Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Boo, hiss?

Daytona 500 winner ... and not much else

Sure, Ryan Newman won this year's Daytona 500, the ultimate recipient of good fortune and the right push at the right time. Let's face it, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch had the dominant cars that February afternoon, but Newman used his teammate's draft to take the checkered flag.

But after losing his second motor of the season Saturday night in Phoenix, Newman plummeted to 12th in the standings, thanks to a 43rd-place finish.

Ask Jeff Gordon how much those dead-last days hurt.

Newman's free-fall does nothing but prove that winning the Daytona 500 doesn't exactly translate into momentum. It can, if you win the 500 with a dominant car -- say, if Busch had pulled it off. But if you Derrick Cope the thing, I'm not convinced momentum carries over to the next few races, if not the entire season.

It's nice being known as a race winner for the rest of the season, and there's a certain amount of perstige that goes with having "Daytona 500 champion" attached to your name, but continued success isn't guaranteed by taking the most coveted of NASCAR checkered flags.

Just ask Kevin Harvick.

Missing you

You think Matt Kenseth misses Robbie Reiser?

I'd say so; for years, the combination of Reiser and Kenseth was a contender every single week -- even taking the final "true" Cup championship before NASCAR introduced the Chase. Under Reiser's direction, Kenseth's crew was the best in the series, and a large reason why Kenseth was so strong week in and week out.

Reiser moved into the front office at Roush-Fenway Racing this past offseason to take the general manager's position -- a job designed to keep him with his family more often. Which was all well and good, but Reiser missed being at the track. And when Bob Osbourne was suspended after Carl Edwards failed post-race inspection at Las Vegas, Reiser filled in for those six weeks.

So far, Edwards has added another win and ran strong at Phoenix. Kenseth? He's stuck in 15th in the points and had a disastrous night in the desert. He lost a tire at Phoenix and smacked the wall before finishing 38th, and the normally consistent Kenseth goes into the off-week with just one top-five (Fontana).

Part of it is dealing with new crew chief Chip Bolin. I've no doubt Bolin is a solid crew chief, a guy who knows what he's doing atop the pit box. But the chemistry isn't there yet, and Kenseth is likely still trying to figure out how to communicate with Bolin.

A sign things aren't looking up? After he smacked the wall at Phoenix, Kenseth came over his radio and blasted, "That's what happens when we don't do our jobs."

There's a definite possibility Kenseth won't make the Chase this year if the No. 17 team doesn't get its act together -- and fast.

Boo birds?

Mark Martin nearly won the race at Phoenix Saturday night, leading 68 laps before having to pit for fuel with 10 to go. The veteran and fan favorite finished fifth, his best finish this season driving the No. 8 Chevrolet.

But it begs the question -- if Martin were to win a race this year, how would the fans react? Would they cheer Martin, as they have for more than two decades, or would the fans -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, specifically -- lash out against the car NASCAR's most popular driver used to drive?

A car some believe he should still be driving, since his late father founded the company that owns it.

I won't get into the specifics of why Earnhardt left Dale Earnhardt, Inc. -- that was spoken of repeatedly last season -- but it's not a stretch to say some fans wish nothing but ill fortune on Teresa Earnhardt and DEI for what happened with Junior.

For Martin Truex Jr. to win a race would be one thing -- the No. 1 wasn't Junior's ride. But if Martin -- or Aric Almirola -- parks the No. 8 in Victory Lane even once this year (what if that car wins before Junior does in his new ride?), I don't see the reception being so warm.

Which is unfortunate, considering everything Martin has done for the sport. If Martin wins a race, I hope the fans celebrate him and direct their venom where it belongs: to the widow who did her part to make sure Dale Earnhardt's legacy would be carried out somewhere other than within the walls of his great company.

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