From the Marbles

Happy Hour: Is the NASCAR season too long?

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 (note new address) or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.

Have a good holiday? Us too. Santa brought me clothes (ack) and bourbon (hell yes), and this time he didn't take a nip or two off the top before giving it to me. Thieving old codger. Anyway, share your gift haul in the comments below, and meantime, we'll be getting to your letters. We begin with a question that perplexes many a non-NASCAR fan: "when does the freakin' season end?"

Is there any chance that NASCAR will shorten its season? It drags on way too long.

Dave Blakely
Clayton, Ohio

This is a complaint that many (including quite a few inside the ropes, so to speak) have about the NASCAR season. When you take into account Speedweeks, you're running from Valentine's Day right to Thanksgiving. Add in the Vegas banquet and preseason testing and media spectaculars, and you're looking at literally about a six-week offseason. There's something to be said for enforced scarcity; the NFL gets people amped out of their minds because it's only on 17 weeks of the year for the entire league. Ditto college football. And the NBA ought to just scrap the first two months of its season and start on Christmas every year.

That said: Where do you cut? Schedule contraction in NASCAR isn't the same as contraction in stick-and-ball sports, where you'd just be playing fewer games at the same location. Every race brings in millions of dollars of revenue to its local community. You can't cut those out. You just can't. Though I would be all in favor of eliminating repeat visits to all but a few select tracks. Alas, it's never going to happen.

But what about you? Do you think the NASCAR season is too long? Have your say below.

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As a NASCAR and college football fan, I am constantly left in disbelief and sometimes complete confusion after the sanctioning bodies levy penalties, so I ask you this question: Who has the most ambiguous rule between NASCAR's "detrimental to stock car racing" and the NCAA's "lack of institutional control"?

— Cody Milam
Marble Falls, Texas

Being a sports fan now really does mean you have to come to terms with the cognitive dissonance of the entire enterprise; in other words, we know exactly how the sausage is made, we just choose to ignore it. I'd have to go with NASCAR's "detrimental to stock car racing" as the more arbitrarily applied rule, since you've really got to screw up as a university to get the "lack of institutional control" label thrown on you. Shoot, drinking wine in the infield (Sonoma excluded) qualifies as an action "detrimental to stock car racing."

We'd all love to see more definitive rules laid down, and by the same token we all know why they don't exist. It's not to protect the competitors, it's to protect the regulators; it's a lot easier to let favored drivers/universities skate if you can hide behind the gray cloak of your own language. Aw, hell, I feel a thousand-word rant coming on. Gotta punch out now and get onto a less charged topic.

Hey, let's talk about Kurt Busch! Specifically, our topic last week of Kurt fans searching for a new driver ...

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I became a Kurt Busch fan in the beginning of '02. I watched him push Jimmy Spencer out of the way at Bristol and liked him ever since ... That being said, there is no room for disrespect of the likes that Kurt has show this past year. As a fan, you try to pick a driver that relates best to you so when that driver acts up you kind of feel embarrassed with him. I do not act like that, so I no longer will be a KB fan either ... Don't feel like you're letting Kurt down for leaving him. He obviously wouldn't for you!!

— Matt
Springfield, Mo.

This right here is the challenge that Busch faces. The guy has turned off even his longtime fans. This might be an opportunity unparalleled in NASCAR: to see if someone at the top of his game can get back the fans that he's pushed away by personality alone.

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It's hard to be a Petty fan. I've been one since I was about 10 years old and I'm still one at 54. I wore my Richard Petty STP blazer with the roadrunner stripe down the front for at least 3 years in the early 70's, it finally wore out. But it's expensive now buying a new cap each time the driver changes. Guess I'll wear the Marcos Ambrose hat and not buy a #43 hat in case the next driver leaves next year. My Bobby Labonte #43 (Cheerios) and Reed (Sorenson) hat is now hanging in my garage with the "Dinger" cap. But I'll stay a Petty fan, but ... it's getting hard to keep the faith.

— Stanley Dunkley

I feel for you, Stanley. This is what a lot of people in the upper echelons of NASCAR, myself included, lose sight of now and then: for some fans, this is family. You've grown up with these names and these icons since childhood, and it's like watching members of your family leave. (The ones you like.) Don't have much advice for you, Stanley, except to say you're one hell of a loyal fan. Keep at it. And maybe David Ragan can bring you a win or two. (Oh, that didn't help, did it? Sorry.)

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Love AJ Allmendinger going to Penske. He was out of a ride at Petty through no fault of his own, and luckily had a soft landing in an even better gig. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! With Urt a "Rising Phoenix", we now have the usual suspects for the Petty opening. If they don't find sponsorship, any chance they transfer Ambrose and his sponsorship to the 43? Any chance Ambrose is at risk?

— Jeff "Sarge" Smith
Statesboro, Ga.

I can't imagine Ambrose is at risk of losing his ride; he's just now starting to get the hang of this thing. But Petty is absolutely reeling right now, losing both a major sponsor and a highly touted driver. I'd imagine they'd want to keep the 43 on the track just for tradition and brand-preservation purposes, so yeah, if they're not able to find a comparable driver, it's entirely possible Ambrose could take the 43.

Of course, as I've said several times of late, we're all missing the obvious. There's a seven-time champion out there who doesn't have a ride. And he's already a wee bit familiar with the 43. Why not, huh? Why doesn't anybody take me seriously when I say we need to put Richard Petty back behind the wheel?

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Do you think the Hendrick drafting-tandem partners will look like this?

• Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman because they won the Daytona 500 together at Penske
• Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick because she will need a teammate.
• Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne because of what Trevor Bayne did to Jeff at Dega.
• Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. because they are in the same shop.

— Fatback
North Carolina

I love that we're not even pretending that there's anything other than eight Hendrick cars headed for Daytona in 2012. Yeah, your scenario seems eminently reasonable to start. Everything of course goes out the window once the in-race attrition happens. Recall that Smoke and Junior had a great run together for awhile at Daytona earlier this year. Also note that Stewart has never won the Daytona 500; is he going to put perhaps his best chance in the hands of someone not familiar with tandem driving? That's the only caveat I'd have to your breakdown. In less than two months, we shall see ...

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Any chance of NASCAR ever deciding to reduce the number of cars making the field? Maybe to a more realistic number like 34? It really is quite ridiculous to have the same old "rolling roadblocks" on the track week after week when they have no chance whatsoever of winning a race ... or even finishing in the top 20 ... and they usually head for the pits after 15 or 20 laps anyway. It would also make things more interesting if teams had no type of "provisional" way into the field and ALL teams had to qualify on speed alone.

— LMB

The qualify-on-speed idea is one that fans love but will never come to pass, simply because NASCAR has to protect its sponsors. You don't want someone paying tens of millions of dollars to miss out on a race because a 50-cent part malfunctioned during qualifying. (Though I too would love to see that.)

As for reducing the field: you know, I get the idea for why you'd say that, and I know that people hate start-and-parkers, but I'm of the mind that this is one of NASCAR's last links to the old "race what you drove here in" past. Anybody with enough desire (and enough money) can get a car onto a track, and I think that's fairly cool. Aesthetically it's a bit awkward, but really, what harm do start-and-parkers realistically do? We take shots at them all the time here, but bottom line: these cats are living a dream, one or two laps at a time.

And that's one to grow on.

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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