Rookie Roundup: Toyota Owners 400 Edition

After each 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 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond.

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Ah, Richmond. What an up-and-down race for Bubba Wallace and the No.43 team. 76 laps. That’s how many the team ran in the two practice sessions. Both yielded very different results. First practice, the team was lacking speed, sitting 31st after 42 laps run. When second practice came, it looked like a new team out on the track. Wallace ran 32 laps and sat 2nd on the leaderboard when practice ended. The team put the car 18th on the starting grid following qualifying.

A night race at Ricmond was a new challenge for everyone and an exciting change for the fans and drivers. Early in the race, Wallace reported he was lacking grip on the track as the sun began to set and the track cooled. Wallace was sitting in the top-25 throughout most of stage 1 but fell a lap down, fighting for the Lucky Dog position to end the stage.

He restarted in Stage 2 P18 and on the lead lap. With a fast front of the pack, he fall a lap down early but still stayed in the top-20 throughout most of Stage 2. He was fighting grip and a tough-handling race car and the team made big adjustments under caution and hoped for a better final stage under the lights.

While the adjustments seemed to help the handling of the car, Wallace reported that he just felt slow. As the field pitted under green, he was busted for a commitment line violation and had to serve a pass-through penalty which put him 30th with 100 laps to go.

A caution with under 50 laps to go allowed the team to take the wave-around and get one lap back. Just a handful of laps later, another caution let them take another wave-around with the teams Twitter page saying “We are trying to make some chicken salad here.”

Yet another caution and another wave-around brought them back to just one lap down with under 10 laps to go. At the end of the night, Wallace and the No.43 finished 25th.

Toyota Owners 400 Grade: B-

Notes: This was a tough race for Bubba Wallace. He and his team just couldn’t catch a break with the car and then the pit road penalty on top of it really threw them off. But there is light at the end of the tunnel here. The series heads to Talladega, another super-speedway and another chance for Wallace to make history. And who knows, we could see him in Victory Lane.

William Byron

Richmond looked to be a good race for this young driver. Hendrick Motorsports brings strong cars to Richmond, but under the lights proved to be a new challenge. Byron ran P28 and P22 in the two practice sessions, clocking in more than 80 laps. While his practice sessions weren’t strong, Byron put those laps to use during qualifying, putting the No.24 Chevrolet P9 on the starting grid.

The start of the race looked good for the team, staying mainly in the top-10 with Byron reporting that the car was “really good.” He was running with the veterans, battling guys like Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick and even teammate Chase Elliott throughout Stage 1. He finished Stage 1 P4 and told his team to not “change a thing” on pit road.

After a fantastic pit stop, Byron began Stage 2 P3 and began to drop spots as other drivers found speed. As the stage progressed, Byron was reporting that the No.24 was tight but still remained in the top-10 as he finished Stage 2.

Everything seemed to change in Stage 3 after the team was busted for a pit road penalty, putting them 18th to start the final stage. Byron had to battle lapped cars but made his way through the pack. He was still reporting a tight racecar but continued to gain spots. Late race cautions saw him back in the top-10 as the race came to its closing laps.

Byron kissed the wall in the final laps and dropped a few spots. He brought the No.24 home 12th in NASCAR overtime.

Toyota Owners 400 Grade: A-

Notes: Richmond was a great race for this young driver. He gave excellent feedback and suggestions to his team that allowed him to run up front throughout most of the race. A 12th place finish is nothing to be disappointed with and hopefully they use this momentum to carry them in to Talladega.

Katie Copple

They say the best things are left unsaid. I say, the best things need to be put down on paper...or the internet in this case. I discovered NASCAR and the world of motorsports in college and it changed my life... and my career path. Now, when people ask me to describe myself, I tell them that I am a 20-something that has an obsession with racecars.

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