Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Chasing Brad, Silly Season Rumors & a Toast to NASCAR’s King

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 & Fridays/Holding a Pretty Wheel)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays/Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)
Rick Lunkenheimer (Mondays/Pace Laps: Grand-Am)

Brad Keselowski had a dominating win at Kentucky on Saturday night and leads all Cup drivers with three wins this season. But is the No. 2 team a championship contender?

Rick: I’d say yes. Brad does have a tendency to run well, and rarely has equipment issues.
Beth: Not quite. Brad Keselowski may have three victories, but he still sits 10th in points, meaning there hasn’t been a ton of consistency on the No. 2 team’s part. However, what they did this weekend was nothing short of impressive. To lose their primary car within the first lap of practice and be forced to pull out the backup, then pull off that win … that was nice.

See also
Brad Keselowski Overcomes Multiple Issues for Kentucky Victory

Phil: I don’t think so. Yes, he’s got three big wins, but he’s not the most consistent guy out there. Now, if Keselowski got a stretch like last August going again, then my tune would change significantly. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take messing up his foot again.
Amy: I agree with Phil. Keselowski has more than enough talent to win a championship and I believe he will in a couple of years. But right now, the No. 2 crowd just doesn’t have the consistency.
Phil: Keselowski was strong all race long. Had Kyle Busch not screwed himself over with wall contact (Keselowski admitted that it was his own fault) it wouldn’t have been so easy at the end.
Beth: Maybe it would have made for a more interesting finish.
Rick: By the same token, a caution can happen at any time which could have altered the winner.
Amy: Well, the first-place finishes don’t really matter as much as the consistency afterwards. For every win, he has a finish of worse than 30th. That won’t get it done in the Chase if someone else runs in the top five every week.
Phil: Wrecking’s one thing, Amy. I’d be more concerned about races like Las Vegas. Finished 32nd, eight laps down. That’s not good.
Beth: But to Brad’s credit, he’s got a win on a cookie cutter, a short track and the beast that is Talladega. Those notes could become a valuable commodity come September.
Amy: I’m not questioning his talent at all, Beth. It’s the inconsistency that makes me hesitate, and I don’t think that’s all driver. I think Penske is just a tick behind Hendrick and Roush some weeks. Being the only Dodge team has hurt them a little in the R&D department.
Beth: I never said anything about talent. I’m just making the point that they’ve got winning notes from three different types of tracks that could prove valuable. However, I still don’t know that it would actually be enough to take them to that next level … yet.
Rick: Well consider that at this point last year, Tony Stewart was 12th in the standings. The odds of Brad pulling off half the Chase wins are astronomical, but you never know.
Phil: What we’ve seen from the No. 2 team is that when they’re on top of their game, only luck can beat them. However, they’re not like that often enough to be contenders.
Amy: Exactly. I will be surprised, though if Keselowski doesn’t win a championship or two when all is said and done. Just not this year.
Phil: I agree, I just couldn’t tell you when that might occur, though. 2015, maybe?
Amy: I also wonder if the No. 22 performance is hurting the No. 2 team in the long run.
Phil: Possible. They were solid on Saturday night, but it has been a struggle at times for AJ Allmendinger. He was clearly better in the No. 43 last year.
Amy: I don’t think the No. 22 is running that bad, but their luck is horrible and that has to be draining on an organization.
Phil: Strange stuff happens to them, like that hub failure at Charlotte.
Amy: They are also a lame duck with the manufacturer. I don’t think Dodge is giving them less, but they’re getting to the time of year when they will have to devote time to building Ford chassis for next year and that’s going to inevitably hurt them.
Phil: Are the chassis themselves really all that different these days? I always thought it was more bodies and mounting points for engines.
Rick: Same here, since they all have to fit the same template.
Phil: I guess Amy is getting at the idea of just building new stuff for 2013 in general.
Amy: Exactly. Anyways, I do think the timing isn’t quite there for the No. 2. I think the title is coming, but I think 2013-14 is a more reasonable timetable. Just too many things conspiring against them right now.
Rick: We all seem to agree Brad will get a championship. It’s just when.
Phil: Yeah, the skinny dude will get his. However, the team needs to improve their overall form. It’s all peaks and valleys right now.

According to numerous reports, Michael Andretti is considering starting a new Sprint Cup team, possibly with Dodge as the manufacturer. Is now the right time for Andretti to get into the sport, is Dodge the right manufacturer? And is jumping right into the Cup Series the best approach?

