Big question in 2009: Can Scott Speed give Joey Logano a battle for Rookie of the Year?
But doing so would be premature, as he will have one serious competitor for the honor -- Red Bull Racing’s Scott Speed. The quirky Speed is known, at this point, more for his off-the-track wackiness, such as painting his toenails and displaying his unique fashion sense. But make no mistake, he has talent behind the wheel of a car.
Speed competed briefly in Formula 1, becoming that sport’s first American driver in a long time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out too well, and many people dismissed Speed as a failure. But the people at Red Bull did not agree with that assessment, and decided they wanted to keep him around in a stock car. Since his departure from the world’s biggest series, Speed has quietly been building an impressive stock car resume, pulling off impressive runs in ARCA and Trucks, including four ARCA wins and a Truck Series win at Dover. They made the choice to gamble on Speed instead of keeping a solid A.J. Allmendinger in the car.
I’ve written extensively about Logano’s record of winning since he was young, in every series he has entered. He took the Nationwide Series by storm immediately after his 18th birthday in 2008 and was quickly promoted to the Cup level for 2009 by Joe Gibbs.
There are those who say the move was premature, that 18 is too young for a driver to be put under the stress of a full Cup season battling the best stock car drivers in the world. But if anyone can handle it, it’s Logano. He has so far shown he is able to maintain his cool regardless of the situation, and talent like his is a rare find. There’s no need to waste it in the Nationwide Series.
The thing about being a Cup rookie, though, is that mistakes will be made. Both Logano and Speed have talent, and there are people who will argue Logano is overrated and overhyped. But one thing is clear: Both Logano and Speed will have their share of screwups in 2009. The key to who wins the ROTY title will be how often those screwups happen, and how well they finish when they can keep the car in one piece.
I’m still going to pick Logano to be the top rookie. Beyond his talent, he is driving Joe Gibbs equipment. Red Bull is on the rise after a great surge in 2008, but Gibbs is an elite organization. I don’t envision any likely scenarios that end in Speed taking the rookie title.
But then again, this is NASCAR and anything can happen. Regan Smith took last year’s title despite not having a sponsor for most of the season. The field was extremely weak, but he still beat out a fully sponsored Sam Hornish Jr. for the honor. Maybe Speed can shock the world and take down Logano for the title.
If Red Bull continues the upward trajectory it begin in 2008, and Logano fails to break out in Cup as quickly as he has done in other series, we may see Logano and Speed go down to the wire for the rookie title.
But that’s a very big “if”.