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
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesday/Full Throttle & Friday/Keepin’ It Short)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)
For the second year in a row, the race at Darlington featured a post-race pit road incident, this time between Kurt Busch and members of Ryan Newman’s pit crew. Last year saw two drivers get monetary fines and probation. This year, we saw more of the same. Is that type of penalty sufficient or is it time for NASCAR to ramp up the consequences if they aren’t getting the point across?
Phil: That whole thing is looney tunes. Simple as that.
Amy: I think they should up the fines significantly, like they did with Kurt Busch. Face it, the $25,000 Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch got last year was pocket change.
Kevin: I’m not really sure what to think here, because in my mind, what occurred Saturday night doesn’t really warrant any more than the standard fine and probation. But at the same time, NASCAR’s not really getting the point across. So maybe increased fines really are necessary.
Amy: And what Kurt Busch did, doing a burnout through Ryan Newman‘s pit while the crewmen were still in it, was far more dangerous than what went down between Harvick and his brother last year.
Phil: Kurt appeared to just be angry with himself at the time.
Amy: Busch hit Newman on pit road. To me, that is never OK, because there are guys out there without a rollcage. Plus, Busch spun on his own, and someone else got into Newman, sending him around. Newman had nothing to do with the wreck.
Phil: Aric Almirola got into Newman.
Amy: Busch was so pissed off at getting a poor finish that he did the burnout, not even thinking about who he could hurt.
Beth: I don’t really know what to think. The only way I understood what had happened was through multiple stories online. I don’t recall television ever really explaining what truly caused the post-race altercation.
Phil: They didn’t show the altercation live, that is for sure. They showed it after the fact via replay. I didn’t see the running through the pit thing on the telecast at all.
Amy: I was there; it definitely happened. Look, hard racing is part of the sport. If Busch can’t accept being raced hard (it was obviously clean, since it didn’t wreck him), he should maybe think about a different career. Now, a $25,000 fine and probation is about right for Newman’s gasman, who apparently moved an official, though the official says he “tripped.”
Beth: The official may say he tripped, but I’m almost positive I saw the gasman reach out and shove him in the chest. As far as the move through Newman’s pit goes, there’s no reason for that whatsoever.
Amy: Which is silly, because if you look at a replay, it’s that Busch spun entirely on his own
Beth: That was why I was so confused Saturday night, Amy. They presented it like Busch spun and Newman’s crew objected, leading to the postrace altercation.
Amy: Andy Rueger deserved a much bigger fine and a probation that actually means something.
Phil: How much do you fine a gas man? You try to put a $5,000 fine on them, which they did and that’s six weeks’ pay. Other than the wheel incident at Atlanta and drug violations, NASCAR all but never singles out specific crew members.
Beth: Does it not ultimately come down to the crew chief handling his crew though?
Amy: Probably. Newman shouldn’t get anything, because he didn’t do anything.
Beth: I’d like to hear Kurt Busch’s take on what happened on pit road and frankly I’d love to see more video of what happened. The point is that something needs to be done to curb dangerous moves on pit road. Boys, Have At It does not give you free reign to drive like a jerk and put people working on pit road in danger.
Phil: Did this running through the pit make the telecast at all? I’m unclear on this point, although it is guaranteed that it happened.
Beth: No it didn’t, Phil, hence my confusion.
Amy: You can’t see the pits from the press box, Phil, but we could see the smoke from his tires.
Kevin: I think if NASCAR does one thing at all concerning this incident, they should do something to try and prevent a burnout like Kurt’s.
Beth: Agreed. And remember it’s not the first time Kurt has lost his head on pit road.
Kevin: Plus, post-race you ran into Ryan because you were taking your helmet off? Are you kidding me?
Amy: Yeah, that’s a bald-faced lie
Beth: That was odd. There’s no way it was accidental when he’s been doing this for so many years without incident.
Amy: And if it was true, then maybe he should, oh, I don’t know, maybe stop before taking his helmet off?
Beth: What I don’t understand is why Kurt was so upset with Newman. Did he think because Newman was sideways in the same area that he’s the one that sent the No. 51 spinning? I’d like to hear his point of view and find out what was going through his head at the time.
Amy: His crew chief had warned him that Newman’s team was mad and were waiting on him. I think that’s what precipitated him ramming Newman’s car.
Beth: So he rammed Newman because Newman’s team members were upset? That’s gonna solve everything.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s not a smart move at all if that’s what he knew.
Phil: Then, when the gas man came charging in, Kurt was behind his car talking to Ryan Harrison (crew chief) when the dude came charging in with all 260 pounds of himself. A couple of Kurt’s crew members had to hold him off.
Amy: Kurt had to be physically restrained as well. There are photos.
Phil: Kurt just stood there and cussed him out (I guess).
Beth: There were definitely some non-family friendly words said. I’m not all that great at reading lips, but I caught a few things that were said.
Amy: I don’t know if Busch thought Newman spun him, but I think it stemmed from him running through the No. 39 pit and then being told they were looking for him.
Beth: Can you blame him then, Amy? I mean if someone is coming at me, I’m ready to defend myself.
Amy: True, Beth. At least he showed he’s got more brass than his brother. But I don’t blame the gas man for his anger, I would be too. Bottom line, that pit road burnout was dangerous and irresponsible
Beth: I’d say what Kyle did at Darlington last year was worse than what Kurt did on Sunday, though. Yes, the pit road move was dangerous and stupid, but it wasn’t sending a racecar hurtling uncontrolled into the wall or sending a driver nose-first into the wall at 160-plus mph.
Beth: Well, I’m definitely on-board with upping the fine and probation. No one is going to take that seriously unless NASCAR starts getting heavy-handed with it.
Amy: I think the pit-road deal was worse than what Kyle did at Texas. At least Ron Hornaday had a truck around him for protection. If he’d done the burnout through an empty pit, that would be one thing, but there were men in that box.
Phil: As it stands, its one of those “you had to be there to know” things, like Richard Childress beating on Kyle Busch last year. I’d fine his butt substantially, which they did, and keep the fine on Newman’s crew chief.
Amy: If he had hit one of them, we’re talking major injuries. I saw the smoke and I believe the people who said there were crewmen in that box. Honestly, maybe making him sit out the All-Star Race would make a point. It’s not a points race, so no loss there anyway.
Kevin: Well, if he keeps pulling this stuff, then suspend him for a points race when it happens again.
Amy: In any case, this warrants more than the $25 grand and probation they gave out last year.
Beth: I don’t know that a suspension in a non-points race would really hit home the way NASCAR needs to.
Amy: I don’t know, Beth. James Finch doesn’t get in that race very often; I bet he’d hammer the point home just fine.
Phil: Sitting out the All-Star Race just means that Finch’s team doesn’t have to drive up from Spartanburg. That’s not going to really punish Kurt. He’ll get to spend more time with Patricia, but that’s about it.
Amy: Really, NASCAR should give him a massive fine (like $250,000 massive) and a real probation … but if they won’t enforce the probation, then they should just step it up.
Phil: What’s probation in NASCAR besides “We’re watching you?” It’s nothing.
Amy: That’s the problem. What it should be is if he breathes wrong for the rest of the year, he’ll be sitting out some races.
Beth: I thought that was the way probation was supposed to work, regardless of who is on the receiving end.
Amy: It is, but it never has worked that way, Beth. And last year, the punishment was for like four or five weeks. It should be through the rest of the season this time.
Beth: And that’s where NASCAR is really lacking. They have got to lay out what is expected of drivers who are on probation and then actually enforce it.
NASCAR announced rule changes to the side skirts and roof spoiler on the Sprint Cup cars in an effort to reduce downforce. Is the sanctioning body doing enough to both make the cars safer and enhance competition?
