Yes, JPM is a top-five driver

Jay Hart

Who are my top five drivers in the Cup Series? Is NASCAR making an impact with its 2011 Cup schedule? And why don't I respond to all your emails?

We've got the answers in this week's mailbag, so let's get to it:

Top 5 drivers

I agree with you that Montoya's biggest obstacle toward winning races is himself. When things go wrong he loses his focus. He is often too aggressive too soon. If he learns to deal with problems and is more patient, he could win a lot of races. If in your opinion, Montoya is one of the 5 best drivers in NASCAR, who are the other 4?

Rich Bojman
Albany, N.Y.

In alphabetical order: Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. It's hard to leave Kurt Busch off this list, but I have to. Here's why:

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The four drivers I've mentioned have won everywhere – restrictor plates, road courses, short courses and everywhere in between. Kurt Busch has been close to winning restrictor-plate and road-course races – he finished second at Watkins Glen – but still hasn't.

The reason I put Montoya in my top five despite having not won an oval race in the Cup Series yet is twofold. One, you can't argue with his pre-NASCAR résumé: He's won the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Daytona, a CART championship, the Monaco Grand Prix and twice finished third in the F1 standings. As for his accomplishments in the Cup Series, in just four seasons he's gone from stock-car beginner to a driver who CAN win on any given weekend, evident by the fact that he's led laps in more races this season than all but one driver (Jimmie Johnson). Given a little more time, Montoya will win on an oval, and many at that.

Defending ESPN?

Hi Jay, If I were asked to criticize ESPN's coverage of the Watkins Glen race, I'd be hard pressed. For those that dislike cookie cutter broadcasts as much as cookie cutter tracks, EPSN's camerawork on Sunday was top notch. The use of the helicopter highlighted the speed and maneuvrability of the cars, and showed where some drivers were better than others. The camera on Ambrose's bumper was AWESOME!

I know, we've seen this stuff before, but the production team used the bumper cam effectively during passes or close racing action without overusing it.

My only criticism (beyond the usual Rusty-Brad-Commercial hating that we endure weekly), is the post-race interview with Montoya, where the reporter felt it necessary to bring up tension between Pattie and Montoya. Let the guy bask in his victory already!

On a side note, I just moved from Hawaii to Nashville and am sure glad to be back in NASCAR country. I took my family to the truck race on Saturday and really enjoyed watching Todd Bodine make a run to the front after an early tire issue. Hawaii is nice, but they don't have any racing at all over there. It's good to be back. Thanks for your great work. Keep it up!

Bill Tiffany
Nashville, Tenn.

Aloha, Bill.

I, for one, am not one of those who is overly critical of the television coverage. I don't know if there is a tougher sport to cover than racing. There are 43 different teams, with the action sometimes spread out over several miles. To keep up with all of it takes a tremendous amount of work, preparation and, in the examples you point out, creativity.

Yes, commercials stink, but unfortunately they are a reality. Nothing comes free in this world, except maybe a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.

Glad to have you back on this side of the pond.

Schedule talk

Kansas + Kentucky - Atlanta = Subtraction through Addition


You're preaching to the choir with that one.

I don't disagree with Bruton Smith's decision to take a date away from Atlanta. While the track does put on a great show, for whatever reason the fans just haven't been there. A change had to be made.

But to me, variety is crucial, and adding yet another intermediate track to that already long list and giving a second date to Kansas is more of the same. Sure, they'll fill out the stands at both Kentucky and Kansas, for a few years anyway – maybe even longer. But neither of those additions is going to impact NASCAR's bigger issue, which is drawing eyeballs to TVs.

As Jenna Fryer pointed out Monday, NASCAR is failing in making any impactful changes with the unveiling of its 2011 Cup schedule. I agree with her. Switching the start of the Chase from New Hampshire to Chicagoland is a lateral move at best, and moving the April race at Texas to Saturday night doesn't qualify as "impactful."

On the plus side, Fontana (Calif.) is down to one date; it and its thousands of empty seats will no longer be on display seven days after the Daytona 500. But aside from that, I don't see any impactful change.

I read another reader critical of Ky getting a cup race because it is another cookie cutter track. You seemed to agree with him. When you get right down to it, what are the choices when it comes to track configurations. Round, oval, trioval, or a roadcourse. I'd say the VAST majority of fans will say that they don't like the road course races. I'm not a fan myself of roadcourses. Especially if you are going to attend the race. You get to see one section of the track and have to wait for the field to drive back around so you can see some racingl. Boring stuff. At least it is better with TV coverage.

I think Ky getting a date has more to do with "fresh blood" than the track configuration. NASCAR will be offering racing in the backyards of TV fans that may have chosen not to drive hundreds of miles to see a race in the past. I've never seen a critical remark from a driver about this track. Most seem to love it. I'll be there with bells on and you can be sure there won't be any empty seats.

Bob M.
Louisville, Kent.

No doubt drivers like the track and the stands are filled for Nationwide races. And certainly there will be a "fresh blood" factor. But I think this is a short-term fix to a long-term issue. Fontana addressed the fresh-blood issue but it didn't last. And again, adding a race at Kentucky isn't going to placate non-Midwestern fans who are going to be subjected to another mile-and-a-half track. I have nothing against Kentucky. But I do have something against the glut of sameness.

You know this for a fact: the ones laughing all the way to the bank about these cookie-cutter track additions is Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. Why? All they have to do is set up to run one type of track, and they have a very good chance of winning as many races and championships as their trophy rooms can handle. That's the sad reality of it (in my view, at least). If you can run top 5s at the mile and a half tracks, you're probably going to at least get top 12 at year's end, and that's an awful lot of money.

Erik R.
Steamboat Springs, Colo.

You're not alone, Erik. There are a lot of fans who don't think it's just a coincidence that NASCAR has never had a four-time champion until now.

This is just another reason why NASCAR should mix up the Chase tracks. As long as the Chase schedule remains the same – and swapping Chicagoland in for Fontana counts as a wash – Johnson's reign will be questioned by some, not applauded or accepted.

Is there anyone out there?

Why is it that when we ask J Hart a question or send a comment we never get an answer? I have sent several in and never had a reply, WHY!! ?

Frederick Hackett
Deerfield Beach, Fla.

I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to write in each week, including those of you who tell me where to stick it. I get a lot of emails, Frederick. Unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to all of them. Keep sending them in and they may just wind up in Happy Hour, like this one.

Fantasy land

Here are my Fantasy NASCAR picks for the week:

A Group: Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch
B Group: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano
C Group: AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish Jr.

Last call …

I like the idea of shortening the Pocono race. With the new solar panels there, I think we should lop off 32 laps and call it the "Pocono Green 420". :)

Greg Moore
Kitchener, Ontario