Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Bickering Teammates, Flexible Schedules & Jeff Gordon’s Place in History

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)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)

Jeff Gordon won the AdvoCare 500, beating Jimmie Johnson on the final laps to take his 85th career win. Where does the win put Gordon among the sport’s greats? And does this victory put Gordon in the best position yet to win his fifth title?

Phil: Gordon is definitely in good position. Not necessarily the best position in the Chase era, but still pretty good. Plus, anyone who’s watched NASCAR in the past 20 years would consider Jeff Gordon amongst the all-time greats.
Amy: There is no question that Gordon is one of the finest ever to strap into a stock car. Tuesday (Sept. 6), in the closing laps, he reminded us why. IF I had to pick a Chase favorite right now, it would be Gordon.
Summer: I liked what Richard Petty has to say. You compare a driver to those he raced with. I’m having a hard time jumping on the Gordon bandwagon right now, but he certainly is peaking at a great time.

See also
Jeff Gordon, the Fans & How Time Has Brought the 2 Together

Beth: Do we really need to talk about Gordon’s spot among the greats every time he wins? Sure, he’s one of the top drivers that straps in each week. But with that said, I don’t care what anyone says, Jimmie Johnson is still the favorite to win the Chase until someone beats him.
Mike: Gordon is now tied for third on the all-time win list and fourth on the all-time title list. I’d say he’s easily in the top-five drivers of all time. I’d personally put him fourth.
Amy: Third outright or a tie with Bobby Allison doesn’t really matter. Gordon is the best of this era and one of the best ever. What you saw Tuesday was awesome. Like them or not, the last 10 laps was the two best in the sport right now showing why they are.
Mike: I think he’s second on the favorite list for this year. For those who didn’t notice, Johnson is in the points lead again.
Amy: But he won’t be a week from now, Mike. Johnson will be fifth at this time next week.
Mike: Yeah Amy, until the drop the rag at Chicago. The artificial points reset is bullsh*t and we all know that so let him retake it at Chicago and go from there. BTW, that is total crap that the points leader loses the top spot when the points are reset.
Summer: It’s bad that the points are reset based on wins? I don’t think so. NASCAR wants to weed out the best of the best this year, then put them all on an even slate for one last dash for the title. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. And I love how Johnson has been in the top five in points nearly all year, yet they are still “struggling.”
Mike: I just have a problem with the fact that the best driver after 26 races is somehow in fifth place when nothing happened but a checkered flag flew.
Amy: Agree 100%, Mike. The best driver is sometimes the one who’s most consistently at or near the top, not the one with the most wins.
Phil: Johnson came from nowhere to contend late. His car was in the toilet early on.
Mike: So did Tony Stewart. I realize the race at the front was awesome, but someone might have wanted to clue in the announcers to the fact that Stewart went from eighth to third in the last 10 laps.
Amy: But once again, the No. 48 didn’t have the speed when it counted and they had to take second despite some of the hardest driving I’ve ever seen out of Johnson. If NASCAR was all about the best drivers, every race would have Tuesday’s top three.
Mike: He’s the points leader and he most likely will be at Homestead. You constantly poo-poo the No. 48 team and he’s been right there all season.
Phil: Apparently, not having a 100-point lead is struggling for Johnson.
Amy: I really like what I see from the No. 24 team right now. Gordon is a legit title threat, probably the biggest threat right now.
Summer: Not many guys have been consistently good for more than a few weeks at a time. Gordon has been up front and leading laps the last three weeks, though.
Amy: That race was vintage Gordon. He made that car a mile wide at the end. And Johnson’s run was the epitome of checkers or wreckers.
Beth: It’s about time there was an-all out race for the win instead of this race for points BS.
Mike: Gordon is certainly a big threat right now. Johnson is still the favorite, though. Actually Amy, if it was the epitome of checkers or wreckers he wouldn’t have crossed the line second.
Summer: I thought for a while Johnson had a tire going down he was so loose. It was pretty bad! A lesser driver would have lost it. Those two were sliding around so much, I thought for sure they’d get into each other.
Phil: Everyone was sliding around a bunch. Kyle Busch almost wiped out multiple times.
Summer: If they repave that track, I swear I’ll march to the AMS offices and start some sort of protest. They need to leave it alone.
Mike: I haven’t heard any discussion of repaving it anytime soon. I just don’t understand why they can’t get those kind of tires at other intermediate tracks.
Amy: That was the most fun I’ve had watching a race in a long time. The two best hammering it out, cleanly, for the win. Top three in the sport finished top three, what more could you ask for?

