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Young Daytona champ has link to Letcher

Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500 champion.

Those words are music to the ears of Wade Day, a Letcher County native who served as a crew chief and driver coach to Bayne five years ago.

Bayne became the youngest driver ever to win NASCAR’s biggest race on Sunday. At 20 years old, he surpassed the record held by his boyhood hero, Jeff Gordon, by five years.

Day was as surprised as anyone to see his protégé win the “Great American Race,” but never doubted the Knoxville, Tenn., native had the talent to be a Sprint Cup Series winner.

“ He’s awesome behind the wheel,” Day said. “It was truly a privilege working with him.”

Day has known Daytona’s newest champion since Bayne was five. Through the years, he saw an exceptional talent who won over 300 go-kart races and 20 titles including three World Karting Association World Championships.

Bayne went on to become the Allison Legacy Series National Champion before moving fulltime to stock cars. Quickly progressing through the ranks, Bayne was just 15 when he won a pole for a USAR Hooters Pro Cup race at Bristol.

During that time, Day held more than a traditional crew chief role. A Kingsport Speedway champion driver, he often got behind the wheel of the race car to help Bayne learn the cars and tracks. Day now works in the same capacity with 14-year-old Sevierville driver Blake Jones.

“ Working with these kids, sometimes you have to do that,” Day said. “I didn’t have to do that a whole lot with Trevor. You could see he had talent right off the bat.”

Their efforts paid off as Bayne was signed to a driver development program by Dale Earnhardt, Inc. When the company restructured and ended the partnership, Bayne moved to Michael Waltrip Racing to run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Moving over to car owner Jack Roush’s operation for this season, Bayne with 14 top-10 finishes and four poles in 50 starts, is looked as a contender to win the Nationwide Series championship.

There were also plans for Bayne to run the No. 21 Ford in 17 Sprint Cup races for the legendary Wood Brothers. It started with the Daytona 500 where Bayne had a 32ndplace starting spot.

While the young driver showed promise in time trials and ran well for most of the Feb. 17 qualifying races, no one of sound mind would have predicted Bayne in his second career start would outduel two-time champion Tony Stewart on a late-race restart to win the Daytona 500.

Day planned to race with Jones in Florida and visit with Bayne while he was there. Instead, plans changed with his grandmother’s death in Kentucky. Getting back home to Sevierville, Tenn., late Sunday afternoon, Day watched the final few laps of the race on television.

“I was telling him how to drive it,” Day said. “I was like, ‘Keep that thing on the bottom. Don’t come off the bottom.’ When they went to turn three, I knew unless they wrecked him, they weren’t going to catch him.

“My wife and I were jumping straight up and down. I usually don’t get too excited watching those Cup races, but that made it all different.”

Darrell Waltrip, three- time NASCAR champion turned FOX television analyst, admitted to having little knowledge about Bayne before Sunday’s race. During the post-race show, Waltrip held up a blank sheet of paper which he called his bio of Bayne.

“They said on TV, they didn’t know a lot about him,” Day said. “What I can tell them is he worked very hard to get where he’s at. His dad, Rocky, worked hard to get

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