Team Preview: Tommy Baldwin Racing

TommyBaldwinRacing

Toy State and Nikko RC will return as a primary sponsor at TBR in 2016. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

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Entering its eighth season of Sprint Cup competition in 2016, Tommy Baldwin Racing is at a crossroads. The team made some off-season changes including a new driver behind the wheel of its No. 7 Chevrolet.

In December, TBR announced the addition of several key figures to spearhead racing operations. Frankie Bergeron moves to TBR from Joe Gibbs Racing to take over as manager of the fabrication shop. Chad Walter, previously at Michael Waltrip Racing, is in charge of race engineering. And Mike Brill takes over as car chief after working several years at Richard Childress Racing.

The team also announced that sponsors Toy State, Nikko RC and Road Rippers brands will return for a majority of the season.

The biggest change for Baldwin’s single-car operation is the addition of veteran Regan Smith behind the wheel. Smith was named the team’s driver on January 21, shortly after Alex Bowman was released. Bowman drove the No. 7 Chevrolet in 35 races last season, failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 and finishing 33rd in points.

"As NASCAR transitions to different business and competition models, teams have to make decisions accordingly," Baldwin said. "We appreciate what Alex contributed during 2015 and wish him the best."

"There are a lot of moving parts and pieces behind the scenes that fans and media don’t see. Decisions are made carefully over a period of time and are influenced by many factors. It’s the responsiblity of teams to make decisions accordingly."

Smith’s signing marks his return to the Sprint Cup Series after a successful three-year stint driving for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Smith’s Sprint Cup career has been marked with peaks and valleys, a high-point coming with his victory in the 2011 Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

"This was a last-minute deal," Smith said. "I had no clue what was going on for this year and was working hard to figure things out. I got a phone call from Tommy and now I'm ready to go racing."

Despite six visits to Victory Lane in four years at JR Motorsports in the XFINITY Series, Smith found himself out of a ride at the conclusion of last season. With his future uncertain, he said this off-season was one of the most difficult of his career.

"It was a challenge. Every day, you’re trying to figure out what you’re gonna be driving and how to piece things together," Smith said. "I don’t think I’ve ever gone that far into the off-season without knowing my plans."

Smith said he had opportunities for part-time rides in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, but he wanted a full-time position to run for a championship.

"There wasn’t anything coming together to actually run for points.," Smith said. "To not be doing that would have been a challenge mentally because you have to look at things in a different light."

Smith’s no stranger to single-car Sprint Cup teams. His previous team, Furniture Row Racing, was a single-car operation. Smith has quickly gained respect for Baldwin’s operation.

"While we do have relationships with Richard Childress Racing and Earnhardt-Childress Engines, we're still a single-car team," Smith said. "From what I’ve seen, what I like more than anything is the amount of hard work I see. You wouldn’t expect anything less."

Smith’s respect for what Baldwin has done with his team over the past seven seasons highlights how they’re planning to attack the 2016 season.

"I’ve watched what Tommy’s built over the years," Smith said. "He’s a racer and puts everything he's got into those cars. I'm going to do the exact same for him. They'll get everything I've got out of me on the racetrack.

"If we have a good week, we’re gonna high-five each other and figure out why it was a good week. If it's a bad week, we'll sit down and figure out what we need to do to get better and know that everyone will be pulling on that rope."

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of the 58th Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 21, starting at 12 p.m. (ET) – with live streaming at MRN.com and on the MRN App.

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