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. Today, we're talking Jimmie Johnson's weaknesses, differing views on 2x2, and Robby v. Tony. Let's begin!
I think some weaknesses (no matter how slight) are starting to appear in Vader's empire. Chad Knaus, with his pit crew swapparoo, seems to be weakening the team, both in the competitive and the psychological aspect, as you wrote a while back. And while he hasn't experienced complete collapse, there are signs that the 48 team may not be at the top of their game. I know he's still 6th in points, and the Chase is usually a different story for him, but he has been fairly quiet recently. Out of the last 6 races, 3 have been worse than 18th, and none have been better than 4th (28,7,4,27,7,19). Maybe that's the ol' vanilla kicking in. What gives?
Well, Johnson does have three top-7s in those last six races; most drivers would be pretty happy with that. Still, the one win he has this year was total luck (Talladega), his pit crew woes will turn Chad Knaus bald by the end of the season, and there are several drivers who are having far better overall seasons. That said, Johnson has earned the right to do pretty much whatever he wants during the regular season. Once he makes the Chase, he's shown time after time that he's lethal. Plus, if he does lose, NASCAR will just retroactively rewrite the rule book and give him the win anyway. (Oh, sorry, should've put SPOILER in there before that.)
Here's a couple ideas for NASCAR. One idea for spicing up the first half of races: an invert. Top 35 qualifiers invert, 35th starts on pole, 1st starts 34th, and the winner from the previous week always starts 35th. (The other 7 would typically be start and park guys, so it makes sense to keep them at the back of the pack.) This would make guys have to come up through the field. Now this doesn't mean that qualifying doesn't mean anything. Another little addition would be top 5 qualifiers get bonus points. 5 points for 1st down to 1 point for 5th ... These rules are nothing new. Come to Jefferson Speedway in Wisconsin and watch the fast guys come through the field every Saturday night. It's exciting for the fans, has the potential to effect "strategery" of the crew chiefs, and gives a little extra incentive to qualifying (with the bonus points).
I love the idea of inversion from a competitive perspective, but it has a few flaws in its execution. First off: making the fastest qualifiers go to the back of the pack? Penalizing the haves in order to benefit the have-nots? That sounds kind of socialist! Isn't this America? Take back our country! U-S-A!
On a more serious note, that would confuse the hell out of the casual viewer, and sorry to say, but NASCAR can't cater to just the hardcores who know their way around short-track qualifying procedures. What I would like to see is inversion in some of the non-points-paying races, or maybe in just one points race. Inversion surely can't be more of a barrier to overcome than, say, a road course. I just think it's too unfair to the qualifiers (and too unnecessarily complicated for a mass audience) to be used week-in, week-out.
Next up: differing views on 2x2 racing.
This new type of racing allows such a unique challenge for these drivers: use of teammates as race-long allies in the pods, communication between drivers, mastery of aerodynamics and horsepower. One clear flaw that I anticipated and viewed during this race was the complete driver dependence on only their teammate, and when a teammate spun or crashed or pitted they were abandoned in the "go moment." Well, duh! It seemed in pre-race that many drivers didn't consider or bother with other options. Clearly, lack of strategy cost these drivers a solid finish ... Can everyone say they are excited for the Talladega race this fall? Teammates again, and this time with the Chase element, I might miss the old pack racing but I'm excited for what will happen this year.
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Clearly Vince didn't get the memo that he's supposed to hate 2x2 racing and not write anything positive about change. And now, with the opposing viewpoint ...
If anyone needs to remember how awesome plate racing used to be, just watch some old video on YouTube. I put on the 2003 Daytona 500 the other day and you only need to watch the first 10 laps my friend. PURE ENERGY! The crowd, the FOX crew, everyone into it 110% as the pack roars by with ear-splitting thunder. As you can tell, I am bitterly disappointed with the new 2x2 racing, and yes I know it's here to stay for now, but watching this old footage helped me put my finger on the single ingredient missing in today's style (till the last 5 laps at least) ... TENSION! There's none. Gone, they are all greasing bumpers to make it to the last 5.
Bring back the pack I say.
San Clemente, Calif.
We took Mike's advice and checked out the 2003 Daytona 500, and here's what we found:
Whoa. Got to hand it to you, Mike. That's some fun racing to watch. Sit tight, friends, it'll be back soon enough. For the rest of you: your thoughts on 2x2 racing?
P.S. Say hi to MCA and Ad-Rock for me.
TNT did a great job on Saturday evening. As fans, we like to miss as little racing as possible and TNT did a great job at making that happen. Advertisers should also take note: Many people (including myself) record the race and play catch-up the rest of the afternoon/evening fast forwarding through commercials. For the first time, I gladly watched all of the commercials, and you can't help but pay attention to them and still not miss any action. I think it's marketing genius that is good for the fans and the advertisers in finding a way to advertise to us watching via DVR.
Long Island, N.Y.
More positivity! What's wrong with you happy people? Anyway, yeah, if you like commercials, TNT is like a Vegas buffet for your senses. (Zing!) The wide-open racing is a great idea, but it requires the advertisers to sign off on it, and many aren't willing to do so. Which I can understand; you pay a ton of money for an ad, you don't want the audience's attention divided when it's on. Still, thumbs-up to TNT for listening to fans and giving them what they wanted ... even if it means we're subjected to more ads elsewhere in the telecast. Speaking of which, have I told you about the new Subway Mega Meat Melt? It's seven kinds of meat and 14 kinds of cheese, all melted together! Delicious!
I liked the move NASCAR made to stop Sprint Cup regulars from running for the Nationwide and/or Camping World titles. But it seemed unnecessary to make Nationwide and Camping World drivers declare for one and be points exempt in Sprint Cup. Couldn't a Nationwide driver earn cup championship points, but not the other way around? What's the logic? I'm thinking of Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 win in particular. Had he not had medical issues and a Nationwide commitment that made him points-exempt in Sprint Cup, it's easy to imagine he may have been courted for a full-time Cup ride.
I think it's more just a matter of establishing logical dividing lines than anything else. That, and Bayne pretty effectively proved pre-spider bite that he wasn't ready for a full-time Cup ride. The Nationwide guys (and lady) are starting to find their feet under them now, competing well with the big dogs. No need to muddy the waters with more series-jumping.
I find it really interesting that Tony Stewart says that everyone was racing like idiots too early in the race three weeks ago, but last week it was OK to punt another driver early in the race. Why is it that for some reason he thinks there is a different set of rules for him to follow than everyone else? He and Robby Gordon (who thankfully got a lesson from a youngster about old school) should race together on a separate track. Then they could each do what they want. Just sayin.'
Smoke is a classic "do as I say, not as I do" guy, which makes the fact that he's appointed himself the traffic cop/bouncer/enforcer of NASCAR these last few weeks so much fun. Though I would pay good money to watch Smoke and Gordon go at it against one another on a separate track, no holds barred. Who you got?
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!