Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Maneuvering Through Kentucky Traffic, Roadkill & Silly Season

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

Sonoma had a bit of a surprise ending, with Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart left to settle second place behind a dominant Clint Bowyer. Does Busch’s rousing run mean that Phoenix Racing can contend for wins on a regular basis – and did Sonoma change the Chase picture at all?

Phil: Well, Kurt Busch finally had a weekend where nothing stupid happened. Also, Sonoma is the kind of place where you can overcome a dodgy car and really show off your personal skills. This is just one more display of just how good Busch can be.
Amy: I don’t think Phoenix is a contender on the intermediate ovals yet. Watkins Glen or a plate track, though, yes, they could certainly be in it.
Mike: Phoenix has always been a contender for a win just because they have Kurt behind the wheel. I don’t think this weekend did any more or less to prove that. As for the Chase, it just probably made Clint Bowyer a little more secure in the picture than he was before.
Amy: I think it solidified Bowyer in the top 10 but it also really put the pressure on teammate Martin Truex Jr. to stay in there.
Mike: I agree, Amy. Truex has got to be feeling the pressure big time now.
Amy: I felt bad for guys like Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Truex. They were just trying to get a decent finish and got dumped.
Mike: Hamlin was having a bad day to begin with. Earnhardt just got drilled by Jeff Burton. I didn’t see who took out Truex but he definitely didn’t spin by himself.
Phil: Yeah. Earnhardt restarted 13th and was on fresh tires. Easily could have gotten a top 10.
Mike: Earnhardt was on track for his first top 10 at Sonoma.
Amy: Well I disagree about Phoenix, Mike. They don’t have the equipment to contend most weeks. Busch’s talent can’t create horsepower and handling.
Phil: That’s kind of what we’ve seen this year from Kurt. He’s overdriving to make up for a lack of power.
Mike: Busch runs top 10s most weeks but typically can’t close the deal. He caused his own demise this weekend, but Hendrick equipment can win any week and Busch has the talent. They’re more capable of pulling off a win more weeks than half of the rest of the field.
Phil: This was just Busch’s second top 10 of the year. I think he could definitely have a couple of more (like Darlington) if shenanigans didn’t go down.
Amy: I doubt Busch is getting the same caliber of equipment as the HMS cars or Stewart-Haas. Meanwhile,
Mike: I don’t know Amy, I think they get the same equipment to start with that SHR gets. It is just a matter of how they set it up.
Amy: Rick Hendrick said on the media tour that last year, Phoenix was running R&D equipment a lot of the time because it cost them less. Without sponsorship this year, it could be more of that.
Mike: True, but that means, on the right day they can be faster than anyone else.
Phil: If the experimental stuff really hits on something, sure. But it’s not a foregone conclusion that it will happen.
Mike: Yes, but it’s still often enough. If they had been able to finish the deal on most of the races this year, Kurt would be top 15 in points.