Amy: I think it’s as good a time as any if the sponsorship money is there.
Rick: If there is sponsorship, I agree.
Beth: That’s the key, Amy. Will they actually be able to bring in funding to support the team?
Phil: I have no clue who the deuce would back this new startup. Andretti’s sponsors in the Izod IndyCar Series don’t pay anywhere near as much as Sprint Cup demands. There, they have Dr. Pepper/Snapple (Sun Drop and RC Cola), DHL and GoDaddy.
Amy: From what Michael Andretti has said, I think they would have something lined up first, or they won’t do it. Andretti said they didn’t make the move last year because a deal fell through, so I don’t think he’ll chance it without backing.
Phil: Maybe Andretti might bring some new ideas into the series in order to attract funding.
Amy: As for Dodge, I think they’re better off doing that deal if they can get Richard Petty Motorsports or someone else on board as well. I think not having feedback from multiple teams puts Dodge just a bit behind.
Phil: True. Dodge has all but been going it alone for most of the last three years.
Amy: It will be interesting to see who ends up driving for them.
Phil: I don’t know. Ideally, they would want a veteran who can help with car setup.
Amy: Larry Mac said on Wind Tunnel that one candidate is an IndyCar driver. He didn’t say if it was a present or past one though.
Phil: An IndyCar driver? I couldn’t really imagine anyone currently there making the jump. We remember how badly Dario Franchitti crashed and burned in 2008? Anyone who would come over from there is a multiple year project who probably should start in Nationwide, like Danica Patrick did. Even Stewart had a year in the “minors” before moving to Winston Cup in 1999.
Amy: There are a couple of current NASCAR drivers who drove either Indy or Champ cars. A total longshot, but Michael’s cousin John has quite a bit of NASCAR experience.
Phil: Yes, he does. He’s been out of the car since Indianapolis last year, though. Would not be opposed to having John back.
Amy: And how long will Sam Hornish Jr. wait for another chance at Cup?
Phil: I don’t know. That dude’s a little hard to read, but ultra aggressive.
Amy: Juan Pablo Montoya and Casey Mears also drove Champ cars during their careers. I don’t know if Larry might have lumped them in there as well.
Beth: One thing I do know for sure is that I’d really rather not see Andretti bring a team in only to start-and-park after a few months or even a year. If it’s one thing the Cup Series doesn’t need, it’s more start-and-park teams.
Amy: I don’t think Andretti would consider starting and parking. They’re too competitive in IndyCar to do that. Assuming that’s the case, I do think another team would be good for NASCAR. The more teams they can get who won’t start and park, the less viable starting and parking will be as a model. By the way, I’ve heard Dodge would supply the engines similar to the deal Toyota does.
Phil: That is the rumor, Beth. If they did, in fact purchase Penske’s engine shop then they’ll have decent power for their cars.
Beth: And that would certainly help them establish the team. But once they’ve got the power and the sponsorship, they need a driver that will use both wisely.
Amy: Kurt Busch has come up in discussions. There’s not a more talented driver currently on the market.
Phil: Plus, they’ll be locked in for the first five races in 2013 with his PCP.
Amy: Can Kurt take care of a sponsorship wisely? That’s the question there, I suppose.
Beth: Exactly, Amy. He may be keeping his mouth shut for now, but how long until someone sets him off again? You’d hope he’s learned his lesson by now after the suspension, but you just never know. Anyways, there’s no better time like the present to give bringing a new team to Cup a shot, but Andretti can’t afford to just wing it. It’ll take commitment for them to succeed along with sponsorship, power under the hood and a driver that knows how to use it.
Amy: I think they can make that happen. Remember, both Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi have made it work in the past.

In honor of Richard Petty’s 75th birthday on Monday, let’s take a look back at the King and his legacy. Which of his numerous contributions to the sport will still be evident in the sport’s upcoming decades?

Rick: His ambassadorship for the sport.
Amy: Well, needless to say, with the schedule the way it is, nobody is going to touch the 200 Cup wins. But I agree with Rick. He has done as much for the sport off the track as on it. An awful lot of today’s drivers should be taking a look at how Richard Petty treated the fans.

