Dave Blaney and the Popularity Gap
by Peter Carcia
April 30th, 2011
If you asked me last year about the problems involving start and park teams, you would likely get the answer that seems normal in this fanbase. Why are they even involved in racing?
But I realized something over speedweeks this year, specifically with the help of a teams that are common in the world of starting and parking, Tommy Baldwin Racing who hold the 36 of Dave Blaney in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Both of these drivers had to drive into the Daytona 500 before finding themselves enough money to run the entire race.
For Tommy Baldwin, racing into the Daytona field is not an unusual site, and winning that battle isn't either. In the three seasons of its existance, the former crew chief's team has found itself below the top 35 in points and finding their way into the 500 the hard way. In its opening year in 2009, the team with driver Scott Riggs made the 500 in dominating fashion when comparing to the other go-or-go homers (not including Stewart-Haas). In 2010, the story was the same. A team with a rare chance of making a race with sponsorship gets a good one in Wave Energy Dink early in the year with Mike Bliss in the cockpit. But after a not so stellar performance early, Tommy Baldwin had nothing, and the team again had empty cars and 6 different drivers throughout the year.
TBR came into 2011 content on getting back to their early 2010 form. With Dave Blaney driving, who had posted finishes in roughly the 20s when a rare chance at sponsorship came for the team, took a solid black number 36 Toyota to the Daytona garage, wondering if they were even going for the full season. Blaney was able to take the rains and made another stellar run in pole qualifiers and the Duels. Once Blaney found his spot in the 500, Golden Corrall took notice, and for the first time since sponsoring Yates Racing's final curtain calls for the 28 team back in 2009, they gave Dave Blaney and TBR enough sponsorship for the full year, contributing to what could have been the first race without a single start and park team in quite a while.
Blaney was able to get some TV time, leading laps at just the right time for FOX to notice him adequately. Although they didn't get the finish they were looking for, Tommy Baldwin got sponsorship help from Accell Construction to let the team continue. More sponsorship from All Sport came, and the buffet style restaurant chain returned in Talladega.
At first, the race seemed like a normal day in the office for the 36. They were in the lead pack, but they didn't take it up a notch early. Once the crashes began however, so did Blaney, and with it he got into the lame duck version of the lead for 21 laps. Unfortunately, a miscommunication for drafting after the restart and a spin from Kurt Busch got Blaney another awesome day gone bad.
Regardless of the bad finish that was created from the spin out, people were beginning to wonder, could this combination create the next team to become contenders? Many in the fanbase were beginning to think the team had a chance, but there were two forces taking TBR down. The media, and the stingy sponsors.
I noticed on NASCAR's website shortly after the Talladega race that they were bashing the idea that Blaney and TBR are on the fast track to getting noticed weekly. 26th and 27th in the two restrictor plate races don't seem good to a statistician, but seeing a team that was never given the post race reaction beat and giving the fans a good show, then questioning TBR's decency publically like that, it almost makes me want to make a Chris Crocker parody! Plus, since few companies are able to pay thousands to give a team full time backing, that just makes the situation even harder.
The main reason everyone was so divided about Blaney's finish is simple: the popularity gap in NASCAR. Teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing recieve get out of jail free cards every time they finish in the same way Blaney did, saying that the driver would have won it hands down if it hadn't been for some bad luck happening that occured. Meanwhile, camps like Tommy Baldwin Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, The Racer's Group, and others that lack sponsorship and fight for the top 35 get a detailed but casual "meh, whatever" from the media. My question is... why? Blaney looked well on his way to winning that race if it hadn't been for Kurt Busch making a mistake in the drafting, and since at the time he was gaining momentum back from the miscommunication, the "lame duck" idea would not have applied to Dave, and he easily could have paired with someone to make it a ten car battle instead of eight.
"The biggest reason people don't focus on the smaller teams is because, traditionally, people only care about the teams that contend for wins," says Brock Beard, writer of the LASTCAR, the Blogspot site that specializes in the small teams that find their way into start and park mode, and YouTube's Brock's Starting Grid Network, "Since sports broadcasting in general cares first and foremost for who wins, all other stories just get buried. It's a shame, but unfortunately it's inevitable due to the nature of competition. It takes something dramatic - something like Blaney's performance at Talladega - for people to take notice of smaller teams and the progress they've made to that point. What's frustrating is that, since the media focuses so much on winners, they don't keep up on what progress the small teams are making; the media is largely incapable of doing both."
Still, with the amount of teams this season not worrying about sponsorship that could easily compare equally with some of the small teams if they weren't starting and parking, it seems that the only thing giving companies the ok to ride is the name on the team or driver. Now, in order for more drivers to find their way into the series, the publicity and media should do a better job of giving every driver that does a good job their tv time, not just those who are known by the average viewer.
Thankfully, the race at Talladega gave Dave Blaney and TBR about 23 races worth of sponsorship from Big Red (4 races) and Golden Corrall (19 races). Hopefully, a good finish tonight at Richmond should give everybody in NASCAR a message, we can still make a decent team out of nothing.
this was a response to the following story on LASTCAR on Blogspot (written by Brock Beard)