Trevor Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500.
Bayne, a 20-year old rookie in his second ever race, took the famed Wood Brothers back to victory lane.
For all of the more memorable Daytona 500s, arguably none had more criticism and history than this one.
Due to faster car speeds and a newly paved Daytona Speedway, much of the race was determined by two-car packs which, according to Mike Joy on the telecast, could improve a car’s speed by up to 15 miles per hour.
Most of the field was divided into these dangerous packs, consisting of a “lead” car being pushed by a “pusher” car around the entire track. This led to a race not seen in at least two decades at Daytona, when the method of passing was simply to draft behind a car and steamroll past them when one had the chance.
Bayne, ever since Thursday, was regarded as a very good “follower” or “pusher,” and even Jeff Gordon touted that he was great to work with.
One of the major consequences of this type of racing, though, is the amount of accidents it can cause. There were 16 cautions in this 500 mile race, which is a new race record. Many of them were caused by the effects of a second car being so close to one‘s bumper that when the front car falters, there was absolutely nowhere to go.
This includes two incidents with Michael Waltrip, an incident between Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, and a wreck which took out Bobby Richardson, Jr. The second Waltrip crash, ignited by he getting into teammate David Reutimann, took out a number of early contenders, including Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Before the “car of tomorrow,” it was nearly impossible to keep this type of action going due to the height differences between the car‘s front and rear bumpers. For a time, NASCAR even began policing the act of bump drafting in turns.
Imagine driving down the highway five feet behind the car in front. It may be harmless for a couple of miles, but what if the front car closes up on a slow car in the left lane? They hit their brakes, and you have absolutely no time to react. You hit the car in front, and you guys crash.
It is the same thing in racing, only worse. Cars, especially on either very new or older tires, can be moody. This means it does not take much to get a car loose. If you have to get off the gas for just one second, as seen in practice with Dale Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr., you will get hit from behind.
However, this is now what is expected from NASCAR’s largest series, one that has taken many steps throughout the years to improve racing at both Daytona and Talledega.
The results are mixed. On NASCAR’s Facebook page, there are about as many claiming “this is an exciting race!” as there are blasting NASCAR for making its biggest race “boring.”
Once Bayne won, most had the opinion that it was awesome to see Bayne win, but were tired of the “2x2” racing.
If the numbers tell the story, it would tell the story of excitement. The 53rd Daytona 500 contained more lead changes than any other edition on record, with 74.
Either way, though, the drivers’ reactions are surely mixed.
Never has there been a time when there was so much interaction between opponents in the midst of a race. During the Fox telecast, it was explained that the cars’ radio systems can now handle up to 15 different frequencies from any team, and that many teams before the race exchanged their numbers to allow open communication.
This was used to help aid two-car driving, which is primarily between cars that are not teammates. This was the case with Bayne, who was even asked at one point by Carl Edwards if he wanted the driver of the Aflac Ford to push him to the front. Bayne responded, “My car is too fast to be pushed, so I’m more comfortable pushing.”
Nonetheless, there is no argument that the ending will be one that goes into the record books. Bayne was able to hold off a fending Carl Edwards to take the checkered flag, a day after his 20th birthday.
To paraphrase Krista Voda, who said it best after interviewing Bayne:
Most 20 year olds are trying to figure out what college classes to take.
Bayne just won NASCAR's biggest race.