Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Chase Games, Brainless Kyle & Sponsorship Loyalty

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
Tom Bowles (Mondays/Bowles-Eye View & Wednesdays/Did You Notice)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Tearing Apart the Trucks & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)

After Texas, the championship battle is effectively between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Who has an edge the last two races and why?

Phil: Well, both guys are pretty good. I’d argue Tony Stewart, though. He’s got Big Mo on his side and he’s very good at Phoenix. Of course, Phoenix is a bit of a toss-up.
Tom: Going into Texas, I still think Carl Edwards had the edge. But Tony just beat Carl at his own game. Intermediates are the No. 99’s bread and butter. Have been for years. So now, I think it’s a total toss-up. Both men have won at Homestead and Phoenix … and that track is repaved. So it’s a virtual unknown.
Mike: Stewart has an edge this week because Phoenix has always been a great track for him and he was the fastest car in the test they had out there. Assuming he’s leading going into Homestead then I think he has the advantage.
Amy: Stewart has slightly better numbers at Phoenix, Edwards at Homestead, but I think Stewart has a slight advantage upstairs – as in between the ears.
Tom: But Amy, I think Mr. Edwards has the advantage on the bench press. Stewart looked exhausted after Texas; Carl? He could have gone another 500 miles. Intermediates are the No. 99’s bread and butter. Have been for years.
Mike: I think Stewart’s biggest edge is that Edwards thought he was going to gain ground at Texas and he actually lost ground. I think that really put some doubt in Carl’s mind. Remember, Phoenix is not just repaved, but reconfigured. The dogleg is now more of an actual turn. It is going to be a big unknown.
Tom: Problem for Carl is, the last two races are short – endurance isn’t much of a factor. Although Miami could be hot inside the car.
Amy: I think Stewart will get inside Edwards’s head. And I also think that he knows how to win championships, something Edwards doesn’t at this level. I think that’s what it came down to last year and I think on that level, this year’s a repeat.
Mike: True Amy. A Cup championship that comes down to one race is far different from a blow-away Nationwide championship.
Tom: Listen, Edwards is mentally stronger than what most people think. At Martinsville, I think that was the height of his nervousness. Drivers get confidence from tracks where they’ve been successful in the past. Edwards won the last two races last year. What more could you ask for?
Amy: I don’t think he is, Tom. Jimmie Johnson got in his head a couple years ago and I think Tony can, too. Edwards can get riled up over the wrong things, and if he does that, he’s screwed. Stewart still has slightly better numbers than Edwards at Phoenix, Tom, and he’s on a roll.
Tom: I do think Stewart is driving like a man with nothing to lose.
Phil: I don’t think he’s going to get riled. At least not like some other people we’ve seen this week.
Amy: He has in the past, Phil. Just ask Brad Keselowski about that.
Mike: Stewart has won half of the Chase races. He has more confidence than I’ve ever seen out of him before. Edwards has been running above average but this past weekend was the first time he’s really been close to winning. I think Stewart is on a roll and Edwards is in a place he can’t just turn it up.
Tom: And that, again, makes this one a toss-up. But it’s not like Edwards hasn’t been right on Stewart’s heels. And this one-win season stuff … people will complain if he wins the title, but the guy has five runner-up finishes! I do think, moving forward though when someone wins four of eight races, like Stewart has they shouldn’t be trailing.
Phil: Regardless, it’s going to be a close one. Let’s hope no one has issues and this thing can be decided on the track. I wouldn’t be angry if Edwards won.
Mike: We’ve rehashed it all season Tom. There needs to be more bonus for winning. We all agree with that.
Beth: I have mixed feelings on whether Edwards deserves the title with just one win all season to Stewart’s four wins. But at the same time, even Stewart doesn’t want people talking about that topic.
Amy: I have mixed feelings about both of them. I have a hard time with NASCAR saying that winning is supposed to matter more with the Chase system and not requiring a win to get in.
Tom: By the way, under the old system? Without the Chase? Edwards would be running away with it this year. The four wins for Stewart wouldn’t mean jack; he’d be simply battling for fifth place.
Phil: That doesn’t surprise me at all. Would he clinch in Phoenix under the old system?
Tom: More than likely, Phil. He’s 46 up under this format without the Chase … I think it’s roughly 150 under the old system. You know what the cool thing is, though? For the second straight year, we’re going into the final two races with absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. Johnson-Denny Hamlin was a total tossup and this one is too.
Amy: See that’s where I do have a problem with Edwards. Like it or not, we DO have the Chase, a system that’s supposed to emphasize winning and the points leader hasn’t won a points race in seven months.
Phil: Winning is important, but it’s not the only thing. You can still win the title without hitting pay dirt six or seven times. I’d almost argue that it’s harder to get the title that way than just stomping everyone.
Amy: Again, I don’t like that Edwards stroked the first half of the Chase. Say what you want, no other Chase champion has done that. And I think now, perhaps because of that, Stewart has a slight advantage. He’s been winning, he has momentum and he knows how to go out and finish this thing.
Mike: It helps that Edwards has seven more top 10s than Stewart. I know you keep saying that but I don’t know that I agree with it. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point because I think he was getting what he could get and that is how it played out.
Phil: It’s not Edwards’s fault that a bunch of guys shot themselves in the foot repeatedly.

In what was possibly the biggest story of the weekend, Kyle Busch was parked for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races after an incident in the Truck Series race on Friday night. Was it right for NASCAR to penalize a driver based on an incident in another series? Was a one-race parking plus a fine and probation fair?

Amy: Yes. The only thing I wish NASCAR had done was extend the probation until the end of 2012. I don’t think that the series should play a role at all. Busch deserved to be parked, and if his owner and/or sponsor take further action, he deserves that, too.
Beth: Fair in what sense? It doesn’t give Ron Hornaday what might have been his last shot at the Truck Series championship back.
Mike: I think the penalty was weak, but unfortunately that is how the drivers in the national series are treated. I expounded on it in my Full Throttle commentary in the newsletter today about the Whelen All-American drivers who have been suspended indefinitely for actions that were less than what Busch and some other drivers have done.

See also
Full Throttle: Double Standards Are Hard to Swallow in NASCAR

Phil: As for the punishment, I think those 15,000 dudes that voted on ESPN’s poll would disagree. NASCAR acts like they can live without big drivers, but the punishments don’t necessarily say that.
Beth: Phil, it’s funny you bring that up because Jim Utter had a VERY good point about that poll. How many of those people that voted absolutely despise Busch anyway?
Phil: A fair number. Out of the 27,000 who voted, maybe 4-6,000 of them.
Beth: I’d argue that number is quite a bit higher, Phil. Plus, I still wonder what M&M’s will do about it given the family friendly image they try to uphold.
Phil: This guy is more hated than anyone in NASCAR history outside of Jeff Gordon in the late 1990’s.
Mike: Oh Phil, I’d argue that Darrell Waltrip was more hated than Busch. And Dale Earnhardt in his early years.
Beth: True, Phil. But the big difference there is that Gordon was hated because he was winning; Busch is hated because of his on-track antics.
Phil: Gordon at least had charisma going for him when he was being booed on a regular basis.
Amy: Here’s the thing. I don’t think he’ll be fired, though both Dollar General and M&M’s are pretty unhappy, but if he is, where is he going to go? He’s burned bridges at Roush Fenway and Hendrick and no way Childress or Penske take him. What a shame if his attitude and temper ruin his career.
Mike: If he gets fired he’s racing Trucks for himself. On the plus side of that Amy, he could win a Truck Series championship and then eventually win a Cup title and be the first to do all three.
Amy: I find it truly odd (and perhaps very telling) that Busch is not and apparently never has been featured anywhere prominent on the M&M’s Racing website. Is M&M’s so ashamed of him that they leave him off their page?
Beth: I still question that one, Amy. I mean why would you go through the effort to list your crew chief and crew members but not the driver himself?
Phil: That’s very notable. Usually, they’ll put the driver somewhere on the home page on a site like that.
Amy: Exactly. And they have little bios of Dave Rogers and all the pit crew members.
Mike: It doesn’t surprise me. The marketing dopes that run these campaigns repeatedly drop the ball on stuff like that. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. No, they probably decided long ago not to put the drive on there since they’ve changed several times in their time in the sport.
Beth: That’s a lame reason, Mike, especially since it’s SO easy to edit stuff like that these days.
Mike: I agree Beth, but unless someone from Mars is going to tell us why we’re left to speculate. And he hasn’t been on there for a while if ever.
Amy: Yeah, and they’ve been with JGR and Kyle how long now? Somehow, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. M&M’s PR stated that it has not changed this weekend.
Beth: I can’t say for sure whether he’s been on there since I hadn’t gone there prior to this weekend.
Mike: I’ve never checked out the site either so it is all speculation.
Phil: So, going back to his attitude – you guys are basically saying that Kyle Busch is Robby Gordon?
Amy: Pretty much Phil. Except Robby might even be more talented. I think Robby Gordon is one of the most talented racecar drivers anywhere, period. And most other drivers will tell you the same thing.
Beth: I wouldn’t go that far, Amy. Kyle’s got talent; he just lacks patience and respect on the racetrack.
Mike: Wow, Amy thinks Robby Gordon is more talented than Kyle Busch. That is a stretch. And most drivers will tell you that Kyle Busch is THE most talented driver.
Amy: Actually, I’ve heard more, including Stewart, say Robby. He has won in everything he’s driven. Kyle hasn’t driven enough to know.
Mike: What has Kyle driven that he hasn’t won in besides a dirt late model? And I don’t think Gordon has won in a dirt late model either.
Beth: Exactly what I was going to say, Mike.
Amy: It’s more what he hasn’t driven. Robby has won off-road in several types of vehicle and in open-wheel cars. Robby Gordon has some amazing car control. Like, off the charts. Unfortunately, during most races, he turns into Robby Gordon.
Phil: Don’t forget his sports car racing as well.
Mike: True, but unfortunately that might be more of an indication that Robby gets along with people even less than Kyle does.
Beth: Robby’s also 16 years older than Kyle. Hard to compare the two as far as what Kyle hasn’t raced.
Phil: It’s been hard to tell with Robby this year since he’s start-and-parked so many times.
Amy: As for Kyle, I think a longer suspension is a hard sell when A) NASCAR hasn’t penalized other similar incidents by either Kyle or others harshly, if at all, and B) They haven’t parked anyone for more than a weekend for a similar incident.
Mike: In the national series that is true Amy. Sadly at the local level they’re much harsher and it is totally hypocritical
Beth: I didn’t expect any more time out of the car at NASCAR’s hands once they got through this weekend.
Phil: I can’t remember anyone getting parked for more than a weekend for anything other than drugs.
Amy: I think if they had done the right thing with some earlier incidents, it could have set the stage for a longer parking (it was NOT a suspension this week!). Parking does not equal suspension. Again, I think a two-week probation is totally lame and that should go through all of 2012.
Mike: If they treated him like they did Jason Lawrence this retaliation stuff would have ended a long time ago. Stewart just got done talking about how this stuff needs to be handled by the drivers out back of the garage. If they aren’t going to let them do that, they need to send a serious message and that would have been to park Kyle. For LONG time. Kyle needs to be running ASA for the next five years while he begs to get his license back.
Beth: Mike, I think part of that is NASCAR’s need to have a “bad boy” on the track. Kyle fits that bill pretty well. I still think it’s funny how the line between wrong and right in Boys, Have At It is so unclear even after this weekend.
Amy: I agree, Beth. NASCAR wants another Earnhardt so badly it’s kind of sad. But I don’t think it’s that unclear. I think you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as it’s under green. Under caution = not cool. Not saying that’s right, but that appears to be the deal
Beth: Make sure you let Hamlin know, Amy, because he’s still not clear about where the line is drawn.
Mike: Even under green you should not be wrecking people on a mile-and-a-half track.
Amy: I agree, Mike, but that seems to be what NASCAR says. They allowed Edwards to flip Keselowski at Atlanta. I agree that hooking a guy the way Busch hooked Hornaday is as low as it gets. However, Michael Waltrip did the same thing Kyle did at Richmond a few years back and he got less than Kyle did.
Beth: I didn’t agree with that either, Amy.
Amy: True, Mike, and Edwards FLIPPED BK.
Mike: Hooking a guy in front of an oncoming field under green seems worse to me.
Amy: Hooking a guy like that, any time, any place is nothing but dirty, ever, under any condition, under any circumstance.
Tom: A little late to the party on this question. I think the severity of wrecking under yellow versus green-flag conditions played a role here. Also, you just don’t change the outcome of a championship race like that. Intentionally. When you’re moonlighting in another series. It’s just despicable. NASCAR had to do something, otherwise “deliberately manipulating championships because you’re mad at the driver or owner” would suddenly be OK.
Beth: I think that’s the bigger reason NASCAR stepped in, Tom. But even with the parking, that doesn’t give Hornaday his championship hopes back.
Mike: Isn’t it ironic that Kyle Busch handed Richard Childress the Truck title after Richard was whooping his ass earlier this year?
Beth: He also handed KHI that owners’ championship that he wanted so badly. Of course not very many people other than the owners and the drivers close to the locked in cutoff really care about that championship.
Mike: Yeah, that wasn’t too smart was it?
Amy: That made me laugh, Beth, the irony. I do think that the number of incidents Busch has had and gotten away with played a pretty good role, too, despite NASCAR’s statement.
Amy: Does anyone think that the wreck was actually because of the on-track incident?
Beth: In a way, yes, but only because it was a culmination of several tough weeks for Kyle. But with that said, I’m in no way defending his actions.
Phil: Not really. I wrote in today’s critique that the mere mention of Kevin Harvick (or anyone tied in with him) infuriates Kyle.
Mike: I do. I think Kyle lost his damn mind because Hornaday ran him into the wall and he wrecked him.
Beth: The problem I have with that logic, Mike, is that the damage was minimal until Kyle lost his brain.
Mike: I was confused when he said his truck had been wrecked four weeks in a row. His truck won at Martinsville the week before. And the series was off for like a month before Talladega.
Beth: I’m pretty sure he was referring to a couple of Cup races as well, Mike.
Amy: Though you have to love Kyle’s comments afterward, that Hornaday, who HAD position and whom Kyle pinched down on that lapped truck, should have known he’d get loose and back out. That is some arrogance right there. Kyle is one of those guys who runs all over other drivers but whines when they race him “too hard.”
Beth: Like I said in my column, Hornaday clearly had the faster truck and Kyle would have been smart to back out too. But beyond that, I swear he must have left his brain in the motorhome before he got behind the wheel Friday.
Tom: It doesn’t matter if Kyle whines or not. Bottom line, you don’t take a driver out in the way that he did. NASCAR had to react, keeping the penalty consistent with what happened between Robby Gordon and Harvick. Just like when Kurt Busch got the reckless driving charge, the car owner and the sponsor can make the call on if someone sits.
Mike: Kyle should just be glad I’m not making the suspension call or he’d be sending out resume’s for a few years.
Amy: The probation is a complete joke, but the parking was handled correctly. What a slap in the face to Joe Gibbs by Kyle. I hope Joe makes him pay the bonuses his crewmen would have gotten for a top-10 points finish himself. You have to wonder if Dollar General is wondering if they made the right move, too.
Mike: I didn’t see if NASCAR told him to pay for Hornaday’s truck. That would hurt having to write Harvick a check. Dollar General has been on Kyle’s vehicles for a while. They knew what they were getting.
Beth: He should have to pay for the truck. That thing was only slightly damaged after the initial contact with the wall, but it was completely trashed after Kyle wrecked him.
Tom: I just think this moment is make-or-break for him the same way it was with Stewart in 2002. And what’s tough for him now, which is something Stewart did NOT have to deal with is the ways in which fans can show their instantaneous reaction. 55% of people said Kyle Busch should be fired in an ESPN survey. When Mars is looking at those numbers, and all the nasty comments on Facebook/Twitter (which weren’t around back then) it carries a lot more sway.
Phil: The all-powerful Twitter and social networking in general didn’t exist in 2002. I wish at least Facebook was around for my very lonely freshman year of college.
Mike: And once again we’re in that debate that the sponsor shouldn’t be able to say crap about the driver. The decision should lie with the team owner and the sponsor should just sit back and let them handle it.

Michael Waltrip Racing announced a driver change in the No. 00 for 2012, with Mark Martin replacing David Reutimann for 25 races and Waltrip in for five. The team needs additional sponsorship for the remaining six races and no driver has been named. Will this rotating system help the team to grow, or slow them down?

Tom: I think Mark Martin will make the Michael Waltrip Racing TEAM grow. They need a veteran presence there to help right the ship. But as for the No. 00? I don’t think the part-time deal will work well over there. It’s not like Mark is mentoring a younger driver, either. It’s going to Waltrip or a rent-a-ride when he’s not in the seat.
Beth: I can’t understand why MWR would let go of the driver who grabbed the only two wins the team has scored since it was started.
Amy: I think it will help to have Martin’s input on the cars. Mikey’s, not so much, but it;s only four races. I’m still trying to grasp the outcry over David Reutimann. I don’t think waiting this late in the season was fair, nor was letting him find out on Twitter, but he wasn’t exactly performing, either
Mike: I hope it drives them into the ground. Just sayin’. I think most loyal readers will know I’m no fan of Reutimann but this whole thing is complete crap. He has the only two wins in the history of the organization.
Beth: I could have sworn he was under contract through next season though. Not exactly the right thing to do to release him with just three Cup races remaining on the schedule.
Amy: Most drivers have performance clauses in their contracts allowing them to be released for being outside the top 20. He wasn’t performing. I think this was more a sponsor decision than team, really.
Phil: I smell a lawsuit coming.
Mike: Exactly Phil.
Amy: Why? He didn’t meet the performance clause.
Beth: Is that for sure, though, Amy?
Phil: How do you know there’s a performance clause, Amy? Do you have access to David’s contract? If that were the case, you’d see mass driver movement every year.
Mike: He has the organizations only two wins and was signed to an extension one year ago.
Amy: Not 100% but that’s standard driver contract and he was 28th in points with two top 10s this year in a fully-sponsored, factory-backed car.
Mike: Yeah, well the organization has to give you competitive cars too. If Truex was winning a bunch or scoring loads of top fives I’d buy it. They aren’t giving him decent cars.
Beth: And that has to be part of the consideration when it comes to performance clauses, Mike. By that logic, Truex should have been released too since he’s outside the top 20.
Amy: Truex has 11 top 10s … that’s five times as many as Reutimann. NAPA is apparently happier than Aaron’s was. Sorry, guys, just don’t get it. If anything, I sort of wonder why he was given this long.
Phil: Reutimann has been a victim quite a bit this season. Like in Watkins Glen. Taken out through no fault of his own.
Mike: Oh, I see. So Truex has nine more top 10s and is a handful of spots ahead in the points. It would seem like he’s doing worse with more. He won races the previous two years!!! Truex hasn’t won squat.
Beth: Obviously there was a reason he was signed to an extension, and I just plain don’t agree with teams releasing drivers while they’re still in their contracts unless it’s mutual. But that’s just me, I suppose.
Mike: I just don’t understand signing a guy to a contract extension the week after he gave you your second victory as an organization and letting him go 14 months later. I think they have over extended themselves with this Clint Bowyer deal and their cutting Reutimann loose to make that one work.
Amy: Things change, Mike. There have been no wins and one top five in those 14 months.
Mike: Yeah, and no wins and one more top five for Truex than Reutimann. I just don’t think he’s been that much worse to let him go in such a crappy fashion. He’s been left out to dry with no chance of getting another job.
Phil: Sounds like a money issue. I don’t think Waltrip really wanted to do this.
Amy: Perspective here: If you were a car owner or sponsor and the drivers you had to choose from were Martin and Reutimann, can any of you honestly say you wouldn’t take Martin?
Phil: Martin’s going to be 53 years old in January. He can only go on so much longer. Then again, Reutimann’s not the youngest guy either. He’s already in his 40s, I think.
