From the Marbles

Happy Hour: How forthcoming should drivers be about concussions?

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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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. Let's get to it, shall we?

This past weekend was another fuel mileage race. Ever had a fuel mileage race in real life? I've only run out of gas once. Prom Night. Except that I miscalculated and had already dropped my date off. Shouldn't have been conserving fuel, apparently. And my buddies were more brutal on me for that than any NASCAR media member. Deservedly so.

All right, to your letters!

There was so much praise for Junior for admitting to having a concussion after Talladega. Then Jeff Gordon made his comments that he would hide a concussion if there were 2 races left and he was in contention for the Championship. So many people are commenting about Jeff Gordon's statement saying how stupid and unsafe that would be. What I don't understand is why those same people aren't trashing Junior for actually having and hiding the concussion he got at Kansas during the tire test and then drove in six races afterwards. Junior actually hides a concussion, races for six weeks, get another concussion and finally speaks up after he is out of the Championship. Junior is a HERO! Jeff makes a statement on a hypothetical question and he is scum of the earth. Are people just so willing to trash Gordon for nothing really? Or is it just a case of Dale Junior can do no wrong?

— Eric
Charlotte, NC

When you were a teenager, did you ever stay out late? Hang with that hellraiser your mother warned you about? Take a nip from your dad's liquor cabinet? Go on a prom date with a guy too stupid to check his gas gauge beforehand? And if you did do those things, did you ask your parents for permission first? Hell no, you didn't. It's that classic aphorism: it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. That's exactly what's at work here. Earnhardt was, in a sense, asking for forgiveness, while Gordon was laying out a hypothetical and, while not asking for permission, talking about something that hadn't yet been done. I don't think that there's any inherent anti-Gordon bias, any more than the usual EVERYBODY HATES MY FAVORITE DRIVER WAAAAHHH bias that every fan trots out every season. Gordon was just in a position of strength rather than weakness; kicking Earnhardt when he just got out of his car seems cruel.

Of course, you can bet your Amp that nobody's going to be too thrilled about him getting back in a car after another big wreck without a thorough exam.

Let's continue along these lines, shall we?

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Do you think if NASCAR allowed points earned by substitute/fill-in drivers to count towards the championship for the regular driver, it would encourage drivers who have possibly had concussions to be more open getting checked by doctors? If the penalty wasn't as great for coming out of the car for a race or two, I would think it would foster a safer environment for the drivers and their competitors. I realize this isn't ideal for sponsors and us fans, but who really gives a damn about dollars when drivers' safety is the concern.

Levi Douglas
Music City, TN

I think you're dead-on right here. There's such a powerful disincentive to self-report injuries that it's no wonder no one does. If a quarterback gets a concussion, they don't sit the entire team the next week. The one-race mulligan could be an interesting addition, but I like the idea of not lopping points off just because the driver is out for injury. We've got precedent — the "drive-till-you-puke" case when you have a sick driver and a replacement — so why not allow this in very limited, doctor-approved circumstances?

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With Dale Jr. out for two or more weeks, it's highly likely an insurance claim either by "Jr's brand" and/or HMS has been filed, that claim being worth almost equal to a Yahoo! sportswriter's weekly salary. It'll unquestionably increase premiums and knowing that insurance companies are always looking to minimize risk. Do you think they'll strongarm drivers, teams and NASCAR into "revisiting" the safety of plate tracks? Why not start with a traveling medical staff like Indy car has? Or what about slowing them down with an inner loop on the back stretch like the Glen's "bus stop"? Three wide stacked ten deep into the bus stop at 195mph. Now that's "bloodthirsty!"

Ricky Bobby

Ricky Bobby. He wakes up in the morning and pens excellence. Or at least a good question. The only way NASCAR is going to make changes here is to bow to pressures greater than itself: sponsors and public opinion. The insurance angle is an interesting one; how much more is it going to cost to run these races, from an insurance perspective? The idea of a traveling medical staff is an absolute necessity; there should be enough trained medical personnel at a track to survey every driver in every wreck, no exceptions. It's not being safety-nannies, it's protecting these guys so that they'll be able to race for many more years on end.

Also, they should slow the cars to 45 mph. Just to be safe.

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Can we dispel the myth that Kurt Busch is so talented the he will make a team better just by sitting in the driver's seat? I'm not saying he is not talented, he just doesn't make teams better. Phoenix Racing hired him to improve their finishes. Before hiring Busch they were a mid- to low-twenties owner points team; when he left the team they were a mid- to low-twenties owner points team. Busch's talent is not improving bad teams' it is taking a top flight team to one championship, then in the course of one year using a bad personality to make him not worth the trouble. He and his brother need to find their Darrell Waltrip moment, the realization that all the talent in the world doesn't matter unless you follow it up by being a good person.

Keith Acquard
Bennington, NY

Well put. Kurt will continue to get chances, and it's continually up to him to prove he can handle all of the demands of modern-day NASCAR, which means putting on a good face for sponsors and fans. He'll continue to have his defenders and his detractors until that moment when he wins a championship, then saves a kitten from getting squished on the track. Hey, it could happen.

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We all know why Regan Smith's engine failed Saturday night. It was an experimental engine that Hendrick wanted to test for reliability. If they didn't tell Dale Jr about the engine swap and the engine failed, that would preserve Dale Jr.'s ego in knowing that he would have been out of the Chase anyways regardless of his decision to step out of the car. I'm sure they had a very good idea that the engine would fail at
some point in the race.

Mack Wingfield

Well, it makes as much sense as the "NASCAR is biased against [my driver] and that's why they [threw/didn't throw] that yellow flag."

I'm no engineer, but I'm not thinking that the Chase is the best place to start with an experimental engine.

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I've been attending five or six races and camping every year for many years. I am about to drop to one or maybe two because most of the tracks prices are getting totally outrageous and the campsites are now so small we can hardly park our tow vehicles with our RV's.

Don
Bristol, RI

I feel for you, Don. The cost for a NASCAR weekend now is phenomenal. And there's no easy answer; NASCAR needs to be appealing to the wide base of fans over the local race attendees if it's going to survive, but it can't ignore those local fans. Tracks need to remain inventive and innovative with pricing structures, and everybody needs to go after price-gouging hotel owners with a pointed stick.

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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