Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Validating the Chase, Grubb’s Departure & Raining on Championships

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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Fridays/Tearing Apart the Trucks & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)

The season-ending race at Homestead had plenty of excitement, ending in the first-ever championship points tie. But in a non-Chase situation, under this system Carl Edwards would have clinched the title at Phoenix, not Tony Stewart, eliminating the battle fans saw on Sunday. So did 2011 validate the Chase?

Amy: Not really, although I think to NASCAR it will. Unfortunately, to those of us who want to see it gone, this will just be the big “we told you so.”
Phil: That sounds about right. A bunch of people will claim that this will validate the whole system.
Beth: I don’t know that anything really validates the Chase. It still doesn’t reward performance throughout the season enough. But with that said, at least it went right down to the wire at the end.
Amy: It was, Beth, and given that the Chase is the current rule that we have, it was a great ending.

See also
Monday Morning Teardown: The Greatest Chase of All Time? You Betcha

Mike: It all depends on what your feelings are on the Chase. It made for a great championship battle. I think the points championship would have been interesting without it utilizing the new system, though. Hopefully, we’ll see how this works out in a couple more years.
Amy: Bet Cousin Carl wishes he’d raced just a little harder earlier on. One finishing position in any Chase race and he’d have won it under either system.
Mike: Woulda, shoulda, coulda. If he’d have raced a little harder, he might have gotten into a wreck. If there was a rule that you could only get one Lucky Dog, he’d have finished at least one lap down at Martinsville.
Amy: Might have wrecked, might have won. It’s about taking risks. Tony took more of them and it paid off in the end.
Beth: It’s a good thing Tony Stewart won the championship. Can you imagine how upset people would have been if Carl Edwards had won, with Stewart winning half the Chase races?
Mike: Yeah, Beth. Imagine if he’d have won it by a point? People would have been out of their minds.
Beth: Exactly. But for the 10-race setup that NASCAR has put into place, this was definitely the best one. I sure was on edge throughout the last few races.
Mike: The thing I find so interesting is that, over the last three races, Carl and Tony were the class of the field except for Kasey Kahne at Phoenix. Were they really that much better?
Beth: I think that’s what made this one so much more interesting. Tony took a “nothing to lose” attitude for the entire Chase and instead, he won it all. How impressive was that run on Sunday (Nov. 20)? Back in the pack twice and all the way up to the front again. Pretty impressive.
Mike: But he only won it by a tiebreaker. One little slip or Jeff Burton racing him a little harder at Phoenix and he doesn’t win it.
Amy: I don’t know if they were really that much better or if they elevated themselves to the occasion. Stewart didn’t so much as win Sunday night as went out and took it.
Phil: Yeah, Stewart was driving like a man possessed all night.
Mike: Stewart’s run yesterday was awesome. He is something to watch when his car is right.
Beth: That’s not something new, Mike. Those times have just been fewer and farther between recently.
Amy: That’s why Stewart is the most talented driver in NASCAR. Maybe in the world. If he had lost, he would have known he left nothing on the table. Edwards can’t say that, and now has all offseason to ponder it. Could it lead to him pulling a Denny Hamlin next year?
Phil: I doubt it, Amy. He’ll probably just want the title that much more.
Mike: We’ll see. Generally speaking, the driver who finishes second does not run well the next season.
Beth: This Chase at least held my attention right to the end. Who knew we’d go into Homestead with a three-point difference between the two?
Amy: Here’s why saying it was the Chase is misguided, though. Trucks were only six points apart after Homestead … without a Chase. So saying the Chase is needed to make it exciting is incorrect.
Mike: I do wonder if they’ll tweak the bonus points for winning so you get an extra three in the Chase.
Beth: And Nationwide would have been significantly closer if it weren’t for the contact between Elliott Sadler and Jason Leffler at Phoenix.
Amy: I don’t think there’s anything that could make the Chase the right system for this sport. But hand it to Stewart and Edwards for putting on a great show under the rules they were given. We’ve now seen two historic championships in a row. Like the Chase or not, that’s pretty impressive.
Mike: Some points races are good, some aren’t. That’s just how it works.
Amy: Exactly. Before the Chase, some years it came down to the wire (Terry Labonte/Jeff Gordon in 1996, anyone?) and some years, not so much (Matt Kenseth). That’s just the nature of it.

Tony Stewart will enter 2012 as the defending Cup champion, in all likelihood without the crew chief who helped him get there. Darian Grubb, after Homestead confirmed that he was given his release several weeks ago effective after the season. Is there any hope for a return to the No. 14 for Grubb and if not, who is the best bet to take his place atop the pit box?

Amy: I don’t see Grubb back, especially if he’s offered the Competition Director job at Hendrick.
Beth: I agree, Amy. It’s not like he doesn’t have a history with HMS.
Phil: It’s not completely hopeless for Grubb, but it’s not looking good.
Amy: The HMS job would be a step up for him, so I certainly wouldn’t say it doesn’t look good.
Mike: Certainly, there is a chance he’ll stay at SHR, too. The dude just won the championship. It all depends on what other things Grubb has offered to him.
Beth: It’s a shame to see Grubb headed out after the incredible run they made in the Chase. But obviously, there’s a reason he was released.
Phil: The problem is, who’s better out there right now than Grubb? I can’t really think of anyone. It’s like trying to find a good head coach in the NBA, when they’re not in the middle of labor stupidity.
Mike: There’s others who are better. I believe, if Greg Zipadelli can get out of his contract he’d be a step up for Stewart’s box.
Amy: I think if Zippy gets out, he would be Comp. Director, not crew chief. Steve Addington, who left Penske this week still seems to be the most persistent rumor for the crew chief job. Guy must be some kind of masochist.
Mike: Why do you say that, Amy? Were you not listening to Stewart’s radio during the problems at Homestead? He’s a changed man.
Beth: I wouldn’t be surprised about Addington. I mean, he hasn’t been able to do much with Kurt Busch.

See also
Full Throttle: There Comes a Time When You Have to Be Responsible

Mike: Addington has made the Chase with Kurt. They led the points early this season. That would seem like something.
Beth: Sure, it’s something, but he still struggled with adjustability most of the season. However, I don’t know how much of that was the driver and how much was the crew chief. I’m kind of leaning towards it being the driver because Pat Tryson had the same problems.
Phil: With Busch? Getting berated on a regular basis can’t be good for the psyche. As for Tryson, remember that he quit his job once in the middle of a race.
Amy: The situation I’d have liked to see play out at Hendrick was promoting Chad Knaus and putting Grubb on the No. 48 box.
Mike: I don’t know that Jimmie Johnson would like that. Not to mention I would think Chad wants that record-tying eighth title as a crew chief.
Phil: It’s not like Jimmie couldn’t work with Darian Grubb. Heck, they’ve already won the Daytona 500 together.
Amy: Jimmie’s won with Darian before. And Knaus ain’t getting it done. But HMS confirmed all four crew chiefs for next year, no changes except for Kenny Francis coming in with Kasey Kahne.
Mike: Oh my God. Will you stop with Knaus. Johnson won five championships in a row and finished outside of the top five in points for the first time in his career. You need to get a grip.
Beth: I just can’t see Hendrick breaking up Knaus and Johnson. Everyone has an off season, and even in that “off” season, Johnson racked up 21 top 10s.
Amy: Homestead was just bad luck, but there were a ton of missed opportunities because Knaus is making calls that worked three years ago when they aren’t working anymore.
Mike: Whatever. They were the highest-finishing Hendrick car. You are nuts if you think he’s not still the best in the garage.
Amy: I think Johnson is one of the best in the garage.
Mike: We know. And you think Carl strokes. And Chad is a has been.
Phil: Geez, one sixth-place finish in points and all of a sudden, you’re Old Man Periwinkle.
Beth: Agreed. Jimmie can’t win them all. If a “bad” season for Johnson/Knaus is sixth in points, then everything will be just fine for them.
Mike: I would be willing to bet that Chad will spend quite a bit of time in the offseason analyzing what worked for people during the season and what didn’t. They were the best for five straight years. I am willing to bet they’ll be right there again in 2012.
Amy: As for Grubb, I’m not sure I’d want to come back to the No. 14, given the situation. Six weeks ago, he wasn’t good enough. Kind of not cool to then go, “Well, since we won, I changed my mind, you are good enough after all.”
Mike: Six weeks ago, they were coming off a 25th and 15th-place finish, having only won two races all season and barely made the Chase. Things do change and people do make bad decisions.
Beth: Keep in mind, though, the decision was made after they had already won two Chase races together. I have to think there’s more to it than we really know.
Amy: Grubb has always seemed more comfortable in a more internal role. So if he does get a Competition Director job somewhere, I can definitely see him doing that instead.
Mike: He might. I think Zipadelli wants to get back with Stewart at the No. 14 and Grubb would make a good Competition Director at SHR.
Amy: So what happens if JGR holds Zippy to his contract?
Phil: Buyout time. Simple as that if Zipadelli wants to go to Stewart-Haas. Crew chiefs are rare, but I can’t imagine that it would be unprecedented.
Amy: Gibbs would still have to accept.

Both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series had an owners’ title go to a team that was not eligible for driver points. Is that acceptable, or does NASCAR need to look further at fixing these series’ points systems?

