Minter: Bayne Slides Into Legendary Car At TMS
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
A few random observations as the Sprint Cup and Nationwide circuits head to Texas Motor Speedway and the NASCAR season nears the end of the road:
Hopefully the Cup debut of Trevor Bayne won’t be totally overshadowed by the Chase, as was the case with Jeff Gordon, who made his Cup debut in Richard Petty’s last race and in a race that saw the best championship finish ever in NASCAR – and it was with the traditional season-long format.
Bayne, a 19-year-old Nationwide Series driver from Knoxville, Tenn., will attempt to make the field at Texas in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford. He’ll be a temporary replacement for Bill Elliott, the winner of the race that marked Gordon’s debut but the loser to Alan Kulwicki in the title hunt that day back in November, 1992.
Bayne’s getting the chance because of a series of circumstances that lined up just right for him.
Back at the end of September he left Diamond-Waltrip Racing when the team couldn’t assure him he’d have a full-time ride next season. He immediately signed with Roush Fenway Racing.
Then, David Hyder, crew chief of the Woods’ No. 21 Ford, left that team. The Woods then turned to fellow Ford team owner Jack Roush, who sent crew chief Donnie Wingo their way. And since Roush had planned to field a car for Bayne at Texas, with Wingo as the crew chief, it was agreed that Bayne would move over to the 21, with Elliott stepping aside and serving as Bayne’s mentor for the weekend. Elliott is expected to be back in the car for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he says he has no problem with the arrangement.
“I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity I’ve had with the Woods,” Elliott said. “I’m ready to do anything I can to help the kid get in the race.”
It’s not an unfamiliar spot for Elliott, who has spent much of his semi-retirement working with young drivers through the Bill Elliott Driver Development Program.
Bayne appears to be just the kind of driver Elliott likes to mentor. In 47 career Nationwide starts, he has five top-five and 12 top-10 finishes along with four poles and 129 laps led.
He’s also considered a fine person off the track, with those who have worked with him behind the scenes saying he’s the kind of person they’d like their young sons to grow up to be..
As Bayne said in this week’s Ford release, recent developments have been a dream come true.
“It’s something I didn’t expect to happen this year, obviously, but it’s like I’ve always said, once one door closed another one opened and it was always a little bit bigger door, and that’s kind of what happened here,” he said. “A couple things have happened that set off a chain reaction that led us here, and it’s just been really cool to see it happening.”
Still tough: Cale Yarborough was a no-nonsense driver back in the day. A young Bill Elliott, after racing against Yarborough a time or two, described him as “the toughest little (so and so) that ever sat in a race car.”
Yarborough also was pretty tough when sizing up situations in his time. After all, it was Cale who first hung the “Jaws” label on a brash, outspoken young Darrell Waltrip.
Yarborough didn’t cut his old sport any slack in a recent interview in his home-state newspaper, The State.
Here’s how he explained the slump in attendance and TV ratings: “Let’s face it; people have lost interest.”
He went on to say that he blamed the loss of interest on several things including the Car of Tomorrow and the dominance of the mega-teams.
It’s not surprising that retired drivers like Yarborough, who are more than likely in closer touch with the fans than they ever were in their busy driving days, all seem to reach the same conclusions about the issues facing the sport.
Farewell, Jim: I couldn’t agree more with the nice things that have been said and written about Jim Hunter.
My first encounter with Hunter came in the back yard of my parent’s house, where
Hunter played quarterback in a kid’s game of pick-up football. Inside the house, Alf Knight, the ramrod of the old Atlanta International Raceway, was convincing my dad to give Hunter a job at the Atlanta Journal.
Later, in my work on the circuit, I found that he was one of the few people inside NASCAR who understood the job of a reporter, having been one himself.
He was a good company man for NASCAR, but he could work the other side of the fence too.
Whoever replaces him has some big shoes to fill.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment