Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: Night Moves, Title Plays and All-Star Excitement

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)

The race at Kansas Saturday night was the first one held under the lights at the track. Was the decision to go night racing the right one?

Mike: No. Hell no. No, no, no.
Amy: For the fans in attendance, it wasn’t a bad decision…there were a lot of people there. From a racing standpoint, though, the last thing we need is more night races.
Mike: Racing at night is for local short tracks and special races. The night race at Bristol and the All-Star race are special. Everything else should be in the daytime.

Would the racing at Kansas Speedway be better in daylight conditions?
Would the racing at Kansas Speedway be better in daylight conditions?

Phil: Besides the fact that it screwed up my weekend, I doubt that the race was any better.
Amy: As I wrote last week, night racing on an intermediate track is a recipe for a less-than-stellar race.
Phil: If anything, it made the place more slippery than normal.
Mike: The race was a parade with three on-track passes for the lead.
Amy: Yeah… the shuffling in the field was deceiving, but that all came from pit strategy, not through racing. Night racing means too much grip and too much aero dependence. I like the 600 as a day-night deal, though I wish it started at least an hour earlier.
Mike: I got reamed when I said we should be racing in the daytime at Darlington but I’m about racing, not about fan comfort. The racing is always better when it is hot and slippery. Need I remind everyone of Kentucky last year when the race was postponed until Sunday and the racing was awesome?
Phil: I thought Kentucky was fine last year. I don’t think I’d say awesome, though. I always liked the 5:50 or so green flags in the 600 back in the late 1990s.
Amy: Fans survived racing during the day for decades. Have people gotten wimpier or something?
Phil: Apparently, yes.
Mike: Fans survived 500-mile races forever, too and now 400 miles is too much.
Phil: That’s why they moved the Southern 500 date to November in 2004. However, I’d argue such a move would be more to get away from T-Storms. Remember, there was a stretch of three shortened races at Darlington in four attempts.
Amy: Seriously, though, this race was not great, really no better than a day race at Kansas.
Mike: I know that we are in the ADD world now and fans have become wimps but I still think racing should be the priority, not the television or fan conveniences.
Amy: Yeah, changing racing to suit the ADD Generation has not done the sport any favors.
Mike: Having a freshly paved race track run a race at night is a recipe for sleep inducing, follow-the-leader racing and most of Saturday night was exactly that.
Amy: I agree, Mike. If the racing is compelling, fans will watch.
Mike: And they’ll want to be there. I still think these tracks are being put in an untenable situation because the product isn’t that compelling (although it is much better this year than it has been). It’s to the point they have to put on a side show to get the stands filled up everywhere except the short tracks and Darlington.
Phil: It would also help the ratings. Night races don’t draw as big of an audience as day races. Goes against what people seem to say.
Amy: Bottom line, night racing is a fun experience for the fans in attendance, but it’s bad for the racing overall.
Mike: The lights going out at Kansas was a message from God.
Amy: The last thing these cars need is more aero dependence, which night racing produces.
Mike: And better grip, which is also what it produces. Even though the talking heads are trying to sell us that it was treacherous.
Amy: It was treacherous… all the wrecks were caused by cars getting aero loose and turning around because they were too aero dependent.

Jeff Gordon was already the point leader before he won in Kansas this weekend, and his win adds muscle to his Chase bid… but at age 42, is Gordon really a title favorite?

Mike: I don’t know about a title favorite, but he is certainly running well enough right now that he is in the conversation.
Phil: I have no reason to believe that he’s not. Granted, no one’s won a title at or above that age since Earnhardt in 1994, but he’s been strong.
Amy: I think he’s definitely in the conversation. Gordon’s had fast cars and could easily have another win or two this year.

2014 has been a year of resurgence for Jeff Gordon. Can he maintain his early season momentum going forward?
2014 has been a year of resurgence for Jeff Gordon. Can he maintain his early season momentum going forward?