Amy: I think that’s a stretch. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. I don’t see an intermediate win in the cards, unless something major happens to 10 other big teams. Daytona, maybe. Watkins Glen or Talladega are both a bit more realistic.
Mike: Add Martinsville or Bristol to that.
Amy: I think as far as the Chase, we got a glimpse of what MWR is capable of, and as they learn more as a group, they could be more dangerous than people think. I don’t see Bowyer or Truex winning it all, but Bowyer could easily be top five when the checkers fall.
Phil: MWR is much stronger than anyone figured. Bowyer hasn’t lost anything by going to the No. 15. I personally thought that they’d be around 15th in points by now.
Amy: He probably gained, Phil. RCR isn’t firing on all cylinders, for whatever reason.
Mike: I agree. RCR is where they have been the last couple of years. Burton is struggling, Paul Menard has actually been a touch better than he has been at this point and Kevin Harvick is top 10. The only differences are Bowyer is gone and Harvick hasn’t managed a win yet. On the other hand, MWR has made a huge step forward this year and Bowyer has the ability to string together a handful of good runs that could land them inside the top five in points. Don’t forget that Bowyer is a pretty good plate racer.
Amy: I hate to even think it, because I have a ton of respect for the guy, but could it be time for Burton to think about hanging ’em up?
Mike: I hate to think of it as well Amy but they’ve changed most everything else with that team the last few years and nothing has happened. I think he’s going to hang on for another couple of years but that very well may be a couple too long.
Phil: Losing Lambert really hurt Burton, probably more than any of us figured. Menard is a bit more consistent this year than he has been. Previously, he’s gone into a big swoon not too long after Martinsville, then recovered, but it’s been July or August by then.
Amy: On the other hand, Burton very quietly put together his best run since Daytona on Sunday. TNT just never bothered to tell anyone.
Phil: Burton did finish sixth at Bristol.
Mike: AJ Allmendinger got a couple of mentions for a solid performance, while Joey Logano made TV for dumping Hamlin, but those drivers were hardly recognized for good runs, either.
Amy: Yep. Casey Mears had his best finish of the season, 15th, but the only time you saw him was when Junior ran into the No. 13.
Mike: On the plus side, we got to see the inside of Jamie McMurray‘s car 20 times.
Phil: Yeah, we did. Tough day altogether for TNT.
Amy: I think as far as Busch, third shows he’s a contender anyplace where the driver is the bigger factor. He’s at a disadvantage on the tracks where the cars weigh more heavily.
Mike: Makes you wonder if they are ever successful at taking aero away just how good Kurt could be again. Unfortunately, they keep cutting off side skirts instead of the front valence.
Amy: I don’t think it’s a question of again, Mike, Kurt has always been a huge talent, but he’s his own worst enemy.
Mike: Yeah, but he could be a Chase contender in Phoenix equipment if they cut the front valence off.
Amy: Behind him, the rest of the Chase field is getting clearer. I think everyone back through Bowyer are in barring something really weird.

