After a week filled with media appearances, Trevor Bayne and the crew of the Wood Brothers No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion are headed to Phoenix International Raceway this week for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
It’s the Woods first trip to a track less than a mile-and-a-half since the team went to a partial schedule in 2009. Bayne has just three appearances there overall, all coming in the Nationwide Series. His best Phoenix run to date was last year, when he qualified ninth and finished 14th in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford. The Woods best Phoenix finish came in 1995, when Morgan Shepherd finished seventh.
But for Bayne and the Woods, and for sports fans everywhere, the past week has been spent savoring the stunning victory in the Daytona 500.
“It’s the most important thing that has happened in my life as far as racing,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “We needed a win in any race, not just the Daytona 500. We’d been in the longest drought we’d ever had. This came at the perfect time.”
Wood said he was especially grateful that his parents Glen and Bernece Wood and his uncle Leonard Wood as well a Edsel Ford, who is like a family member to the Woods, were able to be with him and the rest of the team in Daytona to celebrate the victory.
“I got to go to Victory Lane with my family and my Ford family,” he said. “We were all together and happy, but we also had a good hug and cry together.”
For Bayne, who won the 500 on his first try and on the day after his 20th birthday, the hours and days after the checkered flag fell were filled with one interview after another.
He said he initially worried about saying the right thing, but he’s been just as cool behind the microphones as he was behind the wheel of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion in the Daytona draft.
“I was nervous in my interviews because I wanted to do it justice, just explain how big of a deal this was for the Wood Brothers and Donnie Wingo,” he said. “I was scared to take any credit, because I felt weird coming in winning our first one with all the other drivers that have been doing this for so long.
“Now after seeing their support, they helped me realize we did earn this thing. I’ve been working at it since I was five years old. This team, there’s nobody that deserves it more than Glen, Leonard, Eddie, Len Wood, and [crew chief] Donnie Wingo, his 31st Daytona 500. Now it’s starting to set in a little bit.
“We’re so excited about it. I don’t know how to thank them enough for the opportunity to drive that race car, be in that position to win. I mean, it’s taken its time to sink in.”
Bayne was asked on this week’s NASCAR teleconference if he’d gotten any pre-race advice that stuck in his head as he was competing in the Daytona 500.
Fittingly, the best tips came from David Pearson, the legendary driver who took the Woods to Victory Lane in the 1976 Daytona 500, a race many regard as having the best finish in the history of NASCAR.
“It was small, simple advice that a lot of people would tell me,” Bayne said. “Just with him it stuck. He was just saying, kind of jokingly, they asked him on ESPN if he had any advice. He said, ‘Be careful. Do the 21 car some justice.’ That stuck out.”
He said that as a young up-and-coming driver, the tendency is to not be patient and careful.
“You want to be the guy that leads every lap, you want to make a statement, you want to do everything right,” he said. “You put a lot of pressure on yourself.”
But after hearing Pearson’s advice, he adopted a strategy the old Silver Fox would have used himself.
“When he said that, I went into the race in kind of survival mode for the first 150 laps thinking, I have to get to the end of this, avoid any crashes, push, not be pushed, just be smart the whole time,” he said. “That was crucial because that kept me calm, that kept me patient when we would drop to the back on some of the restarts to push back up to the field. Then at the end, just to make smart moves.
“Hopefully we did the 21 car some justice like he asked us to do. I think seeing it back in Victory Lane might have done it for him.”
Qualifying for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 is set for Saturday at 3:40 p.m. Eastern Time and the green flag for the 500 is scheduled to fly just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.