Reigning Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne drove a #21 Wood Brothers Ford Fusion showcar along a cloudy Daytona Beach yesterday to kick off the Speedweeks proceedings.
“This is probably the coolest thing I've got to do outside of actually racing,” Bayne said after his run.
“This is an unbelievable feeling – being on the beach where it all started. This is history right here. I almost want to bottle up the sand and take it with me because this is where it started for Daytona, this is where it started for NASCAR and I'm just glad to be a part of it.”
Bayne, who celebrates his birthday tomorrow, went from relative unknown to matinee idol overnight after his shock win last season and has since seen demands on his time soar. Yet, as Rubens Barrichello will testify, sometimes being seen as the 'good guy' and being everyone's best friend still isn't enough – Bayne finds himself without a full-time Nationwide ride this year, his chances at taking the title seem to be over before it has even started.
“We’re just making the best of what we’ve got right now and it’s tough to do that when you only have a few races,” Bayne said.
“For me, I’m running about the same schedule I ran in Cup last year. It’s kind of one a month with the 21 car, but in Nationwide I had hoped to run a full season this year and run for a championship.
“Obviously, as a young guy you want to have championships under your belt and full seasons.”
Bayne's plight means that he will miss the Budweiser Shootout, despite being eligible as a former Daytona 500 winner. This means he will have less track time than several of his rivals to get accustomed to the new-for-2012 restrictor plate package, which should see an end to the two-car tandems which emerged last year.
“I guess I'll be watching the Bud Shootout, I think everybody will, to see how the racing is going to be and what it's going to come down to,” he said.
“But, either way, it's racing – whether it's a pack or two cars or a mixture of both, the guy that figures it out the best is the guy that's gonna win, so that's what we want to be.”
Although Bayne didn't complete enough races last year to be in with a chance at taking a top 35 spot in points, he is confident he can make it into the 'Great American Race' on speed, tweeting earlier today “Dangggg it feels good to be back behind the wheel! 21 is fast!” and not have to go through the lottery that is the Gatorade Duels.
“Hopefully, we make it in on time and we don't have to race in the duels and we can get to the 500 and just try to repeat what we did last year,” Bayne said.
“I've been trying to get to that same mindset of not trying to win it on the first lap, but just get back to that, 'make it to the end.' You can win from 15th with two to go with this kind of racing, so I'm excited about it.”