Start: 23rd; Finish: 23rd
Summary: Not even a dominant victory in Saturday’s ARCA Re/Max Pocono 200 could prepare Logano for the “Tricky Triangle” – Sprint Cup style. The rookie, who saw Pocono for the first time in his career this past weekend, was given the chance to earn valuable experience in Bill Venturini’s No. 25 Camry during the support race. The 19 year-old took full advantage of the opportunity – leading 52 laps en route to a dominant victory. Despite his supremacy on Saturday, Logano appeared out of his league, when the green flag flew on Sunday. The No. 20 Toyota fell from his 23rd starting spot almost immediately and lost a lap before the half-way mark as the Logano struggled with an ill-handling race car.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli would help his young driver gain back some track position by taking advantage of NASCAR’s new rules and the track’s large layout. The third caution of the afternoon flew during a green-flag pit stop cycle and the Home Depot crew had yet to perform service on their machine. Zipadelli made the call to keep Logano on the track, meaning that he would be waived around the pace car and placed on the tail end of the lead lap (the actual tail end). As soon as racing resumed, the crew made their pit stop and Logano was able to rejoin the race ahead of the leader. The strategy came full circle when a caution flew just nine laps later, allowing the rookie to catch back up to the pack.
Once Logano was free from the back third of the field, he began to find his groove. As the handling improved on his Camry, so did the results. For the second straight week, this rookie turned what could have been a 30-something run into a solid finish. The 23rd-place finish was Logano’s sixth consecutive lead-lap finish and 11th rookie honor of the race for 2009.
Quote: “We started off bad, kind of like I was going to expect to run, and I learned a lot about where to be on the racetrack and was able to adjust our car accordingly. Kind of wish we had practice back to adjust on where I needed to be and that kind of thing. It’s kind of typical when you come to these places and you don’t know. I thought we learned a lot. We were running good at the end. It was too late. Maybe we should have finished a few spots better. Some guys got us on fuel mileage but besides that I feel like I’m going to have a better piece when I come back here next time.”
Start: 37th; Finish: 32nd
Summary: Despite his past success in the ARCA series at Pocono, Speed struggled to navigate the three distinct turns at the Pocono International Raceway. The No. 82 team inherited the 37th starting position by virtue of 2009 attempts when qualifying was rained out on Friday. It appeared that they could have used the additional day of practice that was lost as well due to the wet weather. Speed went a lap down early and was unable to race his way into the top 30 for virtually the entire race. The 32nd-place finish meant that Speed and Company failed to capitalize on an opportunity to make up ground in the owner points as the No. 34 team, who they are chasing, only finished in 35th.
Start: 43rd; Finish: 36th
Summary: Bean and his Black Jack Racing team received a gift from Mother Nature on Friday when qualifying was rained out. The team was able to squeak into the final spot for the Pocono 500, just ahead of Derrike Cope, who had one less attempt in 2009 and the post entries of Mike Wallace and Tony Raines. Racing with a limited budget, Bean and his Livewire Energy team had fewer sets of tires than much of the competition, but still ran the entire race. The No. 51 Dodge remained at the back of the pack while staying out of trouble and finishing just four laps off the pace. The 36th-place run was the first ever Sprint Cup event for both the driver and his family-owned team, who missed two other events as Las Vegas and Phoenix earlier this season.
Quote: “Definitely mission accomplished. I was hoping to stay on the lead lap but it’s tough in our position. We didn’t have all the tires some of these other guys do and didn’t have the pit crews like some of the big teams. We’re a small budget team and did what we came to do and did the best we could. I just have to thank all the crew guys for sticking with me. It’s tough to go out there and kind of be the last guy running around but we learned a lot. We learned a lot on adjusting on the race cars and finally got some good laps here in a Cup car at Pocono. All in all it was a good day.”
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.)
Marcos Ambrose was faced with a series of “firsts” this past weekend and handled each challenge with ease. It was the Aussie’s first trip to Pocono, but you couldn’t tell judging by his performance. As is normally the case, the No. 47 Camry quietly raced in the 15th-20th place positions for most of the afternoon, while staying out of harm’s way. With the laps winding down, crew chief Frankie Kerr asked his driver to save fuel, something Ambrose had not done before on the Sprint Cup level. He passed the test with flying colors though, as the Pocono rookie held on to finish in the sixth position, earning his third top 10 of the season.
I mentioned last week that I was impressed by Logano’s ability to improve through out the course of a race and while the finish wasn’t as pretty this week, the run was almost as notable. The No. 20 car looked like junk for the first half of the race, barely hanging on outside of the top 30. Just past the halfway mark, Greg Zipadelli’s call to get his driver back on the lead lap appeared to give the team the momentum boost they desperately needed. Once they learn to come out of the gate faster, I guarantee Logano will be racing for top 10s instead of top 20s at the end of each event. I also applaud the efforts of Joe Gibbs Racing for using the ARCA race for getting their young driver additional seat time on the track. While Logano started slow in Sunday’s 500-mile race, the experience definitely seemed to pay off at the end. Kudos to J.D. and the boys for keeping their priorities straight and not shipping their driver halfway across the country to compete in another series just for the sake of competing.
We just may have The Iceman – Version 2.0 in Ambrose. Nothing seems to faze this driver from “down under,” not even an odd track or a fuel-mileage race. He continues to quietly hang out and come home with solid finishes while most people are looking the other way. Sunday’s top -10 finish may be his most impressive yet considering the circumstances, and I expect many more as the 2009 season wears on.
Who Wasn’t Here?: Mother Nature actually smiled on some of the rookies this weekend. While fans and most competitors were disappointed by Friday’s washout, setting the field on points guaranteed Speed and Bean with a spot in the Pocono 500 field, giving each a welcomed sign of relief.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
18th – Marcos Ambrose (+2)
25th – Joey Logano (-2)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
40th – Brad Keselowski (0, DNS)
42nd – Aric Almirola (-1, DNS)
45th – Max Papis (0, DNS)
53rd – Dexter Bean
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, but his No. 34 team remained in 35th because of the efforts of Raines in the time period.
Qualifying Next Week: Speed remains outside the Top 35 in owner points and will have to make field on time in Michigan. Max Papis will also be attempting to make the Lifelock 400 with new crew chief Peter Sospenzo on top of the pit box. The duo will be hoping get the No. 13 team back on track after the DNQ at Dover.
Next Up: The Irish Hills of Michigan is the site of next week’s Sprint Cup race. Once again, the competitors will enjoy racing on a wide surface with multiple grooves where the field often gets strung out and finishes tend to come down to who has the most fuel in the tank. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s a lot like Pocono – Part II. This Sunday could offer some of the rookies and almost rookies with an excellent chance to record a good finish as Logano, Speed and Ambrose have competed at this venue in other series.
Rookie Prediction Poll: It was almost unanimous as an astounding 93% of you did not think that Speed would record a top-10 finish. You could not have been more right. Speed struggled in his first Sprint Cup start at Pocono and finished well outside of the top 10, awarding you with another point.
Michigan has often been kind to rookie competitors and as previously mentioned, most of them have prior experience at this track. Who will be the best? Let us know by voting in this week’s poll.
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I was certainly wrong in my thought that Speed would have a good finish on Sunday, however I did not go as far as to predict that he would crack the top 10. Therefore, I also gain a point and remain one marker behind you.
Logano might be in the midst of turning his season around, but I think Ambrose will be the highest finish rookie/almost rookie in the Lifelock 400. I also predict that once again, nobody will notice that he is even in the race.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 7, Tony 6