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*:
Beth Lunkenheimer “(Wednesdays / Beth’s Brief (Frontstretch Nesletter) & Thursdays / Truckin’ Thursdays & Frontstretch Managing Editor / CWTS Reporter)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/3362/
Amy Henderson “(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/
Phil Allaway “(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/
Mike Neff “(Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)”:https://frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/
*After Sunday’s tangle between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon, and the subsequent fights among crews — not to mention an obscenity-laden tirade by Brad Keselowski afterward — are the penalties NASCAR levied sufficient?*
Amy: Sufficient? More like over the top. Pattie’s fine for not controlling his crew, I agree with, because the way they ambushed Gordon was not cool. The penalties for Gordon and Keselowski were both over the top.
Mike N.: I thought the fine for Gordon was too much. I was surprised at Gustafson; I thought he would get some money taken, too. Other than that, I thought Pattie’s was fair.
Phil: Pattie’s is understandable because he lost control of his crew. The penalty to Gordon is just about what I expected. He had a low probability of being suspended even though the incident was so ugly. Now, had Keselowski been caught up in that, then it would have been a definite suspension.
Beth: NASCAR should have parked Gordon for Homestead.
Phil: Brad got fined for having a cell phone in his car. That fine was rather excessive.
Beth: That was just stupid.
Mike N.: Well, Keselowski also dropped the F-bomb _twice_ in a presser. I’m pretty sure NASCAR doesn’t want that going on.
Amy: NASCAR should have just come out and said Keselowski’s fine was for the press conference. Lots of drivers have posted pictures from their cars since Daytona without penalty.
Phil: I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people drop F-Bombs in press conferences before. Also, Pattie dropped an S-Bomb live on ESPN.
Beth: That he did… I’m surprised they didn’t nail him for that, too.
Amy: Mike, there is presently no rule against cussing in a presser… so by that, they can.
Mike N.: OK, so then when they fined Kurt Busch for cussing at Jerry Punch there was a rule against that?
Beth: Yeah…it’s called the Kurt Busch rule.
Mike N.: Oh yeah, I forgot about that one Beth. My bad. Oh well, I don’t have a problem with the cell phone in the car penalty. They implemented that rule after Daytona. Everyone knew that was against the rules.
Amy: For Gordon, you have to compare that to similar incidents, and the most recent ones I remember is when Vickers put Stewart in the tires at Sonoma and when Carl Edwards came back on the track at Atlanta for the sole purpose of wrecking Keselowski. Edwards got three races probation… so taking points from Gordon, especially more than they have taken this year for illegal cars, was just way out of line.
Beth: Big difference with those incidents is that Gordon took out other drivers as well and completely ended Bowyer’s slim hope of having a shot at the championship.
Amy: Bowyer had no real shot at the title; it was over when he couldn’t close after Martinsville. Even if the driver finished fifth, he’d have to hope for disaster for Keselowski _and_ Jimmie Johnson at Homestead — that’s just not going to happen.
Beth: Anything can happen, Amy. The point is that he would have been inside 30 points behind and still have had a mathematical shot. Instead, he’s eliminated all because a guy who had been black flagged decided he needed to settle a score.
Amy: Bowyer had a role in the whole thing too. Gordon gave him to bottom lanes and he got into his rear quarter, anyway. To me, that says either it was intentional or his car was so bad he should have backed out instead of overdriving it. And I think, by bringing the championship into it, you set a dangerous precedent. If you think guys are afraid to race around Chasers now, how will it be next year if they have to fear a fine?
Beth: I thought it looked like Bowyer got loose like so many drivers did all weekend long. I will say one thing, though… Bowyer is one athletic guy.
Mike N.: Bowyer even said after the race that he didn’t plan on passing Gordon. Gordon slid up, so he went for it. He bumped him and Jeff lost it.
Amy: But Bowyer could have avoided bumping Gordon altogether. He had _plenty_ of room to make that pass underneath.
Beth: There’s a difference, Amy. Plus, when we’re talking retaliation Gordon had already been black flagged and should have been headed down pit road. Instead, he stayed on the track and slowed down just to dump Bowyer.
Mike N.: Did you think that maybe you can’t just turn a car to the left and pass somebody wherever you want to? Inertia and momentum frequently prevent you from just driving to the bottom.
Phil: It looked more like Bowyer got forced to the apron to pass Gordon, and still got hooked in the right rear.
Amy: People comparing Gordon to Kyle Busch are forgetting two major factors in that incident: it was under caution and Busch was on probation. You need to look at Edwards when he flipped Keselowski.
Beth: And only Edwards and Keselowski were affected. In this incident, Gordon ended up taking out another driver who had no business being involved in it.
Mike N.: And another driver wrecked himself trying to stop from being involved. On the plus side for the No. 48, they gained a spot because of it.
Amy: If Bowyer’s car was so difficult to handle, maybe he should have backed out if he was so concerned with points. He’s been running all over Gordon for several weeks. I think if it had been a one-time mistake, Gordon would have reacted very differently. But it’s been said in here… you get to a point where you have to stand up for yourself. Look, I feel bad for Joey Logano. I’d feel a lot worse for him if he didn’t have a record of running over Nationwide drivers several times this year, but that’s another story.
Mike N.: I’m the first one to say you have to stick up for yourself. I just think it was a bad bit of timing. I hope Gordon isn’t in the top three in points next year with Bowyer out of it.
Amy: What would have been better timing, Mike? Better on a flat mile than a high-speed oval.
Beth: I’m sorry, but Gordon turned Bowyer _head on_ into the wall. I have a _huge_ problem with that…the same that I did when Kyle Busch turned Ron Hornaday head on into the wall at Texas last year.
Mike N.: I agree, Beth. I remember someone else in here losing their mind about Kyle attempting to kill someone by turning them nose first into the wall.
Beth: Double standard apparently, Mike.
Amy: Again, that was under caution; they were still going faster at Texas than they were at Phoenix, and Busch was on probation. Different scenario.
Mike N.: Same action by the offending driver though.
Beth: Exactly, Mike.
Amy: Anyone who thinks Bowyer would have won the championship hasn’t been paying attention for the last three weeks.
Mike N.: Did you happen to see the nose of Bowyer’s car? I think he took at _least_ as hard of a hit as Hornaday did. And anyone who didn’t think Bowyer could win it has never heard of a chip and a chair. I don’t know the name of the player, but a former winner of the World Series of Poker was down to a chip and a chair and still won the title. As long as you’re mathematically eligible you can win it.
Amy: Bowyer had as much chance of winning the championship as I do of being the next Miss America. And did you see Keselowski go airborne and flip?
Mike N.: Sure did.
Beth: I never said he would have won the championship but he _could_ have and now he can’t, thanks to Gordon’s actions. Bowyer didn’t wreck someone intentionally.
Mike N.: He didn’t even wreck them stupidly. They got together, Gordon tried to wreck him with a tire going down and wrecked himself.
Beth: NASCAR should have parked Gordon for Homestead and they didn’t. That’s a problem.
Phil: I’m fine with the penalties that Gordon got. I wasn’t expecting him to be suspended. Granted, this isn’t 1998 when Jeff Purvis got suspended for four races.
Mike N.: I don’t have a problem because I still think it is part of “Boys, Have At It.” I just think a four-time champ would have chosen to do it at Martinsville or Phoenix next year rather than this past weekend.
Amy: Is waiting six months all that effective?
Mike N.: But he still could have done it. Now, if he wins the race and leads the most laps he still can’t win it because someone wrecked him when he was mathematically alive.
Amy: You realize that if, by some miracle for Bowyer, Keselowski led no laps and finished 35th, he’d then have to beat Johnson by ten spots, right? If he had finished where he was running.
Beth: And that’s certainly possible. You’re telling me that Johnson and Keselowski definitely won’t suffer any kind of mechanical failure or get caught up in someone else’s wreck at Homestead? Then lend me your crystal ball so I can take a look at this weekend’s winning lottery numbers. I could certainly use the money.
Amy: Definitely won’t? Of course not, but the odds of it happening to both of them, especially two weeks in a row for Johnson are totally small.
Mike N.: But now, it doesn’t matter because Bowyer is eliminated thanks to being wrecked.
Beth: The point is that now _if_ that were to happen, Bowyer simply _can’t_ win the championship because of what Jeff Gordon did.
Amy: I still think the points for Gordon were over the top. An illegal car got a lesser fine. And there was no precedent.
Mike N.: I agree. It happened between the flags and they shouldn’t have taken points.
Amy: Keselowski’s fine was completely ridiculous, by the way. He’s tweeted from the car since Daytona. So has Jimmie Johnson. So have several others.
Beth: At least we can agree on Keselowski’s fine. NASCAR should have just come out and said it was for his language in the presser because that’s likely what it really was.
Mike N.: If I was the drivers, I’d plan it out and all go in and drop an F-bomb during their pressers this week.
Amy: There’s no rule about dropping the F-bomb in a presser. They were uncalled for, but not directed at anyone.
Mike N.: Like I said, I just don’t think NASCAR wants every driver to walk into the presser and say “Hey, how the f*ck is everyone today?”
*Reports have Kevin Harvick leaving Richard Childress Racing after next season for the Stewart-Haas stable. Is there anything to be gained by team or driver by signing a contract over a year in advance, or does the distraction it causes outweigh any benefit?*
Phil: It only benefits the Marketing Department at Stewart-Haas. They have more time to create a grandmaster plan for Harvick.
Amy: I don’t think it benefits anyone as it distracts them from 2013. Then again, it didn’t hurt Harvick at Phoenix. But whether he’ll get anything decent from RCR next year, who knows?
Beth: I don’t really care when a driver signs a contract. It’s his decision and if that’s what he chooses, why not?
Mike N.: It benefits the driver so he doesn’t have to worry about his future. It benefits the team owner because he can plan ahead for a year looking for a driver. In the end, it seldom benefits the team members though.
Amy: Harvick doesn’t have to worry about his long-term future. His immediate future is not so solid.
Mike N.: I really have a hard time believing that a professional race team, with all sorts of sponsor obligations and mouths to feed, is going to give a driver crap equipment for 36 races.
Beth: It’s not like he’s asking to get out of his contract early. He simply has himself set up for the following year. What’s the problem with that? I’m so sick of this stupid “lame duck” stuff. I mean regardless of where a driver will race the following year, it’s still the number one priority to win as many races as possible while they’re still together.
Amy: But both sides knew they were going to deal. Why not just hold off for six months? Unless Harvick is bringing Budweiser and/or other sponsors along, of course, and then they wanted a done deal.
Beth: Why hold off for six months? I don’t see the point.
Mike N.: I agree. Unless there is some animosity or something like when Busch was leaving Roush and McMurray was leaving Ganassi. Then it was best to just pull the trigger and get it over with.
Amy: I don’t think they’ll sabotage Harvick, but why share info with him? Why not focus on Paul Menard, who as far as you know is sticking around?
Beth: Umm because he’s still on the team! Why not try to go out with a bang and grab a championship on the way out the door?
Mike N.: And because if you share information, you all get better. If you don’t share information, you divide the whole organization and it all goes to hell in a hand basket.
Phil: I agree with Mike. There is no reason to intentionally shoot yourself in the foot. The notion of that is ridiculous. You’re only hurting yourself long-term if you do.
Mike N.: Because maybe the driver with the most ability might give you a better chance at a title.
Amy: I don’t think they’d sabotage his cars or anything. I just don’t see him getting a lot of favors, especially if he’s taking sponsors.
Phil: I haven’t heard anything about Harvick taking sponsors with him to Stewart-Haas.
Amy: I haven’t either, Phil, just pure speculation. But SHR is already hurting for sponsors for the cars they have…why add a fourth if there wasn’t going to be something in place?
Beth: If this move was really a distraction, Amy do you think he would have won?
Amy: I think SHR is distracting… you saw it this weekend. Harvick was asked more about that after the race than he was about winning the race.
Mike N.: I just think the people in the garage and on these teams are more professional than that. I know you and Tom like to think there are conspiracies rampant on race teams but it just really doesn’t happen that way unless the guy leaving acts like a jerk.
Mike N.: Maybe Stewart is going to retire.
Beth: I highly doubt that, Mike. Not yet anyway.
Mike N.: Never know. After a weekend like he just had he might want to go do something else. Maybe he’s going to focus full-time on a NASCAR dirt race at Eldora.
Beth: Well, if that’s the case…
Amy: If I was a car owner, I’m not sure I’d keep Harvick around, since he obviously doesn’t want to be there.
Mike N.: Menard is having his best year yet. I think he’s going to make the Chase before he retires.
Beth: I’m pretty sure that Harvick hasn’t really wanted to be there for a couple years now. Remember all the fuss he made? Was that just last year?
Phil: For now, he’s saying the right things. Even if he’s leaving at the end of next year, I don’t think Harvick’s going to slack off and go into Operation Shutdown like he’s Vince Carter or something.
Amy: If you’re Childress…why not do similar to what Stewart did with Danica Patrick this year? Run someone in the car for 26 races to keep the provisional and put Dillon in for ten.
Mike N.: Maybe he wants Dillon to win Rookie of the Year.
Phil: Run the No. 29 like that? I think that might be the plan for the Circle Point No. 33 next year.
Amy: Danica is eligible next year for rookie honors, right?
Mike N.: I don’t think so. I thought seven was the limit.
Beth: At least until NASCAR changes the rule so Danica can be eligible.
Phil: Yes, Danica is going for Rook of the Year next year against Stenhouse. None of those starts count since Danica doesn’t earn points in Cup. She’s eligible.
Mike N.: Seriously? They don’t count the starts?
Beth: Ah…they changed the rule. Now it’s seven races in a series where they were eligible to earn points.
Mike N.: How freaking stupid is that?
Phil: Yes. It’s just been three years since we’ve had a real battle.
Mike N.: Wait, how f***ing stupid is that? I forgot there isn’t a rule against F-bombs.
Amy: I don’t think making these deals so early is really of benefit. Even if they don’t hurt anyone, they’re distracting.
Beth: I don’t have a problem with a driver signing well ahead of time. Who cares? If Harvick has already figured out where he wants to be after next season, I see no reason not to go ahead and take care of business. They’re only distracting if you let them be.
Amy: Then why should Childress keep him next year? Give the car to someone who wants it.
Phil: It only benefits Harvick to do as well as possible in the No. 29 next year. That will definitely help them find sponsors for SHR.
Mike N.: I don’t think there is a problem with Harvick announcing he’ll leave early. I think he is professional enough that it won’t matter. Now if he starts squealing like a schoolgirl when he doesn’t do well early next season, then it could be a problem. But I really don’t think he’ll do that.
Amy: Does he want to drive at RCR? Or is he just stuck doing it because he can’t leave early?
Phil: Who said he doesn’t want the No. 29 next year? I haven’t heard anything to the contrary. That, and Austin Dillon isn’t quite ready yet. He will be for 2014, though.
Beth: Well honestly Amy, only Harvick knows that and I’m not stupid enough to assume one way or the other.
Amy: He obviously doesn’t want the 29, otherwise he’d have signed an extension to stay. That he apparently signed to leave suggests he’d rather be elsewhere.
Mike N.: Perhaps he got a better offer to drive for SHR. There aren’t too many people who turn down pay raises, even at his level.
Beth: He’s not happy with their performance. Last time I checked, that’s not a crime.
Amy: It’s not…but again, why keep a driver who would rather be somewhere else?
Beth: Contractual obligations?
*Adding to the mayhem at Phoenix was an incident during the green-white-checkered finish where Danica Patrick was spun from behind, hit the wall, and limped around on the final lap with a smoking car, dropping oil on the track. Should NASCAR have thrown the caution flag for Patrick, or was finishing under green the way to go?*
Beth: NASCAR absolutely should have thrown a caution when Danica spun. There was _no_ reason not to.
Mike N.: Not throwing the caution was reckless and stupid. They preach safety all of the time and then they put half of the field at risk on the final lap.
Amy: Absolutely there should have been a caution. Harvick hadn’t even take the white yet, had he? Even if he had, there was no excuse for that.
Mike N.: I think he took the white but that didn’t matter. A car in the middle of the track with cars at speed bearing down on them is reason for a caution.
Beth: Doesn’t really matter whether Harvick had taken the white flag. The incident required a caution that NASCAR failed to throw.
Amy: I bet Danica Patrick isn’t feeling too stellar today.
Phil: As far as I’m concerned, the red flag should have been extended for more cleanup before we even got to this point.
Mike N.: That is true too, Phil. There was a line of oil/speedi-dri going into one when they took the green. And Pemberton’s lame excuse that they couldn’t see the liquid was pathetic.
Amy: The oil was from Patrick’s car, it wasn’t there before.
Beth: I saw the fluid on TV! But that’s really an afterthought.
Phil: I’m referring to the other oil, not just what came out of Danica’s car.
Mike N.: Right, the stuff heading into Turn 1.
Phil: And more stuff coming out of Turn 4, apparently from Logano’s car.
Beth: The minute Patrick was facing the wrong direction with others racing past her, they should have thrown the yellow.
Mike N.: Exactly, Beth. I saw her with cars coming at her and couldn’t believe they didn’t throw it.
Beth: Any other time, that would have been a caution long before the field raced back around and had that nasty wreck at the start/finish line.
Phil: Which would have resulted in GWC #2 and probably (if Childress’ tone was accurate) cost him the race.
Amy: NASCAR throws cautions for far less (though there should have been one when Bowyer put Gordon in the wall, you could see pieces of metal fly off the No. 24) so none then was a terrible call. It was not so good reminder about exactly why we don’t race back to cautions anymore.
Phil: Also, this wasn’t the first time there’s been a nasty crash at the end of a Cup race in Phoenix. Had a big one at the finish in 1990.
Mike N.: I thought it was interesting that Dale Jarrett was talking about this issue in the booth when it was his incident that finally pushed the rule into action.
Amy: On a flat narrow mile or less, there just isn’t time or room to avoid someone. It wasn’t like Paul Menard plowed into her on purpose
Phil: Never said he did. Heck was going down again and good luck finding your way through that.
Mike N.: Menard plowed into her because his car was damaged and he couldn’t steer.
Amy: Right, because he couldn’t avoid the carnage in front of him. It was a mess and it was totally avoidable. You had a car airborne and a car on fire…
Mike N.: I don’t know. When Clint Bowyer slid across the line at Daytona upside down and on fire, it was pretty cool.
Amy: The problem is, NASCAR is becoming complacent about safety because nobody has been seriously hurt recently.
Beth: And that scares the daylights out of me, Amy. I know racing is inherently dangerous, but the sanctioning body shouldn’t be making it more so by failing to throw a caution when there clearly should have been one.
Mike N.: I don’t know about complacent. They just make some decisions that don’t really make sense. Then again, that isn’t anything new.
Amy: Allowing tracks with no SAFER barriers, not throwing necessary cautions from time to time…
Phil: I think they just took a hefty dose of stupid on Sunday. Just one crazy decision after another. It’s like David Hoots took a vacation and Brian Barnhart was subbing for him.
*After the dust cleared at Phoenix, all three series points leaders have a cushion of 11 points or more. Is there any real chance that we will see anyone other than Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., or James Buescher steal the thunder?*
Beth: Of the three series, I’d say the Truck Series is the one that’s most likely to change. Buescher doesn’t exactly have stellar numbers at Homestead.
Amy: There’s always a chance, but realistically, Cup and Nationwide are over.
