AVONDALE, Ariz. – The beast that is the Daytona 500 is in everyone’s rear-view mirror.
The two-car drafts, the radio chatter between drivers on the track and the nervous uncertainty of restrictor-plate racing has subsided.
While 20-year-old Trevor Bayne still lives in a moment he might wish would never end, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series will get back to a sense of normalcy today at Phoenix International Raceway.
To many, the Subway Fresh Fit 500 is where the real season begins.
It’s a 1-mile oval with every man for himself rather than a 200 mph search for a friend.
“This weekend really starts what our season is about,” five-time reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson said. “We have four plate races out of the 36 that we run for points.
“In my eyes, along with many others, the Super Bowl, the big race, was last week and it’s kind of a specialty event. Now we get down to what we really use to determine the champion.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way.
“They give points for last week, but it’s just a different kind of racing,” David Gilliland said. “I think this is the start.”
Perhaps a trip to Bristol (Tenn.) or Martinsville (Va.) would be a sharper contrast to Daytona, but Phoenix, tucked beside a rise of cactus-covered hills, is different enough. It’s almost quaint compared to Daytona, and it makes different demands on drivers and crew chiefs.
“We have 34 events in front of us that all relate somewhat to this and only three more events that relate to what we just did last week,” Mark Martin said. “This is the beginning of the meat of the season.”
This might be just the third Sprint Cup race in Bayne’s young career, but he knows the difference between what he did last week and what will be required today.
“Daytona requires the crew chief to find speed in the car. This requires the driver and crew chief to communicate,” Bayne said.
“You’ve got a little bit of feel at Daytona but it’s mainly knowing what to do with the car and where to put it. Here it’s going by feel. You’re not working with people, you’re racing against everybody.”
Kevin Harvick, whose season started with a blown engine, said if you’re serious about winning the series championship, it’s tracks like Phoenix that might prove more important than Daytona, Talladega (Ala.) and the road courses.
It’s this kind of racing, more than the type required by those other tracks, that can define a season.
“Auto racing is about driving down into the corner and managing the throttle and the brakes and the grip of the tires,” said pole-winner Carl Edwards, who won at Phoenix last November.
Kyle Busch became the first driver in a national NASCAR race with a wire-to-wire win in nearly eight years.
It wasn’t as easy as it looked, not with his car getting loose and Carl Edwards bearing down over the final few laps.
Busch dominated from the pole early and held off Edwards late, maintaining the lead the entire way in the Nationwide race to set up the chance for a perfect weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Reed Sorenson followed Edwards in the top five.