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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Kevin Harvick’s fourth win at Richmond sends him into the Chase tied with Kyle Busch for the lead in points. Busch and Harvick each have four wins, but Busch was the points leader when the race ended and before the reset, while Harvick was in fifth place. Is it right for Busch to lose the lead based on wins or should there be an additional bonus for the points leader who earned that advantage over 26 weeks of racing?
Phil: There should be something. Maybe a couple of extra points here or there.
Amy: After the reset, the points leader, regardless of wins, should start with at least a three-point lead over the next guy. It’s ridiculous that they’re that good all year and NASCAR just hands it to someone else. There should be a premium on winning, yes. But leading the points after 26 races deserves more than just the “Nice job, enjoy that tie (or third, fourth or fifth seed), have a nice life” they get from NASCAR now. Leading the points after 26 weeks is harder than winning a couple of races along the way.
Mike: I don’t know. I think it is wrong that the points leader can lose his position, but we’ve always said we wanted a premium on winning so that is what we’ve got. I don’t really have a problem with it. If you want to lead the points in the Chase, win the most races. We always hear people complaining that drivers point race instead of going for wins. Getting the bonus in the Chase seedings is the reward for winning races, so let them win races if they want the lead in the Chase. In the end we’ll see if it has an impact. I don’t know that it is going to be that much of an advantage but with the change in the points system this year it might be.
Amy: Also, what’s up with seedings? The only published rules I saw said that ties would be broken by points position (as they should), but they obviously weren’t. What gives?
Mike: Ties are broken but there’s no difference in points. Seeding doesn’t mean seeding like it would in a knockout playoff format. It just corresponds to where your name appears on the list. You get the points you earn and fall in where you will. If two guys were tied the one listed first won the tie breaker.
Amy: Ties were NOT broken by points position. Carl Edwards should be seeded fifth and Jimmie Johnson fourth, even with the virtual tie.
Mike: I thought it was points going into the Chase.
Amy: I did too, but obviously it was not. Despite the published rules I saw. But whatever, that’s NASCAR. Johnson was ahead in points. The published rules say ties will be broken by points positions, and only then second-place finishes.
Mike: Edwards had more top fives. I know, when I looked at what would happen if Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were tied for 10th after Richmond it was based on wins, seconds, thirds and so forth. Stewart would have had the advantage because he had a third and Earnhardt did not.
Amy: Right, IF there had been a points tie before the reset. There was not, so points position should have been the deciding factor. If there is a points tie before the reset it’s broken first by wins, then second and so on.
Mike: They all have the same points so what difference does it make? There are four drivers tied with 2003.
Amy: Kevin Harvick was fifth in points before the reset. NASCAR handed him the lead over three guys who earned more points on the racetrack than he did. At least the old seeding system rewarded that.
Mike: Kyle Busch is listed as the points leader.
Amy: And what if Johnson or Edwards had taken the points lead? Fifth or sixth seed for the points leader is bush league. He should actually have the points lead
Mike: It is what the rules are. Everyone knew them going into the season. I’ll be curious to see if Kyle can do the same thing with bonus points he did in the regular season. He had seven more bonus points than anyone else. The whole Chase system is stupid, but it is what we have to race with so we go racing for 10 races and see who wins.
Amy: While I understand why NASCAR wants to reward winning, it’s an insult to ignore the best drivers through 26 races. If they really want it to be all about winning, why not award points only for winning and the rest go home with none?
After an on-track confrontation at Richmond with Johnson, Kurt Busch had a pair of off-track verbal altercations with reporters who asked him about the incident, especially over the question of whether either he or Johnson can win the championship with the rivalry going on. So the question remains, can they put the incident behind them and win, or will the problems fester?
Amy: They would be wise to put it behind them. I think Johnson definitely will; he knows how to win these things. Now if Kurt Busch starts something will he sit there and take it? Probably not.
Beth: Johnson has started plenty on his own too, Amy. Don’t forget that.
