By Joe Dunn
Unlike DW, who proudly showed a blank sheet of paper as his Trevor Bayne bio sheet on Fox Sports coverage of the Daytona 500, my bio sheet on rookie Trevor Bayne was far from blank. Here is what I had already known.
With little fanfare, Knoxville, Tennessee’s Trevor Bayne slipped into the seat of the unsponsored Michael Waltrip Racing No. 99 NASCAR Nationwide Series car on Friday June 5, 2009 at Nashville SuperSpeedway. A Friday afternoon press conference introduced Bayne, with few media members knowing much about him.
Living in East Tennessee, I was aware of Bayne having watched him compete at Bristol Motor Speedway in the USAR Pro Cup series. Under the guidance of his father Rocky, Trevor, like Jeff Gordon has climbed a methodical trail to earn success. He was a bit of a legend around the local go kart tracks, where he won over 300 races, and earned 22 titles. Three times Bayne earned the World Karting Association, World Champion title.
Obviously that success would propel him to move up, which he did by running the Allison Legacy Series. At 13 years old, he became the youngest race winner as well as the youngest Top Rookie. Over two years in the series, he had 41 starts, 14 wins and 30 top 5’s. In 2005 Bayne captured the series National Championship. From there he went on to two years in the Pro Cup Series.
In 2007 Trevor signed a Developmental Driver contract with Dale Earnhardt Inc. the plan was to run one more year in Pro Cup and 2008 in the NASCAR Camping World East Series, as a teammate to Jeffrey Earnhardt. 2009 was supposed to bring a full time NNS ride, but the downturn in the Economy hurt DEI and forced them to cut the NNS program. DEI did manage to get Bayne a car for Bristol, which was run by the Jimmy Means team. The MWR ride at Nashville was his second race in the series.
Without all the hype and fanfare that followed Joey Logano to Nashville the year before, Bayne posted a qualify speed that put him on the provisional pole. He held that spot, until the 29th qualifier, Kyle Bush edged him to the outside of the front row.
I talked to several crew members on the 99 car both Friday and Saturday at Nashville and they all seemed very excited about this little known kid. When another big wreck coming out of turn 4 on lap 123 happened, Bayne had no escape, taking a battering from the front and the rear. Though the 99 crew worked feverishly to get the car back out, they only garnered 3 more laps when it appeared beyond repair.
I said that weekend that Trevor Bayne could be the future of MWR or another top NASCAR team. Six races later Bayne put the #99 car on the pole for the Kroger 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway (ORP at the time) as he wow’d the fans there. He would get his best finish of the 2009 season that day finishing 7th. What was supposed to be a 7 or 8 race deal with MWR turned into a 14 race run for Trevor and a full time, multi-year deal starting in 2010.
The new deal with Diamond Waltrip Racing was supposed to include a few Cup starts in a MWR car for 2011. Bayne and the team got off to a bit of a rocky start in 2010, but by July at ORP Trevor had climbed into the top 10 in points. Things changed late in the season and the team was unable to secure full sponsorship for the NASCAR Nationwide Series car for 2011. Trevor was given a release from the team after the 28th race at Dover in late September and advised to seek other options and a new ride for 2011.
It was only a matter of days when a new contract was signed with Roush-Fenway Racing and Trevor showed up at Kansas in the #17 car. Unfortunately, because the #17 was a ’Late Entry’, neither the car nor driver would earn any championship points for the race. That lack of points dropped Bayne two spots from 7th to 9th. He would finish the season in the #17 car, but there was a provision for Cup races in his new deal. The plan was to attempt to run the 2011 Daytona 500, but with no Cup experience he stood little chance of getting clearance from NASCAR for a Superspeedway attempt. It was decided to enter Trevor in the AAA Texas 500 to get him a Cup race to obtain NASCAR clearance. A quick deal was put together with the Wood Brothers to put Bayne in the #21 car. He qualified 28th but because of a transmission change he was forced to start at the back. As he worked his way forward Bayne displayed a smooth driving style and finished an impressive 17th. That run earned NASCAR’s approval for Daytona.
When I caught up with Trevor at Phoenix the following week he was brimming with excitement. He talked about his departure from Diamond Waltrip Racing, “It was all due to sponsorship, we didn’t have any for next year. Had they had full time sponsorship they would have been able to exercise the contract to run full time, and I’d still be sitting in that car.” Bayne was understanding about being released and talked about his relationship with Gary and Blake Bechtel “We’re still great friends and I talked with both of them yesterday, they really helped advance my career, and I felt bad that it didn’t work out for them.” Talking about the 2011 season Bayne said, “I know my deal will be full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, going for the championship, but I don’t know at this point what number I’ll be running next year.”
Regarding his NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas, he was equally excited. “That car was just awesome, and it was a great opportunity to work with the Wood brothers and Donny Wingo.” he told me, as he smiled from ear to ear, “ We finished 17th and we stayed on the lead lap all day. We got as high as 14th at one time, but I got boxed in on pit road and lost a ton of spots. I really liked driving the cup car, it’s a lot like short track racing, which I have done my whole life, and they have just so much power.”
He told me that at that point that there was no set plan to run the Cup series in 2011, “ I think we’re gonna try to run a couple, but I don’t know what car or what team. We did run Texas so that I could have a chance at running Daytona, but we don’t know at this point if I’ll ever run there.”
Bayne finished the 2010 NNS season 7th in driver’s points and it was during the off season that the 2011 plans really developed. Colin Braun was released by RFR and Bayne was introduced as the driver of the #16 car in the Nationwide series and with the new points rules in place, he declared that he was in the championship run in the NNS. It was also announced that he would drive the #21 car for the Wood brothers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, for up to 17 races. A points arrangement was made between RPM and Wood brothers, to bring the vacated #98 car points to the #21 car, assuring a guaranteed start in the first five races of the season. As it turned out Bayne never needed that locked in position as he proved his worth in the strange Daytona 500 qualifying program.
When the green flag flew to start the 2011 Daytona 500 the driver of the #21 car was advised to be careful and have some fun. All of America knows now how much fun Trevor Bayne had on Sunday!