About this time every year, before we all head to Daytona for Speedweeks, controversy breaks out because some NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams have moved owner points around, or have gone in with another owner to take advantage of the points a team might have. For that matter, we've even seen cases where points are moved within the same organization.
If you will remember, it wasn't that long ago that Roger Penske took Kurt Busch's points from the prior year and gave them to his teammate, Sam Hornish Jr. This was done obviously to guarantee Sam a starting spot in the Cup races.
This isn't anything new in our sport. It's a way of doing business. Try as we might sometimes, we can never forget that racing is a business. I am not real sure why fans or even folks in the media get all up in arms at times when things like this happen. The bottom line is NASCAR reviews it and as long as they don't have a problem with how a particular situation is structured and handled, then they are fine.
This year is no exception for controversy as Tony Stewart made a business decision to guarantee Danica Patrick a starting spot in the Daytona 500. If you were in his shoes, wouldn't you make the exact same decision? There is a lot riding on Danica making the Daytona 500. They have a great sponsor in GoDaddy.com. And as we always preach to you, the Daytona 500 is our version of the Super Bowl.
The plan is for Danica to run 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this year in the No. 10 car. Danica is already going to have the pressure and expectations from the glare of the media like no other driver in recent years in our sport. The reality is she probably will struggle at some of these tracks until she gets more and more experience.
What Stewart did by entering into a collaborative partnership with Tommy Baldwin Racing was strictly smart business. It takes some of the pressure off Danica by guaranteeing her a spot in the Daytona 500. Tommy Baldwin will continue to field the No. 10 car for the remaining 26 races with David Reutimann behind the wheel. That will help keep the No. 10 car up in the points. Remember, the threshold for a guaranteed spot in any race is being 35th or better in owner points.
Now don't go thinking this is just a one-way street to benefit Tony Stewart, because it is not. Tommy Baldwin is now going to have access to so much information, technology, people, etc., that will make his race team better. That's huge for a car owner like Baldwin that doesn't have the deep pockets like top-tiered teams do.
Tommy Baldwin loves this sport. He had a vision that he wanted to be a car owner one day but he had to build up to that. He started in 1997 as a crew chief for legendary car owner Junie Donlavey. After moving to Bill Davis Racing, Baldwin was paired with Ward Burton and together they won the 2002 Daytona 500.
In 2009, Tommy made the decision to try ownership and formed Tommy Baldwin Racing. You talk about a steep mountain to climb? Tommy was facing the steepest climb of his life. The first couple of years the best they could hope to do was to start-and-park. For you newer fans, that's where a car qualifies for the race, but only runs a few laps to minimize cost and takes last-place or near-last-place money. Again, this was a business decision because it let them accumulate funds while at the same time, hand-picking the races they would run in.
Through all this, they continued to work toward the future and grow. Last year at Talladega, you saw Tommy Baldwin Racing get its best-ever finish when Dave Blaney brought the No. 36 car home in third spot in October. Sure, Clint Bowyer won the race, but if you saw the celebration in the No. 36 pit, you would have sworn they won the race. Trust me when I tell you that third-place finish was huge for that team.
By being able to keep their car in the Top 35 in owners points for 2011, Tommy Baldwin Racing is now taking another step forward in their evolution. I am thrilled for Tommy. Just imagine all the sleepless nights worrying about making payroll or whether they could even go to the next race he had to endure. Tommy is a true racer, so just stop and think how the ridicule and criticism had to hurt in the early days when all they could do was start and park. Tommy had the heart and fortitude to face all that. Tommy took a huge gamble in 2009 and he is now being rewarded for it.
It's a long journey from being a start-and-park team to now collaborating with our reigning NASCAR champion. That's a huge compliment for Tommy that Tony Stewart has the trust in him to do it. Then there is the fact Tommy is fielding a car for easily NASCAR's most exciting commodity in recent years, Danica Patrick. You can't ignore everything that Danica is going to bring to NASCAR. Tommy Baldwin and his team are going to benefit from that, as well.
I know there are Dave Blaney fans out there worried about his future. If you were able to catch's Tommy's interview on NASCAR Race Hub on SPEED the other night, he told show host Steve Byrnes that Dave would be driving the No. 36 again this year in all the races. The owner points from the previous year will only guarantee the No. 10 a spot in the first five events of 2012. This means Dave will not only have to go to Daytona and qualify the No. 36 for the 500 but those next four races, as well.
You also heard Tommy say in that same interview that it made the most business sense for his company. So my point is, again, every year we go through this. Most times it flies right under the radar and rarely gets mentioned. It's just not the case this year. This is a very high-profile situation.
So I applaud both Tony and Tommy for finding a way to make this deal work. Sure, Tony is benefiting from this, but he is also giving back to the sport. Tony's an awesome guy with a big heart and he's helping Tommy pursue his dream.
Who knows, maybe someday Tommy will be able to return the favor and help another car owner pursue their dream?