The Frontstretch: Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Montoya Masters Martinsville by Tony Lumbis -- Sunday October 21, 2007

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Nextel Cup Rookie Report: Montoya Masters Martinsville

Tony Lumbis · Sunday October 21, 2007


Rookies in the Starting Lineup: David Reutimann (19th), A.J. Allmendinger (25th), Juan Pablo Montoya (26th), Aric Almirola (27th), Paul Menard (35th), David Ragan (41st)

Unofficial Finishing Positions: Juan Pablo Montoya (8th), David Reutimann (17th), Paul Menard (24th), David Ragan (26th), A.J. Allmendinger (35th), Aric Almirola (43rd)

Rookie of the Race: Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya’s Texaco Havoline Dodge started the Subway 500 from midpack and remained there for the first 100 laps of the race, with the Colombian finding it difficult to pass on the .526-mile short track. It was a call from the pits that initially set the tone for the No. 42 car’s march to the front; on the day's fifth caution on lap 114, crew chief Donnie Wingo elected to keep Montoya on the track, a move which bumped him up to third for the restart. That decision paid off long-term, as cautions fell just the right way for Montoya to hold his spot towards the front; before long, he found himself pitting back in sequence with the leaders when the time came for another stop under yellow flag conditions. Once the car was clear of traffic, Montoya responded well, actually spending most of the rest of the day running in the Top 15 with ease. In fact, pit strategy was employed once again during the eighth caution of the day, briefly giving Montoya the lead for nine laps as the team used old tires to accumulate five additional bonus points. The car wasn’t good enough to stay there, but trust me, Montoya didn’t fall back too far; by the time the checkered flag flew, the Colombian was in ninth, taking home his 14th top rookie finish of the year.

Tony's Take: Perhaps there should be a category in this week's Rookie Report for crew chief of the race. Veteran head wrench Donnie Wingo knew the importance of track position at Martinsville and utilized that strategy perfectly, rolling the dice to get Montoya up front at exactly the right time he should have been there. Don't let pit strategy overshadow Montoya's driving on Sunday, though. Several times, the No. 42 Dodge was knocked sideways … but Montoya kept both his cool and control the entire time. In the end, he took the learning curve in stride and sealed the deal with his solid finish, something he hasn't done in the past on short tracks. Not only was this Montoya’s sixth Top 10 of the season, but his best finish on a track less than a mile in length, as well; certainly, it’s a sign of how this driver is improving as time goes on.

Rocky Rookie Performance: Aric Almirola. The rookie co-driver of the U.S. Army Chevrolet can't catch a break this year. Coming into Sunday's race at Martinsville, Almirola had struggled, finishing no better than a dismal 30th in his four previous starts. After qualifying a career best 27th, it looked like this weekend could hold the race that changed the rookie's fortunes…but that wasn't the case. When the GEM teammates of Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs got together in Turn 2, it left Almirola with nowhere left to go but into the back of fellow rookie David Ragan. The damage eventually proved to be costly as several laps later, the No. 01 Impala erupted into flames on the backstretch, ending Almirola's day and relegating him to a last place finish.

Rookie Wreck(s) of the Race: David Ragan. It was at this very event last year when Ragan, making his second career Nextel Cup start, ran into just about every car on the track, leaving his competitors with a sour taste in their mouth about the Georgia native. Ragan has come a long way since then, but Sunday's race had to serve as a painful reminder of that dreadful race one year ago. The rookie found his AAA Ford in the middle of the day's fourth caution, after receiving a bump from Almirola; the 11th caution, when he made a beautiful 360 and continued after being punted by Ryan Newman; and the 18th caution, when he spun Martin Truex Jr. Of course, to top it all off Ragan was involved in the day's final caution when he spun and could not restart the car during a green/white/checkered finish. Let’s put it this way; don't look for Ragan to be particularly cheery when he returns to the paper clip shaped venue next year.

Who Wasn't Here?: Sam Hornish, Jr.
Once again, Hornish Jr. was fast enough to make the field – and again, the Penske driver fell victim to NASCAR's Top 35 rule. Future rookies should take heed in Hornish's experience; gone are the days when a newcomer to the sport could be successful with a first year team, the path many rookies were once expected to follow to earn their way to a top organization. Now, it seems those looking to break into NASCAR's elite division need to oust a current driver from his seat and take over that team's Top 35 points position in order to have a chance.

As Hornish contemplates his entry into the Nextel Cup Series for 2008, he probably has the words of The Clash circulating through his mind: "Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble… and if I stay it will be double."

Rookie Quotes of the Week:
A.J. Allmendinger talks about his current Martinsville performance early on after qualifying, and compares it to his first visit to the Virginia track back in the Spring. Meanwhile, David Reutimann talks about just how tough this half-mile oval is during some down time on Saturday.

A.J Allmendinger:
"The car was very good to start with. Like I said, we may have got in the race but it was so bad when we were in the race…I've never made a pit stop during green just to tell ‘em to fix it because that's how bad it was. Everybody just worked really hard back at home getting ready for this racetrack specifically. It's the short flat tracks that we struggle on and the car, from the first lap, was way better. I actually passed a guy. I was like ‘Whoa, that's pretty cool around here.' I really didn't see the bottom lane most of the first race because I was getting passed by everybody."

David Reutimann:
How difficult is it here? "Man, it's tough. I don't even know sometimes that you actually race here unless you can get up underneath a guy on exit. A lot of times your only alternative is to bounce him up out of the way. I've been on the receiving end on a lot of that this year [smiles]. It's part of this type of racing. You have to work a guy. You can run a guy down from a straightaway but then you get to ‘em and you just can't get past ‘em. It can get aggravating and you've just got to be really patient and sometimes that's really hard."

UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Montoya 231
Ragan 219
Menard 184
Reutimann 168
Allmendinger 142

Next Up: For the second time this year, the season series will return to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of the fastest tracks on the schedule. Motor departments for all teams will be put to the test this week, as the engines will endure 500 miles of RPM fluctuation, reaching over 9000 revolutions at the highest points. This is not good news for Paul Menard, whose DEI/RCR motor package has been unreliable at best throughout the year. On the flip side, these mile and half quad ovals have been good to Juan Pablo Montoya this season, as he finished with his first career Top 5 in Cup racing at this venue back in March.

Tony's Top Finishing Rookie Pick: David Reutimann qualified best among his rookie class and came home with a solid 17th place finish, his third Top 20 of the year. If this had been another race in 2007, this performance may have very well earned Reutimann the Rookie of the Race; however, Montoya was stellar in his Martinsville return and bested not only his rookie competitors, but most of the Nextel Cup field as well.

You Make The Pick: Even though I'm down by two in the top finishing rookie competition, you had enough confidence to mirror my choice of David Reutimann for this week. We were all close… but no cigar this time around. I continue to trail with time running out.

Tony's Pick for Next Week's Top Finishing Rookie: I really like how A.J. Allmendinger looked at Charlotte - so much so that I will pick him at its twin track in Georgia.

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
UAW-Ford 500 Talladega David Reutimann 22nd David Ragan 34th Juan Pablo Montoya 15th
Subway 500 Martinsville David Reutimann 17th David Reutimann 17th Juan Pablo Montoya 8th

Season Scorecard: Tony 6, Readers 8.

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