Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: A Winless Champion?, Finch’s Decision & Your Next 1st-Time Winner

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/Big Six and Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Full Throttle & Fridays/Keepin’ It Short)
Kevin Rutherford (Mondays/Top News)

The big story for many teams at Pocono was the record 22 pit-road speeding penalties handed out. Was it a case of that many drivers being impatient – or does NASCAR need to look deeper at the issue before they return in August?

Mike: I’m sure there was some kind of issue with the spacing of the lines in the last segment. That said, the teams are given a five-mph cushion. They should be able to make that work.
Phil: I don’t know, Mike. So many of the penalties were right at the end of pit road, even after strategy changes were made.
Amy: I think NASCAR really needs to look at whether the painted lines and the scoring wires are correctly aligned. Even a couple inches could make a difference, and it seems weird to me that out of all those cars, not one dash indicator even touched yellow that I heard. Some guys were busted while other cars were passing them and those cars weren’t nailed … that seems weird as well.
Mike: I didn’t see the cars passing others in the final segment, but I’m sure it was similar to the Bristol issues with Brad Keselowski last year.
Phil: The Bristol issues were due to a lack of segments. At Pocono, they actually added one.
Kevin: NASCAR needs to look into this problem. If it were maybe 10 less drivers, I could see it being driver error. But that many? That’s just crazy.
Phil: Robin Pemberton seemed to want to blame the drivers in his RaceBuddy-exclusive interview. Or, at least the crew chiefs. NASCAR claimed that they had updated maps available prior to Sunday’s race and only a few teams grabbed them.
Mike: Robin Pemberton will always blame someone besides NASCAR, Philip.
Amy: As meticulous as the crew chiefs are, there is no way all those teams didn’t know where the lines are. Chad Knaus walks pit road every race to look at them. Once again, perhaps it’s time for NASCAR to go to real-time scoring and lose the segments altogether. Surely the transponder can give a mph reading?
Mike: Again, I guarantee that the crew chiefs knew where they were, but if the last segment was, let’s say six inches shorter than the others, it would give a false reading. My point was that, if a car is pitted in the last segment, they can get on the gas and not slow down on the way off of pit lane.
Amy: The last segment was shorter than the others, but the drivers said they knew where it ended.
Mike: But if they were looking for the same amount of elapsed time in every segment, even though the last one was shorter, that would make it look faster.
Amy: Right. But that wouldn’t be the teams’ fault.
Phil: If they did their homework, they would know that the final segment, if shorter than the others, would not have the same time.
Amy: If they were looking for the same in every segment, that would essentially make the speed limit in the shorter one slower than all the others. Definitely a NASCAR issue.
Mike: I didn’t say it was the teams’ fault. Although, as I always point out, to be caught speeding you have to be five mph over the limit. If they only go 4.5 over, they’re fine.
Amy: True, but when you’re close to that, generally the dash indicator turns yellow to let you know. Everyone I’ve spoken with said their driver’s lights were green all the way, meaning they shouldn’t even have been close.
Phil: Right. You had people getting caught with green lights on Sunday (June 10) – David Reutimann was one driver who was adamant about that.
Mike: Well, that is a team issue. It is up to them to program the Tach to properly turn colors at the right rpms. Again, it depends on how the teams programmed their tachs.
Amy: So 17 teams had it programmed wrong all of a sudden? I find that hard to believe.
Phil: Do the drivers actually set those lights with their readings during the pace laps, or do the teams do it before the race?
Mike: Teams do it before the race, Phil.
Phil: Aye. Got you.
Mike: I’m saying 17 teams had it programmed to not turn yellow early enough. I am still not blaming it on the teams in total, but they had to be going five mph over the limit to be busted.
Amy: I agree, but I don’t think that many teams made a mistake at one race all of a sudden. I think the majority probably had it right and there was something else going on.
Mike: Also, if 17 teams were wrong, then that means 26 teams were right. I’d say that means the majority of teams had it right already.
Phil: Perhaps they didn’t get the updated maps. If that’s so, then Pemberton is right and a bunch of teams committed an act of stupidity. I would never chance it that everything would be the same after such a substantial renovation.
Mike: That is probably it, Phil. It was still more than half of the teams who had it right. So I blame the teams more than NASCAR. Everyone adjusted after the penalties were handed out.
Kevin: Right, the penalties lessened in the second half – there were only four. Seems like the teams were able to figure out how not to trip it eventually.
Mike: Right Kevin. They all slowed down about 400 rpms.
Phil: Just goes to show that you gotta cross your Ts and dot your Is.
Mike: As always, drivers will push it to the maximum and sometimes it bites them. That said, having the No. 48 busted twice is definitely a surprise. Chad Knaus is meticulous about timing line locations.
Kevin: If Pemberton’s so sure they’re not at fault, I’m sure he’d have no problem with checking/testing all the segments before the next Pocono race. Not saying NASCAR is at fault here, but it would be nice to see them back up their adamancy. Then we can really see who was at fault.
Amy: I’m hope they will check … and if they find something, it will be quietly fixed with no admission or apology.
Mike: As always, I still think pit-road times should be published for all of the teams to see anyway. I think it is ridiculous that they don’t.
Amy: What should have happened is after that first round of pit stops, NASCAR should have thrown the red flag and checked the loops immediately. Unfortunately, they didn’t and it may have cost someone the race either going slower on pit road or getting a penalty. But because NASCAR can’t admit something might have been mismarked, it may have affected the outcome of the race.
Phil: They didn’t think they did anything wrong. I’ve never heard of a red flag being thrown for that before.
Mike: And once again, when the rules are the same for everyone, then everyone has the same chance to win or lose. Also, as I mentioned twice already, the teams have to be going five mph over to be busted. If you stay just under the limit, as Mark Martin said in post-race you don’t get busted.
Phil: Heck, if something actually happened, the media might force NASCAR’s hand before the next Pocono race. There will be more scrutiny of this problem in Michigan, guaranteed.

James Finch meets with Kurt Busch Tuesday to discuss their future together. What should have been the result of that meeting and why? Is there a better driver out there to take Kurt Busch’s place in the No. 51?

Mike: First of all, Kurt Busch should stay in the ride because the whole suspension was a load of crap.
Amy: Totally disagree, Mike. Everyone has complained left and right that NASCAR probation was meaningless. Now they show it’s not and everyone still mad. You can’t have it both ways, folks.
Mike: NASCAR probation is supposed to keep you from committing a real foul of some sort. The fact that Busch saying he is being prevented from kicking Bob Pockrass’s ass is now the equivalent of Kyle Busch nearly killing Ron Hornaday. They just doesn’t seem logical to me.
Amy: Kyle wasn’t on probation at the time. Apples to oranges.
Phil: Well, hopefully Busch can convince Finch to keep him. However, his butt will get kicked beforehand.
Amy: That’s a tough call and I’m glad I’m not in his shoes. Busch is a talented driver and good for his operation on track. But most people in a normal job would be fired for cussing out someone they’re reasonably expected to work with.
Kevin: I don’t see Finch taking him out of the seat. This is the best that team’s ever been and it’s getting more attention than ever. I just can’t see Finch actually kicking him out. But, like Phil said, he’ll definitely give the guy a stern talking to. I’d just be very surprised if he got removed from the ride completely.
Phil: Now, if Busch got the bum’s rush, then I think they would try to convince Tommy Baldwin Jr. to let them keep Reutimann. Either that, or Brian Vickers.
Kevin: If he does get kicked, I’d like to see a younger driver, kind of in the vein of what they did with Landon Cassill last season. Or Vickers. Vickers might be nice, too.
Amy: Vickers is under contract to a Toyota team currently. I think they could do worse than Elliott Sadler if they do go a new direction.
Phil: True, but I think Sadler is locked into the Nationwide Series title chase. I just don’t think he’d leave that easily.
Amy: Would he have to leave RCR? Both are Chevy teams.
Phil: We’re getting into the prime standalone portion of the season.
Amy: It would be a big change for Sadler and I don’t know whether he’d want to deal with all that lunacy. Also, Phoenix Racing has relied on sponsorship from Hendrick Cars this year as well as Hendrick equipment, so there may be some outside infuence there. As it is, Hendrick has that sponsorship on another team for Sonoma. That’s kind of telling, in my opinion.
Phil: Unless Hendrick’s supplying FAS Lane a car, they’re sponsoring a Ford for Sonoma. Interesting. So you’re telling me could end up being Cole Whitt‘s seat if Kurt gets the heave-ho?
Amy: No, I wasn’t thinking that, necessarily, Phil, just that there might me more pressure to fire Busch. I don’t think Hendrick would tell Finch to take a development driver for him, only that he’d want Busch out of the ride.
Mike: Finch made the call that he thinks will be best for his team. I think the discussion focused more on Kurt not tearing up so many cars.
Phil: They don’t really have any development guys anywhere near Cup.
Amy: I think they need a veteran in there to build points and sponsorship. I’d love to see Kenny Wallace in it, but don’t think Toyota would allow it. Sadler would be a good choice.
Mike: I just don’t think Sadler is going to double-dip with a Childress Nationwide ride and run Cup for Phoenix Racing.
Phil: I think they should just get Reutimann. Heck, David brought the No. 51 home without a scratch on it. That’s good for Phoenix Racing these days.
Mike: Who knows. The way this whole points thing has been going I’m sure Tony Stewart is going to give up his points so Danica Patrick can make the Chase next season.
Phil: Make the Chase? Danica’s not making the Chase in 2013 even if you spotted her 150 points at the beginning of the season.
Mike: She is if they switch Stewart’s points to her car after Richmond. You never know, Phil. I don’t know how they’re allowing whatever it is they’re doing with Danica’s points this year.
Amy: Danica’s points this year are simple; the No. 10 is the No. 10 with two drivers; they just get better cars when Danica is in it.
Mike: Anyways, Kurt Busch will be in the No. 51 the rest of the year. He may or may not crash another car.
