Happy Hour: Are expectations on Danica Patrick unfair?

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

So I was off NASCAR duty this past weekend covering the NCAAs. While the Cali race was proceeding, I was in the Georgia Dome watching Kentucky treat Baylor the way Juan Pablo Montoya treats jet dryers. And it got me to thinking: there were about 60,000 people in the Dome, and the place was absolutely rocking. We need to just start running NASCAR in smaller arenas. No more superspeedways. We ought to run NASCAR in, like, municipal auditoriums. Sellouts every week!

Your letters. And a rather dull race at Cali resulted in ... well, a mixed mailbag. Let's begin with an old favorite.

If I hear Ray Evernham or Marty Smith say one more time that the expectations placed on Danica Patrick are "unfair," I may smack them both! She chose this path and she is mentally tough - she can handle the expectations and doesn't need to be coddled.

I am astonished when I hear these journalists/commentators say I shouldn't expect her to be in the mix at the end of the race. There are still nuances that she hasn't quite grasped but she learns faster than a lot of drivers I've seen in the recent past, and one of her best strengths is that she FINISHES races, which is half the battle! She and Tony Stewart have made no secret of the fact she is planning a full time move to Cup next year. Is it really that "unfair" for me to expect her to be competitive in the series that develops drivers for Cup?

Sue Bilger
Seattle

Danica Patrick is now a Rorschach blot. We each imprint ourselves onto Danica (not literally, you sickos; there are laws) and we see what we want to see. Is she a coddled, undeserving IndyCarpetbagger? Is she a courageous woman not afraid to take a stand in a man's world? Is she a hot little thang who spends a lot of time in something less than a firesuit? Depends on who you are and what you bring to the table.

I will say that Patrick has done exactly what she should have: risen above all this and been herself. She's sometimes witty, sometimes cranky, but never particularly apologetic about who she is. Which is exactly the right thing to do; the moment you start trying to be someone you're not, the masses will eat you alive. (Again, not literally. Laws against that, too.) Patrick will be just fine; you want an example of hype without sustainable results, take a look at Jeremy Lin. Let's give her the same margin for error we've given, say, Joey Logano, OK? Though let's not ask Joey to pose for Maxim anytime soon. The comparison only goes so far.

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I just remembered why I don't sit down to watch most of the races during the season. Why do I want to waste 3-4 hours of my day rooting for my favorite driver to have a good race, only to have him (here's looking at you, Dale Jr.) screw it up in the last 10 minutes? Talk about frustrating! Yeah, it could have been worse, but it should have been better. Also, the fact that he didn't seem really disappointed or frustrated with himself or the results was frustrating too. I want to see that fire in him to do better (and finally win), and at times he just looks too content.

Phillip Booth
Sacramento, Calif.

Yeah, that does kind of suck. (Note: Phillip's letter came in after Bristol but before Junior's third-place finish at Cali.) NASCAR fans have it a bit worse than fans in other sports; there, in most cases, you're rooting for a specific team. (Remember Jerry Seinfeld's old line about cheering for laundry, since the cast of characters on a ballclub changes every year.)

In NASCAR, though, nobody ever follows a sponsor from driver to driver. If they did, Carl Edwards would be the most popular driver in the sport. No, we follow drivers, and drivers are fallible creatures. A ball team can ditch its underperforming first baseman or shooting guard; a driver, you're bonded to for life ... or until you decide to jump ship, at which time you can count on said driver going on a multi-season tear.

As for the idea that the drivers don't care as much ... not true. They do. But in a sport where a 10-percent success rate (four races won per year) counts as exceptional, well, you learn to deal with loss and keep it in perspective. Don't judge 'em if they don't rage and throw stuff after every loss. The guys that do that don't make it off the dirt track.

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You want to see some hard racing every lap of every race, here's what you do. No points for where you finish. You get 1 point for every lap led, 25 points for leading the most, and 100 points for winning. Now we'll see some real racing for all 36 races.

Carl Bradshaw

Yeah, among about five cars each race. If there's no point value for where you finish, what's the incentive to race if you're not within striking range of the leader? Guys would be bailing out after the first dropped lug nut.

