Stars align for new team owner Baldwin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tommy Baldwin could wallow in misery and complain that the tough economic times are keeping him from doing what he loves to do best -- race. He could be like many of the 700 or so people left without jobs in the NASCAR community, knocking on doors with his résumé in hand and hoping for an opportunity.

Instead, Baldwin is turning a negative into a positive.

The longtime crew chief announced Tuesday he is starting his own Sprint Cup team under the banner of Tommy Baldwin Racing. He is taking advantage of the tough times, putting together an organization with top-quality people at a much lower cost than he could have two years ago when the sport and country were healthy.

Whether he succeeds remains to be seen, but he deserves credit for trying.

"There's no way we could have afforded to do this a couple of years ago," Baldwin admitted, talking above the static on his cell phone from the bowels of his Mooresville, N.C., shop on Wednesday. "That's why the time is right. We don't owe any money. We have low overhead. There's a lot of teams struggling and a lot of good [equipment] you can buy really cheap.

"And there are a lot of good people that you can have at a really good cost. We can put together a really good team that can compete right away."

Baldwin already has hired a crew chief who has won the Daytona 500.

"I'll be the crew chief for it right now," said the 41-year-old who won NASCAR's grand jewel in 2002 with Ward Burton at Bill Davis Racing.

The list of potential drivers is better than it has ever been at this time of the year. Dave Blaney, who worked with Baldwin at BDR, is available. So is 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte, who has yet to be named as the driver of the No. 41 car at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as was anticipated after he left Petty Enterprises.

Elliott Sadler also is on the street -- unless he wins a potential lawsuit to put him back in the No. 19 car at Gillett Evernham Motorsports, which is busy trying to merge with Petty Enterprises before it goes down the tubes.

I've had over 150 people since 7 this morning come in looking for jobs. I know the economy is hurting, the job market is hurting.

-- Tommy Baldwin

Jeremy Mayfield, who worked with Baldwin at BDR and made NASCAR's championship Chase twice at Evernham Motorsports, is unemployed as well.

"Great drivers," Baldwin said. "Championship drivers. Race-winning drivers. Guys that have been in the top 30 in points their whole life. There's a lot of options right now. I'm just waiting for some dominoes to fall."

Baldwin is optimistic he can piece together enough sponsorship to run an entire season. He plans to be at Daytona International Speedway for next month's opener regardless.

"An awful lot of companies want to come in that wouldn't be able to afford expenses other teams have to ask for in order to put their name on the car and do all the things they need to do," Baldwin said.

In other words, Baldwin doesn't have to ask for $20-25 million, maybe not even $17 million, to be successful. He also has a solid chance of being in the field because fewer cars than ever are expected to compete for the 43 available spots.

There could be races for which he only has to show up to get in.

"If you have the financial backing to do it, it's the best time in the world to pick a group of people because there's a lot of good people out there," said another longtime crew chief, Greg Zipadelli of Joe Gibbs Racing. "Right now, it wouldn't be a bad time to start a race team, but you have to have financial backing."

Those were Baldwin's thoughts exactly, and he didn't seek the advice of other owners before making the decision.

"I just weighed all the options out there for myself, and this looked like the best one," he said.

Baldwin has purchased some cars from Red Bull Racing. He has an agreement with Arrington Manufacturing to build Toyota engines. The company helped him when he owned a Nationwide Series team before it was sold to become Evernham Motorsports.

He has hired 11 employees who are prepared to start working on Monday to get ready for the Daytona 500, and he's set to hire more.

"I've had over 150 people since 7 this morning come in looking for jobs," Baldwin said. "I know the economy is hurting, the job market is hurting."

But instead of being among those hurting, Baldwin is turning pain into potential gain.

He is gambling on his race team the way a stockbroker gambles on the market, buying low and hoping things improve.

"I did all the budgets for everything that could happen or not happen," Baldwin said. "We'll see what happens. This is a free country. What else am I going to do, anyway? This is all I know."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.