Daytona 500 Winner Trevor Bayne Living a Dream at 20
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Flashing his dimples, and looking even younger than his 20 years, Trevor Bayne grinned broadly, laughed and fidgeted as he conducted his first news conference as the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history.
One day after celebrating his 20th birthday Bayne drove the legendary No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford to victory Sunday in NASCAR's biggest race -- sharing the honor with the team's previous Daytona 500 winning drivers, A.J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Tiny Lund and David Pearson. Bayne wasn't even born when Pearson claimed the Wood Brothers' last Daytona 500 trophy in 1976.
Explaining how grateful he was for the opportunity, thankful for his good fortune and appreciative of his team's efforts, the good-looking, well-spoken Bayne sounded as mature and poised behind the microphone as he was behind the steering wheel in holding off three series champions and a handful of other veterans on the last two laps of Sunday's race.
The Knoxville, Tenn., native's biggest smile, however, seemed to come when he found out that his Twitter account expanded from 6,000 followers to 16,000 by the end of the race. And, he modestly conceded, he was going to need a friend to drive his Ford truck home. Seems that while most of Bayne's competitors flew in private jets to the race, he drove his Ford F150 pickup truck from Tennessee to Florida.
"I never expected to be sitting in here,'' Bayne said during the winner's interview in the infield media center, "So I'm sorry to be all bouncing around while I'm giving you my answers, but I figure it's just a dream anyway.''
Bayne became the seventh driver in history to win the Daytona 500 in his first start and it came in only his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Although the Daytona 500 winner typically takes home a check in excess of $1 million, the once-champion Wood Brothers organization only has sponsorship for 17 of the 36 Cup races this season. Bayne was planning instead to concentrate his efforts on the Triple-A Nationwide Series.
His performance this week in NASCAR's marquee class, however, turned heads even before Sunday's big victory. He was third quickest in pole qualifying and ran well in the qualifying race, drafting with four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who took notice and predicted great things of Bayne.
"I really think he's got the whole package,'' said Gordon, the Daytona 500's previous youngest winner at the age of 25 in 1997. "He's good and he's really going to be good.''
It was indicative of the praise from most of Bayne's competitors who declared him "the next big deal'' before the 500. It was the prevailing opinion that he is exactly what NASCAR needs to sustain its popularity -- a combination of youth, charisma and talent. Although he hasn't a full-time Sprint Cup ride yet, he has raced sporadically for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and Michael Waltrip Racing, who had to let him go because they couldn't find a sponsor for his car.
That may not be such a tough sell come Monday morning. While some are calling this the biggest Daytona 500 upset in decades, few who know about Bayne consider it such.
"I figured they had a chance after seeing that boy race in the 150s (Gatorade Duel),'' said Pearson, a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. " I talked to him (Bayne) this morning. I told him to keep his head straight and not to do anything crazy. I told him to stay relaxed. That's the thing; stay relaxed. I knew he would because he was relaxed in the qualifier. I'm proud of him.''
If Bayne seemed a little overwhelmed by the attention, he should get used to it. After the Daytona 500 Champion's Breakfast Monday morning, Bayne will go on a media blitz through New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- for which he says he'll have to buy a new suit.
"Someone asked me if I had clothes in case we won the race, and I said, 'yes, I've got it covered, I've got two T-shirts,''' Bayne said. "I thought it was a big joke, but here we are.''
Instead of celebrating his birthday the day before, Bayne had a quiet dinner with his parents earlier in the week and spent the night before the 500 driving a golf cart around the infield campground of the speedway here, stopping to watch a friend win a wheelbarrow race against some race fans.
"This is so crazy,'' said Bayne, sitting alongside team leaders Eddie and Len Wood. "I don't even know what to say. I almost feel undeserving because there's guys like (crew chief) Donnie (Wingo) and all these guys out there that are racing against us that have been trying to do this for so long.
"But there's nobody that deserves it more than any of these sitting up here with me. I'm just glad I got to be the guy sitting behind the wheel for these guys to get this win.
"If I tried to put this into words, I wouldn't be doing it any justice, that's for sure.''