Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Halfway Chase Favorites, Crew Chief Silly Season & Fuel Injection

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 (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

Charlotte marked the halfway point of the 2011 Chase and the top four are separated by just 18 points. Is there a favorite finally emerging or will the picture be unclear down to the last laps at Homestead?

Phil: Still not so much right now. No one’s been dominant.
Amy: Honestly, every time I think a favorite is emerging, someone else shows up to the party. I do think fifth and back are done if Talladega is kind to any of the top four.
Mike: At this point there still isn’t a favorite. It could get blown open in the next couple of races, but right now it is going to come down to the end. Amy, I agree, unless something bad befalls the top four it is going to be theirs to decide.
Amy: I sort of sniff a battle brewing between Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards because the Fords get the best power, but Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch aren’t going to go quietly.
Phil: True, Kenseth put himself easily within striking distance on the lead.
Mike: If Harvick finishes top five at Talladega, which is highly probable, then he’s going to be there until the end. I’ve felt like Kenseth was in this thing the whole time, he was just doing it quietly. Now he can’t hide anymore.
Amy: If Edwards, Harvick and Kenseth all get in trouble at Talladega and Tony Stewart or Brad Keselowski pulls a win, it will put them back in it. Maybe Kurt Busch too, but he’s just not looking like he’s got what it takes. Beyond that, it’s a battle to maybe get into the top five by Homestead. Jimmie Johnson has a shot at that, I suppose.
Mike: And I know everyone will say I’m crazy and a homer but, until the numbers say it is impossible, Johnson still has a shot. If he wins the next five and leads the most laps at each one, he will be the one who wins, but he’s going to have to be perfect to do that.
Amy: Not going to happen.
Phil: Talladega can do anything to this championship. Two years ago, the race completely took Mark Martin out of contention when he got flipped late.
Mike: Like I said, I’ve seen this story before and I won’t say never until it is actually impossible.
Amy: Pigs flying and singing the Hallelujah chorus is possible.
Mike: And probably less possible than Johnson winning this thing.
Amy: Not much
Phil: Apparently, using point comparisons, Johnson is a little closer to the lead now with five to go than he was in 2006.
Amy: Speaking of Johnson, Mike, you were at Charlotte Monday (Oct. 17) … was he still limping? He said on Twitter he’s still hurting.
Mike: I did not notice a limp. I talked to one of his crew guys and he said that Jimmie said his leg is hurting but I did not notice a perceptible limp.
Amy: It’s understandable that he’s sore. He took the SAFER barrier all the way to the concrete.
Phil: That was a heck of a hit that Johnson took Saturday night. I don’t blame him for feeling sore.
Amy: If you’re going to go out, go out with a bang?
Mike: That or make everyone think you’re out. That was right up there with Jeff Gordon‘s hits at Vegas and Richmond.
Amy: Just an interesting tidbit. Of the top four, only Harvick has an average finish at Talladega higher than 19th.
Phil: You could argue that something like that actually means something. But, it really doesn’t. For all we know, Harvick might piggyback off Dave Blaney again to the top of the order. Anyone could do that.
Mike: Well that could be exciting. Imagine they all wreck out and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Gordon and Denny Hamlin finish in the top four. However, I think, if they are still doing the tandem drafting, that there is less of a chance for the massive wreck, but the possibility is still there no matter where they race.
Phil: That is definitely within the realm of possibility. You just never know with Talladega.
Amy: Even if they did, they’d still be too far back to contend. If Talladega is the wild card, I think that either Kenseth or Edwards has the best chance of reeling off two or three wins, including Texas and Homestead
Mike: They’d be within 20 points, except for Hamlin.
Amy: Twenty out with four to go is out of it.
Phil: I don’t necessarily agree with being completely out of it 20 points back with four races left.
Mike: It depends on how many people are in front of them but 20 is a bunch to overcome if there are four or five people in front of you. Twenty points with two people, still possible.
Amy: Exactly, Mike. It’s beating six or seven people every week that’s the hardest part. Johnson is … interesting at Talladega
Mike: Yeah, Johnson is pretty good at destroying a bunch of other people’s stuff at Talladega.
Phil: You could argue that everyone is pretty good at destroying stuff at Talladega.
Mike: Some have more of a knack than others. Elliott Sadler and Newman tend to tear up stuff but because of others. Jimmie seems to be good at starting stuff that takes out others.
Amy: One more tidbit. The best average finish at ‘Dega with more than five races belongs to Kurt Busch … could be his last hope.

The rumor mill is buzzing with possible crew chief changes for 2012, including the possibility of Steve Addington and Greg Zipadelli moving on to other teams or positions (both have denied reports, but neither has stated unequivocally that he is not making a move). Will this crew chief silly season have an impact on the Chase?

Phil: I’m sure Greg Zipadelli won’t. However, Addington having to deal with this won’t help out Kurt Busch’s campaign very much. Kurt’s already pretty high-strung as it is.
Amy: I don’t think so. Zipadelli isn’t with a Chase team (though that rumor that he is going to one just won’t quite die). As I said in my column last weekend, The biggest distraction at the No. 22 camp is the driver.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: Is Rumor Mill Grinding the No. 22 to a Halt in the Chase?

Mike: I don’t think it will have an impact on the Chase because it isn’t going to be a negative to anyone with a serious chance. Busch is the only Chaser who might lose a crew chief and he’s pretty much done. Addington denied he is leaving Penske. I never heard him deny he was leaving the No. 22 team.
Amy: If that’s the case, Mike, where does Addington go? One more thing in that mix, Mike. Has not having a competition director (one subject of these rumors) hurt Stewart and Newman’s chances in the Chase? There’s a lot going on in the Stewart-Haas camp for 2012. At what point does that become a distraction?
Mike: I think, if Addington stays at Penske, he’ll assume a role where he doesn’t travel as much. Doing more work at the shop probably. And Stewart-Haas has an acting competition director. I don’t think it is hurting them. Stewart was on pole Saturday night and ran up front most of the night, finishing in the top 10.
Phil: It definitely doesn’t help them, since having an acting competition director means that that particular person has another role as well.
Amy: But Stewart was off all year until the Chase started and limped in. That’s not a great model for a title run. Now if Addington does jump ship to Stewart-Haas, I’m going to wonder if the poor guy is a glutton for punishment.
Mike: I’d think he’d be more of a glutton if he went to work for Harvick. Stewart winning the first two races doesn’t hurt. And he’s a good plate racer. Of course we all know that the Tom Bowles theory is they’ll never contend for the title because Hendrick starts giving them sub-par equipment now.
Amy: The Bowles Theory has some serious holes in it. Like the race at Charlotte, where no Hendrick car finished better than 19th and all four struggled all night while Stewart ran very strong.
Phil: True, it does have holes. Hendrick would be making themselves look bad if they did that. Yes, they could be real subtle about it, but people talk about those sort of things.
Mike: There are giant holes, but he continues to beat that drum. Not to mention there were plenty of Hendrick shirts around the Stewart Haas garages at the test today too.
Amy: In any case, I do think that if those guys do move, it makes silly season heat up a little bit. There weren’t a lot of big driver moves this year
Phil: True, this was a quiet year driver change-wise. Not a year like 1994, when apparently 25-30 teams had some kind of substantial change between the end of ’93 and the beginning of ’94.
Mike: Clint Bowyer is a pretty big driver move. I think Zipadelli needs to go somewhere. Whether it is to Hamlin’s team or to a spot in house. It is time for Joey Logano to have a shakeup of some kind. He’s won one race and that was a fuel-mileage deal when they were sucking.

NASCAR held an open test at Charlotte on Monday for teams to test the fuel-injected engines that they will race in 2012, but only 12 teams were slated to attend. Is this an indication that the technology is simply too expensive to force upon the teams in a difficult economic climate?

Mike: No, I think it is a matter of they are limited in which of the tests they can run so they split their resources. I talked to Earnhardt Ganassi guys who said they were having one car today and the other car at Talladega.
Amy: I have mixed feelings on this one. While the technology is overdue, it’s sure as heck not going to help anyone. With even teams like Roush Fenway downsizing AND a new car for 2013, maybe it’s not the best time.
Phil: Yeah, they needed to wait on this for 3-5 years. However, the manufacturers probably forced NASCAR’s hand.
Mike: At this point they’re still working on learning the system and how to tweak it. It is just a matter of how much you can learn with multiple cars. Although Hendrick had all four cars there. Phil, the last vehicle with a carburetor made in the US was the Isuzu in 1994. I think it is time to cut the cord.

See also
Fuel Injection is Right Around the Corner for NASCAR

Amy: Not saying it isn’t, Mike, just that now might not be the best time to do it.
Mike: There’s always been an excuse not to do it. The expense is going to be a little higher now but in the long run, if you listen to NASCAR, it is going to save teams money. I’m not sure I buy that, just like the new car was going to save them cash, but it might. From the sound of it, the initial cost per engine is going to be about 20% higher. That is supposed to go down over time.
Phil: I know that, Mike. But, there is an incredible expense involved in doing so. The move should have been stretched out over a number of years, especially since engines can cost as much as cars do.
Amy: The problem with the highest cost is there are several teams that might not have that time to waste. However, if we’re looking at technology in street cars, why not just give up and allow traction control. If everybody had it, nobody could cheat with it.
Mike: If everybody had traction control then my momma could drive a Cup car.
Phil: Having traction control would likely hurt the on-track product.
Mike: It definitely would Phil. Honestly, if a team wants to, they can buy one fuel injection system and use it on all of their engines.
Amy: Maybe, maybe not. But that’s been one hold up on EFI, that it would be easier to hide the TC chip. So if you can’t beat ’em…. Not saying I love the idea, but it has been a concern with EFI, and it IS on street cars.
Mike: I was surprised to hear that each team has to purchase licenses for the software that is used to adjust the system. You’d think that NASCAR could have negotiated a deal with the Official Semiconductor of NASCAR to get everyone a copy for free.
Amy: It might have cut into NASCAR’s profit margin, Mike. Can’t have THAT.
Mike: Trust me, I brought it up at the test today. The technology on this system has been used in Formula 1 for 15 years. It is about as hack proof as it can get. If anyone tries to do some kind of traction control through this system, NASCAR will know.
Amy: F1 doesn’t have Chad Knaus. Anyway, I do think EFI is due in the sport. I just question the timing when even the big teams aren’t surviving. It could kill off some smaller teams.
Mike: F1 has billion-dollar budgets. I’m sure that there are smarter dudes in F1 than Chad. It definitely could kill off some smaller teams but, then again, we have a new team coming into the sport next year.
Phil: I think that the F1 has far more stringent fines for breaking regulations than NASCAR does. That is, if it can be proven. No one’s ever been thrown out of the Cup Series before for cheating. They’ve thrown out entire teams for the season for violations. Granted, those ended up being posthumous bans, but they’re bans and massive fines. Heck, the use of confidential information from Ferrari got McLaren a $100-million fine and got their results from the previous season thrown out.
Mike: Oh yeah. They don’t play around in F1 with cheating.

Kentucky Speedway announced Friday that the track will host a second Nationwide Series event in 2012. Was this the best opportunity for the series?

