Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Twitter Trials, Charlotte Questions & Can Justin Lofton Last?

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 (Mondays/The Big 6 & Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Vito Pugliese (Thursdays/What’s Vexing Vito)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Full Throttle & Fridays/Keepin’ It Short)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)
Matt Stallknecht (Fridays/IndyCar Preview & Monday’s IndyCar Race Recap)

The Sprint All-Star Race featured a new format for 2012, which gave an advantage for the final 10 laps to the winners of each segment. Was the new format a keeper and if not, what changes should be made?

Mike: I think they need to require a tire change on the pit stop. Other than that, I enjoyed it.
Vito: Judging by the last segment, it didn’t work as planned.
Kevin: I liked the format until the last section, when Jimmie Johnson basically ran away with it. Something needs to be changed to that effect.
Phil: I just don’t know. The action was fast and furious at the front, but I’m pretty sure Johnson and Knaus ticked off a lot of dudes again.
Matt: I liked it. It gave a heightened meaning to each segment and at least from what I could tell, it made the drivers race harder in the first four segments.
Vito: The Open was good, as was the photo finish between Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski. I’d like to see the inversion and a green-flag pit stop at some point in the last two segments.
Amy: The Showdown was fine the way it was. AJ Allmendinger put on a show and a half, coming through the field in 20 laps. As for the big race, I thought a few things needed tweaking. First, it’s too many segments. One of the 20-lappers needs to be gone. Also, the stop before the 10-laps should be a mandatory four-tire stop. Finally, they need to eliminate cars after each segment.
Kevin: That sounds so ideal, Amy. Like, I don’t think I’d change anything.
Phil: No eliminations. That’s stupid. This isn’t Survivor. We tried that 10 years ago.
Amy: And it worked.
Mike: I actually would buy the elimination thing. Drop the last place car every five laps. That would prevent the segment winners from riding at the back.
Matt: The elimination format was by far my favorite of all time.
Phil: Heck, I could argue that NASCAR could actually fine teams that were obviously sandbagging like Johnson and Knaus.
Mike: I don’t blame the segment winners for staying at the back. There was no benefit for them to be in the front.
Vito: If they split the field in half and ran a 20-lap heat, then take the top 10 from each, it would eliminate the sandbagging and the cars that are garbage.
Phil: Give them more money to win another segment as opposed to if someone else won it.
Amy: But eliminating the last three or five cars in a segment would put an end to it.
Phil: Raise minimum speed for them unless they could prove they had an actual problem.
Mike: Johnson was running faster laps than the leader for about half of the time he was back there.
Matt: I think it was a case of right church, wrong pew. They were on to something with giving the segment winners top-four spots in the final segment, but the whole thing wasn’t well executed.
Amy: The racing, by the way, was outstanding. Three and four-wide all night long.
Vito: Well, here’s the thing: it’s not a lack of money motivating them. The cars were just not that close between those that won the segments. The Nos. 48, 5, 2 and 17 were just that much faster than everybody. Unless you make fifth pay a million dollars, not much would have changed.
