More than a week before NASCAR’s “Great American Race” at Daytona International Speedway, young Trevor Bayne was confident about competing in the Daytona 500.
“When you set your expectations and you finally get there, it doesn’t come as a surprise,” Bayne said. “Since I was five years old I wanted to be here at this point, so now that we’re here, this is where I wanted to be.
“We belong here and I think we’re going to try to make that statement that we’re not just here to run a race, we’re here to stay.”
Days before Bayne was to leave his teen years behind and turn 20 he qualified third fastest for the Daytona 500.
“I think this will show everybody that we've got an awesome race car and they can work with us,” Bayne said.
The new track surface at DIS produced record speeds and tandem tactics not seen before at the hallowed super speedway. Veteran drivers knew the many bumps in previous races and used that knowledge to maneuver, but the new glass-smooth surface eliminated that edge and gave all drivers, including rookies, a new speedy learning curve.
Expanding high-speed grooves increases crash expectations and Sunday’s Daytona 500 did not disappoint as many cars got collected in multi-crash incidents. The 500-mile race was especially exciting owing to frequent lead changes.
As always the trick to winning races is to keep the fenders on and be there at the end.
An exuberant Bayne crossed the finish line with Carl Edwards, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch close behind. Bayne was characteristically humble.
“If I tried to put it into words, I wouldn't be doing it any justice,” Bayne said. “Glen and Leonard laid the foundation. They gave me a rocket ship that definitely did me a lot of justice today. Anybody I hooked up with, I mean, it was headed to the front.”
Crew chief Donnie Wingo got his first Daytona 500 win with Bayne.
“I have been fortunate to work with a lot of good rookies over the years, a lot of young drivers,” Wingo said. “The one thing I noticed in him that stands out above some of the other ones is his knack for racing."
“A lot of these young guys can go fast, but when they get in the race, they don't know which way to go. I think it's the way he races around the other guys, the respect he gets from the other guys. Like he said, being able to draft with Jeff and a lot of the veterans, I think that instills a lot of faith in him and what makes him stand above some of the other guys.”
Bayne continued to be thankful.
“To get this win, it's my first win in NASCAR, period, in any of the top three series, my first Sprint Cup win, our second ever race, I mean, that's setting the standard,” Bayne said. “I never thought I'd be the guy to give somebody their first Daytona 500 win. I can't thank these guys enough. It's incredible.”
Carl Edwards was quick to share his assessment of the younger Bayne.
“He's a guy that has a ton of enthusiasm,” Edwards said. “He'll walk right up to you, stick his hand out, just seems like a really good guy.
“I mean, when you're competing against people, you don't always have that kind of feeling about them, that you really like being around them. Hey, maybe now if he keeps winning races, maybe we won't get along so well. But he just seems like a great guy.”
David Gilliland echoed Edwards.
“He definitely has everybody's respect out there,” Gilliland. “That's what it takes. He's such a great guy, upbeat guy always, I'm glad he won today. Wish we could have, obviously. But if we couldn't, it's good for him."
Bobby Labonte explained his emotions and the intensity of the racing.
“People may criticize me for not laughing or smiling enough, but I am disappointed we didn’t win this Daytona 500,” Labonte said. “That’s going to bother me probably for a little bit. I’m proud of the team because they did a great job today. We battled back from a near spin over there and we got a top-five out of it. Today was such a wild day. It was just a little bit too wild at times so to survive here today, I think it was a big thing.”
Kurt Busch had mixed feelings about his good finish.
“I was in perfect position to win the race, running third and just made a mistake,” Busch said. “It’s tough. We came all this way and came up a little shy. All in all, it was a great points day for us. Now we can move on to Phoenix and get the season started. I’m real happy with this fifth-place finish.
"To make a mistake on the last lap, I’m going to be the one that has the sour feeling in my stomach.”
Bayne summed up his post-race comments with more upbeat words.
“All the 500 winners, to be added to that list, period, is crazy, especially at our first attempt,” Bayne said. “That's just insane. It sets the bar for this team. We don't expect to win them all, but we know we can now.”
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com