Contending for top rookie

First-year driver Sorenson focuses on building team for the future

There is the Chase for the Nextel Cup. And there’s the race to get in the Chase.

Both of those contests have provided plenty of interesting storylines this season, but there is one more race gathering steam of late – the rookie-of-the-year race.

While Denny Hamlin is in firm control of the rookie standings – in large part due to his two Cup victories this season – there is a battle brewing for second place.

Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer has held the second spot most of the season, but Reed Sorenson, the talented young rookie with Chip Ganassi Racing, has been finding his rhythm of late.

Sorenson, 20, has finished 12th or higher in three of his past six races entering Saturday’s Sharpie 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. He’s now 21st in the points standings, two positions short of his season-high (19th after Texas).

In the rookie race, Sorenson has pulled to within nine points (181 vs. 190) of Bowyer in the rookie standings.

“I think every driver had a little bit different situation to deal with in each different organization this season. As far as myself, I have a Raybestos rookie teammate (David Stremme) and our team hasn’t won a (Cup) race in four years now,” Sorenson said.

Reed Sorenson is in third place in the Nextel Cup rookie-of-the-year standings.

“We’re trying to build our organization to where we can get top 10s and top fives and then win races, and we’re definitely getting a lot closer to that now. Denny has somebody like Tony (Stewart) to rely on and he won a championship last year.

“We’re just trying as an organization to get better as a whole. We’re just at a different point as a team than some of the other teams are, but we’re definitely getting better.”

Signs of improvement in Sorenson’s No. 41 Dodge team have been showing in recent weeks.

All three Ganassi teams showed up at New Hampshire in July with new short-track cars, and all three were very competitive. Sorenson was running third – in line for his career-best Cup finish – but ran out of gas when the race was extended eight laps by a late caution. He ended up 24th.

After finishing 29th in the series’ first road course race at Sonoma, Calif., Sorenson improved dramatically this month at Watkins Glen, N.Y., finishing 12th. Last weekend he finished eighth at Michigan, giving him top-10 finishes in both races at that track this season.

“We know what not to do at a lot of these places. At some places we’ve been pretty good and at others we just had some bad luck,” Sorenson said.

“We’re going to go back to some of these tracks where we can learn from our mistakes or just try not to have any bad luck and we’ll be OK.”

Sorenson’s crew chief, Jimmy Elledge, said he is looking forward to taking advantage of new cars that have been built at the shop.

“We’ve got some new stuff coming. We’ll have a new car at California. We had a new short track car that we had at Loudon (N.H.), so I feel good about our short track stuff,” he said.

“We seem to get a little bit better and I think we can (compete). It’s just so hard these days. You’ve got to do the right things at the right time and it’s all got to work out perfect.”