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And a few musings as we await the start of the 600...

  Carl Edwards' All-Star victory flip....but his car had to be towed to victory lane after he hit a low spot in the infield grass while celebrating. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Maybe this sport needs another 'Winston Million.' Any driver who wins the sport's three or four biggest races earns $1 million.
   Sunday evening's Coke 600 was once part of the old Winston Million. Not that it made the sport's longest race any more thrilling, but as the third leg of the old 'Grand Slam' of stock car racing, following the Daytona 500 and Talladega-Winston 500, it was a make-or-break race for anyone hoping to take the $1 million in the concluding race, Darlington's Southern 500.
   Wonder what the sport's three or four biggest races are these days….
   Just a thought this Memorial Day weekend, we await Marine Master Sgt William 'Spanky' Gibson's command to start engines (around 6 p.m. ET).
   Gibson is one of America's heroes, and that's what this weekend is really all about. He lost a leg, above the knee, in Iraq, but after recovery and rehab – and a stint in the 'Escape from Alcatraz' triathlon – he returned to duty in Iraq.
   Roger Penske's Brad Keselowski and Richard Petty's AJ Allmendinger are on the front row for the 600 start. And anybody doubting this is a Jack Roush Ford season need only check the season's stats and get confirmation in Saturday's Nationwide race – won by Matt Kenseth, in just his first start in one of those new Nationwide cars, over teammate Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
   Edwards and Busch are the men to beat in the 600, though gas mileage could create a wild card winner, and anyone of the Roush-Yates-powered Fords could trounce the field.
   Busch is fighting through that latest bit of controversy, a speeding ticket, for going 128 in a 45. And he's still on probation, though it's never quite clear just what that means. (Still waiting for an update from NASCAR on Robby Gordon's probation…)

  Trevor Bayne: idle again this week, but ready to return at Chicago (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The most heart-warming story of the week down here in stock car country is easily Trevor Bayne.
   The Daytona 500 winner is sitting out the 600, just to gain another week of strength after having to sit out the tour for more than a month with that mysterious illness, apparently some weird reaction to an insect bite in early April. But he says he's ready for next Saturday's Nationwide race at Chicago (while the Cup tour is in Kansas City), and then his eventual return to Cup in the Woods' Ford the following week at Michigan.
   "I missed you guys; it has been bad being away," Bayne says. "It has been incredible to me -- and a real eye-opener how supportive everyone in our sport is. I think that is the biggest thing I have learned through all of this.
    "Carl Edwards flew up and saw me in Minnesota (at the Mayo Clinic), and Tony Stewart was using his plane to fly my family back and forth, and Jack was sending me back and forth on his plane…
    "Everybody in the garage texted me at least once to see how I was doing. And that means a lot to me.
   "Carl coming out and hanging out, and bringing a guitar to my hospital room and just hanging out for a few hours says a lot about him.
    "This sport is unbelievable. I have learned that more so than ever through this whole ordeal.
   "Another thing that has been put into perspective for me is how blessed we are to be race drivers. You get wrapped up sometimes and go through the motions, but when you have to sit there for four or five weeks and watch races you realize how cool it is that you get to be the one driving it.
    "Missing the All-Star race kind of crushed me. But we are back now and as ready to go as ever."

    Eddie Wood, the team manager, whose team has been sidelined too (until they got the okay to put Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the car for the 600), says Bayne "is our guy. Whatever he is going through, we are going through.
    "We have tried to make the best of it. When you are as old as we are, you have seen all of it, done all of it, and been to the bottom and top of it. You just take it and go.
    "I am just glad he is back. You guys can see how he has that warm and fuzzy feel again. I am happy."

   Just what put Bayne down is still uncertain, he says.
   "I finally just had to accept that nobody knows," he said.
   "I went to bed Monday night (after Talladega) feeling great…and woke up Tuesday seeing two of stuff. And that wasn't cool."
   Bayne was quickly flown to the Mayo Clinic, but even after a week of tests and more needles than he ever wants to see again, there was still no answer.
   "Spinal taps at midnight is not exactly what you are looking forward to, but it happens," Bayne said. "At one point I had 16 needles in my body…
   "They treated me for things they thought it could be -- like that bite…Whether it was Lyme or not, they don't have any evidence of that, but they treated it just to knock it out. And since then all my symptoms have gone away.
    "Everything is pretty much 100 percent back to normal."
    Bayne says he and the doctors are hoping it's just a one-off temporary experience: "It could be just a series of events where you get a bug bite and your immune system is down -- and we had been running for a couple months hard every day after Daytona, and it wears down your immune system.
    "That is what I am hoping for.
    "Whether that is it or not, only time will tell."
    For Bayne the sudden illness brought an abrupt halt to what was a dream season.
   "This year is helping me figure out what I am made of," he says. "If you can handle the biggest high and the largest bottom, the rest of the year should be easy."


  Now this would be a heck of a finish to the 600..... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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