Another season has come to a close, and it is time for Professor Lumbis to issue final report cards to the Freshman Class of 2009, consisting of rookies and almost rookies alike. It’s a piece you’ll want to read carefully, saving for your files, because as of right now, it looks like it could be …
There were certainly some positives to take out of the 2009 season finale for this year’s rookies and almost rookies. Scott Speed tied his career-best qualifying effort. Marcos Ambrose started the Ford 400 like he was shot out of a cannon, mixing it up with the sport’s best names. Brad Keselowski finally broke into the top 30 with his new team. Finally, Joey Logano secured the 2009 Rookie of the Year title and was one broken part away from a top-10 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 Joey Logano and Scott Speed did not improve much this past Sunday.
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. Scott 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.
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.
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 Joey Logano was. However, he was able to maintain composure and fight back for a solid finish.
Last week, Joey Logano learned the lesson of making the best out of an ill-handling car by simply surviving to the finish. This week’s lesson is on how to handle adversity. Earlier in the season, this young rookie may have written off his chances after suffering an early race misfortune such as the one that happened on pit road during Saturday’s event.
The Pepsi 500 was about making the most out of a bad day for the rookie class. Both Joey Logano and Scott Speed looked out to lunch, but drivers and their teams kept working on their cars throughout the event. The “never give up” attitude placed both in position to get back on the lead lap, taking advantage of a wreck that eliminated many of the competitors ahead of them.
Brad Keselowski was clearly the class of the rookie field on Sunday, and would have done even better if it weren’t for the bad luck in the pits that seems to follow crew chief Tony Eury Jr. wherever he goes. Early in the race, the rookie looked as if he had a car that could potentially challenge for the win, but was not able to put himself in position to do so after an untimely caution trapped him at the back of the lead lap.
This was one of those weekends where everybody involved with the sport came out as a winner when Logano walked away from an eye-popping accident that left his car in shambles. There are many negative things that have been said about this new car and with good reason, but the additional layer of safety it has introduced into the sport far outweighs the other challenges that crews and drivers have had to deal with as a result. It was unfortunate though for Logano that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time as the accident ended what could have been a potential top-10 run.
The New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been regarded by many as one of the most difficult tracks on the circuit. Apparently, this was true for the freshmen, who – despite their previous experience at this track – ran into a lot of difficulty trying to navigate its tight corners. Dismal outings by all of the rookies and almost rookies have left me with little to say about their performances on Sunday.
14th place may appear to be an insignificant type of finish for most drivers. However, it represented just the performance the No. 20 team needed. After making significant progress in the second half of 2009, Joey Logano had cooled off somewhat over the past two weeks with finishes of 34th and 22nd at Bristol and Atlanta, respectively. After qualifying poorly, it looked as if the streak would continue, but Logano and team made steady progress towards the front and recorded a solid finish, exactly what the racing doctor ordered.