The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Carpentier Captures Top Honors at Daytona by Tony Lumbis -- Monday July 7, 2008

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Editor’s Note: Remember that all finishing positions were based on the unofficial results from Saturday night’s race. NASCAR will release the official results sometime around noon EST on Monday, which could cause adjustments based on how they review the final running order of this restrictor plate event.

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Regan Smith (8th), Patrick Carpentier (10th), Michael McDowell (21st), Jon Wood (22nd), Sam Hornish, Jr. (42nd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Patrick Carpentier (14th), Regan Smith (24th), Michael McDowell (25th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (29th), Jon Wood (33rd)

Rookie of the Race: Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier followed up his first career pole at New Hampshire last week with another strong Top 10 qualifying effort for the Coke Zero 400. However, the rookie’s 10th quickest time on Friday did not come without the aide of an aggressive qualifying setup by his team, which sits outside of the Top 35 in owner points. For that reason, the Auto Value / Bumper-to-Bumper Dodge would drop from the Top 25 almost immediately following the green flag, and would not return to that section of the scoring pylon until the very end of the night.

But in between, all was not lost for this fast improving rookie. Crew chief Mike Shiplett, well aware of the short run setup on his car, would spend the rest of the night making adjustments that he hoped would send his driver to the front… and he was successful. After gaining much-needed experience running within the restrictor plate pack, Carpentier would emerge from the rolling junkyard in the final laps to finish in the 14th position, his career best and second highest finishing rookie honor of the season. (The Canadian’s previous best finish was a 22nd place last year at Watkins Glen.)

Other Notes: For the first time this season, all Rookie of the Year candidates finished on the lead lap. Jon Wood crossed the finish line seven laps down, but he is not running for the award in 2008.

Tony’s Take: Don’t look now, but Patrick Carpentier is starting to show some signs of momentum. Last week, Gillett Evernham Motorsports’ rookie entry shocked the garage area when he placed this No. 10 Charger on the pole at New Hampshire, where only brake problems stood in the way of what could have been a Top 10 performance. Prior to that, Carpentier had two Top 25s at Michigan and the road course in Infineon, his first such finishes of 2008. Who would’ve thought that this team, which does not have a full-time sponsor and started the season with two straight DNQs, would be starting to make some noise at the halfway point while 2007 Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti is without a ride? This is why we race every Sunday; because no matter what the so-called experts predict in February, you never know how the season is going to play out.

Rocky Rookie Performance: The Wood Brothers Team. For the second straight start this year, Jon Wood was forced to pull his No. 21 ride onto pit road early so his team could reverse the overly aggressive setup on his Ford Fusion needed to qualify for the race (a similar occurrence happened in Talladega this April). It’s just painful to watch the famed Wood Brothers — who fielded cars for legends such as David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, and Neil Bonnett, now struggle to simply make the field while mired in the 43rd spot in owner points. I’m sure this is not the situation Glen Wood had envisioned for his grandson so many years ago; so, let’s hope this class act can pull out of this slump, because the team’s very survival may depend on some consistent performances from whoever’s behind the wheel in the season’s second half.

Once again, Sam Hornish, Jr. saw a good run go bad at Daytona; this time, the culprit was getting caught up in the Big One on the final lap of the race.

Rookie Wreck of the Weekend: Sam Hornish, Jr. In the closing laps of Saturday evening’s race, Hornish seemed poised to best his 15th place finish from the Daytona 500 earlier this year. The No. 77 was actually inside the Top 15 when the No. 28 of Travis Kvapil moved down the track and into Hornish, setting off the multi-car wreck that occurred on the final lap of the race. “I don’t even know where to start,” remarked a dejected Hornish following the Independence Weekend classic. “I think I finished with four flat tires. Man, it was pretty nuts out there for a little while. Everybody knows it’s coming down to the end there, and it’s green-white-checker and all that stuff, and just the way it turned out was unfortunate for us. I thought we had a pretty good car. We probably should have been a Top 10 car. It was what it was tonight.” For the second race in a row, Hornish has found himself involved in the wreck that directly impacted the end of the event.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Dario Franchitti
It looks like this it will be awhile before the Scotsman is seen again on this Rookie Report, as Chip Ganassi made the difficult decision to shut down the No. 40 team last week after the proper funding could not be secured after months of searching. Franchitti has not yet announced the details of his future plans, but Ganassi has reportedly offered the rookie the No. 40 Nationwide Series ride for the rest of the season. Franchitti becomes the second rookie this year (Jacques Villeneuve) to have his team shut down due to financial constraints.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
Patrick Carpentier and Dario Franchitti represent the tale of two rookies whose NASCAR careers are headed in opposite directions. Carpentier shares his excitement over his career best finish at Daytona in these quotes, while Franchitti reacts to losing his Sprint Cup ride due to the difficult economic times for his team.

