Let's take a quick look at the weekend that was for NASCAR in the desert.
NOT: Nobody said NASCAR's newest race car was the Second Coming. They didn't claim it could force cats to love dogs, or stir politicians to make savvy decisions. The craftily-named piece - NASCAR deemed it the "Gen-6" despite no one ever calling a NASCAR vehicle a Gen-anything before this year - wasn't supposed to solve the national debt or send Taylor Swift into a songwriting heel turn of roses, butterflies and all that is good in love.
But the general consensus of the NASCAR industry hype machine this offseason said new cars were going to make NASCAR greater than it ever once was. The fans, the mainstream relevance and the attention were all going to come back. No, it's not the Second Coming, they said, but the Gen-6 definitely could be NASCAR's second coming.
And then Daytona and Phoenix happened.
No, the first two races of this 2013 version of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing haven't been bad. In fact, they've been plenty entertaining. Daytona had long single-file packs for long periods, but ultimately the finish - and Jimmie Johnson's re-assertion of his status as the sport's current king -- was worth at least sending a text message to mama about.
And then Sunday at Phoenix, was, well, Phoenix. It's a track that has improved since the 2011 reconfiguration and the unpredictable nature of using the backstretch shortcut keeps you tuned in for the relatively short 312-mile race. Carl Edwards made a nice story of the day by snapping his 70-race win streak and Denny Hamlin's last-lap pass from fourth to second will make the season's highlight reels. Several teams erred in setup, causing tire problems and cautions to bunch the racing together.
But Phoenix is a flat track just fast enough to demand the downforce and handling provided by aerodynamic effects, and the Gen-6 car looked a lot like Gen-5 and even Gen-4 when it came to the advantage felt by a leader in clean air. Need statistical proof? Just one lead change in the final 200 miles of Sunday's 312-mile race came with the green flag out.
The "clean" air was the ultimate antidote for going fast Sunday, as it always has been and long will be in fast car racing. NASCAR knows it, and is actively working to fix it with the Gen-6. That's why the cars have larger fenders and that roof cams have been banned from any track that isn't a road course, a short track or a restrictor plate track.
But this issue that makes close racing for the lead tough isn't solved in one offseason of dedicated work, and it's not solved by simply standing at podiums or microphones and deeming NASCAR's new car to be the cure-all. Race fans take those things to heart, and then aren't blind when the product is exactly what was advertised.
Now this isn't to say that the Gen-6 is a farce of hype and no substance. No, the Gen-6 is a great thing for NASCAR. It will prove to be a quality racing vehicle. At the least, it just looks a hell of a lot better and the manufacturers that NASCAR so heavily needs appear to be rejuvenated.
But everyone around NASCAR needs to take a look at how the echo chamber of offseason hype can be a bit dangerous when the early returns don't exactly match up. Give the Gen-6 time to make its stamp in racing. It'll be just fine doing the talking for itself.
HOT: Carl Edwards' win was really, really big for him. It's hard to imagine that went nearly two full seasons without a Sprint Cup victory. But beyond Edwards, the early win may be most important to his relationship with new crew chief Jimmy Fennig. The 59-year-old moves to Edwards after guiding Matt Kenseth last season and has changed expectations for everyone - including Edwards - on the No. 99 team. Without success, it's the type of my-way-or-the-highway relationship that could turn bad fast. For now, it seems, all is quite well in that camp.
NOT: Martin Truex Jr. would probably be okay with deleting Phoenix off the Sprint Cup schedule in November. Truex broke a yoke in the driveline (a very, very rare failure) just 50 laps in to Sunday's race after starting 14th. Last fall? He headed to the garage just 10 laps in with an engine failure after starting second.
HOT: Casey Mears earned a bit of notoriety for serving as the impromptu pick during the final round of pit stops that handed Carl Edwards the lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. Some may have said Mears shouldn't have allowed himself to be in that position, and that he should have passed by his pit to prevent from interfering with the race's outcome.
Those people are crazy. Mears finished on the lead lap in 14th, his best since a 12th at Martinsville in 2011.
NOT: Kyle Busch said he tried too hard early in Sunday's race and ended up crashing as a result. Oddly, Joe Nemechek twice played foil to Busch's efforts of receiving the free pass to get back on the lead lap. Busch salvaged a 23rd-place on the day but stands 33rd in Sprint Cup Series points.
HOT: Give a call to A.J. Allmendinger's 11th-place run in James Finch's No. 51. For Allmendinger, that was his first top-15 finish since being suspended last season. For Finch, that finish has his team off to a great start after Regan Smith was seventh in the No. 51 at Daytona.
NEUTRAL: It's bit interesting to see how the two shops at Hendrick Motorsports have fared after two races. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. share the same building and have four finishes in two races averaging 2.5. Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, on the other hand, have averaged a 21st-place finish.
Kahne's start isn't quite as bad as 2012, but he is 29th in the standings and 57 points behind Johnson in the lead.
NEUTRAL: Here's an idea to consider after watching Kyle Busch storm back through the field to win Saturday's Nationwide race after a pit road penalty: Would it work to have any Sprint Cup drivers be forced to always start in the back of Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events? I'd regulate it by this: 1) only driver that have declared they are competing for Sprint Cup Series points and 2) in the top-30 of Sprint Cup Series points. They'd still have to qualify for the event, but would move to the back during parade laps. Thoughts?
The Stenica Showdown Cup: We're keeping track each week of how NASCAR's most important (only?) competitive couple fairs against one another. This is a best of 36 race, with the highest-finishing between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. each week earning a point. Other points may be earned for various and completely inane reasons along the way (suggestions accepted), and the game ends if the couple de-couples. There is currently no prize for winning or losing. (suggestions, again, accepted)
1st (tie) - Danica Patrick, 1 point (39th at Phoenix)
1st (tie) - Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 1 point (16th at Phoenix)
They're neck-and-neck! Woo! Or something.
Next up: Las Vegas. Join us on the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR Live Chat at 3 p.m./ET Sunday.
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