Cope Knows A Bit About Dark Horse 500 Winners
By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
Trevor Bayne, say hello to Derrike Cope.
Bayne, 20, motored to an improbable win Sunday in the Daytona 500 in only his second NACAR Sprint Cup Series start, a stunning performance that Cope likely can relate to.
Remember 1990? Remember when Dale Earnhardt suffered a cut tire in Turn 3 while in the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500, a burdensome failure that allowed Cope to take the checkered flag for his first career win.
“If that doesn’t happen, the best I finish is second,” Cope said.
Bayne’s surprising win didn’t immediately reminded Cope of his own unexpected win 21 years earlier. But he did relish the moment while watching the race from his Mooresville, N.C., home, a day after finishing 25th in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I was just really pleased for the Wood Brothers,” Cope said. “It was really special to see their faces and see that type of joy. You couldn’t have won for a great group of people.
“As for that young man (Bayne), he did a great job. I was really impressed with his coolness behind the wheel. He did basically what I did when I won. He drove within himself and was cautiously smart about the way he did it.
“He certainly had a fast racecar, but you still have to drive it and keep it out of harm’s way. He put himself in position to win and then David Ragan made his mistake.”
Cope has won only one other Cup race in his career (at Dover, Del., in the same 1990 season) since that magical Daytona moment. He also won a Nationwide (then Busch) race in 1994.
Although he’s run only partial Cup/Nationwide schedules throughout much of his career, Cope credits the Daytona victory for allowing him to remain in the driver’s seat at age 52.
“I never really got in one of the higher echelon rides after I won at Daytona,” Cope said. “It was always in some mediocre efforts from that point. But winning that race still opened doors and made me a fixture in this sport until this day. I still have access and I’m still involved.
“Being a past Daytona 500 winner certainly continues to open avenues for me to secure funding and continue to race. It’s done a lot for me.”
Cope is running a partial Nationwide schedule this season and also will enter a few Cup races. He was in this year’s Daytona 500 qualifying list, but missed a starting spot by one position.
As for Bayne, Cope believes “The Kid” has a bright future.
“Winning the Daytona 500 is going to change his life,” Cope said. “He’s going to have Daytona 500 winner affixed to his name every time he is spoken to, spoken about or introduced. It’s going to leave an indelible mark and it’s something to be proud of.
“That kid is a part of history now.”
– Mark Armijo is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.comOne Comment