Tommy Baldwin

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Kasey Kahne still smiling despite recent racing setbacks

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Kasey Kahne’s NASCAR season and career were cut short in September because of dehydration issues. Ten races into his return to driving sprint cars full-time, he was injured and has not competed since late March. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return.

“It’s been a rough year for me and racing,” Kahne tells NBC Sports, standing in his race shop, near one of the sprint cars he should be getting ready to drive. 

Even as he speaks about all the disappointment in the last eight months, he smiles.

“I’m still happy,” Kahne says, shortly after having hugged 3-year-old son Tanner. “I know it won’t be long and I’ll be fine and then, hopefully, these rough years are behind me.”

Kahne smiles again.

Kasey Kahne signs autographs for fans during a recent open house at his race shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It’s the look many NASCAR fans know well. Although Kahne is 39 years old, he looks much like the 23-year-old rookie who grabbed so much attention when he finished second in three of his first seven starts in NASCAR’s premier series. Kahne remains as thin as those days and ready to race. 

He just can’t now because of his undisclosed injury.

So he waits and stays busy.

“I feel like I’m way too young to not work or anything like that,” Kahne says. “Always working on ideas to do.”

As for his racing, Kahne isn’t sure. He was injured in a March 29 flip at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He hopes to be cleared by July 1 so he can spend the summer racing. That way he’ll be better prepared for the Knoxville Nationals (Aug. 7-10). 

If he’s not cleared by July 1, he says he doesn’t anticipate being ready to run at Knoxville a year after his team, Kasey Kahne Racing, won the Nationals with driver Brad Sweet.

Kahne looks forward to racing again based on how the sprint car season started.

“It was really up and down, but we were making a lot of gains and I was making a lot of gains,” Kahne says. “I felt the final two races before I went out for a bit were my best two, and I was heading in the right direction.”

James McFadden will drive Kasey Kahne’s car until Kahne returns. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“I think right now my car that James McFadden is going to drive is going to be awesome for him because we’re in a good direction. I’m really hoping he has a lot of success over the next month or maybe the next two months.”

With being out of the car, Kahne is enjoying more time with friends and family. He watched the All-Star Race. He hosted a barbecue the night of Coca-Cola 600 qualifying last week and spent Sunday watching the races.

Seeing Clint Bowyer swing at Ryan Newman after the All-Star Race brought back a particular memory for Kahne.

“Me and Kevin Harvick got into it once at Phoenix,” Kahne says of their battle for fourth late in Kahne’s rookie year. “We were like running tight, super close. After the race, I bumped him and actually was just saying good race, and I think he was thinking I was mad at him. Instantly, the veteran is going to get pissed, which I totally understand now.

“He’s at my car before I’ve shut it off. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. Then (Kahne’s crew chief) Tommy Baldwin is mad. It was funny how that all worked. That was kind of like we were mad at each other but we weren’t after we talked.”

Last weekend’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought back other memories for Kahne. 

Three of his 18 career Cup wins came in the Coca-Cola 600. His last Cup victory was in 2017 at Indy. He is one of eight drivers who have won both the 600 and Brickyard 400 in their careers. 

Three of those drivers are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame (Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon). A fourth will be inducted in January (Bobby Labonte). Three others are future Hall of Famers (Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick). 

Kahne counts his third Coca-Cola 600 victory as among his most memorable because it was his first with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012.

He recalls much of what happened during his Brickyard 400 win but not much afterward. He was dehydrated after that race, showing signs of what would force him out of the car in 2018.

“The problem with the Brickyard is that I was do dehydrated and stuff and throwing up and just felt horrible and all I wanted to do was to go to sleep and I didn’t get to enjoy the win,” Kahne says. “It took until Wednesday before I even felt halfway decent.”

His condition became more challenging and led to last year’s Southern 500 being his final Cup race.

“An hour to go in that race, I said you better never do this again,” Kahne recalls of that race where he battled dehydration and went to the infield care center after finishing 24th. “This is not good.

“Then after I felt better like the next Friday, I was like I need to race some more.”

