Realistically…  None of it matters. Yes, close quarter 2×2 racing took its toll and some of the most experienced and fastest drivers were sent to the cap and out of contention. Yes, a record number of cautions and restarts kept the deck shuffled.

This is Daytona! The new surface and the racing style set in motion for the Daytona 500 created a touch and go and hook and push race that created the final scenario of a Wood Brothers Motorcraft #21 Ford victory.

Rookie Trevor Bayne, in his second Sprint Cup start and his first run at Daytona, hooked with some of the best drivers throughout the day, watched as many fell by the wayside in damaged cars, and managed to keep the historic #21 mostly clean and clear to the green-white-checker.

Was this sheer beginner’s luck? No… Not here. Not at Daytona. The 20 year old (birthday the day before the 500) kept his nose and the car clean, backing out of tight spots and driving safe. Beginner’s luck…? Driving nose to tail approaching 200mph for most of 200 laps…? No… Not here. This racing style set up by a new, smooth surface was a new deal for most of the drivers. Drafting isn’t new by any means but requiring it to run at speed lap after lap set tension and fatigue at high levels while magnifying the slightest mistake.

Keeping out of the mess took some driving. Trevor Bayne earned this win. The Wood Brothers needed this win. A team that has been running a short season for the past couple of years and has had to endure hushed whispers in the garage has won the 2011 Daytona 500.

Now we have something new to cheer for in NASCAR. “Go Dale Jr.” has a nice ring to it. Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick….  Johnson…  Gordon…  Whatever hat you have on your head to show your allegiance on race day doesn’t matter when a 20 year old rookie puts some shine back onto an iconic name of NASCAR racing.

The Wood Brothers have Daytona this season and that is something every fan should be able to cheer for.

Wood Brothers #21 Ford - Bill Elliott
Wood Brothers #21 Ford - Bill Elliott

The Wood Brothers are in the Daytona 500. Driver Bill Elliott went from “fastest” during practice to a five spot during qualifying. Even during that run he was fastest at a point but whatever force it is that pushes the accelerator back against Bill’s shoe leather showed itself in the final turn. Right now, Bill and the #21 Motorcraft Ford are set for a dozen races in 2009. Here is at least one “Best Wishes” for a top 10 finish at the Daytona 500. Yes, a win would be better, of course. But let’s get this historic team some added sponsorship for 2009 and get them in some more races. A top 10 may accomplish this for them.

TRG Motorsports #71 Chevy - Mike Wallace
TRG Motorsports #71 Chevy - Mike Wallace

Another underdog to pull for could be Mike Wallace in the #71 TRG Chevy. They physically ran 46th during qualifying and will run Thursday in the second race of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona. If Wallace can climb that field and he can get a spot this new team will be in the field on Sunday. Let’s be honest. A win for the #71 on Sunday would earn you retirement on Vegas odds. However, it is not this team’s goal to win on Sunday. All they need is some lap time for the new car and to climb a few positions from where they start. That would be a big success for the Grand-Am veterans and push another team into the running for 2009. The 71 car just needs to get in.

Two cars, two teams. One has heritage and a name so linked to the sport of NASCAR racing that you can’t split the two with a crobar. The other is new and pushing the foot through the door. A little luck for both teams this week could push them both well into 2009. It doesn’t matter what hat you wear on race day, these two teams deserve a few front stretch cheers as the call goes out to start the engines. Let’s go racing and go 21 and go 71. Race to win. Race to get in.