AVONDALE, Ariz. — Move over Danica, there’s a new pretty face in NASCAR town.
Danica Patrick, who has been the undisputed champion of getting the media’s attention since her arrival in the stock car world last season, has been cast aside here in the Arizona desert and replaced in the glare of the Klieg lights by 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, the shocking winner of last week’s Daytona 500.
After all, as famous as Patrick has become — with her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition pictorials, her win in an IZOD IndyCar race and her plethora of national television commercials — she has done nothing yet that would rate a phone call from the president of the United States.
That is what Bayne got after he won the Daytona 500 last week in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford.
And the accolades and well wishes keep coming for the young Tennessean in the week since he became the youngest driver to win NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl.
On Friday he re-counted some of the amazing things that have happened for him in the five days since he crossed the finish line at Daytona International Speedway.
The call from the White House was the first thing that caught him by surprise.
“The craziest thing ... was when I got that private call,” Bayne said. “I didn’t know who it was and I ignored it the first time. They called back and I’m like: ‘Alright I’m gonna answer it’ and it was the White House.
“They said that the president would like to talk to us, and I thought that this was kind of cool.”
Oh yeah, it’s tough being the new cool kid.
Bayne said he hasn’t had too many minutes to himself to soak in his new-found celebrity yet.
He is, however, enjoying the ride.
Bayne counted meeting Canadian sex symbol Pamela Anderson as a highlight for him this week, but noted, disappointingly, that his image of the ex-Baywatch star didn’t exactly mesh with reality.
“The first thing she says is, ‘You remind me of my son,’” he said. “I guess she has a son my age. She is getting a little older now. I wasn’t born when Baywatch was on ... but I remember watching Borat when he put her in the bag and ran off to marry her.”
To a kid just a week removed from his teens — he turned 20 only last Saturday — it was a lot to take in, like getting a marriage proposal from a complete stranger on his Twitter account.
Heck, he said, in his best imitation of Huck Finn, he doesn’t even have a girlfriend right now.
“I didn’t have a Valentine this year,” Bayne said, stopping just a second for effect. “I don’t think it will be that way next year.”
We don’t think so either.
Bayne hasn’t let it all go to his head and acknowledged that none of it would have been possible without the legendary Wood Brothers team and long-time NASCAR crew chief Donnie Wingo.
Both, he said, deserved equal credit to him for what happened in Daytona.
“I was nervous in all my interviews because I wanted to do it justice, just explain how big of a deal this was for the Wood Brothers and Donnie Wingo,” Bayne said. “I was scared to take any credit, because I felt weird coming in and winning our first one with all the other drivers that have been doing this for so long.
“I don’t know how to thank them enough for the opportunity to drive that race car, be in that position to win. I mean, it’s taken its time to sink in.”
He did say that by the time he is back racing on Saturday in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the No.16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, a new chapter in his life will begin, complete with the knowledge that he will now have a target on his back.
“It’s probably going to be some tough racing,” Bayne said. “Those guys want to be the next big thing, too. I know that they all will race me hard — they want to beat the best.
“Not saying I’m the best, but we won the last race.”