Start: 31st; Finish: 18th
Summary: Scott Speed and his entire team returned to Fort Worth, Texas not exactly knowing what they had into after recording a DNF at the mile-and-a-half facility back in the spring. Well, as it turns out, they were pretty good. From the drop of the green flag, Speed progressed toward the front, running solidly in the top 30 for the first 100 laps. The No. 82 fell a lap down early, but would remain competitive for the remainder of the afternoon with a car capable of staying consistent throughout a full green-flag run. When the checkered flag flew, Speed was credited with an 18th place finishing position – the rookie’s first top 20 since his 15th-place run at Bristol in August.
Quote: “For three months, we’ve definitely been better. I mean, if you look about where we are right now than where we were a year ago it’s like, are you kidding. It’s kind of cool to be a part of, honestly, because not many people get that opportunity to do something and to really learn it and see the results. But clearly, we’re learning it, and clearly we’re getting better and that’s great.”
Start: 14th; Finish: 19th
Summary: Joey Logano had a front row seat for the biggest storyline of the Dickies 500. On the third lap, the three-car incident that took out championship leader Jimmie Johnson unfolded right in front of the Home Depot Camry. Luckily, Logano was able to sneak through and continue. The rookie’s next 100 laps were uneventful following the near miss… but it was falling a lap down on lap 155 that would impact his afternoon the most. Several times, Logano and crew chief Greg Zipadelli tried to employ pit strategy to either put themselves in position for the Lucky Dog or the wave around. However, a broken air gun and untimely cautions would keep them from doing so. Logano would then survive one more scare when he and teammate David Gilliland made contact towards the end of the race, with both cars coming close to ruining their day. But the Connecticut native emerged unscathed and finished in the 19th position, two laps down.
Quote: “This is just a tough joint for me. Everyone did a good job. We worked hard all day. We got caught down a lap one time and never had the opportunity to get the Lucky Dog back.”
Start: 35th; Finish: 35th
Summary: Brad Keselowski fans who thought their driver’s Sprint Cup season was over got a surprise last week when it was announced that Roger Penske voted to get a head start on 2010, ousting his current driver David Stremme with his replacement Keselowski a few races early. It certainly was a slow start, though, as the No. 12 car was battling just to stay on the lead lap by lap 81. His afternoon was quiet until lap 174, when Juan Pablo Montoya made contact with Carl Edwards, sending both cars into the wall. Keselowski, who was running behind that incident, could not avoid the No. 99 Ford after it bounced off the wall. The crew was able to make repairs, but the wounded Penske Dodge could only manage a 35th-place finish.
Rough Starts: Keselowski made his first start for his third different team in 2009, and while he has had a fairly successful partial season, each debut has been rough. He missed the Daytona 500 in his first start in James Finch’s No. 09 Chevy. A few weeks later, he made his first start for Rick Hendrick’s No. 25 Chevy at Las Vegas and finished 38th. Keselowski’s first start with Penske yielded a 35th-place finish… the best of his trio of debuts.
Other Notables: For the first time in his career, Erik Darnell made two consecutive Sprint Cup starts when get got behind the wheel of the No. 96 Ford for the Dickies 500. This start was not too much better than the others, though, as Darnell was virtually unheard of the entire afternoon while finishing 30th for the third time in five starts.
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 has been improving on the intermediate tracks down the stretch, and nowhere was it more evident than this past Sunday at Texas. It didn’t take long for the Australian to race his way into the top 10 from his 19th-place starting position. In fact, just after lap 100, Ambrose was in the top three and turning in the fastest times of the race. Then, when the third caution of the day flew, the No. 47 crew had a long pit stop and Ambrose lost 15 spots, dropping him back in traffic and costing him a shot at the win. This did not stop the Aussie, though, as he fought his way back into the top five over the rest of the race. However, the team would be just short and fuel on the final run to the finish. Frankie Kerr made the call to conserve fuel and try to go the distance, but the tank ran dry and Ambrose finished a disappointing 15th.
This race was more significant for looking towards the future for the rookies and almost rookies, just as it is for many teams at this point in the season. Speed’s year has been a difficult one, as the rookie tries to build experience for next year while attempting to close in on the Top 35 in owner points for his No. 82. But after enduring yet another bout of bad luck at Talladega last weekend, Speed had a much needed solid outing on Sunday, avoiding trouble and recording a solid finish.
Ambrose has enjoyed a much better season than most people anticipated; however, one of the few weak spots for the No. 47 team has been their intermediate program. On Sunday, Ambrose and his entire team made great strides towards overcoming those problems and while their finish didn’t reflect it, their performance did and their 2010 program should be better for it. Finally, while Keselowski did not have the Penske debut he hoped for, he could probably gain a lot of confidence from the victorious performance of his teammate Kurt Busch.
Who Wasn’t Here? Max Papis was not fast enough to make the field for the Dickies 500.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
18th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
19th – Joey Logano (0)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
38th – Brad Keselowski (0)
42nd – Max Papis (0, DNQ)
45th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
53rd – Erik Darnell (+4)
63rd – 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: The No. 82 bunch may be making progress towards the Top 35, but not enough for Phoenix, where he will have to qualify on time. Papis and the No. 13 team will look to rebound from their Texas DNF by timing into the field this week.
Next Up: The series will return to the Valley of the Sun for the second time this season for the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix. It was a rather uneventful first trip to the 1-mile “sort of” oval in the spring, as Speed was never a factor while Logano managed a 21st-place finish – which put an end to four consecutive finishes of 30th or worse for the No. 20 team. The desert track offers a lot of challenges with its flat, slick surface and long sweeping turns, making it difficult for rookies to acclimate quickly. However, don’t forget that Speed actually made a start here at the end of 2008, so watch to see if that extra experience pays off this Sunday.
Rookie Prediction Poll: An astounding majority of you, 83.3% to be exact, thought that Logano would be the highest finishing rookie at Texas. However, while he had the rookie field covered last week, he was just one position short as Speed bested the rest of the freshmen.
Phoenix Prediction: Keselowski’s Sprint Cup season isn’t over just yet, as Team Penske put him in the No. 12 car for the remainder of 2009 to prepare for 2010. He has certainly been competitive this season, but that was while he was driving for two different teams. His Penske debut was cut short at Texas by an accident. So, how will Keselowski fare against Logano and Speed at Phoenix in his new ride? Vote in this week’s poll and let us know!
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: We were in agreement this week, as both of us thought that Logano would build on his momentum from last week and finish highest among rookies. Unfortunately, we were both wrong. We remain tied with just two events remaining on the schedule.
The No. 12 team has certainly had its struggles this year, and I don’t expect a driver change alone to improve things this quickly. However, back in 2001, some may recall that Mike Wallace replaced the struggling Jeremy Mayfield in that ride and pulled off a surprising second-place run at this very event. Can they work the Phoenix magic again with Keselowski behind the wheel? I don’t think so this time. I believe both Logano and Speed will better Keselowski, as I do not expect to see good runs from that new driver/team combination until next season.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 14, Tony 14
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