Welcome to the latest Happy Hour mailbag! You know how these work: you write us at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face. Today, we're talking speeding penalties, NASCAR on TV, taking chances vs. being smart, and more. Away we go!
If NASCAR wants to keep viewers and get new ones, why are the races broadcast on different networks? Sometimes on TNT, sometimes on one of the ESPN channels, and sometimes on ABC, and even occasionally, pre-race on one followed by a switch to another channel at race time. It's confusing from week to week, and I'm assuming that true fans will follow no matter where ... But what gets me is that the All-Star Race is on SPEED. Nothing against SPEED, but some cable and satellite users don't get that, whereas almost everyone gets TNT, ABC and at least one or two ESPN channels. I would get SPEED if it wasn't in a higher priced satellite package, and you know, people are watching their budgets nowadays. You would think NASCAR would want to put such a celebration of its sport with well-known and exciting drivers on a more easily accessible venue for the home viewer, wouldn't you?
I'm sure I'll talk more about this next month, but I have to say that I'm not sure what the big deal is with the All-Star Race. NASCAR isn't like other sports; our "stars" are all together on the field of competition every week. Perhaps they ought to call the race the "No Chumps Race," since it's got nothing but big dogs, but I can understand why that wouldn't sell quite as well.
But that's not your point, is it? NASCAR's strategy of spreading itself across multiple outlets has come under considerable scrutiny and fire. On one hand, I can understand it: people get confused switching from channel to channel throughout the season, and placing a marquee event on a pay channel seems counterintuitive. But placing all 36 races plus the exhibitions on one channel would be either prohibitively expensive or force NASCAR to take far less than market value for its races. This could be an entire month of posts, so I'll just leave it at this: I agree with you, the All-Star Race needs to be in prime time on a channel with nationwide, "free" reach. Anything else is leaving money (and viewers) on the table.
I see NASCAR finally caught Jimmie Johnson [for speeding]. Seems maybe it's time they tweak the timing system in the pits. Jimmie admitted speeding but claimed innocence because he knew where the marks were and was not speeding between them. I think it is time for NASCAR to start randomly placing the timing marks so drivers quit trying to beat the system. If the local state troopers ran speed traps in the same place every weekend, pretty soon all drivers would know where they were. Then there would no longer be any speeders on the highways.
— Dale Glebe
There are whole websites devoted to tracking speed traps, you know. The cop near my house has worn grooves into the pavement, he's stayed there so long. (Never caught me yet.)
But you're on to a larger point here: the timing of pit road speeds. If you know where the timing zones begin and end, you can throttle up between them, and you can redline it coming out of the pit stall itself (the time spent working on the car means there's no way you can "speed" according to the next loop.) It's why savvy crew chiefs pick stalls that aren't close to the end of the timing zone. I'm for more transparency, but I like your idea of mixing up the measurements too. That, or just putting speed bumps along pit road.
Did you find it funny that the accelerator got stuck in Martin Truex Jr.'s Toyota Camry? Looks like that problem isn't fixed yet.
— James in Pismo
Hey, at least Truex didn't claim it was a floormat. I think maybe his cell phone was stuck under the accelerator. Those drivers are always texting during races, you know. True story.
Oh, and the accompanying picture there is courtesy of reader Jessica Wisniewski, who writes that she lost a bet and had to attend a race at Chicagoland in Renaissance Fair gear. Lord, what fools these crew members be! (Send your on-track photos to us at the addresses above or below.)
Hey NASCAR gurus, I got a question for you about the end of the race at California. If you are Jeff Gordon and you are in 20th place when that last caution came out and the first seven cars stay out and then everyone else comes in in front of you, why don't you just stay out? You restart in 8th place with eight or nine laps to go and even if you drop a few spots you probably gain at least five or six spots. Thanks for your help and spectacular guru-ness because I can't figure this one out.
— Daren Ropp
Toms River, NJ
This question comes up a lot in every late-race situation, not just that of California, when there's a caution with just a few laps left. Why not stay out and gain a bit of track position? It's impossible to give a definitive answer because there are so many variables, chief among them the amount of wear on your tires and the last time you pitted. Generally, the gains you get from jumping ahead while others pit will vanish once those same cars get back on the track with fresh tires.
The smartest crew chiefs have plotted out scenarios like those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, accounting for the possibilities of two vs. four tires, late splash of fuel vs. stretch it, and so on. When the math works out well, you look like a genius (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte at Martinsville; Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus nearly every week); when it doesn't, your guy gets awfully upset. Which brings up our next letter...
Ricky Craven made a comment about Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb recently. His comment that Darian was taking too many chances when he should just give Tony a good car and let him do his thing was interesting to me. I know that taking chances is part of NASCAR, but when is enough, enough?
When it starts costing you races you could have won. Although he's run well early in the season, Smoke has often been on the wrong side of the late pit-strategy calls. Making questionable calls early in the season isn't a problem; as Johnson has shown, for the best drivers, the regular season can work as an extended testing session for the Chase. But when crew chiefs try to get too fancy and overthink, it can cost you much more than a race, as Mike Ford and Denny Hamlin showed late last year. Ford's late-race fuel conservation strategy (or lack thereof) in Phoenix effectively erased 43 points off Hamlin's championship lead and reopened the door for Jimmie Johnson to roll to his fifth straight championship.
Jay, Kurt Busch says that NASCAR needs to ban in-car radio communications between competitive drivers like what Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne were doing [at Daytona] for two reasons: First, it is unsafe for drivers to be managing 16 driver channels while racing, and second, because it damages the integrity of the sport. What do you think?
— Capt. Redlegs Dale
I can see that. It's generally not an issue, with most drivers only needing to focus on their own channel and leaving the dealmaking to their spotters and crew chiefs. Still, I kind of like the wheeling-dealing aspect of NASCAR; it's another element of the overall picture, and another reason I liked Daytona. Negotiations within negotiations, dealmaking at 200mph — that's fun stuff, you know?
One of the problems I have with the media is how they refer to Kyle Busch. He's a talented driver but I have issue with when they say "every race he's in is exciting". That might be true in the Cup series but not in the Nationwide or Truck series.
If he starts near the front and leads nearly every lap, that is not an exciting race to me. That's a boring race. Lately, when the N-Wide race is on, I'll check NASCAR.com for the running order and if he's leading, then I likely won't tune in, especially if he lead the majority of the laps. I understand why the media likes him but don't say he makes a race "exciting" when he's really putting on a snooze fest...
Yeah, but is that Kyle's fault? Sure, once he gets to the front, it's usually done and gone (though Kevin Harvick would beg to differ), but it's how he gets there that makes it all worth watching. What was that old line about him running three wide all by himself?
Also, please note: the media really gets tired of being referred to as "the media." We are all separate entities with separate points of view, you know. We were talking about it at our Secret Media Cabal Meeting at our offshore secret lair just before Daytona. We also talked about how it's going to be a great story when Dale Earnhardt Jr. … oh, wait, we're not at that point in the script yet. Just wait 'til June, though.
Following the recent Happy Hour post about NASCAR conspiracies, consider this. At Talladega (in October 2008), [Regan] Smith wins the race, but Stewart is credited with the win anyway ... In Phoenix, Edwards gets away without a race-ending pit road penalty call that the pit road marshal stopped the tire from rolling away. Why is it that the common denominator here is that Subway was the sponsor of both drivers at the time of the races? Coincidence? How about the race itself being sponsored by Subway?
Is NASCAR playing sponsor favorites? Is it out with the Martinsville hot dog in favor of the $5 foot longs?
The potholes in Daytona were just the Chinese breaking through,
— Dan in New Jersey
Somebody get Dan into protective custody, quick! He knows too much!
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, 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!