Phil: Apparently, the idea is that these rules will make it a little easier to pass. However, they’ve made a “buttload” of changes here all at once. Never seen anything like that before. I want to at least see what happens Saturday night before drawing any conclusions.
Amy: I think it’s a step in the right direction, although I need to do some reading on how the shorter side skirt will keep them from getting airborne. If anything, I’d think it would allow more to get under the car in a spin, which is what sends them airborne in the first place.
Beth: As far as safety, NASCAR continues to impress me. I mean, we could have been talking about a serious tragedy at Talladega with Eric McClure.
Amy: I’m torn on that, Beth. Once again, they’re being reactive instead of proactive.
Phil: That’s what I was just thinking, Amy.
Kevin: I think it’s gonna enhance competition, at least. Safety-wise, like Phil, I’ll wait to see Saturday night. But this is definitely a good move, at the moment.
Beth: One thing I do like is what it should hopefully do for competition. By decreasing that downforce, hopefully more of the race will be put in the drivers’ hands and therefore should mean better competition. That remains to be seen, though, and I don’t think the All-Star Race is where we’ll get our answers.
Amy: I think if they’re serious about enhancing competition, they should loosen up the shock, spring and gear packages and let teams work on them themselves.
Beth: Yes, we’ll get a taste of what the changes will make, but drivers are always more interested in taking chances for the win in a non-points race. The real test for me will come with the 600 when it really counts.
Amy: I agree. I’m not sold on them doing it for this race, though. I’d have liked to give them a chance to test first.
Kevin: Maybe because it’s a non-points race and won’t have as much impact if it ends up being a massive failure? That’s all I can think of.
Phil: Last year’s All-Star Race was actually not all that great. Maybe they wanted to make it more exciting.
Kevin: Yeah, that might make sense, too.
Beth: I wonder if the urgency in putting the changes in place immediately has something to do with the complaints about how “boring” the season has been so far.
Amy: Which I still don’t get. From where I sat, the race at Darlington was excellent.
Beth: But like I told you on Twitter, Amy, someone needs to tell FOX to show the damn racing on the track. I read all sorts of tweets about this battle or that battle, and yet I saw none of it on TV unless it was the leaders or Danica. But I could rant for hours on the TV coverage so far this year. I swear it seems to be decreasing in quality as time goes on.
Amy: I totally agree, and it’s too bad they don’t, though I do think some of it is difficult to capture on TV as it can take several laps to make the pass. TV isn’t going to do that if it’s for 28th place.
Beth: I have an easy fix for that, Amy. How about a few less closeup shots of one car and more expanded shots of the rest of the field.
Phil: I’m trying to make them, dangit. They only listen when I say something ridiculous, though.
Mike: I think these rules will make the cars a little safer, I don’t know if it is going to help competition or not. I know it is putting a lot of pressure on the teams to figure out what the new rules are going to do to the cars. I hope it is going to make the leader have less of an advantage in clean air.
Beth: FOX could take some lessons from Speed in what they show as far as actual racing goes.
Mike: I have heard from multiple fans who think FOX is doing a poor job on purpose to allow them to renew their contract at a discounted rate.
Beth: I’ve seen that too, Mike.
Phil: We could never prove that.
Beth: No one could ever prove it, but it’s an interesting theory.
Mike: I’m with Amy on this question. There was some fantastic racing at Darlington and I could not believe how low on the track some of the cars were running exiting turn 4.
Beth: The only way to prove it is for someone to own up to it and you know that’s as likely to happen as it is for NASCAR to admit they made a mistake.
Amy: It is an interesting theory. But NASCAR does share some of the blame. They need to make specific demands when they structure TV contracts
Mike: I agree, although I don’t know if we want NASCAR getting into the business of television production.
Beth: I agree, Mike, to a point. I don’t want them getting into micromanaging the broadcasts, but I don’t think it’s too much for them to demand that racing be shown on TV. After all, if they’d shown some of this great racing you and Amy talk about at Darlington (and every week for that matter), maybe the ratings would increase a bit.
Amy: Would they have to? Could they not just stipulate that the network has to go through the full field a certain number of times, give the cause for every car that drops out or goes to the garage, update on every driver who goes to infield care, etc.?
Beth: ^ And what she said.
Kevin: That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Phil: I would be fine with those requirements. If NASCAR asked me for a wishlist, I’d give them one.
Mike: I do agree with that. It makes me crazy when drivers drop out and you don’t find out about it until they do a full-field rundown at the top of the screen showing OUT under their name. Meanwhile, the technical bulletin certainly has the potential to make clean air less important. It didn’t get rid of everything below the front bumper like I keep asking for, but it is a start.
Let’s talk about Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th win as an organization. Should this accomplishment put Hendrick in the next Hall of Fame class … and where does Hendrick stack up against the sport’s greatest organizations?
Amy: I think it’s a huge accomplishment in any era, but just like comparing driver stats, it’s not really accurate to compare with organizations from other eras.
Mike: I still don’t know that I’d put Hendrick or Childress in the next class because they’re still active. I know that shouldn’t necessarily be held against them, but I just think they’re still writing their resume.
Kevin: I wouldn’t go as far as to put Hendrick in the next HoF class just yet, but he’s close. But in terms of greatest organizations, I think the HMS name will certainly be coming up for years to come.
Mike: Two-hundred wins is an amazing accomplishment, especially when you look at the fact that they’ve won 50 races over roughly the same amount of time every time. The series has become more and more competitive and they still dominate. They’re definitely the best organization of the last 20 years.
Amy: I agree on the “too long” points … their spires would have to be changed every few years. However, owners are a bit different in that some of them will be in the sport until their deaths, and if they had to wait until they retired, would never see their own induction.
Phil: Well, Hendrick winning his 200th race doesn’t make him any different that he was a couple of months ago. I don’t think it’s going to give voters that extra oompth.
Amy: I would agree with that, Mike, though Childress is pretty close. RCR has the championships, but they didn’t always have the drivers or quite the level of sponsor dollars or equipment.
Amy: Other than Dale Earnhardt, RCR hasn’t had drivers of quite the caliber of Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson.
Amy: Or Darrell Waltrip.
Mike: I know Amy. It is tough. I think they will make it in soon and I wouldn’t say they don’t deserve it.
Amy: I wouldn’t say they don’t deserve it. But the final chapters have yet to be written.
Beth: And that’s not to take away from their 200th win. They’ve won with several different drivers and that’s quite a feat.
Amy: Fifteen different drivers and 21 different crew chiefs. Pretty cool.
Phil: The voting process is bound to hurt a lot of people. It’s purposefully designed to make emotions play a huge role.
Beth: But like you have said, their legacy is still being built.
Amy: HMS could conceivably add another 100 wins in 10 more years.
Beth: With four drivers, that’s not really a stretch, although Gordon has to find something soon or he’s done.
Mike: I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them win two or three. Gordon is all but out of the Chase already.
Beth: I agree. I don’t think there’s much as far as Chase hopes for Gordon unless he gets in on a wildcard.
Mike: He’s got to go on a winning run of two or three races just to get back to the top 20.
Beth: And the No. 24 team is fully capable of doing that, but they seem to have found the bad luck bug this year.
Amy: It has to be frustrating for Gordon’s team because the reality is they could reel off two or three wins if they could find a little luck.
Mike: Big time. Rick Hendrick told Gordon that he had open seats on his helicopter Saturday night but Jeff wasn’t allowed to come along.
Mike: It was really funny when he said it. He prefaced it by saying, with Gordon’s luck, he wouldn’t want to ride with him.
Beth: Can’t really blame him with the way the season has been for Gordon.
Phil: Gordon can get back to the top 20 with a few good runs and no bad luck. He’s 22 points out of 20th. However, getting to 10th is just about out now. He’s two complete races (with leading the mostlaps) out of 10th.
Amy: I do think Rick Hendrick is the most successful owner of his era and the reason for that is deceptively simple: people and the right combination thereof. His employees have tremendous respect for him.
Beth: It’s a great accomplishment, but there are still plenty more to come for Hendrick Motorsports. There are others who should be in the Hall of Fame before Hendrick and he’ll get there in due time.
Mike: Two-hundred wins is an amazing feat. Two-hundred sixty-nine is not that far away in reality, which will make them number one all-time. It isn’t just money either. They get it done because they hire the right people and they do things the right way. Added to that, Rick Hendrick is a truly giving, caring person who appreciates all of his employees.
Amy: I agree. There’s simply too much more to write for him to be in the Hall now.
Phil: Hendrick was in the original group of 25 nominees. Anyone in that group was all but guaranteed induction at some point.
Amy: They should be, Phil.
Mike: Honestly, anyone who gets nominated is guaranteed induction at some point.
Phil: At this point, probably. Here’s my point: we’re still early.
After a three-week hiatus, the Camping World Truck Series returns to action Friday night at Charlotte. Which drivers that have struggled thus far have the best chance of turning their seasons around?
Phil: Cripes, these breaks are just horrible. There’s no flow to the Truck Series.
Beth: One that stands out for me is Johnny Sauter.
Mike: I’m not even sure who’s struggled. I can’t remember their races before Rockingham.
Kevin: Thorsport guys, for sure, They’re not having a phenomenal start, especially Sauter, but I think they’ll turn it around soon enough.
Amy: I’m going to have to say Sauter, too. He’s in the best equipment of the ones having a rough start.
Kevin: Jason Leffler‘s having horrible luck as well. I think some good finishes are on his way, though as long as he can get out of this rut.
Amy: I agree on the schedule. They need to either sacrifice starting at Daytona or ending at Homestead.
Phil: The ThorSport team has had a rough go of it. Sauter’s 16th in points, Crafton’s 10th and Dakoda Armstrong is 17th. Maybe with more regular races, they can get into more of a flow.
Amy: Guys like Hornaday and Todd Bodine aren’t in top-tier equipment this year; they’ve struggled. Thorsport does need to pick it up, though I’m less worried about Armstrong because he’s got less experience.
Beth: Leffler just can’t catch a break, but I’ll be interested to see what he can do in KBM equipment if he can get rid of the bad luck.
Kevin: I think I’d’ve expected a little more than one top 10 and 12th in the points from Joey Coulter, too. Especially with Ty Dillon having a great start.
Amy: True, but I think the team may have overextended itself adding Bodine.
Beth: Not only does Armstrong have less experience, but he’s also hit some of his own bad luck.
Phil: Coulter was set for a great finish in Daytona, then he got pitched into the catchfence.
Mike: I think they just need to race on tracks where the other series don’t run, but that’s just me. I agree that Sauter is the obvious choice. Leffler hasn’t really had a lot of success in the Trucks so I don’t know that he’s that much of a surprise.
Beth: He’s gotten caught up in at least two wrecks this season that weren’t of his making.
Kevin: I wonder if that might be one of the same issues Thorsport’s having, Amy. With adding Armstrong to make it three full-time teams.
Phil: Leffler’s a past winner in the series and ran well for Ultra Motorsports (he went there after he flunked out of the No. 01 in Cup, if I remember correctly).
Mike: Don’t forget ThorSport added Frank Kimmel to their operation this year, too.
Kevin: Ooh, right.
Amy: Leffler is a good driver in top equipment. He’s been out of a truck for a while, though, so he may just need a bit more time.
Phil: Yeah, that’s four full-time teams. They’ve got new digs now in Ohio, but their resources may be spread a little thin.
Beth: Kimmel’s doing decent in ARCA. Back-to-back top 10s in the last two races, including a second at Salem.
Mike: He is still the best driver in the history of the series. Getting him in the winner’s circle will be more of an indication that they’re on top of their game.