See also
Shakedown Session: How to Beat NASCAR's Chase System

Summer: Well, Amy, what I also liked was an intermediate track put on a good show. Yes, it got spread out a few times, but there was still enough passing and sliding around to make it interesting.
Phil: Well, it appears that the drainage is still good on the 14-year pavement. It’s good to go, while Auto Club Speedway needs a repave. We didn’t have weeper issues.
Amy: No, the track drained fine and held up fine. No repave needed. As for Gordon, he will deservedly go down as one of the best ever. David Pearson had 21 wins from the age of 40 on. If Gordon can match that from here on out, that would be 106. Best ever? Hard to say because you can’t compare numbers too much. Best of the last 15 years? Oh, yes.
Beth: Gordon’s 85 wins are nothing short of impressive, and he’s most definitely one of the best ever in NASCAR. But again, until someone beats the No. 48 team, I have no doubt they’ll turn up the heat at just the point that they need to most – just like they have for the last five years.
Summer: As far as Gordon being a threat for the title, I think that’s a safe assumption to make. He should at least finish top five. Best ever? In this era, sure. Ever? hard to say.
Mike: Gordon isn’t winning 10 races over the rest of his career, let alone 21. That said, Atlanta was a fantastic race. I hate that they had to run it on Tuesday. I sincerely hope NASCAR is going to wake up and put an open weekend between the regular season and the Chase so that we don’t have to do that again.
Phil: Not happening, especially since they pushed back the Daytona 500 for next year.
Beth: Well, Mike you can’t really control the weather either. It’s not like there’s always a tropical storm hanging around to mess up the weekend.
Amy: Not having an off-week there is just stupid, Mike, I agree.
Mike: No, there isn’t always a tropical storm, but if they had an open week after Richmond they would not have raced Tuesday.

NASCAR fielded lots of complaints that they should have moved the race up by several hours on Sunday to beat the bad weather. In the future, should NASCAR look at a flexible race day schedule or would that be a disservice to fans?

Phil: I just don’t know if it can work. NASCAR races are not like baseball games. Many more people are going to the event, especially from out of town – commitments that are very hard to break. It wouldn’t work. It’d be a travesty.
Amy: No, there are too many issues to make a several-hour time change possible.
Summer: That would really suck to show up to the track a couple of hours before the original start time, only to see it’s already past halfway. Plus, with TV/radio, I don’t see a way to make that work.
Beth: Moving up the race time by an hour is feasible, but 4-6 hours? Not even close. First and foremost, fans pay plenty of money for these tickets, and it wouldn’t be right to cheat them out of half of a race – or more – if they didn’t find out.

