Burton is ecstatic and relieved over keeping Baldwin. "Tommy's impact on our Caterpillar team is obvious in terms of performance," says Burton, "but there are other attributes that people don't see. With an upbeat attitude, he has boosted my confidence and that of the team. As a driver, I've got more confidence in him than just about any crew chief I've ever driven for, and we have a trust we can build on. Tommy has created a positive environment in which all of us feel we're moving forward every day
"The fact that other people in the garage want him is a real compliment to what he has done for our team in about a year. He and I, Davis, engine specialist Terry Elledge, and Caterpillar are committed to achieving the consistency it takes to win races and championships."
Davis, who has fielded a Winston Cup team for seven years, is no stranger to losing key people, especially to Hendrick. Gordon, who drove Davis' Busch Grand National cars and whom Davis had planned to take to Winston Cup, signed with Hendrick and took Evernham with him. Bobby Labonte drove two years for Davis before moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, where his star has risen
Davis, reportedly unhappy over Hendrick attempting to "steal" Baldwin-though he reserves comment-says, "This is easy to say now, but I thought all along that Tommy would stay with us. He's smart and has weighed the options on what he can build here and what he can inherit there, what he can get credit for here and not get credit for there. Naturally, I am real happy with his decision, but I'm not surprised
"I had been watching Tommy since 1996, how he worked and what impact he had on the program he was in. My friend, (Busch driver) Elton Sawyer, drove a Winston Cup car owned by the late Harry Ranier and prepared by Baldwin in the season finale at Atlanta. Elton says it was the best Winston Cup car he'd ever driven and that I should keep an eye on Baldwin."
"When we had to make a crew chief change, Tommy was my man," Davis continues. "He was the only candidate I interviewed, and in terms of mechanical and engineering knowledge and racing savvy, he's strong. But what he brings to the table above all is his enthusiasm, ambition, and drive. Racing is all about people. We're still racing the same cars and motors with many of the same people for two or three years.
The Chemistry Thing
Tommy has helped Ward tremendously. Ward decided, for whatever reason, that he is going to listen to Tommy, and that bonding and relationship were evident in 1999. I think Ward has as much driving ability and Tommy as much mechanical knowledge and enthusiasm as anybody in the garage, though they still have a lot to learn."
Baldwin and Burton, both 38, meshed quickly. In the remaining eight races of 1998 with Baldwin aboard, Burton finished second at Charlotte; in the top 10 three times; no worse than 14th six times; and advanced from 20th to a career-high 16th ranking in points.
Well, how did Baldwin accomplish the turnaround? "The first thing I did was build Ward's confidence by convincing him that he could still drive a race car," says Baldwin, who wasn't personally acquainted with Burton but knew he was a top driver. "I doubt that Ward had ever heard of me, but I worked with him and showed him, with computerized stuff, what he could do. He was driving the wheels off the cars every lap, and he didn't need to do that. He changed his driving style, and that's what's going to take us to the top-five level.
"My dad taught me to take control of things I want. I've always been aggressive about what I want to do and how to get there. I'm the first to admit there is no 'I' in the word team. When I came to Davis, there wasn't a team. There were a couple of cliques, and it took three or four months before we all meshed and became one toward a common goal. I didn't come in with a broom to clean house and didn't make major changes. We were lucky that we ran very well from the start. That helped the guys believe in me."