The official end of 2010 also brings with it an important anniversary for this column. It was at this time one year ago the SI.com Mailbag was born, created off a couple of old e-mails I'd been keeping in the Hoarders episode that served as my inbox.
It was an idea based on building a fan following, the strength of your opinions making or breaking its lifespan. So 12 months later I thank you, the fans, for building this column up when so much in racing has been torn down by declining attendance, TV ratings and criticism of decisions on and off the track.
What began as a trickle of e-mails each week is now a borderline flood. Finding the best opinions among those e-mails once took a couple of minutes; now it takes me hours. It's because of you this idea has not only survived, but thrived, and I appreciate it more than you know.
In honor of the end of 2010, I went back over 100 pages of close, but no cigar e-mails to come up with some of the one-liners, quirkier ideas, crazy talk and general themes that defined the year of racing. This time around, I kept my responses to a minimum while letting you, the fans do the talking. As crazy as some of these e-mails are, that is what this column is all about, right?
We'll return to the normal format after the New Year, so don't stop sending your thoughts and questions to email@example.com or Twitter on @NASCARBowles.
Until then ...
I have always been a supporter of equal rights and work opportunities for women, and Danica Patrick entering the IRL fray really caught my attention. But she has one problem that someone needs to talk to her about, the one quirk or shortcoming in her behavior that could actually end up being her undoing -- her habit of saying "you know" about every three words. You would be amazed by the number of people that comment on this, I feel that the day is coming when she is going to become a role model for young girls around the world; she needs to lose this habit and become the clear speaking, articulate young lady that I know exists.-- John L. Wesley
If we could only get Danica to not say "you know" every other word. It drives me crazy and makes her look dumber than she really is.--Linda, South Bend, Ind.
You know, John and Linda ... I totally don't see what you're talking about.
After the Brad Keselowski--Carl Edwards flip in Atlanta, my NASCAR favorite is still Carl Edwards, but I do have this to say to him -- let the duck drive.-- Robert Fahlfeder
I always thought Carl was the real deal, but after the BK deal, Carl is the lowest of low. We now have NASCAR's approval of attempted murder, and everyone is smiling.-- Russ Sylvia
Carl, love your style and thought processes about racing. Keselowski, it's about time someone put him in his place... and who else but Carl Edwards. Way to go, Carl! Be safe and keep the wheels on the ground.-- Rousch Fan
On Joey Logano, I still think the best quote (and counterattack) of the year was the line about Kevin Harvick's wife wearing the fire suit in the family! Hard to come back, eh, Kev...-- Bart Bogy, Whittier, Calif.
I'm 43, and I have been watching NASCAR since the early 1990's. I was a Dale Earnhardt fan, and I must admit that after his death, it just hasn't been the same for me, because now I find it hard to pull for anyone. Either they are too vanilla (Jimmie Johnson) or they just plain suck (Dale Earnhardt Jr.).-- Walt Craig
It bothered me that NASCAR allowed Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus to switch pit crews at the end of the season. My thinking is this shouldn't be allowed; the crew you start the season with must be the team to finish with. Would this have changed the outcome? We will never know.-- Fred, Perry, Ga.
Why the incessant Jimmie bashing from fans? So what if he wins all the time? Is it his fault that no one will step up to the plate and be man enough to beat him?-- David Harding
I laughed out loud when you compared Denny Hamlin to Tom Brady. Did you actually think that was a valid comparison? By your own admission, Hamlin could barely walk. Would he be taking snaps under center in that condition? I think not. But thankfully, he was brave enough to drive a car. I have to tell you, I had my ACL repaired a few years ago and was driving the very next day. I know that comparing my jaunt to the doctor and Hamlin's race in Arizona is quite a stretch, but at least the mechanics are similar. We both wore braces on our knees. We both hit the gas and went through the gears. We both steered. Luckily, neither of us had to run from a defensive end trying to smash us to the ground. In my mind, the fact that Hamlin could race with a bad knee and finish in the top 30 simply reinforces the perception that race car drivers are about as athletic as golfers or bowlers.-- Tucker Thudpucker
Good thing you didn't leave your cell phone number, Tucker. There's a couple million fans of this sport who beg to differ.
NASCAR got back to its roots when it started allowing drivers to wreck each other. "Boys, have at it" is fantastic. The problem now is the autos are too similar. There is no separation between the cars.-- T.J. O'Keefe, Columbus, Ohio
Who the heck wants to see identical cars going in circles? NASCAR used to be somewhat exciting when the cars actually looked like what you'd see in the showroom. The CoT has pretty much ruined NASCAR.-- Chip B., Austin, Texas
"Forced" equality in NASCAR? I call BS! We tried that ... it was called IROC and it was about as exciting as watching baseball, golf, soccer or your basic grass growing.-- Larry Lemke, Fargo, N.D.
