Trevor Bayne dealing with MS in same way he did with 2011 Daytona 500 win

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When the initial shock finally subsided after Trevor Bayne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last November, he did the exact same thing that he did after winning the 2011 Daytona 500:

He embraced them both.

One was the win of a lifetime, while the other is the battle of a lifetime. And just like the way be beat Daytona on that day in February three years ago, Bayne also intends on beating MS, rather than the other way around.

“The first thing is what does this mean for me, and so far it’s just a diagnosis,” Bayne said. “Fortunately, it’s not something I have to live with every day at this point.

“I’m so thankful for every day. It just kind of put things in perspective for me. We all feel kind of invincible, whether we’re 12 years old or 50 years old, there’s a point in our lives where we feel like nothing can go wrong.

“For me, it’s more of a reality check a little bit. It’s not like I live in fear of that, it makes me more appreciative every single day that I wake up, God gives me another day, it makes you want to use it. You wake up, your eyes are good, your hands are good and you’re ready to go. Fortunately, every single day has been good.”

The outpouring of support for Bayne’s medical condition has virtually equaled the support he received after Carl Edwards pushed him to victory in the 2011 Daytona 500. He considers himself a fortunate man to have both.

At the same time, while countless NASCAR fans will never be able to personally relate to Bayne’s accomplishment in the Great American Race, there are countless others dealing with various medical conditions that can relate to the type of illness he’s been diagnosed with, and he is grateful for the support he’s received from both events.

“More people can relate to something that’s tough, a trial, a struggle, than they can to people out winning a NASCAR race,” Bayne said. “There’s only 43 guys that get to do that every weekend and the rest of the world does not.

“I get stopped every single day just about from different fans with suggestions for diets and all kinds of stuff because they care. It’s kind of like having a million moms out there that care for you and want to take care of you. It’s nice to have.”

But Bayne is quick to add that he doesn’t want his medical condition to be his sole story going forward. If he remains healthy and follows his doctor’s orders, it could be many years, if not decades, before he has to worry about MS beginning to manifest itself in him.

“They definitely keep an eye on me and make sure they’re doing everything they can,” Bayne said. “We’re not just going to ignore it and act like there was no diagnosis.”

So for now and his long-range future, Bayne has compartmentalized his MS. He knows its there, but as long as it doesn’t begin to affect his performance on the race track and he isn’t a danger to fellow racers, he’d much rather talk racing – and only racing.

In particular, he waxes effusive about last season in the Nationwide Series, when he finished a career-high sixth in the standings. In 33 starts, he won a race, as well as added seven top-5 and 21 top-10 finishes.

“We don’t want to be content when we finish 15th or 17th place, we want to be contending for top-fives,” he said matter of factly. “We definitely expected to try and contend for a championship, and that being my first full year in a Nationwide car with one team all year long, I felt I learned so much about a championship mindset, what that means and what you can and cannot do and still contend for that championship. The last half of the season last year, we earned more points than anybody except for the 3 car with Austin Dillon, and obviously he went on to win the championship. I keep following these champions along. I just need to do it myself.”

Bayne turns 23 on Feb. 19, just three days before the Nationwide Series season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. With two-time Nationwide champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. having moved up to Sprint Cup last season, and 2013 Nationwide champ Dillon having moved up to the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, Bayne’s chances for a Nationwide championship are as bright as they ever have been.

“Our team this season, we feel really good about it and our mindset and understanding where we fell short last year,” Bayne said. “Our performance on the race track was okay, but I think we could have been better, contended for more top-fives and more wins and that would have led maybe to a better points finish.

“To me, our biggest weakness was the bad days that went really bad. We broke a gear at Daytona running second and finished 32nd or something like that. We got grass in our grill at Texas running fourth and finished 34th. Some of those things were out of our control.

“But there were some days where it was in my control, like at Darlington, where I got into it with a lapped car running 10th, crashed the car, probably would have finished 20th but I wasn’t content with that, so I tried to push for 15th, backed it into the fence again and finished 30th.

“Those are the kinds of days that hinder a championship run, and that’s something I think we’re more focused on this year, is what does that look like, to gain the most possible points every weekend and not make those mistakes, where it gets in your head that you have to make up those points. You don’t really want to be in a chasing situation, where you’re trying to make up points. You want to be strong at the beginning so that in the last half of the season, you’re focused on race wins and not trying to make up 20 or 30 points.

“We finished sixth instead of fourth because of (the difference of just) four points. That could have been for the championship. … Every single point counts, and that’s the biggest driving force last year that I learned from.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Although it has now been three years, it still seems like only yesterday that Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and revisit one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history:

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend with the renamed Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the Baku City Circuit. The track is the second longest on the schedule and the race is renamed after being called the European Grand Prix last year (all times for the weekend via NBCSN or CNBC here).

Here with the latest from the paddock in Baku is the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, with F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton joined by producer Jason Swales.

Swales celebrates his 300th Grand Prix on site this weekend, a major milestone after his 250th was celebrated a couple seasons ago at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas. As you can see below, McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso has joined in the festivities.

