Start: 18th; Finish: 12th
Summary: The Allstate 400 qualifying order will credit Joey Logano with a top 20 starting position but in reality, the rookie was forced to take the green flag from the tail end of the field following an engine change earlier in the weekend. After jokingly stating the only direction he could go from there was forward, Logano came through on his promise by gaining 16 positions by lap 13. The 19-year-old then showed patience all afternoon as he steadily progressed through the field on one of the most difficult tracks to pass on the circuit. By lap 67, the No. 20 Camry had cracked the top 20 and remained there for virtually the entire rest of the event. In the final 10 laps, Logano became involved in a fierce side-by-side battle with Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a dominant car until a pit road speeding penalty relegated him to the middle of the pack. After some beating and banging, Montoya eventually won the battle while Logano held on to a 12th place finish. Logano’s Allstate 400 performance resulted in his fifth consecutive top 20 finish and his 16th rookie honor of the race award.
Quote: On the late-race battle with Montoya and on the rest of his day: “We were racing hard. Every position counts, you know. We run hard. I didn’t want to blow our good finish [smiles] away though. It’s like ‘race hard,’ but eventually enough is enough and you’ve got to be smart out there. We had a really good car. We took off on restarts like no other. I started on the outside lane every single time which sucked, but besides that we took off real good and passed a lot of cars and eventually everyone just single-filed out and we’d get stuck where we were at and it was just tight and you couldn’t pass nobody. You had to get ‘em on the start or you were just kind of stuck there.”
Start: 26th; Finish: 31st
Summary: Newlywed Scott Speed ran into problems very early in the Allstate 400. The rookie believed he had a tire going down in the first ten laps of the event and eventually made contact with the outside wall. As a result, Speed was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 12, putting him a lap down early. The Californian was never able to make up his deficit and, in fact, it only continued to grow throughout the race as Speed eventually finished three laps off the pace in 31st. However, the positive side of the story is that Speed did, in fact, finish the race, something he hadn’t done since visiting the road course in Sonoma at the end of June.
Quote on Returning to Indianapolis in a stock car: “It’s totally weird, not only on the race track, but also – this is always my Little America. Every time I would come back to America, it would always be here when I was racing in Formula 1 so now that I have been here and living here for the last couple of years, everything seems a lot different when you come back here for a race. It’s got a lot of weird little idiosyncrasies to it, but so far it’s been great.”
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings
Joey Logano 204
Scott Speed 181
Max Papis 70
Dexter Bean 11
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)
When Marcos Ambrose came to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last season, he pulled off quite a feat as he qualified a second Wood Brothers-supported car that needed to make the field on time, while his teammate, veteran Bill Elliott, missed the show. The Australian had a quiet, solid day that afternoon and finished in the 22nd position. It was a whole new set of circumstances this time around for Ambrose, as his No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota was locked into the field. The 32-year old turned in a stellar qualifying effort of 11th; however, his Camry was not quite as good in race trim. Ambrose slowly started to fall back from the drop of the green flag, and eventually settled in right around the top 20 mark. When the checkered flag waved, Ambrose was again credited with 22nd after somewhat of a mediocre day by his team’s standards. It was only the third time they had finished outside the top 20 in their last eight starts.
Despite the fact that he has never driven on this track before, Logano and his Home Depot team appeared to hit the setup right from the start, as opposed to halfway through the event… which has been the case in most of his races so far in 2009. They picked a fine time to get it correct from the beginning, though, as a slow start from the end of the field translates into a very long day. This team has itself poised for a strong second half run.
Speed has not had any good luck as of late, but they appeared to have found a way to cope with the raincloud that has hovered above the No. 82 Red Bull Camry for several weeks now. If you can’t rid yourself of ill fortune, then simply get it out of the way early. While the team was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop in the first 15 laps of the race, they did not have another bout of bad luck for the rest of the event. This team made a step in the right direction by finishing the race, ending a streak of three consecutive DNFs. Now, they need to take it to the next level and learn how to race in the first half of the pack instead of at the back where trouble always seems to be brewing.
Who Wasn’t Here?:
It was not the homecoming Max Papis was hoping for when returning to the famed two-and-a-half mile oval at Indianapolis — this time in NASCAR instead of in IndyCar. His No. 13 GEICO Camry was much too tight on the qualifying run, and Papis was simply not fast enough to make the Allstate 400 field.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
18th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
19th – Joey Logano (+1)
35th – Scott Speed (+1)
39th – Brad Keselowski (0, DNS)
43rd – Max Papis (0, DNQ)
44th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
57th – Dexter Bean (0, DNS)
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 Tony Raines in that time period.
Qualifying Next Week: Speed will have to time into the field this Friday as his team continues to sit just outside the Top 35 in owner points. Meanwhile, Dexter Bean will also need to make it into the show on speed when he returns to Pocono, the site of his first and only Sprint Cup start back in June of this year.
Next Up: The good news for the 2009 rookies and almost rookies is that for the second time this season, the series will return to a track where they ran earlier this year. The even better news is that Pocono should be fresh on these drivers’ minds as they were at the “Tricky Triangle” just a month and a half ago. Logano logged more miles than any rookie as he participated in and easily won the ARCA 200. However, that success did not carry over into Sunday as the day’s highest finishing freshman could only muster a 23rd place finish. Speed will also look to improve on his disappointing 32nd place run. While those two Rookie of the Year Candidates hope that the knowledge they gained in June will translate into better on-track success, Ambrose will be happy to return to the Poconos for the Sunoco Red Cross 500, where he’s already finished sixth earlier this season.
Rookie Prediction Poll – Nearly three quarters of you thought that this year’s rookies just couldn’t duplicate the success that other freshmen have managed during their rookie campaigns in years past. However, Logano did manage to fight his way into the top 15, denying you a point for this weekend.
Pocono Prediction – While this is technically the second time the Sprint Cup Series is revisiting a track in 2009 (Daytona), this is the first time where drivers can actually put what they learned to the test. Neither of this year’s Rookie of the Year candidates performed very well in June. Can either one or both improve on their Pocono 500 finish when they return to the northeastern Pennsylvania track?
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I did pick up a point when I chose Logano for finishing in the top 15. However, I will admit I thought the rookie would be finding a way to sneak in at the end. Instead, he earned his finish through sheer grit and determination, and probably would have had a top 10 if it weren’t for starting in the back. As a result, I have closed the yearlong deficit back to within one point.
I think Logano is a much-improved driver since the first time he visited Pocono Raceway. I also believe that Speed will be able to use both his previous ARCA and Sprint Cup starts to his advantage and better his 32nd place last June. So I am picking both Logano and Speed to better their Pocono 500 performance.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers: 10, Tony: 9