Happy Hour: Is Kyle Busch playing head games with Harvick?

Jay Busbee
From the Marbles

Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: you write us with your best rant/joke/one-liner at nascarmail@yahoogroups.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face. Today, we're talking Tony Stewart, vendettas and fear of success. Let's begin!

Great blog about Kyle shaking hands with Harvick after Infineon. Do you think it is Kyle who has gotten into Harvick's head and not the other way around? Seems like Kyle has Harvick doubting himself and being confused?

Turk
Michigan

Judging from that picture, yeah, Harvick is definitely wondering what the heck is going on. Which is really a brilliant strategy by Busch: zig when they think you're gonna zag!

I think the bigger issue for Harvick isn't "doubting himself"; that's never seemed to be a problem for Cupcake. The larger issue is whether he's spending too much time worrying about Busch and not enough about his own racing. There's not a whole lot of room for extraneous thought at the top of the Sprint Cup standings, and if you're too worried about that guy beside you, there'll be another guy coming up behind you.

____________________

Is it time to start worrying about Tony Stewart NOW?  Oh, but I give him bonus points for joining the crotchety old man division of NASCAR.  I was just waiting for him to call Brian Vickers a "whippersnapper."

— Jenn
Big Spring, Texas

I think I beat the whole "Tony Stewart will heat up when the weather does" cliche into a fine tapioca pudding over the last few months. Alas, Smoke hasn't yet come up big, and he's all of a sudden looking extraordinarily vulnerable. He's like the reverse Matt Kenseth — you expect him to be a lot better than he is, but you look up and he's buried at the very bottom of the Chase standings (and about to fall out entirely if Brad Keselowski can sneak into the top 20).

To what do we attribute this decline?

Smoke is as ornery as ever, though as Jenn notes a bit on the cranky-codger side. His driving skills don't appear to have measurably declined; he's had the strategy and positioning, if not the car, to win a couple races already this year. But he's past the point of being able to take anything for granted; any more dustups like his one with Brian Vickers this past weekend, and he'll be watching the Chase from the wrong end of the standings.

____________________

At the Valencia press conference, Mercedes F1 driver Nico Rosberg compared Women's World Cup Soccer to the Paralympics, saying the women don't compete at the highest levels of the sport. Do you think the same could be said about Danica Patrick in NASCAR and women in general, racing against men?

Joanne
Ft. Myers, Fla.

Oh, of course I could say that, because I'd love to get acres of hate mail and be forced to sleep in the back yard by my bride. No, of any sport, racing allows women the best opportunity to compete at a high level against men, because the physical differential is reduced. There's a huge difference between saying women don't compete at the highest levels and saying they can't. (By the way, those of you who think the U.S. media is bad really ought to check out the transcript of that Rosberg press conference. There are at least three "journalists" in there who say things that would be fire-worthy offenses in this country.)

Is Danica overhyped? Of course she is. But she's proven herself worthy of a Nationwide ride.

{ysp:more}

____________________

Do you think that Tony Stewart has payback coming from Dale Earnhardt Jr. since it was Stewart's fault that Junior holed his radiator in that Brian Vickers deal? And do you think Kyle Busch will be head-hunting Brad Kesolowski for ruining Rowdy's day in that deal with Juan Pablo Montoya?

Ray
Georgia

I think these guys all have enough problems to worry about with their direct rivalries without following it several steps removed. Because if you do that chain-of-blame, before long these guys are going to circle back around to punching themselves in the face.

____________________

Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won at Daytona since February 2004 and Talladega since October 2004, 7 1/2 years ago, why do the media types always hype him to win on the plate tracks?

Stevie
Corpus Christi, Texas

Well, technically speaking Junior won at Daytona last summer, though it was in the Nationwide race. And he's had four top-5 finishes at both tracks on the Sprint Cup level since the fall of 2009. So while he hasn't won, he's gotten really close … and isn't that good enough to go ahead and give him the Sprint Cup championship? It isn't? But that's how it works in Little League. Everybody gets a trophy! (Seriously, Junior is quite good at plate tracks, though he was admittedly much better before the CoT came along.)

____________________

Why do drivers complain about "Blocking" or "Racing Too Hard"?  I figured part of racing would be trying to keep the other guy from passing you and driving as hard and as fast as you can to get the best finish.  Can you explain driver's thoughts on these finer points of racing and how fans should feel knowing that drivers don't think that they should give their best effort at all times?  My thoughts, if you have to wreck someone because they are blocking you...maybe you're not the better driver.

Scott
Nashville, Tenn.

The idea behind blocking is, obviously, to prevent another driver from getting past you. It can be an effective maneuver late in the race, helping you preserve a lead, or it can be a total jerk maneuver early in the race, when you're back in the pack, or worse, a lap or two down and you're making things tough on the people behind you. A driver who doesn't block every time around the track isn't failing to give his best effort; he's being respectful of those around him. Think about it: at the grocery store, you COULD race around and edge people out of the way with your cart at every turn. Would you? I mean, if it wasn't race day? Because then all rules of social conduct are suspended.

The problem with blocking is that it doesn't require the same skill set to block somebody as it does to pass somebody, and it's easy to use brute force to combat finesse. It's the racing equivalent of a hockey goon sent on the ice for no other reason than to knock down the other team's skill player, or the old "Hack-a-Shaq" defense in the NBA: if you can't compete with 'em, knock 'em down.

I get why Tony Stewart was so frustrated, but if you're going to settle those kinds of scores on the track, settle them when they can't come back to bite you that race. Spin 'em on the cooldown lap! Or at least put them behind the wall without enough time to come back out and ruin your day (and Chase chances).

____________________

I have this theory about Ryan Newman, who is my favorite driver. It seems to me that most of his years in NASCAR have been spent in the 6th to 8th position in the standings. He also seems to get a lot of top 10 finishes, but few wins. I think this is a psychological issue, almost like a fear of winning. Certainly he has the talent and speed to do it, but something always seems to come up late in the race, only to see him charge ahead in the final laps to save a respectable finish. I know a fear of success seems like a crazy idea, but it is more common than people think. It is especially odd considering he made the jump to NASCAR, a move in and of itself being a major success. What do you think?

Chris Lewis
Columbus, Ohio

We're getting deep into drivers' heads now, aren't we? Let me say straight up that I don't think Newman has any kind of fear of success; it's my considered opinion (and I've watched "The Sopranos," so I know from psychoanalysis) that you can't get this far having that kind of fear. Too many places for it to manifest itself along the way.

I will say that at least in golf (don't run screaming, bear with me here), there's the definite perception/expectation that because the players make so much money for just finishing in the top 10 or top 20 that there's no incentive to push just that little extra bit harder to get to first place. I don't think that applies in NASCAR, simply because the competition for rides is that much tougher (43 cars in a race, 150+ in a golf tournament). But the money issue, comfort from financial security, would seem to me a more likely scenario for a given driver not winning than psychological fear of the checkered flag.

____________________

So we don't like start and parks.  What about this: if the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races are at the same track, let the top three finishers from the N'Wide race run in the Cup race the next day.  ( N'wide regulars, of course ).  Let them run the N'Wide car in the Cup series, keeping within the rules and regulations regarding N'wide cars.

I guarantee the three best Nationwide cars and drivers will put up a better fight than half dozen start-and-parks that give 10% each and every week.  Fans will enjoy the 'heat' race set-up like most of the local dirt tracks do each and every weekend.

Patrick Jacques
Oviedo, Fla.

I'm all for the idea of racing your way into the big race, though you couldn't mix Nationwide and Sprint cars. It'd be like dogs and cats laying down together, an abomination against nature … or NASCAR, whichever. But I do love the idea of playing yourself into the big time; the problem, of course, is equipment. If you're not bringing your own, you're out of luck, and if you are bringing your own, chances are it stinks. The system we have now is really pretty much like what Winston Churchill said about democracy: it's the worst form of government ever invented, except for all the others.

Aside: several of you have sent me extraordinarily detailed proposals for how to revamp the Nationwide Series or qualifying. While I do love the fact that you've spent a lot of time on these, I really can't run them without chopping them to pieces. Please feel free to edit down (WAY down) and re-send. Otherwise I might end up grinding your fine filet mignon into lunchroom cafeteria-grade hamburger.

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 nascarmail@yahoogroups.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!

What to Read Next