Feb 12, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT
When the initial shock finally subsided after Trevor Bayne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last November, he did the exact same thing that he did after winning the 2011 Daytona 500:
He embraced them both.
One was the win of a lifetime, while the other is the battle of a lifetime. And just like the way be beat Daytona on that day in February three years ago, Bayne also intends on beating MS, rather than the other way around.
“The first thing is what does this mean for me, and so far it’s just a diagnosis,” Bayne said. “Fortunately, it’s not something I have to live with every day at this point.
“I’m so thankful for every day. It just kind of put things in perspective for me. We all feel kind of invincible, whether we’re 12 years old or 50 years old, there’s a point in our lives where we feel like nothing can go wrong.
“For me, it’s more of a reality check a little bit. It’s not like I live in fear of that, it makes me more appreciative every single day that I wake up, God gives me another day, it makes you want to use it. You wake up, your eyes are good, your hands are good and you’re ready to go. Fortunately, every single day has been good.”
The outpouring of support for Bayne’s medical condition has virtually equaled the support he received after Carl Edwards pushed him to victory in the 2011 Daytona 500. He considers himself a fortunate man to have both.
At the same time, while countless NASCAR fans will never be able to personally relate to Bayne’s accomplishment in the Great American Race, there are countless others dealing with various medical conditions that can relate to the type of illness he’s been diagnosed with, and he is grateful for the support he’s received from both events.
“More people can relate to something that’s tough, a trial, a struggle, than they can to people out winning a NASCAR race,” Bayne said. “There’s only 43 guys that get to do that every weekend and the rest of the world does not.
“I get stopped every single day just about from different fans with suggestions for diets and all kinds of stuff because they care. It’s kind of like having a million moms out there that care for you and want to take care of you. It’s nice to have.”
But Bayne is quick to add that he doesn’t want his medical condition to be his sole story going forward. If he remains healthy and follows his doctor’s orders, it could be many years, if not decades, before he has to worry about MS beginning to manifest itself in him.
“They definitely keep an eye on me and make sure they’re doing everything they can,” Bayne said. “We’re not just going to ignore it and act like there was no diagnosis.”
So for now and his long-range future, Bayne has compartmentalized his MS. He knows its there, but as long as it doesn’t begin to affect his performance on the race track and he isn’t a danger to fellow racers, he’d much rather talk racing – and only racing.
In particular, he waxes effusive about last season in the Nationwide Series, when he finished a career-high sixth in the standings. In 33 starts, he won a race, as well as added seven top-5 and 21 top-10 finishes.
“We don’t want to be content when we finish 15th or 17th place, we want to be contending for top-fives,” he said matter of factly. “We definitely expected to try and contend for a championship, and that being my first full year in a Nationwide car with one team all year long, I felt I learned so much about a championship mindset, what that means and what you can and cannot do and still contend for that championship. The last half of the season last year, we earned more points than anybody except for the 3 car with Austin Dillon, and obviously he went on to win the championship. I keep following these champions along. I just need to do it myself.”
Bayne turns 23 on Feb. 19, just three days before the Nationwide Series season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. With two-time Nationwide champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. having moved up to Sprint Cup last season, and 2013 Nationwide champ Dillon having moved up to the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, Bayne’s chances for a Nationwide championship are as bright as they ever have been.
“Our team this season, we feel really good about it and our mindset and understanding where we fell short last year,” Bayne said. “Our performance on the race track was okay, but I think we could have been better, contended for more top-fives and more wins and that would have led maybe to a better points finish.
“To me, our biggest weakness was the bad days that went really bad. We broke a gear at Daytona running second and finished 32nd or something like that. We got grass in our grill at Texas running fourth and finished 34th. Some of those things were out of our control.
“But there were some days where it was in my control, like at Darlington, where I got into it with a lapped car running 10th, crashed the car, probably would have finished 20th but I wasn’t content with that, so I tried to push for 15th, backed it into the fence again and finished 30th.
“Those are the kinds of days that hinder a championship run, and that’s something I think we’re more focused on this year, is what does that look like, to gain the most possible points every weekend and not make those mistakes, where it gets in your head that you have to make up those points. You don’t really want to be in a chasing situation, where you’re trying to make up points. You want to be strong at the beginning so that in the last half of the season, you’re focused on race wins and not trying to make up 20 or 30 points.
“We finished sixth instead of fourth because of (the difference of just) four points. That could have been for the championship. … Every single point counts, and that’s the biggest driving force last year that I learned from.”
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Although it has now been three years, it still seems like only yesterday that Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history: