What a difference one year can make. After the first three races of 2013, Trevor Bayne sat eighth in the standings, 32 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr. The Tennessee driver had a respectable pair of fourth-place finishes to ease the burn of a disappointing 31st in the season-opening race at Daytona.
Fast forward to 2014 and Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 presented by Lilly Diabetes at Bristol Motor Speedway. Bayne returns to his home state and track in a much better position – second place in the standings, three points behind current leader Regan Smith. Bayne arrives at his home track with a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes dating back to last season, with finishes of third, seventh and eighth to start this year.
In 10 series starts at the .533-mile short track, Bayne has three top 10s, including a sixth-place finish in his most recent visit. In the 2013 March event, he finished 12th after pacing the field for 13 laps.
If there is one thing evident after the first three races, it is that the points battle is closer than it was last year, especially at the very top. The three-point gap between Smith and Bayne is small in comparison to the 19 points last year that separated Hornish from Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott, who were all tied.
Sadler (-9), Ty Dillon (-12) and Chase Elliott (-14) round out the top five.
Of the five drivers currently in the top five, only Sadler has won in Bristol. In March 2012, he beat NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Kasey Kahne by 1.159 seconds. He also won there in the NNS in 1998 and a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event in 2001. Sadler’s team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has fielded six of the last seven Bristol winners