Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Overheating Objections, Winless Streaks & Dangerous Double Standards

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)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)

After a season-high number of engine failures at Talladega, is it time for NASCAR to make some rules changes … or is keeping the tandem drafting at bay more important than the individual teams affected by the rule?

Mike: I think they need to look at a minor change with the pressure release valve, just because some cars were overheating in the pack. When drivers can’t race their cars because they are overheating with the grill opening mandated by the rules, there is a problem.
Beth: Why not tweak the rules again? I mean there are drivers suffering engine failures thanks to the rule, and it was still the two-car tandem that won the race.
Kevin: It seems like changes are needed, but I also hate to say that, because it seems like all we’re asking for these days is changes. But it’d certainly be better for drivers to not have to worry about their cars overheating while simultaneously trying to navigate the big tracks.
Amy: I think so. Not only were there some engine failures, but a lot of cars in the pack were overheating, and couldn’t race to the front because of it. So it negatively affected the racing. I think they need to at minimum change the valve and open up the grille. Let the teams choose how much grille opening to run, because too much slows you down anyway. And again, get a tire that wears out, which will break up the pack as teams make tire strategy.
Mike: I’m not asking for a big change, but when cars are overheating when they aren’t tandem racing with no tape on their grille, then there’s a problem. I think the grille opening is fine, they just need a little more pressure. If people push it and lose water because of tandem racing, that is their fault. But you should be able to run your car at a competitive pace without pushing and not overheat.
Amy: I agree, Mike. Not only that, but look how early in the race guys were having issues. People complain about them not racing until the end anyway, and that only makes the problem worse.
Kevin: Yeah, that definitely gave this race an added interest factor. Seeing Regan Smith blow up that early was fairly unexpected on my part. Felt bad for him, too.
Amy: Pushing water wasn’t the only issue, though. I didn’t see Jeff Gordon pushing any water, but he had issues all day – let them cool the engines and race. The point is to go as fast as you can. Just let them do it.
Mike: Honestly, I was glad to see that there is handling coming back into the equation at Talladega. That will make a difference. I don’t know that the problems for Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Gordon were from cooling. It sounded to me like it was just inherent with their oil pumps.
Phil: Sadly, no opening up of the rules would make it easy to keep your car cool with summer heat and humidity.
Mike: The fans don’t want tandem racing. If they let them cool the engines that much it will bring the tandems back. But they do need to be able to run flat out with the plate and not worry about overheating if they aren’t pushing another car.
Amy: And I still don’t get why fuel-injected engines need restrictor plates. Surely they could slow them down by manipulating the fuel mixture with the computer, right?
Mike: I don’t think NASCAR wants to dictate the fuel injection that much to the teams.
Phil: Probably. However, its probably more expensive than just using the plates. Plus, NASCAR probably doesn’t know that much about fuel injection.
Mike: I think they could race them at Talladega without them, they just need to come up with a different aero package or a smaller engine. They stuck the plates on them 25 years ago and haven’t tried to come up with another solution since.
Amy: But we’ve got a race coming up in June at a track where tire test speeds exceeded those of the cars when plates were first used. Would that not be a good time to see if they can manipulate speed with EFI and not a plate?
Mike: They need to do something because 230 into the corner at Michigan is not going to be good.
Amy: Again, Mike, why not just simply limit the amount of fuel the engine gets via the EFI computer? Make the mixture thin enough and it should slow them down
Mike: If you limit the fuel to a point they run lean then you’ll burn the pistons. I don’t know what they could do.
Beth: I’ve actually wondered since that testing when NASCAR would come out with something to slow them down there.
Amy: I think they have to, Beth – combining those speeds with the potential for a wreck like Ernie Irvan‘s from a cut tire. 215 is too fast for a lap time. And remember the speed that convinced NASCAR they needed the plates int he first place was 213. So they need to do something, but at the same time need to keep them from detonating engines all day.
Beth: IF (and that’s a big if) we get through the first round of practice at Michigan before they announce some sort of adjustment to slow the cars down, I’ll be surprised.
Amy: I agree and for safety, I hope they can think of something other than a plate to do it.
Mike: Somebody needs to come up with something different, because the plates on Cup cars are just not getting the job done anymore. I’d like to see six-cylinder engines with some kind of air deflecting device to slow them down.
Phil: It’s still a month and change away, but we’ll see with Michigan. As for Talladega, who knows what they’re going to come up with next. It appears that people want those races to be as crazy as possible.
Amy: I agree, Phil. I don’t enjoy what we saw Sunday, but it appears that I’m in the minority
Mike: I didn’t enjoy the race at all because it was a slow pack with people being limited by the rules to a point they couldn’t race.
Beth: I enjoy the close-quarters racing, but I absolutely can’t stand the type of wrecks that close quarters racing tends to cause. See Eric McClure if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Kevin: I just want to see the drivers be able to do their jobs again without having to worry about their cars overheating. Just let them race.

