For the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie class, all eyes were on Chase Elliott to see if he would be able to advance onto the next round of the Chase, but when the checkered flag flew, it was another rookie that took home top billing from Talladega.
So, which rookie was it that finished the best at NASCAR’s biggest track? That would be Brian Scott and his No. 44 Richard Petty Motorsports team.
Entering the day, Scott’s previous best finish was a 12th place result at Auto Club Speedway back in March and has finished inside the top-20 just once since that race. But when it comes to Talladega, anyone in the field has a shot at a strong finish or even the win. For Scott, Sunday was his day to do just that.
Starting 25th, Scott stayed mid-pack for the first half of the race, but just past lap 100, he was able to move into the top-10 for the first time and methodically made his way toward the front, moving into second place in the waning laps.
With the final caution of the day for Alex Bowman going for a spin through the tri-oval, Scott had his chance to try and be the first of the rookies to claim victory in 2016. On the restart, he laid back and tried to get a run on Logano, but ultimately did not have enough to get by Logano into the lead, settling for second place instead.
“It was just a solid day for the No. 44 Goody’s Ford. We had a team meeting before the race. We knew that we were going to have to be perfect. We were going to have to have no mistakes on pit road, gonna have to have a fast Ford, keep good track position all day and try to make friends throughout the race so they would work with us at the end, and our game plan was really just executed really well. The guys did a great job on pit road. We had a really solid car. Roush Yates Engines were amazing today and we were able to show our speed to a lot of the field, and when it came down to the finish or the restart there at the end, lucky enough to have Denny Hamlin and some guys work with us to give us an opportunity at the win,” said Scott.
“A good finish always helps. It helps with the team, it helps with the guys at the shop – the morale – just trying to get any bit of a bright spot in this year has been difficult and I think that this is by far the brightest spot that we’ve had in a really challenging year for Richard Petty Motorsports. I guess the results and what this does for us going forward is yet to be determined, but I’m just proud. The guys have worked hard all year. They’ve deserved a lot better finishes than we’ve given them, and I’m just proud to deliver a good, solid top-5 – to do my job behind the wheel to give us a shot at the win, just have a good day for Richard Petty Motorsports.”
As for Chase Elliott, he had one agenda on Sunday afternoon and that was to win. With a 25 point deficit to make up, Elliott would have had to score the walk-off win t advance or hope for all of the other Chase contenders to run into trouble early and still come away with a strong finish.
The Hendrick Motorsports rookie started the day in fourth place, but began mixing it up among the leaders almost immediately and powered his way into the lead on five different occasions for nine laps led on the day. However, his early race speed wasn’t able to keep him up front when it mattered as he dropped out of the top-10 and tried his best to drive back to the lead, but never could get a good enough run to make it happen. Elliott would end the day in 12th, which landed him in 11th place in points and he was eliminated from the Chase.
Though Elliott has yet to win a race, he has turned some heads in his rookie season and will be a driver to watch in 2017 and beyond.
“Just tried to be as aggressive as we could to try to make stuff happen. It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way forward. It takes time and definitely a lot of power in numbers. Disappointed we came up short. This NAPA team has been fighting hard these past few weeks and we’ve had some awesome race cars and it’s definitely unfortunate to come up short there,” said Elliott.
“There weren’t enough folks to go with us the times we work together. I appreciate those guys helping us how we could. We’ll move on to Martinsville and try to go get them.”
The other rookies in the field, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, and Jeffrey Earnhardt would end the day in 11th, 22nd, and 34th, respectively. Blaney mixed it up with his Team Penske teammates throughout the day, falling out of the top-10 late, Buescher ran mid-pack all day, and Earnhardt was involved in a crash on lap 115.