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From the Marbles

Happy Hour: Why isn’t anyone picking Smoke to repeat?

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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Tony Stewart basks in the glory. / 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 (note new address) or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.

As you read this, I'm prepping for a trip to Daytona for Media Day, which is a big scrum where every single driver comes into a tent set up just outside Turn 4 and sits patiently for photos and questions. The big names have reporters three-deep; the lesser-knowns sit alone like the one drooling guy at a speed-date meetup. It's great fun, and we'll have updates for you all throughout Thursday.

For now, though, let's do battle with our readers.

Jay, you have Tony Stewart ranked 7th. 7TH! Come on, man!

— GG (via chat)

GG is referring to Yahoo!'s preseason predictions, which have been spooling out for a couple weeks now. On Monday, we dropped our Tony Stewart profile, which has Smoke ranked 5th overall. And none of us ranked Stewart higher than 4th. Which tracks pretty well across all publications; most observers are picking Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick as the odds-on favorites.

[ Related: Top 20 countdown: No. 5 Tony Stewart ]

So why's nobody picking Tony Stewart? Didn't the guy just prove he's got what it takes to win a championship? Well ... sort of. Stewart got hot at exactly the right time, which seems to be the trend among champions these days, but that's not exactly the safe-money bet. Yes, Stewart COULD win with a new crew chief, but will he? I say no. Sorry, Smoke Nation. Don't hate me.

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This may be the first of your "why is my driver ranked so low this pre-season?" questions! [Editor's note: Nope.] And here it is.

Yahoo! has Junior at 12th, and Kyle Busch at 6th. And public perception is that the Busch is the better driver. What is it the Brits say? Bollocks!

Over the course of their careers, Junior and Busch have average standings finishes (full seasons only) of 12.33 and 11.14 respectively. To be fair, since Busch became a full-time driver in 2005, Junior's average standing finish is 15th. However, if you look at the first seven seasons of Junior's career (Busch has raced seven full seasons), Junior's average standings finish was 9.57.

Moreover, Junior's average start and finish positions in races is 16.3 and 17.1 respectively. Not impressive? Busch's are 16.4 and 17.6, even less impressive. I believe in this case, perception is not reality. Who is the better driver now? It's hard to say now isn't it? You're only as good as your last race, or season.

Verdict: Junior.

Jeff "Sarge" Smith
Statesboro, GA

This is some first-rate bravado by a Junior fan, I'll give you that. It's also a pretty cunning enemy-of-my-enemy thing; most Junior Haters would be hard-pressed to admit they liked Kyle Busch more than ol' Junebug.

That said: Sarge, you're insane. The statistics are skewed by Busch's tendency to tap out of races where he's not winning, as well as by Junior's exceptional pre-Car of Tomorrow run. Head to head, all else being equal, Kyle Busch is a better driver than Dale Earnhardt Jr. BUT Busch's tendency to self-destruct gives Junior an opening ... one he needs to seize this year.

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Regarding the Kansas road course, I really like the idea of taking one of the races away from the oval, because once a year around that is quite enough. I also wholeheartedly agree with having a road race in the Chase, but with that being said, Kansas' road course doesn't sound like a prestigious setting for a road race, especially in the chase. Can you picture any driver bragging about winning there? Wouldn't you think Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon would brag a whole lot more about winning at Road America or Laguna Seca? Seriously, how cool do these words sound together: "stock car" and "Corkscrew." I rest my case.

Derek Jorde

Derek, I hope you're never within three states of Kansas; some of those Midwestern folk might not take kindly to your disparagement of their fine track. However, for the record, I agree with you; a Laguna Seca race would be amazing. Imagine the gang trying to navigate the Corkscrew:

Aside from schedule logistics, is there a real reason why NASCAR hasn't gone to Laguna Seca? Would the Corkscrew just dump everybody out like they'd tried to pass Juan Pablo Montoya? Help me out here.

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Start the season with the top 35 guaranteed spots in the grid at Daytona. At Phoenix, only the top 34 are guaranteed spots. Las Vegas, only the top 33. Continue each race dropping one guaranteed spot [with two mulligans]. By the second race at Richmond, the guaranteed qualifying spots are down to 12...same as in the Chase. Then the following season, it's ALL "go-fast-or-go-home" qualifying...just like it used to be in the "good ol' days" of NASCAR.

Now...here's one MORE twist I'd like to see thrown in: only qualify 42 spots for the Cup regulars. For the 43rd spot, make it an option for the winner of that week's Nationwide Series race to have an automatic berth, or at least the highest-placing Nationwide Series regular. If the specified Nationwide driver declines, then the spot goes to the 43rd fastest qualifier. I realize it'd be tough as hell to implement, but I think it would help the Cup fans begin to relate to the second-tier series' drivers a lot better than they currently do.

Mark "Buzz" Knight
New Salisbury, IN

I haven't found anyone against making qualifying harder, with the exception of people who, you know, actually invest money in NASCAR. Much as I love the idea above — or one that Geoffrey Miller suggested on Twitter this week, heat races to determine starting slots — we're looking at more of the same. Sorry, folks.

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Is Kasey Kahne the first driver to drive for all 4 manufacturers? I can't think of anyone else that has done that. Now he could become the first to win in each of the manufactures.

Jack Clark

He's actually not; as this article from last fall notes, Bobby and Terry Labonte, Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader, Joe Nemechek, David Gilliland, Dave Blaney, Robby Gordon and J.J. Yeley have all done the Manufacturer Grand Slam. Interestingly, Bobby Labonte drove for six manufacturers (also Pontiac and Oldsmobile) and Buck Baker drover for 13 back in the day.

Another note: at Hendrick, Kahne joins three guys who likely will end their careers driving for only one manufacturer. Which explains Kasey's new nickname: "Tramp."

And finally, we close out the offseason on a note of grace and tenderness ...

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Go away Jay. People don't give a [flip] about nasty car ... it [censored]s everyone;s [hindquarters]. It'll die soon enough.

Mr. NASCAR [censored]s my [hindquarters]
Incest, Alabama

Incest, Alabama. Great place to raise a family.

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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