The Frontstretch: Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Ragan Rocks At Richmond by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday September 9, 2007

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Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Ragan Rocks At Richmond

Tony Lumbis · Sunday September 9, 2007


Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Ragan (8th), Juan Pablo Montoya (15th), David Reutimann (24th), A.J.Allmendinger (27th), Paul Menard (38th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: David Ragan (3rd), David Reutimann (13th), A.J. Allmendinger (23rd), Paul Menard (26th), Juan Pablo Montoya (41st)

Rookie of the Race: David Ragan. Ragan turned in yet another strong short track qualifying performance as he rolled off the grid in 8th, his second career-best starting position following a 4th two weeks ago at Bristol. For the better part of the night, though, it looked as if the AAA team would not be able to back up time trials with a strong run in the race. Ragan quickly fell back through the pack, narrowly avoiding the incidents that are so common back in the field. Just before lap 150, he found himself sandwiched between the wall and the No. 25 car of Casey Mears, a wreck that could have ended the rookie’s night. But the No. 6 Ford Fusion sustained little damage and was able to continue…only to again be placed in harm’s way. On lap 243, Ragan was forced to get hard on the brakes to avoid the spinning car of Ryan Newman and the flaming vehicle of Juan Pablo Montoya, his second near miss of the night. However, that crash was a turning point; after successfully playing the game of survival, Ragan and crew chief Jimmy Fennig were able to dial the No. 6 machine in for the final third of the race. The rookie went on to record the best finish of his young career, charging hard in the final 50 laps to work his way up to third position. It was the eleventh time this season Ragan has finished as the race's top rookie, tying him with Montoya for the lead in that category.

Tony's Take: By the end of Saturday night's event, many spectators were looking at the No. 6 car and saying, "Where did that guy come from?" It was a very similar to his "stealthy" performance last week at Fontana, where hardly anyone noticed Ragan as he quietly battled to a Top 15 finish. A late season surge from this team should not surprise anyone; in fact, this is the type of performance I expect from this team as they revisit many of these Nextel Cup venues for the second time. Ragan is starting to look more and more like his Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth each week, staying out of trouble while dialing in his race car for the end of the event. Clearly, he’s becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Honorable Mention: With a podium finish, there is no way anyone can take away David Ragan's award; however, the other David, as in Reutimann, should not go unnoticed. Reutimann recorded a career best 13th place finish at Richmond on Saturday night; kudos to the entire Burger King team for a job well done. This could not have come at a better time for Reutimann, either, who reportedly is in contract negotiations with a handful of teams for the 2008 season.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Paul Menard. This team's performance, or lack thereof, continues to surprise me at this stage of the game. Menard qualified a dismal 38th for the race, spun on his own early on, and wound up coming home a disappointing 26th. After a solid 16th place showing at the Virginia track in May and having the weight of having to qualify lifted off their shoulders, I expected much more from this team this past weekend…but alas, a strong finish was not to be. Look for Menard, crew chief Dave Charpentier and the entire No. 15 team to try and right the ship down the stretch as they prepare for 2008.

Rookie Wreck of the Race: Juan Pablo Montoya. After being involved in a few “almost wrecks,” Montoya ensured that he would capture the "wreck of the day" category in style. As the field was getting up the speed following the evening's seventh caution, the No. 12 car of Ryan Newman spun down the front straightaway. Newman's teammate, Kurt Busch, slammed on the brakes leaving Juan Pablo Montoya with nowhere to go except into the rear end of the Miller Lite Dodge. Soon after, the severely wounded No. 42 car erupted into flames, forced Montoya to hastily leave the vehicle on Richmond's "front lawn.” Afterwards, he seemed rather unfazed by the incident, even appearing to try and brush off NASCAR's mandatory trip to the infield care center. However, his race was adversely affected, as Montoya recorded his third DNF of the season, finishing 41st.

Who Wasn't Here?: Everybody was here!
For the third consecutive race, all rookies made the field. It looks like they're getting the hang of this qualifying thing as the season enters the homestretch.

Rookie Quote of the Week:
David Ragan, on racing with Nextel Cup champions at the end of the race:

Question : You raced Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart hard in the closing laps (at Richmond).

"I don't think my name belongs up there in that list [smiles]. It's pretty cool to be able to race with ‘em. They're racing for a Chase spot, they're racing for a championship and one day, hopefully, we'll be up there. You've got to give them a little bit of extra courtesy on a night like tonight, but when you have a good car it just makes everything easier. We got in the back one time and were able to fight out way up through. It was just a lot of fun. Richmond is a great racetrack. The temperature was perfect. We just had a lot of fun passing some cars, inside, outside, and we just fine-tuned on our AAA Ford all night. A little bit of air pressure, maybe just a half a round of wedge or something like that, but nothing much…our car was pretty good from the get-go."

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 218
Ragan 204
Menard 176
Reutimann 156
Allmendinger 108

Next Up: The season returns to the Magic Mile in Loudon, New Hampshire to kick off the first race of the 2008 Chase. Next week's event will also be raced with the Car of Tomorrow; also, New Hampshire is another short track similar to Richmond. With those two things in mind, expect those that ran well this past weekend to follow with another strong run this coming Sunday.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: I had a feeling that David Ragan would run well at Richmond, but I didn't expect him to be quite this good. Congrats again to the entire AAA team for both their strong finish… and for ending my drought!

You Make The Pick: In some extremely tight voting between David Reutimann, Paul Menard, and Juan Pablo Montoya, 29% of you felt that Menard would follow up his strong May performance with a top rookie finish. It was not to be, however, and we are all tied up in the standings once again!

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie: I'm really tempted to pick David Ragan to continue his momentum into New Hampshire. He just might; however, I have a feeling that David Reutimann will follow-up his career best finish with a top finishing rookie performance.

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
3M Performance 500 Michigan David Reutimann 23rd David Ragan 18th David Ragan 18th
Sharp Aquos 500 California Paul Menard 24th Juan Pablo Montoya 33rd David Ragan 12th
Chevy Rock ‘N’ Roll 400 Richmond David Ragan 3rd Paul Menard 26th David Ragan 3rd

Season Scorecard: Tony 6, Readers 6.

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