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Bayne hoops it up with Hawks, NBA legend Wilkins

January 20, 2012, Mark Aumann,

ATLANTA -- A regulation basketball rim height is 10 feet from the floor. But standing on the court Wednesday morning at Philips Arena, the perspective looked a whole lot different when 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne stood next to nine-time NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins.

That's because Bayne, a touch under 6-foot, was giving away a significant height advantage to the 6-8 Wilkins as they participated in a friendly contest of free-throw shooting.

Trevor Bayne can sport the No. 21 off the track, thanks to Dominique Wilkins. (Turner Sports New Media)

"The rim looks a lot closer when these guys are out there," Bayne said. "It looks a lot shorter. They stand out there and looks like all they have to do is reach up to dunk."

Still, Bayne did more than hold his own against Wilkins, aka the "Human Highlight Film" during his playing days. Despite playing in street clothes and having little warmup time, Bayne made three of five attempts from the line.

Wilkins then stepped up -- and promptly missed his first three shots. He then jokingly said, "OK, I've had enough practice now" -- and swished four in a row.

"Dominique, he's so humble and personable," Bayne said. "He shakes your hand and talks to you. He met me on the court to shoot baskets and even showed me a shot or two."

Wilkins, now the Hawks' vice president of basketball, shared something else in common with Bayne: the numeral 21. Atlanta retired Wilkins' number in 2001, while the Wood Brothers have entered cars bearing No. 21 since 1953. Wilkins gave Bayne a replica Hawks jersey, while Bayne offered Wilkins a Wood Brothers team shirt.

"This experience with the Hawks was incredible," Bayne said. "They're so hospitable. I want to do better at that in our sport when people come in to visit and check it out. They gave us all their time and attention, they took us through their locker room and the practice court. It was still low-key but [Tuesday] was game day and they were still really nice and cool about everything."

Bayne also met with assistant coach Kenny Gattison, who surprised the driver with his knowledge of NASCAR.

"He was friends with Dale Earnhardt for a long time," Bayne said. "It kind of made me feel bad to not know more about basketball. Kenny knew a lot about it. I guess when he was with the [former Charlotte] Hornets, he spent a lot of time out at the speedway with Dale. Most people say they know a little about NASCAR, but he actually follows it every week. He knew about everything that goes on, and that was impressive."

Gattison told Bayne the two sports have much in common, particularly when it comes to travel.

"They have to go on the road, they have to load up everything -- their medical equipment, their shoes," Bayne said. "That's like their sticker tires, putting them on the hauler to take to the track."

And most importantly, working as a cohesive unit is critical in both ventures, even if drivers spend more time in the spotlight.

"We just talked a lot about the teamwork it takes," Bayne said. "I don't think people realize how much a team sport racing is. In racing, it gets focused on one guy but everything I do in the race car is determined by what my team does on pit road, building the cars, what happens at the engine shop. Our sport is a team sport and really doesn't get the credit for it."

With a little more than a month to go before the season opener at Daytona, Bayne's schedule still needs some firming up, particularly for the Nationwide Series.

"I do know I'm running 13 Cup races," Bayne said. "So that's good. That's in stone. We're working on more Cup races, because I'd like to run about 18, like I did last year. As far as the Nationwide side, we've really been working hard to get a full-time deal.

"I'd want to run for a championship this season. As of right now, we're around 10 races or so. My goal is full time, so hopefully we'll know really soon whether we'll be at Daytona. If I can get them to go to the first three, maybe we'll be leading the points and I can get them to keep going. That's my plan."

Bayne was sporting his Daytona 500 champion's ring during his Atlanta visit, but is quick to admit the success he had there in 2011 won't carry over this February. His team has no guaranteed top-35 owners' provisional, so Bayne will have to race his way into the field.

"It's a little tough," Bayne said. "We've got to have a fast race car, which I'm not really concerned about. The Wood Brothers do such a great job with their speedway cars. But anything can happen, just like Denny Hamlin's steering wheel coming off in one qualifier.

"For me, you worry a little bit. But I think we're good enough to qualify on time, and if we don't, we'll just have to race our way in."

And for Bayne, who had courtside seats in Atlanta's 92-89 victory against Portland later in the evening, it was a chance to gain a new perspective and appreciation for a different sport.

"I'm not much of a basketball player at all," Bayne said. "I've never been to an NBA game and never really experienced it because I've been racing. I think now that I've been there and experienced it, I'll be more of a fan."

Video: Spend the day with Trevor Bayne