Wed Jun 15 10:14am EDT
Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: you write us with your best rant/joke/one-liner at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face. Today, we're talking Hall of Fame, new race formats, and Tony Stewart's failure to launch. Let's begin!
I say, let's break the barriers [to Hall of Fame induction] and celebrate our sport's greatest now by having current drivers in the HOF. While I do agree that some drivers should wait, I really don't see why or how Jeff Gordon is not a Hall of Famer. Let's just put him in the 2014 or 2015 class in one of his last years. Jimmie Johnson is probably another driver who is a lock. Tony Stewart would probably do it with another title as well. I get it that we don't want to induct a ton of current drivers before others, but it would be cool to hear a call like, "...and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon comes out of turn four and wins!" Or, "Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson wins his 8th straight championship!"
St. Paul, Minn.
Yes, and if you heard that line about Jimmie, it'd echo because there'd be no one in the stands. (Kidding, Vader fans!) Anyway, I like this idea. The LPGA has something roughly similar in that if you hit a certain statistical standard, you're automatically in, which has led to some players qualifying for the Hall before they're out of their twenties.
The issue with the Hall, and we're going to see this in dramatic fashion next year, is that the voters are torn between respecting the sport's history and honoring notable names. With most of the big names now off the board, we're looking at a season or two (or more) of inductees whom the mass of NASCAR fandom has never heard of. Currently, drivers must be retired for a minimum of three years before they can be considered for induction.
Let's say they change that, though. Let's say that they lift the restriction and allow in one active driver. Who gets it, in your estimation? Jeff Gordon? Jimmie Johnson? Bill Elliott? Kyle Busch? (Kidding! Relax.) I say you go with Gordon by a whisker based on longevity and the formats under which he won, but you could make a great argument for JJ as well. And you?
As a Tony Stewart fan I'm looking at the calendar and getting a little nervous. It's June and he should be sliding around the track right into victory lane. I know he's made one change with his Competition Director, but I'm wondering if he needs to start looking at this like a driver, and how the heck does he stop hamstringing himself, or does he need to start looking at this like an owner and see if anybody else is hamstringing him? I'm not one to blame the crew chief, but there have been some questionable calls by Darian Grubb. Newman seems to be doing alright, so what the heck is up with Smoke? I know people questioned this whole owner-driver thing and he did really well the first couple of years, but I think now is where the "rubber meets the road" and both sides need to show up and get this figured out.
Big Spring, Texas
Smoke's been the victim of bad luck and bad pit calls this year, and you also have to think that his attention is parsed into tiny little slivers between his on-track duties, his ownership oversight and his Eldora work. Stewart fans need to be concerned, but not overly so; one win and he's right back in the thick of the Chase hunt.
Tell you what, next time I see him I'll ask him what's up. If he's in a good mood, he'll answer with a thoughtful response about the challenges of balancing so many roles. If not ... well, you may have a new mailbag honcho the next week.
Why don't teams use tire warmers to help cars returning to the track have better grip/control? Cars returning with such low air pressures have been the cause of many wrecks due to "tires not up to racing air pressure". Other series (Indy) have used it. Is it against NASCAR rules or just doesn't work with the weight of these cars?
— Lamar Reed
It's against NASCAR rules. Goodyear delivers the tires to the teams at the track, and crews aren't permitted to modify them by scuffing them up, warming them, adding chemicals or any other kind of tire sorcery. Really, the only thing teams can do is adjust the pressure and have the drivers work the tires over while they're on the car, which is why you see cars weaving erratically during caution. They're cleaning off the tires and also warming them up.
Barely-related aside: Jay Hart and I were talking after the Hall of Fame induction in which Glen Wood got in; one of Wood's greatest achievements was the development of the pit stop. Prior to Wood, the driver would pull in, turn off his car and step out for a smoke while the team worked on his car like he'd made an auto shop appointment. Why did it take Wood to figure out that maybe that wasn't the fastest way of doing things? Wasn't that, like, obvious?
Which led me to wonder what other innovations are out there waiting to be discovered. (For good or ill, 2x2 racing changed the sport, and it's only a year old.) Hart suggested that Juan Pablo Montoya's crew chief Brian Pattie is developing some kind of curious new tire management strategy (four tires on green, two on yellow), but whether it'll stick is another matter. Shoot, he might just rotate the tires next week at Watkins Glen. Would save time! And speaking of the Glen ...
With the testing restrictions that NASCAR has put on teams, how did Tony Stewart get away with doing the ride swap at The Glen? I understand they didn't use the same course configuration that NASCAR uses, but I think it would be close enough to help out.
Only if they allow Stewart to use a Formula One vehicle. (Which would be pretty cool, by the way.) The difference in handling between that car and the Sprint Cup car Smoke will drive is so vast that Stewart would get better preparation from playing a video game.
I wonder why drivers don't go all stealth mode and sign up for the Richard Petty Driving Experience at a Chase track wearing a fake mustache. Admit it, you'd want to see Stewart in a bushy 'stache driving Talladega with a bunch of regional sales reps out for a teambuilding exercise. I can see no problem whatsoever with this plan.
I hate to be a negative Nancy but do you think that NASCAR's ratings boost up to this point could be a byproduct of how bad the ratings were in 2010?
— Negative Nancy
Well, of course they are. But that doesn't mean they're not real. Disregarding good news because it follows on the heels of bad is just silly. I hated the George Clooney "Batman" movie with the burning fire of a thousand suns, but I gave the new Christian Bale version a chance, and it was infinitely better. If you put out a better product, you can reclaim some measure of your former fans, and then all's forgiven and everybody's happy again. (Domino's is apparently basing their entire business model on this "yes, we sucked before, but we're really good now! Promise!") So if you know a NASCAR fan who's gone astray, who's drifted toward football or basketball or (gasp) given up Sunday sports altogether, bring 'em back. Guide them back to the light. Embrace them, welcome them, tell them we want them to return. Just don't try this during a Pocono race, or they'll be lost to us forever.
Why not this: Drivers and fans alike come from the short tracks (except a few). If NASCAR wants to fill the seats, it needs to fill the change box. This may sound radical, but for sponsor exposure and the common race fan, it would be something all fans could relate to ... HEAT RACES, a CONSOLATION, the a FEATURE. Sound familiar? Every Friday and Saturday night track throughout the country uses it. In NASCAR, it would attract more cars who may have a legitimate shot at making the race, provide for drivers to have to RACE, because finishing position is of the essence.
For example, [use] Phoenix Speedway. Fifty cars check in. Only 35 make it to the feature. Heat lineups are done by drawing through NASCAR officials. In this case you would have 5 heat races where the top 6 transfer to the feature ...Those that finish outside the top 6 go the the "B" main, or consolation race ... I would say depending on track sizes, in this example Phoenix you would have 30 lap heat races, 25 lap consolation and a 100 lap feature ...
In essence, they're running a 20 lap feature at the end anyway so why not format it that way?
— Paul Fitzsimmons
Paul had a monstrous justification there of his reasoning, which I regret having to cut, but he makes some interesting points. I love the idea, and would like to see it implemented in at least one race, but it's unsustainable over a whole season -- sponsors, airtime, your stars are off the track for most of the time, blah blah blah. I get the heart of what he's saying, though, which is to put more at stake for the drivers from the word go. Maybe they ought to adopt something like this for the All-Star Race, to give it a dry run and see where the flaws are. Anything that puts a sense of urgency into the drivers from the start is welcome. And if nothing else, we'd get the pleasure of seeing Darrell Waltrip try to explain heat strategy six different ways.
And on that note, we're out. And we escaped without a single Junior reference! That might be a record. 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 email@example.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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