin the kind of person to burn bridges? Doesn’t strike me so?
Brody: I don’t see it myself.
Amy: I think Roush would be better off with Brian Vickers. But if they take one of their development guys, I think Stenhouse should get the shot and give Bayne the best NNS car in addition to another partial year at Wood Brothers.
Brody: That probably would be the best scenario.
Phil: Vickers, eh? That would be an interesting choice. I saw someone hypothesizing about Logano ending up in the No. 99, thus creating a seat swap.
Amy: Actually, Logano wouldn’t be a bad choice either. I just don’t think Stenhouse is really ready. I suppose the other option is to reverse what I said above. Give the more experienced Bayne the No. 99 and put Stenhouse in the No. 60 in NNS with a partial run at either Wood Bros. or RPM. I would just hate to see Stenhouse or Bayne wind up the way of Casey Atwood. Way too much talent to waste.
Brody: The question with Stenhouse moving up would be would it be like early-2010 Stenhouse or from Daytona 2010 on forward? I guess what I’m wondering is would he be able to knock it out of the park like he has been for the last year and a half or would it be as bad as his first half of the 2010 season in the Nationwide Series?
Phil: There would be a bit of a learning curve, but perhaps, not as much as there was last year. I don’t think Stenhouse would be anywhere near as bad in the No. 99 as he was in the No. 6 at the beginning of last year.
Amy: I think what you see now is the real talent. But I agree if they rush him and he drives like he started out last year, it could doom his career.
Phil: He’ll have his struggles, though. He would probably be around 21-24 in points. Sponsorship could be a problem because Aflac could follow Edwards if he leaves.
Brody: Stenhouse has a lot of talent, but I just wonder if they move him up now if it will screw him up career-wise.
Amy: The other variable not yet mentioned is Ragan. I don’t know if one win at a plate track is enough to give him yet another year. If he makes the Chase and finishes top 10, then that would be different. Maybe. I honestly think RFR and Stenhouse would both benefit from another year in Nationwide. There are some very good drivers who could take over the 99 and be ready for it.
Phil: Ragan getting in the Chase would likely guarantee that UPS stays.
Amy: Maybe, Phil. If he gets in and finishes a dismal 12th, maybe not so much.

Elliott Sadler brought up a good point about an old rule on Saturday in the Nationwide race when he questioned why Brad Keselowski was allowed to move up from fourth to second under caution (Sadler was third at the time). Is the rule, which states if a car drops out after the field doubles up, that that line will move up, good enough as written, or should NASCAR take the time to reset the field before they go green?

Brody: Honestly? They should have just taken the time to reset the field. I don’t see how that would be so difficult.
Phil: That’s really only a rule that comes up before the race when people get sent to the rear.
Amy: Apparently not, Phil. It handed Brad Keselowski the Nationwide race Saturday. It doesn’t really happen all that often, so why not get it right when it does and fix the running order? If the drivers did it right, we’re talking one extra lap under yellow, maybe two.
Phil: They should take the time and do it right. However, you might create one of those 10 lap cautions to fix the lineup, like at Rockingham at 1995. You guys remember that one, right? Granted, that had nothing to do with anyone dropping out of the race, but it’s still pertinent.
Brody: Yeah, that was like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown times a thousand.
Amy: I’m sorry, but Elliott Sadler EARNED the spot ahead of Keselowski, either by racing for it or by pit-road strategy. Keselowski was HANDED it and that’s not cool.
Phil: It’s a nasty rule that NASCAR probably didn’t even look at before instituting the current double-file restarts. Now, it’s come back to burn them.
Brody: Exactly. That and he punked out a Nationwide regular to do it. Stay classy, Brad.
Amy: I agree with you there, Brody. What Keselowski did showed no class whatsoever. He’s a playground bully. If the drivers do it right, it would take half a lap. Inside row spreads out, outside drops down, double it up on the flip side, go green.
Phil: Uh, no. This would probably take 2-3 laps, minimum, Amy. You’re blaming Brad for this? It’s not his fault.
Brody: Not for the lineup fiasco, but for how he won the race. That left a sour taste in my mouth.
Amy: Two laps, max, if they do it right. And two laps under caution once in a while is far better than handing a whole line of drivers positions they didn’t earn. If it’s coordinated all they have to do is space out, drop down, switch over. Racing is about what you earn on track, not what someone hands you.
Phil: You might be able to do it in one at at places like Michigan, the road courses and the plate tracks. Apparently, NASCAR doesn’t think the drivers are up to it. They can tap into any driver’s channel they want, though.
Brody: Wouldn’t a RACEiver fix a problem like this?
Amy: They could simply signal the pit-road officials who then notify teams. But I thought Sadler made a good point and had the right to be upset. He was ahead of Keselowski and should have restarted ahead of Keselowski along with the entire row ahead of the outside row.
Phil: I was thinking along those lines, Brody. The officials can give instructions via radio, I think. If not, they can relay them via the officials on pit road.
Amy: Seriously, NASCAR fans aren’t clueless like NASCAR seems to think they are. I think most fans would rather see a fairly enforced race than one with a couple more laps of green-flag racing. It’s not like doing that would cause a race to end under caution. That’s why we have green-white-checkered finishes.
Brody: NASCAR really screwed the pooch on this call.
Amy: And we all know what Ben Franklin said about he who lies down with dogs.
Phil: NASCAR should issue a clarification very soon about this. At the very latest, Friday morning at Pocono.
Amy: But they won’t. What they should REALLY issue Friday is a rule change. But they won’t.
Phil: They’d better. Their credibility is on the line.
Amy: What credibility?
Phil: OK, their trustworthiness. Loyalty. And any number of Scout Laws.
Brody: Hopefully NASCAR addresses this at some point in the future. Of course the explanation will be bogus, but hey, NASCAR has always been a haven of inconsistency.
Phil: I’m pretty sure someone will corner Robin Pemberton in Pocono and grill him about it.

OK, predictions for Pocono?

Amy: I’m going with Gordon for the Pocono sweep after how strong he was at Indy.
Brody: I’m going to take Kyle Busch.
Phil: I’m taking Edwards. He’s won there before and needs to get back on track.

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

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Phil Allaway 20 20 1 7 10
Mike Neff 14 -6 17 1 5 8
Amy Henderson 14 -6 19 1 4 10
Jeff Meyer 11 -9 17 1 5 8
Summer Dreyer 6 -14 11 0 3 3
Tom Bowles 1 -19 2 0 0 1
Brody Jones -1 -21 4 0 0 1
Beth Lunkenheimer -6 -26 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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via