Bayne blossoms in second season
Myrtle Beach, S.C.-When Trevor Bayne joined the Hooters Pro Cup Series in 2006 as a bright-eyed, 15-year-old rookie, he received tons of attention for being the youngest driver in the series.
But, over the next two seasons, Bayne went from a novelty act to winning races and challenging for the title. The Knoxville, Tenn., native's growth was never more evident than the final laps of the 2007 season.
Trailing Bobby Gill on a late-race restart at USA Int'l (Fla.) Speedway, Bayne managed to get under Pro Cup's all-time win leader with just four laps remaining. Most drivers, regardless of age, would have been tempted to rough Gill up for the win. But Bayne showed poise beyond his years, racing hard-but clean-and finishing second instead of on a rollback.
"That kid's got a lot of talent, maybe more than any other kid that's come through here," said Gill. That's saying a lot, considering Gill raced against Brian Vickers, Clay Rogers, Jon Wood, Danny O'Quinn Jr., Scott Wimmer and Joey Logano during his Pro Cup tenure. While the talent was evident early his rookie season, Bayne's maturation process took a little time to come to fruition.
In his first season, Bayne's results were erratic. In his first seven starts, Bayne racked up two top-five finishes and three top-10s. After that, Bayne managed a best finish of ninth in the final 11 races.
"The first year was a challenge for us, but we knew we could overcome it," said Bayne.
Although the finishes indicated otherwise, Bayne was learning during the struggles. In the Food City 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Bayne led 20 laps before tangling with Bobby Gill and crashing out of contention. He finished 17th, but Bayne showed he wasn't intimidated by BMS-or Bobby Gill. The performance turned some heads in the garage area and caught the eye of Chevy Racing executives. That partnership eventually blossomed into Bayne being signed by Dale Earnhardt Inc.
With his career path mapped out, Bayne returned to the Hooters Pro Cup Series this season looking to push the focus from his age to his driving. In the opening race of the season, Bayne finished second at USA Int'l. Two races later, the 16-year-old driver finished fifth, proving he belonged amongst the grizzled veterans in the series. But in order to solidify his status, Bayne needed a win.
Four races later at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Bayne finally got his first win. The youngster dominated the Aaron's 250, leading a race-high 167 laps en route to the inaugural victory. More importantly, Bayne jumped to second in the Southern Division standings, giving him a good shot to contend for the overall title.
Bayne's good shot turned into a long one after a mechanical failure in the first Championship Series race at Mansfield (Ohio) Motorsports Park. However, Bayne and his Strutmasters.com/DEI team rumbled back into contention with a second-place finish at Iowa Speedway and a win at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway, pushing him into second in overall points, just 15 behind Gill.
That would be as close as he would get in becoming the youngest-champion in the history of the series. A DNF at South Georgia Motorsports Park dropped Bayne 80 points behind Gill going into the season finale. Bayne needed to win and have Gill finish 15th or worse to take the title at USA Int'l.
He could've taken care of both if he wanted during the late-race battle with Gill, but he raced clean for win and the title. In doing so, he earned the respect of his competitors and his final rite of passage in Pro Cup.
"I can't frown about how we finished this season," said Bayne, who finished second in the overall points. "After two years, I was able to battle Bobby Gill, a guy that's won everything, for the title. This series has taught me so much. Hopefully, when I get to Cup, I can thank the Hooters Pro Cup Series for making me what I am as a driver."
Bayne is tentatively scheduled to move into the Nationwide Series in February of 2009.