NASCAR ushered in the start of a new season of Sprint Cup Series racing in a caution-filled Daytona 500 on Sunday, won by young, up-and-comer Trevor Bayne, edging out Carl Edwards of Columbia, Mo., by .118 seconds in a final-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
Bayne, who just celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday, is the youngest driver to win what has long been called the Great American Race, NASCAR’s signature event of the year. The young racing sensation drives for the iconic Wood Brothers race team, a team you don’t hear much about in recent times but once provided seats for such stock car-racing legends as Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison and David Pearson.
The 20-year-old newcomer, racing in just his second Sprint Cup Series event, earned $1.46 million for the Daytona win. He did not, however, earn any Sprint Cup driver or team points because he previously had declared his intent to compete fulltime in the Nationwide Series. Bayne is driving a partial Sprint cup schedule for the Wood Brothers. He became the second-youngest race winner in Sprint Cup history. Joey Logano of Joe Gibbs Racing, who recorded his first Sprint Cup win in 2009 at 19 years, 35 days, is the youngest.
The season-opening race in the NASCAR 2011 schedule went eight laps longer than the scheduled 200 laps over the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway circuit because of late collisions that brought out late cautions and resulted in two green-white-checkered-flag overtime finishes.
The race featured a record number of stoppages from crashes and other car mishaps. In all, there were 16 caution flags and 60 laps under caution. The 16 cautions set a record at Daytona, and the 60 caution laps tied a track record. There also were 74 lead changes and 22 race leaders, also a track record.
Edwards started out Sunday’s race in 22nd position and spent most of the afternoon in the middle of the pack in the 43-car field. Helped along by a drafting push from David Gilliland’s No. 34 car, Edwards, in the No. 99 Aflac Chevrolet owned by Roush-Fenway Racing, found himself in a position in the final two laps of the race to capture his first Daytona win.
“All day we wanted and waited, tried not to tear up the race car,” said the 31-year-old Edwards, a native of Columbia, Mo. “There at the end it all worked out almost perfectly. I thought maybe Gilliland and I had enough steam to get to the outside and get him, but Trevor’s car was fast.”
Edwards was hoping to carryover the momentum from last season, when he snapped a winless string of 70 races by winning the final two Chase for the Cup runs at Phoenix and Homestead (Fla.). While it was not to be on this sunny, cloudless day at Daytona, Edwards’ second-place finish did earn him 42 points and the lead in the drivers’ standings after the season’s initial race. This certainly healed some but not all of the hurt from finishing in the runner-up position.
“Second place in the Daytona 500 feels way worse than any other position I’ve ever finished in the Daytona 500,” Edwards said in his post-race interview session. “But that is made better by listening to Trevor and how excited he is.”
Rounding out the top five in this year’s Daytona 500 behind Bayne and Edwards were Gilliland, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch. Three of the top five finishers were drivers from what would be considered low-budget teams, which is a bit unique for a race of this magnitude. In addition to Bayne from Wood Brothers, third-place Gilliland drives for Front Row Motorsports and Labonte is with JTG/Daugherty Racing.
A two-car-drafting style of racing was prevalent all afternoon, taking advantage of the newly-paved surface at historic Daytona Speedway. This also made for extremely tight racing conditions, sometimes bunched up three and four deep and three-wide across the width of the racetrack. The biggest problem occurred 30 laps into the race in a multicar crash involving 14 race cars and some of the biggest names in the sport, including five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, all of Hendrick Motorsports; also Greg Biffle and Michael Waltrip.
The Kansas City-area’s other NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, Clint Bowyer, finished well back on Sunday in 17th place, despite starting out on the third row in sixth position. Driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., was one of the drivers involved in the 72 lead changes on the day. Bowyer was in the lead 11 times for a total of 31 laps before dropping back in the pack.
Bowyer had a much better day on Saturday, coming in second to Tony Stewart in the Nationwide Series race. Edwards finished 29th in that same race, finishing only 107 of the 120 total laps.
Jamie McMurray, from Joplin, Mo., ended the day right behind Bowyer in the No. 1 Chevrolet he drives for Earnhart-Ganassi.
So with NASCAR’s biggest race of the year behind them, the field now heads for Phoenix and next weekend’s Subway Fresh-Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
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