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Happy Hour: How does Danica Patrick’s progress stack up against NASCAR’s best?

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It's never good when your boss makes this face. (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 or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.

The Matt Kenseth business happened too late to make this round of the mailbag, but I'm having a hard time remembering a driver who was leading in the points deciding to leave his team in the middle of the season. It could have happened last year with Carl Edwards, of course, but didn't. Everyone insists that this won't hurt the team in any way, but since this is without precedent, how can we know? What do you think will happen with Kenseth and the soon-to-be-disbanded Killer Bees of his crew?

Have your say in the comments below. Meantime, your letters. We emphasize that these are real letters from real readers. You too can participate ... if ya got the guts.

I hope Danica Patrick does well but I don't get all the expectations. How has she done compared to the start of so many drivers who seemed to do pretty well their first few seasons? I realize that many of them started taking off in year two or three, but is she really showing signs that she will be any better than those who are consistently in the bottom half of the standings? I hope she will, but can you give any evidence to that end?

Captain Running Man

Let's have some fun with statistics, shall we? Let's focus on the first three seasons of certain drivers' Nationwide careers, since that's the point where most of the big names made The Jump. To start:

• Danica Patrick, age 30: 39 races, zero wins, one top 5, four top 10s, one pole.

Now, let's consider some well-known drivers at comparable points in their careers:

• Tony Stewart, age 27: 38 races, zero wins, six top 5s, seven top 10s, two poles.
• Jeff Gordon, age 19: 31 races, zero wins, five top 5s, 10 top 10s, one pole.
• Kyle Busch, age 19: 41 races, five wins, 18 top 5s, 25 top 10s, five poles.
• Carl Edwards, age 25: 36 races, five wins, 15 top 5s, 21 top 10s, four poles.

Of note: Stewart would leap to Sprint Cup after the above and win three races his first year there. Gordon would go on to win three races his third year in Nationwide. Busch would finish second in the Nationwide series in 2004, included in the above results. And Edwards would win nine races across both Sprint and Nationwide in 2005, the last year accounted for above.

So what have we learned? Patrick generally doesn't fare too well in most of these comparisons, but bear in mind these are the best of the best. And once these drivers got past the initial learning curve, success came often. Also, there's a point at which most of these drivers launched into the stratosphere, and Danica Patrick is on the cusp of that point, career-wise if not age-wise. Do you think she's suddenly going to bust out with four wins in Sprint Cup next year? Yeah, me neither.

But before we go writing her off as a never-will-be, consider this set of career-starting Nationwide stats:

• Driver X, age 24: 39 races, zero wins, zero top 5s, seven top 10s, zero poles.

Remarkably similar to Ms. Patrick's, wouldn't you say? And that driver would go on to win a couple races. You probably know him ... fella by the name of Jimmie Johnson.

____________________

Do you think anyone at TNT has actually seen a NASCAR race, or even a couple of kids racing bikes around the block? The last two laps of the Sonoma race featured a tight battle up front between Bowyer, Busch and Stewart, and the idiots there want to show a wreck that they initially missed, and had ZERO impact on the three racing for the lead. Next, Martin Truex Jr., who was nowhere near being a factor, spins out, so they elect to show him, again instead of the leaders engaged in an actual race on the last two laps. Their coverage is so unbelievably bad it's almost hard to describe.

I never thought I'd like to hear Ol' DW, but at least the Fox directors seem to understand how a race works.

— David E. Wilson

There are so many moving parts involved in a television broadcast that casual fans aren't aware of that I often dodge the concept of broadcast criticism entirely; unlike other sports, NASCAR is one that requires constant editorial control and choice, and one person's missed moment is another's key move in the race.

That said ... wow, has TNT gotten nailed this year. I mean, we expect the commenters at The Daly Planet to roast the broadcast; those people haven't enjoyed a race in their entire lives. But when otherwise levelheaded viewers start screaming about the length and frequency of commercials, the missed action shots, the missed identification and analysis by the announcers ... well, it may be time to take a closer look at what's going on.

TNT can and does put out good sports programming, and in many years their coverage has been my favorite of the Big Three. But this year, something is off, way off. They've got time to turn it around, but if not, the lingering bad taste in viewers' mouths will last a lot longer than this next commercial break.

