Aric Almirola looked like a veteran racing on the high banks of Talladega on Sunday, as he seemed to make the right maneuvers at the right times to keep his Chevy up front for most of the race – even leading three laps. In fact, the only mistake Almirola made was on the final restart of the afternoon, when he held back for too long, ending his chances of a top-five finish. As good as Almirola was today, though, the day should have belonged to Regan Smith.
For the second time this year at New Hampshire, the driver of the U.S. Army Chevrolet takes home our top rookie honors. Aric Almirola started in the top 20 due to the efforts of both he and Mark Martin, who have kept the No. 8 team in a favorable owner points position throughout 2008. The rookie kept up a quick enough pace to stay reasonably close to that, running mid-pack for most of the day; however, he was not quite fast enough early on to avoid losing a lap to the leaders. After the race, Almirola admitted the slow start was due to a lack of proper feedback about the car’s setup from him to the crew during practice. But he had 300 miles to learn how to make the car better on Sunday, and DEI’s top prospect proved he was a quick study.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Sharpie 500 presented by Pennzoil Platinum at Bristol Motor Speedway.
For the second time this season, Aric Almirola was behind the wheel of the No. 8 DEI Chevy at the Bristol Motor Speedway. The rookie came into this weekend on a mission: hoping to duplicate the top 10 run he turned in at the half-mile back in the spring. “Bristol is my kind of track. You bump, you grind, and just battle for 500 grueling laps. It’s a blast,” remarked an enthusiastic Almirola leading up to the race. As it turned out, the weekend’s events would leave this driver just as excited.
Considering Chad McCumbee’s struggles to even make a race this year, it comes as no surprise that he really was not on anybody’s radar to finish well at Pocono. In fact, many may be wondering why McCumbee is being utilized by Kyle Petty as an interim replacement when drivers with much more experience are available. But his performance this past Sunday may have provided us with a glimpse of what Petty sees in this kid; and it’s easy to see after this one that McCumbee is a quick learner.
The season is just past the halfway point, which means it’s time for Professor Lumbis to issue his midterm report cards for the 2008 rookie class. Get out your Tums, though — as after team closures, numerous wrecks, and poor finishes, this report is sure to give some readers agita after reading about the dreadful performances turned in by the rookies so far this year.
Juan Pablo Montoya received a two-lap penalty during the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire for rough driving after intentionally spinning Kyle Busch under caution. Montoya said it was because Busch ran into him several times before that incident. Was the penalty fair, or was Montoya in the right?
It was a dismal start to the weekend for Aric Almirola — making his second consecutive start in the U.S. Army Chevy — as the rookie could do no better than 39th in qualifying on Friday. Two days later, it looked like the struggles would continue throughout the race at New Hampshire. The No. 8 team fell a lap down early, and crew chief Tony Gibson couldn’t find the right combination needed to give Almirola the setup he needed to take his car to the front. However, the duo soon figured out what adjustments were needed to successfully race the “Magic Mile,” and with the help of the “Lucky Dog” during the race’s third caution, started moving toward the front of the pack. But Almirola would soon find out that, ironically, the top 20 was not the place to be.
Did You Notice? That in expanding my short and sweet column from Monday, Kevin Harvick’s winless streak in Cup racing – as Danny Peters so dutifully pointed out is up to 51 races, with his last points-paying win occurring at the 2007 Daytona 500? Wait a minute… isn’t that the disputed Daytona 500 for the ages, in which Harvick’s opportunity at the win came when NASCAR chose not to throw a caution once cars wrecked off turn 4 in the final lap of the race? Just think of where this man’s career would be right now if he didn’t have that victory in hand; or, if Mark Martin had just enough to hold off his last-lap charge.
1. Still Able To Get ‘Er Done – 1995 Busch (Nationwide) Series Champion and 1996 Winston (Sprint) Cup Rookie of the Year Johnny Benson won for the third consecutive time at the Milwaukee Mile in the Camping World RV 200 Craftsman Truck Series race Friday evening. With the win, Benson maintains his CTS points lead in the drivers standings by 50-points over Todd Bodine. Benson has 10 wins in since moving to the CTS in 2005 after not being able to any longer secure a competitive Cup ride. Is the Craftsman Truck Series where Cup veterans are sent to die… or do they sometimes get another chance?
Regan Smith had the precarious task of starting in the eye of the storm when he rolled off the grid 29th for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499. However, the first three-quarters of the race were fairly uneventful as far as wrecks were concerned, and that proved to be a good thing for DEI’s rookie driver. While Smith bided his time in the pack, both he and crew chief Doug Richert were able to adjust the No. 01 Chevy to the point where Smith would have a machine capable of heading to the front when it counted. The improvements stuck, the No. 01 remained solidly in contention, and the team’s plan was working… it just came up one lap short.
Hornish’s day did not start well at all at Phoenix. After being openly disappointed with his 31st-place qualifying run, the open-wheel convert slipped to as far back as 40th in the open portions of the race, and became a moving roadblock on the inside line for more than one restart. However, Hornish and his team worked hard on adjusting to the track’s transition from day to night, preventing the car from becoming too tight as the track cooled off.