Vito: And as far as the three-wide racing that was going on, it was because Kurt Busch was trying to hold onto his car and not get slammed into the wall.
Amy: No, but seriously, if you know you’re starting on the front row of the final part, why tear up the car and lose your chance at the win? There was no incentive for them to race.
Mike: There was more than that Vito. There were people racing all over the place for much of the night. Until the final 10 laps when it was all over but the confetti.
Matt: I really do think a lot of people have overlooked just how good the racing was and that’s really what I took away from the race. We’ll have to see if the racing is still solid in the 600, but I believe NASCAR may have hit on something with the rule changes to the side skirts in particular.
Mike: I’m not so sure about that. Every single driver I talked to said there was no difference with the side skirts and nose height.
Vito: There hasn’t been a good All-Star Race at Charlotte since they destroyed it by trying to repave it in 2005. It was perfect and they ruined it.
Phil: It wasn’t even a repave in 2005. That was the infamous “levigation.” That was ridiculous.
Amy: Were you watching the same race I was, Vito? There was passing all night and they showed a lot of it.
Vito: I was referring to the final 10 laps.
Amy: Of course, when I left the media center, I overheard people saying it was boring because there were no wrecks. So, the ugly truth, whether people want to believe it or not, is that some people DO watch for the wrecks.
Vito: The racing was good. If only they’d stop zooming in on one car at a time to show the sponsor, maybe everybody would see it.
Matt: Had the finish been better, the fans would have hailed this as one of the best all-stars races in recent memory. Social media was going nuts mid-race over the racing in segments 2-4.
Mike: One thing I have learned over the last few years of racing, if the car in front is faster than the car behind, it is hard to wreck the car in front.
Vito: Exactly – the fastest cars were out front at the end and it was game over as soon as the flag dropped.
Amy: The format definitely needs tweaks. Cut a segment, eliminate the cars in back at the end of each and order a mandatory four-tire stop before the last.
Phil: Perhaps NASCAR should dump this “if you win a segment, you start at the front for segment five” silliness. That’s giving people positions that they don’t deserve.
Vito: It doesn’t help that SPEED can’t count down the segment laps either. Kept showing *** of 90 laps.
Amy: The fastest car won, so hard to argue with that. And Rick Hendrick’s victory ride was priceless.
Matt: I thought for sure he was going to fall out.
Kevin: I thought the racing was overall great and the first four segments were a lot of fun to watch. The only problem was that final stretch. Let’s do some eliminations at least, have a mandatory four-tire stop and go with it. That would at least cut back on drivers sitting in the back, I hope.
Phil: The Showdown was pretty good. It seemed like no one was touching Dale Earnhardt Jr., but Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray put on a great show.
Kevin: Loved the showdown. Allmendinger was a lot of fun to watch.
Mike: Allmendinger was flying.
Kevin: Cool to see Bobby Labonte get the fan vote, too. Didn’t expect it.
Amy: Yeah, that was cool, though I suspect he finished third and either Junior or ‘Dinger would have gotten it if need be.
Matt: Thought it was odd that Joey Logano didn’t get the fan vote. Home Depot reportedly had all their employees vote.

NASCAR announced a partnership with Twitter to provide centralized NASCAR content on race day to enhance race broadcasts. Is this something that will change the way fans watch the sport or will it fizzle out after putting fans on information overload?

Mike: Yay Twitter.
Vito: No. Because most of the time nobody has anything worth talking about. But perhaps this is the segue into finally cutting the pre-race show down to about 15 minutes.
Matt: It certainly can’t hurt. The millions of Twitter users who aren’t NASCAR fans will be inundated with NASCAR tweets. That kind of exposure should perhaps help bring in new fans. That’s assuming I read the press release correctly.
Amy: I think it’s a neat concept, but I think there are a couple of issues.
Mike: Thanks for making it even less enjoyable for fans to follow the races by letting them not have to follow anyone to get the info.
Amy: One, because they choose what’s filtered onto the page out of everything with a #NASCAR hashtag, I think that smaller sites and lesser-known writers are likely to get screwed. I also think it could be overload. Personally, I already have on the broadcast and the scanner, at minimum. I have Twitter up, but only see who I follow, which cuts down on info.
Phil: I think that it could fizzle out, like ESPN’s Pit Studio thing on Twitter. Barely anyone participated last weekend.
Vito: With any luck, you might look up in time to see some racing!
Kevin: It’s good for someone who’s following the race on Twitter alone because they’re unable to watch the race live (I’ve done this before)… but otherwise, could definitely be overload.
Matt: If it exposes NASCAR to a new audience, I am all for it.
Mike: How is this process going to work?
Amy: They’ll be using both people at computers and an algorithm to choose what goes on the feed. They say they will include the negative comments as well as positive.
Phil: We’ll just have to see about that, Amy. I think it starts with Pocono in June.
Kevin: I’m guessing the filtering is more to save the feed from someone coming in and spamming than anything.
Matt: But I would imagine they don’t want some of the less savory tweets about NASCAR showing up in an official feed, either.
Vito: Hah, Pocono. How ironic.
Phil: Interesting that it appears to be tied in (at least at first) with TNT’s Summer Series, like RaceBuddy.
Vito: Might want to choose a race with less than 10-second intervals.
Matt: There’s going to be an awful lot of negative comment filtering for that Pocono race.
Phil: C’mon. Pocono isn’t that bad.
Vito: #whycantthatguyrunacrossthetracklikein1992
Mike: #ithinkhehitadeer
Matt: They oughta just throw plates on the cars for Pocono. The speeds will certainly be high enough.
Phil: Uh. No, they won’t. Maybe 175 average. Not enough.
Vito: Actually, I remember watching the races there in the early ’90s and never really thought they were that boring. They just always seemed to get drawn out three extra hours by rain.
Mike: The race is going to stink though. Talked with multiple people who have tested there who now say the tunnel turn is a piece of cake.
Vito: And then qualifying and practice got delayed because of fog. And deer.
Amy: For me, I probably won’t use it unless it’s showing people I don’t already follow who are interesting.
Mike: I probably won’t use it.
Vito: They essentially gave Pocono a lobotomy, like Charlotte.
Phil: Oh, they say that during a test, but when you get 40 dudes out there, they might be whistlin’ a different tune.
Kevin: Anyways, I’m cautiously optimistic with the Twitter partnership. As long as the filtering doesn’t get out of hand, I’m cool with it. I think it could really do some cool things for the sport. That said, I doubt I’ll use it much unless it ends up the thing to do.
Matt: I like Twitter and with as many people that use it, you have to imagine a few non-fans will be curious enough to try out whatever it is they have planned.

Justin Lofton took over the CWTS points lead with his first career win at Charlotte on Friday night. Can Lofton, whose previous best points finish is 12th, run with the top teams until November and contend for the title?

