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Trevor Bayne? Holy Smokes, what a surprise. NASCAR's next Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson?

  Trevor Bayne and the Woods celebrate winning the Daytona 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Better believe that Len and Eddie Wood won't be turning off their cell phones for a while.
    "I had 75 text messages before I even got out of victory," Len Wood, the business guy for the Wood brothers' operation, was saying after an emotional, surprising, dramatic and heart-warming victory in the biggest race of them all, the Daytona 500….with the newest kid on the block, just-turned-20 Trevor Bayne.
    And this was no fluke win. Bayne showed all the patience and savvy of a veteran, even though he was running in only his second-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup race, and over the final miles he was facing off against tough-as-nails Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte….after a vigorous stretch charge against superstars like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch.

    Yes, this was one for the ages. And it was newcomer Trevor Bayne pulling out a solid victory, against all odds.
    Now Bayne is facing an even bigger hurdle – the coast-to-coast PR marathon that NASCAR executives have lined up for whoever wins the Daytona 500.
    "Well, I've got two clean tee shirts…..guess I'd better call somebody to send me a suit," Bayne was saying after his most improbable win.
   Bayne – remember now, just turned 20 on Saturday, only running in his second Cup race – just won the race that took legends like Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip years to win.

    Down the final miles Trevor Bayne, leading Carl Edwards, David Gillilan and Bobby Labonte. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Credit Donnie Wingo, the Woods' new crew chief, a graduate of the Bud Moore school of hard knocks, for repairing Thursday damage.
   Credit Jeff Gordon for giving Bayne the seal of approval by hooking up with him in a long two-car draft in that 150.
   Credit Edsel Ford for helping getting the Woods' operation back on track.
   So it's the Woods' fifth Daytona 500 victory….but only the first since David Pearson beat Richard Petty here in 1976.
   A long road back.
   And Eddie Wood, son of the legendary Glen Wood, was clearly emotional about it all, just as was Len, his brother.
   "Hey, man, it hasn't really sunk in yet," Eddie was saying as twilight set in at Daytona International Speedway.
   "We struggled so much in the past couple years just to make the Daytona 500, much less win it….."
   In fact in 2008 the Woods failed to get their car in this field.
   "That was probably the lowest," Eddie said.
   But now they've got Trevor Bayne, an amazing talent it would seem. "To be 20 years old and go out there and go fender to fender with all these guys…." Eddie marveled.
    "He's got the composure and savvy of the a veteran."
    Credit Wingo for his calming influence of Bayne throughout SpeedWeeks. Wingo's talent is just that, keeping things under control.
    And Bayne stayed remarkably calm through it all, through one of the wildest, craziest races at Daytona in years and years.
    "That's what I noticed in him right off the bat --  He knows how to do this," Eddie went on. "I was talking to Richard Petty earlier, about how well he did in the qualifiers and 'How do you do that your first time at doing it?'  We decided that he didn't know how to do it wrong.
    "It's new to him, it's all brand new. 
     "He caught on to the way everyone else was doing it:  We were on top of the hauler during the first qualifier (Thursday), and he watched Matt Kenseth: he said 'I'm going to do that.'  And he went right out there and did it.
     "He's got a tremendous awareness in the car.  The great ones are like that. 
      "I've listened to a lot of drivers on the radio, and he reminds me of the great ones.
     "He will be a great one.  He just might be the next big deal…and I think he is."
    But Bayne is only part of this story.
    The Woods are the other part.
     They've been at this as a family operation for some 65 years in NASCAR, back to the old beach course days.
     The Woods taught the 'old school.'
     But the last several years have been down ones, to say the least. Dollars and manpower have overwhelmed this sport's small operations like the Woods.
      "We were small….and it was just getting to the point you just couldn't quite get where you needed to get," Eddie said. "No matter how much money you spent, no matter how much work you did, you just couldn't quite get over the hump to where you were competitive every week."
   Enter Edsel Ford and Jack Roush.
   "When we started downhill, you begin to think you can never get back.  But you keep trying," Eddie said. "We never did quit.  We just kept trying.
   "The lowest point was missing this race in '08.  Our family had been coming down here since the '50s, and they never missed one…until we missed it. 
    "The lowest point for me was that day.
    "We came back to the track and hung out, because we had a lot of guests coming. But it's almost like when you miss a race, especially the Daytona 500, it's like somebody died. When you walk through the garage, you run into people that you see every week, and they're afraid to look at you.  It's like they don't know what to say.
    "Len and I dug in, and we visited a lot of people.  We got with our friends at Ford, and Edsel Ford: he said 'Why haven't you called me?  What's been going on?'
    "I said 'Mr. Ford, I'm just ashamed to. We run so poorly.  We're missing races.'
    "He said 'We've got to fix that. I'll have someone call you in the morning."
    Jim Farley: "He said 'We've got to fix your program.  Why don't you come up here.'
    "That's how we started to come back."
    But the road back is long. This year the Woods and Bayne have sponsorship for only 17 races. They'd planned to run the year's first five and then see where things stood. Now they've got enough to go to race number six, at Martinsville.  Maybe Texas after that.
   "Hopefully somebody watching us today will start a little interest up and maybe they'll want to join us," Len added.
   Certainly anyone watching how Trevor Bayne handled himself under pressure here Sunday has to be impressed.
    Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, and more, all lined up to take a shot at him.
    But Bayne is so new at this he didn't know to be worried. "Now that you put it that way, I'm a little bit worried that one of them is going to come after me," Bayne said with a laugh. "I'm going to have to sleep with one eye open. 
    "That's why I said I felt a little undeserving. 
    "But these guys definitely deserve it.
     "That last restart, I'm leading, and I'm saying 'Who can I push?  Who can I let in front of me to push across this thing,' because our car was so fast as a pusher.
      "I was going to brake and let Tony Stewart get down in front of us.  All of a sudden here comes Bobby Labonte, pushing away. 
    "Bobby did an awesome job.  That was the best restart we had all weekend. 
    "I got to the white flag and I'm like 'At least we can say I lead at the white flag.'
    "Then we get to turn four and we were still leading the band: 'Man, somebody's going to pass us. What's going to happen here?'
    "Nobody ever did.
     "So, you know, Wow! Really."
     Yep, Wow! Really.
     It was one for the ages, and even the jaded NASCAR media corps erupted in cheers at the finish.
    Welcome to the big leagues, Trevor Bayne.

Awesome Driver & Team 21

Wow! And what an awesome race and a awesome finish! So happy for the Wood Brothers team, and Trevor Bayne! That little guy is not a rising star, he IS a star! So refreshing to see somebody who thanks God for his help, and a guy so young doing it! Better than the "F" bombs some of the veterans use. Best race I've seen and enjoyed so much in a long long time! I think that is going to be good for NASCAR!

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Great news for the Wood Bros, Ford and NASCAR

This is a great win for Ford, Wood Bros, Trevor and NASCAR!

Totally agree with Dave Despain: this is the best thing to happen for NASCAR.

Dale Jr winning would have been great, for a lot of reasons, but this win is better.

"Regular" media [to include ESPN!] will LOVE this story and they will LOVE to have Trevor available for their news programs.


...and Trevor needs to get his website up, as well! [now says "coming soon"!]

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