Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Lifeless Laps at Texas, RCR’s Struggles & Revisiting Rockingham

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)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)

Texas, besides a late-race pass for the lead was regarded by many as boring – a label that’s been applied to many intermediate-track races over the last few seasons. Is it the cars, the track size, the drivers … or a combination of all three that’s causing the word “snoozer” to be thrown around on these 1.5-mile ovals?

Kevin: It may not even be any of those. The TV coverage always seems to leave something to be desired.
Amy: I think it’s the tracks more than anything else. They weren’t more exciting with the old car, though it is disappointing that the car is still too aero dependent to race well on them. TV coverage is part of it, but not all.
Tom: I think it’s a combination of a lot of different things. Goodyear has gone very conservative with the tire packages; you notice you don’t see any close to blowing at the 1.5-milers.

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Mike: I’ve always maintained, and I still do, that it is the tires. We have tires that last longer than a fuel run, so there’s no need for tire management. Drivers go for all their worth until they’re out of gas and then fill up, get fresh rubber and go again. If they had to conserve tires to make it to the end of the fuel tank, it would be completely different racing.
Amy: Tires do play a role, but again, even when we had softer compounds, they were simply not as good as the races at tracks a mile or shorter. I think points racing is a small part of it as well.
Phil: They definitely made the points argument on FOX Saturday night (April 14). But that would turn this question into another anti-Chase rant.
Kevin: I agree on the points racing front. These guys just don’t have to go as hard at the beginning of the year – so they don’t. It’s frustrating, but seems to be a product of the system we have.
Phil: The top teams might not go 100%, but the smaller teams with the means do and still get stomped.
Amy: There are no smaller teams with the means, Phil. That’s also part of the problem.
Mike: Teams in the back half of the grid can’t afford to tear up racecars.
Phil: What do you do there? Convince Pepsi and the National Guard to not pay Hendrick $40 million a year to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Mike: People don’t take chances because the risk doesn’t justify the reward.
Amy: I don’t think it’s they don’t have to as much as they won’t risk a point doing it – at least right now. Carl Edwards made it painfully clear just how much one point can be worth in the Chase.
Phil: There’s also the argument that the drivers have gotten a little better over the years. You know, actually living up to their “best drivers on earth” thing.
Amy: But in the end, through changes to the cars, the points system and the tires, there is one constant and that’s the tracks.  These intermediates haven’t produced great racing compared to the shorter tracks no matter what changes have been made.
Mike: That isn’t necessarily true, either. Some of the greatest races in the last 15 years have been at Atlanta.
Amy: Atlanta is the exception, for some reason.
Mike: They wear out at Atlanta because Goodyear brings a tire that wears out. Remember the year that it didn’t and Tony Stewart threw a hissy fit?
Tom: That track is the exception and not the rule, unfortunately. I feel like the downhill process at intermediates started with the levigation at Charlotte a couple of years ago.
Mike: Since then, Goodyear has refused to bring back a soft enough tire to give us exciting racing again.
Phil: Goodyear doesn’t want another PR disaster at Charlotte. That’s why they won’t do it. Maybe they’ll do it in October, but they’ll have to do a tire test before that can go down.
Tom: Right. The Goodyear debacle in ’05 caused an overreaction that was never corrected. Half the field blew tires in a race that honestly could have been stopped because of safety issues. So now, they’re so afraid you’ll never get the right tire that’s pushing it to the ragged edge at most racetracks on the circuit.
Mike: Exactly. Which is why I think we need to have softer tires again. Make the drivers have to take care of them a little bit. A blown tire from time to time isn’t a bad thing if it is the fault of the driver.
