Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: The Rights of a Lapped Car, Pastrana’s Debut & 5-hour … What?

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)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)

The last two races, at Texas and Kansas, have run without a single multi-car incident and there have been complaints about the quality of racing in both. Even Martinsville and Bristol saw fewer dustups than fans are accustomed to. What accounts for the lack of full-contact racing, anyway?

Beth: Simple answer: points. Everyone is so concerned about making the Chase and winning a championship that they’re terrified to screw up and cost themselves.
Amy: Well, we talked about drivers points racing, but I don’t think that’s all of it.
Phil: At places like Texas and Kansas? They’re Texas and Kansas. Those shenanigans will hurt you more than anything it would accomplish. By that, I mean you’ll kill your handling by damaging your car.
Mike: You can’t have full-contact racing on a mile-and-a-half track. That’s just too dangerous. At Martinsville, I don’t know.
Phil: The introduction of the CoT cut down on the bumping at Martinsville. Equaling the bumpers often meant bumping simply pushed your rival away from you.
Amy: You can’t race the mile-and-a-halves like they’re Martinsville, but we’ve seen a lot more rubbing there in the past. I think there are a couple other things. One, the cars are so equal that clean air is a deciding factor in what they can do. Also, the tires don’t wear enough and make cars hard to handle.
Mike: I don’t know about that. The tires seemed to be wearing more at Kansas than they did at Texas. But they didn’t result in much in the way of side-by-side racing other than on restarts.
Beth: Could it also be fear stuck in the drivers’ heads after Kyle Busch saw M&M’s pull their sponsorship at Texas last November? Granted, that situation was a lot different than your typical “casual contact,” but I’m sure that’s something that is still fresh in their minds.
Phil: Something like a bump-and-run won’t cost anyone a sponsorship these days. Doing something ridiculous like Kyle did can.
Amy: As I’ve always said, a correctly executed bump-and-run does not wreck the other car. So, why would it cost you a sponsor? If you aren’t doing it right, you shouldn’t be doing it, because someone will have enough of you posthaste.
Mike: You still shouldn’t be bump-and-running anyone on a mile-and-a-half track.
Amy: Well, even if we disagree on that it’s not even necessary on a wide, multi-groove track. It used to be that everyone seemed to want to run the bottom at most places. Now, they set up to run all over the track, so there’s less fighting for real estate than before.
Mike: That’s true. The racing this weekend looked ironically like Michigan and Fontana. Cars were fanning out in the corners and running a single line on the straight, although there were a few runs on the apron.
Amy: There were, but that was when it was already three- or four-wide outside them.
Phil: Martin Truex Jr. was using the apron quite a bit yesterday.
Amy: If Truex had made that divebomb stick, it would have been the move of the year.
Phil: Yeah, it would have been. He should have waited one more lap, then he might have gotten fully alongside.
Amy: Truex did it better than Carl Edwards did that one time. He didn’t hit the wall.
Mike: Yeah but he didn’t take the lead, either. Edwards at least had the lead for 100 feet or so.
Phil: Truex took the “Johnny Benson” route here. It’s kinda gauche to outright wreck someone in order to win. Better to do it without contact.
Amy: Anyways, I do wonder if the high winds the last two weeks made guys a bit more reluctant to race in close quarters. Would that affect aero between two cars that much?
Mike: I believe it made the cars unstable in general. If you’re not feeling as comfortable as you’d like in the car, I would imagine you’d give other cars a wide berth.
Phil: High winds don’t help, that’s true. The winds were lighter Sunday then in Texas, where it was just plain ridiculous but still.
Amy: That was my thought. It doesn’t explain all the races, but if you have to be more careful from something like that, you aren’t going to take silly chances.
Beth: I still think points is the major factor – probably 80% – and as long as NASCAR doesn’t make winning a big bonus, drivers will still continue to race for the points rather than risking a major loss for a win.
Mike: I’m with you, Beth. I think drivers are too reluctant to put themselves in harm’s way very much with a chance to cost themselves a couple of races of catchup.
Amy: I do agree that there is points racing going on, but there always has been. Personally, I don’t see a problem with a lack of cautions. The closing laps Sunday were fantastic.
Phil: True, I was on the edge of my seat late Sunday.
Mike: It has been a little while since I was that anxious at the end of a race. The restarts were great, too. Just would have been nice to have a couple more.
Phil: The lack of cautions is rare. I don’t know if I’ve seen a stretch at the start of a season that’s been this clean since I started following the sport as a kid.
Amy: Here’s the thing: fans say they don’t watch for the wrecks, they say they hate the fake debris cautions … and then complain about races without lots of cautions. Can’t have it both ways.
Beth: Amy, I’m in agreement. I don’t have a problem with the lack of cautions. You can have an exciting race without wrecking half the field.
Amy: This week’s race had a great ending. Maybe not on the scale of Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington, but great … and it was decided on the last corner of the last lap. What more do people want?
Mike: Four-wide with a car upside down and on fire crossing the line.

Michael Waltrip Racing and 5-hour Energy announced a sponsorship extension to 35 races for Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 team in 2012 and several teams have announced new sponsors for select races this year. Is this trend the beginning of an economic upturn for the sport?

Mike: I don’t know that it is an upturn for the sport, but it is at least a sign that companies are realizing some value out of the deal.
Beth: I’d like to think it is, to a point. But with so many teams still searching for sponsorship not only in the Cup Series but also in Nationwide and Trucks, it’s hard to believe it’s a complete upturn.
Amy: Not yet. There are still too many teams without funding to make me think that money is flooding in. Many of the new deals announced this year are for one or two races, far from a whole season that teams need.
Phil: I’m happy for MWR. They could use that extra backing. I hope some of these other teams in need of support can put some packages together. There are a number of teams out there that are a great value right now.
Mike: Amen to that. It will be great when we have 50 cars at the track all sponsored, but I feel that is still several years away, if it ever happens.
Beth: Sponsorship can be such a catch-22 for companies. They need to spend extra advertising dollars to bring in more money, but they need more money to be able to spend on advertising.
Amy: I understand, Beth. But when a three-time Most Popular Driver and last year’s Daytona 500 champion are sitting out races, there’s a huge problem in the sport.
Mike: The Daytona 500 champ issue is more of an organizational problem, I believe. There has to be a reason that Roush Fenway continues to have so many sponsorship woes.
Beth: One thing I did find interesting about 5-hour Energy’s announcement last Friday was how much more beneficial they’d found sponsoring Cup versus Nationwide was for them.
Mike: It helps having the car up front from time to time, Beth. Not to mention having a somewhat popular spokesperson.
Phil: Well, I guess NASCAR sponsorship is considered to be an old-school form of marketing and many companies are getting away from that. It’s a shame.
Amy: That’s because it’s A) too expensive to be competitive for a decent price anymore and B) the sport’s popularity boom is waning and sponsorship doesn’t have the same type of huge appeal to companies.
Beth: There’s no reason why it shouldn’t have that appeal, Amy.
Amy: The thing is, 10-15 years ago when NASCAR was the Next Big Thing, everyone wanted a piece of the action and back then, $12 million bought a competitive team for a full season. Now, not only is the popularity dropping as the fad is over, but it costs $25 million and up to have a car that gets any TV time at all.
Phil: In 1997, $12 million got you one of the best teams in the sport.
Mike: I think $12 million would still get you on a competitive team.
Amy: Like who?
Phil: Penske, for one. I hear they’re only charging $13 million.
Mike: I think that number would have also sealed the deal for the fourth team at RCR and kept Clint Bowyer there. The rumor I heard was that 5-hour was only offering $5 million.
Phil: 5-hour Energy had done a grand total of one Cup race prior to this year. They were probably gunshy.
Amy: I don’t think $12 million will field a car as competitive as $20-plus. If you’re at half the budget, that’s less likely to happen, so they don’t want in for that.
Mike: Well no, but from what I’ve seen, the $20-million boys aren’t exactly running roughshod over the whole deal this year. Hendrick – zero wins, Gibbs – two wins, RCR – zero wins, Roush Fenway – two wins. Looks like the other four went to the $12-million-type, smaller teams: Stewart-Haas Racing (three) and Penske (one).
Amy: Really? I’d give Stewart-Haas a bit more budget than that.
Mike: I wouldn’t. I don’t know the numbers but I really doubt they are doing $20 million cars.
Phil: Let’s see, who’s got a $20-million deal that we factually know about. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick. You’ve got Denny Hamlin (and maybe Kyle Busch) at JGR. But there’s no one at Roush since they all have multiple sponsors.
Mike: The whole year is still $20 million, though Phil for a guy like Edwards.
Amy: For smaller companies, it used to be a great option to sponsor a NNS or Truck team for a year on a smaller budget. Then, the Cup guys came in and the owners convinced the sponsors they really needed to be on those cars for a higher price and they screwed the whole system. A $12-million team now in Cup is like a Richard Petty Motorsports. I’d be surprised if SHR is running that type of budget. They’re much more likely to be in excess of $15 million, minimum.
Phil: I’d argue that 5-hour Energy’s statement on sponsorship in the Nationwide Series is the prevailing view right now. That may never go away, unfortunately.
Beth: With too many teams without the backing they need to compete, I’m not convinced we’re in a complete upturn yet. However, 5-hour Energy is some good news in a sport where past champions are sitting on the sidelines in hope of something coming along.
Mike: Hopefully, it is an indication that more teams will head back into the sport but only time will tell. OK, so who knew the Most Popular driver in Trucks in 2010 was Narain Karthikeyan?
Phil: I did. Karthikeyan was driving the No. 60 part time via the partnership with Starbeast.
Amy: I don’t know, but that’s the “type F” team I’d peg to be at a budget that used to buy a top-10 contender.

