The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report: McDowell Takes Rookie Honors and Nobody Notices at Dover by Tony Lumbis -- Monday September 22, 2008

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Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Patrick Carpentier (17th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (25th), Regan Smith (26th), Michael McDowell (28th), Marcos Ambrose (29th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Michael McDowell (29th), Marcos Ambrose (32nd), Regan Smith (37th), Patrick Carpentier (41st), Sam Hornish, Jr. (42nd)

Rookie of the Race: Michael McDowell. The freshman for Michael Waltrip Racing beat all of his ROTY counterparts, but it probably didn’t seem like it was that good of a day or both he and his team. After starting in the back, McDowell battled a very loose Camry early in the event, and found himself already two laps down before the halfway mark. Crew chief Peter Sospenzo was able to adjust on the Champion Mortgage during the race’s second half; but in the end, it was too little, too late as the Arizona driver could not do any better than 29th, five laps off the pace. However, the run was good enough to earn him his sixth top rookie finish of the year.

Tony’s Take: I was very close to not even awarding a rookie of the race award this week, as all the freshmen pretty much turned in pathetic performances all around. Patrick Carpentier was strong very early, but apparently became intimidated at the lone sight of Jimmie Johnson as he lost control of his No. 10 Dodge in front of the hard charging No. 48 Chevy. What many may not have noticed is that Marcos Ambrose made his presence known for a bit, breaking the Top 20 around lap 200. However, he could not keep a grasp on the Monster and ran into a set of serious handling problems, as the Wood Brothers Ford eventually fell back to 32nd by the end of the race. With Regan Smith having mechanical issues and both Carpentier and Sam Hornish, Jr. suffering wrecks, Michael McDowell was the last man standing and took home top rookie honors. But despite claiming those bragging rights for a week, his team drops out of the Top 35 in owner points heading into Kansas City. Last week, I said that this race was going to come down to who could set their car up the best coming out of practice; and with almost every rookie falling a lap down in the first segment of the race, it appears that nobody was able to step up to the task.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Regan Smith. For most of the race, Regan Smith’s name was hardly even mentioned, and that’s a good thing considering how this race turned out for the rookie contenders. Like most of the field, Smith also battled a car that was way too loose, and paid for it in the form of falling off the lead lap early. However, he and crew chief Dan Stillman seemed to find the cure for “loositis” better than the other rookies in the field. After the cross flags flew, the No. 01 team suddenly appeared poised for a solid Top 25 finish. The comeback was halted, though, when a piece of a ring and pinion, possibly from the No. 11 car, went straight through the radiator of Smith’s Chevy and required a mandatory stop to the garage. The team was able to replace the radiator, and Smith would return, finishing 37th. However, he was left to wonder what kind of finish he could have brought home just two days before his 25th birthday.

Sam Hornish, Jr.‘s difficult day kept him from matching his 18th place finish in the Spring race at Dover — the last time this struggling rookie ended a Cup Series race in the Top 20.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Sam Hornish, Jr. Following the theme of the afternoon for these rookies, Hornish battled a loose race car and fell behind very early. But things would go from bad to worse for the Mobil One Driver when he left a souvenir in the form of a back bumper cover on the frontstretch after contact with Brian Vickers and David Reutimann. Seriously, fans — this thing is probably on eBay already, check it out. Anyways, in addition to the bumper, Hornish soon found that he also did not have all four tires inflated heading into turn one and brushed the wall, bringing out the afternoon’s seventh caution. Hoping to get some more air time for his loyal sponsor, Hornish also brought out the very next yellow flag when he spun and hit the inside retaining wall. Safe to say, it was a bad day for the Ohio native as wound up in 42nd spot.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Nobody. All of the rookie contenders made the field at Dover this week; although looking at it from a “Monday Morning Quarterback” perspective, most of them probably wish they watched this one from their couch.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:

Sam Hornish, Jr. comments on his tough day in Dover:
“This car was really loose all day and ended up kind of getting squished up in between the No. 83 car and myself. We broke something, and ended up hard into the wall down in one and two. I’m not blaming the 83, but I don’t know if he got loose or we were kind of both loose coming there off the corner. Anyhow, it’s one of those things. Not a very good day for the Mobil 1 Dodge. The car was just terrible after the damage then. I didn’t want to be out there and cause a wreck for somebody else. As loose as it was before that, it was twice as bad afterwards [smiles]. Just fighting it all the way around out there and hoping that we can get some of these bad days behind us. We haven’t been able to break out of this slump for a little while. Our piece was loose all the way around. [There was[ only one point in the race where we were a little bit tight in the middle of the corner. It was like you’ve got to pretend like there was an egg between your foot and the gas pedal not to give it any throttle, because it would snap around.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Smith 187
Hornish, Jr. 184
Carpentier 179
McDowell 168
Franchitti 97 (DNS)

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Sam Hornish Jr.: 35th (-2)
Regan Smith: 34th (-1)
Patrick Carpentier: 36th (0)
Michael McDowell: 39th (0)
Aric Almirola: 43rd (-1, DNS)
Dario Franchitti: 46th (0, DNS)

Next Up: The series heads to the nation’s midsection for the Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway. (No, you’re not in an episode of Groundhog Day — it’s the same title sponsor as this past week’s event in Delaware). While this track does have similar characteristics as Chicagoland, this year’s rookies will see this place for the first time in a Sprint Cup car this weekend. After their disaster in Dover, the rookies hope that they have the courage to start another race, the heart to fight to the checkered flag, and the brains to figure out the right setup that will take their car to the front — stabilizing a tornado-like season that seems to be spiraling out of control. Sorry, I couldn’t contain the Wizard of Oz comments, as they really are appropriate for a rookie class that can’t seem to do anything right this year. But the first years will hope that the wide sweeping turns of Kansas will give them a breath of relief from the tight curves and bumpy ride at the Monster Mile.

Qualifying Next Week: Michael McDowell may have won this week’s rookie honors, but his team still drops out of the Top 35 — meaning Regan Smith will be the only R.O.T.Y candidate who is locked into the field on time. Also trying to qualify into the field will be Marcos Ambrose, who will make his seventh start of 2008 and second in the Wood Brothers No. 47 team car next week. This combination worked pretty well earlier in the year, when Ambrose qualified 24th for the Brickyard 400 driving the “B-Squad” car.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I said that Michael McDowell would rebound from his subpar finish last week at Loudon with top rookie honors. Ironically, while he did fulfill part of that prediction this week, the No. 00 actually finished two positions worse than it did in New Hampshire despite winning the weekly award.

You Make The Pick: You also thought that McDowell would look to regain the momentum he showed with a Top 20 finish two weeks ago at Richmond. As a result, your accurate prognostication prevents me from pulling even with you with only eight events remaining this season. That maintains your one point advantage in what will prove to be a tight race all the way to Homestead.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: I would really like to say that Regan Smith will bring home a good finish for the week of his birthday, especially since he is the only rookie that is locked into the show at Kansas. However I just cannot see that happening given DEI’s horrendous performance at the intermediate tracks this year. Instead I will take a risk and go with the somewhat faltering Patrick Carpentier who is coming off of finishes of 31st and 41st at Loudon and Dover respectively. Carpentier brought home a solid 18th place finish at Fontana, the last track the series raced at that is similar in nature to Kansas City.

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

2008 Score: Readers 5, Tony 4.

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