During an interview with Trevor Bayne last May, I asked him casually to predict when he'd win his first Sprint Cup race.
I wasn't completely serious, but I was interested in his response. At the time, he was a Nationwide Series up-and-comer whose plans included a potential full-time move to the Cup Series in 2012, and his public relations representative had guilted me into doing an interview with him.
So there I was, standing across from a fresh-faced newcomer in his team's hauler.
And I wondered: When did he plan on winning his first Cup race?
"2011 or 2012, hopefully!" he said with a big smile. "As soon as they put me in one, I'd like to win my first year."
I smiled politely in response, thinking, Sure, kid. He may have picked up on that, because he struck a more serious tone.
"Everybody wants to win right away," he said. "I'd like to think we could come out with one – whether it's lucky or whether we were good. But first I've got to win a Nationwide race."
Bayne may have called his shot on winning in 2011, but he was wrong on the Nationwide race part. He skipped winning in the lower series and went straight to becoming a Daytona 500 champion – just one day after he left his teenage years behind.
It was one year ago in Daytona when I met Bayne for the first time. Michael Waltrip Racing used to have a media dinner at Daytona's Chart House restaurant each year, and Bayne was the new kid on the block.
His nickname is "T-Bayne," which I realized was a takeoff on hip hop star T-Pain. Upon hearing the connection, he excitedly pulled out his iPhone and showed off an application called "I Am T-Pain," which allowed him to talk into the phone and have his voice auto-tuned like the hip-hop star.
He bubbled with personality and I found him to be likable, but the stars of the dinner were the Sprint Cup drivers. Bayne seemed so far away from making it to the Cup Series – if he ever did.
Still, I distinctly remember MWR general manager Ty Norris saying something like, "If we can just get Trevor a competitive car, look at that face!"
Everyone at the dinner laughed. Indeed, Bayne has marketability written all over him in part because of his appeal to women. And he not only has the looks to attract female fans to the sport, but he maintains a polished, clean-cut image.
His religion doesn't hurt that image. A devout Christian, Bayne has been outspoken about his belief that God is using him as a platform to spread the good word.
A native of Tennessee, Bayne would travel home to Knoxville to stay with his family for a few days after most races last season. He never strayed far from his roots, keeping a close group of friends who helped him stay grounded and concentrated on staying well-rounded (one of his top priorities).
He and his family never had a backup plan if racing didn't work out, he told me during last year's interview.
"I remember sitting at my local go-kart track one day, we were all hanging out and playing football under a tree," he said. "Like four of us said, ‘I want to be a race car driver one day!' But one of our buddies said, ‘I want to play hockey!' And we were like, ‘Dude, what are you thinking? Who says that?' We thought he was crazy.
"So I've never wanted to be anything else besides a driver. This has been my focus. And we've always believed that we can do it, too."
As it turns out, he can.
Waltrip and his team knew Bayne was capable, but they ran out of sponsorship for the youngster late last season. So Jack Roush swooped in with seven races to go and promised to give Bayne a full-time Nationwide ride for this season.
Roush, who has an alliance with Wood Brothers Racing, helped line up a Sprint Cup ride for Bayne at Texas last year. He finished 17th in his only Cup start, which was great for a rookie.
Who knew his second Cup start would be so much better?
The Wood Brothers felt Bayne was special, and thought they'd give him a shot to run their part-time effort. At the same time, it would allow Bayne to get his feet wet in the Cup Series.
On Daytona 500 Media Day, Bayne was clearly just happy to be there. He spoke of impressing his buddies when he fielded an offseason phone call from Carl Edwards, and even admitted to being a bit starstruck himself.
Edwards had phoned to help recruit Bayne to Roush, and the then-teenager hung up, secretly thrilled by the call. His friends looked at him in amazement.
"My buddies at home are like, 'Dude, you were just on the phone with Carl Edwards?! What is that!?'" Bayne said with a wide grin. "I've just lost perspective because I'm in Mooresville a lot and around the shop, and I'm just used to it. But when you get outside of that (bubble), it's like, 'Wow, this is a big deal!'"
Now, it's a really big deal. And the next time he gets a call from Edwards, the veteran will probably say something like, "Congratulations on beating me in the Daytona 500."
On Media Day, I asked Bayne a more serious version of the question I'd popped last year.
How realistic would it really be, I asked, to think he could be competitive this season while driving a part-time schedule with little Cup experience?
Again, he didn't miss a beat.
"I want to be realistic, but I'm also an optimist," he said, breaking into a smile again. "So I'm gonna say that we're gonna be really competitive."
Considering he became the 2011 Daytona 500 champion just nine days later, I'd say he was right.