The first race of the season is now behind us. After a successful Speedweeks in Daytona, Florida, the teams are heading west for a two-race stint. The real test and season begins for every one of these teams.
Here are the winners and losers of the Daytona 500.
For Jamie McMurray it has been a crazy two weeks. McMurray had one of the best cars for most of Speedweeks. McMurray quietly ran near the front of the field for most of the day. It was not until two red flags for track repairs saw McMurray work his way not only through traffic but to victory lane.
After a whirlwind week of media appearances, Q&As and fan events, McMurray this weekend will get back to what he does best, drive race cars.
McMurray’s only wins have come on restrictor plate tracks in his career. At Auto Club Speedway he has three top fives and five top 10 finishes. In this race one year ago he started third but ended up finishing 16th.
It has been a long and busy week for McMurray—can he ride the wave of momentum into this weekend’s second race? This is when the season really begins and recent history shows the winner of the Daytona 500 has gone on to have success at California.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Let’s be honest, restrictor plates races do not dictate a successful season. That being said, Earnhardt made an impressive charge in the final lap and if there was another lap Earnhardt might have been the one in victory lane.
Since that impressive charge everyone has decided that the real Earnhardt is back. I am not sold. One race does mean the Earnhardt everyone expects at the track each week is back.
At ACS he has three top fives and four top 10 finishes and no wins. Last year’s spring race was a disaster for Earnhardt he started 35th and finished 39th after his engine blew.
I am not ready to declare this a turnaround. Ask me again in a couple weeks after he strung together multiple top 10 finishes. Something he struggled to do in 2009.
Kasey Kahne had a great Speedweeks. Kahne won the second Gatorade Duel last Thursday. On Sunday he had a great car and ran up front for most of the day. On lap 203 Kahne and Robert Richardson got together after the leaders bottle necked.
Kahne ended up finishing 30th after starting fourth on Sunday. The entire Richard Petty Motorsports organization ran well on Sunday, the results though do not show that. The switch to Ford and the use of Roush engines was exactly what this organization needed.
Kahne is a former winner at ACS with a driver rating of 94.8. He has three top fives and seven top 10 finishes at the southern California track. Kahne can rebound after his disappointing finish at Daytona. He is more than capable of winning on Sunday and getting back on track.
Four time and reigning champion Jimmie Johnson carried all the momentum coming into this season, until Sunday. Johnson who started third on Sunday finished 35th after damage to the axle of rear tire forced them to the garage late on Sunday.
Since winning the Daytona 500 in 2006 the high banked track has not treated Johnson very well but that has not stopped him from winning races and championships. At ACS he started second and finished ninth.
Johnson has found past success at the two mile track, with four wins. He has nine top fives and 10 top 10 finishes at ACS. He sits atop the driver rating with 122.3 and with an average finish of 5.5. Expect Johnson to be up front and leading laps.
If you are looking for a few other drivers to watch on Sunday look no further than Roush Fenway Racing. Matt Kenseth who will have a new crew chief on top of the box, Todd Parrott is taking over for Drew Blickensderfer after just one season.
It will be interesting to see how they two work together on Sunday after the sudden move. Kenseth has had success at ACS with three wins, seven top fives and 11 top 10 finishes; expect to see Kenseth contending for a win.
Also watch out for Jeff Gordon, the original “four time” has three wins, 10 top fives and 10 top 10 finishes. He finished second a year ago and is hoping to rebound from a 26th place finish at Daytona.
My final dark horse pick is Juan Pablo Montoya, he has one top five and one top 10 finish. Montoya might be the driver to watch on Sunday.
The Auto Club 500 is at 3pm/et Sunday on FOX.