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 (note new address) or on Twitter at @jaybusbee, we respond to your messages, everyone goes away with a smile on their face.
As you read this, I'm prepping for a trip to Daytona for Media Day, which is a big scrum where every single driver comes into a tent set up just outside Turn 4 and sits patiently for photos and questions. The big names have reporters three-deep; the lesser-knowns sit alone like the one drooling guy at a speed-date meetup. It's great fun, and we'll have updates for you all throughout Thursday.
For now, though, let's do battle with our readers.
Jay, you have Tony Stewart ranked 7th. 7TH! Come on, man!
— GG (via chat)
GG is referring to Yahoo!'s preseason predictions, which have been spooling out for a couple weeks now. On Monday, we dropped our Tony Stewart profile, which has Smoke ranked 5th overall. And none of us ranked Stewart higher than 4th. Which tracks pretty well across all publications; most observers are picking Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick as the odds-on favorites.
[ Related: Top 20 countdown: No. 5 Tony Stewart ]
So why's nobody picking Tony Stewart? Didn't the guy just prove he's got what it takes to win a championship? Well ... sort of. Stewart got hot at exactly the right time, which seems to be the trend among champions these days, but that's not exactly the safe-money bet. Yes, Stewart COULD win with a new crew chief, but will he? I say no. Sorry, Smoke Nation. Don't hate me.
This may be the first of your "why is my driver ranked so low this pre-season?" questions! [Editor's note: Nope.] And here it is.
Yahoo! has Junior at 12th, and Kyle Busch at 6th. And public perception is that the Busch is the better driver. What is it the Brits say? Bollocks!
Over the course of their careers, Junior and Busch have average standings finishes (full seasons only) of 12.33 and 11.14 respectively. To be fair, since Busch became a full-time driver in 2005, Junior's average standing finish is 15th. However, if you look at the first seven seasons of Junior's career (Busch has raced seven full seasons), Junior's average standings finish was 9.57.
Moreover, Junior's average start and finish positions in races is 16.3 and 17.1 respectively. Not impressive? Busch's are 16.4 and 17.6, even less impressive. I believe in this case, perception is not reality. Who is the better driver now? It's hard to say now isn't it? You're only as good as your last race, or season.
— Jeff "Sarge" Smith
This is some first-rate bravado by a Junior fan, I'll give you that. It's also a pretty cunning enemy-of-my-enemy thing; most Junior Haters would be hard-pressed to admit they liked Kyle Busch more than ol' Junebug.
That said: Sarge, you're insane. The statistics are skewed by Busch's tendency to tap out of races where he's not winning, as well as by Junior's exceptional pre-Car of Tomorrow run. Head to head, all else being equal, Kyle Busch is a better driver than Dale Earnhardt Jr. BUT Busch's tendency to self-destruct gives Junior an opening ... one he needs to seize this year.
Regarding the Kansas road course, I really like the idea of taking one of the races away from the oval, because once a year around that is quite enough. I also wholeheartedly agree with having a road race in the Chase, but with that being said, Kansas' road course doesn't sound like a prestigious setting for a road race, especially in the chase. Can you picture any driver bragging about winning there? Wouldn't you think Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon would brag a whole lot more about winning at Road America or Laguna Seca? Seriously, how cool do these words sound together: "stock car" and "Corkscrew." I rest my case.
— Derek Jorde
Derek, I hope you're never within three states of Kansas; some of those Midwestern folk might not take kindly to your disparagement of their fine track. However, for the record, I agree with you; a Laguna Seca race would be amazing. Imagine the gang trying to navigate the Corkscrew: