Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Defining Dodge, Pondering Penalties & Does Winning Breed Winning?

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 (Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)

The big news of the weekend happened off the track, with Penske Racing announcing a switch to Ford for the 2013 season. How will the change impact Penske along with the other Ford teams … and is there a future for Dodge in NASCAR?

Beth: Well, Robby Gordon is their future come 2013. You do the math.
Phil: If Dodge wants there to be a future, there will be one. However, I think they’re in a situation where they have to drive up to Joey Arrington’s engine shop with a truckload of money.
Amy: Staying in the sport isn’t going to be easy for Dodge. No team with an engine program has reason to switch, and teams without one really have no reason to unless they plan to open an engine shop.
Kevin: My only concern for Penske comes because of the announcement being this early in the season. Now, I’m not sure how much support Dodge is going to be willing to give to the team, and that’s something that could affect them for the rest of the year.

See also
Voices From the Cheap Seats: Penske to Ford? Whoopidy Dodgety Doo!

Mike: Well, their hand was forced because Dodge was getting ready to announce their 2013 Charger. Penske didn’t want to look bad by unveiling that car with Dodge and announcing in a couple of months that they were gone.
Phil: Neffy, isn’t helping to unveil a new car, then bolting what Joe Gibbs Racing did to Pontiac in 2002?
Mike: Pretty much, Phil. And I don’t think Penske wanted to look like that.
Phil: I’d like to think that stiffing is why Pontiac was gone after only one year with that new Grand Prix. Anyways, Kevin makes a very good point. Penske’s basically a lame duck right now.
Beth: I wondered about that, too, but it wouldn’t be smart business-wise for Dodge to not really support Penske if they’re expecting to have a future in the series. Who would want to switch to Dodge or even start a team with them if their performance this season sinks?
Amy: Right. I don’t think that’s going to be a big problem; Dodge is going to have to sell themselves.
Mike: By the way, I’m pretty sure Ernie Elliott still builds Dodge engines. I know that is what Brian Keselowski had in his car at Daytona last season, but I just don’t know what kind of inventory he can offer right away.
Amy: Well if you’ve got a small team with a decent engine builder, going to Dodge with full factory support could be a good move.
Mike: Dodge has a few options on teams to try and entice. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t any well-established, winning organizations on the market. Another point to consider that Penske maintained the decision was driven by the long-term commitment Ford was willing to make. Did that mean that Dodge did not want to make a long-term commitment?
Phil: Either that or it’s related to dealerships outside of racing, like Penske’s incentives he offered to Shell-Pennzoil.
Amy: Furniture Row Racing does have an engine facility, I believe, even though they use ECR right now. With the right support, it could be beneficial for them to be top dog with Dodge.
Phil: I don’t know. Furniture Row likes to think of themselves as a fourth Childress team. Dodge’ll have to shower them with money; the Godfather offer, if you will.
Mike: Furniture Row has a very close relationship with Richard Childress Racing. I would be quite surprised if they’d be willing to cut those ties. Front Row, on the other hand, could be a big beneficiary of being the top dog for a manufacturer. That would be one of the few options left for Dodge, I would think.
Amy: Don’t count out Furniture Row, Mike. There has got to be a certain appeal about being a manufacturer’s No. 2 team, let’s say rather than its 10th or 12th, like they are now.
Mike: Does anyone think Michael Waltrip would make the jump?
Beth: With Mikey, you just never know.
Kevin: Waltrip might make sense. He’s certainly not number one over in the Toyota camp. Might look better in his eyes to make the leap.
Mike: After the way Mikey hosed David Reutimann, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him bail for Dodge.
Beth: You know, I didn’t even think about that, Mike. I’m not so sure about loyalty when it comes to MWR.
Mike: There’s loyalty to sponsors. Team members? Not so much.
Amy: Again, I think it comes down to whether MWR wants to add the long-term expense of building engines. I don’t know if Ernie Elliott alone can supply three teams.
Mike: Well, whoever joins them Dodge will be taking a step down unless there is a major surprise. I just can’t imagine any of the established, winning teams, making the jump.
Beth: Penske going back to Ford makes sense, and with the FR9 engine, they’ll be in great shape. The question remains, though, whether Dodge will even be able to remain in the sport given who they’re left with at this point come next season.
Amy: I do wonder how thin Ford will be spreading resources, especially engines if they are working with Penske’s program. As it is, some of the smaller Ford teams have said they’re getting lesser stuff. If they are, that hurts Penske, but also Front Row and Germain, and it could be those teams jumping ship to Dodge if they really hit the bottom of the barrel on equipment.
Mike: The move will obviously help Ford teams overall, though because they’ll have another organization to draw from.
Amy: I think it will be a good move for Penske in the long run. Depending on how fast they get their engine program switched over, the FR9 is the best in the garage right now, so that’s a plus.

When speaking about the No. 48 team’s penalty last week, Chad Knaus brought to light that the car was never formally inspected. Is it NASCAR’s responsibility to do so before issuing a penalty, or should an inspector’s eyeball be good enough to tell something is amiss?

Beth: It is absolutely NASCAR’s responsibility to be 100% sure there’s a violation. And that doesn’t come just by eyeballing a part.
Amy: Absolutely, that car should have been subjected to a full inspection, and the team told what was off and how much.
Phil: An eyeball can be enough if its ludicrously out of spec. However, to be sure, put the measuring equipment in there.
Beth: Eyeballing it can work to make them take a closer look at the part in question, but there should have been a full inspection before any penalties were handed out. And because of that, I’ll be really upset if the appeals board doesn’t choose to overturn the penalty.
Amy: The team should have been able to request a full inspection.
Kevin: Full inspection. No question. Eyeballing seems half-assed to me and that just doesn’t sound right.
Amy: So much can affect an eye. Light hitting just so, paint lines, decals, a reflection. Way too much left to a guess.
Beth: Sure, the part may have been out of allowance, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been tested with the template to make sure.
Phil: There’s no way in living heck this thing’s getting reversed, though.
Mike: But the eyeball failure sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. Can you even imagine? Heading into Richmond in 2013, Danica Patrick is 11th in points, 10 points out of the Chase. The 10th-place driver has a splitter that “doesn’t look right” and gets docked 25 points, allowing Danica to make the Chase.
Amy: Right Mike, and even if the splitter WAS off, the onus is on NASCAR to prove that before they penalize.
Beth: Otherwise, it’s just speculation as to whether the part was actually out of allowance.
Kevin: Makes me wonder how many other inspection failures in the past few years occurred because of them “eyeballing” something and seeing an issue rather than doing a full inspection.
Amy: Or on the flip side of Kevin’s point, how many passed because they looked okay but may have measured out of tolerance?
Beth: I thought the same thing too, Kevin. I mean a police officer isn’t going to just give you a ticket because it looks like you’re speeding, they’re going to verify it.
Amy: If they had fully inspected the No. 48 and had a reason and a measurement as to why it was off and by how much. They deserved everything they got. But that NASCAR never even took a single measurement is just asinine.
Phil: Too late to measure it now, too. They already fixed it.
Mike: The eyeball idea is just so silly considering how many things in the inspection process are dealing with thousandths of an inch. Remember, Clint Bowyer‘s violation was something like six thousandths of an inch. There is just no way you can be checking things that closely and then throw someone out for something not looking right.
Amy: I remember a few years ago several teams complaining about how off the Roush right-front fenders looked to them after a race, but NASCAR said they looked fine. Maybe they should have measured?
Kevin: Good call, Amy. That’s why this gray area shouldn’t even exist. NASCAR should be looking at these things with full scrutiny so there’s no question whatsoever it’s a penalty.
Phil: Let’s be honest though. If someone’s even claiming to eyeball a violation, its a lot more than .006 of an inch. Unless that inspector has X-ray eyes.
Beth: And that’s fine Phil, but upon an eyeballing of a violation, there should have been templates placed on the car to determine whether it was actually out of tolerance. Then, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion because one of two things would have happened – they would have been found in tolerance after all or they would have been out of tolerance and deserved the penalties that have been handed out.
Amy: Right, Beth, and how on earth can you dock points from a team when you really have no idea if there was really even a violation. If you’re a “black helicopter” fan, do you not see that as NASCAR being pissed that they couldn’t find anything in last year’s teardowns after Talladega?
Mike: Hendrick maintains that the car would fit the templates, just like the fenders did at Sonoma in 2007. But they didn’t “look right” in the areas between where the template touched, legally, so they were penalized.
Amy: But at least they used the templates at Sonoma for a reference point.
Mike: Well Amy, you’ll love this. Actually, a violation did exist because it violated the rule that the part looked improper. The fact that there is a rule in place that says things can “look” improper in this modern, ultra-scrutinized inspection process, is just silly.
Phil: If anything, NASCAR probably hurt themselves here. I still don’t think the appeal’s going to do much good though. The success rate of appeals is so dismal that I automatically believe nothing’s coming out of it.
