Trevor Bayne returns to Daytona International Speedway this week under more pressure than a 20-year-old should have to bear -- not because he's the defending Daytona 500 winner, but in spite of it.
Doors haven't opened for Bayne the way he and most of the racing world have expected -- despite his dashing good looks, his affable manner and his improbable victory in his second Sprint Cup start.
Bayne is back with the Wood Brothers this year, but his schedule calls for only 13 Cup races, four fewer than he ran last year. Racers to the core, the Woods used their winnings from last year's 500 to add four races to the schedule of the No. 21 Ford.
So if Bayne wants to race more than 13 times in 2012, he'd better start winning. A repeat victory at Daytona certainly wouldn't hurt.
"I feel like we've got just as good as shot as we did last year," Bayne said Monday during a break from a New York City media blitz. "Nobody really expected it. I didn't expect it. This year, we're going against the odds again, but that's what we're all about.
"We're a part-time team. The Wood Brothers are just incredible guys, and if anybody can do it, it's their team ... Last year we added those four races because of the win at Daytona -- the funds that came from that. So if we win again, we'll add those races again."
Bayne also is scheduled to run the first three Nationwide Series events of the season for Roush Fenway Racing. Anything beyond that depends on finding sponsorship. Bayne was four points out of the Nationwide championship lead last April when an illness thought to be Lyme disease sidelined him for more than a month.
"I wish we were running full-time Nationwide, because I want to run for the championship pretty badly," Bayne said. "It's hard to say whether that's going to happen or not. We're going to run those first three and kind of see where we're at -- hopefully, I'll just be leading the points, and it'll be hard for us to stop, and we'll collect some sponsorship and keep going.
"That's my agenda, to go up there and show everybody how to do it and get the points lead and make a statement there."
After winning the 500 Bayne had sanguine expectations to match his disposition, but the racing economy didn't cooperate.
"I thought it was kind of like ... we call 'em 'lifers,' I guess -- when somebody wins a race, they're in for their life in the Cup Series," Bayne said. "But it's tougher than that right now. It's so hard to break through as a young driver. If you don't have money, if you don't have funds personally, it's hard, because you don't have leverage with other sponsors or anything else.
"For me, it's just convincing guys that I can help their brand and be their race car driver and be their representative. That's what I'm trying to do. That's the hardest part of our sport right now. It's not driving anymore."
Though Bayne doubtless will enjoy the limelight accorded a Daytona 500 champion, he can anticipate his own feelings as he runs the warm-up laps before the green flag on Feb. 26.
"It's going to crazy, but it's kind of bittersweet, though," Bayne said. "You're the defending winner, but it's closer to the time when someone else will be -- unless you can back it up. So we're going for the back-up plan.
"Still it's been an awesome year. I think I'm probably going to have cold chills all over when I'm going around for the warm-up laps."
Even better for Bayne would be having something to celebrate some 200 laps later.