Lapped cars have gotten press recently for holding up the race leaders, allowing other drivers to close gaps they might not have otherwise. Does a lapped driver owe the race leader any courtesy when the race win is on the line?

Beth: I don’t see why any driver that’s a lap or more down should be getting in the way of the leaders, especially when they’re in the closing laps of a race.
Amy: I’ll go with a “depends on the situation.” If you’re more than one lap down and not near a car that you’re racing for position, get out of the way. If you’re trying to stay on the lead lap or racing a car for the Lucky Dog, do what it takes.
Mike: If you’re racing another car for position, then the leader has to find a way around. Otherwise, if you’re more than one lap down, get the hell out of the way. If you’re still on the lead lap, you have every right to race the leader as hard as you can.
Phil: Some people argue that, late in the race, even those on the lead lap should get out of the way of the leaders. I don’t abide by those rules.
Mike: Me either. As long as you’re on the lead lap, you have every right to race hard for position on the track.
Phil: Personally, I’d want to race as hard as possible, but do it in a way in which I wouldn’t be in the way if I were more than one lap down. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Amy: I’ll add one more rule. If that’s your teammate in second and you’re a lap down or more, it’s perfectly acceptable to hold the leader up. Conversely, if your teammate is the leader, you should be holding up the second-place guy.
Beth: I don’t agree with that at all, Amy. It’s like saying “since I’m out of the race, I’m going to try to screw up your day so my teammate can win.” That’s no different than drivers swapping spots just to give the other a point for leading a lap.
Mike: I don’t agree with that, either. That is getting into team orders. If you’re going to abide by that, then is it acceptable to bump another team’s car and cause damage just to hinder their chances at the win?
Amy: I think it is. It’s called being a team player. I have no issue with that type of team order. I have an issue with giving a position to a teammate, but not helping them to gain one.
Mike: I think your idea is worse. If that is OK, then it is OK to bump the leader as he goes by and damage his fender or tire to cost him the win?
Beth: My point exactly, Mike.
Amy: No, it isn’t. That’s two totally different things. Touching a guy is dirty; racing him side-by-side so the other guy can gain distance is perfectly fine.
Phil: That team orders thing is a sticky topic. I’ve watched more than my share of team orders and I’m just not in favor of them. They cheapen races. Formula 1 has had some egregious examples over the years.
Mike: If you’re in 20th and you screw over the leader to let your teammate gain on him, that is bogus.
Beth: Amy, by your thought, it’s alright for Ryan Newman to hold up Johnson if Tony Stewart is leading, but it’s not alright for Hamlin to do the same thing because they’re not teammates? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.
Amy: Why? It’s called being a teammate … if you don’t wreck the guy. If you touch him, that’s crossing a line. If you’re that slow, you aren’t going to hold him up that long, but every bit helps.
