Others hope to join Bayne in racing history as Daytona 500 winner
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The most famous trophy in stock car racing sits on a dresser in Knoxville, Tenn., right next to some smaller go-kart trophies. It still has graffiti on it, along with sticky Gatorade residue.
Trevor Bayne still lives with his parents. His childhood bedroom is a testament to a young career that started small and struck a surprising, make that stunning, pinnacle a year ago when he won the Daytona 500.
Other trophies and blue ribbons identify race wins. The Daytona 500 trophy makes a career. As Benny Parsons once said, “You are a Daytona 500 champion forever.”
Bayne has another fast car for today’s race (1 p.m., Fox). So do a lot of other drivers. Like so many other Daytona 500s, the winner probably will be the driver who picks the best racing line, the best drafting partner and avoids all the carnage short of the finish line.
A year ago it was Bayne who was at the right place at the right time at the Daytona International Speedway. There are 42 drivers in today’s who hope it’s their turn to be up front when it counts most at the end of the biggest race of the season – many with far greater credentials than Bayne but no victories in the Daytona 500.
Like front row starters Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Or defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya or Danica Patrick.
“There’s no way to predict it,” Kyle Busch said.
“There are so many circumstances out of the driver’s control,” Jimmie Johnson said.
Edwards won the pole a week ago with a fast lap of 194.738 mph in pole qualifying. Biffle ran 194.087.
The rest of the starting lineup was based off the results from two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday. Stewart will start third, followed by Matt Kenseth in fourth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth, Regan Smith in sixth, Marcos Ambrose in seventh, Johnson in eighth, Burton in ninth and Elliott Sadler in 10th.
Bayne will be 40th.
Bayne had a fast car a year ago, but he making his second career Sprint Cup start. It was easy to discount his chances then; now it’s impossible for him to sneak up on anyone.
“We’re not exactly flying under the radar,” Bayne said. “We wouldn’t come back if we didn’t think we could win. There’s a little bit more pressure on us this year.”
Although he’s only 21, he can never top his win of a year ago when he unexpectedly inherited the lead when David Ragan was black-flagged for jumping a restart. From there he stayed in front of Carl Edwards for one of the most-improbable celebrations in NASCAR history.
It was his only top-10 finish of the year.
The return of pack racing – cars running two- and three-wide, five deep – makes today’s race a bigger crapshoot. Two-car tandems should be prominent in the final five laps, which only intensifies the chances of a multi-car accident.
But unlike other races, the reward is far greater than the risk. That’s why drivers should be willing to whatever it takes for the chance to win.
“I’m willing to be upside-down and on fire to win this race,” Stewart once said.
And from Biffle: “I’m either going to get pushed (across the line) or get wrecked, one of the two.”
The last two Daytona 500s each have ended with two green-white-checkered restarts. Everyone expects the same – even more – today.
Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race had three green-white-checkered attempts in overtime and a surprising winner in John King. There were three vicious crashes in the final 17 laps of Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, including an 10-car pileup coming off the fourth turn on the final lap that opened the door for another assuming winner, James Buescher, who went from 11th to Victory Lane in the crash.
“If I knew what was coming I would certainly plan for it and try to figure out how to make sure that I was the once that made it to the start/finish line first,” Kyle Busch said. “Anything can happen.”
“Daytona is just a roll of the dice,” Brad Keselowski said.
Bayne forever will be proof of that.
“It’s hard to follow that up,” Bayne said. “I didn’t expect any of this. Here I was just a kid who had no idea what’s going to happen. Then I’m on the phone with vice president Joe Biden. I talked to Tim Tebow that day. I met Pamela Anderson, Ellen DeGeneris and George Lopez all in the same day, and I’m like, ‘What just happened?’ I don’t know if that will ever get old.”