Amy: What it boils down to is that the memorable races, the ones people talk about for weeks after, usually happen on tracks of a mile or less.
Kevin: Hard to argue with that, Amy. With a few exceptions (usually Atlanta), the shorter tracks just seem to have the better show.
Tom: Well, that’s not just the track’s fault. Speaking of pushing it to the ragged edge, the drivers aren’t exactly doing it, either. I give less room to people on the highway. The Mark Martin “gentleman” rules are nice, but not for 499 miles. People don’t come to races to see people pass 500 feet apart. I thought the Jimmie Johnson comments after the race were telling; the leaders expect lapped traffic to just move out of the way. It’s almost like everyone is running their race based on strategy and points instead of trying to fight for every ounce of racetrack. That’s the downside to racing “smart.”
Amy: It is, Tom, but how do you combat that within the points system? Points racing has gotten worse since the introduction of the Chase and NASCAR has to stop burying their heads in the sand on that.
Phil: They won’t. They’ll change everything about NASCAR except for the Chase since that’s Brian’s baby.
Tom: Well, the fact that risk is being removed out of the equation is a huge problem for the sport. There’s a difference between balancing risk and making sure drivers are safe.
Phil: I think you’ll see the risk return big time in June at Michigan, but that’s just me thinking out loud.
Mike: They’re going to run plates at Michigan. Just watch.
Amy: The lapped traffic issue is a whole other story.  IMO, if you’re fighting to stay on the lead lap, fight all day long.  Once you’ve gone a lap down, get out of the way of the leaders and let them race.
Tom: No, no, no. Guys, what do people want to do when you jump on a go-kart track with your friends? Do you sit there, give everyone 20 feet of room and figure out when the thing might run out of fuel so you can stretch your kart longer than anyone else? Heck no. You beat and bang the heck out of each other until the guy who runs the place tries to kick you out. That’s the type of stuff people want to see; aggressive racing, fighting for the lead. Contact (different than wrecking).
Phil: Unfortunately, those things aren’t identical.
Amy: You also develop the vocabulary of a sailor when you get the cart with the obvious speed deficit. I feel sorry for those smaller teams week after week. For the big ones; well, there’s no multimillion-dollar check at the end of 36 go-kart races, either.
Tom: Who cares about the money? It won’t be there if people aren’t watching. And passing three lanes apart, while calculating your fuel run isn’t going to play out well, in the stands or on television over the long-term.
Mike: Tom, as Amy says, there isn’t a multimillion-dollar check at the end. I do think if the series title paid $100,000 they might race a little more. Assuming they made each race pay at least a million to win.
Amy: I agree with Mike on that.  The series title should be a token check and a pretty trophy, while a vast majority of a driver’s season money should come from winning races.
Tom: I will say that, as we saw at Homestead, when drivers know their finish means something they’re still racing a little bit harder for the entire distance. Even when it’s impossible to pass.
Mike: That is what made me so mad last year. For the last five races, we heard how amazingly hard Stewart and Edwards were competing. Why don’t they race like that every week?
Tom: Mike, because they don’t have to. A fifth in the long run is as good for them financially and for their sponsors as second, even a win because risking a DNF could take them out of the Chase.
Phil: Perhaps the new CoT for next year might change some things. I don’t know.
Tom: Notice we’ve mentioned a lot of things here: Tires. Track size. Driver mentality. CoT. Points. That’s a laundry list of stuff that needs fixing, not a “tomorrow” answer. What a tough reality. What do you address first?
Mike: I just think they need to come up with tires that will wear out before the fuel runs out if you push them too hard. I would take out the tires first because that is easy to change. You can’t change the points system in the middle of the year and you can’t take the car out of the equation that fast.
Kevin: I think you address points and/or tires first. Seems like the easiest fix, potentially.
Amy: I still think a lot of the problems would go away if they had more races on shorter tracks.

