Imedia Tour 2001:/I Day 2 Notebook

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s action on the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour, hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway:

Todd Parrott. Jimmy Makar. Robbie Loomis. Kevin Hamlin. Greg Zippadelli. All NASCAR Winston Cup crew chiefs that have earned accolades as the best in their profession in recent years.

Ask virtually anyone at Bill Davis Racing, however, and they’ll implore you to add the name of Tommy Baldwin to that list. In just a couple of years at BDR, Baldwin has become one of the more highly-respected crew chiefs in the Winston Cup garage and has helped fashion the No. 22 Caterpillar team into a top-10 contender and a contender to win races on any given weekend.

His driver, Ward Burton, swears by him. His team owner, Bill Davis, said he doesn’t know what he’d do without him.

Now that’s confidence.

“Tommy has been the glue that has held this team together over the past couple of years,” Davis said. “When we hired him, we knew we could let him come in here and do whatever he felt necessary to make this a contending team, and he’s done that. He and Ward have a great relationship, and that’s been one of the things that have helped us progress to where we are now.”

“Tommy has played a huge role here,” said Burton, who finished 10th in the Winston Cup points race last season. “He brought a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of organizational skills to this team. He also brought a willingness to work for me, and I think all that has made a difference. Tommy has made a lot of difference here.”

Baldwin has even had an impact on Davis’ other team, the No. 93 Amoco team with driver Dave Blaney.

“Tommy wants his fingers in everything,” Davis said. “He’s just as concerned with Blaney’s 93 car as he is with the 22 car. Tommy is just a high-energy person. He never wants to go home at 5 p.m. because he wants to stay and make us better.”

“Tommy has obviously done a good job with Ward’s stuff,” Blaney said. “But he also took a big interest in my team. I can always talk to him because he’ll do anything to help me and my crew chief, Doug Randolph.”

Baldwin made such an impact on Bill Davis Racing from the beginning that other prominent teams began to sit up and take notice. Prior to last season, Hendrick Motorsports tried to lure Baldwin away from High Point to be the crew chief of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, driven by Jeff Gordon.

Baldwin turned the job down, much to the delight of Burton, Davis and most everyone else at BDR.

“When that opportunity came along, it was one of the toughest decisions in my life because of the chance to work at Hendrick Motorsports and with Jeff Gordon,” he said. “The magnitude of that alone was tremendous.

“But then I realized we’ve got something special going here at Bill Davis Racing, and I knew I wanted to stay and continue to work for Bill. We’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of things to accomplish yet, so that’s one of the reasons why I decided to stay here.”

STATE OF THE UNION: NASCAR President Mike Helton addressed several issues Tuesday morning during the Busch Series breakfast, most importantly, minor changes in the aerodynamic package for the Ford Taurus for the restrictor plate races for the 2001 season.

What Helton termed as the “damper” – or the air deflector on the roofs of the Fords just above the windshield – would be decreased by a half-inch off the top and on the sides. “The aero rules used last year at Talladega will be used in the upcoming Daytona 500,” Helton explained.

Another of the hot topics Helton addressed was how the revenue from the television package would be distributed. He explained that the money would be broken up into three areas: an owner’s plan, which would benefit 31 teams in the Winston Cup Series; the general points fund at the end of the season; and the purse for each race throughout the 2001 campaign. The financial distribution through the owner’s plan would effect only two cars per team in a multi-car situation.

NASCAR had announced last week its plans for one round of qualifying at each track this season. Most weekends qualifying will be held on Fridays, but three tracks – Rockingham, Darlington and Dover – will hold qualifying on Saturday. Helton said he couldn’t rule out that on the weekends of Saturday qualifying that the Winston Cup teams might get limited practice sometime Friday.

One of the most interesting things revealed on Tuesday was that beginning in 2001, all crew member in the Winston Cup Series will have their last name printed on the back of their uniforms to help fans recognize the guys behind the scenes.

PEPSI STILL AROUND: Jeff Gordon may have retired from Busch Series competition, but his sponsor, Pepsi, will still have a presence at the track. Gordon announced Tuesday that Pepsi would team up with his Winston Cup sponsor, DuPont Refinishes, for two races in 2001, at Talladega in April and Daytona in July.

THE RESPONSE: During Tuesday’s afternoon interviews at his Hendrick Motorsports team, owner Rick Hendrick was asked, and reluctantly answered questions surrounding his presidential pardon from Bill Clinton just before Christmas.

“It was a nice Christmas present and I’m glad to get that behind me,” Hendrick said.

Hendrick – who owns the Winston Cup teams of Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Jerry Nadeau – was indicted in December 1997 on fraud charges. Hendrick, who also owns a chain of auto dealerships throughout the Southeast, had been convicted in the America Honda Co. bribery scandal where 23 dealers were convicted of acquiring hard-to-get cars through illegal business methods.

SPONSOR OFFICIAL: While it has been rumored for months, Starter and Hot Tamales candies officially announced Tuesday morning they were co-sponsoring the No. 98 Taurus of Akin Motorsports, driven by Elton Sawyer, in the Busch Series.

The two entities will split space on the car for the 33 Busch races this season. The car will have a plethora of paint schemes throughout the 2001 campaign – 18 to be exact – with 14 of those depicting logos from different college sports teams.

FOLLOWING LAJOIE: When asked if he was disappointed that he was not sought after by a Winston Cup operation after such a dominating championship season last year, Jeff Green waxed poetic: “No, I’m not disappointed at all because I really enjoy being in the Busch Series,” Green said. “I guess I’ve developed the Randy LaJoie syndrome about being in this series. I like it, and right now, unless a top-notch Cup deal comes along, I’ll be happy to stay here.”

LaJoie, the driver of Joe Nemechek’s No. 7 Kleenex Chevrolet and a former two-time champion, has long been a proponent of the Busch Series.

WIMMER SPONSOR: Davis hasn’t found a sponsor yet for Scott Wimmer’s Busch Series team, and he’s searching diligently, judging by his words Tuesday morning about the situation.

“By the way, that’s not Scott’s sponsor on his shirt,” Davis said jokingly, referring to the Bill Davis Racing logo on Wimmer’s polo shirt. “Scott was talking earlier about his ASA team in the past being underfunded. Hell, the team he’s with now is under-funded (said with a chuckle).”

Davis said he plans to run the full Busch Series schedule with Wimmer in 2001 without a sponsor, but said he hopes to sign one soon.

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