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From the Marbles

Happy Hour: Will Danica Patrick be NASCAR’s most popular driver?

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. shows Danica Patrick where the car is. (Getty Images)

Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/one-liner at happyhournascar@yahoogroups.com (note new address) or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.

What did you do for New Year's? Me, I went to an art exhibit in the afternoon (dork!) and holed up in my house that night with a bottle of bourbon and the Peach Bowl while my family slept upstairs. Please tell me you had a better story than that.

Now, to your letters. And let's start with a good one to rile up the masses ...

2011 — Jimmie Johnson does not win the Championship.

2012 — With Danica Patrick moving to NASCAR and driving in 10 Cup races, is this the year that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be replaced as the "Most Popular" driver in NASCAR?

Jack
Kannapolis, N.C.

Our first Danica question of the new year! It's like hearing the first bird of spring. Anyway, to answer your question: no, Danica will not replace Junior as the most popular driver in NASCAR. But she'll instantly rocket into the Junior-Gordon-Stewart-Johnson quartet of popularity. (Edwards is headed there too, but Danica will pass him.)

Yes, I know my inbox will be filled for the next 11 months with "Danica doesn't deserve all the attention she's getting," but you know what? She does. No, she's not as good a driver as many of her competitors, but if you think NASCAR is all about driving, you're just being willfully naive. Danica draws attention, which draws money, which keeps the series going for all those other lesser-known drivers.

Now, I do get the frustration with coverage of Danica. I know that it can get annoying for the broadcast teams to focus on a driver running in 15th place all race long. But with any luck, we'll move closer to multiple broadcast streams in coming years, so that we can all get exactly the race we want. (All Dinger, all the time!) Till then ... well, sorry, friends. It's the way it is.

Thanks, Jack. And now all we need is our first "Dale Jr. sucks" letter of the year. Say, guess what's next?

____________________

Dale Jr.'s last two wins were Michigan in June '08 and Richmond in May '06. That means Dale has exactly 1 win in his last 208 cup races or 1 win in the last 5.77 years. At 37 years of age, do you think Dale is finished as a top-line driver? And is there any other driver, other than Danica, who could keep their job with those stats?

Larry

Wow, that was so trolly it could have come from under a bridge. For a guy who just made the Chase, Junior is looking awfully spry for a "finished top-line driver." And I do think he will get a win this year. (Yes, I say that every year. One of these years, I'm going to be right.) Junior's fine, everybody. Tony Stewart just proved that a driver's wheelhouse years are 30 to 40. Plus, Junior made more money for Hendrick Motorsports since you started reading this paragraph than both of us make in a year, so, you know, that helps too.

I do think his chances of matching his dad's run of championships are dimming, though. Sorry, Junior Nation.

____________________

I have a new way to pass time between the seasons: Collective Bargaining Agreement. We put in a drivers' union, revenue sharing, salary cap, and trade deadlines. Revenue sharing helps the midpack teams be more competitive by focusing on racing and not searching for dollars. The cap would include the drivers, crew, and shop personnel, but be separate across each series unless that driver is employed by the same team for multiple series. The cap also scales down from Cup to Truck.

The union and trade deadline just make things more interesting. Imagine a Kasey Kahne deal: Hendrick gets Kahne via Red Bull from RPM in a sign & trade three-team deal that sends cash from Red Bull and a full pit crew from Hendrick along with two of the 48 team's winning cars, without engines, to Petty ... [Scenarios that make my head hurt redacted. -JB]

I know that sponsorship gets in the way but I have mucked that up too. For this I am considering sponsorship that covers the car. Sponsors are tied directly to drivers with each driver only allowed 2 primary and 3 secondary sponsors. A primary must sponsor at least 15 races and a secondary no more than 6. A driver is not required to have a primary sponsor if they only have a secondary or no sponorship so start and parkers, you are safe. How quick do you think NASCAR can get this put in? (Based on their rule book a printing of this email taped to the rest of the cocktail napkins may suffice.) Anything you would like to add? Have a Happy New Year.

Cody Milam

Thanks, Cody! Biggest problem? Big Bill France basically ran off unionizing drivers with a shotgun back in the day. (Of course, that's how Richard Childress got his start.) The problem with such an arrangement is that it would require the autonomous teams to give up their autonomy and submit to a larger organizing authority (NASCAR) and would require NASCAR to put the unionized drivers on an equal footing. In short, neither one of those events is happening any time soon.

I do like the idea of swapping pit crews and equipment for drivers, though. Perhaps, as an exercise, you could decide what equipment each driver is worth in the comments below.

____________________

The NASCAR season is way too long, and it's very fixable. I've been saying it since about 2007, go to an F1 style schedule. Run just 25 points races, Daytona and Charlotte are the only tracks to get a second race since those second dates would be special events. Daytona is ISC-owned and Charlotte is SMI-owned, so both should be happy there. Run all other tracks on the current schedule just once for 23 races then add two more tracks. Montreal is an option for one of those two spots, and possibly Rockingham?

For the actual season itself, 25 points events. Run 10 races and take a week off, run the next 10 and take another week off to prep for the final five races. Those final five races would be the Chase. With the two special events you would only have a season that spreads over 29 weeks instead of the current 40+ with off weeks mixed in. Not only is the season being shortened by three months, but you could then feasibly move back the start of the season a couple of weeks. At the same time you could still end right as football is starting up instead of halfway through the football schedule.

Jason Kurtz

A lot going on in this letter that I like. A lot that I don't think will ever happen, though, starting with getting rid of races. We're too far down that road already for tracks to willingly surrender dates. I do like the five-race Chase, though. And if I had a nickel for every fan who wanted to bring back Rockingham, I could actually bring back Rockingham all by myself.

____________________

I've been thinking about the Chase and what happens to a driver if they have bad luck, whether it be from a non-Chase driver wrecking or car problems. What if the Chase drivers had their own points system where the points would be awarded from 12 on down to 1 based on where they finish in relation to each other? Keep bonus points the same. This way i think you would have many more contenders at the end of the season and a driver won't be out of contention because of something that happened out of their control.

Ed Rucinski

I've heard of this system a lot, and I like the idea. It does give you room for several mulligans, since a last-place Chase finish plus a race win averages out to two top-five Chase finishes. It also provides incentive to lead laps and win. The down side is that you're now implementing two different points systems at once, which is going to confuse some people. But wouldn't those people be confused by things like microwaves and manual-shift transmissions anyway? I'm sure there's a downside to this kind of system, but I'm not seeing it. What am I missing?

Also, if some enterprising reader would like to take that task on, I'd be interested to see its results; I'm fairly certain Edwards would beat Stewart but I'm not sure.

____________________

Hey Jay, you idiot! Why didn't you rank my driver higher... Oh, wrong subject. [awkward silence] ... so, how 'bout dem Raiders? Yeah, so, since you and the rest of the Yahoo NASCAR staff writers are sittin' around in your tighty whities and diggin' for gold in the left nostril shaft waiting for February, maybe you could stir up a little controversy and re-rank the season ending standings according to the old (last year's) point system. If you already did that, I missed it. Did Kasey Kahne come out on top?

Rusty

We didn't do that because, well, it would be kind of pointless. But Racing Reference shows us what would have happened if there was no Chase, and the results shouldn't surprise you: Edwards first, followed by Harvick, Stewart, Johnson and Kenseth. Nobody else was within 100 points. And Kasey was 13th.

In other words: let's not worry too much about hypothetical and what-used-to-be points systems. Your high school boyfriend/girlfriend isn't going to go out with you again, either. Live in the now, everybody! It's 2012! We're all gonna die soon!

On that uplifting note, we're out. Thanks to all our writers this week. You want in? Fire up the computer and hit us with whatever's on your mind, NASCAR-wise, at happyhournascar@yahoogroups.com. You can find Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR coverage on Facebook right here, and you can follow me on Twitter at @jaybusbee and on Facebook here.  Make sure to tell us where you're from. We'll make you famous!

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