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Texas Rookie Report: Score Another To Larson

Texas Rookie Report: Score Another To Larson

by April 9, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Chip Ganassi Racing

FORT WORTH, Texas. — For the second time in series’ history, seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies took to the high banks of the Texas Motor Speedway to race in the Duck Commander 500.

The last time seven rookies raced in Texas was in 2000’s lone race, notable for being the only instance of a rookie winning at the track when Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove to victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

While seven rookies actually drove in the race, one failed to qualify – that being the No. 83 BK Racing entry driven by Ryan Truex. Of the seven who made the race, only three have had a previous start in Texas: Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and Parker Kligerman. All three aforementioned drivers raced in last fall’s Texas race; a race where Kligerman had the highest finish with an 18th-place result, Dillon and Larson finished slightly behind Kligerman in the 22nd and 23rd positions, respectively.

In the Duck Commander 500, Larson greatly improved on his 23rd-place debut at the track from last season, finishing in the fifth position – his second top-five of the season. For the fourth time this season, Larson was the highest finishing rookie of the race. With his Texas result, Larson has extends his lead in the Rookie of the Year standings to nine points.

“We were really good today; pretty much good from the start in the Target Chevy,” Larson said. “Our short runs were average, but I thought on the long runs we had about the best car. The crew did a great job of sticking with it and getting the car better with each run. I’m really proud of our team today. We worked hard all weekend for this finish.”

Larson was the only rookie to finish in the top-20 on Monday, however Dillon was knocking on the door of the top-20 all day in his No. 3 Dow Chemicals Chevrolet – ultimately settling for a 21st-place finish. For Dillon, it was another consistent day at the office, however, with Larson’s recent improvement of form, Dillon needs to grab another top-10 soon (Dillon’s lone top-1o of the season came at Daytona) in order to keep up with his main rival for the Rookie of the Year trophy.

“I just needed to be tighter to start and we could have gotten the Dow Powerhouse Chevrolet where we needed to at the end of the race,” Dillon said on his race. “I had a blast out there, though. I really learned a lot out there today racing. It will be fun to come back here in the Fall with Gil Martin and all of the guys on my Richard Childress Racing team.”

Justin Allgaier and the No. 51 crew had a solid day, finishing in 24th-place. This is the second top-25 finish for Allgaier in a row and is his best finish on a speedway thus far this season. Allgaier now heads off to Darlington Raceway, a track he’s been very consistent at in the Nationwide Series. In five starts in South Carolina in an NNS car, Allgaier has two top-five finishes and has never finished worse than 17th-place. There is a world of difference between the cars used in the Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series, however, Allgaier can head into Darlington with confidence knowing that he has performed strongly at the track in the past.

In what looked like a promising weekend for Swan Racing teammates Kligerman and Cole Whitt, the team returned to a track that Kligerman finished 18th at for the team last season with a speedway package that delivered them an 18th-place result with Whitt at Fontana. Unfortunately, both drivers did not have the race go their way. Kligerman fought with overheating issues throughout the race that relegated him to a 40th-place finish, his fifth finish of the season outside of the top-35.

Whitt was not able to replicate his top-20 performance in the Auto Club 400 on Monday, finishing in the 31st position after battling handling issues due to a broken sway bar. Despite the issue, Whitt praised his team for their resiliency after the race.

“I’m proud of my guys and the finish we had considering the problems our car had from the beginning of the race,” Whitt wrote on his blog on swanracingteam.com. “We drove a clean race and my crew did a great job all day.”

Down to just one bullet for their Texas shootout, BK Racing were looking for a big performance out of 20-year-old Alex Bowman after Truex failed to qualify for the Duck Commander 500. Bowman and the crew for the No. 23 Dr. Pepper Camry couldn’t quite get the handling down on their race car throughout all 500 miles of action on Monday, finishing 32nd, five laps down.

“As a team, our BK Racing team was really challenged by the handling of our Toyota Camrys this weekend,” Bowman said.  “Both the 23 and 83 teams worked together throughout practice to try to make our cars better, but we were really challenged to get the cars handling like we needed.  My Dr Pepper team did a great job continuing to work on the car and not giving up the entire race.  We were able to avoid any trouble on the track and still come home with our car in one piece.  I’m encouraged by our perseverance every week; I think we have a good foundation that we’re continuing to build on each week.”

Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Michael Annett finished in 29th-place, three laps off of the lead. After an encouraging 19th-place result in Fontana, the team’s Texas finish likely wasn’t what the team expected at a similar track in terms of length.

The 2014 rookie class’s next test is the Darlington Raceway, a punishing 1.36 mile speedway whose aged and thin racing surface will provide the young drivers with the challenge of keeping their race cars clean. Whitt is the only Rookie of the Year contender who has a previous Sprint Cup start at the track, finishing in 39th position after completing 35 laps for Turn One Racing in 2012.

Rookie of the Year Standings after Round 7 of 36

  1. Kyle Larson – Chip Ganassi Racing – 84 | Leader
  2. Austin Dillon – Richard Childress Racing – 75 | -9
  3. Justin Allgaier – H Scott Motorsports – 59 | -25
  4. Michael Annett – Tommy Baldwin Racing – 52 | -32
  5. Cole Whitt – Swan Racing – 52 | -32
  6. Alex Bowman – BK Racing – 45 | -39
  7. Parker Kligerman – 34 | -50
  8. Ryan Truex – 31 | -53
Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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