Start: 35th; Finish: 24th
Summary: Joey Logano certainly did not start the final race of his first-full time Sprint Cup series from the most opportune position. However, the 19-year old displayed how much he had grown since the Daytona 500 back in February, as he did not let the poor qualifying position rattle him. Instead, the rookie slowly worked his way through the field and by lap 150, he had climbed to the 13th position. It looked as if the Logano would break into the top 10 when the end plate on the wing broke. The team was forced to make an additional pit stop on the next caution to make repairs and lost valuable track position. The No. 20 team could never quite recover from the extra stop and finished in a somewhat disappointing 24th position. While the race may have not turned out the exactly as Logano had hoped, the same cannot be said for the season. Despite a rough start to the year, his Homestead finish give him honors for the rookie of the race in 26 out of 36 events. More importantly Logano easily captured the 2009 Rookie of the Year Award, the youngest driver to do so in NASCAR history.
Quote: We got up to 13th and realistically that’s about where we should have been, you know, if we didn’t qualify so bad. Somehow the end plate on the wing got knocked off somehow, during a pit stop or what happened but had to come in and lost track position. And if you look at it, I mean, everyone ran the same lap times all night, you know. It’s hard to pass people.
On winning Rookie of the Year: That’s cool. That was one of our big goals this year. It’s pretty neat to win Raybestos Rookie of the Year. I appreciate that. It’s really cool to get the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. It’s obviously one of our big goals. I’ve got to thank The Home Depot for sticking behind me throughout the year. We had a real rough start and finished 20th in the points, I guess is OK. In the beginning of the season if you had told me that’s where we were going to finish I’d have been ecstatic about it but now you always want better.”
Start: 27th; Finish: 25th
Summary: Brad Keselowski and the No. 12 team needed to get something positive going at Homestead to go into the offseason after the duo started out with finishes of 35th and 37th in their first two races together. Well, they did improve, but not by much. After a middle of the pack start, the part-time rookie had a very quiet Ford 400, probably a good thing given the controversy he has been involved with lately. By the time the checkered flag waived, Keselowski found himself just two spots better than when he started, but it marked his best finishing position as a Penske driver so far.
In order to finish first, you must first finish: Keselowski made 15 starts in 2009. While his finished ranged from wins to finishes in the 30s, he only recorded on DNF in that time span.
Start: 2nd; Finish: 27th
Summary: For the second consecutive year, Scott Speed started on the outside pole for the season finale. The No. 82 car did not stay in front for long as Speed fell outside of the top 10 during the long green-flag run that began the race. In fact, the car was so bad at the start of the race that the rookie lost a lap to the leader and needed the first “Lucky Dog” award of the night to gain it back. Crew chief Jimmy Elledge was able to make the adjustments that Speed was looking for and the Red Bull Camry remained on the lead lap for the remainder of the race. The rookie had an uneventful night en route to a 27th-place finish.
The 2009 Season: After running all over the ARCA series in 2008, Speed’s transition to stock car racing got a lot more difficult in 2009. Speed finished the season with one top five and one top 10, both a result of his fifth-place finish at Talladega in April. Not only will this team want to work on better finishes for 2010, but they will also want to reduce their number of DNFs after recording eight in 2009.
Other Notables: Erik Darnell was once again behind the wheel of the No. 96 Ford, which was unsponsored at Homestead on Sunday. Darnell warranted attention only once during the entire race and it was not the kind he was looking for. During the fourth caution of the day, Darnell hit pit road very slowly, jamming up his competitors behind him. The result was a chain reaction accident that severely damaged Elliott Sadler’s No. 19 Dodge. Darnell would continue after spending time in the garage, and finished in the 36th position.
UNOFFICIAL Final 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.)
After starting from his best ever starting position on an oval of third, Marcos Ambrose assumed the lead from the soon-to-be champion Jimmie Johnson on lap 10. Hopefully Ambrose enjoyed what was perhaps his best start to a race in his young Sprint Cup career because a few laps later, the Australian’s race would fall completely apart. On lap 16, the No. 47 Camry hit pit road for an unscheduled pit stop after suffering a cut tire from a scrape with the wall. Just 13 laps later, Ambrose was forced to make another pit stop so his crew could change a faulty battery. As if that weren’t enough, on lap 108 Ambrose lost control of his car and spun, bringing out the third caution of the day. In a race where he experienced more problems than in the entire rest of the season combined, Ambrose ended an otherwise successful 2009 with a disappointing 35th-place finish, 16 laps off the pace.
There were certainly some positives to take out of the 2009 season finale for this year’s rookies and almost rookies. Speed tied his career-best qualifying effort. Ambrose started the Ford 400 like he was shot out of a cannon, mixing it up with the sport’s best names. Keselowski finally broke into the top 30 with his new team. Finally, Logano secured the 2009 Rookie of the Year title and was one broken part away from a top-10 finish.
However, outside of Ambrose, it has not been the best of seasons for the rookies and their Homestead finishes reflected that. While Logano and Keslowski took home upset victories this year, they will need to work on consistency for next season in order to take their game to the next level. Speed has a rough season and simply needs to build on experience and the bright spots of the year. So in many ways, it may have been good that each freshman finished 2009 on somewhat of a low note, as a reminder that they still have a lot of work ahead of them in the off-season.
Who Wasn’t Here? Max Papis ended his part-time season with a DNQ at Homestead.
UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings
18th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
20th – Joey Logano (-1)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
38th – Brad Keselowski (0)
43rd – Max Papis (-1, DNQ)
46th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
47th – Erik Darnell (-1)
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 the time period.
2010 Points: Andretti experienced problems during the Ford 400, but the No. 82 team could not capitalize, and as a result, will have to qualify for the first five events of 2010 on time.
Next Up: That’s it, another season is in the books. Stay tuned next week for the 2009 Final Rookie Report card where I will evaluate the Sprint Cup rookies for the final time here on Frontstretch. Don’t worry, I am simply moving on to other things here on the site because if you haven’t noticed, there are currently no full-time rookies for 2010!
Rookie Prediction Poll: Logano just beat out Keselowski, earning you a point in the final rookie poll of the year.
Tony’s Rookie Prediction: I thought I was looking good with my decision to go out on a limb and choose Speed when he put his No. 82 machine on the outside front row in qualifying. However, his car was not as good in race trim as it was in on Friday, and he was not a factor in the race. Therefore, we end the 2009 season in a tie thanks to your accurate pick of Logano. Perhaps that is the most appropriate ending though. This is my third year of doing the rookie report and the prediction polls have been a part of this piece each year. As previously mentioned, this will be the last of my rookie reports and we end our three-year run at 1-1-1. Thanks once again for your participation!
Rookie Poll Points: Readers 15, Tony 15