Twenty year old rookie Trevor Bayne became the youngest driver ever to win the Super Bowl of NASCAR this Sunday in only his second Sprint Cup race. Throughout the slop-fest, five minute-long replays from cameras with the visual omnipresence of white baby Jesus captured the carnage as a record number of cautions were set. Perhaps more exciting, the race was the first NASCAR competition I had ever attempted to watch the entire way through.
As a rookie of sorts myself, I missed the opening flag while buying a six-pack of canned Budweiser and a beer cozy at the grocery store.
I lay down on the couch and rested a cozied beer on my stomach, assuming this was the standard protocol. It felt alright. Soon I was asleep. Then awake, then asleep again. I blame the impromptu narcolepsy on a thing called “bump drafting.” From Examiner.com:
“During the course of the race, the commentators were stating how nice it was, unlike any other sport, that the drivers would communicate with other drivers on their radios in order to work as a tag team to push/pull and draft with each other for position. The commentators spoke of this as if this was a great thing, I think for safety it maybe. However, for competition and racing, which is what NASCAR is all about it is dull and boring. These drivers were basically planning for 490 miles or so to run “safe” around the track to stay out of trouble in order to avoid the big crash or any crash so they could be around at the end and contend for the win. How can any true fan of racing call this competition or exciting?” (1)
During one of my awake sessions, I noticed that while the bump drafting had a tendency to lull me to sleep, it was also a very unstable practice that caused a great deal of exciting wrecks. Bloomberg summarized the mayhem:
“Such drafting maneuvers — which increase the risk of engines overheating in the trailing car because of restricted air intake — led to a series of crashes.
Kurt Busch led the 43 cars going into the tribute to Earnhardt Jr. and a lap later his younger brother Kyle Busch spun off after being pushed from behind by Michael Waltrip. Busch called Waltrip’s maneuver “stupidly insane” on his in- car radio before rejoining the race.
On lap 30, David Reutimann’s Toyota spun while being pushed from behind, also by Waltrip. That caused a 15-car collision that forced defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who’s seeking a sixth straight Nascar championship, back to his garage for repairs to his Chevrolet. The melee left Johnson 20 laps behind the leaders, while Waltrip failed to rejoin the race.
Matt Kenseth slammed into an outside wall and out of the race with 66 laps remaining in another drafting incident, and seven laps later Greg Biffle’s Ford clipped Juan Pablo Montoya’s Chevrolet to bring up the 11th caution.
The record-setting 12th caution began with 42 laps to go after Travis Kvapil’s Ford struck a wall. Racing stopped for a 15th time after another drafting error with four laps to go, as Kurt Busch slammed into the back of Regan Smith’s car, sending it spiraling into the outside wall and taking three other cars with him.”(2)
I dropped another Budweiser into my cozy and philosophized that bump drafting was accountable for the most boring portions of the race as well as the most exciting; an automotive paradox if there ever was one.
Somewhere around the last ten laps, the remaining cars began driving balls to the wall, risking everything for a chance at taking home NASCAR’s most coveted prize.
In the wake of the wreckage, the day after his twentieth birthday, Trevor Bayne emerged from the ravaged field to take the checkered flag, outlasting the best NASCAR had to offer, including the sport’s champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spun into a wall on lap 202.
“I’ve never been to a race track with this many people here and to win on this kind of platform is incredible,” Bayne said in a televised interview. “I didn’t know how to get to Victory Lane.”
Bayne indeed did not know how to get to victory lane. He stopped half way there and asked for directions - seriously.
The verdict is still out on whether Bayne got lucky in a record setting Daytona 500 (16 cautions, 74 lead changes). Racing buffs argued that in a field thinned of some of the best the sport has to offer, Bayne merely was in the right place at the right time. From Bleacher Report:
“The book's still out on young Trevor Bayne, and time will tell whether he was lucky, or if he's got the chops to make out big in the sport's top level.
So many questions linger after Sunday's Daytona 500. Can one honestly predict how far a young driver can go? Perhaps the question we should be asking is a bit more presumptuous in nature, but a lot more interesting to discuss:
If the kid could win the Daytona 500 before he was legally able to drink…What will he be able to do behind the wheel in five years?
Will he be a one-and-done like so many others? Will he be the next generation's Jeff Gordon? Will we remember him at all?
None of that matters for young Trevor Bayne on this night. Winning the Daytona 500 does that to you.”(3)