NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Brad Keselowski Has Impressive Debut While Joey Logano Struggles

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: Keselowski (19th), Ambrose (21st), Hornish (23rd), Speed (33rd), Smith (34th), Logano (40th)

Rookie of the Race: 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 lap 5 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.

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: Hornish 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 fives in the Nationwide Series, the Michigan-native has proven that he can wheel a racecar 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, Keselowski’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: Logano. Logano turned in yet another subpar 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 JD 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: 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 frontstretch. The incident launched Kvapil’s Ford into a spin, which collected the No. 47 Camry of 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 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, 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.

Carpentier and 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: 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 199
Smith 194
Carpentier 184
McDowell 169
Franchitti 97 (DNS)

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

Smith: 34th (0)
Hornish: 35th (0)
Carpentier: 38th (0, DNS)
McDowell: 39th (0, DNS)
Aric Almirola: 42nd (0, DNS)
Ambrose: 48th (+1)
Dario Franchitti: 49th (-1, DNS)
McCumbee: 52nd (0, DNQ)
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, Hornish 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 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 Speed or Ambrose.

Qualifying Next Week: Smith continues to enjoy a large cushion on the 35th position in owner points. 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 Ambrose’s solid run at Texas has the No. 47 (formerly the No. 00) team just 44 markers behind Speed’s No. 84. Hornish will also need to qualify his car on time next week, however his 23rd-place finish has the Mobil 1 sitting only 56 points outside of the bubble position.

Tony’s Top-Finishing Rookie Pick: I certainly thought that Hornish 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 Keselowski and Ambrose.

You Make The Pick: An overwhelming amount of you (over 60%) thought that Hornish 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: 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 | 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 |
| Sharpie 500 | Bristol | Almirola | 13th | Hornish | 37th | Almirola | 13th |
| Pepsi 500 | California | Carpentier | 18th | Hornish | 31st | Carpentier | 18th |
| Chevy Rock and Roll 400 | Richmond | Carpentier | 25th | Carpentier | 25th | McDowell | 20th |
| Sylvania 300 | Loudon | Smith | 23rd | McDowell | 27th | McDowell | 18th |
| Camping World 400 | Dover | McDowell | 29th | McDowell | 29th | McDowell | 29th |
| Camping World RV 400 | Kansas | Carpentier | 29th | McDowell | DNQ | | Carpentier | 29th |
| AMP Energy 500 | Talladega | Smith | 18th | Carpentier | DNQ | | Almirola | 13th |
| Bank of America 500 | Charlotte | Hornish | 22nd | Smith | 23rd | Hornish | 22nd |
| TUMS Quik Pak 500 | Martinsville | Almirola | 20th | Smith | 42nd | Almirola | 20th |
| Pep Boys Auto 500 | Atlanta | Speed | 34th | Smith | 30th | Hornish | 24th |
| Dickies 500 | Texas | Hornish | 23rd | Hornish | 23rd | Keselowski | 19th |

2008 Score: Tony 7, Readers 5

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