The names of NASCAR could-have-beens stretch longer than the hauler ride from Daytona back to Charlotte.
Todd Kluever. Stephen Leicht. Eric Darnell. We could argue all day whether they didn’t quite have the talent, or if opportunity just didn’t present itself at the right time.
Regardless, their stories teach an important lesson. If that window to greatness cracks open just an inch, then loyalty needs to be discarded just as easily as a soaked oil rag.
When Trevor Bayne left Diamond-Waltrip Racing for Roush-Fenway Racing last year, he knew he would have to endure a stretch of being labeled as ungrateful. Diamond-Waltrip brought him to the dance and gave him equipment good enough to become a Nationwide qualifying juggernaut. The “right thing,” to many, would have been Bayne staying put even though Diamond-Waltrip couldn’t promise him a full Nationwide season in 2011, much less any sniff of a Sprint Cup cameo.
Bayne, clean-cut and religious as he is, was also savvy enough to see a part-time Nationwide ride as a potential career killer. Displaying mental toughness well beyond his years, he maneuvered through a difficult crossroads, just as handily as he negotiated the draft on his way to a storybook Daytona 500 win.
Talk about the stars aligning. From the full-time Nationwide ride with Roush-Fenway came the opportunity to drive for the iconic Wood Brothers, which needed something special to become relevant again.
Mission accomplished. You can just picture the Ford commercials with Bayne and David Pearson, talking about how the storied team has finally come full-circle. Additional sponsors will follow, allowing the Wood Brothers to return to a full-time schedule, either this year or in 2012.
Had Bayne not had the guts to walk, he’d be babysitting Travis Pastrana for Michael Waltrip right now.
If he’s always this instinctive on the track, we haven’t seen anything yet.