Harvick wins Fontana, Edwards keeps momentum; Franchitti stuns
Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson in the final lap to win last Sunday's race
Austin Dillon will make his Cup debut later this year at either Kansas or Phoenix
Dario Franchitti led 94 laps last Sunday to take the win in IndyCar's season opener
The good stuff came at the end of the Sprint Cup race and at the start of the IndyCar race. One defending NASCAR champion was denied while a multi-champion open wheel driver had his way. A possible new star was anointed in NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500, although Trevor Bayne has been more like a meteorite since. A possible new star, if not a crowd favorite, was minted in the IndyCar opener, and it'll be interesting to see how she handles this trial by fire.
First up, how did some of NASCAR's best fair after a wild weekend at Fontana.
Kevin Harvick: The Bakersfield native son led the one lap that mattered at Fontana, Calif., on Sunday -- the last one -- discombobulating leader Jimmie Johnson with an aero-fouling push from behind and then passing in the final turn for his first victory of the season. The win was particularly gratifying for Harvick, considering Johnson won in similar fashion there last season.
Carl Edwards' leverage: There is nothing like a contract year to stoke performance, in any sport. With a new deal with Roush Fenway or another team, for that matter, yet to be finalized, the 31-year-old has won three times in seven races -- including two wins to end the 2010 campaign -- and leads the Sprint Cup point standings. He won at Las Vegas, was second at Daytona and Bristol. "Right now, if we run like this, this will be a great year," he said. "I don't want to mess that up by focusing on the contract right now. We are four races in right now and I don't want to do anything to mess up this performance."
Kyle Busch: So close to another sweep. He won the Nationwide race at Fontana, then led 151 of 200 laps in the Sprint Cup race, only to succumb late and finish third behind Harvick and Johnson. That's 304 laps led in his last two Cup races, including the win two weeks ago in Bristol.
Jimmie Johnson: Second at Fontana, third and runner-up twice in the last four, fifth in points. Season's over.
Denny Hamlin's predicament: A victim of Joe Gibbs Racing's unexpected engine mishaps on Sunday, Hamlin is 21st in points and without a top-5, with a finishing average of 22.2 after winning eight times last season.
Austin Dillon: The grandson of Sprint Cup team owner Richard Childress will make his Sprint Cup debut later this season, either at Kansas or Phoenix. The Chevrolet will not bear the iconic '3' that Dillon used to win twice and finish fifth in the Trucks series last year. Dillon, 20, will drive a No. 98 Chevrolet that will be built and have material support from RCR, but will be fielded, officially, by Curb-Agajanian Racing.
Dario Franchitti's impressive St. Petersburg win leads the week in IndyCar:
The show: Dario Franchitti, winner of the Izod IndyCar Series' opener, mused aloud -- as did many drivers -- about potential consternation among league executives and owners following a melee on the first turn of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. IndyCar began the season with several competition tweaks designed to titillate a fan base just beginning to show interest in the open wheel series again, putting the power of impulse control and reason in the gloves of the drivers, which is almost always a bad idea.
Double-file restarts were a hot topic, considering the rapid acceleration of the cars, but the reduction of the acceleration zone on the initial start to 200 feet was the prime agitator, enabling a pileup that began when Helio Castroneves divebombed the first corner, sent Marco Andretti over Scott Dixon's wheel and onto his roof. Five cars with a reasonable expectation of victory -- and two drivers that had won the race before -- were eliminated.
Ah, forget all that nonsense, Dario. The overnight television ratings came in at 1.4, a number league CEO Randy Bernard said he was "very excited to see." That and a "double-digit" increase in ticket sales at St. Petersburg over 2010 had Bernard convinced the league has begun to provide what fans want. "I am a firm believer that IndyCar listened to its fans and the fans liked what they saw," he told SI.com. "We have had hundreds of e-mails and comments today complimenting us on the race and the changes."
Bernard attached one in an e-mail: "What a great start of the season. I was at Fontana for the NASCAR race but everybody up and down the paddock was talking about the [IndyCar] racing. Congratulations. I know you guys are working really hard behind the scenes and a lot of people are noticing! Keep up the good work! See you in Long beach"
The Sunday overnight was the best non-Indianapolis 500 rating since 2007 at Mid-Ohio with a lead-in from a British Open playoff between Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia. Buckle up, the people, apparently, have spoken. "Have at it" just lost its fenders.
Dario Franchitti: He trailed Will Power by 59 points with four races left in 2010, 12 in entering the final event and won the title by five. Franchitti is making his move earlier this year, passing pole-sitting Power on Lap 5 and leading the next 94 to win the season opener. Power won the first two events last season. Taking a street/road course win away from him also negates some of Power's ...uh, power, as he claimed all five of his victories off of ovals last season.
Franchitti/Judd household: Man of the house wins the IndyCar opener, lady of the house and devout Kentucky Wildcats fan gets a trip to the Final Four. Dario already has a trophy in hand, though.
Simona de Silvestro: The 22-year-old gained a great amount of credibility and respect for her toughness with the way she handled being trapped in a flaming racing car at Texas Motor Speedway last year as emergency officials wrestled with an inoperative hose, then finally ripped her free. She gained a major amount of credibility and respect for her racing on Sunday as she challenged seasoned veteran Tony Kanaan for third place in the final laps at St. Petersburg, finally finishing a career-best fourth in her 18th IndyCar start.
Kanaan held on to third, with excessive effort, he admitted, but de Silvestro won the crowd. They lined the grandstands long after the race to applaud as she whirred off on a scooter. They lined her paddock area for a glimpse as mechanics packed up her transporter. Self-effacing but confident, she will certainly soon be besieged with "next Danica-this, next-Danica-that" questions, but engineer Brent Harvey said she will handle that, too, just fine.
"She'll enjoy it and be happy and smiling," Harvey said. "She's real kind and has a big heart for everybody and everything. It won't change her one bit. It'll probably make her even stronger and she probably wants it about 100 times worse more now than when she started."
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