Something cool happened Saturday night. We’re not talking about the victory by Brad Keselowski’s victory, not about Joe Gibbs Racing experiencing success in their mile-and-a-half track program, and not about Earnhardt’s run towards the front. We’re talking about a car that is almost never seen unless it is in a wreck.
We’re talking about the number seven of Michael Annett? Who? Didn’t he finish EIGHTEENTH?? So what? It’s no small accomplishment, something akin to the Kansas City Royals having a winning record after Labor Day.
That number seven car belongs to one Tommy Baldwin, the one-time crew chief for the original Foghorn Leghorn of NASCAR, Ward Burton, winner of the 2002 Daytona 500. Baldwin got into the ownership game just a few short seasons ago on a wing and a prayer. TBR went through the start and park phase, providing employment for a who’s who of journeymen drivers and crew chiefs. Others like Baldwin have come and gone, but with steady steps forward, TBR has been a survivor. Here in 2014, Tommy Baldwin is fielding two teams, with Annett and the 36 driven now by Reed Sorenson.
Though a Cup rookie, Annett is cut from a similar mode as Baldwin, and for that matter, crew chief Kevin “Bono” Mannion. The Iowan who was once a hockey player toiled in the Nationwide Series with little fanfare, but still managing to endear himself to a certain number of race fans, and insiders who saw potential in Annett.
The finish- the fact we’re talking about the seven FINISHING- in the top twenty is no small accomplishment in an era that Hendrick, Penske, Gibbs, and to a lesser extent, Stewart-Haas and Roush dominates. That 18th place run is 14 places better than where Annett began, placing him ahead of the likes of Martin Truex Jr., Danica Patrick and Casey Mears. This is a team just beginning to approach the status of a Furniture Row or a Front Row team- not a real serious candidate to win, but one who is there every week, and more often than not finishes the race; there are only two DNFs charged to the rookie in 17 races.
Guys like Annett and the Tommy Baldwin hearken back to a type of driver who doesn’t often survive. Somebody who has more in common with that local Saturday night favorite at the dirt track, who by golly, with talent, fortitude and a little bit of luck might just pull an upset someday.
Here’s hoping Annett, Tommy Baldwin and more like them find success. Can it be done in the era of the super team? Don’t tell these guys it can’t be done.