If people were hoping NASCAR could maintain competitive momentum after Daytona, then Phoenix wasn't quite the place to maintain it being so radically different from Daytona as well as other tracks larger than the desert one-miler. Of course all the attention has been focused on Dale Junior, and finishing second to Kevin Harvick keeps him in the point lead.
For Harvick it is his first win away from RCR and it was never threatened (leading 224 laps total) despite some restarts and his complaint about oil dry being all over the groove he wanted to run late in the race. "Restarts are crazy," he said, though they didn't seem particularly unsettled in this race. Indeed the only real incident came thanks to Harvick's teammate Danica Patrick getting crunched in a set-to with Travis Kvapil and Justin Allgaier.
Amid all that, the first "test" race for NASCAR now beckons as Vegas - a well-banked 1.5-miler - is up next. NASCAR's spoiler and aero changes were aimed at tracks like Vegas where the racing should be competitive but has been almost all forgettable for thirteen seasons. Charlotte tests showed some promise of opening up passing up front, but now the first live-fire test comes with the Busch Series and then the Cup cars.
Going into Vegas, a quickie look at the teams as they stand right now -
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS - Junior has become priority #1 for Hendrick and it's paying off. Johnson and Jeff Gordon are still strong; curiously lost in the shuffle has been Kasey Kahne despite solid effort.
STEWART-HAAS RACING - Harvick's win helps overshadow a rough start for the organization, especially for Danica Patrick, who is going from bad to worse. Also going nowhere fast is Kurt Busch, despite leading 15 laps at Daytona.
PENSKE RACING - The top priority for Ford, the Penske pair has been solid all around.
JOE GIBBS RACING - Toyota's program has bungled itself to where JGR has become realistically the brand's lone contender. The one lost in the shuffle has been Kyle Busch.
ROUSH-FENWAY RACING - Though all three Roush Fords are in the top-13 in points, they've been disturbingly quiet about it.
GANASSI-SABCO RACING - Kyle Larson looks like a rookie out there. And it isn't making Jamie McMurray's effort better so far.
RCR ENTERPRISES - Austin Dillon's Daytona pole gives way to a rookie season, and that Ryan Newman and Paul Menard are guys he has to lean on for help in getting through it doesn't give one excessive confidence.
RICHARD PETTY MOTORSPORTS - 15th was decent for Aric Almirola; it remains to be seen how far Trent Owens and company can take this team.
BALDWIN JR. RACING - Given how low on the engineering totem pole this team is, garnering anything decent is a major step, though trusting Reed Sorenson to deliver is asking for something he's not up to giving.
GERMAIN RACING - Believe it or not, Casey Mears has gotten out of the gate better than anyone expected.
FURNITURE ROW MOTORSPORTS - Let's say it now - Martin Truex is a substantial degradation of this team after Kurt Busch.
MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING - Without Clint Bowyer this team would have been disbanded by now.
BOB JENKINS RACING - They won Talladega last season. It's asking too much right now to expect any kind of repeat.
That's pretty much it right now. By April we'll all have a better gauge of what to anticipate. For now, though, the sport is riding some Junior Mania.