Amy: Again, mixed feelings on Busch. A driver can be reasonably expected to work with a reporter for the common good, or to decline. Anyone in that situation in a normal job who cussed out the other would be fired. Imagine a teacher cursing out a parent or a corporate type doing that to a vendor? They’d be looking for a job. So Finch is within his boundaries to fire Busch, but Busch is talented and good for his car … if they can find a sponsor who will take him.
Phil: Kurt’s gotta calm himself down. Simmer down now. You’ll get along better with everyone and won’t wreck as much. The problem is, he’s kryptonite now. If someone comes to Finch with a sponsor, he’s gone.
Kevin: Busch will stay in the car, but I don’t expect his meeting with Finch to be too pleasant. He really needs to stop wrecking so many cars, let alone have all these run-ins.
Mike: On the driver side. If I’m Kurt, you’re getting “no comment” from me the rest of the season.
Phil: That would bite for the assembled media (unless he finds a way to win), but perhaps it’s for the best.
Amy: Why, Mike? Wouldn’t it be better for Kurt to grow up and behave with a modicum of class in order to benefit your team?
Mike: Wouldn’t it benefit Kurt to be celebrated for having personality instead of being raked over the coals whenever anyone can possibly catch him doing something they feel is wrong? Whenever he does something that some people don’t like, he gets raked over the coals.
Amy: No, they aren’t all boring when they act right. You can have class and not be vanilla. Matt Kenseth manages just fine.
Mike: But you don’t have to. People should be allowed to act however they want to.
Amy: Why? If they act in a manner that’s detrimental to their employer, that’s OK? Staying classy is part of being a public figure. You think Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t get raked over if they’d cursed out a reporter? They would have by me, anyway.
Mike: I don’t think Jimmie or Jeff would curse out a reporter because it isn’t in their personality.
Amy: Yet they manage to have one. Imagine that.
Phil: I couldn’t see Johnson cussing out a reporter. I could see Jeff do that before Jimmie.
Mike: I really don’t understand how Kurt did something detrimental. He made a joke that people didn’t find funny. Similar to his comment during the Prelude. But because, in our ever politically correct society, someone was offended, Kurt is punished.
Amy: If an employee acts in a manner that their employer deems inappropriate, they generally get fired. Why are athletes immune? He used offensive language toward someone he was supposed to be working in conjunction with.
Mike: Again, I guess it depends on your definition of offensive. I did not find his comments to Bob to be offensive. Bob didn’t find it offensive. Therefore, it is you and the other easily offended, politically correct members of the media who were offended by his language.
Amy: But Jimmie somehow manages to have a personality (and if you think he doesn’t, you aren’t paying attention) and not act like a jerk. So do most of the drivers on a weekly basis. Why are we so willing to condone bad behavior just because someone is a celebrity?
Mike: There are a lot of people out there who do not think Jimmie has a personality at all. But that is their loss.
Phil: Let’s be honest here. Who actually called for Kurt Busch to be suspended? Almost no one wanted that. They just wanted him fined.
Amy: The bottom line is, most working folks would have been disciplined or fired for cursing out someone who they’re expected to work with. We should hold everyone to the same standard and not have a separate one for celebrities.
Mike: If that is your definition of cursing out, you have never been properly cursed out.
Amy: I was raised to treat others politely and with respect. I would certainly expect to do so professionally.
Phil: Well, we can agree that what Kurt did wasn’t exactly “respectful” or “polite.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved into second in driver points following his eighth-place run at Pocono. But that also was a conscious decision by Steve Letarte to run for points, playing it safe on fuel rather than trying to save four-and-a-half laps of gas. Can Earnhardt and Co. ride their Cup series-best consistency all the way to the championship – and was it a right choice in the long run not to gamble?

