2007 Ride: No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Chevrolet
2007 Primary Sponsor: Caterpillar
2007 Owner: Bill Davis
2007 Crew Chief: Kevin Hamlin (February – June); Tommy Baldwin (June – Nov.)
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, one top five, four top 10s, 31st in points.
High Point: It took almost eight months, but Toyota’s best hope heading into ’07 finally flexed its muscle in October. Coming up a surprising third at the fall race at Talladega, Blaney followed up that performance with a sixth-place finish at Lowe’s, contending throughout the race in both events. The back-to-back runs wound up cementing the No. 22 team within the Top 35 in owner points, giving them a critical five-race exemption next season and locking Blaney into the ’08 Daytona 500. More importantly, it was the best two-week stretch of the 45-year-old’s eight-year Cup career.
Low Point: The only Toyota team to begin the season with a “locked-in” qualifying spot, Blaney suffered through every sort of bad-luck bug imaginable to take that advantage away. Three straight DNFs to start the year at Daytona, California and Las Vegas – when the team was running well in each event – completely deflated the confidence of the organization, and by the time race No. 6 came around, Blaney was forced to qualify every week on speed. That made each weekend a roll of the dice, and by Talladega in April, driver and team came up snake eyes – Blaney failed to qualify for a race for the first time since 2000. He would go on to repeat that nightmare twice more in ’07, suffering through a dreadful DNQ sweep at Dover.
Summary: In his second stint with BDR, expectations were high for Blaney after a full season behind the wheel of the team’s primary car. The long-anticipated debut of Toyota was at hand, and the experience of both driver and team boded well to make them the manufacturer’s top threat.
Too bad the threat could be easily derailed. The Camry was fraught with all sorts of handling and horsepower problems, and some early bad luck quickly left Blaney without the qualifying exemption so many of the new Toyota teams had coveted. Forced to qualify on speed each week, the team became maddeningly inconsistent, and crew chief Kevin Hamlin left in June. Replaced by old faithful Tommy Baldwin, the BDR competition director slowly turned the program around, giving Blaney some strong cars and building his confidence over the season’s second half – by July, the team had won a pole at New Hampshire and was showing signs of coming together. Although they finished poor, for the first half of the Chase Blaney was one of the stronger cars on the Cup circuit, erasing a season of struggles and eventually landing his Toyota back into Top-35 exemption territory. Turns out he wound up the only Camry driver to earn one – again – as the ’07 season came to an end.
2008 Outlook: With rumors of a pending sale by BDR refusing to die, how this team comes together next season is truly an unknown. Changes are plentiful; Blaney picks up a new teammate in Jacques Villeneuve, and Baldwin may seek a replacement at crew chief in order to return to full-time duties as team competition director. Most importantly, where the money will come from is a giant question mark after a lawsuit by Dodge and the bankruptcy of Bill Davis Trucking leave its car owner in the midst of a deep financial hit. Should the resources remain in place, the boost from new Toyota team Joe Gibbs Racing will help Blaney step it up a notch. If there’s at least reasonable stability, and new teammate Villeneuve doesn’t get the majority of the attention – and the best cars – look for him to be a contender for a top-25 points finish. And if the dominoes fall his way at a track like Atlanta, you never know when Victory Lane has an upset up her sleeve.
Quote of the Year: “We’re not doing anything different – our team is doing the same things they were doing before, but now we’re getting results.” – Blaney, after his sixth-place run at Lowe’s in October
2006 Frontstretch Grade: C+
2007 Grade: C-
Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley.