Start: 14th; Finish: 9th
Summary: Logano rolled off the starting grid in the 14th position when the green flag finally waived for the Coca-Cola 600 on Monday afternoon. The rookie, who just turned 19 years young on Sunday, celebrated by keeping his name mixed with the leaders for virtually the entire afternoon. By lap 15 he was already in the top-10 battling with the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson among others. On lap 133, crew chief Greg Zipadelli elected to keep his driver out during a pit-stop cycle just long enough to lead one lap. It was the second race in a row that Logano lead.
Zipadelli had to make more difficult choices later in the event. On lap 222, rain fell once again on the already drenched Lowe’s Motor Speedway, bringing out the caution. The rain put crew chiefs up and down pit road into the precarious position of guessing whether or not rain was there to stay. Zipadelli and company made the call to bring the No. 20 into the pits for tires. After an agonizing effort to dry the track fell short, the race was called and Logano’s potential top-five run turned into a ninth-place finish, which tied his career best for the third time in 2009. The top 10 was the Connecticut native’s ninth top rookie finish of the season.
Quote: “Rain delays and rain delays, whatever. There’s nothing you can do about it [smiles]. Been through it a million times, man. I’m sure it’s going to be like this a lot all day, I think.”
Start: 18th; Finish: 18th
Summary: After missing the show at Darlington with his Red Bull team, Speed turned in a very strong top-20 qualifying effort when he started on the outside of row nine. The California native would struggle at first, losing positions and falling outside of the top 20. However, crew chief Jimmy Elledge would figure out exactly what his rookie driver needed and Speed would recover to finish exactly where he started – in 18th. It marked Speed’s second best finish of the season.
Start: 32nd; Finish: 42nd
Summary: The Coca-Cola 600 marked Papis’s fifth start of the 2009 season when he rolled off the grid in row 16. However, this race would be prove to be a struggle right from the beginning for the Italian. The No. 13 team came down pit road on lap 7 during the afternoon’s first caution. New tires or adjustments would not be enough to help Papis though, as he could only muster a dismal 42nd-place finish.
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 freshman as they embark on their first full season in 2009.)
The Memorial Day classic was not kind to Marcos Ambrose, whose strong season has been losing momentum over the last few weeks. The Tasmanian started in the 23rd position, but was never able to make any forward progress in the event that was supposed to be run under the twilight. The change in track conditions appeared to have a negative impact on the car that the No. 47 team just couldn’t overcome. Ambrose finished in 26th, the final car on the lead lap.
You can definitely tell how far Logano’s season has progressed when during the final rain delay, he commented on his disappointment about not having a chance to compete for a top-five finish. Just a few short months ago, this team was disappointed about not being able to finish in the top 30. It appears that Logano and Zipadelli are starting to get on the same page as the rookie driver now has top-10 finishes (all ninth place to be exact) at one of the most treacherous tracks (Talladega), one of the most challenging venues (Darlington) and during one of the most bizarre events (Charlotte) on the schedule.
Speed had exactly the type of race he needed after missing the Southern 500 last week and having to drive Nemechek’s entry. Monday’s race was one of Speed’s better events of 2009 as he stayed out of trouble and ran in the top 30 for almost the entire afternoon. He will need exactly those type of runs over the next few weeks to reestablish the team inside the Top 35 in owner points before being able to lift his performance to the next level.
Who Wasn’t Here?: Camping World Truck Series driver David Starr attempted to make his 10th career Sprint Cup start this past Memorial Day weekend. However, his No. 06 Dodge was way off the pace and Starr was not even a threat to make the show.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
Note: The discrepancy between the driver standings and owner points for Speed is due to the fact that John Andretti fell behind Speed in driver’s points while Andretti’s No. 34 team remained in 35th in the owner’s standings with Tony Raines behind the wheel.
Qualifying Next Week: Speed’s No. 82 team is closing in on the final position that gets locked into the field, but close is not enough as they will have to make the field on time once again at Dover. Papis is scheduled to attempt next week’s event in Dover in the GEICO Camry and will have to time into the show, which has not been a problem for him all year. Keselowski will also make an appearance in Rick Hendrick’s No. 25 Impala and will have to be fast enough to make it in on speed.
Next Up: You can always tell that summer is (unofficially) here when the Sprint Cup series makes its northern swing, starting this week at Dover for the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips & Cheese. Yes, that is the official name for this event, which is often the tale of two races. Known as “The Monster Mile,” this Delaware track’s high banking and concrete surface can make for fast, door-to-door racing. On the flip side, when the competitors are not beating fenders, the guys also tend to get strung out during the inevitable long green flag runs. Either way, it will be a long day for the rookies, none of which have a lap of Sprint Cup experience at Dover.
Rookie Prediction Poll – You are starting to show some confidence in Logano and it paid off. Over half of you thought that the rookie would in fact record his second consecutive top-10 finish and he did just that.
The field of rookies will be a little more crowded next week for the Autism Speaks 400. Let us know who you think will be the highest-finishing rookie at Dover by voting in this week’s poll. This time, I’ll also throw Ambrose into the mix, just to spice things up a little.
Tony Rookie Prediction: Looks like we’ve got a real race going on. We had the same thoughts about Logano and head into next week all knotted up at five points a piece.
Logano has been impressive as of late, but another newbie who has been stealing some thunder this year is Keselowski. The last time he was behind the wheel of a Hendrick Chevy at Darlington, the rookie displayed an incredible amount of patience throughout the Southern 500, avoiding trouble, and brought home a top-10 finish. That is the same exact formula needed for a strong finish at Dover and I think the kid will not have a problem duplicating it on Sunday.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 5, Tony 5