See also
What's Vexing Vito? Tropical Storm Lee Goes General Sherman on Atlanta

Amy: That’s why Mike was right; an off-week before the Chase could serve as a make-up date for some kind of bizarre circumstance.
Mike: If NASCAR let the fans know well enough ahead of time I would not have a problem with it. Most of the people who are going to a race are close enough to adjust their schedule by as much as eight hours. Just let them know at least the day before that it could be moved up.
Summer: Well ahead of time, sure, but you usually can’t predict the weather that far ahead of time either.
Mike: I agree Summer but, if the possibility is there, you tell the fans 24 hours ahead of time and they could be there.
Amy: People don’t realize that the networks have other contracts. They can’t just move one up at the expense of another.
Beth: There’s that too, Amy.
Phil: NASCAR’s pretty lucky they haven’t had to use the Black Friday last resort more than just in 2001. They’re playing hardball with not having a break after July.
Summer: The only way I could see them moving up an hour is if they started the race around the time the pre-race show was to begin. And even then, it might suck for the fans who didn’t know.
Amy: That’s the other thing, there’s no way to guarantee that every fan would know. And how would that be any more fair than the ones who can’t go on a Monday or Tuesday because they have to work?
Beth: Exactly, Amy. I mean a rain delay isn’t the perfect solution, but at least everyone knows that way.
Mike: If you give fans a 24-hour notice, they’ll know. If someone is out of touch for 24 hours, that is too bad for them. But I can’t imagine that being more than five people out of the entire grandstands.
Amy: And again, whoever had the 1 p.m. time slot on ESPN had a contract with the network. If it was a live event, why do NASCAR fans deserve their event more?
Mike: NASCAR has 100 different channels and they could put it on another one of them.
Amy: Again, Mike, what would they have preempted? ESPN and ESPN2 I believe both had live events. ESPN Classic, maybe, but a lot of people don’t get that and would have been pissed off regardless. I don’t care if it’s a live event with three people watching, those people have every right to expect their scheduled live event as well. Not to mention, ESPN would be breaching their contract with that sport.
Summer: I just see too many issues with that. It’s less of a pain in the ass to just move it. People are going to get screwed regardless of which option they choose. Let’s at least screw the fewest amount of people.
Beth: Agreed, Summer. There are just way too many factors to move up the race time by a significant amount.
Mike: I guarantee there was somewhere they could have put it, or preempted something else. It is a far greater disservice to the 100,000-plus fans who weren’t there today that actually paid for the race tickets.
Beth: And again, Mike, you run into the issue of people getting there only to find the race already under way.
Amy: NASCAR made absolutely the right call, though it is arguable that they might still have made halfway by 2 a.m. on Sunday if they had dried the track again.
Mike: But Beth, if they have to give them 24-hour notice, who is not going to know that it is moved up? I just can’t imagine that, with a full day to find out about it, knowing you were going to a race, and the possibility that weather could impact it, you wouldn’t know.
Summer: I think 24 hours is still too short. What if people are just getting into town, get in late at night, head to bed, and never saw it? They go there the next day and the race is already underway.
Beth: How can you say that, Mike? What about people who travel into town just in time for the race? I don’t know about you, but I work weekends quite a bit. And if we were going to a race out of town, we’re likely getting in as late as possible so we have more time after the scheduled date just in case.

See also
Fan's View: NASCAR Racing in the Rain ... Or Not

Summer: Yeah, Beth, that was my point. What if they are getting in last minute?
Mike: Seriously? You are flying into Atlanta on Saturday night at 10 p.m. You know rain is in the forecast. You aren’t going to check and see if the race is moved up if NASCAR has already established a policy that it could do that and would give you 24 hours notice? C’mon, I don’t believe that. Not to mention, if you’re in town, and you got to bed that late, would you really still be in bed at 2 in the afternoon the next day?
Summer: No, but maybe you had other stuff planned? Maybe you weren’t leaving until then. There are all kinds of circumstances and these people paid to be there. Especially if you were staying an hour or two away to save money on a hotel. That would really suck.
Amy: Yeah, really. Say you get to your hotel two hours away at 9 p.m. Saturday. You grab a late dinner and hit bed so you can get a good sleep. You leave at 10 a.m. because you thought gates open at 2 for a 7 p.m. race and you wind up missing the green flag because you didn’t know and sat in traffic. That’s just as wrong as not being able to go back.
Mike: Right Summer, so instead, the 100,000 people who paid did not get to see it because it was on Tuesday instead of the four people who were flying in at the last minute.
Beth: NASCAR has delayed races due to weather for years. What’s the difference now? If you’ve been a NASCAR fan for any length of time, you’re going to plan for the extra time.
Mike: They haven’t run them on TUESDAY, Beth. This is the second race since 1978 run on a TUESDAY. I just can’t believe, if they were required to give 24-hour notice that it was a possibility, that 95% of the people wouldn’t be able to be there on time.
Phil: They’ve changed the way it’s been done multiple times over the last 30 years. They used to have rules stating that certain races would get pushed back a week instead of to the next day.
Summer: Yeah and I don’t buy that only four people would be that way. From what I saw in the grandstands, a lot of people were only there one day. And NASCAR almost never moves the start time up, so most people won’t assume that anyway.
Mike: But Amy, if NASCAR had told you before the season started that, 24 hours before any race, they would put out a notification if the race was being moved up, would you not check before you went to bed?
Amy: In any case, NASCAR made the best decision they could given what they had to work with. Remember, the track also played substantial money for a pre-race concert and other activities.
Mike: I know they don’t normally move them up, Summer, because that is their policy. What I’m saying is they need to change the policy.
Summer: I agree. I just think moving up the start time by several hours would be confusing as hell.
Beth: And if you don’t have internet access on your trip? Sure, most hotels have wifi, but a lot of people release themselves from technology on vacation.
Mike: Whether I divest myself of technology or not, if I know that there is a policy in place that a time can be moved forward, I’m going to check on it.

