The Frontstretch: "Rookies" Logano, Ambrose Take Advantage of a Late Race Shootout - Chicago Style by Tony Lumbis -- Monday July 13, 2009

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"Rookies" Logano, Ambrose Take Advantage of a Late Race Shootout - Chicago Style

Sprint Cup Rookie Report · Tony Lumbis · Monday July 13, 2009


Joey Logano:
Start: 24th; Finish: 18th

Summary: Joey Logano started the 400 with hopes of completing the weekend sweep after pulling off a surprise victory on old tires the night before in the Nationwide race. His quest to go two-for-two certainly got off to a slow start, however, due to a very loose handling race car for the first portion of this week’s event. Logano could not break into the top 20 from his 24th starting position and by lap 119, he had fallen one lap down to the leader. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli was able to tighten the No. 20 Camry for Logano, and the team started to make as much progress as they could — even though they were a lap off the pace. On lap 218, it became apparent the car still was not quite to the rookie’s liking, as he lost control of the Home Depot Toyota coming off of turn two and got into the No. 77 of Sam Hornish, Jr. Hornish spun and hit the inside wall as a result of the contact, bringing out the fourth caution flag of the evening. Logano was able to continue, however, and finally positioned himself for the “Lucky Dog” award when the final caution of the night flew on lap 260. There was just enough time on the final shootout for Logano to gain one position to the 18th spot, earning his 15th rookie honor of the season in nineteen starts. Saturday night also marked his fourth consecutive top 20 finish and 14th straight race without a DNF, dating back to Bristol in March where the rookie suffered an engine failure.

Quote: “The last half of the race, we were real good. We had that one real long green flag run. We came in, we changed tires, and the car got awful loose. It was the loosest thing that I ever drove in my life. I don’t know how I didn’t spin the thing out a few times [smile]. It was total dirt tracking all the way through the corners, and I was like, ‘holy smokes.’ It was fun, but I didn’t want to do that.”

On the incident with Sam Hornish, Jr.: “It was my fault. I really wish I didn’t do that. I got underneath him and you know you get air off the side of these things… and you’re so loose as it is. You’re sawing, sawing, and sawing, and it was like, ‘Oh, I need a little bit of room’ and then I hit ‘em. I’ll have to call and apologize to him.”

Brad Keselowski:
Start: 29th; Finish: 32nd

Summary: For most of the first half of the race, Brad Keselowski’s No. 25 Chevy was nowhere to be seen despite its neon green color. That was because the rookie was mired in the middle of the pack battling an ill-handling race car and traffic. However, both the driver and his new crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. would not give up, and as the end of the 400 neared, Keselowski was making a charge to the front. During the event’s sixth caution, Eury elected to bring the Impala down pit road for fresh rubber with just 20 laps remaining. The move appeared to pay off, as Keselowski was on the fringe of breaking into the top 10 after the ensuing restart. Yet despite the late race surge, Keselowski and Company could not bring home the finish they were hoping for after contact with the wall on lap 253 forced a late pit stop. That error led to a disappointing 32nd place finish, two laps off the pace.

Tony Eury, Jr. had his driver Brad Keselowski in position for a possible top 10 before contact with the wall put the team back to 32nd place.

Quote: “We made progress all night. By the end, we were definitely a top-5 car, maybe better. I am proud of everybody on the Chevrolet. Good night in general. Just keep working forward like this, this is fun. We would like to have the finish to go with it, but we ran very, very strong tonight. I just want to continue to gain experience and have fun at the same time.”

Scott Speed:
Start: 2nd; Finish: 36th

Summary: Scott Speed tied his career best starting position (2008 Homestead) when he qualified on the outside of the front row alongside his teammate Brian Vickers. The rookie got off to a conservative start, losing two positions during the first few laps but eventually settling into fourth place. Speed would ride in the top 5 until the first caution of the night on lap 39 for debris. On the ensuing restart, the No. 82 Camry was forced to the outside following contact with other cars. In just a matter of laps, Speed had fallen from fifth to 15th, but that would be just the beginning of his problems on this particular evening. The 26-year-old was never able to run as well as he did in the beginning, but after falling a lap down, the team seemed to stabilize itself just inside the top 30. Speed eventually started to pick up positions, but his progress came to a grinding halt on lap 226 when Paul Menard blew a tire on the front straightaway. Speed was collected in the chain reaction and made heavy contact with the No. 31 of Jeff Burton. The accident ended his night and relegated the Team Red Bull Toyota to a 36th place finish — the freshman’s third consecutive DNF due to a wreck.

