What can you do for an encore? The Daytona 500 had a little bit of everything for viewers. The in-race surge in ratings stood as a testament to the power of the Twitterverse when promoting live events. Brad Keselowski should have received a spot bonus for his Tweeting of the aftermath of Juan Pablo Montoya’s accident.

But, stand back to the originally scheduled programming for Sunday afternoon on FOX. There was already more buzz for this Daytona 500 than I believe we’ve seen for several years.

  • The Daytona 500 is often referred to as “The Super Bowl” of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, so everyone’s ready to get back to the track after the layoff.
  • At least for a while, the presence of Danica Patrick in the Sprint Cup Series will draw the eyes and ears of sports fans and media types who might not otherwise pay attention to the sport.
  • Jimmie Johnson saw his streak snapped in 2011. How would he respond?
  • How would Tony Stewart start things in defense of his title?

And so on …

Those fans who tuned in Sunday waited through the delay only to be sent home to watch The Oscars. They revved up for Round 2 on Monday morning, only to have things shifted into prime time. It’s a resilient bunch, and they were ready to watch racing under the lights. (Count me as #900,001 who believes that this thing should be a prime time event to kick off the season.)

Anyway, fans who tuned in at the start or came along following the Twitter-fest received great racing and a strong finish for Matt Kenseth at the top of the heap. It would have been interesting had the race been stopped following Montoya’s wreck. The leaderboard wasn’t exactly being dominated by the usual suspects, but things looked more conventional in the end.

Now, let’s turn the page to Phoenix. Each week, I’ll present the squad I’ve assembled for the SPEED Fantasy Auto Racing Game on FOXSports.com. You can still join the fray at FOXSports.com . Once you’ve joined, enter the Public “Race Day on FOX” Group to share your thoughts on the race and drivers in the Sprint Cup Series and connect with other racing fans.


Without further ado, let’s roll out this week’s squad.

Jeff Gordon – The Captain : Gordon is the defending champion of this race and posted a second-place finish in his spring appearance at the track in 2010. He’s earned 10 top-10 finishes in his past 16 trips at Phoenix, including two wins, three poles and a strong 11.5-position average finish.

He seeks to rebound from an early exit at Daytona (40th).

Jimmie Johnson : has been the king of the hill in the past. Johnson has earned seven top 10s in his past eight starts, including three wins. Of course, Chad Knaus has been suspended for the next six races because of a rules infraction. I’m not anticipating that it impacts Johnson significantly this week. Johnson has averaged a ridiculous 6.3-position running slot and 4.9-position finish in the past seven years at this track.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin posted an impressive run at Daytona, a track at which he’d struggled historically. He charged to fourth-place finish and actually led 57 laps. My confidence buoyed by Hamlin’s strong run at Daytona, I’ll slot him in the three-hole here at Phoenix. Hamlin has earned six top-10 finishes in 13 career starts (five top-5s) and owns a career 11.6-position average finish.

Kasey Kahne: You have to build some risk into the equation. That’s why I’m tagging Kahne for the fourth spot on my squad for this week. He produced a great qualifying effort last spring en route to a sixth-place finish. Kahne then finished the job in the fall by earning his first career Phoenix win. Of course, you need only to turn the page back to 2010 to see the other side of the Kahne coin, as he raced outside of the top 30 in both events.

Still, I’m looking at five top-10 finishes in 15 career starts with a 19.1-position average finish (five top-15 finishes in his past seven Phoenix starts and eight overall). It will go bad, on occasion, with six runs to 27th-place or worse in his Phoenix history. Buckle in and enjoy the ride.

Mark Martin: The final member of my team is the venerable driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Martin opened the season with a 10th-place ride at Daytona, and I’m looking for him to parlay that into another big ride at one of his favorite tracks. Martin has finished 16th or better in every Phoenix event since 2001. In fact, he’s run outside of the top 20 only once in his career … his first start at the track in 1988, which was ended prematurely because of an accident.


I know. You want to know why Carl Edwards didn’t make the squad. You want to know why I passed by the Busch brothers and Kevin Harvick. They’re fantastic choices, without a doubt. I simply decided not to frontload the schedule with All-Star teams and sought to spread the wealth across the 18-race period. Later tonight, I’ll post the quick blurbs for the field ahead of tomorrow’s qualifying runs.