Mike: Gordon is competing for wins most every week and he seems to be running well with the new ride height rule. The only thing to really stop him now is when the other teams figure out the feel they want, he won’t have the advantage he currently does. The other point is still that Harvick is the best car out there week in and week out. They are not having durability issues these days and that makes them a force to be reckoned with each week. I put the No. 4 at the top of the favorite list right now.
Amy: I don’t know… Hendrick Motorsports, as a whole, is a bit behind this year, except for Gordon, so that bodes well for him to be running as well as he is. I agree that Harvick has been impressive, but I also think there are a couple teams who are going to come around and give him some competition. I’ve also been very impressed with Logano.
Phil: I’d argue that Kahne might be behind. I don’t think I could argue that case for either Earnhardt Jr. or Johnson, given their performances thus far. Johnson just has no luck.
Mike: Earnhardt doesn’t seem too far behind. Johnson should have won two or three races this year. Kahne is the only one really struggling.
Amy: Johnson is behind. He’s only had a car good enough to win once or twice this year, and the luck bit him then. Earnhardt is closer than Johnson or Kahne, for sure. He just needs a little more consistency.
Mike: Johnson was good enough to win at Martinsville. He might have been good enough at Bristol. He was good enough at California. And I can’t remember the other race but he was up front one other time too.
Phil: Probably Las Vegas. Johnson led 34 laps there.
Amy: California was the only race Johnson really looked like he had what it took to win. He had the car at Martinsville as well, but flat got beat when he shouldn’t have. He’s not looking championship caliber so far — you can run up front all day, but the bottom line is, you only have to lead one lap. Matt Kenseth isn’t quite there yet, either, and I think there’s time for him to get back to his usual form. Gordon has looked like a threat at times and he’s driving like a man possessed. I think the speculation about when Chase Elliott would replace him was a wake-up call.
Mike: A very true statement. The fact that you think Johnson is out to lunch and yet, he’s seventh in points leads me to feel like he will be a force once they get a handle on the new ride height options. I still think the talk should be about Chase replacing Kahne, not Gordon.
Amy: I agree, especially since Gordon has picked it up a notch.
Mike: Gordon will be in the hunt at the end of the year. Right now, it looks like Harvick is the man to beat. Fortunately, we still have 15 races until the Chase and 25 until we crown a champion. A lot of people will be coming and going by then.
Amy: I think Gordon has to be in the conversation as long as he’s running the way he has been. He is, without question, one of the best ever in the sport, and you can’t take him lightly. The biggest question mark is whether or not he can finally beat the Chase format.
Mike: I am curious about how serious the conversation should be about Gordon making it to 100 wins.
Amy: He’d need 11 more. Doable for sure, if he races another five years.
Phil: They broached that after Saturday night’s race on FOX. I don’t know. He’s won 11 races in 7 years. Unless he picks it up, I’d say be doubtful.
Mike: The way he’s running though he could rip off five wins before the end of the season.
Amy: He could easily have another couple of wins this year already. Yes, he’d have to go on a tear somewhere along the line, but it’s not out of the realm. And if he gets to 100, I don’t think 106 is totally crazy.
Mike: I don’t either. I never thought anyone would go over 100 again but it is possible for him now.
Phil: The FOX dudes think that David Pearson had better look out. I don’t know. I’m a little more skeptical.

This week, Sprint Cup teams are in Charlotte for the sport’s All-Star weekend. Does the sport’s All-Star event pack enough punch for fans, or has it become too predictable…and what can be done about it?

Amy: I don’t know. It’s a night race on an intermediate track, so the racing itself isn’t really all that great, to be honest.
Phil: The only predictable thing about the All-Star Race is the fact that the format changes about as often as Burton Smith uses the facilities.
Mike: Nothing can be done at this point because the cars are still too aero dependent. I would like to see it really be a million to win with nobody else making any money. I feel like there might be a little bit more excitement if second place got nothing.

Has the Sprint All-Star Race’s luster worn off?
Has the Sprint All-Star Race’s luster worn off?

