It's funny to hear Trevor Bayne utter the word jerk, let alone use it to describe himself. Unfailingly polite and devoid of bitterness, Bayne often is a beacon of good cheer.
Still, he admits he might not have come across as virtuous one December day last year when snowboarding with his girlfriend Ashton Clapp near Asheville, N.C. Toward the end of their fun afternoon, they were at the top of the mountain when he took off downhill, leaving her behind.
"Her shoulder was hurting, so I was probably seeming like a jerk at the time," Bayne said.
But there was a plan.
Bayne went about halfway down the hill and waited. Ashton soon arrived, falling near him. When she stood, Bayne proposed. They'll have a June wedding between race weekends at Dover and Iowa. The honeymoon will wait until after the NASCAR season.
Bayne knew if he'd taken Ashton to a more traditional place to propose she would have suspected his plan, ruining the surprise. That's why he proposed on their snowboard trip. His planning, though, nearly backfired.
"I will honestly say the night before she was crying," Bayne said. "She did not know it was coming. She was asking if I still had those intentions because we hadn't talked about it in so long."
Bayne hadn't discussed marriage because he had been waiting on the engagement ring. He did not realize it would take about a month to arrive. There was nothing he could do but wait.
Patience has become a pillar for Bayne. In a profession where performance is measured in thousandths of a second, Bayne has had to view his racing career in increments of weeks and months.
He's back racing in a series full time and can display the talent many first saw during his shocking Daytona 500 win two years ago. He'll run a full Nationwide schedule for Roush Fenway Racing -- the first time he's run a full season in any series since 2010 -- and again race a partial Sprint Cup schedule with the Wood Brothers. He got off to a fast start Sunday, posting the third fastest time in Daytona 500 qualifying, giving him a front-row starting spot for his qualifying race Thursday.
LONG: Danica Patrick makes history by winning the pole for 2013 Daytona 500.
All that he's entailed the past two seasons brings to mind something Bayne said on his team's radio moments after winning the Daytona 500: "Are you kidding me?"
He was scheduled to run the full Nationwide Series in 2011 but less than two months after his Daytona 500 triumph and cross-country victory tour, he was in a Charlotte hospital suffering from what team officials said was a reaction to an insect bite.
Bayne returned to race the following week at Talladega before suffering double vision, nausea and fatigue and was sent to the Mayo Clinic for tests. Bayne said no cause was found for what caused his symptoms. He sat out five Nationwide races, ending his hopes for a series crown.
Sponsorship woes last year further sidelined Bayne. He ran only six Nationwide races and 16 Cup races, leaving him idle many weekends.
"The only thing that gave me real patience was knowing that I had this season to look forward to," Bayne said.
That's a mature attitude for someone who turns 22 on Feb. 19, but it's one thing to say it and another to mean it. While Bayne would have rather been racing, he tried to take advantage of the situation, racing a dirt late model and spending time with family.
"I realized last year, 'Hey, for the next 10, 15, 20 years of my life I'm going to be at the race track every weekend, so I might as well try to enjoy it as much as I can,' even though I missed [racing] so bad."
Missing so many races the past two seasons could postpone car owner Jack Roush's original plan of moving Bayne into a full-time Cup ride in 2014.
"That's still a goal but it's probably not as imperative as making sure he spends enough time in the Nationwide Series to do all the growth and development that he can benefit from before he moves on to Cup," Roush said.
Then again, Bayne might only need this season in Nationwide. He's taking over Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s ride as Stenhouse moves to Cup. Bayne will have Stenhouse's two-time defending Nationwide championship team, including crew chief Mike Kelley.
"Mike [Kelley] is probably one of the more sought after crew chiefs in the Nationwide Series with his success," Stenhouse said. "I think he'll make Trevor stay focused. I know he did for me. I think Trevor is in a great situation there."
Bayne isn't worried about expectations running for that team brings. He's ready to race.
"When I got to the end of 2012, I was already looking forward to this season," he said. "Normally, when you get to the end of the season you're like, 'All right, I'm ready for two months off and then I can get back at it.' I think in October, I was ready to go to the racetrack and start. I think I'm fresher.
"I'm ready to go more than anybody ... because I've had that time to sit back and wait on it and get my mind right and be ready to go racing again."
2013 SPRINT CUP PRESEASON RANKINGS
1. Brad Keselowski -- The defending champ remains No. 1 until someone knocks him off the perch.
2. Jimmie Johnson -- He's gone two years without a Cup championship, a severe drought for this team.
3. Kasey Kahne -- Coming off his best finish in the Chase. Don't be surprised if he climbs higher this year.
4. Matt Kenseth -- Expectations abound for the former champion as he makes his move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- The last two champions were in their third year with a crew chief. This is Earnhardt's third year with crew chief Steve Letarte. Hmmm.
6. Carl Edwards -- Has three wins in the last four seasons. This is the year he bounces back.
7. Clint Bowyer -- All three wins last year were fuel-mileage affairs. This is a good team, now is the time to go out and beat people on speed instead of fuel mileage.
8. Denny Hamlin -- Should benefit with the addition of Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing.
9. Jeff Gordon -- If team is stronger, he'll move higher in the rankings but too many issues held him back last year.
10. Tony Stewart -- Has 23 wins in the last seven seasons but has finished in the top five in points only once in that span (when he won the 2011 title).