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Happy Hour: Is Junior Nation driving up ratings?

From The Marbles

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Earnhardt opens up on fame, 2011 and … kids?

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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 nascarmail@yahoogroups.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.

Fuel mileage races are all the rage these days. Ever run out of gas while driving? I did, once. On my prom night. AFTER I had dropped off my date. That's what you call poor race strategy, friends. Another time, the car was on fumes and started that "I'm out of gas, you're screwed" hitch-and-wobble ... and then I crested a hill and rolled, bone-dry tank and all, right up to a gas pump. I felt like standing on the hood and spraying champagne in celebration after that.

Not coincidentally, we'll talk of fuel mileage today. But first, another theory on why NASCAR ratings are up of late ...

Even though I don't like to admit it, I'm pretty surprised you haven't hit on another major reason why ratings are up this year compared to last year...the 88. Whether you love him or recognize he's not a very good driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver. The fact he's running well (saving gas) and actually in the Chase (rather than back in the 20s) is certainly a reason why a lot more people are watching this year. Agreed?

— Tony Manns

Excellent point, and I deserve to get hollered at by a Junior fan for that oversight. (What do you think that hollering would sound like ... ?) Junior's resurgence has indeed helped spur more interest in the sport. People who aren't Junior fans lose their minds over this, but the truth is the truth: The man drives eyeballs. (Not literally. Just an expression. Though that'd be a hell of a plot for a horror flick.) People want to see what he's doing, and when he's running well, they'll keep up and tune in.

Which brings up a point: Do you tune out if your driver is out of the mix, either in the course of a race or the course of a season? If your guy goes behind the wall in lap 20, are you done for the day? Or do you hang out and watch to see how the rest of the race plays out? That's one of the big knocks against the Chase, that fans of certain drivers don't have anything to root for, but then again the Super Bowl and World Series seem to do OK with only two teams participating and everybody else at home watching.

{ysp:more}

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In regards to all the hue and cry over boring fuel mileage races I offer a simple, and perhaps goofy, solution: scheduled yellow flag pit stops.

NASCAR knows the fuel window at each track and how many stops it will take to complete a normal, scheduled lap race. So throw a yellow at the end of each fuel window. This would almost eliminate the fuel mileage question from racing (unless a race goes to all three green-white checkered attempts, possibly). It would completely alter team strategy, allowing cars to RACE EACH OTHER, rather than racing the fuel tank capacity and would present a mad spectacle of ALL 43 cars coming to pit road on each scheduled stop. Teams could always pit anytime they want to additionally for any other reason. Positions could still be gained on pit road by crews that perform better than the others.

A crazy idea? Or could it work?

— Kris Tufts

Yes, it's a crazy idea. Yes, it could work, and you wouldn't have to do it at the end of every fuel window, just the last one. But I don't want it to. I appreciate everyone's desire to see a race run under green with full fuel, but here's the thing: A key part of racing is the strategic planning involved in working backward from the finish. If your crew chief can't remember to carry the one when he's calculating how much fuel he's got left, it's not the job of the other cars to sit around and wait for him to catch up. Run what you brung, and run it the whole race at your own pace.

Now, I understand this runs counter to the whole philosophy of the start of the Chase, which is in effect a giant caution flag for the entire season to bunch the field up. And I know that I'm probably a hypocrite for favoring the Chase and not favoring this idea. But I see it thusly: The Chase allows plenty of time for strategy and screwups. Throwing a yellow for fuel with, say, 25 laps left doesn't.

So, yeah, good idea but I respectfully disagree. Though I will say I like the idea of 43 cars on pit road at once. We need a camera just to catch every bit of drama that goes on there every week.

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I just wanted to give a hats off to Kurt Busch for his Dover win. But more importantly, kudos to him and Jimmie Johnson for a good clean end to the race. I'm sure there were plenty of times when some vehicular weight could have been thrown around a little, but it was nice, clean, and refreshing to see. Grats both for a good finish to the race!

— Charles
Upstate NY

Seconded. I know there are the bloodthirsty types who want carnage at every turn; we have people who pray to the sweet baby Jesus on the chat every week for someone to put Kyle Busch into a wall. But friends, that's the equivalent of kneeing someone in the nethers when they're going up for a dunk, or drilling a fastball into their ear-hole: Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. Plus, the fact that Kurt outran Jimmie straight-up could have future impacts on the Chase. I don't think Kurt is anywhere near inside Jimmie's head, but I do think he left a "HELLO MY NAME IS KURT" nametag in there somewhere.

