Dale Earnhardt Inc. had to merge with Ganassi Racing (with Felix Sabates). Petty Enterprises is being absorbed by Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Dodge is rumored to be cutting its factory support for NASCAR teams.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having trouble finding sponsorship for his Nationwide Series teams. Even the almighty Hendrick team, the most funded in NASCAR, has had to lay off employees because the current economic crisis.
This economic downturn has hit NASCAR…and hit it hard. Yet, even with all this turmoil, earlier today, Tommy Baldwin Jr. (former Daytona 500 winning Crew Chief) announced that he would be starting his own full-time Cup team for this 2009 season.
The team, which will use the Toyota Camry as its race car, made no further announcements regarding driver, sponsorships, etc.
Huh? With everyone in NASCAR struggling to make ends meet, how does someone find it in them to get involved now, when sponsorships drive the sport and few companies will likely be interested because the economic crisis?
It would seem that this new operation will fold as quickly as it was formed. No top 35 in Owners’ Points to lock the team, no apparent ties to an upper-tier team, and no big name driver (as of yet) announced to pilot the car: that all should equal a quick collapse.
Not so fast though; perhaps Mr. Baldwin knows what he’s doing in starting up a team right now as others are struggling to stay afloat.
Go back to the mergers I mentioned; The DEI/Ganassi merger sees four cars/teams disappear. The GEM/Petty deal will see one more go away. Throw Michael Waltrip Racing’s merger/partnership with JTG Daugherty Racing (which saw the No. 00 go away), and that’s six cars and teams from 2008 that we know won’t see 2009.
Even though Richard Childress is adding a fourth team and Robert Yates is adding a third, that still leaves at least four cars from last year won’t see the grid this year.
Plus, who knows how many more teams will merge or cut back? It is estimated that the Sprint Cup Series will see as few as 35-37 full times entries, meaning it is quite possible that several races won’t see 43 starters.
Should that happen, Mr. Baldwin’s operation should make every race, or most of them at least, it enters. He and Joey Arrington, who will be supplying engines to the team, seem very committed to see this team out through the entire year, at the very minimum, even if it means funding it from their own pockets.
If they can find even a little sponsorship for this season, then they look to be great shape. The smaller fields will make it easier for them to crack the top 35, and doing so would make them more appetizing to potential sponsors, since they’d already be locked in to all the races.
On top of it all, Baldwin does have some experience owning a NASCAR team…albeit not at the Sprint Cup level (but pretty darn close). He formed a Busch Series (now Nationwide Series) team with Eddie D’Hondt in 2003, before the team was sold Ray Evernham (whom Baldwin was working for at the time) in 2004.
On the surface, this move seems like it is poorly timed; the current economy just isn’t that friendly toward the sport of Auto Racing. Even almighty Honda isn’t immune, as it had to sell its Formula 1 team.
But, perhaps Tommy Baldwin knows what he’s doing. Maybe the other teams’ struggles will see his new operation be relatively successful this year. That much remains unknown, but this move might not be as shocking as one may think.