Trevor Bayne Becomes Youngest Winner in Daytona 500 History
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For all the talk of a new track surface, a different style of racing and promises of the "wildest" Daytona 500 ever, Sunday's much-anticipated NASCAR season-opener still ended up like so many of those that have preceded it -- decided in the final laps.
Making his first-ever Daytona 500 start, 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne held off Carl Edwards, David Gilliland and Bobby Labonte to earn the venerable Wood Brothers Racing team its fifth Daytona 500 victory and first since NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee David Pearson's win in 1976.
"Am I dreaming? Is this real? I don't even know where to go,'' a stunned Bayne exclaimed to his team on the radio as he crossed the finish line and drove his No. 21 Motorcraft Ford to victory circle, where he was too young to even drink the traditional celebratory champagne.
The race lived up to its billing, easily setting records for caution flags (16) and lead changes (74 among 22 drivers), but in the end it was a a great show of poise heading to the checkered flag that made Bayne the youngest winner of NASCAR's most prestigious trophy - one day after he celebrated his 20th birthday.
A five-car accident at the front of the field with four laps remaining in the 200-lap regulation period set up the first of two green-white-checkered overtime periods and all but eliminated several of the strongest cars, including Ryan Newman, Regan Smith and Clint Bowyer, who exchanged the lead in the closing 15 laps.
Robby Gordon's spin on the first restart sent cars scrambling, and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet was collected in the melee, setting up the final two-lap shootout among Bayne and the veterans.
It was a popular win for Bayne and for the Wood Brothers, who represent bookends of the sport.
This was only Bayne's second start in NASCAR's marquee Sprint Cup Series and he doesn't even have a full-time ride for the season. On the other hand, the Wood Brothers team is one of NASCAR's most legendary organizations, dating back 58 seasons in Cup racing and fielding Daytona 500 winning cars for A.J. Foyt (1972), Cale Yarborough (1968) and Tiny Lund (1963) in addition to Pearson.
NASCAR's "King" Richard Petty and champion owner Jack Roush were among a steady stream of visitors who stopped by victory circle to congratulate Bayne (above left with Carl Edwards), and brothers Glen and Leonard, along with Glen's sons, Eddie and Len, who field cars on a part-time basis in the Cup series now.
"He is a really nice young man and a great guy to represent our sport,'' runner-up Edwards said. "Hopefully corporate America will take notice and he'll be able to run the full series and I think he could be really, really good.''
A fresh $20 million pavement job on the Daytona International Speedway helped produce a new brand of Daytona 500 drafting. And while two-car "pods" typically led the way up front, the rest of the field was frequently spread out and three wide, as it had been in previous years. Cars were 10-20 mph faster when they ran in pairs and the strategy of picking the right partner was fundamentally as important as having a good set of tires.
And it didn't matter whether you were teammates or even drove the same make of car.
Of course, the options became limited very early on as some of the pre-race favorites were eliminated long before the halfway mark.On lap 29, a 14-car crash triggered by a collision between teammates Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann collected five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson and two of his other three Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin along with a pair of Roush-Fenway Racing Fords.
Engine failures ended the day early for Richard Childress Racing teammates Kevin Harvick (lap 22) and Jeff Burton (lap 94), who won one of Thursday's qualifying races and was fastest in the final three practice sessions.