NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Patrick Carpentier Strong, But Sam Hornish Jr. Steals the Show at Michigan

Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Patrick Carpentier (sixth), Regan Smith (eighth), Sam Hornish Jr. (23rd), Marcos Ambrose (29th), Brad Coleman (43rd)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Hornish (22nd), Smith (29th), Carpentier (30th), Coleman (38th), Ambrose (43rd)

Rookie of the Race: Hornish. On lap 2 of Sunday’s event, it certainly didn’t look like Hornish would be taking home rookie honors at the 3M Performance 400. That’s when the No. 77 Dodge slid up into the wall coming off turn 2; as he lost control, the concrete swiped the side of his vehicle, luckily providing only cosmetic damage. As the race wound on, the Ohio native continued to battle a slick racetrack that both he and crew chief Chris Carrier did not expect based off their recent trip to the Irish Hills of Michigan back in June. Hornish lost a lap and could never break the top 25 until the end of the day, when he charged to a 22nd-place finish. That earned him the rookie honors for the seventh time this season, and his first since visiting this venue earlier this year.

Tony’s Take: It certainly didn’t contain the impressive stints he had in his June performance, but Hornish salvaged a good day on Sunday afternoon after a mediocre run for most of the race. Basically, he accomplished what pretty much every Rookie of the Year candidate has had to do to take home the honors this year, and that is finish in the top 25. What is more important for Hornish at this point is he opened up some space on the hard-charging Carpentier in the ROTY standings, also regaining some of the ground he lost in the owner standings last week to maintain his “locked-in” qualifying spot.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Ambrose. Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse. After an impressive career-best third-place finish last week at The Glen, the engine on the Wood Brothers Ford expired early in Sunday’s 3M Performance 400, relegating Ambrose to a 43rd-place finish. As a result, the recent bout of bad luck will keep NASCAR fans wondering for a little while longer just how good he is. So far in 2008, Ambrose had a great run ended by mechanical problems at Sonoma, a DNQ at Loudon, a top 25 at Indy, a third place at Watkins Glen and a 43rd place this past Sunday due to mechanical woes once again. That’s hardly a consistent performance in that time span, but don’t wave the checkered flag on his 2008 season just yet – NASCAR’s favorite Aussie will return to the No. 21 Ford in two weeks in California.

Note: A close second in this category is Coleman, who was making his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 96 Camry for Hall of Fame Racing. Coleman barely got into the field, qualifying 43rd, and was hardly noticed all day as the rookie ran at the back of the pack and finished 38th, three laps off the pace.

Rookie Wreck of the Weekend: None. Hornish bounced off the wall early in the race, then made a nice save after receiving a tap from Travis Kvapil just after the halfway point. Then, approximately 30 laps later, Carpentier almost lost control of his No. 10 Dodge in front of leader Carl Edwards, but saved his fish-tailing machine from what could’ve been near-certain disaster. Due to these solid saves, there were no rookie wrecks this weekend.

Who Wasn’t Here?: Michael McDowellFollowing suit with Team Red Bull’s handling of AJ Allmendinger earlier this year, fellow Toyota team Michael Waltrip Racing has decided to relieve McDowell of his driving duties until Richmond in favor of Mike Skinner. The hope is that Skinner can once again diagnose the problems of an ailing team as he stabilizes the downfall that dropped the No. 00 outside of the Top 35 in owner points.

While I admit Skinner did a nice job of “pinch-hitting” for the No. 84 team, the trend we are seeing here is starting to concern me. I have to ask… since when do teams start replacing rookies in their first year? I thought MWR brought the ARCA star – who had all of four starts in the Nationwide and Truck Series prior to 2008 – up to the Cup ranks way too early. However, once you commit to the guy, then stay with him and give him a fair chance to work through his growing pains.

Rookie Quotes of the Week: Wondering what the heck happened to Carpentier, who finished a disappointing 30th after running in the top 10 for much of the first half of the race? Looks like the Canadian himself isn’t so sure of that answer either.

“I don’t know. The car was amazing at the beginning of the race – really fast. It was actually easy to keep up with these guys and just started getting looser and looser and looser. It got so loose from the entry of the corner to the exit I was sideways – so I was kind of dirt tracking the whole race. It’s just sad. We had a good start and held on to it for quite a while… and didn’t finish where we wanted. I don’t know what happened. It just did is all I know.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Smith 178
Hornish Jr. 177
Carpentier 167
McDowell 156
Franchitti 97 (DNS)

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Hornish Jr.: 33rd (0)
Smith: 35th (-1)
Carpentier: 36th (0)
McDowell: 40th (40th, DNS)
Dario Franchitti: 43rd (0, DNS)
Aric Almirola: 47th (-1, DNS)

Next Up: Unless your name is Wallace or Waltrip, the half-mile in Bristol, Tenn. has been one of the more challenging tracks to get around for NASCAR drivers. Our regular Rookie of the Year candidates proved that in the spring, with Smith finishing no higher than 26th to lead a disappointing group. However, Almirola pulled off a shocker, running in the top 10 for virtually the entire race and finishing eighth in his 2008 debut.

Qualifying Next Week: Hornish and Smith will once again be the only rookies who are locked into the field at Bristol next weekend. Both Carpentier – who missed the Spring race here when qualifying was rained out – and Coleman will have to put their entries into the field on time.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: Look out, it might snow on NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach this week! Seven months and 23 races into the season, I finally made a correct prediction with Hornish coming home as the top-finishing rookie on Sunday. It looked like Carpentier was going to rise to the occasion once again, but problems with a loose racecar kept him from besting the rest of the rookies. Looks like David Ragan isn’t the only one making a late-season surge before the Chase!

You Make The Pick: Many of you thought that Ambrose would make it two in a row at Michigan. However, as was earlier documented, the woes of the No. 21 team continue – allowing me to finally get to cut into your lead.

Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top-Finishing Rookie: While he hasn’t done much since then, the way Almirola blew everyone away at Bristol earlier this year makes him the sure favorite to repeat under the lights. I’m going to go with the U.S. Army driver next Saturday night!

2008 Rookie Prediction Table

| Event | Track | Tony’s Pick | Finish | Reader’s Pick | Finish | Top-Finishing Rookie | Finish |
| Daytona 500 | Daytona | Smith | 37th | Franchitti | 33rd | Hornish | 15th |
| Auto Club 500 | California | Hornish | 43rd | Hornish | 43rd | Smith | 31st |
| UAW-Dodge 400 | Las Vegas | Carpentier | 40th | Hornish | 41st | Franchitti | 33rd |
| Kobalt Tools 500 | Atlanta | Franchitti | 33rd | Hornish | 25th | Hornish | 25th |
| Food City 500 | Bristol | Smith | 26th | Hornish | 29th | Almirola | 8th |
| Goody’s Cool Orange 500 | Martinsville | Hornish | 28th | Almirola | 42nd | Smith | 14th |
| Samsung 500 | Texas | Smith | 35th | McDowell/Smith | 33rd/35th | Carpentier | 28th |
| Subway Fresh Fit 500K | Phoenix | McDowell | 34th | McDowell | 34th | Hornish | 20th |
| Aaron’s 499 | Talladega | Almirola | 33rd | Hornish | 35th | Smith | 22nd |
| Crown Royal 400 | Richmond | Carpentier | 43rd | Carpentier | 43rd | Smith | 21st |
| Dodge Challenger 500 | Darlington | Smith | 29th | Smith | 29th | McDowell | 28th |
| Coca-Cola 600 | Lowe’s | McDowell | 32nd | McDowell | 32nd | Hornish | 13th |
| Best Buy 400 | Dover | Smith | 21st | McDowell | 30th | Hornish | 18th |
| Pocono 500 | Pocono | Hornish | 42nd | Hornish | 42nd | McDowell | 27th |
| LifeLock 400 | Michigan | Smith | 32nd | McDowell | 37th | Hornish | 22nd |
| Save Mart 350K | Infineon | Carpentier | 23rd | Hornish | 31st | McDowell | 21st |
| Lenox Industrial Tools 301 | New Hampshire | Smith | 27th | Ambrose | DNQ | Almirola | 23rd |
| Coke Zero 400 | Daytona | McDowell | 25th | Carpentier | 14th | Carpentier | 14th |
| Lifelock.com 400 | Chicagoland | Hornish | 37th | Carpentier | 30th | Carpentier | 30th |
| Allstate 400 | Indianapolis | Hornish | 37th | Carpentier | 18th | Carpentier | 18th |
| Sunoco Red Cross 500 | Pocono | Smith | 25th | Hornish | 26th | McCumbee | 17th |
| Centurion Boats At The Glen | Watkins Glen | Carpentier | 20th | Carpentier | 20th | Ambrose | 3rd |
| 3M Performance 400 | Michigan | Hornish | 22nd | Ambrose | 43rd | Hornish | 22nd |

2008 Score: Readers 4, Tony 1

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