Gas 'N' Go: Daytona Momentum?


The Gen-6 car will tackle its first non-superspeedway race this week. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

Untitled Document

The pits are open again and the editorial staff answers this week’s featured question in "Gas 'N Go."

Can you carry momentum from the Daytona 500 even though the “real” season starts at Phoenix?

MRN Staff Answer
Pete Pistone
Pete Pistone

The lesson about Daytona and Speedweeks is to not get too high or too low when it ends.  The nearly two weeks teams spend at "The World Center of Racing" are unlike anything they'll do the rest of the season.  Exhibition races, nearly endless practices, qualifying races and then the main event ... the Daytona 500 ... take their toll on every organization, whether they are successful or not.  Certainly a good run in the "500" or a win like Jimmie Johnson pulled off last Sunday can put some pep in the step heading to Phoenix.  But things need to be kept in perspective because even though a win in the "500" can make a career, in reality it's only the first step of a 36-race marathon that doesn't end until November.

Pete Pistone
Tony Rizzuti

I think the real season starts at Las Vegas, but I do think you can carry momentum after Daytona - but it's not the good kind.  I think you can carry "negative" momentum into Phoenix.  A guy like Carl Edwards, who struggled during Speedweeks, has said he wants to go to Phoenix and win the race to make up for Daytona.  Well, that's all well and good because every driver wants to do that.  But if you push too hard, as we have seen in the past with Denny Hamlin and others, you get yourself in trouble.  Now with that said, I think Jimmie Johnson can go two-for-two in 2013 and win at PIR ... not because of momentum, but because he's the best driver at Phoenix and Hendrick Motorsports tends to be the first team to figure out a new car.  They did with the CoT and I think they will again with Gen 6.  By the way, for those who think I'm wrong: How did that whole Trevor Bayne momentum work out after winning the "500" in 2011?

Pete Pistone
John Singler

Never say “never” … but I will say it rarely happens. The “real” season starts now.  Daytona is such a different animal than anything else.  Qualifying is foreign to what NASCAR does the 35 other weekends of the season and the racing is – to be kind – “different” than what you see nearly everywhere else.  The last time the Daytona 500 winner also won a championship in the same season was 2006. Yeah, it was Jimmie Johnson … but let’s not get ahead of ourselves in 2013.  The most recent example before that was Jeff Gordon in 1997 … and before that, Cale Yarborough in 1978.  You get the idea … it rarely happens. The only driver to open the season with back-to-back wins in the last 15 years is Matt Kenseth, in 2009.  He finished 14th in the final point standings. There seems to be this giant exhale when teams finally pack up and leave Daytona International Speedway after Speedweeks.  They know how important the Daytona 500 is, for sure, but there’s always been a sense that things really start to pick up with race No. 2 and the championship battle begins in earnest.  If you’re successful in Daytona, then you face the pressure of sustaining that for the next 35 races.  That can be withering.  Conversely, if you stumble out of the gate in Daytona, the thought process is that you have 35 more weekends to steady yourself.  As big as the Daytona 500 is, my guess is that the top finishers in the final running order will bear little resemblance to the Chase field come September.

Jeff Wackerlin
Jeff Wackerlin

Yes, the “real” season starts at Phoenix and then at Las Vegas – the first of 11 races on the schedule on 1.5-mile tracks. But I think a strong finish at Daytona can provide momentum for some, especially the smaller teams. Look at Phoenix Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, which came away with top-10 runs with respective drivers Regan Smith and JJ Yeley. The performance not only landed a large paycheck for both to help funding for the start of the season, but it gave each team extra exposure in the search for additional sponsorship. Phoenix Racing will have sponsor Guy Roofing continue on when AJ Allmendinger takes the wheel at Phoenix. Phil Parsons Racing just made it to Daytona with a car and came away with a top 10, but the team will not race at Phoenix International Raceway because they are behind on building new racecars. Although it might not matter much due to smaller car counts because of the rollout of the Gen-6, coming out of Daytona with a good finish will get you a jump start in the owner's points in terms of the new qualifying rules because the points switch to 2013 after just three races, not five. You can probably look for the usual suspects at Phoenix, but "on-track" momentum for the season starts this week as everyone will be starting with a clean slate with the Gen-6 car.

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