Phoenix Rear View Mirror

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon helped tear up Phoenix Int'l Raceway following his win. (Photo: NHRA)

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Some questioned whether heading for Phoenix after Daytona and Speedweeks was the right decision for NASCAR. For the first time in the history of the sport a trip to Arizona was inserted into the number two spot on the NASCAR calendar.

After Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 I’d say the answer was a resounding yes. Make no mistake, the racing on the one-mile desert oval didn’t look anything like what happened at “The World Center of Racing.” The high-speed chess game of restrictor-plate racing was replaced by more of a short track style of competition.

And the bottom line was an interesting, controversial and in the end a popular winner in Jeff Gordon.

NASCAR had lots of momentum after the Daytona 500 and the Cinderella story of Trevor Bayne carried the sport into the mainstream media all week long with the young winner making his way across country and appearing on everything from “Ellen” to “The George Lopez Show.”

Although Bayne’s Daytona follow-up was anything but successful, that feel good story carried NASCAR into “The Valley of the Sun” where the rest of the Sprint Cup regulars picked up the story.

“Boys Have at It – The Sequel” was on display Sunday with hard racing, hard feelings and yes – a hard crash that swept up 13 drivers.

The Kyle Busch trying to sweep the Phoenix weekend quest generated an interesting sidebar but at the end of the day Gordon’s first win in 66 races was the perfect cap for NASCAR in week two.

The fresh-faced Bayne was replaced by the four-time champion in victory lane on Sunday and NASCAR is two-for-two in races and storylines in 2011.

Now it’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s turn to see if things can keep headed in the right direction.

  • Bayne took the Phoenix disappointment in stride on a weekend that first saw him hit the wall hard in practice after a brake failure and the follow that with a jarring crash on the frontstretch when he made contact with Travis Kvapil. The weekend did not go anywhere near as Bayne had hoped but in typical fashion he was seen leaving the track still with a smile – albeit a tired one – on his face.
    Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth have come to the front of the line in 2011 feuds. After the 13-car melee was started when the duo made contact, Vickers called out Kenseth on the FOX telecast and basically said he had one coming. There was a similar simmering feud between Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch that began in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and spilled over to the Cup race on Sunday when they made contact in the crash that ended the No. 99’s chances of a second straight Phoenix win. I’d say last year’s heightened battles between drivers will definitely carry through 2011.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on track for a particularly bad day with a poor qualifying effort and then a series of events that included an ill-handling car, nearly getting swept up in the big wreck and a loose wheel. But sure and steady was the No. 88 Chevrolet and at the end of the day Junior had a 10th-place finish to show for his efforts. Not a win by any means but a morale victory for Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte.
  • Say good-bye to the “old” Phoenix as a massive reconstruction project began immediately after the checkered flag flew on Sunday. A new asphalt surface and a reconfigured track layout with progressive banking and a wider dogleg that will make the track resemble the former Nazareth Speedway awaits NASCAR when it returns in November.
  • Saturday’s Nationwide Series race had a short field of cars with only 40 starting but NASCAR officials don’t seem concerned. Making the trip west after Speedweeks was a taxing effort for many teams as the transition to the next generation series car continues. A similar situation may unfold next week in Las Vegas but by the time Bristol rolls around filling 43 starting spots should not be a problem.

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