Phil: The confrontations were both with the same dude, Joe Menzer, I think.
Mike: Menzer was part of it but from the video I saw, Jenna Fryer handed Kurt the transcript of his post-race comments that he tore up. I think they can put it behind them, but I don’t know that Busch will. Johnson has shown for years that he is totally focused on winning in the last 10 races and I don’t think he’ll deviate from that. Busch on the other hand seems to let his temper get the best of him sometimes. I would hope that a Cup champion could let the racing decide it rather than vendettas
Amy: As much as Busch says he’s in Johnson’s head, his actions at Richmond after the race suggest the exact opposite. Johnson’s smart enough not to start it in the Chase. Whether or not Busch is remains to be seen.
Phil: They’re going to try to, but I think it’s only a matter of time before they’re beating and banging on each other again. I give them until lap 200 at Loudon for the stupid stuff to start again.
Amy: And Busch has started the last two incidents at least, which also suggests that he’s more interested in beating the No. 48 than in winning. that’s not a champion’s mindset.
Beth: Neither party is innocent in their rivalry, and until they both learn to GROW UP and let the past be the past.
Mike: I think they’ll make it to Martinsville. I am willing to bet Johnson will be lapping Busch at Martinsville and things will flare up again. The thing that will be interesting is if either of them is in the points lead at Homestead, will the other take them out to prevent them from winning a championship?
Amy: Definite possibility, Mike, but again, Johnson won’t start it. He’ll move Busch if he has to to pass him, but that’s all. Busch has wrecked another driver in the past for points, Mike. I guess anything’s possible, but I think once this thing gets underway, they’re both going to be chasing Jeff Gordon.
Mike: I agree Amy. Jimmie won’t start it in the Chase.
Beth: Johnson won’t start it? Really? Take off your rose colored glasses and pay attention. Both drivers have started it time and again.
Amy: When did Jimmie start it last? Last year maybe.
Amy: Watch the tape. He drove him down to break the draft but he didn’t hit him or try to wreck him. Busch hit him first.
Mike: Oh please Amy. He drove down into the side of Kurt’s car. You can call that breaking the draft if you want but it was hitting his car because Kurt was next to him.
Beth: I’ve watched the tape, Amy … multiple times. There was contact when Johnson moved down the track. So Busch fought back.
Amy: Watch the tape. There is little, if any, contact.
Mike: True, because Kurt Busch is a good enough driver to avoid it. If it had been someone else I think there would have been a lot more contact.
Amy: Busch was blocking Johnson up against the wall. His right to race that way, but also Johnson’s right to try and get some racing room. That’s all he was doing, not trying to take Busch out. busch’s motives were otherwise, though
Beth: So now you know exactly what’s going on in the head of a driver on the track? I don’t think so.
Mike: If you say so. I wasn’t in Kurt’s head and I have no idea what he was thinking. Looked to me like he was racing and Jimmie swerved at him.
Beth: That’s what it looked like to me too, Mike.
Amy: Jimmie swerved over to make racing room. Apparently he should have let Busch shove him into the wall instead. OK, gotcha. In any case, Johnson knows how to play the Chase game and play it well. He’s been the better driver all year and Busch knows it. He’s not in Johnson’s head, but Johnson is in his.
Beth: Busch was next to him, racing side by side, like these guys are paid MILLIONS to do. Johnson came down and shoved Kurt away from him.
Mike: I think Kurt has multiple things in his head. His teammate is running better than he is right now. He’s going through a divorce. He’s part of a team whose manufacturer only has two cars on the track every weekend.
Amy: AS he’s paid millions to do. If he needed a different line to try and get the position, it’s his right to take that line just as much as it is Busch’s right to try and pinch him up out of it. He took it trying to gain position by racing hard. So, as much as I’d like to think it’s over and that the two of them will get over it and race the tracks, I can’t say with certainty that both of them will. And if one of them doesn’t, it’s unlikely either can win. Moving someone to get by them is fine, if you can do it clean, without wrecking them. Deliberately wrecking them is dirty.
