Start: 3rd; Finish: 15th
Summary: Scott Speed recorded his best starting position since Chicago in July when he qualified on the inside of row two for the Sharpie 500. The Californian would not remain there for long however as he quickly faded outside of the top 15 by the lap 100 mark, eventually falling a lap down. However, as it turned out, things were not quite as bad for the No. 82 team as it initially seemed. When the yellow flag flew for debris on lap 256, Speed’s team was awarded the Lucky Dog, placing him back on the lead lap. With the car still not to the rookie’s liking, he would again fall a lap down to the leader. Crew chief Jimmy Elledge would continue to work on the car and the Red Bull Camry came to life in the final segment of the event. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on lap 459 when the No. 77 of Sam Hornish Jr. wrecked, giving Speed and company their second Lucky Dog of the race. This time, the 26 year-old was able to capitalize on his good fortune and charge ahead to a 15th-place finish. It was Speed’s first top 15 finish since his fifth-place run at Talladega in April and good enough to earn him his fifth rookie honor of the season.
Quote: “We had a great weekend. We made good decisions we made good changes on the car and we had a really good car for the whole last 150, 200 laps of the race. I mean, it was great. I’m sure we gained a lot of points here so that’s good. I’ve got to go celebrate with my man KB [Kyle Busch].”
Start: 8th; Finish: 34th
Summary: For the second consecutive race, Joey Logano put rolled off the grid in the eighth starting position. This time, however, the results would not be as good as they were in Michigan last week. Logano ran into problems in the form of Dave Blaney early in the race. As the No. 66 car back peddled through the field, contact was made with the No. 20 of Logano as the rookie was trying to make his way through the traffic. That would prove to be the least of the 19-year-old’s problems though. On lap 12, the Home Depot Camry and Reed Sorenson’s No. 43 Dodge made contact, sending Logano into the wall and inflicting enough damage to his machine that it severely crippled any chance of a good finish. After a very eventful start to the evening, Logano was forced to spend the rest of the Sharpie 500 simply making laps around the Bristol Motor Speedway in his damaged Toyota. He was credited with a 34th-place finish when the checker flag flew.
Notable Stat: Saturday night’s finish was Logano’s first outside of the top 30 since his 32nd place run at Martinsville back on March 29th.
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 recovered from a major hiccup last week when he recorded one of his best performances on an oval in his short career so far. After starting back in the 25th position, the Australian charged through the field and broke into the top 10 by lap 125. By lap 200, the No. 47 Camry had broken into the top five and was easily one of the fastest cars in the field. While the 32-year old never did have quite enough to challenge for the win, he did flex some muscle against the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle late in the race. His third place finish is his best on an oval, beating the fourth-place finish at Talladega earlier back in April.
In Friday’s Driver Diary, Speed gave the Frontstretch faithful a little insight into how he would perform this weekend when he wrote that he that believed he had a car better than what the team brought to Bristol earlier in 2009. Well, it may have not looked that way early on, but this driver and team ran the half-mile exactly the way they should have and were rewarded in the end. Speed did not overdrive the car and kept his nose clean while providing effective feedback to his crew chief. That’s exactly what he did at this track back in the spring where he finished in the 28th position. What was the difference that led to a better result this time around? Experience. It’s been a rough year so far, but Team Red Bull has to feel good about how their driver is growing, especially as they hit the homestretch.
I certainly thought that last week’s uncharacteristically horrendous run for Ambrose would kill most of the momentum the team gained from their runner-up finish at the Glen. Turns out I was wrong. Apparently it is just the wide D-shaped ovals that do not suit this almost rookie’s style as he was on fire when it came to the tight corners and rough racing at Bristol. Despite the fact that there are no more road courses on the schedule, I still won’t be surprised if this team pulls off a victory before the end of the season.
Who Wasn’t Here?: Max Papis was another driver who had a lot of momentum after recording his first career top-10 finish at Watkins Glen. However, his Germain Racing Camry was not fast enough to make the field, as Papis recorded his fourth DNQ of the season.
Aric Amirola was hoping to make his first start since Texas earlier this season when he was asked to drive James Finch’s No. 09 Dodge (most likely a start-and-park). However, he was nowhere near fast enough to make the field and recorded his first career DNQ.
Finally, Dexter Bean, who was slated to make a start in his family-owned No. 51 Dodge, withdrew after crew chief Ryan Bergenty broke his ankle leading up to the event.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
17th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
19th – Joey Logano (0)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
40th – Brad Keselowski (-1, DNS)
43rd – Max Papis (0, DNQ)
44th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
59th – Dexter Bean (-1, 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’s 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 the time period.
Qualifying Next Week: Speed will hope to make it two solid starts in a row when he heads to the Atlanta Motor Speedway in two weeks. Meanwhile, Papis will not waste any time trying to forget about his Bristol DNQ as he also attempts to make the Pep Boys Auto 500 on time.
Next Up: After the final week off on the 2009 schedule, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Georgia where Atlanta will take over the reigns from Fontana as the Labor Day Weekend race. Drivers and crews face a tricky balance when they come to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, as their cars need to be very fast, but also durable since this track has a history of being tough on engines. As if that weren’t enough, tires and grip (or lack thereof) had crew chiefs scratching their heads back in the spring. Consequently that race was not particularly kind to any rookie or almost rookie. Both Logano and Speed were involved in accidents while Ambrose suffered an engine failure, his first of only two DNFs this season. In fact, the highest finish between the three of them belonged to Logano in 30th. Look for each driver to rely on lessons learned in order to have a better run this Sunday night.
Rookie Prediction Poll: Most of you (47%) thought that Logano would be the highest finishing driver, but unfortunately for you, your chances of winning were diminished in the first 12 laps of the race. Logano certainly did not have the evening he was capable of due to the contact with other drivers.
Atlanta Prediction: The freshman hope to fare better in the Peach State than they did back in March. While each driver should improve, who will finish the highest?
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I thought I was about to pull off an upset with my pick of Speed, who had one of his best runs of the year. However, it just so happened that Ambrose also had one of his best performances in 2009. Therefore, no points are awarded this week.
I think Logano will recover from his Bristol disaster and finish the highest of all rookies and almost rookies this Labor Day weekend.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 11, Tony 10