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Long Island's Tommy Baldwin ready for Daytona 500

Ryan Truex drives the #36 Tommy Baldwin Racing

Ryan Truex drives the #36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway. (Feb. 23, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Tommy Baldwin, a native of Bellport, is a NASCAR team owner who will have a driver in Sunday's Daytona 500.

His father, the late Tom Baldwin, is a former champion NASCAR modified driver who raced on all of Long Island's vintage tracks.  In doing so, he exposed his son to auto racing at a very young age.

Baldwin, 45, has experience in nearly every facet of racing, from mechanic to driver. He is a former  crew chief who won the Daytona 500 in 2002 with driver Ward Burton. He formed his own NASCAR Sprint Cup team - Tommy Baldwin Racing - in 2009. Trading Paint caught up with Baldwin via phone from Daytona two days before the big race.

Trading Paint: You transferred ownership points to owner-driver Tony Stewart to ensure that Danica Patrick would get into the Daytona 500, but then your driver (Dave Blaney) qualified anyway. How do you feel about the big race?

Tommy Baldwin: We feel really good about the race. We know we have a good car. We always look forward to this race. David is a good restrictor plate racer. We just want to have a good race on Sunday. You definitely have to have a good car and you have to earn the trust of the guys who run upfront all day long. That's half the battle.

TP: How will Danica Patrick do in NASCAR?

TB: IndyCars and stock cars are completely different. Gone are the days when someone is going to come over, jump in a Cup car and go fast. You want to progress slowly and drive as many laps as you can. She has taken small steps the last few years and that's the right way to do it. The big tell will be when she shows up at Darlington, they will have done a lot of testing by then.

TP: Tell us a little bit about your racing background

TB: I learned the ropes at Riverhead. Fans should be going there every Saturday night. Riverhead has tough competition week in and week out. I think that competition at Riverhead really helped prepare me for NASCAR. I also have some great memories from Freeport and Islip. We ran at Westhampton, Freeport, Islip.

TP: Long Island has lost all of its tracks, other than Riverhead. Why?

TB: I think we lost those tracks because of land development. The economy was growing and those places were just overtaken by bigger projects. But the type of that went on there was exciting. The competition was so fierce. You had to work so hard all the time to win those races. It's great racing in Riverhead. There aren't many short tracks where you can see two wide racing.

TP: Why doesn't NASCAR have the same penetration on Long Island that it does in other places?

TB: On Long Island, we are in our own little world. We have beaches. We have the Yankees and Mets. The Jets and Giants. It's hard to get out of that world some times. Dover is only four hours away. Pocono is only two hours away. Fans should go see a Sprint Cup race. Or just go to Riverhead over the summer.

TP: Did you play other sports as a kid?

TB: I played baseball growing up. But my main focus was racing since I was eight or nine years old. Once I got the racing bug that was it. I've been on the road with racing since I was 14 years old. But I was a fan of both the Mets and Yankees. I like all New York teams. I've spent a lot time in Yankee Stadium. I am a Giants fan, a Yankees fan and a Knicks fan. I've been watching Jeremy Lin and what he's doing. How can you not get caught up with how he's been playing. He's everywhere.

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