At this time last year, Trevor Bayne was basking in the afterglow of being the youngest Daytona 500 winner in history. The real-life Cinderella story had made just his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start and, driving for a single-car team with little sponsorship, had shocked the NASCAR world by doing the seemingly impossible.
The future appeared bright for Bayne. Here was a talented, charismatic driver with a quick smile who companies would surely fall over one another to align themselves with, even though the economy had slowed the number of sponsors willing to invest in NASCAR dramatically.
Except that never happened.
Despite the Daytona 500 success and the extensive media exposure that came with it, the anticipated high-dollar sponsorship deal never came.
Not helping matters was Bayne's prolonged battle with Lyme disease, which had him out of the race car for six weeks.
When he retuned to action it was more of the same; running a part-time Sprint Cup schedule for the Wood Brothers while racing full-time in the Nationwide Series for Jack Roush – often with his quarterpanels devoid of any sponsorship.
As the year went by and Bayne further showcased his talent by notching his first Nationwide victory at Texas, nothing came of it.
Some felt that at the end of the year, when businesses were planning their marketing campaigns for 2012, they would see the opportunity to sponsor Bayne.
But as the days ticked away this offseason, it became more and more clear everything that had transpired at Daytona months prior hadn't changed a thing. The 20-year-old Bayne (he turns 21 on Sunday) was in the exact same position he found himself in at the beginning of the 2011 season: Still seeking the chance to take his career to the next level, but not being afforded the opportunity to do so because of a lack of sponsorship.
Bayne won't be running full-time in any racing series this year.
"We're just making the best of what we've got right now and it's tough to do that when you only have a few races," Bayne said during NASCAR's annual Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. "Obviously, as a young guy you want to have championships under your belt and full seasons. I still haven't spent a whole full season with one team yet in Nationwide and I think that would be great to have that opportunity."
It's a point which will further be driven home tonight, as Bayne – despite being eligible – will not be among the 25 drivers taking part in the Budweiser Shootout.
Instead, like the majority of fans, he will be watching tonight's race on television. All because his Wood Brothers team lacked the funding to compete in the non-points affair and didn't want to unnecessarily risk damaging equipment they didn't have the money to fix.
And after Daytona, who knows? Bayne is going to run the first three Nationwide races for Roush Fenway Racing and then the team is going to reassess the situation.
"Here we are at Roush Fenway Racing with great things to offer and it's still tough for us," Bayne said. "So we're working really hard at that, it just shows how tough it is right now."
No matter the continued frustration, Bayne is hopeful – albeit realistic – about the position in which he finds himself. He believes in himself, he believes in his team and he knows he can only worry about the things he controls.
"As a young guy, experience is important and it's crucial for me to be in the car as much as possible," Bayne said. "But I'm fortunate to be one of the guys in the sport that didn't bring money to the table or didn't have my own sponsorship where my parents own a big business, so to have Roush Fenway fund me last year with no sponsorship was a big deal for them.
"It would kind of be hard to expect them (Roush Fenway Racing) to fund a full Cup team this year, two Nationwide teams and all that, so I am a little disappointed because I want to be racing all the time. But, like I said, I'm gonna make the best of it and just go out there and try to win every weekend."