Trevor Bayne ready to take step to title contender in NASCAR

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 16, 2014 

Most 22-year-olds would be lucky to have a steady ride in one of NASCAR’s three national series.

In many ways, particularly in experience, Trevor Bayne already has enjoyed virtually an entire career.

Next month will mark the third anniversary of Bayne’s surprise victory – at age 19 – in the Daytona 500 – a milestone many NASCAR drivers never reach.

Yet in some ways, Bayne’s NASCAR career still is beginning.

He remains without a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup series, despite his Daytona victory. Instead, he’ll begin his fourth full season in the Nationwide Series, again competing with Roush Fenway Racing while also running a partial Cup schedule with the Wood Brothers.

With a bumper crop of talent debuting in Nationwide this season – including Chase Elliott, Ryan Reed and Ty Dillon – Bayne, 22, is becoming one of the series’ veterans.

“I’m excited for these guys to develop and get better. I think the competition level is going to be just as tough as it was,” Bayne said recently during preseason testing at Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

“I think that’s going to be a trend. I think the youth movement is coming as strong as ever, and I think there’s new opportunities because the guys have moved on to Cup.”

Bayne certainly wishes he was one of them.

“You see a lot of new faces coming through and a lot of guys getting opportunities in Cup and it’s exciting for them,” he said. “We’re definitely ready for that opportunity, but we’re also going to make the most of the fun that we have now.”

Much was expected from Bayne after his 2011 head-turning Daytona win, but his career hit the brakes just months after that because of an victory when he was sidelined by illness.

He missed several races as doctors tried to determine why Bayne was suffering from symptoms of double-vision, fatigue and numbness. The initial conclusion was Bayne had a bout with Lyme disease and he returned to racing that season.

Late last season, Bayne officially was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, although he suffers no symptoms.

With his medical condition finally diagnosed, there remains just one goal this season for his NASCAR career.

“A successful year is obviously a championship-contending season. We wanted that last year and a couple things took us out of it,” he said.

“I have to pay attention every single time from having a mediocre day, I can’t make that a bad day. You can’t dig a hole for yourself, and I think I learned a lot about that last season, and that’s what’s going to help us be a championship contender this year.”

Bayne will have a new crew chief this season. Mike Kelley, who worked with Bayne during 2013, will rejoin driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the Cup series. Chad Norris will work with Bayne in the Nationwide series.

“I think our team is probably the most set it’s ever been going into a season as far as funding, sponsorship, having our pit boxes and haulers already ready to go,” Bayne said.

“It seems like normally Daytona sneaks up on you and you aren’t completely prepared with your guys and cars and equipment and all that. But I feel like this season we’re the most prepared we’ve ever been for February to come around.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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