It’s easy to say that the novelty of Trevor Bayne has worn off and that the hype and excitement following the 23-year-old Daytona 500 champion is now unwarranted and for some, almost regretted.
But looking further, in a day and age where we now compare Nationwide Series drivers against each other while trying to pretend Cup drivers aren’t there, Bayne is right on par. Cup drivers stand above the rest every weekend as they demolish the field, repeatedly exasperating fans. In fact, they’ve even put NASCAR in the position of having to entertain such notions as banning them from the field, while Bayne and his counterparts are there, just hanging on, learning, as everyone says.
Quite simply, we need more from Bayne. It’s time to expect—actually, it’s time to demand—more from a driver who’s behind the wheel of a Roush-Fenway Racing Ford that has won races and championships. If Bayne hasn’t learned what he needs already, it’s a lost cause. He’s been up against the best drivers in the business over the last five years and has only won twice in the Nationwide Series.
Looking over Bayne’s numbers can give anyone a false sense of success. While he was 11th in points in 2011 and sixth last year, digging deeper paints a picture of just another Nationwide driver. He’s like a chameleon who blends in and you only find out he’s been there when you run down the top 10 finishing order and his name pops up.
Instead, he should be producing more, racing the Cup drivers as hard as his successor, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., did. Stenhouse earned eight career wins in two years behind the wheel of the same No. 6 that Bayne pilots now, in which he’s only won once – last year in Iowa. He’s not someone we can count on to challenge the likes of Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski or Kevin Harvick the way that his co-point leader Regan Smith does, or even a rookie like Chase Elliott. And while Bayne is tied with Smith for the point lead, it’s a bit misleading since Smith seems to always be there in the conversation while Bayne is an afterthought.
Take their last 38 races for example, Bayne has led just 84 laps compared to Smith’s 254. He also trails Smith in wins. Don’t just take my word for it though, should anyone pull up the 2013 Nationwide point standings the numbers are glaring. Bayne at sixth in points lagged behind Smith in both the top 5 and top 10 finish categories. And you guessed it, he was nowhere near the top 5 in the laps led category.
Leading laps is just not what Bayne does. But alas, it’s become accepted because he’s being compared only to his Nationwide competition. He’s normally the second or third best Nationwide regular in the finishing order at day’s end when another Cup driver is in victory lane.
Should Roush-Fenway Racing tolerate the fact that in Bayne’s 123 career starts he’s led just 405 laps? Or that he has just 20 top 5 finishes and those two career wins? This is, after all, the same driver who was lauded after Daytona in 2011 as the next big thing Jack Roush had discovered. Instead, he’s been left in the dust as teammates like Stenhouse went out and made a name for themselves.
As he spins his wheels in the lower division year after year, never seemingly improving, don’t be fooled by the numbers and where he ends up at the time the checkered flag flies. The overall performance is nothing to write home about.
And speaking of Cup, since his unlikely win in Daytona, Bayne has only finished in the top 10 on two other occasions, Las Vegas and Talladega in early 2012. I’d be remiss, however, if it wasn’t mentioned that Bayne has also been fighting off-track battles with his health, having been sidelined in May of 2011 for six weeks and only running six of 33 Nationwide races in 2012.
Following a ninth-place finish in Fontana, which made him fourth best of Nationwide drivers, and ahead of practice in Texas, Bayne said that his Roush team needed to get faster in order to compete with those who have continuously outrun him. They have the consistency but not the speed, he feels, and consistency should count for something.
Nevertheless, consistency is no longer good enough when it comes to Bayne—not with this team and this car. The bar has been set and the pieces were already in place for Bayne when he took over the team last year. Why it’s been difficult to continue that success is incomprehensible.
Yet, here we are in a new year. Most of the competition Bayne failed to keep up with a year ago has moved on. He’s at the top, for now, and one can only hope it won’t again turn out to be a mirage. Maybe in the end Trevor Bayne’s numbers will live up to hype and capability of what’s been underneath him