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Bayne returns to Daytona wondering about future

The Associated Press. Trevor Bayne, right, poses for a photograph before the  Bucyrus 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. Now that the hype from his unlikely Daytona 500 victory has died down and his lingering illness appears to have cleared up, Bayne is back to racing.

The Associated Press. Trevor Bayne, right, poses for a photograph before the Bucyrus 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. Now that the hype from his unlikely Daytona 500 victory has died down and his lingering illness appears to have cleared up, Bayne is back to racing.

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Despite the sudden stardom that came with his wild victory in NASCAR's biggest race, Trevor Bayne's future is anything but settled.

This much is clear: The youngest-ever Daytona 500 winner wants to race full time in the Sprint Cup Series next season. And as he returns to Daytona International Speedway this weekend, Bayne acknowledges he's keeping an eye on Carl Edwards' impending free agency.

Edwards has been coy about his contract situation at Roush Fenway Racing and there has been speculation he could move to another team in 2012.

''I don't know what he's going to do, but obviously I love having him as a teammate,'' Bayne said. ''I want him to stay. On the other hand, if he leaves, it's an open seat.''

Just the kind of opportunity Bayne is looking for.

Bayne drives for Roush in the Nationwide Series and is running a part-time Cup schedule with the Roush-affiliated Wood Brothers team. If Bayne were to make a full-time move to Cup next year, Roush would be the natural place to do so.

But Bayne says nothing has been decided and he's getting a little antsy.

''I just talked to my dad about it,'' Bayne said during a break in the Nationwide Series race weekend at Road America. ''I was like, 'Man, it's about time for us to start talking about next year.' And we haven't yet at all. Hopefully that'll be the next conversation that we have.''

On the track, Bayne is confident going into Daytona -- if only because he knows other drivers will be more willing to work with him in the draft. Bayne doesn't want to get cocky, because that's not how he got to victory lane in February.

''I went in there with the mindset of just finish the thing, just go out and survive and whatever happens, I'll be there at the end,'' Bayne said. ''You've got to hold yourself back because if you go in there thinking 'I'm going to win this thing,' you might get in trouble trying to lead every lap or whatever. I think I've got to just go there and think, 'All right, let's just ride and wait until the end like last time and we'll be all right.'''

Winning Daytona was an emotional high for Bayne, but it didn't last long. He soon found himself in the Mayo Clinic being treated for what he now believes was Lyme disease.

''They treated me for Lyme disease,'' Bayne said. ''Those kinds of things are hard to diagnose. They treated me for that and hopefully if that's what it was, it'll be fine.''

Bayne hopes he's in the clear, but can't be sure.

''You're never in the clear,'' he said. ''The first time it comes around, you don't expect it, you feel great. I went hiking the day before and went jumping in waterfalls, and I wake up the next morning and I'm messed up. It could come back at any time. I don't think it's supposed to, but hopefully it doesn't.''

After taking several weeks off, Bayne returned for the Nationwide race at Chicagoland but felt run down.

''Sitting in a hospital bed for that long will really put you down and I felt it,'' Bayne said. ''I came back at Chicago and I was like, 'Man, this is harder than I remember.' I've really been trying to get back after it.''

If anything, winning Daytona and getting sick has taught Bayne how to deal with the highs and lows of a career in NASCAR.

''Now I kind of feel numb,'' Bayne said. ''I was talking to somebody the other day, I'm like, 'Well, dang, no matter what happens I'll just feel numb because it doesn't feel as high or as low as what I've been through.' It's tough to maintain that, but then again, I'm not really defined by that. It's great to win a Daytona 500 and it stinks to get sick, but at the end of the day, racing's what I do, it's what I love to do, but it's not everything I'm made of.''

Bayne has turned to fellow drivers for advice, including five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

''He said, you've just got to stay hungry and stay after it,'' Bayne said. ''And don't think that you don't have to work hard because you're good. Because there's somebody down the road that's working harder than you are, they might be better than you are eventually if they keep doing that. So you've got to keep working harder than the next guy, and I think he does a good job with that.''

Bayne took Johnson's message to heart.

''That's a guy that gets up and runs like eight miles a day,'' Bayne said. ''He's not going to let somebody outwork him, that's for sure.''

Bayne is thankful that veterans such as Johnson are willing to help him out, especially because he senses other drivers might resent his success.

''It's not so much like the huge names, it's just some of the guys that are caught in the middle that are trying to get there,'' Bayne said. ''I think those guys, they're kind of battling for that next ride, either they're in the Nationwide Series or just guys that have not won any races in Cup, those are the guys that will race me hardest.

''The Jeff Gordons, the Jimmie Johnsons, Kevin Harvicks, Tony Stewarts, those guys will pull over and let you by when you're faster than they are. But these other guys, they're like, 'I've got to beat this kid.'''