Standing on the spotters’ stand at Daytona International Speedway on Monday night, Tommy Baldwin, Jr. never let himself believe the race would be called and his team would walk away with a cool $1.4 million.
"Yeah, this is just all a tease," Baldwin, the team owner, texted during the two-hour delay, triggered by the explosion of a jet dryer which damaged Turn 4 of the track.
Baldwin’s primary driver Dave Blaney was leading the Daytona 500 when the race was red-flagged, following the explosion on Lap 161. There was even the hint of rain on the backstretch, so Mother Nature was flirting with Baldwin as well.
"When the track was on fire, I really wasn’t thinking that we were going to win the race," Baldwin. "I knew that they were going to do everything in their power to get it back going.
"I did get a little nervous when it started to drizzle, though. I’ve been part of a lot of races where some crazy stuff happened and lost races at the very end, so I was kind of thinking when it was raining we would get one back finally."
But the track officials performed yeoman’s work. Once the race resumed, Blaney pitted for fuel after leading six laps. And despite contact in the final wreck, he salvaged a 15th-place finish.
No, Baldwin did not take home the Harley J. Earl trophy from Daytona. However, Blaney and Tommy Baldwin Racing garnered ample exposure. So much so that Ollie’s Bargain Outlet returned to sponsor the No. 36 Chevrolet for another race.
And this week, David Reutimann comes on board in the No. 10 Accell Construction Chevrolet, offering a glimmer of what the lineup for Tommy Baldwin Racing will look like for the majority of the season when Danica Patrick isn’t running in Sprint Cup.
"I feel like TBR and I are going to be a good fit," said Reutimann, who turned 42 on Friday. "I thought so before I drove anything for Tommy.
"If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to work out a deal. We had one test in Nashville which gave me a head start working with Tommy and the guys, so we won’t be going into Phoenix cold turkey. Blaney ran great in Daytona, which gives the entire team momentum, so I’m excited to get out to Phoenix and see what we can do."
TBR has bolstered its arsenal with a full-time engine program from Earnhardt Childress Racing.
During Happy Hour, Reutimann and Blaney were 22nd and 24th fastest, respectively, on the speed chart.
In addition, Reutimann had the benefit of a former Richard Childress Racing chassis during his test last month at Nashville Superspeedway.
"The cars felt good at the test. I didn’t know what to expect," Reutimann said. "Tommy told me that I would be pleasantly surprised with the car, and I actually was. The car responded well. It felt like it was a good and well-prepared race car. Sometimes during a test, you work all day and feel like you didn’t hit on anything.
"During the Nashville test, we stuck to the game plan and made changes, and not only did we feel the changes were good, but we were better than some good cars out there and right in line with the others. We had something good to judge off of, so it helped to know where we stand."
Baldwin is optimistic that with his new lineup, results and sponsors will follow.
"It’s going OK," Baldwin said. "The 10 car has been slow, but it’s a new team. The next couple of weeks are important. The 36 car is moving forward."
As a kid, Baldwin always dreamed about following his father’s footsteps into racing. Although his father Tom was one of the fiercest Modified champions in NASCAR, Baldwin’s calling wasn’t behind the wheel, it was fine-tuning the cars.
Baldwin changed gears from crew chief to car owner in January 2009 and debuted Tommy Baldwin Racing through an alliance with Toyota and driver Scott Riggs. Since moving to the ownership role, Baldwin has fielded 14 different drivers in 94 races. The organization’s first top five was earned by Blaney at Talladega last fall, when he finished third. Baldwin expanded to a second car this season. He will field Patrick in the No. 10 Chevrolet in 10 races this year with Blaney running the balance of the season.
Eddie D’Hondt, Baldwin’s best friend the past 36 years who currently spots for Jeff Gordon, says Baldwin’s longevity stems from being "a fighter." D’Hondt added, "Tommy doesn’t believe in giving up."
Brad Keselowski’s explanation for carrying a cell phone in his race car is simple.
In case the 28-year-old driver is in an accident, he wants to be able to warn his mother Kay, who has lived with watching her husband Bob and both sons race the past three decades. He never had that chance following his wreck at California Speedway in 2007 when he was airlifted out of the track — without his phone.
"I got in a really bad accident," Keselowski said. "Obviously, my family wasn’t there because the race was in California and my family was back in Michigan. And they had no idea what status I was in and, quite frankly, neither did I. I don’t know if you guys know this or not, but L.A. is a pretty big city. So I had no idea where I was at. I’m wearing a uniform that they cut off me, so I didn’t even have that. So I’m wearing this whatever hospital outfit. No clothes, no phone, no wallet and no idea of where I’m even at. It was a miserable, miserable experience. So I got through all that and eventually a PR person showed up after like an hour-and-a half, and you’re like, ‘Where am I? What in the hell is going on?’ I mean, I wasn’t knocked out or anything like that, but you’re strapped on a helicopter and you got no idea where it’s going. As far as I knew, I was like in an Army test lab (laughter). I had no idea."
When Keselowski’s public relations assistant showed up at the hospital, she forgot the driver’s necessities — including his phone.
"She didn’t have any of my stuff," Keselowski said. "She just rushed to the hospital. Here I am, still with nothing, and I think she let me borrow her phone and I was eventually able to call my mom, but that was after hours. The race had gone off the air, so I really felt bad for my mom and I, myself, was in a very bad position."
Keselowski learned his lesson. When a similar situation happened at Road Atlanta last summer, he was prepared.
"At Road Atlanta, I got into another serious accident and again got airlifted off, and the difference was that I had my phone with me," Keselowski said. "And I had my phone with me because testing, you know, it really gets boring, monotonous. You sit in the car for an hour while they make a change. So I go through the incident and so forth and they put me on a helicopter and all that same stuff.
"I have my phone with me and so I just send a message to my mom like, ‘Hey, just want you to know that you’re going to read this in the news, but I think I’m OK.’"