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Every Season Starts with a Wheel Spinning

From the first Sprint Cup race to the second, everything changes, and not just this year. Almost every year. What remains the same is the change.

At the Daytona 500, 20-year-old Trevor Bayne surprised the world. The victory came as a surprise to Bayne himself. He thought he might manage to stay out of trouble and somehow manage a top 10. The world and David Ragan conspired to put him at the front of the field with a handful of laps to go, and he played high-speed chess like a grand master. He deserves extraordinary credit for keeping his wits about him and not acting as if he were… 20.

That, however, was the upset of the century (recognizing that the century is in its infancy). Bayne earned more money in the Daytona 500 than in his first 51 races in the Nationwide Series combined.
At Phoenix, Bayne crashed to the ground with a thud. He might as well have been some mythological hero being played as a marionette by the gods. The overnight sensation crashed three times in three days at Phoenix International Raceway. One Sunday he was first, the next he was 40th.

What goes up | Must come down | Trevor Bayne | Spinnin’ ‘round

NASCAR fans are kind of a small town. The kind of town where deep down no one really wants a kid to do well. Those who resented Bayne’s success at Daytona – i.e., those who were invisible last week – came out of the closet just about the time the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 rolled off its transporter … and reached fever pitch just about the time Bayne wrecked the second No. 21 that rolled off said transporter. The phenom of Daytona became the fluke of Phoenix.

For gosh sakes, give the Kid (NASCAR always has a kid with a capital K) a break. The law of averages was bound to catch up, but few expected it to happen completely in a week.

Phoenix gave us another feel-good story, however. Jeff Gordon, four-time champion, sure Hall of Famer, ended a winless streak of 66 races. It was career victory No. 83 but No. 1 in the last 67. Gordon is tied with Cale Yarborough, fifth place all-time on NASCAR’s list of winners. Five years ago, the estimate was that David Pearson (105) would be in sight by now. As it is, Gordon, 39, needs two more victories to get past Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

These changes may be a bit extreme, but they are business as usual. It happens almost every year. It’s more than 2,200 miles as the hauler hauls, but it’s even farther as the fortunes fall.

Phoenix’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 – oddly enough a mere 312 miles in length, thanks to kilometers – reflected the annual collapse from first race to second. In 2010, the second race was in Fontana, Calif., but the top six drivers in the Daytona 500 fared worse in week two. This year, only one top-10 finisher at Daytona, Kyle Busch, improved at Phoenix.

The others? Bayne from first to 40th. Carl Edwards from second to 28th. David Gilliland from third to 22nd. Bobby Labonte from fourth to 21st. Kurt Busch from fifth to 8th. Juan Montoya from sixth to 19th. Regan Smith from seventh to 34th. Paul Menard from ninth to 17th. Mark Martin from 10th to 13th.

Kyle Busch, eighth at Daytona, finished second at Phoenix. As hosts of game shows used to declare, “You’re our grand-prize winner today (Sunday)!”

The “grand-prize winner” of the previous week awakened and found the Internal Revenue Service camped out on his lawn.

Figuratively, that is.

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