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Tom: There’s also money, as Mike has been saying. Financially, there’s no “bonus” for finishing higher – heck, the way NASCAR purses work the guy who finishes 20th gets more than the one who finishes fifth – and there’s too little reward for taking a risk. You get one point for earning fourth over fifth, or you crash, run 25th, lose 20 points and may lose the millions in exposure from the Chase.
Phil: NASCAR purses are very difficult to figure out. I guess it has to do with the contingencies and a bunch of other factors that are probably secrets.
Mike: Driver mentality will change if there is more money for each race and a minimal check at the end of the year. That is why I love the Indy 500. You can look in the program and calculate, within a few hundred bucks, what each driver will win when the race is over. You have to be a freaking rocket scientist to back into the numbers that are posted after Cup races.
Kevin: There’s so many different factors causing these “boring” races, but it seems like it tends to come back to incentive for risk-taking. If you can get the drivers to want to run hard week in and week out prior to, say, June, then I’d hope you’d see if it’s an issue with the tracks.
Amy: Unfortunately, the biggest piece of the puzzle is the tracks, Kevin, and that will be the one that won’t change.
Mike: The tracks don’t have to change if the tires do.
Tom: I think the first thing you can do, immediately is push Goodyear to make more aggressive tire combinations. If drivers feel like they can pass, the racer in them will take over at some point. For now, the summer will help tell the tale with this new Chase setup. Again, July and August of last year we saw some great races with people fighting for the wildcard slots. That’ll automatically make intermediates a bit more competitive.

Kevin Harvick was tripped up at Texas, a pit-road mistake leaving him ninth and keeping Richard Childress Racing 0-for-7 in 2012. With both Paul Menard and Jeff Burton outside the top 10 in points, should there be cause for concern in the RCR camp? What’s wrong?

Phil: It’s still early and they’ve been pretty strong. I’m not worried about them at all. Heck, Paul Menard‘s still 12th in points.
Kevin: Seems like deja vu here … we talked about this too with Hendrick a few weeks ago, eh?
Mike: Nothing any more wrong than at Hendrick. Hendrick is 0 for 7, too. These things come and go and they’ll be winning before the end of the season.
Kevin: I don’t think there’s too much to worry about, since it’s still relatively early, but Kevin Harvick definitely needs to pick it up most of the three.
Amy: I think Harvick definitely needs to pick up the pace. Jeff Burton is in the midst of rebuilding after a poor showing and Menard is running where he should be expected to run, possibly better.
Tom: I think RCR was a bit distracted trying to keep that fourth team going the first couple of weeks. Brendan Gaughan got a nice joyride but they really didn’t have the right personnel for it.
Phil: I still don’t think taking Lambert away from Burton was the best move.
Amy: They did undergo major personnel changes over there and chemistry can take time.
Tom: My heart just breaks for Burton. Whenever I see him running 30th, I think of what Luke Lambert did for that team and how Childress just yanked the young crew chief away.

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Phil: I agree.  Just look how Lambert’s doing with Elliott Sadler in the Nationwide Series. Now, I don’t think Burton would have won twice in Cup by now, but they would at least be visible on a weekly basis.
Tom: Lambert came on around the same time Chad Johnston did for Martin Truex Jr. See where Truex is in the points right now? That could have been the No. 31.
Amy: I don’t know about that, Tom. They had a lot to fix.
Tom: Meanwhile, I actually think Menard’s the only one who’s overachieving. Twelfth in points, considering the career stats there really isn’t half bad. He’s much better than people give him credit for.
Amy: Menard isn’t a top-10 driver, so expecting him to be there is unrealistic. Can he get in the top 10 in a race if things go just right? Sure. But on pure talent, it’s just not there.
Kevin: I’d just loooove to see Menard finish the highest in the overall standings of the team. I know it’s a stretch, but I’d find it pretty hilarious.
Mike: Menard is a top-10 driver in the first half of the season and then he falls off. That has always happened. This year, with some drivers like Stewart starting much better, it has pushed Menard down a little. Now, we’ll see if he can do better in the second half.
Phil: Menard’s effectively right where he was last year at this time.
Tom: As for Harvick, I just don’t see them clicking in the same way as they did last year. There was a crew chief change and I know it’s still early, but remember, it was Happy who walked into RCR’s main offices and demanded change. You wonder, after the mistakes like we saw in Texas whether he’s still “happy” about that.
Amy: Give Harvick time. He can be a very streaky driver and if he hits a hot streak could reel of two or three wins in quick fashion.
Phil: Last year, Harvick was the closer with a bunch of wins early on with charges at the end. You just never know with him.
Tom: Good point, Phil. But guess what? Harvick can’t close when he starts the race behind on his setup, you can’t pass under green and there are no cautions. So even if the car does get better, he loses too much ground. The way these races are playing out is really hurting him.
Amy: Here’s another angle: Are RCR, Hendrick and Gibbs really all that far behind all of a sudden? Or is it that Roush has jumped ahead?
Tom: I think you have a point there, Amy, to a certain extent but RCR has led only 113 laps or so all season. Plus, the ECR engines haven’t been working well because Earnhardt Ganassi is struggling, too.
Mike: It does make you wonder if Roush Fenway is better off without the fourth team dragging them down.
Tom: If that’s the case, it should be the same way over at RCR. So I do think it’s a case of RCR getting behind. I also think, besides the fourth team debacle they spent the whole offseason getting the Nationwide program up to speed with Austin Dillon. You don’t notice him struggling … short-term pain for long-term gain? Dillon is the face of RCR in three to five years.
Amy: I think it’s a case of the Roush Yates FR9 being completely dominant more than it is a case of three top teams suddenly forgetting how to win.
Mike: The FR9 is definitely the premier power plant right now. I’m sure the other teams are trying hard to make gains in the cooling area so they can use more tape, thereby getting more downforce.
Amy: Right, Mike. The cooling system gives them not only more horsepower that the engine provides, but ultimately the ability to have more downforce.

