After four hours of seriously intense racing the Daytona 500 was won by Trevor Bayne – a rookie who turned 20 the day before the race. The biggest question wasn’t how he’d done it, the question on the fans’ lips was who the hell is this Trevor kid? He had just snatched the biggest trophy in stock cars from under the noses of Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards – all drivers of some repute that are yet to tame all 500 miles.
The Wood Brothers, the oldest team in Nascar, ran the youngest driver in the field to the biggest moment of his life so far; quite a story. Jeff Gordon’s record of winning the Daytona 500 age 25 has been smashed and it wasn’t the only record to tumble at the beach today. A 17 car crash in the early going was just one of the record 16 cautions while 74 lead changes topped the previous best that was set way back in the 1970s.
The race started smoothly with two-car tandems quickly forming through the first 12 places while the rest raced as a pack. On lap three Daytona fell silent, except for the howl of 43 race cars of course, in tribute to the tenth anniversary of the loss of Dale Earnhardt. I proudly held aloft three fingers at home, shivers going down my spine as the 150,000 strong crowd did the same.
Plenty of bravery, nerve and speed were on show as the two-car tandems that have defined Speed Weeks led to nothing but bumper-to-bumper racing. The downside was that constant contact between cars allowed for very little flair to shine through as any hustling was often brutally punished, although Robby Gordon and Kyle Busch both dealt deftly with some serious cases of the oversteer blues. Still, it was fascinating hearing the drivers chatting to their rivals over the radio as they raced, the spotters on top of the stands who help the drivers avoid trouble were making deals from lap one right until the final restart.
In his early career Trevor Bayne ran the number 24 in deference to his hero Jeff Gordon, with whom Bayne teamed up with on Thursday in the Duels and in the early laps of the 500 before Gordon was caught up in the Big One, along with fellow Hendricks big boys Johnson and Martin, although the latter bounced back to contend for the win. During the course of his impeccable race there were plenty of elder statesmen who recognised Trevor Bayne’s potential and sought to lock fenders with him, in the end the youngster was pushed at the front on the final restart by old-timer Bobby Labonte – 26 years Bayne’s senior.
The race concluded with two green-white-chequers and it was the first of these that caught out Bayne’s drafting buddy David Ragan who was black-flagged for making his move across the track to team up with the 21 car before reaching the green flag. This left Bayne leading when a crash that took out fan-favourite Dale Earnhardt Jnr provided one more restart to contend with. Edwards and Gilliland pushed Bayne hard on these final, frantic laps and relegated Labonte to fourth, while Montoya and the Busch brothers were shuffled out at the last moment in a thrilling finish. All week we’d seen the leader passed on the final turn of the race but Bayne in his near-pristine motor held off the battered and bruised veterans that swarmed on his bumper.
After the race he was congratulated on the radio and replied by saying, “You’re kidding me? Am I dreaming right now?”
This new style of Daytona racing had drivers making friends with each other on the airwaves as they sought a buddy to draft with. Now everybody will want Trevor Bayne to be their best pal, although without a full-time ride for this new hero they may not get too many chances to dance with him.