Beth: Leave it alone. I’ve had enough of NASCAR “fixing” things that aren’t broken.
Phil: Well, the only way they could would be to make cars running drivers ineligible for drivers’ points also ineligible for owners’ points when those drivers are in the seats. That might cause chaos, though.
Amy: I’m not sure what I think about this one. Part of me thinks that if the driver isn’t eligible for points, the owner shouldn’t be, either. That would give sponsors no incentive to run on Cup guys’ cars. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s fair to the crews.
Phil: It would make it difficult for some teams to get sponsors.
Mike: If we block teams out of the series who want to run Cup guys, we’re going to have 15 teams running in the races.
Amy: Well, this adjustment would force sponsors onto real NNS teams. That’s a plus.
Beth: For what few real NNS teams there are.
Mike: I just think it would discourage teams from running drivers in the other series. There are occasionally Nationwide guys in Trucks and vice versa.
Amy: Nobody would be blocking them. But I don’t think any Cup guys are running the series full time next year (looks like the one-series rule worked!), so it could play out differently.
Beth: Same goes for the Truck Series, too. Without KBM, you lose two (sometimes three) rides. We’ve already lost up to three with KHI. It’s ridiculous.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t think we want to be coming up with more reasons for sponsors to leave the sport.
Amy: I don’t think they would leave the sport. I think they’d sponsor the available drivers and possibly be pleasantly surprised to realize that they actually have their own personalities.
Beth: But honestly, who besides the team owners really pays attention to the owners’ championship standings? I know I don’t.
Phil: The more I think about it, the more I think that NASCAR should have never instituted the 12:1 compression rule for 2001. It killed car count overnight. And substantially increased the cost of entry into the series.
Beth: Whatever the reason for the series’ current problems, I say leave the points system be. If the team owner is shelling out the resources to pay for crew members, etc. and the crew members are working their butts off, regardless of who’s in the seat, then it’s really not fair for them to not get some sort of recognition.
Amy: Like I said, it may not be an issue after this year. I’d like to see any measures to discourage Cup guys running those series more than a handful of times, though.
Phil: That is probably part of the reason why it’s so difficult to find sponsors for Nationwide teams now.

After a brief rain shower with fewer than 20 laps to go in the Camping World Truck Series finale, NASCAR called the race after seven minutes with 15 laps left, despite the championship contenders being just six points apart. Was it the right call or should there be separate standards for the final race of the year when the title is on the line?

Beth: Absolutely the right call. The Truck Series championship was decided for 25 races, not just the one at Homestead. Plain and simple, it was a rainout like any other rainout there’s ever been. And if you want to argue about the race itself, Austin Dillon was actually recovering from his earlier drop-back and heading towards the front of the field.
Amy: I think a separate rule is needed, Beth. While that’s true on paper, the way the race was unfolding, you may well have had a different outcome in those 15 laps.
Mike: It was definitely the right call. There was more rain in the area. It took over two hours to dry the track earlier in the day and it was already late in the evening.
Amy: They could have finished in the morning. Impound the trucks and end it right.
Phil: At what? 8:30 in the morning? I don’t know about that, Amy.
Beth: Absolutely not. We’ve always complained about NASCAR changing the rules on a whim. For once, they did what they should have done.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Ford 200 at Homestead

Mike: Exactly. They never have and never should continue a race on a subsequent day if it is more than half over. The rules are the same at Daytona and Homestead and every race in between.
Amy: There is no reason that there can’t be a special rule for the last race of the year if the championship is riding on those laps.
Beth: There’s no reason for a separate rule. Like Mike said, they’re the same for every race from Daytona to Homestead. Besides, Johnny Sauter could have won that championship if not for other problems he had throughout the season (with Texas being the biggest one that I can think of).
Phil: The thing is that they lost the track because of the heavy rain. Had this been just a brief shower, then maybe Amy has a point here.
Mike: The championship rides on the final laps of every race. You know damn good and well David Reutimann winning at Charlotte or Joey Logano winning at New Hampshire a couple of years ago had a dramatic impact on points. Kyle Busch dominated the 600 the day Reutimann won it. You can’t say one race is more important than any other.
Amy: The rain was over before they handed Dillon the title, seven minutes into the red flag. And I do see why some fans wondered if NASCAR saw the opportunity to get the outcome they wanted.
Beth: Did you look at the radar, Amy? There was another shower on the way.
Mike: You cannot put more importance on one race over another. If you’re going to do that then you have to run every race to completion.
Amy: I think the last race of the year is special.
Phil: It was 9:45 when the red flag came out. It looked like it was still raining when they called the dang thing. I can’t imagine that anyone would have stayed until midnight for just 15 laps.
Amy: There was no reason not to finish in the morning.
Mike: No. Because if you’re going to do that, then you need to start doing double points or paying more points for bigger races. And who decides what is a bigger race?
Beth: I don’t care if it’s race one or race 25, there’s a rainout rule in place for a reason. The rules specifically state that a rainout after halfway becomes final. Period.
Phil: With the schedule for Saturday, there was almost no way they could finish in the morning. Now, if this shower were the only rain on Friday, maybe they could had made it work, but it just wouldn’t have worked here.
Amy: And that’s why I think a rule change for the last race is in order, if the championship has not been decided.
Mike: The championship hasn’t been decided in August, either. How do you not finish a race that is rained on at Pocono? The reason not to finish it in the morning was the race was past halfway. That’s how it works.
Beth: No one race is more important than the next. All 25 races on the Truck Series schedule are worth the same amount of points. Plain and simple, NASCAR made the right call to end the race. You can’t just go making special rules just because there’s a title battle going on, especially since the title battle goes on all season.
Amy: Sure, Sauter could have won if other races had gone his way. Dillon could have clinched at Texas, too, but neither happened and they were six points apart when NASCAR called it. And heck, if they’d run at 3 a.m., do you think Dillon or Sauter would have cared who was in the stands as they hoisted the trophy?
Mike: I disagree. Every race pays the same points. If you are going to make special rules for the last race, then you need to pay extra points for that race and maybe put a chicane in the middle of the straightaway. Possibly have them drive with a live opossum in the car.
Amy: I still think fans should have gotten what they wanted.
Phil: You could argue that if you’re not making special rules about anything, then NASCAR shouldn’t be making special rules about how people race around championship contenders.
Mike: I agree, Phil, but it is as dumb as finishing one race the next day for some special rule because it is the last race. The fans got what they wanted. Sauter won the race and Dillon won the title. They got to go home before the sun came up. Not to mention the track didn’t have to deal with letting people in with their tickets and then clearing them out before the Nationwide race.
Beth: And I still say if you’re going to allow the last race of the season to be postponed to the next day, regardless of whether it’s past halfway or not, you have to do the same the whole season.
Amy: I don’t think you do.
Beth: Funny thing is that if Sauter would have just held his line back in June at Texas, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
Mike: The championship should have been settled when it was. They just need to spread their races out better. Actually, they need to have more races, but that’s another argument.
Beth: Agreed, Mike. Too bad they cut the 2012 season by three races … not happy about that at all. Anyways, rain happens. It’s part of the beast when you race outdoors.
Mike: But in NASCAR, you’re altering the points scored by people at one race over others. If you get screwed by rain in August and then lose the title by six points in November, it isn’t fair that you didn’t complete the race in August.
Amy: On the other hand, there should have been a better attempt to dry the track. If they had tried and then it had poured again, I might change my mind. But seven minutes? There was rain in the area Sunday, too, yet they dealt with it better.
Beth: Sunday’s race also started a heck of a lot earlier than Friday’s race did. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.
Amy: On Friday, it would have been just about midnight after they dried it. I think most fans would have stayed in the stands. And even if they didn’t, the drivers probably wouldn’t have cared.
Phil: I think that they should have waited a little while longer before calling the race. Seven minutes isn’t much. However, I don’t think they absolutely had to restart.
Amy: I think there should have been a way better effort to finish. And I wouldn’t have a problem with a separate rule, because NASCAR can’t seem to get it right with scheduling the race at a better time.
Beth: NASCAR made the right decision Friday night. Regardless of which race it is, there are rain rules in place for a reason. To make a separate rule just because it’s the last race of the season is just plain stupid. Teams know what they have to work with each and every week and they must play within those rules. Period.
Mike: They called the 600 in Charlotte after about 15 minutes when Reutimann won it and it didn’t rain for the next five or six hours. They might have called this one a little early, but having it finish on Friday night was the correct call.
Amy: Calling it in seven minutes sure feeds the fire for NASCAR choosing the winner. I don’t think that’s what happened, but lots of people do. At least a reasonable attempt to dry the track would have removed that.
Beth: NASCAR didn’t pick their champion. If they wanted to pick their champion, they’d have made sure Sauter wasn’t out front when Dillon was struggling earlier in the night.
Amy: Again, if a reasonable attempt had been made, I might feel differently. And so might a lot of the fans who wanted to see some effort on NASCAR’s part.

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

After 36 races, Amy Henderson grabbed the 2011 Mirror Driving Predictions championship after picking Stewart to win at Homestead. Congratulations Amy!

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Amy Henderson33353920
Mike Neff29-43021116
Phil Allaway29-43611117
Summer Dreyer14-1914155
Jeff Meyer11-2217158
Beth Lunkenheimer8-2415145
Tom Bowles2-317023
Brody Jones0-335002

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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