It‘s easy to forget the aura of Trevor Bayne. As the youngest Daytona 500 champion in history (2011), he seemed to be on the cusp of greatness in his early 20s.
In reality, it‘s been a fight to stay relevant.
Before last month‘s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Bayne was announced as the driver of the No. 19 Toyota in three of the forthcoming final 10 events of the season. Preceding this year were his nine standout races with JGR last season, which included five top-five and seven-10 finishes with two pole awards. Those performances put his name back on the map as a potential driver who could fill a competitive seat.
RELATED: Bayne’s complete racing statistics
“I turned down a couple of truck rides full time and an Xfinity ride full time because this was the priority,” Bayne told NASCAR.com, 18 hours after his fifth child entered the world. “The Gibbs cars are so incredible, and I love the organization and the opportunities that were here.”
Last offseason, Bayne thought he would have a bigger role on the race track in 2023. Collectively, he and JGR thought it had 26 races together for the upcoming slate. In a situation no team likes to have, however, the suited sponsor backed out around Christmas time, leaving Bayne without any scheduled races.
“I was taking a chance because my deal here wasn‘t done, the sponsorship wasn‘t done,” Bayne added. “It was close with the sponsor they had on the line. I don‘t know if they were just talking the talk or their business strategy changed, but at the last minute, we found out that this wasn‘t going to happen.
“It set me back a little bit. I love being in the race car.”
Bayne was frustrated. Though he fell short of his goal of entering the winner‘s column at least three times in 2022, he felt like he produced results well enough to get another chance. He had been through this before.
However, in a conversation with team owner Joe Gibbs and Steve deSouza, executive vice president of NASCAR Xfinity Series and development at JGR, Bayne was assured if any races opened over the duration of the 2023 schedule, he would get the call.
“I had a really strong season of nine races,” Bayne said. “It did produce opportunities, and I had those calls. Turning those down was difficult, but this felt like home to me, and if there was an opportunity here, I wanted to be here. I felt like it was worth waiting on.”
Come Daytona in August, Ty Gibbs, who was scheduled to drive the No. 19 car, was in a battle for the final Cup Series playoff spot. JGR decided it was optimal to have its 20-year-old rookie focus solely on the Cup Series race that weekend. The team received permission from its sponsors to add Bristol Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway to Bayne‘s schedule.
“We would love to have the opportunity to do more with him if that were a possibility,” deSouza said. “Sponsorship is difficult to raise those funds right now as everybody knows, but he‘s trying to do that. If the right opportunity came to us, we would love to do something with him as well. I know he wants to do more and is determined to show what he can do in those events.
“We would love, selfishly, to put him in something with us, but if we can‘t find something for him, we hope we can open somebody’s eyes and give him the opportunity.”
Bayne was in contention for the victory in each of his first two races this season. At Daytona, he led 26 laps before getting tangled up with Austin Hill on an overtime restart and finished 29th. At Bristol last weekend, he drove up to second place but dropped to seventh at the checkered flag.
Even if he were to win in his final scheduled start at Texas this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Bayne doesn‘t believe it will lead to a full-time ride at JGR without bringing sponsorship to the table. But he does believe it can help his chances at securing opportunities for 2024.
“I don‘t think that opens up the door tremendously,” he said. “I think it can close in on some things that we‘re already working on. We‘re already chasing things for next season to try to be in a car or truck.”
Standards are included. Bayne wants to be competitive and compete for wins. If not, he‘s content being a television analyst for Fox Sports and serving as a driving coach for playoff driver Sammy Smith and 2023 ARCA Menards East champion William Sawalich.
“I enjoy helping develop the next generation of drivers because I needed that when I was 18,” he said. “If I had someone there helping me manage my race teams or telling me mistakes that I was going to make before I got to them, that would have been nice. I would have still made them, but I wouldn‘t have done it two or three times.
“More than anything, actually being out of the sport for three years made me have a total appreciation and work ethic and perspective of what we get to do when we‘re here.”
Over the years, Bayne has leaned on many close friends in the sport for advice on what to do. Among his best friends is Michael McDowell, who has had a different path to relevance from Bayne.
“He‘s super talented, and it‘s crazy to me that he doesn‘t have something full-time,” McDowell said of Bayne. There are things in our sport that don’t make sense, and that‘s one of the things that doesn‘t make sense. You just never know how or when or why things work out the way they do, but hopefully, he will land a full-time deal over there and rebuild his career.”
Even still, Bayne will look toward impressing at Texas, where JGR‘s all-star car won two seasons ago with John Hunter Nemechek.