Five days filled with drama, worry and apprehension came to a happy conclusion for the Wood Brothers and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane race team Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway. With the pressure squarely on his 23-year-old shoulders, Trevor Bayne drove one of his best races ever, avoided a last-lap collision in the second of two Budweiser Duels and earned the team a cherished starting spot in the 56th annual Daytona 500.
Team co-owner Len Wood said he couldn’t have been more proud of Bayne and the entire Motorcraft/Quick Lane team.
“I hugged him about five times after the race,” Wood said. “He did exactly what he had to do. We were in a tight spot, and the last thing I said to him before the race was: ‘It’s on you, bud.”
And it truly was.
In many a recent season, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team had the luxury of a fast qualifying time to fall back on in case there was an issue in the 150-lap qualifying Duel. This year, the team had no such assurance as Bayne was just 26th fastest in last Sunday’s pole qualifying session. That meant a top-15 finish in the Duels was the key to putting the iconic No. 21 Ford Fusion in the starting field for the Great American Race.
Then the drama ratcheted up a notch on Wednesday when a crash in practice damaged the front end of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion.
Crew chief Donnie Wingo led the way in making the necessary repairs and put Bayne on the track for Thursday night’s Duel with a car that had the speed needed to jump from his 13th starting position to seventh in just four laps.
As the 60-lap race continued to unfold, Bayne dropped back a bit but kept his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion in a transfer spot most every lap. One of the key moments of the race came with 24 laps remaining when Bayne headed to pit road for his only stop of the race.
“We knew the critical part of the race was going to be the pit stop,” Wood said. “Trevor nailed it. He didn’t slide the tires, he didn’t speed, and he did a good job getting on and off pit road. And the crew did their part too. It was a great stop.”
As the laps wound down, Bayne began moving forward, and was inside the top 10 on the final lap when a multi-car crash erupted just behind him. With the race ending under the caution flag, Bayne was credited with sixth place and will start the 500 from the 14th position.
“It was more than nerve-wracking,” Bayne said. “I was waiting on what happened off of [Turn] Four to happen a lot earlier. Fortunately, we just happened to go to the bottom.”
“I can’t take credit for any of that. That’s just being at the right place at the right time, and I’m just so thankful for this team.”
Bayne said that like his car owners and the rest of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane crew he too has felt the pressure the past few days.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I kind of take it for granted all the time when we qualify good and don’t have to worry about these Duels, but we did it when it mattered, and I’m really proud of these guys.”
“They’ve worked hard on this car and deserve to be in the 500.”
There will be one extra special person in the Motorcraft/Quick Lane pit area when the green flag drops on Sunday. As soon as Thursday’s Duels were over, team co-owner Eddie Wood took off for Stuart, Va., to pick up his father, the team’s founder and family patriarch Glen Wood. They will drive back to Daytona for Glen Wood’s 68th consecutive Speedweeks, a stretch that dates back to the era when races were held on the old beach-road course.
“He’s been coming here since 1947,” Len Wood said. “The first time he came to be with his hero Curtis Turner.”
Since then, Glen Wood has gone on to a NASCAR Hall of Fame career and has been associated with many racing heroes at Daytona. His cars have won the 500 five times, most recently with Bayne, the 2011 winner who will begin Sunday’s race from his highest Daytona 500 starting spot yet.
Donnie Wingo, the veteran crew chief, figures the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion is back to the superspeedway form that Glen Wood has come to expect over the years.
“It’s been nerve-wracking, but I think everything is good now,” Wingo said.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 is set to get the green flag just after 1 p.m. Eastern Time with TV coverage on FOX.