DAYTONA BEACH, FL (Sports Network) – This year’s Daytona 500 had everything you could ask for in NASCAR’s biggest event of the season. Sunday’s race featured a record 74 lead changes, 22 different leaders and 16 cautions before a rookie driver surprisingly drove into victory lane at Daytona International Speedway.
One day after turning 20 years old, Trevor Bayne got the birthday present of a lifetime by winning the Daytona 500. Bayne became the youngest winner in the 53-year history of the race. Jeff Gordon held the record when he won the 1997 Daytona 500 at the age of 25.
Bayne’s first Sprint Cup Series victory came in just his second start.
After taking the checkered flag in the race, which took 208 laps to complete, Bayne had to ask his No.21 Wood Brothers Racing team over the radio for directions to victory lane.
“I don’t know where to even go,” he told his team.
Bayne inherited the lead for the first time when NASCAR penalized David Ragan for changing his lane position just before the restart in the first of two green-white-checkered attempts. Ragan held the top spot in the closing laps when a multi-car wreck involving Kurt Busch, Regan Smith, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin occurred on the backstretch, setting up the initial two-lap overtime finish.
Another accident on the backstretch, with this one involving race favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., set up the second two-lap sprint to the finish. Carl Edwards, David Gilliland and Bobby Labonte made a last-lap effort to pass Bayne, but Bayne remained in front of them to cross the finish line first.
“Our first Daytona 500, are you kidding me,” a jubilant Bayne said. “To win our first one in our second Cup race, this is just incredible. I can’t thank the [drivers] that worked with me all day. There were 10 or 15 different drivers that pushed me. Carl helped me there to get across the line. I don’t know what happened with David there at that one point. Wow, this is unbelievable.”
Bayne led just the final six laps in the 208-lap race.
He delivered the Wood Brothers its fifth Daytona 500 victory. Soon-to-be Hall of Fame Inductee David Pearson gave the storied racing team its last win in this race in 1976. Bayne also provided Ford its 600th win in NASCAR’s top division.
“How cool is it to see the Wood Brothers back in victory lane,” he said.
Wood Brothers Racing, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2010, has now won a Cup in each of the last seven decades. The team’s last victory came with driver Elliott Sadler in March 2001 at Bristol, TN.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said. “We struggled so much in the past couple years just to make the Daytona 500, much less win it.”
Bayne is a Nationwide Series regular, but has yet to win a race in NASCAR’s second-tier series. Despite collecting $1,462,563, he did not receive any points for his Daytona 500 win. Bayne chose to earn championship points in Nationwide at the start of the season. NASCAR has instituted a new rule which prohibits drivers to compete for a championship in more than one of its three national touring series.
Therefore, second-place finisher Edwards leads in Sprint Cup points with 42 after the first race of the season. Gilliland and Labonte picked up 41 points apiece.
“There at the end it all worked out almost perfectly,” said Edwards, who won the final two races last season. “Trevor did a good job of blocking the bottom. Then his car was a rocket. He took off to the finish line. I didn’t have a chance to be able to mount up a real charge on him.”
During the off-season, NASCAR revised its championship points system for all three of its series, making it a simpler system.
Gilliland finished third, while Labonte took the fourth spot. Labonte, the 2000 series champion, earned one bonus point for leading a lap. Gilliland’s career best finish in Cup is second, which came in June 2008 at Infineon Raceway (Sonoma, CA).
“I finished second at Infineon, but I think this tops that,” Gilliland said.
Busch, who won the pre-season Budweiser Shootout and the first Daytona 500 qualifying race, completed the top-five.
Juan Pablo Montoya, Smith, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin finished sixth through 10th, respectively.
Ragan, attempting to win his first Cup race, ended up 14th.
Earnhardt Jr. wound up finishing 24th. He was credited with the pole position, but had to start the race from the rear of the field in a backup car.
“I want to congratulate the whole Wood Brothers team,” said Earnhardt Jr., the 2004 Daytona 500 winner. “They did an awesome job and had a good car all weekend, and that boy [Bayne] drove his heart out.”
The start of the Daytona 500 was marked with a tribute to Dale Jr.’s late- father, Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in an accident on the last lap of this race ten years ago.
During the moment of silence for Earnhardt on the third lap, fans in attendance stood up and raised three fingers in the air, honoring the seven- time champion who drove the famed No.3 car for most of his illustrious Cup career.
Announcers from FOX television’s coverage of the 500-mile race were silent during the lap, which was led by Kurt Busch.
Shortly after on the 29th lap, the big one occurred when Michael Waltrip got into the back of his teammate, David Reutimann, triggering a 14-car wreck between turns three and four.
“It’s just a product of this kind of racing; it wasn’t [Waltrip's] fault,” Reutimann said.
Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, and Jimmie Johnson, the five-time defending Cup champion, were among those caught up in the accident. Both drivers returned to the track later on, with Johnson finishing 27th and Gordon right behind in 28th.
“It is such a bummer,” Gordon said. We had such a fast race car…You have to take what you can from this.”
Richard Childress Racing had a disappointing race, with teammates Kevin Harvick, the 2007 winner, and Jeff Burton knocked out early due to engine failure. Harvick’s blown engine occurred on lap 22, while Burton’s mishap happened on lap 94.
“I just blew the water out of the bottom of the thing,” said Harvick, who finished 42nd. “I hadn’t done anything different. I had a little bit more oil temperature but nothing out of the ordinary.”
Burton, who won last Thursday’s second-qualifier, finished 36th.
“We are asking a lot out of the engines here for sure; these are tough situations,” Burton said.
The record 74 lead changes topped the previous mark of 60, set in 1974.