Silly Season rumors heated up this week. Is Matt Kenseth now the piece that must fall into place to trigger a myriad of moves? If so, who goes where, and who could be on the outside looking in for 2013?

Mike: I don’t know about the only piece but he is a great big piece. It is hard to imagine him not being at Roush but he’s got to be tired of this sponsor crap that continues to plague Roush Fenway. Even Carl Edwards has been having more of a piecemeal sponsorship lately. Greg Biffle is the only one that seems to not have sponsor issues.
Amy: That’s a tough one, because it’s so hard to envision Matt Kenseth anywhere else. But now that the move is made, yes, expect others to move quickly as well.
Mike: I don’t know about move quickly because who else is going to move? Gibbs has reiterated that they have Logano’s back. So that would mean Kenseth is in a fourth Gibbs car.
Phil: They keep saying that they have room for a fourth car. However, they’ve been saying this for the entire Chase era.
Amy: I don’t think Logano is set in stone until he signs an extension. Same with Truex, though both of them are making a case for themselves. Same deal with Allmendinger … Penske says he’s in their long-term plans, but until the ink is dry, no ride is safe.
Amy: I think Gibbs will consider a fourth if they get backing. If that’s the case, they’d be nuts not to look at Kenseth.
Mike: No one is set in stone even if they have a contract. But I think the win at Pocono did a lot to secure Logano’s seat at Gibbs. Did Allmendinger only sign a one-year deal with Penske?
Phil: It was kinda a last minute thing. I doubt it was for more than that. I just checked … OK, it is a one-year deal.
Amy: Contracts reportedly up this year include Kenseth, Logano, Truex, Kurt Busch, ‘Dinger, David Ragan, Aric Almirola, Regan Smith and Ryan Newman. That could mean Silly Season gets big in a hurry as a few dominoes start to fall. That list doesn’t include guys like Trevor Bayne or Sam Hornish Jr. either. I think if Penske does add a car, it would be Hornish’s until the big man himself says otherwise.
Mike: Well there ya go. I don’t see Smith going anywhere. Other than that, everyone could be moving around but it really isn’t any big names besides Kenseth and Busch.
Phil: Newman’s likely dependent on backing. I’m sure he wants to stay at Stewart-Haas.
Mike: True, Newman will need some backing but I have to think, if they have a No. 39 car next year Newman will be in it.
Amy: I tend to think so, too, Mike, but if someone comes calling with full backing while the No. 39 doesn’t have it, that could change. I wonder if another possibility for another seat could Furniture Row Racing? They might be ready to expand with the right help.
Mike: I suppose Amy, but unlike many other teams in the garage, I think there’s quite a bit of loyalty at SHR. Furniture Row has supposedly talked to Busch. It would be interesting to see what Kurt could do in RCR equipment. Assuming Furniture Row maintains their alliance with RCR.
Phil: Smith’s made a big move relocating to Denver to be closer to the organization. I think he’s very happy with the team.
Mike: And I think the team is very happy with him.
Amy: You know, now that RFR is pulling Ricky Stenhouse Jr. up, I’m not sure that’s going to make the sponsorship hunt any easier.
Mike: Yeah, it hasn’t happened in Nationwide. Why would he be more attractive in a higher-priced ride?
Phil: I disagree. Stenhouse may be squeaky clean, but is he really attractive to a company.
Mike: I must admit, I don’t have a clue what sponsors are looking for anymore. I look at Brandon McReynolds, Kenseth, Corey LaJoie, Bayne – all of them should have sponsors lining up at the door.
Phil: I suppose we should track down some reps and ask what they want. I guess a “good deal” financially is what they’re aiming for and Roush might not be offering good deals right now.
Mike: From what I understand, Roush wants a bunch of dough and doesn’t bend on it. I don’t know how the whole sponsorship deal works, but I know that the model is far different than it used to be. There are only a couple of cars in the Cup Series who have the same company on the hood for all 36 races. FedEx on Hamlin, Lowe’s (including Kobalt Tools) on Jimmie Johnson‘s and Furniture Row on Smith’s.
Phil: That’s because the money got ridiculous really fast.
Mike: I still don’t think, for the exposure that teams get (mind you, they have to lead some laps with the TV coverage these days) that it is a bad expenditure. Anyways, I don’t know that there will be that much moving because there aren’t a lot of seats that will be open. Assuming Logano isn’t let go from Gibbs, then Kenseth moving to JGR is about the only thing that would realistically happen. I’d like to see how that works out, considering how much they had to scramble for sponsorship this year. Not to mention I think NAPA’s deal is up this year too.
Phil: Yep. NAPA definitely likes the exposure they get. I don’t think they’re going anywhere for now. I suppose they’re over Waltrip driving, though.
Amy: NAPA not come back to their biggest shill ever? Unlikely.
Mike: I don’t know, they haven’t been to victory lane in a while. That’s part of why they moved to Truex.
Amy: Making the Chase could placate them, though, or they could stay with MWR and move to a different car.

This week the Cup circuit heads to Kentucky for a Saturday night special, but given it’s only the second stop at that track for the Cup teams, what can fans expect from the show?

