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Surprising driver changes dominate Tuesday's mailbag

Remember that line from Office Space? "Sounds like someone has a case of the Mondays?"

Looks like NASCAR just bumped it over to Tuesday.

Two major driver changes were announced just prior to the mailbag, prompting the equivalent of ripping up your column and having to start from scratch.

Column-shredding aside, I think Kelly Bires might have it just a bit worse. The former JR Motorsports driver finds himself unemployed after just two months behind the wheel of Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet. Suddenly, that leaves a handful of dates without a driver for his Nationwide program just as Danica Patrick gets off to an awful start in the IndyCar Series.

File that under the "Things That Make You Go Hmm..." Add in Mike Bliss getting kicked out of his Tommy Baldwin Racing car (Johnny Sauter replaces him for now in the No. 36) and it's been one crazy day for NASCAR.

How do you feel about all this chaos? Time to hit me up and pour your heart out at tbowles81@yahoo.com or on Twitter at NASCARBowles. Don't worry, I'll just be bearing your innermost secrets to tens of thousands of my closest friends. It'll be fun!

Let's get started with some Bires reaction...

Now that Kelly Bires is out of the No. 88 and McMurray has taken the drivers seat, does Jamie still plan to drive the No. 1? Kelly doesn't seem to have been given a chance. Does JRM expect to have superstars right out of the gate?

-- J Angellas Winston, Salem, NC

I just think it's so sad. This is so typical of JRM! Kelly wasn't given a chance at all!

-- Betseyjenkins

They threw away that chemistry with the first race.

-- TBayFinn

I understand sponsors want big names, but new guys can't become big names without seat time.

-- Farrah

These were a few of the tweets received after NASCAR's Most Popular Driver (Earnhardt) announced a rather unpopular firing from his Nationwide program (Bires). For those new to the sport, Nationwide is NASCAR's equivalent to AAA baseball, and there were high hopes for Bires to make a good impression and move into the majors. The last man to wheel the No. 88, Brad Keselowski, got picked by Penske Racing to drive their prestigious No. 12 car in Cup for 2010.

But it's hard to gauge future potential when you don't even give someone a chance. Bires' fate was sealed before he even got behind the wheel. Once Danica Patrick announced that she wanted to run for Earnhardt at Daytona, the driver/owner chose to leave Bires on the bench while he and Patrick drove his two cars instead.

When you miss the first race like that, chances are you'll struggle to get up to speed. Bires still had four top 20s in his first five starts, but it wasn't enough for impatient bosses judging his tenure by trips to Victory Lane.

It's a tough deal that goes from bad to worse: a team that didn't have the patience for a development driver is now giving that seat to a major leaguer. Jamie McMurray will run the No. 88 car for nine races, dropping down a level to compete in a series he graduated from a long time ago (while still driving his No. 1 Cup car). With a move like that, it's understandable why J. Angellas would be confused, because no one in any other major sport moonlights in the minors in their spare time.

While Kelley Earnhardt denied sponsorship was the reason for the switch, it's worth noting that the No. 88 has struggled to gain financial backing this season. And with the Nationwide business model in shambles, the only way to compete with the big buck-teams is to bring in marquee drivers capable of snagging you sponsorship at the right price.

Where should JRM have gone from here, you ask? I have a suggestion...

I heard you Thursday night on SIRIUS (Ch. 128, every Thursday at 9:15 PM) and as a loyal Scott Wimmer fan, I wanted to thank you for giving voice to what I have been saying. Scott is a great driver and has posted two amazing finishes for JR Motorsports in the No. 7. He deserves a quality ride, in quality equipment, and he'll provide quality results and contend for wins every time. I appreciate that you give Scott his due. I just hope that others will see what you and I have seen.

-- Deni Horne, Monrovia, CA

Deni's referring to my radio rant where I pointed out just one driver behind the wheel of Earnhardt's cars has scored two top 10s this season: Wimmer. Keeping the No. 7 seat warm while Danica went back to IndyCar, he did everything right in his two-race tryout to keep the job.

