Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Championship Favorites, Young Talent & “Chasing” Road Courses

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)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Kyle Busch took over sole possession of the points lead in Michigan after Carl Edwards’s engine woes. With his fourth win of the year, does Busch become the title favorite, or does that moniker still belong to Edwards, Jimmie Johnson or someone else?

Mike: The favorite banner is still Jimmie Johnson‘s until he’s beaten. I know people try and poo-poo their chances for a multitude of reasons but they’re right there. That said, Kyle Busch should, at least at this point in time, be the favorite to take the title away if anyone is going to.
Phil: Busch has been very strong recently, but Johnson is starting to come on once again. Carl Edwards is falling off, even though his contract is done and signed now.
Amy: I think Edwards is still the favorite. Busch doesn’t have a history of being strong enough under the pressure of the Chase and Johnson’s performance is lackluster at best. Edwards had an engine issue at MIS, otherwise he would likely still be the point leader.
Phil: I don’t know about that. He would have had to beat Kyle in order to do it (in other words, win). He might be better than a tie for third, though.

Mike: It is all so nebulous. The fortunes come and go and right now Edwards is struggling a little and Johnson is looking stronger. If I was placing a bet today I’d still put it on Johnson.
Amy: I think Edwards is better in the Chase than Busch.
Phil: That’s assuming that Kyle doesn’t shoot himself in the foot, like he has in the past. Perhaps, he really has matured.
Mike: We’ll see Phil. He may be more mature, he may just get by without having a major problem during the first three races. Or he may wreck at Chicago and completely melt down again. Historically, that’s a true statement Amy. But right now Busch is running well and Edwards has stumbled a couple of times. I think it can change 12 more times before the end of the year though which is why we watch the races.
Amy: Johnson showed Sunday that he’s willing to finish second. I’d take Edwards, Busch, Johnson as title favorites in that order.
Mike: I’d take that bet. I’ll go with Johnson, Busch, Edwards.
Phil: Those are the three dudes to watch. Jeff Gordon or Harvick could crash the party as well.
Mike: I don’t feel too warm and fuzzy about Harvick these days, but Gordon could very easily finish second to Johnson, again.
Amy: I agree, Gordon is the most likely to crash the party. Harvick as fallen off, there are rumors about his crew chief, and they fired the pit coach. I think Gordon could beat Johnson this year. He’s had the best HMS team most of the year.
Mike: Sounds like there is also some real trouble at KHI fielding Trucks for next season. That very well could be weighing on his mind too. Gonna be awesome to watch 20 truck fields next year when 12 of them start-and-park.
Phil: Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Gordon has been more consistent of late. Also, he has a set pit crew.
Mike: Johnson is still the man to beat. Y’all can talk about everything from cars to crews to fuel mileage and everything in between. Sunday was a perfect example of why they are the champs. Chad called Jimmie in when he heard the No. 36 was slowing down and he knew they were in their fuel window.
Amy: Johnson settled for second big time. That wasn’t a championship race. That call by Knaus was brilliant. The driving wasn’t.
Phil: That was a road-course strategy. They got lucky that Gordon didn’t lap the No. 48 before the yellow came out.
Mike: If you say so. I thought it was a good race for them and, I may be mistaken but isn’t JJ still second in points?
Amy: He is, but he had the chance to win that race on the restart and didn’t take it. That’s not championship caliber. He had one shot at a legit bump-and-run and didn’t take it. He settled.
Mike: You don’t bump-and-run on a 2-mile racetrack. Are you nuts?
Amy: Sure you can. Gordon did it to Kenseth at MIS, as a matter of fact.
Phil: You can do it, but you have to be very careful. More so now than you did before the CoT showed up.
Amy: At the very least, you can attempt to loosen the guy up. Johnson didn’t do it
Mike: I really don’t think a five-time champion is going to be bumping someone out of the way on a 2-mile track that is 75 feet wide. Y’all can dis Jimmie if you want to but he can wheel it when the time is there to wheel it. I’m not gonna say he did or didn’t give the race away. Busch is still one of the best of all time on restarts.
Phil: Having Chad on the multiple-ton pit cart will always be an advantage. However, it’s becoming one of the only real advantages that the team has over their immediate competition.

There was a rumor floating on social media that NASCAR is toying with moving Watkins Glen into the Chase in place of Talladega. Would that be a wise swap to make?

Mike: No, that is taking one unique track out for another. Pick an intermediate and dump it for the Glen. I agree there should be a road course in the Chase but don’t take away a plate track. You’ve got Texas, Kansas, Chicago and Charlotte. Take your pick and swap it out. My personal vote would be Chicago but that’s just me.
Amy: I think there should be a road course, no question, but it should replace Kansas as plate driving is a skill in NASCAR today, whether or not it should be. I think they should, however, make Daytona the plate track and make it the first Chase race.
Phil: I think a lot of drivers would like that switch, but I have to agree. Maybe they could switch Chicagoland for the Glen.
Mike: I think they should make Daytona the last Chase race and make it the 500. End the year with the biggest race to hand out the biggest trophy on top of it.
Amy: A crapshoot should NOT decide the championship, Mike. And that’s really all plate racing is. Might as well pick the champion out of a hat and tell them to go race.
Phil: Although you might have similar weather, I don’t really want the Daytona 500 in November. It wouldn’t go over well.
Mike: Whether it is at the beginning or the end of the Chase it is still determining who wins the title.
Amy: Daytona requires more skill than Talladega in that handling counts more and plate racing is a skill, so put it first and get it over with, then go real racing. You can overcome a bad race in race one. Not so much in race 10.
Mike: Handling isn’t going to count at Daytona for another 5-7 years. With the new pavement it is hold it open and draft in pairs.
Amy: I think plate racing only has a place in the Chase by default, because road racing does and you can argue you should have one if you have the other. But it’s not good racing, and it should be put in the place where it has the least impact on the final outcome.
Phil: The last year before the Chase came in, Talladega was Sept. 26, where New Hampshire is now. Would that be a decent place for the one and only plate race in the Chase?
Amy: Absolutely, there should be a road course. I think they need to add a couple more road races anyway
Mike: Yeah, there’s not much difference between Feb. 1 and 28. I don’t care to see more road-course races but I do think they need two dirt races.
Phil: Like where, Mike?
Mike: Knoxville and Lucas Oil Speedway come to mind. They could do the Indiana Fairgrounds. There is Eldora, although after how they prepped the track for the Prelude I’m not so sure.
Amy: I think that unfortunately the time for that is truly passed as much as I’d love to see it. Is there a dirt track that can legitimately handle a Cup crowd and everything that goes with it?
Phil: Knoxville might have the largest capacity for a dirt track.
Mike: They could all handle it if you gave them a year’s notice.
Amy: I can’t think of one. I think dirt racing has come and gone in NASCAR. Sad, but true.
Mike: Dirt racing is more popular than asphalt racing in this country. And NASCAR is asinine to ignore that fact.

2011 has been a year which has seen a huge number of different winners, including five first-timers. Can anyone grab their first win of the season – or maybe ever – at Bristol this week?

Mike: HMMMMMMMMM, a first time winner at Bristol. Let’s think of who could manage that. I would think AJ Allmendinger could potentially do it.
Phil: Allmendinger is pretty much the only full-timer left in the series that hasn’t won. He’s been strong at Dover in the past, but I don’t know about Bristol. As for a first time winner this season, this could be a good Tony Stewart track.
Amy: I think you’re more likely to see a veteran get his first win of the year than a true first-timer. Possibly Stewart or Clint Bowyer. The only one I see with any kind of shot at a first win is Allmendinger.
Mike: That is very true Amy. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Bowyer all have a shot.

Phil: I would give Earnhardt a better chance to win at Richmond than Bristol, but I’m not the best prognosticator on Earth.
Mike: I agree Phil. If you look at the list of drivers who run complete races on a weekend, almost all of them have won a race in their career.
Amy: Me too, Phil, but I would also say that for Stewart and Bowyer, and only one of them can actually win either one of them.
Mike: Earnhardt has won at Bristol before. He was 11th in the spring. However, all of that sounds great but this place is still Kyle’s house at this point in time. and, like Johnson in the title hunt, until he loses a few of them there he’s still the favorite.
Amy: I think the best chance is of someone getting a second win, perhaps Johnson or Kurt Busch – unless they wreck each other. Maybe Johnson will remember what his bumper is for on the last lap this time.
Mike: Jeff Burton might just shock the world but that would be almost as big of a shock as Trevor Bayne winning the 500. He’s been truly out to lunch this year.
Phil: Definitely. Although, he did finally get his first top 10 at Watkins Glen. Still, that’s not what they expected from their veteran leadership.
Amy: Burton’s performance has been a shock this year.
Mike: Nope. I really thought he was going to compete for a title this year. I hope it isn’t his last hoorah but I’m worried it could be.
Amy: I’m afraid of that as well. I felt sure Burton would retire with a championship
Mike: Yeah, I’m very surprised he hasn’t won one by now. Although Johnson has caused several people to retire without championships.
Amy: Bristol isn’t generally a track where you see surprises. I think the win will come from a veteran. First win of the year, maybe. First win of a career? Longshot at best.

