Amid the reports and concerns of struggling television ratings, NASCAR has delivered some unique racing and interesting storylines to kickoff the year. For example, a change in the point’s systems awards winners and those drivers that elected to run for points specifically in one series. The new nose on the Sprint Cup car provided unique drafting, and the elimination of the catch can man changes the crew dynamic. And while all these changes are being sorted out, the boys are racing again.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”295″][/media-credit]The 2011 stock car racing season is underway and is being scripted like a fairy tale despite the rulebook. On track action and results have been incredible. The Cinderella season started on the Daytona high banks and found the rookie Trevor Bayne at the center of it all. Driving the famed No. 21 for the legendary Wood Brothers, Bayne claimed the checkers in the season’s most prestigious race, at the age of 20
“It’s definitely been way more than I expected, “Bayne commented after a media tour that spanned across the country for the Daytona 500 champion. “I was just telling them over here that I knew myself and everybody in our community thought the 500 was a really big deal, “ he said. “We all look forward to it every year, but I just didn’t realize the support we were gonna get from outside our community. The rest of the United States is just really fired up about everything for the Wood Brothers and the history and then the youth part of it. It’s just been a really, really cool week and a humbling experience.”
The Daytona 500 win came on the heels of two other well-run events. Michael Waltrip’s emotional victory in the Camping World Truck Series brought tears to the eyes of many, as he remembered Dale Earnhardt Sr. ten years to the date of his death. Driving the No. 15 tribute to Earnhardt, Waltrip returned to victory lane at Daytona after a last lap pass to secure the win. He was absolutely speechless.
Then, it was Tony Stewart taking the checkers in his fourth consecutive Nationwide Series win on the restrictor plate facility. All three Daytona winners earned no points for their respective wins. And as the teams leave the Cinderella stories behind them, an ugly step-sister was waiting in Phoenix for some of the Daytona top finishers.
Bayne felt the eyes of the world upon him after hitting the wall in practice. His goal of a top 15 finish quickly turned into disaster during the race as well. While working his way toward the front of the field in a backup car, Bayne’s Ford met an untimely fate as he spun out and hit the wall. He would finish 40th.
Kyle Busch claimed two checkered flags in the desert and came up just one spot shy of the three-peat. “It was a rough beginning there for a while for a lot of guys and we were able to persevere and work through it and work on our car and get most out of the day, “ Busch said. “We came back strong and we had a really good car there on the long runs, and on the really long runs we were kind of running those guys down.
But it seemed after the restarts, Jeff was just really, really good. We thought we could beat him after 20 or so laps but he had just so much forward bite today we just could not hang with him,” he continued.
Busch, a previous HMS wheeler himself was gracious to his on track successor. “I think he was on a mission today, that’s for sure and when Jeff Gordon has a good car and he has the opportunity to beat you, he’s going to beat you, “ Busch said. “There’s no doubt about that. He’s my hero and I’ve always watched him and what he’s been able to accomplish over the years. It’s no surprise that he beat us. Congratulations to them, they are my old five bunch, so cool to see them get the win,” he added.
Hendrick Motorsports veteran wheeler Jeff Gordon defeated a sixty-six race winless streak dating back to Texas in 2009, to place his No. 24 machine in victory lane. Running in his nineteenth Sprint Cup season, Gordon has 83 career victories in 619 starts, and a new sponsor. He is driving for AARP and the Drive to End Hunger.
This win tied Gordon for fifth on the all time win list with Cale Yarborough. “How cool is that to tie Yarborough? That is the ultimate. First guy I ever drove a Cup car for was Cale Yarborough,” Gordon said. “A lot of people don’t realize that. Of course, I spun that car that day, too.”
A four-time series champion, Gordon continued, “I have not been in a position to put pressure on the leader to force him to make mistakes and be in control of the situation in a very long time. And that’s what I love so much about today is to be in that position was such a cool feeling,” he said. “And at that moment, you don’t care if it’s Kyle Busch or who it is; you feel like you’re in control of your destiny.”
Alan Gustafson, Gordon’s Crew Chief, is the fifth crew chief to visit victory lane with the wheeler. Making this trip special is a twist of fate. Gustafson and Gordon began working together in the off-season thanks to a structural change inside Hendrick Motorsports.
“I thank Mr. Hendrick for putting me in position to work with drivers of that caliber. There are a lot of people there are going to work their whole lives and never have opportunities like that. “Gustafson said. “I think it’s awesome that I’ve got those chances and to work with Kyle and Mark and now Jeff, they are three Hall of Fame drivers, arguably three of the best ever to drive these cars, and I’m just ecstatic that I’ve got those opportunities.”
More opportunities abound next week as the NASCAR Superstars gamble their way into Sin City. If the first two races are any indication of what is to come, set the DVR recorders now. In true fairy tale fashion, the underdog or winless would win each week, keeping the point hounds at bay. But, before saying they all lived happily ever after, there are 34 more races to finish the season. And while it may be interesting now, it may get even more dramatic before the final checkered flag falls. After all, this is just the beginning.