____________________

I think we can all agree that there are entirely too many cookie cutters on the schedule. Charlotte and Kansas could help solve that problem by running one of their two dates on the existing or soon to be completed infield road courses. How easy would be to have a road race at Daytona during Speed Weeks? Atlanta (the city, not AMS) could gain back a second date in Braselton at the world-famous Road Atlanta. Indy has a beautiful facility in the infield. Texas is about to host F1 in Austin. That still leaves Road America, Sebring, and Languna Seca as great purpose-built road courses that aren't even on NASCAR's radar. And you aren't a true race fan if you can't get excited over the concept of stock cars tearing through the streets of any major city that is willing and able to host a race! If NASCAR wants the sport to lose the stereotype of "They're makin' another left turn!", then do something about it ... at least something more than a couple of right turns for two weeks out of the year.

Darrell "Furiousd" Watts
In a bunker 20 floors below sea level

Every time we visit a road course, two questions arise: "Why aren't there more road courses?" and "Why isn't there a road course in the Chase?" And every time, NASCAR answers the second question with a tautology: There isn't a road course in the Chase because there isn't a road course in the Chase. They generally flat-out dodge the first question. I have absolutely no basis for thinking this, but I wonder if NASCAR looks at the road courses like that vaguely annoying but ultimately inconsequential in-law you have to put up with a couple times a year. Really, Uncle Frank? You saw a weasel in your garage last week? That's great ... What's that? You want my number? You know what, I'm getting a new phone, so I'd better not give you my number right now ...

Anyway, yeah, I think taking NASCAR in a different direction would be a great benefit to the series. Along those lines ...

____________________

The other day, I was watching a race (by means that are kind of frowned upon, but as a broke college student, I really have no other choice), and the main feed was through an Australian sports station. By the looks of it, NASCAR seems to be gaining popularity over in Australia. I figure some of that growing popularity has to be because of Marcos Ambrose, but they can also relate to the same manufacturers as well. My question is, would an exhibition race in Australia be worth it for NASCAR to try and gain overseas exposure? They've been dying to get into foreign markets, and Australia seems to be a better bet than Europe or anywhere else. An exhibition race in the offseason at Bathurst would be awesome in my opinion.

— Brad Masson

I think it'd be a great way to build worldwide attention for the sport, but there are a few problems with that idea. First, the last time a NASCAR driver visited Australia, it didn't go so well. Punches and helmets were thrown. Second, NASCAR has the shortest offseason in pro sports — seriously, it lasts like 20 minutes — and so drivers aren't too keen on giving up that time. Finally, aside from awareness, what would be the point? There's not a whole lot of sponsor interest in marketing to an international audience, in most cases.

So, great idea, but another that likely will remain in the "oughta be but won't" file.

Also, don't pirate video, kid. Come join us on the chat. Don't cost nothin'.

____________________

Seems to me there was a lot of support for old Kurt Busch this weekend. It was almost nauseating during the Nationwide race. (Great race, BTW. Much better than the Snore-Noma race.) TV commentators were falling all over themselves during the Kurt Busch 200 at Road America. It even spilled over to the Cup race in Whine Country. Not that he didn't deserve it, as he did drive his ass off this weekend, but he'd best not forget it either. A lot of people are trying to prop him up. Doubt they'll do it again though.

Robert in Richmond

I have to tell you, it was good to see Kurt Busch run up front and not have something go horribly, tragically, hysterically wrong at the end of the race. I don't wish the dude any ill will; the more drivers running at the top of their game the better, I say.

That said ... it's easy for Busch to be all smiles and lollipops when he's running well all race. We find out what kind of a guy he is when he falls apart ... when he gets spun on the last lap, say, or has a tire go flying off because one of his crew twitched at the wrong time. Jury's still out on Mr. Busch.

___________________

I was watching Mike and Mike in the morning the week LeBron James won his first NBA title. They asked the question, who inherits the title of "the most in need of a title." Mike Greenberg brought up Dale Earnhardt Jr. because of his dad. Is Junior in need of a title to say he had a great career for himself, not based on his dad's numbers of wins and titles?

Matt P.
Wynne

To say he had a GREAT career? Absolutely, he needs a title, and probably two. But to have a GOOD career? He's already there. Comparing him to his father is pointless and unfair; nobody is going to live up to Senior's reputation and record for decades, if ever. But Junior is heading toward Charles Barkley/Patrick Ewing/Karl Malone territory: his greatness will always be defined by a can't-win-the-big-one asterisk.

I bet Junior wins another one this year, and he's in the hunt all the way into mid-October at least. I don't think he has the staying power to last all Chase, but I do think he's going to surprise a lot of people.

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 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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