Amy: Maybe Junior should ask Stewart. In other words, they can for now, but they need to win in the Chase.
Mike: Four and a half laps at Pocono is a long way. That is the equivalent of 23 laps at Bristol. I don’t think you could consider that to be a worthwhile gamble.
Phil: Right; there were just too many unknowns. I don’t blame Dale Earnhardt Jr. for doing what he did Sunday. He probably should have stopped when Kevin Harvick did – right before Kasey Kahne crashed.
Amy: Pitting was also a gamble. Had the race stayed green, it would have paid off. I don’t think they weren’t taking a gamble – just taking a different one
Mike: I don’t even know that Earnhardt has to win in the Chase, though. You don’t get a run like Stewart had last year in the Chase every year. I think it would be incredibly ironic if Earnhardt wins the title without a win. The sport and the fan base will melt down trying to reconcile the dichotomy.
Phil: You’d see a flood of articles arguing whether Earnhardt’s title didn’t mean as much since he didn’t win a race.
Mike: True Phil, but you’d also see some people who were torn. They’d think the points should be changed since it didn’t reward winning again, but it also gave the Most Popular Driver in the sport the title. It would be a very interesting offseason.
Phil: At the very least.
Amy: Johnson only won one Chase race in ’10, but he won four in ’09, five in ’08 and four in ’07. And if Stewart had not won just one of the races he won last year, he doesn’t win it all. So I think you do have to win in the Chase. Look what playing it safe did for Carl Edwards.
Phil: Finishing second a bunch of times is “playing it safe?” I doubt that.
Mike: If Junior averages a fifth-place finish and no one rips off four or five wins, then he could take the title without a win. Without Stewart’s amazing run, Edwards wins the title.
Amy: But here’s what I said about Junior’s team a year ago: before they can win consistently, they need to race consistently. They’re doing that, so the winning will come next.
Mike: The wins may or may not come for Junior this year. If they don’t, I don’t think he’ll win a title for other reasons. Listening to him and his team this weekend, it seems like they might be starting to push a little bit.
Kevin: I’ll be surprised if Junior doesn’t win at some point this year. They’re knocking on the door more than anyone out there right now.
Phil: One of my friends is convinced that Earnhardt will win this weekend in Michigan – he’s been telling me that since February. It’s still in the cards, I guess.
Amy: He’s the most consistent driver in the series right now. That will breed wins.
Mike: I was convinced he’d win about four times this year. Just hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Amy: Yet. Here’s the thing … if they’re using these races to prepare for the Chase, then they could have more in the tank than we’ve seen.
Phil: That’s possible, especially knowing who they’re sharing their building with.
Amy: Right. And Johnson is winning, so if they can pull from that …
Mike: They might. I just think the No. 48 is going to have more in the tank too.
Phil: Regardless, someone like Earnhardt would just want to win to get people off his back.
Amy: I don’t know if they can pull of the 3-4 Chase wins a championship will likely take, but I think they can get a top-five points finish to the year for sure and after the last few years, that would be a great season.
Phil: Heck, Earnhardt being anywhere near the top five in November would be a success, especially after how bad 2009 was. Nearly dropped out of the top 25 midseason.
Mike: Don’t forget, were it not for Atlanta, Earnhardt would have probably won the title in 2004.

