For the past year Trevor Bayne and his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion team have been referred to as the defending Daytona 500 champions. But to actually defend their title, they first had to earn a starting spot in this year’s Great American Race.
Since Bayne and his Wood Brothers team run a partial schedule, they’re not among the top 35 teams in car owner points, a group that is guaranteed a starting spot for upcoming races.
That meant Bayne had to either be one of the three fastest of those outside the top 35 in pole qualifying or race his way into the 500 in Thursday’s Gatorade Duels, a risky proposition at best.
On Sunday, Bayne was best in class and ninth overall with a lap at 193.615 miles per hour, assuring himself and his team of being able to defend their 500 title.
“Mission accomplished,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood after Bayne overcame windy conditions to be among a group of Ford drivers who led the way in qualifying.
Ford drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle swept the front row starting spots, and four of the top five and six of the top nine qualifiers also were driving Ford Fusions. Only Edwards and Biffle locked in their starting spots for the 500. The rest of the starting order will be determined after Thursday’s 150-mile Gatorade Duels.
Wood said Ford’s dominating performance in Sunday’s qualifying session proves that the “One Ford” approach works, in that the various Ford teams share technology among themselves as well as with Ford Racing.
“It was a really good day for Ford Motor Company,” Wood said. “All the Ford teams worked well together.”
Bayne, like the Wood Brothers, is simply glad to be in a position to try to give the Woods their sixth Daytona 500 victory.
“It’s a lot of relief,” he said after qualifying. “Now we’re back to the same position we were in last year. We started the Duel knowing we were locked in and it was just wherever we finished, and now we’re back right there, so I’m ready for it.”
The Gatorade Duel qualifying races begin a 2 p.m. on Feb. 23, with TV coverage on SPEED, and the 54th Daytona 500 is set to get the green flag just after 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26, with TV coverage by FOX.