Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: You write us with your best rant/ joke/one-liner at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.
I'll be doing both the Kentucky Derby and Talladega this weekend, with a pronounced focus on the infield at both races. If you've got a good infield story, from anywhere in NASCAR, hit me up at the above email address. This'll be fun, and you can follow along as I go on Twitter.
Now, let's start with a horse that's having a bit of trouble this year ...
If you take away all the boo boos (most of them out of their control) that the 24 team has endured this season, Jeff Gordon would easily be up in the top 10 in points, maybe even top 5, with at least 1 victory.
Being 57 points out of 10th, more than a full race, he's not going to make it on points. He's now got to focus on wins for a wildcard. Do you see the team gambling with pit strategy, set up and fuel mileage to try and get those wins? And do you think they can pull it off and nab one of those wildcard spots? I think he'd be a force to be reckoned with if he makes the Chase. Remember, he's second in laps led, only second to Jimmie Johnson.
If we played the "if" game, every driver would be in first. Together. The "if" game is what keeps drivers, owners, teams and fans awake at night, but it's ultimately a fruitless endeavor. Because "if" spelled backwards is "fi," and that doesn't make any sense, and neither does cherry-picking events to change to put your guy in charge.
BUT. I get how tempting it is to say that were it not for a few bad breaks, your guy would be running the show. That said, Gordon is not in good shape. He's second in laps led because he led 328 laps at Martinsville, which is like leading three laps at Talladega. Other than that, he hasn't led more than three laps at any race this year. Sure, he's already in a Hail Mary position, going for wins or nothing. And he's so far down, he probably needs two wins to give himself a decent shot in the Chase. Can he do it? I don't like betting against Gordon, but nothing seems to be clicking with the 24 team right now.
My wife and I spent all day at RIR on Friday, taking in the practice, qualifying and the exciting finish of the NNS race with Urt and Hamster beating and banging over the last lap. I was hoping that same excitement would carry over to Saturday night with the Sprint Cup series.
Lo and behold, NASCAR and/or Fox contributes to the continuing demise of the sport's popularity and credibility by throwing a caution for "debris" in the last few laps of the race. As soon as it came out, the first thing myself and I'm sure thousands of other fans thought was "Fox better show this debris on TV or else." Nobody in the viewing audience saw a thing. You have to admit, NASCAR is quickly losing what credibility it has left when cautions are thrown for debris that no one can find.
— Andy L Zachary aka "Zack"
Somehow we've managed to paint NASCAR as both a collection of bumbling idiots barely able to tie their own shoes without tying them together and a hypersecretive conclave of geniuses who can manipulate the entire sport with the flick of a flag. It can't be both, friends. I can understand NASCAR's frustration at yet another potential green-flag finish; they knew that fans would be howling at a third straight relatively drama-free race. But manufacturing a debris caution out of thin air? Yeah, that wasn't such a good option. And there was disagreement among the drivers about exactly what the "debris" was, so we all know exactly what was happening.
Does this make NASCAR "more like professional wrestling," as the now-tired critique goes? Sure, but so is every other sport. If you don't think that other sports manipulate storylines and events to ramp up the drama, you're living in that Richard Petty/Dale Senior dream world where everything's four wide.
That said: show the damn debris, NASCAR. Otherwise, you get more complaints like our next one.
Tony was absolutely robbed of the win. NASCAR saw he couldn't survive a restart, and with a 3.5 second lead and growing that didn't make for a good end. So what do the officials do that just robbed Carl of a top five, throw a debris caution for a water bottle out of the groove. And I have to take Tony's word for it because FOX decided not to show the truck picking up debris. So that is what NASCAR needs to do to generate excitement is take the win from the two guys that tied for the 2011 championship. Rob them.
— John Cartwright
Right, but WHY would NASCAR do that? Who benefits from a scenario that denies a win to arguably the sport's most popular driver right now, and its most hard-luck story of the past decade? It wasn't a conspiracy to take a win away from Tony, it was a decision to bunch up the field and create a little drama. Yeah, you can say Stewart got robbed, but I'd bet Stewart has benefited a time or two from phantom cautions that went his way.
Still: NASCAR needs to pay attention to these kinds of complaints. They're real, they're out there, and every time that Brian France or others profess surprise that fans aren't happy, it widens the disconnect between the sport and its fans.
Three cheers to Smoke for calling out a reporter on an incredibly dumb question! No wonder this guy blows his cool with reporters. With all that was going on at the end of the race (including "debris" even the TV cameras couldn't find) this is the best this reporter could come up with? I think his employer should rethink his worth to the company. Even Dale Jr. was having a hard time keeping a straight face over this one. NASCAR needs more people like Smoke who aren't afraid to let people know when they have crossed the line at the absurd road marker! Never change, Smoke, never change!
— Joyce Keith
See here for the video of what Joyce was talking about. Here's a case where we need to get off the "drivers are gods and the media sucks" bandwagon and take a little more realistic look at what truly happened. ESPN.com's David Newton asked about the lack of wrecks in the last three weeks. Yes, he dangled a yes-no question in front of Smoke at a time when Stewart was understandably upset at effectively having a win ripped out of his hands. But here's the thing: it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT QUESTION TO ASK, because it's exactly the subject that's been dominating the NASCAR world for the last three weeks. Look at the last three letter columns; we've been stuffed with "NASCAR is boring now" questions.
Stewart has zero patience for the "wrecks are fun" angle, and I get that. He's driving the car, we're not. But the truth is, we're going through one of the most drama-free stretches in recent memory, and fans clearly want to know why and what can be done.
Here, let's try a little experiment. You come up with what you think the very best question would be for Tony Stewart, and I'll answer a few as Angry Tony. You won't get the experience of getting mocked in front of the entire world, and you have days instead of minutes to devise a question, but you'll get a sense of what it's like to try to come up with a question that will impress one of the trickiest interviews in sports. Shoot, come up with a good one and I'll steal it. Giving you full credit, of course.
Finally, we close with another clear-eyed, unedited look at one Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
he is the most overrated driver ever to drive a car? his hair will be down his back a foot before he ever wins a championship.
— Jerry Schumann
Hair grows about half an inch a month. So that means we're just two years from a Dale Earnhardt Jr. championship! Junior in 2014, everybody!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!