February 20, 2011
Rookie driver wins 500
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
DAYTONA — Trevor Bayne was only 18 hours removed from celebrating his 20th birthday when he helped re-write history Sunday winning the Daytona 500 on the second of two green-white-checkered attempts.
Bayne — who became the youngest Daytona 500 winner in its 53-year-history — drove the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford to glory in the Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.
It was the first Wood Brothers win at Daytona since NASCAR Hall of Fame driver David Pearson did it 35 years ago.
Just how important was this win for the legendary Wood clan?
Heck, the team, prior to Bayne’s heroics, only had plans and funding to run a part-time schedule in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series this season.
But Bayne survived a rash of crashes early and late in a Daytona 500 that was littered with bent and broken race cars.
First there was “the big one” on Lap 29, then another wreck, then another wreck and another wreck.
By the time all the wrecking was done there were 26 cars — a full one-half of the starting grid — banged out of shape and half a dozen contenders knocked out of any chance to win NASCAR’s biggest race of the year.
Among the big names done in by that first crash alone were three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson and for all intents and purposes, another former champion Matt Kenseth.
Carl Edwards also survived to finish second, with David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch rounding out the top five.
The race was so wild that even the wildest of NASCAR drivers — Kyle Busch — thought it was out of control.
“There ain’t a car out here that doesn’t have damage on it, so I don’t know that damage was a real factor,” Busch said. “Even the 21 (Bayne) car has got damage and he won the race. It was nuts. It was wild, just as wild as we all expected
But at the end it was the fresh-faced kid from Knoxville, Tennessee, who survived it all and who, in Victory lane, sounded very much like the teenager he was just one day earlier.
“I keep thinking I am dreaming, I really do,” Bayne said. “Our first 500, are you kidding me?
“I have never been to a race track with so many people. I didn’t even know how to get to Victory Lane.
“This is crazy to get my first (Sprint) Cup win before a Nationwide win. This is unbelievable.”
Bayne is running the entire Nationwide series this season for Roush Fenway Racing for the championship and will race in Montreal in August in the NAPA 200.
Established Sprint Cup drivers like Edwards — who tried in vain to pass the No. 21 Ford on the final lap — were amazed at the job the youngster did.
“I got to Trevor’s bumper and he did such a good job of blocking down low,” he said. “I started to go low and then I didn’t know of I should go high or not. He won that race flat out. He did an amazing job.”
Pre-race favourite Kurt Busch who was attempting an unprecedented triple — winning the Budweiser Shootout, the Gatorade Duel 150 and the Daytona 500 in the same week — came up just short on the final lap when he made an error in trying to hook up with the Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya.
“I was in perfect position to win the race, running third and just made a mistake,” he said. “It’s tough. We came all this way and came up a little shy.”
But Bayne was also aided by the brand new pavement on Daytona’s 2.5 mile oval that brought a whole new form of stock car racing — the two car draft — into vogue.
The new glass-smooth blacktop allowed cars to hit speeds over 205 m.p.h. in practice and in the pair of qualifying races and when two cars hooked up they became rockets.
On Sunday the Daytona two-step as it became known as, made for perilous racing as drivers desperate to get to the front often left their partners dangling and that was a major cause to most of the record 16 cautions.