The Frontstretch: Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Keselowski has Impressive Debut While Logano Struggles by Tony Lumbis -- Monday November 3, 2008

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Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Sam Hornish, Jr. (21st), Marcos Ambrose (24th), Regan Smith (25th), Scott Speed (33rd), Brad Keselowski (37th), Joey Logano (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Brad Keselowski (19th), Marcos Ambrose (21st), Sam Hornish, Jr. (23rd), Scott Speed (33rd), Regan Smith (34th), Joey Logano (40th)

Rookie of the Race: Brad Keselowski. The 24-year-old rookie finally got to make his Sprint Cup debut this weekend when he put his Hendrick Chevrolet in the 37th position on the starting grid after having rain spoil his attempt in Charlotte last month. The rookie could not get a grip on the Texas Motor Speedway as he scraped the wall on the fifth lap while trying to pass cars on the outside. Soon thereafter, Keselowski found himself a lap down to the leaders. However, the young driver and veteran crew chief Lance McGrew did not panic and found themselves in position for the “Lucky Dog” award when the afternoon’s first caution flew on lap 57.

Rick Hendrick talks to Brad Keselowski before his first Sprint Cup start. Seems like the pep talk worked too. Keselowski put in a solid run and finished 19th.

While Keselowski could not keep his No. 25 Impala on the lead lap, he did keep it in contention for a solid finish. In fact, the GoDaddy.com Chevy would remain in the top 25 for virtually the rest of the race. In the end, Keselowski’s was able to take advantage of McGrew’s adjustments and the fuel misfortunes of others to finish his first career Sprint Cup race in the 19th position.

Note: Sam Hornish, Jr. was the first Rookie of the Year candidate to cross the finish line on Sunday, finishing 23rd, giving him the official rookie of the race honor. It was Hornish’s 11th of the season.

Tony’s Take: Strapping yourself behind the wheel of a Rick Hendrick car is almost equivalent to placing a cape on your back…it almost makes you superman. With Jimmie Johnson on his way to a remarkable third straight championship and three drivers in the Chase, it seems like there is no such thing as a bad Hendrick team, and Keselowski’s No. 25 was no exception. Let’s make sure we give some credit to the driver though. With two wins and 10 Top 5s in the Nationwide Series, the Michigan native has proven that he can wheel a race car with the best of them. Match that with the fact that his boss is taking the time to develop this young talent and you have a driver who may very well not only be the future star of Hendrick Motorsports but of the entire sport. There’s no doubt about it, Keslowski’s debut was impressive as he recovered from a shaky start, kept his car out of trouble and finished the race with a Top 20. I’m looking forward to seeing him in his next race at this level.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Joey Logano. Joey Logano turned in yet another sub-par performance and this time, he doesn’t have the woeful Hall of Fame Racing team to blame. To his credit, Logano once again remained out of trouble, however that was probably because he rode behind everyone for virtually the entire race. The heir apparent to Tony Stewart’s No. 20 Camry barely broke the Top 40 all race long after just making the field. His finish was not much better. In fact, in 2008, Logano has finished 32nd, 39th, and 40th. I’ve written it before and I’ll repeat it again, I don’t care what series you came from or if you’re supposed to be the next coming of Dale Earnhardt, these cars are difficult to drive and the only way a driver can get better is to get experience. Perhaps J.D. Gibbs may want to think about giving their driver, who just graduated high school, a chance to run some more laps in the lower ranks before making the jump to Sprint Cup. Otherwise, fans will have to get used to the unusual scene of the No. 20 car running in the back in 2009.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Marcos Ambrose. The Dickies 500 almost concluded without a rookie incident…until lap 247. That is when something went wrong on Elliott Sadler’s Dodge as he suddenly backed up through the field and made contact with the No. 28 of Travis Kvapil on the front stretch. The incident launched Kvapil’s Ford into a spin, which collected the No. 47 Camry of Marcos Ambrose as he tried to skirt by on the outside. His Little Debbie Toyota sustained damage on the front left “headlight” but was able to continue on. In fact, Ambrose fought back to finish in a very respectable 21st place.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Bryan Clauson, Chad McCumbee, Patrick Carpentier, and Michael McDowell.

This time Bryan Clauson doesn’t have the rain to blame. He just missed the race this weekend, plain and simple. Clauson was only 37th in Friday’s practice and it was even worse in qualifying, as the rookie was 45th on the speed chart. Looks like he and the No. 40 team still have some work to do if they want to be competitive. Meanwhile, Chad McCumbee must hate racing in Texas. Earlier this year, McCumbee was filling for Kyle Petty in the No. 45 car again when he missed the show at the Fort Worth venue, recording his first career Sprint Cup DNQ.

Patrick Carpentier and Michael McDowell remain on NASCAR’s M.I.A. list, as they wait for an owner somewhere to recognize the efforts they put in before being released by their respective teams.

Rookie Quote of the Week:

Brad Keselowski shares his thoughts on what he deemed to be a very successful Sprint Cup debut.

“It was a good start. I am very happy with that. I am real happy with everyone on the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. Lance (McGrew, crew chief) did a great job with pit calls. A good day, I learned a lot. I drove over my head a couple and got myself in some trouble. It probably cost us a couple spots there at the end. All in all still pretty happy with that. A good top-20 finish, the car has nicks and scratches but nothing we can’t fix up.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Hornish Jr. 199
Smith 194
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)
Marcos Ambrose 48th (+1)
Dario Franchitti: 49th (-1, DNS)
Chad McCumbee 52nd (0, DNQ)
Scott Speed: 55th (+7)

Next Up: For the second time this year, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the Valley of the Sun and the Phoenix International Raceway. Back in April, Sam Hornish, Jr. came home with a Top 20 finish when he returned to his old open wheel stomping grounds. Overall the flat tracks have not been friendly to the rookies. Between Richmond, Phoenix and Pocono, it was Chad McCumbee who recorded the best flat track finish with a 17th at the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 in August. So if the rookies are going to put on any kind of show in the desert, it may have come from a surprise performance by newcomers Scott Speed or Marcos Ambrose.

Qualifying Next Week: Regan Smith continues to enjoy a large cushion on the 35th position in owner’s points. Scott Speed will also be guaranteed a spot in the field for next week’s Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, but with much less room for error. That’s because Marcos Ambrose’s solid run at Texas has the No. 47 (formerly the No. 00) team just 44 markers behind Speed’s No. 84. Sam Hornish, Jr. will also need to qualify his car on time next week, however his 23rd place finish has the Mobil One sitting only 56 points outside of the bubble position.

Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I certainly thought that Sam Hornish, Jr. would have been a bigger force during the Dickies 500 based on his performance on similar tracks earlier this year. In the end, Hornish and company made a strong push to come home a respectable 23rd place, however it was not enough to beat out fellow rookie contenders Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose.

You Make The Pick: An overwhelming amount of you (over 60%) thought that Sam Hornish, Jr. would continue his good quad oval performance at Texas this weekend. Hornish ended up having a good weekend, but not a great one. In fact, considering his experience at this type of track, his finish was probably a bit of a disappointment. We were both shut out of the points column this weekend, but I have clinched a tie with a two-point lead and two events remaining on the schedule.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie: Marcos Ambrose has had some solid runs this year that have gone unnoticed because his finishes haven’t always showed it. This past weekend however, Ambrose had a quiet, solid day and brought home a 21st place, the second best finish of his career, and best on an oval in Sprint Cup. I think the Aussie will build on his Texas success next week at Phoenix as he tries to gain some momentum for next year’s full season run.

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
Dickies 500 Texas Sam Hornish, Jr. 23rd Sam Hornish, Jr. 23rd Brad Keselowski 19th

2008 Score: Tony 7, Readers 5.

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