NASCAR fame eludes Trevor Bayne after historic Daytona 500 victory in 2011

Picture: Trevor Bayne

Trevor Bayne stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 18, 2012, in Brooklyn, Michigan. (John Harrelson, Getty Images for NASCAR / August 28, 2012)

It wasn't long ago that the NASCAR Nation was celebrating the rise of a prince on the circuit, a young man who dared to dream of becoming a king after winning the Daytona 500 in 2011. Fittingly, he scored one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history on the 10-year anniversary marking the death of icon Dale Earnhardt.

"It [NASCAR] can let go of a ghost now," I wrote days after Bayne won the Great American Race. "NASCAR's crusty, iconic hero may finally rest in peace a decade after his death. The Intimidator can step aside and make way for a new Speed Racer."

The truth is, Earnhardt's ghost still hovers over NASCAR. And Bayne is still looking to silence critics already labeling him a one-hit wonder. Daytona remains his only victory in 27 Cup starts, and he has only one victory in 85 Nationwide starts.

Bayne just got passed over by Roush Fenway Racing, which picked Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to replace Matt Kenseth next season. It will likely mark another year of struggles for Bayne, once again racing in a limited number of Cup races for the Wood Brothers operation.

Bayne's victory at Daytona included a good measure of driving skills, but it also involves the quirky variables of restrictor-plate racing.

"Yes he won the biggest race that we have," Roush racer Greg Biffle said. "You can overweight somebody by saying, 'He won that race and is going to take the series by storm.' That's a false statement. If he had won at Texas or Darlington that would be a bigger statement. They are just as hard to win but in a sense Daytona is a different animal than everyday racing.

"It is different, and to hold him to a higher level because he won that Daytona 500 is kind of unfair."

Bayne is scheduled to run a full-time Nationwide schedule in 2013, replacing Stenhouse at Roush Racing, but the biggest stage will still elude him. It comes down to limited seats and sponsorship issues, a standard dilemma for most promising Cup drivers.

"I was a little bit bummed out because I wanted them to come to me and say, 'Hey, we're gonna run you full-time in a Cup car with the fourth team,' and that didn't happen," Bayne said. "But when I did find out I was running Nationwide and I thought about it, I thought that's probably a good decision to go out there and get that first full season under our belt in the series.

"I haven't gotten to go points racing and I think it would be good to get that under our belt before we go to that Cup level — when it's gonna be even tougher to do that — and get that experience."

Maybe Bayne will turn out to be the real deal. Maybe not. But it would be nice to see him get a fair shot.

You won't find a nicer unassuming and more accommodating driver. And his Daytona 500 victory would become the centerpiece of his rise to NASCAR stardom. At 20, Bayne became the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win the Daytona 500, then celebrated by going to BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse with his pit crew, followed by a game of H-O-R-S-E and skateboarding in the infield at Daytona International Speedway.

Let's hope he gets to trade in that skateboard for a full-time Cup car someday.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com He is a regular contributor on the Joel Greenberg Show weekdays 4-6pm on 810 AM Yahoo! Sports Radio Orlando.

Lead dogs

The dog days of summer are perfect for NASCAR to embrace the wisdom of Cesar Millan.

Millan, the famed "Dog Whisper," will try to teach drivers Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick how to become better pack leaders during an episode titled "Daytona Dogs" that will air this Saturday on the National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m.

Millan taped the show earlier this year during Speedweeks and then attended the Bud Shootout, where he was an enthusiastic spectator sitting in Biffle's pit box.

"It was a lot of fun," Biffle said. "Cesar is an amazing person. I was absolutely fascinated by what he can do with animals. … I am a huge fan."

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