Fontana's Short Track Reconfiguration Remains an Option
Feb 11, 2022
Trevor Bayne was burned out and pretty much admits to running away from racing after the 2018 season.
That summer was especially challenging for the 2011 Daytona 500 winner as he was demoted to just a part-time schedule in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 car. He was asked to share it with Matt Kenseth following a mid-season decision to hire the retired 2003 champion and that was very much interpreted as an indictment about the performance of the team as constructed -- specifically the driver.
That Kenseth didn’t post significantly better stats than Bayne was inconsequential, and Ryan Newman was hired afterwards.
Bayne traded the Cup Series for cups of coffee back home in Knoville, Tennessee by opening a café -- Mahalo Coffee Roasters.
"I fought for another opportunity for the last three years," Bayne said. "I did not want to be done in the race car. I still wanted to drive. I still wanted to be at the track, I just didn’t have the right opportunity. I didn’t have a chance to go and drive for another team where I felt like we could win or really any chance for that matter.
"I came back home and started a coffee business and really in a way tried to run from racing. I felt a little burnt out in 2018, so I just said, ‘we’re going to do something different.’
And yet, he couldn’t fully close the door on racing. He made eight Truck Series starts for Niece Motorsports in 2020 and built a Dirt Late Model in 2021.
"Every time I would turn on a race or something like that – that draw back into racing was so strong," Bayne said. "In 2020, I had the opportunity to drive a truck for a few races and kind of help out Niece Motorsports, and that was fine, but it didn’t feel like another shot to get back at it like I was before.
"Last year, I built a Dirt Late Model … I came to Charlotte and ran the big race there. I ran fourth or fifth, so I’ve been in a race car, and I still miss it."
And now, at the still remarkably young age of 31 years old, Bayne is about to return to semi-regular high-level NASCAR competition. Saturday will mark the first of a seven-race Xfinity Series stint in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54.
He will do so with Devotion Nutrition, and with one of the top organizations in the sport, a real second chance to get back to Victory Lane. He says it’s the best shot he’s had outside of winning the Daytona 500 with Wood Brothers Racing.
And he has set high expectations.
"To me, this feels like the reset," Bayne said. "I don’t know what comes of this. I don’t know if I end up back in a Cup car full-time or a Xfinity car contending for championships. That’s what I would love to see happen, but I feel like in seven races, I need to go win three to five races if I’m going to have a shot at a comeback. That’s my goal.
"That’s what I told Jason Ratcliff (crew chief). We’ve got seven – let’s go win five. Maybe it only takes one or two, I don’t know, but to have a shot in the No. 18, that’s my goal."
Ratcliff is a huge part of why Bayne has so much optimism for this season. Ratcliff has 15 Cup wins with Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s also won 54 Xfinity Series races with a variety of drivers, plus the 2009 championship with Kyle Busch.
They have also known each other for a long time.
"Jason Ratcliff and I have known each other for a very long time and if I had to say I had to pick a crew chief to go race, it would have been Jason Ratcliff," Bayne said. "We’ve gone on hunting trips together. We’ve just got a really good relationship, and he can get it done. I believe in him as a crew chief making the calls.
"When I heard about resin going down on the racetrack at California, it kind of freaked me out and then I remembered Jason is my crew chief and that I’m at JGR and they will have it all figured out by time we get there."
This is very much the start of a new chapter for Bayne, and one he hopes lasts for a long time. He feels parallels to his NASCAR debut over a decade ago. He’s rediscovered the spark he lost after 2018.
"I feel like I’m going to Michael Waltrip Racing," Bayne said. "I’ve got that same giddiness and fresh perspective that this is my first show all over again. It’s really similar. It’s with Toyota. It’s seven races, which is where I started out at MWR. It was five to seven races, and we ran really good, so Michael let me have more races, and I ended up doing 12 or 13.
"This really feels like that first shot again, which is so cool because my perspective and appreciation for that is right back to where I was when I was 18."