The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Carpentier Strong, But Hornish Steals The Show At Michigan by Tony Lumbis -- Monday August 18, 2008

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Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Patrick Carpentier (6th), Regan Smith (8th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (23rd), Marcos Ambrose (29th), Brad Coleman (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Sam Hornish, Jr. (22nd), Regan Smith (29th), Patrick Carpentier (30th), Brad Coleman (38th), Marcos Ambrose (43rd)

Rookie of the Race: Sam Hornish, Jr. On lap two of Sunday’s event, it certainly didn’t look like Hornish would be taking home rookie honors at the 3M Performance 400. That’s when the No. 77 Dodge slid up into the wall coming off of turn two; as he lost control, the concrete swiped the side of his vehicle, luckily providing only cosmetic damage. As the race wound on, the Ohio native continued to battle a slick race track that both he and crew chief Chris Carrier did not expect based off their recent trip to the Irish Hills of Michigan back in June. Hornish lost a lap and could never break the Top 25 until the end of the day, when he charged to a 22nd place finish. That earned him the rookie honors for the seventh time this season, and his first since visiting this venue earlier this year.

Tony’s Take: It certainly didn’t contain the impressive stints he had in his June performance, but Sam Hornish, Jr. salvaged a good day on Sunday afternoon after a mediocre run for most of the race. Basically, he accomplished what pretty much every Rookie of the Year candidate has had to do to take home the honors this year, and that is finish in the Top 25. What is more important for Hornish at this point is he opened up some space on the hard-charging Patrick Carpentier in the ROTY standings, also regaining some of the ground he lost in the owner’s standings last week to maintain his “locked in” qualifying spot.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Marcos Ambrose. Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse. After an impressive career best third place finish last week at The Glen, the engine on the Wood Brothers Ford expired early in Sunday’s 3M Performance 400, relegating Ambrose to a 43rd place finish. As a result, the recent bout of bad luck will keep NASCAR fans wondering for a little while longer just how good he is. So far in 2008, Ambrose had a great run ended by mechanical problems at Sonoma, a DNQ at Loudon, a Top 25 at Indy, a third place at Watkins Glen, and a 43rd place this past Sunday due to mechanical woes once again. That’s hardly a consistent performance in that time span, but don’t wave the checkered flag on his 2008 season just yet — NASCAR’s favorite Aussie will return to the No. 21 Ford in two weeks in California.

In the last two weeks, Marcos Ambrose has been through the range of emotions that every driver faces: the highest of highs at Watkins Glen, and then the lowest of lows with a blown motor at Michigan.

Note: A close second in this category is Brad Coleman, who was making his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 96 Camry for Hall of Fame Racing. Coleman barely got into the field, qualifying 43rd, and was hardly noticed all day as the rookie ran at the back of the pack and finished 38th, three laps off the pace.

Rookie Wreck of the Weekend: None.
Sam Hornish, Jr. bounced off the wall early in the race, then made a nice save after receiving a tap from Travis Kvapil just after the halfway point. Then, approximately 30 laps later, Patrick Carpentier almost lost control of his No. 10 Dodge in front of leader Carl Edwards, but saved his fish tailing machine from what could’ve been near-certain disaster. Due to these solid saves, there were no rookie wrecks this weekend.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Michael McDowell.

Following suit with Team Red Bull’s handling of A.J. Allmendinger earlier this year, fellow Toyota team Michael Waltrip Racing has decided to relieve Michael McDowell of his driving duties until Richmond in favor of Mike Skinner. The hope is that Skinner can once again diagnose the problems of an ailing team as he stabilizes the downfall that dropped the No. 00 outside of the Top 35 in owner’s points.

While I admit Skinner did a nice job of “pinch-hitting” for the No. 84 team, the trend we are seeing here is starting to concern me. I have to ask… since when do teams start replacing rookies in their first year? I thought MWR brought the ARCA star — who had all of four starts in the Nationwide and Truck Series prior to 2008 — up to the Cup ranks way too early. However, once you commit to the guy, then stay with him and give him a fair chance to work through his growing pains.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
Wondering what the heck happened to Patrick Carpentier, who finished a disappointing 30th after running in the Top 10 for much of the first half of the race? Looks like the Canadian himself isn’t so sure of that answer either.

“I don’t know. The car was amazing at the beginning of the race — really fast. It was actually easy to keep up with these guys and just started getting looser and looser and looser. It got so loose from the entry of the corner to the exit I was sideways — so I was kind of dirt tracking the whole race. It’s just sad. We had a good start and held on to it for quite awhile… and didn’t finish where we wanted. I don’t know what happened. It just did is all I know.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Smith 178
Hornish, Jr. 177
Carpentier 167
McDowell 156
Franchitti 97 (DNS)

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Sam Hornish, Jr.: 33rd (0)
Regan Smith: 35th (-1)
Patrick Carpentier: 36th (0)
Michael McDowell: 40th (40th, DNS)
Dario Franchitti: 43rd (0, DNS)
Aric Almirola: 47th (-1, DNS)

Next Up: Unless your name is Wallace or Waltrip, the half-mile in Bristol, Tennessee has been one of the more challenging tracks to get around for NASCAR drivers. Our regular Rookie of the Year candidates proved that in the Spring, with Regan Smith finishing no higher than 26th to lead a disappointing group. However, Aric Almirola pulled off a shocker, running in the Top 10 for virtually the entire race and finishing eighth in his 2008 debut.

Qualifying Next Week: Sam Hornish, Jr. and Regan Smith will once again be the only rookies who are locked into the field at Bristol next weekend. Both Patrick Carpentier — who missed the Spring race here when qualifying was rained out — and Brad Coleman will have to put their entries into the field on time.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Look out, it might snow on NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach this week! Seven months and 23 races into the season, I finally made a correct prediction with Sam Hornish, Jr. coming home as the top finishing rookie on Sunday. It looked like Patrick Carpentier was going to rise to the occasion once again, but problems with a loose race car kept him from besting the rest of the rookies. Looks like David Ragan isn’t the only one making a late season surge before the Chase!

You Make The Pick: Many of you thought that Marcos Ambrose would make it two in a row at Michigan. However, as was earlier documented, the woes of the No. 21 team continue — allowing me to finally get to cut into your lead.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: While he hasn’t done much since then, the way Aric Almirola blew everyone away at Bristol earlier this year makes him the sure favorite to repeat under the lights. I’m going to go with the U.S. Army driver next Saturday night!

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
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

2008 Score: Readers 4, Tony 1.

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