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This ‘500’ was like no other

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

The formula for winning the Daytona 500 was rewritten on Sunday when Trevor Bayne crossed the finish line one day after celebrating his 20th birthday. No longer do you have to enter the 500 with experience in how to draft, or for that matter just have experience in a Sprint Cup car.

This Daytona 500 was unlike any other that has gone in the record book. Yes, there was still the use of the restrictor plates, but the newly repaved racing surface broke up the large packs of cars into two-car tandems. The lead car became known as the ‘puller’ and the second car during the week became known as the ‘pusher.’

Maybe it was the best time for a 20-year-old to run his first-ever restrictor plate race at Daytona as the entire field spent the bulk of Speedweeks trying to learn how to drive in the two-car tandems. By the time his Gatorade Duel was over on Thursday, Bayne was comfortable either playing the role of the ‘pusher’ or ‘puller.’

It didn’t hurt either that his owner, the Wood Brothers, had given him a highly competitive car the entire time he was in Daytona. The Wood Brothers and Daytona are no strangers to each other, as the organization has five wins in the 500 with the most recent being in 1976 with NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee David Pearson behind the wheel. It might have been a sign of what was going to happen as the Wood Brothers chose to paint the car the same paint scheme that Pearson used in his Daytona win.

Maybe the only thing that the young Bayne didn’t have going for him on Sunday was the location of victory lane. While his team owners and crewmen had no problem making their way to the sport’s most hallowed piece of real estate, Bayne could be seen driving around actually trying to find his way to meet his team and receive the most sought-after trophy in all of Sprint Cup Racing.

Bayne’s win came on a day of firsts for the sport — not only was he the youngest driver to ever win the 500, he becomes the first-ever 500 winner to not lead the point standings the following week. NASCAR’s new rule that you can only receive points in one series this season has Bayne leaving Daytona with no Sprint Cup points. He will be running for the Nationwide Series Championship so he will be getting points for that series only.

Carl Edwards, who finished second in the 500, becomes the points leader going into Phoenix next weekend, and under NASCAR’s new point system, he sits on top with 42 points. Winning the race pays 43 plus 3 bonus points for the win, and each spot below that drops by one point. Since Bayne won the race, no driver leaves with the 43 points awarded for winning. There were four other drivers in the 500 field who didn’t receive points as they were driving for the championship in either the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series.

It will take several races before we understand how hard it is for a driver to overcome a bad race with this new system. All eyes will be on Kevin Harvick, who finished 42nd which awards only two points, but he did lead at least one lap which will give him a bonus point giving him a total of three points for his Daytona effort.

Daytona Notes

• The 500 set record for leaders (22), lead changes (74), cautions (16), caution laps (60).

• This was the fifth 500 to end under a green-white-checkered finish.

• This was the second consecutive 500 that went to 208 laps (200 laps is official length).

• It was the 98th Cup victory for the Wood Brothers.

• Bayne is the second driver to win the Daytona 500 in his first start.

• Bayne is the seventh driver to get his first Sprint Cup victory in the Daytona 500.

• The first Gatorade Duel had a record-breaking 20 lead changes. The second Gatorade Duel broke that record by having 22 lead changes.

Race Preview Event: Subway Fresh Fit 500(k). Track: Phoenix International Raceway (1-mile oval, banking turns 1&2 – 11 degrees, 3&4 – 9 degrees). Date: Feb. 27, 3 p.m. TV: FOX. Radio: MRN. Defending Champion: Ryan Newman. him in the right place at the right time. That’s why he’s the Daytona 500 champion today.”

More than Bayne’s racing accomplishments, Day is proud of the young man he has become.

“More important than a race car driver, he’s a good person,” Day said. “Hopefully, he still uses something from our first year working together. That was my job, what they hired me to do. But, I know what sacrifices were made by him and his family, the type of young man he is. He deserves everything he’s gotten.”

Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City (Tenn.) Press,.

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