Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Rivalries, Hot Trucks, and a 48 Backslide?

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 & Wednesdays / The Frontstretch Five & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Managing Editor)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Couch Potato Tuesday & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Thursdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)
Brad Morgan (Tuesdays / Who’s Hot, Who’s Not)
Aaron Creed (Mondays / Postrace analysis)

Kurt Busch won at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday, but en route to victory lane, Busch tangled twice with Brad Keselowski. Given both drivers’ volatile nature, is it over…or could a heated rivalry affect either driver’s championship hopes?

Phil: It’s over for now. Unless something stupid happens in the near future. It won’t happen in Texas.
Mike N.: I don’t know that Keselowski has a volatile nature. He’s outspoken at times but I don’t believe he’s flying off of the handle unexpectedly or repeatedly. That said, it is over until they make contact on a track near you again. They can talk a great game but if the situation presents itself they will mix it up.

Is Brad Keselowski liable to retaliate in the wake of his Martinsville run-in with Kurt Busch?
Is Brad Keselowski liable to retaliate in the wake of his Martinsville run-in with Kurt Busch?

Brad: Kurt didn’t retaliate during the race. That is progress on his part. If he can hold up his side of a truce it might be over. It depends on Keselowski.
Amy: I agree; nothing will happen in Texas. But is it over? If they can avoid each other, maybe. If they find themselves in close quarters again, things could flare. With both in the Chase, they have nothing to lose.
Aaron: I don’t see it amounting to much of anything. Both drivers and their teams have more important things to focus on when it comes to a championship.
Mike N.: I promise, if Keselowski had walked into Victory Lane or the postrace press conference and tried to throw down, they would have scrapped. If the situation presents itself, they will go at it.
Amy: Keselowski can be volatile…he’s been known to retaliate in the past. He’s not a dirty driver, but he doesn’t sit back and take stuff.
Brad: Keselowski definitely won’t give any extra space to Busch or anyone else.
Amy: Keselowski races others how they race him, so if he thinks someone doesn’t race clean, he’s not afraid to show his displeasure.
Phil: True, they would have scrapped had that occurred. It probably would have looked like the time AJ Foyt and Arie Luyendyk went at it in 1997.
Aaron: I agree with Mike. If we do see them side-by-side on the race track one could give the other a slightly more difficult time; however, we see this often with different drivers racing each other harder. Based on what Keselowski has said in response to folks on Twitter, it seems to be over to him.
Mike N.: Or at least Rusty Wallace chucking a water bottle at Dale Earnhardt. I would prefer to think of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards choking each other.
Phil: Keselowski’s mostly been at the receiving end of these situations.
Amy: I don’t have a problem with him standing up for himself, because like Phil says, he doesn’t start stuff.
Brad: I can’t think of a moment where Keselowski retaliated in Cup, but he didn’t give Carl Edwards an inch for his first win at Talladega.
Amy: No, but he was totally in the right there. Edwards should have known better than to try to block twice.
Mike N.: My only problem was I don’t know how he expected Busch to stop within two feet of making contact with him.
Phil: Fans would likely best remember his Nationwide duels with Carl Edwards. That culminated in Edwards wrecking Keselowski for the win at Gateway and Bob saying in an interview that he wouldn’t let Carl kill his boy. Now, the whole thing was ridiculous on pit road. It’s Martinsville and there’s 40 dudes on the lead lap. What was he expecting?
Amy: I think he was more upset that Busch didn’t even try to avoid him on pit road, Mike. Which to be fair, he didn’t look like he did.
Mike N.: He claims he was mad Kurt didn’t stop once the contact was initiated. I just don’t see how he’s supposed to do that. How is he going to avoid him? The pit lane is incredibly tight and Busch was already against the outside wall.
Amy: In the long run, I think it’s over as long as they don’t get in one of those situations where they can’t get away from each other like happens sometimes.
Mike N.: Agreed Aaron. I don’t remember Keselowski going out on the track and trying to wreck people or intentionally plowing into someone’s car. That’s why I have a problem calling him volatile.
Amy: I think a good, well-played rivalry is good for the sport, but I don’t see this becoming one long term.
Mike N.: I don’t either. I see a one time incident, they destroy two race cars and endanger others and then NASCAR lays down the law.
Brad: I think Darrell Waltrip hit on something when he said that Keselowski was just messing around the with retaliation because he knows he’s already in the Chase.
Phil: I think Brad just wanted to send a message. He had no intention of taking Kurt out.
Amy: True, Brad, and perhaps he thinks he can get in Kurt’s head a little bit.

For most of the day on Sunday, it looked as though Jimmie Johnson would take yet another win at Martinsville, but he was outdueled by Kurt Busch in the closing laps, Now winless through six races this year, has the No. 48 team lost a step?

Mike N.: Nope. They had issues with tires in two races that took them out of win opportunities. They are top 5 in points. They haven’t lost anything.
Amy: Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they won’t win in the next 20 weeks or anything. They got burned out late last year and the toll it took is showing.
Brad: They haven’t necessarily lost a step, but they’ve been a little sloppy. Johnson has shown the speed and control that he is known for, but the No. 48 is missing on some very little things.
Phil: Heck no. They’re just fine. Check back in five weeks when they’ve won two races and are two points behind Earnhardt, Jr.

Are Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team missing a step in 2014?
Are Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team missing a step in 2014?

Aaron: They have not lost a step. It’s just the way things have played out near the end. Jimmie has said that they are still approaching this with the goal of consistency and accumulating points, and if the opportunity comes they will go for the win.
Amy: I think a few teams have caught up to them a bit. They have had some questionable strategy calls and pit work over the last couple of years, which has allowed that to happen. They’re still as good as ever, but some other teams are as good as they are.
Mike N.: They’ve gone eight races into a season without a win before. They will win at Dover if not before. They will be one of the four at Homestead and probably win the title in another point scenario again. Nothing to see here ladies and gentlemen.
Brad: History would suggest that its only a matter of time before Johnson goes to victory lane.
Aaron: If there is any Hendrick team that should be a bit concerned, it’s the no. 5.
Phil: We’ve seen the No. 5 struggle like this early in the season before. Kahne is not a very quick starter, unfortunately.
Mike N.: I really believe, at this pace, Chase Elliott will be in the No. 5 in 2016 and not the No. 24.
Brad: Johnson was way off before the Chase last season and it didn’t faze the team.
Amy: I think so too, Brad. Are they going to have a dominant season? I don’t think they are, but nobody has to any more.
Mike N.: Also of note, I don’t remember cars being that beat up at Martinsville in quite a while. But, even though the cars were that beat up, the Busch-Keselowski deal was really the only ruffled feathers.
Amy: Well, not really, Mike, a few other guys were (justifiably) pissed during the race. But it was a great race.
Mike N.: I didn’t see anyone get into anyone’s face after the race.
Amy: No, Mike, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any ruffled feathers. I heard some choice words on the radio…
Aaron: It certainly was. So many lead changes. Reminded me of many short track Super Late Model races I have seen in recent years.
Mike N.: There are always choice words on the radio. Unless someone is physically confronting someone, the feathers aren’t ruffled.
Phil: With Johnson, he’s doing fine. He’s just not closing the deal. That will come soon enough. Heck, he led almost 300 laps Sunday
Amy: I agree, Phil, though Martinsville is a case of them flat not getting it done, both in the car and in the pits.
Mike N.: There were 33 lead changes Sunday in the Cup race. 130 previous races had never seen that many. And the beauty of it was that 22 of them were on track passes for the lead.
Brad: Apparently Johnson’s brother-in-law was just killed during a skydiving accident. I remember a few other times when Johnson broke through with a win after something like this.
Amy: Good point, Brad. Johnson is so motivated by emotion at times. Maybe there’s a cowboy hat in his future? Overall, I think the 48 bunch will be okay. I don’t see a dominant season, but they’ll win a couple.
Aaron: At least a couple. I really think that each Hendrick team has the foundation to win a couple races.
Phil: You do have a point. There’s plenty of evidence in Johnson’s career that he can channel grief into buttkicking.
Aaron: I saw that news earlier. Very sad. Would be quite the emotional story if Johnson can get the win at Texas.
Mike N.: Johnson will win soon. Nothing to worry about there.

Denny Hamlin missed the race two weeks ago in Fontana and was adamant in a Martinsville press conference that his health is nobody’s business but his own…but when does a driver’s health become someone else’s business?

Brad: If a drivers health could cause a safety issue for other drivers or fans it should come to the public’s attention.
Mike N.: I don’t know if it is ever someone else’s besides a person’s doctor, but when you are a famous person who has fans who hang on your success and plight in life, there is some responsibility to let them know what is going on.

Should drivers like Denny Hamlin himself be liable to disclose their medical issues with the public?
Should drivers like Denny Hamlin himself be liable to disclose their medical issues with the public?

