Nascar’s past and future united to produce the youngest Daytona 500 champion for the oldest team.
Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line yesterday at stock-car racing’s marquee event in first place a day after his 20th birthday. The win was the fifth in the Great American Race for Wood Brothers Racing, which is in its 61st year of competition.
“How cool is it to see the Wood Brothers back in Victory Lane?” Bayne said in a televised interview. “It’s incredible.”
It was Bayne’s second Sprint Cup series race for the team, which claimed its first Daytona 500 title since David Pearson won it in 1976. Bayne’s drive to victory in the No. 21 Ford also ended a 10-year Sprint Cup winless streak for the team.
Wood Brothers Racing, which has always raced Ford cars, was begun by former driver Glen Wood in 1950. The team won in its superspeedway debut, at Charlotte, North Carolina, on Oct. 16, 1960, and logged its second win at Daytona three years later, according to the team’s website.
Yesterday, Bayne held off Carl Edwards and David Gilliland, who finished second and third, over the final two laps to finish the 208-lap race in 4 hours, 2 minutes, 59 seconds. He’s the only driver to win the Daytona 500 on the first attempt since Lee Petty at the inaugural edition in 1959.
The previous youngest winner was Jeff Gordon, who was 25 when he triumphed in 1997.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death on the final lap of the race, crashed out six laps from the end. Earnhardt Jr., who won the race in 2004, had to start from the back of the grid after taking the pole position a week ago because he wrecked his race car during practice this week.
Racegoers at the Daytona Beach, Florida, track commemorated the Feb. 18, 2001, death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. by standing in silence while raising three fingers during the third lap of the race. Earnhardt, who raced the No. 3 car, died from head injuries following the final-lap crash.
Known as “The Intimidator,” Earnhardt Sr.’s 1998 win at Daytona was one of 76 in his career. His seven championships are tied for the all-time record with Richard Petty.
In addition to Bayne’s records, the 53rd Daytona 500 set new marks for the most cautions and lead changes, at 16 and 74 respectively.
The 2.5-mile (4 km) track was repaved for the first time since 1979. That created the spectacle of pairs of cars hurtling around nose to tail at speeds approaching 200 mph (322 kph) in a tactic known as bump drafting. Last year, the race was twice stopped for a total of almost 2 1/2 hours to repair a pothole.
Such drafting maneuvers -- which increase the risk of engines overheating in the trailing car because of restricted air intake -- led to a series of crashes.
Kurt Busch headed the 43 cars going into the tribute to Earnhardt Jr. and a lap later his younger brother Kyle Busch spun off after being pushed from behind by Michael Waltrip. Busch called Waltrip’s maneuver “stupidly insane” on his in- car radio before rejoining the race.
On lap 30, David Reutimann’s Toyota spun while being pushed from behind, also by Waltrip. That caused a 15-car collision that forced Jimmie Johnson, who’s seeking a sixth straight Sprint Cup title, back to his garage for repairs to his Chevrolet. The melee left Johnson 20 laps behind the leaders, while Waltrip failed to rejoin the race.
Matt Kenseth slammed into an outside wall and out of the race with 66 laps remaining in another drafting incident, and seven laps later Greg Biffle’s Ford clipped Juan Pablo Montoya’s Chevrolet to bring up the 11th caution.
The record-setting 12th appearance for the safety car began with 42 laps to go after Travis Kvapil’s Ford struck a wall. Racing stopped after another drafting error with four laps to go, as Kurt Busch slammed into the back of Regan Smith’s car, sending it spiraling into the outside wall and taking three other cars with him.
When racing resumed on lap 202, Earnhardt Jr. spun into the wall after Ryan Newman swerved into Martin Truex Jr. before striking the same barrier.
After the safety car left the track for the final time, Bayne weaved to stay ahead of Edwards, Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, who was fourth, and Kurt Busch, who finished fifth.
“I thought that maybe Gilliland and I had enough steam that we could go to the outside of Trevor and get him, but I didn’t,” Edwards said in a televised interview. “Trevor’s car was fast. That’s a wild Daytona 500.”
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