A Look Back to Daytona and Ahead to Phoenix

Rusty NormanHi everyone and welcome to this extended edition of Just A Fan’s View…

NASCAR started off the season with a lot of positives. For the Cup teams, Sunday was definitely a historic day at Daytona and it is the NASCAR race many consider to be the biggest race of the year. In reality, it probably is the biggest race of the year and it was big in more ways than one. It was a race filled with drama and tension; a race with more than one “Big One” and for a while it looked as if there may only be a few cars running at the end. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case although the number actually in contention to win was somewhat reduced.

From this fan’s view, there couldn’t have been a more fitting end to the day than the story of the Wood brothers and their driver, Trevor Bayne. The Wood brothers are one of the oldest names in NASCAR and their driver is the youngest to ever win the Daytona 500. Absolutely no-one, including the driver himself, thought he had a chance to win it, but as is often the case at Daytona, he did it anyway.

I know you’ve probably heard this a hundred times in the last week, but, Sunday’s race at Daytona was only the second Cup start for Trevor Bayne and for him to win the 500 this soon in his career, well, it makes this fan wonder what the future may hold for him.

Since Trevor Bayne and the Woods brothers have occupied most of the media coverage over this last week, I don’t want to spend a whole lot more time on them and their success at the “Great American Race.” I would offer this little bit of information as food for you to think about over the next few days. Jeff Gordon was one of the first Cup drivers to notice something about Trevor and he was willing to hook up with him in the second Gatorade duel and it worked out well for the both of them, (until the end of the race, that is.)

Now, I don’t want to suggest anything, but, Jeff Gordon also noticed something about Jimmie Johnson and we all know where that has lead.

All in all, it was a rough day for some of the favorites at Daytona. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin all got caught up in a multi-car crash early on in the 500 along with many others. The only one of those three Hendrick teams that came out ahead on the day despite all that was Mark Martin. He at least finished on the lead lap while Gordon and Johnson finished many laps down in the last half of the field. (That was definitely not the way either of them wanted to start the year off.) Dale Jr. fared much better than the other three until near the end of the race when he had help nosing his car into the wall and that took him out of contention for winning in more ways than one on the day.

Along with the Hendrick teams and their troubles, the Richard Childress Teams of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton didn’t have a good day either as they both exited with engine troubles. Harvick was the first major player out and finished 42nd. With the new point system, it is a little harder to catch up from a really bad finish and he definitely will have his work cut out for himself over the next several weeks.

The Fords looked very strong on the weekend, (especially after the Chevys had their problems), and it remains to be seen if they will continue to run up front like they have lately. Carl Edwards finished second behind Trevor Bayne at Daytona and also won the last two races of the 2010 season. No matter how you look at that, it says Carl Edwards is looking strong in 2011 and, from this fan’s view, the Fords could be a dominating force all through this season.

Another driver/team to watch this season, at least from my view as a fan, would be Kurt Bush. He looked consistently strong at Daytona and sounds very confident in his car and team at the start of this season. He won two of the three Cup races he was in over Speed Weeks and was right there in position to win at the end of the 500. In my humble opinion, he is also one to watch as this season gets started and progresses.

Ok, Now let’s turn our attention to Phoenix International Raceway for this coming weekend.

There are a lot of questions going into the race this weekend. Probably the biggest one on most fans minds is whether or not Trevor Bayne can back up his winning performance in Daytona with a great performance in Phoenix. This is totally different from running a restrictor plate track and a lot can happen that may not be in his control.

If you’ve been one of the followers of Just A Fan’s View for any time at all, you already know how much I think of practice and qualifying, at least as far as the way the race may end up. I don’t think they tell us anything about how the race is going to go at all. What I do think they do is allow the teams a chance to test a few things at tracks they aren’t allowed to test at anymore, (according to the rules), and they can qualify for a good pit selection which could give them an advantage on race day. With the new rule NASCAR laid town about qualifying order being inversely related to practice speeds (or, slowest to fastest), we may see strategy even playing into the speeds we see during the practice times. (This is a wrinkle that should prove to be interesting and I reckon we’ll all have to have a wait and see attitude about it.)

Since this is the last race at PIR in its present configuration and on this track surface, I think some of the practices (and possible testing during them), has been for other reasons this year. They may be able to apply what they learn at PIR this weekend to other tracks, but when they return to PIR later this year, it will be basically a new track to the teams and that should really make for an interesting race late in the year.

No matter what the qualifying order turns out to be, this could be one of the more interesting races we’ve seen at Phoenix International Raceway in a while. I do expect to see some of the old faces to make a strong showing when it comes to the actual race, but Carl Edwards is probably in the catbird seat for two reasons:

  • First, he was the winner of the last race at Phoenix (even though it probably should have been won by Denny Hamlin) and
  • Second, he is driving a Ford (and they have been looking awfully strong, recently, when it comes to horsepower and finishing up front.)
  • A possible third reason would be he won the last two races of the 2010 season and finished second last weekend at Daytona.

Does that mean Carl Edwards is the choice for winning the Cup race this weekend? Nope… not at all. It just means he is on a roll and, if anyone is showing momentum so far, it would be him. (While I’m at it, I can’t ignore the fact that the rest of the Roush Fords are also looking very competitive on the weekend so far.)

Fords are just looking tough so far this year; (and you have no idea how hard that is for this Chevy fan to say that.) I raced Chevy’s, pulled my race-car trailer with one and still own one as I drive from place to place on a day to day basis. As a Chevy fan, I have to admit, it is about time the Fords have become more competitive against the Chevys and other brands, but I can’t deny the facts and that is the Chevys are still strong and have proved they can be as competitive as they need to be when it comes right down to it.

I don’t know about you, but from this fans view, I’m a bit undecided as to who will end up in Victory Lane this weekend. There is always the Hendrick Teams and all four of them are more than capable of doing so at Phoenix. I’m anxious to see how Dale Jr does with his new crew chief. He was doing well last weekend until he was taken out through no fault of his own.

Once again the Bush brothers both look like they could pull off a win this weekend and that could mean trouble for those that didn’t finish that well last weekend at Daytona. In fact, this could be another weekend that someone totally unexpected wins and it could be someone like Montoya or Ambrose. (I’m not saying they will, I’m just saying they could.)

Now that I’ve said all that, I have to say a number of cars are looking very good for taking the first spot this weekend. It could be a Ford, Toyota, Dodge or a Chevy. I do think it is likely the race is going to be decided by pit strategy and/or fuel mileage.

Uh, If you don’t believe me, just ask Denny Hamlin about that from the last race at PIR last year.

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© February 25, 2011 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com

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