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Voices From the Heartland: Gateway Melee Overshadows Great Driving by NASCAR Up & Comer

Remember, just a couple of weeks ago, when Carl Edwards shoved Brad Keselowski out of his way to win the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway International Raceway? Remember the carnage and controversy that followed? Remember the heated discussions and name-calling that took place in the “comments” section at the bottom of this very column? Remember this video I posted documenting that carnage? Good! I’m glad you remember… but forget about all that for now! Well, not all of it, as I want you to focus on the video once again – just forget about Carl and Brad!

The car I want you to focus on is the No. 99 Out! Pet Care Toyota, driven by the young Trevor Bayne. The point at which to focus on him is about 23 seconds into the video as the field enters turn 3 for the final time. Go ahead, cue it up and hit “Play.” I’ll wait.

Welcome back! As you can see from the video, entering into that final turn, Edwards and Keselowski are not the only ones that are driving on the ragged edge! Bayne, in an all-or-nothing effort, gets his car “slideways,” as ol’ DW likes to say, then executes a miraculous save to come home to a career best third-place finish! But that, folks, is not the whole story. The real one begins even before the race.

The first part of the tale, as I recall from the buzz in the media center, started that Saturday morning during the first Nationwide practice, when Bayne posted the third-best time… only to be beat by Cup regulars Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. By the time the final practice was over, though the 22-year-old, Knoxville, Tenn. native was second only to Harvick. People were starting to take notice.

Notice was served later that afternoon when Trevor blistered the already sun-baked track with a top speed of 133.567 mph, capturing his second career pole in 34 Nationwide Series starts. It was an A+ effort compared to Keselowski, Edwards and Harvick – drivers who started third, eighth and 10th, respectively.

Now, unless you follow the Nationwide Series closely, you know that Bayne, while you have heard of him, is not exactly a household name to most racing fans, and that certainly seemed to hold true in the media center as well. Many, including myself, just didn’t see it coming.

Up to this point Bayne, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing (32 of his 35 NW starts have been with MWR) had posted only one career pole in ’09, with a best ever finish of fifth at Loudon earlier this year. As time for the green flag drew near, many wondered if the youngster’s speed was a fluke, whether he could really hang in there with the Cup guys who so often dominate the lower series.

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that it was no fluke! Bayne not only held his own but also led the field for 19 laps. All night long, Trevor not only stayed right up there with the “Big Boys,” but looked as if he was a Cup regular himself. I have to admit that even I was pulling for him most of the night.

Unfortunately, due to the mess and controversy that the last lap produced, Bayne’s career best effort was greatly overshadowed, and little mention or attention went out to the young man following the checkered flag.

As the week wore on and everyone took positions either in the Keselowski or Edwards camp, all the attention was once again focused on the Cup regulars as they prepared to do battle in Indianapolis at O’Reilly Raceway Park. Once again, there was no mention of Bayne.

But apparently, Trevor was not one to stew over being left in the corner…or maybe he was, I dunno. Either way, the kid went out there and did it again! On Saturday, he captured his second pole in a row… not only his second this year, but ironically his second in a row at ORP! Cruising to a fourth-place finish, he conquered the track to place among the likes of Kyle Busch, Edwards, Keselowski, Paul Menard and others. This kid is quietly showing us that he is the real deal, and is quite likely to be a “Bayne” in the side of anyone who dares to race against him.

On a sadder note, while Bayne has captured two poles in a row at ORP, he may not have that opportunity at Gateway in the usual sense. It was announced yesterday that Dover Motorsports wishes to divest itself of Gateway International Raceway, which it owns. At this point, GIR has notified NASCAR that it is NOT seeking ANY sanctioned dates for the 2011 racing season.

So Bayne may not have the opportunity in the usual sense to build on his Gateway performance next season. But due to an unusual, if not ironic, schedule this year, GIR is hosting yet another Nationwide race in October! The October race used to be held at Memphis Motorsports Park, which was also owned by Dover Motorsports, but was shut down abruptly after last year’s Nationwide race there. It makes one wonder just WTF is up with Dover Motorsports!

Be that as it may, this is one journalist that will be pulling for Trevor Bayne in October to capture another pole and to…

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Me

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