tampabay.com

Baldwin sets his course for action

By BRANT JAMES
Published August 5, 2006


INDIANAPOLIS - A week after being released from his contract as crew chief at Robert Yates Racing and a day after being announced as competition director at Bill Davis Racing, Tommy Baldwin said one of his first priorities is to institute the kind of structure and consistency that his former team lacked.

Baldwin had been discussing an offer to return to his former employer, Davis, for more than a month but negotiated with Yates co-owner Doug Yates about being promoted from his job as crew chief for Elliott Sadler's No. 38 team. When nothing could be finalized, Yates suggested to Baldwin that he leave rather than miss an opportunity he could not provide.

"No structure, and really nothing being done the same, week in and week out," Baldwin said, describing RYR. "Just plain everybody changing things up every week. We couldn't get any consistency."

Fired general manager Eddie D'Hondt took much of the blame from team owner Robert Yates, notably in approving a contract that let Sadler opt out a year early for 2007. Still D'Hondt wouldn't comment on RYR. "I think that's me keeping my integrity," he said.

Philosophical differences soured Baldwin on a team that has plummeted since Sadler qualified for the Chase for the Championship in 2004. The team is winless since Dale Jarrett took the 2005 Talladega fall race. Sadler and Jarrett are leaving after this season.

"Robert has a totally different view of how business and a race team should be run," Baldwin said.

UP FRONT: Kurt Busch had the fastest lap of two practice sessions Friday at 182.039 mph over the 2.5-mile oval. Defending race-winner Tony Stewart was 28th (178.334). Busch's random qualifying order number was good, too. Because time trials begin midmorning today and progress into the afternoon, an early spot in the first hour is preferred. A cooler track allows for more tire grip and greater speeds. Casey Mears, going 24th but within the first 62 minutes, set the pole record (186.293) in 2004 .

IT'LL START HERE: Team owner Chip Ganassi said former Formula One driver and Champ Car champion Juan Pablo Montoya, once he is contractually free, will make one of his first stock car tests at USA Speedway in Lakeland before a scheduled Nextel Cup campaign in 2007. Montoya is under contract with the McLaren F1 team, though he has been replaced as driver. "If he's made available, I'm sure it'll be at Lakeland," Ganassi said. Ganassi said he also expects to see defending Indy Racing League champion Dan Wheldon test a Nextel Cup car after his season ends Sept. 10. "We haven't formally talked about it, but we both know it's coming, so that's good," he said. The team also announced Friday that former Dodge director of motorsports John Fernandez was hired as managing director of its NASCAR operation.

SPARK PLUGS: Sports car engineering firm Riley Technologies and D'Hondt have formed Riley-D'Hondt Motorsports with the intention of fielding four Cup teams in five years. The team, supposedly in negotiations with two "experienced, veteran drivers," plans to debut with two full-time Busch teams in 2007 and run all five "Car of Tomorrow" Cup events. . . . Reed Sorenson backed his No. 41 Dodge into the wall after losing control in Turn 1 during practice. He was unhurt, but the car is likely unusable for the weekend.