When you have only made one career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, you are not supposed to even contend for the Daytona 500.
However, Trevor Bayne, from Knoxville, Tennessee, did the unthinkable and beat NASCAR’s best in its best event. Not only that, he did it in the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford, which had a retro-paint scheme, honoring 1976 Daytona 500 winner David Pearson.
Bayne matched Jamie McMurray’s mark with the fewest starts (2) before winning his first race. He became the youngest driver, 20, to win the Daytona 500, beating Jeff Gordon’s record of 25 years old. On top of all that, he became only the second driver to win the Daytona 500 in his first event. Lee Petty is the other driver, although this stat is debatable as that was the first Daytona 500.
A non-favorite winning the Daytona 500 brings new life to a sport that was struggling with attendance and television ratings. Bayne was not known by anyone, except NASCAR enthusiasts, before Sunday afternoon.
However, should we really be that surprised that this kid became a superstar overnight?
Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner talked with Bayne and decided to work with him in Thursday’s Gatorade Duels. From that point, everyone learned that Bayne was a great pusher in this new two-car draft.
Bayne elected to fix the car that received damage in that same Gatorade Duel, knowing it provided him the best chance to win. It also meant he could keep his starting spot.
Jack Roush is completely behind this kid. When he was released from then-Diamond-Waltrip Racing near the end of 2010, Roush let no time pass before putting him in one of his Nationwide Series cars, even without a sponsor. More amazing, Roush plans on running Bayne full-time in the Nationwide Series in 2011, despite having no full-time sponsor for the car.
Now Bayne, Roush, and the Wood Brothers are faced with a dilemma. Is this kid the real deal? Is it worth moving him up to full-time in the Sprint Cup Series after one win? Will this result in the return of Ford as a front-runner?
First of all, Bayne is the real deal. He has always run well in the Nationwide Series, and seemingly was always one-step away from getting that first win in NASCAR’s second-tier series. His first Sprint Cup race was a 17th place-finish at Texas Motor Speedway. This guy knows how to drive a race car.
No, Bayne should not be moved up to full-time in the Sprint Cup Series. Several drivers who have had instant success being moved to the Sprint Cup Series has not been good for long-term development (See Reed Sorenson, Jamie McMurray [he got that first win, but it was about 8 years before he got another]). Bayne is scheduled to drive about 17 races this season in the Sprint Cup Series, while running a full Nationwide Series. He has declared to receive Nationwide points. While he can still change, he would not receive the 47 points he got on Sunday.
The final question, it is too early to call for if Ford has returned to prominence. One race is difficult to make a judgment. However, the new FR9 engine that Ford will run full-time in all of its cars will make a difference this season.
Trevor Bayne will not be a Derrike Cope repeat. Bayne will be a star, but let him continue to gain the experience that he still needs before rushing him to stardom. This way, he can live up to the new standard he has established for himself.