Rookie Roundup: GEICO 500 Edition

While our rookies were caught up in the lap 166 "Big One" in the GEICO 500, William Byron (pictured) and Darrell "Bubba" Wallace were frontrunners all race long.

William Byron (pictured) and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace ran at the front in the GEICO 500 before the “Big One” on lap 166.

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 GEICO 500 at Talladega.

Wallace continues to put the No. 43 car at the front of the field.

Wallace continues to put the No. 43 car at the front of the field.

Darrell Wallace Jr.

There was a lot of expectations on Bubba Wallace coming in to Talladega. Many were hoping he would repeat his success from Daytona. After a tough few weeks, I think he was hoping for a little Daytona luck as well.

As it is for every super speedway race, practice and qualifying are a different beast compared to other tracks. Wallace only ran laps in first practice. Many of those were only single-car laps. With a fast car, he and his team decided to sit out second practice, a good call after witnessing “The Big One.”

Furthermore, Wallace put the No. 43 15th on the starting grid, a respectable spot at a superspeedway. Come race day, it only took a few laps for Wallace to break into the top-10.

In addition, Wallace led laps before the end of Stage 1. After a set of green flag pit stops, Wallace finished Stage 1 in 17th.

Stage 2 brought on some contact that put a small hole in the left front fender. A quick repair under caution put him mid-pack. During Stage 2, Wallace went on the radio, saying he was “playing it safe” and not making too many big moves on the track.

The final stage was a bit up-and-down…literally. Running anywhere from mid-pack to top-10 in true super speedway fashion. Wallace was caught up in “the big one” in the final stage, almost making it through but getting clipped in the end. The team had to make multiple trips down pit road for repairs but stayed in contention for a respectable 16th place finish.

GEICO 500 Grade: B

Notes: Talladega was just being Talladega, throwing out its worst to whatever drivers could handle it. Wallace handled Talladega with class and came out with a finish he and his team should be happy with. Sure, Wallace would have come out with a higher place finish if he wouldn’t have been caught up in the last big wreck. Ultimately, RPM puts together fast speedway cars. He will be one to watch at Daytona in July.

Like his predecessors in the No. 24 car, Byron led laps at Talladega.

Like his predecessors in the No. 24 car, Byron led laps at Talladega.

William Byron

William Byron and his No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet almost had a great weekend at Talladega. Byron ran ran a lot of laps in practice and put his car 17th on the starting grid, quickly gaining positions. With this being Talladega, that didn’t last long, but Byron and his team had a fast car that could run hard at the front of the pack.

The team made some minor changes in the first round of green-flag pit stops, trying to loosen up the car. He ended Stage 1 in 21st but good pit strategy put him fourth at the restart.

Cutting his teeth on an exciting restart on Lap 62, he took the lead but nearly got caught up in a wreck just a few laps later. He picked up a few more points at the end of the stage running in ninth at the caution.

Hendrick Motorsports has great pit crews and that was evident on Sunday. A quick stop put him up front and Byron found himself leading once again at Talladega.

But it all went downhill from that restart. In true super speedway fashion, Byron lost the lead and quickly fell back. The No. 24 was one of more than a dozen drivers caught up in the “Big One” on lap 166. With heavy damage, Byron and the team took the car to the garage with a 29th place finish.

GEICO 500 Grade: B

Notes: Byron earned a few extra points this weekend with his laps led and a great Stage 1 finish. He had one of the Hendrick cars. With a little more experience at superspeedways, I believe we could see him in Victory Lane at Dega or Daytona soon.

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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