Reed Sorenson is getting a second chance — he just didn’t expect it to take more than four years to happen.
Sorenson, who turns 28 on Wednesday, will drive the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevy for Tommy Baldwin Racing this season.
The last time Sorenson had a full-time ride at the Sprint Cup level was 2009, when he drove for Richard Petty Motorsports. He finished 29th in the points standings.
"Tommy was able to believe in me enough to let me come over and drive as hard as I can and prove myself as a driver," Sorenson said.
At 20, Ganassi Racing fast-tracked Sorenson into the Sprint Cup series at a time when NASCAR’s youth movement was all but dead. In 2006, Sorenson and Kyle Busch were the only drivers on the tour not old enough to drink champagne in victory lane.
Although Busch had his share of growing pains, he persevered at the Cup level over the next few seasons and showed continued improvement. Sorenson posted five top-five finishes in three years before he parted ways with Ganassi Racing and eventually fell into the start-and-park cycle of drivers.
Despite a run for the Nationwide Series title in 2011, where he won a race and finished fifth in the points standings, Sorenson’s phone was not ringing off the hook with offers. The driver still doesn’t understand why.
"The 2011 season was a great season," Sorenson said. "We were running for the championship and won a race, but these days it’s so tough with sponsorships and everything.
"But I didn’t know when or if I would ever get a chance at the Cup level again."
That chance presented itself this winter with Baldwin. Like Sorenson, Baldwin has been trying to get back in the race — but on the owner side of the business. After attempting to build a Cup operation from scratch over the past five seasons, Baldwin has secured two championship-caliber crew chiefs in Todd Parrott and Kevin "Bono" Manion as well as two young drivers in Sorenson and Michael Annett, 27, with adequate sponsorship to support his effort.
"It’s cool to have Reed on board driving the No. 36. I’ve looked at his statistics and was really surprised at how well he’s done," Baldwin said in a release. "It’s taken six years to get where we are now, and the No. 36 car is only two or three years into it, so we’re slowly building that and we’re excited to have Reed on board with his experience at such a young age and ability to provide sound feedback to help us do that."
Sorenson is quick to point out that "people think I’m in my 30s, but I’m only 28" — and, hopefully, with a greater appreciation of the opportunity to compete full time in Cup. With the latest group of young talent entering NASCAR’s ranks, this might be Sorenson’s last chance at the big leagues.
Sorenson has settled down — literally. He married Laura Frame on Dec. 7. And he’ll have Annett for support in his new venture. When Annett dislocated his sternum during a vicious crash in the season-opening race at Daytona last February, Sorenson filled in for seven races in the Nationwide Series. The two became friends during the experience.
Perhaps Sorenson’s greatest asset will be his crew chief — Parrott, who also joined the team this week. Parrott is seeking redemption after being suspended from competition last October after failing a drug test. Together, this pair has something to prove.
"This is a big year me — and for Tommy," Sorenson said. "To bring in two winning crew chiefs shows his commitment. With Todd joining the team, and Bono with Michael, it raises the level of excitement for us. So it’s pretty damn cool."