Start: 20th (Points); Finish: 3rd
Summary: There really isn’t any strategy a driver can follow during a restrictor-plate race, as the most they can do is hang on and turn left. With that in mind, Joey Logano took what little strategy a driver can employ and used it to his advantage. The rookie spent most of the day riding in the pack, trying to find a lane where his car would work well and drafting partners that could push his No. 20 to the front. Using that information, the 19-year old positioned himself in the front of the pack at the right time – the closing laps. The Home Depot Camry even paced the field with help from his teammate Denny Hamlin. He didn’t stay there for long, but he did not fall back far. In the final laps, Logano was racing with the leaders, well ahead of the flipping sheetmetal behind him and held on for a third-place finish, giving the rookie his second top 10 in as many starts at the 2.66-mile tri-oval. It was also good enough for his 24th Raybestos Rookie of the Race honor as well as his best finish since his New Hampshire victory in June.
Quote: “I was playing around for most of the race just getting behind cars seeing who I would work good with, trying to make some friends out there for the end of the race and trying to hook up with the right people. Just trying to figure out where your car works the best behind other cars, beside cars, just trying to learn a little bit about this drafting deal. It was cool to get a good finish out of it.”
Start: 38th (Points); Finish: 27th
Summary: Scott Speed was also trying to follow the Logano strategy as he spent most of the day out of sight and out of mind. Within 50 laps to go, the No. 82 Camry had broken into the top 25 and began to slowly work his way to the front. Coming to the white flag, Speed was on the inside line moving through the pack when Brad Keselowski punted the No. 2 car of Kurt Busch, sending him sliding out of control and into the Red Bull Toyota. The damage to Speed’s car prevented the rookie from completing the final lap and he was credited with a 27th-place finish, one lap off the pace, instead of the top-20 finish that he should have had.
Feast or Famine: Speed recorded a career best finish of fifth earlier this season at Talladega. However, other than that run, Speed has finishes of 35th and 31st at Daytona to go with Sunday’s finish of 27th. The rookie certainly will not know what to expect when he returns to the superspeedways in 2010. Of course, neither will anyone else.
Start: 36th (Points); Finish: 8th
Summary: Unlike last spring when Keselowski came out of nowhere to win his first race at Talladega, the rookie was mixing it up with the leaders for virtually the entire afternoon on Sunday. As the laps wound down, the No. 09 Chevy was racing on the outside line and charging to the front, seemingly biding his time until the final laps. However, a violent wreck by Ryan Newman and others would send the race into “overdrive” and crew chief Marc Reno was forced to call his driver down pit road for fuel before the final restart. The pit stop meant that Keselowski would restart in the middle of the pack, and as they took the white flag, it appeared that the rookie got a little anxious and “bump-drafted” Kurt Busch out of the way, igniting a multi-car wreck. Keselowski was able to continue and finish eighth.
A successful year: Keselowski concludes the 2009 season, which he split between Rick Hendrick’s No. 25 Chevy and James Finch’s No. 09 team, with one win, one top five and four top 10s.
Start: 42nd (Points); Finish: 29th
Summary: The AMP Energy Drink 500 certainly did not start out well for Max Papis, as he was one of the first drivers to lose a lap in the beginning stages of the race. However, that would turn out to be the only negative thing to happen to the No. 13 team, which is a good thing at this racetrack. The Italian hung quietly in the back of the pack and avoided trouble. However, as the field prepared for the final restart, Papis was forced to dive onto pit road with an empty fuel tank. Fortunately for he and his team, others faced the same issue and the restart was delayed as cars slowed all over the track. When all was said and done, Papis was credited with a 29th-place finish, his best on an oval since the team’s 18th-place finish at Talladega.
Quote: It was a very exciting day for us. Maybe one of the best that we have run so far. Bootie (Barker, crew chief) put me out front with good strategy and we were running in the top 15 and we belong there. Unfortunately, with the green-white-checkered, we ran out of gas and that was a little strange. That doesn’t take away anything from the great race we had and we are showing to the NASCAR world that we belong here. That is a great feeling for me.”
Other Notables: Erik Darnell, who will be finishing the rest of the season in the No. 96 Ford, looked competitive early on as he was knocking on the door of a top 10 just 60 laps into the race. However, mechanical problems would send the rookie to the garage for repairs. He eventually returned to the race and finished in the 37th position.
