You can’t win a NASCAR championship in February, but you sure can lose one by digging yourself into a hole too deep to climb out of. Similarly, one really good race doesn’t not a great season make, but at least this time, the Sprint Cup series leaves Florida with a cool breeze in its sails, as opposed to a head wind.
Mother Nature may have tried to rain on the parade, but this observer gives kudos to NASCAR for sticking it out. Granted, a six-hour rain-soaked delay might be enough to make Billy Graham cuss, but imagine telling all those fans who have homes to get back to they have to come back on Monday. You’d like to think that those who turned out were prepared for the possibility of foul weather and planned accordingly.
With Sunday’s race in our rear view mirror, there seems to be an overall sentiment that the racing that came after the racing reconvened was worth the wait. Track conditions and cooler temperatures- not to mention the threat of more rain- put drivers in a mood to race like a pack of hungry hounds chasing a pork chop. The single file freight trains and tow-car tangos are but a memory. This time there were no pot holes, the race wasn’t shortened and nobody blew up any jet dryers.
To be sure, there were disappointments. Rookie Kyle Larson tagged the wall early and the struggles continued as he limped home 38th. Michael Annett, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Justin Allgaier got their rides wadded up like old beer cans, and while Austin Dillon finished ninth, he seemed bent on hitting everything but the pace car. Kevin Harvick was the only Stewart- Haas driver to post a top twenty finish. The debut of Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row fell flat with a mechanical problem; but as they say, that’s racin.’
Who won the race mattered every bit as much as how the race was run. One race in, and the monkey is off the back of NASCAR’s favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He already has a win for the season and he’s all but in the chase by virtue of his victory, and hugged about everyone short of the ticket takers. What’s more, he rolls into Phoenix with two career victories at the track and a pair of top fives in 2013. If Junior is happy, a lion’s share of NASCAR’s fan base is happy.
In the minds of many, and it’s difficult to disagree, Phoenix is the real season opener. Good racing here offers a good sign of things to come as NASCAR’s traveling circus makes its way through the intermediates on the schedule. While one struggles to think of a barn burning finish at PIR, at the same time, this track generally not thought of as a bore hole. The weather also appears to be cooperating as well.
While the season is only 1/36th of the way complete, a good foundation has been set for a solid season. Bring on Phoenix, we’re ready for more racing!