The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Carpentier Makes The "Best" Out Of A Bad Day by Tony Lumbis -- Monday September 29, 2008

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Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Patrick Carpentier (19th), Marcos Ambrose (20th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (23rd), Joey Logano (28th), Regan Smith (35th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Patrick Carpentier (29th), Regan Smith (32nd), Sam Hornish, Jr. (33rd), Marcos Ambrose (36th), Joey Logano (39th)

Rookie of the Race: Patrick Carpentier. The weekend started out on a positive note for Carpentier, who put his Dodge in the Top 20 on the starting grid for a second straight week. So why wasn’t the Lifelock Dodge ever seen contending for a Top 10? Simple: it was because the No. 10 itself was extremely loose throughout the race, and Carpentier basically never stood a chance. By lap 15, the Canadian had fallen outside the Top 30, and would remain there for most of the race’s first half. At one point, it looked like Carpentier’s day would take a turn for the better when he received the “Lucky Dog” award following the third caution of the day. In fact, after gaining his lap back crew chief Mike Shiplett later made the call to keep his driver on the track to lead on lap 181 during green flag pit stops — the first laps the team had led since Loudon in June. In the end, though, Carpentier would lose a lap once again and finish just inside the Top 30 — good enough to earn his seventh top rookie honor of the year.

Tony’s Take: Were there any rookies in the field today? Seriously, things got so bad I had to patiently wait for update tickers to flash up with the back of the pack each time I recorded where the freshmen were running — for everyone. It was yet another pathetic performance for this year’s ROTY candidates, as for the second week in a row, the rookie honors went to the driver that finished… 29th. At this time of the year, with 29 events in the book, you would expect better. Not even the supposed second coming of Jeff Gordon — that is, Joey Logano — could do anything for the rookie average finish at the Camping World 400.

Now, I do recognize the fact that these freshmen are really driving for some struggling teams. Gillett-Evernham, DEI, Penske Racing, and Michael Waltrip Racing have not exactly been lighting the world on fire this year. With that in mind, perhaps Carpentier should consider himself the lucky one, with an opportunity to move on in 2009 — and perhaps Hornish, Smith, and McDowell should consider their options as well. As for Logano, well, if he bounces back to have a breakout 2009, it will be even more evidence of just how bad the No. 96 team is to begin with.

Are Joey Logano’s lackluster performances a sign of how bad the No. 96 team is or is the joke really on JD Gibbs — that Logano really isn’t the second coming that he’s billed to be?

Rocky Rookie Performance: Joey Logano. Speaking of Logano, it was yet another forgettable performance for the heir to the Home Depot Camry. With the hype from his Cup debut dying down quickly, the only time the 18-year-old’s name was mentioned Sunday was when he was being lapped — or if he bounced the No. 96 off the outside wall. To Logano’s credit, for the second start in a row, he stayed out of trouble and finished the race, two very important accomplishments for anyone who is trying to break into the series. Let’s hope his lackluster jump out of the starting gates is just due to his position behind the wheel of an underachieving team, or he risks being the biggest bust in the sport in 2009. I personally don’t see that happening; but then again, Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t exactly look on the ball this past Sunday, either.

Rookie Almost Wreck of the Race: Sam Hornish, Jr. It was a really close call on lap 225 for Sam Hornish, Jr. when the wobbling car of Michael Waltrip hit the side of the No. 77 Dodge coming off of turn four. The “tap” sent Hornish fishtailing down the front straightaway, but the rookie was miraculously able to save it. Hornish’s good hands allowed him to continue on and finish…well…33rd.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Michael McDowell.
Six one-thousands of a second might as well have been 10 minutes for Michael McDowell as he recorded his first DNQ of 2008 by the slimmest of margins on Friday. McDowell appeared ready to make a run at the Rookie of the Year award following Mike Skinner’s brief stint in the No. 00 car, as the Arizona native recorded two top rookie of the race honors in his return. However, it just wasn’t enough to keep the team in the Top 35 in points. They paid the price this past weekend, as McDowell was one of only two drivers forced to go home after qualifying.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
It may not be a great season on the track for Sam Hornish, Jr., but kudos to him for making a positive impact off of it. Hornish took some time out of his busy schedule this weekend to talk about his Celebrity Bowling Tournament on October 30th.

Q: Your annual bowling tournament is scheduled for October 30th during race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“We’re doing the annual Sam Hornish Jr. Celebrity Bowling Tournament and all the proceeds go to charity. We’ve been able to raise over $300,000 over the past three years to benefit local charities there in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, all children stuff, and now we have an opportunity to do it on the NASCAR program, which everything is supposed to be bigger and better over here in NASCAR. Hopefully we’ll be able to raise even more money for the kids down there. I’m looking at hopefully trying to break $125,000.”

Q: Do you have a lot of fun doing that kind of stuff?

“I love to bowl. Unfortunately, when you have your charity bowling tournament you don’t get an opportunity to bowl that much. You’re usually walking around talking to people. I feel very lucky to be a race car driver and be able to get to do what I always wanted to do. I’ve been very fortunate in my life. We go to all these different places and very seldom do we get an opportunity to give back, so that’s one of things that I really like about that, like Jeff Gordon’s tournament that he does is that they give back to areas that we race in and that give so much to us.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Smith 188
Hornish, Jr. 185
Carpentier 183
McDowell 169
Franchitti 97 (DNS)

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Regan Smith: 33rd (+1)
Sam Hornish Jr.: 35th (0)
Patrick Carpentier: 37th (-1)
Michael McDowell: 39th (0, DNQ)
Aric Almirola: 43rd (0, DNS)
Dario Franchitti: 46th (0, DNS)

Next Up: Talladega could be the last best chance of for a Rookie of the Year candidate to record his first Top 10 of the season. And I don’t say this because this year’s crop contains particularly good restrictor plate drivers, either. No, in fact it’s because these are the type of races where crazy drafting strategies and multi-car wrecks have the ability to produce unusual Top 10 finishers, positive strategies which just may include one of the 2008 freshmen if they can only stay out of trouble. What the rookies don’t want to do is cause the Big One that impacts the Chase contenders, who usually circle this event as the one they need to survive if they are going to have a chance at the championship.

Qualifying Next Week: The No. 00, No. 77 and No. 10 teams are all bunched together in owner points. Unfortunately for the members of those teams, they are in the first three positions outside of the Top 35. Because of that, only DEI teammates Regan Smith and Aric Almirola will be guaranteed a spot into next week’s Amp Energy 500.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: It wasn’t pretty, but Patrick Carpentier was the best of the worst on Sunday to come home as the top finishing rookie. With that win, I pull even with you, overcoming a four-race deficit as it looks like we’re prepping to battle to the end.

You Make The Pick: You thought that McDowell’s momentum would continue, thinking that he would make it two in a row for the Rookie of the Race award. However, it looked like neither you nor anyone else for that matter could imagine that the No. 00 would come with away with a big “0” in qualifying as he missed the show all together.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: Last week, I was hesitant to pick a DEI driver as the top finishing rookie because of their poor performance on intermediate tracks — but this week, I’m going with Regan Smith because of the team’s dominance when restrictor plates are under the hood. Sure, they are just a shadow of their old selves these days, but the DEI-RCR engine combination is still a stout option at Talladega.

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

2008 Score: Readers 5, Tony 5.

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