Mike: I don’t think the feud is over between the two by any stretch. However, I would like to think they both respect the sport enough that they won’t take each other out of a chance to win a title.
Beth: Oh you mean like what Johnson did at Richmond? But wait, that was OK because Busch hit him first, right?
Amy: Yep, after Busch did it to him first. Both were dirty.
Beth: Busch made a mistake and Johnson nearly wrecked just to take Busch out. Funny how that worked out since Johnson major screwed up his car while Busch went on to finish in the top 10.
Amy: Awfully convenient that Busch made a mistake just at the exact right time it would wreck the No. 48.
Mike: I may be totally wrong but it looked to me like Busch drove in a little too deep and hit Johnson. It did not look deliberate. There was no question what Johnson did was deliberate.
Amy: Busch is too good for that kind of mistake
Beth: Everyone is human and everyone makes mistakes.
Mike: Especially when you’re racing on a short track when it is hard to pass.
Phil: Yeah, it didn’t really look deliberate. Honestly, it looked a lot like when Danica Patrick spun out Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide race.
Mike: There were about 10 other cautions Saturday night (Sept. 10) thanks to people making mistakes.
Amy: He drove in a little too deep because he was hell bent on getting by Johnson, to hell with the consequences, and oh well if he wrecked him. He’s more worried about beating the No. 48 than beating the field. Kurt Busch is no rookie. He could have made that pass clean and chose not to.
Mike: Gotta beat whoever is in front of you if you’re not in the lead.
Beth: Amen, Mike! He’s also a driver who wants to win … and to win you MUST pass all drivers ahead of you. Go figure!
Amy: He’s way too talented and way too smart to race like that, except when the No. 48 is involved. Then he gets tunnel vision
Beth: Oh please! Busch is aggressive on track on a regular basis and not just around Johnson!
Mike: I’m pretty sure Kurt didn’t intend to run into the No. 48 to move him up the track. It sure looked like he was driving in to try and get inside position and locked up the front tires and slid up.
Amy: You don’t win by overdriving your car barely halfway through a race.
Beth: He tried to make a pass, went into the corner too hard and locked up the tires. Get over it! It wasn’t intentional, and it would have been over had Johnson not come back and gone nearly sideways just to try to take Kurt out.
Amy: Anyway, I think Jimmie is smart enough to race the last 10 racetracks and not worry about Kurt Busch. Busch, I can’t say the same for, so it could get interesting.
Beth: I think both drivers are smart enough to just let it go and run for the championship. If they can’t put this crap behind them, then neither one deserves the championship.
Mike: I think Jimmie can too, unless Kurt does something. I am curious to see if he can keep his focus if Kurt tries something.
Amy: He’ll keep his focus, Mike, but if you’re 85 laps down because you’ve been dumped in the wall, there isn’t much to focus on other than next week.
Saturday’s race included more incidents than the ones between Busch and Johnson. Brian Vickers was called to the NASCAR hauler after the race for an incident between him and Marcos Ambrose, yet Earnhardt, Busch and Johnson were reportedly not reprimanded. Was Vickers’s intentional turn in front of Ambrose that much worse of an incident or is NASCAR guilty of being inconsistent … again?
Phil: I guess the idea was that Brian Vickers went that extra step, and NASCAR does have a track record of penalizing for that. Pulling a Sean Avery is frowned upon, last I checked. I’d almost argue that the penalty was harsher since it happened so early, but I couldn’t tell you what the penalty was (how long he was held once he was ready to back on track).
Mike: I don’t think NASCAR was inconsistent at all. I think they saw the other incidents as “Boys, have at it.” Turning into a car and wrecking it under caution is not self policing. It is being reckless.
Amy: Of course NASCAR was inconsistent. Earnhardt, Busch and Johnson should have been right there with him. Either that, or Vickers should not have been called in. That gets my vote since Kyle Busch was allowed to do the same thing at Bristol. According to NASCAR, Vickers was not held, only called to the trailer after the race. According to the announcers monitoring the radion, that may or may not be true.
Mike: Why? They were handling business in the course of the race. NASCAR has always said that if it is done under green and it doesn’t unnecessarily endanger someone then it is OK.
Amy: While I might agree with you, Mike, after Kyle Busch was allowed to walk after wrecking Elliott Sadler, all bets are off. Vickers should not have been called in.
Phil: He probably only “walked” because his truck was thrashed.
Mike: I’m not 100% sure but I do believe NASCAR told Kyle that he was not getting back in the Truck race after he pulled behind the wall.
Beth: I don’t think so, Mike. If they had, why would to team have worked on it for as long as they did?
Amy: If that was true, NASCAR still should have called him to the trailer after the race. Or parked him to start the next one.
Mike: I think the damage was enough to penalize him. Sadler was still in the race and was not affected that much.
Beth: Sadler had a possible winning truck before that damage.
Amy: Shouldn’t matter. Either Busch (and his brother and Johnson and Earnhardt) should have been penalized or Vickers should not. Under caution or not shouldn’t matter.
Beth: So Kurt Busch should have been penalized for a mistake on the track at Richmond? Really? Come on! But with that being said, I don’t really understand why NASCAR held Vickers. I mean I know he turned up in front of Marcos Ambrose under caution, but frankly that kind of contact is less dangerous than retaliation at full speed.
Mike: I totally disagree. Wrecking people under caution is not boys have at it. That is using cars as weapons and you’re asking for someone else to get hurt. There are safety trucks on the track and safety personnel out of vehicles. Taking care of payback under green is fine as long as it doesn’t endanger someone. Wrecking people under caution is too dangerous.
Amy: I agree, Beth. Vickers only hit Ambrose and didn’t put anyone in danger. Under green, they’re going much faster, and the potential for damage is worse.
Beth: Intentionally wrecking a driver under green puts plenty of people in danger.
Amy: Personally, I think they all should have been penalized, especially the Busch brothers and Johnson because they’ve done it in the past.
Mike: It only puts drivers in danger. It does not put safety personnel at risk. If you’re going to start calling to the trailer for everything you’re doing away with “Boys have at it” and we’re going to go back to the sterile NASCAR Cup racing we all hate.
Phil: You could argue that the “Boys, have at it” policy basically rules out penalties for Kurt Busch and Johnson. Such stupidity would be seen as the building up of a rivalry. It does not rule out penalties against people like Earnhardt and Vickers, though.
Mike: If you’re going to use that logic, Amy, then Ambrose should be penalized too.
Amy: All of them should have immediately sat a few laps. If they couldn’t continue, as in Kyle’s case, they should sit the first few laps of the next race. That would also discourage them from doing any of it during the race
Mike: OK Amy, when they start sitting everyone and we end up with single-file parades I don’t want to hear a word out of you.
Amy: See, I think “Boys, have at It” should mean ONCE. If they still can’t sort it out, then NASCAR should step in for the safety of the other competitors
Mike: I didn’t see anyone else impacted by Earnhardt vs. Travis Kvapil or Busch v. Johnson
Phil: NASCAR technically did penalize Earnhardt by not giving him the Lucky Dog. Granted, he got it eight laps later, but they did penalize him.
Amy: That wasn’t a penalty, that was upholding a rule. Look, I don’t have an issue with payback on occasion. But I do have a problem with NASCAR allowing some guys to do it and some not to.
Mike: The thing is, someone could have been who wasn’t involved in the race if a safety truck had been coming around when Vickers turned into Ambrose.
Beth: But with your logic, Amy, Ambrose should be penalized since he made a mistake and caused a wreck. Or does that only apply to certain drivers?
