April 24, 2006 | 10:08 A.M. EST
NASCAR's prime time season kicked off last Saturday night in Phoenix. And the NEXTEL Cup Series will be under the lights in four of the next five weekends.
After this Sunday's restrictor plate round at Talladega, Richmond, Darlington, the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the Coca-Cola 600 put the Cup cars exclusively in prime time for the entire month of May. And as the saying goes, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Although next year's schedule hasn't been finalized, the garage is full of whispers that more night races will be coming to the 2007 calendar. At the very least, look for some 4 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday starts late in the season, as ABC/ESPN looks to generate larger audiences with more evening NASCAR programming.
As many as 16 races could be run under the lights next year in a combination of prime time starts and late afternoon/evening finishes.While much has been made about California Speedway having a hard time supporting two NEXTEL Cup races, it doesn't look like Phoenix has any problem with a pair of dates. A full house was on hand Saturday night on a picture perfect desert night.
One thing fans get when they take in a Phoenix weekend is wall-to-wall racing. With the AutoZone West Series in action after NEXTEL Cup qualifying on Thursday, a non-stop barrage of cars were on the track pretty much for three days' straight including Friday's Busch Series race. The Craftsman Trucks join the line-up for PIR's fall weekend, which has grown into a four-day racing affair.
What good was NASCAR giving Kyle Busch a five lap penalty for his run-in with Casey Mears when he was already 44 laps down? I thought after the New Hampshire fiasco last year when drivers were retalliating on track during caution periods, NASCAR was going to lay down the law? Especially with a many time offender like Kyle Busch. It will be interesting to see if a fine and points penalty comes on Tuesday, as it should.
I've been hard on Kevin Harvick for running his mouth, but there's one thing that I've never disagreed with and that is Harvick is a pretty good racecar driver. Funny how when he's as focused as he's been the last month and not taking verbal cheap shots at everyone and everything, Harvick's doing better than he has in years.
Michael Waltrip is in trouble. His Phoenix crash knocked him out of the Top 35 in owners' points and unless he magically turns around his restrictor plate qualifying fortunes, he will be a spectator in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega. Is this a case of karma stepping in to punish Mikey and keep him out of a race sponsored by one of his famous overly done on-air plugs?
Wally Brown and Carl Edwards got things off on the right foot with the No. 99 scoring its first Top 5 since a month ago in Bristol. Maybe Jack Roush does know what he's doing?
On the other hand, Jamie McMurray was still outside the Top 10.