Patrick Carpentier

“It was amazing. I mean, we started with a qualifying car and took awhile to change it, but the last 60 laps it really came alive and the guys did a good job in the pits. And we had some power, so it was good. I’ve got to thank Dodge and Auto Value. It was fun, it was so much fun to be part of it at the end when you can race your way out. I was trying to hold it Wide Open no matter what so it was cool [laughs].”

Q: Have you raced like that before? Cars were bumping and banging together and going so fast.

“I’ve never seen that [laughs]. It almost becomes normal… but not really. It was fun. The cars are so hard to drive. They’re loose and sideways and the trick that did it for us at the end was we put some stickers on — so we gained a lot of places the last couple of laps and we came through the wreck. I was right behind the No. 43 when we exited the wreck in Turn 1, so hopefully we’re good.”

Dario Franchitti

“This is not a decision he made lightly, and it shows how bad the economy is,” Franchitti told The Associated Press. “And you certainly never want to see all those people lose their jobs. I know for certain Chip struggled with that — I didn’t even recognize his voice when he called me to tell me what he had to do.

On whether he’ll take a Nationwide Series ride or go back over to the IRL:
“I made a big commitment coming over here, and I’d like to get in an opportunity to be successful.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Hornish, Jr. 170
Smith 166
Carpentier 140
McDowell 120
Franchitti 97

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Sam Hornish, Jr.: 33rd (0)
Regan Smith: 34th (0)
Patrick Carpentier: 37th (+1)
Michael McDowell: 39th (0)
Dario Franchitti: 41st (0 – DNS)
Aric Almirola: 47th (-1 – DNS)

Qualifying Next Week: With Franchitti out of the mix, Patrick Carpentier becomes the only rookie who will have to qualify on time next week at Chicagoland. However, he could have company soon as the teams of Regan Smith, Michael McDowell, and Sam Hornish, Jr. are 33rd, 34th, and 35th respectively in owner points.

Next Up: After the nose-to-tail, side-by-side, four way action experienced this past week, the Sprint Cup Series will take a bit of a breather as they will compete on the wide surface of the mile-and-a-half Chicagoland Speedway. While the track has been labeled as a “cookie cutter” venue, it is not quite like any other track seen to this point on the 2008 schedule. So even this deep in the season, the rookies will be faced with yet a new challenge as they learn to navigate the 18 degrees of banking outside of the Windy City.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Michael McDowell. Michael McDowell and crew chief Bill Pappas were playing a little bit of strategy late in the game, as the No. 00 came down pit road for fresh rubber during one of the event’s final cautions. However, McDowell never got much of a chance to utilize his advantage and could only emerge from the wreckfest in the 25th position, third best of the Rookie of the Year candidates.

You Make The Pick: What a great rebound from the DNQ last week, as a whopping 56% of you correctly chose Patrick Carpentier as the Rookie of the Year candidate to finish first among the rookies. Looks like you saw the momentum building in the No. 10 camp and took advantage of it; the studious pick now puts you ahead of me 2-0 at the season’s halfway mark.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: Sam Hornish, Jr. ran very well at Michigan in June, the last time the series raced on one of these wide tracks with multiple grooves and long, sweeping turns. I think he’ll duplicate that success next week at Chicagoland; only this time, Hornish will avoid late race trouble and come home as the highest finishing rookie in the 400.

2008 Rookie Prediction Table

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

2008 Score: Readers 2, Tony 0.

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