Nuts for Nationwide · Bryan Davis Keith · Thursday May 5, 2011
As the Nationwide Series heads to Darlington, it will for the second weekend in a row be devoid of one of its title contenders and most recognizable faces. Trevor Bayne, the youngest driver in history to win the Daytona 500, will not race at the Lady in Black this evening, despite being released from the Mayo Clinic earlier this week. Taking his place in the No. 16 car again this weekend will be Roush Fenway Racing development driver Chris Buescher.
Mystery still shrouds the surroundings regarding Bayne’s hospitalization and time away from racing. A team press release stated that Bayne was admitted complaining from nausea, fatigue and vision impairment, apparently the result of an inflammatory condition. Though Roush officials have declined to identify Bayne’s ailment, connections in the medical field contacted by Frontstretch have suggested an intriguing possibility: encephalitis. Consider the disease stems from inflammation in the brain, in severe cases, causing among other things… fatigue and vision impairment. Coupled with the fact that Bayne was hospitalized last month for symptoms related to an insect bite, and encephalitis remains a viable theory as to what could be ailing the 20-year-old.
Remember, doctors have yet to draw a final conclusion on what ails Bayne, at least nothing they’re releasing to the general public as of yet. But assuming this type of diagnosis, the good news is that barring significant brain damage as a result of the inflammation, Bayne should be able to return to stock car racing, though without more details there’s no way of knowing when that may happen. But be it within the next week, a few months, the rest of the year, the absence of Trevor Bayne for even these past few weeks constitutes a significant blow to the 2011 season, both for Roush Fenway Racing and the series at-large.
There’s the obvious that barring an ultra hot streak and six drivers in front of him imploding, Bayne will have at a minimum two fewer race starts to accrue points towards Roush’s first Nationwide Series title since 2007. The supreme irony is that Bayne left Diamond-Waltrip Racing towards the end of 2010 precisely because the No. 99 team couldn’t guarantee the funding needed to run for a championship. Unfortunately for the Tennessee native, that effort’s going to have to wait till 2012.
On a larger note though, Bayne’s absence is likely to have an impact on the entire Roush NNS program, as they pursue both an owner’s title with the No. 60 car and a driver’s title with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the No. 6. With Bayne’s departure from the seat, even for only a few weeks, Stenhouse is down a teammate. Chris Buescher shows a lot of promise and delivered a solid result in his Nationwide debut at Richmond, but has nowhere near the experience in both the Nationwide Series and the new NNS COT that the driver he’s replacing does. That’s a significant blow; Carl Edwards may well still be running full-time in the same Nationwide cars, but as the summer months heat up and the Cup Series starts building towards the Chase, playing Nationwide coach is not going to be the role Edwards hones in on. RFR’s two-car assault at the title has, even if for only a few weeks, been split in half.
Not to mention the potential impact on the marketing side. With both Stenhouse and Bayne featuring bare quarterpanels on their Mustangs for much of 2011, even after Stenhouse took the points lead and Bayne won the 500, even one of the Nationwide Series’ premier powerhouses has found 2011 NNS racing to be a very tough sell. With Bayne now removed from title contention and no way of knowing what kind of impact the past few weeks of treatment will have on his performance behind the wheel, a task that even Cup regular Carl Edwards has proven unable to accomplish (securing sponsor dollars for an NNS car) goes from extremely difficult to nearly impossible for a series regular. Not to mention that the well conceived Ricky vs. Trevor marketing campaign also takes on diminished significance with the loss of equivalence in points.
But the biggest loser as a result of this situation not named Trevor Bayne is the Nationwide Series itself. Losing a title contender is one thing. But losing perhaps the most recognizable face in this year’s championship hunt, perhaps NASCAR’s brightest growing star in terms of fan popularity, the very driver who at Daytona helped NASCAR nation move on a decade after the death of Dale Earnhardt…there’s no way to mitigate how big a deal that is. For at least two weeks, the Nationwide Series has been without one of its faces. And while Bayne isn’t too far removed from the points lead even after missing the race at Richmond, missing two races, plus the likelihood of it taking several races for driver and No. 16 team to get back up and running, is a whole different ballgame.
Besides, even if Bayne is cleared to race again starting at Dover, as Roush hopes, there’s no way to gauge what state of mind or body he’s going to be in. His teammates and colleagues speak volumes as to his maturity, toughness, and drive to succeed in this sport. All of that wasn’t enough to prevent this ailment from taking the youngster out of his ride. Whatever the ailment, it was and is something serious.
And just about everyone, from the driver to his team to the Nationwide Series as a whole, have suffered to some degree from it.
That’s the reality of NASCAR 2011, and the significance of Trevor Bayne. Being the driver who brought NASCAR to its feet on the 10th anniversary of its greatest loss, Bayne was almost single-handedly responsible for the fast start the sport got off to back in February. It’s not hard to deduct that his absence will have an equal impact for the sport in the other direction.
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