The NASCAR existence of Trevor Bayne is certainly no normal story. His 2011 Daytona 500 win, a first-attempt stunner at NASCAR’s biggest event in his second career Cup race with the part-time Wood Brothers team, has no comparable counterpart in sports.
But, as Bayne found out, arriving at light speed to the sport’s mountaintop didn’t guarantee that another ascent would be that simple. He’s been learning the hard way of the climb ever since.
Last season — his second full-time Cup season — Bayne and his No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing were far from great. That’s the type of assessment a 20th-place average finish and just five top-10 finishes in 36 races will earn.
Bayne, however, did show serious strides when compared to his brutal rookie season of 2015. His average finish improved by six positions, and he finished on the lead lap of 21 races, a 62 percent jump year over year.
Now? Bayne starts the 2017 season in what he says is the most stable position he’s ever had in NASCAR, but with a couple of caveats: His RFR organization contracted to two Cup teams in the offseason (a level not seen since 1996) and as a whole remains distant from legitimately competing each week for wins and top-5 finishes.
“This is the most certain of my future I’ve ever been,” Bayne says, referencing sponsor AdvoCare signing a three-year commitment to him last year as well the introduction of Liberty National Life as a new multi-race primary sponsor. “I’ve never had that security in my entire career. It’s always been year to year for me. To have that, and to have that for my guys and my race team, I think we’re feeling better than we did going into last season.”
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Public confidence is not a unique characteristic of racecar drivers. They are hired talent representing wide interests with significant financial resources on the line. Bayne handles that role with aplomb despite his disappointments along the way. During Bayne’s rookie season at RFR, he ran in the top 15 for just six percent of the season’s laps and was involved in too many preventable incidents. His improvement in 2016 — Bayne led the series in improving his finishing position after halfway, and he ran inside the top 15 for 19 percent of all laps turned — left even Bayne unsure about his peers’ perception of him.
“I don’t think they know what to think, to be honest,” Bayne says. “The way my career’s been, it’s been all over the place. I’ve won races and then I’ve had races that weren’t so good. Been through a lot. People really don’t know what to think, so I got to prove myself still.”
Bayne says that his off-track commitment has only deepened, an effort that could be important to the 25-year-old’s future as he races for a team struggling for speed.
“That’s one thing I’ve had to do is say, ‘You know what, we’re learning as a race team, but I’ve got to do my part,’” Bayne says. “I’ve got to do everything I can as a driver to study, work as hard as anybody, work out, train as hard as I can, and be prepared when I get to the track.”
The results have started to show in Bayne’s performance, even if the gains are modest. Continuing them will be the hardest part.