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Tom: Well here’s the thing, too … Harvick in particular has not been qualifying as bad as in past years. He’s tied for fifth in average start (8.9) and hasn’t started lower than 15th. The problem is, while he has seven top-20 finishes he just kind of hangs out. He’s got a net loss of -1 when you look at where he starts and where he finishes. That is not the number you want when you’re starting around ninth each week. He’s proven to be pretty much a ninth-to-11th place car with the exception of Phoenix and Daytona.
Amy: True. One mark of a top driver is the ability to finish better than you started.
Mike: But we’ve seen for years, ninth to 11th will get you in the Chase every time and that is all that people care about anymore.
Phil: For better or worse. Heck, in 1998, you didn’t even need 9-11 finishes to get in the top 10. I think you could have finished in the top 10 in points that year averaging nearly a 17th-place finish.
Amy: True, and in recent years, what is really teams already concentrating on the Chase has been mistaken for early or midseason slumps.
Mike: That’s why I think RCR will be just fine. They always have streaks at some point during the year, just like SHR has been on a streak early. I don’t think there is anything to worry about at this point.
Phil: If Harvick is throwing up a stink bomb by the time we get to … say, Dover, then we’ve got real problems.
Kevin: I don’t think there’s much to worry about with Harvick. Not the best start, but I’d be surprised to see him not in the Chase at season’s end. As a whole, though the team does seem to be falling behind ever so slightly.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame announced its 2012 nominees last week, adding five new names and choosing to keep the 20 who did not win induction last year. Did the nominating committee get this one right and who should we see receiving a ring and jacket next January?

Mike: They’ll always keep the 20 from the previous year. Did they get the new five right? I don’t think so.
Amy: The nominating committee got part of it right.  Anne France and Ralph Seagraves really didn’t need to be included. Fox, Rusty Wallace and Wendell Scott have a shot.
Tom: I think they should take a look at Sam Ard, personally. He’s sort of like a Red Byron in my book, to a lesser degree. Other than that, I’m pretty happy with the choices. But I don’t think Anne France or Seagraves will stand a chance of getting in for years.
Phil: I would be fine with Ard getting a nomination, especially knowing that he’s in pretty terrible health right now.
Kevin: I’m fine with the nominees. Seem like the type that would get nominated eventually, anyway. I don’t know that I’d choose any of the five just yet to be inducted over some of the others already a part of the nomination pool, though.
Amy: Then why put them on the ballot?  Seagraves has no business being on the there until T. Wayne Robertson is inducted.
Mike: Exactly. Anne France played a role for sure in the start of the sport, but the fact that she’s on the list without Smokey Yunick getting a sniff proves to me that there is nepotism going on in this deal.
Amy: Like him or not, Bruton Smith needs to be on the ballot, too.

