Race Weekend Central

Sprint Cup Rookie Report: Scott Speed Finds His Lucky Charms in the Pocono Mountains

Scott Speed
Start: 37th; Finish: 23rd

Summary: It became apparent in the first quarter of the Pennsylvania 500 that Scott Speed was going to have a good day when he progressed forward from his 37th qualifying position instead of falling back as has been the case several times this year. The No. 82 broke into the top 30 by lap 50 and would remain there for most of the race, even as they struggled with handling problems.

Speed and company remained on the lead lap and when the caution flew on lap 165 for debris, crew chief Jimmy Elledge made the call to keep his driver out on the track while most of the leaders pitted. The strategy gave Speed excellent track position as he restarted on the front row. However, his Red Bull Camry just wasn’t fast enough to battle with the leaders and he quickly dropped out of the top 10.

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As the rookie fell back through the pack, he battled through a hornet’s nest of traffic created by the double-file restart. At one point, it appeared that he even made contact with good friend Kyle Busch, sending the No. 18 into the wall in turn 3 in an incident the potential Chaser would never recover from.

However, the Californian regained his own composure, continuing to race in the top 20 until the ninth caution of the day on lap 174. At that point, Elledge again employed an off-sequence strategy when he called for new tires while most of the leaders stayed out. The move paid off as Speed finished in the 23rd spot, his first top-30 finish since the Coca-Cola 600 in May and his fourth rookie honor of the race in 2009.

Quote: We got a little bit off target with the setup there in the middle, but we were able to keep good, reasonable track position and we set ourselves up for a good finish. At the end, everyone was getting a little bit crazy out there and for us we needed to finish races, so I took a relatively easy time out there. Once you start running up in the top-17 with guys like Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, you certainly learn a lot more and they’re able to teach you a lot more, if you know what I mean [smiles].

Joey Logano
Start: 19th; Finish: 27th

Summary: Joey Logano may have felt like he was in three different races on Monday afternoon (Aug. 3). Following the competition caution on lap 20, the 19-year-old spent much of the next 70 laps quietly running outside of the top 20. Things livened up on lap 97, though, when the No. 20 car just missed the spinning car of Bobby Labonte, an incident that would prove to be a prelude of things to come.

That near-miss led to a bit of a spark, however; as the second half of the race began, it appeared that Logano and crew chief Greg Zipadelli adjusted the Home Depot Camry to the rookie driver’s liking, as he broke into the top 20 and slowly progressed towards the front.

Logano’s day would take a turn for the worse, though, as a tire problem forced him to the pits on the lap 170 restart. A caution just four laps later quickly gave the team new life after they were relegated to 33rd, the final car on the lead lap. Zipadelli brought his car down pit road for new tires once again, hoping the fresh rubber would translate into a late-race surge.

However, the complexion of the race quickly changed again for this team on lap 180. The No. 6 car of David Ragan made contact with Labonte in turn 1, sending the No. 96 into the spin cycle. This time, Logano could not miss the 2000 Sprint Cup champion as he had done 83 laps earlier. The two collided, and Logano’s machine sustained significant damage. Still, he was able to limp home to a 27th-place finish, albeit his first one outside the top 20 since Michigan in June.

Quote: The No. 6 car got into the back of the [No.] 96 and dumped him, and I was on the outside of the whole mess and had nowhere to go. Tore up a racecar and we were fast. We battled track position all day. Get up front, go to the back. Go up front, go to the back. We could never get anywhere. We had a fast racecar. We passed so many racecars and didn’t get anywhere.

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie Standings

Logano 204
Speed 182
Papis 70
Bean 11

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.)

Earlier this week, JTG Daugherty Racing with driver Marcos Ambrose renewed their alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing for 2010. As a result, the driver was hoping to celebrate the extension of what has been a successful partnership thus far with a good run at Pocono Monday. But despite a valiant effort, it was not the day Ambrose nor Michael Waltrip Racing was hoping for. It was a slow start for the Tasmanian, who lost ground in the beginning stages of the race after making contact with the outside wall.

Crew chief Frankie Kerr then tried to help his driver, using pit strategy to get him into the top five just past the race’s halfway mark. However, the iRacing.com Toyota was not turning well in the corners for Ambrose, and he could not keep pace with the leaders. Still, it looked like the almost rookie would be able to salvage a top-20 finish until lap 174.

On that lap, eventual race winner Denny Hamlin made contact with David Reutimann coming off turn 3 and launched the No. 00 car directly into the No. 47 of Ambrose, ending any chance of a good finish for both teammates. Ambrose could only manage a dismal 34th-place finish in his wounded Camry.

Tony’s Take

It appeared to be opposite day on Monday for the rookies who were racing in the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, and Speed could not be happier to see a reversal of his ill fortunes of late. For the past several races, whenever there would be a spinning car, a blown tire, or debris scattered across the racetrack, Speed would somehow find himself caught up in the mess. On this Monday afternoon, however, this rookie managed to race in a gaggle of cars battling three- and even four-wide for position, and somehow, some way, he managed to emerge virtually unscathed.

But while a 23rd-place finish isn’t going to make headlines, it is exactly the type this team has needed to stop the bleeding that’s occurred over the past two months. Keep an eye on this No. 82 team to see if they can carry any momentum into Watkins Glen, where the rookie driver should fare quite well.

Who Wasn’t Here?: There were only 43 teams that arrived at Pocono this weekend, meaning that all drivers made the field for the Pennsylvania 500.

Note: Last week, this article mentioned that Dexter Bean would be attempting to make the past weekend’s race. While the No. 51 team was scheduled to attempt the Pennsylvania 500, they did not make the trip. We apologize for any inconvenience.

UNOFFICIAL Driver Points Standings

18th – Marcos Ambrose (0)
19th – Joey Logano (0)
35th – Scott Speed (0)
40th – Brad Keselowski (-1, DNS)
43rd – Max Papis (0, DNS)
44th – Aric Almirola (0, DNS)
57th – 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’s points after missing two events due to Indy 500 commitments, but his No. 34 team remained in 35th in owner points because of the efforts of Tony Raines during that the time period.

Qualifying Next Week: Speed will hope that his road-course skills will be good enough to get him into the field on time next week at Watkins Glen. Papis, another open-wheel convert, will hope to rebound from a DNQ at Indy and make the race in New York state as well. Also, it’s that time again where the road-course ringers will make an appearance… and most will have to make the field on time.

Next Up: For the second and final time this year, the Sprint Cup Series will turn left and right as they visit Watkins Glen. The last time the series went road-course racing, it actually turned out to be a decent outing for the rookies. Papis recorded a career best 12th-place finish while Logano also recorded a top 20. Speed, who was literally blown off the track during qualifying and DNQed, also rebounded with a good run in Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 Toyota until a late-race wreck took him out of contention.

Based on that history, there could be some surprise performances from the drivers with the yellow stripe on the bumper at this week’s Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen.

Rookie Prediction Poll: A whopping 70% of you thought that only Logano would improve on his 23rd-place finish at the Pocono 500 in June. You were almost half right until a late-race wreck ended what appeared to be a top-20 run for the rookie. However, hardly any of you thought that Speed would run as well as he did on Sunday.

Watkins Glen Prediction: As previously mentioned, the Sonoma race proved to be a very good event for the rookie competitors, even though not all their finishes necessarily showed it. Ambrose finished in third, Italian Papis finished a career-best 12th, Logano finished in 19th after contact with other drivers ended a top-10 run, and road racing vet Speed finished in 37th after running up front at one point. Can all four of these drivers manage a top-20 finish at the Glen? It seems like a tall order, but they almost pulled it off on the west coast earlier this season.

Tony’s Rookie Prediction: Well, I was half right when I said that I believe that Speed could definitely improve on his 32nd-place finish in June. However, I said that BOTH he and Logano would improve and that just wasn’t the case. No points are awarded this week and I continue to trail you by one marker.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that all four drivers can finish in the top 20 at the Glen, especially with all of the crazy pit strategy that tends to play a factor in that race. Ambrose is almost a lock to do so and Logano should be as well. It will be all up to the wild cars of Papis and Speed to complete the quartet, but something tells me that they can pull this off.

Rookie Poll Points: Readers 10, Tony 9

About the author

Tony Lumbis has headed the Marketing Department for Frontstretch since 2008. Responsible for managing our advertising portfolio, he deals with our clients directly, closing deals while helping promote the site’s continued growth both inside and outside the racing community through social media and traditional outlets. Tony is based outside Philadelphia.

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