The CoT? Not so bad. People have lost sight of one of the best (to me) things about it: We no longer spend most of every season hearing from the various teams about how the other makes of cars have an advantage in the wind tunnel, and therefore my make of car needs an extra 1/8 inch of spoiler, etc. That got very tiresome.-- Rick Hadley, Georgetown, Mass.
I'm in the camp of "Does NASCAR really think the fans are that stupid?" Long before Denny Hamlin was talking or tweeting about the suspect cautions, the fans had been talking about it on blogs and in chat rooms.-- Regina Spence, Chesterfield, N.J.
I wouldn't mind the penalties on the No. 33 this September (Clint Bowyer) if I knew what the rules are, could see some kind of evidence or explanation behind the current ruling, and knew what the penalty (or guidelines for penalties) was for the infraction. If the appeals panel was composed of trusted experts with relevant experience, that would add credibility to the process. If everyone knows the rules and clearly understands the consequences, then the outcome shouldn't be a problem. But where the problem starts is that we don't know what the rules really are, and too often we see similar infractions result in very different penalties.-- Geoff Kratz
I have to tell you that the number one thing driving me away from watching the races is the commercials. I have noticed this for awhile, but seems to get worse. We watch 8-12 laps before they go to a commercial. I cannot tell you how many commercials I watch compared to the actual race but I bet it is 50/50. I am to the point of not watching anymore. I refuse to give five hours of my weekend anymore to watching so many commercials. How many times do you hear, "while we were on commercial break, there was a lead change," or "there was a wreck while we were at break." -- Kevin, Prescott, Ariz.
If you do a Christmas wish list column please put me down for one -- please let the broadcasters stop referring to the irrelevant "points-as-they-are-running-now" stupidity. Or, I would trade that for -- restricting all broadcast comments to ONLY those relevant right now to this race.-- Fritz Korte
Here are some more "unique" fan suggestions ...
I don't know if it was the smell of the fuel or the hard nosed racing the different noise each car made when they came by or a mix of all, but that's what kept me in racing as a fan. Anyways, something changed a few years back right around the time they kicked R.J. Reynolds/Winston out and before the COT came into play. You don't smell the fuel anymore... they changed it to unleaded. Who doesn't like the smell of the fuel when they come by? And when I'm sitting in the stands with friends and someone asks me to sit down so they can see, or turns around and looks at us like we crazy? Give me a break.-- Shawn Cornell
Here are four suggestions to increase attendance of this fantastic sport at tracks in the Northeast: 1. When Northeast Corridor sports fans see pictures on Deadspin of NASCAR fans wearing unsightly cutoff tee shirts with disturbingly racist slogans, they get creeped out and rightfully so. If I wasn't a NASCAR fanatic but just a big time sports fan who saw a picture like that whatever thoughts I had about going to a NASCAR race would be rendered obsolete. Obviously, I realize there is freedom of speech in this country but NASCAR needs to do something about the stereotypes and do it fast. 2. The weather. Unlike the South and Southeast, good weekend weather is hard to come by. Thus, people aren't going to spend their weekend watching races on television much less traveling to a weekend of races especially when stereotypes abound. 3. People who live along the Northeast Corridor are not patient by nature. Therefore, NASCAR (and their sponsors) might want to think about shortening the races in some shape, way, or form. 4. NASCAR needs to increase the exposure of their road course race at Watkins Glen. Differentiate the race from all others (including the Daytona 500) on the schedule. In other words, make Watkins Glen one of the top jewels of the season. NASCAR could really get the important Northeast Corridor demographic that they so covet if they figured out how to make Watkins Glen work.--Evan Jaffe
Here's this year's "crazy" winner ...
I have an idea. For tracks with two races a year, change the format. If the track has an infield road course, run that course for one of the races. If not, then change direction. Run clockwise one race, run counterclockwise in the second race.-- Blake, Buford, Ga.
Three thoughts: 1. Lengthen the post-race interviews with drivers. I don't care if they want to hop on their private jet and leave. It's time the drivers became much more accessible post-race and answer questions, tough questions from reporters. 2. Stop hauling the drivers off to the NASCAR trailer every time two of them get into it. NASCAR should be encouraging that, not the other way around. 3. Kill the Fox gopher. Really. Have a contest and let a fan do it or have the fan pick their favorite driver to run over it.-- The Unknown Fan
Now that's more rational.
The announcers try to create this excitement for green-flag pits. Who cares? "Hey Joe, did you see how fast Bobby Joe took that front wheel off! Boy, that pit team is the best I've ever seen!" Oh, I know why the announcers are excited, 'cuz these cars can't pass on the track.--Scott Bjork, Winston-Salem, N.C.
You rarely hear anyone say that there should be fewer cars on the track. What if NASCAR were to institute a rule, and I know this goes against every capitalistic bone in America's body, that each team could only have two or three cars on the track? Then, just as in other racing series, put in place a manufacturer or constructor's title. It recreates the image of a team sport, but still rewards individual driving.-- Robert Ren, Duluth, Ga.
