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/
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Full Throttle & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short Track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Kevin Rutherford (Wednesdays / Kevin’s Corner)
*Jeff Gordon’s Chicagoland race was cut short when he hit the wall after the throttle stuck on the No. 24. Is Gordon’s Chase bid over already, or is it too early to count anyone out?*
Kevin: It’s too early to count anyone out completely, I think. But it’s not looking good for him. Another race like this, say this week or next… then I’ll be more likely to count him out.
Mike N.: He’s done. I know it seems ludicrous to say that but Gordon’s already a full race behind with 11 drivers in front of him. The odds of overcoming that are ridiculous.
Amy: I think it’s too early. I don’t think anyone can afford more than one bad race, and one this early isn’t the kiss of death.
Phil: It’s not a good thing to finish 35th in Race No. 1. Having said that, he can’t do it again.
Mike N.: “Tom Bowles pointed out in his column”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/41522/ that if Gordon wins every race from here out and Keselowski runs second and leads a lap in each one, Gordon still loses. The odds of either happening are minute… but you get the point.
Amy: True, but a wreck or failure for the No. 2 and the playing field is more even. I will say this much: if Gordon doesn’t have a top 5 this week, he’s probably done.
Kevin: Yeah, we need to see him in Richmond form basically the rest of the season. Every week.
Mike N.: Right, Amy except the No. 48 and the No. 2 are way ahead and so is the No. 14. He’s got to catch all three of them while leapfrogging the other eight.
Amy: Do I think Gordon is going to win? No. Is he 100% done? No.
Mike N.: He’s 99.8% done.
Phil: There will be wrecks at Talladega, which could level the playing field, but they won’t happen until Lap 176 or something like that. Those who wreck won’t finish as badly.
Amy: Well, let’s review the No. 48’s performance on the plate tracks this year. It’s miserable.
Phil: Wreck, wreck and wreck. Not exactly great. I don’t think he’ll wreck again next month, but it’s not exactly encouraging.
Mike N.: Those races weren’t in the Chase. And Elliott Sadler isn’t running Talladega.
Kevin: I think this conversation definitely goes back to when we questioned if Gordon could even win the championship this year anyway, and I don’t recall anyone being super quick to say, “Yeah, he’s the favorite” or even anywhere around that. The wreck definitely doesn’t help matters, though.
Amy: I’d say Gordon’s 85% done. Too many weird things can happen.
Mike N.: It will take a _lot_ of weird things for him to make up 47 points _and_ pass 11 people.
Amy: We also don’t know which Stewart is going to be in this Chase, either… the one from last year or the one who has slumped in it before.
Phil: Probably somewhere in between. Pulling off five wins in 10 weeks doesn’t happen every year.
Mike N.: Very true. Although Smoke’s crew chief is feeling pretty good about this coming weekend and their effort at Chicago was pretty good.
Amy: I think that the winner is very likely in the top 5 right now, but nothing is certain.
Kevin: Keselowski, Johnson, Stewart, Kahne, Hamlin… yeah, I’d say that’s probably accurate. I think the only maybes outside of that are Biffle and Kenseth, though the former more than the latter.
Mike N.: Yeah, after this weekend I think Kenseth is done. Which is a shame because I really thought he had a shot.
Phil: Especially since three drivers are tied for fourth right now, I can’t say that only five are still in contention. It’s too early to just eliminate dudes.
Mike N.: Maybe, but I still say the No. 24 is done. Which is a shame because I really wanted to see how healthy the ‘stache would be by the time the banquet rolled around.
Phil: ‘Stache is already gone. Guess Jeff thought it was bad luck.
Amy: The frustrating thing about Gordon is he should have five wins this year.
Mike N.: Sadly for him, to finish first you must first finish. And to lose the facial hair… that is weak.
Phil: Yeah. Perhaps Ingrid put the kibosh to it.
Amy: Maybe it just itched…
Mike N.: Ingrid doesn’t know what she’s missing. But that is a discussion for another forum.
Phil: Oh boy. Well, Gordon needs to have a good run this weekend in Loudon, with or without a mustache.
Mike N.: In theory, no one is eliminated. In reality, Gordon is done. Kenseth, Harvick and Truex are probably done, too.
Phil: Mind you, Truex actually finished ninth on Sunday.
Kevin: It’s too early to count anyone out completely, but Gordon’s Chase hopes are looking increasingly dim. He really needs to rattle off a few very good showings in a row if he still wants to be part of the conversation in a few weeks.
*AJ Allmendinger has finished his NASCAR-mandated Road to Recovery program and been reinstated. Can Allmendinger still have a future in NASCAR, or should he be looking elsewhere?*
Amy: Honestly, he’s better off looking elsewhere, mainly because there are simply no good rides available.
Kevin: Originally, I’d have said no. But it seems like Penske still likes the guy and thinks he shows promise in the series, regardless of what happened. The fact that he’s an option for them is cool, even though there’s no spot for him immediately.
Mike N.: Allmendinger might have a NASCAR career but the problem is he never won. It is going to be hard for a driver who has run for one of the better teams in the sport to get another shot when he’s run 169 races and has five top 5s with no wins.
Amy: I think you have to take the stats with a grain of salt. How many of those races were with Red Bull, who couldn’t put a car under him that could qualify?
Phil: In NASCAR, this debate doesn’t matter; he’d still be dead to a lot of people over drugs.
Amy: Penske did say he would consider hiring him again, but I think he was considering open-wheel, where Allmendinger excels.
Kevin: He said both in the interview, but you’re probably right in that it’d be more likely open-wheel than NASCAR.
Phil: There does appear to be a fair amount of interest in Allmendinger in the Izod IndyCar Series. At least, that’s what the NBC Sports Network led me to believe.
Amy: For NASCAR to reinstate him this quick, it sure looks like it was a one-time thing, more like Randy Lajoie’s situation.
Mike N.: I’d personally make him wait a year but I’m harsh like that.
Amy: Shame on NASCAR for waiting on anything, by the way — sources claim they’ve been sitting on reinstatement for three weeks. If the paperwork is done, AJ’s completed the program they prescribed. He should have been let back in right then.
Mike N.: Shame on AJ Allmendinger for abusing drugs. Be thankful if you can get back in the sport at all.
Phil: Let’s look at Aaron Fike’s case. I know, much more serious than Allmendinger. They just reinstated him a few weeks ago after over five years.
Mike N.: Yeah Phil, but that was _much_ different. Not to mention, when did Aaron actually complete the program?
Amy: Perhaps it took him five years to get clean enough to get it signed off on.
Phil: I’m pretty sure Fike was completely clean long before that. He wanted to do this anti-drug campaign at tracks, but NASCAR wouldn’t let him on the property to do that, let alone race. But I don’t know when he completed the program. NASCAR is apparently under no obligation to say when it is completed, claiming privacy laws.
Amy: I’m all for the immediate suspension of any driver doing drugs and not letting him back in until he has the proper documentation. Then, you can test him every time he takes a pee if you want to… but if the driver completes the program, he should be back in. Those are the rules.
Phil: True, they should be able to return once they complete their programs. That’s the way it is in every other sport.
Amy: I have no problem with escalating it if he’s caught again. NASCAR has given a lifetime to a repeat offender and it was the right thing to do.
Phil: He’ll still be punished. In NASCAR, these teams have less tolerance for drugs than regular employers, let alone professional sports teams. Now, AJ has to go find someone to take a chance on him.
Phil: AJ is a driven kind of guy though. You notice that when you’re around him for 10 minutes.
Amy: His other problem now is the lack of available seats. Even at Penske, if there were to be a third car, he’s got to be in line behind Hornish. I guess that could leave him with the Nationwide ride.
Kevin: Getting a sponsor may be tough for him, too.
Mike N.: Maybe he can grab the Furniture Row seat that Kurt Busch was going to climb into.
Amy: If that even happens. And Kurt is also needing a ride.
Mike N.: Would seem to me like any of the major drug companies could pick AJ as the perfect spokesperson. They could build an enormous responsibility campaign around him.
Amy: That’s true.
Mike N.: I can’t think of a much better fit, outside of Buckshot Jones driving for Remington or Winchester which amazingly never happened.
Amy: Except for the fact that Buckshot wasn’t a very good driver…
Phil: Robert Pressley didn’t like him much after he got taken out in a Busch race at Bristol.
Amy: Buckshot was the John Wes Townley of the late 90’s.
Phil: What kind of pharmaceutical product are you getting at here, Mike?
Mike N.: Any legal product, Phil. Eli Lilly, Pfizer… they could all benefit from having a spokesman who went through a program and rebounded.
Amy: Anyways, I think Allmendinger should look at IndyCar. I think he’s got a better chance of finding a good ride and winning races.
Mike N.: Allmendinger is welcome back in NASCAR but I just really don’t see him ever getting a top flight ride again.
Kevin: That’s what I’m thinking. I think we’ll be more likely to see him moving back to open-wheel racing… maybe an occasional NASCAR start. That’s it.
