By admin | August 1, 2011
By Richard Allen
In almost every Sprint Cup season there seems to be a surprise winner or two. Someone takes a checkered flag that few, if any, had given a chance before the day had begun. But so far in 2011, there have been three race winners that were so far off the radar that their wins are not just surprising, but shocking. And perhaps the best part of these fresh faces is that they graced victory lane in three of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.
Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith and Paul Menard have won races this season that few gave them any chance to win. And they did it on the biggest of stages.
What has brought about such a rash of surprise winners? Actually, each of the unexpected victories came about as somewhat of an odd circumstance.
In the case of Bayne’s Daytona 500 win, the strange 2X2 style of drafting was new to everyone. Due to the resurfacing of the track, the Daytona International Speedway proved to be very smooth, which in turn allowed cars to race in very tight two car formations in order to achieve maximum speed. No matter how many times a driver may have raced on the famous track, the style was new. As a result, a rookie had as much of a chance to adapt as a 20 year veteran if not more so since the young guys had fewer preconceived notions of how things ought to be.
The youngster driving for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team became comfortable with the new style quickly and even spent time advising more experienced stars like Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon on the nuances of the technique.
In the end, Bayne had a fast car and he adapted well to a style of driving that had not been employed for entire races before. That allowed him to achieve a surprise win in the sport’s biggest race.
In a question posed to my Twitter followers on Monday, Bayne’s win was considered the biggest surprise by most of the multiple respondents. However, I found another race winner to be more stunning.
Of the three upset winners this season, Smith has been the biggest surprise to me. I say this not because of Smith skill, but rather, because of the way he won. While his 78 car was barely evident for the first four-fifths of the Southern 500 in Darlington, his crew employed some great late race strategy by not pitting during the final caution to put him in front with the checkered flag almost within sight.
However, it is very well known that new tires are essential for top speed on ‘The Lady in Black’. Smith may have had the lead but several top competitors were lined up behind him with fresh rubber. That is sometimes worth as much two seconds per lap on the stopwatch so it seemed highly unlikely that Smith would be able to hold on when the green flag dropped.
Ultimately, Smith did hold on for the surprise victory and the second major upset of the 2011 Sprint Cup season.
On Sunday, Menard scored yet another shocker when he outlasted the field for the win in the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After making his final pit stop of the day the driver of car 27 went into conservation mode and coasted to the finish line just ahead of Jeff Gordon to claim one of racing’s biggest prizes.
Menard had scarcely shown up anywhere near the top of the leader board until the leaders in front of him peeled off the track to replenish their fuel tanks. However, the Wisconsin driver did what he needed to do by taking it easy on his accelerator pedal over the late laps and got to the yard of bricks first.
While his win was certainly a surprise, it has to be considered that fuel mileage stretches do allow for anyone who can save gas to pick up a win.
Each of these drivers shocked the racing world when they beat more high profile competitors to the checkered flag. Each had a little help from the somewhat odd circumstances of 2X2 drafting, late race pit strategy and fuel mileage to win. None of these wins was even on my radar screen prior to the drop each respective green flag. To me, Smith’s win was most surprising because of how he pulled it off.
Which surprised you most?
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