Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/ one-liner at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.
Was hanging out this weekend and the Zac Brown Band's "Chicken Fried" came on, and it was a Pavlovian reaction for me: instantly I could smell that classic campfire-and-burnt-tire smell of a racetrack. I've heard that song at every race I've attended since it came out, and it's now inextricably intertwined in my mind with NASCAR infields. Seriously, if you played it right now, I'd start looking around thinking I was about to be mowed over by a lunatic Kyle Busch trying to sneak in a couple more qualifying laps. So, question of the week: what's the ultimate NASCAR infield song? Let's just take "Sweet Home Alabama" right off the table; that's cliche and you guys can do better than that. Offer up your ideas, preferably with justification and/or backstory, and we'll run 'em soon.
Now, though, we deal with the fiercest fanbase in NASCAR:
How come Matt Kenseth isn't getting much dap? Win or two here at the end and he could end up winning it all. He has just as good a chance as anyone above him, but he gets no love. I can't stand it. Give the guy his due.
— Kent Sawatzky
Kent set this week's topic up on a tee for me, specifically: what the hell is the deal with you Kenseth fans? You people are as rabid as any fanbase I've ever seen, and the fact that Kenseth is so laid-back makes the contrast all the more funny. At this point, you can psychologically target each fanbase: Jeff Gordon fans want another championship but are fundamentally satisfied with their lot in life; Kyle Busch fans know their guy kicks butt in the regular season but have that soft underbelly labeled "the Chase;" Jimmie Johnson fans remain inexplicably neurotic and insecure about any jabs despite the fact that their guy is a five-time champ; Kevin Harvick fans are always ready to throw some bluster to cover for the fact that their guy isn't quite as good as they think he ought to be; Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans are impervious to criticism; Tony Stewart fans would chew through steel bleachers with their teeth if he told them to, and so on.
But Kenseth fans — man, you guys are as passionate as any fan base in the sport. You're not necessarily the largest, and you're not the most vocal, but if anybody doesn't give Kenseth his due, you're out in force. Here's the thing, though: Kenseth is one hell of a driver, and he's a legit (though outside) championship competitor this year, but that third component, the personality, is where he doesn't quite hit the mark. Now, I know you're already banging away with IT'S NOT ABOUT PERSONALITY HE'S A GREAT DRIVER YOU IDIOT emails, and I get that. I also get that he's actually a very funny guy. But there's a reason his nickname around these parts is "Flatline" — everything is at a nice, moderated level. Hate to say it, but that may be why he's having trouble attracting sponsorship. Like it or not, NASCAR is a place where outsized personalities thrive.
What do you think, Kensethians and non-Kensethians? How much of a role should "personality" play in a driver's stardom? Fire away.
Jay, tell me where to meet you. You bring the Coke, I'll bring the Crown and sarcasm.
— Ned S.
I don't know what that means. Is that Kenseth Kode? Help!
Is there any way that the drivers can clean up their language on the radio? I realize that we don't have to listen, but the drivers are letting small children listen to terrible language and they could really be a good influence on their fans.
— Carolyn Johnston
Why is nobody reporting on the Dale Jr. potty mouth for saying the f word about 30 times on Hot Pass? I could not believe my ears ... He called the NASCAR people stupid [f's]. Wow, what money and fame buys you.
Two letters, same topic. To be fair, James, I don't think that it's just people with money and fame who cuss. Here's the thing: I don't have a problem with the drivers cussing on the radio. It makes for a more colorful race and gives you insight into these guys' personalities when they're not sanitizing themselves for the cameras.
I get the "bad for the kids" argument, I do. I once had Juan Pablo Montoya's radio open when I was covering a race in my office once, and my son walked in and learned about 15 new words in ten seconds. But as a father, I can say unequivocally that I don't want everything sanitized to protect the children. First off, the kids already know the words (in my house, they learned them while riding in the back seat as Daddy drove). Second, they're just words, not actions. Third, not everything needs to be kid-safe. I like video games where you can carjack (and worse) without fear, music with a few naughty words, movies and TV with "adult situations." (Ever see one of those pre-show warnings where they tell you that there's about to be "Violence, Language, and Sexual Situation" and think, "score!" Me too.) And I like drivers dropping the f-bomb when they get mad. And you ... ?
I was given tickets to the Kansas race this weekend and was pleasantly surprised by the attendance. It looked like there were about 50 empty seats way down in the corner of Turn 1, but the rest was pretty packed. It was about 50 laps into the race when I realized why attendance is down overall, NASCAR races can sometimes be ... boring. After the initial excitement of the start of the race and all of the sights, sounds, and smells that you go to the race for faded, I found myself looking for the fast forward button or maybe some place quiet I could nap for 90 minutes or so and catch the end of this thing later. The only time the crowd paid attention and got interested enough to stand up was restarts ... Looking forward to watching the race next weekend from home, where I can pause it, take a nap, wake up and fast-forward to the good stuff, the end.
— Jeff S.
Yeah, this is the grand secret of NASCAR, the fact that sometimes, races are just cars going around in a circle. We're all so accustomed to fighting back against the nimrods who slag off NASCAR with that jab that it's almost as if we're afraid to admit that every so often, they're right. Yes, baseball can get this way, with endless processions of batters walking to and from the dugouts, but much like baseball, we watch not for the dull moments, but because there's always the possibility of something amazing happening.
I will tell you this, though: if you get the chance to grab a nap in the infield while the engines are running, do it. The hum of the engines will lull you right to sleep, and it's like being back in the womb. Though you probably shouldn't tell your mother that her womb was like the Talladega infield. That probably won't be received the way you expect.
I've got a new lookalike for your mailbag. My friend Jerod Gentry from Whitesboro, Texas. The first time I met Jerod, I said, "Holy cow, this guy looks like Martin Truex, Jr." He's about the same size and build of a NASCAR driver, and he's a racer too, albeit dirtbikes and quads.
— Ross Depew
Hmmm. He's got the little chin-grit down, but he looks like the love child of Truex and Justin Timberlake. Plus, you probably ought to be careful; he may fire you as a friend without warning. Does he bust into off-key renditions of "NAPA Know-How"?
One can't say anyone is 100% done until Talladega and Martinsville are over, because those are two tracks that could radically change the points in a hurry. Crashes not of their own making could shake up points in a hurry.
— Levoy Hemphill
I can gauge the psyche of fanbases by their reaction to criticism, and my "DOA" post Sunday night didn't upset any but the most delusional fans of Gordon, Earnhardt, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. Most rational fans of those drivers realize that it's over, realistically if not mathematically. And they may or may not be cool with that, but they recognize that unless wrecks at Talladega and Martinsville take out the top eight on the first lap, it's time to start planning for 2012.
But I'm not counting out Kenseth until after championship week in Vegas, and maybe not even then. Those Kensethians will come after you with blades, man.
Finally, there's this, courtesy of one Raymond Reed:
Thank you for insisting that Urt drive your car.
Sincerely, Miller Lite
Heh heh. Bravo.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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!
- Matt Kenseth