Mike: Mark’s done squat all year too. In Hendrick equipment. I’ll be loyal to the guy who actually won races for me. And he drives like he’s 53. He’s sucked out loud this year.
Amy: Yes but for two years when I know the cars need work and Martin can provide excellent feedback? Not to mention, if Bowyer is going to be so great for your team, use his feedback.
Phil: That would work a lot better if they allowed testing at tracks that hold point races.
Amy: So you’d take one good driver and a mediocre one instead of one good one and one future hall of Famer? That’s nuts.
Mike: I just think it is a total load of crap that is because of the Bowyer deal and NAPA told him if he fired Truex they’d leave. That is speculation but I bet it is close to the truth.
Amy: It was clear in the press conference that Aaron’s wanted a change. it was a business decision. Would the outcry be the same if it wasn’t such a nice guy? I doubt it.
Mike: And you’re putting him in shitty equipment. It isn’t going to do anybody any good.
Amy: He still knows more about setting up racecars than some guys ever will.
Tom: Let’s get back to Martin for a second. Here’s a question … do you guys think he’s washed up? At this point, I think it’s legitimate to ask. Been in more wrecks than at any time than I can remember this year – many where he was the cause. Running outside the top 20 in points, on track for his worst full-time points finish. He is 52, turning 53 in January. No one in Sprint Cup has ever won past the age of 52.
Mike: I said when this started. I’m no Reutimann apologist but he’s getting totally screwed in this deal. And Martin is over the hill. He’s been terrible this year. He’s one spot above Truex in points in Hendrick equipment. What do you think he’ll do in MWR stuff?
Amy: I don’t think this team is going to be looking for a bunch of wins right off. What they need is good, consistent feedback. Martin can provide that.
Tom: Martin is good at feedback. I do think he might be done winning races. I won’t completely write him off, because the guy has bounced back like a cat with nine lives. But “the time” comes for everyone. With Martin, I think it could be finally time.
Mike: Again, it is coming down to people who know nothing about racing influencing the personnel decisions behind the wheel and it is totally wrong. And again, for the 50th time – Reutimann won a race 14 months ago. Truex hasn’t won a race for the organization. If Waltrip had some balls he’d stand up for a loyal employee. Then again, he wouldn’t fire him on Twitter. Not to mention, the sponsor has made him look like a dope in their commercials and he’s put up with that too.
Tom: Well this question isn’t about Reutimann, it’s about Martin. And Waltrip clearly felt like he needed to do something different in an organization that has yet to make the Chase. Keep in mind, too, that money was involved here. Bowyer is just a partial-season deal; they need some of Reutimann’s sponsors to make the new No. 15 car work. Martin is a money-saving deal for MWR, because that’s less races the marketing department has to fill for two cars with part-time primary sponsors.
Mike: I don’t understand what Martin is going to give to the sponsor that Reutimann can’t.
Amy: Look, there are guys who sponsors keep that should be dumped and guys who they dump who they should keep. Reutimann got told the wrong way and way too late, but the bottom line is, he wasn’t performing THIS YEAR and they want a change. I say you either stand up for every driver who gets let go for nonperformance or realize that sometimes, performance is lacking, guys get fired even if they’re nice. One top 10 in an entire year isn’t exactly the performance a team with that much money should be having.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with a driver being let go for non performance. I have a problem when their performance is as good or better than the other driver in the organization and they’re being let go because the owner signed another driver to a stupid deal.
Beth: I say sponsors should take a step back and allow drivers to complete their contracts before dumping them for another, period.
Mike: Sponsors should give teams money and shut the hell up. Sponsors dabbling in the team’s business is bullshit and it is one of the big problems in this sport today. Not to mention they turn around and shop their sponsorships off of teams to try and get the cheapest deals which, in the long run, causes them to under-perform.

Trevor Bayne was the surprise winner in the Nationwide Series race at Texas this weekend. What does the victory do for the series, and more importantly, his career?

Beth: The win for Trevor Bayne is pretty big – remember he outran Edwards and Hamlin to score that victory. And after his illness earlier in the season, I’m sure it was gratifying knowing he was able to go out there and win one by simply out-driving his competitors.
Mike: I think it at least gives his career a little bump because he has now won in that series. For the series itself, their problems are way deeper than that.
Amy: It was hugely popular, that’s for sure. It was great for the series, and how cool that a real Nationwide driver was the one who decided the manufacturers’ title.
Tom: That victory could be the difference between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. getting the Wood Brothers opportunity and Bayne keeping it. Now, if Stenhouse wins the Nationwide championship, that would make it a tougher choice. But it’s much easier for the Woods to justify holding onto Bayne with a Nationwide victory. One would hope Roush runs both he and Stenhouse full time in the series next year. But sponsorship may dictate all of that.
Phil: Yeah, Bayne needed something like that. He’s been in Stenhouse’s shadow all year, especially after Stenhouse basically showed up with no Cup experience and finished 11th in the 600.
Amy: Jack Roush said something recently to the effect that Bayne would run the No. 21 next year, but I cannot remember where I saw it.
Mike: I’m glad to see Trevor win this year because I didn’t want to have to hear all winter that he won the 500 and nothing in the Nationwide Series. His illness didn’t help things at all. Being out of the car for that long certainly put him behind in his development.
Phil: It’s been all about Stenhouse this year after Bayne won the Daytona 500. He also prevented Carl from taking a nine-pack in the Nationwide Series (at least, temporarily).
Amy: I think both would greatly benefit from a year in Nationwide without Edwards.
Phil: Without Carl, Stenhouse would probably have a couple more wins. Bayne really hasn’t been in position to win all year.
Mike: I don’t know about that. I think they both benefit from having Carl’s input on the cars.
Amy: He was leading when his engine blew this summer, I can’t remember where. So this could easily be his second win.
Tom: Stenhouse has had the edge, for the most part. But Bayne’s rhythm got interrupted by that mysterious illness. When that happens, it takes a while for you to get your strength back. Keep in mind, too, that he was out of title contention after that; huge downer.
Mike: All of that suffers when you’re out of the seat while the other is continuing to develop the car.
Amy: I agree, Tom, so it’s hard to know how the season would have developed without that illness. Both are likable young drivers and if only NASCAR would market the series properly, could be hugely popular while promoting the series.
Phil: Yeah. If it was Lyme Disease, I could understand the strength thing. Had a Health teacher of mine get it when I was in 11th grade. He was out for like a month. I can’t imagine teaching being as tiring as driving a racecar.
Mike: Bayne is already hugely popular. They could make the kid a rockstar if they marketed him.
Amy: It was fun to watch him Saturday … he flat drove by Carl in the end. It’s always good to see a real NNS guy do that. I’d love to see Ricky vs. Trevor continue for another year without Carl in the mix, so that they get the best of everything.
Phil: The on-track battles, or the random online battles of wit?
Mike: I’d like to see Ricky vs. Trevor at Rockingham for the Polar Bear at the end of the month.
Amy: It blows my mind that Bayne has gone two years without solid sponsorship
Tom: The funny thing, Amy, is Mars would be the perfect fit with him. And they’d be picking up a Daytona 500 winner. I think the problem is Roush has put the price tag too high. Not a lot of $20-million sponsors walking around, either. And those who are are experts in the sport. They knew one victory did not make Bayne an instant superstar (cough, Derrike Cope, cough).
Mike: It blows my mind that Matt Kenseth can’t find sponsorship. Or more accurately, Roush can’t find it for him.
Phil: I think it’s a little hard to sell people on Bayne. And that is criminal. Someone who is openly religious is almost like the plague in the advertising world.
Amy: It’s not Roush as much as it is NASCAR. They couldn’t do much less to promote the Nationwide Series as it should be. Read my column about UPS from a couple of weeks ago. In Cup, a couple of greedy big name sponsors priced everyone out of the market.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: The Rise & Fall of UPS in NASCAR - & Who They Took Down With Them

Mike: What about Kenseth thought Amy? He’s a Cup champion and they can’t get someone on his car full time.
Phil: People like Bayne might end up being typecast. I fear other drivers like Blake Koch might be there eventually (granted, Daystar seems to love the guy right now).
Mike: I just don’t see how you’re priced out of the market getting on a Cup champion’s car.
Amy: Because not a lot of companies have the $25 million or so it takes to win one, Mike.
Mike: True, but there are some out there who are on cars that aren’t winning them.
Amy: I don’t know about that kind of money, Mike. Not a lot out there.

How about some predictions for Phoenix?

Amy: I say Smoke plays the Chase like Johnson, wins it and leaves with the points lead
Mike: Fine, if you’re going to take my pick I’ll take Edwards.
Beth: Well crap Amy. I guess I’ll go with Johnson since you took my pick.
Phil: Lets see. For Phoenix, I’ll take Jeff Gordon for the season sweep. This is about the time that someone out of the hunt throws a wrench into the proceedings.
Mike: Won’t it be interesting if Edwards has a bad day and then Kenseth wins Homestead to come home in second place?
Tom: I’m going to go with Edwards at Phoenix. No. 99 shuts the door, but it’s still a tight race heading into Homestead. Stewart runs top five. Darkhorse is Gordon; he ran well at Texas, has a knack for these repaving things and certainly has a solid track record out in the desert.
Mike: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is my darkhorse. He’s won there before and is a good short-track racer, which Phoenix can be similar too.
Amy: My darkhorse is AJ Allmendinger. He’s been quietly turning it on lately.
Phil: It’s been a while since Earnhardt Jr. won out there (2004). Cripes, that was a whole ‘nother era in his career, way back when Eury Sr. was his crew chief.

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

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Phil Allaway313411117
Mike Neff25-62821014
Amy Henderson25-6332718
Summer Dreyer14-1714155
Jeff Meyer11-2017158
Beth Lunkenheimer8-2314145
Tom Bowles1-305012
Brody Jones0-315002

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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