Beth: Actually, he’s sixth in points. I’d like to see them get a stretch of a few races going and see what happens. I think a little more continuity in the season will be a tremendous help.
Mike: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Leffler have a good run at Charlotte. The No. 18 team knows how to get around there.
Phil: Its mid-May and we’re only through four races. Leffler’s probably a threat to win Friday night.
Beth: He may be, Phil, but I see Hornaday inching closer and closer to victory lane. Now, let’s flip the script. Who’s overachieved to this point? The obvious answer is probably John King, but he put up a decent run at Martinsville in addition to his surprise win.
Amy: King was definitely a surprise early on.
Kevin: I didn’t expect to see Justin Lofton performing this well, that’s for sure. But maybe he and that team really are the real deal.
Mike: Yeah, Rockingham hurt his season. He had a decent run at Kansas so he’s still top 10 in points.
Kevin: For sure. Just didn’t know how much of that success would be able to carry over. Looks like that KHI stuff is really helping.
Beth: I’ve been impressed with Lofton so far this season. I don’t know that he’ll get past August without finally grabbing his first career victory.
Amy: I don’t think any of the others in the top 10 other than King are overachieving. All are good drivers with solid past performance.
Phil: Lofton was really strong for Red Horse back in 2010. The move to Germain Racing really hurt him at the beginning of last year, though. I think he could have easily won a race in the No. 7.
Amy: In hindsight, it does, but Germain was a championship team.
Beth: And remember, Kevin, last season he ran on two different teams and he told me last November at Texas they’d been spending much of the latter part of the season testing things and preparing for this season.
Amy: I’m not surprised because of Nelson Piquet Jr.‘s talent, but I did have some questions on the team at first,
Phil: Remember when he made his Nationwide debut at Watkins Glen at 2010? He was basically hoping not to make a fool of himself that weekend.
Beth: Had Piquet and Miguel Paludo not been in wrecks at Daytona, the team could’ve easily put all three trucks in the top 10. He finished ninth in the race.
Mike: It is one thing to go from a decent runner to a threat to win. Piquet made that jump this season pretty substantially.
Phil: Plus, Piquet’s got a new sponsor this week (Alpinestars, I guess) and a special scheme from a London-based artist. Had he not wrecked, Piquet could already have won at Daytona. And we know he could have easily won Rockingham.
Beth: Agreed completely. He’s another one on my list of first-time winners this season.
Kevin: I’m more interested to see who’s really excelling and who’s not once the series gets into a nice string of races where they’re not taking off weeks at a time.
Mike: You’ll have to wait for September for that, Kevin.
Kevin: Yeah, unfortunately.
Beth: That’s practically halfway, Mike.
Kevin: But at least it’ll get a little better in a bit. Better than it has been, that is.
How about some non-points predictions for the All-Star Race? Which two race in, who gets the fan vote and who wins it all?
Amy: I say Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger race in, Junior gets the fan vote (duh!) and Kasey Kahne wins the main event.
Kevin: For me, it’s Kyle Busch winning. Joey Logano and Truex race in, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting the fan vote.
Beth: I have to say I agree with Amy. Truex and Allmendinger race in and of course Junior gets the fan vote. But I’m going with Kurt Busch (assuming NASCAR doesn’t decide to make an example of him) shaking off Darlington and going for it all. I’m probably nuts for making that pick, but it’s not for points anyway, so why not?
Phil: OK, Earnhardt Jr. and McMurray will race in, either Truex or Jeff Burton will get the fan vote, and I’m going with Harvick for the All-Star Race.
Mike: Truex and Earnhardt race in. Logano wins the fan vote. Earnhardt wins the All-Star Race.
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
Bojangles’ Southern 500
|Amy Henderson||Kasey Kahne||8th||1|
|Beth Lunkenheimer||Brad Keselowski||15th||0|
|Mike Neff||Kyle Busch||4th||3|
|Phil Allaway||Clint Bowyer||11th||0|
|Kevin Rutherford||Carl Edwards||7th||1|
|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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