Each week after the race, I will take a look at our two Rookie of the Year (ROTY) contenders and any other drivers deemed a “rookie.”
Like a professor, a grade will be provided for their performance on the track. All things considered, a high finish doesn’t necessarily mean a good grade, as a bad finish doesn’t always result in a bad grade.
Let’s take a look at how our two ROTY contenders fared following the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.
Wallace and the No.43 team were thrown a challenge long before the green flag was waved at Las Vegas. While preparing for the third race of the season, Wallace’s front tire changer, Josh Frankos, sustained a hand injury. That injury, while not serious, required him to step out of the pit box for Sunday’s race.
As any NASCAR fan knows, a driver’s pit crew is a very important part to their success on the track. Take away a pit crew member and things are going to feel a little off.
Frankos was replaced by Michael Hubert and while Hubert did an outstanding job as the No. 43 front tire changer, any change to a roster is going to come with challenges.
Despite the sudden change in pit crew members, Wallace ran a respectable race at Las Vegas. He stayed mostly mid-pack after starting 26th and battled a tight and loose race car throughout the race. In the end, he gained track position and finished 21st, the highest finishing rookie in the race.
Pennzoil 400 Grade: B
Notes: The No. 43 team used Las Vegas as a great stepping stone in their race program. This team will be able to take what they learned in Sin City and use it throughout the season.
What was looking to be a good race for William Byron and the No.24 team really wasn’t. Byron had some experience at Las Vegas after testing at the track before the season began. That track time, even just doing single-car runs, was a great learning experience for the rookie going in to the Pennzoil 400. Unfortunately, Byron and the team struggled with their car all weekend.
Byron had a great qualifying run, putting the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet in P17 on the starting grid. However, by Lap 30, he had fallen to P29 and battled a tough-handling car. By Lap 60, he had fallen again, running P32 and two laps down from the leaders.
The No. 24 crew made major adjustments during the Stage 1 break to try and loosen the car up but Byron was still fighting a tight car well in to Stage 2. By Stage 3, the team continued to make adjustments and ran around P30. Byron sat P27 in the closing laps, unable to make up any positions but the team did continue to make improvements to the car.
In the end, Byron finished P27 and four laps down.
Pennzoil 400 Grade: C
Notes: While this race was a tough one for Byron, it was really a great learning experience for him. He fought a very tight racecar throughout the race but he also learned how to handle a tight Cup car for long runs. Also, the feedback between the young driver and his crew is instrumental in adjusting a car during a race. This past weekend gave them all plenty of notes that they can look back on as the season progresses.
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