Mike: NASCAR has ALWAYS penalized people who hit other people under caution. That is the way it has always been and it always will be, because there are people on the track doing cleanup and safety work and people cannot be wrecking each other while those people are out there.
It was announced last week that Kevin Harvick Inc. will close its doors after the 2011 season, merging its Nationwide teams with Richard Childress Racing and shutting down CWTS operations altogether. How surprising is the move, and what does it signal for other independent owners in those series?
Beth: I’m absolutely heartbroken by the news! It’s a HUGE blow to the Truck Series.
Amy: I was heartbroken by the CWTS news for sure. Really, the NNS deal is just a renaming and moving into the old RCR NNS shop which has been empty since they merged the first time.
Phil: Just how independent was KHI before this announcement?
Beth: In the Truck Series, Phil? VERY! In fact, they were often helping out other teams there.
Amy: In trucks, they were. In NNS, they were really one entity anyway. They merged before this year and RCR gave KHI its stuff and closed down. Now they’re just going back to RCR. I am glad that Sadler will keep his ride, at least.
Mike: I don’t understand exactly why he’s shutting the deal down. I think there is more to it that we’re not aware of. He made the comments that they had sponsorship secured for at least most of the Nationwide schedule and I believe some of the Truck schedule. It is a very peculiar event and it is terrible news for the Truck series.
Beth: Add Ron Hornaday to the list of champion drivers who’ll likely struggle to find a home to race. And that’s a shame.
Amy: That is a shame, Beth. The best driver in the history of the Truck Series should not be watching from the spotters’ stand or someplace like that next year
Mike: It speaks volumes about the series Beth. Todd Bodine had to scramble to stay in a ride. Johnny Benson couldn’t find a ride when he was a defending champion. Hornaday is going to have to get awfully lucky because he’s not exactly a spring chicken.
Phil: Yeah, it’s going to hurt the truck series because a lot of the Chevrolet teams were dependent on KHI. With them gone now, they might take a couple of squads with them. That’s not good for a series that is already running low on teams. Makes me wonder if building the vehicles themselves and selling them is even profitable.
Beth: And really the loss of KHI in the Truck Series is a huge blow. We’re talking about two drivers – a proven champion and a rookie that’s showing great promise – who are left uncertain about whether they’ll even finish the season.
Amy: I agree, Beth. Especially when coupled with the recent problems with Germain, another champion team.
Beth: That’s the sad part about it, Mike. These days, a proven winner has nothing on a young 20-something that MIGHT have a future. But on a positive note, Benson’s planning on a full time schedule in 2012!
Amy: Nelson Piquet Jr. will have no problem getting a ride next year because he brings money.
Beth: And talent. But honestly, Amy, what is out there for him?
Amy: Anybody who needs a sponsor. Red Horse has dumped a driver for one with a sponsor before, maybe they’d take him. But the talent is secondary to the money. Hell, it’s secondary to the “look” and tertiary to the money. On a good note for the trucks, in 2012 we get johnny Benson AND the Rock.
Beth: Sadly, Amy, you can’t blame Red Horse Racing for it. NASCAR is NOT cheap at all, and I’m sure Tom DeLoach isn’t made of money.
Amy: No, but if they’d do it once, what’s to keep them from doing it again? Piquet has money AND he’s cute – he’s set. Unfortunately for Hornaday, all he as going for him is he’s the best driver in the history of the series.
Mike: I think Chevrolet likes Ron. Hopefully they can help him get a seat somewhere.
Beth: Nothing keeps them from doing it again, but consider they’ve got Timothy Peters and Miguel Paludo at this point. Piquet is also A LOT younger, Amy. And sadly sponsors look to youth most of the time.
Mike: That’s very true unfortunately Beth.
Phil: NASCAR will definitely want to keep Piquet in the fold, if for nothing more than to help out their Diversity kick.
Amy: Peters doesn’t have a sponsor this week, so again, what’s to stop RHR (or any team in the same boat) from dumping him for Piquet and the money he does bring?
