The Frontstretch: Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Watkins Glen Edition by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday August 12, 2007

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Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Watkins Glen Edition

Tony Lumbis · Sunday August 12, 2007

 

Rookies in the Starting Lineup (Due to inclimate weather, The Centurion Boats at the Glen lineup was set according to 2007 owners points): Regan Smith (10th), Juan Pablo Montoya (18th), David Ragan (22nd), Ron Fellows (26th), Paul Menard (31st), Patrick Carpentier (40th), P.J. Jones (41st)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Ron Fellows (4th), Paul Menard (19th), Patrick Carpentier (22nd), P.J. Jones (25th), David Ragan (32nd), Regan Smith (37th), Juan Pablo Montoya (39th)

Rookie of the Race: Ron Fellows. It was definitely an up and down day for Canada's favorite road course driver as Ron Fellows was tapped by Hall of Fame Racing to drive their entry for the second time this year. Starting back in the 26th position by virtue of team owner points, Fellows methodically moved his way up to 12th place just before the race's halfway point. This would not be the first time that the road course ringer would have to fight through the pack. Due to the varying pit strategies that were employed by different teams, the DLP HDTV Chevy was mired back in 22nd place with only 30 laps to go. What might have seemed like a recipe for disaster actually proved to be the perfect combination for an exciting finish as Fellow sliced through the field and engaged in an excited duel with Robby Gordon in the closing laps. Using years of experience while taking advantage of the misfortune of others, the Canadian driver brought home a fourth place finish, the third Top 5 of his career.

Tony's Note: The highest finished rookie competing for the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award was Paul Menard, who finished in 19th.

Tony's Take: Before I get bombarded with e-mail, although it may not seem like it, yes Ron Fellows is still technically a rookie. According to NASCAR rules, a driver is still eligible for rookie status if he or she has not competed in more than seven races in one season. Mr. Fellows has made no more than two starts in a Nextel Cup career that spans back to 1995.

Now that the technicalities are out of the way, let's get to the fun part. Ron Fellows has a history of making Watkins Glen his own personal playground. He has five victories at the central New York track, three in the Busch Series and twice in the Craftsman Truck Series. He also has two runner-up finishes in Nextel Cup events, coming in 1999 and 2004 driving for Joe Nemechek and D.E.I. respectively. Driving the No. 96 was perhaps the best ride Fellows has been offered since that 2004 event and he took full advantage of the opportunity. These impressive stats may leave many curious about just how well Fellows may be able to perform on an oval, similar to what "Said-Heads" were campaigning for a few years ago. Bottom line on Sunday is that the ROTY contenders did not bring home the top finish. The reason? Blame Canada.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Regan Smith. After inheriting a Top 10 starting position because of the team's good standing in the points, Regan Smith quickly fell through the pack, placing his U.S. Army Chevrolet in the "hornets nest" of cars scrambling for position back in the pack. Trouble soon found him in the form of Brian Vicker's spinning Red Bull Toyota Camry, which Smith could not avoid. The impact resulted in significant damage to the No. 01 car, sending it behind the wall and forcing the team to limp home to a disappointing 37th place finish.

This was not only heartbreaking for Smith because it happened on his home track, 75 miles from his hometown of Cato, NY, but also because it was a missed opportunity. The rookie's status is in doubt at his new D.E.I. team after Aric Almirola took over part-time duties shared with Mark Martin. Smith was unexpectedly given the ride at Watkins Glen and a good finish would've been a nice audition for a new ride.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Juan Pablo Montoya. This one will be talked about for quite some time. On lap 74, heading down the main stretch, Juan Pablo Montoya pulled to the inside in what appeared to be a move to block the advances of Martin Truex Jr., who was in close pursuit. As the two neared the corner, Truex got into the rear of the Big Red No. 42 machine, sending Montoya into Kevin Harvick, turning their cars into pinballs as competitors bounced off of both vehicles which were sitting in the middle of turn one. The incident ended both Harvick and Montoya's chances at a solid Top 10 finish and the frustration was shown in the form of shouting and pushing once the dust cleared.

Tony's Take: I understand the Montoya has not had the cleanest driving record this year and I haven't hesitated to point that out. I also understand Harvick's irritation at the fact that an incident not of his own doing has pushed him closer to the Chase bubble. However, directing that anger at Montoya in this instance was uncalled for. It reminded me of the 2005 All-Star race where Harvick was swept into a multi-car wreck on the front stretch, and promptly blew up at Joe Nemechek before learning that Nemechek was not at fault. It appears that RCR's top driver since 2001 has not learned anything from that incident two years ago as once again he looks like a horse's rear end by directing his temper tantrum at the wrong guy. Kudos to Montoya for directing the heat right back Harvick's way. My only hope is that NASCAR views this as an extended racing incident and does not hand down any penalties. It was pretty cool to see some emotion back in the sport.

Who Wasn't Here?: A.J. Allmendinger, Klaus Graf, Brian Simo, Marcos Ambrose
Rain kept these road course warriors from entering the battle and A.J. Allmendinger from stopping his summer woes. NASCAR fans were especially cheated when they lost the chance to see Australian Marcos Ambrose make his Nextel Cup debut after his heroic efforts left him just short of a victory last week at Montreal.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
Juan Pablo Montoya's view on the late race incident with Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick:

"We had a pretty good car. We had been very conservative to start with. We had a long first gear so re-starts were pretty bad. On the last restart I went to the inside to defend the 1 car. I guess he didn't like it that I defend him. And he just spun me. He spun me. When he spun me, I went backwards into the 29. He got out of the car, you know. I came out. They hit me from behind. And he came all disrespectful and saying all kinds of things and grabbed me. And I don't appreciate that. I race very clean. I give people space. If he's not going to respect me, I'm not going to respect him either. It's pretty disappointing to see a guy like that do such a thing."

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 220
Ragan 195
Menard 151
Reutimann 162
Allmendinger 79

Next Up: The 3M Performance 400 begins a six-race stretch where the Nextel Cup Series will visit tracks for the second time this season, good news for the rookies. The wide track surface of the Michigan International Speedway offers multiple racing grooves, making it one of the "easier" stops on the schedule. This could be just the combination needed for some of the struggling freshmen to have a good run. Remember, back in June both Paul Menard (12th) and David Reutimann (15th) had their best runs of the season.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Juan Pablo Montoya seemed to have this category locked up before he was punted by the No. 1 car heading into Turn one late in the race. It would've been fun to watch what probably would've been a battle between Montoya and Fellows for the top rookie spot, but it wasn't meant to be.

You Make The Pick: We were all on the same wavelength with this one, you just can't bet against Montoya on a road course. We'll all need to take this hit and move on, as we remain tied heading into Michigan.

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie:
I mentioned earlier that there is a good chance for some surprise runs this week at Michigan. I'm going to bet against Toyota's engine gremlins and predict that David Reutimann will follow up his solid June performance with a top rookie finish this coming Sunday.

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
Centurion Boats At The Glen Watkins Glen Juan Pablo Montoya 39th Juan Pablo Montoya 39th Ron Fellows 4th

Season Score : Tony 5, Readers 5.

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