Start: 27th; Finish: 21st
Summary: Joey Logano and team may have known that they were going to be in trouble from the start of the afternoon, as the rookie struggled from the drop of the green flag and was a lap down by lap 100. The poor track position would eventually come back to haunt Logano. On lap 169, Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost control of his No. 88 Chevy coming out of turn 4 and spun in front of a pack of cars, leaving the drivers of those cars with nowhere to go except into each other. One of those drivers who was at the wrong place at the wrong time was Logano. The 19-year-old got on the brakes, but was hit from behind and spun with several other cars. However, the No. 20 was able to continue on with relatively little damage and recover for a 21st-place finish. The finish was Logano’s 25th rookie honor of the season.
Quote: We fought something that we should have worked on in practice. The tough part is that it wasn’t horrible. We got decent at the end, but we still weren’t where we need to be. We just fought on trying to get this thing to turn all day: tight in the center, tight in the center, tight in the center.”
Start: 23rd; Finish: 32nd
Summary: Max Papis turned in one of his better qualifying runs of 2009 on Friday. As for the race, well, he was about the only rookie not to be caught up in a wreck, which translated into one of his better finishes this year as well. The Italian fell to the back of the pack and lost a lap almost from the start of the race. But as it turns out, running in the back would help the former open-wheeler miss most of the accidents that his rookie counterparts were involved in. When the checkered flag waived, Papis had a car that was in one piece and a 32nd-place finish, which is actually one of his better runs not on a road course or superspeedway this season.
Quote from Robert “Bootie” Barker, No. 13 crew chief: “He’s done great. He’s helped himself a lot in learning. Just understand what’s going to happen, hopefully have the car close, and when he figures it out, he’s there. But the guys did well.”
Start: 37th; Finish: 33rd
Summary: It was a rough start to the weekend for rookie Scott Speed, as he just squeezed into the starting lineup on Friday and struggled with a tight racecar for the first half of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday. Speed and crew chief Jimmy Elledge were slowly making the car better when the same fate that struck fellow rookie Logano fell on the No. 82 team as well. Speed was also directly behind the Earnhardt spin, and consequently checked up as he tried to miss carnage in front of him. However, the Red Bull Camry would receive hard contact from behind and was punted into the pileup. Speed would continue, but his day would not get any better as he would slide into the wall again with under 100 laps remaining. The rookie would eventually limp home in a damaged machine to a 33rd-place finish, nine laps off the pace.
Quote: “Smoke, that’s about all I saw, mate [smiles]. Honestly, I have no idea. I was on the brakes and the next thing I know, we’re looking the other way. Obviously, I got hit from behind is the biggest thing. That’s what ruined our car, but I mean it’s not their fault. We had a great car in the middle of the race. We started off way too tight, but we fixed it and then we started going pretty good – so from that perspective I’m happy because we made progress. We were competitive, we had good lap times, so maybe next time we can stop getting wrecked.”
Start: 26th; Finish: 37th
Summary: Following a meeting with NASCAR officials about his aggressive driving, Brad Keselowski would be challenged with advancing from his 26th starting position without making too many waves. Ironically, it would be the aggressiveness of others that would eliminate any chance he had of being competitive. The poor track position put the rookie in an ominous position for the first ever double-file restart at the desert track. Many were concerned because the facility was already known for having treacherous restarts… and those anxieties were validated. On the lap 120 restart, the No. 12 Penske Dodge was hit from behind, launching a chain-reaction wreck back through the field. As if that weren’t bad enough, Keselowski would also become a victim of the lap 171 pileup that also involved Logano and Speed. With barely a car left, Keselowski soldiered on to a 37th-place finish, many laps down.
Quote: “What a shame. I couldn’t really tell what happened when we got caught up in that wreck. Somebody spun in front of the field, and we just got caught in the mess. This Penske Dodge was fast. We were passing cars, and I felt like we were going to get a solid top 10 today. We just needed some more laps today, but got caught in that wreck. It’s part of racing.”
Other Notables: The Valvoline Ford returned to the Sprint Cup Series, although this time, it wasn’t the No. 6 car of Mark Martin but instead the No. 96 of rookie Erik Darnell. Unfortunately for Darnell, his performance did not even come close to those of Martin through the 1990s. Part of the reason was because Darnell was involved in the pileup on the restart following the first caution of the afternoon. His Ford was never the same afterwards and could only manage a 31st-place finish, six laps off the pace.
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 started Sunday’s race on the inside of row 11. However, by the event’s halfway point, the No. 47 Toyota was one of the quicker cars on the track and advancing toward the top 10. In fact, the Australian broke into the top 10 late and the race and seemed poised to finish there for the first time since Bristol in August. However, in the final laps, Ambrose was passed by teammate David Reutimann after burning up his right rear tire battling with Jeff Gordon. Still, the Aussie finished with a very respectable 11th-place finish.
Phoenix is regarded by many as one of the most difficult tracks on the circuit, and those people seem to know what they are talking about judging by the performances of the rookies. After struggling in the desert back in the spring, both Logano and Speed did not improve much this past Sunday. To be fair, though, the two Big Ones by Phoenix standards wreaked havoc on the days of three out of the four rookie competitors. Despite being a mile in length, the freshman found out that track position is extremely important at this venue and should remember next year that their race-day performance just may hinge on the two laps they run in qualifying.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
18th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
19th – Joey Logano (0)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
38th – Brad Keselowski (0)
42nd – Max Papis (0)
46th – Aric Almirola (-1, DNS)
48th – Erik Darnell (+5)
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: Speed is chipping away at the Top 35 in owner points, but will still have to qualify on speed next week at Homestead as well. So will Papis, who is attempting the final race of his limited schedule in 2009.
Next Up: The end of the season is once again upon us as the series heads to Homestead for the Ford 400. Seems like we just started, doesn’t it? OK, no not really. It certainly has been a long season for many, especially the rookies who have enjoyed few bright spots in a challenging season. It will be the first trip to the Homestead track for most of them, except Speed, who started here last year and had one of his best performances of his young career – starting on the outside pole and finishing 16th. That may actually give him the advantage over Logano, who will be looking for a strong finish to a solid season, as well as Keselowski and Papis, who are simply looking for something positive to build on in the offseason.
Rookie Prediction Poll: You had great confidence in Keselowski’s ability to beat both Logano and Speed, as the majority of you thought he could do so. If his post-race quote was any indication, it looked like it may have happened if it weren’t for two wrecks that severely damaged his Dodge and prevented him from finishing ahead of either Logano or Speed.
Homestead Prediction: The pressure is on as we have one more prediction question of 2009. We’ll keep it simple for this one. There will be four rookies in the Ford 400 field. Who will finish the highest?
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I did not believe that Keselowski had been with his new team long enough to put together a performance worthy of beating his rookie counterparts. Well, as it turns out, he actually might have had a car capable of doing so, but just like last week as Texas, was never able to show his stuff due to an accident and I take a one point lead.
Well, this is an interesting scenario. I have clinched no worse than a tie going into the final race of the season so this last pick is important. If Keselowski can avoid getting caught up in a wreck, he may be able to pull off a surprise performance. Logano is also likely to rebound for a strong finish as he has done multiple times in the second half of 2009. However, I am not going to discount the run Speed had at this venue last year and the fact that he has said how much he is looking forward to returning. I believe he will use that experience to propel him to the top-rookie finish at Homestead.
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 14, Tony 15