What can we expect from Trevor Bayne in Phoenix?
The media circus that has been the Trevor Bayne story officially comes to an end this weekend. The great accomplishment of the Knoxville, Tenn. native overnight star was one heck of a jumpstart to the 2011 season and has helped attract an audience of new, curious fans who will watch Saturday (Feb. 26) and Sunday’s Phoenix races hoping to see the 20-year-old kid recapture the magic that made him the youngest Daytona 500 winner ever.
Bayne has become somewhat of a darling who has captured the attention of even the least interested of NASCAR, but that fanfare won’t last if he can’t keep running up front.
So will he?
Chalk me up as one of those who think he will, especially this weekend. This is a guy who finished seventh in Nationwide points one year ago. Since joining Roush Fenway Racing at the end of last year, Bayne has finished in the top 15 in six of the final seven races. He finished a respectable 17th in his lone Cup start in 2010 at Texas and in two Cup starts, albeit an extremely small sample size, he has an average finish of ninth while completing every lap.
It may only be two races, but that is an enormous accomplishment for a rookie driver running for a part-time team. Even before Daytona, Bayne was a Nationwide title contender and future Cup Series regular. Expect another top 10 on Saturday and a solid top 15 on Sunday.
Will Ford make it four-in-a-row?
It’s debated greatly this week, especially on this site, whether Ford has returned to the Sprint Cup elite. Dating back to Carl Edwards’s final two wins of last year and Bayne’s season-opening Daytona 500 victory, Ford has won three races in a row. The FR9 engine is certainly stout and runs cooler than the other manufacturers. That won’t factor much this weekend with cooler temperatures expected in Phoenix, but it will be a huge advantage as we reach the summer months.
Still, you have to consider Ford a favorite Sunday afternoon. The Roush Fenway team was consistently strong in the November race, with three cars finishing in the top 10 and Edwards leading 93 laps. Expect Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth to all hover around the top 10, joined by one of either AJ Allmendinger, David Ragan or Bayne.
Sunday, however, will see Denny Hamlin ultimately redeem himself from that race last year and return to victory lane.
Will another unknown break through from obscurity this weekend?
You won’t see a rags to riches success story like Bayne’s in quite some time, but on a much smaller scale expect to hear the name Travis Pastrana a lot this weekend. The 11-time X Games Gold medal winner will drive the No. 99 Boost Mobile Toyota in Thursday’s K&N Pro Series West race in Phoenix for Bill McAnally Racing and Pastrana-Waltrip Racing.
The 27-year-old action sports and reality TV star finished a surprising sixth in his NASCAR debut in the Toyota All-Star Showdown back in January and drives for a combination of teams that have won consecutive K&N Pro Series East championships with Ryan Truex (Michael Waltrip Racing) and last year’s West championship (BMR). Don’t be surprised to see Pastrana in victory lane.
Will we see two Keselowskis in Phoenix?
Yessir. Last weekend’s initial feel-good story simply by making the Daytona 500 was easily surpassed by Bayne and crashed on Sunday afternoon. Still, thanks to efforts from crew back in Michigan, Brian Keselowski‘s second car is prepared, meaning the Rookie of the Year candidate will attempt to qualify at Phoenix.
He won’t have a shot at the win and most likely won’t even finish in the top 20, but the team has been working around the clock just to get to Phoenix in time. In an age of multi-car super teams, the No. 92 has become an underdog fan favorite and will just have to beat one car to make the show. He will be in Kasey Kahne’s 2008 race-winning car from Charlotte.
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