Trevor Bayne finally made a mistake. Fortunately for him, it didn't happen until he missed the turn pulling into Victory Lane at the Daytona 500.
The youngest driver to win the Great American Race gave the historic Wood Brothers team its fifth Daytona 500 victory — its first since 1976 with David Pearson — and Bayne did it in a No. 21 Ford that was retrofitted to resemble Pearson's famed ride.
In just his second Sprint Cup start, the 20-year-old Bayne stunned NASCAR's biggest names with a thrilling overtime win Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, holding off Carl Edwards after fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed in NASCAR's first attempt at a green-white-checkered flag finish.
“Our first 500, are you kidding me?” said Bayne, who needed directions to Victory Lane. “Wow. This is unbelievable.”
Just one day after celebrating his 20th birthday and leaving his teenage years behind, the aw-shucks Tennessean who shaves once a week and considers “Rugrats” his favourite TV show captured the sport's biggest race.
When he found himself at the front, and victory just two laps away, he never thought it would last. Bayne was content just to say he had been leading at the start of the green-white-checkered.
“I'm a little bit worried that one of them is going to come after me tonight,” he said. “I'm going to have to sleep with one eye open. That's why I said I felt a little undeserving. I'm leading, and I'm saying, ‘Who can I push?“’
Bayne thought for sure Tony Stewart or someone else would attempt to pass.
“We get to turn four, and we were still leading the band,” he said. “It seemed a little bit too easy there at the end.”
The rookie had been great throughout Speedweeks, even proving his mettle by pushing four-time champion Jeff Gordon for most of a qualifying race, a performance Bayne said convinced the veterans he could be trusted on the track.
“I figured they had a chance after seeing that boy race in the 150s,” said Pearson, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in May. “I talked to him this morning. I told him to keep his head straight and not to do anything crazy. I told him to stay relaxed. I'm proud of him.”
With the win Bayne breaks Gordon's mark as the youngest winner in Daytona 500 history. Gordon was 25 when he won the 500 in 1997.
“I think it's very cool. Trevor's a good kid, and I love the Wood Brothers,” Gordon said. “I'm really happy for him. And I think it's great for the sport. To have a young talent like that — he's got that spark, you know?”
The victory for NASCAR pioneers Leonard and Glen Wood ended a 10-year-losing streak and came the week of the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's fatal accident on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
This was only the fourth win in the last 20 years for Wood Brothers — NASCAR's oldest team — which hasn't run a full Sprint Cup season since 2006 and hit the low point of their 61-year-old existence when they failed to qualify for the 2008 Daytona 500.
“When you miss a race, like the Daytona 500, it's like somebody died,” said Eddie Wood, part of the second generation of Woods now running the team. “When you walk through the garage and you run into people you see every week, they don't look at you, they don't know what to say.”