The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report : Ambrose Angling For Solid Finish To 2008 by Bryan Davis Keith and Tony Lumbis -- Monday November 10, 2008

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Sprint Cup Rookie Report : Ambrose Angling For Solid Finish To 2008

Bryan Davis Keith and Tony Lumbis · Monday November 10, 2008


Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Marcos Ambrose (18th), Regan Smith (21st), Sam Hornish, Jr. (33rd), Scott Speed (38th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Marcos Ambrose (18th), Regan Smith (23rd), Sam Hornish, Jr. (33rd), Scott Speed (40th)

Rookie of the Race: Marcos Ambrose. Choosing to forego official Rookie status for 2009 to get the Aussie more track time in a Cup car is a decision that is already making JTG Daugherty Racing look good. Ambrose, who again timed his way into the field this weekend as the second fastest of the go-or-go-homers, enjoyed a largely uneventful run for the majority of Sunday’s race.

Until Lap 274, that is.

On Lap 274, Juan Pablo Montoya made contact with Casey Mears that sent the No. 5 Chevrolet spinning into oncoming traffic. The resulting melee involved every single rookie candidate on track; Regan Smith narrowly dodged the mess, while Sam Hornish, Jr. spun and Ambrose suffered front end damage after making contact with Scott Riggs. Scott Speed got the rawest end of the deal, as he ended up with David Gilliland’s Ford literally resting on the hood of his car.

Despite the damage, Ambrose’s crew managed to keep him on the lead lap, and by race’s end Ambrose scored an 18th place finish, his career best result on an oval and only the third Top 20 finish for the No. 00/No. 47 team this season. Taking official rookie honors was Regan Smith, who finished two laps down in 23rd.

Writer’s Take: After seeing how the No. 00 (now No. 47) chewed up and spat out Michael McDowell earlier this season, I was very skeptical about Marcos Ambrose taking the wheel of this ride full-time. But, three races into his tenure as the team’s full-time driver, Ambrose has raced his way into and finished all of his events; and frankly, he’s provided some of the most stable driving the team has seen since it opened the year with David Reutimann. Ambrose’s involvement in the Lap 274 incident was entirely out of his control, and his ability to power home to a lead lap finish was impressive. I’m still not convinced that Ambrose and the No. 47 team are ready to go Cup racing full-time in 2009, but their performance over the last three weeks has definitely not hurt the stock of NASCAR’s favorite Aussie.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Scott Speed. Sure, Sam Hornish, Jr. took out Elliott Sadler and spun out during the “Big One” on Lap 274. But Scott Speed’s run on Sunday was both uglier and more disappointing than Hornish’s latest struggles. Speed, who took over the No. 84 Red Bull Toyota late this season — which, with A.J. Allmendinger behind the wheel, was among NASCAR’s most improved teams — was slow for the entirety of the race, nearly four laps off the pace when disaster struck. Speed, whose Toyota was engulfed in smoke from cars wrecking in front of him, plowed into the back of David Gilliland’s Ford so hard that he ended up with Gilliland’s car parked on top of his. The devastating wreck left Speed with a 40th place finish and continued his struggles at the Cup level. In four career starts, Speed has yet to crack even the Top 25, while Allmendinger, the man he replaced, has become the “A” performer in the GEM camp. For a driver with the dedicated backing of a billion dollar sponsor, top equipment, and an ego too big for the humble ranks of ARCA, Sunday was just another example of Speed failing to live up to his — and his own — hype.

If they gave out points for style, this wreck between David Gilliland and Scott Speed would rank right up there among the best.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Scott Speed. Forget wreck of the race. Speed’s snowplow move on the No. 38 car may well rival Sam Hornish’s demolition of sand barrels at Watkins Glen for most dramatic wreck of the year. Well, second behind Michael McDowell’s Texas crash, that is.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Patrick Carpentier and Michael McDowell.

