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 Ticket Guardian 500(k) at Phoenix.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.
Bubba Wallace had his hands full at ISM Raceway.
To be fair, the No. 43 Chevrolet was not nice to this young driver. Wallace and his team seemed to struggle to find speed all weekend, sitting towards the rear of the field in the three practice sessions. Qualifying didn’t come any easier with Wallace putting his car P27 on the grid.
Come race day, things didn’t improve. The team battled two loose wheels during the race and seemed to still be searching for speed. Multiple additional pit stops put the team a handful of laps down.
In the end, Wallace finished P28, one place down from where he started and three laps down from the leaders.
Ticket Guardian 500(k) Grade: D
Notes: This just wasn’t a good race for Bubba and his team. In the end, they just couldn’t find the speed they needed to really be competitive and the loose wheel issues didn’t help their cause. The only bright side to the weekend was that they now know what NOT to do at ISM Raceway.
Phoenix wasn’t a terrible race for William Byron.
Starting P11, Byron kept his pace and logged laps, not really making many big moves but holding his own mid-pack.
Towards the end of the race, he started to really show his teeth.
On a restart late in the race, Byron’s team played their cards which put the rookie at the start of the field. With Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch surrounding him at the green, Byron held off the veterans to keep the lead on the restart.
A side-by-side battle with Denny Hamlin soon followed, plus a three-wide battle with Hamlin and Harvick gave Byron a run but he held steady. While he eventually lost the lead, this was a great learning experience for the young driver. Also, it was good to see the No. 24 back at the front.
Byron finished P12, one place lower than where he started, but completed all 312 laps. He was also the highest finishing rookie of the race.
Ticket Guardian 500(k) Grade: A-
Notes: Byron’s time at the top of the field and his battles with the veterans to keep position are why he has earned himself a high grade from Phoenix. He ran an impressive race and will be even better here when the sport returns.
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