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Trevor Bayne eager to drive No. 16 Nationwide Series Ford at Chicagoland

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Trevor Bayne watches practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Trevor Bayne watches practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Top Gear 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

By Lee Montgomery
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

Danica Patrick returns to NASCAR this weekend with the running of Saturday's STP 300 Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

Yet, for once, Patrick's presence isn't the dominant story.

No, that belongs to Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who is back after a five-race absence for a mysterious illness. He returns to the seat of Roush Fenway Racing's No. 16 Ford - which happened to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend with Matt Kenseth at the wheel.

"I am thankful to be able to get back into a race car, and I am going to savor this moment forever," Bayne said of his return. "We as race car drivers are so blessed to be doing this for a living, and I think we take that for granted sometimes. I am ready to get back to work and compete at the highest level.

"Our Nationwide program has been unstoppable as of late, and I want to contribute to that success as much as I can. (Crew chief) Chris Andrews and the guys give me awesome race cars to drive, so there is no doubt in my mind that we can win this thing on Saturday night."

Bayne last raced April 23 at Nashville - where he qualified second and finished sixth - but then was sidelined when he was plagued with double-vision and fatigue, originally thought to be the result of a bad reaction to an insect bite. Bayne made two visits to the Mayo Clinic and many more consultations with doctors, but the exact diagnosis isn't known.

Bayne likely could have raced last weekend in Nationwide and Sprint Cup at Charlotte but was again held out.

"I am 20 years old, and everyone keeps telling me I have a long time to run," Bayne said. "I am trying to listen to them, even though I am 20 and stubborn and want to be in a race car every weekend. I would be riding around with an eye patch if they would let me. It's all good. I think we have waited long enough."

Bayne said he was overwhelmed and thankful for the support he has received while on the sidelines, from competitors to his team to fans. That support, he says, has helped him cope with not racing. And because of his faith, Bayne said he never once wondered, "Why me?"

Still, race drivers want to do their job - not watch someone else do it for them.

"Watching races on TV is not as fun as being in the driver's seat," Bayne said. "The first one I had to watch was the Denny Hamlin Foundation race, and that was tough, and then the Nationwide race and everything.

"It makes it tougher when your team is running as good as these guys have, too, to know that you could have had a shot at winning these races. The good thing is I get to look forward to that in Chicago."

Fast facts

STP 300
Where: Chicagoland Speedway; Joliet, Ill.
When: Saturday, 8:15 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval
Distance: 200 laps/300 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. Eastern
2010 winner: Kyle Busch
2010 polesitter: Kevin Harvick
Points leaders: 1. Elliott Sadler, 452; 2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 451; 3. Reed Sorenson, 450; 4. Justin Allgaier, 430; 5. Aric Almirola, 401; 6. Jason Leffler, 398; 7. Kenny Wallace, 379; 8. Steve Wallace, 352; 9. Brian Scott, 339; 10. Josh Wise, 316.