By David Morgan, NASCAR Writer
There must be something in the water in Virginia. Just like Martinsville three weeks ago, the five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies all struggled at some point in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond.
With the spring Richmond race reverting to a day race for the first time since 1997, the bright sunshine beating down on the 0.75 mile short track created handling difficulties for all of those in the field, rookies and veterans alike.
Falling a lap down early with an ill-handling car, Chase Elliott maintained his run as the top rookie in the field on Sunday as he was able to drive aggressively and eventually made his way back onto the lead lap, setting his sights on another top-10 finish on the season.
Slowly, but surely, Elliott picked off position after position, and was finally able to crack the top-10 with 63 laps to go, hanging tough in the top-10 until a late caution that dropped Elliott back to 15th after the leaders hit pit road for the final time. Though Elliott would gain a few spots over the final run of the race, he would have to settle for a 12th place finish on the day.
While Elliott was just outside the top-10, the other rookies all had their hands full as they all failed to even crack the top-20.
The second-best rookie on the day was Ryan Blaney, who also struggled with handling issues on the hot, slick track surface, and fell a lap down early in the going. However, Blaney could never catch the break he needed to get back on the lead lap and would finish the day in 28th, his fourth finish of 20th or worse in the first nine races of the season.
“It was a struggle all day for us. We weren’t very good in the beginning and got a lap down early and short-pitted and that actually worked out well for us. We still ended up a lap down but kind of gained a few spots. We raced hard for the Lucky Dog all day and at one point I thought we had it but they gave it to somebody else which was unfortunate. That made us kind of be on equal tires the rest of the day as we were taking wave arounds. It was just a big struggle today. The second run I thought we were okay but then we just kind of lost the track a little bit. It was tough. We have to go back and I have to do a better job and we all have to figure something out here for the next race. It is a good learning day though and we learned a lot and it is a good character builder for sure,” said Blaney.
As far as the other three rookies (Chris Buescher, Brian Scott, and Jeffrey Earnhardt), they all had to settle for finishes of 34th, 35th, and 38th by the time the checkered flag flew. Buescher’s finish was his worst since the season-opening Daytona 500, while the finish for Scott was his worst on the season, and Earnhardt’s finish ties his season worst that came at Daytona.
Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images