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Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne turns to faith in adversity


MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Imagine being NASCAR's newest star -- a fresh face who had just won the biggest race of the year in only your second Sprint Cup start with the promise and potential of a great career ahead of you. Then imagine being in a hospital bed two months later with a mysterious illness that potentially could have ended your career.

Trevor Bayne relies on his faith to get him through the bad times in life, but even he admits he was scared while in a hospital bed at the Mayo Clinic, wondering what was wrong with him.

"I'll be honest with you; I was scared but I also knew that if I never drove another NASCAR race again that I was at peace with that and was ready to do whatever God had in store for me," Bayne said last Friday as he prepared for NASCAR Nationwide Series practice at Elkhart Lake, Wisc.

Suffering from fatigue, nausea and double-vision, the 20-year-old Bayne knew there was something seriously wrong. So he reached deep to his faith to help him feel a sense of calmness and acceptance.

"My biggest concern was how fast I could get back in the race car," Bayne recalled. "I was asking the doctors every day how long it would take. For some reason God put peace in my heart."

Bayne still doesn't know for sure what caused him to suffer double-vision, fatigue and nausea when he climbed out of his Roush Fenway car after a race at Talladega on April 17. When the symptoms did not clear up, he sought medical treatment. "You would think that when I woke up my roommate and asked if I was cross-eyed or something that I would be freaking out," he said. "But I was just like, 'Well, let's go to the doctor, boys.' So we loaded up and went to the doctor and I had a peace about it."

The doctors were baffled before deciding to treat him for Lyme Disease. Over time, Bayne would get better but spent five weeks outside of both the Wood Brothers No. 21 Cup car that he won the Daytona 500 with and Roush Fenway Racing's Nationwide car.

Through it all, Bayne still kept that boyish smile and youthful enthusiasm that makes him a pleasure to be around. He returned to Nationwide at Chicagoland Speedway on June 4 and to Cup at Michigan International on June 19. On Saturday he races again at the site of his biggest victory, in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International.

Bayne burst onto the scene with his storybook victory in February's Daytona 500, becoming the youngest winner of NASCAR's biggest race. Earlier in the month he had been a factor in the Gatorade Duel 150s, which helps set the field for the Daytona 500, and had earned the respect and praise of his boyhood idol, Jeff Gordon.

"When Jeff walked up to me and said he wanted to work with me on the race track, that really meant a lot," Bayne recalled. "To get the respect of the veteran drivers means that's a mountain I don't have to climb. For a driver just starting out in the Cup series that is huge. Here I was working with the driver that I dreamed about when I was younger and we were helping each other on the race track at Daytona. How cool is that?"

Bayne had a fast Ford and knew how to use it in the unique new style of restrictor-plate racing where drivers have to team up in tandems of two rather than form one long draft. While some of the veteran drivers struggled with that form of racing, Bayne proved to be a quick learner.

He was near the front of the field for the entire race and figured he would be the driver that pushed the winner across the start/finish line. But at the end, it was Bayne who was pushed to the stunning victory.

On Saturday night, he hopes to be a threat to win again.

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"Winning the Daytona 500 has given me the confidence that I can win again on Saturday but I know it's going to be difficult," Bayne admitted. "You have to work with another driver through the race and play it perfectly."

Actually, Bayne has already overcome the difficult part. Shortly after getting out of his hospital bed he sent a tweet that expressed his thankfulness that his faith carried him through. "I got a response back from someone that said, 'It's easy to say something like that when you are the Daytona 500 winner,'" Bayne said. "I thought to myself, If only they knew what I had been through.

"I'm ready to get on the track and get going," Bayne added. "I have the opportunity to do what I love to do and affect people's lives at the same time. I think it's important to carry myself the way I do because you never know whose life you might affect."

He's certainly affected those of NASCAR legends Glen and Leonard Wood -- the original owners of the Wood Brothers Racing Team. His February win gave the team its first victory at the Daytona 500 since David Pearson won in 1976.

"Trevor is a wonderful guy," the 76-year-old Leonard said. "In February, I'm at Daytona wondering how in the world this guy is going to end up in a two-car draft being a rookie and how he would work with that. Jeff Gordon saw me right before the 150 and said 'You have a great kid in that car and I'm going to try to help him if I can.' They worked together and he picked up right away and Kyle Busch gave him some tips how to connect. He ended up being quick-thinking and young mind and was as good or better than anybody out there drafting. He proved it again at Talladega. He is very calm and knows exactly how to do it..

"When Trevor won the Daytona 500 it was one of them deals where you plug it into the computer and see a way you want to see it turn out -- you couldn't have programmed it any better. It was Ford's 110th year in racing, Ford's 600th win, Edsel Ford and his three sons are up on the pit box, Richard Petty walking in the Winner's Circle and David Pearson spending time with us beforehand -- it was a great moment."

The next generation of Woods is in charge of the team now, Eddie and his brother Len.

"It's hard to believe he is only 20-years-old," 59-year-old Eddie said of Bayne. "He handles himself at the race track really well. He is really good with the media. He never says no. We had an autograph deal at Stuart, Va., and the population is around 1,000. We did it on a Friday night before Martinsville and were going to sign autographs from 7 to 9 p.m. We had the original Wood Brothers and we had over 4,000 people there. By 9:30 p.m. I got up and asked Trevor if he was good for this and there were still 2,000 people left. We sat there until almost midnight and signed every autograph and had to be at Martinsville the next day.

"What makes Richard Petty Richard Petty? Well, he never turned down an autograph. If Trevor continues on that path -- he is really popular now but time will become an issue."

Winning the Daytona 500 made some wonder if Bayne would be a contender every week. The reality is that he's a rookie driving a limited Sprint Cup schedule.

The race after Daytona, Bayne started 33rd and crashed after just 49 laps, finishing 40th. He started 16th and finished 20th the next race, at Las Vegas. The next three races Bayne finished in the 30s -- 34th at Bristol, 30th at California and 35th at Martinsville. He rebounded at Texas with a 17th-place finish and had high hopes that he could return to restrictor-plate prominence at Talladega, especially after he qualified 11th. He led the race for five laps but was involved in a crash on lap 89, dropping him to a 40th-place finish.

"You do something big like winning the Daytona 500 and all of a sudden you are expected to do that every week," said Eddie Wood. "People who are in the know, people that know a lot about racing, understand you don't just jump in and do well in this sport every week because you think you can. It doesn't work that way. You have to work through all the ups and downs. Trevor has done a really good job.

"The good thing is I can't think of any race we've been in this year where we didn't have speed. Sooner or later when you work through the obstacles, if you have speed, you would be successful. At Daytona, when we unloaded, he was fast, right out of the box. It wasn't like he happened to be in the right place to win the race; he worked for that. If the 6 car [David Ragan] had not been penalized at the end we might have been pushing him across the start/finish line. It's almost like it was supposed to work out like that."

And that is where Bayne's faith comes in because while he was laying in a hospital bed at the Mayo Clinic he knew that in the end it would work out the way it is supposed to.

"I do have my faith and that is what defines me," he said. "I just am thankful for the ups and downs and everything that has helped me find out what I am made of and who is there to support me. Carl Edwards bringing a guitar to my hospital room and just hanging out for a few hours says a lot about him. This sport is unbelievable. I have learned that more so than ever through this whole ordeal. I am blessed and happy to be a race car driver."