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.
“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.