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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Once full of hope, Baldwin, TRG teams are now start and parks

When the season began, and so many teams had disappeared after the 2008 season, there was an opening for some new blood.

Daytona saw some great stories, most notably Jeremy Mayfield’s team and Tommy Baldwin’s team both making the Daytona 500 after being formed just a month earlier. Over the next few weeks, another team emerged as a surprise, the #71 TRG team, when David Gilliland started to put on some solid runs.

That was then, this is now.

As the season has gone on, a sad thing has happened. All the optimism of the early season is gone, and now these teams are start-and-parks, if we’re going to be honest.

Riggs has pretty much said this in interviews since he walked away from the #36 car of Tommy Baldwin Racing. Daytona was very promising, with the #36 car looking solid en route to a top-25 finish. Riggs, once regarded as an up-and-coming talent after strong years in the Truck and Nationwide series, wanted to be competitive, and that wasn’t going to happen in this ride – as evidenced by the multiple DNQs and best finish of 30th since Daytona.

So he’s out of the ride, and now Mike Skinner, Patrick Carpentier and Brian Simo will share the ride and each make a few bucks along the way. While deep down I’m sure they’d like to do well, it appears Baldwin has given up any notion of being competitive and just hopes to make the races. Sponsorship would help improve his team, but it’s hard to sell your team to a sponsor when it appears you aren’t even legitimately trying to finish every race.

Mayfield’s case is another story, entirely, as his dreams have been derailed by the saga over his alleged failed drug test. Mayfield at this point is beyond a start-and-park … he’s just trying to survive so he can think about trying to compete.

The TRG team, meanwhile, is the only one in this group that showed any sustained momentum toward a solid season. Some solid runs in a few races early in the year had this team in the top-35 in points after five races, garnering them some attention. But since then, without sponsorship, the wheels have fallen off for this team, and it’s becoming more and more common for them to finish in the 40s.

I recognize the pickle these teams are in. If they run too hard, possibly for very little gain in track position, they risk tearing up equipment they don’t have much money to fix. Yet at the same time, I feel some effort must be made … or raceday turns into a brief joyride before calling it a day after a few laps, something that doesn’t really qualify as racing.

Also, I’m not saying start-and-parks should never happen. For example, Brian Keselowski is helping fund his #26 team in Nationwide by fielding a second car, the #96, which is a start-and-park. That car earns him money that allows him to keep racing, so I don’t think any less of him for this strategy.

But I hate to see teams out there just going through the motions. It can’t be satisfying for them to just ride around in the back for a while and then pull into the garage. Sure, they get a few bucks for their effort, but is it even worth it in the long run?

I was rooting hard for all of these teams to succeed from the start of the year, as I’m a fan of the underdog coming up big and challenging the established teams whenever possible. It makes the sport better when there is more competition.

So while I recognize their sponsorship situation is close to nothing, I still think it’s a shame not one of these smaller teams has been able to break that barrier. I know it’s a matter of money and they’re not happy with the situation either, but I’d love to see 43 Cup cars out there all have legitimate hopes of finishing the race.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you, I am disappointed that these teams started the year with what appeared to be real enthusiasm but now they are little more than what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globetrotters. I thought it showed a lot of character for Riggs to walk away and say he didn't want to be a part of the charade. Hopefully he will get picked-up in one of the three series because I think he can get it done in the right situation.

June 2, 2009 at 11:00 AM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

Riggs is better than what the team has become, and I'm glad he stepped away. He's probably better off in nationwide, where i think he could do pretty well ... kind of like Jason Leffler is doing right now after failing in Cup.

June 2, 2009 at 11:28 AM 

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