Of course, I will try anything twice, or a handful of times, for that matter, so it came as a welcome surprise last weekend when I gave the Daytona 500 another try and it finally lived up to its name as being the Great American Race.
In its entirety, the race had all the drama of the classic movie Days of Thunder. There was rubbin’, there was racin’, there was a hell of a lot of bump drafting going on. After a Daytona 500 record of 74 lead changes, 16 cautions and a “big one” that took out something like 14 drivers, the win went to 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne in the No. 21 Ford owned by the Wood Brothers.
Going into Sunday’s big race there were a thousand storylines that could have played out – some better than others. What would have really been lame is to see another Jimmy Johnson victory. The Spring Cup Series needs a new champion this year. Everyone is tired of Johnson’s greatness.
Of course, on the 10-year anniversary of the Intimidator Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona, everyone wanted to see Dale Jr. take the checkered flag. Junior raced well, but was taken out in a wreck at the very end of the race in the green-white checkered flag of NASCAR’s version of overtime. If Jr. could have pulled out the win in the No. 88, that story would have taken the cake. But it wasn’t to be.
The story I’d hoped to see on Sunday was seeing Mark Martin in the No. 5 take his first Daytona win in 26 tries. The 52-year-old legend has never won the 500, and is in his last year of his contract with Hendrick Motorsports. For Martin fans like myself, time is running out to see our ol’ man win the Great American Race. Martin got dinged up in the “Big One” but was able to continue racing and racing well with AJ Allmendinger as a draft partner. At the start of the final overtime, Martin was fourth but was unable to keep up and finished the race in 10th. Maybe next year for Martin? If there is a next year.
While I was disappointed that neither Martin nor Jr. could pull off the victory, I soon realized that it couldn’t have gone to a better driver. Bayne was competing in only his second Sprint Cup start ever, and it came just one day after he turned 20. He couldn’t even celebrate with a beer after the race. (He skateboarded and played basketball, instead.)
Bayne was only scheduled to compete in a 17-race schedule in the Sprint Cup series this year as kind of a warm-up while he competes for the championship in the Nationwide Series. Unfortunately, he can’t compete for a championship in both.
Under new NASCAR rules, Bayne must choose between competing for a Nationwide Championship or a Sprint Cup series championship. He can race in both, but points only count in one or the other. Normally, a young driver like Bayne would stick to competing for the Nationwide, as he has more of a chance of doing well. But since he won the first and biggest race of the Sprint Cup series, perhaps he should take that momentum and race with the big boys for a Sprint Cup championship. Hell, going into the race, he didn’t even have a sponsor for next weekend’s race. The $1,462,563 Daytona 500 payday may change all of that.
Bayne’s storybook win gets better.
Besides being the youngest driver to win the 500, Bayne also gave the Wood Brothers, one of the oldest NASCAR teams, its fifth 500 victory – the first since 1976 when David Pearson won in, no doubt, a No. 21 Ford.
The Wood Brothers’ team, while a secure part of NACAR history, has struggled lately. Three years ago, the team failed to qualify a car for the Daytona 500.
“You know, our family had been coming down here since the 50s,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said on Sunday. “I think that’s probably the lowest point for me, was that day. It’s almost like when you miss a race, especially the Daytona 500, it’s like somebody died. I mean, until you go through it, you can’t put it into words.”
Not only did the Wood Brothers receive a much-needed revival from the exciting rookie win, NASCAR finally had a Daytona 500 race that was worth sitting through and watching.
If NASCAR can keep this exciting momentum going and the NFL botches next season, I could see myself tuning into NASCAR a lot more. Sunday’s race was a hell of a lot of fun.