See also
Top 10 Ways Richard Petty Celebrated His 75th Birthday

Rick: He has done it all and seen it all when it comes to NASCAR.
Phil: I will agree with that. The King rarely, if ever turned down an autograph request. Everyone knows and respects him in the sport. Almost nobody in the universe can say that these days.
Beth: Petty was so accessible and so well-known. Most NASCAR fans – yes, even the new ones – could identify Petty easily in a group photo.
Rick: Even a lot of non-NASCAR fans could also.
Beth: My point exactly. And anyone who’s done even the slightest bit of digging into the history of the sport has heard of his accomplishments.
Amy: Right. I’m not sure he ever turned away a fan for an autograph, even after a race. Even if he gor wrecked out early. Drivers today are in such a hurry to leave the track – you never see that type of commitment anymore. Not only that, but many modern drivers can’t even give up an hour of free time every week to sign for fans.
Phil: Nowadays, many don’t want to stay after the race and hang out with the fans – it’s a shame. Others, like Earnhardt, fear being mobbed. In Dale’s case, that’s basically understandable.
Amy: To a point. But there has to be a way to organize those kinds of things.
Rick: Go sit front row at a Metallica concert. It’s called a solid wall of security guards.
Phil: The signings at souvenir trailers seem to be pretty organized.
Amy: But my point is, the drivers have to be committed to the fans. Petty was, even if he had a crappy day. His treatment of fans played no small role in the sport’s growth. It gained the reputation as a sport whose athletes were accessible and personable.
Beth: Why wouldn’t they want to give some time to the fans? I mean, sure they’re the ones that are racing and getting the results, but who do you think is buying their sponsors’ products and allowing that funding to continue?
Amy: Right. But the ugly truth is, how many go out of their way to do that, Beth? Not enough.
Phil: You see drivers refusing to talk to fans after substandard races all the time, even at the local level. There’s this one guy at Lebanon Valley, Andy Bachetti, that is a bit of a battle-axe if he doesn’t win. On the other hand, Kenny Tremont Jr. is more like Petty in that he hangs around and chats with fans for quite a while after the races. Then again, he’s old school. He’s got kids my age.
Beth: True, Phil. But would it be such a bad thing if old school returned to NASCAR in the form of someone using Petty as an example?
Phil: Oh heck no, Beth. I’d be all for it.
Amy: You know, the impact of the Petty family in general is more than just driving. Petty Enterprises was one of the longest-tenured teams in the sport. Richard visits Victory Junction on a regular basis to hang out with the kids, too. He understood his role in the sport better than many. He wasn’t just a driver. He was a link between the sport and the fans. He still is.
Phil: I think the Hot/Cold Pass situation in the garage has made a difference in fan access.
Amy: I don’t know about that, Phil. I don’t think drivers should be expected to sign or chat in the garage. I think they need to make time outside of their workplace to do it. There are too many fans in the garage still as it is, but that’s a whole other story.
Beth: I agree, Amy. Drivers have a completely different focus in the garage and that’s what should be doing – working – when they’re in the garage.
Phil: Indy did that huge autograph session last year as a way to bolster attendance for qualifying day. Perhaps other tracks should do something similar. Grand-Am has mandatory autograph sessions prior to every race. How it’s done is kind of dependent on where you are, though.
Amy: The bottom line with Petty is that he’s an icon, period. The only other driver who comes close in that regard is Dale Earnhardt. Petty treats people, both fans and those in the sport, with respect. Because of that, he is also treated with respect.
Phil: Petty’s basically the best example of that that you can find.
Amy: There was a time when the last thing a driver wanted was for Petty to get up in your face and start wagging his finger at you. That was the ultimate rebuke.
Phil: Well, Richard has set a long series of records that cannot be beat. He’ll have that in his pocket. The hats are a signature look for him as well. Many people wouldn’t recognize him without it.
Amy: He’s just an inextricable part of the sport. You can’t talk about NASCAR without including Richard Petty and you can’t talk about Richard Petty without including NASCAR.

NASCAR penalized the No. 3 Nationwide team six points and crew chief Danny Stockman $10,000, while extending Stockman’s probation to Dec. 31 after Friday night’s post-race inspection failure. Was the penalty the right call after the car was found too low after the race and does it cast doubt on the legitimacy of Austin Dillon’s win?

Amy: NASCAR totally dropped the ball on this penalty. Totally. Stockman should have been suspended. He was already on probation for a technical violation. NASCAR set that precedent with Kurt Busch and they should have upheld it here. No excuses. And while I agree with the suspension they gave Busch, technical infractions are much, much worse than what Busch did to earn his suspension.

See also
Full Throttle: NASCAR Probation Used to Mean Something

Phil: Have they mentioned how much Austin Dillon‘s car was out of tolerance? In all honesty, I’m surprised NASCAR didn’t drop the hammer harder on the team when they got busted for the nose issues in the past. Especially since that’s considered a giant no-no.
Amy: Their hands were a little tied there, Phil. Remember that Hendrick had a penalty overturned not too long ago before that was very, very similar in how it was discovered and penalized.
Phil: So, you’re saying that they eyeballed this template issue and didn’t measure?
Amy: They measured after eyeballing it by comparing it to the factory-issued piece in a visual inspection, Phil, but like the No. 48 car, it had passed multiple previous inspections. It wasn’t a specific template area.
Phil: So it’s not exactly the same. This time, they measured it and found something off. There’s actual factual evidence for the penalty.
Amy: Well, regardless, cheating up a car is worse than being a jerk to a reporter. Stockman should have been sat down for at least a month.
Beth: Especially since he was already on probation for another parts violation.
Phil: Well, Stockman’s penalty is sort of a reversion to the more traditional idea of probation, the one that almost no one except for NASCAR themselves likes.
Amy: I was really encouraged after the deal with Busch that NASCAR was finally going to give probation some teeth. Guess that only applies to some people.
Phil: I’d say maybe a couple of weeks out for Stockman would have been sufficient.
Amy: I don’t think NASCAR’s excuse that it wasn’t the exact same infraction holds water because A) neither was Busch’s and B) It was still a car that failed a technical inspection. Besides, a crew chief would have to be nuts to get caught for the exact same infraction twice.
Beth: As far as the win itself is concerned, I’m not convinced it wouldn’t have happened, especially since Dillon finished runner-up last fall at Kentucky in the Truck Series. But had their car been within the proper tolerances, it likely would not have been such a dominant win.
Amy: What makes me wonder, though, is just how much of an advantage the No. 3 had as it badly outclassed even the other RCR cars. If the fatal adjustment came on the first pit stop, it could explain a lot. I think it does shed a bad light on the win with a lot of fans. But without knowing when it happened, how low it was and exactly how much downforce they gained from it, you can’t really say it’s the only reason they won the race.
Phil: As usual, NASCAR is vague with their press releases. It should be a requirement that they tell everyone just how far they were out of tolerance. Heck, put it right in the release.
Amy: I agree with that, Phil.
Beth: NASCAR should be more transparent about all of their penalties. Speeding? Tell me how much they were speeding by? Part of tolerance? How much? I mean what’s the big secret, really?
Amy: And again, there’s no excuse for not suspending a crew chief already on probation for technical violations. If you want to take that a step further, RCR is a team with a lot of them for “creative engineering.” They’re at least equal to Hendrick on that front over the last decade.
Phil: I don’t know. They would probably say something like, “we like the way we operate” or “this is the way it is,” which is just bush league.
Amy: In any case, NASCAR dropped the ball. Again.
Phil: What else is new?

Predictions for Daytona?

Amy: I think I like Earnhardt Jr. for that one. He’s feisty these days. I was tempted to go with Mears because he ran great in the last three plate races, but bad things happen to him.
Rick: Barring tech troubles, or a wreck I can see Stewart taking this one.
Beth: Give me Kurt Busch. They looked good at Sonoma and Kurt has changed the way he approaches the weekend setups. If there’s any track that Phoenix Racing can easily snag a win at, it’s Daytona provided Kurt can keep the car in once piece until the end.
Phil: Yeah, I agree with that. But this race could be a toss-up. The humidity significantly drops the potential of an “Amy Henderson Tandem-Drafting Special,” so anyone is realistically in the hunt if they can avoid troubles. On that note, I’ll go with Kevin Harvick. Let’s hope no one gets taken out in a lap 2 wreck this time.

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

2012 Quaker State 400 Results

WriterPickFinishing PositionPoints
Amy HendersonGreg Biffle21st-1
Mike NeffKyle Busch10th1
Phil AllawayDenny Hamlin3rd3

Points Standings

WriterPointsBehindPredictions (Starts)WinsTop 5sTop 10s
Kevin Rutherford30132811
Mike Neff26-4161711
Amy Henderson24-6171713
Phil Allaway19-11171510
Beth Lunkenheimer7-2310123
Matt Stallknecht5-251111
Tom Bowles3-272111
Tony Lumbis1-291001
Jeff Meyer0-301000
Jesse Medford-2-321000
Vito Pugliese-2-321000

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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