*The 2013 NASCAR schedule is due out as soon as this week. The only expected change is a date swap of the Chase dates between Kansas and Talladega. Is the schedule adequate the way it stands, or is it due for a major overhaul?*
Amy: It needs a top to bottom overhaul.
Phil: If there were no Chase, it would be fine. With it, the last part of the season is not truly representative of the series.
Kevin: Yeah, there needs to be more of a change than that. Can we start with not having Chicagoland as part of the Chase and move to more things from there?
Amy: Add two more road courses and add Iowa, move the Southern 500 where it rightfully belongs, and diversify the Chase tracks.
Kevin: I would love to see Iowa become part of the Cup schedule. I thoroughly enjoy the majority of the races I see there.
Phil: Chase track diversification should be Step 1. Give me something, anything better than what we have now. We don’t need five or six 1.5-mile tracks in there.
Amy: No 1.5-mile track other than Charlotte should host more than one race a season.
Phil: Then we’d have 24 races. Fat chance finding enough short tracks to host the races.
Mike N.: There are over 900 race tracks in the country. OK, if we’re changing up with the existing tracks, then just shuffle your random intermediate tracks and put a road course race in the Chase. If you want to truly overhaul it, then no track gets to host two point races. Get back on dirt, run two more road courses and add about 12 more short track races in place of the removed intermediates and Super Speedways.
Amy: Most short tracks couldn’t afford the upgrades in capacity or safety. What’s a Cup sanctioning fee, a million dollars?
Mike N.: I guarantee you could find plenty that would host them and if you went to a short track and told them, if they could add the seats in a year they could do it.
Amy: You need at least 70,000 seats and SAFER barriers.
Mike N.: Well then forget it because there isn’t anyone else who can host a race. If NASCAR was going to do it right, then _they_ should put in the SAFER barriers. The tracks add seats and bathrooms and parking and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, NASCAR won’t share a freaking nickel to try and better the sport.
Phil: I’d like to see that, Mike. Have them put their money where their mouth is and outfit these places themselves.
Amy: I agree that NASCAR should consider loans or grants to tracks for improvements, or lower the sanctioning fees. But no way should they allow a race without the SAFER barrier. Not any more.
Mike N.: NASCAR should be installing SAFER barriers for local tracks. It repulses me that they don’t value the life of local short track drivers are much as their beloved National Touring Prima Donnas. On the plus side, thank God we now have an official agricultural equipment company of NASCAR.
Amy: They should be requiring them, I agree. I don’t think NASCAR should pay for them outright at 900 tracks though.
Mike N.: NASCAR doesn’t sanction all of the tracks. But of the tracks they sanction, they could afford it.
Phil: NASCAR sanctions 70, I think?
Mike N.: It is somewhere around that, Phil. NASCAR makes _BILLIONS_ of dollars a year. They could come off of the hip for 70 million to put in SAFER barriers at all of the tracks they sanction.
Phil: They actually do give out grants to individual tracks, but they’re nothing like what SAFER Barrier installation would cost.
Amy: , Bruton Smith would have a field day. He’d bill NASCAR for every inch he’s put in.
Mike N.: Yeah, because Bruton hasn’t made a dime off of hosting NASCAR races. I’d feel bad for Bruton if he hadn’t screwed over the fans of North Wilkesboro.
Phil: Grants do happen. We still have a NASCAR-sanctioned track in Fair Haven, VT (Devil’s Bowl Speedway). They got something like $20,000 for random improvements.
Amy: How about this… waive the sanctioning fee for one year for a National Touring race (two for CWTS) if the track will install them.
Mike N.: Sure. Or waive the sanctioning fee for everybody so that we can have a decent schedule and pay some real purses for a year.
Kevin: Makes sense to me.
Amy: For local tracks, give an interest free loan with a 50-year payback.
Phil: They’d have to hope the Truck race would pay for the barriers. Probably should if extra seats could be brought in.
Amy: If the sanctioning fee is half a million, two years of it waived would cover it. They need to help for sure, because they should also not be sending the trucks to a track without a SAFER Barrier. As for the Cup Schedule, a road course in the Chase is realistic, as is Darlington on Labor Day weekend. We should see a race at Iowa in a year or two.
Mike N.: I agree, Amy. I honestly would like to see them trying to come up with a less expensive alternative for SAFER barriers for local tracks. It seems as though everyone is willing to accept that driver safety has to cost a fortune and is only good for bigger tracks. And Iowa isn’t getting a race until Bruton or NASCAR buys it.
*JR Motorsports announced the departure of Tony Eury, Sr. last week and Tony Eury, Jr. this week, citing the team’s lack of performance from the Nos. 7 and 88 in the Nationwide Series. Eury Jr. will reportedly be replaced as Danica Patrick’s crew chief by Ryan Pemberton. Will the shakeup make a difference at this point in the season?*
Amy: At this point, with two drivers who are still learning to race in the series? No.
Kevin: Probably not. I think there’s more wrong there than one family.
Phil: With 7 races left, I doubt it, and I don’t think Patrick cares. She’ll just deal with him.
Amy: That said, the team hasn’t performed up to par in a few years.
Mike N.: You aren’t going to change the system in a fifth of the season, but it may get things started in the right way for next year. I don’t know if it will make a difference in the long run or not. I guess we’ll see next season.
Amy: That’s a good point, Mike… by making the change now, they are ahead of the game for next year. If they keep Cole Whitt around, it gives a little stability.
Kevin: I do hope they keep Cole Whitt around next year.
Amy: I do too, Kevin. I think he’s got a lot of promise.
Kevin: Yeah, I think this could definitely prove to be a good move for the team’s future. Just don’t think we’ll see much progress at first.
Amy: Though I wonder if the move to Pemberton could be more permanent for Danica. Does Zippy want to be a full-time crew chief again?
Mike N.: You may be right, Amy. I think Zipadelli was done with the year long grind a while ago.
Phil: I don’t know about Zipadelli. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. Let’s say he doesn’t. Does Pemberton become Danica’s Cup crew chief next year, or does she have to get used to another dude?
Amy: That was my question, Phil… it could be they’re thinking ahead for Patrick’s move up.
Mike N.: Whitt is a wheel dude. I don’t know what the problem is at JR because Keselowski was able to win some races driving for them.
Phil: That was with the old car, though. Things have changed, and they’re going to change again with the Camaro switch for next year.
Amy: That was my point earlier, Phil. With the resources they have, they should be running better.
Mike N.: True. Tony Eury, Jr. hasn’t done much of anything with the new car in Cup or Nationwide. Then again, it was Pops who had the best results on top of the box.
Amy: Eury Jr. has never impressed me as a crew chief.
Phil: Pops’ mindset may have hurt the team. He may have never really adjusted to what the Nationwide COT’s required from a setup standpoint.
Mike N.: I don’t know about that, Phil. I don’t think most people realize it was Tony Sr. who led Jr. to most of his wins in Cup and Nationwide.
Phil: I believe Tony Jr. had 2 of them. 2 of 19. Pops had 15.
Mike N.: Don’t forget Pops had 23 Nationwide wins, too.
Amy: That could be true, Phil. Tony Jr. never adapted to the new car well, and as a result, it took Dale Junior forever. Now he can drive it.
Mike N.: Eury Jr. has two Cup wins and one Nationwide win to his credit.
Amy: If both Pops and Tony Jr. couldn’t adapt, that’s a problem for sure.
Mike N.: Tony Sr. finished fourth in points with Aric Almirola in the Nationwide Series, for goodness’ sake.
Phil: The team was pretty strong last year with Almirola driving. With Cole Whitt, the success just hasn’t been there. It’s not like they’re terrible, though.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that if Whitt’s there another year, he’ll be more of a contender in 2013.
Phil: He’s done enough to keep the seat, in my opinion. However, if this environment were two years ago, he would have already been fired.
Mike N.: True, they have been a little more patient with drivers of late.
Phil: The increased patience with drivers is a likely result of Tony Eury Sr. losing his influence over the team.
*Predictions for Loudon?*
Amy: I think I’m going to go with Clint Bowyer. He’s won at NHMS before and has some momentum left from Richmond.
Mike N.: I’ll take Denny Hamlin.
Phil: I’m going to go with Ryan Newman.
Mike N.: ?
Kevin: I really need something good to happen after my Gordon pick backfired last week. Jimmie Johnson seems like a good bet to be at least decent.
Mike N.: Ya think? Don’t suppose I can take Johnson for next week, can I?
Mike N.: It’s not fair that Amy is going to get to take him when she asks for predictions.
Amy: And yet, I have yet to want him…
Mike N.: Well I promise that you’ll take him at Dover unless you’re just trying to lose the contest this year.
Amy: Well, that’s possible.
Phil: I got lucky that Truex was able to get me a point Sunday after being out to lunch for the first half of the race.
Mike N.: I got lucky that Kenseth rebounded from the shock issue.
*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