Vito: No.
Amy: Interesting question. Last week, we talked about some guys who weren’t up front who we expected to be. Justin Lofton is the opposite, a pleasant surprise. Though you have to remember, he’s in much better equipment this year.
Phil: Lofton showed a lot a chutzpah on Friday night. That was an excellent race by the way. On track and on TV.
Kevin: I don’t see why not. Lofton and ESR have really surprised me this year, and I don’t see any reason for them to falter as of now.
Matt: The equipment appears to be there. Eddie Sharp Racing took a step up in the world this offseason. And Lofton has an ARCA title to his name, so he has some experience in racing for a championship.
Mike: He can certainly contend with anyone. Eddie Sharp has a group of racers over there and they’ve put together ARCA championship efforts themselves.
Phil: I mentioned last week that ESR scored a bunch of the former KHI equipment towards the end of last season. Lofton is finally coming into his own now.
Amy: ESR is all the Harvick stuff and that’s winning equipment. Lofton was driving a family-owned team last year, right?
Phil: This is Lofton’s third year in the series. I guess he’s progressing at a better rate than Parker Kligerman.
Vito: Ty Dillon is on a steep learning curve and will be there at the end of the year, as will James Buescher, Ron Hornaday and Nelson Piquet Jr.
Vito: He’s doing well, I just don’t see him contending in the final few races. He’ll be in the top five, but I don’t think within striking distance when it’s being decided.
Matt: If Lofton can just stay cool under pressure, he ought to stay in the hunt. He’s going to have company in the form of Turner Motorsports, however. His team needs to make sure he just stays focused.
Mike: Dillon’s learning curve ain’t that steep. He should have had a top five Friday had Ron Hornaday not run over him.
Vito: Kligerman will surprise some people as well the longer the year goes on.
Phil: Kligerman has a lot of bad luck, but he’s very fast.
Vito: That’s what I mean – he’s come a long way, quickly.
Amy: Dillon and Kligerman are up for their first wins as well, and I think both get it this year.
Mike: Austin Dillon went through the learning process with the team, so Ty has been able to avoid a bunch of it.
Matt: It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ty won it this year. The kid is progressing even faster than his brother from what I can tell.
Vito: I think he’s going to prove to be better than his brother.
Kevin: I still gotta hand it to Buescher in terms of who I think will end up winning it all, but I certainly think Ty will give him a run for his money. Lofton too.
Phil: As for Lofton, we haven’t seen the last win for him this year. Remember that he showed flashes of brilliance in the No. 7 in 2010. Last year was just a mess.
Mike: The team he’s on won the title last year, although they aren’t all of the same team that won the Truck title. It is a combination of the ARCA and Truck teams from last year.
Vito: Hard to believe Piquet hasn’t won yet either. That is likely to change quickly
Amy: Buescher hasn’t shown he can win with the consistency he’ll need to win a title. I’d give Lofton an equal chance at this point.
Matt: I haven’t been real impressed with Hornaday the past year or so. Friday’s incident was just one of many boneheaded moves he’s made over the years.
Amy: Meanwhile, Johnny Sauter is mathematically eliminated from the championship in my mind.
Mike: Huh? Buescher almost won the title last year without making one race.
Kevin: I would argue that Buescher doesn’t even need to win with consistency to win the title. Look at how well he finished in the championship last year missing a race and never winning a race.
Phil: Sauter can’t buy a break. He must be miserable.
Amy: Almost is the key word there, Kevin.
Mike: I don’t know about eliminated but they have a very steep hill to climb.
Phil: Agreed, Mike. He’s 85 points back. That’s roughly (assuming 36 starters) two races and change. It’ll be tough to make half of that up. For Sauter, making up the 30 points to get to 10th is priority one, like capturing Sonic.
Matt: I wonder if Sauter is still feeling the mental aftereffects of his late-race heartbreak at Daytona this year.
Amy: Yeah, Daytona was luck.
Vito: That has to do a lot for the confidence and acting like you’ve been there before.
Amy: As for Lofton, I think he needs to win again to be a real contender, but I also think he can do that.
Matt: If Lofton wins again Amy, I think that would certainly help silence the doubters.
Amy: I think Timothy Peters is going to have a lot to say about where the championship goes as well.
Phil: Peters is definitely the quiet one in this battle. However, he’s solid.
Matt: Some may say Lofton is cocky, but I think you have to have some cockiness to succeed in this sport. Aside from sponsorship, I think a lack of cockiness and aggression is part of what is keeping Trevor Bayne from fulfilling all his potential.
Mike: We’ll see. Seems like he always hits a stretch of bad luck that kills his chances.
Amy: There’s a difference between confidence, which Lofton has, and thinking you’re too good for where you’re at.
Phil: I think that “being cocky” isn’t really in Bayne’s personality. Or Blake Koch‘s, for that matter. But, that’s another discussion for another day.
Amy: You can have a ton of self-confidence without being an arrogant jerk. Trevor and Blake are two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
Matt: I was speaking more to Bayne’s lack of aggression, but you make a valid point.

Predictions for Charlotte?

Amy: It’s hard to bet against Junior after his showing last week, but I’m going to because I think Johnson will be even faster.
Vito: A car with a five in it will win … o either the [Nos.] 5, 15, 55 or 56.
Amy: Which one of those is going to score you points, Vito?
Mike: No. 51?
Matt: I think this is where Kahne finally breaks through. Give me the No. 5.
Vito: I think you might have it, Mike. He was good on old tires out front
Mike: I’ll take the No. 88 myself.
Kevin: I chose Kyle Busch for the All-Star Race and it didn’t go well. I’m going to try for him again anyway.
Phil: I think Jeff Gordon‘s going to get off the snide this week. We can only hope.
Vito: Eh screw it, I haven’t done this in a while. No. 55 for the win.

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

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford218257
Mike Neff18-311157
Amy Henderson17-411159
Beth Lunkenheimer9-128123
Phil Allaway6-1511025
Tony Lumbis1-201001
Jeff Meyer0-211000
Tom Bowles-2-231000
Jesse Medford-2-231000

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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