Barely 20, Cup rookie becomes youngest Daytona 500 winner
Big props to anybody who had Trevor Bayne in their Daytona 500 winner’s pool.
Bayne, 20, fought off a charge from veteran Carl Edwards in the last lap—while feeling heat from Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch minutes earlier—to become one of the most improbable winners in the 53-year history of the Great American Race.
Youngest, too. The kid can’t even drink a beer in Florida to celebrate. He just turned 20 on Saturday.
“I don’t even know where to go,” Bayne said, as he tried to find Victory Lane.
That was also a forgotten place for the team owners, the iconic Wood Brothers, who have hit hard times lately. The Wood Brothers—the oldest active team in NASCAR—didn’t even qualify a car for the 2008 race.
The Ford team won a Cup race for the first time since 2001, and its first Daytona 500 since David Pearson won here in 1976.
Bayne was the winner in a day of survivor racing. NASCAR has traditionally been a sport that embraces its country-and-western soundtrack. But Sunday was about metal mania.
It was wreckin’ and racin’ and bumpin’ and gridin’ with an added twist—the “love bugs” fluttering in the air.
“That was like 500 miles of sheer terror out there,” Edwards said.
The 200-lap marathon went beyond the typical bump-and-grind you’d expect at Daytona. The 16 cautions were a race record. So were the 74 lead changes and 22 different race leaders. Only 24 of the 43 cars remained on the lead lap.
There may be plenty of people who think that love-bug racing should be squashed today.
Not Bayne, of course. He held on during a green-white checker finish, as Edwards—with a push from David Gilliland—tried to close the distance.
“It worked out almost perfectly,” Edwards said. “Trevor did a good job of blocking the bottom. And that car was just a rocket.”
Fortunately for him, a rocket that stayed on course during a wild, unpredictable day. Defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, teammate Jeff Gordon, Cambridge native Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, among others, all got caught up in the carnage of drivers jockeying for bump-drafting position, or had to deal with overheating engines.
It left a few unexpected folks—Bayne, Gilliland, and Cup veteran Bobby Labonte—in the mix for a trip to Victory Lane.
“I keep thinking I’m dreaming,” Bayne said in his car, shortly before he got out and was lifted into the arms of his pit crew on the infield..
After Bayne slips out of his fire suit, he’s going to have to buy a formal suit for all the promotional appearances, since he doesn’t own one yet.
“He is about to have the greatest week of his life,” Edwards said.
Not bad for a kid who
didn’t expect to be in the chase for the Sprint Cup championship: He elected to run full-time in the Nationwide Series and is ineligible for Sprint Cup rookie of year points because a new NASCAR mandate only allows drivers to compete for one series title. He is only scheduled to run 17 Cup races.
“I wish I could get (NASCAR president) Mike Helton to change the boxes,” Bayne said.
Bayne also dropped out of Central High School in Knoxville, Tenn., after his sophomore year to focus on racing, before getting his GED.
To gather some more historical perspective, he was only 9 years old when NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt died after crashing on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.
“I figure I can do whatever I want to since this is just a dream anyway,” Bayne told reporters after the victory.
Wake up, kid.
You are the champion of the 53rd running of the Daytona 500. Here’s a soda pop in your honor.
George Diaz writes for The Orlando Sentinel.