BRISTOL — Since late May, Trevor Bayne has kept pace with the NASCAR Nationwide Series points leaders.
The only problem is the 100-point deficit he faced after nine races. Bayne has slowly moved up in the driver standings since then. He currently ranks eighth, the highest he has been in the standings since the fifth race of the season.
“We were down 100 points heading into the Charlotte weekend and for four straight weeks, we made up a lot of points,” said Bayne on Tuesday at a Goodyear tire test at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Since that Charlotte race, we’ve scored the second most points, second only to Austin Dillon, but it doesn’t matter because of the bad races we had at the beginning.”
The 22-year-old Knoxville driver admits it was disappointing to get off to such a rocky start with the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Ford team which had won the previous two Nationwide Series championships with driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
It has been an up and down last few seasons for Bayne, who won the 2011 Daytona 500 for the legendary Wood Brothers team at age 20 and then was sidetracked four months later with an illness. He never had the sponsorship to run more than a limited schedule in 2012, and hit a stretch earlier this season of three finishes outside the top 25 over four races.
However, it’s been a different story since June when Bayne passed Dillon with 13 laps to go and scored a second career Nationwide Series victory at Iowa. Over the last 11 races, Bayne has compiled nine top-10 finishes and even added a sponsor for 2014, building some serious momentum.
Among his finishes was a sixth-place run in the Food City 250, although Bayne wasn’t pleased with the performance. Same as his 12th place run at Bristol in March, Bayne never was a contender to win the race.
“The last two races here, we were way tighter than we had been before,” he said. “We were fast the last two years, but the tire was different this year. I felt like we had a lot to learn. This was a place where we struggled when I thought we would be the best. I thought we would dominate the (March) race and we ran around 10th-12th all day. The thing that held us back was being way too tight in the center of the corner.”
He believes the problem was corrected at Tuesday’s test and it will help the team with their next visit to Bristol and even at other tracks this season. In particular, they found a set-up which could work well at Dover, another high-banked concrete track. While the consistent finishes have been good, the goal is to take that next step forward and start winning more races.
“(Crew chief) Mike Kelley said at the end of the test that it was the best test he’s ever been a part of,” Bayne said. “At this point of the season, we need to make gains and there was one change which set our car in a totally different direction. To get wins, you have to be about perfect and we’ve been that one change away from being there.”
In addition to six top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 26 Nationwide Series races this season, Bayne has raced nine times in the Sprint Cup Series with a best finish of 15th at Michigan.
He’s also slid around in the red clay, racing a dirt late model car at Volunteer Speedway back in August. Bayne finished 12th in ‘The Scorcher,’ the biggest race of the year at the 4/10-mile Bulls Gap dirt track. He loved the experience, although it bore little resemblance to the racing he will do this Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.
“I was actually watching the video of that earlier and it’s such a different style of racing,” he said. “When you’re in a dirt car, you’re wheeling it, doing all you can do. When you’re in a Nationwide car, you have to be as smooth as possible, driving it with the front end instead of the back end. It’s definitely a different style of racing, but a lot of fun for me.”