Just for the hell of it, though, I checked to see what your system might have looked like had it been implemented. Last year, Kyle Busch would have won the championship; he led 1,455 laps and won four races. Nobody else would have been even close. Next was Jimmie Johnson with 1,115 laps led and one win, and Jeff Gordon with 922 laps led and three wins. Tony Stewart would have leapfrogged both with 913 laps led and five wins, but he still wouldn't have enough to catch Kyle. So there you go.

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Why did NASCAR not move the start of the race up a hour as it was clear on the radar all day when the heavy rain was going to hit, and that it was not going to stop once it hit! NASCAR was only interested in giving the fans half a race, which I think is a bunch of bull! If this would have been a Chase race, NASCAR would have moved the start time up!

Bruce Kramer
Rochelle, Ill.

Yep, that's true. But it wasn't a Chase race, it was March in California. Sorry, but there is a hierarchy. And moving up a race very much is damn near impossible because of broadcast commitments. This goes back to the old grandstands-vs.-ratings argument, and NASCAR judged that it was better to get what ratings it could on Sunday than cater to fans who were in attendance. Stinks, I know; California went from having two races to half of one, but sometimes that's how it shakes out.

Next, some serious "Hunger Games" geekage.

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Re. "NASCAR Hunger Games": I just recently read the book. Which I give a "Meh+"

1) Katniss Everdeen = Jimmie Johnson. They are the champion of the story
2) Peeta Mellark = Dale Earnhardt Jr. He wants so badly to be at the same level as Katniss
3) Cato = Carl Edwards. The strong odds on favorite to win... but always seems to die at the end
4) Rue = Danica Patrick. Yeah she's cute and frilly and all but you know from the beginning. She doesn't stand a snowball's chance!
5) Thresh = Kyle Busch. You may take him down but he's gonna take a piece of you with him
6) Foxface = Matt Kenseth. You don't hear much about her but she quietly stays in the hunt.
7) Clove = Kevin Harvick. That witch just had an attitude problem.
8) Juan Pablo as the tribute that causes the fire that nearly wipes out the other tributes.
9) Joey Logano as the young tribute that tries to make good with the real contenders but they destroy him in the end.
10) Jay Busbee, Nick Bromberg, Geoffrey Miller, Jay Hart, and the Start and Parkers as the tributes that get wiped out in the first 10 minutes

Bonus Characters. Brian France as the evil President that will make your life a living hell if you cross him. Jeremy Mayfield as Haymitch, the grizzled old veteran with a substance problem. Darrell Waltrip as Caesar Flickerman, the flamboyant and annoying host of the Games on TV. And finally, Jenna Fryer as Effie Trinket.

Darrell Watts
Huntersville, N.C.

Hey! I think I could last longer than 10 minutes. I'd totally hide in the trees until I saw Trevor Bayne come by. I think I could take him out. Maybe Keselowski, too; I'd send him a Twitter message and then jump him while he was @replying.

Also, in your scenario, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be offering to lay down his life for the good of Jimmie Johnson. Which is kind of what happened last year at Talladega, yes?

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Regarding changes to Bristol: Kaz-bah speaks as if he's a long time veteran of Bristol.. Correct me if I'm wrong, but how many races could the "KID" have run on the old Bristol prior to 2007? He should probably defer that discussion to those who have a little more experience. We're not fooled by his reasoning.

Zach Hall
Ft. Sill, Okla.

Keselowski actually ran two races in the truck series at Bristol prior to 2007. But he's knowledgeable enough about racing surfaces that I think he can extrapolate. It's not like in golf, where Rory McIlroy once commented that playing at the Sawgrass course in real life was a lot tougher than playing it in a video game.

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Is it just me or is Junior's beard getting out of hand? He looks like Opie from "Sons of Anarchy." Do you think it will be too hot come summer? I saw him on ESPN and thought I saw an eagle nesting in it.

Dale Glebe

Let's see:

Yep, Junior's on his way. I think he ought to go for the full ZZ Top, though. That'd make for quite a sight, that beard trailing out the bottom of his helmet. His daddy would be so proud.

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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