Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!
This Week’s Participants
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Full Throttle & Fridays/Keepin’ It Short)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
We certainly had a situation at Martinsville on Sunday (April 1). David Reutimann limped around late in the race, bringing out a caution rather then dropping immediately to pit road and on the restart, Clint Bowyer took the race leaders three-wide going into turn 1 with disastrous – and predictable – results. Who’s really to blame for the wild ending?
Phil: I’m not completely comfortable blaming David Reutimann for what happened. Martinsville’s like a conveyor belt on a long run. It was legitimately tough to get onto pit road. As for the restart, that happens at Martinsville with a GWC. You remember that race last year, right?
Amy: For me, the blame comes easy; NASCAR and their ridiculous Top-35 rule. There will be more on that later, but nobody should be in the position Reutimann was in, needing those extra laps for one point.
Mike: NASCAR is to blame. Every little point counts in the sport these days. Reutimann was trying like hell to keep his car going to get every point possible. If being in the Top 35 wasn’t such a big deal, he’d have pulled off and the race would have ended orderly.
Amy: Reutimann is under additional pressure, too, because he’s supposed to keep the No. 10 in the Top 35 for Danica Patrick. Was it a bad move on his part? Well, yeah. It was. But I understand why he made it.
Mike: I think he’s worried about keeping it in the Top 35 for himself. If he had to time in and missed a race, it would kill Tommy Baldwin’s deal with SHR.
Phil: I don’t think it would void the Stewart-Haas deal, but it would really hurt.
Mike: Either way, I don’t think it was a bad move in light of the Top-35 rule. It was a bad move from a pure racing standpoint.
Phil: If Reutimann DNQs in Texas, I still think he could get back in before Danica comes back out to play in Darlington. However, I don’t think she’d have much of a cushion to play with.
Amy: It’s always hard to get back into the Top 35. What I don’t get is, if SHR wants the points so badly, why don’t they help out by supplying some cars and engines?
Phil: They’re only doing that for the Patrick races. It could be argued that they’re doing the bare minimum.
Amy: Exactly, Phil. If keeping the car locked in was so important, why aren’t they doing more to ensure that?
Phil: Perhaps they didn’t want to void an existing deal for equipment that TBR has.
Mike: That’s what I was thinking, Phil. I don’t know that ECR would be too happy about Hendrick engines ending up in a TBR car. I also don’t think they’d like to have people thinking that their engines are junk.
Amy: ECR engines aren’t junk, but obviously TBR doesn’t have the resources to run with the Big Boys. SHR does. If they’re a package deal, then why not pay for better chassis from RCR or EGR so that Baldwin will run better in these races?
Phil: Question: Is Furniture Row using Childress chassis now? I know they have ECR engines, but they used to have a deal with Hendrick as well.
Mike: I’m pretty sure they are all Childress equipment now.
Phil: Righto. Got it.
Mike: RCR pretty much treats FRR like a fourth Cup team from what they told us at the Media Tour stop. But they once ran Hendrick engines, so these crossover deals have happened before. I see why you brought that up.
Amy: As for Clint Bowyer, that was a racing deal. The two leaders were on 100-plus lap tires and couldn’t go as quickly. Ryan Newman punted Bowyer from behind and shoved him up in there.
Mike: Bowyer had to go or Newman would have gone inside of him. It’s Martinsville. You’d wreck your mama to win at Martinsville.
Amy: I’m pretty sure Bowyer’s intent was to wait until they came off turn 2 to push the issue with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. And then Newman punted him and he had no choice.
Mike: I don’t blame Reutimann or Bowyer for the end of the race. The only entity that deserves any blame is NASCAR and the Top-35 rule.
When Tony Raines’s car was found too low after qualifying at Martinsville, his time was disallowed and Raines, who had to qualify on speed, went home as a result, while JJ Yeley made the race. The same situation occurred just five weeks ago at Daytona when Bowyer’s car was too low after his run, but in Bowyer’s case, his Top-35 points standing guaranteed him a start. Is it time for NASCAR to make a change to this policy, or is an automatic DNQ just the price to pay for being outside the Top 35?
Amy: This one is even worse than the Reutimann deal. Giving a team a harsher penalty simply because they are have fewer points is just flat wrong.
Phil: It’s the unfortunate price for being outside the Top 35. It’s the equivalent of getting DQ’d without a provisional.
Mike: Well, I think we all feel like the Top-35 rule needs to be changed (see: eliminated) but NASCAR does not seem like they want to go to two days of qualifying. Until they do that, the rule or some other welfare type of system will be in place.
Phil: Track schedules are crowded enough today that I don’t know if they could do a second round of qualifying.
Mike: They could, Phil, but they can’t make money off of the second session, so they won’t.
Amy: Well, Top 35 should not matter here, period. If you can’t qualify a legal car, then you should not race. I don’t care who you are. Bowyer’s team should have gone home at Daytona.
Mike: I don’t know about that. But they should have, at least, had to qualify in through the Duel.
Phil: Daytona is a definite exception to the rule, Amy. Regardless of what happened, Bowyer still had a second chance to get in the field with the Gatorade Duels. He shouldn’t have DNQ’d.
Mike: I just don’t think you’re going to get NASCAR to scrap the Top-35 rule. With it in place, the cars are secure in the starting field. It is a necessary evil.
Amy: I don’t think it’s wrong that Tony Raines‘s time was tossed. It’s the fact that the Top-35 teams who have times tossed are allowed to race.
Mike: I agree Amy, but the essence of the Top-35 rule is that you are guaranteed a spot if you sign in at the track.
Amy: All well and good if you qualify a legal car, Mike. If you cheat, well, go home. Of course, I also think they should take wins away if the car is illegal and the team can’t prove a part failure.
Phil: It’s just the way the rules are written, Amy. Also, your revision would work well until Chad Knaus screws up again and Johnson has to go home. All heck will go down when that occurs.
Mike: Would it really, Phil? John Force went home from an NHRA event and the show went on. Big names fail to qualify all of the time in the NHRA and dirt track racing. Go fast or go home.
Amy: The only time fans would have a total cow is if it was Junior.
Phil: Yeah, but the field’s a lot smaller in the NHRA’s classes than in Sprint Cup.
Mike: Which would make it seem like it should be even easier to make a Cup race.
Amy: Bottom line: lose the rule, go back to the old two rounds of qualifying, which would have worked just fine with a few minor tweaks, and then everyone is subject to the same rules.
Mike: We’d all love to see it, Amy. I just don’t think it will ever happen.
Hendrick Motorsports’ last win came at Kansas last fall and the next one will be the organization’s 200th. With three of four teams struggling in 2012, which driver is the most likely to bring home the milestone victory?
Phil: Probably Johnson’s No. 48. They’re not exactly struggling right now. That is, if you call finishing 12th after getting put in the wall on a GWC struggling.
Amy: Based on performance to date, it may very well be Junior. The No. 48 isn’t close to a win at a non-short track, along with the No. 24 while the No. 5 is just out to lunch.
Mike: Any team can win on any given weekend. I have a hard time saying that three teams are struggling when Gordon and Johnson dominated the race at Martinsville. That said, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been running pretty well this year, so he might be most likely. Although I would never count out Johnson.
Amy: Martinsville aside, though, the Nos. 24 and 48 have been average at best this year.
Mike: Actually, I would not be surprised to see Kasey Kahne do it this next race weekend. He seems to do best on intermediate tracks and Texas is one of those.
Amy: True, but he’s so snakebit, I wouldn’t bet on him to win a foot race. Now if I had my pick of who it should be, I’d choose Gordon. Nearly half of those 199 wins belong to him alone.
Phil: Eighty-five out of 199. Yep, that’s quite a bit.
Amy: He’s been the face of the organization for 20 years.
Mike: True Amy, although Johnson has over 50 of them too.
Amy: Combined, they have 140.
Phil: It’s just crazy to look at that 140 number.
Amy: It is. In this day and age, their numbers speak to just how good those two really are.
Mike: Which is why I’m thinking Kahne snags No. 200 … because he’s the last of the four who anyone would think of.
Amy: The way this year has been, Mike, nothing would surprise me. Trivia: how many drivers have won Cup races for HMS?
Phil: I have 12. Geoff Bodine, Tim Richmond, Ken Schrader, Ricky Rudd, Gordon, Terry Labonte, Jerry Nadeau, Casey Mears, Joe Nemechek, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Earnhardt Jr.
Amy: It’s 15. Add Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Darrell Waltrip. That’s damn impressive in this day and age. And 10 Cup titles to boot, to go along with Nationwide and Truck series championships.
Mike: Running four cars helps with that driver total in Cup.
Phil: It’s something like a 75% success rate, though, for people who have driven a full season in Hendrick equipment. Here are the only full-season runners that failed to win: Benny Parsons, Wally Dallenbach, Ricky Craven and Kahne (of course, we’re only through six races).
Amy: Well all four current drivers now have wins at Texas, so if it happens next week, any of them have a good shot.
Two races into the Camping World Truck Series season, a rookie, John King, sits atop the point standings while a title favorite team (ThorSport) is nowhere to be seen in the top 10. With Rockingham on the horizon, a track where NASCAR hasn’t raced in a decade, what can fans expect to see?
Phil: At Rockingham? It’s going to be interesting. I think Kahne is going to find a way to stomp the field. He almost won the last Cup race there in 2004.
Amy: Kahne’s been around that long?
Phil: Yep. Matt Kenseth just got him at the line.
Amy: Probably because Kahne looks like he’s about 14.
Phil: He really looked 14 in 2004. Now, he looks 21.
Amy: Anyways, I think fans can expect a great race. And I hope there are a lot of fans there to see it.
Mike: It should be a fantastic race because the track has always offered fantastic competition.
Amy: I do think that’s it’s too early to make a real call on ThorSport. I think they have time to climb back into it, but they’re going to have to make hay while the sun shines and go win some races.
Mike: Thorsport will be fine. Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter are veterans.
Amy: It’s only two races in, yes, but ThorSport’s best points position is 23rd.That’s not what you’d expect from a preseason favorite.
Phil: Meanwhile, John King was very quiet in Martinsville, but stayed out of trouble and deserved that ninth on Saturday. He’s going to develop into a pretty decent driver.
Amy: King has proven himself a decent driver, but if we’re going to see a rookie win it all, it will be Ty Dillon.
Phil: As for Rockingham, if Kahne doesn’t stomp everyone, Parker Kligerman would be a pretty good bet. He’s competed at the track.
Mike: Cale Gale raced there last season in a Pro Cup car. Jeff Agnew did as well. I’m thinking Bryan Silas shocks the world; he comes from the Rockingham Driving School. That or Dillon wins the race.
Phil: Let’s see. Full timers with Rockingham experience: King, Lofton, Dillon (I think), Kligerman, Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine, Jason Leffler, Max Gresham?, Gale, Sauter, Silas, Dakoda Armstrong. That’s all I can think of.
Amy: Trucks have never run there, so as far as the vehicles go, it’s a clean slate.
Phil: The Truck Series is a bit of a toss-up when Cup drivers don’t interlope. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ross Chastain pulled a big surprise. That dude is pretty impressive. Finished seventh on Saturday.
Amy: It should be a good race. My hope is that they will draw a good crowd, get decent ratings and land a Nationwide race next year.
Mike: They damn sure better draw a full house or every person who has whined about the track losing its Cup dates can go to hell.
Amy: I agree, Mike. I wrote about it when the race was announced. There’s a lot at stake. If this one doesn’t sell, it opens the door for NASCAR to take away Martinsville, Darlington.
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:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
Goody’s Fast Relief 500 Results
|Amy Henderson||Denny Hamlin||6th||1|
|Beth Lunkenheimer||Jeff Gordon||14th||0|
|Mike Neff||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||3rd||3|
|Phil Allaway||Brad Keselowski||9th||1|
|Kevin Rutherford||Jimmie Johnson||12th||0|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Predictions (Starts)||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s|
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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