DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s only logical that NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Trevor Bayne be compared to NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and the NBA’s newest sensation, Jeremy Lin.
Bayne sprang from anonymity to the pinnacle of NASCAR when he stunned everyone with his victory in the 2011 Daytona 500.
Lin was an undrafted free agent before he signed on with the New York Knicks. His dazzling play and scoring ability have made him the toast of the Big Apple.
Tebow was far from an unknown. He was a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida. But it was widely suggested the he did not have he mechanics of a professional quarterback and wouldn’t make it in the NFL.
Hardly. Instead, Tebow’s heroics – he led the Denver Broncos to several last-minute victories and into the playoffs – made him a media darling and a nationally recognized figure.
But it wasn’t his play alone that propelled Tebow into the spotlight. He wears his faith on his sleeve. After every touchdown he knelt in quick, silent prayer, a public demonstration of his Christian beliefs.
The practice was quickly dubbed “Tebowing.” It became a controversial subject. While many admired Tebow’s commitment to his faith, others declared the practice unacceptable; that it was a form of unwanted preaching.
Personal religious beliefs, they said, should be just that – personal.
Lin isn’t nearly as demonstrative about his faith. But he admits he’s a Tebow fan.
Bayne is, too. And while Tebow may be criticized, Bayne contends he and the NFL star have more supporters that detractors.
“It is cool to be Christian,” Bayne said. “I think it’s cool Tim and I have support now. We both want to be good role models and we want to live out our faith and be who we say we are.
“We don’t say we’re perfect and that’s what’s cool about it is that being a Christian you say that you’re messed up and you need a savior.
“So I’m excited that I have support with Tim and the way the nation is kind of wrapped around him, and the same thing for me.
“The support has been unbelievable, but it definitely makes it easier on us to live our faith when people like you guys and when the fans and people like that are supportive of it. That makes it a lot easier on us.”
Fans have been supportive of Bayne ever since he won last year’s Daytona 500. People find the combination of his youth, talent, personality, innocence and, yes, good looks, irresistible.
Lin’s achievements have, at the least, sparked significantly greater attention to the NBA. Tebow did the same for the NFL.
And Bayne can also do it for NASCAR. He’s exactly the type of driver, and person, the sanctioning body needs.
It would certainly help if Bayne became a regular on the Sprint Cup circuit. But, even with all his positive attributes, that hasn’t happened.
Like last year, Bayne is on a part-time schedule with the Wood Brothers – the venerated team with which he won the 500.
He’s still under contract to Roush Fenway Racing, with which the Woods have a working alliance, and is thus “”loaned out” for Cup events.
He did not race in last night’s Budweiser Shootout because of the Woods’ limited budget. Without sponsorship, even if Bayne won the race, it would hardly cover the expense of car preparation and thus be unprofitable.
“We’re just making the best of what we’ve got right now,” Bayne said. “It’s tough to do that when you only have a few races.
“For me, I’m running about the same schedule I ran in Cup last year. It’s kind of one a month with the No. 21 car, but in Nationwide I had hoped to run a full season this year and run for a championship.
“I still haven’t spent a whole full season with one team yet in Nationwide and I think it would be great to have that opportunity, but right now, we’re going to run the first three races and kind of see where we stand, work on sponsorship deals.
“It just shows how tough it is right now. Here we are at Roush Fenway Racing with great things to offer and it’s still tough for us, so we’re working really hard at that.”
Because he made limited appearances with the Woods last year, the team did not make the top 35 in owner points. Which means Bayne is going to have to qualify for the Daytona 500.
But he’s done that before.
“I’m just going to act like I’m locked in here and just try to qualify on time,” Bayne said. “I think our car is going to be fast, so I’m not really that worried about it.
“We qualified in the top 10, I think, at every restrictor plate race last year – qualified third here, we qualified second in the summer race here – but teams work on their cars. There is a lot of tough competition this year.”
Bayne knows that he won’t be flying under the radar at Daytona. Truth be told, he hasn’t flown under any radar since he won last year’s 500. Perhaps his career hasn’t changed much, but his life sure has.
He’s gone from unknown race driver to celebrity.
“It would be hard to even write a book about all the stuff that’s happened,” Bayne said, “but I think when it was the craziest for me was like the second day after the 500.
“Here I am just a kid who has no idea what’s going to happen, and I think we were in New York or something like that and I’m on the phone – maybe it was Connecticut – but I’m on the phone with Vice President Joe Biden.
“I talked to Tebow that day. I met Pamela Anderson, Ellen DeGeneris and George Lopez all on the same day and I’m like, ‘What just happened?’ They were like, ‘Anybody else you want to talk to? We’ll get them on the phone for you.’”
“Pam Anderson said I looked like her son, so that was pretty cool.”
While his life may have changed, Bayne’s faith remains rigid. He may be a Tebow fan, but he chooses not to be as demonstrative as the NFL star.
He prefers to spread the word by example.
“I use my Twitter as kind of an outreach kind of thing, but as far as messages on my car stuff, that’s all about and for the team,” Bayne said. “I try not to push on people too hard, but I just try to live it out.
“I don’t even want to have to say anything. I want people to look at me and say, ‘There’s something different about this kid. He looks different. He acts different. He has joy.’
“I don’t even want to have to say it, so hopefully people can see it without doing so.”