There’s plenty of fun to recap and plenty of important angles to preview in this week’s show, which you can see below in three parts.

 

Raikkonen prepared to sacrifice himself to help Vettel

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Kimi Raikkonen is prepared to sacrifice himself in order to help Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel win a fifth Formula One title.

Vettel leads the championship by 12 points ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton after seven races. Raikkonen is fourth and already trails Vettel by 68 points.

“When I don’t have a chance mathematically to fight for the championship, for sure I will help him. I have no issues with that,” Raikkonen said Thursday. “It’s about the team and the first thing is to try and make sure we are at the top with Ferrari.”

Ferrari is chasing its first drivers’ title since Raikkonen won his only title in 2007 and its first constructors’ title since 2008.

In the constructors’ battle, Ferrari trails Mercedes by eight points heading into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

“We have a good car everywhere. Hopefully we’ll be at the front again,” Raikkonen said. “It’s been close every race this year.”

Although the Finnish driver looked set for victory at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, his hopes were ended when his team brought him into the pits for a tire change earlier than he wanted. That left Vettel in the clear to race away to victory, with Raikkonen finishing second.

Even though Raikkonen was disappointed in the aftermath of that race, and made his frustration known, he now appears fully committed to helping Vettel when the time comes.

“I think we have very clear rules in the team and what the team wants us to do. It goes by those rules,” Raikkonen said. “Nothing has changed and we know exactly when things will go either way. That’s fine.”

The 37-year-old Raikkonen acknowledged that Vettel’s consistency makes him the obvious choice as the team’s No. 1 driver.

“Seb has done very good races so far and has been strong everywhere,” Raikkonen said. “I was not starting very well the first races. I was not where I wanted to be.”

Kanaan finding IndyCar ‘more competitive than ever’

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan believes that the Verizon IndyCar Series is becoming “more competitive than ever” as the championship’s plans for the future begin to become clear.

INDYCAR bosses have outlined a five-year plan for the series moving forward, with a universal aero kit in 2018 and a push for a third manufacturer to join Chevrolet and Honda in the future on the agenda.

The 2017 season has kicked off in an unpredictable fashion as seven drivers have shared the opening nine race wins, with Will Power and Graham Rahal being the only repeat winners.

Kanaan feels that the series is only becoming more and more competitive, with the introduction of the universal aero kit poised to aid that from next year.

“I think it is going to be more competitive than ever as we still have different aero kits that can make a difference. Next year is going to be even tougher,” Kanaan said.

“At the last race [in Texas] we had 15 cars and two-tenths of a second. I think it is the right direction, and they are also trying to keep the costs down which is the biggest challenge in racing all over the world, to get the teams to afford to be there.

“The way they are doing the kits, trying to get more teams and new teams into the series, and it is working. We had three new teams at Indy 500 and they are looking forward to coming back. We should try to add more teams and not lose cars.”

Kanaan added that a third manufacturer would be “a big help” for IndyCar, saying: “They are in talks with two others but I don’t know who they are but more people, cars, manufacturers, teams will always help.”

Having made his debut in American single-seaters back in 1998, Kanaan has raced through many different eras, but does not believe the series has ever been more competitive.

“It doesn’t get any easier and I don’t get any younger. It goes the opposite way!” Kanaan chuckled.

“It is amazing as you cannot afford to have one little problem or one little hiccup in a race. Before if you did that you would finish third or fourth but now you will finish 15th.

“You have 22 cars and in some races 21 of them on the lead lap and five seconds from one another. It raised the game for the mechanics too with the importance of pit stops.”

Sauber driver Ericsson dismisses talk of favoritism in team

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson has dismissed talk of favoritism within Sauber following the unexpected departure of team principal Monisha Kaltenborn.

Kaltenborn, who was also Sauber’s chief executive officer, left Wednesday by mutual consent. The news came shortly after another team statement denying reports of unfair treatment between the Swedish driver and German teammate Pascal Wehrlein.

“There were a lot of stories in the press about this unfair advantage for one driver. It was upsetting, disrespectful, it’s false and untrue,” Ericsson said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. “For me and Pascal, it’s been very clear that’s not the case. We’ve both been given equal equipment.”

Ericsson has yet to score a point after seven races, while Wehrlein has four points after an eighth-place finish at the Spanish GP in May.

“We’re not going to go on holiday together, but as teammates goes we’ve been working really good together so far,” Ericsson said. “When we try different things across the cars, we discuss things.”

Sauber’s statement said Kaltenborn left “due to diverging views of the future of the company.” Her successor has not been announced.

The 46-year-old Kaltenborn joined Sauber in 2000 as head of its legal department and later became chief executive officer.

“We have to trust the owners that they know what they’re doing, and that they have a good plan for the future,” Ericsson said. “I have a lot to thank Monisha for. She was the one who gave me the chance to come here after my year in Caterham.”

Wehrlein also praised Kaltenborn for standing by him. He missed the first two races of the season after injuring his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

“Monisha was very close to me at one of my toughest times in my career so far,” Wehrlein said. “I am very thankful for that, and this is something that I will never forget.”