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Mike: I feel so duped, thinking this process was legitimate. Now I know it isn’t. They won’t prove it to me otherwise until Ard, Yunick and Bruton make it into the Hall before Anne France gets a single vote.
Phil: NASCAR reps get nine of the 21 nomination votes and nine of 55 for induction.  As far as I’m concerned, Anne only needs maybe 17 more votes to get inducted this year. Of course, I’m saying this knowing that I wouldn’t induct her until 2021 or so.
Tom: Eh, I think that’s a little dramatic considering none of these people will get in 2013. We’re arguing over semantics, in my view. The bigger issue, to me is this year we really get a sense of where the committee wants to go with the other 20. The “must haves” from early on have all made the HoF, so now what? What direction will they head? Will they move towards getting people in from the past, the early years or will guys like Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress et al get their inevitable inductions early?
Amy: Honestly, the only one of this five who should get in is Wallace. On numbers alone, he’s deserving. Hendrick and Childress, no. Wallace is the winningest driver not already in and has more than guys who are in already. He needs to be there.
Phil: I hope Scott gets in as well. Beyond them, it’s a toss up. I’d prefer people like Leonard Wood, Fireball Roberts and maybe Buck Baker to join them.
Mike: I don’t think Rusty should get in, but I won’t be surprised if he does get in next month. I personally wouldn’t put him in ahead of Fireball, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly and most of all Herb Thomas. There shouldn’t be another driver in before Thomas goes in.
Amy: See, I’m not sold on Scott. He deserves to get in because he broke the color barrier. But I have a hard time reconciling that with his numbers. It’s like trying to figure out Jackie Robinson’s place in baseball if he’d been a career .199 hitter.
Tom: Amy, Scott did not have the equipment to win races. I can’t disagree more with that.
Amy: Lots of talented drivers don’t have the equipment to win races. Does that make them Hall of Fame drivers?
Mike: I don’t know that Wendell should be in yet. I think he deserves a special display in the Hall, but I don’t know that I’d put him in as an inductee yet.
Tom: As for Rusty, many other people from NASCAR’s “classic” era deserve to get in before him. The way I look at it, they need to get some of the old-timers, from the ’50s who founded the sport in the Hall instead of rewarding guys who will easily be around in the next 8-10 years.
Amy: Yeah, but again, it’s like baseball. Five hundred home runs will get you in no matter what you did for the game or how great a guy you are. Fifty Cup wins should do the same for a driver.
Mike: Five hundred won’t get you in anymore. Fifty Cup wins will get you in but it doesn’t mean you get in on the first ballot when you’re nominated. Fireball, Turner and Weatherly were true superstars in their time. And Thomas has the highest winning percentage of anyone who ran more than 100 races.
Tom: Remember, we’re arguing over who will get in first. About 90% of people on this list we all agree should get in at some point, if not 100%. So if that’s the case, why not induct people from earlier eras first and then work your way forward?
Mike: I realize that they want to have actual breathing people to make speeches at the ceremony, but that shouldn’t be a reason for inducting people. Just a nice bonus.
Amy: By that logic, then, should they have turned down Darrell Waltrip or Dale Earnhardt?
Tom: No. There were about a dozen people, maybe less that stood out above everyone else.
Mike: Earnhardt had seven titles and changed the sport forever.
Tom: This next group, now that we’ve got those people in are all about the same to a certain degree. Again, it’s not the Baseball Hall of Fame where we’re worried about whether the nominees deserve induction every year. They all are worthy of induction. It’s just in what order.
Amy: I think you need to take the best, based on numbers, or in the case of non-drivers, the weight of what they did to advance the sport.
Mike: Again Amy, I didn’t want to believe it, but there is no question that the France family is dictating where this goes to some extent.
Amy: It’s all politics. Let someone like Yunick in, admit he got the best of you for years. Stupid, I know, but there you have it.
Tom: With all of these crew chiefs, you can call them “cheaters” or “innovators.” It all depends on your point of view as to whether being a good crew chief is pushing the gray area.
Mike: Junior Johnson was as big of a cheater as Smokey was. Bud Moore too. He wasn’t cheating, he was working within the framework of the rules and doing innovative things that other people didn’t think of.
Amy: You know that, and I know that. They do know it, but again, politics.
Phil: I’d almost argue that Winston Kelley and Buz McKim, NASCAR Historian should do the nominating themselves.
Mike: I just think that the nominating committee and voting committee should be completely separate. I don’t understand why the whole nominating committee also votes. That is idiotic.
Phil: And that is why I said that Anne France already has nine votes.
Amy: I agree. Votes should be NMPA by secret ballot.
Phil: I’d like that. That would mean I’d get a vote. Yeah!
Mike: I want more than NMPA voting because press members have agendas, too. I think there should be racers, track promoters, sponsors and fans all voting along with press folk.
Amy: Still disagree with fans voting. Too many of them don’t know enough about the pioneers of the sport.
Mike: Fans get one vote. It isn’t enough to get anyone in or out but it makes them part of it and I think it is a good thing.
Tom: I don’t mind most people on the panel, the nominating process and have no beef with most of the 25 finalists. I just think the voters should really think “old-timers” first the next few years until we have all of the old guard we know should be inducted in the Hall. It would have been a shame, for example, if Ned Jarrett passed away without getting to experience his induction because of this stupid five-person limit rule.
Amy: I think that way to a certain degree, Tom, but how do you snub the winningest driver not in and induct guys with a lesser record? I think you need both.
Mike: Because the guys with a lesser record didn’t run nearly as many races as Rusty did.
Amy: Right, and you have to make those exceptions. But you also have to look at the 50-win mark. That should mean automatic induction, because so few have done it.

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Tom: But I also think you have to look at a guy like Roberts, who raced in a different era where a limited schedule was acceptable. Had he lived, you would see him up there with nearly 100 victories.
Phil: True. I’m fine with a 50-win automatic rule. But, it makes the NASCAR Hall of Fame sound like the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Amy: I think they need to establish that unwritten criteria. What numbers will, down the road, mean near-automatic induction?
Tom: I don’t think you have automatic rules. I think certain patterns develop, but I have a problem with “automatic” HoF induction. It should be more than just a stat that makes you special.
Phil: Also looked up Wallace’s numbers. Seven-hundred six starts for his 55 wins, 36 poles (thought he had more than that?). Two-hundred two top fives, 349 top 10s.
Kevin: My five for 2013 would be Wallace, Roberts, Weatherly, Thomas, Robertson. Final answer, Trebek.
Mike: Thomas, Turner, Robertson, Ard, Yunick. Sadly, two aren’t on the list.
Phil: My five dudes for induction: Wallace, Baker, Scott, Thomas and Roberts.
Tom: I’m not down to five yet. Right now it’s Thomas, H. Clay Earles, Flock, Roberts, Byron, Parks, Scott, Turner, Weatherly and Jerry Cook.

Sunday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Rockingham marked the first NASCAR event at that venue in eight years. Did they earn a second?

Kevin: YES!
Phil: For Rockingham, of course they did. Hopefully, the dudes behind Good Sam liked what they saw Sunday and come back for another go around.
Mike: Sure they earned a second. I honestly think they should have a separate, standalone Nationwide race too, but I’m biased. The racing is great, the venue is outstanding. It is just a matter of having enough people in the stands.

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Amy: Yes, absolutely. And why it should even be in question is stupid. What other track has to “earn” next year’s date?
Mike: Theoretically, every track has to earn a date. Although, with the exorbitant sanctioning fees these days, it is more like afford a date.
Kevin: Seemed like attendance was admirable and I enjoyed the racing. I’d love to see another Truck race, maybe even a Nationwide event.
Tom: Attendance at Martinsville for the Truck race was 20,000. Rockingham drew 27,500. Could the racing have been better? Yeah, it wasn’t a 10 out of 10. But it certainly wasn’t horrible, by any means.
Amy: I think NASCAR has a huge opportunity here to make a CWTS/NNS weekend at Rockingham on a Cup off week. I think they’d knock it out of the park. Were there some things to be addressed? Sure. It was Hillenburg’s first race as a promoter and the track’s first in eight years.
Phil: I think Hillenburg may need to put more sealer down. They had a pothole issue on Saturday, right?
Mike: Yes, I don’t know where the pothole came from. I think it was from haulers leaving after Saturday’s races.
Amy: They did a fantastic job on most things. There were water issues that will need to be fixed and traffic was an issue.
Mike: Any time you have the first race at a place, there will be issues. And the whole sport has changed in eight years. I thought, logistically, it was a great weekend.
Amy: The racing was very good, two and three-wide all day long. It wasn’t as competitive as I expected, but it wasn’t parade laps, either.
Mike: I was very disappointed in the debris cautions, but I know that isn’t the track’s fault. That is a NASCAR issue.

