HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Tommy Baldwin, Jr. apologizes to no one for his aggressive, often-brash approach to the sport of his choice. Baldwin's confident direction as crew chief of the ...
HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Tommy Baldwin, Jr. apologizes to no one for his aggressive, often-brash approach to the sport of his choice. Baldwin's confident direction as crew chief of the #22 Caterpillar/Polaris team at Bill Davis Racing has spawned a 20-position jump in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings with BDR's anchor program in two seasons.
This weekend, Baldwin returns to the site of the #22 team's high-watermark for the 2000 season -- a victory in the spring race at Darlington Raceway by Ward Burton which pushed the Cat team into the top-five in the WC points standings. In the same event, Dave Blaney -- Burton's BDR first-year teammate -- struggled home in 26th place, three laps down to the winner in only his 10th Winston Cup start.
For much of the spring and early summer, the two teams remained polarized in the standings, Burton staying among the weekly contenders while Blaney's #93 Amoco/Siemens team lingered around the 30th -place points position while he continued his considerable stock-car schooling after 15 years as a former World of Outlaws front-runner. But a series of selfless moves in mid-summer by Baldwin, BDR General Manager Mike Brown and Davis helped strengthen the first-year #93 Amoco/Siemens roster -- perhaps at the short-term expense of the #22 team -- and give the teams a brighter cumulative long-term future.
Although the moves were made at the top, the shift of former #22 team Car Chief Doug Randolph (now replaced by Joe Penland) and shock specialist Eric Slade (replaced by Joe Lax) to Amoco Ultimate Team 93 represented a remarkable "big-picture" sacrifice for the crew chief of a program new to the top-ten. Baldwin's willingness to give-up two top-level crew members also underscored his commitment for strong interaction between the two WC teams at BDR and perhaps worked against a public perception that the 33-year old crew chief has a more self-centered approach to his work.
"After we'd had Doug a few weeks on our team, it was apparent that the #22 was not running as well as they had and I asked if maybe we had taken a really good team and a really young team and made two mediocre teams out of it," said Blaney, currently ranked third in the 2000 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year standings and 32nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup series points. "There was no question in anyone's mind that anything that could be done right now to make the #93 stronger would benefit both programs down the road.
"Over the past six weeks, the Amoco team has made big gains, although our finishes haven't especially shown it so far. Tommy's in the position of trying to keep Ward and the Cat team at the front every week and he didn't have to say 'yes' to the changes that were made. It's that sort of willingness to do whatever it takes for both teams that I believe is going to pay off big for everyone in the near future."
In their last two starts at Michigan (11th) and Bristol (9th), Burton and the #22 Caterpillar team have shown signs of recovering from a mid-summer malaise that produced only one top-ten in seven races (average finish: 20.2) after being out of the top-ten only four times in its first 14 starts (average finish: 8.6). While observers have targeted the personnel changes or preparations for pending move at BDR to Dodge in 2001, Baldwin sees the dip in performance more as a predictable mid-course correction from a deceptively fast start by the #22 team to the 2000 season.
"It was kind of a gamble in one respect to make the decisions with Doug and Eric that we did but moving Dave and the Amoco team forward was key to the success of the overall Winston Cup effort here at Bill Davis Racing and whatever we did needed to happen well in advance of all our plans with the Dodge this fall and winter," said Baldwin. "After all the progress we made with the #22 team in the 18 months he worked with me, it was tough to give him up. But it gave us the chance to improve the lines of communication between the two teams even more. It's our first year with a second team and we're still learning all the ways each group can benefit. No question we're on the right track now."