Maybe everything is bigger in Texas.
That was certainly the case with the racing news this past weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, where Trevor Bayne’s first victory since the Daytona 500 was overshadowed by three other stories.
Most of the headlines came from NASCAR’s decision to make Kyle Busch sit out the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races after his intentional wreck of Ron Hornaday Jr. in Friday’s Truck Series event.
Texas was also the venue where Danica Patrick announced her 2012 schedule on Friday afternoon, and where points leaders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished 1-2 in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. With two races to go, it’s a terrific championship battle between Edwards, who has the most top-five finishes this season, and Stewart, who has four wins in eight Chase races.
However, Bayne finally getting back to victory lane shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle. In one respect, his Nationwide Series win on Saturday was every bit as important as the Daytona upset in February.
Although the Daytona 500 is easily NASCAR’s biggest race, the restrictor-plate tracks have always produced upset winners. Names like Greg Sacks, Derrike Cope, Bobby Hillin and Ron Bouchard have been among the past winners at Daytona and Talladega.
Compare that list to Texas, where Bayne’s fellow Tennesseean, Jeff Purvis, is the only Nationwide winner at the 1.5-mile oval not to have multiple Cup Series victories.
“This is one of the toughest tracks to drive, and that’s why I’ve always wanted to get a win at a place like this,” said Bayne. “Daytona is great, but that’s restrictor-plate racing. I hate to say it, but a lot of people could be in victory lane there. But to win at a mile-and-a-half, that has been one of my dreams, and Texas is by far one of the toughest places to drive, so I’m really excited about this victory.”
It had the added element of Bayne outdueling a pair of Cup Series heavyweights, Edwards and Denny Hamlin, to score the win. Bayne used a strong move on the restart to pass Edwards and then held off Hamlin over the remaining laps.
Driving the No. 16 Mustang, Bayne’s win gave Ford its first manufacturer championship in the Nationwide Series since 2002.
With Knoxville as his hometown, Bayne became the third driver from East Tennessee to win a race in the Nationwide Series.
The others were L.D. Ottinger of Newport, who won the 1990 Bristol race in which Michael Waltrip’s car was destroyed, and Brad Teague of Johnson City, who held off Dale Jarrett in to win at Martinsville in 1987.
Prior to the Nationwide Series becoming a national touring series in 1982, several drivers from East Tennessee enjoyed success in the Late Model Sportsman ranks.
Notable feats included: Ottinger winning back-to-back national championships in 1975-76, Gene Glover of Kingsport winning the national title in 1979, and Teague finishing runner-up to Tommy Ellis in the 1981 national standings.
Other local drivers including Hank Maxwell of Newport, Paul Lewis of Johnson City and John A. Utsman of Bluff City scored major Sportsman wins.
Those victories took place decades ago. While it had only been nine months since Bayne last visited victory lane, it seemed like forever for the 20-year-old who missed five Nationwide Series races earlier this season with an illness.
“This is just as surreal as the 500,” Bayne said. “That’s hard to say, but this has been so long. We’ve worked so hard to get our first Nationwide win and I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to happen. I was thinking maybe the next Cup win would come first, but these guys worked their tails off to get us here and God pulled us through.”
It’s a possibility Bayne could win in the Cup Series again before the Nationwide Series as he will run a minimum of a dozen races in the Wood Brothers No. 21 next season. On the other hand, there hasn’t been an announcement about the No. 16 Ford in the Nationwide Series.
Still, Bayne proved he is more than a one-hit wonder by beating Roush’s top driver in similar equipment for the victory.
“The fashion we were able to win that race, going up and racing against one of the best in motorsports in Carl Edwards, to pass him for the win and get Ford the manufacturer championship is great,” Bayne said. “We were ready to get our first win.”
n Another East Tennessee driver, Allen Johnson of Greeneville, looks to end the NHRA season on a high note this weekend at Pomona.
Johnson enters the NHRA Finals fifth in Pro Stock points following final-round appearances in each of the previous two races. He scored the 250th round win of his career in the previous event at Las Vegas. Sporting a 26-20 record in round wins, Johnson is assured of a winning record for a fifth straight year.
Still, there is a major goal which the nine-time national event winner would love to reach.
“Our goal all season has been to get in the top three in points,” said Johnson, whose previous best points finish is fourth. “We have to have a really good race at Pomona to do it. We have some momentum right now and we have to keep that up and hopefully get to that final round.”
Johnson, who has reached the semifinals twice in his career at Pomona, was the No. 3 qualifier at the track in the spring. He has been among the top-five in qualifying in each of his past five starts at the venue including No. 1 last fall.
Johsnon has been one of the most consistent drivers this season with one win (the NHRA Supernationals in New Jersey) and four final-round appearances. He feels the kinks are nearly worked out on a new Dodge Avenger race car which debuted after the first race of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
“We’re very close to where we want the new car to be,”
Johnson said. “We are working hard at it and I think we are close to being at the top of the charts. We seem to keep getting better each run we make with the new car.”
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.