The Frontstretch: Nextel Cup Rookie Report : Pocono Edition by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday August 5, 2007

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Nextel Cup Rookie Report : Pocono Edition

Tony Lumbis · Sunday August 5, 2007


Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (9th), P.J. Jones (30th)*, David Reutimann (31st), Paul Menard (35th), David Ragan (36th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Juan Pablo Montoya (16th), Paul Menard (26th), David Ragan (33rd), P.J. Jones (37th)*, David Reutimann (41st)

Rookie of the Race: Juan Pablo Montoya. After qualifying his Dodge Charger on the outside of row four for Sunday's race, it appeared that Montoya was poised to have another strong run following his second place finish at Indianapolis. In fact, Montoya did look strong throughout the first quarter of the race, remaining in or just outside of the Top 10. But as the race wore on, so did Montoya's attention span, as at one point he made a remark about how long the race was. Struggling to keep his No. 42 machine on the bottom, the Rookie of the Year points leader began to fade, and he eventually wound up 16th in the final running order. Still, it was Montoya's tenth top finishing rookie honor in the 2007 season – leading all first-year drivers in that category.

Tony's Take: After such a strong showing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, another flat 2.5-mile track, many thought that the Texaco Havoline team would be able to carry momentum into this weekend at Pocono. Well, the momentum was evident – but only on Friday. After turning in multiple lackluster qualifying performances this year, Montoya now has two straight Top 10 starting spots to his credit. But come Sunday, the team reverted back to some of its old ways, starting out strong early only to fade by the time the checkered flag flew. All in all, though, it's not a bad day when you are a little off and still come home in the Top 20. Even with a 16th place finish, Montoya continues to be in a league of his own over the past few weeks as compared to his rookie counterparts.

Rocky Rookie Performance: David Reutimann. If Toyota wants to know what they need to do to take the next step in order to be competitive, they need to look no further than Michael Waltrip Racing, specifically Reutimann’s No. 00 machine. For the third consecutive race, the Burger King Camry's day was cut short by mechanical problems. This time, it was a faulty fuel pump that put the No. 00 behind the wall for good, ironically the same problem the ended the day for his MWR teammate, Dale Jarrett.

Rookie Wreck of the "Weekend": David Ragan. Although David Ragan was involved in an incident on the Long Pond straightaway during the race, the more significant wreck actually happened on Friday. During the first practice session, Ragan put his AAA Ford Fusion into the wall, forcing the team to a backup car for the rest of the weekend. After the wreck, that new No. 6 car found itself toward the bottom of the chart in both qualifying and the second practice session. Furthermore, Ragan was not able to participate in Happy Hour with his commitment for the Montreal Busch race, giving the team even less time to shake down the new car. The effects of the incident were evident on Sunday – Ragan finished 33rd and was never a factor during the race.

Who Wasn't Here?: A.J. Allmendinger.
As if the summer qualifying slump wasn't bad enough for the Californian rookie, A.J. Allmendinger did not make things any easier for both he and his team by backing his car into the wall during Friday morning's practice. The team was forced to use a backup car that turned in the fourth slowest time during qualifying, earning him a ride home for the remainder of the weekend. On the bright side, though, Allmendinger will have a chance to end this nightmare next week at Watkins Glen. Road courses should be this former open wheel star's specialty – however, the team missed the show at Sonoma in June, so making the race is never a foregone conclusion with this group. Still, I look for redemption for the No. 84 team in New York State this week.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
I had the opportunity to sit with Paul Menard and David Reutimann this past weekend at Pocono. Here are some excerpts from those interviews: stay tuned to and The Frontstretch Newsletter for information on when the full conversation will be available.

David Reutimann has out-qualified his teammates for most of the season, and it happened again at Pocono. He provides some insight into this phenomenon:

"Ya know, I've been asked that a lot and I really don't have any answers. I mean, both those guys are good qualifiers. I just think that my guys are doing a really great job. (Crew Chief) Frankie Kerr has been doing a good job getting the cars set up for me. I probably drive more like an idiot on those laps than they do. I just drive it as hard as I can, (and) not that those guys don't, but I think the setups for our cars have been better for qualifying; at least how I like to qualify.”

Pocono is the second race since the D.E.I./Ginn Racing merger, and Paul Menard tells has how the new organization has been shaping up in the early stages.

“It's been really good. I got to go to the new shop on (last) Monday and look it over, and the place is huge. There's definitely enough floor space for four teams, probably on the same floor. All of it is open, so everybody knows what everybody's got. Obviously, we've got the points, and that's huge (referring to his team taking over the No. 14 team's owner points). Now we can just focus on going racing and with Mark Martin helping us out, there's definitely nobody in the garage area with more knowledge and more experience than Mark to help a young guy like myself.”

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 210
Ragan 186
Menard 151
Reutimann 134
Allmendinger 78

Next Up: The series makes its second and final road course visit when it heads to the Finger Lakes region of New York for the Centurion Boats at The Glen. Although the rookies have some Nextel Cup road course experience from earlier this year, most drivers will tell you that Watkins Glen and Sonoma are two very different race tracks. Look for most of the rookies who are not road course ringers (or named Montoya) to struggle as they try to learn yet another set of twists and turns.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I felt pretty good about David Ragan's chances to come home with a strong finish this weekend at Pocono. What I could not anticipate was the wreck in practice that would essentially derail the Georgia native's chances for a solid finish – the youngster’s poor performance left me out of luck for yet another week.

You Make The Pick: You, on the other hand, recognized the potential for momentum to follow Montoya to Pocono as 60% chose him as the Pennsylvania 500's highest finishing rookie. Congrats! The pressure is on for me now, as we are all tied up!

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie:
It really annoys me when writers, T.V. and radio announcers, or your drinking buddy constantly choose the favorite team/driver/player to win the game/race/match. I'm talking about those people who have picked the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl this year, or those who chose either the Red Sox or Yankees to win the A.L. Pennant. That’s really going out on a limb there guys; steal the same pick that everyone and their mother is taking. That's no fun! Why do I mention this? Because today I'm going to be one of those annoying people, picking Juan Pablo Montoya as the top rookie at Watkins Glen. This may not be the shoe-in that everyone thinks, however. Remember, the Colombian struggled a bit with keeping his car off of his competitors at Sonoma before using pit strategy to propel him to Victory Lane. Also, remember that many of the road course ringers will be considered rookies as well, putting them in position to challenge for the top spot.

*P.J. Jones, who practiced the No. 7 car in Happy Hour, drove for driver/owner Robby Gordon on Sunday. Gordon was suspended by NASCAR for failing to heed the black flag during Saturday's Busch race in Montreal. Since Gordon himself had qualified the car, Jones actually started the race from the back of the field.

Event Track Tony’s Pick Finish Reader’s Pick Finish Top Finishing Rookie Finish
Subway Fresh Fit 500 Phoenix David Ragan 41st —- —- Paul Menard 25th
Aaron’s 499 Talladega David Reutimann 32nd —- —- David Ragan 17th
Crown Royal Presents The Jim Stewart 400 Richmond Paul Menard 16th Juan Pablo Montoya 26th Paul Menard 16th
Dodge Avenger 500 Darlington Juan Pablo Montoya 23rd Paul Menard 31st Juan Pablo Montoya 23rd
Coca-Cola 600 Charlotte Juan Pablo Montoya 28th No Pick DNS Juan Pablo Montoya 28th
Autism Speaks 400 Dover David Ragan 14th David Ragan 14th David Ragan 14th
Pocono 500 Pocono A.J. Allmendinger 39th David Ragan 26th Juan Pablo Montoya 20th
Citizens Bank 400 Michigan David Ragan 21st David Ragan 21st Paul Menard 12th
Toyota / Save Mart 350 Infineon Juan Pablo Montoya 1st Juan Pablo Montoya 1st Juan Pablo Montoya 1st
Lenox Industrial Tools 300 New Hampshire Paul Menard 39th David Reutimann 38th David Ragan 15th
Pepsi 400 Daytona David Reutimann 26th David Ragan 12th David Ragan 12th
USG Sheetrock 400 Chicagoland Paul Menard 42nd David Ragan 25th Juan Pablo Montoya 15th
Allstate 400 at the Brickyard Indianapolis Juan Pablo Montoya 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya 2nd
Pennsylvania 500 Pocono David Ragan 33rd Juan Pablo Montoya 16th Juan Pablo Montoya 16th

Season Score : Tony 5, Readers 5.

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