The spectacle of Daytona has passed. The confetti has fallen, the trophy presented, and the winning car now sitting in Daytona USA for an entire year.
Many drivers feel that Daytona in itself is an event, and the real season begins the week afterward. That may be true, but each week counts towards the Chase, and ultimately the championship. It certainly doesn't get any easier as teams have to turn around from going to sunny Florida, and then make the trip out west to where cactus plants and tumbleweeds seem to be the norm.
NASCAR is making the trip out west to the Phoenix International Raceway, and brings with it another key test for the new car.
There are no longer restrictor plates on the engines, no short spoilers, and no restrictions on the cooling. It's a completely different track, just over a mile in length, and the unique kick out on the backstretch make it a difficult track to handle for anyone.
This makes it more difficult for the writers to make their picks, especially considering many had difficult weeks to start the season. But, the deadlines have been met, and their choices are in.
Here's who the baker's dozen have chosen to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500:
Misan Akuya: Jimmie Johnson
Let me see, Jimmie Johnson just won his second Daytona 500. So this 48 looks really poised right now and it is hard to bet against him.
Rob Blount: Jimmie Johnson
Johnson is a master at Phoenix. He has 4 wins and an average finish of 6.32. Sure, it's tough to guess how things will go because of the new car, but the 48 just won the Daytona 500 this past week.
I'd say everyone else better watch out.
James Broomhead: Kyle Busch
Kelly Crandall: Kevin Harvick
There will be a few good picks this weekend but Harvick is the most recent winner at Phoenix and the 29 team will be bringing the same chassis that won November's race.
Billy Fellin: Denny Hamlin
Last year's winner of this race, Hamlin is the lone JGR car to have survived the motor death at Daytona. He's so good at Phoenix, I think he'll go back to back.
Michael Hirshbein: Kyle Busch
Christopher Leone: Denny Hamlin
He showed me he's going to run up front this year with his performance at Daytona, even if he did get shuffled back at the end. Plus, after finishes of first and second last year, he's the man to beat.
Kara Martin: Kyle Busch
Ryan O'Hara: Kevin Harvick
He swept both races here in 2006, the last time we didn't have the COT and he won here last fall. He seems like the man to beat, despite being in a lame duck situation.
Dustin Parks: Kevin Harvick
I admit, it was hard to make a pick this week. I had four guys to choose from. Could go with Rowdy, but the engine woes that plagued him last year started up again, so he's out. Could go with Hamlin, but same issue could happen to him. Then again, could go with the big momentum and pick Johnson, but I'm keeping that bullet in the gun.
Nope, instead I'm going happy. He had the best Speedweeks of anyone, won the last race at Phoenix, and is running the same chassis that got that win this weekend. Hopefully he puts his son back in the car, seemed to work very well at Daytona, may bring him a win this weekend.
Patti Rodisch: Brad Keselowski
You want to know how much of a wildcard this weekend is? I asked my two year old niece to pick a number and she chose the number 2.
So Brad Keselowski it is this weekend. Anyone can win this race with this but if not for a debris caution late, Keselowski might have been your Daytona 500 champ. He'll get it done in Phoenix.
Sal Sigala Jr: Brad Keselowski
I'll be in Phoenix taking photos for 3 K&N West teams and covering the NNS and Sprint cup race.
Rob Tiongson: Jimmie Johnson
Five-Time is just about ready to dominate in 2013. After winning at Daytona, JJ has some unfinished business to attend to at Phoenix. Look for him to win there, something he hasn't done at Avondale, AZ since 2009.
Standings following Daytona:
Patti Rodisch (37) Danica Patrick finished 8th (0)
Ryan O'Hara (25) Jeff Gordon finished 20th (0)
Rob Tiongson (25) Jeff Gordon finished 20th (0)
Michael Hirshbein (10) Kyle Busch finished 34th (0)
Sal Sigala Jr. (10) Kyle Busch finished 34th (0)
Kelly Crandall (9) Matt Kenseth finished 37th (0)
Misan Akuya (3) Tony Stewart finished 41st (0)
Dustin Parks (3) Tony Stewart finished 41st (0)
Rob Blount (2) Kevin Harvick finished 42nd (0)
James Broomhead (2) Kevin Harvick finished 42nd (0)
Billy Fellin (2) Kevin Harvick finished 42nd (0)
Christopher Leone (2) Kevin Harvick finished 42nd (0)
Kara Martin (2) Kevin Harvick finished 42nd (0)
Final Thoughts: Now that the season has begun, things seem to be more at ease. Fans are back at the track, teams are back to their usual duties in getting prepared for racing, and drivers are back to doing what makes them famous.
The season has officially gotten under way, and NASCAR is set to begin their own version of March Madness.
The green flag waves Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Summary of Picks: