Monday, February 27, 2017

As the Gear Box opens, the racing has turned

Before we begin our first official entry of the 2017 season, I owe you, the readers of this blog, an apology.

I've wondered to myself if this blog was worth continuing. Everyone's about needing numbers to show how their audience has grown, and I've spent the offseason wondering if what I've written here was good enough going against the tidal wave of blogs and material from other NASCAR-themed outlets.

At the end of the day, I figured why not continue? With all the changes that happened with NASCAR in the offseason -- new title sponsor, new points system that rewards racing from the drop of the green flag -- it would be a disservice if I just pulled the plug.

Besides, my hometown paper stopped caring about NASCAR three years ago even though there are multiple events worth covering within a two-hour drive to the south in Las Vegas.

Someone's got to pick up the slack, right? Might as well be me, so let's get this season started.

-With the first full weekend of the new "stage racing" format in the books from Daytona, we can safely say there were a lot of things that opened some eyes, got some heads scratching and made the people say "whoa."

The biggest shocker of all came in Sunday's Daytona 500. For the first time in the race's 59 years, the winner led only one lap -- the most important one.

In his 17th try, Kurt Busch made his move at the right time and held off Ryan Blaney to win his first Daytona 500. Busch didn't get to Dale Earnhardt's mark of 20, but how it all came together was a mind-bending moment.

First, there was the stage racing, where points were earned by the top 10 (from 10 down to one) in the running order after lap 60 and again at lap 120. Kyle Busch was at the head of the field after Stage 1, and Kevin Harvick was on top after Stage 2.

Nice for them. 10 bonus points already in the bag. So where did they finish? Kyle cut a tire and ended up 38th, while Harvick got caught up in one of the multitude of wrecks and came home 22nd.

Thanks to his stage efforts (second after Stage 1, leading after Stage 2), Harvick earned 19 additional points and leaves Daytona fourth in the standings.

But here's where it's going to take some time to figure it all out: Harvick actually has 42 points -- 15 for his finish, 19 for his stage finishes, but the other eight points escape me. If you are reading and can answer at my Twitter handle or email that will appear at the end of this column, it is much appreciated.

And Kurt Busch has 56 points with this math breakdown -- 40 for first place, 5 for race win, 8 for third place after Stage 2. Three points missing.

By the time we get through Atlanta, I should have it all figured out. I hope.

-In the XFINITY and Camping World Truck races, it was more of the same. Drivers who won the first two stages were nowhere near the front at the end.

At the Powershares QQQ 300, Elliott Sadler was in front after both early stages, but finished 24th. The 20 points for the stage wins gave him the magic bullet all the way up to third in the overall points.

Race winner Ryan Reed -- who earned his second Daytona victory -- earned seven extra points for being fourth after Stage 2. He's got a nine-point cushion over Las Vegas native Brendan Gaughan, who finished fifth.

-On the trucks side, Johnny Sauter was one lap from sweeping all three stages Friday night, but got caught in a 12-car pileup and finished 15th, one lap down.

Sauter's 20 bonus points pushed him to second in the points, but rookie Kaz Grala bagged his first victory and is on top of the standings.

And to think...there are 35 more weekends of this to make sense of it all. I'll be here doing my best to sort it all out,

Tom Zulewski will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 13th consecutive year covering the Boyd Gaming 300 and Kobalt 400 in two weeks. Follow him on Twitter @TommyZee81 or email