Carl Edwards Back In Victory Lane
Sprint Cup: Some Trends Emerge
Two races into the 2013 Sprint Cup season, in case anybody is counting
• There have been 40 lead changes in the new Gen-6 car, 28 in the Daytona 500 and 12 in Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway. That's 10 fewer than there were a year ago -- 25 each at Daytona and Phoenix -- in the Gen-5, formerly known as the Car of Tomorrow.
Bottom line, it's still too early to judge whether the new car -- designed to improve racing at mile-and-a-half tracks -- has improved racing overall. We'll know a lot more after next week's race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track.
"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars," Hamlin told reporters in Phoenix. "This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right.
"Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. It's just one of those things where track position is everything."
Said Johnson, who followed his Daytona 500 win with a second-place finish, "It didn't seem a lot different than other races here to me since the reconfiguration. I don't think the Gen-6 car has anything to do with it at this point.
"The cars are equal, and when they're equal, you're going to have a situation like this. What we need now is the racetracks to consider the asphalt they're putting down and even reconfigure the lanes so that we have somewhere to race."
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to an even better start than a year ago. His fifth-place finish at PIR following a second at Daytona leaves him second in points, eight behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson.
A year ago, NASCAR's most popular driver opened with a second and 14th that left him fifth in the standings, 17 points behind Hamlin.
"I knew right then that was my opportunity to win the race," said Earnhardt, who led 47 laps. "It's difficult to pass with the big spoiler. But our car was good enough to actually run up on some guys and make some passes.
"I was a little disappointed because I think we could have won. And you hate to give away them points."
• As thrilled as Edwards was to end a 70-race losing streak on Sunday, he actually left Phoenix one spot worse in the standings than he was a year ago.
Edwards was 10th in the standings in 2012 after an eighth and 17th. He is 11th this year after a 33rd and first.
But the perception -- and maybe reality -- is he's far better now.
• Danica Patrick is 22nd in the standings after a 39th-place finish at PIR. Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is ninth. Stenhouse hasn't done anything spectacular or historic, but he's been the more consistent of the couple battling for rookie of the year with a 12th in the Daytona 500 and 16th at PIR.
Patrick, who was the story a week ago with her historic eighth-place run at Daytona, retired Sunday after hitting the wall on Lap 185.
"You have to look at the positives and learn from the things we need to make better, but for the second weekend together I think we're definitely heading in the right direction," Stenhouse said.
The good news for Patrick? She's a spot ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing boss Tony Stewart.
• Phoenix Racing has the upper hand in the battle of single-car teams that are not a lateral move from one another. Regan Smith finished seventh in the Daytona 500 for the Spartanburg-based organization, and AJ Allmendinger was 11th at Phoenix. That's an average finish of 9.0
Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row Racing car has finished 28th and 27th, an average of 27.5.
• Half a dozen high-profile drivers -- including four who made the Chase last season -- are 23rd or worse in points.
Those from last year's Chase class struggling are Tony Stewart (23rd), Kevin Harvick (30th), Kasey Kahne (31st) and Martin Truex Jr. (34th). Others off to a slow start include Kurt Busch (32nd) and Kyle Busch (33rd).
The bad news is they only have one more race before current owners' points are used to determine who potentially could miss a race with the return to having to qualify. A year ago, teams in the top 35 from the previous year were locked in for five races.
The good news is Truex, in the worst spot, is only 24 points behind Marcos Ambrose in 12th.
In other words, it's way too early to panic. Kahne was 31st six races into last season and was 10th entering the Chase.
Busch Rolls In Phoenix Nationwide Race
Nationwide: Busches Persevere
It was an interesting Saturday for the Busch family at Phoenix.
Kyle Busch ended a 24-race winless streak in NASCAR's second-tier series that must have seemed like 224 races for the all-time leader in Nationwide victories.
His mother, Gaye, was taken to a local hospital after the golf cart she was on turned over in the track tunnel because too many people were riding on it. According to Kurt Busch on Twitter, she was "a little banged up" but back at the track on Sunday "in great spirits."
Kyle was in pretty good spirits as well. Seems he's happiest when he's driving all weekend, as he tried to tell team owner Joe Gibbs before they cut him back last season.
"I wouldn't say anybody was wrong," Busch said during the January media tour of reducing his schedule to keep him focused on Cup. "We tried something and it didn't work."
But the big winner in all this is Joe Gibbs Racing. The organization was able to sign Busch to a contract extension beyond 2013 by putting him back in a JGR Nationwide car -- Busch drove part-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports a year ago -- and got primary sponsor Monster Energy with him.
There was speculation before the extension that Busch might go to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 with Monster Energy as his sponsor.
The bad news, as team president J.D. Gibbs said during the media tour, "is we work for him and we're broke."
In other words, JGR invested heavily in Busch's Nationwide/Truck Series program. That's working pretty well so far, too. KBM's Parker Kligerman is fifth in the Nationwide Series. Darrell Wallace Jr. is 11th in the Truck Series.
Camping World: The Waiting Game
No, you didn't miss a race. The series is on a month-and-a-half break after the season opener at Daytona International Speedway won by Johnny Sauter.
The next race isn't until April 6 at Martinsville Speedway, which may be the longest distance between the first two events in sports. Not exactly a way to build momentum for the series.
Danica Crashes Hard
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Danica Patrick walked away unhurt after a vicious crash into the frontstretch wall after her No. 10 Chevrolet blew a right front tire during the Sprint Cup race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
She wound up finishing 39th.
Patrick was on the lead lap, running 26th on Lap 185 of the 312-lap event, when the tire blew as she was coming out of Turn 4. At that point, she wasn't able to turn the car, so it slammed into the SAFER barrier on the right front corner of the car.
Pieces of the car flew off as the back tires lifted off the ground. When the car bounced off the wall, David Ragan's car slammed into the driver side door panel of Patrick's car, shearing off most of the left-side sheet metal of Patrick's Chevy as the hood flew off. Pieces of Patrick's car were visible for more than 200 yards down the frontstretch.
"When you lose a tire out of the turn, those are tough because you hit [the wall] more straight on," Patrick said. "That was a hard hit on both sides, but I'm fine. There was no real good warning. No vibrations.
"It just sucks to lose the points. We were having a steady day; not great, but making progress."
Is Carl Back?
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- When Carl Edwards walked into the media center before Sunday's race, he said a few people were calling him "Five-Time" for all the wrong reasons.
It wasn't "Five-Time" as in five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
"We wrecked five cars at Daytona," Edwards said. "So I've been hearing that term about me this week."
Edwards went from one of the worst weeks of his racing career to a victory at Phoenix that could turn his career around after a miserable 2012 season.
He ended a 70-race losing streak one week before the two-year anniversary of his last victory. His trademark backflip returned, including a jump into the grandstands where he was surrounded by approving fans.
No five-time, but it was fun time.
"This is one of the coolest wins of my life," Edwards said. "Honestly, I was starting to get mad. I said, 'I'm going to quit being so nice about this.' Not at you guys for asking about the losing streak. I was just tired of losing."
No NASCAR driver ever came as close to winning a championship without winning it as Edwards did in 2011. He tied Tony Stewart in the points standings (a NASCAR first), but lost the title because Stewart had more victories -- five to one.