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)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Wednesdays / Sprint Cup Column-Frontstretch Newsletter & Thursdays / Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Full Throttle / Short Track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/
*The race at Watkins Glen produced a thrilling finish, but it was not without controversy, as several drivers complained of oil on the track in the final laps. Should NASCAR have thrown the caution, or did they make the right decision to keep the race under green?*
Mike N.: They made the right decision. While the treading was treacherous, there wasn’t anyone who went off-track until the last corner because of it.
Phil: Treacherous at the least. But Ambrose and Keselowski were fine with NASCAR not throwing the yellow, and I’d argue that not throwing made for a much better conclusion.
Beth: Right. Had they thrown a caution, fans would have been cheated out of one of the best finishes in awhile. Even my heart was racing by the time Ambrose took the checkered flag.
Amy: Well I think they certainly should have. Yes, the ending was great, largely because of the oil, but it was dangerous. We’ve all seen how hard some cars have hit at the Glen — we don’t want any more of those crashes!
Mike N.: Everyone had the same conditions and they all dealt with it. If NASCAR had thrown the caution, it would have been a disaster. It could have taken an extensive amount of time to clean up, people would have run out of gas and it would have made a travesty of what ended up being a fantastic race.
Amy: Not if they had thrown it when the drivers first complained about it, Mike. They hadn’t thrown the white flag yet when Labonte oiled the track down; it would have been a green-white-checkered finish.
Beth: But from what I’ve read, NASCAR officials were looking for oil on the track and didn’t see any until after the white.
Amy: But the drivers _felt_ it. They didn’t see it because it was spraying oil in a fine mist, not a trail like you usually see.
Phil: Doesn’t matter. I don’t think they would have gotten the yellow out before the white flag.
Beth: NASCAR officials can’t make a call simply because a driver feels something. Then we’d be having stupid cautions in every race.
Amy: Jimmie Johnson’s team was talking about it on the radio when they went through Turn 1 on the white-flag lap, so it was plenty early enough to throw the yellow and still finish under green.
Mike N.: Let’s assume they got it out before the yellow. In that case, it would have taken 15 minutes to clean up the track, 15 or so cars would have run out of gas, and Regan Smith would have been your race winner. I really don’t think that was the kind of finish anyone wanted.
Phil: Yeah, that would have been a pretty long caution knowing that it was all around the track.
Amy: So throw the red, clean it up and run safe. Someone could have just as easily been badly hurt by the oil… would you all feel the same then? The yellow needs to come out every time a car blows up anywhere near the racing groove, at every track.
Phil: Well I also think, had they red-flagged it you would have had quite a few drivers unable to restart.
Amy: But that’s not NASCAR’s fault, Phil. That’s the choice the teams make playing the strategy game.
Mike N.: If cars had been spinning uncontrollably all over the track, I’d feel differently. Bottom line, Jeff Gordon spun out because he made a move off-line that caused him to lose traction and spin. Every other driver made it around without spinning out.
Beth: Hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe they should have thrown the caution; however, no one was seriously injured, everyone made it through safely and as a bonus, fans got one hell of a finish. Sounds like a win-win in my book.
Amy: I think you could have cleaned it up and have a great finish that wasn’t putting anyone in danger. Nobody wrecked this time, so now NASCAR has incentive to leave a race green a lap too long in the future.
Mike N.: If cars had been crashing everywhere, I’d buy it Amy. I remember when Kahne lost the win at Dover because of a car blowing up. There was enough oil down then to throw it. But in this case, without NASCAR being able to see it, and no one spinning from the groove, I just don’t think it was bad enough to justify a caution.
Amy: Ask Kyle Busch how he feels about it… he got screwed out of a win because of it.
Mike N.: Kyle got “screwed” out of a win because he came down on Keselowski in turn two and hit Kes’s nose with his right rear quarter panel.
Beth: Kyle Busch got screwed out of a win because he turned across Keselowski’s nose. Tell it like it really happened.
Phil: Kyle would probably describe it differently; that is, if he were willing to talk about it at all.
Amy: Look at the replays. He got in it, slid out, came back across in front of the 2, who also got in it. If you look at the overhead replay, the 18 is already sliding around before the 2 hits him.
Phil: Give me just a moment. I’m going to look at it again.
Mike N.: I’m sure Kyle would but, if you showed him the replay and his relationship to the white line he’d have to admit he drove down over Brad’s nose.
Amy: You have to look at the blimp shot.
Mike N.: I looked at the blimp shot. Keselowski’s nose is there and Kyle pulls down to less than a car width from the white line, which results in him spinning. He took himself out.
Amy: From the overhead, you can see that Keselowski doesn’t root him out of line.
Mike N.: I know; he turned right over Brad’s nose.
Amy: And the oil caused Kyle to get wide in the first place, according to Keselowski.
Mike N.: So he didn’t get “screwed” out of a win; he wrecked himself out of it.
Beth: Exactly, Mike.
Mike N.: The thing is, if Kyle leaves Brad enough room, we’d have probably had an even more amazing finish with three cars beating the hell out of each other.
Amy: I disagree. If there’s no oil on the track anywhere, Kyle doesn’t go wide, Keselowski isn’t also sliding, and they have a less exciting finish, but sans wrecks.
Mike N.: I don’t know what would have happened without the oil. But Kyle still wrecked himself.
Amy: If Kyle didn’t wreck, he’d have opened up the lead in clean air. Look, it was a great finish, but I was more relieved that nobody got hurt listening to radios the last lap.
Mike N.: By the way, since the conditions were so deplorable and unsafe, how many cars spun on the last lap without hitting another car to cause them to spin?
Phil: The pace slowed on the final lap by something like 3-5 seconds, though due to the conditions.
*The wild card picture changed yet again at Watkins Glen, with Ryan Newman taking the second spot, at least temporarily and Marcos Ambrose inserting himself in the discussion. But can a wild card really be relevant during the Chase?*
Beth: Can someone be relevant for just ten races? Sure they can.
Phil: Of course. Yes, they’ll be starting off in the hole a little bit, but it doesn’t take all that much to put yourself squarely in the hunt.
Amy: You know, we touched on this last week with Jeff Gordon, and afterward I was sitting there thinking… really? We’re talking about drivers who flat out do not deserve a championship. Why are people hyping this so much?
Beth: I understand that point, Amy; however, it’s what NASCAR has given us to work with.
Mike N.: OK, I think I get it now; can a Wild Card driver be relevant? Absolutely. It is 10 races, and anyone can get hot for 10 races. Jeff Gordon has had a great year with some horrible luck. If his luck turns around and he starts finishing where he runs for most of the races, the No. 24 team could make a heck of a run.
Amy: Right. But if you couldn’t win it the old-fashioned way, without a points reset to help you, do you really deserve it?
Beth: By the current rules in play, yes. It’s no different than debating whether Jimmie’s five championships are as important as any of Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty’s because they used different formats for both.
Phil: Well, especially since the Chase was created, this is a rather slow time of year in NASCAR. They needed something to create headlines?
Amy: That’s exactly it, Phil. NASCAR needs something to hype to try and turn people’s heads from the boring racing on the cookie-cutter tracks.
Mike N.: Actually, they need to turn heads from boring point racing, which is why they invented the Chase.
Phil: These summer races have really been hurt by the Chase.
Mike N.: I’m no fan of the Chase but, by this time of year, there are generally two or three drivers in contention for a title with the old point system.
Phil: Who’s in championship contention at this point really depends on the year. It could be any number, from 1-8. This year would be on the higher side of that range.
Mike N.: Right, Phil but that is only because of the Chase. If the teams tried to score the most points for the entire season they wouldn’t be as close as they all are right now.
Amy: Maybe, maybe not. The one-point spread doesn’t need a Chase to make it closer. I’d argue all of the first 26 races, with three possible exceptions — the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 — have been hurt by the Chase.
Mike N.: With the fans of today who can’t pay attention for 500 miles, they had to come up with the Chase and the Wild Card to make people watch since racing isn’t enough to enrapture their attention.
Amy: If they’d create a better schedule, Mike, the racing would be enough. It’s the tracks that are the problem.
Mike N.: True, but unfortunately they’re not going to give race dates away to people who don’t already have dates. Plus, ISC and SMI don’t own more than a handful of tracks that aren’t cookie cutters.
Phil: Back to the Chase; almost no points system would create a setup where it’s not close right now. Unless I haven’t been watching the first 22 races correctly, no one driver is dominating.
Mike N.: Because drivers who are at the top are not using their best equipment in order to save it for the Chase. If there were no Chase, they’d be running it all of the time.
Amy: You know, what about something like this: people have said that they’d like to see drivers eliminated during the Chase. How about eliminating drivers each week who would have been mathematically eliminated under points without the reset? That would basically eliminate the Chase while giving fans the illusion that it was still there.
Mike N.: I’d bet big bucks the points wouldn’t be as close to begin with were it not for the Chase. If the points weren’t being reset, and the team with the most points at the end of the schedule won, there’d be three or four teams distanced from the rest.
Amy: I doubt that. Nobody has been good enough this year, consistently, to run away like that. The 14 and 2 have been too inconsistent and the 48 has had the mother of all crappy plate seasons.
Beth: Under the Chase format, that’s true Amy, but you can’t convince me that each and every driver would be running the exact same season they have if there wasn’t a Chase.
Mike N.: The Chase changes how teams race and what equipment they use. The entire deal would be different if it didn’t exist. That said, anyone who makes the Chase can win the Chase. They probably won’t, because Jimmie Johnson is going to smoke them like a cheap cigar again, but it is a fun thought.
*Adding a road course to the Chase has been discussed many times as another test for a would-be champion… but with the versatility of today’s drivers, would a road course really be the big stumbling block that many think it would?*
Amy: No. Some drivers are better than others, but it’s no different than any other style of track.
Phil: Heck no. Not like it would have been years ago.
Mike N.: I’ve always maintained that there should be a road course in the Chase if you want it to be a true test of the best driver. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fall into the plan like that so we don’t get it.
Phil: Ambrose talked in his press conference Sunday about how he thinks that Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are excellent road racers that could more than hold their own with the pros.
Mike N.: That said, after watching Sunday, it would seem like a road course could be as much of a “wild card” as Talladega in the Chase.
Amy: Talladega is far more likely to ruin someone’s title hopes than a road course would.
Phil: Agreed. Look at Cup drivers’ performances in the Rolex 24. Not bad. Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd nearly won their class at Sebring in 1986. Kevin Harvick won a class pole in Daytona in 2002.
Beth: If you’re going to use ten races to crown a champion, then why not use a road course? But with that said, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a stumbling block for those that are truly the best racers on the track.
Amy: I’m not sure how much Rolex translates. And there are some drivers who would be able to take advantage of the road courses better than others, but that can be said about every track.
Mike N.: Of course, not only should there be a road course in the Chase but there should be a dirt track, too. Sadly, until they vote me in as Chairman of NASCAR, that isn’t going to happen.
Amy: I absolutely think there should be a road course, but I don’t think it would change the outcome the way some people think it would. A lot of people said that Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t have won his five titles if there had been a road course. I disagree with that.
Phil: I think the Rolex can be used to showcase Cup driver’s skill. Yes, Daytona’s road course is a “Roval,” but it still takes a lot of skill to get around there pretty fast. A lot of these Sprint Cup racers have natural talent for road racing, especially since a lot of them have karting backgrounds.
Amy: I agree. But just saying they have a Rolex win doesn’t mean they’re going to set the Cup road courses on fire.
Mike N.: I think racing ability is racing ability. Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up racing on road courses but they are still tough on the twisty S-curves.
Amy: I agree, Mike. But some guys can’t jump from one type of car to the next with the ease of Stewart, either.
Mike N.: There aren’t a lot who can do what Stewart does.
Phil: True. Racing ability is one of those “You’ve got it, or you don’t” kind of things.
Mike N.: Speaking of Stewart, his run from the back to the front before the spin Sunday was awesome.
Phil: Yeah, he was very strong. Had he not wiped out, it could have been a four-man duel. You know, Stewart said this weekend that his racing schedule consists of 95 races this year.
Amy: Stewart is just a hell of a racer, period. There is no form of racing that I don’t think he could have been a champion in. Well, except maybe horse racing. He’d have a hell of a time making a jockey’s weight…
Mike N.: He’d get more out of his horse than anyone else and still win.
Phil: I’ll agree with that. Although he might be a bit too stocky to race Formula One, I think he would give them some heck.
Amy: He is now, Phil, but if he’d gone that route when he was young, I have no doubt he’d have made it.
Phil: Sure, I’d agree with that. But back to the question at hand. Someone mentioned Sunday that there should be two races at both Sears Point and Watkins Glen.
Amy: I completely agree.
Phil: The Glen in the Chase would be interesting, but it would need to be early in there. New York’s Southern Tier can get kinda cold past mid-October.
Amy: Or, what I’d really like to see is one at Sonoma, two at the Glen: one with the boot and one without, and a third track.
Mike N.: Yeah, because there aren’t any other road courses to race on in this country. That is dumb. Mid-Ohio, Elkhart Lake, Road Atlanta, Miller Motorsports Park. No reason to run twice at Sonoma and the Glen.
Beth: Right … why not add Road America to the Cup schedule?
Phil: Also of note, Brad does not want a Cup race in Montreal. He claims that the COT is perfectly suited to the variety of rock ’em, sock’em robots that characterizes NASCAR road racing these days.
Mike N.: I still vote for random draw for the Chase races every year.
Phil: Heck to the no. I don’t want that garbage. But, a road race in the Chase? I can definitely buy into that.
Amy: You’d have to do that years ahead, Mike. Like draw now for 2014.
Mike N.: Not really. Just because people are fed the crap that it takes that much effort to put on a race. They could draw in December and be ready by September.
Amy: Tracks start ticket sales before December.
Mike N.: Yeah, and accepting tickets that have a different date on them at your race track would be so hard.
Amy: Plus, the problem there is that you could conceivably wind up with a Chase consisting of Fontana, Michigan, Kansas, Kentucky, Atlanta, Texas, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Chicago, and Homestead… which would outright suck.
Phil: I don’t think NASCAR would allow a Chase that was so stilted towards one type of racing.
Mike N.: Yep, but as long as the rules said that a track couldn’t have a Chase race two years in a row the next year would be outstanding.
*The Nationwide Series stays on the road course kick this weekend with a trip to Montreal. There was talk a year ago about not including the race on the schedule, though NASCAR did decide to return. Should the trip stay a part of the slate in 2013?*
Amy: Maybe. On one hand, I like the standalone road course races a lot.
Mike N.: No. There are more than enough tracks in America that don’t have a Nationwide race to be shipping dates North or South of the border.
Phil: The track’s questionable status had nothing to do with the race itself; it was the promoter. As it stands, it’s one of the most highly attended Nationwide races of the year. And one of the richest, too (I think). The racing there is pretty good, too. It can stay.
Amy: On the other hand, Montreal is a huge expense for the teams. Perhaps they could race closer to home.
Phil: It is quite a haul. Many teams stuck around in Watkins Glen and were going to go straight to Montreal instead of going back to the shop. When I left the track Sunday, something like 7 Nationwide haulers were still there (Nos. 12, 19, 22, 59, and 81, at least, along with a couple more).
Beth: The only way I’m alright with them not heading off to Montreal next season is if NASCAR replaces the date with a different road course in the US. Perhaps Circuit of the Americas in Austin? It’s going to be a pretty sweet track.
Mike N.: The exchange rate has gone up recently, so the purse is probably worth even more now.
Amy: The purse is high, but does it offset the travel? Then again, I don’t think they need to be going out West either for the same reason.
Mike N.: They could always race in New Jersey.
Amy: I do like the track in Montreal because it’s so tough to drive. I’ve enjoyed the races there. But then, I look forward to all the road course races all year long.
Phil: It’s also the toughest track in all the world on brakes (or at least, in Formula One).
Mike N.: I’d rather see them dump it and go to Springfield. Or DuQuoin. Or Knoxville. Or the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Phil: ARCA’s on the dirt this week. Allen Crowe 100 on Sunday.
Mike N.: There ya go. An ARCA/Nationwide double dip.
Phil: That might be interesting. Haven’t seen an ARCA dirt race on TV since Dean Roper got killed, though.
Amy: The problem with that is the added expense of having to build a totally different chassis for one or two races. Road racing is bad enough for that, but dirt chassis are so totally different that a lot of teams couldn’t afford it.
Mike N.: Dirt Chassis don’t have to be. They don’t build special chassis for ARCA for the dirt tracks. I don’t believe Venturini builds special dirt cars, and they’re the money team in ARCA.
Amy: But you know the money teams would use building them and then the little teams would once again be screwed. NASCAR doesn’t need any more reason for that to happen than they already do.
Phil: NASCAR could mandate that teams use short track cars for dirt races.
Amy: In any case, I think Montreal is a great track but the deciding factor should be the cost to teams. I think it should be replaced by another road course on a standalone date.
Phil: Mike, by New Jersey, you mean the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville where ARCA races, right Mike?
Mike N.: No, I was referring to the fiasco that is going to be the F1 race.
Phil: Oh, in Weehawken/West New York. I just don’t know what that’s going to be like. Expensive as heck, probably.
Mike N.: I just don’t think NASCAR needs to be having a race in Canada when there are so many tracks in the US that would love to have a race.
Phil: I have no problem with races in Montreal. Quite frankly, it’s about equal to a Charlotte to Loudon haul for the teams. You’re only about 30 miles into Canada. There’s also none of the steps that had to be taken when they raced in Mexico City.
Mike N.: True… no worries about drug cartels hijacking the team haulers.
Amy: That race was just a bad idea from Day 1.
Phil: Mexico City is something like a 12-hour drive from the U.S. border in Laredo, Texas. The planning must have been insane.
Mike N.: I don’t know about that. The series was trying to get into Mexico so they needed to have a race down there. I just think they’d have been smarter to fly everything down.
Phil: True. If AVESCO (the sanctioning body for the V8 Supercars) can charter 747s to transport the teams to overseas races, so can NASCAR.
Amy: The way IndyCar travels to Brazil is fascinating. But we all know NASCAR isn’t going to fork out the cash to transport the teams when they can make the teams do it themselves.
Phil: Yeah, NASCAR’s not exactly “accommodating.” For anyone. For the benefit of our readers, how does IndyCar travel to Sao Paulo for their race down there?
Amy: They send a cargo plane with the track equipment and tires and a couple more with all the teams’ cars and pit equipment.
*Predictions for Michigan?*
Amy: I’m going to go with Junior for the double.
Mike N.: Of course you are. I’ll take Tony Stewart.
Phil: I’m taking Ambrose. I know, twice in three weeks. But he was very strong there in June and he’s super-duper confident, as shown on _NASCAR Now_ this week. Plus, he got me a prediction point in Pocono.
Beth: Let’s see…how about Carl Edwards. He’s run well at Michigan in the past.
Mike N.: That would be a great monkey wrench to throw into the whole “wild card” thing.
Beth: That’s kind of what I was thinking, Mike.
Mike N.: I still think him making the top 10 and Hamlin dropping out would be great.
Beth: Plus, with the exception of a 36th last fall, Edwards hasn’t run outside the top 12 there since 2006. Not a bad record if you ask me.
*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
Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen Results