Every rookie who attempted the Checker Auto Parts 500 made the show in Phoenix this weekend. Former ROTY contenders Patrick Carpentier and Michael McDowell still remain among the NASCAR missing, however…

Rookie Quote of the Week:
After qualifying, Marcos Ambrose answered a popular question amongst double duty drivers about if the Nationwide series helps their performance in Sprint Cup. He also shares his thoughts on working with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Does running the other race help you out at all?

“No, it actually hurts because the two cars are so much different. I actually didn’t practice the second practice in the Nationwide car just so I didn’t get those bad habits. It’s a balance, sometimes it works for you and sometimes it doesn’t. I think here the two cars are so different I just prefer to keep them separate.”

Are you getting more comfortable with the people you are working with?

“Yeah, they’re out there and they are understanding what I need to go fast and everything so it’s a good combo — and we’re just growing into each other. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Hornish, Jr. 201
Smith 196
Carpentier 184 (DNS)
McDowell 169 (DNS)
Franchitti 97 (DNS)

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Regan Smith: 34th (0)
Sam Hornish, Jr.: 35th (0)
Patrick Carpentier: 38th (0, DNS)
Michael McDowell: 39th (0, DNS)
Aric Almirola: 43rd (-1, DNS)
Marcos Ambrose: 46th (+2)
Dario Franchitti: 49th (0, DNS)
Chad McCumbee: 54th (-2, DNS)
Scott Speed: 55th (0)

Next Up: The final event of the 2008 season is upon us as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Homestead, Florida for the Ford 400. For the rookies, it will put a close on a season that they probably would like to forget, although there is still unfinished business to take care of next week. Sam Hornish, Jr. is the only 2008 R.O.T.Y candidate left who has a guaranteed ride in 2009 and would like to go into the offseason on some kind of high note. His rookie counterpart, Regan Smith, will most likely use this race as one last audition for next year. If DEI cannot find a sponsor for the No. 01 car, Smith will probably not be resigned. Aric Almirola, Marcos Ambrose, and Scott Speed will be looking to use the South Florida event as a springboard into their first full season in NASCAR’s highest level next year.

Qualifying Next Week: It certainly has been a rough year for Regan Smith, but the one positive note is that he has kept his No. 01 in the Top 35 for virtually the entire year, including next week’s event. His teammate, Aric Almirola, will also enjoy that same advantage next week, as his No. 8 team is guaranteed a spot as well. Brad Keselowski is making his second start in the No. 25 Hendrick Chevy and will have to put his car into the field on time. Chad McCumbee, who may be in the No. 45 car full-time in 2009, will also be in that ride at Homestead and will need to qualify as well.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Marcos Ambrose. Tony took note of Ambrose’s quiet, steady approach at Texas that yielded the Nationwide Series regular his best career-oval finish, and believed he could continue that momentum. Ambrose did, posting a career-best Cup oval finish for the second consecutive race.

You Make The Pick: Marcos Ambrose. Great minds think alike.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: Next week will conclude one of the most difficult seasons to predict a top rookie finisher, given the fact that there was no consistent frontrunner in that category and the guy that did take home the honor usually wasn’t even in the Top 20. So for the final time in 2008, I will make my prediction and go with Sam Hornish, Jr. While Smith certainly has the most to gain from a good run this Sunday, I don’t have any confidence in the performance of the DEI cars on an intermediate track. The guy who has been good in that category, however (and I use the term “good” loosely) is Hornish. If this team can avoid bad luck, I think they can pull off the type of finish that will give them some type of hope to get them through the offseason.