Post-Qualifying Quote: “If Brian (Vickers) would have posted a .60 or .70, I think we would have tried to push it a little bit harder. After that lap, there’s no need to try to get the pole, you just want to make the race. It’s always in the back of your mind, but sometimes those laps that you take a little easier are a little faster anyways. It’s probably not that big of a deal.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:

Joey Logano 201
Scott Speed 179
Max Papis 69
Dexter Bean 11

Almost Rookie Recap:
(These drivers are not official rookies because they made too many starts in 2008. For all intents and purposes however, they are still basically Sprint Cup freshmen as they embark on their first full season in 2009)

Marcos Ambrose had an average night for most of the race as the No. 47 Camry raced between 15th and 25th, eventually falling a lap down to the leader. Crew chief Frankie Kerr would take a gamble on the third caution flag, keeping Ambrose out on the track for the wave around, but the strategy did not pay off, as the team never got the quick caution they needed. Eventually, fate would play into the team’s hands when they were awarded the “Lucky Dog” award during the sixth caution flag of the day. Ambrose took full advantage of the opportunity by getting new tires and, as a result, charged ahead to an 11th place finish.

Tony’s Take:
If there was an award given to the winner of the second half of races, Joey Logano would need a bigger trophy room. The youngster continues to improve on his communication with crew chief Greg Zipadelli, and the two have found ways to make significant strides in the handling of the No. 20 car throughout each race over the past two months. When this team finally finds a way to unload off the truck with a car that Logano likes, then we can start to expect them to fight for top 10s at the end of the race instead of trying to squeak out top 20s. Look for that to start happening in a few weeks when the series returns to tracks for a second time on a regular basis, meaning Zipadelli and company can use Logano’s 2009 notes instead of Tony Stewart’s setups from last year.

On the flip side of things, it is certainly a disturbing trend when a car continues to return to the shop in pieces, and that seems to be the case with Scott Speed as of late. The thing is, most of the incidents have happened as a result of Speed racing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The solution? This team MUST find a way to run up front — and sooner rather than later. Whether you are a rookie or a veteran, racing in a large group of ill-handling cars will not end well. Speed appeared to have the “speed” to run up front on Saturday night, but could not find a way to keep it there. He will need to capitalize on such good qualifying runs in the future if he wants to turn them into good finishes.

Who Wasn’t Here?:
Dexter Bean was not quite fast enough to make his second start of the season in the No. 51 Dodge on Thursday. He’ll run a at least five more races this year, however, in a plan that preserves his future rookie status for 2010.

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

18th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
20th – Joey Logano (+1)
36th – Scott Speed (-1)
39th – Brad Keselowski (0)
43rd – Max Papis (-1, DNS)
44th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
57th – Dexter Bean (-1, DNQ)

Qualifying Next Week: Scott Speed and Max Papis will need to make the field on time in two weeks if they hope to be in one of the biggest races of the season – the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. If certain rumors are true, Aric Almirola will also return to the garage area in the No. 8 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and he, too, will need to make the show on speed.

Next Up: Next weekend will be a rare weekend off for the Sprint Cup series. But the competitors better enjoy their time away because they will return to the world-renowned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Allstate 400. Out of all the rookies and almost rookies, only Marcos Ambrose has experience at the two-and-a-half mile rectangular track – in a Sprint Cup car, that is. Max Papis has logged miles at the historic venue in an Indy Car, while Speed has been around the track’s road course in a Formula One racing machine. But regardless of level of experience, the century-old speedway is one of the trickiest places to pass on the circuit, and I expect this year’s Rookie of the Year candidates to struggle a bit as a result.

Rookie Prediction Poll – Nearly 80% of you thought that Logano could not be the highest finishing driver in Saturday night’s race, and you were absolutely correct. While all three struggled throughout much of the event, both Ambrose and Logano made a late-race surge — but it was the Australian coming out on top at the checkers.

Indianapolis Prediction – This track typically hasn’t been kind to rookies over the years, but freshman success is not unheard of. Juan Pablo Montoya finished second to Tony Stewart during his rookie campaign in 2007, while both Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin brought home top 10 finishes the year before despite carrying the yellow stripe on their bumper. Can Joey Logano, Scott Speed, or Max Papis come close to duplicating that success with a top 15 finish at the Brickyard?

Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I did not think that Logano could overcome Ambrose or Keselowski at Chicago, and I was almost 100% right until late race problems forced the latter to pit. Still, I answered well enough to get the point and remain two markers behind you.

I said that I think the rookies will struggle at Indy, but just because you have a bad race doesn’t always mean you finish that way. With the way Logano has been improving in the second half of races and considering the double-file restarts, anything can happen in a shootout in the final laps. Therefore, even though I don’t think our rookie competitors will have spectacular races, I do think one of them will manage a top 15 finish.

Rookie Poll Points: Readers: 10, Tony: 8.

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