Start: 36th (Set by Owner Points); Finish: 39th
Summary: Speed may very well have made history on Sunday afternoon during the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500… he made Kyle Busch apologize. No, he didn’t threaten the younger Busch brother with violence; just being involved in an incident with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was enough.
With owner points shuffling the starting order, crew chiefs with cars in the back of the pack were forced to get creative when scheming to get their driver good track position — and Jimmy Elledge was no exception. After bring the Red Bull Toyota in for service during the first caution of the day, Elledge decided to leave Speed out on track when the competition yellow waved on lap 40, putting the No. 82 car out front. After the ensuing restart, Speed went on to lead 12 laps, the most of his NASCAR career in any one event, as he benefited from a wide-open track ahead of him. The rookie eventually fell into the grasp of those with fresher tires behind him, but it looked as if the call would pay off in the long run for the team… until the incident with Busch.
As they were battling for ninth, the No. 18 Camry dove hard underneath Speed heading into turn 3, but could not hold his line. Busch washed up into the Red Bull Camry, and the two ended up spinning out. The resulting contact sent the rookie behind the wall and left Busch apologizing for the incident, stating that the “No. 82 did not deserve that.” Team Red Bull would eventually return to the track following several laps of repairs, but then fell victim to the tire woes that were plaguing the rookies on Sunday afternoon — wrecking again. So, after a promising start to the day, Speed could only come away with a disappointing 39th-place finish.
Quote: “I’m sure Kyle [Busch] is going to offer to buy me dinner [laughing] since that’s the second time this year that he’s wrecked me, so I’m looking forward to that. We had a great car before we got wrecked and we even had a great car after we got wrecked. This race is a lot like Daytona for us where we had a great car, but were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Start: 34th (Set by Owner Points); Finish: 32nd
Summary: In the Home Depot “Rookie File” on FOX, Logano spoke about how he had not even seen Martinsville Speedway since he was 12. Well, given that information — and the fact that there was only one practice session this weekend — it sure looked as if the cards were stacked against the young rookie. That definitely proved to be the case early on, when Logano struggled to grasp the handling around the .526-mile oval. After starting in the back of the pack, crew chief Greg Zipadelli made the call to bring the No. 20 Camry down pit road when the first caution of the day waved, a stop that put the team off sequence with the leaders. Any possible advantage that could have been gained by that strategy was lost, however, once Logano was penalized to go to the tail end of the longest line after speeding on pit road during the afternoon’s third caution.
The Home Depot team would then spend the next 100 laps trying to gain back that track position, but their efforts would be impeded once again — this time by a blown tire on lap 187. Logano was forced to steer his wounded machine onto pit road, giving Jeff Gordon fans a near heart attack in the process as he abruptly turned down in front of the No. 24 Chevy to reach his destination. As the event wore on, the rookie did start to get the hang of the challenging track, hanging with the lead pack late in the race despite being well down the running order. In the end, though, a four-lap deficit was just too much to overcome, and Logano could only muster a 32nd-place finish for his effort. It was just enough to beat Speed, who had his own difficulties, for rookie honors for the fourth time this season.
Quote: “I felt like we were OK, but it’s just like every other race. It’s hard to come back after what we lost in the beginning. I think looking back at it I had no practice, had no laps around this joint, and pretty much our practice laps were the beginning of the race. I mean, we kind of worked through some of the stuff we had issues with. It drove completely different than what I had in practice. It was nothing like what I thought I was going to have. We’ll keep working at it.”
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings
Joey Logano 64
Scott Speed 62
Max Papis 9
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)
Very soon, the NASCAR community won’t be saying, “Where did he come from?” any longer when referring to Marcos Ambrose. Benefiting from his calm demeanor and association with the vastly improved Michael Waltrip Racing organization, the Australian was not rattled by the beating and banging that is par for the course at Martinsville Speedway. After quietly hanging around the top 15 for virtually the entire day, Ambrose recorded his second consecutive top-15 finish with a 14th-place run.
Meanwhile, Aric Almirola may end up writing a “Tony Stewart-esque” letter to Goodyear this week. The No. 8 car suffered a remarkable three tire failures throughout the afternoon, and — just to leave no doubt that it was a horrible day — was spun out by Sam Hornish Jr. to bring out the 10th caution of the race. Almirola, who desperately needed a good run in order to break into the Top 35 in the owner standings, never was able to get his day started due to those tire issues. The end result was a 37th-place finish for the Guitar Hero Chevrolet.
Tony’s Take: The lack of rookie incidents in last week’s race at Bristol certainly surprised me, but the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 sure made up for it. In an event that was appropriately named for this year’s freshmen, all rookies and almost rookies not named Ambrose ran into some sort of issue on the track or with their equipment. Speed certainly had to be the most disappointed leaving the track on Sunday evening. It appeared that if he could have stabilized his fall down the scoring pylon after leading, the former road-racing ace could have been positioned well to bring home a solid finish on a track that has very similar braking strategies to the circuits in open wheel. However, in a very similar fashion to what happened during the Las Vegas Nationwide race earlier this season, Speed fell victim to Busch, who uncharacteristically lost control of his car in the corner. If you think about it, Busch probably does not make a mistake like that more than twice a year — and Speed was the “lucky” man to be a part of both. Seems like that guy has to shake some bad karma moving forward!
Who Wasn’t Here?
Nobody. All rookies, or almost rookies who attempted to make the field this weekend were in the race. Note that Max Papis and Brad Keselowski did not attempt to qualify for the Food City 500, as both are running a part-time schedule in 2009.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
21st – Marcos Ambrose (+3)
34th – Joey Logano (0)
36th – Aric Almirola (0)
38th – Scott Speed (+3)
48th – Max Papis (0, DNS)
49th – Brad Keselowski (0, DNS)
Qualifying Next Week: While Mother Nature may have saved them this past week in Virginia, Almirola and Speed will once again need to make the show on speed next week in Texas. Also, Papis and Keselowski will both be looking to make their second start of the year in the No. 13 Camry and No. 25 Impala, respectively, with both needing to time into the field.
Next Up: The Lone Star State will offer welcomed relief for those who didn’t like the slow speeds and tight corners of Martinsville. Speed is the name of the game at Texas Motor Speedway because if you don’t have it under the hood, you won’t even know what the front of the field looks like at this 1.5-mile oval. As for past experience for these rookies, Keselowski had a very impressive 19th-place finish here during his Sprint Cup debut last fall, while — no surprise here — Ambrose took the checkered flag just two positions back. As for Logano and Speed, who also ran the Dickies 500 that same afternoon, they did not even break into the top 30. Every single freshman will need to bring their “A-game” next week as while the car will have to be fast and reliable, one small mistake by the driver will send their equipment back to the shop in pieces.
Rookie Prediction Poll: Your skepticism about this year’s rookie (and almost rookie) class continues, as the majority of you thought all three “bubble drivers” would be on the outside looking in following Martinsville. Well, you were very close, but for the second straight week Logano managed to barely stay inside the Top 35 despite a bad finish. Neither Speed nor Almirola could capitalize, however, meaning the bubble scenario remains exactly the same for these drivers for at least one more week.
The rookie class will receive a few additions next week when Papis and Keselowski come to play. It’s been a little over a month since we have seen these four drivers with yellow stripes on the rear bumper compete against each other, so who do you think will come out on top at Texas?
Tony Rookie Prediction: I accurately predicted Almirola’s unlucky day last week, but Speed’s legitimate shot at breaking back into the Top 35 was ended with the Busch incident. Therefore, I cannot close my one-point deficit towards you this week.
As for Texas, the last time I chose Keselowski to best the rest of the rookies at Daytona, I got burned by his DNQ. However, he was not driving in Hendrick Motorsports equipment like he will this weekend. I like the fact that Keselowski came home in the top 20 at Texas last fall, and I will pick him this weekend to finish ahead of the other rookie drivers in the field.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 1, Tony 0