Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Biffle’s Good Fortune, Johnson’s Poor Form And Turning Turner To Cup?

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/
Summer Bedgood “(Wednesdays / Tweet & Greet-Frontstretch Newsletter & Fridays / Four Burning Questions)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/32575/
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/
Kevin Rutherford (Wednesdays / Kevin’s Corner)

*After his win at Michigan, is Greg Biffle a legitimate title favorite, or is he a step behind some other teams?*

Summer: He’s a step behind others, but would be a good dark horse pick. If he had more wins, I’d feel differently.
Phil: I like that, Summer. Biffle’s really been the quiet type this year.
Kevin: I think it’s tough to say since Roush isn’t at the level altogether that they were at season’s beginning, but I think he could pull it off with some consistency.
Amy: Honestly, I’m not sure about Biffle. Every time I think he’s going to win a couple of races, he doesn’t. I think he’s a favorite, but not _the_ favorite, if that makes sense. Remember, he essentially lucked into the win Sunday.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s how I feel, Amy. I would choose him if I had to pick a handful of drivers that might win it, but I wouldn’t choose him first. Probably not even second or third.
Summer: He wouldn’t have lucked into it had he not been up there in the first place. I think it’s that whole “consistency” thing. It’s the reason he’s been in the top 3 in points for much of the year. However, I think wins are going to help win this championship.
Phil: I could buy that. Biffle is not a runaway favorite by anyone’s standards. Then again, no one is.
Mike: Greg Biffle is a title contender. There’s no question about it. Don’t forget that Roush Fenway has always been a strong organization on Intermediate tracks. Add in their strength on plate tracks of late and he’s going to be a tough out.

Greg Biffle was No.1 at Michigan, but he finish the Chase in that spot?

Amy: If it comes down to Chase wins, Summer, I agree, he’s not at the top of the list. Now, if the title does come down to top 5’s, he’s got a better chance.
Summer: I think he can finish in the top 5, but I don’t think he wins it all.
Phil: He can win the title, but if he does, it wouldn’t be a Stewart-like run. He might snag a race or two, but he’ll top 10 people to death otherwise.
Kevin: “Top 10 people to death.” I like that phrase, Phil. And it’s probably going to be totally accurate, too.
Amy: I’m not sure that will cut it in the Chase. It really hasn’t except for the first couple of years.
Mike: There is no way that you cannot call Jimmie Johnson the favorite. Add in Kahne and Kenseth and Biffle is in the third or fourth spot of favorites. And that is assuming you discount Earnhardt Jr’s real potential.
Summer: That’s why I don’t think he will. Johnson is going to start notching up wins in the Chase like he always does, and Biffle can’t beat that with consistency alone.
Amy: Kahne isn’t consistent enough to win and Kenseth is a lame duck, so I’d pick Biffle over either of them. I know I didn’t think so a couple of weeks ago, but if it comes to wins it could very well be between Johnson and Keselowski.
Summer: I’d pick Kenseth first. He’s making a very Edwards-like run this year, and we saw how close Carl came last season. And I agree about Kahne. I don’t really even consider him a dark horse at this point.
Mike: Kenseth has been a contender with a lot of things stacked against him for years. Being a lame duck isn’t going to bother him. He’s a consummate professional and he’ll be in contention to the end.
Phil: I just don’t know about Johnson. It’s not like they just have a switch where all of a sudden, they run first or second every week. Maybe they did a few years ago, but not now. They’re still dangerous, though. Now, having said that, I don’t think they’re going to be blowing engines with six laps to go in Chase races, either.
Summer: I think they will this year. They’re doing the same thing they did during their five year run. They are “good” in regular season, then they kick it into high gear after the reset. I think Earnhardt, Johnson, and Keselowski are the three I’d pick to fight it out right now.
Summer: That was a 50-50 race in Homestead, and w could see the same thing this year. That’s why I’m still considering Biffle.
Mike: Johnson has been running first or second every week for the last month. They’ve just had some strange things take them out. They’re the team to beat without question.
Amy: I don’t know, Mike. If you take just Chase runs alone, how does Edwards’ 2011 stack up with any of Johnson’s title runs? Of, for that matter, Stewart’s first one or Kurt Busch’s?
Kevin: I have this weird feeling (and it’s nothing more than a feeling) that Kahne might end up part of the equation at the end. But otherwise it’s Johnson or Keselowski. Biffle’s probably right behind them.
Summer: I’m bouncing back and forth between Earnhardt and Keselowski. I’m undecided on which driver will have more of a say.
Amy: Earnhardt hasnt shown he can go out and just take a win the way Keselowski has. I think he has better equipment than the No. 2, though
Summer: That’s why I’m undecided, Amy. And because of that, I think they are equal.
Amy: Anyone think there’s anything to Keselowski’s statements on the Hendrick cars being weird behind?
Kevin: I don’t know… I mean, that’d be a weird thing to just make up out of the blue, but if they haven’t been caught doing anything out of the ordinary, it’s tough to take too much stock in what Keselowski says at this point. But at the same time, like I said, I don’t think he’d say it just to start something.
Amy: I’m pretty sure if they were illegal, NASCAR would have handed them their asses on a platter by now.
Summer: Ok so… He’s basically saying that they’re trying to find an advantage. Which isn’t wrong. That’s their, you know, job. If Penske didn’t “play it safe” and pushed the envelope a little bit, maybe Keselowski would have more wins and be higher in the points.
Amy: Which is a no-brainer. Of course they are. And if they found one that NASCAR says is OK, more power to them
Kevin: Right. And as long as they aren’t getting penalized for it (see: not illegal), there shouldn’t be a problem with it.
Summer: That’s totally up to the teams, but there is nothing wrong with HMS taking that risk.
Mike: I guarantee they aren’t illegal. They’ve figured out some way to make the geometry of the rear end change during the run. It won’t surprise me to see NASCAR ban it, but right now it is working for them.
Phil: True, but Keselowski’s been driving behind those Hendrick cars. It’s probably a little difficult to explain to someone that isn’t with one of the teams.
Amy: Now, if other teams whine enough, NASCAR may decide it will be illegal from now on, but so far it obviously isn’t, because the cars are clearing inspection, and if someone has breathed on one wrong, they’d have penalized them by now.
Summer: As far as Biffle is concerned … he’s a dark horse. That’s what it comes down to.
Mike: Biffle is still the only driver in history to have a real chance at winning a title in all three divisions, at least until Austin and Ty Dillon get to Cup. That said, he needs a little more consistency to pull it off. That said, Johnson is still miles ahead of everyone in the series right now.
Amy: If it comes down to wins, he’s at a disadvantage. If it comes to consistency because Johnson and Keselowski have a couple of crappers, then he’s got a shot
Phil: With Talladega in the Chase, anything can happen. Johnson’s performances on those tracks have been miserable this year. Meanwhile, Biffle’s been in the hunt.
Kevin: Greg Biffle needs to win more races if he wants to win the Chase, simple as that. His consistency so far this season won’t cut it.

*Following Mark Martin’s scary crash at MIS, what should be done to make pit road safer during a race? And are there other unaddressed hazards on tracks that could be fixed?*

Amy: Obviously, the pit wall was simply overlooked in safety discussions. I know I’ve never seen anything like that before. That crash scared the stuffing out of me when it first happened.
Summer: As far as the pit wall thing, I don’t think anyone expected something like that to happen.

Phil: I wrote in my critique that I had never seen a hit like Martin’s outside of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season for the PC.

Summer: Anywhere there aren’t SAFER barriers drive me nuts. But that wasn’t the question.

Mike N.: Well, there’s no question that the end of walls need to be protected or changed.

Amy: I’d like to see some kind of curved wall, maybe a metal guardrail that would both soften the impact and protect the pit crews there. Imagine if the car had spun into Kahne’s pit box behind the wall? Scary stuff!

Kevin: Could there be a sort of “cap” that one fixes to the end of each garage entrance from pit road? Or a curved wall? At the very least, something that dulls it up.
Summer: They could make a ton of safety changes, but that wreck likely won’t happen again in a long time. If ever.
Amy: Still, why take chances, Summer. That could have been really, really bad. I think any walls that come to an abrupt end like that on the track need to be looked at. Racecars do weird things.
Summer: Probably takes something like this to happen before they even _think_ of some sort of safety improvement.
Summer: No, I know. I’m not denying that. I’m just saying, all the safety innovations in the world won’t fix the once-in-a-lifetime incidents.

Mike N.: As we’ve said for years, anywhere that track owners don’t have protection the cars will find a way to hit it. They most certainly need to put some kind of barrier or cushion on any of those openings after they dodged that bullet Sunday.

Phil: Eventually, I think we’ll see those openings made a little wider so that stuff like barrels could be placed there.

Mike N.: The problem with putting some kind of collapsible cap is how long does it take to replace when it is hit? That is why some kind of curved wall would be a better choice.
Amy: By the way, how nice of ESPN to be in commercial when this happened.

Phil: Yes, they were. I’m not sure when the crash happened during the commercial, though. RaceBuddy is hopelessly unreliable for me.

Summer: That app has so much potential, yet it’s a piece of crap. It’s the same thing with Trackpass. It’s a blasted miracle if you can get the stupid thing to behave the way you need it to.

Amy: I was listening to the scanner and all of a sudden Chad Knaus was screaming at his crew to get a fire extinguisher, to break out the right-side window, just get him out of there now!… but thanks to the commercials, since I wasn’t at the track this weekend I had no idea what was happening — just that it sounded terrible.

Mike N.: And what do you know, they come back from commercial with Martin already in the care center. It must have been four minutes from wreck to return.
Phil: They came back right around the time Martin got out of the car.

Mike N.: I enjoyed ESPN picking up the crew member dropping the F-bomb. 

Amy: Anyways, the thing to keep in mind with any kind of fix is that it can’t narrow that opening too much. That’s why I say a guardrail vs. a concrete and SAFER barrier.
Summer: Why not just put a bunch of pillows at the entrance? They can be Kurt Busch temper tested.

Amy: Yeah, but how long a caution would you need to clean up the feathers?

Phil: Simple pillows just aren’t evil enough to withstand a COT.
Mike N.: Now that is funny, Summer.

Amy: Are there other places that should be addressed? Probably depends on the track, but certainly the end of any walls.

Summer: Again… anywhere there aren’t SAFER Barriers. They _need_ to be installed. That needs to be mandatory at any NASCAR-sanctioned track.
Summer: Definitely the ends of walls, let’s get that taken care of while it’s ripe in NASCAR’s mind. SAFER barriers, too. And then go from there.
Summer: Pit wall — that might be too much of a pain. But anywhere else, that’s where they need to be.
Mike N.: I’m surprised they didn’t look at the end of walls after the wreck in Mexico a couple of years ago.

Phil: Which wreck in Mexico was that? There were a bunch of them down there.
Mike N.: It was a couple of years ago. Driver drilled the end of a wall similar to Martin, but it was at the end of a straight. It did not end well.
Amy: The pit wall isn’t doable because of the crews coming over… but the ends of pit wall need attention, for sure.
Summer: I’m sure NASCAR was looking into it as soon as it happened. Some things you just can’t prepare for.
Summer: Oh yeah, I forgot about that Mexico wreck. Carlos Pardo, right?

Summer: Oh was that the driver who was killed?

Mike N.: That was the name. Thanks Kevin. Yes.
Summer: Gotcha. I was under the impression that the safety standards were more relaxed there, though. No?
Phil: Hard to believe that place hosted a WTCC race.
Mike N.: It was a bad deal, that was for sure. I couldn’t believe they had that wall configured like that. Anyways, for the second time this year, we’ve seen something totally fluky happen during a race. It continues to prove that there is no way to plan for everything and some things just have to be handled after they happen so they don’t happen again.

*Following disappointing races at Watkins Glen and Michigan, respectively, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson walked away from the cameras without speaking to anyone. Was that OK, or should they be obligated to speak?*

Amy: Obligated, no. Was it poor sportsmanship on their part? Yes.
Summer: I understand them walking away immediately after the incident. But a whole week later, Kyle Busch? Get over it, already.
Amy: If they finish in the top three they are obligated. Otherwise, their call. But, that said, it doesn’t exactly show a lot of maturity or class to walk away.
Phil: Very poor sportsmanship. However, since they didn’t finish in the top-3 in those races, they don’t have to.
Summer: I can excuse Jimmie because it’s not like he makes a habit out of that stuff. Kyle just likes to pout.
Kevin: It’s tough to say, but I lean toward them not being obligated. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they should say at least something, but that’s their call unless they finished top three.
Phil: Yes, Kyle has a reputation (at least in Nationwide) of skipping out on the mandatory interviews.
Summer: It’s not like Jimmie stormed off or, you know, clenched his fist at a camera. Jimmie even waved to those waiting to talk to him.
Mike: Top five are obligated to speak to the media on pit lane, along with some other random drivers. However, when Kyle has misfortune, the talking heads chase him down and he gets raked over the coals for not talking. I am just curious to see how little Jimmie has been crucified for it.
Summer: I think if they owe it to anybody, it’s the fans. What I don’t understand is that it’s not like Jimmie has a hard time controlling his temper. Why not say something?
Amy: I was taught that you smile at the crowd, shake the winners hand, and then if you want to sulk, do it at home. Stomping off like a four-year-old is poor sportsmanship. I was surprised to see that out of Jimmie Johnson.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s not typically something one sees from Jimmie, though after hearing him on the radio prior to the engine going, it made a little more sense.
Mike: Oh I’m pretty sure he was not in a talkative mood. He let it fly on the radio when his engine let go.
Phil: Well, the difference here is that Johnson ran off before the race was over, while Kyle tried to make his escape through the garage with a whole bunch of the media corps trying to get a quote. I suppose he technically still gave them one.
Summer: I was a little surprised too, but I think he has a right to calm down and think things through before speaking. I don’t LIKE it, but I understand it.
Mike: I was surprised too. That said, I don’t think any of them owe anyone a quote. I appreciate that they frequently give quotes when they’re faced with horrible fortune, but if I was them, I’d be in the motor home kicking the dog.

Michigan was nothing but a headache for Jimmie Johnson, but was his hasty exit after a blown engine justified?

Amy: I have zero problem with the media giving drivers 15 minutes to relax, think about what they say, cool off, have a drink, use the restroom, whatever they need. But really, these are supposed to be professionals.
Summer: HA! Yeah. “Supposed” being the key word there.
Amy: It’s not a rule, so nothing for NASCAR to enforce. It shouldn’t be a rule, either. But that doesn’t excuse poor behavior.
Summer: Another key difference is Johnson has five championships, while Kyle has zero. It’s not necessarily wrong for Jimmie to be held to a higher standard. With that said, his being a champion gives him that extra bit of leeway I think. The media didn’t seem as frustrated with him as with Kyle.
Amy: It’s not so much that, Summer, as it is expectations. Kyle throwing a tantrum is not a surprise. Johnson throwing one certainly was. I think the leeway comes less from the championship and more from the fact that Johnson is usually completely gracious. Busch…well, isn’t.
Summer: It really isn’t too much to ask, considering the media is the reason they have a name at all. You can say it’s the fans, but the fans wouldn’t have a clue who any of them were without the exposure.
Mike: I think Johnson just realized he had the points lead in the Chase in his grasp and it was ripped away by a faulty engine.
Summer: I think so too, Amy. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Also, Johnson has a good relationship with the media. Kyle doesn’t. They know he’ll talk to them next week. Again, I don’t think it was a tantrum. He was pretty calm in walking off. My guess is he felt like it wasn’t at his best interest to say what was on his mind. I’d be more irritated with Johnson if that were different, but it’s not like he’s cursing at journalists all the time.
Amy: There’s a differnce between obligations and just plain displaying good sportsmanship. Drivers should not be obligated by the rules unless they have a top finish, but as professionals, really should be held to the highest standards in the sportsmanship department.
Mike: The same thing Kyle did the week before. I’d love to see them speak their mind but they get roasted for doing that too. It would have been cool to see Jimmie go bonkers on his engine. I’d love to see him rip the hood open and pummel the engine with his helmet.
Amy: I think Johnson, in this instance, was no better than Busch. The difference in the long term is that Busch has a pattern of bad behavior, Johnson doesn’t. Doesn’t mean this time isn’t bad behavior though, and I don’t think he just gets a bye. In the end, they both acted like children who someone didn’t let win at Candy Land.
Mike: Well Jimmie had the giant lollipop right at the edge of his grasp and it was ripped away and handed to the evil axis.
Amy: Good sportsmanship means you handle winning and losing with equal grace. Neither Busch nor Johnson did.
Kevin: I definitely don’t think it’ll be tough for Jimmie to live this down though, as long as he goes back to his usual self. People will have forgotten within a few weeks. Now, if he makes a habit of it a la Kyle Busch…
Summer: He won’t do that.
Kevin: Exactly.
Mike: I don’t want my drivers to handle losing the same way they handle winning. This isn’t kids’ soccer. I just wish the media wouldn’t kill them for being pissed when they lose.
Amy: Johnson is a class act to the point where I found it almost more disappointing from him than Busch. With Busch, you expect that kind of thing
Mike: I’d love to see him just come out and say “This freaking blows. We had the race in the bag and the damn engine blew. I’m ready to get to Bristol and spin somebody just to make me feel better.”
Amy: Why not? Add “I’d like to thank my fans for their support” and there’s nothing wrong with that quote, since he’s not likely to actually go do that.

*Turner Motorsports made its Cup Debut last month at Daytona with a forgettable 37th-place finish. Is the Sprint Cup effort one that the team should pursue as the next logical step, or would such an effort kill the momentum they’ve found this year?*

Mike: Turner is getting ready to make the step. although I still think they’re only ready for spot starts for another year.
Summer: Win a few more championships in the other series first.
Amy: Honestly? I like that Turner is not a Cup team. There used to be more like them, and believe it or not, they even used to win championships. I think that was before Summer was born…
Kevin: I’ve been battling with that question and am probably going to touch on it in my Allgaier column for Wednesday. They’ll be there eventually most likely, but not yet.
Amy: Independents can still win in trucks, but in Nationwide they are a dinosaur. I’d like to see them stay the course and beat the Cup owners at their own game.
Kevin:They have a good thing going in the lower series and I’d rather them not give that up just yet.
Summer: I don’t think they can even be semi-competitive without working in conjunction with a powerhouse, and the last thing the Cup Series needs is another satellite team.
Phil: Cripes. If they went Cup racing, they would need to shut down the Camping World Truck Series teams at the minimum. This is an operation that is already stretched to the maximum.
Summer: I agree. They need to stick with what they have.
Mike: I think a Nationwide championship would be a good stepping stone before they go full-time Cup racing.
Summer: At the very least, if not mulitple titles.
Phil: The team isn’t exactly a “dinosaur” in Nationwide. Saturday was the team’s third win of the season.
Amy: But when was the last time an independent won the championship? Jeff Green with ppc Racing. The independent champion in Nationwide is a dinosaur. I’d love to see Turner be the one to break that down.
Mike: Technically Chance 2 was an independent.
Summer: Just because they aren’t championship level yet doesn’t mean they can’t be if they work at it.
Amy: Chance 2 was about as independent as KHI was…as in, not very.
Summer: I doubt they can do a Cup Series team and win a Nationwide Series title. That’s why I think it’s best to leave things as they are.
Amy: I agree with Summer.
Summer: Can we go back to the Jimmie question? I don’t like agreeing with Amy so much.
Phil: I can’t imagine that the No. 50’s going to show up again anytime soon unless someone throws a buttload of money at them. I know they were hoping that Walmart would, but I don’t know. They’re reluctant to sponsor stuff that isn’t fishing.
Amy: No, Phil, but I hope that doesn’t change. I think it would sap resources from the teams who are already there.
Kevin: I could see the No. 50 maybe once or twice this year… perhaps at Homestead with one of its Nationwide drivers to close the year.
Phil: Walmart just isn’t really the kind of company that throws a lot of money into advertising via sports. One could argue that they’re so big that they don’t even need to advertise.
Summer: Well, they don’t need to shell out millions for a team sponsorship when they can just do that during the actual event.

*OK, how about some predictions for Bristol?*

Amy: I’m going to go with Keselowski for the sweep.
Summer: Kyle Busch.
Kevin: Jimmie Johnson comes back from Michigan with a vengeance and wins it.
Mike: I’m going to take Jimmie. But unfortunately I didn’t type fast enough and Kevin grabbed him. I’m going to take Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Phil: Keselowski’s a good pick. I really don’t think he’s winning, but I’m going with Kevin Harvick.

*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

Pure Michigan 400 Results

*Writer* *Pick* *Finishing Position* *Points*
Amy Henderson Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 4th 3
Beth Lunkenheimer Carl Edwards 6th 1
Phil Allaway Marcos Ambrose 5th 3
Mike Neff Tony Stewart 32nd -2

_You can “click here”:https://frontstretch.com/md/37520/ to see race results from the full season._

*Points Standings*

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Mike Neff 35 20 *3* *9* 14
Kevin Rutherford 31 -4 16 *2* *9* 12
Amy Henderson 29 -6 22 1 8 *16*
Phil Allaway 25 -10 22 1 7 13
Tom Bowles 8 -27 4 *2* 2 2
Rick Lunkenheimer 5 -30 1 1 1 1
Matt Stallknecht 5 -30 1 1 1 1
Beth Lunkenheimer 4 -31 15 1 2 4
Tony Lumbis 1 -34 1 0 0 1
Jeff Meyer 0 -35 1 0 0 0
Jesse Medford -2 -37 1 0 0 0
Vito Pugliese -2 -37 1 0 0 0

*Connect with Amy!*

“Contact Amy Henderson”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14352/

*Connect with Summer!*

“Contact Summer Bedgood”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/28526/

*Connect with Mike!*

“Contact Mike Neff”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

*Connect with Phil!*

“Contact Phil Allaway”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18440/

*Connect with Kevin!*

“Contact Kevin Rutherford”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

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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