Rain poured down while Michael Waltrip sat under a really big umbrella.
Then, he got the word.
He hopped up, and the newly crowned two-time Daytona 500 champion threw his hands in the air – surprised and relieved. The next race, Dale Jarrett won at Rockingham. It was his only top-five finish that season. A race after that, eventual champion Matt Kenseth nabbed his only victory of the year.
Then Bobby Labonte, who’d win only one more race the rest of his career. Then Ricky Craven, who wouldn’t win another.
On and on it went, a new face in Victory Lane every week – for nine consecutive weeks.
That was 2003.
This season has a familiar feel, with six different winners in the first six races – the most since that 2003 parity-filled campaign.
This 2014 season is where winless droughts go to die. Kurt Busch just ended an 83-start drought. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a 55-start Victory Lane absence with his stirring Daytona 500 win.
Brad Keselowski needed 31 races to win his first race last season. This year, he needed three.
All this, while the likes of Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson – who ranked 1-2 in victories a season ago – go winless.
The statistics suggest that won’t last. Count on either of those champions ending the mini-drought, probably as soon as this Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. on FOX) – and with that, the streak of unique winners extending to seven.
In three of the last four races, Johnson has tallied triple-digit laps led figures – and has finished sixth or better in each of the last four Texas races (two of those were wins). Johnson has an average finish of 8.7 at Texas, second only to Matt Kenseth’s 8.3.
“Texas is one of the more interesting racetracks we race on,” said Johnson, a three-time winner at Texas. “The characteristics of the track – the bumps and the surface will make for an exciting race. So far with six winners in six races, the racing in 2014 has been really exciting for the fans. We’ve run up front and led a lot, but haven’t been able to finish the job. … It’s been a good track for us in the past, and it would be great to get our first win of the season this weekend.”
Thus far in 2014, Johnson leads the series in everything – especially bad luck.
He ranks first in in driver rating (115.6), average running position (8.7), laps led (493), fastest laps run (200) and is tied for the lead in top-five finishes with four. He has led more than 100 laps in each of the last two races (including 296 laps at Martinsville).
Still, he remains winless and only fifth in points. Watch that change soon. Maybe Sunday.
BAYNE IS ABLE AT TEXAS
Here’s a rejected script. Reason: It’s been done before.
Athlete wins big race/game. Athlete soon falls on hard times, leaves sport. Athlete fights to get back into the sport he loves. Athlete wins upon returning. Credits roll.
Except it’s real life … Trevor Bayne’s life.
Three years ago, in November 2011, Trevor Bayne capped off a roller-coaster of a year with his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series win in the fall Texas race. His season began with a storybook opening that saw him celebrating in Victory Lane at the Daytona 500. In between, he was sidelined by illness.
So whenever Bayne hits the track at Texas Motor Speedway, it brings back memories of that 2011 season. And this time around, he’s gunning for a championship.
Bayne heads to Texas Motor Speedway with the rest of the NNS contingent for Friday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on a mission – to unseat Regan Smith from atop the points standings. Although the two drivers are tied in points, Smith holds the tiebreaker by virtue of his win in the Daytona season opener. It is the first time in Bayne’s six-year career that he has held or shared the points lead.
“I’m excited about getting back to Texas,” Bayne said. “Not only am I running both series (he’s also diving the No. 21 Ford in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race), it’s also where AdvoCare’s headquarters are located and where I earned my first Nationwide Series win. We have been steadily climbing up the points ladder and I’m hoping to take the top spot this weekend. The guys have been working really hard to get me fast cars and I think it’s paying off.”
Bayne’s quest to usurp Smith from his top spot, which he has held after each of the first five races, is definitely possible. Six of his seven Texas starts have resulted in top-15 finishes. In the spring race last year, he posted a 26th-place finish, but followed that up with an 11th in his most recent trip to Texas last November.