(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.
He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.
His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In essence racing is so yesterday – as in what you did yesterday really doesn’t matter today or tomorrow or a week from now.
Just ask Jeff Burton who, despite his second-place finish in Saturday night Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, realizes a new day has dawned and with it a whole new set of challenges.
“Well, momentum is created by running well,” said Burton, who is 18th in points with no victories and only two top-five finishes.
He called his season miserable and it’s hard to argue to the contrary.
“Momentum doesn’t create good runs, good runs create momentum,” the Richard Childress Racing Chevy driver added. “So we’ve got to go to New Hampshire and perform.
“I mean, running well and finishing well here tonight is great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean a lot about how our cars are going to drive when we go to Michigan or somewhere. We’ve got to perform. If we perform, the momentum will get built.
“Momentum is in my eyes is a highly over used word. Success creates momentum, it’s not the other way around.”
Burton isn’t the only high-profile driver who is struggling in 2012. He can look around and see four-time champion Jeff Gordon also winless, 15 points ahead of him in 17th and all but out of contention for the final 10-race championship playoff.
Last year’s points runnerup Carl Edwards is winless and 11th in points, but fifth in the standings that determine the two “wildcard” entrants for the playoff.
Neither Gordon nor Edwards helped their cause on Saturday night, Edwards coming home sixth and Gordon 12th, because at this point in the season the only thing that matters for them is winning.
Gordon is well aware of the challenges that await his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy team.
“I’m just going to drive the wheels off of it every weekend,” he said. “I know we can win. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s the last two going into the Chase. It’s whatever it takes to get in.”
Ditto for Edwards, who made it clear last week that the pressure is on and his entire Roush Fenway Racing Ford team- driver included – had to step up.
“We dodged the wrecks and made it out unharmed, so we’ll go to the next one,” Edwards said. “I think the finishing position will be seventh or better and I would have taken that this morning if somebody would have offered it.
“Frustrating describes this whole type of event. It’s very difficult. It’s great when you’re out front, but any other spot you’re just really trying hard not to wreck and ruin your day or other people’s day, so it’s a tough race but I’m glad we finished OK.”
And while eight races remain before the playoff field is set following the Sept. 8 checkered flag at Richmond, each lap at this juncture is important and each subsequent circuit is vital.
It’s quickly becoming now or never, or win or go home, or whatever your favorite cliché might be. As the Rolling Stones lamented in “Ruby Tuesday,” “Yesterday don’t matter when it’s gone.”
Just ask Jeff Burton.
“It feels good tonight, it’ll feel good tomorrow, and then Monday it’ll be back to work,” he said. “It’s always good to have finishes, but we need to put a string of finishes together. This sport will – just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’ll realize how stupid you are and vice versa.
“It feels good to finish good here tonight, but my biggest concern is how we’re going to go to New Hampshire and run and how we’re going to use our off week to improve so we can go to Indy and run well and go to Michigan and run well. That’s my largest concern.”