Momentum is one of the most talked about intangibles in sports. But is it significant or meaningless? That all depends on who you talk to – and whether they have it or not.
It was talked about a lot in the garages at Auto Club Speedway in the days leading up to today’s Auto Club 500 Sprint Cup race.
And surprise, surprise, opinions on its significance varied.
Here is what selected drivers had to say about “mo” as the Cup season heads into the second race of the 2010 season:
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second at Daytona:
“I didn’t want to get too excited about it (almost winning the 500) because I know I wouldn’t be able to really convince anybody that we were back or we are a strong team or had fixed anything until we come to these kind of tracks and run good at them. I enjoyed personally finishing well and I enjoyed how happy it made my team. I enjoyed hearing their comments about how they enjoyed the race and what they thought about the rebound we made at the end. I got more text messages and phone calls about those last few laps than I did when I won the damn race. It was good for our confidence and reminds you what success or what doing something good feels like. It was a good experience.”
Jeff Gordon, who finished 26th at Daytona: “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve come out of Daytona with a win and stunk the rest of the season and I’ve come out of there with a bad finish like we had this year and gone on to win the championship. You can’t put too much into what happens at Daytona, but this race is important. It’s not even as important as where you finish, of course you want to finish well, but it’s how we run, it’s how we are as a team. It’s important for us to get laps and show our strengths on the track as well as on pit road and throughout the day. I think that will do more for us moving forward throughout the season than anything and build our confidence up and make sure that we can put a lot of strong finishes together.
Mark Martin, who finished 12th at Daytona: “It’s (a slow start to season) an additional challenge. You have all your challenges that are more than enough as is just from the competition side of things. But it is a challenge. It’s a challenge that can be met and dealt with and overcome, but it requires a little bit different approach maybe than some of the other challenges you face. One of those aspects to that is the mental challenge of how you let that affect or how you react to everything. I prefer doing it the other way. We tried to keep the rudder steady and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and I tried to keep our chin up and keep our leadership in place for everyone to see. We did have fast race cars and that gave us optimism in itself.”
What: Auto Club 500
Where: Auto Club Speedway; Fontana, Calif.
First race at track: 1997
First winner: Jeff Gordon
First polesitter: Joe Nemechek
Today’s race: 3 p.m. ET
TV: Fox, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Track layout: 2-mile oval
Race distance: 250 laps/500 miles
Estimated pit window: 40-44 laps
2009 winner: Matt Kenseth
2009 polesitter: Brian Vickers
Today’s polesitter: Jamie McMurray
To the winner goes Dave:
One of Jamie McMurray’s victory tour stops after winning the 500 was for an appearance on the late-night show of David Letterman.
For those of us who have never been invited on by Dave, here is how it goes:
“Well, I tell you,” McMurray said. “You don’t get to meet Dave Letterman. I showed up and they were actually pushing me out of the way to get the door closed so that I didn’t see him on the way by. And I didn’t realize that. And I literally had to go buy a suit and we went up and I put the suit on and they put my microphone on and I went downstairs and they are like OK, you’ve got to go out there now. So I didn’t really have time to be nervous.
“When I walked out there, you know you see this stuff on TV and it all looks very big. And you get in there and Letterman’s show is like half of this room. So you’re like oh, this is a lot different. There’s a band and it’s really loud. And when he first started talking, I couldn’t hear him. I was like oh, this is really going to be embarrassing because I don’t know what he’s saying right now. And then he threw this first statement out and I’m not going to repeat what he said, and I was like oh crap, I cannot believe you just said that to me on TV and just want to act like I can’t hear, you know? So, I’m glad that I came off cool or funny because I did not feel that way sitting on that couch.”
Only one Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway has been won from the pole. Who did that and when?
Carl Edwards was asked the status of post-victory back flips this week. He gave the thumb’s up.
“Yeah, everything is good and seems good,” Edwards, whose flips were tossed after injuring his leg playing Frisbee last year, said. “I tested that out with the guys at the WWE and that was a lot of fun. Backflips are on the menu, so if we win, there will be a backflip.”
They’re back II
Looking for a team that appears ready to make a move on Hendrick Motorsports this season? How about Richard Childress Racing?
All three RCR drivers finished in the top 11 at Daytona. This comes on the heels of a season in which RCR drivers went winless.
“Speedweeks were great for RCR,” Clint Bowyer, who finished fourth in the 500, said. “I especially want to say, what a heck of a job ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines) did. They won the Daytona 500. All of their cars were strong down during Speedweeks. The motor program at ECR is definitely on its game. Again, this weekend here in California, I was looking at the practice run down and every ECR engine is in the top-seven in practice.”
RCR drivers will start third (Bowyer), sixth (Kevin Harvick) and 14th (Jeff Burton) today.
Bitterness is for coffee
Martin Truex Jr. drove the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy for 153 races. He won with it once.
Last Sunday, he watched as his old car won the 500 on Jamie McMurray’s maiden voyage. Bummer?
“I was very happy for them,” Truex, who moved to Michael Waltrip Racing this year, said. “I have a lot of friends on that team still and I was excited for them. I was happy for them. We had a shot to win and we were up front racing with them up front. It was cool to see that. Obviously I would have liked it better if I was in Victory Lane, but I was happy for those guys. Most people know there’s no jealousy with me. I don’t sit there and say why wasn’t in that car. That would just be silly. I was happy for those guys and it meant a lot to them. It was good to see it.”
On Friday, Martin Truex Jr. was asked if the racing would be tougher for Danica Patrick at Auto Club Speedway than it was at Daytona.
Talk about prophetic. She finished three laps of the pace Saturday.
“I can tell you it’s going to be 10 times more difficult to do it here than it was at Daytona. This place is about as tough as they get. It’s as fast as we go about anywhere. There’s not a lot of banking and it’s really slick. It’s probably one of the hardest tracks to get your car working well that we go to all year long. It’s going to be a challenge, there’s no doubt. Am I tired of hearing about her? Nah, not really. It is what it is. The pressure is on her, not on me. It doesn’t bother me to hear about it.”
Go Daddy guy
Mark Martin, who, like Danica Patrick, is sponsored by Go Daddy – the company with the raciest television ads in the sport.
Martin was asked about ads he would appear in. ”She (wife Arlene) didn’t tell me that I couldn’t take my shirt off.”
Jimmie Johnson won the fall Sprint Cup race at Auto Club from the pole in 2008. He also won there in 2007 from the second starting spot. And in 2009 from the third starting spot.
Jim Pedley is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who has worked at, among other places, the Boston Globe, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Kansas City Star. Pedley spent more than 10 years covering auto racing for the Kansas City Star. Pedley can be reached at