I have been a NASCAR fan for many years now and its nothing like it should be. I feel the COT and the CHASE are a waste. They should consider doing away with both. No other sport has a chase/playoff with ALL others/teams participating, it is just the top whatever. I used to watch every race and go to a few of the tracks but I do less and less each of the last, say, four years. Tickets are very pricey and yet attendance is down at the tracks. NASCAR has to fix it -- and soon. Too many cautions for really no reason is another issue. There are some serious problems.-- Dennis P. Miller
Too many e-mails like this one, every week, every race. Hopefully that changes in '11.
NASCAR needs to eliminate the Chase, and just go back to a championship decided over 36 races. NASCAR isn't a stick-and-ball sport where there are divisions and each team doesn't play every other team throughout the season. The playoff system doesn't work in racing, just like it doesn't work in golf. In both sports you have all of the participants playing each other at every competition. The change from week-to-week isn't the competition, but the venue. A countdown system (with periodic elimination of Chase participants from race-to-race), doesn't make sense, because each track is different, and a competitor may get eliminated on a track (say 1.5-mile oval) where he isn't good, but he would have been outstanding at the next week's race which was scheduled for a road course.-- Brad, Greenville, S.C.
Another majority opinion, expressed throughout many months and columns. Just don't expect it to happen... here's some more anger.
I try to catch the last 10 laps and that is all I can take anymore. What do you always hear from the drivers themselves? "I just try to stay out of trouble in the first half of the race and save the car to the end." Oooohh, that is exciting! Guess what. I am saving my hard-earned money.-- Bricktona
I am amazed at how many writers don't get the fact that it is too expensive to travel for races anymore. The hotels and other attractions nearby at every facility charge 200 to 300 percent more during race weekends. I live an hour from Martinsville and I have family/friends stay with me or they couldn't afford to come. I even sold my season tickets at Daytona because of skyrocketing hotels and restaurants. Put the blame where it really is. Bill France would be ashamed at how his business is being run.-- Pariwill
Another overwhelming weekly addition to my inbox. Hotels, NASCAR, take note.
Tom, how about this for an explanation of declining attendance, etc.? We are still in a recession, NASCAR fans are more blue collar than average and are in occupations that have been especially hard hit. Blaming the problems on Jimmie Johnson or NASCAR is simply misplaced.-- Gene, Tallahassee, Fla.
It was strange and sad seeing so many empty seats at places this year. Spoke to several people that lived around Joliet, Ill. in July and they said the state itself has been hit hard economically and people, longtime NASCAR fans and supporters have had to make a sad choice between paying the electric bill, food, gas for their car or their mortgage in place of a fun time out at the track. But the love for NASCAR is there in the town, their people, stores and restaurants.-- Jackie, Texas
And finally ... you can't get away from any "best of" column without mentioning "that guy..."
This is not a question. I just think Dale Jr. should go to his dad's Chevy dealership, start changing oil, and forget about racing.-- Mike Richardson, Kannapolis, N.C.
Did anyone really believe a new crew chief would be the answer? I'm continually amazed. The only constant in Junior's flailing 'career' is.... JR! Face it.-- Sheppard, Atlanta
Note: I don't believe what the fans say, I still think Junior can get the job done. But these kind of e-mails littered my inbox week after week. And finally, the most out of left field e-mail of all...
Where do you get Carl Edwards perfume?-- Terry Osborne, Thomasville, N.C
Now there's a request you don't get every day. It's actually "Eau de Toilette" spray, just so you know, or as I would call it, the stuff you put on so women don't turn and run when coming within 50 feet.
Click here to get a better look at the Turn 4XT label, which Edwards introduced in coordination with Avon in early October. It was $26.00 last I checked, only 1/1,000,000th what it takes for AFLAC to sponsor Edwards car for a full season. They better get selling if AFLAC decides to pull out for 2012 and beyond.
Eddie in Jackson, N.J., has it nailed. Bill Elliott was the last person before Dale Jr. to win the Most Popular Driver Award. It was the 16th and final time Elliott would earn the honor, a NASCAR record, at the conclusion of the 2002 season before the Intimidator's son started the current streak.
Here's a question in honor of the upcoming New Year, the final month of the 2010-11 offseason before stock cars start up all over again at Daytona.
When's the last time a NASCAR Cup race was run in January, anyway?
"Call of Duty: Black Ops has given me crazy dreams!! Should come as a warning label on game, lol ... woke up sweatin cuz I was in a TDM against Snoop Dog, I just knifed his sniper and was runnin for high ground being chased by (stepson) Rex lmao."-- @scottspeed.
Red Bull Racing's former stock car prodigy who also Tweeted this week his potential 2011 opportunities are "about as good as the sun is doing warming up North Carolina"