Kasey Kahne signs diecast cars for a fan at Kasey Kahne Racing’s open house earlier in May. (Photo: Dustin Long)

He didn’t get the chance in NASCAR. The longer races made it challenging for his body because he was sweating so much. He announced in October that he had not been cleared to race the rest of the season. Having previously said 2018 would be his last in Cup, his career in that series ended. 

While he can’t compete in the long races of NASCAR, the shorter sprint car races are not a problem for Kahne.

He looks forward to getting back into the car. Although Tanner, who has enjoyed all the extra time with his father, expressed other feelings the other day.

“He doesn’t like me getting into race cars any more,” Kahne says. “If I get in one, he tells me to get out. Just because he’s glad that I’m home and not racing.

“I know he likes racing. He had fun when we were at the track.”

Kahne can’t wait to go back as a driver instead of just a car owner.

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Elliott Sadler to be entered in Daytona 500

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Elliott Sadler will seek to qualify for the Daytona 500 for Tommy Baldwin Racing, the team announced Thursday. Golden Corral will sponsor the car.

Sadler, who competes full-time in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, joins TBR for the Daytona 500. Tommy Baldwin Racing sold its charter after last season and is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 26 season-opening race.

“This is a great opportunity for me and everyone affiliated with Tommy Baldwin Racing,” Sadler said in a release from the team. “I love the Daytona 500 and to have Tommy and Golden Corral offer me this opportunity is awesome. Tommy and I have known each other a long time. We actually won a qualifying race for the Daytona 500 together back in 2006. We’re gonna rekindle some of that magic and work our tails off to get our car in the race. I know Tommy is putting a lot of effort into this and we’re gonna go out and get the best result we possibly can for him and TBR’s partners.”

Said Baldwin, who was Sadler’s crew chief when they were at Robert Yates Racing: “We look forward to having Elliott join TBR and Golden Corral for the upcoming Daytona 500. Elliott has always been a strong restrictor-plate racer which makes this a great opportunity for everyone involved.” 

Sadler last competed in the Daytona 500 in 2012. He’s made 13 starts in that event with a best finish of second in 2002. Sadler’s last competed in the Cup series in 2013. He ran five races that season. He competed full-time in the Cup series from 1999-2010. He’s run the full Xfinity schedule since 2011.

Tommy Baldwin Racing to compete in NASCAR modified series

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Tommy Baldwin Racing announced plans Wednesday to compete in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with driver Donny Lia.

It’s a return for Baldwin to his roots. His father raced modifieds and won 54 races with the car number 7NY. Baldwin’s team will use that number with Lia, a two-time series champion, this season.

“This (modifieds) was my introduction to racing,” Baldwin said in a statement from the team. “As a kid it’s really all that I knew. Watching and then ultimately working with my dad not only taught me the technical side, but gave me a competitive spirit. He always said ‘there is no replacement for winning.’

“When I moved to North Carolina, I took my roots with me. I knew that at some point, at some level, I would be back involved with modifieds. I stay in contact with and follow the series regularly. It’s always been an important part of my life and now I will have the opportunity to enjoy great memories and create new ones. With a great driver like Donny behind the wheel, the 7NY team is excited for our first race.”

Tommy Baldwin Racing had fielded NASCAR Cup entries from 2009-16 but won’t compete in the series this season. Baldwin sold his team’s charter to Leavine Family Racing.

Baldwin’s modified team is scheduled to compete in the following series races:

3/18

Myrtle Beach Speedway 

4/30 

Stafford Motor Speedway 

6/14 

Thompson Speedway

7/14

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Race of Champions

7/15 

New Hampshire Motor Speedway 

8/4

Stafford Motor Speedway 

8/9

Thompson Speedway 

9/2

Oswego Speedway

9/16

Riverhead Raceway 

9/23

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Wheeling and dealing keeps Sprint Cup owners busy

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Deep in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, well away from the championship contending teams, a race for survival takes place.

Owners seek partners. Others look to sell or buy a charter, the sport’s golden ticket that guarantees a revenue stream and a starting spot in every race.