Mike: There is a history of appeals working Phil, and I know Rick Hendrick is pretty hot about this one.
Amy: I still think penalizing any team during opening tech is ridiculous. And that they don’t penalize every team that doesn’t pass, but only some? That’s even worse.
Mike: But the templates touched the car properly in Sonoma.
Beth: Mike, it was my understanding that the part in question at Sonoma wasn’t a template-measured part.
Mike: As I understood it Beth, it was the areas of the fenders between where the templates touched that the inspectors didn’t like in Sonoma.
Amy: And 17 cars failed template the week after that Sonoma penalty. Not one was penalized, all 17 were allowed to fix it and reinspect … and they failed template.
Beth: That’s just another thing wrong with NASCAR’s subjective penalties, Amy.
Phil: Hendrick getting “hot” over it is one thing. That doesn’t mean anything on appeal though other than that Rick’s ticked.
Amy: Hmm, I wonder why he’s mad. Because there’s zero proof that there was an infraction to penalize, perhaps?
Mike: Or four races where the same body was passed through tech without any issues.
Amy: If you’re NASCAR, why not hold those confiscated C-pillars up to legal ones and show the world why they’re illegal? Unless of course, you can’t be sure they are.
Beth: That would take care of the doubt that surrounds this one.
Kevin: And if there’s zero proof officials can give, I don’t think there’s any one of us who wouldn’t be upset if we were in the situation. What NASCAR needs to do is provide some evidence at this point.
Amy: NASCAR found that car legal 16 times, including an R&D teardown. And now it’s suddenly illegal without so much as a ruler being taken to it.
Phil: NASCAR would have a heck of a time proving this one in real court. I wouldn’t be surprised if the penalty is upheld that some kind of legal action is taken.
Mike: I’m with both of you. I had no idea the car was yanked out of line before it got to the templates and the posts were removed.
Beth: It just shows where NASCAR has dropped the ball, and now that’s going to have everyone on their toes and wondering what else has been unfairly penalized (or not, depending on the situation).
Phil: This appeal, by the way is just Level 1. Beyond that, there’s an appeal to the National Commissioner or something. Makes me wonder what he does. Never gets mentioned outside of these appeals.
Amy: If you sue NASCAR, how many infractions will then magically appear on your racecars?
Beth: I’d be videotaping every inspection.
Phil: Heck, at some of these tracks, fans can videotape the inspections.
Amy: At the very least, NASCAR should have to explain exactly what was out of tolerance and by exactly how much before issuing a penalty
Beth: Honestly, they all should. Had it been a habit already, Hendrick could be headed to the appeals board with video proof that NASCAR never fully inspected the car before confiscating the C-posts and penalizing the team.
Mike: If I lost the appeal and I was Rick Hendrick, I’d be sending 16 bodies a week to the R&D center to have them certified.
Beth: I’ll be interested to see what the appeals board decides, but Phil, you’re probably right that their penalties won’t be overturned. And that’s a shame, because I’m not convinced there was really a problem from the beginning.
Mike: Since 2007, pre-practice inspection has gone from a cursory look at your car to confirm it was race legal to a time when entire seasons can be changed for teams. NASCAR needs to be offering them a chance to confirm their cars are legal without risk of penalty.
Amy: In my opinion, if NASCAR could say exactly where that C-pillar violated a rule and by how much, the penalty might be deserved or at least somewhat justified. As it stands, there is no proof a violation ever existed. That sure makes it look like NASCAR was looking for any excuse to penalize that team.
Kevin: If there really was a problem, NASCAR should come out and provide what evidence they can. I just don’t get how they can actually consider a car failed without a full inspection.
Amy: As in, someone was told to find something wrong with it before it could be inspected.
Mike: Of course, it has been almost five years since Chad had been fined so maybe they just missed having him in the sin bin.
Amy: I’m not sure I believe that, but that’s sure how it looks to the average fan. I looked at the last five years’ worth of penalties for my column last week. Most people would be surprised at the teams and crew chiefs who top that list.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: Crime & Punishment 101 - Why NASCAR Needs a Refresher

Both Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler’s trips to victory lane came after a win drought for those drivers. Will winning breed winning … and if that’s true, who else is due to spark a hot streak?