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Phil: I actually thought the race was going to go faster than it did. I wasn’t expecting some of the leaders to be turning in 125-mph laps. Cup cars, even with the drop off wouldn’t be anywhere near that slow at Rockingham. They would be turning around 134-139 at their slowest.
Mike: That is the joy of tires wearing out, Phil. Imagine Cup cars having such an issue? It was cool watching them slide around.
Amy: It was also the first time in I don’t know how long when I went to a race and every seat was filled and people were squashed in rows like sardines. It’s been years since I’ve seen that.
Mike: Heard some rumors this weekend that they already have a Nationwide deal done. I don’t believe it, but the rumor was swirling.
Amy: I think they were eying Rockingham for this year and just couldn’t quite make it happen. I think it can and should happen for next year based on this event.
Tom: I think Nationwide is still at least a year away. Remember, they didn’t sell out, they came close. But NASCAR might want to see more.
Amy: If they get a NNS race on a Cup off week, I think they will sell it out, no problem.
Tom: It depends on how many races, if any drop off the NNS schedule. But right now, I don’t see it unfortunately.
Amy: Tom, they’re already short races, none need to drop off to make room. They need to add races as it is.
Tom: Eh, I just see NASCAR really trying to shy away from standalone NNS weekends in general. As for the racing, tire management took center stage, which is what you like to see. But we also didn’t have a photo finish and the Cup guy who came in as a ringer wound up winning.
Phil: Sad truth is, I told you last week that Kasey Kahne was going to win. It just took a lot longer for him to get to the lead.
Amy: The best truck was penalized on the final stop, which gave Kahne control.  He didn’t have it otherwise. If Nelson Piquet Jr. had started second, I think he could have beaten Kahne.
Phil: I’ll agree with that. At the very least, it would have been quite interesting.
Mike: Piquet has definitely turned some heads this year.
Amy: Anyways, this race was overwhelmingly a success and Hillenburg certainly deserves both trucks and NNS next year. The first race is on the books, we know what needs to be worked on and there’s a year to do it. I think a doubleheader weekend on a Cup off week would pack the place.
Mike: I’d rather see a Truck race in the spring and a Nationwide race in the fall.
Amy: What I like about the track is that it’s multi-groove without graduated banking, so they can race side-by-side way better than on a lot of other tracks.
Mike: Yeah, trucks were everywhere.

Predictions for Kansas?

Amy: I’m going with Johnson. As dominant as he was at Texas, he’s got to get one soon.
Phil: Well, Johnson did win last time the Cup Series was there.  I’m going to go with Matt Kenseth.
Kevin: Two in a row for Greg Biffle. That’s what I think.
Mike: I’m taking Stewart again. He was so strong at Cali and Vegas. The whole backup car thing seemed to bite them this weekend.
Tom: I’m actually going to go rogue and say Martin. Michael Waltrip Racing is knocking on the door. Martin has won there in the past and he has a history of coming out swinging with new teams.
Phil: According to my crude calculations, Kevin’s got a six-point lead on Mike in the Mirror standings.  I’m still fifth behind Beth.
Kevin: Hot damn!

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 Samsung Mobile 500 Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Amy HendersonGreg Biffle1st5
Mike NeffTony Stewart24th0
Phil AllawayDale Earnhardt Jr.10th1
Kevin RutherfordMatt Kenseth5th3

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford176245
Mike Neff11-67134
Amy Henderson9-87135
Beth Lunkenheimer4-136012
Phil Allaway1-167003
Jeff Meyer0-171000

About the author

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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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