Trevor Bayne has a Daytona 500 championship ring, an electric smile, and a bright future in NASCAR's national divisions. What he doesn't have right now, though, is a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series for 2012.
The Roush Fenway driver confirmed Tuesday that his No. 16 team doesn't currently have the funding to race full-time on the Nationwide tour, a fact that may limit him to only a partial schedule this season. Bayne, who turns 21 next month, won a race at Texas Motor Speedway last year and finished 11th in final points despite missing five events because of what he believes was Lyme disease. He would be viewed as a strong contender to challenge teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the championship this season, but that would require competing in all 33 races.
"We're working at it as hard as we can, because I want to run for a championship," Bayne said at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the second day of NASCAR's preseason media tour. "But right now, it's probably part-time. But we could have something come up soon. It would have to be soon, because the race season is about to start. That's why we keep saying, hopefully soon we'll have something, because that's what we're working toward."
Bayne isn't the only driver caught in a sponsorship squeeze at Roush, which scaled back the No. 6 Cup Series team to only a Daytona 500 entry after the departure of primary backer UPS. Sprint Cup championship contender Matt Kenseth still has most of the season available on his No. 17, which owner Jack Roush has pledged to run out of his pocket if necessary. And despite winning the Nationwide title last season, Stenhouse does not have full-season sponsorship, although he said the No. 6 car will run the entire slate with some help from manufacturer Ford.
"Ford has really stepped up to help our Nationwide program. They really want to see the Mustang succeed and win another championship," Stenhouse said. "They've been putting a lot into it. They're still working on sponsorship for it. I think they're close on a few things. Hopefully, here pretty soon they can come out with something."
Bayne, meanwhile, seems caught in a logjam of sponsorship needs. The Knoxville, Tenn., native will run at least 13 Sprint Cup events this season for the Wood Brothers, which receives equipment, engines and technical assistance from Roush. Steve Newmark, the president of Roush Fenway, said Bayne was slated to run about half the Nationwide schedule as of Tuesday, although that number could change.
"We've got some discussions going on, and our goal is to run him full-time in Nationwide. Whether that comes to fruition or not, we'll probably see in the next several weeks," Newmark said. "Ideally, in a perfect world, it would have been like the old days when you set your lineup in the summer previous. But we're still kind of in the midst of some discussions there."
Bayne said he had not yet decided on whether to compete for championship points in Nationwide or Sprint Cup -- under a NASCAR rule enacted last year, drivers must choose one -- and would likely wait as long as possible to do so. Bayne's absence would further shake up a 2012 Nationwide championship race that's already lost two potential top-10 cars in the shutdown of Rusty Wallace Racing, seen fourth-place finisher Aric Almirola land a Sprint Cup ride at Richard Petty Motorsports, and sixth-place finisher Jason Leffler move to Kyle Busch's truck. As of now, the top contenders appear to be Stenhouse, 2011 runner-up Elliott Sadler, top-10 drivers Justin Allgaier and Brian Scott, and newcomers Danica Patrick, Austin Dillon and Cole Whitt.
Bayne hopes to join that lineup -- but at the moment, economics are getting in the way. "What would be difficult is, the first week they all load up and send their cars to the track, and I'll still sitting at home watching it on TV," he said.
"It's going to be tough, but I know if that's where I'm supposed to be, that's where I'm supposed to be, and I'm going to go out there every weekend to win, and it's going to give us a fire. If we're not racing every weekend, we may not have the momentum or the experience, but we're going to have more fire than ever to go out there and kick butt in those few we have a chance at. But I want to run for that championship, because I'm competitive and I want to be a part of that at the end of the year. ... But whatever happens, I'm going to be OK with it. Not saying that I wouldn't be more excited for a championship run."
Bayne said Tuesday that he was a candidate for the No. 22 Sprint Cup ride at Penske Racing, which became open after Kurt Busch left the organization, and eventually went to A.J. Allmendinger. Bayne said he never spoke with anyone from Penske, but acknowledges that the team contacted Roush.
"They reached out to my team," Bayne said, "because I said, 'Look, I'm under contract with Jack, I'm going to stay loyal. He's stayed loyal to me through my tough times. If you can work something out, and Jack says that's the best thing for me, I trust his opinion.' Obviously, Jack didn't think that was the best thing for me ... so he must have big plans for us in the future, because we're still here and still racing for him."
Roush's ultimate goal is to have Bayne racing full-time for the organization in Sprint Cup, Newmark said.
"You look at, what does he need to get that development? He needs to race, and we're lucky that he has such a great relationship with the Wood Brothers," Newmark said. "He's going to get races with the Wood Brothers, he's going to get races with us, he's going to get that critical mass of races. We're hoping he can run for a championship, or otherwise he's going to be in my office every day pushing it like he should be, because he's passionate and he wants to win a championship. He's seen Ricky do it, and he wants to do it in Nationwide."
Stenhouse views Bayne's situation with a little concern of his own. The reigning Nationwide champion worries that his teammate's absence could negatively impact his title defense, given how closely the Nos. 6 and 16 programs worked together last season.
"I think we can make our race cars better as whole when we're working on them together, but to not have that second car there is going to be a little tough," Stenhouse said. "Every single practice last year, we had a meeting after -- crew chiefs, engineers and drivers -- and when one person was struggling, we were able to help them out and make it better. They've helped us throughout last year. So taking that out of it is going to be tough. Having that teammate there to bounce ideas off of, whether it's the way he's driving the race car, the way his feels versus mine feels, setup differences -- there's a lot that I think is not there right now. I think that's going to be the biggest challenge for us."