Tommy Baldwin Jr., who was Ward Burton's crew chief en route to a 2002 Daytona 500 victory, announced today that he is starting a full-time Sprint Cup operation, with intentions of running the full 2009 schedule under the Toyota banner.
This is the latest career move for Baldwin, who in addition to his long-running crew chief duties at Bill Davis Racing (and more recent duties as competition director, before joining pretty much the entire BDR workforce in the unemployment line), has guided Kasey Kahne through his rookie season in the Cup Series and spent time with Elliott Sadler at Yates Racing.
Obviously, it is great news to see another team announcing intentions of running a full campaign. Right now, my count has us at 40 full-time teams (and that is being generous, with 37 being a more conservative estimate), in addition to partial schedules being run by Max Papis for Germain, Regan Smith for Furniture Row, and Bill Elliott for the Woods.
But I must ask the question: is this going to turn into a start and park effort on the part of Baldwin, trying to take advantage of the fact that last place in Sprint Cup typically pays $70 or 80K, even at the less prestigious events?
This deal was obviously thrown together very quickly, with just a little under five weeks until Speedweeks commence, and the press release is littered with phrases such as "low overhead," and "fraction of the cost."
However, I think Baldwin will do whatever he can to run a competitive operation with limited resources.
I predict this is an honest effort on the part of one of the sport's top mechanical minds struggling to find work, and willing to do whatever it takes to be at the track each weekend. We'll see if my belief that this team will legitimately try to run races holds up or not.
On the financial end, Baldwin probably made six figures a year as a crew chief, which was enough to start his own Busch/Nationwide team a few years back (although that outfit only ran when sponsorship allowed).
And I'm sure Ray Evernham paid Baldwin a fair sum of money when he bought the team at the conclusion of the 2004 season. Assuming Baldwin has invested his money wisely over the past few years, he likely has enough accrued to run a low-budget Cup outfit, without having to park the car after five laps each Sunday.
But if I was hired as a traveling team member, I wouldn't get hyped for five-star hotels or steak and shrimp dinners. Get used to Travelodge and Big Macs.
In terms of resources, Tommy Baldwin Racing will be eons away from the Roushes and Hendricks of the sport, but at least the team should give a few quality out-of-work people the opportunity to continue in the sport.
Additionally, start and park teams don't typically produce extensive PR releases to announce their intentions to "race." Only teams that are trying to gain attention and attract sponsors usually go to those lengths, and Baldwin obviously hopes his name and background in the sport can do just that.
On the technology front, signing an engine deal with Joey Arrington is a positive, considering their success in the Truck Series. And maybe, just maybe (but not likely), Baldwin will be lucky enough to have TRD throw a bone his way in terms of support.
Of the four manufacturers, Toyota is the only one that can currently say they are not in danger of going bankrupt over the next 12 months, and unlike GM, they don't have to bend over to several superteams.
In the rice burner camp, it's JGR and a bunch of mid-pack operations, so maybe there will be a little left over in the budget for Baldwin, who has a past with the manufacturer from his time at BDR.
At this point in time, we are left to wonder who Baldwin will hire as his driver. If he goes after a Kevin Lepage or Tony Raines type, this may be one of those "get rich quick" schemes.
If Baldwin looks at a more reputable driver such as Jeremy Mayfield or Ward Burton (my sentimental pick, although I am not sure Ward is really interested in coming back to Sprint Cup), then we can say my assumption that this team will be the "real deal" was a good one.