NASCAR

Stick to the plan

Country singer Brad Paisley
The Daytona 500 kicked the year off right.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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I don’t think there is anyone out there that watched all or part of the Daytona 500 that didn’t think it was one of the best we’ve had in years.

From where I stood up in the TV booth the whole day was amazing. We had Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley putting on one heckuva prerace show for the fans. Martina McBride did one awesome job singing the national anthem.

Our NASCAR on FOX prerace show tried something different and did part of our show in the infield grass surrounded by the fans. The energy and excitement was unbelievable. Mother Nature even pitched in giving us a beautiful day for racing. You couldn’t help but feel the excitement.

We had never seen anything like the two-car tango at Daytona that we saw throughout Speedweeks. With the $20 million repaving job giving these drivers so much grip, two drivers could link up and go 10-15 mph faster than they could alone. These guys could lock onto each other and push each other all the way around the track. That was unheard of at Daytona.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup racing last Sunday was phenomenal. The competition was unbelievable. Naturally, what would restrictor-plate racing be with out some form of the big one. We had a big wreck early on in the race. It wiped out a lot of really good cars. It put a lot of 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders into a hole in 2011 right out of the box.

So there were a lot of good guys in the garage working on their cars, but we had a lot of good guys still out there racing. It was a fun race to watch and a fun race to call. It was just a wild day. We’d be telling you about the leaders at the start of a lap but by the time they came back around, those folks we were talking about might be seventh or eighth.

Leading up to Sunday, we all had a feeling that Trevor Bayne was going to be a story to follow. We saw it in the practices, qualifying and in the qualifying race last Thursday. We knew he had a fast car. The veteran drivers seemed to be very comfortable running with Trevor and that alone speaks volumes. Jeff Gordon, I believe, was the first one to recognize that last Thursday in the Gatorade Duel 150 race. They ran together almost the entire Duel.

That alone sent a statement to the whole garage area that not only is he a great kid, but he’s also a great driver. Jeff recognized his talent and knew he was someone he could work with. That’s huge for a kid with the yellow stripe on the bumper of his car. That’s a huge compliment to Trevor.

All the action was on the track and all the focus was on the drivers. It was the perfect storm of two-car tandems, brand new smooth surface, zero tire issues combined with great drivers. Handling was never an issue so it allowed these guys to hold it wide open, anticipate their next move and just race.

Trevor had said he liked being a pusher. So you ask yourself, how can you win if you’re going to push the guy in front of you to victory? Well this is how smart and mature the kid is, being a pusher keeps you from being run over from behind and gives you more options when things get tight.

Late in the race on one of our final restarts, you had two Fords, Trevor in the No. 21 and David Ragan in the No. 6, who had worked out a plan to run together. Trevor was going to lay back a bit and let David drop down in front of him and away they would go. As we always say in NASCAR, plans are great until they wave the green flag. This was no exception.

Greatest Daytona 500 moments

Close call

Great American race has produced plenty of great moments.

The green flag came out, Trevor did his part and David dropped down in front. The only problem was David dropped in front too soon and broke a restart rule. So NASCAR black-flagged David. That left Trevor up front all by himself.

So Trevor hooked up with Bobby Labonte, one of our past NASCAR champions who obviously has a ton of experience. So they hook up. Now here comes Carl Edwards and David Gilliland with a full head of steam. Honestly, if Bobby hadn’t pushed up slightly coming off Turn 4 on the last lap, I think Carl and David would have blown by Trevor and Bobby. It put Carl in a box by going to the inside that just didn’t allow him the time to get by Trevor.

So this 20-year-old kid takes the checkered flag in only his second NASCAR Sprint Cup start and, naturally, our biggest race of the year. We were with Trevor Saturday evening for our "NASCAR Live" show and he was celebrating his birthday. He is just as calm, cool and collected as anyone I have ever seen sit in a race car.

He’s just like the guy who drove that same car to Victory Lane in the 1976 Daytona 500 – David Pearson. The other cool part about this storybook race is David has been elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The Wood brothers, who own Trevor’s car, decided to honor David and did a retro paint scheme on the car and the car goes to Victory Lane. The funny part of that story is Trevor didn’t even know how to get to Victory Lane.

In Victory Lane, in addition to the team and the Wood Brothers team, you saw Jack Roush and Richard Petty. Now Trevor is contracted to drive a full season in Nationwide for Jack. Richard, on paper, is listed as the car owner of the No. 21 because the Wood Brothers worked a deal to get the No. 19 car’s 2010 owner points. The owner of the No. 19 in 2010 – Richard Petty.

So you combine all those icons in our sport – the Woods, Richard Petty and Jack Roush – and you have a history of NASCAR. It’s the past, the present and now with Trevor Bayne, it is its future. What an amazing day and what an incredible finish.

POLL

  • Will Trevor Bayne win again in 2011?
    • Yes, in Cup
    • Yes, in Nationwide
    • Yes, in both
    • No

Now the name of this story is “Stick to the Plan.” As mentioned, Trevor is to run the entire 2011 Nationwide schedule for Jack Roush. He is also slotted to drive 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup races for the Wood Brothers. Now they have added an 18th race by including Martinsville, which is the Wood Brothers' home track, to the schedule.

They need to stick to the plan. The Wood Brothers know they are at their best when they run a limited schedule. The experience Trevor will gain by running the Saturday races will be invaluable to him when he moves up to full-time Cup racing in 2012. That kid has a bright future ahead of him so there is no reason to rush it. Sticking to their plan for 2011 will pay off for all of them in the long run.

This was a great win for our sport and a great win for a very nice young man. I was thrilled to be a small part of it and I am very excited to see what he does in the future.

Now this week has been chaotic for Trevor to say the least. The winner of the Daytona 500 is taken all over the country to promote the sport. Trevor hadn’t quite planned on that. He drove his Ford F-150 from home to Daytona. So then he had to get someone to drive his pickup back home. They ended up getting a motorhome to stay in, but Trevor was bothered by the fact it cost $3,000 for the week – now the boy won nearly $1.5 million dollars Sunday. Lastly, all he brought with him were jeans and shirts, so NASCAR took him to a mall on Monday to buy him the suits and clothes he needed for this PR tour.

Above all that, the thing that impressed me the most was that Trevor has his priorities right. I talked to Trevor over the radio in the parade laps of our broadcast so the folks at home could learn more about him. When I called down earlier for a radio check, I was blown away to hear Trevor ask his team if he could pray for all of them. He said the sweetest prayer and asked that the Lord get the glory for whatever happened that day. At 20 years old to have his priorities already in the right order speaks volumes about that young man and his upbringing.

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