The movement is taking place because of a performance clause with the charters.

If a chartered team finishes in the bottom three among the 36 chartered teams in the owner standings three consecutive years, NASCAR has the right to remove that charter. Although the first year with this system isn’t yet complete, teams aren’t waiting to act.

“Let’s face it, anybody in the bottom three is exploring all their options right now,’’ car owner Archie St. Hilaire told NBC Sports on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.

St. Hilaire’s Go Fas Racing team ranks last in the standings among charter teams. He seeks a partnership. He is willing to lease his charter and partner with another chartered team if that will help his team grow.

That’s just among the many movements taking place. Leavine Family Racing is expected to purchase the charter from Tommy Baldwin Racing after this season. Leavine Family Racing has been partnered with Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing this year and used Falk’s charter.

Falk told NBC Sports that NASCAR viewed his action as leasing the charter. Owners can lease their charter only once in five years. That means Falk must keep his charter and partner with a team without one or sell the charter after this season.

“You’ve got too many sellers and not any buyers, so the price is dropping,’’ Falk said of the charters. “It’s dropped dramatically on what some people have been able to acquire one. Even if (a team has) an investor who is willing to put up the $3-5 million to buy one, it won’t work unless a sponsor comes along.’’

There’s even more movement that could take place. Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports for the No. 46 team this year. That charter must be returned after this season. Furniture Row Racing is expected to secure a charter for next season for the No. 77 car that will have Erik Jones as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr. The Wood Brothers remain without a charter.

As all that swirls in the sport, St. Hilaire, who said his team has a $5 million budget, knows he must react.

“To really stay out the bottom three I think $10 million is a key number,’’ he said. “We’ve got to get that thing to $10 million to be competitive.’’

The team, which has had seven different drivers this year, has a best finish of 19th by Bobby Labonte at Talladega in May. Labonte is in the car this weekend.

St. Hilaire acknowledges his team is young. His joint venture with Fas Lane Racing began in 2014. Still, he wants better results.

“I need to peak that fun meter a little more,’’ St. Hilaire said. “Thank God I don’t live off this business. I do it for fun, and I’m not having a lot of fun right now,’’ he added with a chuckle.

Even so, St. Hilaire remains committed to the sport and hopeful his team’s performance can improve.

“It’s nothing money can’t fix,’’ he said. “Money buys speed in this business, no doubt about it. We just need an affiliation, which we’re shopping like hell for.’’

St. Hilaire said he hopes to have an idea in the next month what direction he’ll go.

“All options are on the table to make the team better,’’ he said. “We’re going to go racing. I just got to look at how and where.’’

That’s similar to what car owner Tommy Baldwin told NBC Sports this week, saying he was “exploring all my opportunities’’ for the team’s future.

“If you don’t have the money to keep up with the Joneses, you’re going to be left behind,’’ Baldwin said. “If you told me eight years ago when I first started this team I would be pretty much in the same spot as when I started, I would have told you that you were crazy. This sport has taken off so much here as far as how smart we’ve all gotten. It’s not that we don’t know how to do it, it’s just that we don’t have the money to apply the proper resources to do it.’’

Any deal likely will not be finalized until after the season and some might not get done until January, depending on how quickly teams move. Falk notes that he and Leavine decided to partner last December. NASCAR announced the charter system Feb. 9. Falk was granted a charter but Leavine’s team did not qualify. That made their pairing even better for this season.

So why doesn’t Falk sell his charter to Leavine? Falk admits he wants to have some hand in a team, while he said Leavine wants 100 percent control. Falk admits they still might be together next year if a sponsor can be found for a second car.

If not, Falk will be looking for a partner.

“Still something might pop up at (Richard Childress Racing) where they need another car,’’ said Falk, who has been aligned with Childress. “I’ve got a lot of things working. I’ve also got some things you wouldn’t expect. There’s a lot of stuff going on right now.’’

One thing he said he might consider is partnering with Curtis Key of The Motorsports Group, which does not have a charter for the No. 30 car.

