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Daytona looks like Ford Country this SpeedWeeks, and that brings us to Trevor Bayne....

  Trevor Bayne, hanging out with the Wood brothers, waiting for Sunday's Daytona 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   It's a big week for Trevor Bayne, who is no longer flying under the radar.
   But last season's stunning Daytona 500 victory has been a mixed blessing for the Tennessee racer, just turned 21.

   Winning here was heady for him and great for the sport, a personable young athlete with a million-dollar smile and infectious, upbeat attitude about life.
  However one year later he's pretty much right back where he started this thing, still running a part-time Sprint Cup schedule with the Wood brothers, still looking for that major sponsorship hit.
   Not only is it hard to believe that Bayne hasn't landed a Cup deal, he hasn't landed a Nationwide deal either, despite last fall's comeback win at Texas. So the season ahead is iffy in many respects, not the least in that any young driver needs seat time in this sport to learn.
   And if that weren't enough, Bayne arrived here with no Daytona 500 top-35 lock-in…while newcomer Danica Patrick, though some wheeling and dealing, did manage to wrangle a lock-in. So no matter what she does in Thursday afternoon's 150s, she's in the sport's big race, which will be her first-ever Cup start.
   Fortunately Bayne Sunday posted a fast enough qualifying speed to ensure he will make the 500.


They actually used to race on Daytona Beach? Yep, on the hard-packed sands down near Ponce Inlet (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Does Bayne come into this season needing to prove himself all over again?
   If so, it will, for better or worse, start right here. He can't avoid the glare of the Daytona 500 spotlight.
   On the plus side, the Woods again have a fast car here. They invariably do.
   And the Woods themselves have been rejuvenated since the big win – their family's fifth in the Daytona 500 over legendary years.
   The price point: to run the full 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup tour costs a minimum, bare minimum, of $8 million, about $225,000 a race, not counting how much you might pay the driver. And if you want to kick butt every now and then, double that. And if you want to run every week with the big dogs, well, that'll cost you even more.
   The Woods, remembering the success back when David Pearson ran a limited schedule with the Virginians, and now quite mindful of the expenses of running this sport, have been on a limited schedule again for a couple years now, looking at each weekend's bottom line as much as markets and glory.
   Travel expenses for people in this sport have exploded; one hotel here in town has had the temerity to charge, get this, $1200 a night for one of its room…which any other day would likely go for maybe $89 or $99.
   Say that again: $1200 a night here in Daytona.
   And another hotel here posted a nightly rate of $900.
   Say that again, $900 a night.
   Little wonder the Woods have been keeping an eye on which tracks have the most cost-affordable race weekends.

   Ford's Jack Roush, with a pat on the back after Trevor Bayne's Nationwide win at Texas last fall (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So Bayne realizes he's got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
   Visibility in this sport is hard to get, and harder to keep.
   Brian Vickers, for one example, isn't even here; no ride, and he's only 28, and already with nine years on the Cup tour.
   Bayne is full-court press.
   "I thought we'd be full-time Nationwide and full-time Cup this year, to be honest, right after the 500," Bayne says, the disappointment clear. 
    "But as the season wore on, and nothing was really happening, this is kind of what I figured. 
    "I'd hoped to run full-time Nationwide this year; we have the first three races right now, and we'll go from there.  If we can be leading the points by then, it would be hard for them to stop racing.
   "But you would hope you could accumulate some sponsorship after the year we had last year.  It's just tough right now for us, and for every team.
   "It's not a great climate.
   "The hardest part is getting in the door and bringing them to the track and showing them you have something to offer.
    "It's hard, though, when you're a part-time team, to go for poles or wins, because you don't have the momentum.  We have good chemistry, but we don't have that feel that some of the other teams do after running 30-some races a year."


   Leonard (L) and Glen Wood, the legendary Wood brothers, who have turned the reins over to Glen's sons, Len and Eddie (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So Bayne has been doing overtime PR duty for Daytona, with officials here milking him for every drop of publicity.
   And Bayne seems not only to enjoy it all but revel in it.
   Now when it comes to the history and nostalgia of this sport, Bayne is, perhaps naturally, just a little short.
   But he did get a history lesson the other day, in a promotional run on the beach, down on the hard-packed sand by Ponce Inset, part of the old Beach course. That was nostalgia for the Woods, whose father Glen ran the course back in the Fifties.
    "They've got a story for every single year, just about, and it's crazy because they remember the exact year," Bayne says. "They're like a walking history book.
   "And the stories they tell aren't ones that you fall asleep in; they're ones you can't believe they're telling you. Should be on the History Channel…
   "It's just wild hearing what they used to have to go through, and what they used to have to do in order to get to the race track. 
   "I don't know how they've done it, but they've been able to keep their same family approach and not get like a big business race team."

   However nostalgia doesn't pay the bills.  
   So what to expect from Bayne here this week?
   "This year has been a wild one," Bayne says. "A little bit up-and-down, but I'm on the upside – We've got a fast car and I think we've got a good shot at defending our title here."
   But this 500, and these 150s, will probably be somewhat on the over-the-top side, with drivers apparently rusty at this pack racing thing. Bayne wasn't invited into the Shootout, for some reason. So he got to watch it from atop the hauler.
  "Kyle did a great job with those two saves,"  Bayne says of Busch in winning the Shootout.
   "Unbelievable winning, after what he went through. 
   "But that race was a lot of fun to watch.  I don't know if it was very fun to drive in.
   "The hardest part (this week) is staying alive in these races, and not getting ahead of yourself.
   "You want to be at the front to miss the wrecks, but in order to get to the front you've got to be in the madness and push up through there. So I don't know where the safe place to be is."
   However the line on where to be on the last lap seems clear – running second, as Busch was to Tony Stewart.
   Of course that was just what Carl Edwards was thinking on the last lap here one year ago…when Trevor Bayne rode the lead to victory.



It's been pretty a Ford week so far, including the marque's showcasing its new 2013 NASCAR Ford, here with NASCAR R&D boss Mike Fisher (Photo: Autosport)



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