Bayne nets statement win in Iowa duel
June 09, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
NEWTON, Iowa -- It was simple mathematics. Trevor Bayne knew he was going to catch leader Austin Dillon.
His No. 6 Ford built for long runs, Bayne was in second place and gaining on Dillon at a clip of 0.3 seconds per lap, with Dillon out front by 2 seconds and less than 20 laps remaining.
So yes, the math told Bayne he’d be in position to challenge for the lead. Actually pulling off the pass for first place, though? Well, that was different. That was art.
In a thrilling finish to Sunday’s DuPont Pioneer 250 at Iowa Speedway, Bayne chased down Dillon on Lap 238. The cars touched, with Dillon’s machine shaking loose near the top wall. They bumped again.
They dove down into Turn 1 on Lap 239, side by side with Bayne on the bottom and in position, but not pulling away. In a move he learned during a road-course test a few weeks earlier, Bayne waited for the perfect moment to pull away from Dillon, clearing the No. 3 Chevrolet and putting enough distance between the two cars that they were separated for good.
“We battled really hard, a little bit harder than I wanted to, I think we got a little bit of a tire rub there,” Bayne said following his first NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season. “I knew we’d catch (Austin), but once I got to him, you could really see that he was frustrated. I just stayed behind him for a couple of laps to let him cool off. If he was frustrated, I didn’t want to take a chance on anything. There was a time where I cleared him and I was able to drive away enough to where he couldn’t get back to my bumper and try to cross us over, so that’s where I made the pass.”
The race was worth the wait for Bayne, who got married in North Carolina on Tuesday, watched the race get pushed back a day due to inclement weather and then waited out a red-flag period of nearly 70 minutes on Lap 168 because of a powerful rain shower.
But as much of a statement as the 22-year-old driver made with his performance on the race track, he made a bigger one when he confidently took the microphone in the media center following his celebration in Victory Lane.
“We’re back,” Bayne said. “I get to drive a championship-contending car with a team that just doesn’t give up.”
Bayne’s voice was powerful, reaching a crescendo when describing the No. 6 team’s belief in him and his ideas. He got emotional when talking about his wedding as his wife of five days, Ashton, stood 20 feet away responding to congratulatory text messages.
Meanwhile, Dillon spoke to television stations with a smile on his face. He led six different times for 207 laps, the No. 3 car so strong that the team made little changes during pit stops beyond fuel and tires. He said the right things.
About that late-race contact?
“Hard racing,” Dillon said. “Nothing wrong there.”
About that late pass by Bayne?
“We started fading fast at the end of long runs,” Dillon said. “That’s just part of it. It hurts a little bit.”
Away from the public, though, Dillon’s head dropped as he walked back to the garage. The smile turned into a hard line. His shoulders sagged.
“When you lead a race like that and you dominate all day, and then 10 laps to go you see somebody catch you. Man, it’s heartbreaking,” Bayne said. “I know Austin has to feel that way.”
The feeling in the No. 6 garage was totally different, although it wasn’t an unusual one. Bayne’s crew chief Mike Kelley has won four of the past five races at Iowa, the previous three coming with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. driving the Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
The team’s Iowa dominance aside, it’s the third consecutive top-six finish this season for a group that is coming into its own.
The turning point? At Texas Motor Speedway one month ago, Kelley finally got the data he had been yearning for when Bayne and Stenhouse both drove in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
“We were able to look at some simulations,” Kelley said. “We could go home, take that Cup data and find differences in how Trevor and Ricky ran on the same track at the same day. I don’t want to say it was like a light switch went off, but it started answering a lot of the questions.
“(Since then), we’ve changed a lot of the ways we’re doing things on the 6 car. Trevor has stepped up to be a leader on the team. When he tells us what the car is doing, we make changes to what Trevor says, not to what Ricky was doing with the car last year.”
Stenhouse, of course, won two consecutive Nationwide Series championships in 2011 and 2012 before getting a full-time Cup ride.
The goal for the No. 6 team is clear -- make it three in a row. Bayne moved closer to that Sunday, although he’s now ninth in the standings with 368 points, a full 80 behind points leader Regan Smith.
“We quit looking at points a few weeks,” Kelley said. “We just know our trailer is getting closer to the front, where it’s used to being parked. We’ve got this thing going in the right direction.”