– Obviously, for Jeff Gordon, it was a welcome relief to win for the first time in 66 races. The last time he went into victory lane was at Texas in the spring of 2009.
Some suggested that at his age, 39, and with a family Gordon had shrunk into a shell of what he once was competitively- although Gordon and I would argue with that. He has four Sprint Cup championships and a decade ago seemed destined to quickly earn a fifth. He didn’t.
He hasn’t won a title since 2001.
Now, I suspect his many fans will say he’s on track toward another title and he may well be. But it’s far too early to tell, of course.
At the very least Gordon has accomplished something he hadn’t in nearly two years. That’s a start.
And his victory helped him overcome a very mediocre Daytona 500, where he was involved in an incident and finished 28th.
He’s now fifth in points. OK, that is indeed on track for a title, for now.
The Hendrick Motorsports personnel switch that took place over the off-season showed signs of good results – but not much more. Gordon now works with crew chief Alan Gustafson and the crew formerly part of teammate Mark Martin’s group.
That they were able to win in only their second start of the season gives evidence that the alterations just might work – for Gordon, anyway.
We have yet to see how it might pay off elsewhere.
If you ask me, most fans won’t concur the changes have worked until Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to competitiveness with Steve Letarte, Gordon’s former crew chief, and the bunch once with the No. 24 team. That, to them, will provide the ultimate proof that the Hendrick swap worked.
By the way, Letarte was one of the first to congratulate Gordon for his Phoenix victory.
– Gordon ran down Kyle Busch and passed him with just eight laps remaining and then pulled away to win at Phoenix.
Busch had already won the Camping Word Truck Series and Nationwide Series races at Phoenix. He led all 200 laps of the Nationwide race.
Busch missed the Phoenix sweep by just one position. Had he done so it would have been for the second time in his career. He did it at Bristol last year.
With top-10 finishes in the first two races of the season Busch has moved into No. 1 in the point standings. Again, yes, it is early but there are many who contend the only world left for Busch to conquer is to win a Cup championship. To many, he has already established himself as the best all-around driver in NASCAR.
I won’t argue with that.
– Wrecks and other incidents have been a big part of the first two races of 2011.
At Phoenix the most prominent crashfest affected 13 cars, some of which were considered as pre-race favorites.
The mishap also had another effect. It placed some drivers considered championship contenders in a position where they have to make up significant ground as quickly as possible – if for no other reason than to lessen a sense of urgency.
They include Carl Edwards – considered by many the driver most able to end Jimmie Johnson’s championship streak at five – Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray.
Of the group Edwards is highest at 12th in points, 21 points behind Busch.
Oh, and Kevin Harvick did finish fourth at Phoenix, but that, coupled with his 42nd-place run at Daytona following a blown engine, puts him 22nd in points.
Denny Hamlin, another anticipated to make a title run, was 11th at Phoenix and 21st at Daytona. He’s in 14th place.
As for Johnson, a third-place run at Phoenix was decidedly better than his 27th at Daytona. He’s always been something of a slow starter and he’s 13th in points.
Again, please, it’s early. But the point is that some of the expected contenders have some catching up to do – not that this is anything entirely unusual after two races in any season.
– Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne had a whirlwind week leading into Phoenix as he received phone calls from the White House – he also spoke with Vice President Joe Biden – was on the set of the Ellen DeGeneres and George Lopez shows and made personal appearances, along with videos, almost from coast to coast. The 20-year-old driver even received wedding proposals.
I’m not surprised. Those who should know say that the personable, good-looking Bayne has really fired up the ‘tweeners. Incidentally, that’s great for NASCAR.
But at Phoenix things came crashing to reality as Bayne wrecked his Wood Brothers Ford after just 49 laps to finish 40th.
OK, let’s be frank. In Cup competition Bayne is a raw rookie. He won at Daytona because of his talent, certainly, but also because he had an excellent car.
And he evolved into one of the best drafting partners in the race – not to mention in a 150-mile qualifying event in which his idol, Gordon, insisted he hook up with him.
Bayne wins at Daytona. His idol then wins at Phoenix. A bit ironic, don’t you think?
But the point is that Bayne, as a rookie who will compete on most tracks for the first time, is likely to have far more experiences such as that at Phoenix than what happened at Daytona.
I don’t think the ‘tweeners will mind a bit. They’re already in his camp.