Amy: I think that’s a valid question going forward. Hamlin’s injury a couple of weeks ago turned out to be relatively minor, but what if it wasn’t? I think NASCAR and the other competitors have a point where they need to know because if something happens with a driver during a race as a result of an injury or illness, someone else could get hurt.
Phil: Since the metal was affecting Hamlin’s vision, as a driver I’d think I would like to know if my fellow drivers on track can see.
Aaron: I agree with him to a point. Information doesn’t have to be specific, but when information is hardly communicated and is utterly vague it doesn’t help matters and makes people wonder what the deal is.
Amy: I stand by what I said last week, though…Hamlin holds part of the blame for the rampant speculation that happened because he chose to say nothing.
Mike N.: I would have a problem if Hamlin never said what was wrong and just climbed back into the car. As long as he was cleared to drive by a doctor, however, then they really can’t question it.
Brad: Hamlin seems to think there should be some kind of confidentiality, but as a driver he is a public figure.
Mike N.: What I would like to know, and I wish I had asked in the press conference, was who he is talking about. I had heard rumors but I didn’t ever hear a name attached to the accusations.
Phil: That is what I’d like to know, Mike. My guess is random dudes on Twitter. UnderHIPAA law, there is a certain degree of confidentiality. If he doesn’t want something released, then it cannot be released, under threat of lawsuits or even arrest.
Amy: True, Brad, though I don’t really even think it’s about the general public. It does affect a driver’s competitors, though. What if a driver did race with something that could make his vision go blurry or something during a race. He might have been fine before the race, enough to get himself cleared, but…
Mike N.: And that brings us back to the stupidest thing about NASCAR coverage today. Twitter is not a source people. Do your research and learn from a valid source.
Brad: Grains of truth, but tons of room for error.
Mike N.: If a doctor cleared them to race, Amy, then there is nothing his competitors can expect. With that said, out of common courtesy they should let their cohorts know what is up just so they have a sense of comfort around them.
Amy: I think there has to be a level of trust between drivers, and between drivers and NASCAR.
Brad: : Definitely, Amy.
Aaron: I see what Hamlin’s saying about what if his condition was potentially something more severe and/or personal. I was just a little tyke in the 1980s, but could anyone even imagine if something life-threatening like what Tim Richmond went through before his passing would happen today?
Amy: I understand the concern others had with the lack of information. Not knowing what went down led to too many questions that never had to be asked. And, honestly, Aaron, in the case of HIV, I think it would be less of an issue now than it was back then.
Mike N.: Yes I can Aaron, and I think Richmond was borderline criminal for not disclosing his ailment.
Phil: Today, I severely doubt someone could get away with racing while HIV-Positive and not telling anyone. NASCAR has files today on every driver’s medical history. That simply wasn’t so in 1987.
Brad: Sometimes it’s necessary to disclose. I think it’s important to bring NASCARsubstance abuse policy violators to the public eye. That’s just me though.
Amy: You couldn’t keep HIV a secret because that would put medical personnel at the track in danger, but the perception of the disease is different now.
Aaron: True, times have changed.
Mike N.: I don’t think a doctor will give them a medical clearance to race if they violate the substance abuse policy.
Amy: That I agree with completely, Brad. If a guy tests positive for drugs, the other drivers do have a right to know.
Aaron: We saw something similar recently with Brian Vickers. I suppose a very serious condition would not be grounds for clearance these days, which is a good thing. At the same time, I don’t think Vickers necessarily had to give details if he didn’t want to. He decided to, and is now raising awareness which is a great thing so I see both sides to it.
Amy: I do think there are things that can be kept secret for a number of valid reasons. But if there’s something that affects others on the track, or potentially could affect them, there needs to be information shared from the person in question. In this case, NASCAR and Hamlin contributed to speculation, which got pretty ugly.
Mike N.: I don’t think a doctor will clear a person to race if they have a condition that will put others in danger.
Amy: I also think they do need to clarify the process to teams as a whole. I think there was some concern about how serious it was (or wasn’t) when Hamlin wasn’t cleared and if they’d not be cleared for something minor if they went to infield care. The last thing anyone wants is for drivers not to seek treatment for an ailment because they’re afraid of not being cleared to race.
Brad: The last thing we can afford is for drivers to keep health problems to themselves because of the Hamlin thing. If it endangers the other drivers it needs to be brought to attention.
Phil: If that happens, we’re right back to Dale Earnhardt Jr. hiding a concussion like he did back in 2002.
Aaron: That’s what does make this Chase system great. If they are not cleared,NASCAR is willing to work with them.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was back in action at Martinsville, with defending champion Matt Crafton taking the checkers first. There were numerous storylines surrounding the race as well…will any of them define the season?

Amy: Well, German Quiroga might find it a long season if he keeps driving like he did Sunday…
Phil: Yeah, it’s not good when you get in a bumping match with your own teammate. Also, Johnny Sauter might have some issues at the next short track. He was using his truck as a battering ram.
Mike N.: Ha! Johnny Sauter has a lot more to worry about than Quiroga. Sauter hit everything but the pace car on Sunday.
Aaron: Johnny Sauter not making friends with and not putting up with others could amount to something. It seems to just about every year for him.
Amy: On thing I noticed was a lot of drivers in the field who weren’t familiar names. And I do wonder if they’re going to struggle to have full fields at some races.
Mike N.: Very true Amy. 12 drivers made their first start at Martinsville Sunday.
Brad: Its always good to see new faces.
Phil: Some were expected, like Gray Gaulding. He did okay before he got wrecked.
Mike N.: They have struggled for full fields the last few years, Amy.

Could short-field be a reality for the Camping World Truck Series in 2014?
Could short-field be a reality for the Camping World Truck Series in 2014?

Phil: Yes. The series is getting a lot younger too as the K&N talent starts to filter in.

Amy: If that many virtual unknowns made the field last week, does that mean the regular field is that weak?
Aaron: It was an interesting mix. You had an aggressive type like Gaulding, and then there were drivers staying out of trouble and gaining experience like Nemechek.
Phil: No, it means that a lot of virtual unknowns attempted the race. You always seem to see this at Martinsville and maybe Iowa.
Amy: It is good to have new faces, but so many that fans don’t know could hurt if they’re not marketed well (which they won’t be because NASCAR never does).
Phil: I’d say that Gaulding’s been marketed quite well. The others, not so much.
Mike N.: Gaulding has been marketed obnoxiously. They had his picture down the side of his freaking bandolero hauler.
Amy: Giant picture on haulers: creepy at any level. I had time to contemplate this while driving home behind a 10-foot lizard on Sunday.
Aaron: It is a little concerning for races such as Kansas coming up. The newer bodies will be required, unlike at Martinsville. In addition, all of those younger names aren’t eligible to race. Wouldn’t surprise me if no more than 30 trucks show up.
Mike N.: There were six races in 2013 that had short fields.
Amy: Granted it’s only two races in, but I don’t see a points runaway like Crafton had last year. There’s no clear title favorite yet, and there might not be for some time.
Mike N.: We’ve had two races in six weeks. You can’t tell crap. We have another month off so we won’t be able to tell a damn thing then either. See me after June.
Aaron: Someone that was kind of in the shadows of Gaulding was teammate Chase Pistone. He drove a solid race and nearly scored a top ten in his first start in quite a while.
Mike N.: Don’t forget Ben Rhodes ran top 15 as well.
Phil: Yes, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the best. He booted Crafton out of the way early on. On that note, you notice that there were far more bump n’ runs in the Truck race than in the Cup event?
Amy: I was impressed with Rhodes as well.
Phil: Rhodes has just plain been impressive in general so far in 2014. He was coming off of a win at Greenville-Pickens, quite the tricky place.
Mike N.: Rhodes is the real deal. I thought they brought him up too quickly but after seeing him the last few years I think he’s a legit talent. He already has his first K&N win.
Brad: I bet Darrell Wallace, Jr. wishes Martinsville was every week. That’s three top 5’s in three starts.
Amy: Wallace is better than his numbers show at other tracks. his luck is just beyond bad sometimes
Mike N.: Wallace is a really good driver. He just needs some time.
Aaron: I’m surprised no one has mentioned Erik Jones yet. Didn’t end up going his way down the stretch, but going in I really thought he could get his fourth win in his last five times on the track between Trucks and Super Late Models.
Amy: Jones is also a talent, no doubt.
Mike N.: Jones is a wheelman. Pretty sure, when the opportunity presents itself, he’ll return the favor to Johnny Sauter.
Amy: It would be good for the series to have some new blood competing for wins in 2014 and it would be good to have a tight points battle, too.
Aaron: I think the whole age restriction seems to play a part. Hard to follow when different drivers are in half the seats each race.
Mike N.: Hard to follow when they race the series twice in almost three months.
Phil: The schedule is an ongoing problem that NASCAR seems to be unwilling to even try to address. Kills any possible momentum.

How about some Texas predictions?

Amy: I think Brad Keselowski becomes the first two-time winner of 2014 and gets his first cowboy hat while he’s at it.
Phil: For Texas, I’m going with Matt Kenseth.
Mike N.: I’ll take the California potential winner and look for Jeff Gordon to take the win.
Brad: I think Jimmie Johnson wins it with a heavy heart.
Aaron: He’s had his share of struggles so far this year, but I think Greg Biffle turns his season around and takes the win.

Mirror Predictions 2014

Welcome to our seventh 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

STP 500

Writer Pick Finishing Position Points
Amy Henderson Jimmie Johnson 2nd 3
Phil Allaway Jeff Gordon 12th 0
Mike Neff Denny Hamlin 19th 0
Tom Bowles Kurt Busch 1st 5
Aaron Creed Aric Almirola 8th 1
Brad Morgan Matt Kenseth 6th 1

Points Standings

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Amy Henderson 4 6 0 1 3
Brad Morgan 3 -1 2 1 1 2
Tom Bowles 2 -2 2 1 1 1
Jeff Wolfe 2 -2 3 0 1 1
Mike Neff 1 -3 4 0 0 1
Phil Allaway -2 -6 5 0 0 1

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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