Mike: Seriously? There are a ton of short tracks around the country that would be fantastic places to host a Nationwide race. The last thing the series needs is another Intermediate race.
Phil: It’s a nice standalone weekend setup, but no. They should have found a way to get the series to another short track. The Nationwide Series races on short tracks even less than Sprint Cup does.
Amy: It depends. If Kentucky was the only track who could pony up the sanctioning fee and it was either that or cut the schedule, maybe. At least it’s a stand-alone race. I agree, Phil, but not many short tracks have three-quarters of a million to pay the piper.
Mike: I’d rather see them trim the schedule than add Intermediate races, and I hate the idea of trimming the schedule.
Amy: I’d agree, Mike, except it could be worse. It could have been another companion race.
Mike: Agreed on that Amy. It comes back to cutting the sanctioning fee to make it possible for short tracks to host events. Along with putting in SAFER barriers at local short tracks. NASCAR needs to step up to the plate if they’re serious about saving the series.
Phil: True. Almost none of them do. They’re too busy dealing with newbies to their area trying to root them out.
Mike: I didn’t see the announcement. Where is the Cup Series that weekend?
Amy: It’s in September. Either Loudon or Dover, I think.
Mike: Being a standalone will keep some Cup guys away but there will be some guys who will make the trip. That isn’t that far.
Amy: Yeah. But it being the first Chase race might make the interlopers reconsider
Mike: We’ll see. I don’t know how many guys are going to be double dipping much next year.
Amy: The best move would have been Rockingham, which will meet NASCAR’s safety standards next year. Or even Martinsville. I know it would be a companion race, but why the series doesn’t race there is beyond me.
Mike: Right, but we need to see how the Truck Series draws there. I don’t think they could afford to take that big of a hit for sanctioning fees.
Phil: Martinsville would be nice. They did a one-off there in 2006, but haven’t raced there regularly since 1994.
Amy: Trucks race there twice; surely NNS could have one of those? Look at this month; NNS is off for two weeks, including that weekend. Why aren’t they in Martinsville?
Mike: I’d like to see them run a companion race with the Indy 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, but I think they’re kind of booked up that weekend.
Amy: LORP couldn’t afford the fees, that was one reason for the change to Indy
Phil: So, it wasn’t just an outright theft?
Amy: From what I understand, it was a bit of both. But I do remember reading that the high fees were a large part of it
Mike: I think they need to run the Nationwide series at the Indiana State Fairgrounds the same weekend as the Indy 500 since LORP is booked up.
Phil: I’ve never seen the Indiana State Fairgrounds before. Is that one of those 1-mile dirt tracks?
Mike: You bet. They’ve run a big race there the weekend of the 500 forever with sprint cars or Silver Crowns. It would be a cool event to see them on dirt. But they’ll never do it.
Amy: I really do think the bottom line here is the fees. There are lots of places that are equipped to run NNS or truck races that don’t enter the conversation. Milwaukee, Gateway, Rockingham, etc.
Phil: I thought Gateway was shut down and completely bereft of action.
Mike: Gateway is closed unfortunately. Milwaukee would be cool to see on the schedule again but I’m not sure they’re running anymore either. Nashville Fairgrounds would be a perfect location I think.
Amy: Someone picked up or tried to pick up a lease, but didn’t explore NASCAR
Phil: You would have to find a promoter in order to race at Milwaukee.
Amy: I don’t remember the whole story; Kenny Wallace was telling me there was a lease in the works
Mike: I don’t know. They need to get back to short tracks and NASCAR needs to make it practical for them to host the events.
Phil: Maybe Bobby Hamilton Jr. can put something together eventually for the Nashville Fairgrounds. I think they’re talking more about a Truck race there than Nationwide, though.
Mike: That’s what I understand, but they have a lot of work to do. The CRA pulled out of the All-American that was scheduled there. I’d rather see the series run another plate race than another Intermediate. They need to get these cars back to local short tracks like they were when the series started or it will be dead before we know it.

OK predictions for Talladega, anyone?

Amy: I think I’ll go with Harvick
Mike: Earnhardt finally breaks the streak.
Phil: Cripes, it could be anyone in victory lane this week.
Mike: That’s the beauty of Talladega.
Phil: Based on what I saw in Daytona, I’m going to go with Landon Cassill. Yes, I went there. Anyone could legitimately win this race. Cassill was strong down there before he got swept into the wreck.
Amy: Not sure I’d use Talladega and beauty in the same sentence. Wreck-fest, sure. Crapshoot, definitely. Beauty, not so much
Mike: I don’t think there will be much wrecking. The tandem drafting doesn’t cause a lot of wrecking. Just an occasional one or two-car incident.
Amy: You say that like it’s a bad thing.
Mike: Not at all. It is just why I don’t think Talladega is as big of a wildcard as people make it out to be.

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

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Phil Allaway293111016
Amy Henderson26-3302717
Mike Neff20-9252812
Summer Dreyer14-1514155
Jeff Meyer11-1817158
Beth Lunkenheimer5-2413134
Tom Bowles2-274012
Brody Jones0-295002

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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