During preseason media events like Daytona’s Thunder Fan Fest and NASCAR media day, several Sprint Cup drivers admitted that 20 or more NASCAR teams could pull off a win in Daytona. Indeed, that many teams have a legitimate shot at the championship.
But it seemed one of the only people publicly confident in a 2011 season for the No. 21 Ford campaigned by the Wood Brothers was driver Trevor Bayne. Almost no one outside his team, family and friends would have picked Bayne to pull off a win on the new track at Daytona International Speedway.
Only a few days have passed since his Daytona 500 big win, and Bayne’s media schedule is still a planned frenzy. This year the celebration is buoyed by a young man in his second decade of life who carried the legendary Wood Brothers, with more than six decades of racing experience, to new heights.
“Haven't had a lot of time to let it sink in yet,” Bayne said. “We've been go, go, go. As soon as I get 10 seconds to slow down and it starts to hit me, it's crazy. I never knew it would be this big. I knew the 500 was huge and it's been my dream since I was five years old. But, man, this is a really cool deal that I'm getting to experience.”
The intense weeklong Daytona 500 winner tour often surprises the race champion, especially with an additional storybook twist to fuel interest.
“This has been so well-received by everybody,” Bayne said. “We've had media outlets that have never been interested in NASCAR. I don't know if it's because it's such an underdog story, the history, the oldest team with the youngest driver. Everybody has taken to this so well. I've had so many people come up to me and say it's exactly what the sport needed."
Surely there will be quiet moments when Bayne will get to reflect on this special week in his life, but the humility he has displayed so well so far is a measure of his faith.
“God is not going to give me more than I can handle,” Bayne said. “I thought it would be because of struggles, because it would be tough. Now it's because of the success. So just have to manage the mountaintops, know there might be bad days ahead, but be excited when we do get them.”
For Bayne and others the first huge race of the year is over, and the most important race, the next one, is one the horizon.
“I'm still not full-time Cup, still going to run for the championship at Nationwide,” Bayne said. “I don't regret any of our decisions there. We're still off to a great start in both series with a win in the first.”
For Bayne and for the top four points leader, all savvy veterans, the focus shifts fast to this week’s race in Phoenix.
Trevor Bayne [No. 21 Ford]
“We have to manage our expectations and know we can't do this every week. It's only our first year, our third race coming up at Phoenix."
Carl Edwards [No. 99 Ford]
“I’m looking forward to going back to Phoenix after our win there last November. I’ve always loved racing there and I will be out there laying in front of the excavating equipment trying to get them to leave it after the race. I really like that surface a lot. I don’t think you can mess that track up though, it’s the right size, the sun beats down and it gets slippery. It will be neat after the new pavement as well.”
David Gilliland [No. 38 Ford]
"I'm so proud of our team. There was never any doubt that we could get our Taco Bell Ford Fusion to the front. And now we're bringing a really fast car to Phoenix, too. I can't wait to get there and keep this momentum going.”
Bobby Labonte [No. 47 Toyota]
“We came home with a top five finish and all the guys did a great job from start to finish,” Labonte added. “At the same time, I’m disappointed we didn’t win and it’s going to bother me for a little bit.
“It’s neat to have Clorox brand on board at Phoenix.”
Kurt Busch [No. 22 Dodge]
“We’ve had a lot of success and fun at Daytona this time around, but like I told them, ‘the real season starts right now.’ It’s kind of like a football team starting off with two wins and a tie going into a new season. We’ve tasted success, but there could have been even more. The important thing is that we didn’t leave Daytona in a hole like we have several times before.”
Some of the leaders coming out of Daytona and going into Phoenix may maintain momentum while others will fade. Racing always has ups and downs.
The first chapter in Bayne’s new status will close with the green flags at Phoenix, but many agree this storybook beginning could easily contain the elements of an epic.
FYI WIRZ is the swift presentation of pertinent motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com