Encore!: Storyline-Filled Opener Sets Stage For Season
How do you top that?
Sunday's Daytona 500 had everything. There was the usual pageantry that goes along with every Daytona 500; there were records crumbling in front of a packed house; and there was the winner, a kid who stole the show to become an instant fan favorite.
So, again, how do you top that?
You go to the desert. You switch gears, and head to a track that combines the hard racing of a short track with the fast style of a big one -- Phoenix International Raceway.
What's in store: Trevor Bayne, at 20-years-old the youngest Daytona 500 winner ever, is back in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. Locked into the field, Bayne will run his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix. He has three starts there in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with varying results -- a 14th in 2009, and a 32nd and 14th last season. If Bayne pulls another upset, he would be the second driver in three years to win the first two races. Matt Kenseth did it in 2009. After an acclimation period as "Daytona 500 champion," Bayne chatted with media members in Tuesday's national NASCAR teleconference. The next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visit will feel vastly different than this one. After this weekend, workers will tear up the current asphalt and lay down a new one, along with a couple other design wrinkles. Those changes include widening the frontstretch, reconfiguring pit road, reconfiguring the dog-leg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 and implementing variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves. A new qualifying procedure -- which ups the importance of the entire race weekend, start-to-finish -- will begin this weekend. If bad weather cancels qualifying, the final starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds. The same rule book procedures will be used to determine eligibility to start a race. If weather cancels practice sessions, then the starting lineup will be set by points, per the rule book. Also, the qualifying order will be set based upon slowest to fastest practice speeds. There have been four different winners in the last four Phoenix races: Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards. Speaking of Martin, his next pole would be No. 50. Only seven other drivers have accomplished that feat. His last pole came in last year's Daytona 500. Tops in Driver Rating at Phoenix: Jimmie Johnson, with a 122.6, a robust 20.9 points ahead of second place Carl Edwards.
Getting the Point: Runner-Up Edwards Lands Top Spot
Carl Edwards admitted his disappointment at finishing second in the Daytona 500, but he did get a pretty cool consolation prize: the points lead. A couple of notes pertaining to this: Edwards has held the points lead twice in his career, after the first and second Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2008. This is the first time since the Daytona 500 became the season-opening race in 1982 that the winner did not own the points lead. The last time that happened was in 1981, when Richard Petty won the 500, but left the race second in points. Edwards, winner of the last race held in Phoenix, has two wins and a second in his last three races.
Wood Brothers Still Making History After All These Years
A look at the sport's history helps give perspective to Sunday's fifth Daytona 500 victory by the Wood Brothers -- NASCAR's sole surviving team from the organization's formative years.
The Woods, Glen and Leonard, won the Daytona 500 for the first time in 1963 with Tiny Lund, a race-day substitute for its regular driver, Marvin Panch, who suffered burns earlier in the week during a sports car race. The victory was the first for Lund. Sound a little familiar?
Here are some other notable happenings in the Wood Brothers' illustrious history: Glen Wood drove in the team's first appearance on March 17, 1953 at Martinsville Speedway, then a .5-mile dirt track. He finished 30th to winner Lee Petty. Wood, a two-time nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, won four times in his part-time career. He won his first of four races at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. on April 18, 1960. He beat that season's champion Rex White. Speedy Thompson recorded the team's first superspeedway victory in the Oct. 16, 1960 National 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This season, the Wood Brothers plan to run 17 races -- but partial schedules are nothing new for the team. For many seasons it specialized in NASCAR tracks of a mile or longer simply because they were the highest profile events and paid the best purses. NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee David Pearson won 11 of 18 starts in 1973. The team never won the NASCAR Sprint Cup owner championship, although 1963 champion Joe Weatherly recorded five of his eight victories that year in the Woods' No. 21 Ford. Twenty of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers have competed in Wood Brothers equipment. They include Curtis Turner, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Junior Johnson, Fred Lorenzen and Dan Gurney. Their Daytona 500 winners are Lund, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Pearson and, now, Trevor Bayne. Beginning in 1960, Wood Brothers entries have won in every decade. Bayne's win was the team's 98th victory in 1,362 starts including 112 at Daytona, where the team has won 15 points-paying races. Sunday's Daytona 500 victory was the team's first since Elliott Sadler won at Bristol in 2001 -- a nearly decade-long drought. Its last Daytona 500 victory came in 1976 when Pearson and Richard Petty crashed together in Turn 4. Pearson was able to limp to the finish; Petty was not.
"This is the highlight of the decade," said Glen Wood, who made his 65th consecutive trip to Daytona beginning with races on the old beach course. "You wonder if you're ever going to win another one.
Said Eddie Wood during Monday's championship breakfast, "That's the most special part of it. To do what our dad and Leonard accomplished in the sixties, seventies and eighties we kind of felt like we dropped the ball. It feels good to get the family's name back going -- and the number (21)."
No Need To Panic
A number of 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participants struggled in the Daytona 500, namely Kevin Harvick (42nd), Jeff Burton (36th), Greg Biffle (35th), Matt Kenseth (34th), Jeff Gordon (28th) and Jimmie Johnson (27th).
But you need only ask Johnson if poor starts kill title aspirations. His average finish in the previous four Daytona 500s: 30.5. His average points finish those four seasons: 1.0.
Of all the above names, Johnson likely has the best shot at a quick bounce back. He has won four of the last seven Phoenix races. Look for Harvick to have a good run, as well. He scored a perfect Driver Rating at Phoenix in his win in November of 2006.
Bobby Labonte recorded his 200th top-10 finish last Sunday, becoming the 27th driver to do so. ... Regan Smith nailed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup top-10 finish -- seventh -- but was in contention to win the 500 before being caught up in the lap 198 caution that sent the race into overtime. Smith led seven laps but spent most of the race pushing other drivers to the head of the field. ... Matt Kenseth and his wife Katie welcomed a new addition to their family early Tuesday morning, with the birth of the couple's second daughter. Grace Katherine Kenseth was born Feb. 22 at 3:49 a.m. ET, weighing seven pounds, eight ounces. ... Apolo Ohno, America's most decorated Winter Olympian has been named Grand Marshal of Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500. Ohno, an eight-time Olympic medalist, will be joined by Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), the honorary pace car driver. Actor and singer-songwriter Emily Rossum will perform Sunday's National Anthem.
Race 2 / SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500 Fast Facts
The Race: SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway
The Date: Sunday, Feb. 27
The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Distance: 500 kilometers (312 laps)