The Frontstretch: Nextel Cup Rookie Report: No Place Like Kansas for Ragan by Tony Lumbis -- Monday October 1, 2007

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Nextel Cup Rookie Report: No Place Like Kansas for Ragan

Tony Lumbis · Monday October 1, 2007


Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Ragan (18th), Juan Pablo Montoya (21st), Paul Menard (23rd), David Reutimann (25th)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: David Ragan (16th), Paul Menard (27th), Juan Pablo Montoya (28th), David Reutimann (31st)

Rookie of the Race: David Ragan. In a race that offered multiple wrecks, wicked weather, hot tempers, and an unusual finish, simply surviving the Lifelock 400 must have seemed like a victory for many participants…especially the rookies. On Sunday, David Ragan simply did just that, overcoming obstacles better than any of his other freshmen counterparts. After starting 18th, the No. 6 Ford Fusion struggled for the first 100-lap segment of the race, falling as low as 30th at one point. However, crew chief Jimmy Fennig and the AAA crew figured out what the car needed to turn Ragan's race around, all while using pit strategy to boost the team into the Top 10 just before a two-hour rain delay on lap 148. Following that red flag period, Ragan narrowly avoided a multi-car wreck on the backstretch to keep himself in contention, quietly soldiering on to a 16th-place finish by race’s end. As such, the Georgian now leads Juan Pablo Montoya by one, collecting thirteen top rookie finishes to the Colombian’s twelve.

Tony's Take: Ragan has been battling hard with Montoya for top rookie finishes this season; the problem with these performances for Ragan, though, is that they haven't been spectacular as his main competition’s, a large part of the reason he’s staring at a deficit in the Rookie of the Year standings. That means, barring a late season collapse by Montoya (sorry for the reference, Mets fans), Ragan will not be the 2007 ROTY…but certainly, that does not mean this season is a failure. This 21-year-old kid – who came into Cup with virtually no experience at any of NASCAR's top three levels – has built consistency over the past month and half while avoiding wrecks, a stark contrast from earlier this year. This trend is exactly the way to build a foundation for more productive '08 season for Ragan, one that should include some of those spectacular finishes that the Roush Fenway's flagship team has lacked this year.

Rocky Rookie Performance / Rookie Wreck of the Race: David Reutimann. This week's rookie wreck of the race actually directly contributed to the rocky performance. For much of Sunday afternoon, David Reutimann looked to be the guy who would drive away with rookie honors, as his Toyota Camry remained a mainstay within the top half of the standings. However, on lap 157, Ken Schrader and Michael Waltrip made contact coming off of Turn 2, sending the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion spinning out of control in front of the field. Reutimann's No. 00 was caught squarely in the eye of the storm, with nowhere to go but into the back of David Gilliland. The damage to Reutimann's car didn't appear too significant in the melee… but the same couldn't be said for his day. The Domino’s Pizza team could never get back on the lead lap after the incident, limping home a dismal 31st and ruining what should have been a second consecutive Top 20 finish.

Who Wasn't Here?: A.J. Allmendinger and Jon Wood.
Allmendinger's latest stretch of qualifying for races was capped off at six, as he missed the field for this past weekend's event in the nation's heartland. The bad news for Allmendinger is that the trend for this team has been to miss races in bunches…so don't bet on the No. 84 team to be in next week's show in Alabama. Meanwhile, Jon Wood, attempting to make his second start of 2007 (Las Vegas) for the Wood Brothers, was the slowest of the "go or go homers" and, consequently, went home.

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
NASCAR's decision not to have a green-white-checker finish on the account of darkness seemed like a questionable one to many. Rookies David Ragan and David Reutimann offer varying viewpoints on the decision:

David Ragan: "It was dark. I've raced in places that even with lights wasn't this bright. You get down to some of those dirt tracks in the Midwest or short tracks in South Georgia and it's pretty dark. I'm sure some guys like Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer, they're used to it. It was dark. We could have finished it up, I think, but I'm happy to finish in the Top 20. I'm glad our teammate got him a win and we'll see what we can do next week at Talladega."

David Reutimann: "It was getting pretty dark. The TV makes it look like it's light out, you know, but it gets really dark. I think they did the right thing. It's hard enough to do everything right when you can see. When you are hindered a little bit, it's tough. They made the right call. It mercifully ended our day earlier, because we were struggling pretty bad there at the end with a damaged race car."

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 231
Ragan 211
Menard 181
Reutimann 161
Allmendinger 123

Next Up: The Nextel Cup drivers will roll the dice at the crapshoot called Talladega, as the series prepares for the fourth and final restrictor plate race of the season. The first ever Car Of Tomorrow race on the 2.66-mile superspeedway, it’s expected the event will be even more unpredictable than usual; that makes it possible to see anything on Sunday from a first-time winner, to a break out rookie performance, to a complete overhaul of the point standings as a whole. It’s a place where a yellow stripe means both everything and nothing at the same time; while the rookies will need to be their toes for 188 laps of bumper-to-bumper, side-by-side action, it is also this very environment that could allow them to upset the field if they play their cards right. It also may mark the much-anticipated debut of an open wheel veteran turned stock car rookie; Canadian and Formula One champ Jacques Villeneuve plans to attempt to make the race in a Bill Davis Racing Toyota.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: As previously noted, David Reutimann may very well have come through for me Sunday, if not for getting caught up in a multi-car incident right after the red flag for rain. If this team didn't have bad luck, they would have no luck at all…so look for some solid runs by Reutimann if they can ever get the monkey off their back.

You Make The Pick: David Ragan's top finishing rookie streak ended last week, but you did not lose faith in him. Forty percent of you picked Roush Fenway's rookie to top his counterparts, and you were correct, now pulling away from me by two with seven races remaining.

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie: I said that I believed David Reutimann is overdue for a solid performance, and I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. For the second week in a row, I'm picking the 37-year-old to top the rookie class on Sunday. This pick is partially based on his team’s showing in May, where Reutimann was running in third position when his engine expired with just a few laps remaining.

Tony's Extra: Those of you who are familiar with my profile have seen that one of my hobbies includes suffering with my Philadelphia sports teams. Well, this past Sunday, 14 years of that suffering was relieved a bit when my Philadelphia Phillies won a hard-fought National League East battle. Congratulations to the entire team, and best of luck in the playoffs!!!

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 400 Michigan David Reutimann 23rd David Ragan 18th David Ragan 18th
Sharpie 500 Bristol David Reutimann DNQ David Ragan 41st Juan Pablo Montoya 17th
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
Sylvania 300 New Hampshire David Reutimann 26th David Ragan 19th David Ragan 19th
Dodge Dealers 400 Dover David Ragan 25th David Ragan 25th Juan Pablo Montoya 10th
Lifelock 400 Kansas David Reutimann 31st David Ragan 16th David Ragan 16th

Season Scorecard: Tony 6, Readers 8.

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