Tommy Baldwin is not just the crew chief of the No. 7 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car driven by Alex Bowman. He’s also the owner.
The longtime crew chief brings a unique perspective to the job and also provides some interesting insight into next season and this year’s Chase.
In this week’s Tech Talk, Baldwin talks about sticking with the 2015 package for the Chase along with how good the digital dash is for the sport, even if it is costing him more money.
Baldwin also touched on his team’s poor short track season, his personal disappointment from Richmond and Goodyear’s efforts to bring good tires to the sport.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch – Richmond was a long night for you but you did roll it into the trailer in one piece. Was there anything good that you learned during Saturday night that turned out well for the No. 7 team?
Tommy Baldwin – No, not really. We are really struggling with our short-track program right now. We have a lot of work to do. That is probably the worst race I have ever had, in my entire career, as far as how we ran. We’ve got to get after it. We’re working on it really hard, that is for sure.
Neff – Is it doubly hard when you get someone like Matt Kenseth, who was so strong and catching the back of the field so quickly that you didn’t get much of an opportunity to stay on the lead lap?
Baldwin – When you are running bad and not passing cars you can’t keep up. It just is what it is. We had a bad night, we’ve had a bad short-track year. We were terrible at the first New Hampshire race. We were so-so at the first Richmond race and we’ve been so bad at all of these places that we decided to try some different stuff, and that wasn’t very good either. We’ve gone back to the drawing board to try and figure some stuff out for next week at New Hampshire.
Neff – On that front, with Bowman being a younger driver who is lesser experienced than some of the veterans in the sport, do you have to be conservative with the swings you take at some of these setups or can you swing for the fences every time you make changes?
Baldwin – We have tools to make sure that we aren’t way out of the box and will get him in trouble. The things that we do are thought out. We are working on it, that’s a different story. We try our best to stay in a position to where we aren’t hurting ourselves but we sure didn’t help ourselves at that Richmond race, that is for sure.
Neff – The tires were different this time at Richmond; NASCAR did away with the multi-zone tire and went with one that was similar but might be a little softer. Do you feel like the tire was a step in the right direction?
Baldwin – Absolutely, that was great! It was great tire falloff. It had good handling characteristics throughout the race. Obviously Kenseth had a strong car from the beginning to the end of a run, which was incredible, but there were a lot of people having difficulties with it. That brings excitement to the race when you have those situations. Goodyear has been giving us a really good tire lately that has had good wear without issues and it has resulted in good racing.
Neff – Chicagoland has been around a while since its last repaving. Do you feel like the track has aged enough for soft tires to be able to put on a good show there?
Baldwin – I think the tire has pretty good falloff here. It could be better and they’re obviously going to work on it more as we progress into next year’s rules. We aren’t sure what is going on there yet. If there is any indication from what the Kentucky and Darlington races provided, and they change the tire a little more from Darlington, the racing in the future is going to be exciting. Sunday’s race is going to be really good. Everyone is going to be full on since the championship starts Sunday. Everyone is going to have their A-game and we’re excited to bring everything we’ve got to run with them.
Neff – You aren’t in the Chase, so you can take some chances and go for some wins the rest of the season. We have documented that you are a small team and a win for you might not be an event win but it could be a top five or a top 10. At this point in the season can you take some extra gambles to try and get those upper-tier finishes and end the season on a high note?
Baldwin – Yes, but you have to have a good car to put yourself in a position to take chances and make gambles. I feel like every time we’ve been in that position this year we’ve done all of the right things to finish in the top 25. Our goals haven’t changed. We’d like to run consistently the last 10 races and try and get a lot of top 25s to give us some momentum over the winter and heading into the new year.
Neff – One thing many fans might not pay close attention to is the battle near the 30th place in the points standings. There are advantages with the owner points associated with that position. Is that something that, during races, you pay attention to with the other teams that are around you in that spot in the standings or do you just run the race and let the points fall where they may?
Baldwin – No, we just run the race. You know that if you outrun them, you’ll gain points on them. The thing is, after about half of the way to three quarters of the way through the race, you know who you’re running against and that field is around you all night. So it determines if you’re going to do the wave around with them or do the opposite. There is a lot of stuff going on back there. There is a lot of stuff going on back there and a lot of stuff that you have to deal with while you’re trying to pick up positions. We know, if we do our job, we can outrun them. We’ve had seven races this year where we’ve received a total of nine points. We know we’re better than the position that we are in in the points. We’re supposed to be better. It is no indication of how we’ve run. We’ve had a lot of decent finishes this year and we’ve had a lot of crappy stuff happen to us. We’ve just got to keep building, one day at a time, one race at a time.
Neff – There was a discussion going on this week that centered around Aric Almirola but could just as easily apply to anyone fighting for 30th or trying to make the top 16. You can call them free bonus points. If you stay out on the first or second caution of every race and lead a lap, while you would restart tail end of the lead lap, at the end of the regular season you’d have 26 bonus points. Is that something you consider or are you more focused on making the car better during the race?
Baldwin – Sometimes I am, but most of the time I’m worrying about track position and staying with the group. Obviously the closer you are to the front, the cleaner air you have, the better you will run. I always try to pick my poison, so to speak, and try and figure out where we are at. After the first run we’ll know who we will outrun or not outrun and that will dictate what we’ll do.
Neff – You were at Kansas for a couple of days testing this week. Were you testing something for next season or were you just looking at getting better now?
Baldwin – We just focused on this year’s package, with this year’s tire, as it is now, working on our intermediate program. We didn’t try to focus on future packages, we were just trying to work through some different setups to see if they were any good or had promise to keep working on them. This was our first test of the year. We don’t normally get a chance to test due to the funding we have. It was good to not have a pressure situation and be able to run through some things and look at the data and adjust on the setups a little bit. That way when we get into places, just like this weekend, if we run into some situations we’ll know how to adjust by looking at the test data.
Neff – Everyone is saying that with the low downforce package showing so much promise, they don’t understand why we couldn’t change over for the Chase or at least some of the Chase. A lot of people think you bolt on a new spoiler and a new radiator pan and you are ready to race. They don’t realize all of the other things that have to change to accommodate the new package. From your perspective as a small team owner, what else do you have to change and how expensive is it to change the car over besides the items that are specified to be changed in the rules?
Baldwin – Well, obviously we don’t have the funding to do a lot of a development so we have to do just what you mentioned. We bold the new stuff on and go race. There are a lot of things that go with it. We want to protect the sport and put on a good race for the fans. If Goodyear isn’t ready to bring the tire to match the new downforce and some guys have spent their entire budget on the current package that we have now, it would cost the teams a lot of money to start over. We all kind of voted to give it to us for next year, whatever it is they are going to give to us, as far as the rule changes for next year, pretty quickly here. That way we can put it into the budget and start working on things. I think we’ve proven that it is the right way to go but I don’t think we were ready yet, as a whole sport, to make that change.
Neff – The digital dash comes to the series next year. In and of itself it is going to save you money, or at least that is how it has been explained, because you can unplug it from the harness in one car and plug it into another car and be ready to go instead of having individual dials and gauges. Have you had the chance to play with it yet and do you plan to play with it before 2016?
Baldwin – Actually, we have it in the car this weekend for Chicago. It is our first one. I’m not too sure if it is a cost savings yet. We will see. It is, overall, a good change for the sport. That is a good change for the sport because it is eventually going to let the fans interact with the racecars a little bit more, we hope. That is a good, exciting thing. As for the cost, it is still up in the air as to whether that is a savings. A lot of the gauges and stuff that we have last a very, very long time and a lot of this stuff we get for free from the manufacturers that produce them. They promote us and that helps them sell it to the local short-track guys. I don’t know, we’ll see how that works out but I am excited about that because it is going to involve the fans a little bit more.