Bayne a man on a mission as he returns to Daytona
The severely jet-lagged
And after that, it's off to Florida to test and train for the traditional opening of the stock-car racing season, the
Last year, the 21-year-old went from virtual obscurity to overnight fame by winning the 53rd annual "Great American Race," in the process becoming the youngest driver, at 20 years and one day, to win the Sprint Cup opener and only the second (with Lee Petty at the inaugural race in 1959) to win it in his first start there.
"I don't know that it's sunk in all the way even still," Bayne says of his career- and life-changing victory. "But I think for me, it was kind of when I was on the plane the next day. ... It was the first time I was really alone, and I was sitting there in this plane taking off, and I look down and I see that ring on my finger, and I just started tearing up a little bit. I was like, 'Man, we really did this.' And I realized that that's the same ring that Dale Earnhardt tried 19 times for and a lot of people tried their whole lives for and never had one. So that's when it kind of sunk in.
"It sunk in even more," he continues, "when I was at the Hall of Fame dinner (in January), and they're showing highlights of people's careers, just showing different things -- you know, all the wins of
Indeed, there are many who have gone their whole careers without ever winning NASCAR's biggest race, among them such respected drivers as
Of course, with the victory at Daytona came fame, the type that reminds Bayne constantly how supportive the NASCAR fan base is.
"You also realize there's no off switch," he says with a chuckle. "It isn't like when you leave the track, you can flip a switch to off and fly under the radar and go out to dinner and not be noticed.
"So for me, when I was going out to eat or whatever, when I was flying around the country for media things, I realized how big our sport was within the country and just realized what the fan support was like. ... I don't think that was something I ever really expected. I think I knew it, and I knew the Daytona 500 was a huge thing for me, but I thought I always felt that because I was a race-car driver. When I got to the point where I realized that most of the people in the United States cared about it, that's when I was kind of in shock about it."
This year, Bayne hopes to run full time in the Nationwide Series and to stay healthy after
"Then I'd love to win another Cup race this year," he says. "So between those (goals), I think it can be a really successful season."