The CWTS race at Texas saw a veteran in victory lane, but there were lots of young guns inside the top 10. Which winless driver will be the next to snooker the veterans and take home that first victory?

Amy: I know the easy answer here is Ty Dillon, but Joey Coulter has been awfully strong when he’s on it. And I wouldn’t count out Parker Kligerman, either
Phil: As for future Truck winners, I’m thinking it’s going to be Coulter next. Just couldn’t tell you when that might be. Kligerman would be my second bet, then either Dillon or Nelson Piquet Jr. I’d put Cale Gale roughly sixth on that list.
Amy: Piquet has been knocking on the door since last year.
Mike: I agree Amy. I’m sure Dillon is going to win soon. Coulter has been running some dirt lately which I think it helping him in his truck endeavors. I would not be surprised to see the No. 22 in victory lane this year.
Amy: I’ll go out on a limb and say Coulter wins before Dillon.
Kevin: I think you’re right, Amy. I’d take Coulter first over Dillon. After Coulter wins, it’ll be either Dillon or Kligerman. Maybe throw the Turner guys that haven’t won yet in there, Piquet before Miguel Paludo.
Amy: There’s some impressive talent in that series this year.
Mike: There is a lot of talent coming up through the Trucks. Not sure where it is going to end up, but it is there.
Amy: Paludo has improved a ton this year.
Mike: Piquet would have been my selection after Rockingham. He’s cooled a little since then.
Phil: It’s a complete toss-up. Any one of maybe six guys could be the next first-time winner. And we’ve already had three this year.
Amy: That makes the series really fun to watch. Almost any driver a fan could choose to root for has a shot at a great finish, if not a win.
Phil: True. Cup influence has been minimal this season, which really allows the regulars to strut their stuff.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s why I’ve enjoyed watching this series so much this year. Hate that it only seems to run once in a blue moon with all these breaks.
Mike: Don’t remind me about their stupid schedule again, Phil.
Amy: The Nationwide series was that fun to watch, once upon a time.
Mike: Speaking of great racing, the K&N series saw Kyle Larson win Saturday. Sixth different winner in six races this season, that’s another division where parity is reigning supreme.

Predictions for Michigan?

Amy: I think I like Kenseth this week.
Phil: Who knows what’s going to happen there. Really fast speeds. If they go too fast, the plates might come out to play. I’ll take my buddy’s pick from last winter and go with Earnhardt.
Kevin: Tony Stewart here.
Mike: I don’t think the plates come out because they still have to lift to make the corner. If they can flat foot it, then they might come out. Give me Greg Biffle 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

Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Vito PuglieseBrad Keselowski18th0
Amy HendersonDenny Hamlin5th3
Mike NeffJeff Gordon19th0
Phil AllawayMarcos Ambrose13th0
Kevin RutherfordJimmie Johnson4th3

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford2611279
Amy Henderson21-5141611
Mike Neff19-713158
Phil Allaway10-1613037
Beth Lunkenheimer9-179123
Matt Stallknecht5-211111
Tom Bowles3-232111
Tony Lumbis1-251001
Jeff Meyer0-261000
Jesse Medford-2-281000
Vito Pugliese-2-282000

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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