Beth: But there is possibly some hope for Hornaday. After what I read about how much Kevin and DeLana have helped Hornaday, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Harvicks were instrumental in helping Ron find a home next season.
Mike: Well Ron helped Kevin quite a bit when he was first starting out. What goes around comes around.
Amy: Hornaday helped them quite a bit as well. Can you imaging having Harvick AND Johnson living in your house? He’s a saint.
Beth: I remember reading about that. I think they would have driven me nuts!
Mike: I can imagine them doing some pretty stupid stuff. Just knowing their personalities.
Beth: But that just goes to show what a great guy Hornaday is, and with the talent he’s got, someone needs to step up and give him a place to race.
Amy: Not to mention he’s the best driver in the history of the series.
Phil: Hornaday probably all but thinks of Harvick like a son.
Beth: Well, yeah, there’s that tiny little detail.
Mike: I hope someone won’t just step up and give him something but will also step up and help out the employees from KHI who are scrambling for work now.
Amy: Agreed. If someone starts a team (JB), they would be wise to hire as many of those KHI guys as possible, because they’re GOOD.
Mike: There is obviously a great group of people there who are building the most dominant Truck in the series right now.
Beth: It’s too bad Kyle Busch and Harvick have had their differences. You’d think that KBM combined with KHI has managed to pull together over the years would be a great combination.
Phil: Harvick claims that he’s going to put in good words for as many employees as possible to join RCR.
Amy: On the other hand, RCR could do worse than fielding a second truck for Hornaday next year and have him coach Ty Dillon on the side.
Phil: You mean a third one, right? Joey Coulter‘s in an RCR truck, too.
Mike: The other question out of this, where is Austin Dillon going to be next year?
Amy: I forgot about Coulter. But which one would you rather have? Dillon will be NNS for sure. Ty will be in the truck.
Beth: I’m almost positive the plan is for Dillon to head over the Nationwide.
(Editor’s note: After Mirror Driving was held, FoxSports.com confirmed Austin Dillon will go the Nationwide Series full time for the 2012 season)
Beth: But getting back on topic a little, the loss of KHI is a blow, especially in the Truck Series. I’d almost go so far as to say that makes ThorSport the team to beat next season.
Mike: You’re right Beth. Parker Kligerman is going to give them a run and the RCR trucks will be good, but ThorSport will be the ones to beat.
Amy: I think ThorSport is still the team to beat this season.
Mike: They are now that KHI is going to have people who are totally unfocused.
Amy: I think KHI, a champion team, pulling out, is overall a huge blow to the series, especially coupled with the lack of sponsorship for Bodine. Two champions are being overlooked because they don’t look pretty for the girls? Because it sure isn’t about the racing.
Beth: Frankly, it’s more important to me that they can race. They could be green with purple polka dots, but if they can race and do it well, that’s what matters.
Amy: It should be, Beth, but that’s not how sponsors think, for whatever reason.
Mike: I don’t know what to do about the sport in general. NASCAR needs to seriously make it more affordable to race in the series and needs to get it back to the short tracks where it started. It is dying on the vine and probably isn’t long for this world if they don’t do something to reinvigorate it. Which is a terrible thing because it is the best racing there is every weekend they race.
Beth: Most definitely, Mike. In fact, going to the Rock next year is a step in the right direction, but there are many more changes that need to be made before it’ll be fixed.
Mike: Amen Beth.
OK, how about some predictions for Chicago?
Amy: I say Johnson gets his first, but then disappoints the crowd by asking “Kurt who?”
Mike: I’ll take Gordon
Phil: Well, let’s see. I’m going to go with Harvick.
Beth: Well, I was going to pick Gordon until Mike took him, so I’ll go with Stewart showing he does belong in the Chase.
Amy: Tony’s definitely looking for a win.
Beth: And he’s one of only two drivers with more than one win at Chicagoland (Harvick is the other).
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:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
Through 26 races, here’s how our experts have fared so far:
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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