Darlington saw the same faces near the front, so it might not have looked like there was a whole lot new or different about it.
But there were some standout performances.
Jeff Gordon performed a lot better than he has in a long time. If Gordon had some more laps, it could have been an exciting finish because he was running winner Greg Biffle down at the end.
It was a big win for Biffle, his first win of the season, but he started the year off with crashes, blown engines and all these crazy things which took him way down in the points. It was real gratifying for his team to see him get back on track.
Biffle still needs to be within 400 points of the leader to be in the Chase, and he's out of that right now (he's 497 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson). I'm not counting him out yet, though. It's way too early in the year, and we have a lot of big tracks coming that Biffle is really good at -- Michigan, California, Phoenix, Dover, Charlotte -- so he has plenty of time to catch up.
Jeremy Mayfield, on the other hand, is still having bad luck. He is probably very disappointed with his season to this point. It seems that no matter which way he turns, he gets involved in some type of incident that's not of his doing. He's also had some problems that were his own doing, and he's probably concerned that he's not going to make the top 10. Concerned and frustrated are probably two good words to sum up his year right now. He hasn't changed as a driver; luck is just not on his side.
Which brings us to the next two weekends at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
This weekend, it's time for the non-points events, the Nextel Open and then the All-Star Challenge.
I always treated them as warm-up sessions for the Coca-Cola 600 the following week. If I had a bad run in the All-Star race, I would log those notes and have that information about what went wrong and what went right. So when I came back for the Coca-Cola 600 the following week, I liked to think I was one race ahead of a lot of the other drivers. I treated it as a big warm-up session for the 600.
I have no problem with the non-points races, really. But it's another race that takes up a lot of time and costs a lot of money, and a lot of drivers tend to have a lot of wrecks. With 36 races already on the schedule, I'm not a big fan of running that particular race because it uses up another week.
But what is different this year as we head to Lowe's is the track surface.
What I heard about the new surface is that the track is real smooth. One thing you have to remember, when they levigated -- or smoothed out -- the race track, which they did the last two years, they made it real smooth and the speeds were way up.
This time, tire manufacturer Goodyear paved the track and brought back a much harder tire. Because the tires are harder, the speeds really aren't that much different, and you would think the cars would really fly around there.
But Goodyear has hardened the tire up so much that the cars really haven't been any quicker at all. I was real surprised that the speeds weren't much different on the new track. It almost looks like the Busch Grand National cars are as fast, if not faster than, the Nextel Cup cars because the Busch cars have an inch taller rear spoiler with a real hard tire, which gives them better grip and actually makes them handle better than a Cup car.
The track will get faster as the years go on, because once the blackness of the track comes out and it starts getting grayer, then Goodyear can start running a softer tire and the speeds will get quicker.
What's up with Jeremy Mayfield? This season has been horrible.
Former Cup champion Rusty Wallace will provide coverage for ESPN and ABC during this year's IndyCar Series and selected Nextel Cup races.