Start: 7th; Finish: 12th
Summary: What a difference a few months can make. That’s what Joey Logano must be thinking after posting a very strong TUMS Fast Relief 500 run. During his first trip to the Virginia track, Logano both qualified and finished outside of the top 30. But while the rookie had a much better afternoon this time around, it certainly was not without its challenges.
Logano’s Home Depot Camry was very quick on Friday, as he turned in a qualifying run that was good enough for seventh, his career-best on a short track. He was unable to stay there for long, however, falling back to the middle of the pack by the 100th lap. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli then tried to get his driver some track position by pitting off sequence. When the caution waived for the sixth time, Zippy was able to keep his driver on the track while the leaders pitted. Unfortunately, Logano was towards the back of the group that did not pit, and was quickly overtaken by those who had fresh rubber.
When the race hit the halfway mark, controversy brewed for the No. 20 driver as he and the No. 44 of AJ Allmendinger made contact several times as they battled for position. On lap 251, Logano ended the battle as he went into the corner and straight up the track into Allmendinger, sending his Dodge into the wall. The contact looked intentional, but Logano would refute such accusations after the race. He was able to continue after the incident, slowly moving toward the front of the pack for the remainder of the race to finish 12th – his best Sprint Cup finish on a track less than one mile in length. It was also his 23rd rookie honor of the race in 2009.
Quote: “Oh my gosh. I’m glad it’s over. This is a very, very tough racetrack. I feel like we fought ourselves all day more than anything else. Couldn’t make a good pit stop, kept losing track position. We were only good in long runs and there wasn’t many except that one, and we were able to gain a lot of track position there. I’ve got to apologize to the [No.] 44. I got into him when I got loose on the bottom. We finished 12th, and that’s still OK. I’m glad it’s over [smiles].”
Start: 18th; Finish: 31st
Summary: Like his rookie counterpart, Scott Speed was also hoping to improve on a dismal spring performance at the Martinsville Speedway and for a while, it looked as if he was going to. For most of Sunday afternoon, the rookie would quietly make laps just outside of the top 20. Crew chief Jimmy Elledge also tried to employ pit strategy to gain track position, but the No. 82 car could not remain in front of those with new tires for long. However, a lucky break came on a caution with 50 laps to go, when Speed was the lone car who hadn’t yet made his green-flag stop. All of a sudden, he was launched back on the lead lap and briefly into the top 10, with luck appearing to be back on their side. However, with just five laps remaining, however, Speed went into turn 1 hard and on the outside, trying to make up positions. Unfortunately the car did not stick, and the Team Red Bull Toyota broke loose and slammed tailfirst into the outside wall. The rear end of Speed’s car was torn to pieces as he limped back to pit road, showering debris on the way. He was relegated to a disappointing 31st position and his seventh DNF of 2009, but first since Chicago in July.
No Short Track Love: Outside of a 15th-place finish for the August Bristol race, Speed’s finishes for the 2009 short-track season were dreadful: 28th, 39th, 33rd, 36th and 31st. Good thing he will not have to see another one until next spring.
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 freshmen as they embark on their first full season in 2009.)
Marcos Ambrose did not get a very good qualifying run, and it cost him early in the race. On lap 7, Matt Kenseth’s DeWalt Ford washed up the racetrack in turns 3 and 4 where Ambrose was running. The two made contact and the No. 47 sustained significant damage in the incident. The Australian was never able to fully recover and had to settle for a disappointing 27th-place finish, his worst on a short track this year.
As I mentioned last week, Logano is showing maturity down the stretch and, for the most part, further illustrated his growth as a driver on Sunday. Martinsville is not an easy racetrack to stay patient on, especially when one is shuffled back in the pack as Logano was. However, he was able to maintain composure and fight back for a solid finish when, at one point, it looked as if his chances for even a top 20 were slim. What Logano will have to keep in mind for next time is to pick his battles. The rookie spoke about apologizing to Allmendinger after the race, but the replays would certainly indicate that it was more than just an accident. I have no reason not to give Logano the benefit of the doubt, but his competitors may think otherwise in the future, something that could come back and bite him later on.
Meanwhile, the only thing that could possibly save Speed this year is the end of the season. No matter how hard the rookie tries, it seems like he cannot escape bad luck in 2009. Speed was doing everything a driver needs to do to survive Martinsville on Sunday afternoon by keeping his nose clean and staying out of trouble. But when he tried to make the most out of his run at the end, Lady Luck slammed the door shut. Still, 495 more laps of experience should benefit the rookie in 2010.
Who Wasn’t Here? The only driver who missed the field was Josh Wise, who was attempting to make his first career Sprint Cup start in the No. 73 Dodge.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
17th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
20th – Joey Logano (0)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
40th – Brad Keselowski (-1, DNS)
43rd – Max Papis (0, DNS)
45th – Aric Almirola (-1, DNS)
53rd – Erik Darnell (0, DNS)
62nd – Dexter Bean (0, DNS)
Note – The discrepancy between the driver standings and owner points for Scott 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 during that time period.
Qualifying Next Week: Speed is still outside of the Top 35, and will have to make the field on time at Talladega. If Keselowski wants to attempt the ‘Dega sweep, he must also be fast enough to make the race in the No. 09 Chevy. Papis also has a tentative start scheduled next week, and will need to be quick enough in qualifying if he wants to make that start a reality.
Next Up: The AMP Energy Drink 500 is up next at the always wild Talladega Superspeedway. If this track is considered “the lotto,” as Mark Martin put it, then the rookies picked all of the right numbers here back in April. Keselowski pulled off an improbable win, while Speed came home with a career best fifth-place finish and Logano was not too far behind in ninth. What does that mean for this weekend? Absolutely nothing. When the series goes to Talladega, the drivers are simply along for the ride, as picking the right lane and being at the right place at the right time when the Big One happens could translate into a top-10 finish or even a win. If the rookies can duplicate their luck from the spring, then another top 10 is not out of the question.
Rookie Prediction Poll: A definitive 72% of you thought that the Martinsville Speedway was just too tough of a track for Ambrose, Logano and Speed to record top-25 finishes. There were points in the race where it looked as if it just might happen, but in the end only Logano could pull it off and you earn a point.
Talladega Prediction: Three rookies recorded top-10 finishes at Talladega, an accomplishment many would argue was a result of luck rather than skill. Which rookie has the best chance of finishing in the top 10 once again this time around? You will be rewarded a point if the driver with the majority of votes records a top 10.
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: As difficult as it was going to be, I still thought the trio of rookies could succeed on Sunday, but I was wrong as only one out of three recorded a top-25 finish. Therefore, you cut my lead down to one with just four events remaining.
As for this week’s question, answering it could almost be accomplished by picking a name out of a hat. Based on the past few weeks, Logano would be the logical pick, but I am going to go with Speed. That pick probably makes the least amount of sense, given he is the driver that has the least amount of luck going to a track that requires the most luck. However, I think he can stay out of trouble by laying low for most of the afternoon and make the run when it counts to pick up his second career top-10 finish.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 13, Tony 14