Happy Hour: California dreamin'

Jay Hart
Yahoo! SportsSeptember 1, 2009

Twenty-one victories may not sound like a lot, but only 31 drivers have won that many Cup races, and Bobby Labonte is one of them.

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The numbers highlight two things: First, how hard it is to win a Cup race, and second, how good Labonte was in a nine-year stretch.

He provided Joe Gibbs with his first multi-win season (1995) and his first championship. He won at least one race in nine straight seasons.

Unfortunately, he hasn't been to Victory Lane since 2003 which was, effectively, the last solid season of his career. Two years later he was out at Gibbs, then moved on to Petty Enterprises which was the beginning of the end.

Sunday, for the first time since Jan. 14, 1979, there won't be a Labonte in the Cup field. (Editor's note: Bobby Labonte will now drive in Sunday's race in the No. 71 car, while Terry Labonte is also entered in the No. 08.)

Now, onto the mailbag:

Not going back to Cali

I have been a California Speedway permanent seat license holder since the track opened in 1997 seated at the start/finish line and have never missed a NASCAR race there ever. But enough is enough and coming this October everybody will witness exactly what I'm talking about (boring) absolutely no passing, just follow the leader and finish the race.

The drivers always say how much they love the place (Southern California). But if they don't put some banking in the track its going to go the same way Ontario went (gone).

Please NASCAR bank our track we don't race Indy cars here anymore and when we did there were no people in the stands which is the direction we are heading if you don't fix the track.

Dave Elmore
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Michael Waltrip floated the idea of banking Auto Club Speedway (which is what California Speedway is now called) a few years ago and I agree with him. If NASCAR wants to catch the attention of Southern Californians, it needs to offer them something worth watching, and restrictor-plate racing would, I think, do just that.

I took some friends to the race at Auto Club Speedway in February, and while they enjoyed themselves (mostly because they got to walk through the garage, stand next to Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.), they left before the race was 100 laps old. The racing wasn't enough to keep their attention, and they haven't shown any interest in going back in October.

And why should they?

Fontana isn't a short drive for Los Angeles residents – it's takes between and hour and an hour and a half in light traffic – and why would they head 65 miles inland when the beach is 10 to 20 miles away?

From my vantage point, it makes perfect sense why the track struggles to draw a good crowd, even on Labor Day weekend, a date that has now been transferred to Atlanta. But that doesn't mean it always has to be this way.

Talking Nationwide …

Photo
Photo

Clint Bowyer won the 2008 Nationwide title, the third straight Cup regular to win the minor-league championship.

(Getty)

How about doing a column getting the fans response on limiting all the Cup drivers from driving in series other than Cup? How can an up and comer in the Nationwide race get anywhere when you have the likes of Kyle, Matt, Greg, Clint, Harvick, and others?

Scott Thornberry
Lewiston, Idaho

I get a few emails a week from readers complaining about Cup drivers dominating the Nationwide Series. While I agree in principle, this issue goes much deeper than simply saying Cup guys are stealing the spotlight from up and comers. You have to consider track owners who need to sell tickets and team owners who need to sell sponsorship, both of which lend to the health and prosperity of the series. This is a lot easier to do when Kyle Busch is the driver.

Are Busch and Carl Edwards taking a championship opportunity away from Brad Keselowski? Sure. But there's another way to look at it, too. Keselowski, Steve Wallace and Justin Allgaier – all with Cup aspirations – may be in the minor leagues, but each week they face major-league talent, which can only help their learning curves.

Life of Ryan

I haven't seen much coverage of Ryan Newman this season, his best in a few years. It appears he will slide into the Chase. Do you think he has a chance to challenge for the championship? At any rate, I think Stewart-Haas Racing has done a fantastic job in Year 1.

Jeffrey Miles
Middletown, Conn.

Stewart-Haas has been an amazing story this season. Along with Marcos Ambrose, I think they have been the biggest surprises of 2009. Newman did receive a lot of notoriety early in the season, when he launched his way up the standings and into firm Chase contention. But it appears he peaked too soon. Regardless, if Newman makes the playoff – and I still believe he will – he deserves a ton of credit, even if he goes in limping, because no one pegged him as a Chase contender.

Readers need to know

NASCAR fans must be the whiniest, bunch of school children in all of pro sports. All they do is bellyache. WAAH, Jimmie Johnson gets special treatment! WAAH, I don't like the rain policy! WAAH, Theresa sabotaged Junior's car! WAAH, I don't like Digger! And they have the audacity to call Kyle Busch a crybaby!?!?

Chet
Los Angeles

Sometimes the truth hurt.

Jay, Here is a question that has to be running through the minds of other people? Brad Keselowski being thought of as the hottest up and coming driver in the circuit is no surprise as the kid can drive. What I am wondering is why would Stewart-Haas pass on bringing this kid into the fold over there? Is it because of the rumor that Harvick is going to go there at the end of the season?

I mean Penske is turning things around in the flagship Miller Lite car, and Hornish has shown signs of hope this year. To me it seems like a step back to go there rather than wait another year and get more seat time in the JR's car as well as in the 7- 10 other races he will run in Cup?

What do you think?

Bob
Michigan

If he's making the move simply because he wants a Cup ride sooner than later – and let's remember, no official announcement has been made as of Sept. 1 – then I think it's the wrong move for his long-term future. There's no doubt his chance of success is better in Hendrick equipment. But if, in fact, he has a handshake deal with Rick Hendrick to move into the No. 5 car when Mark Martin retires, then good for Brad.

As for Stewart-Haas, Tony Stewart has made it quite clear that the team isn't ready for expansion, yet. Remember, Ryan Newman doesn't even have full sponsorship this season. I expect Stewart to expand sooner than later, possibly in 2011, when the names Harvick and Kahne will undoubtedly pop up.

Last call …

Any truth to the rumor that Tony Stewart beat the Monday night deadline and took his Bristol car down to one of Rick Hendrick's dealerships and cashed it in as part of the "Cash For Clunker's" program?

Jim Rhodes
Columbus, Ind.