Kevin: I’m not sure on Elliott Sadler‘s front, but I see this as the start of good things for Denny Hamlin this year. Seems like he and Darian Grubb are really clicking so far.
Amy: I think winning does breed winning, especially if a team has hit on something with the car. It will certianly do wonders for driver and team confidence.
Beth: Well if Hamlin and Grubb are already in victory lane two races in, that sure speaks well of the way the rest us their season will go.

See also
Monday Morning Teardown: Darian Grubb Working Magic Already at JGR

Phil: ESPN talked about Sadler not winning since 1998 in the Nationwide Series. Big deal. Most of that time was spent in Cup.
Amy: I agree, Phil. And as far as hot streaks go, I think we’ll better know the answer after Vegas, because the intermediate tracks are the real test of equipment.
Kevin: Hamlin also has one of the higher average finishes among active drivers at Phoenix and this win only pads that. So for him, the real test will be some of the ensuing events.
Mike: It could certainly lead to Hamlin winning several races. However, this isn’t the time of year you want to be on a streak. Remember, Stewart didn’t win until the Chase last season.
Amy: Yes and no, Mike. A streak this time of year could secure someone a wildcard Chase berth. And in the Chase, anything can happen. Just ask Tony Stewart.
Mike: Oh sure Amy, but it means squat when it comes to winning the title.
Amy: You have to make the Chase to win the title, Mike.
Mike: Yes you do. But Stewart proved last year, you don’t have to win before the Chase to win the title.
Amy: No, but if the wins ultimately get you in, I’d argue they most certainly mean something.
Mike: Oh yeah, most definitely. No matter how NASCAR has managed to diminish the benefit of winning, it still means a lot to win a Cup race. No matter when the victory happens.
Amy: I think NNS is going to look a lot like last year, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sadler duking it out. Nobody else is close in money. Maybe the No. 7 on the money front, but the driver isn’t championship caliber.
Kevin: Yeah, I agree on the Nationwide front. Austin Dillon‘s a possibility in my eyes, but I see Sadler and Stenhouse as the only really sure bets.
Amy: I’m not sure Dillon has the experience level yet. In fact next year is a more realistic expectation since those cars do not drive like trucks at all.
Kevin: I know he doesn’t, I’m just stowing him away as a potential surprise. But you’re right, next year is definitely a more realistic expectation.
Mike: I don’t know Amy. He’s already a champion in a national touring series. He’s got the resources behind him. We’ve had rookie champions in the past and he just happens to sit second in points right now.
Amy: Dillon and Cole Whitt do have the money, but not enough experience. Ditto for Danica, which really only leaves Sadler and Stenhouse. Hornish could throw a suprise title run in the mix.
Mike: True Amy, but he is in a Dodge. Didn’t we just say that their lame ducks in Dodge and that could hurt them?
Amy: Didn’t we also say Dodge would be stupid to let that happen as they try to sell themselves to another team?
Mike: Perhaps. I don’t believe Trevor Bayne is going to make all of the starts, which is why I wonder about Stenhouse. Roush has said he’s running the whole season but have they officially secured sponsorship for all of the races?
Amy: I don’t think so, but RFR says they’re committed to Stenhouse’s program full time. As for Hamlin, I think he’s going to have a great year and contend for the championship.
Mike: I think you’re right Amy. He still has to get over the hump once the Chase is here, but he’ll be right there when they head to Chicago, or wherever it is they start the Chase this year.
Amy: I think he will get over it, with help from Grubb who knows better than to try and get in Jimmie Johnson‘s head. And another team on the brink of winning and one who really needs to win is the No 16.
Mike: Greg Biffle has been having some good runs for a while. Once they put it all together they could rip off three out of five or something like that.
Phil: I don’t know about three of five. Almost no one can pull off that feat these days. However, if Biffle can keep up his recent form, he should win soon. And finally make that “Stick with the Biff” stuff you hear on NASCAR RaceDay finally sound smart.
Kevin: Biffle is definitely off to a good start, agreed. Don’t think it’s a stretch to see him do something these next few races if their momentum holds.
Amy: Momentum is definitely something you can’t necessarily overlook, even early.
Beth: Look at how Biffle’s season has started … a pair of third-place finishes is knocking on the door to victory lane. I don’t think it’ll be long before the No. 16 team celebrates a win of their own.
Mike: Biffle still seems like a driver who should end his career with a title, but the window is beginning to close on those possibilities.
Amy: But I think they will need to gain some momentum on the intermediates before we can really see what the teams have this year. Biffle is a case of bad timing. He’s good enough to win a title, but there are at least a half dozen better drivers in at least equal equipment he’ll have to beat to take it.
Mike: Well we all know that Roush makes their money on intermediates. They’ve stumbled a little on them in the recent past but I believe they’ll be back to their dominant selves soon enough. That’s part of the beauty of the sport these years. There are at least half a dozen drivers who can win the title. Not that long ago you never had that many drivers in a season who had a chance to win the title.
Phil: Heck, in one year, only four dudes won races the entire second half of the season.
Mike: Yeah man. I believe there was a year or two when only seven drivers won races.
Kevin: Conversely, last year you had 19 different winners. I hope that’s a number that more or less holds this year.
Mike: I agree Kevin. More winners is definitely good for the sport. Hamlin and Sadler could certainly go on runs this year and win a bunch of races. Or this could be their only wins. I’m betting the former is more likely than the latter for both of them.
Amy: I do think that both Hamlin and Sadler are drivers who needed the confidence booster … and having more confidence can do wonders. Plus, I do see guys like Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. breaking through soon. Truex has run well both last fall and at Phoenix
Kevin: I certainly can’t see these wins having negative effects on either of them. Sadler should once again be a threat in Nationwide, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to see us still talking about Hamlin in September or October either.
Phil: Truex surprised me on Sunday. I didn’t think his contrarian strategy was going to work, but he got a good finish.

Let’s have those Las Vegas predictions.

Amy: I’m going to go with Biffle, as a matter of fact.
Kevin: Johnson. I think they need a win badly right now, and what better a place to turn things around than a track where he’s got four wins? ‘They’ being ‘that team,’ I mean.
Phil: Well, I was looking good for a point Sunday until Jeff Burton‘s engine went south in the last 25 laps. This week, I’m going to go with Jeff Gordon. See what I can get out of that pick.
Mike: I think it is time for a hometown win. Give me Kyle Busch for the Vegas victory lap.
Beth: I’m going with Carl Edwards because the No. 99 team looked pretty good at Phoenix until he ran out of gas.
Beth: Kevin, I was just putting this week’s predictions into my spreadsheet and was reminded of your pick last week. Nice job picking the winner in your first week in Mirror! Pretty impressive.
Kevin: Hah! Got lucky, I suppose. Or maybe not. We’ll see this week!
Beth: Well that makes you the Mirror Predictions points leader right now.
Amy: I did not start my Mirror title defense off very well.
Mike: It’s a long season.
Amy: True, Phil led all last year til it counted.
Phil: Amy picked the winner in Homestead and I decided to stay away from the Edwards-Stewart combination. That wasn’t the best pick. I think I only did half the season of predictions, so I was pretty far behind. But at least I made my goal of not finishing last.
Phil: I think me, Amy and Mike were the only ones that did the whole season last year.
Mike: I didn’t do the whole season and got jobbed. I made a prediction a week in advance, knowing I wouldn’t be in attendance the following week and was not credited with my points. It would have made me the winner I believe.
Amy: You have to actually BE here to make a prediction.
Mike: I believe, if you know in advance you won’t be in attendance, and make it known that you won’t and submit an early prediction it should be acknowledged. Sadly I was overruled on appeal.
Amy: If we allowed that we’d have 10 people make predictions and never bother to show up. Incentive.
Mike: You can’t make a prediction in any place other than Mirror Driving. I made the prediction in Mirror, it was just a week in advance.
Beth: Besides, who would want to miss out on all of the fun we have? We’ve been pretty tame so far this season, but I know we’ll have some big time “discussions” in here.
Mike: Oh yeah. Amy will make some grandiose statement that is obviously wrong and we’ll have to beat her into submission. Or I’ll go on some pie in the sky tangent that could never really happen and y’all will foolishly try and talk me off of the ledge.
Beth: That about sums it up perfectly, Mike.

Mirror Predictions 2012

Welcome to our sixth 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

2012 Subway Fresh Fit 500 Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Amy HendersonJimmie Johnson4th3
Beth LunkenheimerJeff Gordon8th1
Mike NeffKyle Busch6th1
Phil AllawayJeff Burton33rd-2
Kevin RutherfordDenny Hamlin1st5

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford51111
Mike Neff4-12012
Amy Henderson1-42011
Beth Lunkenheimer1-42001
Jeff Meyer0-51000
Phil Allaway-2-72000

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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