Mike: I don’t think that is being a teammate. I think that is interfering with the outcome of a race in an unnecessary fashion. So if the leader comes up on me, and I pull in front of him, causing his car to get tight and hit the fence, but I don’t touch him, that is OK?
Amy: No.
Beth: But he didn’t touch the guy.
Amy: Racing him is OK; wrecking him is dirty.
Mike: That’s not wrecking him. I took my line and it negatively affected the aero on his car. Which, in turn, allowed my teammate to get closer to him.
Phil: That’s a gray area. It’s not dirty, although some might try to make the argument that you wrecked him with your dirty air.
Amy: Now, this is all assuming the lapped car is alone out there. If he’s racing for position, that’s his right, even if it’s for 30th.
Mike: No, I’m saying you’re driving by yourself.
Amy: Causing someone to hit the wall using aero is still wrecking him.
Mike: You just said you could get someone loose and that was OK.
Beth: But it’s alright to get them aero loose according to what you said earlier in here. So it’s not my fault if I get a guy aero loose and he can’t hold on to his car.
Mike: Exactly.
Amy: There’s a difference between loose and hitting anything.
Mike: Wow, there is no way in hell you could try and police that.
Beth: So if I get someone loose on the track, it’s alright as long as he doesn’t hit the wall? How in the world does that make any sense? I mean, I don’t control how he handles his racecar and I damn sure can’t control whether he’ll spin based on me getting him loose.
Amy: Again, had Joey Logano raced Truex hard for half a lap yesterday, it would have made the race less exciting, but it wouldn’t be dirty.
Beth: I disagree. At that point, Logano was out of contention and had no business holding up the leaders trying to win a race.
Amy: It’s the same as a bump-and-run, Beth. A correctly executed bump-and-run doesn’t wreck the car, it moves him. A bump-and-run done right isn’t dirty.
Beth: But in a bump-and-run for a win, both drivers are racing on the lead lap. You’re talking about a guy at least one lap down in the closing stages of the race.
Mike: Bottom line, screwing up another person’s race intentionally is just not cool. I don’t think there is any scenario where it is acceptable if you are not directly racing the person. It isn’t someone screwing up another driver’s race when they’re laps down.
Amy: If I was driving and my teammate didn’t help me, I’d be pissed at him after the race.
Mike: It is up to the driver to win or pass people. He shouldn’t be getting help from a teammate, unless we’re talking about tandem drafting on plate tracks.
Beth: If it’s wrong for one lapped car to get in the way, then it’s wrong for all lapped cars to get in the way. Let the damn thing be settled on the track without interference from anyone.
Phil: I agree with Beth. Intentionally getting in the way like that is unsportsmanlike conduct. Punishable by a week in the brig.
Amy: Sorry, I just do not have an issue with being a team player.
Mike: I just don’t think that is being a team player. I think that is unnecessarily impacting another driver’s race.
Amy: Which as a teammate should be their job, Mike.
Mike: No, your job should be to help each other as much as possible getting ready for the race. Once you’re on the track you can share info, but not impact other drivers.

