The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Hornish Bounces Back From Crash To Widen Lead At Atlanta by Tony Lumbis -- Monday October 27, 2008

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Rookies in the Starting Lineup: (Due to rain, qualifying was canceled and the field was set by owner points): Regan Smith (32nd), Scott Speed (34th), Sam Hornish, Jr. (36th), Marcos Ambrose (38th), Chad McCumbee (41st)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Sam Hornish, Jr. (24th), Marcos Ambrose (29th), Regan Smith (30th), Scott Speed (34th), Chad McCumbee (36th)

Rookie of the Race: Sam Hornish, Jr. From the drop of the green flag, it looked like it would be a long afternoon for Sam Hornish, Jr. Yet again, his No. 77 team was forced to start from the rear of the pack after qualifying was rained out on Friday. Then, on lap two, the rookie was involved in a wreck with veteran Bill Elliott and subsequently penalized a lap for pitting too early following the incident. But not all was lost for the driver of the Mobil One Dodge, as both he and crew chief Travis Geisler would continue working on the machine until it was good enough to make its way to the front. It may have taken most of the day to reach that point, but after running outside of the Top 30, Hornish made a late race charge that resulted in a 24th place finish, two laps off the pace. It was the rookie’s first Top 25 finish since Charlotte two weeks ago and only his second in the last 11 events; however, despite that record, Sunday was actually Hornish’s third Rookie of the Race honor in a row and 10th this season.

Little Addison Hornish always had faith in her Dad. Now, he’s starting to show some of that potential to the rest of us, earning three Rookie of the Race honors in a row.

Tony’s Take: Sam Hornish, Jr.’s recent run of rookie honors may have most fans saying “Where did he come from?” The former open wheeler has actually made the race for the 2008 Rookie of the Year Award a tight one between himself and Regan Smith, the only two drivers eligible for that honor remaining in the field. The reason for the surprise is a bad one, and that is because hardly anyone is paying attention to this race in a year where not one ROTY candidate has broken into the Top 10 with three events remaining. Yes, this battle is tight, but only because nobody stood up and established themselves in the lead running in a year where rookie attrition has been at perhaps its highest ever due to both sponsorship and performance woes.

Not all is lost for Hornish, however, as he is the only 2008 ROTY candidate with a guaranteed ride next season… at least as of today. So, while on paper this finish may be just another lackluster result in a season where there have been plenty, in reality, it represents just a hint of momentum to take into the offseason. Perhaps Sunday could serve as a symbol for how this team needs to view their entire season; for even when things look their worst, persistence and hard work could still pay off in the end.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Scott Speed. Scott Speed set the stock car world on fire this year when he won in only his sixth Craftsman Truck Series start, while also taking home the checkers several times in ARCA competition and almost winning the championship in that series. However, it looks like it may take this promising young rookie a little longer to adjust to the top level of NASCAR competition. Speed’s second straight Sprint Cup series resulted in a finish of 30th or worse, and the No. 84 Camry has not looked competitive in either one. On a positive note, Speed did finish the race and was not involved in any incidents for the second week in a row (despite having brake issues at Martinsville). He even led his first lap when crew chief Jimmy Elledge elected to keep his driver on track during the day’s second caution. Look for this team to be hungry for much more in the final events of this season as they look to build for 2009.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Sam Hornish, Jr. It’s not often that the “Rookie of the Race” is also involved in the “Rookie Wreck of the Day,” but that’s exactly what happened in a somewhat quiet race for this year’s freshmen. On lap three, Sam Hornish, Jr. made contact with the No. 21 Ford of Bill Elliott coming off of Turn 2 as the veteran may have backed off slightly to avoid being squeezed by Regan Smith. The contact sent both the cars of Hornish and Elliott spinning down the back straightaway. The Wood Brothers Ford would make contact with the wall, but Hornish came away with relatively little damage in comparison. However, both cars would end up equally handicapped, penalized a lap by NASCAR for pitting too early under the yellow flag. Despite the early problems, the Defiance, Ohio native would defy the odds on Sunday to recover from a near disaster and come home with a Top 25 finish.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Bryan Clauson, Joey Logano, Patrick Carpentier and Michael McDowell

It has been a record year in terms of qualifying rainouts, and perhaps nobody has been impacted more by a moody Mother Nature than Bryan Clauson. Clauson attempted his Sprint Cup debut in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge earlier this month at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, but his chances were taken away when rain canceled qualifying. His next scheduled event was this past weekend and it was same song, different verse for Clauson as the guitar on his hood fell silent when wet weather invaded the Atlanta metropolitan region.

Meanwhile, the only good run for Joey Logano so far this year has been during a practice session in the No. 02 car at Richmond. Logano never got a chance to see what that car could do in the race because…you guessed it…he was sent home after qualifying was rained out. Since then, the rookie has looked out of place in the Hall of Fame Camry, riding at or near the end of the pack before leaving that ride in frustration a few races back. It looks like Logano will have to wait even longer to display his talents in Joe Gibbs equipment as his second attempt in the fourth JGR entry was spoiled by rain once again.

It looks like we may not see Patrick Carpentier or Michael McDowell for the rest of 2008. Carpentier still hasn’t been picked up after being released by Gillett Evernham Motorsports; meanwhile, it has been announced that Marcos Ambrose will finish the season for Michael Waltrip Racing, which presumably means that McDowell is out after only participating in 20 events in the No. 00 Camry.

Rookie Quote of the Week:

Scott Speed got a jumpstart on the Texas culture by spending some time in Fort Worth on Tuesday. Doing what, you ask? Riding a mechanical bull, of course! Scott Speed got to spend some time with bull riding champion Tuff Hedeman, who showed him his technique using a mechanical bull as a teaching tool. Speed shared his unusual experience along with the Texas culture:

“It’s definitely one of those things that’s way harder than it looks,” Speed said. “I’ve been riding for the last hour, and I am WORN out. My groin muscle is destroyed. I am so tired. I wanted to ride a real bull – that was my first idea – but that got ixnayed by the lawyers.”

“I’m really having a great time here in Texas,” Speed continued, “in my little cowboy hat and cowboy uniform experiencing this culture and hanging out with Tuff. I enjoy experiencing different cultures and different ways of life. I’m really lucky to be able to do all that.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Hornish, Jr. 196
Smith 193
Carpentier 184
McDowell 169
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: 42nd (0, DNS)
Dario Franchitti: 48th (0, DNS)
Marcos Ambrose: 49th (+1)
Chad McCumbee: 52nd (+2)
Scott Speed: 62nd (+3)

Next Up: Premiering this coming Sunday at a NASCAR theater near you, it’s the stock car sequel entitled “Atlanta: Take 2.” Well, maybe not exactly, but the configurations of Texas Motor Speedway are the same as AMS, so expect the crew chiefs to utilize similar setups to those used this past weekend. That may be bad news for the freshmen who did not fare very well this past Sunday afternoon. Considering the now-unemployed Patrick Carpentier’s 28th place finish was good enough to best all rookies in the Lone Star State this Spring, it’s clear the rookies still have work to do on these 1.5-mile cookie cutters. Perhaps this weekend, the sixth and final race in 2008 on this type of configuration will translate into the positive experience the freshmen need to bring home a good finish…but I doubt it.

Qualifying Next Week: The No. 01 team of Regan Smith still remains well above the cutoff in owner points, and can continue to reap the benefits of having a guaranteed starting spot next week. Scott Speed’s Red Bull team has less margin for error, but he still remains 80 markers ahead of the No. 47 (formerly No. 00) team driven by fellow rookie Marcos Ambrose. Finally, the rain has saved Sam Hornish, Jr. from qualifying on time through the last three events. However, if we finally have a dry Friday, he too will need to make the Dickies 500 on speed. Also of note: Brad Keselowski will attempt to make his Sprint Cup debut this weekend after the rain spoiled his plans two weeks ago. But he’s another one that needs make the race on time, as the No. 25 team is mired back in the 58th owner points position.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: It looks like Scott Speed, my pick for this week, may need a few more Sprint Cup starts before he breaks through. The rookie struggled throughout most of the Pep Boys Auto 500, and was never a factor to even crack the Top 30. My streak of correct picks has been stopped, but I maintain the lead with only three events remaining.

You Make The Pick: You were still riding the Regan Smith train this week, but he was on the long list of rookies who were barely heard from during the entire race. Smith apparently shared the same struggles that plagued teammates Mark Martin and Paul Menard as DEI continues to struggle to get a handle on the intermediate tracks this year. The rookie could do no better than 30th, giving up more rookie points to counterpart Sam Hornish, Jr. in the ROTY battle.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: The only driver to show any sort of life on the quad ovals this year was Sam Hornish, Jr. at both the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte earlier this year. He was also the highest finishing rookie at this track earlier this season who is still on the entry list for next week. I think Hornish has the best chance to best the rest of the rookie field again this Sunday; however, don’t look for it to happen in an impressive manner.

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

2008 Score: Tony 7, Readers 5.

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