Golden Road: Dave Blaney and Tommy Baldwin Racing Making Strides
Sure, Tommy Baldwin Racing and driver Dave Blaney may not be the first names among most fans' lists as far as favorites are concerned for wins.
In fact, they may not be the favorites for a championship battle. As an independent team fighting the odds, they're the underdogs at the racetrack every weekend on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
However, there's encouraging signs for this team, which recently signed two new sponsors in Golden Corral and Big Red joining Accel Construction for 22 of the next 27 races on the schedule.
That's great news for the team, who've recently been making the headlines recently.
First, they led their fair share of laps at Talladega last month, pacing the field for 21 circuits before dropping to a 27th place finish.
Last Saturday at Richmond treated the No. 36 Golden Corral/Big Red/Accel Chevrolet team much better, despite qualifying 29th for the Daniel and Matthew Hansen 400 presented by Crown Royal.
Making strides with a loose handling racecar, team owner and crew chief Tommy Baldwin called for a myriad of adjustments which helped their cause for a solid finish.
Once running as low as 35th, Blaney worked his way up to a lap-down 13th place finish, avoiding various melees and obstacles on the track along the way that eliminated contenders by the wayside.
"It was really interesting that the harder I was on the equipment, the better the car handled," Blaney said per an article on PaddockTalk. "We were really fast the second half of the race and worked our way through the field."
By far, it was the team's best finish in the first nine races of the 2011 season, helping them gain a spot in the standings from 33rd to 32nd in the points chase.
While it's not exactly screaming Chase aspirations, Blaney's solid finish translates to a secure position in the top-35, which is a critical race in itself pitting independent teams and struggling multi-car operations.
Given the unpredictable nature of stock car racing, especially during these uncertain times with sports and the economy, creativity and survival is what it's all about for every driver and team to compete on a weekly basis.
For Blaney and Baldwin, scoring a top-15 finish is very much like winning a race, as they focus on small strides for big time success in the long run.
"This team has worked really hard," Blaney said. "I am just proud we got into the top-35 and thankful that Golden Corral came on board with us for 19 races.
"Their support will help us try to run like this every week."
Parlaying fuel strategy along with smart, savvy driving by Blaney on the track, more efforts like their 13th place finish at Richmond may be what this independent effort needs to become a perennial contender week in and out.
For now, their attention is now with the Showtime Southern 500, where Blaney has scored two top-ten finishes in 14 previous starts.
With a top-35 spot secured and sponsor Golden Corral on board for a fourth consecutive race, a solid qualifying and race effort's now their goal.
Saturday night's race marks the first time Blaney will run a Darlington race for the full distance since 2008, when he piloted the No. 22 CAT Toyota Camry to an eighth place finish.
Could another top-10 be in the works?
Time will tell, but in a year where some big name racers are struggling to get a top-10 or Chase position, Blaney and company could be the Cinderella story of this young NASCAR season.