He had the fuel mileage to win at Michigan and at Indianapolis if strategy had played out. However, it didn’t work with late-race cautions ruining what would have been a second career win for the 26-year-old Knoxville driver. Bayne was particularly upset about the Brickyard 400, where his good day turned to disaster when his No. 6 Roush-Fenway Ford was wrecked and he finished 20th.
“Indy, we had such a strong shot of winning that,” he said at the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “That was probably the toughest heartbreak of my career. Sometimes things happen not in your control, but I would have loved to have sealed that one off.”
Bayne added that a second win to go with his 2011 Daytona 500 trophy, particularly one early in the season, would take pressure off his team and help them if they made the playoffs.
Coming off a season in which he finished 22nd in the points, he sees a couple of key areas of improvement needed for the Roush team to be serious championship contenders.
“We’ve got to improve our short-run speed and our qualifying to get up to the front and get that track position early in the race,” he said. “Playoff points, those stage points, were huge. When you had a dominant car like Truex had — it really showed its head.”
One place he didn’t struggle was his home track at Bristol Motor Speedway. In two races at the Tennessee short track, Bayne finished 11th in the Food City 500 and seventh in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. He has finished in the top 15 in his last five Bristol races.
“Bristol has been great for Roush the last few years,” Bayne said. “Last year, we nearly finished top 10 both races and it’s been one of our best tracks. It’s home for me, you ride right next to the wall. There is something about vertical load in our cars that makes them run well. The flatter the track, the more we struggle. And the more banked, the more vertical load we have, the better we run. We’ve been trying to figure that out for years, still trying to figure that out, but Bristol has been great to us.”
He started out as a youngster racing in the shadows of Bristol on the go-kart track at Beechnut Raceway in Blountville. He also raced other dirt ovals like Ashway, Clear Creek and Dumplin Valley on the East Tennessee go-kart circuit.
An early mentor was former Elizabethton resident Wade Day, who helped Bayne on the go-kart tracks and later in the full-size cars on the asphalt short tracks. Day is currently working with Bayne’s younger brother Trey.
“Wade is such a great guy,” Bayne said. “I remember running go-karts and he worked for a guy, Matt Wolfe, who had a helicopter company up in Piney Flats. I remember him landing down in the middle of a go-kart track at Dumplin Valley. He was coming from a late-model race and I’m thinking, ‘Who is this big shot?’ He came over and helped us with our go-karts. He’s such a solid guy. My little brother, he’s taking him to run a late model some lately. Wade is always there to help people.”