Plenty of people were wondering when we would see this new, bright young star named Joey Logano live up to the hype. Well, we started to get a glimpse of his talent today – but it wasn’t because of where he finished but rather, how he got there that showed it. In an afternoon full of carnage and failing equipment, Logano displayed the poise and maturity of a 10-year veteran, avoiding problems and ensuring that he stuck around until the end.
The Auto Club 500 gave us a full 500 miles of racing, but it was a race that felt a whole lot longer. After a true marathon out west, here is how the rookie class of 2009 fared.
This week’s Rookie Report is based on the results of a rain-shortened Daytona 500. What is important to note is the race would’ve finished all 500 miles – if the green flag didn’t fall at the ridiculous start time of 3:40 p.m. ET. When are the networks going to realize that fans want racing, not marathon pre-race shows?
After one of the most economically brutal NASCAR offseasons in recent history, it’s finally time to start focusing on performances on the stopwatch instead of on the balance sheet. This also spells good news for Professor Lumbis as I get to preview and critique this season’s rookies once again. The 2008 season was not kind to rookie drivers as only one, Sam Hornish Jr., still has a full-time ride in 2009. That success rate, or lack thereof, may have owners changing the way they think about who will give them the best chance of success behind the wheel. Instead of reaching out to the open-wheel talents of other series, general managers are instead opting for stock car veterans to pilot their machines. The result is a much smaller rookie class this season, as only two drivers will compete full time for the Rookie of the Year Award while a handful of others will make spot starts throughout the next several months.
With Daytona around the corner, the racing world is picking up speed, and with that comes a whole slew of questions – but not too many answers. So after a long and eventful offseason, it’s time to dust off the things that made it notable for me… First up, I have an issue with the timing of NASCAR’s approval of the new Ford engine. While it is true that Toyota’s racing engines are a whole separate species of animal, and the Chevrolet R07 was designed with an eye toward the Cup Series, I find this one more troubling. It’s not so much because it deviates from the “stock” small-block engines the sport once mandated, but rather because of one feature in particular that’s reportedly far more advanced than its counterparts.
It would be most unfair to pin a low point on Aric Almirola, considering he is still essentially a rookie – and a part-time rookie driver at that.
After a successful freshman campaign by Juan Pablo Montoya which included a win at Infineon, that trend set the tone for the freshman class of 2008, as four out of the six Rookie of the Year candidates were open-wheel converts. Just nine months later, there is a very real difference for those open wheelers that debuted in ’08 as compared to ’07 – just one of them appears ready to survive for a second season. What went wrong, and could their mistakes have been corrected? It’s now time for Professor Lumbis to grade their performance throughout the season, and take a look at the other new faces that emerged onto the scene and what the future may hold for them.
The rain on Friday worked in Aric Almirola’s favor when he inherited a 15th-place starting position by virtue of his team’s position in owner points. But while the U.S. Army Chevy faded a bit early, it would be pit strategy employed by crew chief Tony Gibson that would put Almirola back up front. After pitting during the first caution of the day, Gibson made the call to keep Almirola on the track after the day’s second yellow when Kasey Kahne’s Dodge came to a halt. The move gave Almirola the lead for his second consecutive start, and this time, the No. 8 car would lead a total of 53 circuits – a career-high for the rookie.
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.