Tom Bowles
Tuesday January 19th, 2010

So much for Kyle Busch's time on the hot seat. The 24-year-old's longterm deal, announced Monday by Joe Gibbs Racing on the Sprint Cup Media Tour, left my crystal ball cracked before the 2010 season even starts. At least according to this "article" I found, I'm not the only one who is off base when it comes to predicting the future. Sometimes it's easy to forget that we're crack reporters here at, not psychics.

Lucky for me, bad fortunetelling in 2010 hasn't stopped the mail from flowing in. Nice batch of questions this week! As always, the mailbag link above or is your connection to my world. Let's get to it:

Why do NASCAR commentators and fans refer to "the 88 car" and "the 24 car" instead of just saying Dale Earnhardt or Jeff Gordon? This seems to be a NASCAR phenomenon because I don't notice it with Indy cars or Formula 1 or any other type of racing. -- Barry Wright, Round Rock, TX

It's a notable difference, Barry, but it's all in what you see -- literally. If you're watching Formula 1 or Indy cars, it's much harder to see the number, which is often pasted up near the front wing. Seriously, who remembers Michael Schumacher's car number? Anyone?


Stock cars are bulkier and the numbers are easily visible. When seen from the side, the number is the first thing you notice, and that makes it easy to push a driver/number association. Any casual fan can associate Richard Petty with 43, Gordon with 24, and Jimmie Johnson with 48. Commentators expect viewers to make the correlation. The link is so strong that there was even talk of retiring Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s 3 after the Intimidator died at Daytona in 2001. (It hasn't been used since in Cup racing).

Now that Kurt Busch had a more consistent year than his brother in the Sprint Cup (in and out of the car), do you think he can keep it up or will he slip back into 2008 mode? Personally, I'd like to see both at the top of their games, racing for wins. -- R.J. Howe, First Sargeant, USAF

It all depends on how Kurt and new crew chief Steve Addington interact. One interesting note I picked up from Kurt's preseason stops was his admission that he hasn't talked to his brother about Addington, who crew-chiefed Kyle for two years before being released last November after a year-long slump for the No. 18.

While some might scratch their heads (why wouldn't Kyle give some pointers?), I view his silence as a good thing. When two people get divorced, how often do they have good things to say about each other right off the bat? Kurt seems to be focused on what Addington did for his brother rather than what he didn't do -- and 12 wins and a "regular season" points title in just 69 starts together is a pretty nice mark on the resume. Addington knows how to deal with the Busch temper. While Kurt's older than his brother and projects a better public image in private, I've been told by several sources that he's still as high-maintenance as he was during his tenure with Roush.

The key for Penske is Addington adjusting to their engineering-heavy mold. Add the Hendrick mindset of the organization's newest driver, Brad Keselowski, amidst a major crew expansion and there are a lot of new ideas to consider. How quickly the chemistry clicks will be crucial during a year where a slow first month could be all it takes to cost someone a Chase bid.

As for Kyle, with a long-term deal in place the same issues remain: he's still overwhelmed by running his new Truck team and has to be a bit more mature as he adjusts to Addington's departure. I'll say each Busch will win multiple races in '10 (I see both with at least three apiece), but to contend for the championship amidst all the adjustments is too much of a stretch.

Everybody knows that every team in NASCAR tries to bend the rules to the point of almost breaking them. Knaus broke them a couple of times and was penalized. Your excuse that "some fans find it hard to stomach JJ's fourth straight title" is lame and old. When will you say something positive like "maybe JJ and Knaus are just the best team in racing right now?" Or would you feel that maybe writing that will lose some of your readers. Gotta sell the story, right? -- Tony Fletcher, East Burke, VT

I never said JJ and Knaus weren't the best team in racing. I just pointed out reasons why they don't have a rabid fan base. Knaus has a long list of toeing-the-line violations that got him suspended. It's one thing to toy with that gray area, another to get caught repeatedly. So while I'm in the camp that still gives Knaus 110 percent of the credit, there are plenty of people out there who never will.

As for Johnson, four titles haven't changed the cardboard personality he turns on in public. By all accounts, that's not the real him, which is why it's exciting to have HBO's 24/7 coming out in a few weeks. It's a chance for race fans to take a look at a personality that many have never seen, and it should help the best driver of the last decade increase his likeability factor.

What a crazy Media Tour so far. What do you think is the biggest news of the week? -- Tom Bowles, Somewhere in the USA

Okay, so maybe I made this last question up. But it's important to note how much we've learned already: a long-term extension for Busch; Cup Series Director John Darby leaving his position for a management/oversight role; and Richard Childress bringing back the No. 3 (for grandson Austin Dillon in the Truck Series) are just some of the highlights of the last 48 hours.

I think the biggest story to watch is Kasey Kahne's and Kevin Harvick's "noncommittals" to their teams for 2011 and beyond. Both drivers, in the final years of their contracts, have stayed classy while quietly acknowledging they're not sold on returning. It's a similar tactic that Tony Stewart used with Gibbs Racing two years ago, before he was on his way out the door.

You're likely to see the same scenario play out here. But while Harvick may be in a perfect position to move from Childress to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2011, it's Kahne who could prove to be the biggest wild card in Silly Season 2010. Claiming he has an offer to return to Richard Petty Motorsports-Yates, Kahne said Tuesday that nothing gets signed until he compares their price to other teams that come calling. With other drivers signed to long-term deals, and Kahne's contentious relationship with Ford, expansion at Penske or Gibbs would make them the only feasible places for him to land. But will either team be able to raise the sponsorship money?

It's a story to watch, especially if RPM-Yates struggles mightily out of the gate.

Tweet of the Week: I'll go outside the box this week to A.J. Allmendinger's wife, Lynne. You can find her at @drlynnechiro:

"Quote of week for me: 'lifes hard....get a helmet!' courtesy of one of A.J.'s best friends dave! Lol. Love it cause it's true."

Have a nominee for Tweet of the Week? Email me at or tweet me yourself. My handle is NASCARBowles.

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