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Another race, another chance awaiting drivers

February 27, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Bruce: New Chase format makes it easier to move on

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As Dale Earnhardt Jr. flits about the country, stopping here and there to once more describe his actions of this past Sunday evening, work goes on elsewhere.

The 2014 Daytona 500 Victory Tour pulled into Phoenix today, the last stop on a weeklong trip that's part media tour and part celebration.

Earnhardt Jr., 39, has had plenty to talk about. His victory in the season-opening race resurrected a career that less than two seasons ago bordered on irrelevance.

For almost any driver, a win in the biggest race of the year will do that.

For anyone named Earnhardt, a win in the biggest race of the year will certainly do that.

His team and his cars had gotten better -- last year's fifth-place points finish was proof enough of that. But there were no wins, and if you're not winning, well, what's the point?

For everyone that didn't win last week’s Daytona 500, the task is simply to regroup.

Drivers such as Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon, who came oh-so-close only to be denied in that last 5-mile rush of adrenaline and horsepower.

Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr., who saw their chances cruelly erased due to car problems.

The wrecked, the nearly wrecked and everyone in between.

Regroup. Reset. Move on.

Daytona dreams were dashed, but the circuit doesn't stop.

Now it's on to Phoenix. Then Las Vegas, Bristol and California. Martinsville, Texas and Darlington. Eight consecutive weeks to open the 2014 season and hopefully build a firm foundation that will carry them and their teams into the summer months.

The wins will come. This week or the next. Somewhere down the line. Good teams don't go to seed overnight.

The hill isn't as steep today, thanks to the newest version of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format.

The "win and you're in" format isn't a guarantee, but it's as close to foolproof as officials could make it when they were hammering out the details. For now, wins equal Chase berths, and until more than 16 different drivers squeeze out a win in the first 26 races, that will remain the case.

A season-opening setback isn't a season-ending setback. It's far too early for that. Starting the year 0-for-1 isn't a concern. It's when the needle begins to creep toward the 0-for-20 mark that the pressure will begin to build.

For drivers such as Hamlin, Keselowski, Gordon, Stewart, Bowyer, Truex Jr. and all those in between, another opportunity is just around the corner.

Kevin Harvick, involved in last week's last-lap crash, is no slouch on the 1-mile layout at Phoenix International Raceway, having won two of the past three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races there.

Carl Edwards is the defending champion of this week's race. At least a dozen in the field this weekend have at least one win at PIR, including last week's winner.

Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500. But that's only the start.

Forty-two others didn't. But for many of them, their time is coming.

MORE:

READ: Earnhardt Jr. wins
wild Daytona 500

WATCH: Dale Jr.
in Victory Lane

WATCH: Danica, a dozen
others in Daytona pileup

READ: Official Daytona 500
race results