Travis Pastrana is finally set to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut on Friday at Richmond. What should the motocross star expect in his NASCAR touring series debut?

Mike: He’ll probably be a top-15 car. Assuming he doesn’t destroy a bunch of cars on the start like he did in the Showdown last year.
Phil: Travis Pastrana should expect a learning experience. I think he’ll finish around 20th.
Amy: I’d say about 20th, too. The most important thing for him is to complete laps.
Beth: He needs to aim for finishing the race and using that seat time wisely. He can finish top 15-20 if he doesn’t wreck early.
Phil: It’ll be like his first outings in the K&N Pro Series. He’ll try to race as hard as he can, but he’s not going to be anywhere near where Kenny Wallace would be if he were racing the No. 99/09.
Amy: That’s true for sure, Phil. With the additional backing from MWR, Wallace would have a top-five finish. Pastrana has a top-five car but he’s not going to be a top-five driver in it yet.
Phil: Wallace almost had one in this race last year.
Mike: Probably true. But you never know what might happen. Pastrana’s been in full-bodied stock car races before. It isn’t like he’s going in totally blind.
Amy: The car is good enough. Not sold on Pastrana yet. He has one finish better then 20th in six K&N races, and that’s with a well-financed car. Anything more than bringing the car home in one piece is icing on the cake for a driver’s debut in a national series, so that’s what he should hope for.
Mike: I agree with that much. It is his debut. Running the K&N race on Thursday night will be a help.
Phil: Pastrana would do well to get a top 15. We know he’ll have the car to do that. All Travis has to do is stay out of trouble, don’t be an idiot and be careful. I still think 20th is more realistic, though. He’s still got six more after this one.
Mike: I think he could make top 15 without all that much effort. The car should be good enough. And you’ll have a bunch of cars drop out.
Phil: We’ve got 44 entries this week, and six are guaranteed to start-and-park. Perhaps a couple more in addition. A number of cars that will go the distance aren’t that strong. I’d like to think Pastrana could do better than Danica Patrick did on her first short-track outing.
Amy: Bottom line, if Pastrana finishes clean and in the top 25, he’s fine.

How about some predictions for Richmond?

Amy: I say Hamlin goes back-to-back.
Beth: I say Kyle Busch shakes off his quiet start with a dominant win.
Mike: I was going to go with Kyle but I think I’ll take Earnhardt.
Phil: Hamlin’s an easy choice for Richmond. I’m going to go with Truex. He’s a bit ticked from Sunday and he’ll want to capitalize on his momentum to possibly sniff the points lead.
Beth: Mike, I even went to go look at stats for Richmond before I made my pick. You just weren’t quick enough!
Mike: Actually, I was letting you make the call this week. Phil, Truex is a good choice. He’s been strong in the past at Richmond.
Amy: I didn’t realize Junior and Jimmie both have three wins there. Truex’s RIR numbers are just OK.
Beth: But this season, MWR has been impressive, so Truex is a good pick.
Mike: Right, and remember his meltdown last year? Truex was going for a win and the pit crew killed him.
Phil: With Earnhardt, it’s just been so long. One of those wins was in his rookie year. I remember that race in 2000 best for it being Geoffrey Bodine‘s return from his Daytona injuries.
Mike: Junior was always good at Richmond. When they ran like junk there a few years back was when I admitted it was time for Tony Jr. to go.

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

STP 400 Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Tom BowlesMark Martin33rd-2
Amy HendersonJimmie Johnson3rd3
Mike NeffTony Stewart13th0
Phil AllawayMatt Kenseth4th3
Kevin RutherfordGreg Biffle5th3

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford207256
Amy Henderson12-88146
Mike Neff11-98134
Phil Allaway4-168014
Beth Lunkenheimer4-166012
Jeff Meyer0-201000
Tom Bowles-2-221000

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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