When the NASCAR Xfinity Series takes the green flag for Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, the scoring ticker will show a name not seen in the series since 2016.
Trevor Bayne will be behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, seeking to return to the top levels of NASCAR, where he made national headlines in 2011 when he became the youngest driver in history to win the Daytona 500. The upset win came just a day after his 20th birthday - in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford - in just his second career Cup start.
From 2011 to 2014, Bayne ran partial Cup schedules for the Wood Brothers. In 2013 and 2014, Bayne competed full-time in the Xfinity Series for Jack Roush, picking up a win at Iowa Speedway in 2013, driving the team’s No. 6 Ford.
After finishing sixth in the championship standings in both those seasons, Bayne was promoted to the Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing (now RFK Racing) in 2015, where he would compete full-time for three seasons (2015-2017), failing to visit victory lane and recording just four top-five and 13 top-10 results.
Over the course of his career, Bayne faced a variety of issues, from sponsorship to his personal health.
An overall decline in the performance of Roush Fenway Racing also hindered Bayne from reaching his full potential. During 2018, Bayne was demoted to part-time status with the team, sharing the seat with Matt Kenseth. By the end of the year, he was out of a ride for the 2019 season.
Bayne returned to his native Tennessee, opening his own coffee shop in Nashville. Bayne also spent the past three seasons fighting for the right opportunity to return to racing.
“I did not want to be done in the race car (after the 2018 season)," Bayne said in a media conference this week. "I still wanted to drive. I still wanted to be at the track. I just didn’t have the right opportunity.
"I didn’t have a chance to go and drive for another team where I felt like we could win or really have any chance for that matter. I came back home and started a coffee business and really, in a way, tried to run from racing. I felt a little burnt out in 2018, so I just said, ‘we’re going to do something different.’"
But, the now 31-year-old Tennessee native never could quite get NASCAR out of his system.
"Every time I would turn on a race or something like that – that drawback into racing was so strong," Bayne said.
In 2020, he made eight starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Niece Motorsports.
“I had the opportunity to drive a truck for a few races and kind of help out Niece Motorsports, and that was fine, but it didn’t feel like another rebuilding – another shot to get back at it like I was before.”
Around mid-December 2021, Bayne was in a conversation with the owners of Devotion Nutrition, a female-owned company with nutritional products made in the USA. Bayne was utilizing their products to get back in the shape to go race.
“I’ve been talking to my dad, and we were all just talking about what would it take to get back in a race car and go racing," Bayne said. "I called Steve DeSouza (Executive Vice President at Joe Gibbs Racing). I’ve known him for a long time, and said, ‘Hey Steve, is there any opportunity at Joe Gibbs Racing?
"'I know you have the best Xfinity program and I want to come back to win. I want to come back and make a statement and show what I can do as a driver, and if I can’t get it done, I want to know that I was in the best ride possible, and it just didn’t work out.’”
The result was a seven-race deal with the organization that won 12 of 33 Xfinity Series races last year.
Bayne will race for JGR starting this weekend at Auto Club Speedway as well as compete at Phoenix Raceway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I think the competitive nature, just the whole thing, it really feels like one of those best opportunities I’ve ever had outside of getting in that Wood Brothers car in Daytona," Bayne said. "To me, this feels like the reset.
"I don’t know what comes of this. I don’t know if I end up back in a Cup car full-time or an Xfinity car contending for championships. That’s what I would love to see happen.
"But I feel like in seven races, I need to go win three to five races if I’m going to have a shot at a comeback. That’s my goal. That’s what I told Jason Ratcliff (crew chief). We’ve got seven – let’s go win five. Maybe it only takes one or two, I don’t know, but to have a shot in the 18 car, that’s my goal.”