The Cup Series heads to Richmond with the Chase field essentially set. Does this mean a better race for the fans and could there still be a Chase surprise on top of it?

Summer: I highly doubt a Chase surprise, and as far as a better race for the fans, that didn’t hold true last year. Personally, I’d rather see some sort of fight for those last two spots, but it’s not going to happen.
Beth: Hopefully, it means we’ll see another finish like we saw Tuesday.
Phil: I don’t know. It could go either way. Richmond isn’t like anything in the Chase, so it could be random.
Amy: I do think it means a better race. With most of the field locked in, the best drivers have nothing to lose. The ones still hoping for a last ditch attempt have nothing to lose. The reset is what it is, so you can just go racing.
Phil: I disagree. There might be a bunch of dudes who just hold station because they have nothing to gain. The exceptions would be people like Paul Menard and Marcos Ambrose.

See also
Frontstretch NASCAR Power Rankings: Top 15 After the 2011 AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta

Mike: There isn’t much of anything that can happen. Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs to beat Stewart or Brad Keselowski, Stewart needs to beat Keselowski. Other than that, Menard and Ambrose have a shot to make it in with a win. For the most part, no surprise. That said, it is Richmond. The best track on the Cup schedule. So the race will be awesome.
Beth: Stewart doesn’t necessarily have to beat Keselowski. All he needs is an 18th-place finish and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does Saturday night.
Amy: As for surprises, I just don’t see any. I think the 12 in now will be in after Richmond. IF AJ Allmendinger won at RIR, he’d still have to beat Hamlin by 12 positions to get the spot. And Denny Hamlin is at his best at Richmond.
Phil: In other words, someone would have to dump Hamlin for Allmendinger to win and get in.
Amy: Now, could Hamlin get wrecked and ‘Dinger win? Sure, and that would be one hell of a show.
Summer: But that’s implying that Allmendinger will be in position to win and I highly doubt that.
Mike: I think Menard or Ambrose winning is a better possibility than ‘Dinger winning.
Amy: But what I think you could see is all the ones who are locked in (and that’s most, at this point) going for the extra bonus points with all they have. Which would still give the fans a great show.
Summer: I always forget about the bonus points, but I’m not really sure it’s enough to generate a big ass fight for the win.
Amy: Then you have all the guys who aren’t going to make the Chase anyway and are just going for the win. Still a great show.
Phil: If that were to happen, it would make for a good race, but no guarantees.
Mike: I don’t see anything more than we see every week. These teams run for the win pretty much every week until they realize they can’t, then they get the best finish they can. Saturday night will be no different.

See also
Frontstretch Fantasy Insider: Can Kyle Busch Lead You to the Promised Land of Your Chase?

Amy: I’d put Ambrose as an equal or better shot to ‘Dinger to win (Menard’s RIR numbers are dismal) but he’d also have to get into the top 20. He’s not right now.
Mike: If he won the race, I am pretty sure he’d be in the top 20. He’s seven points out right now.
Summer: Eh, I’m pretty confident that Chase field is set. Hamlin is a beast at Richmond, while Stewart and Earnhardt just basically have to keep their noses clean. Plus, the other three just don’t have the speed to be considered a legitimate threat. Yes I know two of them won a race this year, but Ambrose won on a road course and Menard won on fuel mileage.
Amy: I think you could see another different winner at RIR, but it’s most likely to be Earnhardt or Stewart. I also think the Chase field is the same as it will be a week from now.
Mike: Menard was competitive all day at Indy, though. I don’t think he’ll win, but the chance is there.
Phil: Ever since he won, Menard has been in a bit of a slump. I just don’t know with Paul these days. I don’t think the Empire’s going to have another Menardi Gras this year.
Amy: Menard’s average at RIR is 29th and he’s never had a top 10. I mean, it could happen, but it’s as likely as pigs flying.
Mike: Oh lord, watch out for all of the flying pig pictures next week if Menard pulls off the surprise.
Amy: Richmond is a great track and I think you’ll see a great race. I don’t think the Chase field will change as a result, but there’s enough possibility of that to add a little drama.
Summer: There is almost NO possibility of that. It will be a good race because it’s Richmond.
Mike: I think it will be a great race because Richmond puts on great races. I’m not worried about the Chase field impacting that. It will be great no matter what.
Beth: Richmond will put on a great race because that’s what Richmond does. As far as the Chase field goes, it’s all set how it is now barring a MAJOR disaster for Junior or Stewart.

Reed Sorenson was angry at Justin Allgaier Saturday night for a teammate wreck that severely wounded the No. 32’s championship chances. Will we see payback between the two and how will the rest of the season be affected when it comes to sharing information between teams at Turner Motorsports?

Summer: Payback, I kind of doubt. As far as information, I’m not sure we’d really know. I hardly doubt the actual teams will stop helping each other just because their drivers are in a pissing contest.
Amy: If Reed Sorenson issues payback for that, shame on him. Justin Allgaier didn’t do it on purpose and felt terrible afterward.
Beth: Allgaier was incredibly apologetic and felt awful afterward. It was a mistake, and though Sorenson was quite upset, I’m sure Allgaier will hear plenty from Mr. Turner about it long before the two are on track again.
Phil: I can definitely understand Sorenson being upset. If Steve Turner’s smart, he’ll sit those two down (if he hasn’t already) and talk it out.
Mike: Sorenson has shot his title hopes in the foot far more times than Allgaier has. Allgaier was racing and if Sorenson was fast enough to be in front of him, Allgaier never would have hit him.
Amy: I don’t think info sharing will change. Do we even know how much they share now? Do they even like the same setups to begin with?

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2011 Great Clips 300 at Atlanta

Mike: Sorenson needs to worry more about getting his s*it together because the cars at the top of the points are getting smaller out of his windshield.
Summer: And Sorenson’s championship chances weren’t ruined by that one night. He’d been having trouble since Iowa.
Amy: If Sorenson saw what Allagaier said on Twitter right after that race and still wants to wreck him, he’s the jerk, not Allgaier.
Phil: Sorenson is still within 40 points of the lead. That’s not horrible. I don’t think he can have many more of those nights, though.
Amy: Did he have the right to be mad at the time? Of course. But if he still doesn’t realize it was an accident and would wreck Allgaier over it, he needs a reality check.

See also
Cup Drivers to Watch at Atlanta & Who's Hot & Who's Not in NASCAR, Too

Beth: Agreed, Amy. Any driver is going to be angry when they’re wrecked out of a race. But Sorenson would be smart to just let it go. If he tries to retaliate in some way, he’s likely to hurt himself even more.
Mike: I still think, if he was that good he wouldn’t have been in a position to be hit by Allgaier. Sorenson’s wheels have fallen off since Indy and worrying about how his teammate “wrecked” him is pretty far down the worry list.
Summer: Anyway, I agree with everyone else. If Sorenson is even considering payback, he needs to think again.
Amy: Did it need to be four-wide there? No. Was it a bad idea? Yes. Was it intentional? Hell no.
Phil: He was probably whistling a different tune after watching the race on DVD and seeing Allgaier’s interview.
Amy: I hope so, Phil.

OK, how about some predictions for Richmond?

Amy: I’m going with Hamlin because of his stellar record there. If he doesn’t blow up, get wrecked, or otherwise run into terrible luck, that’s your man.
Mike: I’ll take Kyle Busch.
Summer: I’ll go with Kevin Harvick.
Phil: I’m going with Clint Bowyer. How about that?
Beth: Well I was going to take Hamlin, but since Amy already did, I’m going with Stewart putting the exclamation point on barely making the Chase with a win Saturday night.
Mike: I like it, Phil. Win the race and come up just as many points short as he lost today.
Phil: Plus, he has past success at Richmond.

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 Allaway27251914
Amy Henderson24-3242614
Mike Neff14-1320169
Jeff Meyer11-1617158
Summer Dreyer9-1812044
Brody Jones0-275002
Tom Bowles-1-283001
Beth Lunkenheimer-3-308011

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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