Phil: I feel like a bunch of people wouldn’t show up if they did that, Mike.
Mike: I know it doesn’t fit with the current mentality of the format, but I’d like to see the final segment be more than a fuel run so that the teams had to make a green-flag stop.
Amy: I also think they took out two of the coolest elements of what made it a true All-Star event. One: The pit crew competition. Sure, they still have to make the stop in qualifying, but the spotlight is still on the driver, and the crews deserve their day. Two: Teamswith a win should get in. They used to. This is one event that should be about more than just the driver, and not letting a team who won a race in because the driver changed is a slap in the face to what the crewmen do week in and week out.
Phil: I wouldn’t be opposed to that, Amy. Of course, that would put in Austin Dillon. And I liked the crew competition. My guess is that Sprint took over the former Budweiser Shootout and used the pit crew competition money to do it. They couldn’t find a Sprint replacement.
Mike: Aren’t they still doing the final pit stop deal in the race? And that is exactly true, Phil. The pit competition money now supports the Unlimited. Although the guys I have spoken to on pit crews are glad they don’t do it. They say more guys were injured practicing for that competition than practicing normal pit stops.
Amy: They have stops during the race, Mike, but you won’t hear the crewmen talked about, just the drivers. It would put Dillon in, Phil, and while I don’t love that the driver would not have earned his way in, the fact is, that team is a big part of why Harvick is in it this year. As for the pit crew competition, I liked that the drivers just stood by and watched and cheered them on. It was a different dynamic, and one I appreciated.
Phil: I would be in favor of a pit crew competition of some sort. However, I think it should be more of a traditional setup than what they had at the Time Warner Cable Arena. Like Mike said, that was quite a bit different than normal and not ideal.
Mike: I’d like to see wheelbarrow races on pit road with the crew chiefs and drivers.
Phil: Also, they don’t have enough cars on hand for that burnout competition to be worth it. It is not a fair competition.
Amy: True, Phil. It’s fun for the fans to watch, but there should be more drivers in it.
Mike: I’d like to see the teams build a car just for the burnout. I bet they’d come up with some trick stuff.
Amy: I’d also like to see the Fan Vote disappear. Talk about predictable…

HENDERSON: Fan Vote Follies

Mike: They have to have a secure way for Junior to make it in if he doesn’t have a win.
Phil: It hasn’t been that predictable. If it were predictable, the same driver would win every year. I think there have been six or seven different winners.
Amy: Phil, a lot of that is because some of those guys got wins before the next ones, or changed series, etc. I was kind of soured on it a couple of years ago. If you listen to the NASCAR officials on the radio immediately after the race, you know who got the vote because they call the car to technical inspection with the top 2. And there was one time I could have sworn I heard them call one car to tech only to rescind it and in favor of a driver with a bigger name. While it certainly could have been a legitimate mistake, or I could have misheard, it also reeks of something else. And does anyone actually think Danica won’t win it this year… even if she doesn’t win it?
Mike: Of course, we all know Josh Wise will win it this year so do we really need the vote? The Dogecoin crowd is a potent force. They are on a mission.
Phil: There’s no guarantee that Danica Patrick or Josh Wise’s Shibe Army will win the vote.
Amy: In order to make the Fan Vote legit, they need to make it possible to see vote totals throughout the voting. Not a randomly listed top 5 or whatever, but actual totals for every driver.
Mike: They don’t want to have fans give up on backing their driver.
Phil: I agree, Amy. Never been a fan of listing the top-10 off in alphabetical order. That’s stupid. But, I think NASCAR likes to keep everyone guessing.
Amy: Or they don’t want fans to know if they pull an audible if a bigger name stands to miss the big race. Also, is the Showdown due a format upgrade? I liked it a few years ago when there were two segments and those winners transferred as opposed to the current way of doing it.
Phil: I never liked the idea of segmenting the Showdown. Also, I think the race is too short. It doesn’t need to be 200 miles, but it should be longer than 40 laps.
Mike: Outside of Australian chase rules, I don’t know what they can do to make the All-Star Race any more exciting.
Amy: Australian chase rules would be awesome.
Mike: I think so too.
Phil: What are Australian Chase rules?
Mike: The car in last place after so many laps has to pull off. By the end of the race, you have a couple guys left battling it out.
Phil: Oh yes, an elimination race. I’m anti-elimination in the All-Star Race. Never liked that stuff when it was instituted at the end of segments starting in 2002.
Amy: It would force them to race their butts off not to be last.

