“I don't think there are things we can take to California, other than that we got the setup good for Jamie,” crew chief Kevin Manion said at Monday morning's champions breakfast at Daytona. “That was encouraging. It was more that you dialed the setup in, and the car stayed good in the long run, and that's encouraging to take to California, knowing that the team worked well together.”
In terms of performance, there will be an entirely new set of variables at California. Even if success at Daytona is hardly a guarantee of strong results in the future, however, those who run well at the 2.5-mile superspeedway can't seem to resist the siren song of optimism.
Earnhardt, who failed to score a top ten in the final twelve races of 2009, is no exception.
“I'm happy for the finish, and it validates the changes they made (at the shop) and the hard work they've done over the offseason to get better,” Earnhardt said after the race. “I just hope we can keep it up. This was a little bit of a handling race. We didn't have too bad a racecar, so…
“You can say that this is plate racing, but it really wasn't today, most of the week anyways. It was more of a 'who-could-handle-the-best.' I don't know. I feel good about our chances going into the next couple weeks.”
Maybe so, but don't look at the Cup standings until after the fourth race of the season, March 7 at Atlanta. If Earnhardt's in the top twelve then, odds are he'll be there after 26 races, when the field for the Chase is set. The same goes for McMurray.
Historically, the standings after Atlanta have been a reliable barometer. Daytona? Not so much. In 2009, for instance, only two of the top twelve finishers in the Daytona 500 went on to qualify for the Chase.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News