Furniture Row Racing has reportedly talked with Kurt Busch about a second team. Is expansion the right move for the team, and is Busch the right driver?

Kevin: The way Furniture Row’s been running so far in 2012, not sure. I just don’t want to see this team overexert itself. FRR hasn’t been its best on intermediate tracks especially this year, and if I were Busch, I’d want to see them clean that up or at least have a guarantee that things would be better for 2013 before I joined up with them.
Amy: I’m not convinced the team needs a second car. They work with Childress and can share info that way. I don’t think Kurt Busch would be the right driver. He’s never been known as a team player. They’d be better off with someone like Justin Allgaier.
Mike: I don’t know if it is the right move or not but getting a past champion for your second car is a good choice if you’re going to do it. They’re basically a fourth Childress car at this point in time.
Beth: I’m not convinced they’re ready to move up to two cars since Smith hasn’t run all that well this season, but Busch wouldn’t be a bad teammate for him.
Phil: True. Busch has worked very well with Smith in the past. They were all but glued to each in last year’s plate races.
Beth: And they worked well together for a short time on Sunday (May 6) until shortly before the No. 78 went up in smoke.
Mike: I think Smith can get along with anyone. We’ll see if Busch moves after the season or not. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Finch keep him on. But with that said, it is hard to say who will get along with whom. There are strange bedfellows who work out swimmingly sometimes.
Amy: Busch is talented, but he can be toxic for a team. He proved that on several occasions last year and I don’t think the way he treated his crew at Penske would do anything to help build a brand-new team from the ground up. But again, FRR is just starting to be a contender on a good week with one car. I think a second could be a huge step backwards.
Beth: I don’t know, I’d argue they’ve built a decent team up at Finch. They may not be winning races yet, but things are headed in the right direction for them.
Mike: No, but I’m pretty sure he’s figured out that it wasn’t the best of techniques. I also don’t think the guys who run Furniture Row would put up with it.
Amy: But Mike, I’m not convinced he can control his tongue indefinitely.
Mike: He might not be able to. Then again, if your team is screwing up royally, they might need a tongue lashing sometime. It seems to work pretty well for Kevin Harvick.
Beth: I guess it was alright when Martin Truex Jr. did it too. I suppose it really depends on the person giving the tongue lashing.
Mike: I have a problem if I’m getting chewed out by someone who I don’t think is giving me their best or is trying to pass blame. If they’re giving it all they have and I am screwing up, I don’t have a problem being chewed out.
Amy: I think FRR would be best served by moving to Charlotte and working even more closely with RCR on improving the No. 78 into a weekly contender before they consider a second team.
Phil: The only reason they’re in Denver is that the team’s parent company is based in Denver.
Mike: I think they’re doing fine in Colorado. They are sharing plenty with Childress and they’re able to have a stable team because people aren’t being poached from their roster.
Beth: They seem perfectly happy to stay put in Colorado and I really don’t think it hurts them as badly as you might believe, Amy. In these days of technology, they can share all sorts of information over long distances and can work right alongside RCR’s people even halfway across the US.
Mike: Me either. They transport stuff back and forth on their furniture trucks during the week and they exchange information with Childress constantly. I think it is working fine for them.
Beth: I’m not sure they’re quite ready to expand beyond the lone team just yet, but Regan and Kurt have worked well together in the past and would likely make good teammates.
Phil: Kurt and Furniture Row would be an interesting combination. He’d guarantee that team a start in those ever-important first five races. Plus, he’s got a good relationship with Smith.
Mike: Expanding to a second team can certainly be a risky venture, especially when your first team isn’t setting the world on fire. That said, adding a former Cup champion to a team that has a strategic alliance with RCR could be a very good move. I honestly hope their luck turns around this year. They’ve had some decent runs and have just had horrible racing luck.
Amy: I don’t see a team ready for the burden of another one. They’d be better off waiting until they’re at least a top-20 points team and then go with a driver who isn’t known for communications breakdowns with the crew during races. If they wait at least a year, they could possibly work out something with RCR to field Jeff Burton for a year or two, and that’s a driver who would be great for a developing team. He may be past his prime, but he should be able to give good information, not prone to meltdowns on or off the track, and can still win races
Kevin: I’d like to see FRR running better before they even consider a second team, but another team in NASCAR would also be nice. Seems like a better option than returning to Phoenix for another season, though. Only one top-15 finish through 10 races isn’t what I was expecting from Smith this season. Very unfortunate.

This week, the Cup teams head to Darlington, and with all the focus on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s growing losing streak, it’s easy to forget that there are several other drivers looking to break streaks of their own. Which of these drivers is most likely to snap his long losing streak at the Lady in Black?

Mike: I don’t know about a losing streak, but Gordon better step up soon or his season is a total loss. Kasey Kahne has been strong at Darlington in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him win. But I would love to see Smith go back-to-back.
Amy: I think the bad luck could end for Gordon. He’s been stellar at Darlington before.
Kevin: Gordon would be my first pick from that bunch, if anyone at all. Carl Edwards has a few top fives at the track recently too, so he’s got a horse in the race. Smith going back-to-back would not only be a feel-good story, but could do wonders for that team after the struggles we’ve already touched on.
Phil: Righto, Kevin. I’d argue of those who’ve gone multiple years without winning, Truex would have the best chance. Otherwise, I would go with someone like Kahne. Kahne is bringing some momentum into this weekend after a top five.
Beth: Gordon is pretty likely provided he can shake off the bad luck following him around.
Amy: Although, Johnson has a much better Darlington average than I thought as well. Better than Gordon’s, actually. And I do agree that Truex is a definite threat as well, his average finish at Darlington is 12.3. Pretty decent. And Edwards is OK at Darlington as well, so he could do it, though his teammates are running better right now.
Mike: Of course, since I talked crap about him, Burton will probably come out and kick all of their butts.
Beth: Two wins there for Burton already, so it’s not impossible. Plus with the exception of last fall, he’s finished inside the top 12 every race since 2006.
Amy: Good point, Beth. And boy has Burton put on some shows at Darlington in years past.
Phil: Burton got wrecked in one of those wins.

Mike: Oh yeah. One of the best finishes in NASCAR history. Also, Edwards would have won last year if the race went a couple more laps.
Amy: Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Mike: Just sayin’, if you’re looking for someone to break a streak, the guy who finished second last year might be a wise choice.
Beth: I haven’t looked, is Mark Martin racing this weekend? He just won at Darlington in 2009 and MWR is running a bit better this season. If I remember right, he’s approaching 90 races since his last win, isn’t he?
Phil: Yes, he is.
Amy: The way MWR has been running, I’d give Martin a very good chance. Jamie Mac has run well there as well. So there are a few guys who could get the much needed boost of a win this week. I think it would be cool to see a veteran like Burton or Martin take everyone to school once again.
Mike: I’d like to see Smith win it again.
Beth: Definitely. He’s another one that could use the boost.
Amy: I’d love to see a real underdog win, always. A highlight of Talladega was Casey Mears on point. I don’t think Germain is strong enough yet on the intermediates to be a threat. Jamie McMurray has a shot, but I really like Martin, Kahne or Gordon for this one.
Phil: Martin’s had 88 or so since his last one. Fifty-one for McMurray and 172 for Mears.
Kevin: Giving a nod to Martin, Truex, Gordon, and Edwards here. I think they’re the ones most likely to grab a win of the winless group.
Phil: If it were Martinsville this weekend, I’d be willing to give Mears a shot, but Martin or Truex would be the best bets out of the group.
Mike: I think Edwards is the best bet of the group who hasn’t won lately.

NASCAR announced that officials will speak with Nationwide Series rookie Danica Patrick at Darlington following a last-lap incident at Talladega in which she intentionally turned Sam Hornish Jr. into the wall on the cool-down lap after the two made contact at the end of the race. Is it time to crack down on incidents like this one, or were Patrick’s actions justified?