Event Track Tony’s Pick Finish Reader’s Pick Finish Top Finishing Rookie Finish
Daytona 500 Daytona Regan Smith 37th Dario Franchitti 33rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 15th
Auto Club 500 California Sam Hornish, Jr. 43rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 43rd Regan Smith 31st
UAW-Dodge 400 Las Vegas Patrick Carpentier 40th Sam Hornish, Jr. 41st Dario Franchitti 33rd
Kobalt Tools 500 Atlanta Dario Franchitti 33rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 25th Sam Hornish, Jr. 25th
Food City 500 Bristol Regan Smith 26th Sam Hornish, Jr. 29th Aric Almirola 8th
Goody’s Cool Orange 500 Martinsville Sam Hornish, Jr. 28th Aric Almirola 42nd Regan Smith 14th
Samsung 500 Texas Regan Smith 35th Michael McDowell / Regan Smith 33rd / 35th Patrick Carpentier 28th
Subway Fresh Fit 500K Phoenix Michael McDowell 34th Michael McDowell 34th Sam Hornish Jr. 20th
Aaron’s 499 Talladega Aric Almirola 33rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 35th Regan Smith 21st
Crown Royal 400 Richmond Patrick Carpentier 43rd Patrick Carpentier 43rd Regan Smith 21st
Dodge Challenger 500 Darlington Regan Smith 29th Regan Smith 29th Michael McDowell 28th
Coca-Cola 600 Lowe’s Michael McDowell 32nd Michael McDowell 32nd Sam Hornish, Jr. 13th
Best Buy 400 Dover Regan Smith 21st Michael McDowell 30th Sam Hornish, Jr. 18th
Pocono 500 Pocono Sam Hornish, Jr. 42nd Sam Hornish, Jr. 42nd Michael McDowell 27th
LifeLock 400 Michigan Regan Smith 32nd Michael McDowell 37th Sam Hornish, Jr. 22nd
Save Mart 350K Infineon Patrick Carpentier 23rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 31st Michael McDowell 21st
Lenox Industrial Tools 301 New Hampshire Regan Smith 27th Marcos Ambrose DNQ Aric Almirola 23rd
Coke Zero 400 Daytona Michael McDowell 25th Patrick Carpentier 14th Patrick Carpentier 14th
LifeLock 400 Chicagoland Michael McDowell 25th Patrick Carpentier 30th Patrick Carpentier 30th
Allstate 400 Indianapolis Sam Hornish, Jr. 37th Patrick Carpentier 18th Patrick Carpentier 18th
Sunoco Red Cross 500 Pocono Regan Smith 25th Sam Hornish, Jr. 26th Chad McCumbee 17th
Centurion Boats At The Glen Watkins Glen Patrick Carpentier 20th Patrick Carpentier 20th Marcos Ambrose 3rd
3M Performance 400 Michigan Sam Hornish, Jr. 22nd Marcos Ambrose 43rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 22nd
Sharpie 500 Bristol Aric Almirola 13th Sam Hornish, Jr. 37th Aric Almirola 13th
Pepsi 500 California Patrick Carpentier 18th Sam Hornish, Jr. 31st Patrick Carpentier 18th
Chevy Rock and Roll 400 Richmond Patrick Carpentier 25th Patrick Carpentier 25th Michael McDowell 20th
Sylvania 300 Loudon Regan Smith 23rd Michael McDowell 27th Michael McDowell 18th
Camping World 400 Dover Michael McDowell 29th Michael McDowell 29th Michael McDowell 29th
Camping World RV 400 Kansas Patrick Carpentier 29th Michael McDowell DNQ Patrick Carpentier 29th
AMP Energy 500 Talladega Regan Smith 18th Patrick Carpentier DNQ Aric Almirola 13th
Bank of America 500 Charlotte Sam Hornish, Jr. 22nd Regan Smith 23rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 22nd
TUMS Quik Pak 500 Martinsville Aric Almirola 20th Regan Smith 42nd Aric Almirola 20th
Pep Boys Auto 500 Atlanta Scott Speed 34th Regan Smith 30th Sam Hornish, Jr. 24th
Dickies 500 Texas Sam Hornish, Jr. 23rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 23rd Brad Keselowski 19th
Checker Auto Parts 500 Phoenix Marcos Ambrose 18th Marcos Ambrose 18th Marcos Ambrose 18th

2008 Score: Tony 8, Readers 6.

Contact Tony Lumbis

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