Trevor Bayne: A day in the life ...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It's 8:07 a.m. and Trevor Bayne is nowhere to be found outside the white media tent where we were scheduled to meet Thursday.
"He's late, as usual," Roush Fenway Racing public relations director Kevin Woods says with a laugh.
A few minutes later, Bayne arrives, his eyes a bit heavy from a six-day, six-city tour to promote the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.
"Where do I go?" he asks.
And with that the charismatic smile appears. For the next four hours Bayne is on top of his game, doing his best to answer the same questions he's gotten more than a hundred times during this tour, which began in Miami.
He barely can walk 5 feet without being stopped for an interview. He leaves most with a wink and a smile, making the interviewer feel like he or she is the most important person in the room.
"I don't like to be bored, so I put a lot of pressure on myself trying to come up with new answers all the time so you guys won't get bored," Bayne says.
Welcome to media day at Daytona International Speedway.
A year ago, so few knew Bayne here that he jokingly says "I had to introduce myself." He talked then mostly about how excited he was just to be there, how setting the goal for a top-15 finish might be "setting the bar a little high at first."
He was in a dream world.
Then he went out and won the Daytona 500 on a last-lap shootout in the famous No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.
That Wood Brothers didn't have enough money to enter him in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout or buy him a guaranteed spot in the 500 isn't a concern. Bayne makes the 17 scheduled interviews and 10 or so impromptu ones seem like a picnic.
And he allows me to tag along to document it all.
"I could walk through the pits in jeans and a polo shirt a year ago and nobody knew who I was," says Bayne, who will turn 21 on Sunday. "This year, it's different."
• 8:23 a.m. -- Bayne approaches ESPN's Nicole Briscoe for his first interview. Briscoe, wearing 4-inch stilettos that Patrick would envy, says the top of Bayne's red and white firesuit makes him look like a court jester.
Bayne playfully pouts, explaining it is an old-school attempt to look like David Pearson, adding, "Man, now my confidence is low for the day."
Hardly. When the camera comes on you can almost see a sparkle in Bayne's Hollywood smile. He's so good in the spotlight that it's hard to imagine why a sponsor hasn't picked him up to run a full Sprint Cup schedule for Wood Brothers or a Nationwide Series schedule for Roush Fenway Racing.
"I guess I just have to keep winning to keep racing," Bayne says.
• 9:04 a.m. -- The group of eight that has been waiting for Bayne's arrival for the print interview quickly grows to 23.
Bayne immediately explains that he's going to run the first three Nationwide races with the hope he can attract a sponsor for the entire season, and that he'll drive about 14 races in the Cup series.
"As a young guy, experience is important," Bayne says. "And it's crucial for me to be in the car as much as possible."
He then puts a positive spin on it, like he does most things.
"I'm fortunate to be one of the guys that's in the sport that didn't bring money to the table or didn't have my own sponsorship where my parents own a big business," Bayne says.
The interview continues with Bayne being asked about his friendship with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
"Who's that?" he says jokingly of the player with whom he shares a deep bond because of their Christian beliefs.
Then Bayne is asked about "Linsanity."
"That's basketball, right?" he says of New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin.
Bayne, Tebow and Lin are alike in they all came out of nowhere in the past year to wow the sports world. They are alike in they're all great stories.
"I feel like it's kind of cool because we all have that same competitive nature," Bayne says. "It's not just our faith or anything like that. Tim Tebow wants to be a winner. Jeremy Lin wants to be a winner. And I do too."
• 9:33 a.m. -- Bayne is participating in a reporter's survey that asks drivers how many speeding tickets they've had when Patrick peeks her head into the conversation and waves.
She later sneaks up and tweaks Bayne in the back of his right leg.
Bayne isn't disrupted. He continues to give his full attention to the interview. He does this all morning, offering a fresh perspective to somewhat old information.
Asked about talking to Pamela Anderson after winning the 500, he says, "She said I look like her, so that's pretty cool."
He recalls nearly coming to tears when seeing the Daytona 500 champion ring on his finger and reality setting in during a flight to New York the day after the win. He makes it seem normal that his 500 trophy sits on the dresser in his bedroom at his parents' home in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Still has Gatorade and confetti on it," Bayne says.
And by the way, Bayne confesses he has 10 speeding tickets, which is more than any other driver who has been surveyed thus far.
"But they all were for 10 miles and under the speed limits," Bayne says, making even that sound good.
• 10:14 a.m. -- Favorite actor?
"Denzel Washington," Bayne tells Miss Sprint Cup Kim Coon. "We look a lot alike."
"Linkin Park in Charlotte [N.C]," Bayne tells Coon.
When Coon gets to the trivia segment of this interview, Bayne goes 5-for-5 with the correct answers. Told no driver has done better, Bayne pumps his fists and his smile becomes even bigger -- if that's possible.
Behind the good looks and Christian beliefs there's the same competitive drive in Bayne that there is in most athletes. He truly believes he can defy odds and win the 500 again this season.
"If I didn't believe that we wouldn't be here," Bayne says.
Bayne's unbridled enthusiasm is unspoiled at the moment. One can only hope it remains that way, that he doesn't have a dark side like we've seen with others who have been thrust into the spotlight.
There's no reason to think Bayne will change. Being a bad boy isn't in his DNA. He's just as happy, if not happier, answering questions about offseason mission trips to Kenya and Mexico as he is the last lap of the 2011 Daytona 500.
Ah, the last lap. Listening to Bayne relive it time and time again, how when drafting partner David Ragan was black-flagged for getting out of line on the first green-white-checkered finish that he was left out front, is mesmerizing.
"When I came to the finish line leading I was thinking, 'This is awesome. I can tell my friends I led the last lap of the Daytona 500,'" Bayne recalls. "I never thought I'd be able to stay out front all the way around and win."
• 11:19 a.m. -- Bayne sits on the edge of a table, looking bored. He's anything but.
"Not at all," he says. "This is fun."
He has answered the same four questions 40 different ways. How does it feel to be in Daytona again? Is there more pressure being the defending champion? How much has changed over the past year? What's the past year been like?
Amazingly, little is asked about the case of Lyme disease that sidelined Bayne for almost two months and ended his run at a Nationwide title.
"I had double-vision, so it's pretty serious when you're racing against 84 people out there," Bayne says. "It just caused my immune system to go down and messed up my vision for a little bit, but I'm 100 percent right now and everything is good, so I feel ready to go."
• 11:56 a.m. -- Bayne completes his last official stop, but his day is not over. He still has appearances outside the tent that will last until late afternoon.
As one NASCAR official says, "It's tough when you're famous."
Bayne can't wait to get in the car and attempt to qualify on Sunday for the race that made him famous. That he hasn't eaten or gone to the bathroom in the past four hours doesn't faze him.
Only one thing did all day.
"Nicole hitting on my firesuit," Bayne says with a laugh.
It didn't spoil the day, though. After all, Bayne remains the reigning champion of NASCAR's Super Bowl.
"It's hard to follow up, you know?" Bayne says of the feeling he had a year ago. "I'm trying to get back to that same mindset of just appreciating being here to begin with, but you do want to back that up and you do want to win and do all those things again."
Media day, at least for Bayne, is where that begins.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.
2012 Daytona 500
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 is in the books. What started as a new season of hope for all ended its first chapter with one of the most memorable events in NASCAR history.