Blue Oval Special: Bayne, Edwards, and Gilliland Take Top Three Spots at Daytona
Rewind to last season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, when the focus was mostly on the Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, as well as the Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Getting honorable mention was Dodge's flagship driver Kurt Busch, with nary a whisper from the Ford contingency.
How much of a struggle was 2010 for the Blue Ovals?
Simply put, they only had a total of only four victories last season, which was somewhat salvaged by Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle with two wins respectively.
Depending on an individual's perspective, the verdict was still out with Ford, even when Speedweeks 2011 kicked off two weeks ago at Daytona.
Although the famed manufacturer made gains with their FR9 engines towards the end of last year, there were still some uncertainty regarding the rather shaky powerplant.
Any doubts or concerns with the Ford Racing camp may have been silenced in grand style, with a podium finish (no pun intended) sweep in the Daytona 500.
It couldn't have been a perfectly fit ending for the top three, especially for race winner Trevor Bayne. Probably equally as incredible as his victory in "The Great American Race" was his journey to the most premier division of stock car racing.
Last fall, the 20-year-old stock car prospect was released by Diamond-Waltrip Racing, a NASCAR Nationwide Series team, despite running in the top-10 in points for a vast majority of the year.
Quickly signed by Roush-Fenway Racing, the Knoxville, TN native finished out his campaign with a seventh place championship finish.
Additionally, Bayne would sign on with the Wood Brothers Racing team for a limited number of races for 2011 (originally 17 events).
Despite his intentions to run a full Nationwide season this year, Sunday's win at Daytona may have been a mere taste to his potential as a full fledged Cup star.
Displaying a talent well beyond his young age, Bayne took to the 2.5-mile superspeedway like David "The Silver Fox" Pearson, calmly piloting the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion in the final laps, staving off Carl Edwards and a hard charging David Gilliland.
Even the three-time Cup champ and NASCAR legend couldn't have been more impressed with Bayne.
"I figured they had a chance after seeing that boy race in the 150s (on Thursday)," Pearson said.
For Carl Edwards, after riding a two-race winning streak, Sunday's performance was his finest at "The World Center of Racing," although he'd admit that placing second "feels way worse than any other position I've ever finished in the Daytona 500.
"But that is made better by listening to Trevor and how excited he is. He is a really nice young man, a great guy to represent this sport with this win."
Entering this season with a two-race winning streak from last year, the seventh-year racer bid his time, playing the two-car draft shuffle wisely to capture a runner-up finish.
While a win wasn't in the offing for "Cousin Carl," he has a lot to be happy about; consider the fact that he's the Sprint Cup Series points leader heading into this Sunday's race at Phoenix (Live, 3 PM EST on FOX) has to be a bit of solace with his near victory in the 500.
Almost overlooked but just as heartwarming as the Gatorade Duel hero Brian Keselowski, Daytona 500 third place finisher David Gilliland had to feel like a winner.
Delivering Front Row Motorsports' best result in a Cup race, the second generation leadfooter was elated.
"It's a credit to NASCAR and their new rules with the new cars, trying to get the teams closer," Gilliland said. "To let teams like us have a chance to come out here and be competitive like this."
Indeed, those factors came into play during Sunday's historic and record breaking race, in which there were 74 lead changes and 22 leaders, both all-time highs.
For a driver like Gilliland, whose team isn't exactly a perennial frontrunner each weekend, it was a huge morale boost to see how much potential his No. 38 team could have on any given day.
With the stakes so high, it brought the race back into the drivers' hands, allowing racers like Bayne, Edwards, and Gilliland to mix it up during the final moments of the race.
Yes, there was that late race penalty on previous race leader David Ragan, which effectively cost him the win.
There's no doubt that some good racers were wiped out in the "Big One" on lap 29, which swept up previous "500" champions like Michael Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson.
However, at the end of what may arguably be the greatest race in Daytona history, a kid with "The American Dream" captured the checkered flag in perhaps the biggest stage in all of stock car racing.
As for Edwards and Gilliland, while they fell short of a win, they can reflect on their stellar performances last Sunday and realize that races like the "500" can certainly define their 2011 season.