Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/one-liner at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.
Yep, we've been AWOL the last couple weeks. Well, AWOL from these pages, at least. Been covering the Falcons in the NFL and the Rockets in the NBA and the tornado in Tuscaloosa and Florida football and ... you get the idea. Sorry 'bout that, but hey, we're back now! Let's get to it, shall we?
Do you think Denny Hamlin is this generation of drivers' Mark Martin? Always a bridesmaid in the championship and never the bride?
— Jenn K.
Big Spring, TX
In an absolute sense, I think Hamlin would be flattered to be considered his generation's Mark Martin, who's the very definition of class and grace. Sure, he's a little cranky at times, and sure, he's 40 years too old to be listening to the music he does. But he's one of the best cats in the garage, and he'll be missed whenever he finally decides to hang up his lil' sneakers.
That said ... I get your point. Martin has come oh so close so many times, and much as we like him, he ain't the prettiest bridesmaid in town. I think Hamlin isn't quite in that category yet. He's dealing with the hundred-year flood of Jimmie Johnson's reign; take Vader out of NASCAR and I'd bet Hamlin has at least one Cup by now. I think he's got at least one more Chase of falling short before the can-he-get-it-done talk begins in earnest.
Two guys enter the Chase even in points. Guy # 1 gets wrecked in the first race and comes in last. He then wins ALL 9 remaining races. Guy # 2 comes in 2nd in every race and leads one lap each race. Guess who gets to be Champion?
Driver #1 would have 424 points (1 + (9x47), assuming he didn't lead the most laps in any of those wins) and Driver #2 would have 430 points. Driver #2 is your winner! That extraordinarily unlikely scenario is, in fact, a good case study and backs up what I've been saying for awhile: NASCAR either has to improve the value of a win (and a high finish) and/or decrease the penalty of a loss. We can't have it both ways; a straight, no-Chase race-to-the-finish could be over by September, but a manipulated-drama Chase will still be dramatic.
Granted, Jimmie Johnson is a really good driver. But does it say something about the nature of a track, racing quality, too-similar cars or NASCAR's caution "strategy" that a guy that practically destroys his car still finishes in the Top 10? Credit their strategy, but I have to think there is something wrong with the Pit Road Opening Rules after a caution that allows a guy to wreck and still finish so high unless everyone else screws up and brings the field back together. What do you think?
— Zach Hall
Ft. Sill, OK
Honestly? I think you're trying to create a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. Both the 48 and 2 teams are masters at understanding how cautions work and how to blend the right combination of splash-and-go, two-tire/four-tire, wavearound and assorted other hokey-pokeys to get themselves up to the front of the pack.
Look, I get how frustrating it is to have Jimmie Johnson winning once again. I said before the Chase: I don't root for drivers, I root for stories. And there are 11 stories in the 12-driver Chase more interesting than Johnson winning his sixth Cup. That said, you have to give the guy respect, particularly when it's something as visibly obvious as pit road strategy. The #2 team has paid enough attention that it's caught up; it's high time some other drivers and crew chiefs did, too.
Indy Car had a problem with pack racing that came to a boil with the death last October of Dan Wheldon. That accident was directly related to pack racing. This year, under different race management, Indy Car dealt with the pack racing problem at the Texas Motor Speedway by reducing downforce, thus making the cars tougher to drive and putting "racing" back in the hands of the drivers.
Could NASCAR do something similar and reduce down force to make the cars harder to drive, resulting in less pack racing and the eventual "Big One"?
— Bill Phypers
They could, but here's the problem: you reduce packs, you get parades. And parades are already enough of a problem at too many 1.5-mile tracks right now. There's a sweet spot at the midpoint of pack racing, tandem racing (at superspeedways) and follow-the-leader, and you can be sure that everyone involved with competition is trying to locate that spot (which may or may not even exist). It's like trying to back up your car at 40 mph; every correction you make verges on an overcorrection. Just a guess, but I'm thinking that NASCAR will focus on engines rather than aerodynamics to manage competition for the short term.
So, with @AJDinger back and in the #51, where does this leave Regan Smith? Does Smith have to wait until the #88 (Nationwide) ride opens next year or will they replace Whitt with Smith now? Is (Phoenix Racing GM) Steve Barkdoll's choice to use AJ prove that Smith has something else going?
I think it's more just a case that Phoenix believes AJ has more upside than Regan. Which is debatable, since both have had moderate success in reasonable equipment. At this point, you've got to think Phoenix Racing will take any driver who doesn't actively sling wrenches at people's heads.
As for Smith ... good question. He's a quality driver who ought to get a shot in a good ride, but he's fallen into that pit of not being with a top-flight team, and thus subject to the whims of the economy. (See also: Brian Vickers, David Reutimann, David Ragan ... you get the idea.) I'd bet he'll do some good Nationwide time while waiting for the ranks above him to thin out a bit, but that's tough to say. Anybody want to pony up a cool $20 mil for a new Sprint Cup team? Please?
And on that 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 email@example.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!