Greg Biffle put the chrome horn to Joey Logano and came awful close to holding off a hard-charging Kyle Busch before finishing second in the Nationwide Series’ second race of the year at Fontana back in February. Not too far behind, Scott Lagasse Jr. drove the No. 43 car, a team that only weeks before did not exist, to a top-15 finish.
Baker/Curb Racing was back.
The face of the organization’s resurgence has been the No. 27 Red Man Ford, which between Biffle, Johnny Sauter and Scott Wimmer has been a consistent top-10 car at every track on the Nationwide Series circuit. But, as the team knew in signing a tobacco sponsor prior to Daytona, there was a chance that the dollars would not last. And thanks to new federal legislation that takes the asinine step of prohibiting a legal company selling a legal product from advertising with sports teams, the No. 27 team is now sponsorless after Kentucky, their future uncertain.
“My initial thoughts on it would be we want to keep the team together, even if that meant, as much as I hate to say the words, if that meant start and park, that is a possibility,” team owner Gary Baker told NASCAR.com last week. Team PR director Andy Gee told Frontstretch the same thing at Richmond a few weeks ago, noting “there’s advantages to keeping that car [the No. 27] in the Top 30.”
Though what has been one of the stoutest cars in the Nationwide Series field may be reduced to a start-and-park role in the near future, the resurgence of Baker/Curb Racing sits poised to continue, however, thanks to the team’s oft-forgotten second car, Lagasse Jr.’s No. 43.
Lagasse found himself in the top 10 in points heading into Richmond at the start of this month, though a couple of ugly finishes outside the top 30 both there and at Darlington relegated the No. 43 team to 16th in points. Still, given the circumstances surrounding Baker/Curb’s second car, that’s no small accomplishment in itself.
Said a team member, “the [No. 43] team came together two weeks before Daytona. [It’s been a challenge] trying to create an environment to run two teams, to build cars with only a few guys more than it took to run just the No. 27 car last year.”
But for all the challenges, Lagasse Jr. has proven to bring intangibles to the Baker/Curb organization that have been of great benefit.
Said another team member, “the guys are really starting to rally around Scott. They like him, he’s engaged. He’s in the shop every single day, and he’s willing to do everything. When you’re trying to run two teams with three-quarters of the guys needed to do it, you’re looking for people to sometimes do the small stuff. Scott’s always around to see what he can do. He gives it his all.”
Biffle echoed that sentiment, noting that Lagasse was constantly inquisitive in dealing with his racecars. “I like that in a racecar driver,” quipped the veteran.
Lagasse was just as complimentary of his experienced teammate, noting “Greg Biffle’s been great to me. He’s let me ask him anything I want to ask him, and he’s been very open. That’s really helped me out, especially at these places I’ve been to one time only or not at all.”
“I haven’t been around Greg much until this year,” he continued “He’s [Biffle] a racer. He’s built his own cars, he understands these racecars, he’s one of the smartest guys in racing that I’ve ever been around.”
Lagasse likes his new home a lot as well.
“Things are definitely moving in the right direction, I can’t complain about that,” said Lagasse of his new team.
“It’s hard to explain because I’ve worked for a lot of good people, but never have I seen a team work this well together. They really are one group of guys. They hang out during the week together, their families do stuff together. It’s a really unique situation, and they’ve welcomed me into it with open arms. It’s fun.”
For all the fun that 2010 has provided one of the longest running independents still standing in the Nationwide Series garage, however, what was earlier in the season and a distant possibility has become reality; the No. 27 team will be cutting back, soon, unless sponsorship is secured. And while Lagasse and the No. 43 team are confident that they will be able to continue their early season success with or without their fellow team racing, they’re also not kidding themselves about the detriment a sponsorless No. 27 car could prove to the whole.
“It’s concerning,” admitted Lagasse. “It’s obviously in the back of everybody’s minds. [But] it’s so strongly in both teams’ minds to keep going.”
And who can blame the teams for wanting to go on? When I spoke to Lagasse, I asked him to tell me how realistic it was to say that Baker/Curb Racing would return to victory lane in 2010.
Lagasse’s response? Very realistic.
“I think an even more realistic statement is that both Baker/Curb teams will win a race this season.”