By Andrew Gribble/The Associated Press
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Trevor Bayne made yet another case that he’s one of the most valuable pushers heading into today’s Daytona 500, as he propelled a number of drivers from various teams into the lead at Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener.
That was all well and good heading into his second career Sprint Cup race, but that wasn’t much consolation on the Knoxville native’s 20th birthday.
“We had the car to win,” Bayne said. “We really did.”
With six laps to go following a caution, Bayne started fourth but dropped back out of the main pack when his clutch unknowingly stuck in third gear. He eventually hooked up with teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for a tandem-draft aided final push, but it was too late, as Bayne finished more than seven seconds behind race winner Tony Stewart in 10th place.
“I’m kind of bummed we didn’t win the thing because I thought we really had a shot at it,” Bayne said. “But we learned a lot for tomorrow.”
Bayne will start 32nd today (TV: WTNZ, 1 p.m.) in his first career Daytona 500.
Stewart, who won the Nationwide Series season opener for the fourth year in a row and sixth in the past seven years, overcame a late pit stop to fix a flat tire to catch Clint Bowyer at the finish line and win by .007 seconds. It was the closest finish in Nationwide Series history at Daytona.
Bayne partnered up with five different drivers throughout the 120-lap race, but was without the driver whom with he developed the best chemistry, Brad Keselowski, when it mattered most. Keselowski was in one of five cars that crashed and caused the fifth and final caution, which even forced a brief stoppage in the race.
“It didn’t hurt my car but it hurt my drafting,” said Bayne, who was driving directly in front of Keselowski when Keselowski slammed into the wall. “We were ready to work with him the rest of the way.”
Bayne’s day had the potential to end much more sourly, as he blew a tire shortly after a pit stop and fell a lap down. Without the benefit of a caution, Bayne, who dropped as far back as 24th with 50 laps to go, methodically inched his way back into the main pack.
He hooked up first with Carl Edwards and then Dale Earnhardt Jr. to get back into the front for the final stretch.
“I worked with all the class acts of the field today,” Bayne said. “So that was really cool.”
Bayne, who crashed in Thursday’s Gatorade Duels and did not finish, said his Wood Brothers team worked from “sunrise to sunset” to get his No. 21 Ford Fusion ready for today’s Great American Race. After running 14 practice laps morning, Bayne said the car was “faster now than it was before.”
“They did a really good job fixing it up,” Bayne said. “Hopefully I built a lot of relationships with the Cup guys on the Nationwide side to carry over to tomorrow.”