For Bayne, Chicagoland offers finish to build upon
July 19, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
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JOLIET, Ill. -- Tweaks to his car, a divergent strategy on pit road and a high line that was working all night gave Trevor Bayne nearly everything he needed Saturday night. The one thing he was missing was the one thing he could not control.
Time. The No. 6 team needed more of it. More laps, a longer race, a late-race caution to extend the advertised distance. Any of those situations would have given Bayne that final ingredient he needed to chase down eventual race winner Chase Elliott.
Bayne's car was turning faster laps. It had newer tires. Catching Elliott would have been as inevitable as the moon that would rise high above Chicagoland Speedway in Saturday night's EnjoyIllinois.com 300, the lone NASCAR national series race this weekend.
"If we had a late caution, or had it stayed green for another 10-15 laps, we would have had 'em," Bayne said following his second runner-up finish of the season. "But that's 15 laps we'll never know about."
True, although we learned plenty about Bayne on this night. Namely that his team is capable of producing elite runs once more. It's been an inconsistent stretch for the 23-year-old driver, who was either first or second in the points standings following each of the season's first five races before a poor Texas finish sent him spiraling to fifth.
Consecutive wrecks at Michigan and Road America also dented his performance this season, but Saturday's finish gives Bayne three consecutive top-10s as the NASCAR Nationwide Series hits its summer stretch.
"This was probably the strongest weekend we've had in a while," Bayne said. "We had one call to pit while the leaders stayed out, and that got us some track position. And boy, we were gaining at the end. Just with that short pit (Elliott) did, he gained a big enough margin where he could keep ahead of us."
His face streaked with sweat, Bayne and crew chief Chad Norris conferred on pit road next to a No. 6 Ford that was still emanating heat, but had no damage. It was a clean race from Bayne, who was involved in several incidents spawned from the side-by-side racing that practically defined the event.
Norris' early call to pit helped Bayne eventually gain position, and his late call to stay out as long as possible on a lengthy green-flag run paid off. Bayne was running fifth when those final pit stops began on Lap 160, and he led for 14 late laps before finally coming down for tires and a splash of fuel.
Those calls define how Bayne and Norris, in their first year working together, have helped re-elevate a No. 6 team that won two consecutive series championships with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. driving before Bayne took the seat in 2013.
It was a difficult act for Bayne to follow, joining a team that did things a certain way with a driver who was no longer there. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has obviously impressed enough of the right people, though -- he'll drive full-time for Roush Fenway Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starting next year.
"I think I'm taking (more ownership) not only of this team, but I think at Roush Fenway in general," Bayne said. "We're here to stay for a while, and this team needs leadership. Whether that's me or not, I don't know, but we all have to step up in our positions and try to be leaders. As a driver I'm trying to do that, and I know Chad is trying to do that as a crew chief.
"We can't hang our heads when we're going through tough times, because we can battle back and have nights like this."
Bayne punctuated those final words with a wide, sweeping gesture of his hands as he leaned against his second-place race car. Nights like tonight was a phrase meant for positive encouragement, but it also underscored the desire to get just a little bit better. After all, as Bayne spoke fireworks exploded overhead for a different driver making his way to Victory Lane.
"It's just one race, but it's good because we've been working hard on our car," Bayne said. "It shows the direction where we're headed. We're just not there quite yet. I think we will be."