CONCORD, N.C. — The Daytona 500 is the biggest race in NASCAR, but defending race champion Trevor Bayne felt more respected after winning November’s Nationwide Series race at Texas.
“To me, the race at Texas was bigger inside our sport,” he said at the annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. “The Daytona 500 is a huge race, the race everybody wants to win. But, the people who know about our sport, knows the 500 is a big chess match. It’s so much about staying out of trouble.
“It does take a fast car and it takes an equal amount of ability, but it’s more of a mental ability to be in the right position.”
Bayne, the 20-year-old from Knoxville, set a record last February as the youngest Daytona winner ever. However, the race in Fort Worth nine months later showed how far he had come working with his crew.
“Texas is about what our sport is about,” he explained. “It’s about communication and keeping the car together, having it at the end when it needs to be there.
“When we were fourth on the restart, we had something underneath me to go to the front. Had we not had that communication, I would have gone to 10th on the restart.”
Beating three of Sprint Cup’s best to the end earned Bayne praise from his fellow drivers. They knew his No. 16 Ford was basically the same equipment as teammate Carl Edwards’ No. 60 Ford.
“If you can pick a way to win a race at one track, most drivers for their reputation in the garage would choose a fast track like Texas where you have to get up on the wheel,” he said. “The guys they would probably write down to beat in the Nationwide Series would be Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. The fashion we did it, on a green-white-checkered after starting fourth, that’s a dream scenario for a driver. When I saw the guys on the pit wall, standing up and screaming over what just happened, I knew it was a huge moment.”
Certainly, the Daytona victory is a huge moment as well, winning the race in only his second Cup Series start. It easily ranked as the biggest upset at Daytona since Derrike Cope won the 500 in 1990.
Still, it wasn’t enough for Bayne to acquire sponsorship for the 2012 season. He will continue to run a limited schedule for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in the Cup Series and be a teamate to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as driver of the No. 16 Roush Racing Ford in the Nationwide Series.
“When I won the Daytona 500, I thought I was set,” Bayne said. “Used to, once you won a Cup race, it was a lifer. It shows how tough it is now.”
Bayne, who missed five weeks last season with an illness thought to be lyme disease, was given a clean bill of health after a recent check-up, He now has a game plan in place for his return to Daytona.
“It’s going to be a lot different with the media and fan expectations,” he said. “If we didn’t win last year, nobody really cared. I think we have to go there with the same expectations as last year, willing to push, not get into trouble and stay around until the end.”