By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
If you would have told me at the beginning of the season, that Trevor Bayne would be the breakout driver of the year, I would have called your bluff. However 17 races into the 2016 season, Bayne is turning heads as he continues to bust out great finishes. That trend continued in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
Bayne, who has had decent qualifying runs all season long, had another one this week when he nabbed the 13th-place starting spot for this race. Bayne didn’t make much progress early on, as he was still in 13th when the competition caution came out after 20 laps were completed.
When the race went back green though, Bayne began to move forward. By lap 32, he was inside the top-10, but moments after moving to ninth, Bayne would be shuffled out of the pack. When Bayne got back in line he had fallen to 21st.
With frantic racing in the pack, Bayne opted to hang in the back of the field in an attempt to avoid being caught up in a crash. When ‘the big one’ occurred on lap 89, Bayne skillfully worked his way through it. And from there the driver of the Advocare Ford set his sights on the front of the pack.
With less than 50 laps to go, Bayne made it into the top-10 where he would stay almost the rest of the race.
On the final restart of the race though, Bayne found himself mired in 12th. However a huge shove from Austin Dillon changed the outcome of the day for the Tennessee native.
“Yeah, that last restart was wild. I had a lot of help from [Dillon] when we went to the top.,” Bayne said. “We restarted 12th and made a huge run, and then I got to Kyle [Busch]’s rear bumper, and it was either hit him with all I had or try to not wreck him, and I was like, well, I’ll try to do both here, and we nailed him pretty good down the backstretch, and we pushed him off into Turn 3, and they got three wide behind me, the 42 and 3 car on the last lap, and it kind of drug me down, so we weren’t able to continue pushing there down the front stretch.”
On the final lap of the race, Bayne found himself sitting fifth, and after a wild sequence which saw Kurt Busch spin in the final turns, Bayne came home with an impressive third-place finish. This finish marks Bayne’s second top-five effort of the year and it’s his fourth top-10 finish in 2016.
For Bayne, this week showed the gains that his Roush-Fenway Racing team has been making as of late.
“For our organization to be on the pole this weekend, to have three cars in the top eight, two in the top five, I think that’s kind of a landmark for us as an organization with the struggles we’ve had to get all three teams running strong on a weekend like this,” Bayne stated.
With nine races left until the start of the Chase, Bayne is a mere 10 points out of the 16th place in the Chase Grid. Don’t count out this Roush-Fenway Racing driver.