Trevor Bayne: NASCAR's heartthrob
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Trevor Bayne, NASCAR's version of Justin Bieber with a better haircut, walked into the media center Friday at 10:15 a.m. MT.
Fortunately, no teenage girls were allowed to join the interview session at Phoenix International Raceway. It would have been hard to work with all that screaming and fainting.
The new heartthrob of the sport has enjoyed a whirlwind week, including numerous marriage proposals, after his surprising victory in the Daytona 500.
"It's been pretty wild," Bayne said. "I was getting a police escort in San Francisco [Tuesday] and girls are out there holding 'Marry Me' signs. I didn't have a Valentine this year. I don't think that will happen next year."
It doesn't get better than this for a 20-year-old kid still trying to soak it all in and understand his sudden fame.
His week included talking on the phone with Vice President Joe Biden.
"He said he was proud of the way I represent things," Bayne said. "He told me to come check out the White House and told me I could bring anyone I wanted. He said President Obama would really enjoy meeting me."
Bayne did talk shows with Ellen DeGeneres and George Lopez. He talked on the phone with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and met Pam Anderson.
"That was really cool," Bayne said. "Pam said, 'You remind me of my son.' She's getting a little older now, but it was really cool to meet her. The whole time I was like, 'What's going on?'"
It's pretty simple, really. He's good-looking, well-spoken, clean-cut and the winner of the biggest event in NASCAR.
PIR announced Friday that all the grandstands were sold for Sunday's Sprint Cup race, probably due to an unexpected surge of 13- to 15-year-old girls flooding the website for tickets.
We kid, but Bayne's victory and instant-celebrity status is exactly what NASCAR needed. He can help NASCAR regain some younger fans, a demographic that has drifted away from the sport in recent years.
"It's cool to get young people to see our sport is cool," Bayne said. "I got calls from people saying, 'I'm a fan of NASCAR now because of what you've done.' We've got to show them this is an awesome sport. Maybe this story will get them involved in it again."
Even an old guy like Mark Martin sees it. Martin said he was thrilled for the legendary Wood Brothers race team to get back to Victory Lane, but Bayne's sudden stardom doesn't surprise him.
"It's a big story," Martin said. "We're talking the Daytona 500 champion here. NASCAR said they wanted to go after that young market this year. This is perfect."
Have other drivers noticed?
"You can't turn on the TV without seeing him," AJ Allmendinger said. "I'm really happy for him, but to be honest, I'm also jealous."
Don't feel too bad, AJ. Most of the time, fame is fleeting, as young master Bayne may find out soon. He banged the Turn 3 wall in practice Friday and had to go to a backup car.
So how does NASCAR top this one-week sugar high? No easy task, but not impossible. Here are some examples of ways to ride the wave and keep the Happy Train chugging along:
• Bayne wins again on Sunday -- Should this happen, just fly him straight to Hollywood after the race so he can attend the Academy Awards on Sunday night. Let him walk the red carpet with supporting actress nominee Hailee Steinfeld, a perfect example of his new fan base.
Even a win Saturday in the Nationwide race would help, but a victory Sunday would propel Bayne to instant superstar status. His chances of winning the Cup race are less than slim, but so were his chances of winning the Daytona 500.
"I just want to get back in the race car and focus on one thing," Bayne said. "That's where I get in the zone and feel the most comfortable.
"I told the team, 'OK guys, how do we keep this going now?' On the Cup side we still have learning curves. It doesn't normally happen this way. This is our third race in Cup and we have to keep expectations in perspective."
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins -- You can list this for any race, of course, but a victory this weekend couldn't come at a better time, going from the new golden boy to the old one in back-to-back weeks.
Earnhardt has a better chance of winning than Bayne. Junior won back-to-back at Phoenix in 2003 and 2004, but hasn't won here since.
• David Ragan getting redemption -- Ragan was two laps away from a possible victory last week when he made the biggest mistake of his racing career.
He was leading at the green for the first two-lap overtime, but was black-flagged for changing lines before the start-finish line. It was heartbreaking for a guy who really needs something good to happen to keep his job in the No. 6 Ford.
A Ragan victory would be a feel-good moment for a guy who got a raw deal in the Daytona 500, but his average finish on the 1-mile Phoenix oval is 25th and his best finish was 10th two years ago.
• Denny Hamlin makes up for last November -- Officially, the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is where Jimmie Johnson moved ahead of Hamlin to win a fifth consecutive Cup title. But Phoenix is the place where Hamlin and the No. 11 Toyota blew it.
Hamlin had a dominating day at Phoenix last fall, but had to pit near the end when he ran out of fuel. He finished 12th and Johnson finished fifth.
If Hamlin does win Sunday, looking back may become more painful knowing what might have been.
• A Richard Petty Motorsports driver in Victory Lane -- Wood Brothers had its moment in the sun again last week. Now The King could use a little glory after saving his team from extinction.
Allmendinger started on the front row for both Phoenix races last year, but doesn't have a top-10 at PIR. Ambrose's best finish at Phoenix is 11th, so an RPM win may have to wait.
Each of those scenarios would make for a nice story, but let's face it. This Cinderella race shoe fits one guy, the kid who won the Daytona 500.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2011 Daytona 500
The 53rd running of the Daytona 500 is on the horizon, with a new racing surface greeting competitors heading into a new season of hope. It all begins Feb. 20 at Daytona International Speedway.