It still didn't work. Right now, the 34-year-old's is wading in the unemployment line in favor of 20-year-old Landon Cassill. While Cassill's been waiting, deservedly, for a shot, it's the latest head-scratching move from a program that needs its leader to speak up. Expect Earnhardt to clear the air at Texas, but I don't think anything he'll say will turn the tide of a wildly unpopular decision.

Moving on...

Enjoyed your Sunday Article especially item 1: "When in doubt, stay out"... but why not also ask this question as Ryan Newman did? There were 24 cars on the lead lap and very few laps to go, and the cars in 10th to 24th place had no chance of winning. If all those cars had stayed out, then the leaders who pitted would have been so far behind someone from that group could have won. Also, they collectively would keep JJ from third place. Shouldn't that be their goal, to slow down JJ?

-- Tom Foster

Tom, you make a good point. Several crew chiefs and drivers have disputed that theory, with everyone from Jeff Burton to Kyle Busch crew chief Dave Rogers pointing out a one-second differential between new and old rubber at Phoenix. But my response to that is the same each time: how difficult is it to pass with this new car? If, say, six cars on the back of the lead lap would have stayed out, one of them would have won because it was just too much traffic to work through in two green flag laps at Phoenix, the equivalent of about 55 seconds.

As to your last point, unfortunately the goal of the drivers isn't to slow down JJ until the Chase. Right now, how far he pulls away in the regular season doesn't matter --simply making the 12-car field to challenge him does. It's a disheartening change from the old format of 2003 and earlier, when the bulls-eye would already be on stopping JJ in mid-April. Instead, by the time they try to aim the gun it could be too late.

Tom, NASCAR should return to racing stock cars. Imagine how competitive it'd be if everyone had to start with something they could buy off the showroom floor. Ditch these fancy hot rods and let's go racing with real Chevys, Dodges and Fords.

-- John F.C. Taylor, Milford, CT

I have been a NASCAR fan for many years now and it's nothing like it should be. I feel the CoT and the Chase are a waste. There are some serious problems, but I can't wait to see what the Nationwide Series brings with the new cars in July.

-- Dennis P. Miller

Dennis, meet John. I think you guys could be friends! I included that second email because hidden amidst the complaints is some enthusiasm for NASCAR's newest design. For those who haven't seen it, take a look at some of the Ford Mustang pics from NASCAR's new "Car of Tomorrow" design, scheduled to debut in the Nationwide Series at Daytona this summer.

Not one person has had a look at those pictures and told me it's an awful-looking race car. That's the type of positive move which will get fans intrigued about the sport again. I have even more good news: rumor has it once these cars are introduced at NASCAR's lower levels, they'll be a part of the Cup Series by 2012, 2013 at the latest. So stick it out, guys, you don't have much more time to wait.

After reading your column a few weeks ago, I sure hope they find a way to keep that second date at Martinsville. If not, they're throwing away a better track that millions of people enjoy on television, in favor of a lesser venue that 10,000-15,000 more people enjoy in person.

-- Colby Shaffer

Throwing this out there to give an update: Phoenix attendance was 70,000, over 12,000 people higher than what we saw at Martinsville the day of their rainout. So while Phoenix was a long shot to lose their second date, they certainly helped themselves a little bit this weekend, distancing the track from a Martinsville date that remains in jeopardy for 2011.

Finally...

Why does everyone think they're an expert when discussing NASCAR? Seriously, get a sponsor, get a team - be hardcore like all the rest of the drivers out there and then comment. I guess everyone is allowed their own opinions, but give an opinion about something you know at least a little about.

-- Angie, Nagodoches, TX

Angie, let's do it! Where's your $20 million? I've always wanted to own a NASCAR team, but I just don't have the spare cash lying around, so I'm paid to comment on the sport instead. Have you heard of jobs like these? They're called "sports reporters."

"Watching the Masters in the motorhome and @kevinharvick just told me could beat a PGA golfer if they gave him 40 strokes. I am working on it." - @mother_function, otherwise known as Josh Jones (Business Manager for Kevin Harvick, Inc. and a great "under the radar" NASCAR guy to follow) on a possible future marketing gimmick for Harvick. Tiger Woods, are you listening?

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