By Matt Crossman
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. - Trevor Bayne is an effervescent burst of sunshine who bounces when he walks, skips almost, as if he just kissed a girl for the first time and can't wait to tell somebody. He's a mouthful of Pop Rocks and Coke, and he's like that in the morning, he's like that at noon, he's like that at night.
He was like that after he won the Daytona 500, and he was like that on Thursday when he addressed the media.
"I missed you guys," he said with a smile as wide as it was sincere. Bayne will sit out this week's races, the sixth straight weekend he has not been able to get in the car because of a mysterious illness that left him with double vision and inflammation.
The symptoms came seemingly out of nowhere and were at one point attributed to a bug bite. That diagnosis has since been discarded and doctors have no explanation for the arrival or disappearance of his problems. He will return to action next weekend in a Nationwide Series race at Chicago.
If there is one thing the NASCAR gods should bestow on NASCAR fans, it is that this is not the before Trevor Bayne, that there will be no after Trevor Bayne, that throughout a long and successful career he will remain as jubilant and happy to be alive as he seems to be right now. So many athletes burst onto the scene with rainbows coming out of their ears and eventually disappear into dark clouds of their own frustration, beaten up by the demands of being public figures.
All signs point to Bayne resisting that. He's a man of deep and abiding Christian beliefs, a steady ship no matter the storms surrounding him or, more important, the hosannas ringing in his ears. "There were times it was tough. But the reason you see his attitude how it is is his faith. His faith gives him the freedom to know he's not in control of it," said Michael McDowell, Bayne's close friend and fellow driver. "There are a lot of highs and lows in this sport. Unfortunately, he's had to experience the extremes in a three-month window."
Moments after Bayne won the Daytona 500, he talked about the fleeting nature of success, an incredible statement of level-headedness from a guy who had only been successful for about 15 minutes and who at 20 years and one day was the youngest winner in the history of the event by five years.
He talks about his sickness-whatever it was-as a blessing from which he learned how much people care for him, as if he's better off for having gone through it, which is what everyone says in times like this and not a single one of them really means it. Except Bayne says it with such open-eyed passion that he leaves you no option other than to believe him.
The hardest part on Bayne has been watching racing rather than racing himself, especially this week, when he says he is 100 percent healthy but sitting out anyway. Though he's just 20, he has had a nomad's career, bouncing from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Michael Waltrip Racing to his current gig, in which he is driving part time in the Sprint Cup Series for Wood Brothers Racing and full-time in the Nationwide Series for Roush Fenway Racing. If there's anything he was down about throughout the ordeal, it was that somebody else was driving his car.
But even in that, he saw the positive. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will drive Bayne's No. 21 Ford on Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600. The two are friends, and Bayne is thrilled Stenhouse is getting a shot at the big time. "I texted him yesterday and told him to own this thing, because he deserves it. I think he is going to do a great job," Bayne said.
Wood Brothers Racing officials have given Bayne every assurance the ride is still his when he gets back. He can't wait to get into the car again-more important, to race again-which you can tell by the way he seems to vibrate when he talks about it. Then again, he's always like that.