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Jay, I'm a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. I would like to see him win a championship, but I would rather see him and Kyle become rivals. Not wrecking each other, but the two of them every week, door-to-door for the win. That would help NASCAR, the good-vs.-bad, but also clean hard racing and a little bump-and-run. Then NASCAR would have it all: the rivalry, "boys have at it," and Junior winning. Junior Nation would be in heaven.

— Randy Braud

The rivalry aspect would be outstanding, yeah. I think we're getting there; we just need more guys to step up on a consistent basis. Here's where having all the players on the field every week hurts NASCAR: While you only get Lakers-Celtics or Bulldogs-Gators or Yankees-Red Sox a few times a year (or once, in football), here you've got rivalry every week, and you can't sustain that over a long season. There'll be weeks when the drivers aren't anywhere near each other, or both finish around 15th and don't mess with one another. Not that it can be changed, it's just another obstacle to overcome to having perpetual rivalries. Too much of a good thing can be too much of a good thing.

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Not to be rude to the media people, but am I the only one that enjoys seeing Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart getting ticked off at the media? Yes it may be rude, but there is absolutely no reason for NASCAR to fine them as a reader last week suggested. Emotion is emotion and I like the drivers showing it, even if Busch knew he was wrong about being in Jimmie's head.

— Mark Smith

Taking myself out of the equation, I love seeing drivers go off on the media, and I love it when the media goes back at the drivers. I too love seeing some emotion. What does stink is when it's an unequal playing field, when the driver has a microphone and the media member doesn't, or when the driver can walk away and thus screw over the other media members looking for a story.

Really, though, it's about professionalism; it's possible to speak your mind without being a clown about it. Still, bottom line, I get the idea that the media cares a lot more about this story than regular fans, which is fine. Agree?

Next up: more lookalikes!

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I was in England for a wedding last month and discovered my girlfriend's cousin, named Nick Maggs, looks a LOT like Clint Bowyer. I had just put a couple of pictures together to show the family what I was talking about. Clint Bowyer is not exactly a household name in the United Kingdom.

— Dale Renner

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That dude needs to come over here and do one interview AS Clint Bowyer, full firesuit and everything.

Postrace reporter: Clint, looked a little rough out there today. How was your car handling?

British Bowyer: Blimey, guvnah! Me lorry was shimmyin' like the Queen Mum on three spots o'tea! Pip pip cheerio!

(Yes, my entire concept of British culture is shaped by Monty Python and "Oliver Twist." But I think British Bowyer could become a new character 'round these parts.)

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After seeing you drop Matt Kenseth in the rankings from 5th to 9th, following a 5th place finish at Dover might I add, I'd like to remind you of one very important piece of information: RK-741. This is the chassis that put on one of the most dominating performances of the year at Texas. Lead the most laps and was the class of the field during the 600 before it turned into a fuel mileage race. Was top 2 at Chicagoland, again derailed by fuel mileage. I don't know if they will bring this chassis to Kansas, but you can bet it will be a force at Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead. Pencil him in for a 3rd, or even 4th 'W' before season end. Consider yourself in the loop.

— Ned
Waterloo, IL

Considered. And thank you. Upon reflection, I did drop Kenseth a bit much in this week's Power Rankings. And you Kenseth fans, you guys are freaking murderous. Kyle Busch gets called everything short of a serial killer, and his fans are all, "whatever, dude. Rowdy ROOLZ!" But you even hint that Kenseth is a touch, shall we say, restrained, and man, the Kensethian Horde is on you like a school of purple, 17-branded piranha.

We close with a theory on media bias:

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I'm not sure this will get into print, but here goes. I can't help but noticing week in and week out that whenever there is some sort of list that has Kyle Busch tied with someone else, he is always last. When the Chase began, you put him behind Kevin Harvick, even though NASCAR had seeded him #1. Do you have some problem with Kyle ? If that is the case you can count on my boycott of all things Yahoo! Sports.

Mary D

Remember the golden rule around these parts, friends: Whoever your favorite driver is, I hate him. And whoever your favorite driver's most bitter rival is, I love him. This applies to every single one of you.

Nah, come on. I've been called a Kyle lover, a Jimmie lover, a Dale lover ... never a Robby Gordon lover, so I've got to work on that ... everybody sees bias where they want. I live in Atlanta, and friends of mine who work on the local newspaper here say that fans will literally measure the column inches dedicated to the Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and will scream if they're out of whack. So no, we don't have a problem with Kyle. But if you do want to boycott Yahoo! Sports, I'd recommend the golf blog. The guy that runs that place hates NASCAR. True story.

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 nascarmail@yahoogroups.com, find us on Facebook right here, or hit us up on Twitter at @jaybusbee. Make sure to tell us where you're from. We'll make you famous!

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