“I truly don’t know what I’m going to do,’’ Falk said. “I wish I did. Curtis Key and I are from Chesapeake (Virginia). We’ve known each other our whole life. I don’t really have a problem going over there to help Curtis. We have to have sponsorship.

“At the end of the day, Curtis Key has everything sitting there, he’s got a very nice shop and his cars all come from Stewart-Haas. He’s got a relationship with Hendrick. I’ve got a relationship with Childress. It would be easy to make it work, but we cannot make it work without sponsorship.’’

Sprint Cup car owner Tommy Baldwin ‘exploring all my opportunities’ for team’s future

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Unsure about his organization’s future, team owner Tommy Baldwin met with his employees Monday “so I can give them the options if they needed to go find a job.’’

Baldwin told NBC Sports in an exclusive interview Tuesday that “I’m exploring all my opportunities right now. I’m trying to figure everything out.’’

He hopes to have his plans solidified by some point in December. Among the options, there is one thing Baldwin said he won’t do.

“I would never shut down,’’ said Baldwin, whose team debuted in the Cup series in 2009. “Don’t use that word. The options are keep going or sell. That’s the only two options we have.’’

Baldwin admits he’s given his employees a similar message “in six out of the eight years” of the team and always made it to the next season.

But Baldwin concedes that it is becoming more difficult for a small team like Tommy Baldwin Racing.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Crew chief Tommy Baldwin poses during 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crew Chief portraits at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Although Tommy Baldwin Racing has competed in NASCAR’s top series since 2009, car owner Tommy Baldwin told NBC Sports that it is become more challenging to be competitive. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“The technology has just increased,’’ Baldwin said. “Everyone has just become smarter. The race teams, with Michael Waltrip Racing shutting down (after the 2015 season) and some other things, it put a lot good people, dispersed a lot of good people to different teams. Everyone had to spend a lot more money to keep up with the Gibbs and Hendrick programs.

“It’s funny to me how everyone thinks our racing is not good. This is the most competitive that NASCAR has ever been.’’

Baldwin admits it has been a struggle at times for the team and driver Regan Smith.

“I think we’ve been competitive at times,’’ Baldwin said. “I think we’ve been really bad at times. It’s been a competitive roller coaster. This year is probably one of the best race teams that we’ve assembled, it’s been a great group of guys that have worked for TBR. There’s a lot of pluses that we have going on, but again, it’s the almighty dollar that is talking.

“If you don’t have the money to keep up with the Joneses, you’re going to be left behind. If you told me eight years ago when I first started this team I would be pretty much in the same spot as when I started, I would have told you that you were crazy. This sport has taken off so much here as far as how smart we’ve all gotten. It’s not that we don’t know how to do it, it’s just that we don’t have the money to apply the proper resources to do it.’’

Baldwin has one of the 36 charters granted to Sprint Cup teams at the beginning of this season. That adds value to his organization, ensuring that his team — or whoever purchases the charter, if that happens — would be in every Cup points race.

Baldwin’s car is 32nd in the car owner point standings, ahead of five other teams that have charters (another team below Baldwin’s leased its charter for this season).

Smith is 33rd in the driver standings. He finished a season-best third at Pocono in August. His only other top-10 finish this year has been an eighth-place result in the Daytona 500.

Tommy Baldwin Racing debuted in 2009, competing in 25 races. The team had five drivers: Michael McDowell (eight races), Scott Riggs (eight), Patrick Carpentier (four), Mike Skinner (four) and Robert Richardson (one).

The organization continued to use a variety of drivers in 2010 before Dave Blaney ran 34 races in 2011. Blaney was with the team through 2013.

Tommy Baldwin Racing expanded to two full-time cars in 2012. Danica Patrick, in partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing, ran 10 races where Baldwin was listed as the car owner. Tommy Baldwin Racing ran two cars through 2014 before selling the assets of the second car (the No. 36 team) to Premium Motorsports.

Before becoming a team owner, Baldwin was a crew chief. He won five Cup races as a crew chief, including the 2001 Southern 500 and 2002 Daytona 500 with Ward Burton.