Phil: The Truck Series race isn’t exactly wide open, but there’s still a good chance for movement. Johnson and Sadler aren’t catching their respective foes without help.
Amy: Trucks has an outside shot. Buescher hasn’t been good at Homestead and ten positions on track is a lot more realistic than the 20 Johnson and Sadler are looking at.
Mike N.: Anything is possible. It is hard to envision in Cup although Keselowski hasn’t had a bad race yet. In Nationwide, I’d feel different if it wasn’t Sadler chasing. And crazy stuff always happens in the Trucks so it could definitely happen there.
Phil: Having said that, stranger things have happened. Keselowski made up 27 points on Sunday. Imagine if that happened this weekend.
Amy: The lack of a closer battle means we’re destined to see some pretty boring racing at Homestead compared to last year, when the only clinch scenario was a win.
Phil: Yes, it will be different. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be a snoozefest.
Mike N.: It is a very rare year when the only clinch scenario is a win.
Beth: I disagree. There’s nothing to lose for pretty much everyone except Keselowski.
Amy: It’s hard for me to even hope for something to happen to close it up and keep things exciting, because that would mean someone would have to wreck, and I hate seeing that.
Mike N.: They don’t have to wreck. A dropped cylinder, a melted bead. It can happen without a wreck.
Amy: I mean, someone could lose an engine, I suppose, but really, the point leaders all control their destinies… which means playing it safe.
Beth: Think about this Truck Series battle for a second, though. There’s a very real chance Peters or Dillon can jump in and spoil the part for Buescher.
Amy: Yes, Trucks are the exception here. It’s still not going to be easy, but it isn’t implausible.
Beth: And with an average finish outside the top 15 at Homestead, Buescher could be looking at an uphill battle to hang onto that top spot.
Phil: I’m definitely looking forward to Friday night’s action.
Mike N.: Let’s also not forget that people are all whacked out after this past weekend. Imagine if Bowyer and Gordon get into it and Keselowski gets some damage?
Beth: They do every week, Amy. This week won’t be any different.
Phil: I don’t think they’re going to touch each other this weekend, Mike. They’ve expended all the energy already, so I think they’re going to just ignore one another for now.
Amy: Drivers always say they’re going for it at Homestead even with a big lead, but we never really see it. Their setups are too conservative for them to really mix it up.
Mike N.: I don’t know. It is possible that they end up accidentally bumping and then it is on like Donkey Kong.
Beth: I don’t think Keselowski will be content to just ride around all day on Sunday. He’ll race for the win just like the last nine weeks.
Mike N.: Two and a half months of offseason is plenty of time to fix the cars. We’re going with a new car next year, anyway.
Amy: But will the car be set up for winning or longevity, Beth?
Beth: If Paul Wolfe has his way? Both. Any driver that’s content to just ride around for a 15th-place finish has no business being in the Cup Series.
Amy: Yet it happens most years. Not because they want to, but because the cars aren’t set up to be right on the ragged edge.
Mike N.: Sometimes you do what you have to do.
*Predictions for Homestead?*
Amy: I’m going to say that Kevin Harvick goes back-to-back.
Mike N.: Jimmie Johnson. It will be interesting if that point that Johnson earned by the race going extra laps this week comes into play at Homestead.
Phil: Technically, Mike can still win our pool via tiebreaker if his pick wins and Amy’s fails to finish in the top 10.
Mike N.: Yeah, sucks I missed a couple of weeks here late.
Phil: Having said that, I’m going with Paul Menard to steal one this weekend.
Mike N.: With Harvick being so distracted about his contract for next year that should be a no brainer.
Beth: Hmm…Carl Edwards finally gets back to Victory Lane. He could have easily won this race last year.
Amy: I wish Bowles was here, since he called my pick last week the worst one ever. It clinched me the title .
Phil: Yeah, he did say that. I was happy with the three points I got. Hopefully, Menard can get me some more.
*Mirror Predictions 2012*
*Congratulations to 2012 Mirror Driving Prediction Champion Amy Henderson!*
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