Trevor Bayne gets to celebrate a Tennessee legend while trying to get back in victory lane in Friday’s Food City 250 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bayne is running the “We Back Pat” No. 60 Ford, complete with a special orange and white paint scheme to honor Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach.
At the same time, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner makes just his fifth start in the Nationwide Series this season.
Bayne had consistently run up front before car owner Jack Roush decided to park the No. 60 car due to a lack of sponsorship. It was especially true at Bristol where he started on the outside pole for the Ford EcoBoost 300 in March and led 64 laps before problems on a pit stop resulted in an eighth-place finish.
That effort, however, has the Knoxville native excited about coming back for Friday’s race.
“Bristol is one race that we could go win,” Bayne said. “We’re definitely going after it harder than if we were running full-time. When you’re full-time, you just get in a rhythm. But this one, we’re really focused on and hungry to go win it.”
There is the extra incentive to win for Summitt, who retired earlier this year as college basketball’s all-time winningest coach with 1,098 victories and eight women’s national championships.
She ended a 38-year coaching career after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The 21-year-old driver can sympathize with the coaching legend, after being forced to sit out five races last season with a mysterious illness and then parked this season with the lack of sponsorship.
“It’s been a tough ride,” he said. “We’ve definitely found out what we’re made of, and what our value is. If our value was just running races, we would be in trouble. It’s been hard, but I’ve had to rely on my faith and realize that God has me where he wants me.
“Fortunately, I’ve found that before that happened. But, going through the wins and struggles, it’s easy to get too high or too low. You have to stay at that middle ground. I want to get back in victory lane soon.”
His victory at Daytona was obviously the biggest of his career, but he gained more respected by outdueling Sprint Cup stars Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards to win a Nationwide Series race at Texas.
Running a limited schedule of races in the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers, Bayne and company often find themselves at a disadvantage against the full-time teams.
“When we qualify in the top 10 like we did at Michigan or finish in the top 10, those are almost like wins because it is so hard,” he said. “We’re running 12-15 races a year while those other teams are getting better racing every weekend, getting their cars better and working together. Speed comes from that.
“It just gets better as you run more. Even as a driver, experience is a big thing. I definitely think we would be more competitive if we could run full-time.”
Bayne has tried to keep himself busy, racing in Maine’s Oxford 250 short-track earlier this summer and making his debut in a dirt late model car. Tonight, he’s scheduled to run the ‘Scorcher 100’ Super Late Model race at Volunteer Speedway in nearby Bulls Gap.
“Since I’m not racing as much as I would like to in the Nationwide and Cup Series, I’m trying to keep my arms turning left a little,” he said. “Seat time is seat time whether it’s a go-kart or whatever, as long as you are racing, it’s geting you better.”
While it’s expected he will replace defending Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the No. 6 Ford, an announcement is yet to be made by Roush or any other team officials. Bayne admits it’s hard to play the waiting game as his friend Stenhouse is promoted to a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup Series.
“It’s hard for me as a driver to be patient and not get anxious,” he said. “I want to know what I’m doing next year with Cup, Nationwide or both. I’m just trying to wait until they give me an answer.”
Even to the veterans inside the sport, it’s baffling that Roush hasn’t been able to come up with the funding for the charamastic young driver with a Daytona 500 win already on his resume’. For his part, Bayne is trying to deal with it one race at a time, putting forth his best effort in Friday’s race.
“There are days when I get anxious and say I’m ready to run full-time Cup,” he said. “I feel I’m ready and want to be doing that and be competitive. But, you just have to be patient and not question it too much because it’s a dangerous thing to do. You have to take it as it comes and make the best of it.”