Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 fairy tale turned about to be just the beginning. The fresh-faced kid from Knoxville, Tenn., with a part-time ride in the fabled No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford became the youngest, at 20 years and a day, to win NASCAR's greatest race, doing so in his first try and setting off a wave of nostalgia for the legendary, but recently struggling Woods, and euphoria over the emergence of a possible new star.
While Bayne's personal tale took on more ominous tones -- he missed nearly a month of his full-time Nationwide schedule with what was later treated as Lyme disease -- his unlikely victory at Daytona was the first chapter in a developing narrative for the Sprint Cup series. Regan Smith (Darlington) and David Ragan (Daytona summer race) joined him as first time-winners, adding immediate intrigue to a new Sprint Cup points system in which the two drivers with the most victories qualify for the Chase for the Championship as wild cards, provided they are in the top 20 in points. The top 10 drivers in the standings qualify regardless of wins.
It appears parity has come to NASCAR -- at least in the regular season.
"Parity is really the first thing that comes to mind," said five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, assessing the first half of the season. "There have been some guys that have flexed muscle at times, but no one consistently has just schooled everybody. It's been very, very equal this year and unpredictable, if you will. A lot of first-time winners, which is great to have, and no runaways right now so it's been an exciting time for the fans, I believe. And then also, we've been acting like fools out there at times so that's always spicing things up."
Parity and foolishness. All major parts of the Sprint Cup midseason review:
Hamlin's downward spiral began with one race left in the 2010 season, when a fuel mileage issue at Phoenix cost him a likely second-place finish and a potential hammerlock on his first title. He appeared disconsolate, but vowed to recover. He didn't, losing the final 15 points of his margin after being run down by Johnson at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This year, problems continue.
After 18 races last year Hamlin had accrued five of his eight wins and was fifth in points. This season he is tenth in driver points and has one win.
Meanwhile, former driver Scott Speed has obtained a lien on the team's assets as they resolve a $6.5 million wrongful termination lawsuit. If Red Bull is unable to obtain the monies needed to sustain it, perhaps Kahne -- who is 17th in points -- gets a head start on his dream job if he fails to qualify for the Chase. And maybe Speed gets a building full of equipment. Who needs a way bar, cheap!?
Edwards figures to be manipulating the situation perfectly. The closer he comes to a championship, the more valuable he becomes. Edwards' departure could create a full-time Cup job for Bayne, who is contractually obligated to Roush despite being parceled to the Wood Brothers part-time.