As the sun set at Daytona International Speedway Thursday evening, Trevor Bayne and one of his car owners, Eddie Wood, stood in the garage, discussing the just-completed Gatorade Duel and watching as their crew worked to repair the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion, damaged on a last-lap crash.
But instead of frets and frowns over a wrecked car, there were smiles all around. In just his second official run in a Sprint Cup car and his first at Daytona in NASCAR’s elite Sprint Cup Series, Bayne had given the No. 21 a ride reminiscent of the days when Hall of Famer David Pearson was at the wheel.
Bayne drafted all day with Jeff Gordon, who sought him out for a partner. The pair raced at the front of the pack throughout the race but wrecked coming to the checkered flag, spoiling what could have been a spectacular finish.
But as Wood pointed out, the car is repairable, and Bayne had established himself as a driver to be reckoned with – and worked with – in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“This is cool, ain’t it?” Bayne said, with a big smile on his face.
Wood agreed, saying it indeed was cool to see his family’s iconic race car back in contention for a Cup victory, even if it was in a non-points qualifying race.
“It feels really good to be a factor,” Wood said. “I hate it that we got torn up at the end, but we were a factor for the whole race, and we’ll fix this car and be ready for Sunday.”
Bayne seemed most impressed that a future Hall of Famer like Jeff Gordon would come to a rookie like him for drafting help.
“Jeff came to us and said, ‘Got a buddy?’” Bayne said. “I told him we didn’t, and he said, ‘You do now.’”
Bayne made himself much more valuable as a drafting partner by paying close attention to the first of the two Duels. He noticed that fellow Ford driver Matt Kenseth was able to maintain the pushing position for laps on end by occasionally moving to the right and thereby getting some cooling air flow to his engine.
Bayne adopted the strategy, and it worked for him too.
“You could move to the right, and the [water] temperature dropped 10 degrees in two corners,” he said.
Bayne said the only problem he had in his 150-mile qualifying race was that he and Gordon tended to be a little slow getting up to speed on restarts. And that turned out to be somewhat of a factor in the last-lap crash, which left him with a 19th-place finish after qualifying third and running as high as second place in the Duel.
“Everybody is racing like it’s the last lap of the big race, so when we got down to it we were three-wide at the end with a big run, and I think we just ran out of real estate there and [Gordon] came off the wall and got us,” Bayne said. “I hate it for all these guys because we were doing awesome, but that’s part of it.”
Wood said that while crashes are part of racing, this one was a relatively minor setback. “We’ll do some work on both sides and the nose, and we’ll be ready to go,” Wood said.
Bayne will line up 32nd for his first Daytona 500, but based on his performance on Thursday – and Jeff Gordon’s post-race comments – he won’t be there for long. “I really had a blast working with Trevor Bayne,” Gordon said. “He’s a good kid. He’s a heck of a race car driver. They’ve got a fast race car.”
Sunday’s 53rd annual Daytona 500 gets the green flag shortly after 1 p.m. with TV coverage on FOX.