You remember those moments when you’re a kid and you discover what it is you are good at, then as you grow older you realize exactly what it is you want to do in life?
We all seem to go through that whenever we’re deciding what college to apply to or what degree we want to earn. In racing, the majority of the drivers in this nation long to get behind the wheel of a stock car, and go racing in NASCAR. Each one has the ultimate goal of getting the chance to race in the Daytona 500.
At this point, as in years past, I’d go in and give the complete rundown of how the race went from green flag to checkered flag. But, today was a different day when the checkered flag waved, because the winner created not only the story of the week, but he created the story of the entire 2011 season. Only one story could possibly top what happened Sunday afternoon at the Daytona International Speedway, but I’ll get into that later. I’ll still provide the results, notable finishes, and the other statistics familiar with this column, but this was a story that had to be told.
A young man named Trevor Bayne has raced for Roush-Fenway Racing the last few seasons in the Nationwide Series, and has had some moderate success. No victories, but has shown that he can run well with many of the top guns in the sport.
Last fall, the Wood Brothers team put him in their No. 21 car for the Sprint Cup race at Texas, which would be his first start in the series. He wound up finishing a respectable 17th, and on the lead lap. The kid has talent, and he was only 19-years-old at the time. Bayne was then given the opportunity of a lifetime as he would start his part-time Sprint Cup schedule for 2011 as the driver of the No. 21 car at the Daytona 500.
In honor of former Daytona 500 champion David Pearson, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May, the car was painted similar to the car Pearson drove for the Wood Brothers in the 1970’s.
Bayne had a guaranteed starting spot, but he showed a lot of muscle as he would qualify in the top-10, but he wanted to show he could race very well at the same time. In his Gatorade Duel, he had no teammates…or so he thought.
Jeff Gordon caught him before the race and the two agreed to be drafting partners as Bayne showed he had a lot of muscle underneath the hood with the new Ford FR-9 race engine. All race long, Bayne never left the bumper of Gordon, and despite the poor finish, he turned a few heads.
Then, come Sunday afternoon, Bayne showed that for the entire race, he had a quick car and would work well with anyone. Announcers, fans, and even other drivers alike could tell that the young man meant business. Bayne celebrated his 20th birthday the day prior, but never expected what was about to happen.
Bayne found himself at the front of the field on the second green-white-checkered attempt to finish the race. To his right was Tony Stewart, someone who was trying to win the “Great American Race” for the first time in 13 attempts, and is one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in the sport. Bayne got the needed jump, and found himself coming to the white flag in the lead. The fans couldn’t believe what they were witnessing, as coming off the fourth turn, despite a hard-charging Carl Edwards, who’s a teammate to Bayne in the Nationwide Series, Bayne brought the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford Fusion across the start/finish line to win the Daytona 500.
Here’s the significance of this win: Bayne was in just his second Cup start, and was the second driver to ever win in his second start (Jamie McMurray, 2002). The race featured a record number of cautions, leaders, and lead changes, so it was already going down as the most competitive Daytona 500 in history. He was also the first driver to earn his first Cup win in the Daytona 500 since Michael Waltrip did it back in 2001.
That last fact alone is also significant. That day, Waltrip celebrated in victory lane…but shortly after his joy was cut short as his boss, Dale Earnhardt, died in a last-lap crash coming to the flag. Ten years later, fans not only honored their fallen hero, but celebrated the triumph of a young man whose career has just launched to unprecidented levels.
How do you follow up a race like that? It’s hard to say, but next week NASCAR will try to write chapter two of the season as the sport heads west to Phoenix International Raceway.
Coverage on FOX of the Subway Fresh Fit 500 begins at 2:30 p.m. ET, with the green flag set to fly an hour later.
RESULTS: 1-Bayne* 2-Edwards 3-Gilliland 4-B. Labonte 5-Kurt Busch 6-Montoya 7-Smith 8-Kyle Busch 9-Menard 10-Martin
NOTABLE FINISHES: 13-Stewart 21-Hamlin 24-Earnhardt Jr. 25-Kahne 27-Johnson 28-Gordon 36-Burton 42-Harvick
CAUTIONS: 16 for 60 laps. Lap 6-8 (#15, 18 accident-T1), 12-15 (oil on track), 24-26 (oil on track), 30-35 (#5, 16, 87, 48, 9, 71, 38, 00, 15, 92, 83, 17, 24, 43 accident-T3 and 4), 48-50 (#37, 38 accident-T4), 58-60 (#83 off track), 77-79 (#38 accident-T2), 108-110 (#1, 42 accident-T4), 125-128 (debris), 136-140 (#16, 17 accident-trioval), 143-146 (#16, 42 accident-T4), 159-163 (#38 accident-BS), 168-170 (#2, 7, 20, 78 accident-T4), 183-185 (#4 accident-T3), 198-202 (#78, 39, 22, 33, 11 accident-BS), 204-206 (43, 39, 88, 56 accident-BS).
LEAD CHANGES: 74 among 22 drivers. Earnhardt Jr. POLE, Kurt Busch 1, Harvick 2, Kurt Busch 3, Allmendinger 4, Harvick 5-8, Allmendinger 9, Gordon 10, Allmendinger 11-12, Keselowski 13-15, B. Labonte 16-17, Menard 18-21, Montoya 22-23, Bowyer 24-28, McMurray 29-36, Menard 37-39, Keselowski 40-45, Blaney 46-48, Labonte 49-50, Kurt Busch 51, Menard 52-53, Bowyer 54-57, Montoya 58-60, Kurt Busch 61-65, Burton 66-67, Smith 68-72, Bowyer 73-74, Burton 75-77, Earnhardt Jr. 78-80, McMurray 81-82, Newman 83-85, Truex Jr. 86-87, Bowyer 88-90, Kurt Busch 91-96, Newman 97, Gordon 98-99, Truex Jr. 100, McMurray 101, Newman 102-105, Gordon 106-110, Kurt Busch 11, Bowyer, 112, Kurt Busch 113, Bowyer 114, Kurt Busch 115, Truex Jr. 116-117, Kurt Busch 118, Menard 119-120, Kyle Busch 121, Truex Jr. 122, Kyle Busch 123, Truex Jr. 124, Kyle Busch 125, Truex Jr. 126-128, Bowyer 129, Truex Jr. 130, Bowyer 131-140, Truex Jr. 141-146, Kurt Busch 147, Earnhardt Jr. 148-152, Newman 153-159, Earnhardt Jr. 160, Newman 161-163, Hamlin 164-170, Newman 171-175, Ragan 176, Bowyer 177-178, Newman 179-180, Bowyer 181, Newman 182-192, Bowyer 193, Smith 194-195, Newman 196, Ragan 197-202, Bayne* 203-208.
*Not racing for points in this series
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 59 Mins, 24 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 130.326 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.118 Seconds
DRIVER POINTS, Top 12: 1. Edwards, 42 points; 2. Gilliland, -1; 3. B. Labonte, -1; 4. Kurt Busch, -2; 5. Montoya, -3; 6. Smith, -4; 7. Kyle Busch, -5; 8. Menard, -6; 9. Martin, -8; 10. Allmendinger, -8; 11. Elliott, -10; 12. Stewart, -11