The Wood Brothers Racing team have confirmed that they will once again be fielding Trevor Bayne in their #21 car for at least 12 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season in 2012.
Bayne had a similar arrangement with Wood Brothers Racing in 2011 that extended to 17 races, and in his first outing of the year he raced to the biggest shock win of the entire season by clinching the prestigious Daytona 500, following a late restart that saw leader David Ragan sent to the back for a rule infringement.
However, it was not certain whether the team would be able to continue with their deal with Bayne into 2012 until this week's announcement, which also confirmed that Ford Customer Service Division brands Motorcraft and Quick Lane will return as sponsors for the partial-season entry.
"It's taken a long time to get to this announcement, but it's good to be back together," said team co-owner Eddie Wood. "We all wanted to do what was best for Ford Motor Company and its young drivers, and to be sure everybody had a place to race."
"It's a big deal for me. It's what I had hoped for. We're all excited to be back together," said Bayne. "The Woods are such a great racing family, and it's amazing that they're the only one of the original teams that has survived since the beginning."
Bayne went on to point out that there was a lot of preparation needed between now and the start of the season at the end of February given rule changes affecting air intake into radiators designed to reduce two-car tandem drafting. "It's going to be very different at Daytona," he agreed. "It'll be like starting all over again, but that's okay ... We'll just go try to do it again."
Bayne's Daytona 500 win came in only his second Cup career start, and delivered Wood Brothers their fifth Daytona 500 victory in a long history of NASCAR competition that extends back to their first entry in 1950. The team will announce which 11 races they will enter in due course, in addition to allowing Bayne to defend his Daytona 500 title in the Cup season opener.
Bayne's main focus in 2011 was on the Nationwide Series, where he was competing for Roush Fenway Racing alongside fellow development driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Bayne was forced to sit out a number of races mid-season after being bit by a mystery illness thought to be the result of an insect bite, and duly lost ground on the championship leaders while Stenhouse went on to claim the 2010 Nationwide title.
RFR will itself field Stenhouse at Daytona in the #6 car vacated by David Ragan, who was let go by the team at the end of 2011. The car is automatically qualified for the first five races of the season based on the 2011 owners points, but lacks sponsorship to fund a full season of competition.
Ragan himself is still seeking a new race seat after also now losing out on the possibility of taking over the #88 JR Motorsports Nationwide entry vacated by Aric Almirola
earlier in the week.
Ragan had been thought to be in the running for the seat, but the team announced on Wednesday that they had signed former Red Bull Racing development driver Cole Whitt to race alongside their lead driver Danica Patrick for the 2012 season.
"Cole is the guy we wanted, and we're lucky to get him," team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "He's got raw, untapped talent, but we are most impressed with his ambition."
"This is a big opportunity for me, and I'm happy to be a part of the JR Motorsports team," said 20-year-old Whitt, who finished in the top ten in the 2011 Camping World Truck Series. "I will do everything in my power to put this #88 team where it belongs in Victory Lane."
In other Nationwide Series news, MP Motorsports announced that they had signed Johanna Long to a two-season deal. Long, 19, will be the youngest female driver to compete in the Nationwide Series and will be working for one of the few female team owners in the sport, Mary Louise Miller.
"I'm excited to join ML Motorsports, and I'm honoured to have the support of Mary Louise," said Long said. "As a female team owner in NASCAR, Mary Louise is an inspiration to me."
For her part, Miller said "Johanna is a strong driver and a dynamic young lady, and we are excited to have her on board," adding: "She has a great competitive spirit; we believe she has everything it takes to succeed at the highest levels of NASCAR competition."
Long graduated from ARCA in 2009 to run seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 2010 and a further 17 last year, with a best finish of 11th in the 15th Annual Winstar World Casino 400K at Texas in June.