Updated: March 4, 2013, 10:45 AM ET

Carl Edwards Back In Victory Lane

Sprint Cup: Some Trends Emerge

By David Newton | ESPN.com

Two races into the 2013 Sprint Cup season, in case anybody is counting …

•  There have been 40 lead changes in the new Gen-6 car, 28 in the Daytona 500 and 12 in Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway. That's 10 fewer than there were a year ago -- 25 each at Daytona and Phoenix -- in the Gen-5, formerly known as the Car of Tomorrow.

Bottom line, it's still too early to judge whether the new car -- designed to improve racing at mile-and-a-half tracks -- has improved racing overall. We'll know a lot more after next week's race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track.

Let's let Denny Hamlin and points leader Jimmie Johnson explain.

"I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our Generation 5 cars," Hamlin told reporters in Phoenix. "This is more like what the Generation 5 was at the beginning. The teams hadn't figured out how to get the aero balance right.

"Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. … It's just one of those things where track position is everything."

Said Johnson, who followed his Daytona 500 win with a second-place finish, "It didn't seem a lot different than other races here to me since the reconfiguration. I don't think the Gen-6 car has anything to do with it at this point.

"The cars are equal, and when they're equal, you're going to have a situation like this. What we need now is the racetracks to consider the asphalt they're putting down and even reconfigure the lanes so that we have somewhere to race."

•  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to an even better start than a year ago. His fifth-place finish at PIR following a second at Daytona leaves him second in points, eight behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson.

A year ago, NASCAR's most popular driver opened with a second and 14th that left him fifth in the standings, 17 points behind Hamlin.

Earnhardt actually was in position to win Sunday until eventual winner Carl Edwards got off pit road ahead of him because Earnhardt had to lift as Casey Mears slowed to get into his pit stall.

"I knew right then that was my opportunity to win the race," said Earnhardt, who led 47 laps. "It's difficult to pass with the big spoiler. But our car was good enough to actually run up on some guys and make some passes.

"I was a little disappointed because I think we could have won. And you hate to give away them points."

•  As thrilled as Edwards was to end a 70-race losing streak on Sunday, he actually left Phoenix one spot worse in the standings than he was a year ago.

Edwards was 10th in the standings in 2012 after an eighth and 17th. He is 11th this year after a 33rd and first.

But the perception -- and maybe reality -- is he's far better now.

•  Danica Patrick is 22nd in the standings after a 39th-place finish at PIR. Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is ninth. Stenhouse hasn't done anything spectacular or historic, but he's been the more consistent of the couple battling for rookie of the year with a 12th in the Daytona 500 and 16th at PIR.

Patrick, who was the story a week ago with her historic eighth-place run at Daytona, retired Sunday after hitting the wall on Lap 185.

"You have to look at the positives and learn from the things we need to make better, but for the second weekend together I think we're definitely heading in the right direction," Stenhouse said.

The good news for Patrick? She's a spot ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing boss Tony Stewart.

•  Phoenix Racing has the upper hand in the battle of single-car teams that are not a lateral move from one another. Regan Smith finished seventh in the Daytona 500 for the Spartanburg-based organization, and AJ Allmendinger was 11th at Phoenix. That's an average finish of 9.0

Kurt Busch in the Furniture Row Racing car has finished 28th and 27th, an average of 27.5.

•  Half a dozen high-profile drivers -- including four who made the Chase last season -- are 23rd or worse in points.

Those from last year's Chase class struggling are Tony Stewart (23rd), Kevin Harvick (30th), Kasey Kahne (31st) and Martin Truex Jr. (34th). Others off to a slow start include Kurt Busch (32nd) and Kyle Busch (33rd).

The bad news is they only have one more race before current owners' points are used to determine who potentially could miss a race with the return to having to qualify. A year ago, teams in the top 35 from the previous year were locked in for five races.

The good news is Truex, in the worst spot, is only 24 points behind Marcos Ambrose in 12th.

In other words, it's way too early to panic. Kahne was 31st six races into last season and was 10th entering the Chase.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer

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