When Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line in the world famous No. 21 Wood Brothers, it was vindication for Jeff Gordon in a way. Gordon would rather have been crossing the finish line in first with his newest protege Bayne in tow, but he was happy for the 20-year-old as he congratulated him in victory lane.
Gordon will celebrate his 40th birthday in six months, but he made an immediate connection with the Trevor Bayne, who at the time of the Gatorade Duel 150 on Thursday was 19 years old. Gordon asked the young driver to wait for him after driver introductions.
Bayne said later of the encounter with Gordon, "I remember thinking how cool this was that Jeff Gordon wanted to talk to me. He was my boyhood idol growing up and now he wanted to talk strategy before the race."
Bayne told the Knoxvile News Sentinel, "That's awesome for him to have that kind of faith in me to let me work with him. That takes a lot for these guys when they have 20 other guys they've been racing with their whole lives to say 'Hey, I'm going to take a chance with this kid and let him push me and see where we can get to.'"
Gordon and Bayne ended up wadded in a wreck at the end of the Gatorade Duel, but the lessons Bayne and Gordon learned in that race carried over to his NASCAR Nationwide race and the Daytona 500 Sunday.
Bayne listed Gordon among the many drivers, owners and sponsors he thanked for making it to Victory Lane, and Gordon was one of the many drivers that made their way to Trevor Bayne to shake his hand and congratulate him.
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Trevor Bayne is not the first young driver Jeff Gordon has latched onto early and helped. Jimmie Johnson was discovered by Jeff Gordon before he ever won a NASCAR Nationwide race, and he was instrumental in placing Johnson into the No. 48 Lowe's NASCAR Sprint Cup Car that Gordon co-owns with Rick Hendrick.
Gordon's day ended in a 14-car pile up started by David Reutimann and Michael Waltrip, and he was not happy with the behavior of his fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers.
Gordon told ESPN after the race, "I totally get the two-car draft. What I don't understand is why they are doing it three-wide for 28th. They need to let it thin out a little bit and be more harm-free instead of pushing and shoving up the middle and down the back straightaway. What are they doing?"