A year later, Trevor Bayne still can't quite believe the whirlwind of instant notoriety that followed his wild Daytona 500 victory.
Bayne fondly recalls taking a congratulatory phone call from Vice President Joe Biden, meeting a list of celebrities that included Pamela Anderson, and talking to an athlete he's often compared with, Tim Tebow.
What all that newfound fame hasn't done for Bayne, though, is get him a full-time ride in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series or a guaranteed starting spot in this year's Daytona 500. Bayne's team, Wood Brothers Racing, currently plans to run him in 14 Sprint Cup series races this season. For now, at least, he doesn't have a full-time Nationwide Series ride either.
"It's OK," Bayne said at Thursday's media day at Daytona International Speedway. "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. For me, I'm running about the same schedule I ran in Cup last year. It's kind of one a month with the 21 car, but in Nationwide I had hoped to run a full season this year and run for a championship. Obviously, as a young guy you want to have championships under your belt and full seasons."
The Feb. 26 Daytona 500 is on Bayne's limited schedule, but he doesn't have one of the starting spots guaranteed to the top 35 teams in points from last season. He says they don't plan on trying to buy a guaranteed spot from another team — so he'll have earn a spot in Sunday's qualifying or Thursday's qualifying races.
Bayne doesn't have a full-time ride in the Nationwide series, either. Roush Fenway Racing plans to run him in the first three races of the season, hoping to attract potential sponsors with good results and run more races.
"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," Bayne said. "But, right now, we're going to run the first three races and kind of see where we stand, work on sponsorship deals. It just shows how tough it is right now. Here we are at Roush Fenway Racing with great things to offer and it's still tough for us, so we're working really hard at that."
Bayne certainly hoped his Daytona 500 win would catapult him into a full-time ride right away, but he's remaining patient for now.
"It's almost like being a part of the family there," Bayne said of the Wood Brothers team. "I think for this point in my career the Wood Brothers is the best place for me to be. If we could run full-time, that would be better, but I enjoy that family and just the support that they give me."
NASCAR veteran Michael Waltrip sees Bayne's struggle to secure a full-time ride is another sign of a sluggish economy.
"It's not just NASCAR, it's how difficult things are today," Waltrip said. "Trevor's a sharp young man, very well-spoken, good-looking kid and got a great heart. Can drive the heck out of the car and just didn't get the opportunity, hasn't had the opportunity to do it full time yet."
But trying to refine his driving skills while running a limited schedule wasn't the only challenge Bayne faced last year. He missed several weeks after being diagnosed with a mystery ailment that turned out to be Lyme disease. Sitting out those races, Bayne said, made him realize "how much you appreciate being here."
Bayne says he's feeling fine now, good enough to take a mission trip to Kenya in the offseason.
"What's wild about people in Kenya is like no matter who are, if you're from out of town or an American and you show up on their front porch, they're pulling out chairs and trying to give you food at their little mud huts," Bayne said. "They're incredible people, so I would tell anybody they should go check it out because, to me, it was humbling. These people don't have hardly anything and here they are, their kids are so happy. They've got their bellies sticking out because they're malnourished and stuff, but they're the most pumped kids in the world to be alive. It was an incredible experience."
Bayne, a Baptist, wants to use his racing success as a platform to talk about his religious faith — leading to frequent comparisons with Tebow. The two still occasionally text, and Bayne says it has been tough for him to watch Tebow get criticized for voicing his beliefs.
"It's tough," Bayne said. "But it says that we're going to have criticism and persecution and stuff, so I'm good with it and we'll just not let it change us, I guess."
But while the parallels between Bayne and Tebow are apparent, Bayne isn't necessarily the right guy to ask about the sports world's latest surprise sensation, New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin.
Before saying a few nice words about Lin's success, Bayne had to double check.
"That's basketball, right?" Bayne said with a laugh.
Connect with AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins: www.twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins