DAYTONA BEACH — The day began in silence, and ended in hysteria. And in between, NASCAR might have found answers to some of the problems that have dogged the sport in recent seasons.
For Sunday's Daytona 500 was just about everything NASCAR officials could have wanted, short of a victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. And even that would have been hard pressed to top this storyline.
It was a race that featured a record number of leaders, a record number of lead changes and a record number of caution flags as cars collided with walls, each other and common sense. And when it was over, 20-year-old Trevor Bayne stood in Victory Lane looking like the kind of fresh new star NASCAR has been desperate to find.
Maybe it wasn't the race to end all races. But it just might have been the race to end all the complaining.
"This is as good as it gets, guys," runnerup Carl Edwards said. "If people aren't watching, that's their problem, because we got some great stuff going on here."
This is a sport that has forever tried to bridge the gap between its heritage and its future, and on Sunday pulled it off perfectly. The third lap of the race was run in complete silence with fans at Daytona International Speedway holding three fingers aloft in tribute to Dale Earnhardt, who was killed on this weekend 10 years earlier.
And the race ended in NASCAR's version of overtime with Bayne holding off a who's who list of veteran drivers to become the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history.
"To be added to that list (of winners) is crazy, especially at our first attempt," Bayne said. "That's just insane."
The race hit 500 miles under caution and had to be restarted twice to end with two consecutive caution-free laps. When the final restart began at 515 miles, Bayne was in the lead but said he was more concerned about finding someone he could drop behind and push.
"It was kind of cool to say we were leading at the start of the green-white-checkered," Bayne said. "I got to the white flag and I'm like, 'At least we can say I led at the white flag.' We get to Turn 4, and we're still leading. 'Man, somebody's going to pass us. You know what's going to happen here.' But nobody ever did.
"So, you know, wow. Really."
Edwards got a push from David Gilliland, and went low for a pass on the final turn, but was expertly blocked out by Bayne.
"If we would have gone to the high side I think we would have gone around them but then I think David would have probably won because he would have gone around me too," Edwards said. "So I think I was pretty much in trouble no matter what."
In the last 18 laps, 11 different cars were in either first or second place. That's pretty much how the entire day went. The 74 lead changes broke the record of 60 in 1974. There were also a record 22 leaders and 16 caution flags.
"That was 500 miles of sheer terror out there," Edwards said. "It was just wild."
The entire race was a cat-and-mouse game with drivers trying to pair off to find an effective drafting partner. Cars were most effective with one car pushed against another car's back bumper, but that led to some problems in tight quarters.
"I totally get the two-car drafting and I think we are going to see a lot more of it," said Jeff Gordon, who finished 28th after an early accident forced him to the garage for repairs. "What I don't understand is why guys are doing it three-wide, three-deep, running for 28th. We need to let it thin out a little.
"I was watching these guys in front of me like bumper cars."