Sprint Cup Off to Excellent Start in 2011

PHOENIX - APRIL 09: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, signs autographs from the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 9, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


The satisfying start to NASCAR's top series continued on Sunday with Kyle Busch's dominating performance in the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Each race to start the season has produced a different but positive result. The Sprint Cup Series has provided four different winners to start the season, across all three manufacturers -- something for everyone.

At Daytona, rookie Trevor Bayne went to victory lane in the legendary Wood Brothers Ford. The next week, future Hall-of-Famer Jeff Gordon snapped a 66-race winless streak after winning in the Phoenix desert. Even Roush Fenway has shown flashes of brilliance as Carl Edwards won in Las Vegas.

The first four weeks produced victories representing NASCAR's past, present, and future. What could the series hold next week when NASCAR returns to Auto Club Speedway?

Credit must go to NASCAR schedule-makers. Rotating superspeedways, short tracks, and intermediate courses produce a myriad of results and a flavor for each taste bud.

Daytona orchestrated a new love-bug-racing style and close unpredictable finishes. Short tracks, meanwhile, recreate the intensity of Saturday night shootouts. Again -- something for everyone.

Only a winless Dale Earnhardt Jr. is holding the sport back from renewed mainstream success.

Even Junior, now paired with crew chief Steve Letarte, has shown signs of renaissance. Since the DNF at Daytona, Junior has rolled off three consecutive top tens and currently rests inside the Chase cutoff. This season marks Juniors best start to a season since jumping to Hendrick Motorsports and best overall since his rookie season of 2000.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will win races in 2011 and it could come as early as three weeks when the Cup Series visits Texas, home of Junior's first career Cup victory.

Short of Jimmie Johnson missing the Chase, a Dale Earnhardt victory would reignite the sport. And why not -- this season has produced everything else.

Winner's circle has been visited by a variety of drivers. The new point system is working. Popular drivers are contending and television ratings are up. NASCAR CEO Brian France promised a turnaround and his team has done nothing but deliver.

Keep it up, Brian. We're digging it.

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