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Baldwin serving Modified fans all summer long

June 09, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Host of Cup Series drivers 'excited' about shifting at Pocono; Truex goes green

Sprint Cup team owner Tommy Baldwin's career foundation is in Modified racing, a brand of motor sport that thrives in the northeast on both asphalt and dirt tracks.

And while Baldwin's done yeoman's work this season in getting his No. 36 Chevrolet driven by Dave Blaney into a locked-in position in the Sprint Cup owners' top 35, he's also created a couple connections to his Modified racing past.

Baldwin, who started his Cup team in 2009 and is racing it full-time this season, fielded a second car on a very limited basis, including his first Modified retro paint scheme last season. That was a tribute to the late, great nine-time NASCAR Modified champion Richie Evans. Baldwin had plans to do the same thing at Daytona later this summer.

The No. 35 is now slated for five races this season.

"After meeting with Geoff and TBR, we knew that this sponsorship was meant to be. Sometimes you just know when things are right. "

--JIM BARFIELD

But a slowdown in the finances needed to race the car, plus the good timing of another former Modified standout, former Cup Rookie of the Year Geoff Bodine, will put the No. 35 on the track for five races, while deferring the Modified tribute car until this fall.

Bodine, with the backing of Luke Associates, a healthcare provider for the U.S. military that is expanding into national and local healthcare systems, will race Baldwin's second car at Daytona in July, Talladega and Charlotte in October and Texas and Homestead in November.

"I met Rich Hall, chief financial officer and chief information officer at Luke & Associates, at a car show in Daytona Beach recently," Bodine said. "My business partner, Rob Amos and I were there promoting Geoff Bodine's Waxing Frenzy and selling raffle tickets for The Alzheimer's Foundation of Brevard County.

"Rob mentioned my desire to return to Sprint Cup competition, and that's where it all began. I'm excited with this opportunity and can't wait to get started."

Bodine made his Cup debut in 1979, in a car owned by Dick Bahre. Over his 26-year NASCAR career, the Chemung, N.Y., native collected 18 wins, including the 1986 Daytona 600, 100 top-five finishes and led more than 8,600 laps. Bodine, 62, is ranked 16th all-time with 37 career poles.

"We are looking forward to a great partnership with Geoff, Tommy and his team and NASCAR," said Jim Barfield, president and CEO of Luke. "After meeting with Geoff and TBR, we knew that this sponsorship was meant to be. Sometimes you just know when things are right."

"It's great that we got a new, fast-growing company involved in NASCAR," Baldwin said. "Luke has the same vision and ethics as we do at TBR, and we are really excited to help them grow their business as we grow ours."

Doing the deal with Bodine and Luke buys Baldwin some more time to raise the money he needs to race his planned tribute to the late Modified legend, Len Boehler, whose "Ole Blue" No. 3 car was a fixture at the front of the field and a multiple championship ride.

Former Modified driver Steve Park, who's won races in all three NASCAR national tours, will now drive the Boehler tribute car in an even more appropriate location than Daytona -- namely, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September's Sylvania 300. Boehler's car won four races at NHMS, including three in 1996.

Park also has four victories at the mile track, including Modified Tour wins in 1995 and 1996, when "Ole Blue" finished second.

A team release indicated it had raised only $3,000 of a $100,000 goal needed to run the complete race. For each contribution starting at $20, fans will have the opportunity to add their name to the Boehler tribute car, with all proceeds exceeding $100,000 to be donated by TBR to the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

"We needed to buy more time to get more fans involved," Baldwin said. "We haven't raised near enough money yet. We picked a New England race to try to get more fans of Modified racing involved, which is our goal."

"I'm excited about racing the tribute in New Hampshire," Park said. "I consider NHMS my home track [and] really attribute NHMS being one of the reasons why I made it to the high levels of NASCAR. Before New Hampshire, people from New England never had a place to showcase their talent. With the track being built, it gave the Modified racers, including myself, Tommy and Bono [Manion, Jamie McMurray's crew chief] a chance to show the NASCAR Cup guys our talent."

Shifting gears

Depending on how long they've been around the Cup Series, a good number of drivers are excited about this weekend's 5-Hour Energy 500 at Pocono Raceway for a simple reason -- shifting. Thanks to NASCAR expanding teams' available rear-gear ratios for the flat, 2.5-mile track, shifting -- mostly likely twice a lap -- will be the fastest way to get around the track.

"We will probably shift twice around the track. That is how it was back when Bobby won those races."

--FRANK KERR

Last weekend at Kansas Speedway, Greg Biffle was absolutely giddy about the thought of being able to shift at Pocono. Biffle said "everyone" would be shifting and that the process would definitely make the racing more interesting for the drivers. Clint Bowyer made a face and said he didn't know anything about it -- but at that time he was more concerned with trying to win at his home race track, which he did on Saturday in the Truck Series.

Count Bobby Labonte, a three-time Pocono winner who swept both races at the Tricky Triangle in 1999 and won again in 2001, among those who are looking forward to shifting.

"I've had a lot of success at Pocono," said Labonte, who has five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in addition to his three Pocono victories. "It's a strange track with obviously three distinct type corners. This year NASCAR is letting us go back to a gear ratio that we can shift with, that's different from the past and a lot of guys haven't done that.

"This race will have more wear and tear on equipment than we have seen in the past couple of years, as far as reliability with transmissions and engines go. So, we have to be prepared for that. It's a matter of the durability of our equipment, to make sure it is as durable as possible to handle it for 500 miles."

"It's good to have a guy like Bobby that has experience," crew chief Frank Kerr said. "We will probably shift twice around the track. That is how it was back when Bobby won those races. Having the experience of knowing that you can shift and where to shift will help, along with taking care of the motor."

Truex goes green

Rusty Wallace talked about doing it and multiple team owner Jack Roush took the step of mounting solar panels atop his North Carolina shop complex that generates enough power for more than 15 average homes for a year. Count a multi-faceted Sprint Cup driver as the latest to make the step as Martin Truex Jr. Motorsports has announced the construction and implementation of a system of solar panels on their roof in Mooresville, N.C.

Argand Energy Solutions of Charlotte, N.C., designed and built the 61-kilowatt solar electric system consisting of 192 solar modules manufactured by SunPower Corp. Each panel generates 318 watts of clean electricity. The system is large enough to power about seven average U.S. homes for an entire year. While the energy generated will be sent back to Duke Power's grid, the system will offset about 75 percent of the building's electricity use.

"Renewable energy is an excellent way to lessen our dependency on foreign resources [and] our plan is to continue focusing on opportunities in the eco-friendly space" Truex said. "It's kind of cool to know that we're generating power from MTJ Motorsports and sending it back to the power company versus using it."

NASCAR fans can visit MTJ Motorsports to see first-hand how the solar power system works and the energy that it's generating. The company hopes that their involvement in renewable energy generation will influence race fans to consider energy alternatives that are available to them and a more "green" lifestyle.

"If we all participated in alternative energy sources at some level, together we'd have a tremendous impact in conservation," Truex said.

Hamlin sporty at Pocono

Denny Hamlin has more Sprint Cup Series wins at Pocono, and despite his high hopes for the 13-race run to the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there's nowhere on the circuit that would be a better place for the Virginian to nab a win.

Hamlin made a stunning Victory Lane debut in his rookie season, 2006, winning from the pole at Pocono in June and then following with a duplicate performance a month later. Hamlin, 30, earned his third Pocono win in August 2009 and he was dominant again last summer, leading 88 of 204 laps to score his fourth Pocono victory, in June's rain-delayed race. He's tallied a total of seven top-five and eight top-10 finishes in his 10 career Cup starts at the 2.5-mile triangle.

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"It's tough to say [why I've had so much success at Pocono], because we've won there in different cars, different lines -- the patch is no longer a huge advantage like it used to be in Turn 3 and I run a much different line than what other guys run," Hamlin said. "I just search around and seem to find what works. The thing is, though, I've got cars good enough to where I can run 80 percent all day and still be able to keep up with the guys. That's what makes it easy for me to look really good is the fact that I don't have to push my car over the limit and it still has speed."

Wonder how he likes shifting? But Hamlin has a definite idea of what he and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team can do between now and Richmond.

"My goal right now, if I had to set out where I want to be going into Richmond, I'd like to be top five in points," Hamlin said. "Fifth is a good number and a feasible goal where we can reach. If we go on a run and win every race, sure we can be first, but a feasible goal is to be top five so we don't have to race our way into Richmond. That's the goal.

"We don't want to have to go to Richmond and still not know whether we're going to be in the Chase or not. We need to be consistent and we need to learn how to finish races consistently in the top five, not top 10 -- top five. Obviously, we are getting better and our cars are getting better. I'm pretty sure we're going to be good and in that position when we get to Richmond and not panicking whatsoever. We've made up a lot of distance in these last few weeks, so we have to keep that going."

Shuffling drivers

J.J. Yeley was entered in both NASCAR national series races this weekend, the Cup event at Pocono and the Truck Series race at Texas. But Wednesday, promising newcomer Tim Andrews was named to drive the No. 73 Tagsby Motorsports Chevrolet that had been entered for Yeley, who'll stand pat in his normal No. 46 Whitney Motorsports Chevrolet at Pocono.

For the second consecutive weekend, Robby Gordon will pass up driving his No. 7 after naming Scott Wimmer to stand-in in the car that's 36th in the owners' standings but will be a guaranteed starter since the 35th-place Wood Brothers' Ford isn't entered.