DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Trevor Bayne will defend his Daytona 500 championship.
Bayne, whose No. 21 Ford didn't have enough owner points to guarantee a starting position in the season-opening race, locked up one of the 43 spots during pole qualifying Sunday. Bayne posted the fastest lap (193.615 mph) among 14 drivers trying to get into The Great American Race, securing a spot along with Tony Raines and David Stremme.
Bayne did it on his 21st birthday, too.
"It's a lot of relief," Bayne said. "We're in the show for good now. We don't have to worry about that or lose some sleep at night."
It could pay off down the road.
Bayne doesn't have a full-time ride in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. Wood Brothers Racing plans to run him in 14 Cup races this season. He doesn't have a full-time Nationwide Series ride, either. Roush Fenway Racing plans to run him in the first three races of the season, hoping to attract potential sponsors with good results and run more races.
The exposure he should get in NASCAR's premier event could be beneficial.
"Certainly it helps," team owner Jack Roush said. "Trevor is the reigning Daytona 500 champion and we have not managed to put together full sponsorship for either the Cup program or the Nationwide program. But we do have ongoing conversations. And I don't know that there'll be any great improvement in our prospects based on this, but it certainly would have been a downer if we had failed to qualify."
Bayne believed his Daytona 500 victory last February would catapult him into a full-time ride, but little has worked out quite like he expected.
Bayne missed several weeks last season after being diagnosed with a mystery ailment that turned out to be Lyme disease. Bayne feels fine now, good enough to take a mission trip to Kenya in the offseason.