He might have won the Daytona 500 in Sprint Cup back in February, but Trevor Bayne has never found his way to victory lane in the 77 Nationwide Series events he has run - until he finally took the chequered flag in the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
"This is just as surreal as the 500," declared Bayne. "That's hard to say, but this has been so long. We've worked so hard to get our first Nationwide win and I wasn't sure if it was ever gonna happen."
Bayne hadn't exactly dominated the race up until then; in fact the first time he took the lead all afternoon was at the restart on lap 194 when he managed to get past long-time leader Carl Edwards as well as Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer. After that it was a matter of holding off the charging Hamlin to the finish line, which he did by a slender 0.142s.
Elliott Sadler had won pole position in Friday qualifying and Kyle Busch had put the #18 onto the front row beside him, but Hamlin inherited the ride after Busch was parked for the weekend
by NASCAR following an on-track clash with Ron Hornaday in the Truck Series event. Hamlin had been put to the back of the field because of the driver change, and spent the first 50 laps working his way uneventfully but implacably back into the top ten.
Sadler duly led for the first few laps of the race which included a caution on lap 3 for Jamie Dick spinning on the frontstretch, but Sadler was soon passed by Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne and it was Edwards who emerged with the long-time hold on the lead spot that lasted for virtually the rest of the race. Only the occasional interruption during pit stop sequences saw him out of the lead as he slipped into cruise mode.
There were four more cautions during the race - two for debris (on laps 91 and 179), and one for David Ragan's engine going up in smoke on lap 114 and leaving fluid on the track. A final caution came out with ten laps to go before the end when Jason Leffler scraped the outside wall through turn 4.
Up until this point Edwards' restarts had been imperious and this time was no different, as he got a boost on the final restart from Bayne. But then the 20-year-old ducked to the inside line to fight for the lead himself - and he pulled it off.
"He earned that one," admitted Edwards. "He drove really well. That restart he did a really good job. I wasn't worried about giving him the bottom because I thought I could hang on his door and beat him ... It's tough to lead that much and not win the thing, but Trevor is a great guy and he deserves to win."
"It's crazy to think only one year ago I was making my first Cup start," said Bayne. "To come back to Texas and get our first Nationwide win, this is a place I'm going to love from now on ... I don't know if you could script a story like the year I've had."
Denny Hamlin also got the jump on Edwards to take up the chase to the finish, leaving Edwards in third ahead of fellow Cup regulars Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski.
"Denny drove by and they just drove away from us," admitted Edwards, adding that it "made me feel a little bit better that they drove away and I didn't just give it up 100 percent on that pass."
After Bayne, the next-highest Nationwide Series regular was another Roush Fenway junior driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who managed to keep his nose in front of Sam Hornish Jr. for sixth place while Joey Logano held off Elliott Sadler for eighth position.
In the Nationwide Series championship, that means Stenhouse has extended his lead over Sadler to 17pts with just two races remaining in the season. Justin Allgaier rises to third place after finishing in 14th in Texas, five spots ahead of Aric Almirola.
"That's good," declared a satisfied Stenhouse of his day's work. "That's better than where we were when we came in and that's really all we can ask for."
Danica Patrick, who will be competing in the Nationwide Series full time in 2012, came in a solid 11th place in her #7 car whose livery had special markings commemorating Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in the final IndyCar race of the season in Las Vegas in October. Patrick was also donating her specially designed helmet for the race to the memorial fund auction.
"She's definitely come a long way in my book," said Edwards of Patrick's growing confidence. "It took me a long time to get by her and finally, when I did get up right to the outside of her coming off the corner, I thought she did a great job of giving me just the right amount of room ... When I bumped her out of the way at Montreal, she went in the next corner and bumped me right back out of the way, so she's a good racer!"Full race results
as well as qualifying and practice times are available.