DAYTONA BEACH — 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 opener, locked up one of the 43 spots in Sunday's qualifying. Bayne posted the fastest lap (193.615 mph) of the 14 drivers who don't have automatic spots, which belong to the top 35 in last year's owner points.
Tony Raines and David Stremme also earned their way in on speed.
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."
Still, he might have been a contender for the front row had it not been for the wind, which got stronger toward the end of qualifying.
"I feel pretty good about the lap," Bayne said. "Last year I would have been jumping up and down about qualifying in the top 10, but I really thought we had a shot at the pole, as good as our car was Saturday (second-fastest in final practice). It's just the wind was against us. Going through (Turns) 3 and 4, I could feel it kind of gusting onto the nose of our car, so at that point, there's not much you can do."
Bayne doesn't have a full-time ride in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. Wood Brothers Racing plans to have him run 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, 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."
Since his Daytona 500 shocker last February, little has worked out the way Bayne might have expected. He 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.
STENHOUSE SOARS: Ricky Stenhouse, the 2011 Nationwide champion, made a strong start to his Speedweeks, running eighth-fastest in time trials.
"It will definitely give you some confidence that you've got a car that is capable of being in the front and running up front for a lot of the race," said Stenhouse, who will start his first Daytona 500 and second Cup race on Sunday.
Stenhouse will start fourth in Thursday's first Duel and says, "On Thursday, our job is to keep our race car as clean as we can so we'll have it for Sunday."
BOWYER BOUNCED: Officials found Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Toyota was too low in post-qualifying inspection. He will have to start from the back in one of Thursday's two 150-mile Duel races. No additional penalties are expected. Bowyer's team is assured of a spot in the 500, based on owner points.
NHRA: Antron Brown won the Top Fuel division of the Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, holding off Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the final round with a run of 3.793 seconds at 319.82 mph. Robert Hight topped the Funny Car field and Jason Line won Pro Stock.
EAST BAY RACEWAY: Steve Francis won $10,000 by taking the finale of the Late Model Dirt Series Winternationals finale in Gibsonton. Dennis Erb Jr. earned the weeklong Winternationals title, worth $5,000.