One of the surprising news items of the week was the signing of Robert Richardson Jr. by Tommy Baldwin Racing for the AMP Energy Drink 500. Making his first Sprint Cup start, Richardson had only started in 45 Nationwide and 24 Camping World Truck races and did not record a top 10 in any of them. Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenge, Richardson stayed out of trouble all day and finished a very impressive 18th, the best ever finish for Tommy Baldwin and his first-year team.
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 has enjoyed success in 2009 on the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, and it looked as if he would record yet another strong finish on Sunday. The No. 47 Camry looked competitive the entire afternoon, leading the event and racing in the top 10, even with a battered racecar thanks to aggressive bump drafting. However, on the 183rd circuit with just five laps remaining, Tony Stewart was forced to check up down the backstretch. As a result of suddenly slowing drivers, Ambrose was run into from behind and forced into the back of the No. 39 car of Newman. The contact sent both cars into a spin and Newman into the air, launching his Chevy into a violent barrel roll. Ambrose was able to continue on but could only finish in the 34th-place finishing position.
Logano added yet another accolade to his rapidly growing resume as he did what he needed to do to record a solid third-place finish at Talladega, something a lot of veterans even struggle to do. The rookie said that he was searching for both a line and drafting partners throughout the event and it paid off.
Keselowski’s first meeting with Team Penske will certainly be an interesting one after he wrecked future teammate Kurt Busch in the closing laps of the race. Last April, he was rewarded for his aggressiveness with a victory at this very same Alabama track. The next step will be to learn when the appropriate time is to be aggressive and when not to be. Certainly, bump drafting through the tri-oval is not one of those times.
Perhaps Speed needs to reconsider his career in NASCAR where apparently it is “better to be lucky than good” to paraphrase a quote from Richard Petty. Speed obviously does not have any of that luck. It just doesn’t seem right that Jimmie Johnson can hang out in the back all afternoon instead of racing with the big boys and be rewarded for it by barely missing two wrecks. Meanwhile, just one car behind Johnson with just over one lap remaining was Speed, who was taken out when Keselowski engaged in an ill-advised bump on Busch. I think Speed has the talent to be successful one day in this sport, but he doesn’t have the luck, something you certainly need to win a championship as Johnson has displayed time and time again.
Who Wasn’t Here? The field was set by points, but that was good news for the rookies this weekend as all of them received a spot for the AMP Energy Drink 500.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
18th – Marcos Ambrose (-1)
19th – Joey Logano (+1)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
38th – Brad Keselowski (+2)
42nd – Max Papis (+1)
45th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
53rd – Erik Darnell (0)
63rd – 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 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: The last time Speed came to the Texas Motor Speedway, he did not get a chance to run a competitive lap because his No. 82 Camry was not fast enough to make the field. He’ll hope for better luck this time around as once again he’ll need to be quick enough to time into the field. Max Papis is also tentatively scheduled for a Texas start and will need to time into the field as well.
Next Up: It’s time to shine those boots and dust off that cowboy hat as NASCAR gets ready to go racing – Texas Style – for the Dickies 500. This is not good news for the rookies who struggled the last time the series visited this venue in April. Logano qualified well, but was not fast enough in the race and finished in 30th, his fourth consecutive finish of 30th or worst before he began his ascent up through the standings. As previously mentioned, Speed didn’t even make the field and Papis also struggled as he attempted his second ever start on an oval. Expect better results for Logano and Speed who have logged more laps on the quad-ovals of Charlotte and Atlanta since that time. Papis may be another story as he has struggled on just about every oval in 2009.
Rookie Prediction Poll: After his big win back in April, 40% of you thought that Keselowski had the best chance of finishing a top 10. However, despite Keselowski’s previous success, 50% of you thought that Logano had the best chance of coming home in the top 10. Turns out, just about all of you know what you were talking about as both scored top 10s.
Texas Prediction: The rookies hope that they will vastly improve from their spring performances at Texas, but who will do the best?
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I thought that Speed would survive the Talladega mayhem and steal a top 10 as he did earlier this year. Well, I was almost right until one lap remaining when the spinning car of Kurt Busch struck his No. 82 Camry, destroying the rookie’s chances of a good finish. You now have tied me with just three events remaining.
Logano and Papis are the only two rookies who have seen this place in a Sprint Cup car this year while Speed hasn’t seen the track since last year when he was in the No. 84. I think Logano will build on his third-place finish and take advantage of his experience to best the rest of the rookies at the Dickies 500.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 14, Tony:14