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Bayne in better position than a year ago

March 12th, 2014 6:49 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Bayne in better position than a year ago

What a difference a year makes.

Trevor Bayne ranks second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings heading into Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The 23-year-old Knoxville driver and 2011 Daytona 500 champion is just three points behind series leader Regan Smith after starting the season with three top-10 finishes.

He drove the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang to an eighth-place finish last Saturday at Las Vegas. Before that, he was seventh at Phoenix and third at Daytona.

Still, there’s nothing like coming to Bristol for the three-time World Champion go-kart race and former Allison Legacy Series National Champion.

“Bristol is one of my favorite tracks and it’s always good to get back in front of my hometown crowd,” he said. “It’s one of the rare times I get to spend time with family and friends. We have been running consistently this year and I know we will unload with a fast car for Saturday so I’m looking forward to it.”

He has far more experience at Bristol than any other track (10 starts) and he has three top-10 finishes at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”

Bayne has completed nearly 97 percent of the laps in races he’s entered at Bristol and has led a total of 77 laps.

Bayne, who announced he had multiple sclerosis last November, knows it’s important to keep the momentum going.

A slow start last season was to blame for him never being a contender for the 2013 Nationwide Series championship. He broke a gear in the season-opener at Daytona and got 100 points down before rallying to finish sixth in the final standings.

Most disappointing, he didn’t perform up to his usual high standards at Bristol, which led him and Smith to take part in a Goodyear tire test at the track last September.

“This was a place where we struggled when I thought we would be the best,” he said afterwards. “I thought we would dominate the March race and we ran around 10th to 12th all day. The thing that held us back was being way too tight in the center of the corner. To get wins, you have to be about perfect and we’ve been that one change away from being there.”

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Johnson City driver Brad Teague will not be part of the action this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Teague had talked to car owner Jay Robinson about driving the No. 70 Toyota in Saturday’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300. However, the car hasn’t been up to speed, the slowest car in qualifying at the first three races this year.

With no guaranteed starting spot for the No. 70, it was sure to be an uphill struggle just to make the race. With that weighing against him, Teague decided not to pursue the necessary sponsorship to make an attempt at a 34th Bristol race.

Still, Teague wants to keep his streak of Nationwide Series starts alive. The 66-year-old Teague and 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd are the only drivers to race in the series when it started in 1982 through last season.

Teague has talked to other car owners in addition to Robinson and plans are for him to race later this season at Dover as well as the Food City 300 at Bristol in August. 

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There are other East Tennessee connections in Sunday’s Food City 500 with Johnson City-based Borla Muffler sponsoring the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing and driver Ryan Truex Jr.

In addition, Front Row Motorsports is owned by Morristown businessman Bob Jenkins and the Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet is sponsored by Pilot Flying J, a company owned by the family of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.

Rookie Michael Annett is the driver of the No. 7 and he currently ranks 34th, one spot behind Danica Patrick, in the Sprint Cup Series points. The 27-year-old Iowa native and former hockey star talked about coming to Bristol where the skating around is often the race car.

“Bristol is a really fun place when you have a good race car,” Annett said. “Everything seems to happen quicker -- the closing rates are fast. I’m optimistic about our chances of having a good race. As long as we have a decent qualifying run and have a solid initial run in the race, we can build from there and get a good result.”

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Eric McClure, driver of the No. 14 Toyota, is scheduled to make his 15th Nationwide Series start at Bristol on Saturday. 

The Chilhowie, Va., driver finished 21st in the spring race at Bristol last year after starting 24th. McClure ranks 18th in the points in what is expected to be the 35-year-old driver’s last season on the Nationwide circuit. He talked about the benefits of racing near home  and spending extra time with family.

“I enjoy the extra time at home this week, being able to tuck the girls in at night,” he said. “Bristol has always been tough for us, but last year we had a solid run most of the race. Unfortunately, I had to miss the August race (due to an injury), so I’m excited to see if we can get a good result. There are always many local people at the event, so it would be great to have a solid run in front of them.”

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