Start: 13th; Finish: 19th
Summary: Logano rolled off the grid in the 13th position for the Crown Royal presents the Russ Friedman 400, his third best start of the 2009 season. But unlike his previous two top-15 qualifying efforts (ninth at Daytona and 10th at Texas), the rookie was able to hang with the lead pack for virtually the entire night. In fact, the neon orange and white Home Depot Camry rarely fell out of the top 20.
Logano’s Sprint Cup Richmond debut was not incident-free, however, as is typically the case with short track events. The No. 20 was charging through the field just before halfway when the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson made contact with Logano’s Toyota. The 18-year-old was able to regain control of both his car and his composure, but not before losing several positions and having his momentum temporarily halted. Then, on lap 285, Logano was on the outside of a three-wide battle going into turn 1, with Clint Bowyer on the bottom and Greg Biffle in the middle. The result was that the three drivers ran out of racetrack and the No. 16 and No. 20 cars made contact, sending Biffle into the wall and bringing out the third caution of the evening.
Despite these incidents, Logano was able to persevere and at one point, late in the race, looked as if he would collect his second straight top-10 finish of the season. Only a slow pit sequence during the final stop of the night would keep that from becoming a reality. When the checkered flag flew, Logano had crossed the finish line in 19th, his third best performance of 2009 and his seventh rookie of the race honor of the year.
Quote: “We started off decent. [But] I couldn’t turn… every time I’d get the car to rotate in the center, I’d get loose off. I just couldn’t find a happy medium with it. We had one of the best runs going that we had since probably Vegas besides the Talladega thing, and I felt like I had a shot at a top 10 there. Just that final lap pit stop thing always gets you, always [smiles]. Everyone worked hard and did a great job. I’m happy about the way we ran and how we could run better, but I think we’ll be better the next time we come here. Learned a lot of stuff, what we need to do to our car next time, what I need to do in practice… and hopefully [we’ll] get better.”
Start: 8th; Finish: 33rd
Summary: Speed turned in yet another impressive qualifying performance this season, recording his second consecutive top-10 starting position. However, the six-lap competition green/yellow period to start the race would be the last time anyone would take notice of the No. 82 machine. Speed’s number dropped down the starting pylon almost immediately after the “true” green flag waved, and he was a lap down before the event’s quarter-lap mark. Speed, who was also making his Richmond Sprint Cup debut, did not appear to adapt to the short track’s configuration as quickly as his rookie counterpart did. After spending almost the entire evening running at the back of the pack, the Red Bull Toyota crossed the finish line in 33rd position, four laps off the pace.
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings
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.)
With the No. 18 car in victory lane and the blue deuce entering the evening with the points lead, many overlooked the third “Busch” entry; “Bush’s” Best Baked Beans, which was on the hood of the No. 47 Toyota driven by Marcos Ambrose. The Aussie immediately advanced from his 21st-place starting position and cracked the top 10 just before halfway. It looked as if another impressive finish was in the cards for this team until lap 306, when contact with the No. 77 of Sam Hornish Jr. sent Ambrose hard into the turn 1 wall, destroying the back of his Camry. Despite the carnage, the night was far from over, as the Michael Waltrip Racing Team quickly made repairs which allowed Ambrose to rally to an 11th-place finish over the final 90 laps of the race – his fifth top 15 in his last six Sprint Cup starts.
Tony’s Take: Logano’s success at the 3/4-mile track on Saturday night should really come as no surprise. This team has a long history of success at Richmond, giving his predecessor, Tony Stewart, three wins – including his first career victory in 1999 – as well as three runner-up finishes. Don’t forget that Logano was also slated to make his first Sprint Cup start at this venue last September, and was very quick in practice before rain canceled qualifying and sent the Joe Gibbs entry home. And while it was only his third best finish in the record books, this may be the rookie’s best run of the year. Logano consistently ran in the top 20 for the entire evening, and he twice overcame incidents on the track that were not of his own doing. It can be easy to lose your cool (see: Kasey Kahne) when the night is not going your way; however, Logano kept his focus and was perhaps just a pit stop away from an even better finish.
But while Logano was mixing it up towards the front, there were times when I wasn’t even sure that Speed was in the race. A far cry from his career-best fifth-place finish last week, Speed and crew chief Jimmy Elledge appeared to miss the mark with their setup for Saturday night. It should be noted that while Richmond was not an impound race, the teams did not have any practice time after qualifying on Friday night. This meant that the “go or go homers” who may have set their car up specifically for qualifying did not have any on-track time to adjust their machines for the long run until the race – and the No. 82 team was one car that fell under that category.
Finally, Ambrose continues to impress the NASCAR faithful in 2009. In fact, as long as Ambrose has a working engine under his hood, he gets the job done. Outside of the team’s two DNFs due to motor problems this season, the No. 47 has finished in the top 22 in every event so far. Continue to keep your eye on this team for the rest of the season, as they aren’t just happy to be here – they are here to win.
Who Wasn’t Here?: All rookies who attempted to qualify for the Crown Royal Presents the Russ Friedman 400 made the show. Max Papis and last week’s winner Brad Keselowski are both running part-time schedules in 2009 and were not entered in last Saturday evening’s event.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
Qualifying Next Week: Ambrose and Logano will be locked in to next week’s race at Darlington. However, Speed still sits just outside the Top 35 in owner points and will have to make the field on time. So does Papis, as he will try to make it a perfect four-for-four in 2009 time trials with his entry in next weekend’s event. Finally, Keselowski will also make his first attempt after that big victory in Talladega – this time in Rick Hendrick’s No. 25 Chevy – and will also have to time into the field to make the race.
Next Up: Well, it’s not Labor Day weekend, but the Southern 500 is back on the Sprint Cup schedule, much to the delight of fans everywhere. It doesn’t matter what they call it, though; Darlington will still be the track labeled “Too Tough to Tame,” and its unusual egg-shaped configuration will be sure to wreak havoc for the rookies next Saturday night. It may be just over a mile in length, but Darlington is similar to a short track in that it features close side-by-side racing, meaning anyone could end up in someone else’s mess in a matter of seconds. With some recent momentum still remaining from Talladega, it’s a great opportunity for one of the rookies to turn some heads if they can record a solid finish at this historic venue.
Rookie Prediction Poll – An overwhelming 65% of you believed that Ambrose would have the best finish at Richmond; and despite his problems, he delivered. If Ambrose were officially running for Rookie of the Year, it would be no contest as he continues to record impressive finishes every week, trouncing his yellow-striped competitors.
As for this week’s poll… Darlington has claimed many victims throughout her long and storied history, as many drivers have been forced to watch the finish of the races here from the garage area. Which rookie do you think will most likely leave South Carolina with a DNF on Saturday?
Tony Rookie Prediction: Both you and I went with the proven driver this week, and it paid off. We both receive a point and enter next week with four points apiece.
While the finishes haven’t always been pretty, Papis has been able to bring home his No. 13 Toyota in one piece in each event he has entered so far. However, he has yet to meet Darlington. Nothing he has seen in NASCAR or IndyCar comes close to this track, and I think it will prove to be “Too Tough to Tame” for the Italian, who will end up recording his first DNF of the 2009 season to date.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 4, Tony 4