The Camping World Truck Series has showcased some talented youngsters this year, including Austin Dillon, Cole Whitt, James Buescher, Nelson Piquet Jr. and others. Which driver among this young crowd is poised to be a NASCAR star in the making as he moves up the ranks?

Phil: Hmm… probably Austin Dillon would be at the top of my list. He’s got a great program behind him and has shown a lot of poise behind the wheel.
Mike: Dillon is the easy choice because you know he’s going to be in good equipment for his entire career. James Buescher has been doing a great job this year so I think I’d go with him, assuming he can get in a quality ride. Cole Whitt looked good early but he’s plateaued a little bit.
Phil: Whitt’s still a rookie in the Truck Series and as a rookie, you’re bound to have a couple of setbacks.
Mike: Very true Phil. It is going to be interesting where he ends up as he progresses through the sport. I’m still picking Nick Hoffman if he can ever get into some quality equipment. Dude just swept a weekend in West Virginia, winning at Princeton and Beckley.
Phil: I’m going to bring Parker Kligerman into the conversation. He’s done very well this year for a team running the only full-time Dodge in the series. BKR might have some Penske support, but it’s a really small team.
Mike: Kligerman definitely has a good chance. He, like the rest of the Penske crowd, is on an island by himself in the Dodge truck.
Amy: Dillon tops the list for a number of reasons. He’s a decent driver who has a name and drives the No. 3. He will never have to worry about equipment. I really like Kligerman and I think Nelson Piquet Jr. has really come along well. Piquet will be popular with the young women, too.
Mike: No doubt about that Amy. He’s always going to be in quality stuff.
Phil: Permanent job security is a great thing. However, Austin doesn’t seem like the kind of driver that needs to be incubated.
Mike: Austin’s biggest concern is that he may not be the best driver in his family.
Amy: I won’t sugarcoat, I expected more from Dillon this year given the equipment he’s got
Phil: I think there will be a good rivalry soon between Austin and Ty.
Mike: You know that Phil. Once they both end up in Nationwide. I think they’ll be together for a year or maybe two there before they separate again before they go to Cup.
Amy: I really like this group of young drivers, actually. They’re all very good
Phil: I think that Austin will still cherrypick Nationwide races once he moves to Cup. They’ll have plenty of time to foster that sibling rivalry on track.
Mike: Oh yeah, and even after Austin goes to Cup, Ty will be there in a couple of years after him.
Amy: It could be. I hope Childress will keep Ty in trucks for two full years, though. And I don’t see Austin in NNS for three, so not sure they will really overlap before Cup.
Mike: There are a bunch of good shoes in the Trucks and it would be great to see them all move up into quality rides. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is going to work out that way.
Phil: I think they all might get to Cup eventually. It just might take a lot longer than it would have 5-10 years ago.
Amy: Agreed, because the Cup guys are in the NNS seats, and there are no new sponsors for new teams.
Mike: There are plenty of sponsors. The problem is it costs too much to race. A million dollars is a lot to go racing and I think most Nationwide teams are spending five times that much.

How about some predictions for Bristol?

Amy: I think I’ll go with Kurt Busch.
Phil: I’m going to back up my prior comments and go with Stewart.
Mike: I’m taking Kyle, in case my previous statements couldn’t be interpreted.

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

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Phil Allaway25231813
Amy Henderson23-2222613
Mike Neff11-1418158
Jeff Meyer11-1417158
Summer Dreyer9-1612044
Tom Bowles1-242001
Brody Jones0-255002
Beth Lunkenheimer-6-317000

About the author

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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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