Beth: Let me get this straight. Intentional wrecking by one driver at lower speeds resulted in a weekend suspension and intentional wrecking by NASCAR’s media darling gets her called to the hauler a week after the incident? Double standard much?
Mike: Nope. It didn’t happen between the flags so they should be fining her at the least. If it happens between the flags then it is OK, but once the checkers fly, you cannot be hitting people.
Amy: It’s past time to crack down on stuff on the cool-down lap. They’re going at least as fast, if not faster than under caution. And if it’s not OK under caution, why is it more OK after the race?
Beth: They’d barely taken the checkered flag and intentional wrecking at Talladega is dangerous wherever it happens.
Amy: I don’t think intentional wrecking is ever OK and especially at Talladega.
Kevin: It was good to see Danica Patrick finally show some spunk, but I’d like to see some consistency at least.
Mike: She and Sam Hornish Jr. have a history. It goes all of the way back to go-karts.
Beth: That’s not the point, Mike. The point is the move was just plain stupid and dangerous. And there’s no reason she shouldn’t have immediately been called to the NASCAR hauler.
Amy: I agree with that Beth. My guess is they weren’t going to call her in at all but there was enough backlash that their hand was forced. Hornish had a tire going down – his end was not intentional.
Beth: I agree completely, Amy. If they were serious about ACTUALLY handling it properly, they would have handled it on Saturday. And if there’s any question about Hornish, you go ahead and talk to him too. I mean, if it’ll make people who think Hornish hit her intentionally feel better, then talk to them both.
Mike: When he ran her into the wall wasn’t intentional?
Beth: He had a cut tire. A bit harder to steer with a tire down.
Mike: Interesting. Seemed to handle fine after he drove her into the wall.
Amy: NASCAR has a history of letting that kind of crap on the cool-down lap go. They’ll reluctantly penalize if it’s on pit road because that’s so dangerous. I think that’s a bit of a double standard after they parked Kyle Busch at Texas for something so similar.
Mike: I agree too Beth and Amy. If they didn’t call her to the trailer Saturday then shame on NASCAR. However, I don’t think it was that similar. Kyle totaled two cars. Danica turned Hornish toward the wall.
Beth: Both drivers were sent straight into the wall at a high rate of speed? How is it all that different? Lives were endangered in both incidents, so the consequence should be the same for both. But NASCAR won’t suspend Danica unless they absolutely have to.
Amy: Yes that had race and points implications, but I’d really like to think that the main reason you penalize for something like that is because you’re endangering a life, not because it affects the points.
Mike: Amen.
Amy: If anything, Patrick and Hornish were going faster.
Mike: It didn’t look like they were going that fast to me. Maybe I had a bad angle but they were pretty well slowed down by the time they got to turn 1.
Amy: They were going faster than pace car speed.
Mike: They were going faster? They had taken the checkers and backed off. Busch was doing about 160 when he hit Hornaday. I bet Hornish was doing about 80. And don’t get me wrong, I think it was totally wrong that she did it, but it wasn’t as bad as what Kyle did.
Amy: Bottom line, what Patrick did to Hornish was uncalled for. And NASCAR needs to tighten up on letting that stuff go without at least a fine.
Mike: I completely agree. They should have fined her, docked her points and put her on double secret probation. But it still wasn’t as bad as what Kyle did.
Amy: But they haven’t done much about it before. I don’t think they penalized Edwards when he sideswiped Dale Jr a couple of years ago either
Amy: They have already said they aren’t going to penalize. I wish they would and do it consistently. Take it behind the hauler after the race if you have issues.
Phil: Well, then I don’t agree with that move. It’s bush league. Sure, Danica was upset. Big deal. More important stuff to worry about. Maybe Danica will smack Hornish silly like she did that time to Jaques Lazier.
Mike: All I can say is, if they don’t penalize her and I was Hornish, her car would look like an old beer can by the end of the race at Darlington. I think it would be awesome to see Hornish win the race and then wreck her on the cool-down lap.
Amy: I disagree, Mike. It wouldn’t be any more right than what she did. I really hope NASCAR hasn’t let some of these incidents slide because of who was driving, but I think that’s not easy to do as it should be.
Mike: I’m not saying it would Amy, but if they won’t fine and punish her then they can’t do it to Sam.
Amy: What, really, does Hornish have to prove to her anyway. Everyone knows he’s 10 times the IndyCar driver she is. My guess is he’ll turn out to be better in NASCAR too.
Kevin: I do wonder how much a rivalry will be played up between Hornish and Danica during the telecast at Darlington. I’m sure they’ll take care to mention it about 50 times.
Beth: Can someone count that next weekend? I’d be curious to see how many mentions it gets.
Kevin: I just always want consistency when it comes to NASCAR decisions, no matter what. In this case, if you’re going to penalize Busch for something similar, I think Danica should get the same or similar treatment. I hate having to talk about “NASCAR did or didn’t do this” many weeks.

How about some predictions for Darlington?

Amy: I think I’ll go with Kahne.
Beth: Give me Brad Keselowski to go back to back..
Mike: I’ll take Kyle Busch.
Phil: Well, I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer.
Kevin: Tough one … Edwards.
Mike: It isn’t as much of a crap shoot as Talladega but you never know heading to 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:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Aaron’s 499 Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Amy HendersonDale Earnhardt Jr.9th1
Mike NeffClint Bowyer6th1
Phil AllawayKasey Kahne4th3
Tony LumbisJeff Burton10th1
Jesse MedfordJimmie Johnson35th-2

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford207256
Amy Henderson16-410158
Mike Neff15-510146
Beth Lunkenheimer9-117123
Phil Allaway6-1410025
Tony Lumbis1-191001
Jeff Meyer0-201000
Tom Bowles-2-221000
Jesse Medford-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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