Two and a half years ago, Trevor Bayne was sitting in the press box at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway talking about his first NASCAR win.
The 20-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., was nearly speechless Sunday as he stole the spotlight on NASCAR's biggest stage at Daytona International Speedway with his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory -- the 2011 Daytona 500.
“If I tried to put it into words, I wouldn’t do it any justice,” Bayne said.
Bayne, who turned 20 Saturday, is the youngest Daytona winner -- breaking Jeff Gordon's record -- and second-youngest winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"I keep thinking I'm dreaming, I really do," said Bayne, who won the ‘Great American Race’ in the No. 21 for the famed Wood Bros. Racing. "I am so thankful for the job these guys did on this car. It is unbelievable. Our first 500, are you kidding me? To win the first one?
"I can't thank the guys that worked with me enough."
Bayne's first NASCAR win came in his sixth NASCAR K&N Pro Series start on July 12, 2008. He ran the full season in the series for Dale Earnhardt Inc., where he was a teammate of Jeffrey Earnhardt and Jesus Hernandez.
“That was a really, really cool win for me,” Bayne said. “I had a great group of guys that year.”
He won from the pole at Thompson, and also recorded six top fives and eight top 10s to finish fourth in points behind champion Matt Kobyluck, runner-up Austin Dillon and Hernandez.
“That’s crazy how fast it has all happened,” Bayne said. “It’s been a flash, going straight from the East to Nationwide Series to here. It was a perfect stepping stone order. It’s an awesome way to go.”
Bayne was followed across the line Sunday by Carl Edwards, who got his start in NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series, and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West alum David Gilliland.
"As a friend of Trevor's, it's amazing to watch him have that success," said Carl Edwards, who got to know Bayne last year while competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. "He's done a really good job of keeping his composure. He drives like a veteran."
Bayne also finished second in the 2009 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.).
He was able to lean on his short-track roots to succeed on one of NASCAR’s longest ovals Sunday.
“The thing that has paid off the most (was) just learning how to survive to the end,” Bayne said. “It’s kind of like this. The guy that makes it to the end is probably going to have a top 10 finish.
“It’s the patience, the close-quartered racing, and pushing these guys around. I never thought I’d be a superspeedway racer just because short tracks were my niche. But man, it really does relate to everything we were doing here today.”
Bayne made his debut in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series with his family team as a 16-year-old in 2007. He finished 26th at Mansfield (Ohio) and failed to qualify at Iowa Speedway. He moved to DEI the following year.
He also made a spot start for Dave Davis Motorsports in 2009 with a sixth-place run at Tri-County Speedway in Hudson, N.C., before committing full-time to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Bayne made his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start last year at Texas Motor Speedway.