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Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Joey Logano’s Improvement Continues with Help from Miles the Monster

Joey Logano
Start: 21st; Finish: 15th

Summary: After struggling throughout much of practice, Logano was able to qualify his Home Depot Toyota in the middle of the pack for the Autism Speaks 400. As it turned out, his starting spot was actually quite good considering how tight the car was. Logano struggled mightily with the handling of his CoT, falling back to 29th before the competition caution waved on lap 30 – which proved to be a savior for this struggling team. Still, Greg Zipadelli could not loosen the car up enough for his young rookie driver, who soon fell a lap down to the leader.

Then, the entire complexion of the race changed on lap 117 once the third yellow flag of the day was thrown for debris. The caution was untimely for many who were caught in the middle of a green-flag pit-stop sequence, but not for Logano, who was actually scored ahead of the leader and back on the lead lap when the pace car took over the field. Logano and Zipadelli were also starting to make strides towards striking a balance in the handling of the No. 20 Camry, as the rookie driver would remain on the lead lap for the remainder of the day, scoring his fifth consecutive lead-lap finish. Logano’s hard fought 15th place translates into his 10th rookie honor of the race for 2009.

Quote: “I’ve just got a stiff neck for some reason. I don’t know why. I haven’t moved my neck in 400 laps, so I guess that’s why it’s a little sore. But besides that, I was good to go. I could have gone another 200 laps. I’d have been all right with that. Any more than that and I would have been a little tired.”

Scott Speed
Start: 23rd; Finish: 37th

Summary: Speed and his entire Red Bull team were hoping to follow up their strong run at Lowe’s Motor Speedway with another solid finish at Dover, the site of the rookie’s first Camping World Truck Series win last June. Their quest for a second consecutive top-20 finish started out strong on Friday when Speed put the No. 82 Camry solidly into the field, qualifying on the inside of row 12. However, things turned sour right from the drop of the green flag on Sunday. By lap 13, Speed had already fallen back to the 39th position and never appeared to be competitive. Already several laps down, the team was quickly put out of its misery on lap 118 when Speed was forced to retire from the race with mechanical problems.

Quote: “Something in the engine stopped. We came off a lot of momentum from Charlotte, so it stinks to have this happen so early.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Logano 146
Speed 130
Papis 47

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.)

Marcos Ambrose and his entire RaceSavers.com team needed a good run at Dover to stop the bleeding after two consecutive finishes outside the top 25. This team answered that call by doing what they do best – staying out of trouble and bringing home a solid finish. The Australian started his second career Sprint Cup race at Dover in the 20th position, and raced in and around that position for virtually the entire race. But while Ambrose did not fall far outside the top 20, he did not make much headway into it, either, eventually falling a lap behind the leaders. However, debris on lap 330 would bring out the caution and the “free pass” was awarded to Ambrose, which allowed him to finish in the same position he started the day in – 20th, the eighth top 20 for this team in 2009.

Tony’s Take

Logano has shown many signs of improvement over the past month as he recorded his fourth top-15 finish in his last five starts. However, I think the youngster has shown the most growth this past weekend at Dover. When Logano finished ninth at Talladega, Darlington, and Charlotte, he was running at or near the front of the field for almost the entire race, while earlier this season, when the 19-year-old struggled in the back third of the pack, he stayed there. On Sunday afternoon, the No. 20 car looked to be about as fast as a Model T during the first portion of the event, as Logano was passed on the inside, outside, and almost punted out of the way by several of his competitors. But as opposed to earlier in the season, this time the rookie was able to provide accurate feedback to his crew chief, and the duo was able to turn what could have been a disastrous day into a solid finish. Instead of cringing every time I see the orange and white Toyota on the track, I’m now becoming excited to see what he will do next.

On the other hand, Speed cannot seem to get a break in 2009. After recording his second-best finish of the season during Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, Speed and Company were forced to watch much of the Autism Speaks 400 from the garage area after losing a motor. With Speed struggling to keep up any positive momentum and Logano starting to hit his stride, the Rookie of the Year race is starting to become a runaway after looking like it might be a close battle early on.

I think the biggest shocker at Dover was who missed the race. Read on….

Who Wasn’t Here?: David Starr was slated to make his second consecutive attempt in the No. 06 Dodge, but did not even make a single qualifying lap.

However, the real surprises were that both Talladega winner Brad Keselowski and open-wheel convert Max Papis missed the show, clocking in with the 41st and 42nd “quickest” times, respectively. While both were among the 43 fastest, they were bumped by John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon (who wrecked during his qualifying laps) who were each guaranteed a spot by virtue of being in the Top 35 in owner points – while the No. 25 and No. 13 teams were not.

The DNQ was Keselowski’s second of the year after missing the Daytona 500 in James Finch’s No. 09 Chevy. However, missing the show at Dover prevented this driver from recording his third consecutive top 10 following a victory and seventh-place finish in his previous two starts. Meanwhile, Papis was turning heads with his underdog team by making the show in all five of his attempts so far in 2009 before falling short at Dover. Both drivers were slow in practice earlier that day and apparently could not correct the problem in time for qualifying.

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

20th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
23rd – Joey Logano (+2)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
40th – Brad Keselowski (0, DNQ)
41st – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
45th – Max Papis (0, DNQ)

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 points after missing two events due to Indy 500 commitments; however, his No. 34 team remained in 35th because of the efforts of Tony Raines in that same time period.

Qualifying Next Week: Speed had a chance to make up ground on the No. 34 team – who they are chasing to break into the Top 35 in owner points – especially with Andretti’s early tire problems Sunday. However, the engine malfunction on the No. 82 car prevented Speed from doing so, and he will have to qualify on time next week at Pocono as a result.

Next Up: Speed will have the advantage over his rookie counterparts this weekend when the Sprint Cup Series heads to the mountains of Pennsylvania for the Pocono 500. He is the only driver who has made competitive laps at this speedway when he competed in the ARCA Series there in 2008, and recorded two poles and two runner-up finishes. The Camping World Truck and Nationwide series do not compete at the “Tricky Triangle” (something I think needs to change) so neither Logano or Ambrose have seen the place before. This is an important fact because Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct turns that have variable banking. No other track comes close; so, they will be in for a challenge while Speed will try to use his experience to make up lost ground on this ROTY counterparts.

Rookie Prediction Poll: Your confidence in young Logano continues to ride high, as 63% of you thought that he would finish highest among rookies and almost rookies, including Ambrose – and you were absolutely correct.

On to this week’s question. Speed really needs to turn his season around, and considering his ARCA experience last season, Pocono might be just the place for him to do it. Will this former open-wheel standout record his second top-10 finish of the season next Sunday? Let us know by voting in this week’s poll.

Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I thought Keselowski would continue to upset the ROTY candidates, but it looks like the clock struck midnight for Cinderella and it was Miles the Monster who took the glass slipper. Keselowski missed the show entirely, meaning that you gain a one-point advantage on me.

Speed certainly has the capability of finishing well at the Pocono 500. Not only did he log laps in an ARCA car at this facility, but he was extremely competitive in both starts. I am a strong believer in that you must learn to walk before you can run. With that being said, I think Speed and this team will record a great finish – but it will not be able to crack the top 10.

Rookie Poll Points: Readers 6, Tony 5

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