KINGSPORT — It’s still not work to Trevor Bayne.
The Daytona 500 champion made a special appearance at Fairway Ford on Thursday to open the dealership’s new Quick Lane car care center and sign autographs for fans. Told it was time to get to work and meet the fans, the 20-year-old from Knoxville smiled and said, “This isn’t work. This is fun.”
Although overwhelmed with interview requests and media appearances in the weeks following his upset win on stock car racing’s biggest stage, Bayne’s toughest fight came in the months to come when he was diagnosed with a mystery illness which forced him to miss five weeks of racing.
Now back at 100 percent, the exhuberant driver got excited when talking about tonight’s Food City 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“If I could choose a track I wanted to win my first Nationwide Series race at, it would be Bristol,” said the driver of the No. 16 Roush-Fenway Ford. “Bristol, even if it wasn’t located in Tennessee, would still be one of my favorite tracks because it’s so different than anywhere else we go.
“It just adds icing on the cake that I used to race go-karts in Blountville all the time. My old Hooters Pro Cup crew chief, Wade Day, lived in this area, so it’s always a neat place to come to.”
For a while, Bayne was happy to be racing anywhere after being out of action for over a month. It’s a lot to expect anyone to handle the roller-coaster ride of emotions of the past few months, let alone a young driver who wasn’t expected to be a factor at Daytona.
“It’s been wild and you have to protect yourself not to become numb to it all,” he said. “You go so high and so low, you feel dead to the world a little bit. For me, I just have to get back into it and realize this is where I’m supposed to be at.” Despite missing the five races, Bayne still ranks 12th in the point standings, and his combination of three top-five and nine top-10 finishes are matched by only a half-dozen other drivers.
“We’ve had a decent season, although not exactly what I want to have in Nationwide,” he said. “I wanted to already have a win and be contending for a championship. If we hadn’t have been out those five weeks, I think we could be in that situation. There have been lots of ups and downs, but we’re taking to it.”
Ironically, Bayne’s best finish of the season in the Nationwide Series (third) came in his first race back at Chicago. Since that race in early June, it’s been more ups and downs such as a 28th place finish at Indianapolis. In that race, he was running second to teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. when the motor blew in the No. 16 Ford with just 12 laps to go.
For tonight’s Food City 250, the team has announced a new crew chief for Bayne. Chad Norris, who was on the pit box for race winner Marcos Ambrose last week in Montreal, takes over the position previously held by Chris Andrews.
“We’re trying to figure out my team, get the chemistry right where we can make the cars faster every week,” Bayne said. “I think having a new crew chief this weekend is going to be a positive thing. Chris Andrews did a great job all year, but I think the communication will be better now. It’s a great place for us to be going to, to start that off.”
There is plenty for Bayne to be optimistic about tonight.
At age 15, he became the youngest pole winner ever in a Hooters Pro Cup race at Bristol, and earlier this year, he ran second in the Scotts EZ Seed 300 before a problem on pit road led to a 19th place finish.
“We were really fast last time before losing a tire on pit road,” he said. “It put us back in the field and we got into a crash when a guy blew up in front of us. I’m looking forward to a fast race car this weekend and hopefully getting that first Nationwide victory.”