Phil: Well, hopefully better traffic.
Amy: With the improvements Bruton has made, hopefully they can expect to actually get there this time. That, I suppose, we won’t know for sure until Saturday. On paper, the changes look great.
Mike: There won’t be any traffic issues. As for the race, another aero change will probably be nothing much and more of the same thing we’ve seen at Cookie Cutters for years.
Phil: : You have a very bumpy track and a somewhat limited groove, if I remember correctly from last year.
Amy: I think so, Phil. I don’t think it will be a particularly memorable race unless someone pulls a David Gilliland like he did in that NNS race years back. Kentucky is a cookie cutter. To expect anything better than a cookie-cutter race is setting oneself up for disappointment.
Phil: True. Unless you’re right up next to the cars, you won’t notice any differences.
Mike: Although, there was more passing on track at Charlotte than there had been in the past after the last side skirt change. I still wish they’d cut six inches off of the valence, but that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
Phil: I’m not a technical expert, unfortunately. More of a historical one. I remember Kyle Busch dominating.
Mike: Yeah, and he’s due for a race where his car doesn’t fail him. It does make me wonder what Joe and JD Gibbs are thinking about shutting down their engine shop.
Phil: True. Although on Sunday, Kyle made a tactical error and that’s why he got into Menard. I guess they just wanted to save some money.
Mike: Yes, but his car was failing at the end of the race again.
Amy: True, though last year JGR engines had some of the same issues … remember Hamlin made the switch to TRD early because of the JGR engines issues.
Mike: Yeah, well how is that working out when cars are having failures left and right?
Amy: Ask Hamlin how that worked last year, Mike.
Mike: Yes, but that was after it had been announced that they were shutting down the shop. I am pretty sure they figured out someone actually was sabotaging the engines. At least I have that memory in my pea-like brain somewhere.
Amy: I don’t recall hearing anything like that. And if that was the case, why only Hamlin?
Phil: Sabotage? Really? How would that work?
Mike: There were some important bolts left loose and I believe there was a gasket with a cut in it. As for it just being Hamlin, I think the other crew chiefs caught the problems earlier.
Amy: That sounds kind of out there; weren’t some of those guys looking to move over to TRD? Why ruin any future opportunity for a job in the sport? In any case, JGR willl be a contender at Kentucky … along with Roush Fenway, Hendrick and some others. In other words, it’s a mile and a half.
Mike: Yeah, the Roush cars will be up front, JGR will have one or two run well, and a couple of the Hendrick cars will hit on it. Also, some random car from another team will run top 10 and Marcos Ambrose will be really fast at the beginning of the race. Whether be brings it home is up in the air.
Phil: Don’t doubt Almirola putting up a decent run as well.
Amy: I’d love to see another Gilliland-type winner, but it more than likely won’t happen.
Mike: I agree, it would be great to see someone come out of the blue. Although, after last weekend, it would be nice to see Marcos Ambrose finally land that elusive oval win.
Amy: I don’t think RPM quite has the horsepower, but I agree, it would be very cool to see some new faces in victory lane.
Mike: I just hope the traffic problems last year aren’t a major topic of discussion throughout the broadcast.
Phil: Its going to be another one of those races with long green-flag runs. Fuel mileage may be a factor. I know a lot of readers might not want to hear them, but I can’t imagine anything different.
Amy: I agree, Phil. Just look at the races from Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte or Kansas so far this year. It’ll be just like that. Really, why that track needed a Cup race is beyond me. It’s just more of the same, different location. Personally, if I was going to Kentucky for a race, it would be the one with the REAL horsepower, not this one. As a paying customer, I mean.
Mike: I’ve done the Kentucky Derby once. And I’ve been to plenty of horse races. Far too much time between races for me. I really wish Bruton would dig up part of Vegas, Texas and Atlanta and make them all 0.875-mile tracks.
Amy: Give me a thoroughbred any day.
Mike: The races last two minutes.
Amy: Yeah, but serious eye candy … and by that I mean the horses!

It was a CWTS star winning in the Nationwide Series at Road America this weekend, but the Truck Series is the only national touring series without road courses on the schedule. Should that be changed for 2013 and beyond?

Amy: Yes, absolutely it should.
Phil: Heck to the yes. I love road racing. The trucks haven’t raced on a road course since 2001 or so at Portland. Now, I don’t know if Mosport is the right way to go or not, but I’m all for it.
Mike: That all depends. Provided they revamp the whole schedule and get back to predominantly short tracks, then yeah, let’s have a couple of road courses. Until they get back to a predominantly short track schedule, I don’t care about seeing them turn right.
Amy: So replace places like Kentucky with road courses. Better racing, better driver development, winner all around The draw back is, of course, the expense of building road-course trucks for teams.
Phil: Force them to use short-track chassis.
Mike: Right, but also bring back about 12 more short-track races. Of course, I think they should also add Springfield and Knoxville.
Amy: They need to add a few races to the schedule to get away from these crazy months off anyway … so yes, add Watkins Glen and Road America. They could have gone to Road America with Nationwide last week and not had to change anything in the schedule.
Phil: I just don’t see them bringing back anywhere near enough short-track races to make it work in Mike’s eyes. I could see a couple short-track races added if the price were right, though.
Amy: I agree, there should be more short tracks, but just because NASCAR won’t do that doesn’t mean they also shouldn’t add road courses. I would guess that part of the problem is the sanctioning fees and purses and tracks needing to break even on the deal.
Mike: I know Phil. I look at where the series started and it was fantastic. Then they went to Daytona and it completely killed the series. And SAFER barriers, Amy. But that is NASCAR’s fault, not the tracks’ fault.
Phil: I don’t believe going to Daytona killed the series. It still has worth even now.
Amy: I disagree that Daytona killed the series. Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and the other mile-and-a-halfs killed the series just like they did NNS and Sprint Cup. Isn’t Myrtle Beach putting in SAFER barriers? I wonder if a CWTS race is on the radar.
Mike: That is supposedly the plan, Amy. Trucks and hopefully Nationwide. Until the series went to Daytona they didn’t go to those other tracks. Sending them to Daytona is what resulted in them going to all of the intermediates and not going back to the short tracks.
Amy: Right, but the Daytona race is actually decent. Any word on Rockingham’s plans going forward? That was a great race day.
Mike: Oh I agree, and so are the races at Texas and Charlotte. But they don’t need to have them at all of the bigger tracks. Just like Darlington was awesome and they’re not going back there anymore. The announcement is coming soon about Rockingham. They have a couple things to finalize before they can make an announcement about next year’s plans.
Phil: The trucks were already in places like Texas and Fontana long before Daytona.
Amy: They should be at Darlington, but people didn’t go to that one and that ended it, plain and simple. Same reason NNS doesn’t go to Martinsville.
Mike: As far as Rockingham goes, I talked to Andy Hillenburg at the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout about it Tuesday.
Amy: Andy is a nice guy and a real racer, and if he’s successful, it opens doors for more independent tracks.
Mike: If it was cheaper to have the Nationwide and Truck races, more tracks would have them. The other problem is the television contract. I don’t know how that all works but having to have a separate broadcast crew and equipment at different tracks makes things more expensive for the television side.
Amy: NASCAR needs to lower the sanctioning fees and not the purses, though, or it’s not cost effective for tracks OR teams to add different tracks.
Mike: Exactly. I know that the sanctioning body needs to make money but everything is so freaking expensive it is silly.
Amy: But back to the topic at hand, I think there do need to be a couple of road courses on the schedule. For one thing, it’s the same reason Sprint Cup needs one in the Chase … in order to crown the best champion, they need to prove themselves on all kinds of tracks. Even K&N runs road courses, or at least they used to.
Phil: There are a number of candidates. At this point, I think Sonoma Raceway might be too much of a haul for the teams.
Mike: I agree Phil. Road Atlanta and Mid-Ohio or the Glen would be fine.
Amy: Why not go to Road America with NNS since it’s an off week currently and then Watkins Glen with everyone?
Phil: That would be a problem, Amy. At Road America, you would likely have a situation where they’re racing either at 10 or 11 a.m. Sunday morning to avoid conflicting with Cup at Sonoma, or something like 3 p.m. Friday afternoon. Nationwide was sharing with the Rolex and Continental series.
Mike: I would like to see a Truck road race, but I think they need to do more short tracks first.

OK, how about some predictions for Kentucky?

Amy: I’m going to go with Biffle.
Phil: Well, I’m going to go with Hamlin. I’ve got a hunch.
Mike: Man I’m torn on Kentucky. I’m going to go with Kyle finally not having a failure and making it back-to-back wins there.

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

Toyota/Save Mart 350 Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Beth LunkenheimerJuan Pablo Montoya34th-2
Amy HendersonMarcos Ambrose8th1
Mike NeffTony Stewart2nd3
Phil AllawayAJ Allmendinger9th1
Kevin RutherfordJeff Gordon6th1

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford27122710
Amy Henderson22-5151612
Mike Neff22-514169
Phil Allaway11-1614038
Beth Lunkenheimer7-2010123
Matt Stallknecht5-221111
Tom Bowles3-242111
Tony Lumbis1-261001
Jeff Meyer0-271000
Jesse Medford-2-291000
Vito Pugliese-2-292000

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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