It’s taken nearly a year and a half, but Trevor Bayne is finally finding the consistency Roush Fenway Racing was hoping to see when he was signed before the 2015 season. After a third-place finish at Daytona — his first since winning the Daytona 500 in 2011 — Bayne’s second half of 2016 looks even more encouraging than the first.
Coming off four straight finishes outside of the top 10 (two of which were outside the top 20), Bayne needed a solid result at Daytona. Thanks to a wild restart with just a handful of laps remaining, the 25-year-old driver nailed down his second top five of the season and third of his career at the Sprint Cup level.
“That last restart was wild,” Bayne said. “We restarted 12th and with help from the No. 3 car were able to get up to the outside and really make up some ground. We got behind the No. 18 down the backstretch and I pushed him with all I had.”
Bayne was the top finishing Roush driver on the night, but he was far from the only RFR contender in the race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top five while Greg Biffle, who started from the pole for the first time since 2012, earned his first top-10 result of the season by finishing eighth.
Biffle is mired in yet another disappointing season, but things are looking up for both Bayne and Stenhouse. The two drivers have combined for four top fives and seven top 10s this year, with Bayne currently 17th in the points standings after Daytona.
“I think that’s kind of a landmark for us as an organization with the struggles we’ve had to get all three teams running strong on a weekend like this,” Bayne said. “Obviously a lot of it is just getting through the day. … It’s not a win that we need to get in the Chase, but it’s a great step in the right direction for making it in on points.”
Both drivers have a chance of driving their way into the Chase on points, but would likely need a win to guarantee a spot.
While Bayne is currently 17th in the standings, he would need to be in the top 15 to make the Chase due to Tony Stewart (30th in points) crashing the party with a win at Sonoma. Then there’s also the potential of Kyle Larson winning a race or A.J. Allmendinger finishing the job at Watkins Glen or a short track to jump Bayne on the Chase Grid.
The opportunity for a win is certainly there. Bayne finished in the top 10 at Michigan last season and narrowly missed the mark with a 13th-place result at Kentucky. He also finished fifth at Bristol earlier this year for his only top five outside of Daytona. With races at all three of those tracks before the Chase begins in September, Bayne seems like the most likely candidate to make NASCAR’s postseason for Roush Fenway.
After missing the Chase last year for the first time since 2004 — RFR had a minimum of two every season of the Chase — the team needs more than just one great race to get back. Thanks to the rise of Bayne and Stenhouse, a win or at least a Chase berth looks like a distinct possibility this year.