Ban coolers? But they're a NASCAR institution

Jeff Gordon's Beer Toss Bash was the talk of Talladega. But let's not penalize the entire crowd, writes Marty Smith. After all, NASCAR is the biggest BYOB party on the planet.

Updated: May 3, 2007, 3:20 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Dozens of folks wrote me this week with the master solution to remedying the Talladega beer toss: Ban coolers.

It'd work. But it'd stink.

Jeff Gordon
John David Mercer/US PresswireJeff Gordon probably prefers to drink his beer -- not wear it.

The concern is certainly warranted. A full beer can from 75 rows up is a deadly weapon, and eliminating them from the equation would go a long way toward fixing the problem. But is it fair?

Let's say 2,500 people threw objects from the stands Sunday at Talladega -- should the well-behaved 175,000 be punished? No. And I'd hate to see it come to that. I'd hate to see a handful of degenerates ruin an institution.

Coolers are an institution in NASCAR. NASCAR is the only sport left with enough trust in its fan base to let people cater themselves. NASCAR fans are the best fans in the world. Those 14 folks at Talladega? They're not fans. They're an abomination. They are not indicative of the whole.

NASCAR is the biggest BYOB party on the planet. And that's a big part of the allure, whether you want to believe it or not.

My Jersey-bred brothers-in-law think it's the greatest thing since peanut butter. "Could you imagine bringing our own CLs into The Linc?" they ponder. "I love NASCAR," they howl as they tip another back.

To me, banning coolers at the racetrack because of those unruly folks at Talladega would be like disallowing recess for an entire grade-school class because two ill-tempered kids got in a tiff.

Don't call it a comeback: My buddy Blake Feese gets a shout-out this week. After an 18-month hiatus from the seat, Feese returned to competition last weekend during the ARCA event at Kansas and ran third. My phone was going ballistic throughout the race with text messages from other drivers and industry executives privy to the details of the difficult time Feese has had finding someone to believe in him. Everyone is elated for him. Coolest thing I've seen in a long time.

Marty,

Huge Jeff Gordon fan here in Nebraska. All my boys are Junior and Tony (Stewart) fans. They HATE Jeff, and for the life of me I don't get it. He seems like a nice guy and I think it's just because he wins a lot and has a hot wife. Help me out here man.

-- Jamie Compton, Lincoln, Neb.

On the stair climber the other day, somewhere amid the sweat and snot, a song came up on my iPod I hadn't heard in a while, one that perfectly summed up the oft-perplexing Fans Against Gordon phenomenon.

It's a Tim McGraw ditty titled "Everybody Hates Me." It goes something like this:

Guess who's the new talk of the town?
The new SOB
The one everybody loves cuttin' down
Man, it's a sight to see
They all smile right to his face, and hide the jealousy
Me, I'm just working hard to get to that place,
Where everybody hates me &

You pay your dues and you get your breaks
Then you're the SOB
The one everybody loves to hate
It just comes naturally
They all smile right to your face, and hide the jealousy
That's just the way it goes and I can't wait
'Til everybody hates me.

Man, that's it. That's the ticket. Gordon is in the place everybody wants to be -- rich and famous, at peace. Fans who dislike him think he got it all too easily, that he didn't have to work for it like Petty and Pearson and Earnhardt and Elliott did. He's a pretty boy, they say.

They hate him because he's good. Too good.

So in a twisted way, all of that raucous booing and those beers flying from the grandstands are actually a compliment.

On that note&

Marty,

Why not just bar Jeff Gordon from the track? That would solve all the beer-can throwing.

-- Anonymous

Hysterical. That one cracked me up so much I had to use it despite the lack of name and location.

Hey Marty,

I was wondering if you could help me out with something. How did Tony Stewart end up finishing 28th? It looked like to me that the caution came out before [David] Gilliland and [Jamie] McMurray had a brain fart and left Smoke in the wall.

If the caution did come out before that incident, shouldn't Stewart still be in the top 10 like McMurray and Gilliland were? At the very least, he should be in the top 20.

A Proud Jeff Gordon fan and member of Hokie Nation,

-- Jason Holley

Only about 300 people asked this question this week. I chose Jason's because he's a Hokie. Hope you guys are hanging in there, man. The NASCAR community stands behind Virginia Tech, its students and administration during this hard time. I'm damn proud of the manner in which you have all persevered. It's quite impressive.

Now, about Stewart: For a driver to be credited in the final running order with the position in which he was running at the time of the caution, he must maintain forward motion.

In other words, he has to finish the final lap, even if barely. If a car is rendered stationary, as Stewart's was, it finishes behind every car that crossed the finish line on the lead lap.

Marty,

Why don't we hear more about Steve Letarte? He's leading Jeff Gordon to his best season in 10 years, and if he walked into my store I wouldn't even know who he is. Who is this guy?

-- James Bronson, Springfield, Mo.

Great question/comment, James. You're exactly right. Letarte flies further under the radar than any elite crew chief in the Nextel Cup Series. It's almost by design. He likes it that way.

"I'm a family guy," Letarte told me earlier this week. "I'd rather spend that hour with my kids than on a television show or radio show or something. With me it's family first, then the 24 car."

Letarte said he had opportunities for several years to leave Hendrick Motorsports and be the crew chief for other top-20 teams. He even had opportunities to lead other HMS teams before assuming the role with the No. 24 team. Why hold out? Why not jump at the chance for crew chief experience?

"I held out for Jeff Gordon," he said, "because of the confidence I have in him. Our relationship was established, and obviously special."

Advice from former Gordon crew chief Robbie Loomis made that easier.

"Robbie Loomis once told me that the longer it takes to get something, the longer you have it," Letarte said.

Letarte explained that Loomis knew a year before his departure from HMS that he wasn't going to be crew chief anymore, and he began including Letarte in meetings and other engagements to which car chiefs typically weren't invited. He knew how important the experience would be for Letarte.

"Me being crew chief didn't just happen in a week, the week before Loudon [in 2005]," Letarte said. "That was planned far out -- I was the crew chief in 2006, regardless, because Mr. Hendrick and Robbie had such great planning."

As great as it was to lead Gordon to victory at Talladega, and thus past Dale Earnhardt in career wins, Letarte said the previous week's win at Phoenix was much more meaningful. Hundreds of folks had a hand in Gordon's 77 wins, but to be the crew chief who helped Gordon finally conquer Phoenix, a track on which he never had prevailed, "means the world to me."

"I hold Ray Evernham in the highest regard, and to think, even [Ray] never won there [with Gordon] -- I can't tell you what that means to me," Letarte said.

Hey Marty,

Have you ever seen David Reutimann and Zach Braff, the star of "Scrubs," at the same time? Have you ever seen Jeff Burton and Tom Glavine, starting pitcher for the Mets, at the same time? I know, I know, get a life ;)

-- Anonymous

I've never seen nor heard of Zach Braff. But I will give you Glavine and Burton. I think about that every time Glavine takes the hill, actually. It's uncanny.

One of the funniest things I've ever seen was a photo comparison of Jimmie Johnson and Dave Matthews in the newspaper, I think in San Diego, a few years back, before Johnson stopped eating.

That's all the time we have today. Time to hit the pavement to Richmond.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.