An Understanding Dave Blaney Has To Do It All Over Again

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When Stewart Haas Racing associated itself with Tommy Baldwin Racing, as you know, a few things happened.

What was the No. 26 TBR Chevrolet became the No. 10 Stewart Haas Chevrolet, which will be driven in 10 races this year by Danica Patrick. David Reutimann will compete in the remaining 26 events.

TBR will field a No. 36 Chevrolet, which will be driven by Blaney.

Doesn’t appear to be anything unusual in all of this. But, as far as Blaney is concerned, here’s the rub:

When Tony Stewart’s team locked in with TBR, it also locked into TBR’s 33rd place in last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup owner points standings.

Since it was among the top 35, it means that the No 10 car, and Patrick, are assured starting spots in the first five races of the year.

Which means, of course, that Patrick gets a starting spot in the Daytona 500 – a free ride, so to speak.

Blaney, meanwhile, has to qualify; work his way in if he can.

And who was TBR’s driver last year who significantly helped the team get a top 35 standing in owner points? Sure, it was Blaney.

Now, to watch a person enjoy the fruits of your labor is the kind of thing that can get under anyone’s skin.

So it wouldn’t be surprising if Blaney were a little irritated.

However, Blaney, a laid-back sort, says that what transpired was understandable.

“It stings a little,” he said. “But I think it was an obvious thing Tommy had to do to help our program. It wasn’t unexpected at all. We’ll just go out and make the most of it.”

It’s believed what Baldwin gained from the association were more resources to help his one car team. And Blaney admits he is very much in favor of that.

“It will enable us to have a little better stuff all year,” he said. “But it just doesn’t lock us into races.

The trade off was obviously good for us and if we had a sponsor right now for the No. 36 it would be even better. But we don’t have one.”

Blaney, who began his full-time NASCAR career with Bill Davis in 1999, will compete in a second full season for Baldwin in 2012.

Last season he earned only one top-five finish and one among the top 10. But most important, he failed to finish only eight times – which helped the team enjoy steady, if unspectacular, season.

It paid off in owner points.

Team owner Tommy Baldwin sacrificed his standing in the top 35 in owner points to gain more resources for his team this season, which he hopes will improve overall performance.

 

Really, all throughout last year we kept getting our equipment better from the engines to better cars from Richard Childress Racing,” Blaney said.

That was a big, big deal as far as upgrades and how competitive we were. Same thing for this year. If we can keep upgrading our stuff, when we do get sponsorship to race, it just makes us that much better.”

Essentially, Blaney is right back where he started in 2011. He said the most realistic goal in 2012 is to have his Baldwin team to at least reach last year’s competitive level.

We probably can’t afford to go hard right off the bat, but it’s OK,” he said. “Last year when we came down here, we didn’t know what we would do after the 500 as far as how much we could race.

But we got Golden Corral and a couple more little sponsors and went right on and raced for the entire year. It can happen, even at the last minute.

Hopefully we can make that happen somewhat.”

It begins with this year’s Daytona 500, for which Blaney will be denied the luxury of an assured starting position.

It’s huge,” said the 49-year-old Blaney, a native of Hartford, Ohio. “We came down here to test over the winter. We may not have come if we were locked in. But we knew we had to qualify.

Even though we ran third at Talladega last year we brought a different car to test. We thought it might have more speed by itself.

The easy way is to be locked in. But what happens on Thursday (in the twin qualifying races) is what is going to be difficult. Hopefully we can do it.

Hopefully we can get enough speed before Thursday so we know we can make it. That will make the rest of the week easy.”

If Blaney does indeed qualify for the 500 it will be a big first step toward a productive season for TBR – which Blaney would find personally satisfying.

Right now, that’s the whole thing for me,” he said. “We need to find ways to keep racing.

And then we need to have the best car possible under me when we do race.”

There’s no reason to think it won’t happen for Blaney. After all, it’s happened before.

To Be Sure, Talladega Race Lived Up To Its Billing

Clint Bowyer won for the first time this season in a typical, unpredictable Talladega race. The win was especially rewarding for Bowyer, whose six-season tenure with Richard Childress Racing comes to an end after this season. Bowyer presented Childress with his 100th victory as a team owner.

The Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the sixth race in the 10-event Chase, was characterized as the “wild card” event of the “playoffs.”

That’s because of the typical unpredictability of the race. With high speeds and two-car “dance partner” drafting that is a part of the 2.66-mile Talladega track and its sister, Daytona, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what is going to happen – much less an outcome.

Championship contenders could have poor finishes, or fall by the wayside, for many reasons – all related to the complexities of restrictor-plate racing. A driver in the lead on the last lap could very well find himself outside the top 10 by the time he got to the finish line. An unheralded, even unknown, competitor could find the means to win – consider young Trevor Bayne, who took the victory in the Daytona 500.

The Good Sam Club 500 lived up to its billing. It was indeed a “wild card” race.

The winner was certainly not unheralded or unknown. But he was unexpected. It’s very likely few, in any, predicted he would triumph at Talladega.

But that’s exactly what Clint Bowyer did. He won for the first time this season – his last victory came in this race in 2010 – he became the first Chase non-qualifier to win in the “playoff.” He earned the distinction of providing the 100th Cup series victory for Richard Childress Racing.

Ironically, it came five races before Bowyer’s tenure with Childress comes to an end. Largely because of a lack of sponsorship, Bowyer will move over to Michael Waltrip Racing next season and RCR may well be reduced from four teams to three.

As for the Chase contenders, overall, they fared worse at Talladega than in any other race since the title hunt began at Chicagoland on Sept. 19.

Only three of them finished among the top 10. Two placed 11th-20th and a whopping seven were 25th or worse.

Replacing them at the head of the pack were such drivers as Jeff Burton (second), Dave Blaney (third, his best finish of the season), Brian Vickers (5th), Kasey Kahne (6th), Waltrip (9th) and Martin Truex Jr. (10th).

Really, now, who could have predicted that?

And who could have predicted that the Chase leaders, those drivers atop the standings when the Talladega event began, would experience mediocre to dismal results?

Carl Edwards, No. 1 in the standings, finished 11th, his first run outside the top 10 since the Chase began. Kevin Harvick, who was hot on Edwards’ heels prior to the race, experienced on-track misfortune and wound up 32nd. Matt Kenseth, third when the green flag fell, could do no better than 18th.

Resurgence for Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch came to an end as they saw momentum die with finishes of 26th and 33rd, respectively.

For all of that, Edwards not only retains his lead in the point standings, he now has largest margin in the first six races of the Chase – largely because he finished ahead of all but two of his rivals.

Edwards now has a 14-point margin over the new runnerup, Kenseth. He’s 18 points ahead of Brad Keselowski, who ran fourth at Talladega, and 19 over Tony Stewart, who finished seventh and was a victory contender for a large portion of the race.

Harvick came into Talladega No. 2 in points, just five behind Edwards with steady Chase performances. But he was involved in a multicar accident after 107 of 188 laps and was forced to report to the garage area for repairs, including a broken oil line. He finished nine laps down and is now fifth in points, 26 in arrears.

Kyle Busch, 33rd at Talladega after his involvement in a multicar wreck, is presently sixth in points, 40 behind Edwards. Johnson’s bid to win a sixth consecutive title took a serious hit with his 26th-place finish, which puts him seventh in points and 50 out of the lead. Kurt Busch wound up 36th at Talladega, also the victim of a wreck, and he’s eighth in points, 52 down.

The remainder of the top 12 in points has, for the most part, been removed from championship consideration. They are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

“I don’t know that I have ever been so excited about 11th place,” said a relieved Edwards. “This race was one that was nerve-racking for everyone but we came in here with a small points lead and so it was a huge day for us.

“I cannot believe how much Greg (Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing teammate) helped us today. I owe him a lot. Greg stuck with me all day. On the last lap he was driving my car from back there. It is good to get a good finish and even though it is not a win, it is a big battle in the war and a huge day for us.”

Edwards wisely added that although he’s boosted his points lead, competitively, he couldn’t let up.

“We’d have to have a 100-point lead to take a breath,” he said. “Anything can happen. I’m proud of our team, where we’ve come from, how far we’ve come in the last 18 months. We’re doing well.

“But I’m a little nervous about Matt, honestly, because I know how good he is and how good his team is. Having him in second doesn’t make me breathe easier, competitive-wise.”

Despite Edwards’ surge in the Chase, the most compelling Talladega tale was Bowyer’s victory.

The Emporia, Kan., native, who has spent all of his six full Sprint Cup seasons with Childress, finished among the top 10 in points in three of the last four seasons.

But he was 14th when the Chase began this year. And as the season wound down, it became clear that all attempts to secure a sponsorship package that would allow him to remain with Childress were going to fail.

Some lame duck drivers waddle toward the end of a season. Bowyer has clearly not done that.

To win at Talladega, Bowyer hooked up in the draft behind leader and teammate Burton when the race restarted from its ninth, and final, caution period with just two laps to go.

The two were well ahead of the pack when Bowyer made his move, pulling to the inside of Burton on the last lap. Burton retaliated, the two bumped, but Bowyer held on to win by a half-car length in yet another Talladega race decided by a last-lap pass.

“Trust me, I was prepared to push Jeff to the win no matter what the cost was if we would have had people breathing down or necks,” Bowyer said. “It just wasn’t meant to be for him. He’s been a great teammate and I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s already won a lot of races. I think he’s won like 20 or so. I’ve only won five.

“You owe it to your team and to your sponsors to go out and win the race.”

Bowyer quickly admitted he wanted to win to reward the efforts of his team and to indicate he wasn’t going to be the typical lame duck.

“It’s just so important to me to be able to cap off such a good relationship with Richard,” he said. “Everybody at RCR, it’s like family over there. It meant a lot for me to be able to win before we end this deal.

“The stars were lined up today with having the hundredth anniversary of Chevrolet on my race car. If I won the race, it was going to be Richard’s hundredth win.

“I’m excited that it was.”

 

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