NASCAR gets a fresh face in Bayne

Feb 23 2011 - 6:43pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- He can drive a race car. That much we know.

But given his ascendance from bright young racing prospect to Daytona 500 champion in a single afternoon, an obvious question has arisen:

Who's Trevor Bayne?

The fresh-faced 20-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., was just hoping to gain a little NASCAR Sprint Cup Series experience this season while driving a partial schedule for the legendary Wood Brothers team.

Then he woke up Monday and saw his No. 21 still glowing on the scoreboard from Sunday and his image all over TV and the papers.

"I'm just a normal kid," Bayne reiterated before setting off for his East Coast media swing, a stop in Chicago and a jaunt to Los Angeles before the races this weekend in Phoenix.

Just a normal kid?

Bayne started racing at 5, won three World Karting Association titles in eight years, claimed the national championship for the Allison Legacy Series at 13 and moved to from Knoxville to Charlotte when he was 15 to advance his stock-car career.

His father, Rocky, would spend a couple of days there each week. His mother, Stephanie, would remind him to clean his room. But Trevor was essentially on his own.

"I had to start doing laundry," Bayne said. "That went well for about the first three weeks. . . . I'm not a cook yet. I about caught my place on fire one time, so I decided that was a bad idea, too.

"That was a big responsibility to take on, but I think that was kind of why I never had my crazy party stage or whatever you want to call it that most teenagers go through was because I had to kind of grow up fast."

Bayne joined with Dale Earnhardt Inc., to race in the NASCAR East development series and thought he was headed for the Nationwide Series in 2009 when a lack of sponsorship cost him his ride altogether.

Bayne met Gary Bechtel, who had owned a team in that series, and Bechtel joined forces with Michael Waltrip. With that team and a few other rides, Bayne raced in Nationwide in 2009 and '10. But Bayne became a free agent when Waltrip said he couldn't find backing.

Rand Roush Fenway Racing snapped him up. Jack Roush wanted Bayne to race for the Nationwide title and drive a limited Sprint Cup schedule for the Wood Brothers team, which gets its cars, engines and engineering support from Roush Fenway. The Woods planned to race part-time but could expand if the 500 win generates sponsorship.

"We won this race and that sets the bar high, but if we would have finished 15th, we would have been happy," Bayne said. "We've got to remember that for the rest of the season. There are gonna be a lot of times when we do struggle because I'm new at this."

Bayne earned the respect of veteran competitors throughout Speedweeks for the way he drove. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon sought out the rookie when he wanted someone to ride nose-to-tail, and he was among those who visited Bayne in victory lane.

He also has earned respect around the circuit as a young man of faith and humility who handles himself well and appreciates the help he received on his way to becoming the youngest Daytona 500 winner.

How did Bayne celebrate Sunday? Like a normal kid. He went to dinner with his team and then shot baskets and rode skateboards with buddies before rolling in at about 1 a.m. to prepare for a long week.

"I think the world's going to like him a lot," said Carl Edwards, the runner-up Sunday and a Roush Fenway teammate.

"He'll do a good job of representing the sport in whatever he does this week. He's a guy that has a ton of enthusiasm. He'll walk right up to you, stick his hand out, just seems like a really good guy."

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