After all the hype of what was ultimately a pretty disappointing Great American Race, it’s back to the start of the “real” unrestricted regular season with a trip to the desert and the one-mile flat track of Phoenix International Raceway, which is exactly where I’ll start this week’s edition of Five Points to Ponder.
*ONE: A Return To The Scene Of The Crime: Round Two*
For Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon, in particular, the trip to the desert is a return to an ugly/entertaining flashback – depending on your point of view. “Rewind back with me to the unforgettable penultimate race of last season when Gordon took out Bowyer”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxAEnmOLXdQ – who still had an outside shot at the championship – in a bush league move. It was retaliation for a series of slights, both perceived and actual, across the last couple years that peaked once Gordon lost his temper. It was a move unbecoming of the four-time champion and 20-year veteran, sparking a brawl between the pit crews that resonated way beyond the NASCAR universe and inspired a brilliant run to get to the action from Bowyer, a perfect combination of driver and sponsor (5-Hour Energy). Cracking stuff all ’round.
So what’s happened since? The two actually ended up at the same New Year’s Eve party aboard P Diddy’s multimillion-dollar yacht. When asked whether they talked, Bowyer’s sarcastic rejoinder indicated the feud was far from over. “Yeah, we held hands and walked off and discussed the past year and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole vacation,” said Bowyer. “That was the one person I definitely wanted to vacation with. I could not wait to get there for that very reason.”
Clearly, the bad blood still exists, their story pushed to the background by Daytona but still very much an active rivalry. So, don’t be surprised if we see “Rumble in the Desert” part two this weekend because, at some point Bowyer seems certain to extract his measure of revenge. If not at Phoenix, then I still think it’s coming. It’s not a question of if so much as when.
*TWO: 29 unsuccessful attempts later, was that Mark Martin’s final Daytona 500?*
If last Sunday’s race does turn out to be Mark Martin’s last shot at a Daytona 500, a third-place finish is nothing to be sniffed at. When questioned post-race, as to if Sunday was it the 54-year-old, who had a remarkable run was sanguine in his response.
“First of all, I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “There are a number of drivers that didn’t get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot. So I feel extremely lucky for that opportunity.”
“I’ve told you guys over and over again. I’m not bitter about the things I haven’t accomplished. I’m pretty damn proud of the things I have. That’s how I feel about it.”
Martin is right. He might not have the championship or the Harley J. Earl trophy, but his place in NASCAR history is secure. He’ll be a sure-fire future Hall of Famer and, right now he’s a man almost universally beloved; that you can’t buy or argue with. A huge rap fan, he talked with “50 Cent” about changing his name to “55 Cent” if he won the race, another way he uniquely connects with both the younger and older crowd.
It’s clear by the fitness regimen, more strenuous than most drivers he’s not feeling his age; so will this really be it? course, with Martin you never know as he joked post-race “I’m definitely not going to talk about 2014 yet.” So, we’ll see what transpires but given he asked for an official finishing order of the 500 to take home you do have to wonder if, indeed that’s all she wrote for Mark Martin and the Daytona 500. Either way, I’m just glad I got to see him race all these years and hope and pray he has at least one more glorious trip to Victory Lane in the Cup Series before he hangs up his driving gloves one last time.
*THREE: 2013 starts as badly as the 2012 season for Carl Edwards*
If there’s one driver who will be glad to see the back of Daytona, then surely it’s Carl Edwards. He wrecked in testing in January, twice in practice, again in the Sprint Unlimited before yet another wreck took him out of the 500. That’s a lot of torn-up cars at a time when no team can afford it given the scarcity of Gen-6 equipment lying around in the garage. As he pointed out before the big race: “Well, we started it perfectly last year . We won the pole and everything was going smoothly and it was a terrible year,” Edwards said. “Hopefully, this is a sign that this will be a great year. This is the worst Speedweeks start I have ever had. I don’t think I have crashed this many race cars in two years.”
He also hasn’t led a lap since last summer at Bristol, a slump that’s reaching epic proportions. With his winless streak now at 70 races (you have to go all the way back to Las Vegas, race three of the 2011 season) and a new crew chief to get to know in the veteran Jimmy Fennig, the truth is digging himself into an early hole would be the worst possible situation for one of the most (if not the most) sponsor-friendly drivers. At some point, you’d figure his luck has to change but right now for the beleaguered driver of the No. 99 Ford Fusion the only way is up.
*FOUR: The Champ’s Golden Horseshoe Is Intact*
Back at the start of 2010, Jimmie Johnson beat Kevin Harvick to the line to win the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway. It prompted a tremendous post-race Harvick quip: “They’re really good, but they’re really, really lucky, too,” Harvick said. “Jimmie is a good friend of mine, but there’s no denying how lucky they are. They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their a–.” And watching the current champ, Brad Keselowski, wheel his battered and bruised Ford Fusion to a fourth-place finish – nearly pulling off what would have been an epic Daytona 500 victory – you have to wonder if said golden horseshoe has made its way over to the driver of the Blue Deuce. You do make your own luck; but while Keselowski is a very worthy champion, plus a hugely talented wheelman, we’ve seen not just in this race but through last year’s Chase Lady Luck has sided with him of late. If it continues this season, don’t be even remotely surprised if Keselowski goes back-to-back, capturing a second straight Cup title. After all he is, luck aside, just that good, and will continue to be one to watch all year long.
*FIVE: Enough with the Danica 500*
I’ll start off my final point this week with a simple question: How often is the first post race interview before Victory Lane the eighth-place finisher? I don’t have the exact statistics to back up this point but I have to believe the answer is either never or rarely. And this happened, mind you, in a race when the second-place finisher was the ten-time Most Popular Driver: Dale Earnhardt Jr. It was just one example of an event that, listening to the FOX coverage, may as well been called the Danica 500 since for awhile, it appeared that no one else was taking part. Go back and watch the mid-race report as an example and you’ll see what I mean. Now, on the one hand I get it; Danica draws in new fans and bucket loads of mainstream media attention but on the other hand, there were 42 other equally worthy stories in the 500, and it’s just a shame the FOX folks didn’t realize that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I do believe Danica will struggle mightily at times this season. Yes, a solid eighth-place finish in the 500 was a very credible effort, but the level of hype was not commensurate with the coverage afforded her. I suspect this point is one I’ll be revisiting this season, many times: more’s the pity.
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