The Camping World Truck Series was (finally) back in action at Kansas for the third race of the 2014 season, and defending champion Matt Crafton emerged with the points lead by eight over Timothy Peters and Ron Hornaday, Jr. Crafton is looking to do something no other driver has done in series history — win back-to-back series titles. Is Crafton poised to rewrite the history books… and why is repeating as champion in the series so difficult?

Phil: We’re three races in. It’s way the deuce too early to deduce who’s going to decide this title.
Mike: I don’t think we can judge anything about who is poised to do much of anything.
Phil: Regardless, Crafton has shown good form. He won at Martinsville, something that he’s never done before.
Amy: Crafton can absolutely go back-to-back. He had a phenomenal season last year, and without a Chase, that’s rewarded for real.
Mike: Repeating as champion is hard because some of them leave and other years, the champs have simply had bad luck.

2013 NCWTS Ford EcoBoost 200
Matt Crafton has experienced a renaissance of success over the past year and a half.

Amy: Yeah, it’s early, but it’s not a leap to say Crafton is going to be a threat. Others will pop up, and it’s not a given, but he has to be in the conversation until he takes himself out of it.
Phil: For someone that’s supposedly all-conquering, Crafton really hasn’t done a lot of winning.
Amy: I think it also speaks to how competitive the series is. Even guys like Hornaday and Sprague, who raced that series most of their careers, never could repeat. See, Phil, I don’t think Crafton had a lesser season last year just because he only had one win. He was dominant and didn’t make mistakes. That, to me, is more indicative of a true champion than having ten (or now three, or one) good races at the right time.
Phil: It’s quite amazing that Crafton is reaching this level now in the Trucks. This is year 14 for Crafton. The vast majority of it has been spent with ThorSport (aside from the KHI year). Also, added props should be given to ThorSport for being able to contend while being out of the North Carolina talent loop.
Amy: I think the Truck Series is hard to win twice in a row because of the level of talent there, both behind the wheel and in the shop. They don’t get the attention they deserve as a series.
Mike: They also don’t get the entries. Pretty impressive that they couldn’t have 32 trucks show up after the series was off for a freaking month.
Phil: It’s worse this week. 30 entries for Charlotte? That’s bad.
Amy: True. I think that’s a case where NASCAR has made it too expensive. Which is too bad; it’s a great series for independent teams to thrive in.
Mike: I just don’t understand why they pay such crap purses. NASCAR needs to step up and support the series that is developing so much talent for the drivers’ seats and the garages.
Amy: NASCAR and a few select sponsors have priced some good teams out of the market.
Phil: My guess is that the low purses make the tracks willing to host the series.
Mike: Yeah Phil, because it sure isn’t the low sanctioning fee. Just doesn’t surprise me that Roush, Hendrick and Childress are out of it. There just isn’t any money to be had. Too expensive to compete.

Let’s hear those All-Star predictions! Just like the real thing, no points, just glory. Who gets the transfer spots, the Fan Vote, and the big money?

Amy: I say Allmendinger wins the Showdown, Larson also transfers, Danica gets the Fan Vote, and Jeff Gordon wins the whole shebang.
Mike: Kevin Harvick wins the race. Kyle Larson gets the transfer spot for the win while Truex gets the other transfer spot, with Danica getting the Fan Vote.
Phil: Transfer Spots: Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick. I know, I’m looney. But, I liked what I saw from Danica when I watched the Kansas race. Fan Vote: Josh Wise (although, he wouldn’t do much in the race).
Amy: I still say Dillon should be in because of his team winning four times last year.
Phil: Winning the million bones: Kyle Busch.

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

5-hour Energy 400

Writer Pick Finishing Position Points
Amy Henderson Jimmie Johnson 9th 1
Phil Allaway Carl Edwards 6th 1
Mike Neff Joey Logano 4th 3

Points Standings

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Mike Neff 8 8 0 3 4
Amy Henderson 7 -1 11 0 2 5
Tom Bowles 4 -4 4 1 1 3
Beth Lunkenheimer 3 -5 1 0 1 1
Phil Allaway 2 -6 10 0 0 5
Jeff Wolfe 2 -6 3 0 1 1
Summer Bedgood 1 -7 1 0 0 1
Aaron Creed 0 -8 3 0 0 2
Brad Morgan 0 -8 3 1 1 2

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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