Chapter 3: What's Next In Storybook Opening To Season
Post-Daytona 500 Trevor Bayne-ia gave way to the retro feel of a long-awaited Jeff Gordon victory, at Phoenix. This one, his 83rd career win, spun a number of future possibilities -- maybe as soon as this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gordon's Phoenix triumph tied him with Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time wins list. His next win would tie him with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for third -- behind only David Pearson (105 wins) and Richard Petty (200). Gordon spoke about tying Yarborough; click here to listen.
If that happens this weekend, Gordon would nab consecutive wins for the first time since October 2007, when he did it at Talladega and Charlotte.
In breaking a 66-race winless drought, Gordon has now won at least one race in 16 of his 19 full-time seasons. In 14 of those, he won multiple races.
There's reason to believe a back-to-back visit to Victory Lane is possible. Gordon won at Vegas in 2001; led 219 laps in a third-place finish last season; and leads the series in pre-race Driver Rating, with a 117.0.
Gordon took the lead for good at Phoenix on lap 304 -- the 28th lead change of the race. That makes two consecutive races where the lead-change record crumbled. Will it happen again Sunday? The record for lead changes at Las Vegas is 28, set in 2007. Big Gains For Big Guns
One race does not a season make.
A few perennial threats in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup proved the above statement, following up subpar Daytona 500 finishes with solid Phoenix runs. Some of the notables:
Jimmie Johnson: This was predictable. Johnson often struggles at Daytona to open the season. Just as often, he comes back big. The proof is in the numbers. Johnson's last five Daytona 500 finishes: 39th (2007); 27th (2008), 31st (2009), 35th (2010), 27th (2011). Johnson's last five finishes in the season's second race: 3rd (2007), 2nd (2008), 9th (2009), 1st (2010), 3rd (2011). He jumped from 25th in the standings after Daytona to 13th. The surge should continue -- Johnson has four wins at Las Vegas, more than any other driver.
Jeff Gordon: Obviously he would vault up the standings; he won after all. Gordon went from 26th after Daytona to his current spot of fifth.
Ryan Newman: Newman had a strong Daytona, leading the most laps (37) -- only to finish 22nd. A fifth-place finish at Phoenix launched Newman into the top 10 in points -- he's now eighth. At Las Vegas, he has four top 10s in five races.
Denny Hamlin: Though still looking for the season's first top 10, Hamlin moved from 19th to 14th in the points standings. The 2010 championship runner-up followed up a 21st place Daytona finish with an 11th at Phoenix. Hamlin has three top 10s in five Vegas races.
Oh, Brother: Busch Siblings Take Points Throne Home
The Busch sibling rivalry found its way into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings.
Points leader Kyle leads older brother Kurt by three points going into their home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It's the first time family members have held the top two spots since after the 1988 Daytona 500 when the Allisons (father Bobby and son Davey) did it. The brothers have had varying results at the big track:
At Vegas, Kyle has seven starts, a win in 2009 (officially from the pole, though he had to drop to the rear to start the race due to an engine change), three top fives and four top 10s.
Kurt has had worse luck. In 10 races, the 2004 series champion is winless with one top five and two top 10s. His best finish was third in 2005. He has struggled of late there. His last four finishes: 26th (2007), 38th (2008), 23rd (2009) and 35th (2010).
Las Vegas Activities Salute Trailblazer Wendell Scott
NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series cars will carry a commemorative decal on their B-posts this weekend celebrating the achievements of NASCAR trailblazer Wendell Scott, the first African-American competitor to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Friday, Mar. 4, marks the 50th anniversary of the Danville, Va. driver's first start at Spartanburg, S.C. in 1961, at Fairgrounds Speedway. He finished 17th.
Scott, who didn't compete in the series until age 39, raced into his 50s. Driving a Dodge owned by Las Vegas dentist Doc Faustina, Scott finished 12th in his final start, the 1973 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Scott's win came at the one-mile dirt track in Jacksonville, Fla. on Dec. 1, 1963. He beat NASCAR legend Buck Baker by two laps at Jacksonville Speedway Park.
Scott competed in 495 starts posting 147 top-10 finishes.
His best season was 1966 when Scott competed in 45 races and finished sixth in the championship standings.
Scott posted top-10 championship finishes in four consecutive seasons (1966-69). Scott died at age 69 in 1990.
The maturation of AJ Allmendinger hit its peak. With finishes of 11th (Daytona) and ninth (Phoenix), the California native sits 4th in the points. That put the iconic Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 -- a car that won seven championships -- back near the top of the points standings for the first time in more than two decades. The last time the No. 43 car was this high in the standings was after Martinsville on April 26, 1987. The driver: Richard Petty. ... Speaking of returns to glory: Welcome back, Bobby Labonte. Labonte held onto a top-10 points position for the second consecutive week -- he's now seventh in points. The 2000 series champion was this week's guest on the NASCAR national video teleconference. Click here to watch his interview. ... A few milestones to watch: Kasey Kahne, coming off a sixth-place finish at Phoenix, is still looking for his 50th career top five. ... Mark Martin's next pole will be his 50th. If he does it, he'll be the eighth driver in series history with at least 50 poles. ... Paul Menard, currently the Richard Childress Racing driver with the best points position (11th) will make his 150th start this weekend. ... Special guests this weekend: Singer Matt Gross will perform a pre-race concert and Kristen Hertzenberg from Phantom of the Opera will sing the national anthem.