This year’s 53rd Daytona 500 was a messy, crashed-filled race with a record number of 16 yellow flags. As a result it was the second slowest 500 we’ve seen, but there was also a record 74 lead changes and, more importantly, an excellent win by a 20-year-old rookie driver and one of NASCAR’s oldest, most celebrated teams.
Trevor Bayne, making only his second Sprint Cup start aboard the Wood Brothers Ford, drove a flawless race to score the team’s first win in 10 years. In fact it was the Wood Brothers’ first victory at Daytona since David Pearson won the 500 back in 1976. Bayne therefore becomes NASCAR’s second youngest winner behind Joey Logano, who won his first race in 2009 when he was just 19.
Bayne led a Ford 1-2-3 with Carl Edwards and David Gilliland finishing second and third. It was also Ford’s 600th win in NASCAR’s first-division Sprint Cup series.
“I keep thinking I’m dreaming,” said a grinning Bayne in Victory Lane. “I’m so thankful for the job these guys did on this car. To win our first one in our second ever Cup race is just incredible. There must have been 15 different drivers who helped me today, and Carl [Edwards] helped us across the line. Wow, this is unbelievable!”
Many of NASCAR’s favourites were delayed or eliminated in a series of accidents. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson and team-mate Jeff Gordon’s cars were damaged in an early multi-car crash, while Dale Earnhardt Jr was knocked out in another pile-up at the end of the race. Earnhardt had to start the 500 from the back of the grid after crashing his pole-winning car in practice. NASCAR’s most popular driver enjoyed a strong race, coming through to lead a handful of laps and bringing the cheering crowd to its feet.
Another young star, David Ragan, was leading near the end with Bayne fastened to his bumper. But Ragan made a mistake on one of the final restarts, moving from the high lane to the bottom of the track as he took the green flag and earning himself a black flag, because NASCAR requires drivers to maintain lane position on restarts.
You can criticise NASCAR on many fronts, restrictor plate racing in particular. But Trevor Bayne’s win at Daytona for the Wood Bros emphasised the vitality and strength of America’s most successful form of motor racing.